The Masks We Wear

When people first meet me, they don’t see the darkness that lurks deep inside my brain.  They don’t see the constant battle I am fighting with myself.  They don’t see how much I hurt.  They’ll never really see the pain I feel inside.  Why?  Because I have a “mask” for every occasion.  We all have them and wear them.

When people meet me, they see the persona of me.  They see the confident/talented glass artist.  They see the activist.  They see the teacher.  They see the wife, mother, and family caretaker.  They see what I want them to see…to some extent.  There are a select few that I have allowed into my inner sanctum and they are allowed to see just below the cracks, but only just below.  Nobody is allowed to get too close.  I fear if anyone truly knew the darkness that surrounded me, they run away.  I wouldn’t blame them.

So, when I wake up, I put on the day’s mask.  Oh, it gets exhausting.  The cracks in my facade to begin to show from time to time, but no one really notices.  I suppose that’s okay.  I mean…how much do we really know about the people in our lives.  We really only know what they choose to reveal to us.  Whether they have a mental illness or not.  Through a mental illness into the mix and it gets a little more complicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my life or the people in it.  I have a very close-knit group of friends and a family that loves me.  They all do the best they can with me with the information I reveal to them.  I do try to let people in more and more, but that’s a scary proposition for me.  It’s a vulnerable position to be in.  I suppose to truly care for and understand someone you have to let them in all the way, not just part way.  I’ve always said that I was a work in progress.  I guess I still am.

Heroes or Ghosts

Heroes or Ghosts…the people we look up admire most.  Is it time to let go?  I’ve been a fan of U2 for over 30 years.  It’s all I’ve ever known.  They have been the soundtrack to my life.  Maybe it’s time to start a new soundtrack.  There was a HUGE fiasco with purchasing tickets for their new tour.  Many long time fans were left out and ticket touts won, yet again, despite “efforts” to stop them.  As fans were forced to renew fanclub subscriptions early just to get presale codes, tickets were still on the secondary market within minutes at inflated prices.  Also, many of those lifelong fans didn’t even receive codes.  And what did the band do?  Nothing.  What did the band say to their fans that gave them their great life?  Nothing.

For a band that prided themselves on truly caring for their fans,  the silence was excruciatingly deafening.  It shattered my rose colored world and many others as well.  Perhaps they’ve gone the way of corporate (something they swore they’d never do). Perhaps they’ve just given up since Paul McGuiness left. Ever since this shift in management to Maverick (Guy O’Seary….aka Sleazy Car Salesmen), they’ve never been the same.  The music has remained great, but the soul has definitely left the building.  I don’t think their heart is in it anymore.

For someone like me, with Bipolar Disorder, their music has been a haven for me.  Their concerts have transported me out of my chaotic mind.  They have been a respite for my turbulent world.   I know they are just four men, nothing grandiose about them.  They just happen to play the best music I’ve heard and became famous for it.  They have lives and families like everyone else.  The take away from all of this?  Be careful of your level of admiration for anyone.  Someday they might do something and that fall from “grace” can really throw you.  I never thought this day would come.  37 years I have been a fan…37 years of my life…37 years of moments that I can pinpoint to their songs.

Am I devastated?  Yes.  Do regret that level of fandom?  No.  I found my voice because of their music.  I became more involved in charity work because of them.  This certainly isn’t the end of this chapter of my life…it’s just a twist in the plot.

“Big D”, Glass Art, and Peace

Glass art, for me, is my self care.  I think it’s the only thing that will keep “Big D” at arms length.  I know it sounds very strange to use very sharp glass as a means of self care, but it works for me…most days. There’s just something about stepping inside of my studio and seeing that wall of glass, seeing the rainbow of colors, envisioning what those sheets of glass will become, and bringing them to life.  It gives a great sense of calm.  Now, I will admit there are those times that I curse out loud like drunken pirate because the glass isn’t cooperating.  It decides to break in an entirely different direction than I want it to.  If I find myself too frustrated, I turn off the power to the studio, walk out, and close the door behind me.  I have to respect the glass.

I have been creating glass art for nearly 15 years now.  I used to just make it for myself and my family and friends.  I then started making pieces for charity.  That brought me so much joy.  The art that helped me could now help others.  About two years ago, I started Zarit Glassworks (www.zaritglassworks.com).  That was both rewarding and frightening all at the same time.  I made the decision to turn my coping mechanism into a business so it could self supporting and so I could donate proceeds to local charities.  My goal was not to make to a ton of money, but to help.

You may wonder why I decided to donate rather keep all my profits, maybe not.  I’m going to tell you anyway.  I’ve always believed that I had Bipolar Disorder for a reason.  For me, that reason is to help others find a way to work with their mental illness; to find the positive in it.  There is always a positive to be found within all the negative.  I will never be rich from art and I’m okay with that.  I can help organizations that don’t get much, if any, government funding and that’s all I need.  It’s my hope to inspire others to something similar.  You don’t have to donate money through your art to help others.  You just have to be kind.  You just have to listen.  You just have to be present.  You just have to be mindful.

So, yes, glass art is an odd choice for coping with the day to day battles of Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.  Sparkle is my favorite and in my world it is a valid color.  🙂  When I complete a stained glass piece, I rush outside and hold it up to the sunlight to watch the way the rays of light dance through it.  I’m always amazed at the way the colors change.  It’s like the sunlight and the glass are doing the Tango.  It’s beautiful to watch…mesmerizing really.

What do you do to keep “Big D” away?  What’s your best coping skill?  I would love to hear from you.

Time to Beat “Big D”

I’m left with that feeling of disbelief…that feeling you get after you’ve just witnessed something horrifying.  Your body goes cold. Your hands start to shake.  Your heart starts to race.  Your head aches.  I call it the “Depression Hangover”.  You’re not truly out of the depression, but you’re nearing the end of it.  It feels like I’m walking in a wintry fog.  “Big D” is looming ever close.  Oh he’s never for behind.  I think he has abandonment issues.

This part of “Big D”, sleep is elusive.  (As I write this, it’s 1 a.m.)  My mind is running its umpteenth marathon…trying to stay one step ahead.  We all know that’s NOT possible, but it tries (bless it’s heart).  In my mind, I’ve completed all the glass art my gallery opening (that isn’t even on the books…yet).  I’ve finished every unfinished conversation.  I found every lost item.  I’ve fixed the mental health system.  I think you get the picture.  This all happens while my family blissfully slumbers…so envious.

Oh, “Big D”, the things I could accomplish without you interrupting my life!  Wait a minute.  I’ve accomplished plenty.  True, I could have done so much more without the constant derailments from “Big D”, but I have done quite a lot:

  • graduated college
  • married & started a family
  • taught French & HIstory
  • went to Belarus on a charity aid convoy
  • tons of charity work
  • traveled
  • spoke to thousands about mental health
  • spoke to congressional members about mental health
  • lobbied for mental health care change
  • started a glass art business (Zarit Glassworks) (shameless plug)
  • and more that I can’t think of at the moment

There are still many more things I’d like to do”

  • fix the broken mental health care system
  • educate people about mental health
  • stop discriminating bills against people with mental illness
  • exercise more
  • travel more
  • and so, so, so much more

I can’t keep using “Big D” as an excuse for not doing more. It’s easy to do when I’m caught up in that roller coaster ride.  I have to remember the strength that I do have…that we all have.

Fighting every day for my life, I am stronger than I realize.  I am on this earth for a purpose.  “Big D”, you will NOT beat me !

Embracing Your Illness

The Guest House

When my doctor gave me this poem, I was so grateful.  I refer back to it often to remind myself that I need to be mindful of every emotion, every experience I have, every person in my life, and every journey I am on.  Each one of those teaches me, shapes me, and emboldens me.  Don’t get me wrong, not all of these experiences are good ones.  Not all of the people who come in and out of my life are pleasant.  Not all of the journeys I embark on are straight forward and obstacle free.  However, without those, I would not be who I am today or will be in the future.

Once I started to embrace my Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder in this way, it started to make more sense to me.  It didn’t happen overnight, but I’m so glad it finally did.  My life have lost the shackles of any stigma that may be around me by embracing my disorders.  By embracing the disorder, you take away the power of anyone that tries to shame you.  You take away the power of anyone that tries to tell you that “You can’t…” Simply put, once you embrace your diagnosis, you then know that “You can…”.  It is so liberating!

As you can from my blog, it’s been quite some time since I last wrote.  I took a “bit’ of time off to pursue my glass art.  It’s something that I love and something that helps manage my symptoms.  It’s also how I am able to give back to my community.  This is very important to me.  So often I feel that I take so much from the people around me (in time, support, energy) as often happens when “episodes” occur.  I feel the need for this outlet…the need to help others, including my loved ones when I am able.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit in this posting.  My apologies.  I am bit rusty.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep this blog more current.  I am stepping back into the Mental Health Advocacy arena once again after a LONG break.  I feel it is time. So, there more posts about that.  I would love to hear from you.  What are some of your resolutions?

How does stigma affect you? Updated

The recent election has caused some concern for me, but not just for the fact that government is now under one political party.  Now this post is not going to be a rant on the recent president-elect.  I feel everyone is entitled to their political beliefs.  My concern is for an initiative that passed in my state that will take away my right, as person living with a mental illness, to own a gun.  Now, I have no desire to own a gun, but it’s just one more right that is being taken from me.  My problem with this initiative is that had it been written without specifically mentioning “people with mental illness”, I could have voted for it.  The idea behind the initiative was to prevent people who are of harm to themselves or others from obtaining guns, but then they specifically mentioned people with mental illness.  This is not only discriminatory, but extremely stigmatizing.

People with mental illness account for about 1% of the gun violence nationwide (US).  This bill directly targets those of us living with mental illness.  This may be a bit of paranoia speaking, but I feel it is opening the door for further legislation to take away more of our rights.  First, it was HR 2646 that was trying to take away our HIPPA rights…now this.  What’s next?  In either of these two cases, had the language of the legislation mentioned people of a specific nationality, physical illness, or race, they would not have flown under the radar as they have.  I feel as though we are second class citizens in our own country.  I have a strong feeling this is not isolated to just our country.  I could be wrong.  I still have more research to do.

Now to my question:  How does or has stigma affected you?  I’ve tried to explain why the passage of this initiative made  me so upset to others, including my own family.  People just don’t understand.  They care, but they can’t understand unless they are a target of stigma.  So, how would you explain it so that someone could begin to understand it even a little bit?  I would love to hear from you.

UPDATE: I just watched an interview onTF1 with someone that escaped the Batclan 1 year ago. He looked into the eyes of one of the terrorists. That horrible person spoke to this witness and laughed. It made me think back to this initiative. How will this initiative preventive religious and political fanatics from acquiring guns? It won’t.  It targeted the mentally unstable, not the fanatical.  Think about that.

Don’t Ever Give Up

Hello my friends!

I know it has been quite some time since I have written in this space.  I have been busy starting my art business, Zarit Glassworks (shameless plug, I know.) and trying to get my migraines under control.  I have also been hard at work with mental health advocacy.  I have never stopped that.  It has and always will be a passion of mine.  I may take a break from time to time as needed, but I always come back.

Well, today, I and a few others met with two of  Senator Murray’s staff members for two hours.  We were able to share our stories, our experiences, our concerns about mental health care reform, our concerns about current/future policies.  It was wonderful!  It was an incredible opportunity.  It was something I never thought would be possible on my own without the backing of a large organization.  I’ve never made it a secret that I parted ways with AFSP.  However, I harbor no ill feelings toward them at all.  We may have a difference of opinions, but without them I would not have the voice I have now nor the advocacy skills I possess.   In fact, I even advocated for their Centers of Excellence today because that is one of their lobbying points that I happen to agree with.  I still direct people to them for support and I even help people with fundraising for them.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the outcome will be of today’s meeting.  One thing I do know for sure, it felt great to have the ear of the highest ranking member of the senate.  Even if nothing comes of today’s meeting, I can rest easy now.  I know in my heart that I have truly done my best.  I can now get off my soap box about HR 2646.  I believe our HIPPA rights will be fine.  I know CIT for first responders is going to be alright.  I know Congress has been educated by people living with mental illness.  I know I have been heard.  What more could I ask for?

I can’t control what Congress will or won’t pass.  All I can do is try to educate people and hope it makes a difference.  For those of you that sent me your vignettes in the past, they made it to Congress.  They were read.  They would like more.  Please feel free to send me more.  I am happy to pass them along.  My email is bravelybipolar@gmail.com.  Just keep it to one page in length.

I will try to write more often.

Thank you for your support and thank you for reading.

Advocacy in Action

I blogged numerous times about my advocacy efforts.  I have complained about how hard it has been to go out on my own since leaving a national nonprofit.  Well, today I am here to tell you that it can be done!  One person can do it.  It takes a lot of time, patience (which I really do not have) and determination (I do have that).

If you will recall, I made several posts asking for you to send me your experiences living with mental illness so I share them with Congress.  I had a grand plan of having a round table discussion with a few members.  Well, the round table discussion did not happen.  What did happen was this.  I began calling each of my State members one by one for meetings.  I was only able to get one meeting, not even with my one Rep.  To be fair, that one was my fault.  I had already met with him personally and they wanted me to meet with a staffer.  I felt offended.  I have no idea why.  I’ll chalk that one up to Bipolar.  Any way, the one I met with really listened.  This has turned out to be a great working relationship with his local staffer. She has kept me informed on legislation and helped me get a meeting with one of my Senators…well the legislative aide.  And here is the rest of that story:

I had a meeting with my Senator’s legislative aide and it was absolutely wonderful. I told her of my concerns about Rep. Murphy’s bill (HR 2646). You know that fact that it will violate HIPAA laws and that of the 5 committees it forms, only one has a person with a mental illness on it. Oh, and that committee has NO power to do anything! Also, he’s getting rid of SAMSAH (I know the H is the wrong spot). I also talked to her about the partner bill in the senate (S.2680). The main problem with that one: HIPAA violations. She really didn’t think Sen. Murray would let anything pass with HIPAA violations. She also agreed with me that HIPAA violations would not prevent another Sandy Hook as Rep. Murphy is hoping. I felt so reassured. She actually agreed w/ me the correct statistic that people w/mental illness account for 1% of the violence nation-wide. Finally, someone who understands!

Anyway, as we left it, I will be asked to speak to committees and both of our Senators’ about living with mental illness. Now, will any of this change Murphy’s bill? I don’t know, but it might help change that senate bill. At least my voice, and others because I brought those stories I asked for months ago, were finally heard.

All in all, a good day. I even talked about the plight of Bullseye because art is a form of therapy. I gave her my letter that went to Oregon rep. as well. Not bad for being with a nation nonprofit anymore. I’m finally able to speak freely about what it is really important….preventing suicide and helping people like me, people living day in and day out with an illness of the brain

The moral of my story is this: Keep trying.  You will be heard.  My State senator is the highest ranking member of the senate and now our letters are firmly in her hands.  Our voices have been heard.  What will come of this?  I don’t know.  All I know is this:  I didn’t give up even when I so desperately wanted to.  So to all of you, please don’t give up either.  Keep writing your members of Congress.  I will help you if you need help. I will give you guidelines for writing an advocate letter, timeline for sending and re-sending letters and help with phone/in-person meetings.  Just don’t give up.  The more of us that do this, the louder our collective voice will be.

CALL TO ACTION

This is a modified letter I’m sending to all of Oregon’s congressional leaders and State leaders.  I would urge you to do something similar if any of you are glass artists or have a glass producer in your home state.  It’s too late for WA, but not for the others.  I won’t give up.  I’m doing everything I can and so are others to save an industry.  I hope you’ll join me.

I am the owner of Mind and Soul Art.  I am not an official business.  I create art for the sole purpose of raising funds for nonprofits. You see, I live with Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.  Glass art is a way for me to manage my ongoing symptoms of my illnesses.  Sometimes it is the only way as modern medicine has not always worked for me.  Suicide rates continue to rise across the nation and I refuse to become another one of those statistics.  I am down to three medicines left that might work for me.  The only thing that has consistently worked is my glass art.

This is why I travel over 4 hours from Port Angeles, WA to Portland, OR for the classes that Bullseye provides.  I soak up their knowledge like a sponge.  While in Portland, I stay in a local hotel for several nights.  I eat in local restaurants.  I purchase from local shops.  I spend money in your state as do other people who come from out of State for Bullseye’s educational art classes.  Bullseye is not an island unto itself.  It is a vital part of Oregon.  It is also a vital part of my life.  Without their glass, their classes, their very kind and understanding employees, I wouldn’t be able to create.  If I can’t create, I wouldn’t have an outlet for the constant battles of a Bipolar mind.

Spectrum Glass will be closing its doors after 40 years because they simply can’t bear the unknown costs of what’s to come with the new EPA regulations.  Kokomo Glass is in trouble, as well, but they have the support of their local government.  Bullseye wants to do the right thing. and has done so voluntarily. Yet, unlike the government of Indiana, the government of Oregon seems to be making it very difficult for Bullseye to comply with the DEQ, by ordering Cease & Desist orders not once but twice.  This is not an accusatory statement against Oregon; this is a factual statement.

All I ask is for your help.  Please help Bullseye have a fair chance to do their part to comply with the standards that have been set forth.  Allow them to have a fair amount of time to fix the problem areas that need to be fixed.  I urge you to step in and do something to correct this situation because it is not only good for Bullseye as a local, small business, but it’s good for the Oregon economy as well.

It is not only Bullseye that stands to lose their business, but the thousands of others that rely on their products for their own small businesses. I believe, not long ago, the auto industry and the banking industry needed the government’s help and it was given to them.  Please consider helping Bullseye by giving them a fair and equal chance.

Thank you for your time. I know I can count on your support.

 

What will your mark on the world be?

 

To be one, to be united is a wonderful thing. But, to respect the right to be different and the rights of your fellow-man is even better.  We are here for a fleeting moment.  What will you do with your time?  For what do you want to be remembered?  What mark will you leave on the world?

I have always wanted to take on the world and help others when I could.  This has not always met with kindness.  Yet, I don’t give up.  Some have questioned my motives, thinking I do this to as a means to gain attention…not so; others think I do this for personal gain, not so.  I choose to help others because I want to.  Also, because when I was at my lowest point, someone was there for me to lend a hand.  Someone cared enough (without knowing who I was) to show me kindness, to tell me I was worth something and that I was somebody.  I know how that kindness feels and how that kindness can change a person.  I want others to feel that as well.   I see it as a gift I am allowed to give another human being.  It brings me great joy. I don’t see it as penance, for I have done nothing wrong.  I have a mental illness and I have those low times where I need help.

I don’t how much time I have left on this earth.  What I do know is that I want to make every moment count.  So I focus my time on my family and friends.  I also try to help as many people as I can.  The way I do that is through my art (stained and fused glass art).  As many of you know, it is my art that helps me control my Bipolar and Anxiety symptoms (yes, I do still take medications).  As many of you also know, sometimes medication isn’t enough.  My glass art has saved me so many times.

Now, the main supplier of my glass, Bullseye Glass (and the glass industry at large) is under attack (for lack of a better word).  I go to Bullseye for classes to learn new techniques and I absolutely love the employees there.  They are kind, knowledgeable and they put up with my craziness!  I remember the first time I went there for a class.  Oh my goodness!  I’m sure they had never met someone quite like me.  I just asked a ton of questions.  I think I was there for three hours and this was the day before the class!  I was picking out glass, asking questions about how to make projects,  questions about the sale in July, my goodness the questions from me seemed never to stop.  They were very kind to me.  Every time I call in, they seem to remember me.  I don’t know if they really do, but they play it off  well.  I’ll take it!  🙂  Anyway, I think you get my point.  They really care.  So, I won’t go into detail about what the State of Oregon is doing to them because I don’t have all of the facts and I don’t want to spread more rumors.  The one real fact is this:  Their business is threatened.  This effects not only Bullseye and it’s employees, but thousands of glass artists world-wide.

So, back to my original question: What mark do I want to leave on the world?  I’ve already established that I like helping others.  I know it goes beyond “like”.  I feel compelled to help others.  It’s become a part of who I am. Since this all happened with Bullseye, I’ve gone into full advocate mode sending out congressional contacts to concerned glass artists, working on a form letter (which must be cleared with Bullseye), fundraising mode to help them…  The mark I would like to leave on the world is this:  Whether I am remembered or not is immaterial.  What is important is the work I do.  If I have made the lives of people better, happier, easier, then I’ve made my mark.  The world doesn’t need to remember me, I will just feel better knowing that I’ve made some kind of difference.

I will leave will you with your own question and yes, I would really like to hear from you.

What mark would you like to leave on the world?