BringChange2Mind

November 10, 2010

Clouds with a Sweet Silver Lining

“Most days I try my best to put on a brave face. But inside my bones are cold and my heart breaks. But all the while something is keeping me safe and alive.  But so many people are looking to me  to be strong and to fight but I’m just surviving. I may be weak but I’m never defeated. And I’ll keep believing in clouds with that sweet silver lining.” -Kate Voegele, Sweet Silver Lining

I spent this past weekend at Active Minds’ 7th Annual National Mental Health on Campus conference. Active Minds, a national non-profit and BC2M partner, brings together hundreds upon hundreds of students and gives them the inspiration and tools to decrease mental health stigma and increase awareness on their college campuses.  At last year’s conference, I was still working as a full-time Active Minds staff person and didn’t have the opportunity to step back and truly bear witness to some of the incredible things taking place. I knew that the organization covered everything from stress relief tips to model for preventing suicide.  It’s one thing to understand in your mind the change that is taking place, it’s another thing entirely to feel it in your soul.

Marc Peters and Alison Malmon at the Active Minds National Mental Health on Campus Conference

I’ve never lost anyone  to suicide and I pray I never will. However, I’ve met family member after family member and friend after friend, mourning the loss of loved ones to a senseless act of  violence by their own hand. I had never really understood how my former boss, Alison Malmon, could so completely dedicate her life to a cause so grounded in her own personal pain of losing her brother. This weekend, I finally saw that she draws incredible strength from the passion of the students with whom she works. I finally saw not only the tears in her eyes when talking about how much she loves and misses Brian, but the joy in her heart as she looks out over a room full of people so invested in this movement.

From three people at her first club meeting many years ago, to a ballroom full of student activists is a remarkable journey. While I know that there is nothing Alison can do that will allow her to completely let go of the pain that she lives with every single day, I find great inspiration in how she has worked tireless to have Brian’s memory not only associated with a tragic loss, but with a living memorial that reaches students all over the country. From a place of pain, she’s developed for others a place of belonging and a joy for life.

Inspiration for my BC2M blog posts comes from someone or something different every week. This one started not with Alison, but with a BC2M Facebook friend and real-life stranger. She spent Friday at the conference to visit the Send Silence Packing display that features ownerless backpacks representing the 1,100 college students lost to suicide each and every year. After she saw my Facebook status update about the conference, she  messaged me to tell her how much having her son’s story featured on one of the Send Silence Packing backpacks at this year’s conference meant to her and her family.

Her message led me to reflect on my own history with suicidal ideation and being suicidal. One of the things that always keeps me here is knowing how much losing me would hurt my friends and family. Even at my lowest moments, I never want to bring pain to others. I never gave much thought to how I developed that line of thinking, but this weekend I suddenly knew.

Seeing the hurt in Alison’s eyes (and seeing that same hurt in the eyes of all of the countless mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers and friends that I’ve met who had lost someone to suicide) helped save my life. While I grieve with them for the loss of someone special in their lives, I am forever grateful that they have had the courage to share their experience in a way that saves the lives of so many other children and friends. I know that not even the shiniest of silver linings could dim the pain they feel, but I want all of you to know how much your strength means. You may never know how many people you’ve reached. So when you find yourself wondering if it’s worth the agony of revisiting such haunting memories, please know that you reached me.

Thanks for reading,

Marc

September 28, 2010

New Regular Blogger! Please Welcome Marc…

Marc

Hello fellow BC2Mers! My name is Marc Peters and I’m honored to be joining as a blog contributor. I wanted to take an opportunity to introduce myself and tell you why I’m invested in this important cause.

I’m a graduate student at the Clinton School of Public Service, but for the year prior to my graduate work, I worked as a mental health advocate. However, long before that and all the jobs and degrees to come, I’m a bipolar patient.

During my freshman year of college, I had a psychotic breakdown. I ended up spending a month in a mental hospital and months in outpatient treatment, eventually being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Afterward, I was a shattered version of my former self. I wasn’t sure where to go from there or, honestly, if I could go on. I realize that in hindsight, it would have been easy to quit. I could have stayed on medical leave indefinitely. I’m not sure what made me think that what was waiting for me on campus made it worth going back.

Like many other colleges and universities, at my school there was a real lack of understanding about mental illness. I could have transferred to a school closer to my safety net of family and doctors and further away from judgmental students who bought into the stigma tied to mental illness. I decided, however, that I did not want to let my disorder rob me of anything. I wanted the college experience that I planned on and that meant staying at Syracuse University.  Even with understanding people around me, it took a couple of years before I began to feel comfortable talking about what had happened with anyone other than my doctor.

Given my lack of comfort with the subject and my ignorance of any world of mental health beyond my own, I never thought that this would be an issue around which I would center my advocacy. While in college, I jumped from one ambition to the next. From journalist or policymaker, to taking on issues of gender equality to working against systemic racism – there wasn’t a job I didn’t consider or a worthy cause I didn’t care about.  Even after the psychotic break that so jarred my world, I still returned to my favorite causes. I just moved on, wishing, hoping and praying that my classmates would begin to forget that it ever happened. Considering I was hiding, I certainly wasn’t going to work to raise awareness about mental health on campus.

I came out of hiding when I started a personal blog about mental health: www.bipolarrealities.com and went even further by working at Active Minds. However, full-time advocacy just wasn’t sustainable for me. It was too close to home. It’s impossible (for me anyway) to deal with mental health every day, both at work and in my personal life. When I went through bouts of severe depression that led me to be suicidal, the last thing I wanted to do was to advocate. When I could barely make it out of bed, I didn’t want to be reading about other people’s struggles with depression. It was too much.

I think groups like BC2M are important because we need people who just simply care to join voices with people with mental health disorders and become an effective team to advocate for change. Sometimes it just hurts too much for me to talk about. I need you to speak up because sometimes I just can’t. If we all take a little bit of the load, it won’t get overwhelming for any one of us. I’m glad that you are checking this site out and I’m thrilled that I will get a chance to connect with you every week, but I need you to do more. I need you to get involved.

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.

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