Mind games – Transcending the messiness of mental illness: Amber Naslund at TEDxPeachtree 2012


Translator: Susana Byun
Reviewer: Maricene Crus Host: Our next speaker, Amber Naslund,
is actually a social media strategist. But today, she is taking us on the journey
that she has been on as she worked to overcome
depression, anxiety, looking into some
of the areas of the mind that Carrie was touching on
in terms of stress and disorder. Her talk today, entitled “Mind games: transcending
the messiness of mental illness.” (Applause) Amber Naslund:
Hi, I am so excited to be here today. When Jackie and I
first talked about this talk, I went through all my usual ministrations
that I do as a professional speaker, and I started to put together
slides and videos, and I have none of that today. Because this story doesn’t really fit. And I want to start you in 1993, on a Midwestern college campus,
much this kind of time of year, where it’s fall,
and there’s a lot of excitement, and the anticipation of new school,
new friends, new people. And there was a young woman on the floor of her dorm room shower. And it’s cold and she’s shaking, and she’s sobbing silently,
with her arms wrapped around her knees, and no matter how hot the water gets,
she can’t get warm. And she’s hoping that nobody
comes into that room and finds her there on the floor. That nobody asks her, “What’s wrong?” That nobody can see into her mind,
where she is saying to herself, over and over again, “I hate you. You are worthless. I hate you!” I am here today because
there are too many women on the floors of showers, and there are too many
professional people in their offices, who take 30 seconds
out of every 20 minutes to go hide in the bathroom
because they need a moment to cry, to be angry or to be afraid. And I’m here today because
there’s too many people that wake up in the morning, and all they want to do
is crawl back into bed and wish that the world
would just disappear and go away. I am talking about the people
who suffer every day and live with mental illness, whether it’s depression or anxiety,
bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, the entire gamit of that. It’s so prevalent in our world,
but we don’t talk about it. I’m here on this stage
so we can talk about it. It’s a stigma that we’ve created
amongst our society because it’s uncomfortable
to talk about these things. Depression and anxiety are weird. They’re like the crazy uncle
you bring to the family reunion, but you kind of pretend he’s not there. And you shove him off into the corner
and you’re like, “I don’t know that guy.” And we don’t talk about these things
at all amongst even our closest friends. I work a lot on the internet
in my day-to-day job, and I am fascinated by what people
will share on Facebook. You’ll get the most excruciating detailed
story of somebody’s kidney stones, of their kid’s day at school, of their bacon shaped tattoo
they just got on their ass. (Laughter) There is absolutely no shame
about any of these things. But when it comes to mental illness, we don’t talk about it. We maintain our silence so protectively, and when we look at the world
of illness in general, we create and lift up, rightfully, champions of people
who battle with cancer or who battle with chronic illness, and we log their achievements
at living every day, with having to overcome
something that large. But we don’t do that with people who suffer
with depression or anxiety, and that is not okay with me. I’m here because it makes me angry. It makes me angry that we,
as a society, have made this not okay. We’ve made it something to fear,
to be ashamed of, to hide. The stigma we’ve created is because, collectively, we developed
negative perceptions about what mental illness is. And the stigma is exacerbated
when we keep hiding it, and when we don’t talk about it. And the reason that this matters to me
so deeply and personally is because that story I told you
at the beginning, of the woman at the
Midwestern college campus on the floor of that shower, that was me. Almost 19 years ago to the day, in fact, which I think is rather prescient,
being here on the TEDx stage. That was me! And I care about that
because I’ve spent many years knowing what that judgment feels like. I know what it’s like when you finally
decide you’re going to open up about this. And you start talking to people. They can almost taste the crazy. Because they sort of take a step back, like you’re going to explode
into some crazy-person rage, or worse, that they’re going to shake your hand,
and you can actually catch the crazy. I promise I am not contagious. But it truly is really interesting
to watch that interaction. Because for whose of you who don’t suffer, life with depression and anxiety is weird. I think I mentioned
that word before, it’s really weird. And I got the double
bonus package of both. So I’ve lived with depression, and I still live today
with generalized anxiety disorder. There’s something really
interesting about waking up, and the world is grey … and “staticky.” And you don’t much care
what’s happening around you. The best word I have for it is “numb.” And the dichotomy of anxiety
is that this room, once upon a time, would have been my biggest fear. Because you are all strangers
that I don’t know, that could judge me at any moment
for the things that I suffer from that are not within my control. So transcending these illnesses is really more than just treating the symptoms. We have to talk about it. Mental illness wins when we allow it to stay in the shadows. It wins when we refuse
to shine a light on those places and make it okay for people to share
what they’re going through. And I have to tell you, when it comes to sharing,
I know of judgment. Because it’s not just the
“I’m going to catch your crazy.” I am astounded by the very well-meaning people who have really great advice for me. So when you start sharing
about things like, “Yes, I’ve suffered
with depression since I was 18,” they go, “Do you know what you need?” (Laughter) “You need a Hugh Grant movie
and to put on your pajamas, and you need to eat a pint
of Cherry Garcia ice cream, and you’ll feel better in no time.” Or “put some lavender oil on your pillows”
or “put some incense out in the house,” or “go take a walk”
or “run” or “cuddle with your dog,” as if these things
are switches we can flip. One of the biggest fallacies
about mental illness is that it’s something
that can actually just be changed with an attitude adjustment. My anxiety is my favorite
because I get people saying, “Oh honey, I had a bad day too. The printer jammed, and my boss was an ass,
and I know all about being anxious because, gee, I get nervous
when I do things too.” And I want to say, “Did you spend four days in your house because you didn’t have the mental
fortitude to leave, take a shower, or do anything but cry
on the floor of your kitchen? I didn’t think so.” So as well-meaning as that advice is,
there’s only one way to combat it. And that’s through education. And education in books,
libraries, and science is fantastic. The medical community
is making gigantic strides towards understanding mental illness
and treating mental illness. I am still treated today through medication and a combination
of therapy, that works for me. So I’m amazed at the progress
that we’ve made in the 20 years since
I’ve been dealing with this. But what we still haven’t conquered is the stigma. And we must! If we’re ever going to break out of the idea that mental illness
is the fault of the people who have it, we’re going to do it by talking, by sharing our stories with one another. I know there’s people in this room
that, right now, are looking at me, saying, “That’s me. I’m her.” And to those of you
who are living with this, and those who love people
who are living with this, you are courageous. And we need you to keep fighting. To those of you who have miraculously
never been touched by mental illness – and I’m going to guess
that that’s no one in this room – we need your voices. We need you to fight with us because we cannot do this alone. This is a prevalent disease, and by disease I mean
all of those diseases. Hundreds of millions
of people, every year, are diagnosed with some
form of mental illness. A fraction of them get treatment, a tiny fraction. So many of them drown in their illness, slipping quietly away, and we never know. And, tragically, we lose one person
every 40 seconds to suicide, largely because they’ve never gotten
treatment for the mental illness that took them. The number one reason people
cite for not getting treatment is stigma. We are so afraid of what
people are going to think, what they’re going to say, and how they’re going to judge us
that we don’t talk. I do a lot of work in social media. My day job keeps me on the internet
more than most people. Sometimes I actually work. And if social media has taught me
anything in all these years, it’s that everyone can have a voice. Everyone does have a voice, a powerful one. And we can absolutely shatter the stereotypes that we have built
around mental illness by opening up about them. We can right the wrongs
that we’ve already created. We can rise up against the things
that threaten us, that frighten us. We together can make
an enormous difference in the lives of people that suffer, simply by being willing to do this, and stand up there bravely
and give an identity to our illness. One of the things that terrified me
when I was diagnosed was that being diagnosed
meant it was real; it meant that I actually had this disease. And the symptoms of things like depression
and anxiety are really generic. You don’t sleep, you have nightmares,
you feel kind of lousy all the time. And it’s really easy to sort of say,
“I don’t have this. This isn’t real.” But diagnosing it and talking
about it makes it not only real, but it makes it accessible. And it makes it something that people
will be less frightened to talk about, less frightened to see in other people. So if I had the opportunity
to go back today and talk to that 19-year-old woman
on the floor of her shower, I’d tell her a few very important things. One is that I’d tell her that I love her, and that I will fight for her. I will tell her that she is not alone, and that there are people around her
that want to help her very much, but that they have no idea
how much she is hurting. I would tell her that there’s more
to life than your disease. You are not owned by it;
you are not defined by it. And that there is help. I would tell her that it’s okay to talk, to ask, to be afraid. I would tell her it’s not okay for her to sit there
and believe that she is worthless. When we go through
these things ourselves, it’s really difficult
to step outside of it and say, “I might have done
something differently.” But I would tell that girl, today,
that she needed to speak up, even if her voice shakes. Whether or not that’s transcendence, I couldn’t tell you. I think it’s a sort of crooked,
uncomfortable acceptance that you come to terms with over time, but never alone. So I’m here today to ask all of you
to use your voices too. To stand up and talk with, for, and about
the people that you know and love that suffer from mental illness. And if you are that person,
you are not alone. And we need your voice. Because the danger in all of this
is not in exposing our fear or our shame or our struggle, the danger instead
is in keeping our silence. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers) Host: Thank you, Amber. Amber, before you go – (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) We honor your courage. (Applause) (Laughter) I just want to say before I let you go
that we are so happy that you ditched the PowerPoint, and you ditched the video – AN: No offense to anybody
who have PowerPoints. Host: Not at all! But there are some stories
that are so authentic and best told in the way that you did,
so thank you so much. AN: Thank you so much. (Applause)

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