BringChange2Mind

March 22, 2011

Keeping up with Family and Friends

Filed under: Guest Blog — Tags: , — BringChange2Mind @ 1:06 pm

I compare myself to my family members and friends all the time.  I spend many unproductive hours beating myself up because I need to rest but feel it’s a waste of time.  I feel guilty when I rest and am unable to rest because I feel I should be doing something constructive.  I should know better by now.  When I’m tired I get symptomatic.  I have bipolar disorder and I take medication for it but when I don’t rest the medication has a hard time working for me.

One of the many doctors I’ve spoken to says ‘sleep is medicine’.  I know it is but…  I know I have to take care of myself but… I’ll just finish this or I’ll just do that THEN I’ll rest.  In the meantime my symptoms raise their ugly heads.  Confusion, dizziness, nausea, feeling separate from, feeling like I’m in a fish bowl looking out are all symptoms I feel when I’m overtired.  I also have an almost overwhelming urge to flee wherever I am, to be quiet until the feelings pass.  Husband #5 found it disconcerting that I would crawl into our closet and shut down; I felt safe in the dark, on the floor, even when I was lying on shoes.  If I don’t respect the fact that I’m symptomatic I get worse and basically am not worth much to myself or anyone else.  So why is it so difficult for those of us with mental illness to take things easy?

Many of us have family members who are creative people with daunting energy.  In my family it’s my son Sander, 28, who is prolific, my sister Glenn and my powerhouse father, who died two years ago of a massive heart-attack.  I have envied those three and have watched their successes when I could barely put two sentences together (depression) or was as wild as a hare (mania).

But wishing doesn’t the person make.  I remember telling my mother that I was going to study French and flying so I could be a translator/pilot.  This was a long time before we knew I suffered from bipolar disorder.  And I told her I wanted to be a doctor like my father.  I’ll never forget her looking at me, both times, and saying, as kindly as she could, that “I don’t think that would work for you.”  I met the same discouraging attitude about many ideas I had, manic or not.  My parents knew something was wrong but didn’t know what it was.  My mother saw me go through so many cycles that she would try to shut down my ideas before I got in too deep.  Whatever it was, my mother knew my high energy would sooner than later turn into what she called ‘exhaustion’ which is what we now call depression.  We were all bewildered back then.

Now that I know what it is I’m dealing with I can approach my chosen activities and work with the humbling knowledge that I must pace myself: I must weigh what it is I’m doing with everything else I’m doing, in other words, I mustn’t overload myself.  There are few things that I dislike more than resting or putting something aside, even when I know it’s best.  When I delve into my feelings it becomes evident that I’m embarrassed to not be working myself sick.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow that others can work themselves into the ground without becoming ill, especially when they’re family members.  I’m a competitive person but competition isn’t the name of this game.  I’m certainly vain but vanity has no place in this.  Staying alive and living well is what it’s all about.  I believe that my family and friends understand more than I give them credit for.  I believe they are thankful that I have learned to pace myself and know how much I dislike limiting my workload.  It must be a relief for them.  I know it’s a relief for me.

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March 11, 2011

Eight Years Ago, By Keith Anderson

Filed under: Guest Blog, Story — Tags: , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 10:20 am

Eight years ago this week my life came undone. On March 7, 2003, I was diagnosed with depression. On March 11, 2003, I was suspended by the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. On March 11-12, 2003, I had a mental breakdown. Devastation all around. Not my best week.

The file that lead to my being suspended was my own personal file. No clients were involved, I was the client and also the lawyer.  I had found a house, hidden from the world, a mile long driveway, no neighbours for miles, located on a lake. My getting that house meant my survival, I too wanted to hide from the world as my depression was taking control.

The Bar Society recognized that the wrong and improper decisions I made to purchase the house were governed by my depression. In 18 years of practice, I had no disciplinary history. All parties understood that something had gone wrong in my life.

As we all know from watching Law & Order and other legal programs, lawyers work in an adversarial system. I had a lawyer, Guy Lafosse, and the Bar Society had a lawyer, Alan Stern. They each worked and ‘fought” to attain the best results for their clients. Thus, Mr. Stern’s job was to see me removed from the practice of law. After much discussions, we all agreed on a suspension and that I need to be healthy to return.  The Bar Committee Chair told me to go home and get healthy. I held onto those words for years.

A couple of years ago, the Bar Society asked me to write a first person account of my depression, its impact on my life, and my recovery. It appeared in The Society Record, a monthly magazine distributed to all lawyers in Nova Scotia. I included my email address at the end of the article as I always do. I received emails from about 20 lawyers, some of whom I knew, others I did not. All very supportive and a couple even shared their story of depression. To read their stories, from other lawyers, I felt that I was not alone.

But one email took my breath away. Alan Stern’s name appeared in my inbox. I opened it, and read:

“ I just read your article in the Society Record. Thank you for having the courage and taking the time to tell others about what happened to you. One of the facts relating to your real estate practice that stood out to me at the time was how well all of your files were organized. My obvious conclusion was that you were a highly competent real estate practitioner. Over the years I have provided advice to individuals on reinstatement…and should you need such advice I would be pleased to talk with you ( at no charge of course) Sincerely, Alan”

Unexpected words from an unexpected source. Tears of joy for a moment.

Here was the lawyer, the person, who wanted me out now offering to help me get back in.

I have met Alan ( we are now on a first name basis !)  several  times. We have spent afternoons together. We have discussed mental health, my volunteer work, exchanged some legal gossip, and gotten to know each other  both on a personal and professional basis. He is quite impressed with the work of BringChange2Mind.

We are now working on my application to return to practicing status. The Bar Society is also interested in seeing me return. My personal circle was completed a few years once I was healthy. This will complete the professional circle.

The Bar Society understood mental illness. Alan Stern understood mental illness. So, one never knows from where understanding, support, and true assistance may be found.  It has all provided me with a sense of acceptance and a level of redemption. I have gotten hope from within myself  and from others,  from people I didn’t expect. Life presents itself in strange but wonderful ways.

 

February 2, 2011

Jessie Close: A Late-Life Diagnosis

Filed under: Guest Blog — Tags: , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 10:29 am

Months ago my friend, Linea Johnson, asked me to write about how it feels to have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder so late in life.  I was 49 years old when I went to McLean Hospital near Boston and was put on several medications that finally began to bring me some relief from depression and mania.

My immediate reaction to Linea’s request was, “oh, I can write that easily and quickly!”  The opposite has been true.  When I explored my feelings about how my bipolar behavior kept me from so much, I felt such angst, such sadness, that I became overwhelmed and unable to write about it.  But I persevered.  These are not questions I hadn’t thought about over the years.  They are questions that stay with me.

Linea’s request brought a lot into focus and caused me to realize that I have spent the last seven years learning how to listen to myself.  The medications I take are an integral part of self-discovery.  I lived many years without medication, then I was put on the wrong medication, and I drank alcohol even with medications on board.  Self-discovery began happening when I finally began to feel normal: not manic, not depressed, not anything but me.  And sobriety.  Then, further down the road, I crashed up against a wall of shame and disappointment.  When I began thinking about it I realized how many careers I’d run away from, how many wonderful opportunities I had thrown away because of either being manic on the job or depressed into a stand still.  When depressed I usually quit whatever it was I was trying to do, when manic I alienated people with my loud and energetic, inappropriate self.

I walked away from a career in radio because of depression and attempted suicide.  I walked away from a possible career in television because I was too afraid that my mood would change and I’d be incapable of doing what the job called for.  I didn’t know what I was dealing with, just that I “switched”.  I ran away from a career in journalism because I drank so much one night that I didn’t show up the next morning for an important interview, with Rosalyn Carter of all people.  I was fired.  And yes, several years ago I wrote her an amends.

When I thought about the past, which I have done for years now, I suffered all that I’d done to the people I love, from affairs to pretending I was sick when hung-over or depressed.  I would see myself in my mind’s eye, see that I was a nothing, a nobody, a person deserving of contempt.  But then, because of medication, I couldn’t run away anymore.  I couldn’t lie down with shame.  I wasn’t depressed so I became productive.  I wasn’t manic and could no longer blame a happy mood or overly long work hours on mania.  I was forced to take stock of myself but it became inherently clear that I didn’t know how.

I was lost in a lifetime of conflicting reasons, moods, real sadness and clinical depression.  How was I ever going to figure out what had been real sadness, depression, real happiness, mania, and all the vagaries in between? And drinking made it all the more complicated.  I remember vividly, when I quit drinking, standing outside my house screaming “I don’t know how to be angry! I don’t know how to be sad!”   “I don’t know how to be anything!”

Even now, seven years later, I search my mind and body when I’m feeling up or down.  I search for indicators of mania or depression.  If the feeling is uncomfortable for too long I call my psychopharmacologist and we do a few tweaks on my medication.  I’m usually feeling better in a short while.

I do believe that without living so many years with untreated bipolar disorder I wouldn’t have had such a difficult time with focusing on what’s real and what isn’t.  I think all of us who suffer from bipolar disorder wonder when our mood shifts dramatically; we question whether it’s the disability or situational.  It’s taken me many years now to figure out those parameters but I’m getting pretty good at it.

December 10, 2010

Jayne Appel: Family and Mental Illness

The following is a guest post by Jayne Appel, Center for the WNBA San Antonio Silver Stars and Team USA.  You can visit Jayne’s website here and connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @jayneappel.

Throughout my life, mental illness has been something I have always been forced to think about. Most of society simply sees me as a professional athlete, with no worries in the world, other than keeping my body healthy and able to perform on the court.

My story, however, is very different. I grew up with a family member who is a diagnosed schizophrenic. It started around the time I was in the sixth grade and he was in high school. At the time, still being so young and not understanding what exactly a mental illness was, it was something that was difficult for me to cope with. I thought “my family is the only family dealing with this…why can’t we just be normal.” I didn’t reach out to my friends for support and it was almost something I was ashamed to talk about.

When I got to high school, I was still learning to cope with having a family member who was sick. For some reason, I couldn’t grasp what exactly was going on in his mind and how I could help at all. I struggled to have a normal sibling relationship with him and at times felt uneasy. This was all simply because I didn’t understand the disease and how to help someone living with it.

I decided to study this at Stanford University and majored in Psychology. Over time I noticed the more informed I became about the brain and how it functions, the better I felt about my family member. I was able to eliminate the stigmas in my head that so many people fall victim to in our society. I wrote multiple papers, became involved with the Crisis Intervention Team on a family panel, and literally devoted all of my studies and focus towards the brain.

Now, with a better understanding of what is going on, I have been able to form a strong relationship with him and enjoy our time together. I have also decided to use my position as a professional athlete to broadcast information about mental illnesses and how we can rid of the stigmas tied to them. When I saw what BringChange2Mind was working on, I instantly wanted them to be involved with my WNBA teams first “Mental Health Awareness Night”. I hope to continue to be a part of the team working towards getting rid of stigmas and raising awareness about mental health.

October 22, 2010

Reach Out to a Happier, Healthier Future

Filed under: Guest Blog, Resource, Youth — BringChange2Mind @ 8:45 am

Social networking, brand name clothes, new schools, relationships, peer pressure, hormonal changes, grades, career plans, and extracurricular activities piled on top – being a teen or young adult can be rough.  Most people would agree that they would rather not revisit the problems that dominated their middle school, high school and college years, but there is hope for this generation and those to come. That hope and comfort lies in a newly established website that encourages teens to Reach Out when they experience hard times. The Inspire USA Foundation launched ReachOut.com in March 2010 so that young people would be able to easily find all kinds of information about how to cope with life’s stressors.

It is tragic that some young people find life stresses to be so overwhelming that they contemplate suicide — and in all too many instances — take their own lives. National research indicates that suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds. But with the right help, suicide can be prevented.

How Reach Out Answers the Need
Reach Out provides:

  • Information based on evidence-based principles
  • True, real life stories of teens and young adults and how they made it through a tough time
  • The ability to connect and contribute content within a safe online community, and
  • Options to find further help

Reach Out is an online service that can help teens and young adults get through tough times in a way that traditional mental health services cannot. It’s a place to improve understanding of mental health issues, increase coping skills and review help-seeking options.

Inspire USA Foundation’s Involvement
Its spine, its rock, its anchor and light house – Inspire USA is the support behind Reach Out. Inspire USA has deep roots in Australia where Reach Out began 14 years ago.  Inspire’s mission is to help millions of young people lead happier lives.

I became interested in Inspire and Reach Out while working with the Federal government. At that time I worked in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and had the responsibility of overseeing suicide prevention and youth violence prevention initiatives. Jack Heath, the founder of Inspire, came to my office and presented about Reach Out. I was excited because Reach Out was the first example I had seen of successfully integrating technology and prevention in a way that drew on the strengths and interests of young people — and had a mission that was not only interested in how to prevent problems — but was also interested in the support and development of well being. These were, and continue to be, professional interests of mine.

A recent report issued by the Institute of Medicine indicated that in 2007, the annual costs of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people totaled roughly $247 billion.

How can we begin to reduce this figure — and the numbers of youth at risk for suicide — if we don’t begin to provide what young people tell us they want – accurate, accessible information and a safe online community where they can interact with peers and professionals? Reach Out is one stellar example of doing it right.

~ Susan G. Keys, Ph.D., Special Advisor on Mental Health, Inspire USA Foundation

September 30, 2010

Mental Health: A Healing Profession, By Kim Glazer, LGSW

Filed under: Guest Blog, Story — Tags: , , , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 6:31 pm

Kim Glazer

A professor of mine once said to me, “It’s selfish working in the field of mental health.”  Perhaps “selfish” isn’t the best word to describe the experience of being a mental health professional; but I think my professor was on to something. What my professor was describing was how powerful, moving and healing working with individuals with mental illness can truly be.  The relationship between the clinician and client is not one sided; the client is able to help the clinician just as much as the clinician is able to help the client.  How “selfish” it is to have the opportunity to listen to a person’s deepest fears and insecurities, and in turn learn about my own.  How “selfish” it is for me to be granted the opportunities to gain a better sense of myself through watching others confront their challenges and limitations.

My desire to gain a deeper understanding of myself, and to analyze why we think, feel and act the way we do is what drove me into the field of mental health.  In college I thrived off of reading studies about human behavior, and what factors shape who we become.  This fascination in the strong interplay between the individual and the family, community, and culture is what led me to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Pennsylvania.   Not only did I want to help people manage and overcome their mental illness, but I also wanted to advocate for these individuals to increase resources available to them, and decrease the stigma they experience.

Working in the field of mental health has taught me a great deal about myself, which is ironic seeing as the purpose of the profession is to help others.  But when you think about it, helping others has an incredibly powerful impact on the way we see and understand ourselves.  The feeling of satisfaction and worth that I get from trying to help others through listening, empowering, and advocating for them heals something inside of me.   This ability to find tranquility and peace through working with others is what I believe my professor meant when he referred to the “selfishness” of the mental health profession.

I have learned that in order to be successful as a professional in the mental health field, it is imperative to have a strong grasp of one’s own limitations, biases and insecurities.  So much of myself goes into helping others, that I must be able to put the innate emotions and reactions I experience aside and instead provide the support and empathy that is needed.  While it is impossible to suggest that therapists and other mental health professionals deny our emotions (after all, we are all only human!), it is important that we have the self-awareness of what these emotional reactions are.  And I believe that through modeling to clients that we too have limitations, biases and flaws – and we too must learn to cope with them, the alliance between client and clinician becomes stronger.  Besides, no matter what the differences are between clients and clinicians, we are all in the process of healing and learning together.  And without the ability to join and form a strong relationship, the process of healing and growth is impossible.

August 30, 2010

Strength of Us, By Dana Markey

Our newest guest blog focuses on an amazing resource for young adults. Dana Markey, project manager for NAMI’s Strength of Us, is here to tell us all about it…

I am always excited to have the opportunity to write about StrengthofUs.org, a new online community and social networking website for young adults living with a mental health condition. This project is very close to my heart so I’m thrilled to share this valuable resource with the BringChange2Mind.org blog!

I know how valuable it is to find peer support and with that, the comforting knowledge that you are not alone. After an isolating and traumatic childhood, I was lucky enough to go to college where I started up a NAMI on Campus chapter, a student-run, student-led organization that provided mental health support and education to college students.

Through this group, I got to connect with my peers and exchange stories, support and hope with those who could understand. I saw time and time again how just one meaningful connection with a peer could change the course of someone’s life, mine included.

Yet, the reality for far too many young adults, ages 18 to 25, living with a mental health condition is that this kind of peer connection can be hard to come by. College in so many ways saved my life but even then I knew that not all young adults have ready access to a supportive community like a campus—a more universal space was needed where any young adult could access peer support and resources specifically geared toward their needs.

Thus, when NAMI received a grant from the Rodwell Dart Memorial Foundation to create just such a space for young adults, I jumped at the chance to become involved with the project.

As project manager of StrengthofUs.org and a young adult myself, I had the great fortune of meeting many inspiring, candid and empathetic young adults while developing and eventually participating in StrengthofUs.org. As part of this project, we surveyed over 250 young adults on their social networking habits, support needs and resource preferences. We also assembled a wonderful young adult Expert Advisory Group that advised us on all aspects of the project.

Since our launch in March 2010, the website is growing rapidly with young adults opening their lives, minds and hearts to help others by sharing their personal stories, providing mutual support and offering friendship to those in need of a listening ear.

Their stories reflect an amazing amount of resiliency in the face of adversity. One young adult describes how filmmaking saved his life during a time he was battling severe depression, another talks about taking charge of his life after experiencing delusional thinking and paranoia and yet another discusses making it to Harvard after overcoming debilitating Anxiety. These stories are only a snapshot of the amazing young adults who are on the site to offer lessons learned, hope and encouragement to others whose lives have been impacted by a mental health issue in one way or another.

StrengthofUs.org users are connecting with their peers by sharing their personal stories, creativity and helpful resources by:

  • Creating profiles;
  • Writing and responding to blog entries;
  • Posting to “The Wire,” a Twitter-like feature;
  • Engaging in discussion groups and chats;
  • Expressing themselves creatively by posting their original music, poetry, photographs and other artistic endeavors; and
  • Sharing videos, photos and other media.

Young adults can also access relevant resources on and talk about the issues that matter most to them, including:

  • Dating and relationships,
  • Making and keeping friends,
  • Doing well in school,
  • Living independently,
  • Setting and achieving goals,
  • Maintaining weight,
  • Overcoming negative thoughts;
  • Finding strength and happiness; and
  • Much more.

These are issues we all explore in our lives at one time or another, but StrengthofUs.org enables young adults to bond and connect over these topics rather than have to deal with them alone—it’s about strength in numbers so to say.

The over 1,000 talented, compassionate and thoughtful young adults on StrengthofUs.org are just the kind of people most of us hope to meet in our lives. They are quick to offer hope, strength and virtual hugs when others are having a bad day and to celebrate with those having a good day. If there is one thing you can take from StrengthofUs.org, it is that clichéd, yet ever so comforting reminder that you are indeed not alone. I encourage you to join this wonderful community today at StrengthofUs.org.

August 5, 2010

Why I am an Advocate, by Brandon Staglin

I have schizophrenia, and sometimes I think about whether I have let my illness define my life. I work for my family’s nonprofit, International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO), as a mental health advocate. If you asked me when I was a kid what work I would want to do, the last thing I would have said was to take on a family enterprise. I used to value my individuality above anything else, and dreaded being corrupted by conformity. Thanks in part to my illness, my values have shifted since then.

Brandon Staglin

I had a psychotic break in 1990, the summer after my freshman year at Dartmouth College. A friend managed to get me to a psychiatry ward. At first, I could not accept that I had a mental illness. I had a life plan, to be an astronautical engineer! I would not be cut down by a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Three nights into my first hospitalization I decided I would get out of the psych ward immediately. I was unable to sleep, furious, and refused to take meds. A nurse was on her way with an injection to make me sleep. I would not let her violate my consciousness! In fact, I would just knock the syringe from her hand and walk out of the unit before she could do anything. …Of course, when I tried that, several nurses wrestled me onto a bed, strapped me down and gave me the injection.

Now I understand their perspective, but at the time I felt mistreated. Still, when I woke up the next morning I realized I needed to get better somehow and get on with my life. Hard though it was, I agreed to a treatment program.

I was able to return to college, get my engineering degree, and secure a job designing communications satellites. I kept my illness under my hat.

When I had my second psychotic episode in 1996, it became clear to me that I could no longer work as an engineer. The job was too stressful for me, I admitted, with disappointment. But, my wonderful parents offered me a position in the winery they own and run, Staglin Family Vineyard.

A few years later, a film director was interviewing our family for a wine film he was making for international release. The time came when the director asked my parents what had inspired them to start their annual fundraiser for mental health research, the Music Festival for Mental Health. I made a split-second decision. I did not want to hide my illness, such a large part of my life, any more.

“I can tell you about that.” I told him my story.

The director, a little hesitant, asked, “Do you want me to keep this out of the film?”

I blinked, and said, “No, by all means put it in!”

Although my disclosure (and our mental health advocacy) ended up on the cutting-room floor, a change had taken place in me. I volunteered to help produce the Music Festival in its next year.

I began to talk more openly about my disorder. People were interested! When asked why I was so gung ho about helping to raise awareness, I explained that mentally ill people could be misunderstood by the public. Often, even caregivers found it hard to understand their patients’ suffering. I realized as I spoke that I wanted people with mental illness to be understood, to retain their sense of self-worth. I thought then, “This is something I can help with.” When asked, I began giving interviews for local radio and TV.

The next Fall a Music Festival patron, Liz Browning, sent me a link to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article about her son’s experience with schizophrenia. The health care system had failed to treat Marc adequately, the article reported, and after years of progress of his disease, he may have been beyond therapy. I was heartbroken for her and for Marc. This issue was much, much bigger than what I had experienced.

Since then I have met many people whose experiences with their own illnesses have inspired me. In September 2009 I appeared in the BringChange2Mind PSA. Talking with the Closes, the other principals and the people who helped to produce it showed me how much passion there is behind this cause. The momentum of that day caught me up and has never let me go.

Today, my job as communications director and blog-writer at IMHRO enables me to pursue my own passion for the cause. Has my condition defined my life? Yes, to some degree–and I like it. It has given me a new direction which I hope makes people’s lives better. And, it has led me to compassion and patience. I love my life and would live it the same way again, illness and all.

To learn more about the Staglin family and the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO) please visit their homepage: http://www.imhro.org/

To watch a video clip of Brandon and his mom, Shari, sharing their story with BringChange2Mind, please visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa3CddPGD8A

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