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.}

********

“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.

                                             ********

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.

Staying Brave During the Holidays

I met Pauline Campos through social media. Her tweets are funny, outrageous, smart, and inspirational. She is a columnist for Latina Magazine, authors her own blog – AspiringMama.com, and the Founder of GirlBodyPride.com, a blog dedicated to helping women to grow strong in mind before all else. She lives with ADHD and works to help eliminate the stigma surrounding all types of mental illness through her writing and her outreach.

I love this about Pauline: “But when it all comes down to it, I’m a mom trying to reach out to other moms.” {quoted from the Platform page of AspiringMama.com}

Pauline did just that, and offered to make a video clip for Anne Marie and I on why she believe in our show, This Is My Brave and the Kickstarter we’re currently running. She spoke on our Update video and also pledged a generous donation to our project. We couldn’t thank her enough for her support. But she didn’t stop there.

Pauline accepted a guest post I wrote for her blog, GirlBodyPride, and it went live today. Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story and our project on your blog today, Pauline! Your support for This Is My Brave is beautiful and so appreciated.

Staying-Brave-During-the-Holidays

The holidays are coming up and for me this time of year is always bittersweet. The end of October marks the anniversary of my postpartum psychosis experience. Leaves changing to shades of yellow, orange and red, combined with the smell of real wood-burning fireplaces in our neighborhood on a chilly night can take me right back to that place of fear and disbelief buried deep within my memory.

Why me? Why did it have to happen to me?

I try to focus on the excitement of my kids deciding what they want to dress up as for Halloween and the carving of our pumpkins, turning them into…{to read the rest of the post, please click over to GirlBodyPride. Thanks so much for reading and Happy Halloween!}

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

942936_156430791195862_1076533352_n

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

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.