BringChange2Mind

November 16, 2010

Making Hard Decisions

Filed under: Story, Youth — Tags: , , , , , , — Linea @ 12:29 pm

A few months ago I got the exciting opportunity to work on a project that fit perfectly with my interests. Though I already had three part time jobs I felt that this opportunity was too exciting and wonderful to pass up. I convinced myself that I could do it. I am a pro at juggling many things and persuaded myself I could manage it all based on the fact that I do my best work when I am right on the edge of having too much.

All was running smoothly at the beginning, but like life always does, something I had not planned or scheduled occurred. Though I am not really religious it was as if something or someone was stepping in to intervene, reminding me that when you schedule every minute of your life you have no time to take care of yourself or those unexpected events.

As I was going along working all of my jobs, feeling excited and challenged, I forgot about my yearly manic/mixed episode. I forgot that sometimes I can’t actually control my feelings and mind and that I can’t just make it go away by ignoring it.

On a Sunday afternoon, after weeks of anxious energy and agitated depression I had a visit from my parents. Though my parents are wonderfully caring and always present we rarely sit in my apartment and talk. But this day, the two sat across from me in true intervention style.

They were worried. They knew I had stopped eating again, losing ten pounds in a little over two weeks. They knew I wasn’t sleeping, but instead cleaning the bathroom at midnight. My wonderful parents knew that though I loved this project and the woman I was working for it was detrimental to my health, the added anxiety taking me through the roof with my mixed, energized and anxious depression.

My drive to do everything is like an addiction. Though I know it is bad for me I simply cannot stop, constantly convincing myself that it is necessary. I had to quit this need to do everything at once. I had to stop working for ten hours a day for months without taking care of myself, seeing my friends, or even spending time with my boyfriend. My life had been nothing but work so even thinking about cutting back led to anxiety attack after anxiety attack.

Something dramatic had to change before I had to be hospitalized again, and yet, I couldn’t image my life with one less thing on my plate. I didn’t know what to do to take care of myself.

I eventually resigned from the position, sending the email with my heart in my throat and my eyes swollen with tears. Today I am trying to continue taking care of myself. Trying to find time to just sit and do nothing. But it still makes me unbelievably anxious.

Taking care of yourself is a process. And though people may think I am “together” or “stable” it is something I still struggle with. We all deal with the frustration and pain that accompanies these illnesses in different ways but it is important to remind ourselves to care for our needs, even if it seems impossible and painful in itself.

I am very lucky to have the family I have to help me realize when I am in a bad place, but many times all we have is ourselves. Remember to check in with yourself when you feel that you are moving further from a place of safety and care. Reach out to friends as you try to change bad habits or make changes in your life. I know for me it will be a constant process as more and more opportunities come my way, but I will try because I know that I want to continue the work that I am doing, because I know that I want to see my friends and family again, and because, most importantly, I know I don’t want to be hospitalized again.

What are you doing to take care of yourself? How do you make these difficult changes and why is it important?

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.

September 30, 2010

Mental Health: A Healing Profession, By Kim Glazer, LGSW

Filed under: Guest Blog, Story — Tags: , , , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 6:31 pm

Kim Glazer

A professor of mine once said to me, “It’s selfish working in the field of mental health.”  Perhaps “selfish” isn’t the best word to describe the experience of being a mental health professional; but I think my professor was on to something. What my professor was describing was how powerful, moving and healing working with individuals with mental illness can truly be.  The relationship between the clinician and client is not one sided; the client is able to help the clinician just as much as the clinician is able to help the client.  How “selfish” it is to have the opportunity to listen to a person’s deepest fears and insecurities, and in turn learn about my own.  How “selfish” it is for me to be granted the opportunities to gain a better sense of myself through watching others confront their challenges and limitations.

My desire to gain a deeper understanding of myself, and to analyze why we think, feel and act the way we do is what drove me into the field of mental health.  In college I thrived off of reading studies about human behavior, and what factors shape who we become.  This fascination in the strong interplay between the individual and the family, community, and culture is what led me to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Pennsylvania.   Not only did I want to help people manage and overcome their mental illness, but I also wanted to advocate for these individuals to increase resources available to them, and decrease the stigma they experience.

Working in the field of mental health has taught me a great deal about myself, which is ironic seeing as the purpose of the profession is to help others.  But when you think about it, helping others has an incredibly powerful impact on the way we see and understand ourselves.  The feeling of satisfaction and worth that I get from trying to help others through listening, empowering, and advocating for them heals something inside of me.   This ability to find tranquility and peace through working with others is what I believe my professor meant when he referred to the “selfishness” of the mental health profession.

I have learned that in order to be successful as a professional in the mental health field, it is imperative to have a strong grasp of one’s own limitations, biases and insecurities.  So much of myself goes into helping others, that I must be able to put the innate emotions and reactions I experience aside and instead provide the support and empathy that is needed.  While it is impossible to suggest that therapists and other mental health professionals deny our emotions (after all, we are all only human!), it is important that we have the self-awareness of what these emotional reactions are.  And I believe that through modeling to clients that we too have limitations, biases and flaws – and we too must learn to cope with them, the alliance between client and clinician becomes stronger.  Besides, no matter what the differences are between clients and clinicians, we are all in the process of healing and learning together.  And without the ability to join and form a strong relationship, the process of healing and growth is impossible.

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