BringChange2Mind

October 26, 2010

Telling the Truth

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

Recently I went to see my psychiatrist. I told him that I am feeling slightly moody and find myself creeping into these unintended, uncontrollable moments of frustration, hyperactivity, or utter exhaustion. We talked about the need to “tweak” my meds, and we talked about the likelihood of changing one out completely sometime in the near future.

I have been stable for a long time, aside from small yearly depressions that come around the anniversary of hospitalizations and traumatic events. This time however, it is more than a simple yearly depression, but that anxious rumbling of a depressed/hypo-manic mixed state. I don’t necessarily consider myself “unstable” but affected enough that I had to skip a couple of weeks of blog posts. Stability is really a funny thing. While I still consider myself “stable” I continue to have these little hiccups of symptoms. Moments where I would feel much better jumping on the bed for hours than I would trying to attempt even a partial night’s sleep. Moments where I feel so exhausted after having lunch with someone that I come home and pass out in seconds. Nights where I can’t help but cry myself to sleep. These things come and go, but in learning to manage these symptoms I have been able to remain steady and solid.

When I go through these hiccups and these “tweaks” in my meds I am always scared to tell people. I travel the country telling people my story,  and sharing frightening and often horrifying events but always reassuring them with the ending, “but I’m stable now”. And I am. Just maybe not perfect. And I fear telling people, “I’m great but I have been having issues with my meds”, or “I’m wonderful, but have been having small worrisome mood swings lately”, because I’m afraid they won’t get it. I’m afraid they will still be afraid for me. So I often tell them I’m fine no matter what.

As I speak and travel I meet lots of people with similar stories. And meeting people who share your story and hearing their struggles not only feels comforting as you are swiftly pulled from the aloneness of a diagnosis, but it also reminds you of all the pain you experienced. It reminds each individual of how lonely you really were and how different your life would have been had you just had this new friend with you from the beginning. It is strangely validating, empowering, and comforting, and yet, it is often painful to meet people with such similar stories of agony, near suicide, self-harm, self-medication, and more. It is beautiful because everything is suddenly okay. You have found yourself on solid ground. But you can’t help but remember how terrifying it is to dangle from the cliff. Because of this I not only have strong feelings of pain and grief, but I also worry that I will hurt these new friends by telling them my truth, either because of their own memories or because of their worries for me. I get so scared not to be “okay” after being a “poster child of wellness.”

But that’s not truly telling my story. That’s not being authentically honest.  The whole reason I speak is to let others know that they are not alone in their feelings. It is to let them know that I have some of the same worries, moods, instability, chaos and fear that they do, even if I come across as stable and put together.

These mixed emotions, the joy of finding friends with similar stories and the worry of letting them know I am not always alright reminds me to keep sharing, to keep being honest. My fear of sharing only brings me back to that place of isolation and aloneness. People should not be alone in this fight. People should not feel the need to hide when their emotions or behavior isn’t “normal”. People should not have to feel fear when divulging their truth. We need to change things now. We cannot let this continue to happen. The stigma and misunderstanding (my own included) that comes with these illnesses makes us so afraid to say, “You know, today I am NOT okay.”

We need to change things now and speak out so people do not have to be afraid. We cannot let so many of our children end up on the streets, end up incarcerated, or end up losing their lives by self-medicating because they are afraid or have been given the message that we should not talk about these things. We cannot let a treatable enemy like suicide claim so many victims because they are alone and scared. We need to talk about this. We need to change things fast. Please help us change things by sharing stories, by letting people know that they are not alone. In my mind the biggest way to fight stigma is to talk. Share your truth. We need to remind the nation that 1 in 6 adults suffers from a mental illness by sharing real stories from the heart. Please have courage, for all of us, and share your truth, whatever that may be.

Here is mine:
I am Linea. I have bipolar disorder and have been experiencing a somewhat extended hypo-manic, depressed mixed state, causing me to have to make small adjustments to my medications and it makes me anxious. However, I am completely fine. I am capable and happy doing all the work that I do because I know how to take care of myself. Things will not happen as they did in the past because I know how to handle my stress levels, how to keep myself from coping in unhealthy ways, and how to ask for help when I need it. I am stable. I have bumps. And it’s okay.

Now please tell me yours.

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October 13, 2010

What Can I Do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Marc Peters @ 7:30 am

Ask yourself why you are involved in this cause. You may have a mental health disorder or know a family member who does. You may have lost a friend to suicide or simply had your heart broken by all of the news reports of young people taking their own lives. We all have our own motivation for getting involved. The problem is that it is (relatively) easy to get fired up about a cause. It’s much more difficult to sustain that commitment.

One of the things we can do is to guard against “do-gooder” flame-out. You may have instantly realized that youth suicide is a tragedy and an issue to be addressed. Maybe you think it should have been eradicated yesterday. Perhaps you quickly came to the conclusion that mental health stigma is a disgrace and that every day that it exists in our world is a terrible reflection on us as human beings. Impatience can be a valuable trait when it keeps you from settling for the status quo. It becomes dangerous when you grow easily frustrated when change doesn’t come at your preferred pace. Mental health stigma and suicide have been a part of our culture from day one. They will be a part of our culture tomorrow, next week and next year. Yes, we should challenge ourselves and each other to set HUGE goals, but we also need to set small, achievable benchmarks.

I know that I explicitly needed to be told that I couldn’t do everything myself. I could commit every hour of every day to this cause for the rest of my life and not reach everyone. Some things can only be done together. It is instinctive (and reasonable) to think, “Well if I won’t see results right now and I can’t get it done alone, why tackle this at all?”

Just because you can’t fix the problem completely doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. The onus is on all of us to serve as support system for each other and prevent others from losing hope and giving up.  Everyone has a sphere of influence. Everyone has people they can reach. We all have people we look up to and people whom look up to us. If you learn that one of your friends suffers from depressive episodes, you can find out how they want to be supported and fill that void. You can offer to be called day or night and be willing to drop anything you are doing to be with them when they desperately need the presence of a friend. You can speak up in groups of your peers when they are bad-mouthing people who are “crazy” or dismissing people with depression as “overly emotional.” We can all be more supportive to people we care about and (more importantly even) to people we pass by daily and hardly notice. We can use teachable moments not to admonish people for expressing ignorant beliefs, but rather to increase understanding and decrease stigma.

We all can do something. Take Ron Artest for example:

From ESPN.com

Ron Artest of the Los Angeles Lakers is motivated to win another NBA championship because he plans to auction his ring from last season’s title to raise money for mental health counseling in schools.

I think it’ll be more important to give back to something I believe in, which is providing kids with someone to talk to because it’s so expensive. I pay for parenting counseling, marriage counseling and anger management, and it’s very expensive. This will be for children of all demographics, rich or poor — preferably the rich can pay for their own psychologists — but it’ll be a great way to help kids who don’t know where they’re going in their life at this point.

When I think of mental health advocates, it’s easy to relate to Tipper Gore using the reach of the Vice Presidential office of her husband to bring mental health issues into the national debate. It’s easy to comprehend Mrs. Carter offering fellowships to journalists to write about mental health. We applaud Glenn Close for sharing her sister’s story and using her celebrity to draw attention to a cause that is all too often ignored. They are the ideal advocates we have…for middle class and elite America.

But what about everyone else…it’s commendable that Ron Artest is using his considerable clout among young people, the very people unlikely to seek help, to make a difference. We may not all be NBA superstars with a sphere of influence in the millions, but no matter how large or small, what is important is that we do something.

You don’t have to change the whole world. Start by changing your world and I will work on changing mine and if enough of us do that, the entire world will begin to change.

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.

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