Mental illness and service dogs


A woman living in my home city of Fargo, North Dakota is seeking a new Service Dog, and she’s going to need help to get one. The following is an excerpt from her Go Fund Me page:

… My current Service Dog is well into retirement age and can no longer perform certain tasks that I need her to do. It is time that she is allowed to just be a dog.

I have Severe Complex PTSD and Bipolar Disorder. Since Sadie came into my life as my Service Dog I have had so many doors opened to me that never would have been opened… The first time I started to have a flashback she started pounding on my chest until I fully connected with her, thus grounding me in the present and thereby diffusing the situation… She knows that I am going to have an anxiety attack before I do! She will paw at me and let me know I need to remove myself from a situation when I am getting anxious.

These are only 3 of the many things she did for me (waking me up from night terrors or nightmares, forcing me out of bed to walk and feed her when I am gripped by depression, telling me when to take my meds , alerting me when I was driving anxiously/recklessly b/c I was anxious or manic).  Other tasks, or explanations of tasks can be found here.

Now this amount is no where near how much it will cost me to adopt, fix, train, and buy equipment (vest and patches) for my new Service Dog, but it will help. Adoption fees are $175, the low cost spay & neuter clinic told me it would cost $115. Then there is training. $10 per session of one on one training… Also, though not required, the ADA prefers that all Service Dogs pass the Canine Good Citizenship test.

If you wish to contribute, head to Go Fund Me to help this lady meet the payments and access the resources she needs.


Do you have a service animal?

If so, how do they help you with your day-to-day life?

Do they aid you with a physical disability or a mental disability?

What are the challenges you’ve faced in having a service animal?


Answer these questions in the comments if you wish!


– Särah Nour

Ali Kvidt Photography: “running from myself”


This photograph and its accompanying words originally appeared on the blog, Facebook, and Flickr page of Ali Kvidt, founder of Ali Kvidt Photography.



“running from myself”


As a part of National Suicide Awareness Week, I was asked to speak with schools in the Minneapolis area with a good friend of mine who works to raise awareness and end the silence. It was important to me this week to create portraits that reflected stories that I have heard, and my own. I dug deep into my diaries, and really listened to what other people had to say while they spoke their stories to me and out came this.


As a person who has suffered being in the dark, alone and feeling trapped I remember feeling as if I couldn’t say anything, that my words were never heard, and my screams were kept inside. One story this week really stuck to me, and the boy that I talked to told me that when he feels trapped he really couldn’t move, he felt as though he was running, and running from nothing but himself, and he couldn’t get away from his own thoughts. The feeling he mentioned felt so similar to the way I used to feel, and all I want in life is for those that feel this way, to come out, and know that they are being heard. Speak up, and you will always be heard.


– Ali Kvidt

EXERCISE: Give the Shame Back to Those Who Hurt You

NOTE: I am not a psychologist. This is not intended to be a substitute for personalized, professional care. I am merely posting these tips and exercises for anyone who may find them helpful.

Although these are excerpts from a book called The Nice Girl Syndrome, I believe much of this advice can be applied to both men and women. It is not my intention to alienate readers on account of gender.

For more information, check out the book and/or talk to your mental health care provider.


I have read several chapters of the book The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel. This book was useful to me in that it provided writing exercises for those who have been abused and are still struggling with the past affecting their present. What I found especially insightful was the concept of giving back the shame.

Abusers often instill fear and shame into their victims in order to control them and prevent them from seeking help. This is what victims internalize: the concept that the abuse was their fault, and that they will be punished if they do something about it. It’s why children don’t run away from abusive homes, and why adults don’t leave their abusive spouses. So how do we unlearn these debilitating notions? Here’s one way: giving it all back.

If you believe it will help you, I recommend you do this exercise and then share your answers/results/etc. in the comments section. If this works or doesn’t work for you, you can say so. Share any changes or modifications you would make to this exercise. Remember this is an open forum.


The Nice Girl Syndrome, pages 118-121:

Remedy #10: Heal Your Shame (Especially Relevant for Those Who Were Abused, Neglected, Overly Criticized, or Shamed as a Child)

1. Accept the fact that you did not deserve to be abused.

2. Tell your story.

3. Place responsibility where it belongs.

4. Give back your parent’s (or other abuser’s) shame.

5. Allow yourself to be angry.

6. Expect others to accept you as you are.


EXERCISE: Give the Shame Back to Those Who Hurt You

1. Sit comfortably and breathe deeply.

2. Imagine you are looking inside your body. Find any shame or bad feelings you may have there.

3. Imagine you are reaching down inside your body and pulling out all that dark, ugly stuff – all that shame and self-blame.

4. Now imagine you are throwing all that dark ugliness at the person who shamed you or abused you, where it belongs.

5. Open your eyes and make a throwing motion with your arms. Say out loud as you do it, “Take back your shame. It’s not mine. It’s yours.” Do this until you can feel the truth of what you are saying.

5 Myths about PTSD


Myth #1: PTSD is only seen in people who are weak and unable to cope with difficult situations.


Moral failing or weakness of character is not a prerequisite for any type of illness, whether they’re physical or psychological. Studies show that about half of America will fulfill the criteria for a diagnosable psychological condition at some point in their lives.


Rather, PTSD is caused by an interaction of biological psychological, historical, and social factors, involving brain chemical responses to a traumatic event. Many people go through an adjustment period after experiencing trauma, and some return to leading a normal life. But for others, the trauma marks all aspects of a person’s life: jobs, relationships, and mental, emotional, and physical well-being. For some people, a traumatic event changes their views about themselves and the world around them. This may lead to the development of PTSD.


Myth #2: People with PTSD are violent and unpredictable.


Studies show that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crimes, rather than the perpetrators. While PTSD can increase a person’s hostility and decrease their impulse control, researchers have yet to uncover a link between PTSD and violent behavior.


PTSD is fear-based, not aggression-based. More often, people with PTSD avoid certain activities, environments, and social situations that may trigger flashbacks to a traumatic event. Their intrusive memories can also trigger depression and make them hyper-vigilant to danger and easily startled. Headaches, insomnia, nightmares, depression, frightening thoughts, and short attention spans are also symptoms of PTSD, with hostility and aggressiveness being far less common.


Say you survive a car accident. You spend some time in the hospital, heal physically, and eventually leave. Then one day you’re walking down a street and you hear a car screech to a halt. The sound then triggers the memory of being in the accident: the screeching of brakes, the sensation of being thrown forward, the pain of whiplash or other injuries… you would relive it all. Then you may quit driving and start taking the bus or mooching rides off friends as a means of avoiding triggers. That’s what PTSD is.


Myth #3: PTSD only affects war veterans.


Although PTSD does affect war veterans, fighting in a war and seeing people get blown up are not the only things that can cause debilitating trauma. This illness does not discriminate. Almost 70% of Americans will be exposed to a traumatic event in their lifetime, and 20% of those people will have PTSD.


While other traumatic events may seem small-scale compared to wartime, they are not to be dismissed or underestimated. A high rate of PTSD is seen in victims of domestic violence and childhood abuse. If a child is bullied in school, they may develop PTSD symptoms. Other causes include (but are not limited to) witnessing or experiencing a physical injury and being the victim of rape, mugging, robbery, or any other kind of crime. Women are about twice as likely to develop PTSD as men, likely because women experience higher rates of physical abuse and sexual assault.


Myth #4: People with PTSD cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job, and even those who have recovered tend to be second-rate workers.


Here’s one of the many reasons why the mentally ill don’t seek help: they’re afraid of job discrimination. But studies by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) show that people with mental illnesses are just as productive as other employees. Employers have reported good attendance, punctuality, and good work ethic.


Which isn’t to say PTSD can’t affect one’s performance. It can. There is a chance something may trigger intrusive memories that will distract/debilitate workers with PTSD. But as with many psychological conditions, severity levels may vary widely. Someone with mild to moderate PTSD may be able to push these thoughts aside and keep working.


Besides, any employee is most productive when there are good working conditions and the employer is responsive to their needs. Regardless of illness, work performance is always determined by a balance of internal/external stressors and the individual’s stress tolerance level. Taking a potential employee’s capabilities into account is standard for the hiring process.


Myth #5: Once people develop PTSD, they will never recover.


Studies show that with proper medical care, most people with PTSD and other mental illnesses get better, and many recover completely. Treatments for PTSD depend on the individual, often consisting of a combination of talk therapy and medications.


You can do a great deal to help people with PTSD, starting with how you act and speak. You can create an environment that builds on people’s strengths and promotes understanding.


  • Don’t label people with words like “crazy,” “wacko” or “loony,” or define them by their diagnosis. The illness is not the person. A person has PTSD, not the other way around.
  • Treat people with PTSD and other mental illnesses with respect and dignity, just as you would anybody else.
  • Learn the facts about mental health and PTSD and share them with others.
  • Respect the rights of people with PTSD and other mental illnesses and don’t discriminate against them, especially when it comes to employment. Like other people with disabilities, people with mental health problems are protected under federal and state laws.



Additional information about PTSD and employment can be found on the America’s Heroes at Work Web site:


For more information on causes, symptoms, treatments, and resources, head to the National Institute of Mental Health website:


– Särah Nour

Privilege and Peace of Mind

Recently the Facebook campaigns for Marta Deborah Dalelv has caught my attention, bringing to light the persecution that millions of rape victims go through every day, particularly in Islamic countries. Marte is a 24-year-old Norwegian woman who was raped during a  trip to Dubai. When she went to the police, she was put on trial and sentenced to 16 months in prison for having sex outside of marriage. Yes, you read that right.


I have written before about my Middle Eastern heritage and the psychological torment it caused me. I have also touched upon the fact that, compared to women in the Middle East, I live a pretty privileged life. I have never lived in an Islamic country, thus I have never experienced the everyday struggles of Arab women and female tourists in that region. But of course, that doesn’t make me immune to the rage, horror, and feeling of helplessness I experience when I see a victimized woman being persecuted.

Over the years, part of my therapy has been acknowledging that I obsess over injustices in the world and end up neglecting myself. I have been attending therapy groups for Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT), which has taught me to practice mindfulness, be aware of and responsive to my surroundings, and cultivate peace of mind. It has also involved admitting that I obsess over global issues to distract himself from my own personal and mental health issues.

I have come to believe that a happy medium exists between wallowing in my own problems and obsessing over human rights abuses to an unhealthy degree. The way I’ve found this medium is by 1) taking stock of my privilege as an Arab-American woman and 2) being grateful for and taking advantage of said privileges.

By assembling this list, I learned how to consider myself lucky, rather than just be angry and frustrated. It brings the focus back to myself and helps grant me peace of mind.

I am…

  • allowed to vote
  • allowed to drive
  • free to get an education
  • free to pursue an career in the field of my choosing
  • free to choose my own significant other without fear of being honor-killed by my father, uncle, or brother
  • not expected to marry young, serve a man from the kitchen, and bear sons for him
  • free to take birth control and decide when/if I have children

I can…

  • go out in public without being supervised by a male member of my family
  • go out in public without covering my head to conform to some outdated notion of female modesty
  • live on my own, without the help of a man, and not be branded a prostitute

If I were raped…

  • I would not be obligated to marry the man
  • I would not be reprimanded for bringing shame upon the family
  • I would be given medical aid for my physical and mental condition

Needless to say I have much to be grateful for. Of course, this doesn’t make my depression, trauma, and other problems go away. But it puts things in perspective for me.

If you make it a priority to be aware of human rights violations on a national or global scale, my advice is this: don’t be so consumed with righting wrongs that you lose sight of your own life and neglect to take stock of your privileges. Balance your sense of justice with a sense of self, and realize that appreciation for what you have is more constructive than any righteous fury you may feel.

I urge anyone and everyone to join the campaign to release Marte. As Audre Lord once said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

– Sarah Nour

Cancer: From a Caregiver’s Perspective

This story came courtesy of Cameron St. James.


After my wife, Heather’s diagnosis, I struggled immensely. I could only imagine what she was going through as a cancer patient, and she can only imagine how I coped as a caregiver. I really only talked to her once about my experiences, as it was difficult to put my feelings into words, but I hope to share more through this forum with families that are experiencing similar battles with cancer.

We had our first child three months prior to her diagnosis. Our daughter Lily brought us great joy, but my wife’s diagnosis brought us uncertainty and fear. I remember the exact day the doctors told us of her diagnosis.  She had pleural mesothelioma, a rare and extremely deadly form of cancer. I looked into my wife’s eyes that were filled with tears, and I wondered, “How are we going to get through this?”

I was incredibly overwhelmed. I felt like I might have a breakdown. When I heard the doctors asking questions about my wife’s future medical choices, I was brought back to reality. This was the first of many days that I felt emotionally inundated with grief, but I still had to make difficult decisions with my wife.

After my wife’s diagnosis, I was full of fear, anger and rage. I was so angry that I often communicated with others only by using profanity. It was difficult to control my emotions and I even used profane language with members of the church and the medical community who were only trying to help us. With time, I learned to channel my anger and control my emotions. I did it because I had to remain strong for my daughter and wife. My family was depending on me, and I didn’t want them to see my fears. Though it was “easier said than done,” I had to continue to be stable and optimistic.

After the diagnosis, there were many days that I had so many tasks on my to-do list that I didn’t know how I would complete it. My to-do lists consisted of tasks for work, caring for my daughter, travel arrangements and caring for our pets, all on top of caring for Heather and supporting her through her difficult journey. I had to learn to prioritize my lists, because I was overwhelmed.

In addition to prioritizing my day, I needed help, and I had to learn how to accept help from others. I am not sure what I would have done if I had not have had the help of these people in my life, but even with their help, I felt overwhelmed many days.

For two months after Heather’s surgery in Boston, I was away from my wife and my daughter. Heather and Lily flew to South Dakota to visit with her parents and to recover from her surgery. She was preparing for her next round of mesothelioma treatments, which included chemotherapy and radiation, and her parents took great care of her while she recuperated. I was at home working while she was visiting, and during this time, I was only able to see Heather and Lily one time.

After work on a Friday, I drove through a snowstorm for 11 hours to visit Lily and Heather. I arrived on Saturday morning exhausted after having slept in the car a few hours. I spent the rest of Saturday and the morning of Sunday visiting before I made the trip back home to be at work Monday morning.

If was difficult to be away from them, but it was the best choice for our situation. I couldn’t take care of Heather and Lily, and work to support our family. I don’t regret the decision, but I was thankful we still had the ability to make that kind of a decision. I learned to accept help and maintain control in a time of uncertainty.  Through it all, Heather has defied the odds and is still healthy to this day, over six years after her diagnosis.  I hope that our story can be a source of hope and help for families enduring difficult battles with cancer.

– Cameron St. James

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

I don’t think it’s any secret that Maya Angelou (1928 – present) is ranked among the most influential and inspirational women writers. Not only has she published seven autobiographies, five books of essays, and several books of poetry; she also overcame childhood trauma and channeled her experiences into her written work.

Her parents had a dysfunctional marriage and divorced when she was three. When she was eight, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, who was imprisoned for only one day and later found dead, most likely murdered by one of Angelou’s uncles. Following his death, Angelou did not speak for five years. During the time she retreated into books and developed her writing skills.

Years later she would credit her teacher, Bertha Flowers, for helping her speak again, and introducing her to fine literature and African-American artists. Angelou would go on to study dance and drama, and danced professionally at clubs in San Francisco for a number of years.

Eventually she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement and worked as a journalist in Egypt and Ghana. She’s taught at Wake Forest University in North Carolina since 1982 and has made a name for herself as a public speaker, giving about eighty public lectures a year since the 1990s.


Maya Angelou is among the major examples of people overcoming abuse and social disadvantages to become a symbol of strength, courage, and resilience. Because I’d like this blog to be an open forum, I’ve decided to give readers the opportunity to contribute to a collaborative poem, inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise.”

In the comments section, fill in the blanks and I’ll put everyone’s lines together into one poem. The lines you provide can be long or short, one word or twenty. I look forward to hearing from you guys!

“Out of ______________
I rise
Up from _____________
I rise
Leaving behind ___________
I rise
Into ___________
I rise.”

– Särah Nour

When I’ll Stop Talking About Feminism

I will stop talking about feminism

when women get paid as much as men

when women don’t get fired for being pregnant

when female politicians get asked real interview questions

instead of what clothing designers they like


I will stop complaining

when women’s bodies are not public property

to be sold, packaged, consumed, and thrown away

when there are no separate aisles for girl toys and boy toys

marketing superheroes and science kits to boys

and makeup and Barbies to girls


I will stop talking about feminism

when people realize

a girl who plays football is not a dyke

a boy who plays with dolls is not a faggot

a woman who speaks her mind is not hysterical

a man who treats women right is not whipped


I’ll shut my whore mouth and get back to the kitchen

when more than 3% of rapists spend a day in jail

when nobody asks what the victim was wearing

when no woman in any part of the world is forced to marry the man

or is publicly executed for dishonoring her family


I will stop talking about feminism

when child marriage and female circumcision are things of the past

when young girls are not shot for going to school

or fined, harassed, or beaten for not dressing modestly

when women in all four corners of the world

can safely leave an abusive environment

and have support and safe havens waiting for them


So yes, I’ll hop off my soapbox

when gender is not an obstacle,

an adversary, a pre-existing condition,

or an incentive to harm or oppress,

and not before


– Särah Nour

5 Myths About Depression



I’m not a psychologist. I took one psychology class in high school, and that’s the extent of my formal education on the subject (though I did get an A). However, I have had depression for much of my life, and I believe that my experiences have granted me some level of authority on this issue.


There are many myths surrounding depression, and misconceptions lead to ignorance and stigmatization, which in turn leaves those with depression to suffer in silence. It’s through raising awareness that I wish to ease the burden on those who, like me, have struggled with this much misunderstood illness.


Myth #1: Depression is no different than getting “the blues.”


Depression is a much bigger deal than the blues. We all have bad days and experience sadness and disappointment on occasion, usually in reaction to an upsetting event or a personal loss. But depression is caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals, and while the blues can last a day or two, depression can last a lifetime.


Symptoms of depression include difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions, constant feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness, loss of interest in things you once loved, and thoughts of suicide. Physical symptoms include fatigue, restlessness, insomnia or excessive sleeping, persistent aches and pains, headaches or stomach problems, and weight gain or loss due to altered eating habits.


Myth #2: You’re able to just “snap out of it.”


An illness of any kind is not something you can snap out of. You wouldn’t tell someone with arthritis or fibromyalgia to just snap out of it, would you? If it was that simple, no one would choose to suffer.


No one can control those chemical changes in their brain, and it is certainly not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many don’t seek help because they feel guilt or shame at not being able to snap out of it. I was pretty scared of asking for help, and making that first appointment with a therapist remains one of the most daunting tasks I have ever undertaken. But it was worth it in the end, of course.


Myth #3: It will go away on its own.                    


That’s what I thought. I went without help for seven years, hoping it would go away eventually, but instead it became steadily worse. I quit my cutting habit for years at a time and then relapsed twice before I got better. If you take the chance that it will go away on its own, there’s no telling how low it will drag you down. That’s not a chance worth taking.


Myth #4: It only happens to weak/poor/disadvantaged/etc. people.


Like other illnesses, depression does not discriminate. While external factors such as financial issues and socioeconomic status can contribute to depression, it can strike the well off and the privileged as well. Doctors have also found that some families may have a genetic predisposition to it.


Myth #5: Depression is limited to a certain age group (teenagers, the elderly).


Depression is never normal for any particular category of people. It’s true that hormones can sometimes make certain teenagers more vulnerable to depression; I was thirteen when I began having suicidal thoughts. But it’s not to be dismissed as a phase or as part of growing up, because depression can persist into adulthood if not treated, and it’s certainly not worth the risk of upping the statistics of teen suicides.


There have been studies claiming that depression is getting more common in the elderly. In some cases, that can be attributed to biological changes in the brain that comes with aging. In other cases, elders may experience certain events that can trigger depression: for example, the loss of loved ones or declining health. Also, many elders grew up in a time when mental illness was a taboo subject, and they learned not to speak of it. It’s not something to dismiss as a part of aging. Anyone who has depression needs help, even if they don’t realize it.


Depression can be hard to understand if you have never had it. But don’t be quick to judge something you don’t understand. It pays to be educated on this issue, because you never know if someone is going to need your help someday. A little information can go a long way in saving lives.


I think if you care enough to take a CPR class to be able to help a friend in need, learning to recognize depression symptoms is not much of a stretch.


– Särah Nour

Living in Fear: The Life of an Arab-American


For those of you who won’t know, my name is Särah Nour and I am the new admin of this blog. In light of the tragedy in Boston, I assembled a collaborative poem in order to send a positive message to those suffering the aftermath of the bombings: not only physical injuries but the psychological trauma as well.


Yet there is another category of people who suffer indirectly from such acts of violence; a category that is stigmatized due to the actions of a bunch of radicals. Those people are Arab and Muslim Americans (and no, they are not one and the same).


Before the real culprits were identified, one of the suspects was 17-year-old Salah Barhoun. He was a Moroccan-American high school student who found out he was a “person of interest” when he saw Facebook pictures of alleged suspects. To my knowledge, there was no reason given in any news source as to why the FBI would suspect him. So I’m left to surmise that it was solely due to his race.



I’m the American-born daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and I grew up in a small Midwestern town, which unfortunately was small-minded as well. Being the lone Arab girl in a sea of Scandinavians made me the target of bullies from grades K through 12. And of course, 9/11 only made it worse. I was only 11 years old when it happened, and I remember my classmates starting to shun me even more than they did before. When they did speak to me, they’d asked me invasive questions about my heritage and my parents.


Never mind that my family wasn’t even Muslim. Never mind that they were hard-working, respected members of their community. Never mind that I was born and raised in Minnesota and had only been to Lebanon once in my life at that point (and it was just for a summer). I was the black-haired, brown-eyed girl who had parents with funny accents. I was the outsider.


As an adult, I’m still struggling to overcome the bullying and stigmatization I faced in school. I’ve since moved to a more diverse, open-minded town, and as far as the lives of Arab women go, I’m pretty damn lucky. I have a father who sent me to school, helped me with my homework, and expected me to have a good career and support myself. I know not every girl/woman in the Arab world is given the opportunities.



But taking stock of my privilege does not help the long-term psychological damage that discrimination has caused. When I was 13, I became a cutter. By the time I was 18, I had attempted suicide twice. When I was 20, I finally sought the psychiatric help I needed, and admittedly, it hasn’t been easy. While other Arab people are dealing with PTSD from living in war zones, I’m dealing with PTSD symptoms from being bullied.


Also, every time I hear anything about a bomb plot in the news, I hope and pray that the people responsible are not Arab or Muslim. (And if they are, my thoughts are among the lines of “Stop making us look bad, asshole.”) Although I’ve never faced job discrimination or been singled out at an airport, those things remain cause for anxiety for me.



When I read about Salah Barhoun’s horrified mother defending her son against these accusations, I thought, “That could be me someday.” It could be me defending my teenage son against baseless accusations made on account of his race. It could be me worrying constantly about my son being the target of bullies or hate crimes. It’s also crossed my mind that if my hypothetical child was ever kidnapped, chances are law enforcement may not lift a finger, because (let’s be honest) an Arab kid is not exactly Natalee Holloway.


So this is what racism does: it creates lonely children, suicidal teenagers, struggling-to-be-sane adults, and neurotic mothers. Or at least it does in my case.


I won’t deny that there’s plenty wrong with Arab culture. In fact, I know that better than anyone. Yes, we have our terrorists, our misogynists, our dirty politics, etc. But we are also mothers and fathers, doctors and lawyers, artists and activists. We are mostly Muslim, but there are also Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and atheists among us.


It took two decades to amass a truckload of psychological trauma, and sometimes I fear it may take two more decades to fully recover. But in the meantime, I will stand up against bullying and racism, and I will declare that I’m not a terrorist, nor am I an oppressed woman, nor will I be silenced by anyone’s imperialistic ideology. I will not live in fear, and nor should anyone else.