Guest Blog

3 Changes Newly-Diagnosed ADHD Adults Should Make: Guest Blog by Vee Cecil

While adults with ADHD don’t often exhibit the hyperactivity of children with the condition, they do have the inattention and impulsivity associated with the disorder. As Mayo Clinic explains, adult ADHD symptoms include difficulty focusing or concentrating, restlessness, impulsivity, trouble completing tasks, disorganization, frequent mood swings, struggling to cope with stress, and a hot temper. These symptoms often lead to several problems, such as unstable relationships, poor work performance, and low self-esteem.


Once they have a diagnosis, adults can make their lives easier by making some changes. Newly-diagnosed ADHD adults often feel a sense of relief for finally understanding why they are the way they are, but that relief may turn to fear or regret. That’s why the first step newly-diagnosed ADHD adults should take is to accept and honor their feelings. Once people come to terms with the diagnosis, they are able to take positive steps toward dealing with it.


  1. Determine the Best Treatment. After being diagnosed with adult ADHD, people should work with their doctor to determine the best treatment for their symptoms and situations. As explains, current treatments commonly involve medication, psychological counseling, or a combination of the two. The combination of therapy and medication is thought to be the most effective treatment. Of course, your doctor will discuss the benefits and risks of medication, and it may take some time to identify the best treatment. Counseling often includes an educational component, so that newly-diagnosed adults gain a better understanding of the disorder and how to live with it.


  1. Proactively Manage Your Impulses. One change ADHD adults can make to better manage their impulsivity is to consider the situations in which they are most likely to be impulsive and make a list of them. Identifying those situations is the first step to better managing them, because ADHD adults will be more aware of the need to think before acting. Another great way to manage impulses is to get plenty of exercise. And as this article notes, going on a walk with a furry friend is an excellent way to work off some of your extra energy, and in turn, clear your mind. It has also been proven to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.


  1. Get Organized with Structure and Neat Habits. The inattentiveness and distractibility associated with adult ADHD often results in difficulty being organized at work and at home. This also tends to make ADHD adults feel overwhelmed. Breaking tasks into smaller chunks and developing a system for getting organized is one of the best changes ADHD adults can make. Developing a structure for organization and adopting neat habits will make a world of difference for ADHD adults.


For organizing at home, determine which objects are necessary and which you can store or trash. Though this article addresses the needs of children with ADHD, its advice holds true: organizing work areas, setting up a “staging area” by the door for keys, wallets, etc., and storing items in labeled bins can be a big help in managing your ADHD at home.


At work, use lists and make notes for tasks, projects, deadlines, etc., and consider using a to-do list app so you can set reminders for tasks as well. Finally, help yourself by avoiding procrastination. If it is a task that requires a very short amount of time, do it now to alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed.


Certainly, newly-diagnosed ADHD adults have much to consider upon learning they have the disorder. But, there are changes you can make to manage your symptoms and make your life easier.


Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, bootcamp instructor, and all-around health enthusiast. When she isn’t training clients or playing outside with her family, she is working on her recently-launched blog where she shares her favorite wellness tips and recipes.


OCD and CBT OMG!: A guest blog by Lindsey

This week, and every year during the second full week of October, is International OCD Awareness week. Now, here’s the thing: it’s awareness week for those that do not experience and suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorders. For those that do, it’s nearly impossible to be unaware. Maybe I’m exaggerating, because I’m sure there are those that find some repose from their obsessive thoughts, but for many of us it’s hard to fathom a life free of OCD and the stigma that accompanies it.

The world has come a fair ways in trying to quash the stigma of mental health issues, but we still have a long ways to go. There are too many people like me who take years to seek treatment because of stigma. I didn’t even know trichotillomania had a name until a decade after it had started affecting my life. I was the butt of many jokes in high school due to my obsessive use of purell, and yet many of these same people poking fun at my OCD asked me on multiple occasions to use some because they knew I was likely to have a bottle in my bag. I’m learning how to laugh about it now, but it’s taken me a long time to get here.

Obsessive thoughts are a part of being human; it is physically impossible to control our thoughts. What we CAN control is our behaviour, and our actions. (It is when our obsessions and subsequent compulsive actions threaten our daily life and routine that we must take initiative and seek help.)

Keeping everything neat and tidy doesn’t make you OCD, just as being sad doesn’t mean you’re depressed and being nervous for an interview or exam doesn’t mean you suffer from anxiety. Language is important!

If you have people in your life living with OCD, the best thing you can do is be kind. Be patient. Try to understand without judgement. Talk about it. OCD ≠ quirky, if the thought of changing the way you do something, not repeating something, etc. makes your brain scream, reach out to someone.

My god, if you’ve made it this far, you are a brave, brave man. I posted that into the facebook void a few hours ago, immediately wanted to take it back, but didn’t. I’m thinking of it as an exposure therapy exercise in and of itself.

In summation: OCD sucks, and the exposure therapy I’ve been doing in CBT sucks worse because it’s scary as fuck, but it works.


I Have Been Diagnosed as a Sociopath: A guest blog by “Damon”

I have been suffering from depression since I was 16 years old. It has been on and off since then and when I felt I was spiraling downward, I always felt there was something more to it. As of November of 2014, my therapist, who I had been seeing for about 4 months, told me who I really am. I was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder among other personality disorders. In layman’s terms, I am a complex sociopath.

I didn’t know how to react to this information when it was given to me. Sociopaths are people you hear about on the local news or America’s most wanted. But I never felt that it was something that could be described about me. Immediately, I felt like I was a pariah, an outcast, someone to be avoided. I suddenly felt as if I understood what it was like to be hiding something about myself that defines me. Similar to someone who has not come out of the closet yet.

Looking back, I can see that I had many of the traits that would be characteristic of someone with this diagnosis. I shoplifted as a teenager and convinced all of my friends to join me as well. I didn’t treat my pets in the best ways. I used to trespass on private property including breaking and entering. I hated authority and often disregarded rules. It was difficult for me to hold employment (and sometimes still is) because I genuinely did not care.

Here’s what being a sociopath means to me today:

I feel no shame, guilt, or empathy toward others. I realized that the only moments I felt sorry was not for what I’d done, but rather I was sorry I got caught doing. During a group therapy meeting, I was told by a member that her son’s wife had had a miscarriage. Everyone in the room was crying or aghast but me. I couldn’t relate or care.

I feel nothing. I often feel nothing. Most of my emotions are a ruse, a lie to seem like a generally happy friendly person. The few feelings I do feel frequently are rage when something does not go my way and joy in the form of laughter at a good joke.

I am exceptionally intelligent in ways that often astonish my friends and family. All of my immediate family and friends have advanced degrees whereas I do not but I can often best them in games of trivia. My father will often ask me about songs and events that happened before I was born when he wants to learn about them.

I can be charming and interesting at any point in time that I choose. It is easy for me to start up a conversation with anyone at anytime, but again this is hollow. This process of putting on a face is something I can only do for so long. I feel like I am out of breath after a while. Women often tell me that I’m sweet or a great guy, but what I’m showing them is a mirage. In fact, I am the exact kind of person their friends and family would like to avoid.

I don’t feel love where others would say I should. I see my parents more as landlords than I do as a loving support system. My brothers would say we have grown close over the years, though I feel no such connection. I don’t know if I can love a person fully and I hide who I really am from potential mates. I can cut ties with any person in my life at any time I choose.

It is difficult for me to understand other people. I am often irreverent toward attitudes and traditions that others hold near and dear. I don’t understand the point of funerals, weddings, and most family events.

I am a fan of Boston area sports teams as well as LeBron James because many dislike them although I don’t know why, and I can relate to that.

I never could find the root cause of why I am what I am. Maybe because my brother molested me in front of my parents, who did nothing. Maybe because of a major concussion I’ve experienced. Maybe because of a horrific traffic accident I’ve experienced. My therapist says family history of diabetes is often found. Perhaps that is it, I don’t know. But what I do know is that for the rest of my life, I’m going to be fundamentally different than other people in this way. I am in the process using the positive aspects of this diagnosis to my advantage. For example, I don’t have fear taking risks. I can approach any woman I want to be around. My ambition is one that can hardly be matched.

All in all, it has been confusing to try to live with this part of myself. Though I have told my immediate family and some friends, we have not talked about it. I have felt like the black sheep of the family and will continue to feel that way. But as I have already received help when I felt I was in my darkest hour, I feel I can continue on knowing the roots of my sporadic melancholy.




Importance of Considering Emotional Factors in Psychiatric Diagnoses: Guest Blog by Dr. Terry Lynch


Psychiatric diagnoses are generally seen as primarily biological problems requiring primarily biological solutions. Not much attention is generally placed on the emotional or psychological aspects of psychiatric diagnoses.

This approach is misguided. Of course there are physical aspects to depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, OCD, eating disorders etc. There are physical aspects to all human experiences, but a wealth of helpful information emerges when the emotional and psychological aspects of psychiatric diagnoses are fully taken into account.

There are major gaps in knowledge and understanding within each of the various psychiatric diagnoses. Incorporating the emotional and psychological aspects of psychiatric diagnoses –to a far greater extent than currently happens – can greatly help join the dots and make sense of the various psychiatric diagnoses.

Here is just one example.

The usual explanation for paranoia is that it is a feature of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. This explanation provides no real understanding of paranoia or why it occurs. A more complete understanding of paranoia emerges when we factor in some important emotional and psychological aspects.

Projection is a well recognised concept in psychology. To “project” means to “throw”. When we watch a movie on the cinema screen, we know that the images appear on the screen because they are projected – “thrown” – from the projector at the opposite end of the cinema.

Paranoia can be understood as the projection of the inner world of the individual onto the screen of life. A common error made in such circumstances is to evaluate people’s experiences and behaviours from the benchmark of what is broadly considered “normal”. Rather, they should be evaluated from the perspective of the individual’s inner world, taking the context fully into account.

If doctors cannot identify a factual external basis for the person’s fear, it is quickly concluded that there is no basis for the person’s fear other than biological, as evidence of mental illness. But if we tune in to the person’s inner world, we find that the person generally feels terrified, desperately unsafe. In 15 years working fulltime in mental health, I have met well over a hundred people whose experiences could be described as paranoia. In every case, the inner experience was one of terror, feeling completely unsafe, unprotected, and totally unable to protect themselves.

Understanding projection helps us understand paranoia. To a person who feels completely unsafe and totally unable to protect themselves, threats may appear to come from all directions. It is a case of experiencing the world not as it is but as we are.

This information presents possibilities. Perhaps helping people in this situation to feel safer can help people experiencing paranoia? This is what I have repeatedly found. Paranoia is the product of feeling very unsafe. Feeling unsafe is a regular characteristic of people diagnosed with schizophrenia.

It is high time that important emotional and psychological aspects of psychiatric diagnoses – such as feeling profoundly unsafe and the projections that result from this – were given the importance their presence merits.

Why are these and other important emotional and psychological aspects regularly missed by mental health doctors? Two reasons: (1) The training of psychiatrists and GPs does not sufficiently prioritise such emotional and psychological aspects; (2) Giving such aspects of psychiatric diagnoses the importance they merit risks raising serious questions of the medical model that currently dominates global mental health care.


 Dr. Terry Lynch, mental health activist, author. physician, psychotherapist.



Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder: A guest blog by listener Melanie

D.I.D never comes alone. I’ve been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobic Disorder, Avoidant Food Intake Disorder, Depersonalization, Excoriation Disorder and PTSD.

All of these disorders effect me deeply, have run my life from a very young age, but I think the disorders that have most effected me besides my D.I.D are my Panic and Anxiety disorders.

I was diagnosed with D.I.D around 11 or 12 years old. Strangely enough, that was around the time the abuse that caused my disorders stopped. My abuser sexually, physically and emotionally abused me on almost a daily basis from the time I was 5 until I was 12. They moved when I was 12. I don’t know how long they could have continued the abuse if they hadn’t left and I didn’t breathe a word of it until I was 16.

Being so young when it began, I was very submissive. I had a lot of outer body experiences during the abuse, complete black-outs, episodes of losing time – sometimes for days or weeks at a time. My other personalities (alters) started taking defined shape when I started to fight back, around 8 or 9 years old. That’s when the violence escalated and it was at 12 or 13 that I developed my most prominent and dangerous alter.

I’ll talk about this alter as if it were my only one, so I don’t confuse all the details and draw this out too long.

The sexual abuse was never verbalized between me and my abuser. Which made it hard to think or talk about in clear words. When it’s never spoken about, it’s hard for anything to feel real. I was little and, especially being a little girl, I was socialized and conditioned to be more obedient, to argue less. I was submissive, nonconfrontational, fearful of authoritative figures, easily manipulated, naive and very trusting. I was a perfect victim.

The rape and molestation, the cutting (that my abuser inflicted upon me, not self-inflicted), verbal abuse I underwent was all so commonplace growing up, I just tried not to think about it. When I was at school or summer camp, I’d often forget about it entirely. There were several times I remember consciously thinking to myself, ‘if I just don’t think about it anymore, it will go away.’ I said that to myself in regard to my memories of being abused and my disorders. Particularly my loss of time and depersonalization. Those were so frightening to experience and I was scared to think on it, let alone verbalize it.

There were times I opened my mouth to actually say ‘I think I’m being raped,’ ‘the blood on my mattress was not from my period,’ ‘I think I’m going crazy,’ ‘I think I want to harm myself,’ ‘I think I already have.’ I’d open my mouth in front of family or friends, at the dinner table and it would get stuck in my throat like a hot rock and refuse to come out. My body wouldn’t make noise and I eventually surrendered to that.

I was scared to even say it out loud to myself. I didn’t write about it, I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t release it anywhere. I hardly slept, I always felt ill. There was so much time my body was piloted by my alters that most of my childhood is so warped, I can’t really trust any of my own memories to be true or real. Time is like this loose, flat circle that pushes me around like bumper carts and is at the same time, impossible for me to grab hold of.

My dangerous alter hates me as my abuser did, but also hates me in the ways that I have. Considers me weak, disgusting, pathetic, self-pitying and unworthy. She has threatened to kill me before, in writing. I would find frightening notes from her in my bedroom or my school notebooks.

I think she is the part of myself that took on the traits of my abuser to match their severity; to fight fire with fire, in a way. I once heard it explained in a story about a young girl who was attacked by bears and she went home, made a bear costume with big fangs and big claws and when she next saw the bears, she attacked them just as viciously as they had attacked her, not for vengeance, but for protection. That is to say, she couldn’t protect herself from her attackers until she became one of them. So, I think my alter took on that role of condensed evil equal to that of my abuser’s so that I might survive the abuse at all.

I attempted suicide at 12 during a bizarre episode of depersonalization and I saw one psychologist in particular that same night. My mother wouldn’t send me to the hospital (even if that may have been the smarter choice) because she knew she would lose legal control over me once I was in the hospital. I don’t know if it was a desire to protect me from a psych ward or shame of my illnesses that kept her from taking me there. She would’ve given anything for me to be ‘normal.’ I think she still resents me for the macabre strangeness of my brain.

I did some EMDR therapy with this psychologist, he made me draw a lot and we did some exercises that were almost hypnotic. He had me keep journals that my alters would write in, all in different hand writing styles, all with different narrative flows. I know I lost time in his room, I had violent panic attacks in front of him and his room saw a lot of the worst of my symptoms. He told my parents that he ‘suspected’ I was being abused and he even knew by who, though I never said. My parents didn’t take him seriously, I suppose. I didn’t see that doctor again. My family didn’t talk about it again.

I came forward on the night of my 16th birthday. This was entirely by chance. My mother’s friend caught me in a very vulnerable moment, mid-panic-attack and asked me ‘did someone hurt you?’ and I had a complete meltdown. I never even answered, but it’s sort of hard to respond to that question with hysterical tears and full body tremors and then say ‘nah, nothing happened.’ I told my parents that night.

My mother believed me, asked me if I wanted to press charges and respected my decision not to. I don’t know if my father ever believed me. He used my diagnosis against me, saying ‘she makes stuff up all the time,’ ‘how do we know that any of this is real?’ ‘This could just be another one of her stories.’

My sister actually walked in on the sexual abuse once. When I brought it up to her, she had no recollection of it. When I brought up that discussion again, she had blocked that too. Every time I mention it, she seems to be hearing about it for the first time all over again. I think what she saw, she blocked and the unpleasantness of it all just keeps getting blocked again and again.

The last I heard of my abuser was that they were arrested for attempted murder, having stabbed a woman over 30 times, strangled and beaten her. She survived by some miracle. My abuser served 3 months in prison for this attack.

I’ve heard it said that life is an uphill battle. With D.I.D, sometimes the battle starts all over again, skips over parts, rewinds, pauses, sometimes you pop into existence on another hill entirely, watching the battle from some other hill, unable to get back to where you need to be. With anxiety, sometimes sink holes form instantaneously beneath you, landmines go off too close, you hear missiles that haven’t been fired yet, you swing your sword before there is anything to swing it at. With depression, sometimes the air becomes thick like water and every movement to strike or land a blow becomes overwhelmingly difficult, like all of gravity is working against you, there is a loss of impact, a lethargy to even the air.

Reality is bendable to me. Memory is often false, mostly unreliable. Time is almost irrelevant. I experience life with the constant fear that nothing is real and even if it were real, none of it matters.

I haven’t lost time since 2011. I still have a lot of depersonalization pretty regularly, but it’s manageable. I still have panic attacks, flooding, flash backs, casual, passive suicidal ideation, bouts of severe depression that sometimes come without any warning.

There is so much to my story, it was so difficult to write this. You asked me for 500 words or so and I gave you 1500 and it hardly says anything about my experiences. I hope someday I will be able to share it in greater detail.

Thank you for reading this and giving me this opportunity to share a part of myself that is so often too ugly or heavy to impart.



The Weight: A guest blog by Cassie J Sneider

I discovered that I could make a butt with my stomach when I was in the third grade, catapulting my belly up the list of favorite body parts, right up there with my armpits and any area that could generate a fart sound.

“Mom, check it out! A BUTT!” I would say, squeezing together the fat around my belly button and dancing a little, sometimes a shoulder shimmy, sometimes a rolling motion like a sexy extra in the director’s cut of Aladdin. My younger sister would try to mimic me, but she took after my mother’s side, small-framed, skinny women whose very bones seemed like they might be hollow, like the sun-bleached ones found in the sand on the shore. My sister had her own unique talent: she could suck in her stomach to look like a human skeleton, pronouncing her ribs like a Save the Children PSA, usually accompanied by a low moan. This came in handy when we needed to illustrate that we were in desperate need of a dollar for the ice cream man. Her trick was utilitarian, but mine was sort of for the greater good: if my mom was chain-smoking over a pile of bills or bleaching the bathtub in a silent rage, I could just lift up my shirt, make a butt, and if I was lucky, she would forget about being angry for a second.


From the front seat of the bus, I could see myself in the rearview mirror on the way to junior high. Eighth graders filed in and went directly to the back where they threw pencils out the window and used words like “fingerbang” and “whack.” There was a hierarchy among the seventh graders that was based on development, socioeconomic status, and the bagginess of your jeans. Two things I had going for me were that I didn’t have braces or acne. On the other hand, I had glasses, frizzy hair down to my butt, and otherwise looked like the lost Duggar child they keep in a shed. The jeans I had were skintight and Sears’ store brand, Canyon River Blues, which conjures images of men whitewater rafting on one of those retreats where you go into the woods with a bunch of other guys, beat a drum, and scream your father’s name. Nothing about Canyon River Blues says going to school and being seen as a cool, worthwhile human being, but then again, when does anyone care if you are a good person in the seventh grade anyway?

In the seventh grade, I shot up five inches, gained twenty pounds, and outgrew my jeans. They were too tight to move in, and the best part of the day was walking in the door after school and unbuttoning the fly so that I could breathe. This was the 90s, before jeans had any give, and Canyon River Blues were made out of the stiff burlap that might be present on a hay bale during a barn raising; certainly nothing you’d want to have on your skin.

“Can you put your gut away?” my mother asked while I was sitting on the couch watching Ricki Lake and finishing my my homework.

Comments like these fed the new voice in my head that told me I was not only a financial burden for needing bigger clothes, but I was also disgusting. It’s probably common sense to most people, but nobody explained to me that physically growing was a normal part of life and nothing to be ashamed of. I felt deeply embarrassed and my too-small clothes made me feel that just by virtue of staying alive, I was doing something wrong. I didn’t look like the lip-glossed girls on the cover of Seventeen and Sassy in their carefully ripped denim. I didn’t look like Alicia Silverstone getting her belly button pierced by some creep in the video for Cryin’. And I certainly didn’t look like the girls in the back of the bus who wore white eyeliner and said things like, “What are you looking at, dyke?”

Every magazine that came to our house offered advice to transform yourself into somebody you weren’t. Redbook offered crash diets my mom went on, and occasionally I would come home to find the refrigerator full of grapefruit or red meat. One article in Prevention talked about the importance of visible cheekbones and abs in being attractive. I remember making a conscious effort to suck in my cheeks and stomach when I saw the boy I liked in school. One day I caught a glimpse of myself doing this in the rearview mirror of the bus. I looked like I was imploding, which is neither sexy, nor carefree. And I actually was imploding in a way, without a sound, hoping to disappear.


The first time I can recall being aware of my body, I was probably eight or nine. I stood up after a long Saturday afternoon of American Gladiators and barbecue potato chips.

“Just look at your stomach,” my mom said. “It’s protruding.”

I didn’t know what protruding meant. I assumed it was a compliment, like I was buff and ripped like Nitro or Laser. But when I looked it up in the dictionary I won in school for being a good speller, I felt betrayed. My own mom was saying I was fat, the very person responsible for my health and emotional well-being. Insults became a regular occurrence as I got older, spiking in moments of anxiety and special occasions. If her jeans didn’t fit right, my mother told me I needed to go on a diet. If a relative was getting married in the distant future, she wrote down everything I ate and worked out until she could buy clothes in the kid’s section. I felt less like an individual and more like an extension of my mother’s body, as if my existence fluctuated with my mother’s weight and whatever her current feelings were toward herself.

My mother described herself in high school as the “fat friend,” and though she had thrown out every photo of herself between the ages of 12 and 25, she backed up this claim with a single picture she took of her friends: behind them, two long, skinny shadows next to a slightly wider one holding a camera. She mentioned losing this weight when her first boyfriend cheated on her. His name was Guy, and in my imagination, he looked like the smooth-talking but occasionally skuzzy Ian Ziering character on Beverly Hills, 90210. There weren’t any fat people on TV in the 90s except for Roseanne and Carnie Wilson, so in my mind, I frankensteined my mother’s face onto their bodies. During the good times, my mom and Guy would sit on the beach of my imagination singing like in the video for “Hold On,” and when things were bad, they screamed at each other behind the counter of the Lanford Lunchbox.

My mother is a small woman. It would have been hard for me to believe that she had ever been overweight, if not for her constant uphill battle against becoming fat again.

“Seventy-five pounds I gained with you,” she would say, pointing at the one Polaroid of her holding me after I came into this world. “I thought it would never come off, but can you believe that? Seventy-five pounds.”

In the astonishing seventy-five pound weight gain picture, my mother looks normal. She isn’t wearing any mascara and she is clearly tired, but she is an average woman holding a baby in a stucco early 80s livingroom. There is one thing that does stand out in this photo, though. From the look of disgust on her face, my mother might have been holding a dead carp. Instead, she is holding me on the second day of my life. I grew up with the overwhelming feeling that I was to blame for something and wracked my brains and body trying to figure out what it was. The answer was in this photo all along: seventy-five pounds I couldn’t control.


I worked at a doctor’s office in the west village a few years ago. It was upscale, but people mostly came in for pills. Xanax. Adderal. Klonopin. One guy came in for acupuncture and liked to talk about art. He was a middle-aged photographer holding onto a rent-controlled lease in Union Square. His wife had some important breadwinning job, and he took freelance photos for magazines. Tattooed women. Tasteful nudes. He offered to take pictures of me, and I felt like I didn’t have anything to lose. I had just turned thirty and realized that I wasted the entirety of my twenties hating myself. I fretted over the bump in the bridge of my nose. the stretch marks on my butt, the size of my teeth. I stopped wearing shorts because I was afraid that my thighs shook too much when I walked. I got Brazilian waxes for boyfriends who didn’t even shower, one of which had hemorrhoids so bad it looked like a family of pink salamanders was living in his butt. I hated myself like it was my second job and I was going for employee of the month. Living this way is exhausting, and if I could somehow find the strength to be comfortable enough to let some perv take pictures of my beav, then I had made it through The Gauntlet in the private American Gladiators of my self-loathing.

His apartment was huge but cluttered, a mishmash of patterns and eastern-cultural art objects that you see in rich white people apartments where it looks like somebody got a ten-thousand dollar gift certificate to Pier 1 and blew it in one day. We took pictures in the bathroom and kitchen, then on the roof in rollerskates. At the end of the shoot, his sixteen year old daughter came home and was completely unfazed. Just a typical day with cool New York parents, I guess.

I was kind of worried that when the pictures came back, I would look as uncomfortable as I felt being directed to move and contort so that my stomach would be flatter, or that I might be making a dumb face from staring too hard at a school photo of his daughter in the hallway. What I did not expect was to be airbrushed into a skeleton with hair.

“I look like a ghoul here,” I said to the doctor I worked for as we scrolled through the photos. It was insulting to see what this stranger with bad taste in living room furniture thought it took to make me attractive. I finally had visible cheekbones, but my arms and legs were rain thin. I looked like one of the aliens that probe Christopher Walken in the movie Communion.

“Well, you’re like Art Hot here,” the doctor said.

“Yeah, but I don’t look like myself. I am actually missing a piece of my arm in this photo,” I said, pointing out the accidental photoshop amputation.

“Yeah,” said my seventy-year old boss, “but it’s hot.

I rolled away from him in my office chair. “It’s actually not hot. I’m fine the way I am,” I said.

And for the first time in my life, I actually believed it. It took seeing all the things a stranger would take away from me to realize that I wanted them back because I had earned them. The chickenpox scar between my eyes. The bones that stick out of my feet from years of standing in Converse at menial jobs. The stomach that made my mom laugh once or twice when I was kid. This picture removed all of my stories, the things that I am proud of. I am fine the way I am, and I worked hard to be here.


What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Die: Guest Blog by Glenn Rockowitz

I don’t cry anymore. And I hate that I don’t. I have always attributed this weird fucking paralysis to the emotional lockdown I developed years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live. A survival mechanism I designed to keep my eyes fixated only on reaching the living Me at the other side of the brushfire. And it has served me well. Or so I have told myself.

This morning I cried in a way I haven’t since I was kid. The guttural kind of sobbing that only comes from a body purging a pain too large to fit the human-shaped frame that holds it in place. I know a lot of people experience this kind of sadness breach as a catharsis, a necessary release long overdue. But for me it wasn’t. At all.

It was the overflow of the cumulative ache that comes from trying to live every day waiting for the other shoe to drop. The shoe that is the slow-burning ember everyone who’s ever survived a body in betrayal can’t fully scrape off their windshield. The one that never stops reminding you that you’re always just a slight breeze away from igniting your world.

I talk about this phenomenon a lot. I even wrote a book about it. And like an idiot, I keep believing that I can find the right words to convey this darkness and loneliness to the uninitiated. Even though I know that it can’t be done, I am making peace with the fact that, like childbirth for a man, some things are unknowable when a person has not or cannot experience it firsthand. And I’m okay with that reality on most days because I have learned to carry myself through the brushfire and reset to the only other place I live inside my tiny skull-shaped world: gratitude.

The simple gratitude of even having the luxury to feel pain at all. And because nothing is static, I know that if I am feeling this pain, then I am equally as able to feel love.

I’m writing this now because I am floating in that viscous nowhere space of the dying. And I want to take a rare window and a unique opportunity to connect with a world of humanity who live in this space every day. It is very real in this moment no matter which way the wind blows. I recently received blood tests that indicated I am likely on the precipice of another fight for my life. An unsurvivable cancer. The same a tireless enemy I have dedicated the last 15 years understanding, demystifying and destroying. One that I spend part of every day helping others navigate and battle back into submission. I talk endlessly about this state of mind because it informs the very way I approach every day of my life. And I’ve usually had the luxury of being on the other side of it. But here I am. Smack dab in the middle of the blaze, pushing myself through those flames toward the living Me.

So I have chosen to be uncharacteristically public about this latest battle for one reason:

If you are here with me—statistically tens of thousands of you—I want you to know you are not alone. Whether you are the only soul in an empty house or one of dozens in a crowded hospital room of friends and family members, you likely feel a sense of isolation very few people can understand. As much as they wish they could. It’s the untouchable opaque part of you that you desperately wish felt even the slightest bit translucent. A tangible mark you wish people could see and immediately understand.

While I don’t think anything I could write would accomplish that mammoth feat for you or for myself, I want to at least try to punch out even the slightest pinhole of light for the people we love and who are trying so desperately to understand and love us back.

So this is the beginning. Starting with this, I hope to share with you the handful of things I have learned in my relatively short time on this planet. The things I remind my son way more frequently than he would prefer. He would prefer zero, by the way. All with the hope that those of you fighting right now won’t feel alone and those of you who love those of us who are, will be able to know this feeling without having to actually know it.

So I’m half-jokingly calling this What To Expect When You’re Expecting…To Die. And strangely this isn’t about cancer at all. It’s about the torture of being at perpetual war with an unquiet mind. And I think anyone who lives with a brain that makes it feel like simply being alive and going through the motions of a routine day is like running through motor oil will know exactly what I’ll be describing. I just hope that even if I don’t make it to the other side of that brushfire this time, you can take these fucked up scars and build a new land on the other side that is safe for everyone who will inevitably have to forge their way through that same dark place.

We will do it together.

Because frankly it is that very fucking connectedness that makes every day above ground a good day.

I didn’t expect to meet Paul even though our lives put us in the same rooms on the same nights so many times decades ago in Chicago.

I guess it wasn’t time.

But now that he and I have connected and that I have connected — through him and his beautiful pretzeled soul—to so many of you, I want to reach out and lock arms.

We will do it together.

We will do it together.


You can follow Glenn on Twitter @JustARide



Navigating Higher Education with a Disability: Guest Blog by Dr. Shirag Shemmassian

How I Navigated Higher Education with a Disability and How You Can Help Your Child Do the Same

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian

Attending Armenian schools in Los Angeles throughout my childhood was rough. Sure, I was distractible in class and sometimes spoke out of turn, but that’s not why peers and teachers kept their eyes on me. That attention came from my facial and vocal tics, which led to a Tourette Syndrome (TS) diagnosis around age 9 that I carry to this day.

TS is interesting because tics are so obvious; you can manage them for so long before people literally see your disability. And once you tic, people often ask why you’re “making that face” or “humming so much.” I’ve rarely minded those questions because I see them as opportunities to teach others about my disability, and I especially love seeing the shock on their faces when they learn that not all people with TS curse constantly. The difficult part of growing up with TS was the associated stigma, especially within the Armenian community. Of course, peers made fun of me, but what surprised me was that my school’s faculty didn’t believe that I had a disability despite several doctors’ notes, let alone provide accommodations. My high school math teacher once yelled at me in front of the whole class to “stop faking [my] illness!”

Graduating high school was a relief, but I was still concerned about how college peers would treat me and how I would be received by faculty and staff. Well, I’m glad to report that I successfully managed undergrad (UCLA as a freshman and sophomore before transferring and graduating from Cornell University) and grad school (Ph.D. in clinical psychology from UCLA) with a disability with the help of incredibly supportive faculty, staff, and peers. Now I want to offer some pointers you can share with your child so they can do the same.

Before College

There are two important tasks to complete before entering college. The first is obtaining recent documentation of any disabilities. I strongly encourage having an assessment report with recommended accommodations to present to school staff. The second is contacting the college’s disability services office (these go by different names across schools) to request a meeting for as early as possible (e.g., the summer before classes start). During this meeting, your child will meet with a specialist, such as a psychologist or social worker, to discuss how their disability impacts their ability to succeed in school in and out of the classroom and why they are seeking certain accommodations (e.g., extra time for tests, note-taking support, etc.). These specialists are often sensitive individuals who want to help, so I encourage students to discuss everything openly. In addition, they’re the ones who ultimately grant accommodations.

During Classes

At the beginning of each quarter or semester, the disability services office usually prepares letters or other forms of notification for students to provide to their professors. These letters do not disclose specific disabilities but simply state that a student is registered with their office, and they indicate accommodations the student is obligated to receive (immediately contact the disability services office if a professor presents any difficulties). Students should hand over their letters to professors privately (i.e., not during office hours when the presence of other students can make this meeting very awkward) during the first two weeks of classes, before any exams, to ensure a smooth process. Most professors have experience with students receiving accommodations, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. In addition, students should send copies of syllabi to the disability services office so the office personnel can schedule their exams.

Social Life

Navigating higher education with a disability transcends receiving accommodations and includes a student’s social life. I found that while many peers continued to ask about my disability, few people ever ridiculed me. Rather, they were genuinely curious upon meeting me but quickly stopped noticing. I certainly hope other individuals with disabilities could have similarly positive experiences. Given that I had never received accommodations until college, the initially uncomfortable experience was talking to my friends about why I wouldn’t be joining them in class for an upcoming test, or, if I had not discussed this prior to an exam, why I hadn’t joined. How students should approach disclosing disabilities or accommodations to friends depends on their comfort and trust level, so it’s difficult to provide general advice. Yet, most friends will be understanding and supportive. Ultimately, in the late Dr. Seuss’s wise words: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is a college consultant for high-achieving students and their parents. He received his B.S. from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from UCLA.

Dr. Shemmassian has experience helping students with disabilities navigate college admissions and succeed in college. You can get the following two FREE guides by following this link:

College Disability Services Email Scripts: Copy-and-paste scripts to contact disability services offices and professors to request accommodations

Niche Scholarship Finder: The system Dr. Shemmassian used to graduate from college and graduate school debt-free

Get both guides for FREE by clicking here.


Rewiring the Brain After Trauma: A Guest Blog by Rachel Grant

It’s Nothing But a Neuron! Exploring How to Re-train the Brain and Heal from Sexual Abuse

Have you ever walked by a pie shop and, upon smelling a fresh backed pumpkin pie, been transported back in time to a fond memory of Thanksgiving? Or maybe caught a glimpse of a stranger with certain features and found yourself thinking about that girl or guy from way back when? How about a significant other who one day playfully wrestles with you, and all of a sudden you find yourself lashing out at him without really understanding why? What exactly is occurring neurologically and what are the implications for the recovery from abuse?

According to Daniel Siegel in The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are (1999, Guilford Press), “understanding how trauma affects the developing brain can yield insights into the subsequent impairments of memory processing and the ability to cope with stress.” Before exploring the impairments and coping he refers to, let’s take a quick look at how memories are created and recalled in the first place.

There is a saying – neurons that fire together, wire together. When we have an experience, neuronal pathways are created in the brain by neurons firing and connecting to create a neural net. When we smell the pumpkin pie, what is actually happening is that a particular neuronal pathway is ignited. This neural net has now been modified in that it holds the initial memory of Thanksgiving with family and now the time walking by the store and experiencing the same smell. Thus, the neuronal pathway is expanded and reinforced by the reactivation. It’s like turning a one lane into a two lane road.

Now, consider the implication if, instead of the warm smell of pumpkin pie, the experience is abuse. As Siegel points out, with “chronic occurrence, these states can become more readily activated (retrieved) in the future, such that they become characteristic traits of the individual. In this way, our lives can become shaped by reactivations of implicit memory, which lack a sense that something is being recalled. We simply enter these engrained states and experience them as the reality of our present experience.”

This is what Siegel means by “impairments of memory processing.” You respond to your significant other in the moment with fear and anger thinking that what he is doing is the problem, when, instead, a neuronal pathway has been triggered and the implicit memory of your abuser restraining you is activated. This is what you are responding to in reality. The same thing occurs in response to stressors. If our experience starts to make us feel trapped or scared, we may respond in the same way we did when needing to survive the abuse rather than in a way that actually addresses the present day stressor.

So then, are we always to be held hostage by these firing neurons? Absolutely not! “Each day is literally the opportunity to create a new episode of learning, in which recent experience will become integrated with the past and woven into the anticipated future” (Siegel). Neurons can be re-wired!

Perhaps the first step is to simply absorb the fact that many of our present day responses, thoughts, emotions are nothing but a neuronal pathway lighting up! Recognition of this creates space for us to consider the possibility that what we think or feel is going on may not be what is, in fact, really happening.

Secondly, as Siegel states, when one is able to inhibit the engrained state and respond to a situation, trigger, or stressor in a new way, that neuronal pathway will be adapted. The more frequently this occurs, the more modified the neuronal pathway becomes, and the behavior, thought, or emotion that is produced is also modified.

Finally, from my experience coaching people who have been abused, the ability to actually respond in a new way comes as a result of, first, developing the ability to separate what is actually happening from the interpretations or emotions that follow. There are other steps, to be sure, to complete the work of re-wiring, but this initial step is critical.

I’ve come to affectionately think of these interpretations as “stories” – our little efforts at trying to explain, understand why something has happened. Unfortunately, most of the time – like 99% of the time – the story we come up with is really just an old neuronal pathway begging to be fed. We usually quickly oblige and find ourselves mired in negative self-talk and self-thought.

So, as you consider what “stories” you have, just take a moment to really get the connection between the thought, past experiences, and present day “lighting” up of the neuronal connections. You can begin challenging these connections and, as a result, create new possibilities for the way you view yourself, others, and experiences!



Rachel Grant is the owner and founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a Sexual Abuse Recovery Coach. She is also the author of Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse.  She works with survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are beyond sick and tired of feeling broken, unfixable, and burdened by the past. She helps them let go of the pain of abuse and finally feel normal.

Her program, Beyond Surviving, has been specifically designed to change the way we think about and heal from abuse. Based on her educational training, study of neuroscience, and lessons learned from her own journey, she has successfully used this program since 2007 to help her clients break free from the past and move on with their lives.

Rachel holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. She provides a compassionate and challenging approach for her clients while using coaching as opposed to therapeutic models. She is also a member of San Francisco Coaches.