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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One Day, Two Events, Three Talks

I don't think I'll do that again. And although is was a hectic and tiring day, I was able to meet so many people who shared their stories of depression and suicide with me. Now that Suicide Prevention Week is over, I'm gonna step back and take a breather.


The Benedictus breakfast was packed, and the audience was great! I really bonded with the men during those couple of hours.

At the Church Ministers Conference, it was standing room only for both talks! The audiences consisted of some teens, but most of the people were seeking advice on what to do when church or community members ask them for help. I also learned the sad news that a student of the high school where the event was held had died by suicide last week, and one of his teachers was in the audience.

verall, I enjoyed my time with attendees and felt that I reached those who were meant to hear my message! (And thanks to my mom who stood at my booth while I was at the breakfast, and my dad who drove to all these places).

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Body

You might have noticed that a whole lot of people in our society today are obsessed with being super healthy. That's good. I applaud that. And, I have a confession: I'm one of those people.

Immediately after the crash, my parents spent their energy making sure I was safe. Then after a little while, they turned more attention to my recovery. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and was placed on medication, but my parents knew that wasn't enough. They knew I couldn't just pop a pill and recover.

So good. Oh, so good.
My mom has always tried to have us eat healthy, and fast food and junk food started making me sick, so we ate even healthier than before, but something was still bothering me.

Through trial and error, we found I had a slight intolerance to gluten. I mean, imagine being sensitive to wheat when that was almost all I ate. That certainly didn't help me during my four years of depression.

We did, and still do, the best we can about the whole bread thing, but it doesn't always work out. I do my best given my active life. (And if you doubt what you eat can affect your mental health, check out this article on the gut-brain connection--there's plenty more out there, too).

But my parents realized that taking care of my body isn't just about eating right--it's getting exercise as well. I know almost every kid on the face of the earth has been told at least once to go outside and play. "It's good for you," our parents say. What most people don't know, however, is that the chemicals in your body interact with your mind when you exercise. It physically makes you feel better, and it's proven to help with depression

My parents made it a rule for me to go outside and do some kind of exercise every day during my treatment. I played soccer or foursquare with my siblings, we rode our bikes, and I always participated in pick-up sports at different gatherings.

That helped me a lot, but I received one of the most helpful pieces of advice from a dear friend of the family. He recommended going to bed at 10:30 every night, and waking up at 7:30 every morning.

I think I was frozen in shock. You want me to do what?

I didn't want to do it, but I tried it out. And now, if I'm off the sleep schedule, it throws my entire day out of whack. And later, when I was preparing my talk, I did my research to make sure it's not just me. I found it is proven scientifically that good sleep habits can help with depression.

I wanted to feel better, so I followed the advice that made sense. And look what happened--my healing progressed in an upward pattern. Don't discount the little actions you can take to attain recovery. They add up. 

I'm still healing . . . one rice noodle at a time.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

From Another: Behind the Mask

Life is a miserable road
Made so by this heavy load
Makes me cry, cry, cry,
Tired, just want to die
And never wake up again...

My body in sync with my soul
Thus it also takes the toll
Makes my head dizzy, dizzy, dizzy,
Head’s pounding like crazy
Don’t want to wake up again...

Sometimes it’s hard to understand
Need to hold on to someone’s hand
Please save, save, save me
Tired, and scared I’ll see
Myself never waking up again.

The above verses came from a poem I wrote several years ago (now whether or not I have any skill to write poems is a topic for another discussion) while on a family vacation.  I was a 17-year old high schooler, a piano student-teacher with more than a dozen students, had great friends, good health, and a stable, close family.

But something was really wrong.

I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t grateful, excited, or energetic. In fact, I didn’t care about anything. Life was, as I had written so poetically, miserable, dark, and hopeless. I’d start crying for no reason…every other week, day, or minute. I was hopeless and hated everything-but mostly myself. I was a failure, something evil that had to just disappear. There was no reason to keep on living. Nobody cared anyway. I was alone and empty. The thoughts and feelings continued to get worse. I’d spend my nights thinking about how to kill myself. I couldn't seem to keep it all bottled in--when it got bad, I would write hate letters to myself, participate in self-harm, or mark up my hands and thighs with sentences like 'you’re a failure', and 'You don’t deserve to live'. It seemed important for me to never forget that.

But my story today isn’t all about how unhappy I was about life. It’s a story of hope.

You see, I was dealing with a case of undiagnosed clinical depression and high anxiety, and was not receiving the proper professional and medical attention for this mental illness. Just how people who are diabetic could be completely oblivious to the fact that they’re dealing with a serious health issue and think that the symptoms they’re dealing with are part of normal life, so was I living day to day not sure if I could ever leave the nightmare I was stuck in.  

But that all changed the day I accepted the idea that I was sick and needed help. I was tired of the hell that surrounded me. Tired of being tired, exhausted all the time, and the constant crying. I wanted to change, and to learn to love life. And because things seemed to only be getting worse, I decided to search for some answers. I googled 'major depression', and I found several helpful links that listed a variety of depressive symptoms--the same symptoms that I had been experiencing on a daily basis for nearly six years. All of a sudden, I realized that my reality was warped--and that I was not the only one who was feeling this way.

The road to recovery is not easy, and it’s not short, either. But when you are getting the help you need, and seeing the people who can help get your health back, you know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel--maybe you can’t see it yet, but it’s there. 

No one likes to tell people they’re seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist (in my case, it was both), let alone harbor the thought that they are. There’s enough stigma associated with mental illness as it is--no need to add family and close friends to that list. But sometimes we have to swallow that false sense of pride to see the truth. And if we’re hurting, that’s a sign that something needs to be fixed.

I am still in recovery at the moment. It’s been almost 3 months or so, and I wanted to share with you a bit about what my life looks like now: I wake up in the mornings with the energy to get up, a bucket list of things I want to get done during the day. I have a strong sense of peace, more confidence in myself than ever before, living in the moment, and loving life! I can spend evenings with my friends, and I go to social functions willingly (before I was dragged). I laugh a lot more, and I’ve realized that I like to crack a lot of jokes--something that was hidden from even myself. But best of all, I’m not crying anymore, and I don’t feel lonely, empty, or a failure. Yes, I’m still seeing a nurse practitioner to monitor the medication I’m on. Yes, I still have some 'low' days. After all, I’m only human. But where I am now compared to where I was in January is so vast that all the therapy, different medications that I’ve had to try, constant doctor visits, and even the nasty side effects (weight gain, we all hate it to begin with) was SO worth it.

Depression is an illness. But it is treatable. I want my life to be an example to others who suffer from mental illnesses that there is still a bright future for them. There’s hope, and they deserve the best of life, too.

I once thought it was impossible to use the words 'depression' and 'happy' in the same sentence. No more--and I say it with pride--I am a victim of depression, and I am living life with the truest sense of happiness! 

--Mariam Mouawad

If you have a story to share, just fill out the contact form on the right. Your struggles can touch so many, just as Mariam's using her story to help others. You can also hear her on a radio show we taped in July, 2014.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why I Need a Heck of a Lot of Motivation

One of the hardest parts of recovery for me was finding the motivation to do what it took to get better. I thought that nothing mattered and there was no point, so why do it anyway. Well, this is the part where I usually pull out a one-liner like:


But not this time. Because it is hard to motivate myself--even if when I'm in recovery and not depressed. If you have loved ones going through this right now, you might think that all you need to do is tell them they can get better, maybe explain why, then give them a push. Sorry, but...


I wish it was that easy, but it simply is not.

Let me give you an example. Someone from USC contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked me to write my testimony for a guest post on the 100 Voices for Suicide Prevention Campaign. I thought, Sure, no problem. So I started writing. I started. Or rather, I tried to start. I hit a brick wall--I wasn't motivated.

Sometimes I feel like I've told my story so many times that everyone must know it by now. But especially when I speak, I need to remind myself that most people in the audience aren't familiar with the details and will probably be impacted by my story. I need to put it in perspective. 

This isn't about me telling my story, this is about someone else hearing it.

So I forced myself to write it. And it was awful. My mom, who proofread it, eventually told me that the problems went way deeper than grammatical errors. She knew I wasn't motivated, so I decided to take a different track and relate it to the Lego Movie we had just seen. And it was better. But it still lacked something, and that was the wanting to do it. We fixed it up and sent it in, and it was good, but it wasn't my best work, and I realized that.

Finding motivation is something I still struggle with. When I want to do something, no one can stop me (as long as it's a good thing). But when I don't want to do something, it's very hard for me, and it usually turns out sub-par.

Same thing with speaking. I'm supposed to practice my speeches every day as I approach the day of the talk. You can't imagine the ways I find to delay that. It's not that I don't like speaking--I really love it. But talking to the wall isn't very rewarding.

Here's the part where you expect me to give some kind of deep wisdom on how to motivate yourself. Sorry, but...

.Image result for wrong pic

I'm still learning. Every day is a new learning experience for me. I was told by someone much wiser than I that, when I give a talk, I need to realize if I give an effective presentation, I might save a life, but if I do a bad job of communicating, someone who needs to hear my message might miss it. So I do the absolute best I can, which includes practicing often.

But gaining motivation for what I don't want to do takes time and maturity. In the meantime, I'll give the best I can to all I do.

Now that's...
Image result for right pic

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My Court Case

As I said in my last post, there will be hard times. There will be times when you think that you just can't make it. You'll see a seemingly insurmountable obstacle in your path and feel like giving up.

I know what that feels like. Remember how I asked you oFacebook and Google+ to pray for me as I approached a very important point in my journey today? Well, now I can tell you why.

You're probably aware that I was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon (or, more accurately "detained", as it's termed in the juvenile court). You also might know that I have had several court hearings, one of which placed me on Deferred Entry Judgement (DEJ), which means that once I finish my two-year probation and turn 18, all records will be sealed and dismissed. It will be as though it never happened. If I didn't choose to tell everyone on the planet about it, no one would have ever known.

As for probation, it wasn't a big struggle because I followed all the terms and was in touch with my probation officer. But it did hold me back from participating in certain activities, like leaving town, playing airsoft, owning a pocket knife. In addition, it implemented a curfew (I'm sure it's obvious this was the hardest to live with ;) I also had community service and a huge restitution to pay Lenny, my victim.

Today, I had a court hearing, and after reviewing all the work I've done in the area of depression awareness and suicide prevention, the judge ruled that I was to be released from probation one year early. I am done with the whole court system.


That hearing was a giant hurdle, but I never gave up. I did everything and more that the court told me to do because I knew this was to be a huge step in my journey. 

I've publicized this very private area of my life for you. I want to be an example of pressing forward and persevering. Not only did I have Major Depressive Disorder for four long years, seriously attempt to end my pain through suicide, and survive against my will, I was arrested for my actions and threatened with jail time. Things didn't look so good for a while.

But I finally made the decision to move forward and see what happens. I may have been a little late to the game, but at least I'm still in the game. That's what I want for all the other teens in the same position of fighting to stay alive each day.

Now for the accolades. 

D.A. Jeanne Roy and me flashing our swag
This post wouldn't be complete without thanking the amazing District Attorney, Jeanne Roy.

She's been there every step of the way since I first met her and shared with her what I was doing to make amends. She even followed my case after she was transferred to a different department. She's been my guardian angel, and I can't thank her enough for that. It would take too much space to explain everything she's done for me.

My mom was taking the photos
 And of course, a huge thanks goes to my parents who've been with me...well...ever since I was born. I wouldn't be here without them, and while I know that's a "duh" statement, I mean it. The support and love they've given me when they could have been so angry is just amazing.

I also want to thank you for your prayers, love, and support through it all. You could have turned your back and been disgusted by what I did, but you didn't. You understood and stood by me. 

Anyway, goodbye, courthouse. May I never lay eyes on you again!

Monday, September 8, 2014

What Now?

First off, I just want to say that I got my days mixed up. I thought today was September 7th, so I came to this blank page, ready to take on the world, and then I saw the little date on my computer. It's the 8th. But you know what? It's okay, because different sources have different dates for Suicide Prevention Week (supposedly the 7th through the 13th). Besides, I'm not so hard on myself anymore when I mess up. It happens.

But now to what I was going to say originally.

Yesterday (the 7th) was the one year anniversary of this blog. I never thought I'd come this far. I still remember those days after the crash--so confused and unsure of my future. And if you or a loved one is dealing with depression, you probably can relate to how I was feeling.

When people contact me, one of the most asked questions is, "What do I do"? And here's what I recommend.

First, assess the situation. Is he or she suicidal? Attempted before? Self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or self-harm? What symptoms of depression do you see? These are questions that should be answered to identify the severity of the depression and the urgency of the situation. And if you're the one answering those questions, answer them truthfully. No one can help you if they don't know how much you're suffering.

If you or anyone else is seriously contemplating suicide or has a plan and the means to follow through, there are options. Depending on the situation, you can call 911. The police will be dispatched and you or your friend will be taken to a mental health facility where you'll be safe and receive help. Another option is to be voluntarily admitted to a facility. If insurance is involved, look for a list of places that are covered. If there is no insurance, then go to a county facility. Just search online for "mental health facility" and the name of your town.

That's how you start. Don't try to cure everything right away. The first priority is saving a life.

Once the situation is under control, you can take the second step, which is to follow the recommended treatment to start healing. I'll go into more detail this week. But first make sure that whoever's suffering is safe. Remember, suicide is a symptom of depression. It's not just feeling bad, it's the ending of a life.

Most importantly, don't give up. There will be hard times, I won't lie, but persevere. I'm a living testimony to that.

If you're suffering from depression and thoughts of self-harm, keep in mind that you can't be erased from this world and from the lives of everyone you've already touched. Don't ever underestimate how important you are and how your story can be an inspiration to others one day.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Next Week

In a few days, Suicide Prevention Week will begin. And from September 7 to 13, many mental health organizations will be raising awareness and reaching out to those who are hurting. These events and campaigns are carefully planned out and every detail is meticulously reviewed. I have stuff (I love that word) going on, too.

But I didn't really plan anything. Everything just kind of happened.

On the 5th, (I know it's technically not during Suicide Prevention Week, but it's leading up to it), I'm attending a board retreat with Community Connect.

The 6th is our monthly support group.

The 7th is the one year anniversary of this blog.

And from the 7th to the 13th, I'm going to be posting every day (except for one day, you get a surprise then). I can't wait to tell you more about myself and my struggles, give you tips, and, of course, hope.

But all this doesn't compare to the grand finale.

As you probably know, I'm speaking at the Benedictus men's breakfast the morning of the 13th, then right after that I head off to give two workshops at a Church Ministers Conference, which is open to the public. I'll also have a booth there, so come and stop by!

Suicide Prevention Week is for everyone, not just those who have been impacted by it because so many suffer from depression and other challenges that can lead to thoughts and acts of self harm.

There's only one of me. 

And there's one of each of you.

Let's do this together.