BringChange2Mind

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.

 

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October 4, 2010

The Benefits of Advocacy: Healing through Empowerment

Filed under: Story, Youth — Tags: , , , , , , , — Linea @ 12:58 pm

em.pow.er.

1.the giving or delegation of power or authority; authorization

Some of my favorite synonyms for empowerment are “permission”, “acceptance”, “promise”.

I find it is perfect timing to write about this topic given such amazing blogs with similar themes. Themes of healing, community, and hope. Discussions of what selfishness means and what learning means. Please read Kim and Marc’s posts to get a sense of the kind of empowerment I am speaking of. These are the things I will attempt to discuss in this far too short blog post.

I think it is important to admit that I have very bad self-esteem. What I originally thought to be perfectionism is indeed something deeper, darker, and more painful. It is interesting that it is not an urge to be better or more perfect than others, but instead a need to be better than myself. A need to prove something to myself. A constant search for the words “good enough”.

Saying that having a diagnosis of bipolar disorder aggravates this problem is an understatement. To someone striving desperately to hear myself say, “You are okay. You are good enough,” having a diagnosis and an often uncontrollable grasp on my emotions is sometimes more than I can bare.

The unbelievable power of advocacy is an important part of my recovery. Through the last couple years of public speaking, writing, and completely baring my soul to thousands of strangers I have done exactly what Kim has done. I have learned and received far more from my audience then I have given.

Through the ability to be honest and open, and through the commitment to stand up and speak about the injustice of the current state of mental health I have healed, gradually, but thoroughly. These are the things that I have taken away:

I have seen what bravery is. Through perfect strangers I have witnessed the bravery that accompanies getting up in the morning. The bravery to go to work everyday. The bravery to tell a love interest that you have to deal with something he/she may not understand. I have seen the bravery that comes with being your full and complete self no matter how people see you.

I have seen what love is. I have felt the love of a community of people that in the past I might have seen as strangers. The love and complete understanding that comes from five minutes of sharing your story. The complete understanding that comes from others that have “been there too.”

And most importantly I have become empowered. I have given myself permission to be who I am. I have learned to accept that I have flaws and that I have the ability to use them for the betterment of myself and my chosen line of work. I have healed from the love given by a community that I feel more than honored to be part of. The love from people who know my darkest secrets and worries. Through my commitment to fight for change in an often broken system I have been given the ability and courage to forgive and accept myself. I have given myself the power and authority to be who I am.

These are the things of empowerment. These are the things that help us heal while simultaneously helping others struggling to do the same. So here is my plea: share a story, speak up, or silently listen and acknowledge. No matter how you go about advocating I promise it will be worth it. Though the road is rocky sometimes and though things may seem to disprove this belief, keep pushing. Proof is visible when you look at the family on the BringChange2Mind Facebook site. Proof is visible when you look at the family that you develop out of one truly open and honest conversation with a peer that has been there too. When you look into the eyes of someone searching for the courage to tell the story but is waiting for someone to go before them. Lead the way, you will not regret it.

September 22, 2010

Community Engagement: How You Can Change a Mind

You may have read my last posts and thought, “I can advocate for myself, I can make a change, but where do I begin?” When I finally reached the point where I felt comfortable enough to step it up a notch I started writing, but as I became more confident in my ability to advocate for myself and share my story I started to use different forms of media and community engagement. Here are some of my favorite ways to reach out to my community and make a change in the mental health world. Don’t feel like you need to do it all at once, or ever, but doing just one thing can be healing for yourself and others.

Spread the Word: Start sharing your story in a bigger way. Blogging, Video-Blogging, Tweeting, or just interacting on a mental heath related social networking site (check out our BC2M Facebook page) can really make an impact. You are not only allowing yourself freedom and honesty, but you are showing others that it is okay to talk about these things. There are some great health blogging websites and communities out there that can help you to spread your story and educate the community. Here are some of my favorites:

· WellSphere: http://www.wellsphere.com/health-blogger

· WEGO Health: http://www.wegohealth.com/

Language surrounding mental health and mental illness can easily become stigmatizing, even unintentionally so be careful about the words you use. For a great guide on language check out these “Quick Tips to Improve Mental Health Reporting” or visit BC2M’s “Watch Your Language” bullet on the “Be Involved” page.

Volunteer: Many mental health websites and organizations are seeking volunteers. My involvement and volunteering with BringChange2Mind has changed my life in so many positive ways. The ability to help an organization that I believe in, the opportunity to share my voice, and the privilege of working with volunteers that I now consider family is healing and empowering. There are so many things you can do as a volunteer whether it is spreading information about an organization, helping as a peer, or responding to emails or help requests. Here are a few organizations with volunteer pages:

· Active Minds often has amazing Internship Opportunities.

· The Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) has a great page on Volunteer/Intern Opportunities as well as other ways to help.

· The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) often has volunteer positions in the regional offices in your area. Click this link to visit a map and find an affiliate in your area.

Take Action: It is important that you contact your state and national representatives to make sure that they are on the side of individuals struggling with mental health conditions. By taking action and contacting you representatives you can help organizations that you trust get the support they deserve as well as help change laws that may be harmful to the mental health community. Here are some great websites to help you take action:

These are just a few of the ways you can get involved in the growing movement to change the mental health world for the better. Don’t forget to visit BringChange2Mind’s great “Be Involved” page to learn more!

Next time: Empowerment: How my move from Acceptance to Advocacy has changed my life.

August 22, 2010

Acceptance

Filed under: Youth — Tags: , , , , , — Linea @ 4:56 pm

Building off of my last post, “What’s Going on Here?!” -The Diagnosis Story, I want to talk about the next step: Acceptance.

In my experience, the next step after the diagnosis is, “No no no no no no no!” It is the three year old rolling on the floor screaming, “I don’t want this!” “Make it go away!” As a person over sixteen however, we eventually have to pick ourselves up and go on with our day.

We cannot sulk forever, nor can we scream and kick for years, but unfortunately for many (myself included) we do this anyway. For me, screaming and kicking was drinking, partying and drugs. For me, it was self-harm and anger. I tried to accept the fact that this was something that would be a part of me (not all of me) for the entirety of my life. At nineteen years old I had a lot of life to live, which felt to me like hundreds of years of dealing with this burden.

I think one thing that might have been helpful for me was a list of things to accept, or at the very least, begin to think about accepting. I don’t know if I would have accepted these at first, but had I known what to plan for it may not have felt so confusing, endless, and terrifying.

Here are the things I would have told myself to accept:Photo by Linea

  • Accept the fact that this is a part of you, but not you. This one feels impossible, but in the end it is the most important thing to come to terms with. Say, “I have (insert diagnosis here). It is there. I cannot force it to go away. We must learn to live together in harmony because it is a piece of my body that I cannot remove.”
  • Accept the fact that you have to take care of yourself. If you take care of yourself you can begin to treat this and though it will not go away, it can start to feel better. It might even be something you forget about from time to time.
  • Accept the fact that you might have to take medication. Your brain has chemicals that you cannot control by thinking. Read brain science books. Learn what is really happening in there.
  • Accept that if you take medication you may have to adjust it once, twice, or constantly. This is one I wasn’t told, and am therefore still coming to terms with. I had the right cocktail, but it didn’t work forever. Now I have to accept that I must keep working and experimenting to find the right balance again.
  • Accept that not everyone gets it. Sad I know, but some people just don’t know what depression is or OCD or bipolar or schizoaffective disorder or borderline personality disorder or any number of other mental health disorders. Some people just don’t understand why you have a hard time leaving your apartment or why you have to wash your hands another time. But coming from the optimist I try to be, I think in the end everyone wants to understand and care, even if they don’t know how. And that is something they have to accept.
  • Accept that eventually you may have to tell people. You may even have to feign courage and go for it, because, whether you want it or not, it is a part of you. It does affect your life. It does affect your relationships. This part is hard, it sucks, but you have to accept it.

This is my list of things I wish people had told me. Maybe I wish it because I am a detail-oriented, type A, “plan your life” kind of person, or maybe it is just helpful for me to think about the bigger picture. You do not have to accept all of these things at once, and I suppose you don’t have to accept all of them ever, but I have to tell you from experience, had I not accepted these, or at least thought them through, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What are other things we can accept? Please help to start a conversation by writing some of the things you find important to accept in the comments section.

Next time…Self Advocacy!

August 1, 2010

“What’s Going On Here?!” -The Diagnosis Story

Filed under: Youth — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Linea @ 8:07 pm

“What is going on here?!?”

These were the thoughts that were rapidly firing in my head as I tried to figure out why I just couldn’t be happy and go out with my friends, or why I just couldn’t slow down and relax. For the longest time I hated myself for not being able to fix “it”.

In this society where we are told we should “just smile” or “walk in the sunshine” we assume it is our fault for not trying harder. We assume we are weak or bad for not perfectly controlling our mind and our body. We assume that there is something wrong with our personality as opposed to our chemistry. When I was first depressed to the point of suicide I got into a cycle of feeling agonizing pain of depression, exhaustion and defeat from not being able to fix it and an extreme hatred for my lack of strength and drive to pick myself up. It wasn’t until I was in the hospital on a suicide watch that I was given my first tentatPhoto by Linea Johnsonive diagnosis, Bipolar II.

Now, I grew up with a special ed teacher mom and a vocational rehabilitation counselor dad. I grew up being taught the importance of being sensitive to disabilities, the equality between every person no matter their difference and the importance of providing access and help to those with specific needs that may be different from my own. I grew up obsessively reading the DSM, diagnosing my pets with various illnesses. So when it came down to it,  I knew about disabilities. I knew all about “differences” and the normalcy of said differences. I knew all about what the word “label” meant in that community and knew that one should not use a condition to classify the whole of a person.

Maybe this is why it hurt so much when I was first diagnosed. Maybe deep down in my heart I knew just how little the rest of the world knew about disabilities. Maybe I knew the discrimination and misunderstanding that came with a mental illness label, because I found my mind screaming “No. Not me! I am not BIPOLAR. I am not like that. I’m not CRAZY”. To me, someone who found every disability as simply another thing that makes us unique and special, this diagnosis made me into something I didn’t want to be. It grouped me into a category that was “bad”. And whether or not the people in this category were “bad” or not, societies view and opinion of them was. I was not going to be in this category. I had spent my entire life trying to be perfect, flawless and this was the biggest flaw I could ever imagine.

On the other hand however, there was the small, scared, childlike voice inside of me saying, “its not my fault”. Even writing this today makes me tear up when I remember just how hard I tried to make myself feel “normal”. I tried so hard to control my emotions, but the more I tried, and the more I failed, the more I punished myself. I had two competing voices in my head, the blamer, “It’s all your fault! If you tried harder we wouldn’t be where we are today!” and the blamed, “I try so hard. I’m not good enough. I deserve this pain.” It was a dangerous downward spiral that became even worse when it moved from mental to physical hatred. Finally having a diagnosis validated those “it’s not my fault” cries of the blamed. It allowed me to start being a little bit nicer to myself.

It took me a long time to be nicer to myself, and in many ways it is still a very difficult struggle. The diagnosis, for me,  was one of the most life changing parts of my illness. It forced me to come to terms with the blamer and the blamed. It helped me realize who I really am and whether or not a label (BIPOLAR) defined me.

At first I felt that the words were etched into my forehead. I felt that with one word I was someone completely different. Years have taught me that my diagnosis can never define me. It may define some of the traits of my illness, but it will never define my exact reaction to those traits. Through my diagnosis I have been able to take the blame away and realize that this is simply something  unique about me. A blessing and a curse that makes my life slightly different from other peoples’ lives. Though the label that accompanies the diagnosis was painful, I have finally  found the most important thing of all, the map towards treatment. And with treatment lies stability.

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