Tag Archives: mental illness

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.

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My love anchor

30 Aug

I woke up before anyone else in the house did on my wedding day. It was six o’clock and my nerves had driven me to the bathroom. Back in bed, I pretended to go back to sleep, but my mind kept running through the events of the day ahead of me. I wanted our kiss to be perfect.

We got married at twenty-four. Some may say that’s young, but I knew I wanted to be with him forever after we had only been dating for three months. I’ve always said I’d be ready to take the next step, build my life, when I knew we were right for each other. My anchor. He’s always been my anchor. This is what I’ve learned after fifteen years together, ten of those as husband and wife.

I didn’t know back then how many obstacles we’d be faced with in the years ahead. Neither of us saw mental illness in my future. How could anyone predict that? And even if we could, it’s not like it would have changed our minds about wanting to be together.

It’s not easy being married to me. I have tumultuous moods, get frustrated easily, am the most stubborn person I know,  and I’m sure sometimes he just wants to shush me because I’m exhausting. But he doesn’t. Because he knows that’s just who I am. And he loves me for me. I like to think I’m all the excitement he’ll ever need.

He is my support, encouraging me with his love. He is my balance, guiding me back to the middle when I sway off course. He is my steady, gently pulling me up when I fall back. I am more in love with him today than I was the day I married him.

Happy Anniversary, Honey. You’re my anchor through life’s storms. And I love being tied to you.

xoxoxoxoxo

10thAnniversary

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!

Five Minute Friday {14}: Lonely

9 Aug

Five-Minute-Friday-14-Lonely

I was lonely back then, back seven and a half years ago when I had just been told I was facing mental illness. Two stints in a psych ward and it was apparent to the doctors but I was still in denial. I was so lonely.

I longed for someone to talk to who knew what I was feeling. Someone other than a psychiatrist or a therapist or a group leader in an outpatient program. They only studied these symptoms in a textbook. How could they really know what I was going through? They didn’t, in my mind.

Writing would become my call for help. My attempt to erase the loneliness by telling my story to see if there were others out there feeling my same feelings.

There were. There are. And it’s a relief to no longer feel lonely in this life with mental illness.

Today, nearly two years to the day from when I started this blog, I feel so far from lonely. Instead, I feel the compassionate hugs this community of readers, fellow bloggers, friends and family have wrapped around me.

Five Minute Friday

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).

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and strength to each of you along your journey!

Mary

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

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

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

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.

Kicking Bipolar’s Ass

5 Mar

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“She is bipolar.”

I cringe every time I hear these words, or see them typed out in print or online somewhere like I did today. You would never hear, “She is cancer.” Instead, after someone is cured of cancer you hear, “She BEAT cancer.”

That is so wonderful. I cheer along with everyone else when I read of someone’s victorious fight with the devil that is cancer. If you think about it, mental illness should be looked at the same way. I don’t want to be known as the woman who is bipolar and is married with two kids.

I didn’t ask for this condition, this heartbreaking, terrifying, complicated illness, to hit me at the age of twenty-seven when I was newly married and at the peak of my recruiting career.

And I am not my illness.

I am so much more than this condition I live with and manage each and every day.

I am a wife. A mother. A daughter. A sister. A granddaughter. A niece. A cousin. An aunt. A friend. An employee. A room mom. A church member.  A Sunday school teacher. A writer. A reader. A bubble bath-taker. A coffee lover. A vegetarian. A chocoholic. A fan of music. A dancer. A car singer.

You know, the type that knows every word to every song and loves to sing no matter how bad of a singer she is. Yeah. That’s me.

I am the sum of all these beautiful, wonderful things.

I am NOT Bipolar.

I may have bipolar disorder, but it does not define me. I am defined by the people I surround myself with, the people who I love and who also love me for who I am. The ways I spend my time help to mold me into the person I am becoming.

And I’m pretty happy with her. Most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of growing and learning to do. But I do think that I can be proud of how far I’ve come.

I turned 34 last month. I recently commented to my best friends how it seems like a third of our lives is gone already. They both reminded me that we’d have to live to 102 for that to be the case. Hey, it’s possible. But I guess they’re right. More than a third is done. Lived. In the books. {or, on the blog.}

Sometimes I wonder where all that time went.

I’m not sure, but I do know that I want to be able to say, for the rest of whatever time I have left, that I beat bipolar disorder. That I was an inspiration to others still fighting. And that I did my best.

I think I’m doing a decent job so far.

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