BringChange2Mind

February 25, 2011

Slow and Steady

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , — Linea @ 8:47 pm

I’m sitting here today, having remembered last week’s post about returning and taking care of yourself, and I am realizing that I should probably follow my own advice. I have indeed started to come back into the world, weary, afraid, and hesitant, but in doing so I did it at full speed.

After deciding to finally return to my life and work I managed to quickly race back into the life I had been living when I was my healthiest. The first thing I did in my blind hurry was present at a conference in another state followed quickly by a presentation, in front of all my friends and family, at a talk prior to Seattle’s showing of the Tony Award Winning Next to Normal.

I didn’t take it slow and easy. I didn’t do it gently knowing that I was fragile. I didn’t do anything I said in my last blog. Instead I did it as if everything was better. I forgot this was a process. So, do you know what happened after I was finished with my whirlwind tour? It’s easy to guess, I crashed. I was a disaster and quickly returned to my early state of panic attacks and food restriction.

It is not an all or nothing process. There is in fact a middle ground between lying on your bed crying and traveling to conferences presenting about mental health while maintaining the “I’m better now” face. But it took me until yesterday to realize this.

I am a very stubborn person. I don’t like to say no to things I have already said yes to. I follow through. But sometimes my body has to remind me that this can’t always be the case. Following my Next to Normal speech I had two more nights of talks. And while my stubborn side was saying “I have to do them”, my tired body and emotional mind were telling me otherwise.

So, after countless back and forths I realized that I did want to get better. And getting better meant taking it slow. Getting better, to use my past analogy, meant not just running out of the cave like everything is fine, but coming out gradually and letting yourself adjust.

And today I did just that. Today, at the last minute, a time when I feel the worst backing out, I said no. I said that I couldn’t do it. For my health I had to turn this one down. And it’s so hard! I do feel like I’m letting people down, I do feel like a slacker, I do have all these nasty words and thoughts creeping up to tell me that I’m doing the wrong thing. But I’m right. It is necessary to take things slow. It is necessary to take life one second at a time and listen to one’s body. Hopefully this time I will remember to read and listen to my own posts!

Best,

Linea

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November 22, 2010

Food and Coping

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , , — Linea @ 6:10 pm

photo by Linea JohnsonCoping with a mental illness is hard. Living with the thought that this is a life-long thing is painful. And sometimes, even when we are happy and “stable” we find ourselves trying to cope with this fact.

I am about to admit something big. I, as many of you readers know, am very open and honest with the public and even strangers, but this one is very hard for me. In my past I didn’t know what a mania was. In the depths of that hurricane, when everything was whirling around me I tried to find my own ways to cope. I found that my doctors kept giving me the wrong medications leading me to get sick or manic and I decided I would find ways to soothe it myself. So I tried alcohol. I tried drugs. I tried self-harm. And eventually I altered my relationship with food to an unhealthy place thinking that it made me feel better.

That was five years ago. But today, this month, I find myself struggling again. As you know from my last post I have hit a bump in this bipolar ride. I have at this point finally found a way out of the hurricane, but my coping habits have yet to return to normal. Today I once again find myself struggling on the line between disordered eating and an eating disorder.

Why is this the hardest thing for me to admit? Why do I hold such a stigma to this and not to my other symptoms and diagnoses? When I was young I didn’t understand eating disorders. I didn’t know that they were deeper and different things than vanity and our culture’s influence. Though these may play a part in my relationship with food it is something stronger. It is, as many people who are well-versed in ED know, much about control. Control of the changing climates of bipolar. It is also, for me, about punishment and anger. Punishment from an extreme perfectionist for not being able to “fix it” and anger for not being able to control my mood swings.

I find it very important to address eating disorders because I find these very misunderstood in our society. I feel that I am even hesitant to write about it because I still don’t fully understand the jargon, the reasons, and the power they hold. But I do find it crucial for us to have a conversation about healthy coping skills.

So here is what I am doing to try to find my way back to health: I am trying to take life one step at a time. I am trying to eat at least three meals  a day and sit with the anxiety that comes with this process. I find that even eating a slice of an apple is painful. I am trying to make a healthy schedule for my life so I can balance work and play. I am being open and honest with my family, my friends, and my medical team. I am using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) with positive self-talk and challenging the negative and illogical thoughts in my head. I am trying to breathe.

What healthy skills do you use when you feel your life is out of control? How do you take care of yourself when life is not treating you kindly?

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.

September 22, 2010

Community Engagement: How You Can Change a Mind

You may have read my last posts and thought, “I can advocate for myself, I can make a change, but where do I begin?” When I finally reached the point where I felt comfortable enough to step it up a notch I started writing, but as I became more confident in my ability to advocate for myself and share my story I started to use different forms of media and community engagement. Here are some of my favorite ways to reach out to my community and make a change in the mental health world. Don’t feel like you need to do it all at once, or ever, but doing just one thing can be healing for yourself and others.

Spread the Word: Start sharing your story in a bigger way. Blogging, Video-Blogging, Tweeting, or just interacting on a mental heath related social networking site (check out our BC2M Facebook page) can really make an impact. You are not only allowing yourself freedom and honesty, but you are showing others that it is okay to talk about these things. There are some great health blogging websites and communities out there that can help you to spread your story and educate the community. Here are some of my favorites:

· WellSphere: http://www.wellsphere.com/health-blogger

· WEGO Health: http://www.wegohealth.com/

Language surrounding mental health and mental illness can easily become stigmatizing, even unintentionally so be careful about the words you use. For a great guide on language check out these “Quick Tips to Improve Mental Health Reporting” or visit BC2M’s “Watch Your Language” bullet on the “Be Involved” page.

Volunteer: Many mental health websites and organizations are seeking volunteers. My involvement and volunteering with BringChange2Mind has changed my life in so many positive ways. The ability to help an organization that I believe in, the opportunity to share my voice, and the privilege of working with volunteers that I now consider family is healing and empowering. There are so many things you can do as a volunteer whether it is spreading information about an organization, helping as a peer, or responding to emails or help requests. Here are a few organizations with volunteer pages:

· Active Minds often has amazing Internship Opportunities.

· The Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) has a great page on Volunteer/Intern Opportunities as well as other ways to help.

· The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) often has volunteer positions in the regional offices in your area. Click this link to visit a map and find an affiliate in your area.

Take Action: It is important that you contact your state and national representatives to make sure that they are on the side of individuals struggling with mental health conditions. By taking action and contacting you representatives you can help organizations that you trust get the support they deserve as well as help change laws that may be harmful to the mental health community. Here are some great websites to help you take action:

These are just a few of the ways you can get involved in the growing movement to change the mental health world for the better. Don’t forget to visit BringChange2Mind’s great “Be Involved” page to learn more!

Next time: Empowerment: How my move from Acceptance to Advocacy has changed my life.

September 13, 2010

Heading off the Winter Blues, By Theresa Emerson

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 12:30 am

The Fall season and the approach of the holidays seem to trigger an influx of lows for me.  I have always been affected by the shorter days and lack of sunshine.  In fact, I used to joke that I’m solar powered and it turns out that that’s not far from the truth!

Many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and for me, it can be the first trigger of depression and anxiety.   Early on, before I had a good understanding of my mental health I fell victim to these depressive phases in my life, struggling through these cycles year after year.   Privately, I was constantly tired, not eating, cried easily and felt very alone fluctuating between apathy and high anxiety.  On the outside, I did my best to smile my way through these phases.  Unfortunately when one of these phases coincided with the timing of my divorce and the death of a dear friend and her son, I “crashed”.    When major life stressors occur during low phases, the end result can be emotionally devastating.

Through the help of a wonderful therapist and Zoloft, I was able to get back on my feet emotionally.   It took awhile to find the right medication, in fact Zoloft was my third medication and I gave each medication a fairly long trial period so the whole process seemed to take forever.

Ironically two months before her death, my friend  had given me a SAD light box to use and it has been a tremendous help to me.  I pull out my light and use it practically every morning from November through April.  I wake up, grab a cup of green tea, turn on the Today show and fire up my computer and sit in bed with my light shining on me from the bedside table.  It only takes about 20-30 mins a day for me to get the boost that I need.  On those mornings when I don’t have the time to sit next to my light, enjoying my cup of tea, I place the light on my bathroom vanity and it shines on me while I get ready for the day.   Another option is to place it on my kitchen counter right next to me while I prepare and have my breakfast.  All of these little opportunities offer valuable “light time”!

I also do my best to eat and drink healthily and I think that helps my emotional/mental health as well as my physical health.  My personal experience has been that when my body is struggling to process unhealthy foods, it increases feelings of fatigue.  And when you’re constantly fatigued, it’s easy to get down.  It can be a slippery slope.

There have been times over the years that I have had to go back on Zoloft.   Times when life’s circumstances create feelings of lows and anxiety that I find hard to control.  I now have a good sense of when I need to go back on medication and luckily am able to control my health through a very low dose.  My advice is to get to know your body, listen to it and try to recognize the triggers that affect your mental health.     It’s not a particularly easy or quick process but it is worth it!

Theresa Emerson

BringChange2Mind Volunteer

Blog at WordPress.com.

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