BringChange2Mind

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.

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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