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.

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.

August 21, 2010

From Diagnosis to Empowerment

Filed under: Youth — Tags: , , , — Linea @ 1:27 pm

I just returned from a weekend conference for NAMI Washington State. Having been diagnosed only five years ago I have found it interesting to watch myself as I have moved through the various phases of acceptance. Between the inspiration of the conference and my present realizations I have decided that I should start a series for young adults (or anyone interested) on the path from initial diagnosis to empowerment. In these posts I hope to provide examples from my personal story along with tips and ideas for how you can achieve these goals. My upcoming posts will be:

Stayed tuned!

July 22, 2010

Bouncing Back, Advocacy and the Canadian Mental Health Association, By Keith Anderson

The BringChange2Mind blog is going to start featuring some of our favorite resources. Here’s Keith to tell you about one of his favorites…

By the fall of 2007, three years after my breakdown, I was confident that I was well on my way to being healthy. So, I turned my thoughts to seeking that public voice to discus my mental illness, its impact on my life, and my recovery. I knew I wasn’t yet capable of speaking about it, but I thought I could perhaps write something.

I emailed the National Post newspaper, which is distributed throughout Canada, with the suggestion of a first person account of what happened to me. The following day, I received a response, and was told that my story was a perfect fit for a new upcoming series, “ All About Bouncing Back”. My story appeared in the paper on February 20, 2008, titled “ How I Returned to a Life Worth Living”. My first sense of accomplishment in many years.

Then I wondered how I could use this article to continue with my advocacy. Up until this time, I had used the internet, as I recovered, to read news and sports. I went looking for websites on depression. I had read somewhere about the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). So, I thought I would see if CMHA had a website.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has a full and comprehensive website ( www.cmha.ca ). I first found a list of mental illnesses and clicked on “depression.” Under “signs of depression” I read what were the signs of my life the last dozen years. Just reading these symptoms gave me a sense of comfort. I knew again that I was not alone with my depression, it was real illness with real symptoms that other people had as well.

I was also impressed with the section on “Public Policy” which listed various reports and submissions that CMHA had presented to government bodies and agencies. This was a group that was taking visible and strong positions in the area of mental health.

But the most impressive part of the site was the list of locations. There was a national office, but also provincial offices, and even local offices. I live in Nova Scotia, which is a small province in Canada, small in terms of geography and population. But CMHA has a Nova Scotia Division and also eight local offices in different parts of the province. I really felt that CMHA with such an extensive network had a handle on helping people.

So I emailed my National Post article to CMHA, Nova Scotia, with no expectations at all. Within an hour, I received a response from Carol Tooton, the Executive Director, asking if I wanted another audience. I replied positively, but not knowing to what I had agreed. In her second email, Ms. Tooton asked if I wanted to speak at the CMHA National Conference in a few months time. The Conference was being held in Nova Scotia to honor CMHA, NS, and its 100th anniversary. So, I went and spoke for the first time in public in five years. It went well for me, and the audience was receptive. I then knew I was still capable of speaking in a public venue, perhaps no longer on behalf of clients, but with my own story.

CMHA’s website initially provided me with information and thus a sense of acceptance. It then provided me with a means to advocate more on mental health issues. I realize that it is a Canadian based website, but we all know that mental illness knows no boundaries and the internet knows no boundaries. I have learned about depression from this site and from sites based in other countries.

I suggest finding a site that provides the information and thus the guidance that you think you need. From that site, many benefits can arise, and your life can even be changed.

In the interest of being open and forthright, I note that I have done some volunteer work with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Nova Scotia Division, over the last year and continue to do so, and will be volunteering with the Winnipeg Region, Manitoba, on an 18 month project, beginning the weekend of July 16, 2010.

To learn more about the Canadian Mental Health Association please visit their website here: www.cmha.ca.

June 27, 2010

BringChange2Mind in Seattle, by Cinda Johnson

We were two moms and two adult children chatting at the dining room table after a Seattle dinner of salmon on the grill and salad. We had met each other in person less than three months before yet we were bonded as close as family. Calen and Linea talked about their experiences hospitalized because of psychiatric illnesses. They talked about their “breaks” (these weren’t school breaks!) and how it affected their relationships with their friends. Jessie and I talked about the pain, love and profound respect we experienced as we traveled with our children through their illnesses. Jessie and Linea talked about when suicide was stalking them and how they stayed healthy and stable. We talked about my brother and the others who were no longer with us. Calen connected with Linea as they discussed how sharing their stories and voices as advocates for mental health treatment and understanding had strengthened them. It was just an ordinary evening, yet profound in our shared heartache, heartbreak, recovery and thankfulness.

Linea Johnson, Cinda Johnson, Jessie Close, and Calen Pick

Calen Pick and Jessie Close were in town to present at Seattle University’s College of Education celebration of the 75th year of educating teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, community mental health counselors, principals, superintendents and leaders in higher education. There were a few questions around campus about the connection between “celebration” and “mental illness”. Calen and Jessie spoke of their own battles with mental illness and their slow road to recovery. They shared their commitment to the very mission of Seattle University, “…empowering leaders for a just and humane world.” Yes, there were a few in the audience who looked uncomfortable as Calen described his hallucinations and Jessie her battle with alcohol in addition to her bipolar disorder. But the vast majority applauded the courage and willingness to put a face to frightening illnesses; two beautiful, wise, and “normal” (whatever that is) faces to which the audience could relate.

Mental illnesses are insidious and terrifying but also treatable, manageable and even offer opportunities to connect to others with honesty and love in ways we may have previously not been able to do. Although both Jessie and Calen and Linea and I speak to large audiences sharing our stories in order to assure understanding, resources and care for the millions of people with a mental health condition, it is the personal connections that strengthen this movement. Linea and Calen are examples of the power of young people stepping forward and changing the face and understanding of mental illness yet they are two young people in their twenties who love books and walking and music and art and deep philosophical discussions. Jessie bravely shares her own experiences struggling with bipolar disorder. Yet she and I also connect at a deep and lasting level of “mom”; mothers who will do anything possible to keep their children safe and wish with every fiber of their being for their happiness and safety.

Seattle University's 75th Anniversary Celebration

BringChange2Mind is a powerful movement with almost 13,000 Facebook fans and emails and requests for help coming in every day and from all over the nation. Requests that are responded to within 36 hours! This movement is taking hold and taking off. The conversations on Facebook are powerful, the walks across the country with our NAMI partners were life-changing for many, and the support and understanding developing within this community is awe-inspiring. Together we are an influential and significant grass-roots movement started by Glenn Close. Yes, a famous actress but also a sister who is connected to every family with a mental illness because she knows. Just like the connection around the dining room table, into the community and across the country. This BringChange2Mind community gets it. Together we can change the face of these illnesses and together we can be the leaders needed for a just and humane world for all people, particularly for those with mental illnesses.

June 9, 2010

Finding Dry Land: Linea’s Story

There was a moment in my life when I almost drowned.

Living in the largest dorm in the country with three best friends, experiencing my first serious college boyfriend, living what I thought to be the perfect life of a college kid, I couldn’t have dreamt of anything better. That is, until I turned my back to the ocean and was swiftly and dramatically pulled in by the undertow.

One moment I was there and one moment I wasn’t. It was as if I had suddenly had my brain replaced by someone weaker, angrier, sadder. I didn’t know where I was or what I had set out to do anymore. I couldn’t understand what went wrong. I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly seeing violent images every time I closed my eyes.

Though I didn’t know it, this was a dramatic and intense case of depression. I stopped eating. I broke up with the man who was, at that time, the love of my life. I stopped leaving my room. I stopped all contact with the world, and whether I pretended I was there or not, my eyes were empty.

This went on for several weeks. Floating around Chicago, the city that I had worked so hard to get to. To me this went on for a lifetime. I floated out to sea.

Then my boyfriend, who was now just a friend-friend, called my parents. He called, and just as swiftly as I was pulled under, I was pulled out.

Completely.

My dad arrived from Seattle no less than ten hours after he was called. My life, my room, and my thoughts were packed up and shipped out. Flown back to Seattle and, in my mind, never to return.

Nothing could have been more painful. Nothing could have been more dramatic to me at that point and place in my life. Nineteen years old and suddenly I was forced to leave my friends, my life, my freedom and everything that I had built within the last two years of hard-earned independence.

I arrived home tired, cold, and wet, water still in my lungs.

The next couple of years moved from an undertow to a tsunami. My mind moved quickly from a “simple” depression to a devastating suicidal obsession. Looking back I am amazed I am even here to tell my story.

In the next year and a half I spent time in hospitals for suicide prevention and for overdose recovery. I spent time in apartments, manic and drugged and depressed and dangerous. I spent so many hours feeling completely out of control of my mind and so many hours trying to fight against it with every form of self-medication and self-harm I could find that I am amazed I have the ability to form thoughts or press my fingers to these keys.

It took me a long time to come to terms with what was happening. After having a “wait and see” diagnosis of bipolar disorder II at nineteen I spent many, many months fighting the label and implications before I received my final, “for sure” diagnosis of plain old bipolar I. My months and years of fighting only made things worse and it took me a long time before I realized that if I was good to myself and my body, my bipolar would be good to me. Who knew stimulants could make you manic or alcohol could make you devastatingly depressed? Though it seems obvious, I sure didn’t.

Once I finally gave in and decided to change my life things began to turn around again. Though it took lots of self-care and finding the right doctors, counselors, and meds, my stability allowed me to live the life I had always dreamed of living. My stability was more than just taking care of myself and finding the right help however, it was also my amazing luck to have the opportunities and support network I do. It was this fact that inspired me to begin to make a difference in the mental health world.

Having spent time in the worst psych units with the saddest cases I realized that things must change. I realized that people need to talk about these things. People need to be able to talk about their thoughts, lives, and feelings. We need to be able to share our stories.

So…here I am today, graduating, speaking at conferences, in classrooms and auditoriums, writing and collaborating with mental health and education professionals, working with amazing mental health organizations, writing a book, and volunteering with BC2M. Through my experiences I have realized that I needed to make a difference, and through my opportunities I have hopefully begun to do so. I am so excited and pleased that I have the opportunity to make the differences that I am seeing.

Today I have found my way back to dry land where I can finally stand on firm ground, and it is here that I will help others do the same.

Photo by Linea Johnson

May 20, 2010

What NAMI Walks Mean to Robin, by Robin Walker

I feel like the majority of my motherhood career has been like pushing sand against waves from the ocean, always leaving my spirit feeling washed up and wiped out. I have put in countless years trying to swoop my son under my wing to protect him from himself, his illness and the residual effects it has had on his life, it has been isolating. Many a night I collapsed in my bed with the feelings of defeat and many a morning I felt as if the very thought of getting out of bed was going to break me. It took that brokenness in me to surrender.

I attended Al-Anon for numerous years and worked the 12 steps of the program. I admitted I was powerless over alcohol – that my life had become unmanageable. I came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity and I sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God, praying only for His knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry that out. I surrendered. I experienced two alcoholics and their disease in my life, I was broken and then I surrendered.

One would think that if I could grasp the concept and understanding of AA’s 12 steps as a teenager and young adult that I could apply that to anything in my life as I matured, but somehow I lost that understanding, I lost me. I was so busy taking care of my son. I wanted to give him everything I craved as a child; acceptance, unconditional love, a sense of pride. I started at conception, talking to him inside me throughout my pregnancy. Then when he was born I would tell him daily how special and wanted he was. I have never loved anyone more than Korbin and I know never will.

So when mental illness struck I didn’t understand. I couldn’t grasp how “he didn’t feel like anyone would miss him if he wasn’t here tomorrow”. I couldn’t wrap my head around it! I told him, and showed him, how loved he was. I made that my priority in my mothering. When we hit “rock bottom” three and a half years ago it felt like another defeat and I broke….again. Korbin was going to be okay, he would continue to get treatment and gain coping skills, but this didn’t fix my brokenness. I had to claw my way up and out of the pit I was in. I needed to relearn my steps to recover and even then I didn’t feel complete.

My sense of feeling complete came on the weekend of May 8th, 2010, at the Portland, Maine NAMI walk. I had been busy with my volunteering for BC2M and advocating to end the stigma of mental illness. I was coordinating the BC2M walking teams across the USA and I felt good, empowered, and proud to be a part of such a revolutionary campaign. On May 8th I lead one of our BC2M walking teams in Portland Maine and fully grasped what I was a part of. It was the first time in 12 years that I didn’t feel isolated, it was a day I will never forget. There I was with my son in our BC2M t-shirts not feeling shame because of the illness. We were surrounded by people just like us, we were surrounded by our good friends and family. I saw BC2M shirts on others, some with diagnoses. It was so powerful to watch and experience that live. I listened to Jessie and Calen speak and there were tears in my eyes as I watched them….I felt “normal” for the first time since being a mom, I was hearing the same things I was feeling.

The next day at my sister’s house for dinner, on Mother’s Day, I let the last cat out of the bag. We shared with the last of the family, and even in-laws, about our “secret”. It was freeing and I was finally at peace about mental illness in my family. I feel like the NAMI walk weekend was my first pure and authentic step into advocacy, I was an open book, I surrendered and trusted and now I was not only talking the talk but walking the walk, literally and spiritually. I was doing good works with my advocacy before for sure, but to be transparent….that changes it. I am stronger, wiser and free!

I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of the NAMI walks and to coordinate them. I have met some great advocates and feel blessed by that. I feel blessed by the BC2M community, for because of them I am sharing this joy. To have actually experienced my own walk was life changing and rates in my top three greatest experiences of my life. I encourage everyone to join a BC2M team to feel that sense of oneness. It is refreshing and it has made my soul well.

Robin (bottom center), Korbin (bottom left) and some of the BringChange2Mind family

(Robin Walker is one of our beloved volunteers who has been working night and day to bring BC2M NAMI Walk teams to your city. To find a walk near you please visit our BC2M NAMI Walk site. Here you can join teams in your area, learn how to start your own, or donate! We thank you Robin with all of our hearts!)

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: