Mental Health Advocacy & Congress

This post will be short for now.  I will update you all later today.

First, I would like to thank everyone who has submitted their personal stories for my Congressional project.  Today’s the day!!! I will be meeting (on the phone) with a couple of Congressional members to share your stories, as well as my own.  Today, your voices will be heard.  It’s not the DC round table discussion that I had hoped for, but it is a start and I believe it’s a good start.

There have been scheduling conflicts that have delayed these meetings and have made it so that they are over the phone instead of in person, but that’s alright.  It’s still a meeting with a congressional member and they’re willing to listen.  I’m happy.  I will let you all know tonight how everything goes.  🙂  And thank you again, without your support, I couldn’t have done this.  We Matter!

Embrace Bipolar

I’ve been writing this blog from the perspective of the positive side of Bipolar Disorder, at least that was my intention.  There were some times that it was difficult to do.  I feel I have grown  in the past year and a half since the start of this blog.  It hasn’t always been easy to see the advantage of having Bipolar Disorder especially when I’m in the middle of an episode.  I can assure you, though, there is…at least from my perspective, a definite advantage.

Let me start with a poem that my doctor read to me during our last session.  It’s called “The Guest House” by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I found this poem so profound.  It really helped me put together all the work I’ve been doing to try to understand the different levels of mania and depression and how to function within them.  I have been working so hard to not only accept these states, but welcome them.  Now, let me explain that last part.  By welcoming the states, I am able to see the value and advantage in each state.  For instance, I’ll start with mania (that’s usually the easiest one).  When I’m in a manic state, but still in control (and not just in my head, others around can see the controlled state) I am able to be quite productive in work, house work, advocacy work, volunteer work, etc.  I, however, don’t stay in this state too long.  I am an ultra rapid cycler and if I don’t watch it, I can cycle out of control rather quickly.  When I’m in a depressive state, I tend to have more empathy for people.  I may not always be nice depending on the degree of depression, but this is when I tend to do more service oriented tasks.  By helping others, it helps to take my mind off of the depression.  This is when I will start more volunteer projects and usually just on my own…not with organizations.

I’m not saying these things to advocate that you should actively stay in either of your states.  I can just appreciate what I learn from each one.  I do learn something each time.  This goes right along with my “Live life with no regrets” motto.  If I learn from each state, how can I regret having been through it?  The advice my doctor gave me for the next time I’m in either mania or depression is to simply say “hello”.  Actually address it and welcome it.  By doing so, I take its power away and empower myself.  I like that.  The whole idea of the online course I’ve been taking (at least for me) is to empower myself.  To not live in fear of my illness.  To not be at the mercy of my illness.  I have by no means perfected the skills yet, but I practice every day. By practicing every day, I grow stronger every day.

This strength I gain means the world to me.  It spills over into other aspects of my life.  Once you can see the value and advantage in something that was once so scary and stigmatizing, it’s no longer stigmatizing to you.  Does that make sense?  For me, that is very empowering.

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.

Question Time!

Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

“Being bipolar is not an illness, but an advantage because both mania and depression give me insights that are not available to those who cannot experience them”  ~ Tom Wootton

I have started an online course called Bipolar INorder by Tom Wootton.  I’m finding it quite fascinating.  I’ve wanted to take it for some time now.  Many of you may have heard of Tom Wootton.  I’m very curious to read your view points to his statement.  I tend to agree with him to the point that those who do not have bipolar will never experience the world in the same way as I do.  However, I’m not quite ready to let go of it not being an illness yet.  Not just yet.  Perhaps at the end of this eight week course I will.  I can see his point.  Once we start seeing bipolar as an identity (like “I am an educator or I am brave.) then the stigma is lost and no longer has any power.  If we keep viewing it as an illness, then the stigma is allowed to exist.  I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this concept.  I can see both sides.  I do see advantages to having bipolar.  In fact, that is exactly why I started writing my blog.

Well, I’ll stop my writing of this post so I can publish it.  I am anxious to see what all of you think.  Remember, there are no wrong answers to this.  Every opinion is valid.

Thanks for reading!

 

Advocacy At It’s Finest?

Yes, I’m poking fun at myself.  There are so many ways that we can advocate for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, but is there one right way?  I think that everyone may like to think the way they advocate is the right way (only my opinion) or at the very least wants to believe that.  By this I mean, they want to believe that what they are doing is making some kind of difference.  Now, I don’t believe that my way is the one and only way, but do fall into the category of wanting to believe that I am making some kind of difference.

Who’s to say that the person sitting at home writing their blog and informing people about mental health and suicide prevention is any less effective than the person that get’s on a podcast for an interview?  No one.  I believe (and many others will agree) they are just as valid and equal.  Who’s to say the person that signs petitions is any less effective than the person that writes congressional leaders?  No one.  Again, they are equally as important and valid.  My point is this: There are so many ways that people can advocate for the rights of those of us with mental illnesses.  They are as vast and as different as we are ourselves.  They are also equally as important.

We have bloggers, petition signers, legislative writers, authors, film documentaries, podcasts, people who go to DC (ahem, hahaha), support group facilitator.  The list goes on and on. Please feel free add more in the comment section for the ones I have missed.  I would very much like everyone to be recognized for what they do.  All of these help to further our cause.

The only hiccup I see is that there really is no one thing that bring us all together, like other movements.  Perhaps, though, that is our “thing”.  Who knows?  I’m not saying I’m the person who can make that happen.  Would I like to be?  You bet your sweet bippy I would.  I have a feeling, though, that it would take something much bigger than I to do that.  Seriously though, I’m just one person with less than 500 readers.  I vent on here.  I try to make people laugh.  I try to educate.  I try to do my part.  Even my Congressional project (https://www.facebook.com/millionvoicesstrong) is going to be an ongoing project.  It’s not going to change Congress over night.  Who knows what effect it will have?  I know it is having a positive effect because I’m getting responses from them for scheduling.  In others, the doors are opening.  They are at least willing to listen and that’s what I wanted.  So, I’m looking at this project as a success so far.

Thanks for reading!