Being Different is a Beautiful Thing

Millie Barton

“I thought being bipolar and suffering from depression was something only crazy people did, so I labeled myself as crazy.

Mental illness can completely take over one’s life, and has a large impact on an individual’s self-esteem.  “Since I was in 7th grade, I hated everything about myself,” Barton said.  She recalls not having much self-love, and usually kept her sadness to herself. millie

Barton’s situation never seemed to get better, and she suffered from an emotional breakdown.  After realizing that she could no longer do it on her own, she accepted the help that was offered to her.  She went through a rehabilitation program where she learned how to live with her illnesses, and not let them control her life.

Getting help was not easy. “The hardest thing for me was accepting myself knowing I had these illnesses,” Barton said. “[Asking for help] can be scary.”

Barton’s courage to ask for help, however, helped her to see how strong her support system is at home.  “I am so grateful for my family,” Barton said.

Although every day is a struggle, she now takes the good with the bad, and has a positive outlook on life. “Having depression and being bipolar is not something that just goes away,” Barton said. “It’s something you have to maintain and deal with every single day.. it’s just the way you want to go around those things that can make things better or seem somewhat less worse.”
As for advice to those who are struggling, Barton shares that you have to be courageous.
“You have to be willing to overcome those obstacles and that’s something I have learned,” Barton said.
Barton’s goal now is to share her story with the hopes of inspiring others to seek help, be courageous, and find happiness.

Learning to Swim

Poem by: Marcellus Angel, Western Illinois University student

The feeling of sinking but not being able to drown
And you’re surrounded by people who are also struggling to float but they too can not seem to drown
And above them they see others who look like them but are more beautiful
Who talk like them but the word they say are actually heard
Who breathe the same air as them but their breaths are evenly spaced and certain
While you and the others whose lungs are losing space but never reaching capacity
Watch calmly hoping that those above you will notice and pull you up, for you are calm on the outside but you know that inside you are suffocating
you could just send them a message saying you need help, but you know that your cry for help will be seen as a need for attention, and yes maybe you need a little attention, you need someone to notice that you just cannot breathe.
They’ll tell you others have it worse, which is true some have actually drowned. When everyone around them thought they were floating they were really just drifting along.
You wonder if they made the right choice to just drift rather than hold on, but you remember that that is just crazy talk and that your life is perfect and that you are just complaining… right?
“Why don’t you just swim up? duh!”
We would if these chains weren’t so heavy
See these chains are not made of steel
They are made of nightmares, anxiety, depression, regret, heartbreak, long for the lost places of our past when we were above the water and we saw the people below and thought, “wow it would be so cool to live their life.” Until someone pushed you into the water and you kept sinking and sinking trying your best to swim up but eventually you sunk so low the light was no longer visible and you found that your feet were chained to the bottom of the ocean….
And you realized these people weren’t down here because they could be but because they had no other option and now neither did you. Or so you thought
You began to drift and feel the true beauty of who you are fading away, and just before you take your final gasp for air others who seemed to be drowning as you were came to you and gave you breathe just enough to keep you from alive and each time you felt you were going to slip away someone helped you and you began to notice it was a cycle of people helping each other to make sure the other didn’t let go and now you’re here
Sinking but not being able to drown
But now you’re not worried because you know you will be okay, you may suffer, you may feel pain, BUT YOU WILL NOT DROWN! Because you have these people who are like you and they have you, and you continue floating no longer sinking because you have already reached the bottom and we’re beginning to rise because all that goes up must come down and all that goes down only has one direction to go! You and the others around you link arms and began to rise even quicker to the surface. On the way you may face obstacles and challenges that make you want to just let go and allow yourself to drift but you fight on and continue to float and when you finally reach the top you rise from the water bandaged and scarred but alive. You can now see how beautiful you truly are, you ca now speak words and know that people will hear them and be listening
You also now have a choice to make, you can:
A) Allow yourself to sink once again
never go back to the water so you won’t have to worry about ever drowning again
C) Create floatation devices that will be able to help other who may slip, fall, or be pushed into the water float back to the top
Because you’ve been to the bottom before and you know how it feels to not be able to help yourself

Time to make a choice.
A) Continue to treat mental illness as a joke, a lie, and a seeking of attention
B) Take mental illness seriously and help those who just can’t help themselves

A Day In The Life

amanda fisher

Amanda Fisher

The sun shines through and lights up my room like fireworks as it reflects off my bright purple walls. I open by eyes as my alarm goes off. Why? I asked myself as I reached over and snoozed my alarm. I got up and went into by daily ritual. I walked over to my closet and felt by heart throb as I say the same selection of clothes from all the days before. I grabbed the same pair of sweat pants and tee shirt I always do and slipped them on. I walk down stairs and into the kitchen. Or also known at the battle ground. My mom is cooking eggs and bacon while my dad reads his bible at the island in the middle of the kitchen. I grab an 80 calorie yogurt from the fridge ignoring the delicious smell of the bacon as I know it is a hard off limits food to eat that as I feel the fat of my stomach press against my sweatpants. I am sit next to my dad and stare at the yogurt. My dad gives me the eat it or else look. After a few more seconds I open up the container and feel my body start to heat up and shake. The tears are being held back in my eyes. After forcing the yogurt down I head to my room. After my parents finish breakfast and my dad heads to the office as my mom goes to their bedroom. I sneak to the bathroom and start the shower. I grab my toothbrush and take a deep breath. I kneel down by the toilet as the steam from the shower wraps around my like a blanket. I turn the tooth brush handle to face me as I lean over the toilet. I tune out the world as I let the toothbrush in control at I shove it into my throat and I start to cough. Then the hurricane comes. My vomit fills up the toilet as I try to smile while continuing to throw up. I finish up and wipe my face off and brush my teeth with my second tooth brush I got so I didn’t have to brush them with the same one I use for my purging. I then head outside to the kitchen. My mom is there and gives me the I know look. I then went into my bedroom as I heard my mom head into my bathroom and flush the toilet before shouting to my dad to inform him that their daughter is sick again. I curl up in a ball under my soft blanket on my bed. I just let the happiness of my feels wash through me. No calories so far. All is good in the world. I pull out the calendar from my desk draw after hearing my mom and dad both leave for work. I check off yesterday. Day 30 home sick. I notice the appointment on the calendar for tomorrow at a specialist an hour away. My stomach does another flip. Oh great another one. My mom has drug me to millions of doctors these last thirty days to solve the problem. Little did she know there was no medicine for this. I just needed to stay away from school until I improved myself enough to me acceptable for my old friends who had so rudely shoved me away like I wasn’t even good enough to be the grass they walk on. The notes I got from them sat under the calendar. I did my normal routine of reading the hate notes to give me encouragement to push though this healing. I head to the entryway and sit on the bench while putting on my shoes. I am already worn out and it’s only 8 am. I felt guilt run through my body. I put my headphones in and pressed the play button. I opened the door to the crisp spring morning. I started to run feeling the wind pass around me. I tried to focus on the music to mask the pain. After about 3 miles found myself at the bottom of my driveway. I went to the garage and hopped on my bike. I found myself back on the old country road. I pushed myself more and more. After what seems like an entity, but really only one hour I find myself once again back at the bottom of my gravel driveway. After putting my bike away I entered into my house and grabbed my mom’s yoga mat from my parents’ bedroom and went into the living room where I played the Jillian Michael’s

workout. After the thirty minutes of the workout is done. I turn on the tv and lay down on the couch to relax for just a second. My bones feel weak, head starts to spin, my body shakes, I shiver from being cold even after all my workout. I close my eyes for just one second and before I know it I pass out. I woke up and before I knew it is was 3pm. I felt my stomach growl so I went into my parents bathroom to find the scale and see if my weight was good enough for me to eat. I stood in from of the scale hating myself because I knew the number wouldn’t be good enough. As the dooming red lights appeared they confirmed my fear. I still hadn’t lost any more weight. I headed into the bathroom and purged again in hopes the number would go down. I then brushed my teeth before brushing my hair as I watched even more hair fall out. I went into the living room and turned on the TV again. I picked out one of the many movies my mom got me from the library these last thirty days. I sat down and watched it. Hating myself even more as I keep thinking why can’t I look good enough like the actresses do? How do they every get the skinny? I watched the movie until my mom came home. I sat in the kitchen doing homework while she cooked dinner. My dad came home and they ate together as I ate one of my salads I made as I counted each things out to made sure I knew exactly how many calories was in it , from the last olive and carrot. I then went into my bedroom and waited until my parents went onto the office to work on paperwork before sneaking back into my bathroom and purging again. I let my mom see it like normal and brushed my teeth before heading to my bedroom and passing out again. I didn’t awake until my alarm went off and the light flooded my room again as I prepared to start the routine all over again.

This is a day in the life of someone with a eating disorder. I was 12 when I developed my anorexia, but wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was 18. By then it was two weeks until my high school graduation and after a four-hour evaluation they told me I might not be able to graduate with my class with the inpatient treatment I needed. They postponed it and tried outpatient treatment and I lost even more weight and ended up wearing the same size as my 9 year old cousin. I was then taken to the ER and sent to UOI Hospitals and Clinics for 4 months where I was locked up and weighed every morning at 6 am and forced to eat whatever they sent on your tray or else you had to sit at a small table with a nurse starring at you until the next meal for about 5 hours with nothing to do like even an adult coloring book. I was pushed from therapy group to therapy group 24 hours a day and they even had to take us to the bathroom and see us flush the toilet. I was then released to partial program Monday through Friday 8-4 at the hospital while staying at a local medically facility that remined me of American Horror Story. Once release I lived with my parents for a semester while attending a local community college. Then once my parents felt I was okay on my own I moved an hour away to live with my boyfriend. I know live in the same apartment with my now fiancée going to a private college for psychology to become a children’s therapist. I work with a therapist on an adult behavioral health unit and at a company taking care of four disabled ladies in the home they share while taking care of my pug puppy. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am with my eating disorder leading my life. I wouldn’t be alive at all. Eating disorders are the number one killer among mental disorders. Now eating disorders don’t just got away, but we learn to control them and say enough is enough. I am in control and don’t need you. We have to wake up every day and say not today eating disorder. For we are worth so much more.

I Am Not My Mental Illness

By: Brittany Anderson

I suddenly feel small. I’m like a tiny little pebble compared to the ocean that’s in front of me. The room feels huge, and it sounds like everyone is yelling like they’re a million miles away, but they’re not. I feel my stomach hit my throat. I want to cry. But nothing happens. I want to move. But nothing happens. I want to breathe. But it’s hard.

My sophomore year of college I was finally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It made sense the second I heard it, and I finally understand so many behaviors that seemed odd and why so many times, I blew things out of proportion and reacted so largely to things that had happened.

It was extremely rough. I was trying to get through my classes and stress from everyday life with friends and relationships and homework, and everything just felt so heavy. As soon as I discovered I had Anxiety, I connected so many dots, but I didn’t want to make personal discoveries because everything already felt so weighted.

I started relying heavily on a few people, and then worried I was burdening them. I didn’t want anyone else to know, and I didn’t want anyone else to see me in the midst of an anxiety attack. It was ugly, and I thought I was ugly because I dealt with it. I apologized for so many little things and went through times where I was convinced my friends hated me, because I overthought everything I said and everything I did and feared so much that I would mess it all up somehow. They’re great people, and they saw past it, and helped me so much, which I can never be thankful enough for. But for a long time, I pushed away their help. I would say that my Anxiety made me feel depressed, and it all kind of spiraled downward together.

I didn’t want to have anxiety. I didn’t want to not be able to hang out with my friends and have to lock myself in my room because I would have a panic attack every time I went out for some reason.

But it came to a point where I was tired. Not just tired because I woke up at 7am every day and got done with my day at 5pm, but I was tired of being absolutely exhausted and drained both physically and mentally. I was tired of beating myself up, and I was tired of relying on people so heavily. I was tired of crying all the time, and tired of telling myself I wasn’t worth it.

Look, anxiety is real, and it’s not beautiful. It’s not just someone being over dramatic. Someone can feel anxious, but Anxiety is a disorder that can be very detrimental and can be very hard to manage. It should not be glorified and made beautiful. It should not be confused with temporary feelings of anxiety, and it should not be joked about. It is literally called an anxiety ATTACK.

It can feel like it comes out of nowhere, and it comes from all sides, and when it hits you, it can feel paralyzing. It makes it hard to focus and have motivation, because it is draining. Imagine not knowing when it’s coming, and having an anxiety attack at least once a day, if not more. It’s not an excuse to not get things done, but it’s extremely challenging.

Thankfully, over winter break from college, I was put on medication. It helped immensely. My head was clearer. I was able to identify a lot of my triggers, which was HUGE, and I work to find ways to get myself back to where I need to be after an attack.  It was not and is not a fix all. I will still have anxiety attacks, and still have. I will still battle and live with anxiety disorder. But I am not my mental illness.

It was easy for me to feel scared and to feel ashamed. Was I really to the point that I needed to be on medication? To a lot of people, it meant “taking the easy way out.” Deciding to be put on medication was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. It felt easy in a sense because it was time for me, but it was hard because I felt the stigma against medication very heavily.

But I am worth it. I am not my mental illness.

I am generally happy, and I have overcome a lot. I am proud, and I am hopeful. I hope to serve as a voice for people who need it and are struggling as I did. I want to be a voice and I want to be a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. I felt alone. Even though I wasn’t. But I want to stress that no one is alone.

Everyone is worth it. Everyone deserves to take those steps to put themselves first. Everyone deserves those “meant health breaks”, and to “treat yoself.”

Your potential and your beauty cannot be taken away by something like anxiety or depression. There is hope, even when it feels like it is nowhere to be found. Keep that in mind.

One of my favorite quotes is:

 “Be gentle with yourself. You are doing the best you can.”

It’s simple, but the message is strong. Take everything one day at a time. One of my biggest problems and something I still struggle with is feeling like I didn’t get everything done I wanted to that day, or I didn’t do enough. I could have done more.

But I did something. I did a part of it. I made it one day without a panic attack. I got out of bed even though my mind was urging me not to. I am strong. And so are you.

It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but I learned that I am doing the best you can, and that’s all that matters. And as long as I keep that up, I’ve gotten a great deal of things done.

Learning To Cope

Check out our interview with the wonderful Patrick Zhao, a University of Iowa student who was brave enough to share his lifelong struggle with depression.

“I have H.O.P.E. because life gets better.” – Patrick Zhao 

His bravery to open up about his struggles shows great strength, and we are so thankful for his willingness to share.

patrick zhao


A Message of HOPE

Emily Folker, Founder of The Fingerprint Project

emily folker 2

In my memory box there are hospital bracelets, reminding me of the days when matter overcame my mind.
My old and new scars mix together like an accidental symphony.
Each new drop of blood receiving an “Are you okay?” And an “Is there anything I can do to help?”
If I knew what it took to fix me, I would’ve done it years ago.
But this is not a sad story, nor is it complete.
Each day is a new page, and I’m never sure how many chapters I’ve got left.
Each day the sun still shines, so I try again.
Each day is new, so I have hope that one morning
I won’t have to tell myself to have a good day,
I just will.

emily folker


Overcoming The Storm

“I have HOPE because I am living proof that pain only makes you stronger.”

Autumn Sulouff


Autumn Sulouff, a rising special effects makeup artist, used her craft in a different way~ Suicide awareness. Here is what Sulouff had to say about her role as a prevention advocate and activist against mental health stigmas, her role as a survivor, and much more.

“I originally created this look for World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10th) of last year. I created it because I’ve seen many people I care about struggle with suicidal thoughts, actions or lose their lives to it. At one point, I was that person. Now, I am able to see through the fog of my depression to the light at the end of the tunnel. I want people to see that they can do that too.

My goal upon creating this look was to get people talking about mental illness/suicide, force them to face it and educate themselves on it. I want others to understand why people feel the need to resort to suicide, the warning signs and ways to prevent it. When people are uneducated on the subject, they are so quick to judge and call the person “selfish.” These people aren’t “crazy,” they’re suffering.

I promote mental health awareness by educating people on mental illness through my own personal experience with it. I put up quite the fight against severe clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. When I finally found peace within myself and conquered my demons, it had been about 4 years after I was diagnosed, although it felt like forever. It took a lot of time and effort to get to where I am today but recovery was possible. I am extremely lucky that my parents were so patient with me during my healing process because without their support, I honestly can’t say I would be here today. So, when you see someone suffering, please reach out; be their support system and their guide to recovery.”