Author:Paul Gilmartin

Journaling to Communicate by Sheryl Kayne

Sometimes when the going gets tough, and we’re not even sure what exactly is going on, the people closest to us turn scared and run away, or shut down, or become frightened and overwhelmed asking far more questions than we could possibly ever answer. As a volunteer, certified mental health support group leader, a common thread I often hear from people of all ages is that “my family and friends just don’t get it. They have no idea what I’m going through.”


Which is probably true. A mental health crisis can change your life in an instant. When that happens, although you’re the one going through it, those who love you are frightened, bewildered and trying to fix it. Often when people are upset, confused and intent on controlling the uncontrollable, it can be easier to write than to speak.


“When I needed them most, my parents stopped talking to me because I wasn’t talking to them. I couldn’t think straight when I first started taking meds,” says Seth, age 23. “I had no idea I had anything to say until I started writing it all down in a notebook given to me by a social worker. The anger poured out, I began seeing what was happening as more of an observer than a victim. Some things actually began making sense and suddenly I knew what I needed from others.”

He wanted family support and realized the person he most wanted to communicate with was his younger sister. I asked if he would consider journaling with her; not giving up his own private journal, but creating a shared journal that they could both use. He thought it was a great idea and talked to her about it. Since she lives in South Carolina and he’s in Connecticut, they created an online journal which they can also access from their phones. They each make their own entries and responded to each other’s, at least three times a week.

Shared journaling gives you the opportunity to open, or reopen, lines of communication. Sometimes it’s helpful to agree on a few guidelines, such as being responsive to questions asked. If you need more time to think something through, say that. Be open to receiving the information being presented without making judgements or trying to fix everything.

“Growing up, when things were so horrible, I saved myself by writing in 100s of journals,” says Yanni, age 34. “Then I read and read, finding power in my words. It kept me going. I wish I’d known about journal sharing when I was growing up. Perhaps if my parents wrote down and reflected upon their thoughts, they might have been more thoughtful, considerate and flexible with their words.”

Twitter: @SherylKayne


How Sexual Abuse Affected My Mind: An Email from Katie M.

So my story is kind of complicated (as if others aren’t).  When I was about 6 years old, I was continually molested by my brothers friend over the course of a month or so while my brother would be at band practice in our basement.

I had grown up with the effects of the trauma and had some very dark days, ultimately leading to being in an ok place with it around last year.

I started training to become a 24 hour hotline volunteer for a sexual assault survivor advocacy non profit in my town, and had to quit the training after a heavy day of discussing how to handle calls about child sexual abuse. It hadn’t occurred to me how young I really was when it happened to me, and I also hadn’t explored the idea of what could have happened if I had convinced my mom to report it.

Then, a few months later, I was hanging out with my brother (who is ten years older than me, and probably my best friend – we have an awesome healthy relationship) when he confessed that it was actually him that was my molester, and that when my mom was suspicious of me being hurt and asked him about it, he had blamed it on his friend. Being a young, impressionable child, I had completely taken on this version of the story as the truth.

That conversation was the hardest one I have ever had. My brother has struggled for years with alcohol and drug abuse, tearing our family apart, all because he was living with this horrendous guilt of what he had done to me and how he had negatively affected my life. I immediately forgave him because being a witness of his struggle over the years, I wholeheartedly believe that he had it much much worse living with that guilt than I had with just living with the trauma.

It feels odd to tell an incest story that has a happy ending, but it’s the truth. My brother is now 10 months sober and doing fantastic, and I’m at a relatively good place with the truth. We still have an awesome relationship, maybe even better than before. I feel safe with him, I feel like I can tell him anything, and I don’t hold it against him at all.

How it has affected my sexuality?

My sexuality has definitely been affected. I was incredibly promiscuous when I was a teacher that, without a doubt, was stemming from the abuse.

However, now, I haven’t been intimate in about 2 years, excluding one drunken hookup. My low libido was coming from my birth control, which I got off of after realizing the negative effects it had on me, but even after being off the medicine for 9 months, I feel the same way.

Porn disgusts me, and the few times I do get turned on it’s from a romantic intimacy scene in an obscure indie movie (that sounds so lame to write out.) Not wanting to have sex really doesn’t bother me. I know people that are asexual, and I wouldn’t have a problem potentially identifying as so, but as a 20 year old woman it’s tough to find a romantic partner that’s down with celibacy.

I can’t recall any uncomfortable fantasies. It could be safe to say that I’m sometimes attracted to men who look similar to my brother, but I feel like I’d be really digging to try to link the two.

My healing has been extremely circuitous. When I was a teenage I did a pretty rough job on my healing process by romanticizing my mental illness/abuse. There would be times where if I wanted to date someone who only saw me as someone who was down to fuck I would pull the “I guess this makes sense, being molested really screwed me up…” which I hate now. I hate that I put myself in that kind of light, and also sort of made my and everyone else’s experiences with sexual abuse a joke just to seem like the “mysterious damaged girl that liked sex.”

In the last episode where you interview Sarah Goodson and she talks about how she would get thrilled from sleeping with someone and being detached, and then having the other person want her, I completely relate to that, but it was a vicious cycle because, in reality, I cared a lot, but wanted to keep this image up of being an emotionally detached cool chick. It was really exhausting and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

I think really over the past couple years, I have grown a lot and have done a lot of deep diving into what I’ve been feeling with my trauma, and so that has made it circuitous. Depression and anxiety doesn’t help that either. Something that I want to be able to do is be at a place in my recovery where I can share my experiences with others (preferably teenage girls because I think their emotions and feeling get written of as being a ditsy dramatic girl or having PMS – which is such bullshit) and help them understand the kind of guidance they can really benefit from, and how valid their experiences and emotions are. I know I have quite a ways to go, but as today goes, I am content with my life.

 Katie M.


Sarah and Zachary Part 1

Sarah and Zachary share their stories and how they navigate healing while being married.  Sarah shares her story which includes sexual abuse, codependency, perfectionism, anxiety & a stay in a psych ward.  Zachary’s story will be next week.

This episode is sponsored by SquareSpace.  For 10% off go to and use offer code MENTAL at checkout.


Adventures in Electro Convulvise Therapy: A guest blog

It was still dark as Barb and I pulled into the near empty parking lot. I was feeling groggy since I hadn’t my much-needed morning coffee. In fact I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for the last 12 hours.  Paying the outrageous parking fee we crunched across the icy parking lot and up the salt saturated stairs. We went through the very heavy doors, followed the signs to the room we would be spending the morning.  This part of the hospital was quiet and dark, dark except for a room at the end of a corridor. We walked towards the light. It was the ECT clinic.

 When I think back, I think I always had a depressive personality. I always felt like an outsider, isolated, melancholy and unloved.  Knowing what I know now about depression. I must have had my first major depressive episode in my early 20s. I muscled through it and it eventually lifted, however I believe it never left me completely. I did learn to manage it though with alcohol and being a workaholic. These things could only mask the depression for so long, eventually it crept up and escalated to a point where I couldn’t function any longer.

By the time I reached my late 40s I was barely able to concentrate any longer, hardly sleeping, and had a constant feeling of dread and impending doom, I could barely get out of bed. I had reached a crisis and needed more medical help.

 The psychiatrist I had just started seeing urged me to go to the emergency ward at North York General, which I did and that began the long difficult process of finding effective treatment for a mental illness.

  Treatment for depression as with most mental illnesses is not an exact science; it’s very hit and miss. One needs to try different medications to find one that shows benefit. If there are any benefits from that specific medication, it will only show it self after several weeks. If not, you must start again, and try something new, repeating the process. In can be very frustrating. It is very frustrating. One can start to feel like a lab rat.

 After about a year and more of trying different medications and group therapy sessions I was only having minimal improvement. I was labelled as having refractory depression, or treatment resistant depression.  While things were improving, I still could hardly function. I eventually asked if he thought ECT would be a viable option. I had heard an interview with Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia, where she stated she was having ECT once a month and it had saved her life. He did think it was a good idea, and I was referred to CAMH to pursue this form of treatment.

 ECT stands for Electro Convulsive Therapy, a frightening scenario to think about. A doctor sends a low and brief electrical current through the brain, which triggers a seizure.  During the seizure the brain is flooded with different chemicals, like adrenaline, dopamine, and a bunch of others I don’t know the name of. It has been shown that these chemicals can open pathways in the brain that will lift the patient out of depression or kick-start the medication to work. The history of the treatment is interesting to look into if you are interested.

 So there I was, with my wife, on a frigid February morning, cold, scared, frightened and craving a coffee, heading to the lit room at the end of the hallway. The room was a classic cinder block construction, inspired by Soviet era designed by people who hate people. Painted a drab yellow with florescent lights overhead. Much to my surprise the waiting room was already full. There was room for me to sit but not Barb.

 Scanning the room I noticed an adjacent room where the nursing staff was preparing what seemed to over twenty gurneys with sheets and small pillows. They were lined up side by side, for some reason this really disturbed me. It reminded me of pictures and videos I have seen of war hospitals where the dead and dying all lined up, waiting to be treated. I was also shocked at how many people would be receiving treatments that morning.

 There was nothing to do but sit down and wait. Eventually a nurse came around, took my temperature, blood pressure and confirmed I had not eaten or drank anything over the past 12 hours, and that I had a ride home. The information was added to my chart and placed at the bottom of a pile. The small room continued to fill with people and was spilling into the hallway. The first light of morning was beginning show itself.

After what seemed like forever, a man carrying a brief case hurriedly walked in. He headed towards a second door without looking at the room full of patients. Who was that?  Ten minutes later a second man arrived and went through the same door the same way.

Things were about to get real. The gurney room door was closed, the pile of charts was grabbed, I guess its show time. The first name was called and an older woman went through the mysterious door the two men had gone through. After about five minutes I heard a beep, beep beeeeep, then silence. Fifteen minutes later the next name was called, then the next, until eventually my name was called. I was so nervous, I had only  small idea what to expect.

 Weak kneed I entered the treatment room where I was instructed to remove my shoes and lie down on the gurney. The nurses came at me from all directions, tearing the backs off adhesive tabs that were used to stick monitor leads to both my ankles and chest. A cool gel was applied to top and side my head. The man who had arrived first was sitting next to me and painfully inserted a needle into the back of my hand that a was attached to an IV bag.

 I could now hear my heart being monitored on a smaller beeping machine. The second man who had his back to me the whole time while he read my chart finally turned around, said something to the staff then told me about some drug he wanted me to start taking, and how often and how long I would be receiving the treatments. Like I’d remember any of that, I was very frightened.

  I was told to take some deep breaths, and the head nurse told me to relax that they will take good care of me while I was asleep. I felt the anesthetic enter my arm. Before I knew it I was losing consciousness, listening to the beeping fade with a swooshing sound, staring at the fire sprinkler attached to the drop ceiling.

 When I awoke, I was lying on my side on one of those gurneys lined up in the room I saw earlier. There were people, knocked out on either side of me. My head was killing and I was disoriented. I called out about my head and a staff member calmed me down. After lying there awake for several minutes, I was helped up offered a Dads cookie and a juice, which I took.

I was escorted back into the waiting room where I was required to sit and wait for another hour, just to make sure it was safe for me to go home. Besides the headache I noticed I felt like I had to bounce my left leg and that I was clenching my jaw.

 After that hour I was allowed home, I had a coffee and light breakfast and went back to bed as if in a dream.

 I continued with two courses of treatment. Which meant 3 weeks twice a week then a gradual tapering off maintenance treatments. They got easier to endure as I got more acquainted with the procedure. I did experience some memory loss, which was disconcerting; although handy when watching a movie I had supposedly already seen. Eventually I got to know the nursing staff and got to know my fellow patients. People, who had been not three weeks earlier almost catatonic, zombies now had a spark of life in their eyes and were able to have conversations and show emotions.

The procedure seems archaic, barbaric, torture: mainly because of  “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. While it is quite unpleasant, every effort was made to make it as painless as possible by the staff. I don’t think medicine fully understands why ECT works, but it does. It helped me.  I hope I never need it again.

I still have depressive episodes; they are not as long or as intense as they once were. Suicide doesn’t seem like a treatment option any longer, and because of the illness I have become more active in the mental illness artist community. I have met some of the most genuine, caring people amongst the mentally ill, than I have in the so-called well population. It has helped me be accepting of the things that are out of my control and I think it has help me be a more compassionate and empathetic person. And I guess that’s all right.

Steve In Toronto


The Attics Are Already Full: A Guest Blog by Kristen Polito

The Attics Are Already Full

“Are you going to eat all that yourself?

The delivery guy’s expression was incredulous as he handed me my order–an order, which, I’d used illegal means of obtaining, so desperate and pathological the means of my destruction had devolved.

I paused, immediately conjured a plausible lie, dismissed it and admitted, “Yes.”

“Whaaat?” He assessed my frame in disbelief.  “But…how?”

I had no energy for shame or mortification.

“I’m going to throw it all up when I’m done.”

Caught off guard by my candidness, his speech faltered, “Oh!  OhmyGod.  I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.  It’s not your problem.”  I pause.  “Only, if you don’t ask your customers so many personal questions, you might not have to deal with so many personal answers.”

He nodded, reaching for the signed receipt.

Now, he is finally walking away, and I think he is going to let me be.

Still, not put off, he’s got one more for me.

“So…you’re like, Anorexic or somethin’”?

Yeah, buddy.  Or somethin’.

They don’t understand.  It isn’t gluttony.  And isn’t hedonism.

This is not about pleasure.  This is all about pain.

Near or distant, it’s likely that nearly every family has at least one “mad” relation.  You know who I’m talking about; the one who’s responsible for the legendary tales of insane behavior, collective embarrassment, and general familial strife? Chances are if you’re reading this essay, you either love a “mad” person or are one of them.  Well, you’re in good company my friend.

As late as the 1970’s, those “affected” were institutionalized in barbaric versions of asylums and hospitals, a la One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Strides made in modern medicine and mental health care ought to reduce the destructive ripple effect these individuals wield upon their respective families, but, in my estimation, it hasn’t done much to help.

At best, positive changes have been minimal;  mental illness poisons entire families.   The reality of mental illness is that there is no cure, only strategies of maintenance and coping.  The management of mood disorders is largely guesswork: trial and error requiring time, patience, resources and information.

And step one is diagnosis.

Correct diagnosis, that is.

From childhood into my early 30’s, I’ve been the unwilling passenger of a perpetual rollercoaster, with violent emotional waves dictating my behavior, decisions and interactions.

I felt (and still feel) so wrong in the head, not understanding the constant intensity of emotion, the internal turmoil always clutching at my insides.

I’ve been confused by the behavior of those around me.  Everyone else seems so relaxed, so unaffected, so very, very even.

When I was younger, in elementary, middle and even high school, it frustrated me to no end that, when I was in a manic rage or sobbing desperately, my parents didn’t seem to take me seriously, dammit.  In fact, they often appeared amused.

Outrageous! How dare you! This is life and death we are talking about here!

I was quite indignant.

Talking to my dad about it now, he tells me: “I didn’t realize anything was really wrong.  I just assumed the fighting with your mother, the emotional outbursts, the dramatics…that it was all part of being a girl.”

Sexist, maybe.  Understandable? Absolutely.

Most of the time, I covered up the illness.  I desperately wanted (and still want) to fit in, be accepted, appear normal, be liked and admired.

And still, to this day, I seek external validation.  My 20+ years of Anorexia and Bulimia can certainly attest to that.

But of course, an Eating Disorder is not ever about just one thing.  Yes, a significant part of me wants to appear attractive, controlled, on top of things, and strong (ha ha…ha), BUT the main role of my Anorexia and Bulimia has been a homemade mood stabilizer,  only I never realized its true function until 2014, when I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

For years, family, doctors, psychologists, and therapists attempted to treat only the presenting symptoms: the starving, bingeing, purging, over-exercising, self-harming behaviors.

All the while, not seeing the forest from the trees.

At my sickest, I felt angry at them.  Patronized.

My problems were chalked up to the trivial pursuit of beauty.  Thinness. Perfection.  Attaining the unattainable, blah, blah, blah.

My parents theorized it was a preoccupation with vanity; a hyperbolic representation of societal standards for the aesthetic ideal.

The times when I veered toward the danger zone, more dead than alive, they realized it had become an obsession over which I’d lost control; a set of destructive behaviors so addictive and necessary that I was willing to die for them.

And I may, still.

My parents tried to understand, but they did not have all the information.

Wanting very much to keep me alive, they’ve attempted all conceivable ways to help: spending tens of thousands of dollars on treatment, hospitals, rehab, therapists, doctors and dentists.  Arguing with insurance companies on my behalf, fighting for more comprehensive care.  Seeing me through divorce and bankruptcy.  Moving me back home and opening their own homes to me, all the while providing financial and emotional support.  Straining their own relationships, prioritizing my needs at the expense of my siblings.

I am a living, breathing investment.

And then.  


Then, the true and full extent of my family’s unconditional love, support and patience was tested when I had my first psychotic manic episode.  I had initially not been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder because, for years, doctors, psychologists, therapists, and counselors had been focused on the presenting symptoms of my eating disorder.  Forest…trees…you get it.  


Around the time of my divorce, my family had helped moved me back home, at their time and expense, I might add, but I’d already been relapsing into Anorexia once again.  Historically my anorexia has always manifested as sub-type 2: purging type.  What this means is, that I primarily restrict my calorie intake, but if I do binge, or even eat normal portion sizes, I will purge through vomiting.  During anorectic relapses, this behavior is always accompanied by excessive exercise.  I normally run 45 minutes to an hour, but during a relapse, a two to three hour workout would be about average for me.  OCD behaviors always intensify during these times as well.  


Having refused to go to inpatient eating disorder treatment during this relapse,  I was seeing both a medical doctor and an outpatient therapist regularly, at my family’s behest.  The doctor, in an attempt to treat my “depression and anxiety” prescribed me anti-depressants, which promptly sent me into full blown mania.  

Starvation-and not in the hyperbolic sense, mind you-combined with, well, basically speed for Bipolar people, made me a fucking lunatic.   

Compounding that, a Bipolar person, having a mixed-manic episode, I was readily and enthusiastically putting myself in peril. There’s that impulsive, risky element that’s so magnetically attractive in this state; even suicidal thoughts are idealized and appealing.


When mania verged into psychosis, the following behavior ensued for the next several months non-stop: compulsive shoplifting of food in mass quantities and back-to-back occurrences despite consequences (repeated arrests and jail time).  I became divorced from reality during this time.  My mind and reasoning were gone.    


I am a convicted felon three times over because of this compulsion.  During various mixed/manic episodes, I would run around town, a psychotic, starving skeleton, and steal cartloads of food from grocery stores to either hoard and not eat (Anorectic features) or to binge/purge on it (Bulimic features).


A normal, non-eating disordered person will read this and not understand.  They will view this as disgusting, and, in some ways, it is.  

A normal, non-mentally affected person will read this and not understand; they will view this as an excuse, and, in some ways, it is.

A normal, non-addict will read this and not understand; they will view this as a weakness, and, in some ways, it is.  


Unfortunately, I’m an eating disordered, mentally affected, addict and, when I have relapsed, consequences don’t matter.  At that moment, my eating disorder is my drug of choice, and, it is the one making the choices.  


My family was able to provide legal representation the first time I got into trouble, but it just kept happening.   There was nothing they could do.  Like I said, I am a convicted felon three times over because of this compulsion. I’ve not been able to work for the past two years.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, an M.B.A. in Finance, and 7 years experience working in the Banking and Finance industry that’s all worthless per the legal consequences of my unmanaged illness.  

That, and I’ve still not been able to get my mood swings under control, even with a heavy medication protocol.  I’m either in bed for days or awake all week.  Regardless, I am no longer suited to work in a traditional business due to the realities of mental illness.  Period.  


I often find myself wondering if an early childhood intervention would have helped me; if just getting me into a doctor’s office under the pretense to treat my Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors, my Magical Games, the refusal to get under my own comforter and actually feel comfort, the acute vexation with asymmetry, the doctor could have either ruled out or acknowledged the OCD diagnosis and POSSIBLY connected the dots on the Bipolar disorder diagnosis much sooner.

Maybe, if my parents and I knew what we were dealing with–Bipolar I, Anxiety, Borderline  Personality Disorder–earlier on, things would be different.

Or maybe they would be very much the same.  My brain chemistry would be exactly the same, so it’s anyone’s guess.  In my private writings; my secret letters that I never mail, I demand to know why my parents did not take my childhood instability more seriously and, thus, look into professional help for me sooner; my words; my yelling, angry language marching across papers; accusatory, defiant, unquestionably imbalanced.

Would it be better or worse to show my parents in words, rather than in skeletal illustration, why I feel badly, act strangely and impulsively, treat others cruelly, and consistently, predictably, invariably let the whole damn world down?

Present day, I am not better.  My body tells a lie; it’s a facade of repair, of restoration, of health.

I am still quite “mad”.  Borderline.  Bipolar.  Rapid-cycling, mood-switching.  Manic.  Depressed.  Anxious.  Compulsive.  Impulsive.

I’m told I’m a danger to myself.

When you’re Bipolar I, and just climbing out of depression, it seems there is a limited window of opportunity to capitalize on any talent, intellect, or ability. It vanishes into the terrible blackness that surrounds you like a death shroud more often than not.

Just when you’ve gotten free of it, there are so many things you want to do, and normal time is so finite.  And you find yourself, running down the street at full-speed, attempting to evade the blackness.  But, it’s gaining on you.  You’ve got maybe a quarter of a mile head-start, so you must get things done quickly before you get sad again and your brain is put on hold once more.

The best moments are in that elevated state of hypomania (it’s below Mania but above feeling “flat”).  It’s that good, creative-flow, “in-the-zone” kind of state, that fantastic-yet-fleeting, when you think you’re finally creating something brilliant, you’re led to work straight through the night, and CAN’T WAIT! to share it with the world because you finally have your brain back.  Your intellect, that is.  Not your sanity, of course.  


The heart of the matter, the disease, the disorder, the affliction must still be addressed; managed.

The problem lies in the neurological; in the chemical.

Inflammation of the brain.

Only now, the roots of my illness are finally being dug up, exposed.  There is an overwhelming amount of discussion and analysis, experimental damage control.

In Jane Austen’s time, as a more humane alternative to the institutions and asylums, the mad relation was simply locked away in the attic.

We won’t speak of them again.  Brush off hands.  Problem solved.

Until a workable treatment plan is found, I still rely entirely on my family’s support, siphoning resources, straining budgets and patience.  When my mad behavior becomes untenable, I will be shuffled again.  To another gracious family member or friend.

Because, alas, the attics are already full.

Kidding.  Sort of.


Kristen Polito Bio:

You can read her public blog, SaltandPepperTheEarth, follow her on twitter @saltandpepperth or instagram



Religious Abuse – Hilary A

The 32 year-old shares about breaking free from her mother (and their religion Christian Science) after years of her using scripture as a weapon to justify her neglectful, unempathetic and narcissistic parenting.  She also shares about her history of panic attacks/fear of choking, and trichotillomania.


Tracy E

Paul’s support group friend shares about being raised in a Catholic Italian-American family where attention was hard to get, how her mother’s death helped her to grow and her love addiction to men and sugar.

To read the article about mental health in colleges by Catherine Savini go to

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To check out Paul’s Squarespace page go to