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!!

February 03, 2010

My story continued...

To follow up from the last post I want to once again say that we are making February our "share your story month". Because of this it is probably appropriate that I continue to share my story in February not late January. After sharing my story last week I know many people are wondering where I am now, maybe not necessarily occupationally because you can follow that on our website, but emotionally.

So out of my commitment to be completely honest to my readers here is my story now, today, in all its emotionally exposed glory:

Yesterday I went to see my psychiatrist. I told him that I am feeling slightly moody and find myself creeping into these unintended, uncontrollable moments of frustration, hyperactivity, or utter exhaustion. We talked about the need to "tweak" my meds, and we talked about the likelihood of changing one out completely sometime in the near future.

Now, I have been stable for a long time, aside from a small yearly depression that comes around the anniversary of an overdose, a depression that lasted slightly longer this year, but was still completely manageable. I still consider myself stable. But I continue to have these little hiccups of symptoms. Moments where I would feel much better jumping on the bed for hours than I would trying to attempt even a partial night's sleep. Moments where I feel so exhausted after having lunch with someone that I come home and pass out in seconds. And worst of all, moments where I find myself furious over the thought of doing dishes (and I am not an angry person by any means).

I tend to freak out about such hiccups. I think, is it coming back?! Oh my god, what if I have mixed episodes again! I'll have to be locked up! All the work I'm doing will be ruined! And then I spin off into these worry tangents until I either hit a wall, cry hysterically, or slap some sense into myself and tell myself to knock it off! These are hiccups, nothing terrible is going to happen. I am not going to suddenly loose it with all the safety nets in place, and all the lessons I have learned.

And so I go through this, I have this constant conversation with myself every time a little bump comes about. But then my common sense kicks in and reminds me that:
1) every time I felt an episode coming in the past I told my doctors immediately
2) I have learned healthy, safe coping techniques if things do go wrong
3) I am aware of the most minute movements towards any episode
4) I have an amazing support network

When I go through these hiccups, these "tweaks" in my meds I am always scared to tell people. I travel the country telling people my story, telling them horrifying things but making them feel better by saying "but I'm stable now" at the end. And I am. Just maybe not perfect. And I fear telling people, "I'm great but I have been having issues with my meds", or "I'm wonderful, but have been having small worrisome mood swings lately", because I'm afraid they won't get it. I'm afraid they will still be afraid for me. So I often tell them I'm fine no matter what.

But that's not truly telling my story. That's not being authentically honest. So I have made a promise to myself, I will always tell people exactly how I really feel. And if they worry I will remind them of all the things I remind myself. I will tell them how I feel in order to show them that when you are bipolar you have small bumps sometimes, but they don't paralyze you. You have to keep going on with your life. And you can with all the safety nets in place.

So, here it is, here is me right now, at this moment:
I am Linea. I am bipolar and have been having small mood swings lately that are causing me to have to make small adjustments to my medications and it makes me anxious. However, I am completely fine. I am capable and happy doing all the work that I do because I know how to take care of myself. Things will not happen as they did in the past because I know how to handle my stress levels, how to keep myself from coping in unhealthy ways, and how to ask for help when I need it. I am stable. I have bumps. And it's okay.