Bringing Mental Illness into the Light

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Rejection hurts. It stings my heart and crushes my soul. When it happens more than I can count on one hand in a matter of three days, well, it makes for a shitty week. Makes me wonder if it’s worth all the effort.

This morning I unconsciously pulled a teeshirt out of my dresser drawer. I was immediately reminded of what drives me as I pulled the shirt over my head, stared at my reflection in the mirror. What pushes me to continue on through the no’s, the unreturned phone calls, the doubts in my mind.

I’ve heard these doubts whispering in my head before. They were gossiping amongst themselves, loud enough for me to overhear, when we launched our Kickstarter in 2013. Even when we surpassed our goal, they still kept on chattering through our auditions, rehearsals, right up until I walked on stage with my cast for our debut show. Once our cast took to the podium, one by one, we finally silenced those doubts.

So they’ve returned, and I’m not surprised. I have to once again focus on our mission, why we came together to raise our voices for the greater good.

The gray tee with maroon block letters I was wearing today is one of my biggest reminders. VIRGINIA TECH. We will never forget.

I often wonder what would have happened if one person would have been courageous enough to have been the net that could have prevented the awful tragedy of April 16, 2007. One person reaching out. One person noticing. One person providing help.

I know it’s so much more complicated than that, believe me.

I remember when the news broke, where I was, what I was doing. Shaking. On the phone with my brother, a VT alum. Then my husband,  also an alum. Staring at the TV in disbelief.

The power of This Is My Brave lies in the vulnerability of the people who decide to stand up on stage and tell their story through a microphone, or publish their words to our community’s blog. We’ve been through the unthinkable. But we’ve made it to the other side. We’re stronger, better equipped to continue the fight. Ready to make a difference.

We all have our struggles in life. What if, instead of pushing those issues and problems and fear of being judged down deep inside of us, we made a bold move and opened up?

I used to be afraid of people finding out that I have bipolar disorder. But ever since I stopped hiding, I’ve noticed something huge. The vast majority of the time, the person on the other end of the conversation says, “me too.” Or, “someone close to me is suffering from depression,” or “my mom/dad/brother/sister/aunt/cousin/etc./etc./etc. has a mental illness.”

It’s everywhere.

Which is why I won’t give up. I won’t stop talking about mental illness because we’re all affected by it. And I want to change lives by continuing to bring true stories into the light. If just one person is helped by this work, it’s all worth it.

Move over insecurity, I have important work to do.

Connections in this heavy life

Nine years have passed since my life was shattered by depression and anxiety. Tonight, as I sit here typing on my laptop, it’s hard to imagine how someone could be suffering so deeply that suicide could seem like the best solution. But nine years ago, I felt the pull to end my life. The pain was too heavy, I couldn’t see a future. My world was a mix of meds, doctor’s appointments and therapy appointments. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Just trying to get out of bed in the morning was a monumental feat each day. I couldn’t see hope. I was blinded by my depression. I thought maybe it would be easier to just stop living.

Fortunately I didn’t sit with those thoughts alone for too long. I was completely ashamed of having those feelings, but something inside me begged my heart to tell my husband and my parents. And so I did. They fought like hell to get me back from the ledge. I do know how lucky i am to have the support system which surrounds me.

It was during that time my dad suggested I take a part-time administrative job to pass the time and give me something to do while I worked on getting well. I was hired by an overly-confident, condescending VP to manage his calendar and other secretary work. His management style exacerbated my anxiety. I dreaded going to work three days a week, although I made several friends in the office who made it tolerable, so I stayed.

 

Bertie was my angel when I was there. A soft-spoken, slim African-American woman in her fifties, I’d take breaks just to walk by her reception desk and chat. She’d invite me to pray with her, the worn bible always in her purse, pages marked. I know she could sense my unease. Sitting beside her with my hands folded in my lap and her gentle voice reciting psalms and prayers, my breath steadied. I felt loved and noticed.

 

This week I learned of two suicides in our local area: one a young, prominent veterinarian, the other a 19-year old girl with a beautiful smile. News circulated today about a mother suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety who took her baby’s life and then her own a few weeks ago. Then the Lafayette shooting in the movie theater where it’s been reported the gunman had serious mental health issues. And of course the Sandra Bland story. So much sadness. So much lost.

 

My heart breaks for the families and friends of these victims of mental illness. We have so much work to do.

You may not be one of the 25% of Americans who live with a diagnosed mental illness. But chances are extremely high that someone in your life, someone you love, does live with a mental health disorder.

 

So what would happen if we would pay closer attention to the people around us? Be open to noticing when a friend is struggling and extend a supportive listening ear and a hug. Or help that person into counseling if you suspect they’re not taking care of themselves the way they should be.

 

In our day-to-day activities, even simply looking people in the eye and smiling can make a huge difference in someone’s day. You might be the only person who noticed them. We’re so attached to our devices that we barely look up anymore and connect with the people in front of us. I’m totally guilty of it too, but we can change.

I know it seems unfathomable to think that someone would choose to end their own life. But when your entire world collapses on top of you, and you cannot muster the strength to pry it off to start over, giving up feels like an easy way out. Let’s connect as a society so that people realize their lives are worth living. Don’t underestimate the power of extending a hand to someone in need.

Confession of a Lithium-taker

confession of a lithium-taker

I have a confession to make. I haven’t had a blood Lithium level done in over a year. My psychiatrist has the patience of a saint, but at my last appointment she got a teeny bit irritated with me.

Time is what we want the most, but what we use the worst. – William Penn

 

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. It’s the first thing I remember I haven’t done when I notice my quarterly psychiatrist appointment on my calendar. And by then it’s too late to squeeze in a blood draw, so instead I make excuses of how busy I’ve been and how challenging it is to get to the lab within the 8-12 hour window after my nightly dose with two kids in tow, not to mention their school schedules.

Plus, blood tests just suck in general. Who likes to get pricked with a needle first thing in the morning. I’d rather run three miles in the freezing rain.

I take my medication religiously, I tell her. And I do. Every night it’s the last thing I do before crawling under the covers. It’s been one of the keys to keeping me stable these last four plus years. Staying faithful to this medication which has given me my life back is a promise I made to my husband and father the morning I was released from the my last hospitalization. I won’t break that promise. My family and my health are too important not to swallow a little pill which keeps me “in the middle” each night. Unfortunately, regular blood tests come with the territory.

Making my health a priority

 

I’m sure other moms can relate to how I tend to put everyone else’s needs and issues before my own. Us moms are just used to being last in line. Running a household isn’t easy, the to-do list is constantly over-flowing with laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, picking up toys/messes/clutter, morning send-off, bedtime routine, repeat, repeat, repeat. When I do have time to myself the last thing I want to do is get a blood test. I’d much rather be making out with my husband, writing, reading, soaking in a bubble bath, or catching up with friends.

So I subconsciously put it off. Apparently for over a year, as per my doctor’s chart. Not good, as she needs to check my THS (thyroid stimulating hormone) since long-term Lithium use can affect the function of the thyroid.

Keeping that promise – an early New Year’s resolution

 

We all have things we put off in regards to our health. Maybe it’s a colonoscopy. Or a dentist appointment. Or a simple blood test. We need to stop making excuses and start giving our health the priority it deserves. Especially our mental health.

Why not get a jump start on your New Year’s resolutions by scheduling those appointments you’ve been putting off. Maybe you have something going on in your life and you’ve been meaning to find a therapist to help you work through it. Or you’ve been struggling to get out of bed for the past few weeks. Maybe you have a hard time coping with the holidays in general.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Make your mental health a priority, on all fronts. Calling a friend and sharing the hard stuff may seem intimidating, but those conversations end up to be the richest, most gut-twisting talks that at the same time are filled with relief and encouragement. Friends who know you best and who can relate allow us to see that we’re not alone.

As for me, the first call I made (well, actually it was a click using the online appointment-scheduler) was to the lab to make that appointment to get my arm pricked and the results sent to my doc. I’m heading in tomorrow after I drop my daughter off at preschool and I know it’ll feel good to check it off my list.

Yesterday you said Tomorrow. Just do it. – Nike 

 

The Time to Talk Openly About Mental Illness

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Photo Credit: Thomas Rousing Photography via Compfight cc

 

When I tell people I have bipolar disorder, I usually find myself explaining that I have Bipolar Type 1, since most people don’t realize there are different types. When asked about what I do for work, I tend to mention that I live with mental illness since my story led me to create This Is My Brave and they’re both so tied together. I take it upon myself to educate them because the more people who understand that my condition is treatable and manageable, the more accepting our world will become, one person at a time.

How I got to where I am today

I wasn’t always so confident when talking with people about mental illness. In fact, I remember quite vividly how terrifying it used to be to attend social gatherings after my illness emerged. It was as if embarrassment oozed out of me because of having to quit my job to take care of my mental health. I knew the small talk would at some point gravitate to conversations about work, and I often had to leave the room so that I wouldn’t start sobbing right there in front of my friends.

This went on the entire year following my diagnosis. I eventually learned how to skirt my way around the career discussions, simply suggesting I was taking some time off to regroup, a “sabbatical” of sorts. No one really felt comfortable inquiring about how I was doing otherwise, and I wasn’t in a position to be able to talk about it. Not yet anyway.

Even once I had found a medication that was working well to stabilize me, I still wasn’t ready to talk openly about my condition. Looking back now it’s apparent that my heart hadn’t fully accepted my illness as the life-long condition it is. A part of me was holding out for my bipolarness to go away after a few months of medication. The medication worked, and I was willing to take it. Until two little pink lines showed up on a white stick.

Throw in pregnancy and new motherhood

Bringing a new life into the world was a big decision. My fierce determination to have children without psychiatric medications in my system was not met with success. Yes, with my first pregnancy I was able to maintain stability until four weeks after my son’s birth. But the trauma of postpartum psychosis was a horrific price to pay.

Attempting to remain drug-free during at least the first trimester of my second pregnancy was also met with a less-than-desirable outcome. I never intended to be hospitalized at 5 weeks pregnant, forced onto antipsychotic medication to bring me down from the mania radiating from my every pore. But it had to be done. My mental health had to be put before the baby, as difficult a decision that was for me to have made for me.

Six years + stability = my turn to open up

Six years isn’t a magic number, but it was the amount of time my story needed in order to reach the point where I was ready to share it. I began blogging here, and even though I started anonymously, my gut told me soon my mask was going to be removed. Shedding the shame and embarrassment was easy. Today saying, “I live with bipolar disorder,” is like telling someone what I ate for lunch yesterday. It just is something in my life.

Staying committed to my medication, healthy sleep, and my doctor’s appointments is a promise I do not intend to break. My family is way too important to let my mental health slip.

Getting people to listen is a lot harder. But each time the door opens for me to tell someone I live with bipolar disorder and I’m okay, you can bet I’ll take advantage of it. It’s my hope that by continuing to share my story, others will be able to find the voice inside them telling them it’s okay they share, too. Collectively our voices are changing the way society thinks about mental illness and mental health. So let’s keep the conversations going.