10 Good Things About Having A Mental Illness

We hear so much about the negative side of having a mental illness, all of the stuff that can go wrong, the medication changes, the medication side effects, etc. Sure, that’s all part of it, but there’s so much more to it. Just as we are NOT our illness, these negative parts are NOT the whole of the illness either. There is so much good that can be accomplished as a result of having a mental illness…here are just a few.

1. Life is NEVER boring! There is always something going on (be it bad or good). It makes for an interesting life.
2. It can open doors you never thought existed. For example, I have been given many opportunities to help shape national and local legislation that have greatly benefited mental health care and mental health education.
3. There is an increased capacity/ability (even responsibility) to help others. Through sharing my story, starting support groups and even writing this blog, I am able to help others. That knowledge of not being alone in your mental illness is huge.
4. It can enhance your creativity. I never thought of myself as particularly creative, but it has been brought to my attention that I am. I create stained glass pieces, do photography and write, all of which take some degree of creativity. I am currently working on a stained glass depiction of Bipolar Disorder. When it’s done, I’ll post it to see what you think.
5. We have a very different outlook on the world. I know a lot of people see different as a negative thing, but I don’t. It is our way of thinking and seeing things that can bring about change. Change can be good.
6. You find out who your true friends are. You may lose a few friends or many along this journey. Those that leave are not bad/weak people. They just knew they may not have been able to handle it and be the support that you needed. The ones that remain are the ones worth keeping. Their bond is stronger than steel.
7. Once you’ve become more familiar with your illness, you don’t have to be enslaved by it. You can build on your strengths…knowledge is key. For instance, I have been able to use my education background to work with at-risk youth (elementary – high school) in my local school districts. Since i can empathize with these students, I am able to help them achieve academic goals. I’m also able to help them cope with what they are going through. As many teachers will tell you, we’re not just teachers. We are counselors, friends, sudo-parents, the list goes on and on.
8. It can strengthen a family. It does not have to be a death sentence to the family unit. I know this is not always the case. For me, it was very touch and go in the beginning for my family before education and understanding kicked in. It was an extremely difficult (to say the least) time and at times, made my illness worse. In the end, what has come out of it is an incredible family bond. They may still not fully understand everything that I go through, but they don’t have to. They love and support me. That is all I need.
9. It doesn’t have to be a disability that prevents you from doing what you love or have to do. In my case, I am a credentialed teacher. I know that being in a classroom of 30-40 students is just too overwhelming for me. So, the classroom isn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work in education. I have been working with my local districts as a Home Hospital Tutor for those students that can’t go on campus due to illness or are not allowed on campus. It’s one on one teaching. It presents it’s own challenges, but I’m still in the field of teaching. Find your strengths and make them work for you.
10. What is your #10 good thing about having a mental illness? I would like to hear it from you.

Should mental health disorders be treated with medications?

I know this something many, if not all of us, have had to deal with…the medication vs natural remedy question. This post was just spot on!

Shedding Light on Mental Illness

Pillspills

I did not realize it but there is a population of people out there who do not believe mental disorders are illnesses. They don’t believe in the “disease model” for mental health issues and believe people should not be treated with medications. When I heard this I wondered what makes a disorder worthy of an illness label? And why wouldn’t there be something wrong with the brain if you had a psychotic episode?

Some people actually believe a psychotic episode is a “normal” response to certain life events. They also believe most people would do better without anti-psychotics than with them on board.

And then there is the evil empire pharmaceutical industry theory, which says pharma pays big bucks for drugs to be developed and approved so they can make profits, as if the sole purpose for all the scientific work is some preconceived conspiracy. Pharmaceutical companies did not create…

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Just One Question

What is the best experience you’ve have had since you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness?

We always hear about the negative side of mental illness.  What went wrong in our lives.  What bad things we did.  I want to focus on the good.  There is a good side to these illnesses.  As much as can go wrong, so much good can be gained from them.  So, yes, even I will start with the bad, but only emphasize the good the has happened.

For me, I would have to say my good experience has been finding my courage and my voice.  For some reason, after my diagnosis I really started to see, unfortunately first hand, how those of us with a mental illness can be so mistreated and feared.  I lost friends of my children because the parents didn’t understand.  I lost out on jobs.  I was treated just appallingly in ER’s when I would try to seek help.  I almost lost my family due to lack of education and understanding of my illness. 

It did take a few years of hiding (and I was very good at hiding), but I finally found my strength.  I finally started to see that having Bipolar Disorder was not necessarily the end of me.  It didn’t have to be that way.  I could change that.  I thought, if I could change my view of the illness, well then why couldn’t I help other people change theirs?  So, I began to share my story.  This was one of the most nerve racking experiences of my life.  I had no idea how it would be received.  I was surprised to find the amount of support that I did.  Yes, there were the occasional ignorant comments, but I learned to just ignore those.  There more positive reactions to my story than I ever thought possible.  I had people come up to me that had lost someone to suicide and thank me for sharing.  They said my story helped them gain a glimpse into what their loved one may have been going through.  It gave them a little bit of understanding and said it would help them in their healing process.  That was HUGE for me.  I had no idea my story could do that for someone.  The more people came up to me, the more I knew that what I was doing was making a difference.  I remember sharing my story at a military base.  For some reason, I was just more nervous than usual that day.  After I was done, a soldier pulled me aside and told me that he had been feeling suicidal.  He hadn’t said anything to anyone because he didn’t think they’d understand and he thought he was alone in this.  After hearing me speak, he realized that he wasn’t alone and wanted to get help.  We talked for a bit.  I gave him my number in case he ever found himself in that place again and needed to talk to someone who had been there.  I also gave him some resources he could go to off base.  I saw him at another event later in the year and he told me that he was getting help and really felt like he was going to make it.  Again, the power of sharing your story is amazing.  I was almost so nervous that day that I didn’t get up and speak.  I am so thankful that I did.

So, it’s not just through sharing my story that I have found confidence, I have also found confidence and a voice in working with my legislators, both local and national.  I feel as though Congress is just now starting to understand the severity of the mental health care situation.  They just lack the first hand knowledge of it to really know if any of the bills they are proposing will work in the real world.  So, I am more than happy to meet with them, share my story, my experiences, those experiences of others (with permission) to inform them, to help shape legislation.  If you would have told me about 10 years ago that I’d get such a high because I had a personal meeting with a congressional member, I would have said “You must be smoking wacky weed”.  I never really had much interest or faith in politics, but I’ve seen first hand what the power of a story and a voice can do.  It is possible to make a difference on a legislative level.  Sure, you’ll run into the ones that are only out to make a name for themselves and really don’t care about the subject, but there are those gems that do care.  They may still be out to make a name for themselves, but in the end as long as the right legislation is passed…well it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.

I would really like to hear from you on this post.  I want to start a positive chain of events for mental illness.  People need to see and hear about the good that is being achieved by through those of us with mental illness.  Let’s stop dwelling on the negative and start focusing on the positive and what we can do.

Thank you!

 

A Little Help From Your Friends

As you know, a great support system is key in the recovery process. This support system can be made of anyone special to you: family, friends, support group members, work-out buddies, anyone you share common interests with… You don’t have to divulge your deepest, darkest secrets in order for them to be an effective support system (sometimes saying too much can be counter- productive). They just have to be sympathetic, understanding (as best they can), willing to listen and just plain be there for you. However, it is vitally important that your support system consists of more than one person. You don’t want to overwhelm anyone.

For some, finding this system of caring people is a daunting task as trust may be an issue. It can be difficult to trust someone with your feelings, experiences, and thoughts. For me, that’s what a therapist is for. One of my support systems is a group of friends I’ve known for a few years. We met through suicide prevention work (common interest). With them, I don’t have to say a thing. They just seem to know. One friend in particular (and I’m sure she already knows who I’m talking about) always seems to know when I’m having a bad episode. She simply sends me a text that says “I love you. Let’s talk when you’re ready.” When I’m ready… That is so important. No one is forcing me into a conversation I’m not ready to have. This is another key component of a good support system. They do a “check-in” just to let me know that I’m not alone and they are there for me. Obviously there will be times when exceptions to this will need to be made, like times of crisis.

It’s good to rely on your friends, but be sure you’re not overdoing it. Sometimes we tend to overshare and friends or loved ones just are not always equipped to handle this. Maybe for a short time they can, but after awhile it can and will take its toll on a person. Make sure your conversations are not always centered around your mental illness. Also, be sure to ask about them. Don’t always make it about you.

I may not be saying anything you don’t already know, but I feel it’s important. I think it comes with the territory of having a mental illness that we may lose friends. So when we have friends that are willing to step up and be a part of our valuable support system, we should tread lightly and slowly. Ease them in to it so to speak. Just remember that as excruciating as some of our battles can be, their understanding of these things will be difficult and frustrating for them at times.

So, when the Beatles said “I get by with a little help from my friends”, they had no idea how right they were.

Anderson takes part in an experiment to help understand how people live with mental illness

Anderson Cooper 360

Mental illness often makes headlines after tragedies like last week’s deadly shooting at Seattle Pacific University. A number of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, can cause auditory hallucinations. It’s important to know that only a tiny number of people who hear voices engage in violence of any kind. Anderson took part in an experiment to help people understand how others live with mental illness experience everyday. Anderson wore headphones that simulate hearing voices while trying to do everything from puzzles to simply interacting with people in the street.

Clinical psychologist Pat Deegan designed the experiment. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager.

[cnn-video url=http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2014/06/10/ac-deegan-on-schizophrenia-experiment.cnn.html]

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Tired Talk of Better Days

We talk of better days.  The days when the right medication combination will be found and level out the roller coaster that has become our life.  We dream of a time when the mania won’t be as out of control and the depression won’t be as dark and all consuming.  I have a constant mantra: “Tomorrow will be better”, but will it?  How do I know?  It’s a constant faith in an uncertain future that I cling to.  I would be willing to bet that I’m not alone in that.

So, off we go to our numerous doctor’s appointments and bear our souls in the hopes that it will help.  Everyday we take our medication in that same hope that there will be improvement.  What do we do when medication and doctors aren’t enough?  Well, some blog it out, others try the natural route and still others do more.  We try everything just to be able to have a somewhat, dare I say it, “normal” existence.  We strive for “normal”, but does that even really exist?  Maybe we should just be content with where we are.

The more I talk about when I get “better”, the more it depresses me.  It depresses me because I really don’t think it’s possible.  I think stability is possible, but to be “better”?  No.  Even stability doesn’t always last.  I just enjoy it while it lasts and wait for the next time it decides to grace my presence.  The “better days” that I think most of us long for has to do with our “old selves”.  It’s been a tough journey to accept this, but I don’t think my old self will ever return.  I have been forever changed by the Bipolar and not necessarily in a bad way, just an altered way.  As I’ve said in other posts, it’s opened many doors for me and provided me with many opportunities to help others.  It many ways, I think it has made me a better (oh, there’s that word again) person.  I have my moments when I’m not so nice, but for the most part it has opened my heart to others.  This, unfortunately, has caused me some pain (and yes I did blog about one occasion), but through that pain I learn.  

So, maybe the “better days” we speak of are actually here.  Perhaps “better” isn’t the right word.  I think “different” may be more appropriate because each day isn’t necessarily a good one, but it has the potential to be.  We survive the horrible days to come out the other side stronger because of them.  

When is it time to give up?

Now, I don’t mean “give up” as in the final sense.  All of us that have a mental illness know others that also have mental illnesses.  We are a support system for each other.  We’ve been to those dark places.  We can understand what each other is going through.  So, when a friend comes to you in crisis, what do you do?  You help.  You do whatever you can to make sure that your friend sees the next day.  You stay up all night with them, listening to them, offer advice, but mostly listen.  You take them to the ER (if that’s what is needed) and stay with them ALL night while you wait desperately for a psych bed to open up somewhere in the state.  When you’re sent home because there are no beds anywhere in the state, you begin the caretaker role.  This can last days, weeks,  sometimes months.

At what point do you say enough is enough?  Or do you?  I don’t ask these questions to come off as callous, but from experience…experience I would venture to guess we’ve all had at one point.  I don’t want to go into too many details about my most recent experience with this out of respect for my friend, let’s call her “C”.  Let’s say that I was basically “C’s” caretaker for quite a few months.  There were many, many late nights, hospital runs, phone calls, texts, etc.  It was too the point that it started to effect my own mental health.  I didn’t feel as though I could stop helping “C”, but I could feel myself slipping into depression, one I was afraid that I wouldn’t recover from.  When she was finally able to find a psych bed and get some proper help, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  I had a good 10 days uninterrupted with my family again.  In trying to keep “C” alive, I felt like I had neglected my family, not completely.  I just wasn’t fully present.

So, I’m going to answer the question I’ve been asking…some may agree and some may not.  In the case of “C”, I did not give up.  However, had I to do it all over again, I think I might.  She did have other people that she could have gone to, but she wanted me because she and I have the same illness.  By helping her, it took me away from my family and it very nearly sent me to the hospital myself.  It was extremely stressful and emotionally draining.  I know some people will say that we should never give up on another human being and use to feel the same way.  When it comes to your own health and safety, you must put yourself first.  If she hadn’t been admitted to the hospital, I was already at the point of giving up knowing I had done all that I could do to help her.  So know that you are not being selfish for telling someone, “I’m sorry, but this is just too much for me.  Let’s find you someone else that can help.”

 

How Many Tattoos Do You Have?

Image

As of today, I have five.  Do I regret any of them?  No!  I’m fairly certain that I was in a manic state for most, if not all of them.  Somehow, I was able to find good tattoo artists and create tattoos that had meaning for me.  My latest one (in the picture), probably has the most meaning for me.  Well, besides the one I have with the names of my children.  That one is very special to me.  The one I posted here represents my journey/battles (I hate to use the word struggle.) with Bipolar Disorder.  The Phoenix represents the disorder pulling me in one direction.  The anchor wrapped around a cracking heart represents my family being a grounding force for me.  The cracking heart is me.  Being pulled in so many directions on a constant basis has me cracking at the seams, but NOT breaking.  This is also my first visible tattoo.  So, it is a conversation starter and that was intentional.  Whenever people see a tattoo, they want to know the meaning behind it.  I’m more than happy to tell them.  Hey, once you’ve shared your story with a couple thousand people, one or two is no big deal.  So far, the responses have been fairly positive.  Like, “I have that too”, “I have depression”, “I lost someone to suicide”.  I know an unfavorable will occur at some point.  I need to prepare myself for that.  Maybe I’ll just chalk it up to ignorance and use it as learning experience for that person.  Who knows?

I do have a funny story about my first tattoo.  It sort of sounds like a joke… It’s starts off with seven drunk housewives walk into a tattoo parlor…  I kid you not!  Some friends I’ve had for many, many years and I were having some drinks before we went in to see a movie.  Well, we got to talking and the subject of getting a tatto came up.  I pretty sure I brought it up.  So, we went.  Don’t worry, the sober housewife drove.  Up to that point, it was one of the craziest, most impulsive things I had ever done.  (Unfortunately, other shenanigans have followed throughout the years.)  It was also the most amazingly fun time we had together.  It was a great bonding experience that we still talk about to this day over a decade later.

So, my questions to you are:  If you have any tattoos, did you get them in a manic state?  Do you regret any of them?  Would you be willing to share your experience, picture of the tattoo, etc?  I would love to hear from you.

“Be Brave with your Life”

Okay, I can’t take credit for the title of this blog.  It’s an anonymous quote I found on Pinterest.  That being said, it just spoke to me.  “Be Brave with your Life”!  Imagine if we all took that to heart, just imagine the things we could accomplish.  So many people when they first receive their diagnosis of Bipolar, Major Depression, Schizophrenia, whatever it is tend to go straight to the “Why me?” stage and immediately start to play the victim.  Now I’m not saying that’s everyone, so please don’t think that.

I know for me, when I heard the words Bipolar and GAD, I was a bit relieved. I finally knew what was going on with me, however, I was not ready to shout it from the roof tops.  I knew the diagnoses as did my husband, but I was NOT ready to admit them to anyone else.  This is a bit of the victim part I was writing about. I was afraid of what others would say or do, how they would treat me, would they still want to be around me and be my friends?  It took a few years for me to be open with friends and family.  I found that once I discovered my courage and was “Brave with my Life”, that a whole new world opened up to me.  A world where I willingly told my story to others and it actually helped them.  A world where I found others like me and we have become life long friends.  A world where my voice can make and has made a difference.

I feel like I’m babbling a bit in this post, but I just want people to make the most of their lives. So we have a mental illness, it can be an incredible strength for good if you let it. There is so much more that we can do than we can’t. I say focus on what you can do, want to do and do it well. Don’t let the “stigma” be a deterrent. Use it as a driving force to show the world how great we are. When you see bad portrayals of people with mental illness played out in the media, write them and educate them. When you hear about a bill that you feel will do more harm than good, write your Congressional leaders. Let them know. When you hear someone making a joke about mental illness, correct them. Let them know that it’s not okay. Even if the person making the joke has a mental illness, it’s still not okay.

Okay, I feel like I’ve been on my soapbox long enough. Just be brave with your life. You can accomplish so much!