Love, Friendship, and Bipolar

I’ve watched people come and go in and out of my life.  They’ve become shadows… casualties of what they don’t or won’t understand.  Only I’m left holding the shattered glass of my life in their wake.  They failed to understand me.  Maybe I failed them.  All I know, it isn’t easy living with Bipolar Disorder and it can be just as bad for those on the outside trying to catch a glimpse.  A glimpse of something they can wrap their brain around that will have it make sense.

I have a very small circle of close friends.  It used to be much larger, but they left.  So for those brave souls (true friends) that stand by me, I’m cautious about revealing too much…about needing them too much.  It’s a very fine line to walk.  For people to trust one another, each person has to feel safe enough to share their true feelings.  In today’s stigma ridden world, that can be difficult.

I’m getting there.  Little by little, I’m letting people in, but that makes me vulnerable to pain.  I’ll keep trying as long as the people I love have patience with me.  It feels like I’m asking the world of them… to be patient.

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.

The “Big D”

I want to be better, but why bother?  No matter how hard I try… No matter how many medications I try… No matter how many doctors I see; the “Big D” always returns.  What’s the “Big D” you ask?  Depression!  It always comes back and with a vengeance! I want off this roller coaster ride!

That’s what it is.  Up, down, round, and round!  Here we go ladies and gentlemen!  Step right up! Sit down! Fasten your seat belts!  You’re in for a bumpy ride! I can visualize the master puppeteer running the ride… the “Big D”.  He’s menacing, maniacal, with a handlebar mustache that he’s waxed at the ends so he can curl them up.  He wears a tattered old black top hat, dirty overcoat, and pin striped pants with mud splatters from tromping through the rain soaked fairgrounds.  He has oil under his fingernails, not from fixing the ride…no…from sabotaging it.

As the ride come to a stop, just as you are about to get off, he starts it up again!  No medication can stop the “Big D”! No talk therapy…No coping skills…you’re screwed!!  Well, at least I am.  I seem to have run out of options.  No, suicide doesn’t enter this scenario.  I won’t give “Big D” the satisfaction of winning this ongoing battle.

The ride continues as if he doesn’t see that I want to get off.  I’m trying to get out.  I’m taking my medications.  I’m seeing my doctors every week.  I’m using my coping skills.  Yet, he continues the ride.  Am I being punished?  Or am I meant to learn something from all of this?  For the love Pete “Big D”!  Enough is enough!  My brain, my body, my friends, my family can’t take much more of this.  Release this vice like grip you have on me.  I can’t take much more.

These are all of the things I so desperately want to say, but I don’t…or won’t.  I’m a fighter.  Although, I feel my resolve is weakening.

Fear Nothing

I was sitting in a hospital room almost 15 years when I received my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.   This particular time was a voluntary “commitment”.  Oh that’s a strange word in this scenario.  The dictionary defines commitment as the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.  Well, I suppose after 3 or 4 involuntary “commitments”, you could say I was dedicated to this particular cause,activity,etc.    What else would you call it “voluntary lock-up”?  That’s really what it is, but then that implies the person has perpetrated a crime and is in jail.  So that won’t work.  It feels a bit like a prison.  You can’t go anywhere.  All of your rights are taken away while you’re there.  Your every move is monitored.  How about “voluntary time out”?  That really doesn’t either…sounds a bit childish.

In this 15 years, I have learned a tremendous amount.  I still have a lot to learn.  Once the unknown had a name, it suddenly didn’t seem quite so daunting.  I had a starting place at least.  I also became a master list maker.  I had a list for EVERYTHING!  It gave me a sense of control over the uncontrollable.   I had a list for weekly tasks, cleaning tasks, work tasks, exercise, goals, things I wanted to accomplish before I die (not that I was in a rush), places to visit, glass projects to make.  Keep in mind one thing, I didn’t always finish everything on these.  As the years went by and my Bipolar ebbed and flowed as it does, I became better at it.  I refined my lists to more meaningful ones.  I maintained the ones that kept me in check like the weekly tasks ones.  Apparently my doctor thinks it’s good to stay on schedule.  😉

What’s the point of all this rambling?  To be honest, I’m not really sure.  I had a thought in my head and had to get it out.  I’ll try to make next post better.  🙂

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?

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.