Tag Archives: depression

Fight or Flight for Mental Health

Fight or flight instincts don’t help if you have no idea which way to run. Carly’s search for mental health as an attempt survivor continues:

Carly’s tipping point came on the way home from a weekly volunteer meeting in Akuapem Hills, Ghana. The taxi driver had been told in his native language to take Carly to Central Station. He turned the wrong direction.

“No. No. No,” Carly said. “Central Station. Please. Central Station.”

God no. I’m dead. Raped or dead. Or both, she thought.

A group of people started coming toward the car.

“Please. Central Station,” she begged, eliciting no reaction.

Her California colleague, the one who had given directions to the driver, had spoken to him in Twi. Carly had no idea how to do that.

Carly’s fear quickly elevated. I’m dead. I’m not going to be someone’s slave. Oh no, not in this life.

She tensed her fists and prepared to fight and run, even if she wasn’t quite sure which direction to go. A group piled quickly into the taxi around her, leaving no time to do anything and no escape.

Carly prepared for the worst. Instead, they left Carly alone. Fifteen minutes later, she was at Central Station, coated in sweat and in the midst of an uncontrollable anxiety attack, even after figuring out that shared taxis picked up passengers whenever and wherever they could. When a volunteer leader spotted Carly, that leader could tell something was wrong.

“I need a cigarette,” was all Carly could muster.

“Well, you can’t smoke here. Women don’t smoke,” Carly was informed, adding to her already chest-crushing anxiety.

“I know a place,” the leader reassured Carly, taking her to a nearby hut where the family invited them to sit at their family table. The leader bought two cigarettes and two beers from the mother, who allowed them to enjoy the comforting taste and aroma until Carly was calm enough to return to her host house.

The next day, Carly began a trek home that included 24 hours at Kotoka international, a story about an emergency family illness, hundreds of dollars in texting and phone charges and a self-promise that she was done seeking dramatic life changes.

The long plane ride provided plenty of opportunity for Carly to ruminate.

Seeking Mental Health in Ghana

Another is a series of stories on attempt survivor Carly Jacobson’s search for mental health:

When Carly finally arrived at the Projects Abroad center in Akuapem, she was immediately taken to her host house. Her luck turned for the better, though she could hardly tell. All eight of the volunteers had beds and nets, luxuries she didn’t immediately know to appreciate. One of her eight shelter mates was a girl from Canada who spoke English, another comfort Carly would learn to cherish. Though Ghana is officially an English-speaking country, finding English speakers wasn’t as easy as Carly anticipated. Twi is Akuapem’s primary language. Projects Abroad volunteers came from all over the world, sharing only an interest in the promised experience.

Carly’s second day in Ghana was adventurous.

Stuffed into a tro-tro, a shared taxi van carrying 20 people dripping sweat onto each other, Carly was escorted on a full-day journey by a project coordinator to the nearest city where she could exchange her money, an exchange Carly’s operational efficiency mind figured could have been done in less than an extra hour in Accra the day before.

Day three was her first as a functional volunteer, dumping a muddy cinder slime into brick molds that were packed down and set out to dry. Once dried, the bricks were carried, stacked and cemented to build a local schoolhouse. When class in a nearby school ended, the best part of Carly’s volunteer work began. Children swarmed the volunteers, including Carly. She held offered hands, knelt to allow many to run their fingers through hair that was neither dark nor curled and hugged dozens eager for human embrace. Continue reading

Seeking Mental Health; Finding Fear

Sometimes the journeys we take hoping to find mental health affect us in manners we never intended. Such was the case with a trip to Ghana for Carly Jacobson–suicide attempt survivor, dear friend and subject of my current writing project.

Carly’s Ghana Story (Part One)

The runway view at Kotoka International Airport provided Carly Jacobson with reassurance that she could survive this experience, a comfort that lasted only minutes.

The airport seemed modern enough, capped by a celadon green parabolic wing structure that was just one of several curved features adding visual interest to the terminal design.

In operations, however, the gateway to Accra, Ghana was anything but modern. By the time Carly endured a gauntlet of scammers and over-chargers between collecting her baggage and finding her escort from Projects Abroad, anxiety overwhelmed every other emotion.

“Take your bags,” a shabbily dressed man stated as he began grabbing bags out of Carly’s hands while demanding cash for his service.

“No. No, thank you,” Carly replied as she tightened her grips.

“Take a cart, miss?” another man offered. “Only two dollars.”

“It says ‘free’,” Carly replied.

“Two dollars,” he insisted, gripping the nearest cart firmly to prevent Carly from using it without paying him.

Quickly, the putrid aroma nauseated Carly. Temperatures soared above 90 degrees even in late November. It became clear that showers, the human kind, were a first-world pleasure, or at least an unusual occurrence among these airport denizens.

Carly breathed again on spotting the Projects Abroad sign, thankful she had someone local who could help her navigate this unusual terrain. The twisting, erratic drive to the not-for-profit’s office, in a dilapidated car likely saved from a European junkyard, rejuvenated Carly’s tensions. The sign inside Projects Abroad only added to her anguish. “Keep all cameras and valuables secure in your compound,” the sign warned.

“Why do we need to secure our cameras?” Carly asked naively.

“If anyone sees it, they’ll take it,” the project administrator matter-of-factly stated. “They’ll hurt you if they have to, but they’ll be the ones leaving with it.”

“Anything else before I go to my work site,” Carly asked, hands still grasped tightly around her bags.

“Stuff any money in your shirt. Here,” he said, pointing toward Carly’s chest. “Oh, yes. Here’s your t-shirt. Taxi will take you now.”

It was moving too fast for Carly to process. She got in the taxi, with a destination of Akuapem Hills. Had Carly studied a map before departing, she would have been frightened that it took two hours to arrive, but bumpy travel that included dirt roads and what seemed highly circuitous driving already had her wishing she had a Liam Neeson type back home to lead her rescue.

As the taxi approached a road-blocking security checkpoint, the driver used one of the few English phrases she would comprehend.

“Don’t say anything,” he warned.

Carly’s thoughts quickly went a dismal direction. Please don’t take me. Please don’t rape me. Let me live.

After extensive discussion, the driver pulled out a stack of bills, handed them over to the armed men blockading the street and was allowed to pass.

Less than a day in Ghana, and Carly quickly crossed over from fearing living to fearing for her life.

Finding Love and A Life Worth Living

As I strive, love provides the road on which I stride.

I love. I am loved. I even have come to love myself.

I always knew I was capable of the first. I could love. Until recently, I couldn’t believe I could be the recipient of the second. I am loved. I’ve learned I couldn’t reach the second without first achieving the third. Finally, I love myself.

I never even dreamed love could be this good.

Look at the woman I share my life with. My wife. My dream.

I admit it, even my fascination.

How does she do it? How does she know what I need, just when I need it? She holds me when I need to be held. She comforts me when I need to rest. She encourages me when I need a boost. She cajoles me when I need a swift kick to the backside.

Most of all, she refuses to let me give up on myself, particularly on those increasingly rare days when giving in feels easier than fighting through the next obstacle.

I once questioned—several times definitively answering no—whether this is a life worth living.

With every ounce of my being, I now know the answer is yes.

Mine is a bizarre, challenging life in a crazy world.

I love it, at least most days, and embrace it on all.

Even the tough days help make me who I am.

(This is the fifth in a series of insights lovingly shared by Carly Jacobson, founder of The CARL Project.)

Striving for Mental Health

(Part 4 of a series of insights on her mental health journey from Carly Jacobson, founder of The CARL Project).

I’m not perfect.

In reality, I could never conceive of perfection as possible even as I set this unrealistic standard as my minimum personal requirement, only to continuously batter my ego for every moment I fell short over so many years.

I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to be flawless. I can’t. I won’t. I no longer demand it of myself. Perfection is the realm of myths, certainly not of humanity. It’s good to achieve my best each day as I strive for even better the next, but my best doesn’t have to be perfect to warrant self-approval.

When I’m not my best, not living up to what I know I can be, I’ve learned to dig into my deep innermost chasms for levels of extra effort that sometimes require excavation. After calling on these reserves in recent years, I know they exist even as they choose inconvenient moments to escape my grasp. I know they are there. I search and claw and pull until I find them. I refuse to allow them to hide.

If I falter one day, I work to be a little bit better the next and then just a little bit better the day after that. Perfect might still be the direction I work toward, but I’ve removed it as my goal and, perhaps most importantly, my expectation.

An Attempt Survivor’s Obstacle Course

Life is a journey, but, for too long, I thought of it as an unending mud run in which I would never finish to take that steaming, cleansing shower that made me feel beautiful.

I agonized that every day only brought painful obstacles. Ice pits. Walls. Belly crawls covered in barbed wire and electric cords zapping every failure. Long sprints through flaming tires. Even when I overcame one obstacle, another would stare me in the face, dare me to try and torment me into giving up and ending my misery before enduring another unknowably harsh agony.

Today—with my perspective transformed—I know to embrace life’s obstacles, to evade the impassible and enjoy the challenging for the opportunity to grow my confidence and strength.

For too long, I thought I must succeed or fail on my own, but maybe I’ve finally learned that running this course with others I love is what makes life worth its inevitable struggles.

Some days, there are rope walls I can’t climb on my own.

At time, I need someone at the bottom of a wall to hold my foot and someone at the top to pull me up those last few inches until I can swing my leg over and jump.

I’m making it through the obstacles, no longer allowing temporary exasperation to expand into unbearable fatigue.

It’s not failure to need a little help.

Life, once feared for endless obstacles, today promises endless opportunities.


#mentalhealth #depression #anxiety #attemptsurvivor

(This is the third in a series of weekly posts exploring thoughts and experiences driving The CARL Project’s founder. To like The CARL Project on Facebook, go here.)

Carly’s Mental Health Battle

The deepest part of my anguish seems like a memory borne from historical fiction. Someone else’s tragedy. Not entirely real. Maybe even a bit exaggerated in the retelling.

I know, however, that it’s all part of creating Carly. It doesn’t define me today, but the agonies are my history with all the shattered edges and deep regrets that far too long dominated my every rumination.

In an almost nonsensical way, I’m grateful I went through each struggle. Today, I wouldn’t want to be anyone else in the world.

Pain still appears in little pieces; manageable shards I can suction out and toss aside before they torment my brain and pierce my soul. At times, I feel myself sinking when I slip back into bad habits. The worst of these habits are when I forget to learn from mistakes and quickly move on, and particularly when I fail to forgive myself for being less than perfect.

Read more about my friend Carly and her fight for mental health each week at The CARL Project on Facebook.

Message from a Friend

Life is crazy.

For too long, though, I thought the senseless I saw all emanated from inside.

Years passed with so much challenge and pain that darkness enveloped me, my chest pounded under the weight of a thousand failures, and my head ached for relief. I couldn’t see a way out—at least not one including me.

I focused on everything I could never change; failing to change almost anything I could control.

On my good days, it’s inconceivable to contemplate that not only did I wish to end my existence; I actively worked to execute my own ending.

How could I have wanted to miss this life—the one I live in today?

Why didn’t someone tell me?

I guess some people did.

Many, in their own way, if I’m honest.

I just didn’t believe them. It didn’t seem possible.

It seemed like a colossal lie.

The lie, it turns out, is that ending that pain was the better path.

(Over the coming months, I’ll be posting the insights here of a dear friend. In an act of love and bravery, she is sharing her pain and journey toward mental health in the hopes of helping to heal others. The original posts can be found through The CARL Project on Facebook here.)


Murder/Suicide Impacts on Mental Illness Stigmas

How can I reconcile my volunteer work to remove mental illness stigmas with learning that a man I once worked with and admired was the shooter in a recent Chicago murder and death by suicide in which depression likely played a role?

It’s a tough question; one I’ve been particularly contemplating since the Germanwings aircraft crash into the French Alps—a murder/suicide with 150 victims and a link to the co-pilot’s mental illness so clear that a psychiatrist’s note saying he was mentally unfit to work was found torn up in the co-pilot’s apartment.

The rare instances where mental illness contributes to mass tragedies—such as Germanwings, the Sandy Hook school slaughter and the Colorado theater massacre—dominates media coverage of mental health issues, creating a perception of a burgeoning issue particularly around murder/suicides. “The perception from media reports would be that the incidence is greatly increasing,” Dr. Scott Eliason reported several years ago in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, “but the data that we have collected show murder-suicide to be a very rare event that seems relatively constant.”

Regardless, because so few who struggle with mental health challenges acknowledge this aspect of our lives, exposure to mental illness as violent tragedy becomes the image of the disease to far too many.

Once this violent image is embedded, fear can spur a desire to stay away from those struggling to achieve mental health in much the same way as segregation metastasizes when those without regular interaction across racial, ethnic or other boundaries hear about another group only through media reports about a small percentage of its violent members.

Fear is best alleviated through exposure, an exposure almost every American unknowingly receives to mental illness on a daily basis. Continue reading

Mental Health With No Stigmas

Today is the start of Mental Health Awareness Month. With that in mind, I wrote the following for NoStigmas.org on why I talk publicly about my battles with depression. You can find this on their web site as well.

Difficulties and tragedies would show up in a painting of my life, though they would add only lines and shading to a fair portrayal.

Depression, once suffered and now proactively countered, is there—perhaps adding a deeper shadow beneath my eyes or a pensive twist to my expression.

But my true portrait is of children raised, mountains hiked, books written and 27 years of marriage. It’s family and friends, work achievements, youth sports coached and mechanical ineptitude that turns a 10-minute repair project into four hours of cursing and three trips to the hardware store for two parts. An insightful artist might be able to depict my trodden depths of despair, but even they would obscure that trauma in a portrait with today’s contentment, pride and frequent bouts of joy.

It’s not that life doesn’t bring fears, challenges and tragedies: it’s just that I’ve realized that I’m only prepared to fulfill my purposes because of how all of my experiences interact with my skills and dreams. Sure, it would have been great to know my full direction decades ago, but pieces of this purpose unveiled only over time. I waited, patiently some days and impatiently most others, to find these paths. In pieces, and over time, they came.

I can’t say I’ve made it permanently, of course, because tragedies left unchecked could trigger a decline. So too could losing control of physical habits needed to maintain my mental health. But I now know that sleep, sun, exercise and diet affect me mentally at least as much as physically. I know that once I’ve spent a few minutes evaluating a failure, I’ve already identified how to avoid repeating it. I’m better prepared, and in a better place.

In a world where mental illness is stigmatized, my portrait would be ugly—signed across my forehead with “depression” in capital letters.IMG_0578

In a world with No Stigmas, the lines and shading drawn by my depressive experiences simply would add to a complex portrait of me as someone with a unique purpose seeking and many times finding life’s true fulfillment.

In a No Stigmas world, we will each journey toward our highest purpose; reveling in, managing and displaying the full complexity of who we are along the way.

That will be a beautiful world.