BringChange2Mind

September 28, 2010

New Regular Blogger! Please Welcome Marc…

Marc

Hello fellow BC2Mers! My name is Marc Peters and I’m honored to be joining as a blog contributor. I wanted to take an opportunity to introduce myself and tell you why I’m invested in this important cause.

I’m a graduate student at the Clinton School of Public Service, but for the year prior to my graduate work, I worked as a mental health advocate. However, long before that and all the jobs and degrees to come, I’m a bipolar patient.

During my freshman year of college, I had a psychotic breakdown. I ended up spending a month in a mental hospital and months in outpatient treatment, eventually being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Afterward, I was a shattered version of my former self. I wasn’t sure where to go from there or, honestly, if I could go on. I realize that in hindsight, it would have been easy to quit. I could have stayed on medical leave indefinitely. I’m not sure what made me think that what was waiting for me on campus made it worth going back.

Like many other colleges and universities, at my school there was a real lack of understanding about mental illness. I could have transferred to a school closer to my safety net of family and doctors and further away from judgmental students who bought into the stigma tied to mental illness. I decided, however, that I did not want to let my disorder rob me of anything. I wanted the college experience that I planned on and that meant staying at Syracuse University.  Even with understanding people around me, it took a couple of years before I began to feel comfortable talking about what had happened with anyone other than my doctor.

Given my lack of comfort with the subject and my ignorance of any world of mental health beyond my own, I never thought that this would be an issue around which I would center my advocacy. While in college, I jumped from one ambition to the next. From journalist or policymaker, to taking on issues of gender equality to working against systemic racism – there wasn’t a job I didn’t consider or a worthy cause I didn’t care about.  Even after the psychotic break that so jarred my world, I still returned to my favorite causes. I just moved on, wishing, hoping and praying that my classmates would begin to forget that it ever happened. Considering I was hiding, I certainly wasn’t going to work to raise awareness about mental health on campus.

I came out of hiding when I started a personal blog about mental health: www.bipolarrealities.com and went even further by working at Active Minds. However, full-time advocacy just wasn’t sustainable for me. It was too close to home. It’s impossible (for me anyway) to deal with mental health every day, both at work and in my personal life. When I went through bouts of severe depression that led me to be suicidal, the last thing I wanted to do was to advocate. When I could barely make it out of bed, I didn’t want to be reading about other people’s struggles with depression. It was too much.

I think groups like BC2M are important because we need people who just simply care to join voices with people with mental health disorders and become an effective team to advocate for change. Sometimes it just hurts too much for me to talk about. I need you to speak up because sometimes I just can’t. If we all take a little bit of the load, it won’t get overwhelming for any one of us. I’m glad that you are checking this site out and I’m thrilled that I will get a chance to connect with you every week, but I need you to do more. I need you to get involved.

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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

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 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 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.

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!)

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