Mental Health Awareness Is Not Just for a Month Long

#YouAreNotAlone Strength is in you!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

But for people like me Mental Health is not just one month. It is an everyday, every hour, every minute, Every second fight.

I fight anxiety and depression every second of my life. It is a battle I probably will never win, but also, I vow to never lose to it as well.  Every day I wonder how I am going to get through the day.

Am I suicidal? NO!

Do I suffer? YES!

This, as with all my blogs, this is not a pity party blog. It is to show people who don’t suffer from Mental Health issues what it is like to have to deal with this every day. Then to throw on the fact that I have health issues both rare and not rare to factor into my everyday life.

It is tough, but I have learned that losing is not an option. I won’t say that was something I learned overnight. I wish it was something I could have learned how to deal with this overnight. Sure, would have helped. Also, it would of saved me so much energy as well. But life is an ever-learning evolution of life.

So let me describe one day in my life. I woke up in pain just like every other day. You see my pain level is a 6-7 on a level from 1-10. Even with that some days are good, and others are not.  I always say I never know how my day is going to go until I wake up. That is not to say I don’t make plans. When I wake up, I don’t know if those plans will come to fruition until that morning, in some cases it is an hourly decision. As a chronic and rare disease patient it is tough, but I also must take a mental inventory as well.

At least with your physical health, you can take an inventory and pretty much know how much I can do each day. When it comes to my mental health, I have no idea what is going to happen from moment to moment.

Today, I just broke down. Why? I don’t know. What happened to kick this off? I don’t know. When is it going to happen? I don’t know. That is a lot of “I don’t know.” That much I do know.  

When I say I broke down I mean I started crying for what I would say is no reason, but there must be a reason. I just haven’t figured it out yet.

This unfortunately happens often. Me being a guy who needs to rationalize everything, I start to over-think. Well, that makes things worse. I get frustrated so what starts out as me tearing, turns out to be me crying uncontrollably. I have a great counselor and if I called her every time, I cried she wouldn’t have any other patients. I am a rational person, so I try to address it by myself. But I am learning that I will never know the reasons.

Mental Health takes a toll on every part of my life. It is exhausting, it messes with my physical health, but most of all it is debilitating. There are days where my diseases tell me “All you are going to do today is lay down and you are going to have to deal with it.” There are also days when my mental health tells me the same. It is a different feeling, but nonetheless it is there. Also with mental health it pops up out of nowhere, and for no reason.

So today I am fighting back the tears. I must have triggered something but don’t know what it was. I was and am laying down and crying. No this is not a cry for help! It is my reality. I am sure this is many other people’s lives as well. I usually start listening to music to calm down. Some days it helps other days not so much. Today, inconclusive so far.  Some days I just let myself cry. I think today may be one of those days.

I am sure you may be asking why I am writing this? Why put your dirty laundry out for everyone to see? Well, I do this because I want to tell others in the same position as me, that it is okay to feel this way. It is okay to not be strong all the time. It is okay to let your emotions take over at times. It is better to let emotions out so you can face them. Holding them in can and will be detrimental to your mental and physical health at some point.

I know this to be true from my past. I have learned from my past. Let me tell you about a day in September 2015. I was in a bad place. I was in so much pain. I was trying to sabotage my life because I felt I didn’t deserve anything good. I felt like I wasn’t getting the right care for my physical health. I was told that there wasn’t much else they, the doctors, could do to help with my quality of life. For days on end, I couldn’t get out of bed due to my physical and now that I think about it my mental health as well. But at that time my pain level was 9-10. I felt like I was a burden to my family, my friends, (the few I had), and to anyone else that knew me. Yes, part of it was feeling sorry for myself, but at that time I just wanted it to end. I wanted everything to end.  I wanted to just go to sleep and never wake up. I never thought I would ever be in that position. Here I am, what I thought a strong person. Showing and fighting for myself and others with my rare disease, but all the while just wanting to die. Yes, I can say that now. I just wanted to die. I was being selfish; I know that now. At the time you try to rationalize how dying would be better for everyone else and for you. Whether it is right or wrong, mostly wrong, you think about how everyone would be better off without you. So, I decided I was going to commit suicide. Yes, I actually planned it all out. I had the means, I had how I was going to do it as well. I had the plan, means and the most important thing the will, or so I thought.  There was one last move that I made that day. I called my counselor. Why did I do that?

Now, I say that I did it because as much as I told myself I wanted to die; I really didn’t want to. I just wanted the pain, both physically and mentally, to stop. I was tired. I was tired of being in pain, I was tired of being a failure, and most importantly I was tired of losing. How can I say that you might ask? Well, I call it “The Tears of a Clown.” There is this great song from the 60s called “Tears of a Clown.” By Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. On the outside I showed strength but just like my invisible rare disease on the inside I was crying. I still do that. It is easier to show happiness and tell people “I am okay” than tell them I was a mess on the inside. It came with less explanation.

So, what did I do that day? I did something that was even harder than committing suicide, I asked for help. I went to the hospital and put myself in a 72-hour watch. For those that don’t know what that is, it is going to the hospital and telling them I had thoughts and planned to commit suicide. To this day it was one of the hardest things I had to do. I had to break down my walls. I had to be vulnerable. I had to be honest with myself. While in the hospital, I thought about how I couldn’t even do that right. I failed at even killing myself. But I realized in time I didn’t fail. I succeeded! I succeeded at the hardest part. I succeeded at wanting to live.

So, the reason I wrote this is to let everyone know that having bad days, weeks, months, and years are part of living. It is what makes you strong not weak.

When I started writing this, I stopped in the middle of it. I was going to “finish it later.” But my later is today. I feel I needed to write this for myself just as much as anyone else reading this.

So, today may not be a good day, tomorrow may not be as well. I just have to tell myself one of these days will be better and I will be a better person for it.


You Never Know What is Going On With Someone

(Unless They Want You To Know)

I want to start this by saying I am not looking for anyone to feel sorry for me or anyone else for that matter. What I really want is for people to understand that you truly don’t know what is going on with people if you don’t ask or if they don’t want to bother you.

Life has a way to throw things at you when you think it can’t throw anymore on your shoulders. But then I realized some things I ended up causing myself.

This is about my health issues that have been starting to creep up and say, “Surprise I am Here!!”

Not that I forgot about them, well maybe I did…

At the end of October 2022, I had a big scare. When I say big scare I mean a really big scare.

On October 27, 2022, I passed out and fell down my steps inside my house. I was at the top of my stairs and passed out and fell 10 steps. I had fractured ribs, a bump on my head, but the worst was nobody was home, and I was still passed out when I got to the bottom of the stairs.

I woke up to my two dogs licking my face. I thank God that they were at least here. I ended up going to the hospital by ambulance. I figured I would be better and be home that night.

Boy was I wrong!

I got to the ER and was tested and scanned for everything. Well, I thought everything. They decided to keep me overnight. Then the days became one after another. They decided that I had complications from, not Sarcoidosis, but from Parkinson’s. My Parkinson’s has gotten worse, not in the normal sense of tremors, but in the sense of my brain is giving my body signals that the rest of my body isn’t receiving, due to the Parkinson’s.

Life has a way of humbling you. Sometimes you think you can do everything and then BAM! Life brings you back down. Sometimes you need it, sometimes you don’t. But it is not for me or us to decide.

I stayed in the hospital for 8 days and then went to a rehab facility for 6 weeks. It seems like a long time for a fall, but it wasn’t just a fall.

You see as many of you know I have a rare disease called Sarcoidosis. But not everyone knows I also have other different conditions. I usually talk about the Sarcoidosis more than any other because that has been the most prevalent to my health decline, but because of that I had this tendency to forget about the other diseases. Well, one of those other diseases is Parkinson’s.

Let me tell you from experience, don’t forget that your total health is important. If you concentrate on one aspect you end up neglecting the other aspects of your health and they like to stop by and say, “Hey I am here. Don’t forget about me!” The worse part about that is I had signs that my Parkinson’s was starting to act up, but I ignored those signs.

So yes, I talk and advocate about self-care. Yes, I advocate taking care of yourself first. Yes, I show I am strong. But remember I am only a person. I am someone who loves, who makes mistakes, who pushes too hard, who stresses too hard, and someone who sometimes, well maybe too much, doesn’t practice what I preach. So, when my health comes knocking and I don’t listen things like this happen.

Back to what you don’t know. My body gave out due to so many factors in life. My body wasn’t receiving the proper signals and I didn’t even know it. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t know what is going on until it is too late. I won’t say it was too late for me, but I am still in the process of figuring it all out. My body was on autopilot. So, I thought.

Parkinson’s is a complex and sneaky disease. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2016 but had symptoms since 2012. I was told I had essential tremors. But the tremors got considerably worse as the years went on until I had trouble holding onto things. My left side of my body is worse than my right especially the tremors. Always has been and still is. But the things I didn’t talk about are the memory problems, the delusions, however small, were growing. I haven’t talked about these things because I didn’t want to show weakness and they weren’t taking over my life. They were signs that my Parkinson’s was getting worse slowly but surely. I just didn’t want to admit it. I also thought my Parkinson’s was doing well because my tremors were doing well with the medication. Being naïve isn’t an excuse at all. Especially for a health advocate.

Yes, I hold myself to a higher standard. Is it right? Probably not, but it is who I am. When I saw signs of my health changing instead of attacking it head on, I put it away. At times as a person or advocate, we get to believe that we are above our diagnoses. When I say we I mean me. When I start to feel different things and I want to get things done I put my health on the back burner.

Like I said earlier, this in no sense is for anyone to feel bad for me or for things that happened in my life I didn’t have culpability. I think it is the opposite. I hold myself to blame for my declining health. I hold myself responsible for my actions. I let my health go. I let my life go without fighting for it. No excuses, just the truth.

So now it is six to seven months later and here I am. I learned a very hard lesson about my body. Listen to it. I am only as good as it is. When I talk about my body that includes my mental health as well. If I have different or delusional thoughts except it. It is part of my diagnosis of Parkinson’s. If my body is hurting or in some cases not feeling anything, I need to respect what my body tells me.

So, now I am still trying to figure out what is going on with my body. I have one doctor saying this happened due to my Parkinson’s and other doctors saying they believe I had a mini stoke. I have tests telling me nothing. All I do know is that the left side of my body is getting weaker, and I am losing feeling on that side as well. I can pinch the left side of my body and I barely feel anything. I have pinched it so hard that I have left bruises and still don’t feel anything. My left leg at times drags as well. I still have memory issues and have weird things going on like seeing things that aren’t there. On a good note, though, is my drive has come back. I know I must take things slow, but I am able to do advocating again. I am so happy I can do one of the things I love. I have decided to take things slow and say no to things I can’t do anymore. I also have decided to not stress and “have to” do things on my own. I put have to in quotes because I talked myself into that mentality.

Now I work with others to help the communities that we serve. I feel a lot less stressed but with the emphasis still on helping others with not having to have my whole life advocating. I am much happier now and loving my advocating and my life balance. I don’t feel that I must prove myself and let everyone know exactly what I am doing. I am actually doing what I want and feel needs to be done, not for me but for the patient and caregiver community. I can’t worry about what others say about me either. I just have to be able to look at myself and know why I am doing what I am doing and that has to be good enough.

I am still not happy with where my body and mind are right now. Not having answers is rough. Mentally I have good days and bad days. I try to learn from both, even if they don’t make sense. I don’t want to go back to old me. I want to keep learning and become the new me. Embrace whatever that is. I am not totally there yet. I don’t know if I will ever be in the perfect place mentally and physically. But I will embrace the new me. That is all I can do!

Rare Disease Day 2023- Mental Health

Hello. Today is Rare Disease Day 2023!

My name is Frank Rivera and I have a Rare Disease called Sarcoidosis.

I started this like that because every Rare Disease Meeting it seems like we are in a support group meeting, we always say our name and what rare disease we have. I say this because we are over 30 million strong in United States in over 7000 rare diseases worldwide. There is only 5% of rare diseases that have a cure. That in itself is ridiculous.

We as a rare disease community have had so many challenges when it comes to diagnosis, treatments and of course cures.

I wanted to take today to talk more about Mental Health and Rare Diseases. Being a male and talking about mental health and its effect on rare diseases was unheard of not that long ago. 10 years ago, I didn’t hear about it at all. Luckily it has moved into the forefront lately.

I am going to bore you with statistics:

  • Every day, approximately 132 Americans die by suicide.
  • There is one suicide death in the US every 10.9 minutes.
  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-old Americans.
  • The highest suicide rates (per 100,000) in the US are among white males (26.4), followed by American Indian/Alaska Native males (25), and Black males (14.1).
  • There is one suicide death for every estimated 25 suicide attempts.
  • There are approximately 1,204,575 annual attempts in the U.S. (using 25:1 ratio) or one attempt every 26.2 seconds.

We as the rare disease community fight with the physical health and unfortunately forget about our mental health care. I am going to hit on different aspects of Mental Health in this blog. I am going to speak about Men’s Mental Health, Patient Mental Health and Caregivers Mental Health.

Men’s Mental Health

I have been speaking on this subject for a couple of years. We as men have been told for most if not all of our lives, have been told to “Be A Man!” “Real Men Don’t Cry!” “Buck Up and Be Strong!” and so much more. Well, you see that does NOT work! Look at those statistics up above. We as a community need to acknowledge that men need to be able to ask for help. It makes you Strong to ask and know you need help. We need to show support to our male patients and caregivers and let them know they are not alone. You see when I go to many rare disease conferences the amount of men that are at these conferences are small. Not because men don’t want to be there, it is because there are too many stigmas on roles as men and women. We need to knock down those stigmas and those “suppose” to follow. As time goes by I see more male advocates, which is great, but we need to have more breakout groups for men. I believe now that Covid is over more people are learning that men suffer just as much as women.

I also want to say to men, asking for help could be a therapist, a religious leader, a really good friend (one who will be able to support you and also get you moving both physical and mental), another patient or caregiver or a support group. There are support groups that are in person as well as male support groups online.

Statistics of Male Caregivers

  • Of all caregivers in the United States, 16 million, or 40% are men. Of these men: 63% identified as primary caregivers. 50% are caregivers by choice, the other half felt obligated to take on the role.
  • In recent decades, gender norms in American society have begun to shift away from stereotypical roles where women are characterized as innately nurturing and passive, while men are seen as independent, decisive, and natural problem-solvers.  Younger generations are challenging the traditional ideals of how our culture defines our roles and expectations based on our gender or sex. 
  • The average age of male caregivers is 26.9, although the average age of adult children caring for an aging parent is 46.4. Men who care for a spouse are an average of 62.5 years old.
  • 37% refrained from telling their employer about their caregiving responsibilities. For millennials, that rose to 45%.
  • 49% of men felt they had no choice in taking on their role as caregivers. This number rose to 60% when caring for a partner or spouse.
  • 52% of male caregivers anticipate caring for someone in the following five years.
  • 56% of caregivers assisted with medical and nursing duties (75% for those caring for a spouse). 47% helped give medication or injections, but 72% reported having no prior training.
  • 62% state their responsibilities to be stressful, 46% report physical strain, ad 44% experience financial stress.
  • 62% found it necessary to assist with personal care and secondary tasks, and 54% found it difficult to help with more intimate responsibilities.
  • 63% of male caregivers report being the primary caregiver. Of this percentage, 52% had additional help, but 78% received no outside support.
  • 66% of men work 40 hours a week. 62% of this group had to make special work arrangements. 48% were late, left early, or took time off to handle caregiving duties. 15% had to take a leave of absence or work part-time.

Patient Mental Health-

Patients are a rare breed, yes pun intended. We go through so much just to survive. We go through things like pain, disease progression and other diagnoses as well. We fight each day just to live that day and more in the future. But my question is:

What do you do to help your mental health?

My specialist told me on my very first visit. “Fighting off any disease is 90% mental and 10% physical. I can give you any medication and if your brain gives up your body is going to give up too.” I took that to heart. From that day, I try to fight each day both mentally and physically. I have learned to ask for help. In time I learned to say no when I didn’t feel well.

I also have been steady going to the same therapist for the past 12 years plus. She has been a savior. You see in 2015, I was ready to attempt suicide. I had it all planned out. I was being told they didn’t know what to do for me anymore and the pain was so tough to bear. Plus I could barely get out of bed and felt I was being a burden to my wife and daughter. So, I truly was ready to leave this world. But I did one last thing that saved my life. I called my therapist! She brought up something to make me think. She said “You don’t want to die!” I was like “yes I do!” She was like “No you don’t!” I asked, “Why do you say that?” She replied “You would not of called me!” That rang true to me. So, we decided to talk further, and we decided that I should sign my self to a 72 hour watch. I could of easily have been one of those statistics from above. Yes, I have a personal stake in Mental Health, but I also see too many patients suffering and either not knowing they need help or more likely they can’t afford to get a therapist or there aren’t enough therapists for patients.

Caregivers Mental Health-

Now here is what I deemed “The Forgotten Ones.” Caregivers can be anyone who help a patient in any capacity. I have always been told that a Caregiver is the one taking care of the patient. Well to me there are different types of Caregivers. There are those who are there all the time, those who help whenever possible, or those who spend their available time no matter how long who also can be Caregivers. I am also going to say that Caregivers aren’t specifically family, partners, or friends. There are appointed health care workers and so many others.

You see I call the Caregivers the forgotten ones because they are the ones who work so hard to be there for the patients, that they forget about their physical and mental health. They are also the forgotten ones because they are never asked about their own health and/or their mental health care. People forget that being a Caregiver is one of the most stressful positions in life. For the most part many Caregivers are just expected to be there for the patient, especially for children with rare diseases. Some Caregivers are not warned and don’t get a road map on how to deal with the diagnosis, the patients, or how to be Caregivers. So stress plays an important everyday outlook for all types of Caregivers. Not only are they running around taking care of the patients, but they are also expected to take care of themselves.

Here are more statistics:

  • Half of all family members who care for elderly people die before the patient, statistics show, or they become seriously ill due to self-neglect.
  • The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • In the May 2022 survey, 36% of caregivers said they suffer from depression/anxiety, a figure that is 114% higher than reported by non-caregivers.
  • 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. About a quarter to half of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. [Zarit, S. (2006). Assessment of Family Caregivers: A Research Perspective.]
  • Roughly 4 in 10 (38%) family caregivers find their situation highly stressful (score 4 or 5), 25% report moderate stress (score of 3), and 36% report little to no stress (rating of 1 or 2 based on a 5-point scale). [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]
  • Thirty-five per cent of parents with chronically ill children met criteria for clinical depression, compared with 19 per cent of parents with healthy children. More than half (57 per cent) of parents with chronically ill children met criteria for anxiety compared with 38 per cent of parents with healthy children. As per Sick Kids Research

These numbers are staggering. We need to support Caregivers just as much as we support Patients. We also need to make sure that both men and women get help.

So, as night falls on another Rare Disease Day, I just want to say that we need to keep pushing for better Mental Health. As my Specialist said, “You can’t fight your rare disease if you give up mentally.” That also pertains to Caregivers!

Just another Mental Health moment in My Life!

I am writing this to let you know YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!

I am here and I am at times not strong. I am strong to know this!

I wanted to start this off with a couple of caveats. First I am having a rough physical time lately, but today I am going to talk about my mental health.

Mental health is different for each individual person. For me it was exasperated by my health problems in 2004. But I have had mental health problems for most of my life. I guess I was better at “coping” or as I say “hiding” it.

I am writing this not for pity at all. I am writing this to show you what can happen at any moment.

It is not uncommon for people who deal with mental health to have moments, days or even experience an extended period of tough times mentally. It is something I know and deal with constantly. If I am not dealing with it I am dealing with knowing that at any moment my anxiety and depression will hit me out of nowhere.

Today is one of those days. “Out of nowhere”, that is a weird concept. At one moment I can be happy and at another moment be crying. I do take medication but even with that things happen and my mood changes. You see one of the hardest parts about dealing with depression and anxiety is that you can try all you want to control them but in all honesty you can’t. I can only speak for myself but when I get this way I don’t have to have a trigger or a bad thing happen.

Let me just say I know I haven’t been out in the public saying what I have been doing lately. There is a reason about that. I have been doing things for different communities, but decided that I needed to go back to my basics. I am doing things that will help not only the Sarcoidosis community, rare disease community or the mental health community as well. I haven’t been so public because I want to do things not for the popularity but for the better of these communities. I feel I may have lost that aspect a bit. I went back to doing it for these communities and not feeling I needed to tell anyone what I am doing. The way I look at it is the actions and the reactions and results will speak for themselves. I don’t need to promote myself. I feel I lost that a bit. I personally know what I do is for the right reasons, but I felt I needed to put it out there to let others know. Now I am at a point of my life and my advocating life, that I am doing what I do for people who will see and find out what I have done in their time. I am not criticizing anyone on how and what they do for the communities they help. We all have our own ways to do things. I felt I was losing me. I feel like I am here for a reason. I have been defying health logic, both physically and mentally. I do believe there is a reason I didn’t pass on when so many, including me, thought I would. I remember one of the last conversations I had with one of my best friends, Rodney. He was in Intensive care and he called me and we were discussing life in general. He told me ” You are still here for a reason. You are here to finish your journey. You are not done.”

To this day I try to keep that in my head. I try to make sure I tell all of my story when I can. Everyone of us has a unique story. I always want to tell everything even if it is tough to discuss because I want people to know I may look on the outside as I am so strong, but I am human and I have good and bad days, I have days I am fighting with myself(I don’t say I am weak but I have moments of weaknesses).

Now back to today. Here I am in bed just “out of nowhere” I start crying. Why? I don’t know! What brought it on? I don’t know! I am here second guessing everything. I am second guessing my life, my death, have I truly helped people, and worse of all why am I still doing what I do both in advocating and in life. I feel like I disappoint people, I feel like I am disappointing myself as well. No specific reason just because. These days happen. Sometimes more often than not lately.

So I start thinking about my life. I have made many mistakes. I hope I am learning and helping others. Not to make up for my mistakes, but because I actually love helping people. Even though I know I love what I do, I still question if I am making a difference (once again not looking for pity). It is just part of my mental health fight. It is a daily struggle that I may never win. But I don’t feel like I lost either. I am still here.

I could of committed suicide in 2015. As most of you know I did set it up for it to happen. I was ready, so I thought. But I am still here for a reason, one I am still trying to figure out.

I was watching something today that made me think. It was a speech that Terry Crews said on AGT. “All it takes is one person to believe, for them to reach their dreams.”

I have been so lucky to have so many great people in my life. I truly believe without them I probably wouldn’t be here. As a child it was my Mom, my brothers and sister and my extended family to get me through my health fight of childhood leukemia. In my teen years it was my coaches Mr. Schneider and Mr. Burkley, who never gave up on me when I wanted to give up on myself. When I got misdiagnosed in 2004 with cancer, it was my daughter Savannah. When I got diagnosed with Sarcoidosis and fought through 8 surgeries in 4 years it is my wife, my daughters (Savannah and Isabella), and my new family of Sarcoidosis Warriors. First person I met online was Andrea Timmons, she talked me down so many times both online and on the phone even though she was suffering herself daily. Then it is people like Chasta, Trina, Cheryl, Cathleen, Kerry, Kelli Beyer, Duffy and so many more. MaryAnn and Rhonda from Bernie Mac have been an inspiration to me.

But there was and always will be two people in my life Rodney Reese and Paul Dickerson. We were and always will be “The Three Amigos.” Both Paul and Rodney have passed but they are always in my heart and always helping me still. They taught me what Brotherly love is. I still think about our calls and how we would end our calls with ” I LOVE YOU BROTHER!” I will always love you brothers!

I wrote this today because I want you all to know that it is okay not to be okay. Accept it, deal with it, make yourself okay with it. It doesn’t make you weak to accept it. It makes you strong. Also it is okay to ask for help! What makes you strong is self care both physically and mentally.

I am writing this to let you know YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!

I am here and I am at times not strong. I am strong to know this!

Mental Health is Everyday!

In honor of #MentalHealthMonth!

I am going to put this article/blog in three parts Otherwise it will be too long as one full article/blog. Plus, it will make more sense that way. The three parts have significant Mental Health experiences in my life. Don’t get me wrong there were more but these three had a huge impact on my Mental Health life.

I am writing this because I have dealt with mental health all my life. I didn’t know it, but it has been an integral part of my life since I was a child. Now this piece is not a pity piece at all. It is a real honest look at my life.

Part 1

Since I was younger, I always had something going on. At the age of five I was diagnosed with leukemia. I dealt with going back and forth to the hospital for treatment and not being able to go to school for four years. I didn’t realize it back then, probably because I was too young to understand. I also put it in the back of my mind. I guess I felt I needed to put this time away because it was too much of a tragedy. Well let’s just say that my health was just part of the tragedy of that time. You see while dealing with my medical issues as a child I was also dealing with mental health issues and stressors of a life that was challenging.

You see all my life my mother was sick. She had heart problems since she had a major illness as a child.  She was pronounced dead at least three times in my childhood alone. One specific time was in 1975, my mother was in the hospital (her 2nd home), she was intubated and the doctor at the hospital was in my mom’s room talking to my grandma. He told my grandma that my mom wouldn’t make it through the night, right in front of my mother. She was in a medically induced coma at the time so the doctor didn’t think my mom would hear him. Well, the next morning came, and my mom had woken up and when she had the tube removed from her throat. The same doctor who said she wasn’t going to make it through the night was there. She looked at him and said (I’ll keep this PG), “F- You” doc. You see she did hear him, and she told the doctor “Hey you! I don’t see any toe tag or expiration date on me.” There is a reason I told this story as you will find out later.

Well while I was fighting the battle of leukemia from the ages of five to nine, I also had to fight a battle that might have been worse. My mother being as sick as she was had to put us in Foster Care. There are four of us, two older brothers and me then my younger sister. Department of Social Services split us up in two separate groups and homes. My two older stayed in one Foster Home while my sister and I were in two separate homes. The first one was terrible, and that is putting it mildly. They were mentally and physically abusive to both me and my sister. You see I was only seven going on eight and my sister was two years old. The people who were watching us had three or four more foster children as well. If you know the system, you will know there are some families that foster because they want to help children and others who do it for the money. You see every time a foster parent takes another child, they get paid money by the government that is supposed to be used on the child’s well-being. Well, our first foster home didn’t care about our well-being or how we were. They treated us as if we were a nuisance in their lives. I was very sick and had to go to the hospital often. It was part of my chemotherapy that I had to do to live. Then it was the other kids picking on me and my sister because I was the sick one and they thought I couldn’t protect my sister. On the second part they were wrong, you see my whole life I was very protective of my family just as my older brothers were of me.

I got in many fights in the beginning, but the other kids realized even though I was sick and so small I was someone who wasn’t going to let them bother or tease my sister. If they teased me, I was okay, but don’t do it to my family. As small as I was, I never backed down. I guess it was a good thing growing up with two older brothers, they taught me to protect myself and my sister who was five years younger. I would get beat up or did I? Looking back it was always them who was crying and screaming “Get this guy off of me!” I didn’t stop until an adult pulled me off them. Some other forms of abuse was if we didn’t finish a meal that would be our next meal and so on. Imagine having macaroni and cheese for three or four straight meals. They never took into consideration that I was sick and was on chemotherapy, so my appetite was not strong at all if existent at all. One episode we were all in the car and somebody put a hole in the car seat. I took the blame because the other kids were going to blame my sister. My punishment was to stay in my room for 30 days straight. The only time out was to go to the doctors or to go to the bathroom. No television, no books, nothing not even a light. To this day that time scarred me. Right after my 30 days the parents were treating my sister really bad. I believe to this day that they thought my sister put the hole in their car seat. So, I decided that we needed to leave. When we had visits from Social Services, they never believed “our stories.” Why would they believe two young kids over two parents?

So, I knew I had to do something drastic. Well, some would say crazy. But you must understand that my life was always protect. Whether it was my sister or my mother I was in survival protection mode. It was the only mode I knew.

What happened next, I wouldn’t have believed it if it didn’t happen to me. I put my two-year-old sister in a little red wagon and a bag I collected of some of our clothes and ran away. Yes, a sick seven-year-old and a two-year-old ran away. I learned I had to grow up fast. I am sure you are wondering where did you go? Well, I remembered my great Aunt and Uncle didn’t live too far. But what is too far for a seven-year-old? I was going to find out. I knew I had to stay by the docks, but I had to walk on a major road sidewalk. As I look back at this, I realize now how crazy this was. At the time I didn’t care. All I cared was how I needed to protect my sister. I was told later that I walked over a mile with my sister in tow. We got to the house, and they were totally shocked. At first, they didn’t believe me, until I showed them a burn mark on me. Not just any burn mark but a cigarette burn mark.

I remember the police were called and then Social Services were called, and they decided we weren’t going back there again. You see no child should have to go through that ever! It turns out my mother was out of the hospital and Social Services let me and my sister go back to live with my mother, but my two oldest brothers stayed at the foster home until they saw that my mother was strong enough to have all of her children.

Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. One of my most vivid memories of my childhood happened. While living back with my mother we got robbed. I wish that was the worse part about it. I was in the bedroom and the head of the bed was right by the door. I saw three guys break into the house. They went into my mother’s room, and I heard them talking. I was able to see each one of them because they passed me to get to my mother’s room. I also heard their voices so I could understand when the one white guy decided he was going to “wreck her face.” The two other black guys were yelling at him “NO!” But he didn’t listen. He used a razor to cut my mother’s face. I remember hearing my mother say don’t hurt my children. Well after that they left. They stole all my mother’s money and left.

I waited a minute or two then ran into my mother’s room. I was horrified with what I saw. To this day I can see it so vividly, my mother’s face all cut up and bleeding. My mother turned away from me and told me not to look at her, of course she was trying to protect me. Then she told me to go to the neighbor’s house and wake them up. For me the only one I knew that could really help her was my now stepfather and his family. They were two or three houses from ours. All I remember was running there and bagging on the side door and what seemed like an eternity, I banged and pushed on the door with all my might, and the door opened. Still, nobody heard me, so I was crying uncontrollably, and I broke into someone’s else house. They heard me when I broke in and I had two adults running at me as if they were going to kill me. They thought someone broke in. There they find a little boy crying and trying to tell them what was going on, that is when my now stepfather took off to my house.

All I remember past that was me seeing my mom on a stretcher being put in the ambulance. That event was so traumatic, and I probably should have seen a counselor. But at that time, seeing a counselor was something you did only if you were “CRAZY!”

My Dedication to My Sarcoidosis Brother Rodney Reese

I am going to preface this by saying this is one of the hardest things I ever wrote before.

On Saturday we lost a great advocate but more importantly we lost an even greater man. Rodney Reese was so many things to so many people that knew him. He was a husband, father, son, brother and most important to him he was a grandfather. He always talked about his family. The love of his family was always present with Rodney.

 For those in the Sarcoidosis Community that didn’t know him he should have touched you for the things he stood for and his actions for the Sarcoidosis Community. He was always thinking about how he could help someone or how he could make it better for those who couldn’t help themselves.

Rodney always had this great presence when he walked into a room. You always knew you were with a very educated calm force. He always showed that grace, charisma, and had a charm that you were always drawn to.

Now Rodney to me was so much more. He was one of my best friends. He was my brother. We have been talking online for about ten years. We finally met physically at our first FSR Ambassador training with the original 15. We met and right away we hit it off. That is being mild about it. We were brothers right away. We talked during dinner, then some of us went to the hotel upstairs bar, we talked some more. Okay when I say some more we talked until the bartender said last call and our wives called us. We looked at our watches and saw it was after 4am. We had no idea of time. Nobody would have thought we just met for the first time. It was just that easy! But that is Rodney Reese! The next day we paid for it because we had a full day of training on maybe 2 hours of sleep. Did we care? No. We were there to meet others as well as learn.

Rodney was someone who would give me a calm feeling, as you all know I can be a bit “in your face, hothead at times.” He always knew what to say to get a smile out of me when I was going off about something. He also knew when it was time to let go as well and join me on my tirade. We worked hard and loved hard when it came to our advocating. I knew if I came up with an idea no matter how crazy or how quick I wanted to get it done. He would always say to me “I am in. You can count on me. Just tell me what you need me to do.” Every time I needed him; he was there. Even if he wasn’t feeling well, he would let me know he could do only a little bit, you could tell he felt bad about it. It didn’t matter to me if he did a lot or nothing at all, what mattered to me was that he approved. He was my mentor, that was unsaid, but I hope he knew he was. He always said, “How did I have the energy to do what I did?” He was very quick to give me a compliment. Like I said he knew how to make you feel better.

The second year there was another Ambassador who joined us, Paul Dickerson, an amazing man as well. Paul, Rodney, and I hit it off so well. People started to call us the Three Amigos. We hung out together at the training and even went out afterwards. The three of us would keep in touch. At that time, I wasn’t doing that well health wise and having those two positive people always made me smile.  All three of us would call each other to see how we were doing. It wasn’t just a wellness check either, we would talk to each other for over an hour at least. But we never hung up the phone without saying “Love you brother.” Paul started that, but all three of us meant it.

In 2018, I was going through many health issues even being told I was terminal. It was those two brothers that helped me so much mentally to fight for my life.

Then in May 2018, Paul passed away. That was so hard for the two of us. Rodney and I talked that night for well over an hour. One thing we kept was “I love you brother.” You see Paul’s death hit both of us real hard. It was like losing a family member. I remember us talking about how we had to work harder to help others.  We bonded even more after Paul passed, if that is possible.

We went through so much together as advocates. In August 2019, I remember calling him with another “great idea” I had. I remember saying to him” How about we start an online support group, for those patients, caregivers, and family members who couldn’t go to a face-to-face meeting or didn’t have one near them.” Once again Rodney says, “Sounds great when do we start?” Little did we know what was coming. We started the support group in November 2019. It kicked off and was amazing, still is going.

Then the pandemic hit…. In March 2020 we got hit with the pandemic. I got COVID in mid-March. Rodney and others stepped up. It was a tough time for me, but Rodney was calling checking up on me.

Then when I was getting better, something else happened…. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, and the protests. Well, that hit Rodney real hard, and he decided to stay away from the support group, as did others. I remember calling him and I never heard him so mad before in any of our earlier conversations. I just remember my heart went out with him.  I felt so bad, and I thought there was nothing I could do to help ease his pain. I knew and felt his pain. I then made my usual quick idea, yet again. “Hey Rodney, why don’t we do a forum about Civil Justice or In-Justice? He was all for it. He jumped in as much as I did. He introduced me back with Bernie Mac Foundation, he also was able to bring on extra people on the panel. He did so much for that first forum and two after even being part of the panels and stepping in to moderate one of the forums for Mental Health and Social Justice. Not once did he want any credit for any of these forums. He put all the emphasis on me and what I did, but not once did he talk about how much he did to make sure these went off well.

You may ask why I made this dedication so long? Well, you all needed to see the Rodney I and many others like me knew.

He was an amazing man. He was a caring, loving man. He was a Brother to me!

The last time I spoke to him was the second day he went into the ICU. I am not even sure Harriet knew this. He said he had to beg and bribe the nurse to call me. He was on full oxygen, but he was still asking me how I was doing. He told me he was going to fight hard and tried to reassure me he was fighting as hard as he could. He wanted to make sure I was doing fine.

You see, that is what Rodney is and was. Always there, always caring, always Rodney! I am sad that Rodney is no longer with us. Well, that is an understatement. I am devastated. But I can hear Rodney telling me, “Come on, you know better, what is next?”

Rodney you may be gone, but you will always be with me. I know when I have the next idea you will be saying, “what do you need?” You will always be here. You will always be in my heart trying to calm me down again.

Rodney, “I Love You Brother!” I will keep the legacy of the Three Amigos going and forever trying to improve this community!

Happy Six Year Anniversary!! I Guess!

Warning – This subject matter discusses Suicide and other Mental Health Issues

Today is a tough day. Six years ago, I was in a very bad place. It is very hard for me to speak about.  I put myself in a 72-hour Suicide Watch. It was such a bad time of my life. But as bad as it was there was something great to come out of it. I was seeing a counselor for years before and still do. Why did I put myself there? I actually planned my suicide. I had it all down. But something told me to make one call. That call was to my counselor… She talked me into going in the hospital for a 72-hour watch and here I am….

I learned so much about me. I wanted to commit suicide, but I didn’t want to die. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but it makes so much sense to me. 

Let’s go back to that time.  It was 2015, and I was in so much pain and being told there wasn’t much left for the doctors to give me in medicine. Unfortunately, my body rejected all of the medications in one way or another. Some of the medications worked for six months then my body grew a tolerance toward them all. There are other medications that my body outright rejected due to the other diseases I have. So my body was not my friend. 

I was also in a bad space mentally, if not more than I was physically. I was believing I was a burden on those I loved and those who loved me. Mainly my immediate family. They had to deal with me just staying in bed, going to the doctors, and just being depressed.  

I was not thinking right, well not thinking at all. But what kept coming up was committing suicide. I never thought I would be “that person.” Whatever “that person ” even means. I thought for most of my life that committing suicide was a cowardly thing to do. I always thought I was stronger than that. Let me just tell you one thing. All of that is BS! I am a strong person for knowing I needed help!

It can happen to anyone. All it takes is one moment of weakness, one thought of despair or that you are a “burden” on others. Plus, when you are sick physically it definitely effects your mental health. How can you think right when you can’t get out of bed because of pain? How can you think right when all you hear is “NO?” How can you think right when you are taking medications that mess with your cognitive thinking? 

Now don’t get me wrong, there is no excuse for suicide. There is always help out there if you want it. I honestly knew that back then, just like I know it now. I can’t describe the feeling that I felt back then. The only way I can write it down was it was a feeling of nothing. Just nothing. Nothing was going to help me… nothing and nobody was going to understand me… and worse yet.. I wasn’t going to help me!!

Was I right? No… Was anyone going to tell me I was wrong.. Not in my mind.. 

You see when you are in that state where you think suicide is the only solution, you don’t know what is out there. You don’t know or don’t care, either way your mind is focused in blinders mode. You have a one-track mind.  

 Am I saying that everyone thinks this way? Absolutely NOT! All I can speak is for me. My mindset is not the usual on a normal day so I would bet it is not the same when it came to this.  I always thought I was strong, smart, happy and most of all I thought I would never do this. 

So what got me to that point? Was it the pain? Was it the feeling of being a burden? Was it just feeling pity for myself and everyone around me? Honestly it was all of that and more. The medication didn’t help as well. Also depression and anxiety of living like that for the rest of my life definitely didn’t help it at all.

So why am I writing this? I don’t know.. Well I know some reasons. It has been six years. Six long years! What has changed? Well I feel like I may be a bit stronger than before. I also have been through so much more both physically and definitely mentally. I would elaborate but that is for another time. 

I have lived a pretty full life. Better and worse than I expected, but a full life. Just like so many. I have been dealt some tough things but I have fought hard to get where I am. Sometimes I even fight with myself. But I know where I am now. I know that even though it is not where I expected it to be, it is  what it is.

Boy do I hate that saying.. It is not what it is.. It is what you make it. I made the best that I could with what I had. I can say that I have tried to make a difference. If I had or not is up to others to decide. 

I can say this one thing. Everyday I fight my mental health. Will I think about suicide again? I don’t know.. Will I act on it… I don’t know.. I just know that right now even though I am super stressed out due to physical and mental obstacles, I am not in that place. Right Now! 

We never know what tomorrow brings, do we? I know my present. That is all I know… That is all I can control…

Life Always Takes Turns You Never Expect

I have spent so many days reflecting on life and where I am now to where I thought I would be. Of course some good and some bad.

Life has a way to changing you and if you let it, you could let it beat you down or you can go with the changes and adjust to them or you can give up or fight the changes in your life. Sometimes fighting in itself can be good or bad.

I believe I have been through everyone of those decisions and actions. I am no better than anyone else. I go through good times, bad times, and some in between times. Since dealing with these illnesses, from 2004 until now so many things have happened.

So many things in my life have happened that I would never ever would of expected. When I initially got sick, my whole life got turned upside down. The real problem was that I let the diagnosis run me. I didn’t think I acted. I didn’t look into what was happening to me, I just reacted to what the doctors said. I wasn’t advocating for myself , I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t do anything to actually make sure the doctors were right or if my initial diagnosis was right. I can honestly say that I just was trying to understand what was going on that I forgot to think about me. I forgot to understand what I was going through. I didn’t question anything, which isn’t who I am. I just did, not ask.

So in 2011, I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis. When I was diagnosed and told it won’t be bad. Just some prednisone and I will be feeling better. So when I started looking into it and I was going on and things weren’t getting better I started to really find out information on the disease. When I was told I had Sarcoidosis, not Cancer, I wanted to find out more about this disease. I didn’t want to be a victim. I wanted to know how to fight this and what to expect. I also looked for specialists in this disease. I became active in my treatment not reactive.

So back to why I am writing this today. I have had so much time to reflect on my current life, my fight against this diagnosis and every new diagnosis that has come. I became proactive not reactive. I decided I had to fight this because giving up was not an option. I started reading and asking questions on things I had no idea what it meant.

The biggest thing in my life of course was going to change my life but I had no idea how much. Having Sarcoidosis and the many other diseases changed my outlook on life, changed my emphasis on what meant and still means the most to me. I have learned so many new things that if you asked me when I was younger this is where I would be I would of thought you were crazy. I grew up learning things, many business oriented, but now I still use some of my business expertise, but most of that went to the back burner to learn how to help myself at first to learning how to help others.

I had to re-program my mind which in itself is hard in your 40’s, but to start from scratch to a subject I never liked in school, Science. I had to learn chemistry, what meds go with what and what those reactions were or are. I had to learn biology, I needed to find out what would happen to my body when Sarcoidosis attacks it. I needed to learn nutrition to make sure what my body could handle and to make it stronger. I had to learn Earth Science, to learn how the environment affects my disease. I never thought I would need to re-learn so much Science.

So all these things bring me to where I am now. Today I was thinking about what I have done , not the look at me things, but the things that made me a better person and be better for others as well. Each accomplishment has been made me a better person. Made me a better advocate, made me a more sympathetic person as well.

When I was younger I would never think that I would write one book nevermind two books. My past was hard to live, so for me to re-live it was so tough. Most of it I tried to forget about. So why write the first book? I felt and still feel that to actually know me you need to know what made me who I am. I also found out putting it on paper helped me to deal with my past.

I also never thought I would be a published author in magazines and online articles. I also can’t believe I has had the impact I have had on the community. Not to be braggish at all. I never wanted to be the “one” or the face of a disease. There are over 200k faces of Sarcoidosis. But I do understand to get what we as a community want and need that someone needed to put a face to a disease. I was very reluctant at first. Then after being told that it was needed, I started to be more visible.

When I became an advocate I was putting myself all into raising awareness and government awareness. I spent years doing it and feeling confident at what I was doing. But things change. Health conditions change as well. I had to adapt to my changes in health and also to a pandemic that changed the whole landscape of advocating.

I tried to adjust and try to advocate in different ways. Some times kicking and screaming to change, but I found out that there are so many different ways to help the community. I started to go after research, and if you know me you know that was the last thing I wanted to do. The funny thing is that I actually like it, don’t tell anyone I am loving it. I started working on different parts of research and also started working on the mental aspect of this disease and what it can do to hurt, as well as ways it can help the community. I have also got into more of the medical side of this disease. The biggest surprise to me is that I helped on a medical paper with some of the best people I have ever met. I actually am so proud I was even a little part of this. I learned so much by changing who I am and what I stand for. I learned to adjust to the times and as well as the means of what I could do and couldn’t do. I also am very proud that I went out of my comfort zone and took on more and more opportunities and I didn’t limit myself to only things I do know and take a chance on things I thought I didn’t know. I am proud of wwho I am now. If it sounds like I am bragging oh well. Maybe at times I need to brag so I do understand I am worthy.

There are many times in my life where I never thought I was worthy of any of this. I would of been part of the background and happy about it. I talk about being worthy, because it wasn’t anyone else’s opinion on me that brought me down. It was my own opinion of never feeling worthy to anyone else in anything I did.

It is very difficult for me to believe I am worthy of anything. I feel like I am no better than anyone for that matter. I have always been this way. It truly isn’t anyone’s fault but my own. I didn’t have people saying to me that I wasn’t worthy, I just felt that way. It is something I put on myself.

While having this time to reflect has made me better understand myself and really am working on loving me. Even though I go through one step forward and two steps back at times I have realized that doesn’t define my worth. What defines my worth is how I feel about me. I also learning, somewhat that is, to try to take compliments better. That is tough when for so long you didn’t even think you deserve them.

I will always be a work in process. That work is ever changing. That work is evolving. That the person I thought I would be is also ever evolving, making new decisions and don’t be afraid to take chances, don’t be afraid to do something you never thought you would do. I will fail, but it is better to fail at trying then to never have tried at all. So I will keep on trying to better myself, keep on trying to make changes to better myself. Try to be the better me! I know there is so much room for improvement in me. I just want to be a better me. Be the better version I can be proud of. But also knowing this may be the best me. Last but not least I am working on being proud of me. That fight is ever going!

What #YouAreNotAlone Means to Me…

Let me start off by saying I know so many say these words. I am not saying they do not know what it means at all. I believe we all have different interpretations of these words; most are close to being the same. Others have a totally different meaning, which is great. 

What I am going to say is what these words mean to me.  They really hit me hard. Why? Because even though I had and have many people in my life that are caring, loving amazing, wonderful and inclusive. I have for a long time felt alone. It is nobody’s fault, I do not even blame myself, though I still feel alone at times.

Life has been a rollercoaster ride. I have dealt with some things that others have not. Does it make me any worse or any better than anyone else? Absolutely not. We all have our pasts and present and futures. We all have our own feelings, and we should never put anyone down or say how yours were worse than any other person’s life.

We all have our triggers in life. We also all have our point of feeling and being alone. Being alone also has its own different meanings.

So back to what being alone means to me. It has different meanings at different times. Being alone is such a scary feeling. I could be in a crowded room and feel alone. It can come on to me out of nowhere. Whether it is my health, my anxiety or my depression it happens at different times and at any time. I have been dealing with this for many years. I believe and know that when I was young, I had depression and anxiety, it just was not talked about back then. How could I not? No excuses here, but when you are five years old and had to deal with having leukemia, and not being allowed to go outside or be a kid, in the sense of not being active, I learned to deal with being alone. Like I said it was not anybody’s fault it was just real-life situation that everyone tried to make the best of it.

Being alone was normal for me as a kid. Was it a good thing that I reverted to being alone? Probably not, but the body and mind of a child adjusts to what you have in front of you.

By the time I was able to go out I really did not have the skills to meet people. Most of my childhood friends were people who came and talk to me. As I grew up, I started to talk to more to other kids. It was in Junior High School I started to really try to go out and meet others. If you would ask my family, they would have said I was more outgoing earlier in my life, but that was overcompensating for things I did not know how to do. I would exaggerate and be overly friendly to make sure nobody knew the little scared child that was there. You see when you do not go to school from kindergarten until half of fourth grade, there were many times you are alone. As a coping mechanism I got “use to it.” You adapt. You learn to “accept.” But as a child what is accepting? For me it was put everything away in the back of my mind and not think about it. There are so many things in my childhood that I do not remember. I am partially glad about that, but some things are coming back slowly but they are.

Let me get back to “being alone.” The meaning of this to me is that even though you could be surrounded by many people, you can still feel alone. For me I am dealing with different medical diagnoses as well as depression and anxiety, some of that because of my diagnoses and some because of my insecurities I have had for so long. For a long time, I was hiding those insecurities and feelings. Sometimes I acted out because of my insecurities as well. No matter what I did growing up it was never enough. Not to anyone else but to myself. Even when I did something that someone was proud of me, I would find fault.

Why? Honestly, I do not know. I am still working on that. As a matter of fact, I still do that to myself. Not that anyone sees that side of me, or if they do it is more subtle then how I feel toward myself on the inside. I have always been hard on myself. I guess that is because I felt I was always catching up to everyone else. Let me say this, it is a terrible way to live. I wish I could describe it better on here or even to my counselor, at times, I beat myself up over it.

When it comes to feeling alone it come in different waves. Somedays I feel nobody understands me. I feel like no matter what I say people will not understand or even care. Ever been asked “How are you feeling?’ and think “do they really want to know or are they just trying to be polite?” I then usually go to my standard phrase “I am hanging in there.” Whether I am or not it is easier to say that then having to explain to them what is really going on. I have this internal fight with myself on whether to tell them the real me or tell them what I feel they want to hear. People get tired of hearing this hurts or that hurts. People start to avoid you if you are always negative. So, you lose if you say too much about your illnesses or you lose when you just, please people and saying, “I am hanging in there” or “I am fine.”

When I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis, I had no clue of what this disease entailed. I was under the perception, some of it by others and some because I wanted to be okay as well, I was told “At least it is not cancer.” Or “you take some prednisone, and you will be fine in 6 months or so.” Both are wrong statements, well at least for me. This battle has been long and hard and emotionally and physically draining. I have fought hard and continue to do so. That much I know is part of me. I will keep helping others as much as I can. I will try to keep people happy and hopefully encouraged to do so themselves.

What I cannot promise is that I still will not feel alone. It is something I fight almost every day. I know many would not think of me this way. I have perfected the fake face and the fake feelings. Well actually I do not know if fake is the right word. It feels fake to me. In my heart it is not fake. I really want to be happy; I want to feel like I am not alone, I also want to feel like I am helping others.

So, this brings me to this. This weekend I was at a Sarcoidosis Summit, while there I was telling people how I do not like to be seen as the “Voice of Sarcoidosis.” I do not like when people compliment me, do not get me wrong it is nice to be noticed, but it truly is not the reason why I do the things I do. I say this a lot. I say if I could stay in the background, I would love to.

I never believe or believed I am better than anyone else. I always say we all have our own battles, and we fight those battles a different way. When it comes to advocating, I get embarrassed when I am complimented. That is because of the feeling of being alone and to this day the feeling of being inferior. I also never wanted to what they call “in front of the camera” literally or figuratively. I know and understand what people say they need a face to the story, but I honestly say to myself “Why my face?” I do not feel and probably never will feel that I should be the face of Sarcoidosis. I think that is my self-trying to stay alone.

One reason I do talk about what I have done is because I want to let other people in our communities know one person can make a difference. Know your words and story matter. Know that if you touch one person’s life you have made a difference.

I want to end this by telling you all a couple of last words. Do not think because you are with someone, you cannot feel you are alone. Many people are like me and feel alone in crowds. Find out something that will help you when you are alone. It can be music, movies, reading, counselor or just time to yourself to find yourself. Sometimes I just need to be with me and in my feelings. I need to re-organize my thoughts at times.

When I say #YouAreNotAlone I mean we are here for you. I am learning to open myself up. If you do not open yourself to others, you will never be able to feel like someone is here.

Finally, please do not be afraid to ask for help! It does not make you weak to ask for help. It makes you strong that you can realize when you need help and ask for it!

I say this all the time. But Men you do not have to be alone! You can ask for help! You don’t “Have to Be Strong or Suck it Up!” You are stronger to ask for help!


Mental Health and Stigma According to Me!

I have been very much an advocate for Mental Health not for notoriety at all. I believe it is important to me that people in all communities face the fact that your Mental Health is as important if not more important in your overall health.

Just to let you know everything I write on here are opinions, just that, my opinions. I don’t have a counseling background at all. What I write is only what I am thinking at the time. If it helps one person then it was all worth it. Just know when I do write it is never easy to put my thoughts on a screen. I am just saying nothing or no one in your life hasn’t had to make sacrifices and had something they had to face. What is that great saying? “Don’t judge a book by its Cover!” That is absolutely truth!

Mental health has been in the forefront lately, whether it is due to the pandemic, or athletes speaking up or just that many health communities are speaking up and trying to make sure that we address the need for mental health in our full body treatment.

Many people know how mental health has affected me personally. For those that don’t know in 2015, I thought about suicide. When I mean thought of I mean I planned it. I was ready to commit suicide. That sounds weird to say at times. I still tear up thinking about those times. If you know me you know that I carry out many of my plans. So it was and still is frightening. I am lucky I had and still have an amazing counselor who I called that day and she was able to talk me out of it and get immediate help. I went to the hospital and put myself in a seventy two hour watch. It helped.

Did it cure me? Of course not. Did it change me? Yes, but I won’t lie there are times still that I believe it, suicide, might be the best answer. It did put worries and troubles into more focus and made me capable to handle things better. Am I cured? ABSOLUTELY NO! Will I ever be cured? Now that is a question I probably will never ever be able to answer.

Mental health has so many components. I am not a counselor but as a chronically ill patient I know that my mental health is very complex. As a person who has been through so much as a child and adult just makes the complexity even higher. I understand many people have had it worse than I have. But mental health is all relative to what a person can take both physically or mentally. I will never compare myself to anyone, or say my experiences are better or worse than anyone else. We all go through life differently. Please never feel like your reasons of depression or anxiety is of less importance than anyone else. We all have our own battles in life. Just because our battles are different doesn’t make mine any more important than yours. We all have our own “boiling points” in life.

I have been dealing a lot with my “demons,” whether it is from what happened to me or I did myself, in the past and present. Let me first say I wrote the word “demons” and looking at it now I don’t believe that is the right word. There should be a better word, there probably is but I just can’t think of it now. So let’s go with this.

Life has been rough, don’t get me wrong I don’t use it a crutch or as an excuse at all. It was what it was. After looking back at it recently I thought that I probably had suicidal tendencies as a child, but never acted on them or even let anyone know it. One thing I have to say is I was and still am great at masking and hiding my true feelings. Nobody really knew what I was thinking. I know that it is not a good thing to do, but each person handles stress and anxiety differently. For me I put so much of my childhood away in the back of my mind so I wouldn’t have to think about it for a long time if not forever. My childhood is so spotted by my memories. It is sad. I want to remember but they haven’t come back. I guess that is a defense mechanism.

I know that now you can’t run away from pain both physical and mental pain. I face so much head on but there are more that I don’t want to face, or for that matter do I feel like I need to face. I know things in my past have affected who I am now. I am not running away from things at all. I just don’t want to rehash some things. I am not embarassed about anything. What I am is disappointed, sad, and outright done with things that have happened. I have so much to deal with that I don’t have the time or energy to bring up the past.

I have a couple things that I learned in life. Too many people judge you without even knowing the details. Also we can’t change the pass, all we can do is become a better person for it. Another thing is judge people by their actions not their what they say or what they did in the past. We all have things we arew not proud of, but if you judge that person by what they did and not what they are doing you truly miss out on how amazing that person could be. That goes to judging yourself as well. If you keep judging yourself on the hardest times you will never live the great times or acknowledge that you are a good person. I know that by experience. Believe me! Life isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be a tragedy as well.

So let’s get back to the topic of Mental Health especially the stigma that it brings with it. First of al and most importantly if you need help with your mental health it doesn’t mean you are “crazy.” It also doesn’t mean you are “weak.” If anything it means you are “STRONG!” Why do I say that? One of the biggest strengths is to admit when you can’t do something on your own. Remaining vulnerable and the acknowledging of that vulnerability is a major step in life.

Stigmas in my opinion are just a way to be lazy and make excuses for something or someone that you don’t want to face. Stigmas are a terrible to use. It is a way to bring down another. Mental Health should not have a stigma of any kind to it. Our brains are an important part of our well being. I have said on many occasions that when you get sick either physically or mentally you have a couple of choices. You can roll into a ball and give up or you can fight. That is up to you and your brain to decide what is best for you.

I try to ask myself this question when something or someone challenges me. “Do you want to fight or do you want to give up?” Only you can answer that question and more importantly can decide what path you are going to walk. When you acknowledge that you can’t answer that question it is the first step toward strength and taking control of your life. Having a counselor can do so much for a person. Just having that someone that you can talk to you and offer suggestions with an open mind. When you are involved with making decisions when you are overwhelmed is almost impossible to do. So asking for help takes courage and strength.

I know this post says a lot and many people will be saying “Why did you write this? It goes back to the beginning, you are the only one who can decide your mental health. You can ask for help, but you are the one who decides how your mental health is going to help or deter your life.

Lately I have been going through a lot. You might say “Don’t you go through hard times a lot?” Yes I guess I do, but some times are harder than others, both physically and mentally.

As much as I write this for others I also write these for me. It is also to make sure my mind is in the right place. I am just like you guys, I have hard times just like everyone else. If I didn’t I would be lying. I have fights with myself very often. When you live with depression and anxiety your battle within never stops. What one does or doesn’t do is that contollable aspect of your life.

I have come to a realization that nobody’s life is perfect, or neither is mine and it never will be. What can be controlled is the fact of how you fight and what you fight to make your life perfect for you. When I say “Perfect for you” I mean in the sense of what will make your life better, what will make you happy. We all search for perfection, it is a concept that I finally understand that perfection is not totally attainable, but happiness can be if you let yourself be okay with what happiness is for you now.

“It’s up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.”― Steve Maraboli

 “It doesn’t have to take over your life, it doesn’t have to define you as a person, it’s just important that you ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness.” — Demi Lovato

“Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.” –Unknown

Always Coping with my Mental Health
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