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What's it like living with mental illness? Ask Wil Wheaton.

Wil Wheaton is the latest in a line of people to tell his story of what it's like living with mental illness for Project UROK.

What's it like living with mental illness? Ask Wil Wheaton.

Actor, writer, and producer Wil Wheaton recently recorded a video discussing what it's like living with mental illness.

You might know him from his work on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or "The Big Bang Theory," or perhaps you're one of his nearly 3 million Twitter followers — or maybe you don't know him at all.

No matter the case, you probably know someone like him.


Wheaton's video was for Project UROK, a nonprofit aimed at breaking down the stigma of mental illness.

His is just the latest in a series of videos by the organization (which is pronounced "project you are okay").

Writer and actress Mara Wilson ("Matilda") also opened up about her experiences with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression; blogger and media personality Perez Hilton recorded one about his struggle with anxiety and depression; and I even recorded one about my own bouts of depression and social anxiety.

Wheaton's experience is his alone, but there's some overlap with others who struggle with mental illness.

In the video, Wheaton mentions the fact that for years, he wasn't even aware that depression and anxiety were weighing him down — he just assumed that was simply how life was.

GIFs via Project UROK.

Later, he touches on the experience of finally seeking treatment and how that helped him regain stability in his life.

Trying to explain mental illness to someone who hasn't dealt with it is really, really hard.

There are so many misconceptions that go along with it. Depression is more than just feeling sad. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is more than just liking your apartment a certain way. Bipolar disorder is more than just having an up-and-down day.

Hearing the stories of others, with their similarities and differences, can help paint a picture of what it's actually like to live with mental illness. Most importantly, it can help those who do live with it to realize that they are not alone.

The purpose of Project UROK is to create a safe space for people with mental illness to share their stories and hear the stories of others.

"Project UROK is the resource I wish I'd had as a teenager when I was feeling isolated due to my severe anxiety, OCD, and depression," Project UROK founder Jenny Jaffe told me in an email. "We're creating a platform where all kinds of people can tell all kinds of stories related to mental illness in a way that's friendly, fun, inclusive, and non-judgmental. My ultimate goal is a world where we think of mental healthcare not as a luxury, but as a basic human right. We can only do so if we stop being afraid to talk about what mental illness really is and what it actually looks like."


The choice to use the term "mental illness" instead of just "mental health" is deliberate, intended to reduce stigma.

"I think we invoke the term 'mental illness' a lot as a way to dismiss people that society doesn't find particularly valuable," she told me. "Or we use it as an excuse for an inexcusable action. In both cases, the clear message is that mentally ill people as a whole are 'other,' and therefore not worth our time or care."

And she's absolutely right. We see the term used to describe people involved in mass shootings, for example. The reality is that people with mental illness are only responsible for around 3-5% of violent crimes. They're actually significantly more likely to be victims of violent crimes than to take part in them.

"Until we can talk about mental illness as an illness that, like anything else, requires professional treatment and care, we will continue to think of mental illness as something to be kept a secret."

"The reality is that 1 in 4 Americans struggle with a diagnosable mental illness. 'Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.' Until we can talk about mental illness as an illness that, like anything else, requires professional treatment and care, we will continue to think of mental illness as something to be kept a secret, and of mental healthcare as a non-priority," Jaffe said.

If you're like Wil Wheaton, Mara Wilson, Perez Hilton, or the tens of millions of others who live with mental illness, please remember that you're not alone. You are okay.


Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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