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I Advocate for a World Without Suicide

10 Sep

I-Advocate-For

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 on the topic of suicide. I slipped into a deep depression and would spend my nights curled up on the couch, tears streaming down my face until I was so exhausted from the hurt that I’d fall asleep. I had lost my will to keep going because I didn’t think there was hope. I was so scared to reach out for help that I hid my painful feelings from everyone.

Everyone except my husband and my parents, thankfully.

They kept fighting for me to get the treatment I needed in order to get well, even when I could no longer fight for myself. I don’t know if I’d be here today without their incredible love and unwavering support back then.

Looking back on that time in my life, it’s apparent that I feared the stigma surrounding mental illness and because of it, I hid my depression and suicidal thoughts from my friends.

I was terrified of what they would say if they knew the thoughts running through my head. I was convinced they’d turn away from me, too afraid of my mental illness to help me out of my darkness. It was stigma that kept me from opening up to my friends about my depression.

I am one of the lucky ones that made it out of the darkness. I survived depression and made the decision to become an advocate for those who are still suffering. Because in my heart I believe everyone is capable of overcoming mental illness and that no one should feel ashamed about living with mental illness.

By educating the medical community and society in general to better recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses, we can and will save lives.

If a friend seems to be struggling, ask them if they’re okay. Take time to really listen and offer support. Don’t accept “I’m fine.” for an answer if you know they aren’t. Share the National Suicide Prevention Website and Hotline with them: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It’s staffed 24/7 with trained professionals who offer free and confidential emotional support to those in crisis.

Social media can be another avenue for support if someone is in crisis. There are groups and organizations that lead chats on Twitter to help people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. By searching the hashtags #suicideprevention, #suicidechat and #AFSP, streams of conversations  on how to get help become available and you’re able to join right in the conversation. In 2011, Facebook unveiled a tool for friends and loved ones to be able to report a suicide threat posted online which has been credited for saving lives.

Please don’t be afraid to speak up. Start the conversation. Join the conversation. Keep the conversations flowing.

The only way we’re going to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness is by promoting open dialogue so that people are not afraid to open up and ask for help.

Suicide is preventable. Let’s pull together and join the movement to bring suicide prevention into the light.

Because every life matters. Don’t ever give up hope.

Help is available if you need it. If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Blogging For Suicide Prevention BadgeBlogging For Suicide Prevention Badge

 

I was invited by the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work to join in their Suicide Awareness Blog Campaign. Please visit their website for information on how you can also participate.
 

Playground confessions

5 Sep

4036587818_808fece881_bBrandon Christopher Warren via Compfight cc

I don’t know what it is about me that makes me want to tell people my life story when I first meet them. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so open, why I wear my emotions on my sleeve, why I have such a strong sense of trust in people I may have just met.

Why do I think my life is so important that everyone I meet needs to know about it?

Take yesterday afternoon for example. Vivian woke up from her nap a complete disaster, so upset that I dared come in her room to get her before she had fully woken up. After fifteen minutes of a terrible-two’s-almost-three tantrum, I was finally able to calm her down and convince both kids to let me push them in the double stroller to the playground.

Let’s talk about who got the better deal here for a moment. They got to enjoy a tasty snack of a cherry-vanilla cereal bar and a generous handful of sweet red grapes, along with a beverage of chilled water fresh from the fridge in their water bottles filled to the brim by yours truly, while I had the luxury of pushing them for thirty minutes in 85-degree, muggy heat to the playground.

I was happy to do it though. I’ve made a commitment to myself to be more active in September (and beyond, but I’m taking it one month at a time). My new therapist says I need to schedule self-care into my day or else I will end up neglecting myself and I know this is true. I’ve felt it lately. I can definitely tell a difference in my mood, my parenting, and my overall enjoyment in life when I take time to do things for myself each day.

So pushing the kids to the playground and back home is my way of having some time for myself (great exercise and fresh air) while also allowing them to burn off some energy.

The bonus was meeting a really cool mom and her two kids who were the only other people there when we arrived.

I didn’t expect to strike up a conversation with her. When we got there she was talking on her phone. But as our kids began to interact she wrapped up her call and a few minutes later I found myself asking her the customary playground ice-breaker among moms:

“How old are your kids?”

Her son, a year older than mine, jumped right into my son’s imaginary fire-fighter rescue scene, while we pushed our daughters (also close in age) on the baby swings as we chatted. I asked her if her son had started Kindergarten this week and she admitted he was actually repeating it since he had some issues focusing last year. I told her how my husband and I had decided to hold Owen back a year since he was so close to the cut-off for enrollment. “He just needs another year to mature a little bit more,” I said and she nodded sympathetically.

Then she revealed that she and her husband suspect that their son may have ADHD and they had consulted a child psychiatrist this summer and he had recommended trying meds, but she wants to see how he does this year. Maybe it’s a maturity thing. But she also mentioned his lack of awareness of personal space which he demonstrated a few minutes earlier when he playfully tugged at Owen’s arm to get him to follow him over to the slides.

Owen didn’t seem bothered by it, although the mom said sometimes her son can be aggressive with other kids. It was at that moment I had to bite my tongue.

Just listen, I told myself. And so I did. And I’m glad I made that choice.

But at the same time I felt a connection to this wonderful stranger I had just met and I wanted to tell her that there is nothing wrong with mental illness, and if he does have ADHD it does not define him and there are treatments that can and will help. I wanted to tell her that it’s going to be okay and that she will get through this.

I can’t help it. The advocate in me always wants to speak up.

But I didn’t this time because I sensed from the way she was telling me all this about her son that she got it. She’s on my side. And in that moment it was such a joy to simply watch our kids play pretend together on the playground.

Her husband called and I noticed it was already five-thirty and I still had a half-hour walk home. We had been talking for forty-five minutes like good friends and I hated to have to say goodbye.

My kids reluctantly made their way down the slides one last time before walking over to hop into the stroller. As I walked over to buckle Vivi, my new friend’s son ran up beside me and took my hand. Looking up at me he asked in the sweetest voice, “But why does he have to go?”

It melted my heart.

His mom and I looked at each other and smiled. We both said how it was getting close to dinner time but maybe they’d see each other at the playground again sometime.

A part of me wishes I would have asked for her email address and maybe we could have set up another playdate. But for some reason I didn’t and now I’ll just hope we’ll run into that lovely family again in the future at one of our local playgrounds.

Because I’d love the chance to tell her my story. I’d love the chance to tell her why I’m passionate about mental health advocacy and most of all because I’d love to just watch our kids have fun pretending to be fire-fighters again.

Starting Over

21 Aug

Starting-OverThe show will go on in DC this coming May, 2014. I’m simply taking some time to figure out where to go from here, as my partnership unfortunately did not work out due to our vastly different work styles.

I have an incredible team surrounding me here in Virginia and I know that with all the hard work and passion that is going into this project, it most certainly will be a success. I may have failed at a partnership, but I will not fail at executing my vision for this show.

I envision this show to become a community of people coming together to embrace mental illness so as not to let it define them, but to propel a movement forward. A movement built on the belief that those of us living with mental illnesses are real people who simply need help. By coming together as a supportive society which fights for mental health services and programs, we will

change and save lives.

Please follow along here, and/or via Instagram and Twitter for updates as they become available. For now, if you’re local to the DC metro area, or you’re interested in coming in from out of town to see the show, mark your calendar for the weekend of May 17 & 18, 2014.

Thank you for all your support and I hope to see you at the show!

#OK2Talk: Join the Mental Health Movement

24 Jul

#OK2Talk-Join-the-Mental-Health-Movement2

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

What’s Your Definition of Crazy?

18 Jul

When you think of the word crazy, what comes to mind?

Yesterday, my friend Natalie and I were walking down the streets of DC, on our way to see Mary Leaphart’s show about her life with bipolar disorder. As we made our way to the ticket venue, we passed two men on the street, one shouting violently at the other, yelling something about needing to move. It was obvious they called the city sidewalk home, as we could see their belongings piled up next to the man who was sitting on a wool blanket, and there was a good chance one, or both, suffered from a mental illness. I know because I’ve read the statistics.

It broke my heart.

Later, while walking into a restaurant, we were approached by another homeless man, this time asking for money. He was wearing an old, stained jacket, despite the intense, muggy July heat. A woman, dirty and weary, sat on the street corner begging with her eyes, tattered luggage in a heap beside her.

The despair was written on her face, her slumped shoulders spoke her story. Her melancholy eyes will haunt me forever, my soul crying tears of compassion.

 

This is the harsh reality of mental illness and homelessness in our country.

It’s unfortunate that a well-known US brand chose to market themselves by exploiting these serious issues, turning them into a parody, the leading character who they claim as their Chief Generosity Officer, “a brilliant activist” {their words, not mine} who just happened to be plucked off the streets where he was shouting at people walking by. He’s dressed in ill-fitting clothes and looks as if his hair and beard, both overgrown, haven’t been washed in weeks.

Please, enlighten yourself if you haven’t seen the spot yet: http://youtu.be/AUf53_2hGkM

These brushes with homelessness yesterday were ironic, given the conversation I had just hours earlier with Barbara Goodstein, Vonage’s Chief Marketing Officer, regarding their new “Crazy Generous”-themed ad campaign.

You see, the 30-second spot left such a bad taste in my mouth that I sent an email to Vonage on Monday to voice my disappointment and frustration with the commercial.

I wrote them to express how hurt I was by the campaign, given the fact that I live with a mental illness and I know how scary that can be. I cannot imagine having to sort through the voices in your head without any psychiatric care, while sleeping in a cardboard box, no support from family or friends.

I’ve been blessed with an incredible support network, without which, I could easily have ended up on the streets. When I became sick for the first time, I had to resign from my job. It’s painful to think about what could have happened had I not had my husband, family and friends there to help me navigate my way back to healthy. Not to mention the health insurance I had which helped to cover the cost of getting well.

Homeless people with mental illnesses don’t have such luxuries.

Whenever I walk down the streets of a city, I inevitably pass a homeless person and each and every time have the same gut reaction: uneasy pangs of guilt.

 

Why am I the lucky one with a roof over her head and food in the refrigerator?

 

The advocate in me always wants to do something, anything, to help. To help that person get out of the situation they’re in, and into a better one.

The letter was something I thought I could do to help. Or at least I could voice my opinion and make sure I was heard. Besides, I wasn’t the only person who was offended:

whatsyourdefinitionofcrazy

{click to enlarge}

To my surprise, Vonage did respond. I had the opportunity to speak with Barbara Goodstein, yesterday afternoon and I took her up on the chance to discuss the campaign in more detail.

What she told me did not change my opinion and reaction to the campaign. She simply and politely reiterated everything she had explained in her response to my original email. To me, Vonage appears to be backpedaling to justify their creative concept which was intended to show how generous their company is with their communications services.

Their message was lost on me because I couldn’t get past the fact they were using a homeless person who may or may not be battling a mental illness as a lighthearted attempt to deliver their company tag line.

I told Barbara my story of how stigma affected how I shared my story. How I blogged anonymously for the first year and a half because I was afraid of people calling me “crazy” for having suffered a manic break. Four, actually. And how I finally decided to do my part to end the stigma by coming out as myself. Showing my face and using my real name because I’m not ashamed any more.

 

cra·zy {as defined by Dictionary.com}

 [krey-zee]  Show IPA adjective, cra·zi·er, cra·zi·est, noun, plural cra·zies.

adjective

1. mentally deranged; demented; insane.

 

By using the word crazy in their campaign, Vonage has pointedly decided to ignore the fact that the first definition of crazy is exactly what came across via their Chief Generosity Officer character, whether they choose to admit it or not.

Vonage can try as they may to make it look all funny and cute and they can wrap it up with a happy ending, but that isn’t the reality of living on the streets. This ridiculous ad pokes fun at the serious, chronic issue of homelessness and the struggles homeless people have with mental health in this country. By producing this “Chief Generosity Officer” character, they are only adding to the stigma that surrounds mental illness in the U.S.

You want to know what the truth is?

The truth is that there are over 675,000 homeless people in the United States and approximately 45% of those people report mental health problems. About 25% of the homeless population suffers from a serious mental illness.*

And even if you take the mental health component completely out of the picture, Vonage still created a character out of one of the darkest corners of the society we live in. There is nothing generous about downplaying the issue of homelessness.

The sad truth is that most Americans ignore homeless people on the streets, turning their heads to the sight of someone sleeping on a park bench or in a dark corner. The homeless population is invisible to us, not because we don’t care, but because it’s painful to acknowledge it could be us had our life situations played out differently.

What can Vonage and J. Walter Thompson do to apologize for the insensitivity of the campaign?

For a start, they could stop running the ads immediately, cancel the campaign and apologize.

But I’m realistic. I understand they have millions invested here and I’m only one person voicing her opinion. I’m only asking them to have a little compassion.

So here’s a thought. If they really want to be crazy generous, I’d love to see Vonage make a donation to a charitable organization dedicated to changing the way people think about homelessness, such as the National Alliance to End Homelessness (www.naeh.org) so they can further their efforts at ending this social problem across our country.

Vonage should admit their lack of foresight by publicly apologizing for trivializing issues as serious as homelessness and mental illness. Individuals who live on the streets are real people with real feelings, emotions, and stories. They didn’t ask to sleep in a flimsy cardboard box or on a rock hard park bench. They ended up homeless for a variety of reasons, but whatever their reason for ending up on the streets, it doesn’t make them any less human than anyone else.

 

Vonage has an opportunity to turn a wrong into a right. It would be crazy if they were to turn their heads instead.

 

*Facts on homelessness were taken from the National Alliance to End Homelessness (www.endhomelessness.org).

The Truth About Living Openly with Bipolar Disorder

10 Jul

LivingWithBipolarDisorderMe & my little firecracker on July 4th

I will never regret my decision to write openly about living with bipolar disorder. Never. There is something to be said for reaching a point in your life when you take an important leap. One you can tell your kids about someday. When I realized it hurt too much to keep it bottled up inside was the point when I realized that I wanted people to know I’m not perfect but I still love my life just the way it is, mental illness and all.

I love the moments right before I fall asleep. My mind replays my day’s highlights, as if to ingrain the smile or giggle or kiss in a corner of my brain, so that I won’t ever forget it. Tucked away safe so that I can unwrap it again when I need that memory.

Lying still, listening to the steady rhythm of the one I love beside me, I think about the day that awaits me when the sun rises.  I soak up all the sleep I can because chances are, I was up too late writing the night before. I no longer set an alarm; the sweet voices of my kids will wake me when the sunlight pours into their rooms.

The truth is, even though I will never regret my decision to tell the world about the chemical imbalance in my brain, I still wonder if I chose the right time in my life to open my heart.

Living openly with a mental illness means you’ll always wonder if the world is judging you. You’ll wonder if you will ever be looked over for a job you applied to or a promotion you earned because of the fact the employer knows you have bipolar disorder. You might wonder if you will ever work a regular job again now that you’ve written about the darkest and also the most manic times of your life.

These are the things I’ve been worrying about lately.

The truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that even though I know my husband loves me with his entire heart, someday he might not because my illness might get in the way one time too many. My entire world would come crumbling down around me.

And if my world did come crashing down, if I was left to manage on my own, how would I do that? Again, the future employment picture bubbles to the surface. How would I support myself financially when my loving husband has been the main provider for the last six years? And would my symptoms suddenly break through the surface again, like a volcano that has been dormant but now is ready to explode?

These are the big, scary thoughts that sometimes make me wonder if I did the right thing.

Because the truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that once you’re diagnosed, it’s yours to live with for the rest of your life. It’s yours to manage, to curse, to medicate, to appreciate. There is no erasing a mental health condition. Therein lies both the beauty and the beast.

The truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that it’s shown me how far I’ve come as a person. How I’m no longer afraid of showing my true colors. I love my brain and all the creativity it has allowed me to express. Even though it may break down from time to time, I love this piece of me which has shown me what I’m capable of. And that is overcoming my fears and insecurities.

For this I say, I’m glad I’ve decided to be open about the fact that I have bipolar disorder.

No looking back. There’s only the beautiful mystery of what lies ahead.

An Open Letter to My Former Psychiatrist: On Being Right

3 Jul

8122306436_73cee6df2bMukumbura via Compfight cc

Dear Dr. H***,

You were right. Five years ago this August, I left your office with my husband, round belly bulging with my nearly full-term first child, cursing your name. It was our first appointment together and you basically told me I was going to fail. When I explained to you that I had been off meds and symptom-free from my bipolar disorder for almost a year and that I wanted to stay off medication to breastfeed my son, you nodded with a sympathetic smile on your face and simply said we needed to have a plan.

A plan for which hospital I’d go to when I became manic to the point of needing that level of care. That level of care that you were so sure I’d need.

You were right.

At that stage of my fight, Dr. H***, I was still in denial about the fact that I had been diagnosed with a mental illness. I thought maybe, just maybe, since I had nearly a full year of stability without meds, that maybe the past had been a mis-diagnosis. Maybe those eight psychiatrists I had seen over the years since my two hospitalizations for mania were all wrong. I mean, I hadn’t experienced any significant episodes of depression or mania since 2006 and most importantly, I felt solid and stable. Didn’t that count for anything?

Didn’t that make me normal again?

I was so excited to be a mom and every spare moment I had was spent preparing for this new little life who would soon enter the world. His crib was set up, clothes had been washed and put away, and diapers and wipes sat waiting on the changing table in his blue/green fish-themed nursery. One of the last things on my list was meeting with you, a psychiatrist who agreed to treat me without medication for the remainder of my pregnancy and beyond, according to my wishes.

Man, am I glad we met when we did. Because you were so right. And when the time came, four weeks after his birth, when the compounded lack of sleep and absence of meds in my bloodstream caught up to me, my husband had someone to call for help. He called you.

I made it through. It wasn’t easy, in fact, it was pretty awful being in a psych ward for a week of my new baby’s life. But I got well with your help, and with support from my husband and family.

I focused on getting stable and my full-time job as a stay-at-home-mom. I followed my treatment plan and took my meds religiously. Then it happened again. I thought I knew what was best for my next baby. I didn’t. Full-blown mania reared its ugly head, repeating the nightmare a year and a half later when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.

You were right again.

Those days are tough for me to look back on, the times I was in the hospital and the weeks of recovery afterwards. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything because they are a part of who I am now and they tell the story of how I’ve changed. Those slices of my life do not define me, but when added into everything else that makes me the person I am today, I am grateful for those experiences.

You are the expert when it comes to psychiatry, Dr. H***. Me, I’m just the patient. But when it comes to making life decisions, decisions about my future, I asked for your opinion but of course only I could make that call. You expressed the same sadness that so many in this world share over the injustice mentally ill people have when they expose their conditions. I was looking for justification that it would be okay if I wrote openly about what I had been through, but I didn’t get that. Once more, it was as if I were hearing “destined to fail” all over again.

Good thing I didn’t listen that time.

I’m writing now, Dr. H***. Remember when I told you I wanted to write a book? Well, I still do, but first I’ve started publishing myself online, to gain experience. I have a blog, and over the past two years my readership has grown tremendously, all organically, due to my dedication to sharing my story in order to help others.

I’ve met so many amazing people through blogging and social media. It blows my mind how I can write about what I’ve gone through and in return, I get emails from people saying, “Me too!” and “Thank you so much for being so brave.” My heart is blissfully content because I know I’ve uncovered my purpose in life and my words are having an impact on people, a positive impact. And every time I put my thoughts out there for the world to read, my voice grows a little stronger.

My new role in life is mental health consumer/advocate.

For years after I was handed my diagnosis I feared the backlash of people who knew me finding out about my mental illness. Conversations were uncomfortable, I cared too much about what other people thought of me. It didn’t take me very long to realize that living in fear is not really living. Taking off my armor and choosing to expose myself and my story was one of the best decisions I ever made about my mental health.

Revealing my vulnerability has freed me to follow my dreams.

And I have you to thank. Thank you for being right. Thank you for letting me fall. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for doubting me. Because I needed my chance to prove someone wrong and you were that person for me.

Respectfully yours,

Jennifer Marshall (your patient from 2008-2011)

 Experience_BML

A guest post from Mary: Almost Together

26 Jun

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

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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.
 
 
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