Just Ask: How a Friend Can Make a Difference

This is a guest post written by Erica, one of my oldest and closest friends. We made it through middle school together, many years of dance recitals, boys and our first parties, a few memorable nights with cigarettes involved, going off to colleges two hours apart only to have her introduce me to one of her new best friends freshman year who would become my husband years later.
I asked her to write this post after a few conversations around the topic of how it’s sometimes tough for friends to talk with each other about mental illness when one has gone through it and the other hasn’t. And how a friend can be supportive when faced with their friend’s mental health disorder. I love her honesty, her willingness to face the hard moments such as visiting me in the psych ward, and her loving friendship over the years. I don’t know where I’d be without her in my life. {The tucks pads, well, let’s just say that I had been through a C-section only 4 weeks earlier, and I might have had another flare-up. Or, maybe I was just hallucinating.}

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“She is so crazy,” I said as we were discussing our love/hate relationship with Miley Cyrus. Jenn and I were on the phone and I cringed as the words came out of my mouth.

We have been friends for as long as I can remember…

Scan_Pic0001{Middle school: backstage at our dance recital}

Scan_Pic0002{High school: football game, cheering on the team from the stands}

Scan_Pic0003{College: Spring break in the Bahamas with the guys who would later become our husbands. That guy in the Hawaiian shirt isn’t one of them.}

photo (4){Jenn’s wedding to Ben: August, 2003}

I never would have guessed that Jenn would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She first told me about her illness and diagnosis over drinks at TGI Fridays (classy, I know) the night before our friends’ wedding. The conversation was light and I am sure I asked some surface-level questions because I didn’t really understand what she was telling me. I knew nothing about mental illness.

My lifelong friend trusted me enough to tell me and then nothing, we never really talked about it…like really talked about it…until Jenn was hospitalized shortly after the birth of her first child.

I remember Jenn’s husband calling and asking me to talk to her. She asked me to visit and bring her face lotion, tucks pads, mascara, and eye shadow. I obliged and headed to the hospital. In my mind, Jenn was staying in a pseudo-retirement community (it was a geriatric psych ward, the only place they had been able to locate a bed for her).

In actuality, the situation wasn’t pretty. I remember the person at the entry desk taking the CVS bag from me. I mean, did I really think they would let me give her mascara? Sterile is the best way I can describe the hospital. I fought back tears as I saw Jenn in her barren room looking like a shell of herself. We went to a common area and she introduced me to some of the other patients.

I couldn’t focus.
This is serious.
I don’t know what to do or how to be a good friend.
Will we talk about this when she gets out?
When will she get out?
Why didn’t I realize she was so sick?

I had so many questions and the hospital visit was a wake-up call. No more sweeping this under the rug. I needed to ask the tough, sometimes uncomfortable questions.

And I did. But you know what? It wasn’t so tough.

Jenn told me that not getting enough sleep is her trigger and shortly after finding out she was pregnant with her second child, she told me she had stayed up all night getting organized. I knew something was wrong. I called her husband and he told me that she wasn’t taking her medication and indeed needed help. Just as soon as I hung up the phone with him, I received calls from two other friends who were equally concerned. Jenn is so very lucky to have such a strong support network. Immediately we all knew the signs because we talked with her about her illness when she was well – so much better than waiting for a crisis.

Just Ask.

Be part of someone’s success story.

As the inaugural This Is My Brave show approaches, I marvel at Jenn’s success story. But so many people play a role in her story. I hope if there is someone you know or suspect is living with a mental illness that you can be part of their support network. Because talking is therapeutic – and therapy comes in many different forms.

As for Miley…she is still engaging in shocking behavior and singing some pretty catchy songs but I am done calling her crazy.

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Erica blogs at ConflictedPixie.com and has recently become a stylist for KeatonRow. She created a fun look book of affordable special occasion spring dresses for me to choose an outfit for the show. It’s free to sign up and have Erica create a look book for you, plus the best part is that Keaton Row offers FREE shipping AND returns! Check out her blog today – budget conscious style for your home and self. Follow Erica on TwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

Making the Invisible Visible

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Photo Credit: Mylla More via Compfight cc

I’ve always been the type of person who wanted to make the invisible visible. It’s just in my nature. Engrained in my being. A part of who I am. I am someone who wants to share where I’ve been so that others can learn and grow, the same way I desperately want to hear what others have gleaned from their life experiences. I crave this deep, intimate knowledge of people. When I open up to someone and they lean in and open up in response, I know I’ve found my people. Small talk makes my skin crawl.

When I meet someone for the first time though, small talk is inevitable. At first glance, no one would ever guess that I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, I’d never know if the person in front of me had ever been so depressed they couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. So many of us live with these potentially, and often times, debilitating illnesses in our brains, and yet Continue reading

The Year I Learned to Jump

Year-Learned-JumpPhoto Credit: Jimbo N via Compfight cc

“ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU ARE AFRAID TO DO.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even in the midst of my intense wrestling match with bipolar disorder, right smack in the middle of the chaos of a frazzled mind and rattled sense of self-worth, I somehow knew one day I’d take the type of jump where there’s no looking back once you launch yourself into the air.

I knew I’d face my fear.

Today, in these moments when I type here in my makeshift office and upload my words to this space which has become my launching pad for jumping off my cliff of fear, I’m Continue reading

Planting seeds

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After Friday’s meeting about This Is My Brave, I felt like a kid during the December count-down to Christmas. Only I don’t want to count down, I just want to get to the big celebration already.

I haven’t stopped thinking about the outcome of the meeting all weekend. I’m giddy with the anticipation of what could happen and at the same time I find myself asking how I got so damn lucky for this all to be happening and how long is it actually going to take?

The truth is, Continue reading

So long, self-doubt

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Why does self-doubt seem to know exactly when to punch you in the gut and knock the breath out of your chest so fiercely that you wonder if what you’re doing with your life is even making an impact?

A month ago I took the greatest risk of my life thus far by launching our Kickstarter for This Is My Brave, and it went above and beyond my wildest expectations. I thought to myself, “Yeah. $6,500 in 31 days is a lofty goal, but I’m fairly confident we’ll get there.”

The love and support that poured out from our friends and family and people who we hadn’t even met in the form of donations and words of encouragement was both overwhelming and exhilarating.

There are so many people who are just as passionate as we are about spreading messages of hope and inspiration while at the same time silencing the stigma surrounding mental illness. We raised over $10,000 for our show’s mission and I felt like we were on top of the world.

But the emotional high I was surfing on came crashing down like a monster wave when the news of the Deeds’ family tragedy broke on Tuesday morning. The weight of the story was like a 50-pound brick on my heart. It was all I could think about. I wanted to scream “THIS COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED!” to every person I ran into in my daily comings and goings all week.

And then I met someone who understood.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you meet someone new and you can tell after talking with her for five minutes that she just “gets” you and although you were strangers six minutes earlier, it feels as if you’ve known her for ten years?

It happened to me on Thursday and was the highlight of my day. Once I got my baby girl down for a late nap, I immediately took pen to paper. A piece of me still wants to prove to my mom that she was wrong. That I’ve received nothing but overwhelmingly positive support for opening up about living with mental illness, especially from the moms at my son’s preschool. The very group she thought might shun me. Back then my mom didn’t realize that by keeping quiet about what I was going through she was actually adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. We were all so new to it eight years ago. And I don’t blame her for wanting to protect me. She’s my mom, and moms don’t ever want anyone to hurt their babies.

We’ve come a long way since then and both of my parents {and my in-laws} are very supportive of the advocacy work I’m doing now.

This sweet mom whose daughter has been in my son’s class all fall, yet I only met this week. She said something to me as we were chasing our toddlers out the door after dropping off our two older kids in front of their classroom. And I know will stick with me forever.

“You must feel such a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you’re doing and how many people you’re impacting with This Is My Brave.”

And do you know what my response was? Of course I later thanked her for her kind words, but my immediate response was, “I feel like I’m not doing enough.”

Part of me felt compelled to blog about the self-doubt that crept into my bones this week to remind myself that what I’m doing with This Is My Brave is pretty spectacular. Even though in the wake of the news out of Virginia this week I feel like it’s only a teeny sliver of hope. A faint glimmer of the desire to improve the way society and our government deals with mental illness.

 At least it’s a start.

We talked for an hour while our 3-yr-olds ran around and explored every corner of the playground. I could have talked with her for the entire rest of the afternoon. But alas, the temperature won out and after running around with no coat on, baby girl was adequately frozen and ready to call it quits. I gave my new friend a hug as we said goodbye and I’m already looking forward to our next impromptu playdate with our littles.

While driving home my thoughts drifted to how the sky looked similar to the way it did in late October of 2008 when I was released from my week-long stay in the hospital after having experienced postpartum psychosis. My heart aches for the Deeds family because they weren’t able to get the medical attention and treatment that their son so desperately needed. They should have been visiting him in the psychiatric unit of the hospital today, but instead they are planning his funeral.

This isn’t right.

We need the laws changed so that we can protect these individuals from themselves and others when they are so ill. And we need nets, as my friend Glennon so vividly described in this post. We need so many nets.

This Is My Brave is my effort to create a net.

And although I know that I want my next step to be petitioning our government for changes to our mental health system, my focus right now is on this show, my heartfelt contribution to changing the way people feel about mental illness.

And hopefully, in turn, it will inspire people to come together and create actions which will facilitate the change we so desperately need.

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