BringChange2Mind

March 11, 2011

Eight Years Ago, By Keith Anderson

Filed under: Guest Blog, Story — Tags: , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 10:20 am

Eight years ago this week my life came undone. On March 7, 2003, I was diagnosed with depression. On March 11, 2003, I was suspended by the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. On March 11-12, 2003, I had a mental breakdown. Devastation all around. Not my best week.

The file that lead to my being suspended was my own personal file. No clients were involved, I was the client and also the lawyer.  I had found a house, hidden from the world, a mile long driveway, no neighbours for miles, located on a lake. My getting that house meant my survival, I too wanted to hide from the world as my depression was taking control.

The Bar Society recognized that the wrong and improper decisions I made to purchase the house were governed by my depression. In 18 years of practice, I had no disciplinary history. All parties understood that something had gone wrong in my life.

As we all know from watching Law & Order and other legal programs, lawyers work in an adversarial system. I had a lawyer, Guy Lafosse, and the Bar Society had a lawyer, Alan Stern. They each worked and ‘fought” to attain the best results for their clients. Thus, Mr. Stern’s job was to see me removed from the practice of law. After much discussions, we all agreed on a suspension and that I need to be healthy to return.  The Bar Committee Chair told me to go home and get healthy. I held onto those words for years.

A couple of years ago, the Bar Society asked me to write a first person account of my depression, its impact on my life, and my recovery. It appeared in The Society Record, a monthly magazine distributed to all lawyers in Nova Scotia. I included my email address at the end of the article as I always do. I received emails from about 20 lawyers, some of whom I knew, others I did not. All very supportive and a couple even shared their story of depression. To read their stories, from other lawyers, I felt that I was not alone.

But one email took my breath away. Alan Stern’s name appeared in my inbox. I opened it, and read:

“ I just read your article in the Society Record. Thank you for having the courage and taking the time to tell others about what happened to you. One of the facts relating to your real estate practice that stood out to me at the time was how well all of your files were organized. My obvious conclusion was that you were a highly competent real estate practitioner. Over the years I have provided advice to individuals on reinstatement…and should you need such advice I would be pleased to talk with you ( at no charge of course) Sincerely, Alan”

Unexpected words from an unexpected source. Tears of joy for a moment.

Here was the lawyer, the person, who wanted me out now offering to help me get back in.

I have met Alan ( we are now on a first name basis !)  several  times. We have spent afternoons together. We have discussed mental health, my volunteer work, exchanged some legal gossip, and gotten to know each other  both on a personal and professional basis. He is quite impressed with the work of BringChange2Mind.

We are now working on my application to return to practicing status. The Bar Society is also interested in seeing me return. My personal circle was completed a few years once I was healthy. This will complete the professional circle.

The Bar Society understood mental illness. Alan Stern understood mental illness. So, one never knows from where understanding, support, and true assistance may be found.  It has all provided me with a sense of acceptance and a level of redemption. I have gotten hope from within myself  and from others,  from people I didn’t expect. Life presents itself in strange but wonderful ways.

 

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February 18, 2011

Returning

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , , — Linea @ 6:12 pm

The topic of today’s blog is about returning. Many of you may have noticed that I have disappeared from the world of computers, Facebook, and blogs. For health reasons I have needed to step back and take care of myself. But now I am back. Now it is time to talk about that very tricky act of returning after a mental health leave.

The act of returning is a mixed feeling, one of excitement, one of hesitation, one of “am I ready?” and sometimes one of pride. Returning to the world, whether it is the world of work or the world of friends is something fragile, scary, and intimidating. Though sharing our story of ill health after this leave may not be necessary, taking our time and energy to reemerge  into a past existence and those necessary life responsibilities is many times essential

So how do we do this you ask? How do we re-enter the world after it has crumbled at our feet? Do you tell your story or not? Co-workers, families, and friends may have missed you, become worried, become mad. How do you take care of yourself when you are so far behind in your responsibilities but have to catch up? I don’t have the universal answer to these questions but I do have my own experience. Perhaps sharing some of my own story will inspire you to reconnect yourself. Perhaps some of it will spark your own ideas about returning that you will hopefully share in our comments section.

So here is my path…I have disappeared for almost three months due to a severe depression and eating disorder. These are things that I’ve dealt with before but still remain difficult. This disclosure is not something that everyone should have to share and when asked, a mere, “I was dealing with some health issues that I would rather not discuss, but I am slowly getting better” will suffice. This has often times been my answer, but with close family and friends it is different. For them I tell the truth. However, even your closest friends may not fully grasp your struggles. For them I simply ask for support of my decisions. They may not agree, but it is my struggle and if they care they will stand beside my choices and intelligent attempt to seek what’s best for me.

The second struggle I am experiencing is getting back to my old responsibilities and work load while simultaneously taking care of my needs. This is something I have yet to master. How do I reemerge into such a busy life? How do I step back into relationships? Even the small things, like using Facebook feel overwhelming and exhausting. This is something I have to take one step at a time. I remember years ago when I was really sick for the first time someone told me to take things one step at a time. My wise grandma clarified however, saying some days you have to take minute by minute, but some days you have to take second by second. When getting out of bed in the morning feels like a second by second job, Facebook becomes minute by minute.

I am taking my time. Returning takes a lot of breaks and lots of time to breathe, sit and meditate. Re-emerging is like stepping out of a cave into the sun. Stunning yet blinding. But slowly I am adjusting, slowing I am emerging.

How do you return after a health crisis? What tricks have you or a loved one learned?

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 9, 2010

Take 5 Minutes to Educate Yourself (and Others)

“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

From Take5toSaveLives.com

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…

  • 11: suicide is the 11th cause of death for all Americans in 2007*
  • 34,000+: the number of people took their own lives in 2007
  • 1 in 15: in 2007, 1 suicide occurred every 15 minutes
  • 376,306: the number of people treated in Emergency Departments for intentional, nonfatal self-inflicted injuries in 2008
  • ~1,100: approximately 1,100 college students took their own lives on campuses across the country
  • 2: suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among 25-34 year olds

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:

  1. Learn the signs**
  2. Join the movement
  3. Spread the word (via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  4. Support a friend
  5. Reach out

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.

*Statistics were found on a PDF from the CDC’s website | **Steps were found on Take 5 to Save Lives

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.

May 30, 2010

Life is Over Rated, by Keith Anderson

Filed under: Story — Tags: , , , , , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 7:20 pm

Keith Anderson

“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.

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