BringChange2Mind

April 18, 2011

It’s Still a Shame

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

Last Friday, I had the rare opportunity for a class session with former

President Bill Clinton. (That’s one of the benefits of attending his graduate school I guess). Surprisingly it wasn’t that great a day. I was exhausted and detached for most of my four hour class that morning. My behavior was off enough for my classmates to inquire to see if I was okay. I’d been doing fairly well lately and working nonstop at school work so I figured I was just exhausted. It took until that evening when I could not get remotely excited for the presidential Q&A for me to realize that I was sliding into a mild depression. I even had a good question prepared. I was going to thank President Clinton for signing the first Mental Health Parity bill into law back in 96. Then refer to his famous (in the mental health community) quote on mental illness:

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.

That is what he said after losing a close friend to suicide. He was right then and he was right now. I wanted to ask him whether he thought we had progressed much in the years since he made that profound statement and what more could we be doing.

What’s tragic is that our society has not come that far in the 10+ years since Clinton left office. The Mental Health Parity Act passed in 2008 made great strides in evening the health coverage playing field. I’m just not convinced that progress in policy have been accompanied by a change in the hearts and minds of everyday people. I have no doubt that things are better now than they were then. However, just because things are better today than they were yesterday doesn’t excuse us from working feverishly for a brighter tomorrow.

I still know people who are embarrassed to tell people when they are seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist. In our “lift yourselves up by your bootstraps” society, heaven forbid someone need to ask for help. I get emails often from people who feel more comfortable talking to me, a complete stranger, than they do their friends and family. Would the world be a better place if people chose help-seeking over isolation? Absolutely. Can we get there? I have no doubt. But we aren’t there yet.

If we are going to get there (wherever that is and whatever that means), we need to pay heed to the first half of Clinton’s quote. We need to realize that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. We cannot continue to cower anytime we admit that we’re feeling depressed or anxious or whatever the case may be.

Rather than feeling shame about being different, realize that there are a lot of people out there walking this walk with you. Rather than beat yourself up for what you can’t do, respect yourself for managing the challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis with courage and character. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Let me say that again- you have nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe it is a matter of us telling each other that a little more often.

For as outspoken as I am about living with bipolar disorder, that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel shame for the way it makes me feel or act. We all need a reminder now and then of how much we are worth, how far we have come and how much more we can do.

November 24, 2010

Thankful

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

“I don’t really know how I got here but I’m sure glad that I did. And it’s crazy to think that one little thing could’ve changed all of it. Maybe it didn’t turn out like I planned. Maybe that’s why I’m such, such a lucky man. For every stoplight I didn’t make. Every chance I did or I didn’t take. All the nights I went too far. All the girls that broke my heart. All the doors that I had to close. All the things I knew but I didn’t know. Thank God for all I missed. Cause it led me here to this.” – Darius Rucker, “This”

The beginning of my manic freshman year

I never thought I’d be here. I never thought I’d get this far. Every time I stop and truly reflect on where I am today, I’m stunned. When I was in high school, I’m what you would call a rising star. I was one of the more accomplished students in my county: interning for USA Today and the Baltimore Sun, winning two national scholarships, and the list goes on. I don’t say this to brag, but really just to give you an understanding of where my life when I threw it all away. I thought I had recovered from my mental health episode. I thought my severe depressive episode junior year was going to be it. I was diagnosed with depression, put on meds, in therapy. I was golden, right? Yeah…not so much.

I spent my entire freshman year manic. From the moment I set foot on Syracuse University’s campus to the moment when the psychotic rupture led to my hearing voices and nearly getting arrested on a Habitat for Humanity Spring Break trip, I was living a manic lifestyle. I was excelling in school (at least second semester), taking upper level courses, getting involved in every student club imaginable. Then it all started to slip away. I served as a Young Life youth leader and enjoyed getting to spend time with some wonderful high school students and serve as a mentor to them until some manic behavior led to my dismissal. It was a crushing blow from an organization that had played a huge role in my life in high school. I went from having intelligent things to say that inspired awe to speaking at such a fast pace  that I inspired fear. I went from thinking so quickly that things came easy to thinking at a speed that I couldn’t keep up with. If I had been in my right mind and able to observe from a distance it would have been terrifying. But obviously that’s not what it is like when you are in it.

So things fell apart long before I was admitted to inpatient treatment and heavily sedated (totally needed), long before my month spent there and three months in intensive outpatient treatment. But the before was nothing compared to the after. Afterward I was shattered. I was incomplete. I was looking at what I used to be and getting more and more depressed by the day because I just knew in my heart  that I would never be the person I set out to be. I’d never be the prizewinning basketball columnist. And I was right. I never became that person. I became such a better person than I ever dreamed.

I became someone who was completely other-centered. I learned a level of empathy that allows me to feel other’s pain and look from their perspective.  I learned that there were things in life more important than grades and one of them was the wellbeing of the people in my community.

I learned how to rely on other people for the first time. I learned who I could trust (and who I couldn’t). I learned who would be there for me no matter what and who would only be there when it was convenient.

I learned to treasure every day because life can change in an instant. I learned never to take friendships for granted because without people to lean on when I’m weak, I’m completely unable to stand.

I learned that there is nothing that is insurmountable.

I learned that no matter how isolated having a mental health disorder can be, that if I lived openly with mine that other people would disclose their own struggles to me.

If I hadn’t had my psychotic break, I would have continued to live in the college bubble that so many students get trapped in. I wouldn’t have learned to look beyond myself and my struggles. I would not have had the opportunity to meet the people I’ve met in the mental health community and in the service community that I almost certainly would not have been a part of.

Where I am today

So for that I am thankful. It’s easy to look at what I’ve “lost” and it’s easy to point to the hassles of managing bipolar disorder in a health way. It’s so much more than that though. It’s not all of who I am, but it made me who I am. I can’t pick and choose which parts to experience. So if I’m thankful for my friends, family and my life then I have to be thankful for the ache and the pain and the agony and the suffering. I have to be thankful for the depressions that seemed so dark that I thought the sun would never rise. If I’m thankful for walking outside the hospital walls with a greater appreciation for life and freedom then I have to be thankful for the month that I was locked in a room with 24 hour supervision.

It’s easy to blame. It’s easy to scapegoat. But the good things in life don’t come easy and in this case the good life didn’t come easy.

I’m thankful that BringChange2Mind has allowed me to be a part of their blogging family and I’m thankful that you’re reading this right now. I’m thankful for YOU. What are you thankful for?

With love and great thanks,

Marc

November 3, 2010

Getting Started

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Marc Peters @ 8:19 am

“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” -Booker T. Washington

When I was a junior in high school, I suffered a severe depressive episode (my diagnosed one) Entering my junior year of high school I was gearing up to be the student body president. I was in mostly advanced placement classes. I had set up an internship with USA Today. I was on the fast track to a good college. I was on the fast track to a good job.  I was SET. Then my world crashed down around me. I stopped seeing the meaning in life. I felt an emptiness that I still can’t fully articulate.

I went from the honor roll to rolled up in the fetal position on my couch begging my parents not to make me go to school. I went from living life to the fullest to threatening to end it all. That was the first time I ever articulated my suicidal ideation. It wasn’t a cry for attention, but I was thankful for the attention that I did get. My parents and their friends basically watched over me. They ensured that I did not take any drastic action. I laid there crying, miserable, unable to move. Eventually with the help of caring teachers, my principal, family, friends and medical professionals, I got back on my feet. But my goals went from a 4.0 to making it through class without leaving in tears. I had a free pass to the guidance office…THANK GOODNESS. And my teachers knew just to excuse me, but I went from being a prized student to feeling like I should get a medal just for showing up.

I assumed the severe depressive episode would be the biggest mental health ordeal I would have to endure. That was until my severe psychotic break in college and the recovery. Once again my goals shifted from “successful” college student to showing up. I worked myself back to a productive state, but I never set any long-range goals for myself. I cast about without meaning. I floundered. I threw myself into the “here and now” with a reckless abandon that betrayed any sense of long-term vision or plan. There is nothing wrong with passion due the moment, but it was misdirected. I lied to myself. I said that I had written off five-year plans because my psychotic break had shaken me to my core. Really I was really just terrified to admit that I had lost any sense of a higher purpose. I had no calling. I had no cause greater than myself. I passed up opportunity after opportunity out of fear.

Eventually I got better. Eventually I healed. But it took time. My point is: It’s hard to see the summit when you are standing at the base of another mountain, but by setting manageable goals and getting used to achieving things again, you can at least start the climb. Bit by little bit, we get there. Bit by little bit we make progress, until that day when we look back down on where we were, amazed at all we’ve accomplished. It’s not about how long the journey is…it’s about starting it.

Thanks for reading,

Marc

PS. Connect with me on Facebook to read all my previous mental health blogs.

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.

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