Excerpt for The i'Mpossible Project: Volume 2—Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The i’Mpossible Project: Volume 2

Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible

Joshua Rivedal, Candace Yoder

Fifty Authors

Foreword by Stephen L. Mandel, M.D.

Skookum Hill Publishing 2017

Thematic Editor: Joshua Rivedal

Copyeditor: Proofed to Perfection

Cover Design: Sobola Damilare

Book Layout: Joshua Rivedal

Copyright © 2017 by Joshua Rivedal

ISBN 978-0-9860964-2-6

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. If you would like to do any of the above, please seek permission first by contacting josh@iampossibleproject.com

The i’Mpossible Project: Volume 2: Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible/ Joshua Rivedal, Candace Yoder.

Praise for The i’Mpossible Project: Volume 2

Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible

"What a fantastic, straightforward and honest book. Helpful to anyone interested in mental illness or who has one."—Victoria Marie Alonso, author of “My Personal Recovery from Schizophrenia”

"I highly recommend this book for all to read. There is so much that needs to be done for mental health and suicide prevention. The authors are amazing."—Jenny Rietveld, author

"These beautiful people have found a life beyond their wildest dreams when acceptance of their hopelessness seemed to be the answer. They are not their diagnosis. They remind us we are not alone."—Malini Singh McDonald, founder of Theater Beyond Broadway

"This book is brimming with powerful and inspiring stories about overcoming tremendous obstacles, breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness, and transforming the impossible into possible. A wonderful read—highly recommended."—Mariagrazia Buttitta; author, motivational speaker, and mental health advocate—embracingyourdifferences.com

"Many people are not comfortable sharing their personal mental health struggles because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. The authors in this book speak openly and honestly about their life experiences with depression, ADHD, substance abuse, etc. The i'Mpossible Project: Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible book is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to overcome the obstacles in their own lives so they, too, can achieve the impossible."—Kathleen Myre, author and activist

"The stories in this book are wonderfully honest and beautiful and real. Anyone who reads this will undoubtedly walk away with a new understanding and empathy for the experience of mental illness, but also with a renewed wisdom for handling their own life challenges, whether they are mental illness or something else. Strongly recommended to anyone with a heart."—Megan Starshak, author, co-founder of The Great Bowel Movement (IBD and Crohn’s Disease awareness)

"The personal stories in this book are powerful and communicate a message of hope and resilience in living life with mental illness. Each courageous author shares their unique journey in learning not only to survive with a mental illness, but to thrive and live life to the fullest!”—Jenn Burton, author, counseling center, William Woods University

"So many people don't realize the ins and outs and highs and lows of mental illness and how hard it can be on not only the person experiencing mental illness, but also their family members and friends. Reading the stories in this book will help anyone overcome that obstacle and succeed."—JoAnne Diaz, CamaraderieMom.com


We would like to thank our family for their love and support. We especially want to thank the people listed below. They were early adopters of this book and believed that a book on overcoming mental illness was truly “possible,” and for that we are truly grateful. And to all of our authors in this book, you are incredible human beings—brave, talented, inspirational, and committed to preventing others from needless suffering due to mental illness or another personal difficulty. Thank you so much.

- Joshua & Candace

Rick Strait, Mary Jo Connell, Theresa Keown, Jensen McGinness, Phyllis Blackwelder, Roberta Bennett, Jamie Smith, Ellen Cole, Lee Moorhead, Blair Snyder, Angela Finley, Michelle Granahan, Alyson Kriewaldt, Sandra J. Williams, Laurie Arslani, Sylwia Truszkowski, Suzanne Smith, Madison Schutze, Alyx Korn, Taylor Pearcy, Elizabeth Zapata, Kristen Skopek, Mike Roberto, Lara Brown, Ann Harman, Rachel Bates, Alison Montrim, Claude Matranga, Jodi Engebos, Lauren Wassner, Krista Parkinson, Tracy McLaughlin, Josie Baker, Troy Hanson, Kirsten Holsomback, Nichole Carstens, Mary Oldenburg, Michael J. Korpi, Kathleen Myre, Mellisa Nielsen, Michelle Mariscal, Clarissa Jacobsen, Ron Silverman, Matthew Silverman Memorial Foundation, Lyle S. Houston, Martha Dooley, Linda Lockspeiser, Kelly Bottoni, Kelly Hrynkow, Stephanie Damato, Richard Strait, Josh Strait, Shayna Strait, Holden Strait, McKenzie DeProw, Emily DeProw, Ava Abernathy, Audrey Burger, Kelly Buckingham, Joel Ouburg, Barbara Townsend, Anthony Henderson, Dr. Byron English, Joe and Carolyn Bolander, Stan Gaylord, Michael Gaylord, Darrell and Sheila Kingsley, Doris Gaylord, Chad and Nikki Gaylord, Joe and Sondra Buchanan, Jim and Wendi Sebourn, Joe and Pam Reagan, Chris and Susan White, Julie and Lyla Schoolfield, Bret and Sarah Barton, Craig and Stacey Constant, James and Dwana Lyerla, David and Dawn Collier, Greg and Nikki Carlyle, Alan and Lori Blunt, Brian and Stacy Stroer, Jacqua and Jackie James, Dave and Becky Ragan, Chad Williams, Levi Williams, Russ Williams, Owen Capriola, Jacque Christmas

Table of Contents

Introduction: Joshua Rivedal

Foreword: Stephen L. Mandel, M.D

i’Mpossible Anxiety

Escaping Darkness, Choosing Light

- Shannon Ackerman

Chasing Butterflies

- Nate Crawford

Breaking Free

- Reece Anderson

Reconnecting with Myself and My Life Worth Living

- Tanya J. Peterson, NCC

Where Deep Gladness Meets the World’s Needs

- Kendal Kooreny

i’Mpossible ADHD

Turning the Whole Thing on its Head

- Penny Williams

Having a Child with ADHD has Made Me a Better Person

- Cristina Margolis

A Beautiful Train Wreck

- Jessica Jurkovic

i’Mpossible Self-Harm

The Beauty of My Battle Scars

- Brianna Miedema

The True Weight of a Pound

- Mary Sukala

The Visceral Way

- Ashley Lewis Carroll

I Will Fear No Evil, For Thou Art with Me

- Timothy Cyron

i’Mpossible Suicide

I Survived

- Caitlin McLaughlin

The Rainbow After the Storm

- Michelle Graffeo

Chelsea Did a Backflip

- Cynthia Mauzerall

A Return to Living

- Estelle Matranga

i’Mpossible Schizophrenia

Garfield, and Bubble Baths, and Schizophrenia; Oh My!

- Amy Kay

Discerning the Truth

- Victoria Marie Alonso


- Bethany Yeiser

A Schizophrenic’s Secret World

- August Pfizenmayer

i’Mpossible Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

How PTSD Became My Beautiful Detour

- Amy Oestreicher

It Took Me Over Forty Years to Find My Calling… And It was Worth It

- Matt Pappas

Adopting a New Mindset, Learning to Love Myself

- Karen Strait

Healing Through Giving

- Candace Yoder

i’Mpossible Borderline Personality Disorder

Dear Self

- Danielle Hark

My Journey with ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’

- Fiona Kennedy

Imbisoul … or In Between Two Souls

- Melissa Whelan

i’Mpossible Substance Abuse

The Past

- Benjamin Tyler

Five Years Ago

- Lotta Dann

i’Mpossible Depression

Taking Dewayne for a Run

- Joshua Rivedal

A LiFE OF HOPE: Discovering Me

- Deeatra Kajfosz

Life After the Ward

- Imade Nibokun

Finding My Sunshine

- Jeanine Hoff

No Shame on U

- Miriam Ament

i’Mpossible Bipolar Disorder

There Comes a Light

- Elaina J. Martin

Ten Years After Diagnosis

- Cynthia Forget

Laura: Version 2.0

- Laura Marchildon

White Lines

- Kate Dolan

i’Mpossible Postpartum Depression

Post-Parting Depression

- Suzi Leigh

Riding the Wave of Postpartum Depression

- JoAnne Diaz

Kicking Postpartum’s Ass

- Jen Schwartz

i’Mpossible Eating Disorders

The Eating Anorexia

- Heather Williams


- Molly Hillery

i’Mpossible Panic Attacks

A Thread Unraveling

- Monica Reagan

Masculinity in Emotion

- Chase Skopek

Be Still My Beating Heart

- Lauren Wolfson

i’Mpossible Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The Strength Within

- Britt Berlin

Life on the Other Side of Fear

- Autumn Aurelia

Learning to be a Better Parent to a Child with OCD

- Chris Baier

Uncovering the OCD

- Kari Ferguson

Your i’Mpossible Story

Author Biographies

Also by Joshua Rivedal

Flipping the Script on “Impossible”

Joshua Rivedal

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been living with a nagging health condition—something that, until age twenty-seven (only six years ago), I didn’t even have words to describe.

As a kid, I would often go through bouts of extreme sadness, seemingly for no reason at all. Sometimes my sadness would interfere with school work, friendships, and my self-esteem. As a teen, I figured out how to tolerate sadness, but never learned how to manage it. As an adult, I went through the same bouts of extreme sadness, but they began to ramp up to several times a year. At age twenty-seven, one bout of sadness left me suicidal and searching for answers. While recovering, I got into therapy, did loads of research, and found out what was causing my sadness: depression.

Just before age twenty-eight, I began to learn to manage my depression, and then I started speaking openly all over the world about it—because I didn’t want one more person to experience the pain and suffering I once had.

While on my travels, I met thousands of people who had their own stories of hope, healing, and overcoming life’s obstacles. Many of these people wanted to tell their story to help others, much as I was doing. This is where the first edition of The i’Mpossible Project was born. Reengaging with Life, Creating a New You was the book’s subtitle. It featured authors with mental health conditions, trauma, suicide loss, and disabilities. In January, 2016 the book was published and it started strong out of the gate—and readers were asking for a second edition.

So, we listened. This second volume is all about people living with mental health conditions, how they’ve found ways to manage, and what they do to live happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. These are seemingly ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary feats in their lives—making the impossible possible, and changing the world.

Why mental health? After working for more than five years in the field, and while managing my own ongoing depression, I realized that we as a society don’t speak openly enough about mental health. We talk about sports, dieting, sex, work, and how gluten-free muffins are better than the regular kind—but we don’t talk nearly enough about how to keep our brains healthy. And I’m not just talking about someone being depressed, or people with bipolar disorder, anxiety, or any other “disorder.” I’m talking about the good parts, too: therapy, yoga, taking time off from work to rest, or binge-watching the Bachelorette (My wife got me hooked on this show. #facepalm). So… what’s up with the book’s subtitle?

Changing Minds

This is one of my life missions. It’s what we’re working toward with our comprehensive training series on mental health, and what we’re hoping to achieve with this book—to change people’s hearts and minds when it comes to mental health and mental illness. But we’re not going to force it. We’re going to let you come to that conclusion yourself. After all, you are pretty darn smart … at least smart enough to buy this book (my editor wouldn’t let me insert a winking emoji here. Buzzkill).

Breaking Stigma

If I could have written “Beating the $@#! Out of Stigma,” instead of “Breaking Stigma,” I would have—but I was advised against it. Stigma is a killer that prevents people from speaking up and getting help for something that is treatable, is often a part of everyday life, and doesn’t make you less of a person—but in reality, makes you more human. I detest stigma (also known in some cases as prejudice and discrimination). This book and these stories are part of the daily battle being waged against stigma surrounding mental health.

Achieving the Impossible

This is what The i’Mpossible Project is all about. Impossible is nothing more than a mindset. Of course, I’ll never sprout wings, no matter how badly I want to fly. But one thing I can do is find the essence of why I want to fly and find alternative ways to achieve it: I could become a pilot, take hang-gliding lessons, work on inventing a jetpack, or become a flight attendant—and the list could go on. The aim of this book and the i’Mpossible series is to show people who are working toward what many believe is impossible, and who are achieving it anyway.

For much of recent history, mental health was viewed by society as a conversation about “crazy.” People living with mental health conditions were viewed as pariahs—and living a healthy, productive, and fulfilled life was deemed impossible for them.

But as someone living with depression—who manages it through counseling, a support system, a pill, faith, creativity, and healthy habits—I’m enjoying a healthy, productive, and fulfilled life, and I’m flipping the metaphorical bird at archaic societal views. And so are the authors in this book.

How This Book is Supposed to Be Read

Any way you want. You’re the boss. Read it in order. Read it out of order. Read it to a friend. Or pass it to along to someone you care about. Some of the stories might be hard to read, while others you’ll breeze through. Take your time.

Each story is a thousand words—unique, powerful, and straight to the point. All are written with love and the hope that you will take something away that will help you through your day, your week, or the rest of your life.

This book is not written entirely by polished authors, but I’ve lightly edited each of the stories—not to fit my #snarky writing style, but rather to make sure the crux of each story is unmistakably clear.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably skimmed the last two pages already, thinking, When is this guy gonna get to the point? When are we gonna get to the stories? Hold on, fellow skim-reader. We’re almost there.

Ladies, gentlemen (or whatever gender you identify as) (#equality), I present to you: fifty authors, and fifty inspirational, life-changing stories.


Stephen L. Mandel, M.D.

I first met Josh when my team and I were reaching out to suicide prevention organizations in the area. I came across the Matthew Silverman Memorial Foundation (MSMF), which really stood out to me as a wonderful organization dedicated to preventing suicide. Josh’s wife Candace is the executive director of MSMF, and after reaching out and meeting with her, I became acquainted with Josh. Soon enough, Josh told me of a loved one, a prospective patient, he felt would benefit from our IV Ketamine Infusion Therapy and connected us. That patient ended up coming in for treatment.

Josh and I began to talk more often. We began to collaborate towards our common goal—to prevent suicide. It was during that time that I was introduced to this book.

I read and enjoyed Josh’s first book in the i’Mpossible book series very much. When Josh approached me to write the foreword for his second book in the series—Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible—I was thrilled to say, “Yes!”

Josh is an extraordinary person who had an amazing transformation from the depths of his depression seven years ago. He has devoted his life to shedding light on the possibilities for change for fellow sufferers. He is an inspiration for those of us who believe in paying it forward. The i’Mpossible Project represents another step forward in his ongoing contribution to bring awareness to this cause.

This inspiring book resonates with me. The idea of paying it forward is what motivated me to leave my anesthesia practice and start Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles three years ago, despite it being considered experimental and even reckless by many other practitioners. I felt there was enough research and enough suffering and loss to warrant the use of this important treatment. Depression and suicide are too prevalent, and the signs are often ignored. I have faced these conditions in both my professional and family life.

Mental illness is not an easy journey. Major depressive disorder is the most common cause of disability in the United States—affecting approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age eighteen and older, in a given year (Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27)]. Many of the authors of this book suffered from, and fought their way up from, depression. This book explores a number of other mental illnesses as well, including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, OCD, and suicidality, to name a few.

When ketamine infusions were discovered to quickly and safely lift depression and reverse suicidality, I embraced the opportunity to make a difference for people in this way. As an anesthesiologist with a master’s degree in clinical psychology, I have used ketamine extensively for more than thirty-five years—most recently to provide treatment for those seeking relief from mental illness, mood disorders, and chronic pain.

Ketamine infusions work quickly, often within a few hours or days. They are very effective; more than 83 percent of our depressed patients get relief. Success is even greater for suicidal patients.

As I read this book, it immediately became a page-turner for me. The entries are short, poignant, heart-felt, raw, and authentic. You can feel the courage of these authors who are paying it forward by contributing the details of their suffering and their transformation. Each story is unique and incredibly personal, with such detail it will make your heart crave more. There is a universal theme in all of them—how paying it forward, in acts of courage such as sharing these stories, can contribute to both their own therapeutic process as well as the well-being of others.

I witness many of our patients who benefit from ketamine also sharing their stories in this way. They become champions of the use of ketamine as a tool for the advancement of wellness. It is fascinating to see this transformation, and it’s rewarding to know that these people are now living well and functioning in ways they didn’t think possible.

All who are suffering wish to break free from the chains of their past. To all fifty authors in this edition of The i’Mpossible Project, I admire you for demonstrating your bravery in pursuit of relief that often seems elusive or even impossible to attain.

I acknowledge the writers and Josh, too, for contributing to the richness of all of our journeys. Read this book and you will come away humbled, hopeful, and better equipped to deal with your own life challenges. Wishing you and yours long-term health and happiness.

Steven L. Mandel, M.D.

Founder, President

Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles


“Telling someone with anxiety to just calm down is like telling someone with epilepsy to stop having a seizure.”


Escaping Darkness, Choosing Light

Shannon Ackermann

Two years ago, if you had told me I would be alive today and helping change the world, I would have said you were crazy. Two years ago, I couldn’t even see myself living to be sixteen, let alone making it to my sophomore year of high school.

At fourteen, I was moving schools and had issues with my father. I was being bullied at school, which started in elementary school and never really stopped. But it was middle school that had the biggest impact on me. I attended three different schools in three years, the last one being in Florida. The second one I attended, in Colorado, took the largest toll on me.

People made fun of me, a lot. I was taunted for being poor and overweight, and for not being pretty enough. I had a face full of acne. I would shake a lot, and I had a hard time talking to people. I could count the few friends I had on one hand, and there was constant drama. But none of this is what tore me apart.

A few days into March, my mom had picked me up from a cheerleading tryout. In the car, the words spilled from her lips, “Shannon, Uncle John V. committed suicide the other day…” She continued on, but I couldn't hear a word she said. I felt like the floor had opened up from under my feet, swallowing me whole. My stomach dropped and I could feel my brain pounding against my skull. Tears welled up in my eyes as we pulled into the driveway of our house. I grabbed my backpack and headed downstairs to my room, where I spent the rest of my night.

My uncle John V. wasn’t a blood relative, but I had known him since I was born. We’d watch football together and bond over our dislike of the Dallas Cowboys. He was sarcastic but sweet to me, and I looked up to him.

The week he died was the first time I grabbed a blade and dragged it across my wrist.

My life took a turn. I became isolated from my parents. I’d constantly get into arguments with my mom. I spent the majority of my time in my room, and I stopped eating. I would not come out of the house. The only people I surrounded myself with were those who were a toxic part of my life.

The toxic people—whom I would somehow call “friends”—kept telling me that I should “cut a little deeper” or “it should have been you instead.” For a while, I wished it were. I wanted to be dead.

We moved to Florida around eighth grade and I met some amazing friends, some of my best friends to this day. But even then, I still had an eating disorder and I was still self-harming. And finally, I got tired of people seeing them, so I took a blade to my thighs, which left countless of scars.

Though my friends tried to help, they had a hard time understanding. This carried on into my freshmen year of high school in Kentucky.

On January 31, 2015, I decided to recover and talk to my parents. I soon started going to my doctor, and they recommended seeing a therapist. My therapist impacted my life so much. We learned about two things that were controlling my life: anxiety and depression.

Throughout my newfound recovery, different medications have messed me up a bit. I have had a few relapses, but I’m better than I have ever been. I owe that to my parents, my teachers, my friends, and my family.

Now, as a senior in high school, I am an active volunteer with the Matthew Silverman Memorial Foundation. I have created a close bond with the foundation’s executive director, who will never know how much she has impacted my life. I received the foundation’s Matt’s Hero Award, which I will forever cherish.

The greatest thing I have learned throughout my journey is that I will be okay… and so will you. I cannot promise happiness, but I can promise that you will be okay. You have a choice. You can let people put a label on you and become that, or you can use your own words, and you can move toward something greater than you can ever imagine.

There is good in the world, and good people. The world is more kind than what it’s made out to be.

We have a choice to be the light in the world, or we can stay hidden in the darkness. Tragedies can occur everywhere, even in our own lives. But please do not give up on the world, on other people—and especially, don’t give up on yourself.

Chasing Butterflies

Nate Crawford

I stand here, at the end of May, in the yard of my rented farmhouse. My three sons are standing around me. They are young and have the whole world in front of them, with all of the awe that children have. They are six, two, and one—wide-eyed and curious, taking in life the way it should be. And, of course, they notice the butterflies.

Three butterflies soar through the air. We run and we chase them. We chase these former insects, now in their full beauty, but we’re not really trying to capture them, because that would take away from the fun and from their beauty. So, we chase.

And as we chase, I forget where I am. I’m fully engrossed in the moment. I am once more a young child, simply trying to touch the untouchable. The butterflies get away and we laugh and fall in the grass, simply enjoying the moment.

As I sit in this moment, I glance up and see the window to my bedroom, the one I share with my wife. That room was the scene of a much different moment, just one year earlier.

* * *

“I can’t live like this. I can’t live with you,” my wife said, barely able to look at me.

I was crushed, destroyed. I could see that she was serious. She had never threatened divorce before; she had always insisted that we would make it. But now, I had finally become too much. My depression was destroying not only me, but her as well. She was afraid it would take my kids down, too.

I have battled depression for my entire life. I had my first anxiety attack when I was seven. I have always had thoughts that the world would be better off without me, but when I was eleven, I started to indulge in suicidal ideation. My thoughts about death became more pointed and vivid. I had thought of how I might harm myself and how I might end my life. As a teenager, I thought this was normal—I mean, we always hear about how moody and weird teens are. I didn’t know that teenagers are not supposed to have these thoughts. No one is. But the counselor that my parents sent me to saw me as everyone else did: I was a good student, a good kid, and not a problem—maybe a little moody. I was told that I did not need counseling.

When I reached college, I began to have sleepless nights caused not by study or partying, but because I was so fidgety and my mind moved so fast. My suicidal thoughts became more and more vivid, until I did not know if I could control the urges. I finally made an appointment with a counselor, who immediately sent me to get meds. I was misdiagnosed as having a depressive episode.

My anti-depressants caused my mind to race so fast that I could not keep my legs still, and my hands twitched constantly. I knew I could not live like this, and yet I was afraid to stop taking my meds. I was not depressed anymore, anyway.

For the next several years, I battled my demons, but I always kept them hidden. I fell in love, got married, finished a master’s degree, and was in the middle of finishing my doctorate when my depression began to overtake me again. I went to my doctor, who prescribed another anti-depressant. It did nothing. He upped my dosage. I still felt nothing but pain. He increased my dosage once more. My pain, hurt, and suffering actually increased. I was dying inside, and doing so quickly. My wife saw it. My doctor increased my dosage again.

Finally, we came to the point where my wife told me that she could no longer live with me. She might love me, but living with me had become so unbearable that our love could not sustain it. She issued me the ultimatum: “Get help or I’m leaving.” I told her that I felt I was simply doomed to my depression, but I called a counselor and saw him the following week.

When I began to talk to the counselor, he stopped me and asked if I had ever seen a psychiatrist.

“No, no one has ever said I needed to,” I told him.

“Having the experience of an anti-depressant not working for you should have prompted your doctors to send you to a psychiatrist rather quickly,” he replied. He went on to tell me that I was not simply in the midst of a depressive episode— because “episodes” do not last years. I had something else, and I needed to be seen by a psychiatrist. I called my doctor immediately and, after a brief argument, he agreed to send me to a psychiatrist.

My psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar II disorder and said I had an anxiety disorder on top of that. I was depressed, but also anxious, and my depression came with hypomanic episodes. It felt good to have a name for what I was going through. Now I had something to fight, to deal with. I knew I would never get rid of my bipolar II, but I would continue to fight.

* * *

Ten months later, I sit in my yard with my three sons, and enjoy the moment. I am not cured, and I am not okay. I still have much to deal with in my life and with my diagnosis. However, I am on the track to getting better, to recovery, to managing my symptoms. I know that my life will not be perfect, but the moments like this—when I chase butterflies with my children—make it all the more important to fight for my life.

My wife comes to the door and yells, “Lunch, boys!” We get up and run inside, to refuel so we can chase butterflies another day.

Breaking Free

Reece Anderson

I was twenty-years-old and returning home from another intense tennis training. As I sat down to rest my legs, an unbearable surge of anxiety flowed through my body. It felt like a million electric shocks all at once—as if I were in a sprint race, but standing completely still! My heart had elevated to an unhealthy 160 beats per minute. I was having my first panic attack.

Young, naïve, and in desperate need for a “cure,” the day after this first attack, I started taking a daily antidepressant prescribed by our family doctor. I felt a sense of relief that this pill—which I knew nothing about—could cure me. But soon, my life turned into something chronic. One daily pill became two, then three, and then four.

My panic and anxiety suddenly created “tics” (involuntary muscle movements). These movements would get so bad that, when I was watching television my head would shake from side to side I would click my shoulder on my left side more than a thousand times a day, and continually rub my forehead like an eraser. I formed habits to try to disguise my tics. I would always wear a cap or sunglasses on my head so that my involuntary twitches could be mistaken for a quick adjustment of their position.

I began taking Xanax just to get me through the work day, but the medication left me feeling drained and depressed. I was also extremely self-conscious of my tics. I would avoid social situations with people I hadn’t met before, and I didn’t like large crowds. My anxiety and tics lead to depression. At its worst, I felt I could no longer live. I seriously contemplated suicide.

For years, I searched for something or someone to help me out of this black hole. I blamed the world and so many other things. Then one day, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that the person staring back at me was the only one who could start to find the real Reece under all the numbness and constant anxiety. I had let my anxiety and my tics, consume me, own me, and prevent me from being the best version of me.

It was time to take back my life and own my actions. I wanted to be medication-free, yet all my doctors were telling me this was not possible—that my pills were a life sentence. I had lost faith in the healthcare system. The pills I was prescribed did nothing except numb me and worsen my symptoms.

In March 2013, after returning home from seeing a good friend marry his soul mate, it clicked that I was never going to meet my own “Mrs. Right” unless I started truly owning my situation. When I arrived home, I vowed to quit one pill immediately—cold turkey, no more. I had no strategy or plan. I just stopped it.

My body showed very few after-effects, so one year later, I stopped taking a second pill—but this time with a plan and the right support, as I knew my body would give way at some point. Soon enough, my body started to fight back. My mind began telling me horror stories, and my tics began to flare up again. But nothing could prepare me for coming off the third and final pill—the original medication I had been given at age twenty. No amount of preparation could have helped me with what hit me next. Fourteen years of emotional numbness punched me square in the gut. I felt like I was back at the scene of that first panic attack, every day, for months on end. Everything I tried to do became increasingly difficult. The thought of going back on the pills haunted me daily—but I was out to find the true me, and I knew I would have to put up the fight of a lifetime.

Now, eighteen months free of any medication, I’ve grown from not feeling anything to a man feeling like he can conquer the world. I can now appreciate the small things in life. And of course, I could spend my days consumed by anger that those pills took nearly fifteen years of my life away—but in fact, I think they made me the person I am today. I now have self-confidence as well as an awareness of my body and my health, and it has made me appreciate myself as a human being.

Best of all, I met the loves of my life: my partner Vicky, my stepdaughter Belle, and our new addition, eight-month-old Eden. Because I found myself—after going through the long and winding journey to overcome tics and prescription pills—life opened up doors and gave me access to people I never thought I could have in my life.

But most of all, now I know who I am and what I stand for—because I found the real Reece.

Reconnecting with Myself and My Life Worth Living

Tanya J. Peterson, NCC

I knew I was living a life worth living. I knew it; I did not, however, always feel it. The knowledge that I loved my life and the people in it was there somewhere, in some obscure part of my brain. That brain took the intellectual knowledge that I had created happiness and locked that knowledge into a fold, and with it, what felt like the essence of me.

Our family has a pet tortoise. She’s a cute little thing that likes to get out of her box so she can tuck herself away and hide in a nook or a cranny. From the safety of said cranny, she observes. That was me, tucked tortoise-like inside a hard shell, inside a brain fold. Observing. Alive and present, but not fully experiencing, the way I was accustomed to doing.

While the essence of me was a tortoise in a fold, the brain surrounding me was electrified, buzzing with uncomfortable, unrelenting intensity. My brain seemed to have a life of its own, and I was at its mercy. I retreated into that fold on April 13, 2004, and remained in that watchful state for too many years.

On that fateful April 13, I was driving with my young children when we were struck from the side in an uncontrolled intersection, causing our car to spin and roll fully over. Always one to focus on the positive, I did so even then: neither of my kids was injured, and all three of us were alive.

Focusing on the positive, on what is truly right and well, isn’t Pollyanna fluff—it’s about perspective and choosing one’s focus. Research in numerous psychological disciplines—positive psychology, acceptance and commitment therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and more—has shown that the perspective we take and the thoughts we choose to accept or let go has a profound impact on our mental health and well-being. From the depths of personal experience, I can confidently attest to the power of perspective.

After my car accident head injury, I sustained two more concussions in separate incidents. Some additional life stresses added to the brain injuries, and it all combined into a swirling, viscous mess. However, I was still the observing tortoise in that fold, and I kept my perspective to shape my values and actions.

True, I was only experiencing the positive on an intellectual level. I definitely wasn’t functioning well enough to embrace life the way I wanted to. From the fold, I saw myself living life, and there was a lot of good, despite the downs. Frustratingly, the real me was stuck in that tortoise shell, unable to fully feel the good but absolutely able to feel the struggles.

Concentration became an issue, as did memory and any ability to problem-solve. Spending more than an hour trying to figure out how to strap a simple booster-seat to a chair was a signal that something was clearly wrong with my brain. My moods were all over the place, high and low, multiple times a day. Random things made me irritable, something that was new to me. I became impulsive, especially with spending. And overarching all was unrelenting anxiety. I worried about past, present, and future. I felt guilty and full of self-blame. I feared the judgment and opinions of others. Something was wrong, and I didn’t like it.

To get back on track, I began therapy. I came closer to being able to fully experiencing the good in my life again. However, I wasn’t able to deal with the anxiety and mood problems. Driven by the knowledge that my life was good and I wanted to get back to living it fully, I voluntarily checked myself into a behavioral health hospital ninety miles from the town where I lived.

Admittedly, doing so initially increased my anxiety. What would people say? How would they treat my kids? What if it didn’t work? What if I didn’t like what they had to say?

That last fear came true. I didn’t enjoy the diagnoses of bipolar 1 disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social anxiety disorder. I didn’t like it when it took them a long time to discover the right combination of medication and therapy. I didn’t like it when the anti-anxiety medication made my anxiety increasingly worse. I didn’t like having to return to the hospital four more times over the course of a few years.

I didn’t like a lot of things, but there was a lot more I did like. I liked being able to fully focus on the positive. I liked being able to not just know my passion and purpose, but once again take an active role in choosing my attitude and behaviors in order to achieve them. I liked being able to fully experience my full life rather than just witnessing it on an intellectual level. I loved emerging from the fold, shedding the shell, and living my life worth living.

As Isaac Bittman tells his doctor in my novel, Twenty-Four Shadows, “I’m here to get better so I can live a happy, normal life.”

Where Deep Gladness Meets the World’s Needs

Kendal Kooreny

Every morning, as I wake up and my eyelids open, I face the same, monotonous, unending pain. Every one of my joints is saturated with hurt. My energy is nowhere to be found. Headaches pound endlessly in my skull.

Who knew a miniature, Lyme disease-infested tick could instigate such radical transformation in my health? Who knew a tick bite could result in my consumption of eighty pills per day (no, that’s not an exaggeration), a port in my arm, and weekly intravenous infusions? Who knew a miniscule creature could create such overwhelming pain in my joints, my head, my stomach, and my entire body?

I will never forget the day I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2014—I was only fourteen years old. For years, countless doctors had dismissed my symptoms as “growing pains” or a “desperate desire for attention,” discounting the very real pain I experience constantly. When I first learned my blood had tested positive for Lyme, I didn’t know how to feel; I was excited to abandon the uncertainty and desperation that had accompanied years of searching for a diagnosis, yet I was also devastated and terrified, because Lyme is a serious illness with no definite cure.

Little did I know this single event would give me a newfound purpose and trajectory for my life, as well as awaken the fighter within me.

To put it lightly, battling a chronic, debilitating disease isn’t easy, physically or mentally. Illness has robbed me of things I previously took for granted: the ability to function like a normal teenager, spending time with friends and playing golf on the high school team, instead of spending countless hours in bed It also created for me an abundance of daily anxiety, depression, and frustration. But I wouldn’t change this tremendously difficult experience, because of what my health battle developed within me—strength, perseverance, and compassion.

You couldn’t guess by glancing at me that I am sick or that I follow an extensive treatment regimen. On the outside, I resemble a normal, healthy teenager, which often causes people to doubt that I struggle with this invisible, chronic, nasty disease every second of every day. It can be discouraging when people refuse to believe I’m sick just because I seem okay on the outside. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process, it’s that everyone fights some sort of metaphorical battle—health or otherwise, visible or not—and everyone deals with some struggle at one point or another.

I never imagined viewing anything Lyme disease-related as less than a nightmare, especially my plethora of anxiety-inducing food intolerances—but now I view it all as a blessing. My food intolerances forced me to focus meticulously on my nutrition. I voraciously studied anything and everything I could find about food and the science behind it. The more I read, the more I became intrigued.

I also realized that, although we might have a plan for our lives, nothing is ever certain—and that’s okay. By being flexible and embracing uncertainty, we are better be able to focus on the positive aspects of any daunting situation.

Before my diagnosis, I thought I had figured out the perfect plan for my life: I would play varsity golf and take a full schedule of advanced classes all throughout high school. I am a nerd with an insatiable appetite for learning—not to mention a mean golf swing. Eventually, I would study in college to become a lawyer or a fashion magazine editor. I could never have imagined that my disabling joint pain would force me to lay my clubs down and that Lyme disease would cloud my thoughts, preventing me from understanding anything I read.

In spite of it all, I discovered a glimmer of silver lining—because of my studies into food and science, I developed a passion for health and nutrition that I couldn’t wait to share with others. This is how my blog—Health and High Heels—was launched. Health and High Heels began as a small Instagram account but now has expanded across multiple social media platforms, which I currently run, to inspire and educate others about healthy living. I also cater charity events and speak to large audiences about my story. I learned to use my pain in a way that brings both myself and others joy.

Author Frederick Buechner describes purpose as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s needs.” This quote resonates with me because the world possesses few Lyme disease and nutrition pioneers. I now know I will study nutritional science in college then proceed to medical school to become a doctor so I can help others like me, counseling people on the ways food can heal the body.

Even though my war versus Lyme disease has been the most arduous adventure of my life, both physically and mentally, it has also been the most fruitful. Without it, I would never have founded Health and High Heels, and I would still be on my way to studying something in college that was not intended as my destiny.

I have learned to find joy, despite difficult circumstances; to discover purpose amidst pain; to readjust my expectations; to live with thankfulness rather than disappointment; and to persevere in the midst of hardship. I remind myself of these lessons whenever the trap of self-pity engulfs me.

Even though sometimes doing so is immensely difficult, I wake up every morning with a smile, because I believe that one miraculous day, I will feel better—and hey, maybe today will be that day!


“My thoughts are like butterflies. They are beautiful, but they fly away.”


Turning the Whole Thing on its Head

Penny Williams

When my son was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 2008, it felt like my world came crashing down on top of me. No parent wants to hear that their child has a disability. I certainly didn’t. There are parents who will tell you that they wouldn’t change their child’s disability, but they’re kidding themselves. Of course we don’t want to see our kids struggle and agonize.

Nonetheless, ADHD was the hand our family was dealt. It turned out to be a lot more than that: autism, anxiety, and dysgraphia were added to my son’s alphabet soup of diagnoses in the years since.

I spent the first two or three years desperately seeking a “fix” for my son. I read dozens of books. I searched the internet for hours every day. I stalked online forums and discussion groups. I spent the majority of my days, for years, looking for an answer that didn’t exist. In seeking to “fix” the problem, I was asking all the wrong questions, and spinning my wheels in the muck that is developmental disorders. I had undertaken a self-assigned mission that could never be completed—because there is no cure, no “fix” for ADHD, autism, and learning disabilities.

When I finally realized that I was approaching my son’s disabilities all wrong, I was a little surprised. I couldn’t believe that not one doctor or therapist had steered me in a better direction. Frankly, I was appalled. How could they hand us a diagnosis and a prescription, and not teach us the fundamentals of successfully parenting kids with ADHD?

I immediately began asking better questions. I set more appropriate goals—how can I help my son develop coping strategies, catch up on lagging skills, and achieve success? As soon as I shifted my perspective and my goals for my son and my parenting, our struggles started improving. Our entire family let out a collective sigh of relief. The realization that we could improve things—that life still could be rewarding and joyful—was monumental. That positive shift was incredibly empowering.

Room for retrospection opened up as life with ADHD, autism, anxiety, and dysgraphia settled just a bit. I could see that there was a better way to approach my son’s disabilities. I was angry that my family had to suffer longer than necessary. I was angry that there are millions of families and kids enduring intense struggles every day. I was angry that our kids were so often written off and left to fall through the cracks.

That’s when I decided to turn this special brand of parenthood on its head—by helping other parents who were on a similar journey to struggle a lot less than we had.

I started by writing books on parenting kids with ADHD. I shared my personal family stories with the world, to show others they’re not alone with these parenting struggles. I compiled what I had found to work for families of kids with ADHD into a step-by-step guidebook for successfully parenting kids with this condition. I even surveyed and interviewed nearly 100 adults who had grown up with ADHD, to find out what the experience was like and to learn what individuals with ADHD really need growing up. I still had an insatiable thirst for ADHD knowledge and insight, but now I was properly channeling it; I was turning it into a positive, by sharing to help others.

The more I shared, the more my passion for helping families raising challenging kids and challenging learners grew. I recently expanded my outreach to include online training courses and coaching, so I could take a more active role in personally guiding these special families to improvement.

I’ve always had an interest in public-spirited endeavors and helping others—I just didn’t know it would be guiding and mentoring families raising kids with ADHD and autism to struggle less and triumph more.

Not only am I able to help others, but it’s so fulfilling and nurturing for me as well. It gives my life a gratifying purpose, something I’d been seeking for quite a long time. The curse of ADHD and autism turned out to be a true blessing in my life.

Would I make my son neurotypical if I could? Absolutely! In a heartbeat. But since that’s not possible, I just make lemonade instead—and it’s delightful.

Having a Child with ADHD has Made me a Better Person

Cristina Margolis

It’s no secret that parenting is hard work. When you have a child with ADHD, parenting can be much more difficult and complicated. It's been almost two years since we found out my seven-year-old has ADHD. Every day is a rollercoaster for us, filled with ups and downs.

When my child wakes up in the morning, I never know if she will be excited to go to school and see her best friend or if she’ll have an epic meltdown and cry that she hates school. When it is time to get ready for bed, I never know if she will happily climb into her pajamas and be excited about the story I'm going to read to her, or if she’ll cry and complain that she didn't have enough time to play that day. My child is extremely unpredictable, irritable, and highly sensitive. I constantly feel like I am walking on eggshells around her.

Raising a child with ADHD is proving to be very challenging—but I am realizing that this “challenge” is making me a better person.

Having a Child with ADHD has Made Me More Patient

Parents of children with ADHD need to be given an award for the incredible amount of patience they have with their child. They understand that their child’s brain works differently. When I ask my child to put her shoes on and five minutes later, she’s still barefoot—because she got distracted by a toy that was next to her shoes, for example—I try my best to not lose my temper. I know that she is not a bad kid or a trouble-maker. I know she is not deliberately trying to get a rise out of me and make me angry. Like many children with ADHD, my child lives in the moment. All that matters to her is the present, which is actually something I envy about her. I remind myself of this, push away the negative words that were about to come out of my mouth, and practice patience, patience, patience.

Having a Child with ADHD has Made Me More Compassionate

There have been countless times my child has had a meltdown in public. Whether it was because she became frustrated with a word search on a children’s menu at a restaurant or because she was having a hard time waiting her turn to go down the slide at the park, I have felt the eyes of judgmental parents on my child and me. They may think my child is giving me a hard time, but the truth is, my child is having a hard time. The rude stares and rolling of their eyes is only making it worse for her. That is a truly awful feeling. When I am in public and I see a child throwing a tantrum, I never, ever judge the parent or the child. I honestly have nothing but compassion and empathy for them, which is something I strive to instill in my child.

Having a Child with ADHD has Made Me More Optimistic

Before my child’s ADHD diagnosis, she was in a very dark place. At only five years old, she suffered from depression and anxiety, which commonly coexist with ADHD. She constantly said that she wished she were never born and that I deserved a better daughter. When she said those awful words, I felt a pain in my heart like nothing I had ever felt before. She had extremely low self-esteem and would put herself down every chance she got. By educating myself more about ADHD and showing my child compassion, patience, and kindness—as well as getting her the help she needed with medication, behavioral therapy, and the unconditional love and support of her family—she was able to come out of the shadows and see the light in her that I have always known was there.

She is now doing very well at school and breezes through her homework most days. She is showing the world she is a superstar in her school plays. She has the voice of an angel in our church’s children’s choir. Words can’t express how incredibly proud I am to be her mother and to see how far she has come. As cheesy as it sounds, I know that she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. No matter what, she will rise to the top, and I will always be her biggest fan, cheerleader, supporter, and advocate.

As her mother, I work hard every day to make sure I am doing all I can to provide my daughter with a good life. I make sure she is equipped with all of the right tools to help her succeed and use her ADHD to her advantage. All I really want—and what I think all parents want for their children—is for her to have good morals and values.

I have been so busy trying to teach my child to be a good person. I never thought that, in my thirties, my child would be teaching me how to better myself, and that she would turn me into a better person. The world has my daughter and her ADHD to thank for that.

A Beautiful Train Wreck

Jessica Jurkovic

When I was a little girl, I really thought I was something special. I knew was destined for something huge, and that I possessed a natural-born greatness that would catapult me into a life of glorious abundance, doing all the important things with all the powerful people.

I don’t know how these grandiose delusions came about, but I’m sure that my birth order played a small part in it. As the first child, and with nothing to compare me to, my parents saw my every move as nothing short of amazing. I was literally applauded for performing such feats as throwing my arms above my head when someone asked me how big I was. Fools.

In my early education years, I proved to be quite bright. I breezed through the curriculum, prompting my teachers to identify me as “gifted.” I was offered “enrichment activities” to provide me with more of a challenge. Destined for greatness, I tell ya. I was a shining star.

I don’t remember when that light began to fade, but I know that it happened slowly, over many years, like a distant sunset descending into the horizon. I was an impulsive child, and perpetually in motion, two qualities that aren’t exactly celebrated in the classroom. I was also forgetful and completely unorganized, despite my best efforts to keep a neat and tidy workspace like the other kids did.

My failed attempts to keep up with the societal expectations of order, punctuality, and the ability to sit still for long periods of time—any amount of time, come to think of it—took a toll. Teachers grew frustrated with my “refusal” to achieve my full potential, and my parents couldn’t understand why I couldn’t “just sit still and pay attention.”

The tough-love approach just perpetuated the downward spiral that became my academic experience. My late or forgotten (or misplaced) assignments earned me failing grades, which just solidified my emerging feelings of self-doubt and disappointment. I began to expect failure and rejection; and because these failures were due to my own, careless mistakes, not only did I expect to fail, but I believed that I deserved to fail.

I was fifteen years old and a sophomore in high school when I was finally diagnosed with ADHD. My mother suspected as much and a psychiatrist confirmed it. I read a couple books on the subject, and it felt like they had been written specifically for me. I felt waves of various emotions, including relief that I was not alone. Now I had an explanation for my struggles with what should have been simple tasks. Maybe there was hope for me. But I could not help but feel a little resentful as well. How much pain and suffering and failure could have been prevented, had I known a few years earlier?

My diagnosis was a turning point in my life. With the help of medication, I was able to shift directions in the path I was headed down. I turned my grades around and eventually went on to become an ER nurse.

While the diagnosis of ADHD has given me an explanation for so much of what I didn’t understand about myself, the experiences leading up to that discovery had left me with a sense of worthlessness and inadequacy that was now deeply ingrained in my personal identity. All those years of trying to hide what I thought was “defective” about me had left me feeling like I was a fraud. I was so used to screwing things up and disappointing people that I believed any success or accomplishment must be some sort of fluke.

When people complimented me, when people congratulated me, when people liked me—I just figured I was fooling them.

One of those fools happened to be the man I would later call my husband. About ten years ago—in the euphoric, head-over-heels days of our relationship—this amazing and handsome, too-good-to-be-true man was telling me how lucky he was to have me. His words must have triggered all of those feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. They bubbled to the surface, and I started to sob, an inconsolable, puffy-faced, shaking, ugly-cry kind of sob.

And I then I told him … this wasn’t real. This whole relationship was a fake. He would never love me if he knew the real me. I’m a train wreck. A failure. I don’t even deserve a man of his caliber. It was sad, really, because I really did love him and I never wanted to end things this way.

But what he said next would change my life forever. He looked in my eyes and said, sympathetically, “You are a train wreck, that’s for sure … but you aren’t fooling anybody! But this? Us? There is nothing fake about this. The way I feel when we are together, the way I feel when I look at you? These are very real feelings.”

And it hit me. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I felt loved. And I felt deserving of that love. I realized that this life that I had built for myself, my successes and achievements and accomplishments, weren’t by chance. And I deserve every single one of them.

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