“Hope is like a bird that senses the dawn and carefully starts to sing while it is still dark.” – Author Unknown
What is a quote that makes you feel hopeful?
“Hope is like a bird that senses the dawn and carefully starts to sing while it is still dark.” – Author Unknown
What is a quote that makes you feel hopeful?
I spent my entire freshman year, at Syracuse University, walking the fine line between manic and psychotic. Finally it was too much for my brain to take and as Spring Break ended and my friends were returning to class rested and rejuvenated, I found myself staring at the blank walls of a hospital room.
I fought my way back to campus and my final three years at Syracuse were a mix of brief respites of joy and the endless pain of recovery and adjusting to a new life. When my friends were out partying or toiling away in the library, I was holed up in my dorm, fast asleep. The exhaustion from the readjustment was enough to knock me out, but more so than that I was watching my sleep habits carefully to make sure to avoid restless, manic nights. As much as I wanted to rejoice at making it back to campus, I couldn’t. My thought processes were considerably slower after my bipolar diagnosis and subsequent pharmaceutical regimen. It took me three hours to complete homework assignments and readings that would have taken me thirty minutes in the past.
I couldn’t bring myself to try and process any of the trauma of that fateful Spring semester. I did not yet have the words or the courage to express how I was feeling – even to my closest friends and mentors. It was a lonely time for me. I was trapped in my own head and couldn’t see beyond my reality of the moment. I had yet to see any college students step forward and say “I have a mental illness. This is my struggle. Look at how I’m thriving.” The only examples I had to look to were the adults with whom I shared an inpatient stay – hardly a comfort.
My last visit to Syracuse in Fall of 2009 brought up many painful memories. Walking around campus meant retracing my footsteps on a journey that I don’t look back on with pride. I still have vivid flashbacks of manic conversations. I remember things I said that I can’t believe. I remember actions I took that shock me. You would think that with all that pain, I wouldn’t want to come back. Thankfully, those memories aren’t all that remain.
I’m just getting home from my most recent trip up to Syracuse. I had the opportunity to visit with the mentors that I’ve kept in touch with over the years, my extended family that supported me even when I didn’t know how to ask for their help, and the wonderful friends I made along the way. The amazing thing about when you are made vulnerable by circumstances beyond your control is that it invites those around you to draw near. Even now, I am so open about my struggles not only to set a positive example for those who are facing similar adversities, but also because it fosters a connection with people that I have yet to replicate any other way.
For those of you of you out there who haven’t been able to disclose your illness to people around you, just know that for all the stigma and misunderstanding there is also hope and love. I still hold on to the painful memories, the anxiety that they bring, and the shame I can’t seem to leave behind. I know one day I’ll have to shed that weight if I’m going to grow into the person I want to be, but in the meantime it helps to have the bright spots too. I’m so incredibly grateful for the people that have remained in my life and seen me through my highest highs and my lowest lows. I’m so thankful for what remains.
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.
“As anyone who has been close to someone that has committed suicide knows, there is no other pain like that felt after the incident” ~ Peter Greene
Most of you probably know this, but for those who don’t, tomorrow (Friday, September 10th) is World Suicide Prevention Day. In fact, all this week – from September 6th – 11th – is National Suicide Prevention Week. Why should we make a whole day out of suicide prevention? Wait, a better question is why should there be a week dedicated to suicide? Here’s why…
Now that I’ve laid out the facts for you, here’s how you can help yourself, a family member, friend, or even a complete stranger in need. I encourage you to read the details of each step on Take 5 to Save Lives, a campaign produced by the National Council for Suicide Prevention:
For a list of additional resources, I urge you to go to the Find Help page on our website If you know of anymore resources, I encourage you to use the comment section to educate other people about them.
Remember, when a family member or friend reaches out to you for help, you should always be there for them. The fact that they are trying to get your attention means they really need a helping hand. Help yourself, and them, by learning the signs and joining the movement. During Suicide Prevention Week, take it upon yourself to spend 5 minutes learning how you can help someone who is in need.
Also, be aware of your surroundings and the people you regularly pass in the hallways of your school or office, the courtyard on your campus, or the cashier at your local coffee shop or grocery store. You never know when you might meet someone showing signs of depression or suicidal ideations. These tips can – and, at some point, will – come in handy. We owe it to each other to live life with our eyes wide open, ensuring that everyone we meet has someone to talk to.
“Life is over rated.” I made that off the cuff comment one cold morning as I traveled to a local ski hill. It became a phrase we would jokingly use at my law firm when a file went astray. Little did I know that in time, I believed it.
For me, life in my 20s was wonderful. I did well in school, then at work. I was optimistic. Life was easy. When my 30s rolled around, personal challenges surfaced.
My father died in 1992, at age 59. I come from a close family. My everyday life changed after his death. Depression moved in and the pressures of life became overwhelming.
I thought I could handle my own difficulties and just kept trying to get through each ugly day. As a lawyer, I solve other people’s problems. I don’t ask for help, people ask me.
Life had become a series of bad moments and bad days, leading to worse months and years.
I withdrew from my friends, classmates from university. In London, we had all been foreign students and we became very close. After graduating, we kept in touch, sharing holidays, weddings and anniversaries. I shut down those relationships.
Tears occurred daily as I drove to the office. I would collect myself in the parking lot, walk in and work all day. Pretending to be fine was exhausting.
Insomnia took hold. During the week, I slept two or three hours a night. By the weekend, I would collapse. This routine went on for years. I hated life so much, I stayed awake to delay the next morning’s arrival.
My last relationship was shortchanged. As my self-worth eroded, I couldn’t commit to a trip or even dinner the next night. I thought I did not deserve to be happy and slowly cut off contact. Looking back, she may have been “the one.”
Then life got even worse. I was diagnosed on March 7, 2003, with depression. I was suspended by the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society on March 11. I had a breakdown on March 11-12. Not my best week.
I had no disciplinary history in 18 years of practice. The crux of the 2003 complaint did not involve a client. I had found a house, isolated from the world. Its driveway was over a mile long. No neighbors. I thought if I could get this house, I could hide, breathe. In my struggle to survive, I acted as my own lawyer and I made improper decisions. Depression twisted my mind making logical thought difficult.
My family provided strong support such that I felt protected and safe. They were simply wonderful. My mother, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew saved me.
The Bar Society was even helpful. John Merrick the Society Chair, said, “I need say no more, but Keith go home and get well.” They understood the devastating role depression had played. They also provided a list of psychologists.
I had never been to therapy before, but the floodgates opened and out flowed my life. I attended therapy weekly for two years. It became the highlight of my week.
So getting healthy took the support and understanding of my family, my psychologist, and the Bar Society. But I also worked hard as well, and a series of small steps lead to major accomplishments.
I would go to a favorite restaurant, get take out and eat in my vehicle in the back parking area. After awhile, I moved to the front parking lot. Then one day, six months later, I ate inside.
This is actually a happy story. Getting suspended was a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, it was still devastating. But it removed me from an unhealthy workplace Being diagnosed with depression was a relief. I then knew I had a mental illness.
Before the diagnosis, one solution that I often considered was a late night canoe trip on the lake in front of my house with no return. The events of March 2003 were certainly a better option.
I lived off my savings for a few years but now I have no house, no vehicles, no money. Life is good though. To focus on what I don’t have is not fair to what I do have. I have my good health. I have my family. I can read a book. I sleep well. I have learned how to be happy again.
Life is not over rated, it is wonderful, once again.
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 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!)
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of nineteen. At that point in my life a diagnosis was like being given a life sentence. I felt terrified, ashamed, and most of all, utterly alone. I felt that suddenly everything was wrong with me and that I was the only one going through this. Though I had wonderfully supportive family and friends, I thought that the only person I would be able to discuss this with was myself. Just me, scared and alone, in my own head.
Since then life has changed drastically. Five years later, having been stable for the last three, I was invited to attend the Fountain House Symposium and Luncheon: Visions and Voices, Understanding and Treating Psychosis; New Research, New Hope at New York City’s Pierre Hotel. On Monday May 3rd, almost four years to the day of my first hospitalization, I was sitting with the Close family (Glenn and Jessie Close and Calen Pick), Nancy Evans, Executive Director of BringChange2Mind, Rosalynn Carter, author, activist, and former first lady, and Kenneth Dudek, President of Fountain House. Having spent many years hiding my illness I was suddenly at a table full of friends and people who “get me”, who “get it”. I was sitting at a table full of people with much larger resumes, bigger titles, and more impressive histories, and yet because of our shared understanding of mental illness we were all equal. We all understood one another. These are people who understand what it means to be psychotic, depressed, bipolar, etc. without even asking.
The event addressed never-ending hope through education, research, and personal stories. It provided infinite hope through community, courage, and love. The event began with the Symposium in which a panel of psychiatrists discussed psychosis. On the panel were Beth Baxter, MD, Donald C. Goff, MD and Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD. Each panelist shared their own thoughts on psychosis before the Master of Ceremonies, Consuelo Mack, asked more individualized questions. We heard about the newest discoveries in research and the importance of early diagnosis and intervention. We heard Dr. Baxter’s personal story as a psychiatrist who also has schizo-affective disorder. And we heard the importance of sharing stories and the importance of research in the battle against stigma and discrimination.
After the panel the BringChange2Mind PSA and accompanying videos were played and Glenn Close was given the 2010 Humanitarian Award. Glenn’s speech was extremely powerful as she reminded us of the importance of saying the stigmatized words in order to take away their power. For example, it is important for me to say, “I have bipolar disorder” not simply “I have a mental illness”. After a short speech Glenn asked Jessie and Calen to come to the stage to share the award. Their speeches were moving and powerful and once again reminded me that I am not alone. They reminded me that 1 in 6 people have a mental illness, yet few are willing to talk about it.
Attending the Fountain House Luncheon renewed my drive and once again inspired me to share hope for all those afraid to share their own stories. I never want another person to go through the pain of feeling alone in their illness. Things are changing and I am so lucky to have been able to see it first hand at this wonderful event. We are going to change the world.
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