You Can Find Your Brave *

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Dear Anonymous,

A year ago I was you. I was writing about my life via my blog but was too afraid to use my real name for fear of being looked at and treated differently by people in my life, in my community. What I didn’t know was that once I did reveal my true identity to the world, how nothing would change, but in fact, things would actually become much more real. In an intensely positive way.

The shame that is attached to being diagnosed with mental illness is physically heavy. It’s a weight that is dumped on a person’s shoulders the moment they hear the words clinical depression, schizophrenia, OCD, bipolar disorder, anxiety or any one of the many different mental health disorders. It makes us feel like outcasts, unworthy of love and respect, when in reality there are millions of Americans living with the same conditions we are.

The problem is, many of us are scared to talk about it, which makes living with a mental illness feel even more shameful. Because shame breeds on secrecy and silence, the longer we remain anonymous and hidden, the more power we hand to our shame.

“Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.” – Brene Brown

I’m writing you this letter because I want to see you rise above the shame. I want to invite you to join our movement. I want to see you find your brave. The world is waiting. Now is the time.

It’s incredibly hard to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To open up about the times of our lives that we’ve shoved to the back corner of the closet and piled stuff on top of so we could forget. But the memories remain, and the longer they stay secret, the more damage they do.

I found that the more I write about the lowest, darkest points in my life, the less power they have over me. The control shifts from those haunting memories to my tender heart and it feels good to have the upper hand. My initial fears of living the rest of my life with a brain illness have all but melted away. They’re still there, as they’ll always be there, but they’re more like raindrops of a quickly-passing storm rather than the thunderous, torrential downpour they were when I was first diagnosed.

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”            – Brene Brown

Even more than writing about my experience, talking about what I’ve gone through has been a life-changing experience. I’ve learned that by accepting my past and embracing my imperfections, by talking to people about my condition, I am helping others find the courage to talk openly about their struggles, too.

We all have struggles. We all have things we’re afraid to talk about. But if we weren’t put on this Earth to help others in life, tell me – why are we here?

I believe we can all find the courage to share our stories. Maybe it starts by telling a few close friends. Maybe you find a support group in your local area specifically targeted towards your condition and you go and share part of your story. Maybe you decide to write a blog and connect with other writers online.

Or maybe you decide to show the world your vulnerability in a new and different way. You’re an artist, and so you dream up and write down the thoughts that are floating around in your head. And they come out as a song or an essay or a poem, so lyrical and beautiful and heartfelt and emotional. For the world to know the true you, the whole you. Because every piece of us is something to be celebrated.

Join me in twelve days for This Is My Brave. If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, act fast because they are running out. Click here to get yours now. If you can’t make it to the show, but want to support our efforts, consider making a donation to our newly-formed non-profit to help us get up and running, or buy a BRAVE bracelet to show your dedication to our mission. Let’s tell the world our stories and kick the shame that is stigma to the curb.

Everyone is capable of finding their brave.

With love and encouragement,

Jenn

*This letter originally appeared on thisismybrave.com.

I Advocate for a World Without Suicide

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Photo from the Fairfax AFSP National Capital Area Chapter’s Community Walk this past Sunday, September 8th.
 
 

I never believed suicidal thoughts were truly a real thing until I experienced them myself. To me, it was unbelievable for someone to want to take their own life. It seemed so horrid, so severe, so final.

What gives a person the right to take their life in their own hands, anyway? God says how much time we get, not us.

Plus, how could a life feel so worthless that someone would think dying was the solution? I just couldn’t comprehend it.

Until it happened to me.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of twenty-seven changed my perspective… [Read more…]

#OK2Talk: Join the Mental Health Movement

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Experiencing a psychotic break can be an isolating and debilitating event. If I talk about it, will everyone think I’m “crazy”? Will I lose my friends? Will I lose my job? Will I ever get better?

When mania grabbed a hold of my brain at the age of twenty-six, I thought my life was over. I had been hospitalized for three days and had to be tranquilized in order to force sleep, my mind brought back to reality only through the use of antipsychotics. The details were not pretty. I practically suffocated from the weight of keeping my pain bottled up inside. It seemed like no one in my immediate circle of family and friends understood what I had just gone through. My close friends tried, but the truth was everyone was so scared to talk about it.

I wanted desperately to find someone, anyone other than my psychiatrist and therapist, who knew what I was feeling. Wasn’t there anyone out there, a peer, who was like me?

My emotions pummeled my personality to the ground with their negativity. Thoughts raced through my head and nothing I did could make them stop.

Fear of the future. Guilt over what I had put my husband and family through. Sadness for the career that I had to leave behind. Disbelief in the words the doctors kept repeating. Anger that this was happening to me. Why me? Why?

I remember visiting bookstores with my parents where we’d search the Psychology section for titles that might help us understand what was happening to me. On one trip, my dad bought three thick paperbacks with promises on the cover which gave us hope. We went home and flipped through the pages, eager to find the answers to our questions.

We did find some, but they were clinical in nature. I was searching for different answers. I wanted to read personal stories of recovery and inspiration. I wanted to know that others had walked in my same shoes, had lost touch with reality, came crashing down to the darkest place they’ve ever felt, and made it out okay.

I wanted to know I’d be okay too.

Back then, in 2007, there weren’t many people blogging openly about bipolar disorder. There were women bloggers who were starting to open up about their experiences with postpartum depression, but blogging wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today. Social media was in its infancy, at least for regular Internet users like myself, so the ease in sharing information wasn’t quite there yet. You had to do the digging yourself, and my efforts at finding stories of hope and inspiration from other mental health consumers weren’t successful.

Back then.

The times, how they’re changing.

Today there are more and more people opening up each day about their journey to recovery from mental illnesses. There are blogs and vlogs, online support groups, Tedx talks, Facebook groups, and community performances which are educating the public on what it’s like to live with a mental illness. I’m proud to have opened up on my blog, sharing my true identity because I can now celebrate being a part of this change.

I can feel the change as its happening. I feel it in every email I get from a friend thanking me for writing about my story because they’ve been through something similar. I feel it in every message I receive on Facebook or Twitter from someone I’ve never met who has read my words and felt inspired to share their own.

This is how a movement starts.

It starts with one person who is brave enough to share,
who inspires others to share,
which in turn inspires the world to change.

 

On Tuesday I attended the launch event on Capitol Hill of #OK2TALK, a national media campaign produced by the National Association of Broadcasters in an effort to spread mental health awareness and teach young adults that sharing our stories of hope and healing can help others who are struggling. The campaign includes PSAs in both English and Spanish featuring teens and young adults talking openly about their experiences with mental illness. At the end of the ads, there is a call to action directing you to create the conversation about mental health online via social media.

NAB President and former Senator Gordon H. Smith described the campaign as “bringing the issue of mental health into the sunshine,” and I couldn’t agree more. I applaud the NAB for its commitment to increasing the awareness and understanding of mental health and I encourage you to contribute to the conversation via the blog, www.ok2talk.org.

Help is available and treatment is effective, and by encouraging society to be supportive of those struggling we will save lives.

 
#OK2Talk-Join-the-Mental-Health-Movement

A guest post from Mary: Almost Together

I connected with Mary through the power of blogging and social media, and am so excited to share her story with you today. She’s talking about her truth, and my hope is that you’ll listen.

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Hi all! My name is Mary Leaphart and Jennifer has been incredibly kind to let me share a bit of my story with you. I am 37 and a single mother to a 7-year-old rescue dog named KC. She is my baby as I do not have any non-furry kids! I taught high school math for about 11 years and now write curriculum, working mostly from home in order to maintain a lifestyle that helps keep my mental health in check.

See, when I was in college, my bipolar disorder showed up. It would be twenty years before I knew what to call it. But trust me; this disease did not need a name to wreak total havoc in my life. And even though I didn’t have a name for it yet I had a lot of labels I used to describe it – despair, self-loathing, euphoria, deceit, laziness, hopelessness, ecstasy, crazy…you get the picture. I could remember the strength, joy and fearlessness I had know as a child, but now all of a sudden I could not conjure it again, no matter how hard I tried. I thought I had lost myself forever.

I know I don’t have to tell you, but bipolar is brutal – it will rip your guts out, tear you to shreds, bring you to your knees and somehow convince you that you were the one to blame for it all. But of course, by the very nature of the disease it will also take me to some of the highest heights I could ever imagine. The blessing and the curse of my bipolar is that it is type 2 – meaning that my highs have never gotten high enough for me to do something to get hospitalized. Oh, but I fantasize about it – driving my car into a guardrail. Not enough to kill me, but just enough to give me a reason to lie in a hospital bed for months. A reason to not have to work so hard to live the life that everyone around me seems to manage so easily. A reason to get put in a hospital where someone might finally be able to “fix” me.

Of course, there is no fixing bipolar but there is a happy “ending” to this story. It started when a very wise, very dear friend of mine finally had the courage to look me in the eye and tell me that I needed real help. She brought me to her house for dinner and literally held my hand while I called my first therapist. I was terrified.

Finally, in 2007, I found the right doctor for me and got my diagnosis and began the long and painful journey to find the right medication for me. I spent the next two years swimming through a sea of medications trying to find just the right cocktail. It took time, and a great deal of hard work, but I did eventually find the right combination and most importantly, found an amazing therapist who I visit religiously every two weeks.

Throughout my journey with bipolar, I have always gone back to my music, my singing, as a way to help me cope. I connect with the music in a very deep way and am able to express feelings that I am not normally able to talk about in day to day conversations. Once I realized that, I discovered that I might have a very unique way to share my story.

And hence, Almost Together, was born. For the last year I have been putting together a cabaret show about my life with bipolar disorder. I use songs from all different eras and genres that have touched my soul and short monologues between to weave the story of my journey. This July, I am honored to be able to perform my show in the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC.

As I look back through history and see how change has happened, how stigmas have been removed, how stereotypes have been lifted – I see that most change came through simply talking. Talking about what matters most. And what matters most to me is survival – my ability to live a full and abundant life with bipolar disorder. And I want to share that story with everyone who needs to hear it.

If you are local to the area, I hope that you will be able to come to the show. I believe that it will be a show that resonates in some way with everyone and I also believe that it will be a true celebration of what life can be for each of us. You can find all the information you need about dates, locations and tickets at:

https://www.capitalfringe.org/festival-2013/shows/139-almost-together

I hope to meet many of you there and please feel free to connect with me before then – www.facebook.com/maryleaphart

Blessings and strength to each of you along your journey!

Mary

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Mary knows she still is, and always will be, on the road to recovery, but feels that she’s come so far in the last several years to realize that now is finally time to share her story in big way. She’s opening up about the truth – not the misconception, not the stigma, not the stereotype – but the raw truth of life with a mental illness.

I’m so thankful to have met Mary online and look forward to giving her a hug after one of her shows next month.  If you’re near DC, or are in the area in mid-July, I hope you will consider supporting Mary and the movement to end the stigma surrounding mental illness by attending her show.

 
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.