“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 !

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?

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.

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?

The President “Responds”!

Okay, now I support the President, but I’m not a fan of everything he has done over his two terms.  What President has done everything perfectly well throughout their term?  Anyway, he has done tremendous things for mental health.  For instance, he finally fully enacted Patrick Kennedy’s Mental Health Parity Act of 2008.  So, kudos.  I decided to write him and ask for a meeting. Yes, I know I had a snowball’s chance in hell of actually getting that meeting.  If I didn’t ask, then I would never get it.  I knew this meeting was never going to happen, but in that letter I also let him know what it was like for those us living with mental illness. What it’s like navigating the mental health care system.  The stigma we face in the workplace, home, hospital, school…   I thanked him for what he had done so far.  I urged him to continue to do more.  I did explain that I was also an advocate.  How I have actively helped pass laws locally and nationally.  How I’ve worked with soldiers on and off military bases.  How I work with students.  This was the response…

Dear Susan:

Thank you for writing.  I have heard from many Americans whose lives have been affected by mental health problems, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

As you may be aware, in any given year one in five adults experiences a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress, and many others are troubled by significant emotional and psychological distress—especially in times of hardship or difficulty.  They are our family members, friends, and neighbors, and I believe there are things we must all do to help.  As a Nation, we can strive to eliminate the barriers that still keep people from accessing life-changing treatments.  We can also make sure every person struggling with psychological and emotional pain knows that asking for help is not a sign of weakness—taking action is a sign of strength.

My Administration has worked hard to help increase mental health services and improve access to care.  We are working with community health centers to expand the availability of behavioral and mental health services across the country, including in rural areas.  And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, over 60 million Americans now have expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections.  This law also prohibits insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions like a diagnosis of mental illness, and it requires most insurance plans to cover recommended preventive services without copays.  Additionally, as part of the BRAIN initiative, we are supporting innovative research that aims to revolutionize our understanding of how the brain works and uncover new ways to address conditions like depression.

We continue to support our troops and veterans.  I signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act on February 12, 2015, which authorized additional steps to address mental health and prevent suicide.  The year before, I announced 19 Executive actions that make it easier for members of our Armed Forces and veterans to access the care they need, when they need it—including a new policy that will ensure the continuity of medication for mental health problems as service members transition to care at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The VA has also worked to increase mental health staffing, enhance community partnerships, and expand the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line.

To learn more about mental health assistance and health care reform, please visit www.MentalHealth.gov or www.HealthCare.gov.  Calling 1-800-662-HELP is also a free, confidential way to receive a treatment referral or further information. 

Again, thank you for writing.  Michelle and I—like so many Americans—have known people who have experienced mental health problems, and we understand the effects these illnesses have on their lives and on their families.  We must continue to work toward better prevention and treatment, and as caring individuals, we must do what we can to ensure those with mental health issues get the care and support they need and deserve.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

I do realize that the President did not write this email to me.  I also realize that the person who did, obviously did not read a word of the letter I sent.  Yes, I snail mailed a letter…the old fashioned way.  Although I did expect this, I am a bit saddened by it.  As an advocate, I am well aware of all the stats.  I certainly don’t need to learn to go the .gov sites.  I didn’t expect the President to actually read the letter, but at least a staffer would have been nice.  I know I’m no one important.  I don’t have that much of an inflated ego.  It’s just interesting.  Imagine if we all wrote letters and sent them on the same day.  I wonder if we would all get the same response or if someone would actually take notice.  Hmmm.

*Please do not make any negative political comments.  I know not everyone is a fan of the President.