December 15, 2010

Glee and Discrimination

The following post is a letter I wrote to the creator, writer, and director of Glee. Though it is one of my favorite shows I was recently very disappointed in the episode, "The Substitute" because of its discriminator and stigmatizing language and actions. Please check out the episode here  (http://www.fox.com/glee/full-episodes/674574657001) or on itunes and write to Ryan Murphy and Fox about your feelings.


This email is addressed to Ryan Murphy and anyone involved in the Glee episode "The Substitute"

Hello Mr. Murphy and staff,

My name is Linea Johnson and I am a mental health advocate. I am 25, and though not an adolescent anymore, work primarily with adolescents struggling with mental health conditions. I am also a consumer who lives with bipolar disorder.

I watch Glee every week and have always considered it a show full of great lessons through it's discussion of important and often controversial topics. I felt that you handled teenage pregnancy, bullying, and the struggles of being openly gay in high school extremely well. I feel there was so much to learn for students struggling with similar issues as well as so much to teach to those who enjoy your show but may not understand these lessons. On the whole I think Glee is a wonderful, strong and intelligent show.

My view changed a little on November 16th when I watched the episode, "The Substitute". Watching Gwyneth Paltrow, a beautiful and talented actress and one who many young girls admire, speaking ignorantly about bipolar disorder and mental illness was very disturbing. To use bipolar disorder as a joke accompanied by the violent image of tossing a baby is complete discrimination and ignorance. The level of stigma that this produces is extremely harmful for all those struggling with this very difficult illness and for those who know and love them.

Did you know that 1 in 4 families will experience a mental illness? 1 in 5 young adults will experience a mental health condition whether it is depression and/or anxiety or something more extreme like bipolar disorder. Did you know that suicide is the third leading cause of death for high-schoolers and young adults? I have no doubt that someone in your cast or crew has experienced a mental health condition, likely numerous individuals.

Shows like this are extremely harmful and dangerous to your public. While you are intelligently inclusive of most youth, this episode made it painfully clear that you are not supportive of a very large majority of the students. It is evident that you didn't consider the emotional states that young mothers, over-weight high schoolers, openly gay students, and many more experience in high school. Hasn't Curt experienced depression and fear throughout his bullying? Didn't Quinn have emotional distress during her pregnancy? Perhaps you should try to touch on this very serious issue and continue to teach powerful lessons.

I am very disappointed in Glee. Please make a change and produce episodes that deal with mental illness accurately and compassionately and include themes of recovery. Your treatment of bipolar disorder has lessened the impact of your other powerful lessons and made me question my interest in the show.

Thank you,
Linea Johnson
linea@lineacinda.com
www.lineacinda.com


You can contact Fox here: askfox@fox.com

And Ryan Murphy here:
Ryan Murphy (Glee creator, director, writer):
Ryan Murphy Productions
5555 Melrose Ave
Chevalier Bldg.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Phone: 323-956-5000
Fax: 323-862-2121

December 06, 2010

Let's talk about Self-Esteem

Please check out this amazing video that I found through the blog, "Actively Ariel: A Voice with a Commitment". It is from Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. And though it focuses on women, it is something that really affects us all. Please talk to your kids before the beauty industry does. Their are wonderful online activities and toolkits on self-esteem for kids that are also helpful for adults. It is a world-wide effort so please check it out!

December 03, 2010

Vlog?

My first video blog. Let me know what you think. For more info on the people I talk about check out Delaney Ruston (http://www.unlistedfilm.com/), Patrick Kennedy's newest mental health project (http://www.moonshot.org/), Glenn Close's mental health anti-stigma campaign (http://www.bringchange2mind.org), and Pete Early's book Crazy (http://www.peteearley.com/books/crazy.html).

November 28, 2010

Birthday

Still trying to convince myself growing up is a good thing.
I just like the cake.

November 10, 2010

Explanation

I am less here than others. Practicing
the art of poise upon a slender ledge
that drops down days, resolving not to sing
a favorite nocturne, pruning back the edge
of dreams--all these are such consuming tasks.
And morning means that I must nurse a flame
so I can study what the daylight asks,
and research why
and memorize
my name.

--Jean Lenski

November 06, 2010

Desolate decay

There is something within me that really loves things that are falling apart.
Sometimes decay can be so beautiful.

October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

here are some of my favorite cemeteries:
Savannah, Georgia


Mazatlan, Mexico

Somewhere in Western Ireland

October 23, 2010

Mirrors

I'm not going to lie, I am very self-conscious. I occasionally have paralyzing attacks of insecurity where I don't even want to leave the room or let anyone see me. So what is the best thing to do in these moments? Sit in a windowless room full of mirrors and make funny faces with a friend. 
Works sometimes.

October 16, 2010

I Love New York

Spending the weekend hanging out with BringChange2Mind friends, college friends, and hopefully meeting my editor for the first time!

October 13, 2010

A Little Poem

We say that some are mad. In fact
if we have all the words and we
make madness mean the way they act
then they as all of us can see

are surely mad. And then again
if they have all the words and call
madness something else, well then--
well then, they are not mad at all.

--Miller Williams

October 05, 2010

Next to Normal

My mom and I have been given an amazing opportunity to speak at the educational "Show Talk" before the Tony Award winning show Next to Normal at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle on the 22nd of February.  By ordering with the Promo code "Sound" you will not only get discounted tickets, but will help support an amazing organization, Sound Mental Health. Please click the image below to see an enlarged version of the flier and more information, or click here to visit the promotion site. We are both so excited and can't wait to see it!

October 04, 2010

Advocacy

Just posted a new blog on Advocacy on the BringChange2Mind blog. Hope you find it interesting and/or inspiring. Have a wonderful Monday!

October 02, 2010

Please don't touch the flowers...

Boston, sitting in this little upstairs Vegan restaurant was the greatest sign taped to the window:
"Please do not touch the flowers. They're real.
Thank you" 

September 27, 2010

Reappearing Linea

Once again I have disappeared into a land of excitement, confusion, and way too many things to do. But now I'm back! If you have missed hearing my longer pieces please please visit my posts on the BringChange2Mind blog where I am a writer and editor. I recently did a series of blogs on my journey from diagnosis to empowerment, the "empowerment" post is not up yet, but I will update you when it is. Now that I have some additional amazing bloggers (Jeremy and Marc) on the BC2M blog team I will now be posting much more here.

Other exciting things that have happened are the fact that I have yet another new job, am a finalist in the DBSA Speak and Be Heard Contest, and have a podcast up with the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation. I'm hoping the link will be at the bottom of the post, but knowing my lack of understanding of html code it may not work. If not please visit there site here.

The job is going to be very fun. I am the project director on a project funded by SAMHSA's What a Difference a Friend Makes grant. We are going to be holding an art contest for youth artists 18-25 living in Washington state who have experienced a mental health condition. More on this to come, but it will be very exciting and fun ending with a big Gala exhibit and art tour.

 Well, that's all for tonight. Just wanted you all to know I was still alive:)

July 25, 2010

The pieces come back together...

This morning I returned from a weekend where eighteen family members (three adopted family members) came to one house to celebrate being together. We ate and ate, practiced some old family traditions (Scol!) and slept anywhere we could that wasn't too damp or lumpy (though this usually changes by morning). It was a beautifully sunny weekend and I felt so much love between all of us as we sat around the fire, enjoyed homemade pies or feasted on paella.

When I got home this afternoon I realized it was once again time to work on the book (which now has a publisher!!) so I left my bag by the door and got to work. I find it important to note that I travel around the country speaking publicly about my story. I share it all the time to audiences of 700+, but I haven't read it in a while. In a little over a year and a half in fact. And I will tell you what, it is hard.  Really really hard. And painful.

It is hard to remember, no, let me rephrase, it is hard to read your exact thoughts when you are dealing with the pain of suicidal ideation or the pain of losing friends because of your depression. It is one thing to work through it everyday, which I have gotten much better at doing, but another thing to return to your exact transcripts from the moment of pain.

I remember when we first started playing with thoughts about the book,  people would ask us why we would want to revisit so much pain. And I always knew why, I want to teach the people who don't understand and let the ones who do understand know that they are not alone. I knew it would be hard. But I suppose, after a year and a half of not reading it I forgot.

I suppose the thing I am here to say is, I am glad that I spent the weekend with my family. I'm glad that they could remind me of the happiness and joy in my life even when I'm forced to remember the pain. I'm glad to know that when I was in the most painful spots, those points in the book that made me start crying even  reading them today,  those moments when I never thought anything would ever get better, when I never thought I could enjoy another family event, I'm glad to remember and know that I can be happy. It is possible.

In years past I never thought I would be able to be happy again (happy happy, not manic). And I guess having been relatively stable for so long I must have eased into happiness, because today, having juxtaposed Kirkwood-stravaganza with the really difficult passages from the book I realize that I have the ability to be happy. It's not broken. And I think maybe that is what I'm here to tell you all. Eventually happiness comes back. When you get to the deepest most painful place, the place where people are telling you things will get better and you just want to spit in their face because you know it's a lie, listen.

It takes a long time for all the pieces to settle when your life has been a tornado, but eventually, just as everyone told me it would, it did all come back together. I am happy. I am whole.

May 31, 2010

The Courage to Change

It has been quite a while since I have posted anything on here so I must apologize.  With all the work we have been doing the blog has fallen a bit behind. I would also like to let you all know that I have been given the honor of creating and manning the brand new BringChange2Mind blog (http://bringchange2mind.wordpress.com/) so when I am not writing here, please check the BC2M blog to see if I am posting there. I will try my hardest to stay loyal to both.

And now a quick update... In the last month since I wrote I have been to St. Louis, Chicago, and New York, and been the team leader for two NAMI Walks, one in Seattle and the other in Portland. It has been an extremely inspiring, energizing, and exciting month as I made new friends (the Close/Pick family, Kitty and her mom, the Francolini family, and so many more), learned about new research and treatments, and met and listened to new and old heroes (Glenn Close, Jessie Close, Calen Pick, Kay Redfield Jamison, Marya Hornbacher, and Rosalyn Carter). If you don't know who some of these people are please look them up as they are all heroes in the mental health awareness (and women empowerment) world. I have had the honor of attending fabulous events in cities I had only dreamt about ten years ago. But it has not been all easy and joyous.

As I present and speak publicly about my illness and my (relative) stability I feel as if I need to always be happy, and if not, always act happy. I had gotten to the point where I found myself presenting a false image because I feared that if I let people know that I still get depressed sometimes, or still feel unsteady sometimes, they will feel there is no hope. I felt that if I am going around the country telling people that there is treatment and stability for people with mental illness, my hiccups in stability would prove this false. I have talked about this before in a past post so I won't go into it completely now other than I promised myself that I would always be completely honest, so, here it is...

The last month has been extremely hard as well. It has not only been the anniversary of my first hospitalization and the exhaustion of five national trips in one month followed by two 5K walks, but meeting so many people with one's same story is very difficult. Meeting so many people that share your story and hearing their struggles not only feels comforting as you are swiftly pulled from the aloneness of a diagnosis, but it also reminds you of all the pain you experienced. It reminds each individual of how lonely you really were and how different your life would have been had you just had this new friend(s) with you from the beginning. It is strangely validating, empowering, and comforting, and yet, it is often painful to meet people with such similar stories of agony, near suicide, self-harm, self-medication, etc., etc., etc. It is beautiful because everything is suddenly okay. You have found yourself on solid ground. But you can't hep but remember how terrifying it is to dangle from the cliff.

The last month has been more than exhilarating. It has reminded me of how much I love my family, how happy I am that I am alive, and how honored and lucky I am to have the opportunity and the health to do all the things that I do. It has once again reminded me why I need to continue to speak and share my story. People should not be alone in this fight. People should not have to feel pain when they finally find community years after their initial diagnosis. People should feel comforted, cared for, and loved from the very beginning. Feeling the ups and downs of this month has made that fact even more present in my mind. We need to change things now. We cannot let this continue to happen. We cannot let so many of our children end up on the streets, end up incarcerated, end up losing their lives by self-medicating. We cannot let a treatable enemy like suicide claim so many victims because they are alone and scared. We need to talk about this. We need to change things fast. Please help us change things by sharing stories, by letting people know that they are not alone. In my mind the biggest way to fight stigma is to talk. Share your truth. We need to remind the nation that 1 in 6 adults suffers from a mental illness by sharing real stories from the heart. Please have courage, for all of us.

April 24, 2010

Staying Steady (again)

If you have been flowing my blog throughout the last year please forgive me for recycling this post, but I thought it was perfect for my "Treatment Month" posts. Here is my treatment plan, and my ways of staying stable:
Whenever I speak to a large group of people about being bipolar, they always want to know about my coping strategies. They want to know what I do when my life is going a little too fast, or when I am moving too slow to get help. They want to know, how I get through each day, month, year and remain safe, stable, and happy. I feel that though my strategies are based on my individual personality, most of them are rather universal. So, here is a list of the things that help me get through life relatively smoothly, for now anyways...

A Support Network
I can't move forward without some form of support network. (Actually, I could if I had to, but they sure make life a hell of a lot easier.) My family has fought long and hard to help me get the treatment, doctors, medication, and education I need both to help me cope with my first onset of bipolar, and my life today. They were always there to stand with me, even when I may not have wanted them there. On that note, my doctors, counselors, and psychiatrists have also all been amazing sources of stability. They are my solid ground when my life begins to sway, shake, or completely break to pieces. My boyfriend has also been an amazingly huge influence on my life. He has been through my rougher times and was the one to help me move from an extremely harmful lifestyle to one where I feel comfortable not drinking, doing drugs, or constantly partying. I also have amazing friends that sat with me in the worst of days. Wonderful ex-boyfriends, old roommates/best-friends and adopted sisters always make life much easier to swallow.

Lifestyle
For me this was one of the hardest choices. If you ask most 18-21 year olds what they do on the weekends, especially those in a college or dorm setting, they will tell you that they drink. They go to parties. They go to bars. And I was just your average 18-21 year old, minus the fact that I was bipolar. I was a little more than affected by the late nights, the excessive drinking, and the drugs. I was stuck in a cycle where all of my friends drank, and all of my coping mechanisms involved putting my mind in an altered state. In the first years of my diagnosis I didn't want to think about how awful I felt. I wanted to be "normal." I wanted a quick distraction. I wanted to be everything I envisioned a "bipolar" person being: a mess. It took a lot of work, a lot of self talks, good friends, and eventually some pretty scary moods swings to get me to move into the healthy lifestyle I live now. It would also have never happened without fate leading me to good friends who lived healthy lifestyles. Good friends who had been through pain, substance abuse, and eventually the decision to get straight. Good friends who inspired me to change my ways. It is also amazing that one of these good friends has become an amazing boyfriend and best friend.
Today my lifestyle has included sleeping well, eating well, meditating, flossing, running, yoga, reading, music, volunteering, and lots and lots of writing. I try to allow myself time to do the things that I know make me happy. These also happen to be the things that make my previous life of parties and anger seem like such a waste of time and energy.
Skills Training
Now, this is something I think about a lot,  but it has also been a big conflict within me. When I began skills training with a counselor  in high school she used to tell me things like, "look at yourself in the mirror and say, I am beautiful..." and I used to leave and swear that I would never go back to an appointment with her again. But I did, and every time she used to say some other cheesy skill I should use to make myself feel better. The next counselor I went to used to tell me to look in "my boxes." And I would again leave feeling angry and skeptical and decide I never wanted to see her again. It took me years to get to the point where I found a counselor I trusted enough to tell them that I hated those homework assignment kinds of exercises. I told her that I didn't want to be counseled by Oprah. I didn't want to be told to be kind to myself, unless it was hidden in something else she was saying. It was through my true honesty about my treatment that I began to actually use some of the advice I received from my counselors. Today I have developed a group of core skills that help me get through the rough patches in life. It was only through the skill of my counselors and the trust I eventually developed that I began to find life skills that worked for me, (that weren't cheesy or what I thought of as stupid.)

Counseling
This has been a huge art of my treatment, and now that I am stable, one of the most important. Because I talked about it in the previous section I simply want to say that I think everyone should see a counselor. It is so important to have someone who is not only trained to listen and respond appropriately, but who is not emotionally involved in your thoughts, feelings, or problems. I love my counselor very much because she has taught me how to begin to help myself, be nice to myself, and how to move forward after experiencing so much pain.

Medication
This was a hard one for me. I am not always a fan of medication. It has not always had the best effect on me and at two different moments it literally almost killed me. Now, I am a girl that likes my body to be healthy and natural, I don't want a bunch of chemicals deciding what mood I am in, but after two hospitalizations I have come to terms with the fact that medication isn't always bad. Today I am on Lamictal, Trileptal, and Lithium. It has taken me about 13 medications to get to three that work for me, and I have now been on these for about three years. I am on medication now because I know that I am not ready to be off of it. Even though I have changed my lifestyle and have become much healthier I am still not an expert on my body or my illness. I am still not aware of the natural ways to get out of a paralyzing depression or an extreme case of mania. And until I know that I am ready and able to use my new skills to get me to a safe place I will stay on medication. It is a slow process and I have only been diagnosed for five years. One thing I do know however, is that I will not be on medication forever. I will get to the point where I am aware and educated enough in my body and mind that I will feel comfortable being off medication. Someday I may want to travel to a third world country to save children, or someday I may want to have children of my own. If these things happen, I want to be free of medication. I do want to find a natural way to deal with my minds many states, but for now, I will continue my self-education from the safe place of medication.

These are just a few of the things I think about everyday when it comes to my health in my body and mind. I hope this is insightful, if not helpful, and please realize that each person's treatment plan and coping skills are different based on their own needs and understandings of the world.

(The picture in blue was taken by Ms. Morgan Minear at the MOMA while we were watching a video installation)

April 19, 2010

Things I've learned...

(Polson, Montana)

Within the last week I have attend two vastly different conferences, the Empowerment of Native Americans with Disabilities Conference, and the Pacific Rim International Conference on Disabilities. Though they had very similar focuses, and often similar outlooks, the cultures and people were extremely diverse. At both of these conferences I found myself feeling very small, and very under educated in the cultures, needs, and expectations. I found that like my mom, I felt very humbled. Given that I was so impressed and profoundly amazed by these conferences I thought it would be nice to share some of my favorite moments with you:

-Being blessed with sage and a feather by a Native American elder made me feel loved/scared/warm/confused/blessed.
-Listening to a brilliant paraplegic lawyer who travels the globe, frequenting impoverished countries to fight for disability rights makes me feel proud/amazed/small/inspired.
-Watching a mother and daughter present about their journey from the daughter’s severe brain injury to her now internationally read magazine for young woman with disabilities (Logan) made me feel joyous/enraptured/lucky/ready.
-Feeling the beat of the drum, hearing the jingle of the jingle dress, seeing the fancy dance as we were presented with a Native American cultural demonstration, and hearing the account of a deaf salsa dancer’s memories of 4,000 fans clapping in sign language made me remember the importance and the universality of the arts. It made me remember why they are the focus of my life.
-Learning the importance of teaching social networking to all people as a means of fighting discrimination and allowing full inclusion into society made me aware of all the things I don’t think about.
-Watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean with my family, in Hawaii, made me feel lucky/blessed/loved/empowered/inspired/small/ready.
(Honolulu, Hawaii)

April 06, 2010

Linea's Treatment Story


The first thing I like to say when I hear people struggling with a new diagnosis of anything is: "thank god you can now start figuring out a treatment to help you feel better/to help your life get put back together/to help you stop hurting so much". In my previous post I ended saying, "why do we love the diagnosis..." because we can finally start getting treatment. I have been reading a lot of bipolar memoirs lately (Kay Redfield Jamison' An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Lizzie Simon's Detour: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4-D, and Marya Hornbacher's Madness: A Bipolar Life.) In each of these, and from many individuals I have spoken to personally, I hear the pain that accompanies the diagnosis. The questions of "Does this define me?" "Will this be forever?" "Where is the separation between my personality and the illness?" "Am I going to have to be on meds for the rest of my life?" These were the questions I had. These were the worries I had, but at the same time I felt the relief of "at least now we know what we're working with..."

So, let's now imagine the you have a diagnosis. You know that you are bipolar (or fill in the blank). You know that prozac/other medications do not work for you because they make you manic/etc. And now its time to figure out what does work. In order to give you an idea of the process from diagnosis to treatment I thought I would give you a little glimpse at my slow path towards treatment:

When I was first diagnosed I was in a hospital having willfully checked myself in after a near suicide attempt. I was at the point where I was having psychotic suicidal ruminations that lead me to have a one on one aid that watched my every move. In the hospital I was told that I was bipolar II. This seemed very strange to me having only repeatedly experienced extreme depths of depression. I thought, where are the manias, or hyper-manias? I knew however that there was something more, something deeper than just being sad. It was a constant sadness to my core, and I knew it was something that needed fixing, that needed soothing, before I did something drastic. So I drank, a lot, and I started cutting, and I smoked pot, and tried drugs I wouldn't have done had I not been trying my hardest to fight off the seductions of suicide. At the time, I assumed these were my treatments prior to the hospital. These proved inefficient when I found myself blindly checking myself in with those magic words, "I don't feel safe".

In the hospital I was very unresponsive to all types of treatment. I fell into such a dangerous place that extreme measures had to be taken. I could not be left alone for one second because they knew I was watching, searching, for anything I could get my hands on to end the pain. This is when they offered me two options. They said, "we can send you to the state institution where you can wait until you find the right drug, which may take several months, or you can try electro-convulsive therapy". Now at this point I was beyond any other options, and taking the extreme route seemed like the best idea. I told myself "well, ECT will either kill me or fix me" so I begged my parents for the treatment (they of course did not know this thought process at the time) but eventually, full of uncertainty and fear, agreed. I am not going to go into details at the moment about all my experiences with ECT right now. It is a very controversial thing and I want to make sure that I do it justice and help people truly understand more about it, so I am just going to tell you two things: it is much more humane now, (no more One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), and, it saved my life. After the first treatment the "thoughts", that urge to hunt down anything I could to kill myself with, were gone. Gone. I was still very veryvery depressed, but I eventually got to the point where I lost the constant eyes watching me and even got to shave my legs (a very big deal at the time).

After the hospital I went back to my normal college kid life, still feeling slightly blue, but on the whole much better. It was at this point that I was prescribed my 5th or 6th pill, that miracle drug, Prozac. My first day with Prozac was amazing. Suddenly everything was so much better. I did a much better job at work, I got all my house work done, I went for a run...and then everything sped up. Suddenly I was spinning beyond control. No amount of running could help me. No amount of anything could help me. At first the high was addicting, I started drinking more, partying more, spending more, doing drugs I wouldn't do. I started cutting again. I was starting to have very strange, un-Linea, thoughts ("maybe I should jump off the roof" "I wonder if it would hurt if I chopped off one of my fingers...") I was not suicidal, just very very manic. The addictive beautiful high that I experienced in the beginning was gone. I was no longer super-woman, but a paranoid, anxious, agitated child. I was breaking things. I couldn't have a conversation because my thoughts were going to fast to spit out.

Knowing something was very wrong I finally called my doctor. He told me to stop taking the Prozac immediately and prescribed me some anti-anxiety pills. Still being very impulsive, and having increasingly scary thoughts I took one. Just to calm down. Just to make things stop. To keep myself from doing something stupid. Just to keep my mind from accidentally killing itself. And then I kept taking them. I think there was a point where I told myself "I need help. It's time to go to the hospital." And then I took them all. Thirty something pills. And then I walked over to school, turned in my homework, told my teachers I wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be at their classes, and nearly passed out waiting for an ex-boyfriend/best friend to get out of class and take me to the hospital. I knew who to go to. I knew who would take the best care of me. This was not a suicide attempt. I did not want to die. I just wanted the thoughts to stop. I wanted to keep myself from jumping off the roof or in front of a subway train.

After this incident my diagnosis changed. I was not bipolar II. I could not take certain pills. Out of the hospital I made a decision to take care of myself. I decided to get the treatment I needed and though I had a few bumps along the way, (trying to cope through bulimia), I eventually committed myself to finding, and following, a healthy treatment plan. This plan incorporated close work with doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. It involved trust in my doctors to find a medication that made me well enough to try other treatment options. It involved asking for help when I needed it, telling the truth about my feelings, and knowing that hospitals are not shameful, but needed at times. It eventually involved a healthy change in lifestyle--no more drugs, alcohol, no more staying up all night, exercising, eating healthy, meditating, and a regular sleep cycle. I will go into my current treatments in a future post, but I felt it necessary to discuss the difficulty finding, getting, and sticking with healthy treatment. Had I not found the treatment I  have now I would be nowhere close to where I am today. I may not even be here at all. In conclusion, the diagnosis is indescribably painful, finding treatment seems impossibly hard, but with perseverance, a little bit of luck, good resources, self advocacy, and at times, pure trust that things will work out, people can find a better life and get the help they need and hopefully end those terrible statistics involving extremely high rates of homelessness, incarceration, and suicide for those struggling with a mental health conditions. Treatment works, and I will also give you some resources to find good treatment in my next post.

March 18, 2010

What is going on here?!?



I think this is a question that many people with a mental illness ask themselves. Why am I feeling like this? Why am I acting like this? Why can't I make it stop?!

These were the thoughts that were rapidly firing in my head as I tried to figure out why I just couldn't be happy and go out with my friends, or why I just couldn't slow down and relax. For the longest time I hated myself for not being able to fix "it". In this society where we are told we should "just smile" or "walk in the sunshine" we assume it is our fault for not trying harder. We assume we are weak or bad for not perfectly controlling our mind and our body. We assume that there is something wrong with our personality as opposed to our chemistry. When I was first depressed to the point of suicide I got into a cycle of feeling agonizing pain of depression, exhaustion and defeat from not being able to fix it, and an extreme hatred for my lack of strength and drive to pick myself up. It wasn't until I was in the hospital on a suicide watch that I was given my first tentative diagnosis, Bipolar II.

Now, I grew up with a special ed teacher mom and a vocational rehabilitation counselor dad. I grew up being taught the importance of being sensitive to disabilities, the equality between every person no matter their difference, and the importance of providing access and help to those with specific needs that may be different from my own. I grew up obsessively reading the DSM and diagnosing my guinea pig, Herman, with Tourettes Syndrome because he had certain ticks and would squeak uncontrollably at times. (And although I knew all about Tourettes by the age of seven I knew very little about guinea pig ear mites). Anyway, when it came down to it,  I knew about disabilities. I knew all about "differences" and the normalcy of said differences. I knew all about what the word "label" meant in that community and knew that one should not use a condition to classify the whole of a person. 

Maybe this is why it hurt so much when I was diagnosed. Maybe deep down in my heart I knew just how little the rest of the world knew about disabilities. Maybe I knew the discrimination and misunderstanding that came with a mental illness label, because I found my mind screaming "No. Not me! I am not BIPOLAR. I am not like that. I'm not CRAZY". To me, someone who found every disability as simply another thing that makes us unique and special, this diagnosis made me into something I didn't want to be. It grouped me into a category that was bad. And whether or not the people in this category were "bad" or not, societies view and opinion of them was. I was not going to be one of them. I had spent my entire life trying to be perfect, flawless, and this was the biggest flaw I could ever imagine.

 However, on the other hand,there was the small, scared, childlike voice inside of me saying, "its not my fault". Even writing this today makes me tear up when I remember just how hard I tried to make myself feel normal, be normal. I tried so hard to control my emotions, but the more I tried, and the more I failed, the more I punished myself. I had two competing voices in my head, the blamer, "it's all your fault! If you tried harder we wouldn't be where we are today!" and the blamed, "I try so hard. I'm not good enough. I deserve this pain." It was a dangerous downward spiral that became even worse when it moved from mental to physical hatred. Having a diagnosis validated those "it's not my fault" cries of the blamed. It allowed me to start being a little bit nicer to myself.

It took me a long time to be nicer to myself, and in many ways it is still a very difficult struggle. The diagnosis, for me,  was one of the most life changing parts of my illness. Though it may not have been more life changing than almost losing my life, it changed my view of myself. It forced me to come to terms with the blamer and the blamed. It helped me realize who I really am and whether or not a label (BIPOLAR) defined me. At first I felt that the words were etched into my forehead. I felt that with one word I was someone completely different. Years have taught me that my diagnosis can never define me. It may define some of the traits of my illness, but it will never define my exact reaction to those traits, or even my reaction to my reactions. Through my diagnosis I have been able to take the blame away and realize that this is simply something  unique about me. A blessing and a curse that makes my life slightly different from other peoples' lives. In finding my diagnosis I have found the most important thing of all, the map towards treatment.

Next time...why do we love the diagnosis? We love treatment. Why do we love treatment? Because it allows us to function again!

March 03, 2010

The Diagnosis (Helpful Resources)


The momma and I have decided to make March the month where we talk about the diagnosis. So in the next month I am hoping to share my thoughts on the diagnosis (and more specifically that of bipolar disorder, since that is the one I know most intimately), my thoughts on the pain of having a new label ("bipolar"), and my thoughts on the importance of finding an eventual diagnosis so that you can get the treatment you need.

So, the first thing that I would like to do is to provide resources for information about the main diagnosable mental health conditions. I want to provide this first, rather then share my personal story, because to some, good resources may be more urgent. As I discuss my diagnosis throughout the month you can always go back to this post for further information. Because so many of these sites do such a great job at explaining and addressing these illnesses (though I hate to call them illnesses) I will simply provide links to their explanations and definitions rather than attempting to create my own. I want to provide resources so that you can learn more about these illnesses and their signs and symptoms. All of these resources should be hyperlinked, so just click on the pinky/purply text.

The best place to start when learning about mental illnesses is to check out NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness) “mental illnesses” links page. Through this page you can access information on illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and many others. Each page talks about what the illness is, how common it is, what the symptoms are, what medications and treatments are used, and more. You can also visit BringChange2Mind.org and under “Learn the Facts” view a quick list of common signs and symptoms for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Bipolar, and Schizophrenia. For more detailed information you can visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Health and Outreach page .

If you are worried that you are suffering from an undiagnosed mental health condition there are several online mental health screenings. You can find some of these at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) website. At this link you can find confidential online depression, mania, and anxiety screenings, as well as a downloadable child mania rating scale. Of course, if you are not only worried that you are suffering from a mental health condition, but are also having thoughts of suicide please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) or call 1-800-273-TALK.

The important next step if you think you have a mental health condition is to talk to a professional. It is extremely important to talk to a doctor before you diagnose yourself, but it is also important to go into the appointment with as much information as you can so that they can look at all the facts and get you the help you need. If you do not have your own doctor, and cannot find one in your area resources like BringChange2Mind's contact us page and the Knowledge Exchange Network (KEN)
(1-800-789-2647, 1-800-789-2647 or  1-877-495-0009, 1-877-495-0009
Live operators available 8:30 AM — 5 PM EST to refer you to public mental health clinics near you) may be able to help you.
Once you have an appointment, Healthy Minds has a page devoted to “Choosing a Psychiatrist”, answering questions like “where do I start?” and “what treatments do psychiatrists use?”.

I hope that some of these resources help make it easier to learn about a possible mental health condition and how to move closer to a diagnosis. In my next couple posts I will be discussing my personal diagnosis, and the importance of reaching a diagnosis.

February 26, 2010

I'm back!

Pardon my brief absence. Having gone to the conferences and a week of excitement and adventure (five airports, 2 conferences, 1 keynote, four break-outs, and five states) I came home to a leaking bathroom ceiling and wall and a large photography midterm. So, now I am back and ready to roll and keep on bloggin. The problem for now is that I am minutes away from bed and have to leave you with this short little check in. I promise however, that by the end of this weekend you will feel fully satisfied with a (hopefully) inspirational and powerful post brought to you by none other than me, Linea. So, as I leave you tonight I will provide you with this, some conference pictures and my favorite learnings from the conference (and yes, I made up a new, poorly phrased word to explain the brilliant and insightful lessons I was taught).

When asking a group of amazingly brilliant, powerful, and to some, "severely disabled" young people, "would you want your parents to tell you you were paralyzed/autistic/cognitively challenged?" The answers?  A simultaneous "YES"! "It's my body". "I deserve to know because its me". "I have to deal with it, not them". "Let me know so I can move forward".
Here are a few of my favorite pictures:
The most important the I learned: listen. Listen and learn.

February 11, 2010

From Storytelling to Advocacy

I am going out of town next week to present at two conferences, one in Wisconsin and one in Texas. At these conferences I always share my story and read from my personal journals written during my most painful moments. Presenting to teachers, mental health professionals, and others who are somewhat well-read in the subject of bipolar and mental illness, I know that I want to share my most intimate moments with the illness. I want to let them see the mindset and thoughts that go through someone's head while they are in an episode. I want them to be able to see what it is really like for someone suffering with a mental health condition because I know it will help them help those struggling with it. I know that through sharing my story I can create a compassion and empathy that cannot be found in psychology textbooks. I know that through honesty I can help them reach out to just one more person.

When it comes to the world outside the conference room I am not always as aggressively vocal about my deepest darkest moments. At least not right away. My way of sharing stories outside of the classroom or conference room is through honest answers to often simple questions. People may ask things like, "Why did you take a quarter off in your sophomore year?" And instead of running or come up with a lie on the spot, I simply tell them the truth: I had to take a medical leave because I was suffering with a severe depression and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This usually turns into a question and answer session, "what is it like to have bipolar disorder?" "what is it like to be hospitalized?" "tell me about your medications". And often times, if it doesn't produce questions I often tell them flat out, "Feel free to ask me questions, I'm not embarrassed".

Oftentimes in the "real world" of offices or classrooms or living-rooms people may not bring up mental health conditions, and if they do, the fear, misinformation, and misunderstanding is enormous. It is in these times that we (those who have a mental health condition, and those who know anyone who does) need to speak out. Be brave when you hear, "Oh my god she was like soooo bipolar! That's like the worst roommate to have!" Be brave and say, "that must have been hard for you to live with someone having such a hard time. I hope that you provided her with the support she needed. I am bipolar, so I know it's so hard to foster healthy relationships when you're in an episode..." It is in these moments when you give them the "she doesn't know what she's talking about" and try to inform and not get mad.

I get mad about injustice. Alot. I get mad when people make fun of others for any reason. When people are unfair or unkind to someone they know nothing about. But it is important that we don't get mad. If we want to make a difference we must be the  stronger man (or woman) and simply inform. Tell your story: Let people see the face of mental illness and know that it looks just like everyone else, just like theirs. Provide information: Help people find resources to get better informed. Let them know how many people actually deal with mental health issues.

Here are some of BringChange2Mind's thoughts on what you can do to make a change:

Speak Up

The general population is largely unaware of the number of people with mental illness; because of this, the stigma of mental illness is a “hidden stigma.”
Strong evidence shows that contact between the general public and people with mental illness may be an effective approach to significant and lasting attitudinal changes.
The stories and experiences of people who live with mental illness, and corresponding stigma, may have the greatest impact.
People who come out about their disease find significant release in no longer having to keep it a secret. This reduction in stress can aid in treatment, as well as improve relationships, job satisfaction and support from family members.
Unfortunately, coming out may lead to social disapproval and possible housing or employment discrimination. However, being open about your disease may allow you some protection against discrimination through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Strength in Numbers: The World Health Organization has done research that suggests that nearly half of adults will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetimes. The more people realize that people affected by mental illness are “just like me,” the easier it will be to live with any form of mental illness.

Watch your Language
Refrain from using terms like “crazy,” “nuts”, “psycho” and “lunatic”.
Say someone “has schizophrenia”, or “has bi-polar disorder” rather than calling the person a “schizophrenic” or “they’re bi-polar.”
Although correcting someone else’s use of language might not be a good approach, you should always try to watch your own. 


So these are my thoughts. Now go out and make a difference!!