BringChange2Mind

April 8, 2011

Grief

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , — BringChange2Mind @ 1:12 pm

Today we are going to talk about grief. Not necessarily grief from the loss of a loved one, but grief of the diagnosis. In these past four months I have been trying my damnedest to be healthy and stay well. I had made sure that I was not only continuing to take my meds, but I was also maintaining healthy habits such as exercising (yoga and running), meditating, and additional stress relieving activities like my new found hobby: knitting. I have tried to be patient and kind to myself and have worked with my psychiatrist to increase and adjust medications to help me get over this bump. But as I found myself continuing to go deeper or simply stay in the “pits of despair” I found myself moving into the same mind-frame that I experienced when I was first diagnosed with bipolar. I found myself feeling, to put it simply, angsty. I found that I was reverting to the teenage-angst felt when life just doesn’t seem fair. When you realize, why me? And why now? I found myself getting angry at whoever or whatever has done this to me. And if there is no one to blame, then just why? And though I continually feel that my bipolar is part of me, though not all of me, and that I wouldn’t want to get rid of it. I simply wanted it to go away, or even a little while.

So I suppose my question to the world is, and specifically to anyone suffering from a chronic condition or disease, how do you cope and come to terms with the fact that you may continually have dips in your health, even if they continue to become increasingly easier?

I know that for me they have become easier, this is by far better than my initial diagnosis, but it is still terribly frustrating sometimes to know that I may have this occur again and again. All I know is that I will get through this and it will continue to get better, but some days, on my most 13-year old angst ridden days, I can only continue to say, this sucks.

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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 25, 2011

Slow and Steady

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , — Linea @ 8:47 pm

I’m sitting here today, having remembered last week’s post about returning and taking care of yourself, and I am realizing that I should probably follow my own advice. I have indeed started to come back into the world, weary, afraid, and hesitant, but in doing so I did it at full speed.

After deciding to finally return to my life and work I managed to quickly race back into the life I had been living when I was my healthiest. The first thing I did in my blind hurry was present at a conference in another state followed quickly by a presentation, in front of all my friends and family, at a talk prior to Seattle’s showing of the Tony Award Winning Next to Normal.

I didn’t take it slow and easy. I didn’t do it gently knowing that I was fragile. I didn’t do anything I said in my last blog. Instead I did it as if everything was better. I forgot this was a process. So, do you know what happened after I was finished with my whirlwind tour? It’s easy to guess, I crashed. I was a disaster and quickly returned to my early state of panic attacks and food restriction.

It is not an all or nothing process. There is in fact a middle ground between lying on your bed crying and traveling to conferences presenting about mental health while maintaining the “I’m better now” face. But it took me until yesterday to realize this.

I am a very stubborn person. I don’t like to say no to things I have already said yes to. I follow through. But sometimes my body has to remind me that this can’t always be the case. Following my Next to Normal speech I had two more nights of talks. And while my stubborn side was saying “I have to do them”, my tired body and emotional mind were telling me otherwise.

So, after countless back and forths I realized that I did want to get better. And getting better meant taking it slow. Getting better, to use my past analogy, meant not just running out of the cave like everything is fine, but coming out gradually and letting yourself adjust.

And today I did just that. Today, at the last minute, a time when I feel the worst backing out, I said no. I said that I couldn’t do it. For my health I had to turn this one down. And it’s so hard! I do feel like I’m letting people down, I do feel like a slacker, I do have all these nasty words and thoughts creeping up to tell me that I’m doing the wrong thing. But I’m right. It is necessary to take things slow. It is necessary to take life one second at a time and listen to one’s body. Hopefully this time I will remember to read and listen to my own posts!

Best,

Linea

February 18, 2011

Returning

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , , — Linea @ 6:12 pm

The topic of today’s blog is about returning. Many of you may have noticed that I have disappeared from the world of computers, Facebook, and blogs. For health reasons I have needed to step back and take care of myself. But now I am back. Now it is time to talk about that very tricky act of returning after a mental health leave.

The act of returning is a mixed feeling, one of excitement, one of hesitation, one of “am I ready?” and sometimes one of pride. Returning to the world, whether it is the world of work or the world of friends is something fragile, scary, and intimidating. Though sharing our story of ill health after this leave may not be necessary, taking our time and energy to reemerge  into a past existence and those necessary life responsibilities is many times essential

So how do we do this you ask? How do we re-enter the world after it has crumbled at our feet? Do you tell your story or not? Co-workers, families, and friends may have missed you, become worried, become mad. How do you take care of yourself when you are so far behind in your responsibilities but have to catch up? I don’t have the universal answer to these questions but I do have my own experience. Perhaps sharing some of my own story will inspire you to reconnect yourself. Perhaps some of it will spark your own ideas about returning that you will hopefully share in our comments section.

So here is my path…I have disappeared for almost three months due to a severe depression and eating disorder. These are things that I’ve dealt with before but still remain difficult. This disclosure is not something that everyone should have to share and when asked, a mere, “I was dealing with some health issues that I would rather not discuss, but I am slowly getting better” will suffice. This has often times been my answer, but with close family and friends it is different. For them I tell the truth. However, even your closest friends may not fully grasp your struggles. For them I simply ask for support of my decisions. They may not agree, but it is my struggle and if they care they will stand beside my choices and intelligent attempt to seek what’s best for me.

The second struggle I am experiencing is getting back to my old responsibilities and work load while simultaneously taking care of my needs. This is something I have yet to master. How do I reemerge into such a busy life? How do I step back into relationships? Even the small things, like using Facebook feel overwhelming and exhausting. This is something I have to take one step at a time. I remember years ago when I was really sick for the first time someone told me to take things one step at a time. My wise grandma clarified however, saying some days you have to take minute by minute, but some days you have to take second by second. When getting out of bed in the morning feels like a second by second job, Facebook becomes minute by minute.

I am taking my time. Returning takes a lot of breaks and lots of time to breathe, sit and meditate. Re-emerging is like stepping out of a cave into the sun. Stunning yet blinding. But slowly I am adjusting, slowing I am emerging.

How do you return after a health crisis? What tricks have you or a loved one learned?

January 26, 2011

The Danger of A Single Story

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , — Marc Peters @ 9:00 am

In this video, author Chimamanda Adichie speaks to a TED.com conference about the danger of a single story representing an entire population. This an issue that we often face in mental health. The stories that make the news are always negative. The stories of the thousands upon thousands who manage their disorders and support their friends often go untold. Thankfully BringChange2Mind and other like-minded organizations are working to create a broader dialogue that is more representative of the mental health community.

Would love to hear your thoughts on the video!

Marc

January 5, 2011

What Remains

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , — Marc Peters @ 9:00 am

I spent my entire freshman year, at Syracuse University, walking the fine line between manic and psychotic. Finally it was too much for my brain to take and as Spring Break ended and my friends were returning to class rested and rejuvenated, I found myself staring at the blank walls of a hospital room.

I fought my way back to campus and my final three years at Syracuse were a mix of brief respites of joy and the endless pain of recovery and adjusting to a new life. When my friends were out partying or toiling away in the library, I was holed up in my dorm, fast asleep. The exhaustion from the readjustment was enough to knock me out, but more so than that I was watching my sleep habits carefully to make sure to avoid restless, manic nights. As much as I wanted to rejoice at making it back to campus, I couldn’t. My thought processes were considerably slower after my bipolar diagnosis and subsequent pharmaceutical regimen. It took me three hours to complete homework assignments and readings that would have taken me thirty minutes in the past.

I couldn’t bring myself to try and process any of the trauma of that fateful Spring semester. I did not yet have the words or the courage to express how I was feeling – even to my closest friends and mentors. It was a lonely time for me. I was trapped in my own head and couldn’t see beyond my reality of the moment. I had yet to see any college students step forward and say “I have a mental illness. This is my struggle. Look at how I’m thriving.” The only examples I had to look to were the adults with whom I shared an inpatient stay – hardly a comfort.

My last visit to Syracuse in Fall of 2009 brought up many painful memories. Walking around campus meant retracing my footsteps on a journey that I don’t look back on with pride. I still have vivid flashbacks of manic conversations. I remember things I said that I can’t believe. I remember actions I took that shock me. You would think that with all that pain, I wouldn’t want to come back. Thankfully, those memories aren’t all that remain.

I’m just getting home from my most recent trip up to Syracuse. I had the opportunity to visit with the mentors that I’ve kept in touch with over the years, my extended family that supported me even when I didn’t know how to ask for their help, and the wonderful friends I made along the way. The amazing thing about when you are made vulnerable by circumstances beyond your control is that it invites those around you to draw near. Even now, I am so open about my struggles not only to set a positive example for those who are facing similar adversities, but also because it fosters a connection with people that I have yet to replicate any other way.

For those of you of you out there who haven’t been able to disclose your illness to people around you, just know that for all the stigma and misunderstanding there is also hope and love. I still hold on to the painful memories, the anxiety that they bring, and the shame I can’t seem to leave behind. I know one day I’ll have to shed that weight if I’m going to grow into the person I want to be, but in the meantime it helps to have the bright spots too. I’m so incredibly grateful for the people that have remained in my life and seen me through my highest highs and my lowest lows. I’m so thankful for what remains.

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.

December 6, 2010

Refocusing Your Goals

Filed under: Story, Youth — Tags: , , , , , , — Linea @ 12:00 pm

As many of you know from my last post, Food and Coping, I have been having some issues with an eating disorder. The anxiety induced through my bipolar has decided to take it out on my body leading me to stop eating and start focusing my perfectionism on something dangerous and very un-Linea, weight. I have always had severe and painful perfectionism. The kind that no matter how much you accomplish and how much you change it leads you back to the thought, “I’m not good enough”. This pattern is very harmful and has in the past led me to take it out on myself physically or to punish myself mentally. Along with my bipolar disorder this has been one of the most painful and exhausting parts of my personality.

There are, of course, good things about perfectionism. The drive to work hard and accomplish your dreams. The endurance to do your best. But there are, of course, so many painful things. The most important thing that I have developed in all of this however, is the realization that this, like my bipolar, is something that I have to come to terms with and live with. I know that I get obsessive. I know that I can get overly hard on myself. I know that I like to do a lot of high-level tasks. So, I realized that when this eating disorder reappeared that I was using the pounds lost as a way to feel and see that I was “accomplishing” my “goal”. I had, and at this point still have, the idea that I can finally scientifically see that I am reaching my goal because it is demonstrated by concrete numbers on the scale. I am not having to go off of other people’s abstract compliments or comments of “good job” or “you are doing so great”. I have, in a very bad way, convinced myself that I am accomplishing something.

This is of course a lie, because although I can make numbers decrease, I am actually increasing health risks. I am far less than perfect when it comes to taking care of my body. Starving yourself is not achieving perfection, but rather denying it. And I know what everyone will say, there is no perfect.  I know this, but I try to get as close to it as I can, in spite of the fact that there is no top to the mountain I am climbing.

Now that I have realized that my goals have become the dangerous focus on numbers I am going to try working against it as I work to get healthy. Here is one way that I am going to try to accomplish this: I know that I like to run. I love to run and it soothes me and lets out the excessive anxiety that I usually feel. However, I cannot run without anything in my stomach. It is dangerous to run when your body feels faint with no calories. So, I have convinced myself that I want to run again. And to run I need to eat. Each day I have to eat at least three meals, with snacks, before I can run. And I’m starting to do this. Because the anxiety that comes from not running is worse than the hunger of not eating

I know that my mind and body like to have a goal to work towards, so I have decided to try to refocus my goal from loss of pounds to increase in miles run. There is a half-marathon in June and I would really like to get to the point where I can run in it. To start I will have to eat. And when I have accomplished eating rather than weight loss I can start to run. From there I can focus that need for proof through numbers towards miles and food consumed. I don’t know that it will work, but I know that I am a person who needs a goal. I can’t always seem to make a goal out of taking care of myself, so this is at least a way to trick myself into doing it. I will let you know how it goes and hopefully my ability to understand and know myself will help me move to safety and on towards healthy goals and accomplishments.

November 22, 2010

Food and Coping

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , , — Linea @ 6:10 pm

photo by Linea JohnsonCoping with a mental illness is hard. Living with the thought that this is a life-long thing is painful. And sometimes, even when we are happy and “stable” we find ourselves trying to cope with this fact.

I am about to admit something big. I, as many of you readers know, am very open and honest with the public and even strangers, but this one is very hard for me. In my past I didn’t know what a mania was. In the depths of that hurricane, when everything was whirling around me I tried to find my own ways to cope. I found that my doctors kept giving me the wrong medications leading me to get sick or manic and I decided I would find ways to soothe it myself. So I tried alcohol. I tried drugs. I tried self-harm. And eventually I altered my relationship with food to an unhealthy place thinking that it made me feel better.

That was five years ago. But today, this month, I find myself struggling again. As you know from my last post I have hit a bump in this bipolar ride. I have at this point finally found a way out of the hurricane, but my coping habits have yet to return to normal. Today I once again find myself struggling on the line between disordered eating and an eating disorder.

Why is this the hardest thing for me to admit? Why do I hold such a stigma to this and not to my other symptoms and diagnoses? When I was young I didn’t understand eating disorders. I didn’t know that they were deeper and different things than vanity and our culture’s influence. Though these may play a part in my relationship with food it is something stronger. It is, as many people who are well-versed in ED know, much about control. Control of the changing climates of bipolar. It is also, for me, about punishment and anger. Punishment from an extreme perfectionist for not being able to “fix it” and anger for not being able to control my mood swings.

I find it very important to address eating disorders because I find these very misunderstood in our society. I feel that I am even hesitant to write about it because I still don’t fully understand the jargon, the reasons, and the power they hold. But I do find it crucial for us to have a conversation about healthy coping skills.

So here is what I am doing to try to find my way back to health: I am trying to take life one step at a time. I am trying to eat at least three meals  a day and sit with the anxiety that comes with this process. I find that even eating a slice of an apple is painful. I am trying to make a healthy schedule for my life so I can balance work and play. I am being open and honest with my family, my friends, and my medical team. I am using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with positive self-talk and challenging the negative and illogical thoughts in my head. I am trying to breathe.

What healthy skills do you use when you feel your life is out of control? How do you take care of yourself when life is not treating you kindly?

November 16, 2010

Making Hard Decisions

Filed under: Story, Youth — Tags: , , , , , , — Linea @ 12:29 pm

A few months ago I got the exciting opportunity to work on a project that fit perfectly with my interests. Though I already had three part time jobs I felt that this opportunity was too exciting and wonderful to pass up. I convinced myself that I could do it. I am a pro at juggling many things and persuaded myself I could manage it all based on the fact that I do my best work when I am right on the edge of having too much.

All was running smoothly at the beginning, but like life always does, something I had not planned or scheduled occurred. Though I am not really religious it was as if something or someone was stepping in to intervene, reminding me that when you schedule every minute of your life you have no time to take care of yourself or those unexpected events.

As I was going along working all of my jobs, feeling excited and challenged, I forgot about my yearly manic/mixed episode. I forgot that sometimes I can’t actually control my feelings and mind and that I can’t just make it go away by ignoring it.

On a Sunday afternoon, after weeks of anxious energy and agitated depression I had a visit from my parents. Though my parents are wonderfully caring and always present we rarely sit in my apartment and talk. But this day, the two sat across from me in true intervention style.

They were worried. They knew I had stopped eating again, losing ten pounds in a little over two weeks. They knew I wasn’t sleeping, but instead cleaning the bathroom at midnight. My wonderful parents knew that though I loved this project and the woman I was working for it was detrimental to my health, the added anxiety taking me through the roof with my mixed, energized and anxious depression.

My drive to do everything is like an addiction. Though I know it is bad for me I simply cannot stop, constantly convincing myself that it is necessary. I had to quit this need to do everything at once. I had to stop working for ten hours a day for months without taking care of myself, seeing my friends, or even spending time with my boyfriend. My life had been nothing but work so even thinking about cutting back led to anxiety attack after anxiety attack.

Something dramatic had to change before I had to be hospitalized again, and yet, I couldn’t image my life with one less thing on my plate. I didn’t know what to do to take care of myself.

I eventually resigned from the position, sending the email with my heart in my throat and my eyes swollen with tears. Today I am trying to continue taking care of myself. Trying to find time to just sit and do nothing. But it still makes me unbelievably anxious.

Taking care of yourself is a process. And though people may think I am “together” or “stable” it is something I still struggle with. We all deal with the frustration and pain that accompanies these illnesses in different ways but it is important to remind ourselves to care for our needs, even if it seems impossible and painful in itself.

I am very lucky to have the family I have to help me realize when I am in a bad place, but many times all we have is ourselves. Remember to check in with yourself when you feel that you are moving further from a place of safety and care. Reach out to friends as you try to change bad habits or make changes in your life. I know for me it will be a constant process as more and more opportunities come my way, but I will try because I know that I want to continue the work that I am doing, because I know that I want to see my friends and family again, and because, most importantly, I know I don’t want to be hospitalized again.

What are you doing to take care of yourself? How do you make these difficult changes and why is it important?

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