Thoughts for Today

“Sorrow looks back.  Worry looks forward.  Faith looks ahead.”  ~Beatrice Fallon

How many times have you heard someone tell you if you just changed your attitude you could change your life?  I subscribe to this belief, but I also recognize that when I am experiencing a depressive episode the last thing I am going to have is a positive attitude.  

It is the nature of depression.  It steals positive thoughts and taints them with chronic cynicism.  If there is a glass to be seen it will most certainly be half empty. Negative thinking becomes strangling weeds in a patch of beautiful opportunity.

So if you identify the enemy as depression you have to figure out how to beat this enemy.  I have found no easier way than fighting it.  When I can actually pin point a symptom and give it a name I know I have a chance to catch that stink in’ think in’ thought right in its tracks.  Sure it is not easy but it is possible.  I strive very hard for all things possible.

I hold out for hope that things will keep getting better.  I seek the catalysts until it turns on in my presence and helps me to shift my thinking.  This is how I describe recovery-when a person is participating fully in life and making a contribution to her community with personal independence and freedom driving the decision making process.  Given that definition would you agree that everyone is recovering from something?

Is there a lesson or two for those who live with mental illness to be more aware of those nagging depressive thought patterns?  But I also think there is a lesson for all of us to say a gentle reminder about having a positive attitude which can be the deal maker or breaker in anything we are trying to accomplish.

To my friends who live with depression or bipolar disorder it might just take some added effort on our part to see those possibilities-but don’t give up trying they will be there when you are ready to see them.

Remember faith looks ahead.  I choose faith.  What are you choosing?

So it is a mental illness 

I reflect back to 1999 when I first heard those words, “You have bipolar disorder and it’s pretty serious.” ” What?  Me? Absolutely no way do I have a mental illness.  And by the way I am not taking those zombie drugs you want to give me either.”

And so the merry go round of affects of a diagnosed bipolar patient in denial had begun.  This would mean the ups and downs of crisis situations that would appear and then go away for awhile.  When times were normal and stable I could proclaim, “See I don’t have bipolar disorder.  Doctors can be wrong you know?”

Oh but hindsight is 20/20.  The years I lost because I was not well enough to function.  Usually lying in my bed asleep from a long lengthy battle with depression.  The successful career cut short because I could not pull myself out of bed to catch a plane.  And the spiral effect…the big downward spiral effect to hell.  Life would never be the same again.

These days when I stand in front of an audience and tell them why they need to get care for themselves or their loved ones comes from a place of lived wisdom. I know the outcomes can be very good if the illness is treated and managed.  I know it is possible because I live a “normal” life everyday.

Whatever you do don’t live in denial.  Denial will bury you alive.  Don’t let the stigma keep you from getting help.  Help is available and treatment works for 90% of those with mental illness.

The goal is to live a life of sustainable longevity with a healthy mind, body and spirit.  I am here to tell you this is possible. 

But whatever you do don’t ignore mental illness.  It will not magically disappear into the sunset.  It will more likely spin like a tornado and completely disrupt your life and the lives of those who love you.

If it is mental illness do yourself a favor and get help.  Don’t wait.  Your life is depending on it.

Finding Peace 

I am not going to lie there have been many times in the past several years when I have pondered what my life would have looked like if I had never gotten sick.  I not so quickly learned that we do not control what disease we get but we do get to decide how we deal with it.

I have often spoken about the losses that occur from having a mental illness.  But I have not mentioned the gains.  Most likely I would not be living in West Virginia, but I have grown to love where I live and appreciate the beauty.  I would not be here to look after my mother and she does need my help.  I would never have met such outstanding young people who I have coached and trained in basketball.

I would not have learned how fortunate my life has been in spite of my challenges, many others who live with mental illness have seen their opportunities be limited.

I would not have met the countless people who have shared their personal journeys with me.  So blessed to be a listening ear.

I get to watch my great nephew grow up and play video games with him.  It’s a real gift when a young person thinks your “cool.”

So my point is sometimes it is easy to focus on all the negative when we get unexpected detours in life.  But when you think about it the journey might have become much more interesting.  I know my life lessons are far more diverse than I could have ever imagined.

I am not happy about having a mental illness, but I am content with my life and where it is headed. There is great peace in that.

A letter to my younger self

Dear Amy,

I want you to know there will be times in your life when you will struggle with a mental illness called bipolar disorder.  I know it sounds complicated and the truth is-it is complex because we are talking about your brain.  But if you learn everything you can about how to manage your symptoms and find a good treatment plan you will do great.

But I want you to know fighting your way back to health will be the hardest thing you ever do.  There is such a stigma with mental illness a lot of people are not going to understand.  You will find out who your real friends are and who you can rely on.

More than anything be true to yourself.  You don’t have to publicize you live with bipolar disorder unless you want too.  But you MUST be honest with yourself about your illness.  Some people can survive and thrive without medications, but you are not one of them.  In fact, most people with bipolar disorder need medications and there is no shame in that.

Whatever you do-don’t deny there is a problem.  It will set you back in life to pretend this serious illness will magically disappear on its own.  When is the last time you ever heard a brain tumor disappearing without intervention?  As much as you want it to go away, you can’t wish this away.  The sooner you accept it the faster you can get well and live your life.

You are going to need help along the way.  Doctors and therapists can be tremendous support on the road wellness.  But remember they are also human and not perfect.  They will make mistakes sometimes.  You have to find the right fit for you and never be afraid to ask questions or even disagree with providers.  The best ones will welcome an open dialogue.

In life we don’t get to choose what we get and what we don’t.  You are going to feel frustrated at times and you may have moments when you think, “what’s the point?”  But I want you to hold on to hope and never give up trying.

There will be times when you reflect back and thank your mother for giving you the gift of faith.  You may not be overtly assertive about your relationship with God, but you will get down on your knees and pray for God to get you through the tough times.  Without your faith you won’t make it because you will have some very difficult times and that will require a great deal of faith.

You will get a good handle on bipolar disorder and once you do the sky is the limit.  So don’t ever let anyone tell you to keep your dreams small.  You are good at dreaming big and I want you to keep doing that as long as you live.

Finally, take one day at a time.  Everything you need will be provided for you, maybe not what you want but what you need.  And when you figure all this stuff out don’t forget to reach back and help other people.  Because at the end of the day that’s what life is all about.

Your friend,

Your older self

Beating Mental Illness

How do you beat a mental illness?

There are many different ways to overcome a mental illness.  In my view my greatest victory came when I was no longer absorbed with my diagnosis and everything that negatively resulted because of it.

This meant I had many months and years of healing.  I grieved for my losses and gave thanks for all my gains.  But I had to face each one of these challenges, give it a name and work to overcome it.  I delved deep into every emotion I felt.  I challenged myself to be okay with the disappointments.  I gave in to not worrying about changing the past.

I learned every single thing I could about bipolar disorder.  I needed to know my enemy to beat my enemy.  Because I don’t perceive anything positive about having an illness.  I don’t like mania because I lose my good judgment.  I abore depression and can find no positive aspect about living with it.  Unlike some people who believe their illness is a part of them I refuse to embrace it.  I fight for wellness.  I manage bipolar disorder to the point where I rarely have any symptoms.

How do you win?

Winning in life is a personal definition.  We all have our own views as to what that looks like.  When it comes to mental illness I define winning as equivalent to recover.  So if I recover I win!

I have recovered and continue to recover. Each and every experience has moved me closer and closer to living the life I have created for myself.

I wanted to be a mental health advocate and that is what I have become.  I wanted to speak about recovery and I will be giving a keynote speech in November.  I wanted to be more involved in the community and now I am on two non-profit boards.

I am winning because I have chosen to fight.  I deal with the naysayers who want to keep me stuck in a nice and neat bipolar box.  But I refuse to be pigeonholed in that way.  I have broken through to a new frontier where I can finally look at myself and all of my experiences.  Much bigger than only a mental illness diagnosis.

I am winning by putting my life back together.  What was once rich and fulfilling before bipolar disorder has now returned to that level of enjoyment.  Rebuilding life means I am actively engaged in creating my own masterpiece.  I am not allowing others to paint a picture of how they think my life should look.  I truly enjoy beating the odds and defying all the negativity that can come from having a mental illness.

In short here is what it takes to beat mental illness:

#1-Information and education

#2-Providers who will listen and work with you

#3-A fighting spirit

#4- Live authentically

#5-A vision for recovery

#6-A dose of healing potion to deal with the past

#7- Refuse to settle for less than you deserve

You beat mental illness by facing it toe to toe and never giving up the battle.  Fight. “Never give up.  Never give in.  Never never never.” ~Winston Churchill

How does Orange is the New Black handle Mental Illness

If you are a Netflix viewer you may have recently watched Season 4 of Orange is the New Black and could not have missed the storylines with mental illness.  It was not a subtle portrayal.  Mental illness was everywhere.

The character who saves another inmates life was hearing voices and experiencing delusions.  They gave us the back story and she was a person with mental illness who lost her job as a journalist when her mental illness started to get worse.  Loly ends up homeless and eventually arrested for disorderly conduct.  She gets slammed on the ground by two police officers who come upon her because people in an upscale neighborhood were complaining about her being there.  The police throw her on the ground and handcuff her while calling in to dispatch how she may be “drunk” or “psychotic.”  This is how she ends up in prison.  The police officers obviously don’t have crisis intervention training nor mental heath first aid.

By the end of season four Loly gets locked up in the forensic psych unit for allegedly murdering someone.  She starts to scream and cry while the audience is shown someone in the background who is yelling and is restrained forcefully.  Everyone in the prison knows you don’t want to get sent to the “psych unit.”  It does foster a bit of the stereotypical way we view inpatient psychiatric care, then again it is a prison so the psych unit might be portrayed appropriately.

The one thing that bothered me about this scenario was the fact that she had to have a mental illness and be accused of murder.  Everything else was really handled so well.  It is likely that a consequence of untreated severe mental illness can be joblessness and homelessness.  It happens more frequently than we like to believe.  But the murder part I could do without (spoiler alert:  she actually didn’t do it but thinks she did).

Then there was the character Mr. Heely.  He is the inmate counselor who walks into a lake with the intention of taking his own life.  In just the right time he gets a phone call from work and realized Loly’s delusions about saying their was a dead man buried in the garden were actually true.  By the end of the show he is voluntarily admitting himself to inpatient psychiatric care that is actually scripted quite well.  The last season shows him sitting on his bed knitting – minus the knitting needles which they don’t have in a psych unit because people may use those to hurt themselves – the gist is right on the money.

The courage of him taking himself to the psych unit is amazing.  One of the few men on the show and he admits himself for psychiatric care…wow!  This is a little more hard to believe because it is very difficult for males to admit they have a problem let alone seek treatment.  But good for the show creators to lead us in the proper direction of how it should be done.

One of the main characters is called “Crazy Eyes.”  She actually had been doing quite well with her mental health until the last few episodes.  But as the name implies she does have a tendency to get a little “crazy.”  She gets violent after being provoked and beats someone up.  She goes into a “zombie” like trance and then has a horrible accident.  The way the character has been developed you know she is a short fuse away from having some type of tragic accident.  But she is also vulnerable and that point is made very well.

Overall, I would have to give the creators of “Orange is the New Black” an A- in trying to tackle mental illness.  They obviously put a great deal of thought into how to delicately dramatize a person’s fragile mental state.  A significant amount of time was spent teaching us about hallucinations and delusions through a character’s suffering.  I like how they did not shy away from any of it.

I can see how all of it might just be very close to reality.