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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!


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)


Secret Mommy-hood Confession Saturday

9 Jun

I shot a real gun and thought I was pretty bad-ass, but in reality it scared the bejeezus out of me.

My brother and his wife live in South Florida, about thirty minutes away from where my parents live. He lives in what I would consider to be a nice neighborhood. But yet, he doesn’t feel safe. So he took it upon himself to take a gun course, buy a handgun, and learn to shoot.

I cannot say I was thrilled when I heard this. But my dad has taken up the hobby with him, and they go to the shooting range together so it makes me a little more accepting of it since it’s something they are doing together.

And I know that he has taken all the standard precautions: hours of safety training with a licensed instructor, a safe with a combination that only he and his wife know, and regular practice at the range.

But still, it’s a gun. In their home.

In my opinion, if you feel unsafe where you live, well then, you shouldn’t be living there. Sell your house and move to someplace where you are comfortable. Somewhere you can watch your kids play in the cul-de-sac and not worry about their well-being.

I wish it were that easy for them. Unfortunately, the state of the real estate market is making it next to impossible for them to be able to sell right now. So they’re staying put for the time being and are taking the steps they feel they needed to take so that they aren’t held hostage by their anxieties in their own home.

Two weeks ago there was a shooting on their street. A domestic dispute led a woman to shoot her boyfriend. I don’t know whether he died or he made it, but does it matter? I was shocked when my brother told me about it. But it just goes to show that he has a valid concern for his family’s safety.

When my husband and I were down in Florida visiting after Christmas this year, my brother offered to take us to the shooting range. My dad came too, and my mom stayed home to watch our little ones.

The range was in a small strip mall, on the side of the highway about forty minutes from my parent’s house. I noticed as we drove there that there we passed several other ranges on the way. I never realized how prominent gun ranges were before.

Watching my younger brother with his gun locked in his black Glock backpack step out of his car and into the store was kindof surreal. {My dad is more traditional and carries his gun in a locked safe box in a leather carry-on bag.} We showed ID’s and signed in at the front desk and then proceeded to enter the doors to the range. I wasn’t prepared for how loud it was. Even with the ear protection I was wearing, I jumped about three feet in the air when someone four lanes down shot at their target.

To say I was nervous was a complete understatement. My dad had prepped my husband and I on the way over so that we’d have a chance to ask questions before hand if we had any. I was listening when he went over everything, but wasn’t able to make much sense of it until we actually got in there and started shooting. My brother set up his target {a zombie pizza delivery guy who was oozing slime ~ a fun thing to shoot at} and sent it back about fifteen feet. He took some shots and then brought the target back for us to see how he did. I was impressed. He really knows his stuff, I thought.

Then it was my turn. He showed me how to hold the gun, how to load the magazine, how to snap it back so that it is ready to fire, and lastly, how to aim and shoot at my target.

“What are you aiming for?” he asked, as I steadied to take my first round of shots.

“His junk.”

And I did pretty good. For a first timer. Got pretty close to putting a hole in his crotch. Felt like a hot shot. {no pun intended}

I shot three more rounds and my husband took a few turns before we sat back and watched my dad and brother finish with their ammo. After about an hour we called it a night and headed home.

That was the very first and {most likely} last time I will shoot a gun.

I think it’s something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime, so as to gain a perspective on what our law enforcement and military personnel do on a day-to-day basis to protect us and our country. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with owning a handgun so long as a person has taken the proper training and safety measures locking it up at home. But for me, it just didn’t feel right.

Life is so precious and I am too scared of what could happen because of a gun.

Have you ever gone shooting?

Something Something Button

Secret Mommy-hood Confession Saturday

7 Apr

I still sleep with a stuffed animal.

My husband gave it to me as a joke back when we were dating in college. Almost 12 years ago.

And I have slept with it every. single. night. since then. I would even pack him on vacations.

It was obvious I was extremely attached to this soft, cuddly bunny with the velvet nose. {the velvet is long gone now, but he’s still cute.}

About a week ago, we pulled the two kiddos into our bed on a weekend morning at the crack of dawn to snuggle as a family for a few minutes. My son saw my stuffed bunny and said, “Mommy has a sleepy bunny, too!”. That’s when my husband said that he thought it was about time for me to hand him down to the kids.

Maybe the bunny’s the one responsible for our dwindling sex life?

Nah, I blame the exhaustion from running after two toddlers every day. Either that, or my addiction to blogs, Twitter, and Instagram lately.

But I digress.

So last night when I was putting the little man down for bed, I grabbed my stuffed bunny and handed him over.

Kinda cute that it’s also Easter weekend too, huh? :)

This morning my baby woke up with his two bunnies in hand.

And last night, I didn’t miss him. :)

Something Something Button


6 Apr

I am officially addicted to reading blogs. I could spend hours online pouring over blog after blog, laughing/crying/screaming YES!, etc. along with the woman who wrote it, and commenting to add my thoughts/feelings and a link to my own blog in case they are interested in my story. There are so many incredible stories out there. And so many amazing women behind those stories. Pouring their hearts out to those willing to listen.

My friend Kim who blogs at MakeMommyGoSomethingSomething, is one of those women. She was recently nominated for for BlogHer voice of the year in the “heart” category. . . Go check it out. I have a feeling once you read her post, you’ll immediately want to vote for her. She’s such a talented writer.

A new blog I recently started reading is Life Rearranged written by Jeannette, a mama of a little boy and twin girls. She does a weekly link-up series called Insta-Friday and since I have been taking a bunch of Instagram pics lately, I figured what better time than now to join in the fun?

{from top left: Hubby and little man built a block garage for his Mater truck, Easter sugar cookies baked & decorated, baby Girl’s Easter dress courtesy of Grandma, little man’s Easter suit, Easter eggs filled & ready to drop off at church for the egg hunt, cooking up some din-din, first time baby girl sported piggies!, Rice Krispies as an afternoon snack, little man setting up a tea party}

life rearranged

Nap time for two

27 Mar

It happened just after lunch, while I was cleaning up the messy countertop. His sister was happily playing with the new toy Grandma had brought over the day before, when he rushed over and snatched it out of her chubby little hands. She immediately started wailing. I ran over to play referee.

That’s when the mega tantrum erupted. He screamed and sobbed big tears about not wanting to share. After a failed time-out, I marched him straight up to his room for his nap, only it didn’t go as planned.

We stopped at the potty so he could empty his bladder. He was still carrying on so much that it was going to take a half hour to get into his bedroom, so I picked him up to move the process along. He flung his body forward and I was forced to let go because I lost my grip. Poor baby smacked his face into the carpet and his tooth went into his lip causing a small gush of blood. I hugged him and tried to calm him down so I could see how bad it was. I carried him into his room and deposited him onto his tiny toddler bed.

The tears slowly stopped as did the blood, while he caught breaths in dramatic gasps. I apologized for yelling. I could tell that he was just overtired from staying up late the night before with Grandma and Grandpa. I tucked him in and we read a story. When it was over and I was closing the door to his room, he asked me to nap with him saying, “you fit in my bed, Mommy”. I couldn’t say no.

I snuggled up with him under the covers and wrapped my arm around his little body. He fell asleep within ten minutes, and I marveled at his perfect features as his chest rose and fell rhythmically. His muscles twitched as he slipped deeper and deeper into his dreams. I drifted in and out of sleep, finding myself so incredibly grateful for this little moment.

Linking up with Just Write

A risk worth taking; a list worth making

14 Feb

Back when I was first diagnosed my dad had what turned out to be a genius idea: to journal about my illness. Every day he wanted me to write down four things: the date, how I was feeling, what meds I took that day, and any side effects I was experiencing. He was determined to figure out what the heck was happening to his little girl, and this little idea was one of the only things he could get me to do which in the end would help in more ways than we knew when I started.

After my most recent hospitalization (which was right after we found out I was pregnant with our second child) I had a very hard time bouncing back. It is true that I respond very well to Lithium, but at the time I was adamant about not going back onto Lithium until I was past the first trimester because of the risk of Ebstein’s anomaly. In reality, my risk was only about 6% if I had used the Lithium during the first trimester, but I refused. And I am very stubborn. And determined. And I got my way.

But looking back I wish I would have just used the medication which I so desperately need flowing through my bloodstream each and every day. Lithium to me is like insulin is to a diabetic. I know this now.

So instead of using Lithium during the first trimester, my psychiatrist agreed to use Haldol to treat my mania. It is the drug that they inject into my backside when I am hospitalized because I reject all oral medications when I am manic. Lucky me. They would have to use three people to hold me down while the fourth administered the drug. It would start working within fifteen minutes – by that point I’d have been walked back to my room and tucked into bed to sleep and let it work its magic. Once I was discharged from the hospital, I had my oral prescription for Haldol filled and continued on it for a few weeks.

Those weeks were such a huge struggle for me. Mentally I felt as though I could not put my thoughts together in sentences. Simply speaking a basic sentence was so incredibly difficult. I barely went out in public for three weeks because I was so afraid of not being able to hold a basic conversation.

I also had a very hard time writing. I found it hard to journal then, mainly because it was so hard to think let alone use a pen to write down those thoughts on paper. My family blog which was normally filled with descriptive paragraphs of what I had been doing with our son each day, were now filled with just little video clips and some pictures here and there. I felt paralyzed to an extent. It was almost as if I could feel the neurons straining so fiercely to fire off some kind of signal. But the neurons were back-firing. Badly.

The chemicals in my brain were so completely off and I wanted more than anything else to just turn them back on.

My dad had another brilliant idea during this difficult time. He told me one morning when we were talking, to make a list of 10 things I wanted to accomplish that day. They could be as simple as unload the dishwasher, make the bed, fold the laundry, or bake cookies with my little man. This way, I could look back on my day and see all the things I was able to get done. This simple method of goal-setting worked like a charm for me.

I still use this tactic to this day. I love to sit down in the morning and jot down the things that I want to accomplish that day. The weeks that I do it, I feel like I get so much more done around the house. For my family and myself. It’s such a great thing to build into your daily routine.

Around week 10 of my pregnancy, fed up from the daily struggle with my malfunctioning brain, I decided to do something about it. I distinctly remember the day I called my high-risk OB-GYN to ask him if I could just go back on the Lithium right then, instead of waiting until the end of week 13. I was pretty much in tears on the phone and he said that I needed to do what was right for me. And that it seemed like I needed it. It being the Lithium. I said yes, and felt an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders when I hung up the phone.

After about a week back on Lithium I began feeling like myself again.

It was a well-calculated risk and one that I was glad that I took. Having to choose between taking a medication while pregnant or struggling with a mental illness that causes you physical stress and trauma is one that I wish no woman would have to make. But sometimes we have to make hard decisions. I was very scared and felt an enormous amount of guilt for having to subject my unborn child to a potentially harmful substance while she was growing inside of me, but if I had to do it over I would do exactly the same thing.

I’m forever grateful that she was born healthy and today is a thriving toddler who pushes the limits every single day. And I’m thankful that I have such a supportive husband and parents who were right there with me every step of the way encouraging me to make the best decision for me at that moment.

Still trying to help

23 Oct

So to follow up on my last post, we’re still trying to get someone to help her. I started to get really worried because of one status update that stated something about death being too easy. Once we saw that, we decided to call the suicide prevention hotline to see what they thought we should do. Unfortunately, they were only able to give us tips on how to approach talking to her, and since we’re not actually in contact with her, that wasn’t much help. I mean, she’s an acquaintance of my husband’s from grade school – he was never really friends with her. But when you see someone you knew from school who is in need of help, of course you want to do what you can.

Our next call was to the Emergency Mental Health Services hotline but we hit another roadblock there which reminded us both about how frustrating the mental health laws are in Virginia. In order to have someone involuntarily committed in the state of Virginia, they must pose an imminent threat to themselves or others. For some reason it’s not enough to them for someone to update all their friends on Facebook that “death is too easy”. If that’s not a threat to harm herself, then what is???

When I had to be involuntarily committed the last two times, one because I was breastfeeding and the other because I was pregnant, both times I was refusing medication and my husband was able to tell the police that he was scared I could be a threat to our son and unborn baby. Not that he really felt that way, but he knew it was the only way to get me admitted and back on medication so that I could recover. Both times he had to call 911 and the police had to come to our home. Both times I had to be handcuffed and escorted to the police car against my will.

She obviously has something going on mentally, but is refusing to admit herself and her close friends and sister are having a hard time convincing her she needs help. A few of her friends have reached out to my husband to keep him in the loop on what’s going on, and we’ve noticed that she continues to post weird status updates on Facebook. My husband has offered his advice in terms of his experience in getting me admitted against my will, but all we can do now is just hope that she eventually realizes that getting help is going to be the only way to make the voices and paranoia stop.

If anyone has any other suggestions on how to get her to understand she could benefit from mental health services, please share.

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