Tag Archives: mental health

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!

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#OK2Talk: Join the Mental Health Movement

24 Jul

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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

Let’s Talk

20 Jun
 
Are you lost or incomplete?
Do you feel like a puzzle, you can’t find your missing piece?
Tell me, how do you feel?
Well I feel like they’re talking in a language I don’t speak
And they’re talking it to me
You’ll tell anyone who’ll listen, but you feel ignored
Nothing’s really making any sense at all
Let’s talk, let’s ta-a-alk
Let’s talk, let’s ta-a-alk

 

~ Lyrics from “Talk” by Coldplay

Lately I’ve been hearing from people who’ve been reading my blog. I’m so honored to learn their stories. I read each of these emails, comments, and texts with a deep respect for the story they’re sharing with me. They’re trusting me with their pain, their struggles, their fears.

 

And I can totally relate because I’ve walked in their shoes.

 

It’s a scary thing to have to deal with mental illness. It can rock you to the core. Make you question your future. Turn your world upside down. Turn your family upside down. Your friends may even shy away from trying to help. Not because they don’t care about your well-being, but because they don’t know how to help. They are clueless as to where to start, even though they want desperately to have their old friend back. They feel helpless.

 

The same emotion the person who was handed the mental illness card feels: helplessness.

 

When a chemical imbalance occurs in someone’s brain, of course the first thing a person feels is helpless. A band-aid won’t fix this. It’s not something visible from the outside that a regular doctor can address. The brain is mis-firing. Something is deficient within the cells and synapses and it will likely take some time, effort, therapy, and a good doctor to figure out how to get things back to the baseline.

WHY ME???

Is inevitably the question that screams out from within. This isn’t fair. What did I do to deserve this plight? It’s not fair.

 

Friend, I’ve been there. I’ve been through the pain and fear that comes along with hearing you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. I’ve trudged through the thick, seemingly never ending mud pit of despair that is clinical depression. And I’ve felt the prickly, rushing waves of anxiety roll over me countless times, rendering me into an immobile heap, unable to decide what to do next to squash the distress. My mind has lost touch with reality when mania caught hold of my brain with her fiery grip, only to be brought back down through injections of antipsychotics in a psych ward. I even wrestled with several bouts of suicidal thoughts, when I hit rock bottom.

 

That, my friend, is what it took. The lowest low you could ever imagine. Weeks of wanting to just curl up and sleep forever. I’d pray that I wouldn’t wake up. But each morning, the world kept turning and the cycle would start again. I’d loathe the chore of taking a shower and picking out clothes for the day ahead of me. I’d put myself on autopilot in order to get through my morning routine. If I thought too much about it, I’d crawl back into bed, my safe cocoon. Episodes of anxiety at work would cause me such stress I could barely eat. I internalized so much, keeping my hurt bottled up inside because I was afraid of what people would think if I told the truth. Countless nights of red eyes from tears that had flowed so hard, there was nothing left. My body ached with the weight of it all. It had become too much to bear.

That’s when I realized: I can’t do this anymore.

I was sick of feeling the way I was feeling. I made a conscious decision to listen to what my doctors had been telling me. I chose to try a new medication and I committed to a treatment plan. And do you know what?

It worked for me.

It took several months of seeing my doctor consistently, taking my meds religiously, and following up with feedback for my doctor so that we could tweak the dosages. Sure, there were plenty of unpleasant side effects. I’ll spare you the details. The important thing is that I got back to well. I got my life back. Definitely not the same one; my life is completely different now than when I was first diagnosed. But in my opinion, this life I’m living now is ten million times better.

 

Because of what I’ve experienced, I now get to help people realize that they can get well too.

 

I realize it’s not always that easy. Sometimes there are so many other factors involved. It’s not my place to give out medical advice to my readers. Ethically, I don’t think it’s right. But there is something I will always share with anyone who reaches out to me: hope. I believe everyone is capable of overcoming a mental illness. We can do this by learning to live with it, accepting it for what it is instead of letting it beat us down. And we can help each other by talking about it.

 

We can do this. We’re much stronger together than we are solo, wouldn’t you agree?

If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health issues, please don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you trust. Whether that person is a blogger you only know from reading online, or someone much closer to you. Just talk. It’s the first step to getting back to well.


Let’s talk.

There is Hope

3 Jun

OvernightCollage

If someone had asked me back in the summer of 2006 whether I ever thought I’d become a mental health advocate, I probably would have responded with tears instead of words. Because crying is what I did the most of that year. It was as if I were trying to cry out my severe depression. Cry all the tears until there were no more left to cry. Smiles, laughter, and happiness hid deep inside of me, dying to emerge, but too suppressed by the pain.

Back then, I couldn’t see hope. I couldn’t see my future because I was blinded by the tears of my sadness over losing my old self to my mental illness. I had a very difficult time accepting the fact that I was sick and needed help and medicine to get me back to well again. Each and every day of that year felt like a lifetime. I flew back to my parent’s house in Florida and spent several weeks with them while they helped me get treatment. The constant anxiety over my future, feeling like things would never get better, the intense darkness inside my heart made 2006 the longest and most challenging year of my life thus far.

The Overnight walk this past weekend was a night I will remember forever. I was honored to be among such an incredible group of nearly 2,000 walkers who each had been impacted by the loss of someone they loved to suicide and/or their own personal struggles with mental illness. The mood was solemn yet so full of inspiration. I met new friends and learned their stories of loss but also heard their dedication to spreading the message of hope and encouragement to those struggling. Hugs flowed freely everywhere you looked.

We talked as we walked, about the friends we had lost, about our own struggles, and about our hopes for the future: that we can help to break down the stigma that surrounds mental illness so that people won’t be afraid of reaching out for help when they need it most. Tons of photos we took during the night, posted to social media for the world to see, tell the story of our journey. I will treasure these images because they remind me how important it is that I’m sharing my story.

I walked with my friends Cristi @MotherUnadorned, Kiran @kferrandino, Jenni @zrecsmom, and Angel @mediamatson from dusk to dawn. We passed many of the gorgeous monuments and they lit the way for us as we made our way through our nation’s capital, passing the White House before making it to the dinner stop at 1:20am. At Farragut Square, we sat and ate for twenty minutes before heading out to finish the trek. We crossed the finish line at 4:15am and entered the finishing area where over 2,000 luminaries lined the walkway, each glowing with a loved one’s image and words of love and hope. It brought us back to the reason we were all there. To pay tribute to those we had lost and to strengthen our commitment to the cause of preventing suicide.

OvernightDC_2Collage

Without the help and support of my husband, my parents, my in-laws, my brother and sisters-in-law, and countless other family members and friends, I may not be where I am today. Because when things became so hopeless for me, when I wanted to give up my fight to get well, they kept fighting for me. They stood by me, and fought hard. I’m so grateful that they did.

They gave me hope to keep going. To keep fighting. To keep trying to fly again.

I’m proud to say that today I am flying. And the only reason I’m looking back is to help others. To show them there is hope. That they can get well with help and hard work.

This luminary caught my eye on the steps of the stage waiting for the closing ceremony. It sums up perfectly what the Overnight is all about:

Hope&Help

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

PS. Thank you to all those who supported me on this walk. Collectively, the walk raised $2.6 million dollars – which is SO AWESOME! Donations are still being accepted though, for all the important work they do at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you’d like to donate, my walker page is available here.

On Staying Up All Night

30 May

LifeIsTooShort

Over the course of the past three months, I’ve made the transformation from Mental Health Consumer to Mental Health Consumer/Advocate, and from anonymous blogger to someone who finally realized she was entitled to call herself a writer. A writer who was no longer afraid to write her truth.

And I’m only just getting started.

Here’s a quick re-cap of the intertwining events of the past few months which led up to what is taking place this weekend.

Back in March, I attended the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat as a newly self-proclaimed writer. It was on the Friday the retreat began when I read the email that I had received my first offer to join a major parenting website as a contributing blogger. A paid contributing blogger. They were going to pay me to write for them.

I was at the top of the highest high possible without actually being manic. It was blissfully refreshing.

This was my first post: My Love/Hate Relationship with Sleep. It was featured on the AOL Homepage on April 11th, and although it wasn’t the post I had hoped would be my “coming out” piece to the world, I was still very appreciative for the exposure and was in complete awe of the avalanche of love and support that followed from my family, friends, and readers I had never met before.

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The following day I posted what I would have chosen as my reveal post, had I been given the choice. My Time to Stand Up to Stigma was my big announcement to whoever was willing to listen. I stood at the top of the platform that is my blog and said {well, wrote, actually}: “I have bipolar disorder, and I’m no longer ashamed about it. I’m ready to finally show my true colors and talk about that piece of my life because I believe it’s important for me to do so.”

After having met an incredible person and fellow writer, Natalie, who happened to be my roommate at Wild Mountain, I had purpose to make my next leap. Natalie had overcome a suicide attempt last year, and her story inspired me to sign up to walk the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Overnight Walk {this weekend!} in Washington, DC. I had heard the commercials on the radio prior to meeting Nat, but it was only after listening to her tell me the harrowing narrative of what she went through that I actually logged onto AFSP’s site to register to walk.

I’ve raised $2,025 for the walk thus far, and will be meeting up with several blogging friends (and meeting new ones!) over the weekend who have also made the same commitment to the cause. We believe in the importance of speaking out, of telling our stories, of starting the conversations about mental illness so that we can help others. I am so proud to be a part of this amazing event. {Follow me on Twitter (@BipolarMomLife) as I live-Tweet during the event.}

I’m a part of a movement that is changing the world. One word at a time. One day (& night) at a time. One reader at a time. If I were never diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I might not be writing right now. I consider my mental illness a blessing in disguise because at first diagnosis I became a prisoner of my condition. But over the years I’ve learned that condition doesn’t have to take over my life. In fact, it enriches my life.

Over the past few months, I’ve chosen to stop wasting time being scared of being vulnerable because life is too damn short. I’ve realized that it’s my life to live and I control the end of my story. Staying up all night – for ONE night* – this Saturday into Sunday is only the beginning.

*I have put several precautions in place for this weekend, including asking my parents to be here so that the kids will be taken care of while I nap before and catch up on sleep after the walk. Staying healthy for myself and my family is my number one priority. 

My latest post for WhatToExpect.com’s Word of Mom blog is live! Please stop by & check it out if you have a few minutes. It’s got an important message. 10 Reasons I’m Thankful I’m a Mom Fighting a Mental Illness Thanks so much!

Mental Health Awareness Week

5 Oct

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Back in 1990, Congress established the first week of October as such, given NAMI’s efforts at raising awareness for mental health issues. I didn’t even know until tonight when I was googling mental health ideas in order to come up with something to write about tonight in this post. I guess that speaks a bit to how “aware” the public is about mental health in our society.

I read an article recently in the Washington Post about how the mental health of many Americans has been dwindling due to job loss which leads to extended unemployment and feelings of despair and helplessness. I have definitely been there myself in the past. As I read the article, I found myself checking things off that I agreed with – there were so many. How when you first are laid off, you are so sad. Then you feel a sense of excitement as you eagerly start your job search. Then as the weeks and months go on, you start to feel depleted and discouraged. I can totally see how it could lead to severe depression. The article went on to talk about how, even when these people realize that they are in need of mental health services, they no longer have health insurance so they are not able to get the help they desperately need.

I hope that our government can get it together and provide these services to our citizens in need while they are in the midst of trying to find employment during this challenging economic time. I pray that these individuals have a strong support network through family and friends, to help them through this difficult time. And I hope that the holiday season and the new year brings new jobs to those in need.

Edited to add: My husband just asked me to look at the Facebook page of a friend of his (an acquaintance) from high school. She had apparently posted some weird status updates lately and he thought it looked like she might need help. He and I have been so immersed in my mental health issues for the past six years that when something like this comes up, it throws up red flags to both of us immediately. I was almost in tears reading her words. It seems to me she is suffering and is trying desperately to reach out for help from anyone. I begged him to call a few of his friends to see if anyone knew someone who could help her. He’s still working on it. I hope that somehow he’ll be able to reach someone who knows her and can step in before something tragic happens. Life is worth living and I pray that she’ll be able to see that.

He was able to reach one person who knows her, and that person is having lunch with another person who knows her. He asked her to call that person to explain what we’ve read on Facebook to see if they can help. He’s also going to send her a message to ask if there is anything he can do to help. It’s the least we can do.

Does my parenting style affect my child’s mental health?

25 Sep

I recently read a short article online about how a parent’s style of child rearing could affect the mental health of their child. Just the title of the article itself caught my immediate attention and I quickly skimmed over it. The point of the article was that researchers say by matching your parenting style to your child’s personality, you can greatly reduce the child’s risk of anxiety and depression. I got something else out of it all together.

The first thing I thought of was how I tend to erupt sometimes when I get upset about something and the kids witness my anger. I always wish I could erase those moments. Always. I never want them to have to see me mad. I just have a terrible method of coping with my emotions. I have an especially difficult time managing my aggression if I am running on less than 6 or 7 hours of sleep. Something I need to work on. I am working on it.

I never ever take my anger or frustrations out on the kids in any physical way. It’s just the tone of voice I use that I am sure is scary to them. For example, a few days ago my son and I were in the bathroom like we are every morning right after he wakes up. I leaned over to help him take his diaper off to use the potty (we’re taking baby steps towards potty-training), and my cell phone slipped out of my sweatshirt pocket onto the floor into what appeared to be a puddle of water. I immediately blurted out some choice words in an angry tone, was about to grab a towel to wipe up what I thought was a pool of leftover bath water from last night’s bath, when I come to find out that my phone had landed not in water, but a big puddle of liquid baby soap. Keyboard side down. UGH. More angry outbursts. Then I stopped myself.

I recognized that my tone was not appropriate for my son’s ears. I realized that I didn’t want him to see me mad like that. I explained to him what happened and why I had become upset. Then I tried to salvage my phone before we picked up his sister from her crib and went downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast.

So while I’m glad the title of this article made me think about how I need to control any angry outburst that might come over me in daily life, I think the information the study was able to reveal was even more enlightening. My 3-year old is so happy, inquisitive, energetic, and smart that I’m going to work on allowing those qualities to show through my parenting in order to hopefully give him a stable mental health starting point. There are so many smiles, giggles, hugs, kisses, songs and dances that I love to share with my kids. I’m going to continue to focus on staying positive, supportive, and loving in order to nurture my growing kiddos.

Our liquid baby soap has since been transferred into a pump dispenser so as to avoid another near cell phone drowning.

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