Football & Recovery

I am an athlete.  I might not be in Olympic caliber condition, but I will always be an athlete.  I am not the greatest fan in the world, but I did watch the superbowl.  I really could have cared less who won or lost, but I became fascinated with the way Tom Brady handled being behind by so many points.

Stressful.  Frustrating.  Emotional.  Yet he never quit.  You can dislike Tom Brady and the Patriots, but you cannot discount the fact that this guy never gave up.

In my world of recovery and mental health advocacy I cannot think of a better comparison for how I feel about my recovery journey.  I made it all the way back.  I looked back today and thought about how many years and I do mean years, where I struggled relentlessly.  It doesn’t mean that those years never had a good time or two, it just means they were long, hard, and draining.

As I sat in my new NAMI of Greater Wheeling office today I really just wanted to pinch myself.  I started on this mental health advocacy journey three years ago and since then I have worked my way to becoming an Executive Director of a non-profit organization.  One that focuses on advocacy for people with mental illness and their family members who support them.  I have found my passion and my cause.

If you knew where I was four years ago, you might not believe I could make a comeback.  If you want to find out what happened and how I did it…watch for the release of “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor.”  It will be released on August 22!

No matter what people say about me the one thing they can never discount is the fact that I never give up.

 

When the good day arrives!

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One of the things I learned in a recovery workshop is to create new dreams after having your life interrupted with a psychiatric illness. I created a dream to become a mental health advocate, but I soon learned that creating a dream is one thing and living it is another.

I think my impatience is a result of having too much time on my hands. Not all days but some days a few hours of free time can feel like sitting in the dentist chair having my teeth pulled. When I am feeling good and overall having a good day I feel like I can accomplish so much more.  But on those bad days, like yesterday, I have no desire to do anything.

I wish I had a crystal ball that could tell me when the good days would bless me with their presence. I could be so productive if I had something of value to do. But what kind of job out there rewards people for having outstanding days periodically? There are so few that I have found I need to get creative and figure out a way to utilize my time more wisely.

Yesterday I read an article about a research project that NAMI conducted. It said that people with mental illness had an 80% unemployment rate in the United States. From everything I have read it seems that most other countries fall about in the same statistical ratio. So what does this say about mental illness and employment? The article does not address those of us who may be underemployed, which is an entirely different issue too.

What are we supposed to do when we have those good days?  I guess reading and writing is one way to spend time in a valuable manner. I just have to keep from getting too frustrated with myself because I recognize having too much time on my hands is not the best thing for my mental health. I am a goal directed individual and the more goals I can have for myself the better I feel.

The problem comes when I start wishing there was an immediate “feel good” solution for me on those days when I am far more capable of doing complex tasks.  These are the times when I focus hard on positive self-talk. It’s really easy to go down the path of “let’s beat up Amy today,” even though I know it is not a healthy thing to do. I may say something like, “If I tried harder I could accomplish more.” “I need to be more organized with my time.” Then I get all excited about having a new plan of action and I wake up the next day and getting out of bed may be the best I can accomplish.

This up and down road makes it a harder to check off the “to-do” list. It also makes it more difficult to have consistent approaches to various goals ultimately making it harder to have achievements. Certainly it is not impossible, just more difficult.

If I had one wish I would hope for more resources to be placed in helping those of us living with a mental illness to have working projects where we could utilize our skill sets. Maybe a collaborative writing project where we contributed to a group writing project. I don’t know the answer. I just know I need something I can feel good about.

The Strengths Recovery Path – Part 2

“Sometimes psychiatric problems take over our life. Everything about our life can come to reflect our psychiatric history. We may feel like a psychiatric diagnosis spells the end of our chances for experiencing love, fun, or success. We can feel trapped in a life that is very limited and become bored, depressed and end up with negative feelings about ourselves1.”

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When I read this quote I said, “Yes, absolutely true for me.” It is very difficult to pick yourself back up after having your life completely interrupted by a mental illness. But once you have received treatment the next step is to work on putting your life back together again. I know this is what I had to do. And it is hard work, but so worth it when life starts to unfold its’ many surprises.

This is why I am a huge advocate for recovery programs. Putting energy into healing and mapping out a future is so critically important in this process.

The first step in recovery is having are basic needs met.  Such as, housing, food, and clothing.  After those basic needs are met what we want to focus on is answering the questions, “How do I have a fulfilled life in spite of my psychiatric disability, a.k.a. mental illness?” We want answers to questions about “What’s next for me? What can I do for a career? How can I still be a good parent, wife, husband, partner, friend?”  What are some ways I can contribute to my community?

Often times I found myself searching for answers to those questions outside of me.  I seemed to have lost so much confidence and my self-esteem suffered enormously. I frequently doubted my ability to be anything more than a “mentally ill patient.” Getting sick knocked me so far down that I only saw myself as weak and damaged. This is why I sought validation of my self-worth outside of me.  But I quickly learned I was going to have to restore my inner confidence while I worked to create new dreams and goals for my life.

One of the things that helped me in the Recovery Program was developing a vision for my life. Stepping back and creating new dreams and outlining the long-term and short-term goals that were going to help me get there. Part of my vision was to become a Mental Health Advocate, specifically focusing on raising education and awareness. I have begun to live that dream and the more I walk down that path the better I feel.

But if I am honest I would tell you that I wrote that vision four years ago. It has taken longer than I expected to get to living my dream, but that’s because I had some setbacks along the way. The good news is I never forgot my vision. This is why it is so important to create a vision or have a dream. When you create it you can work within your limitations, not viewing them as obstacles, but viewing them as a hurdle.  Hurdles were meant to be jumped over!

The most important thing to realize if you or a loved one has a psychiatric disability is that there are many things that can still be accomplished. You just have to find the right path.

 

1”Pathways to Recovery: A Strengths Recovery Self-Help Workbook.” University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, 2002. Page 127.

Shattered No More & Living with Mental Illness

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It was as if I had been running this ultra marathon and was down to my last mile; I still couldn’t see the finish line but I knew it was coming.  I knew relief was just around the corner and I knew when I crossed that finish line I was going to feel ecstatic.  I’m talking about my journey to recovery from bipolar disorder, a long, arduous grueling recovery process where blood, sweat and tears would have surpassed that of my fictitious ultra marathon example.

It was nearly four years ago when I signed up for the Pathways to Recovery: A Strengths Recovery Workshop.  I was handed a really nice gigantic self-help workbook and several extra inserts.  The book alone has several hundred pages of interactive guides.  It is a place to write down real live examples of how one is going to recovery from a mental illness.  Everything from writing a vision statement for what your dreams are to identifying short and long-term goals for how you are going to reach that vision.

The problem of course is that writing is one thing and doing is another.  The other problem is continually managing an illness while you are trying to recover.  I think that’s an oxymoron.  Exactly how do you recover while you are still managing symptoms?  Doesn’t the word recovery mean, “healed?”  Well that’s exactly what it does not mean, because there are no “cures” for mental illness.  There are medications and remedies that treat the symptoms but not cure the disease.  So the very nature of recovery is geared toward managing the symptoms and getting them to such a point where you can begin to rebuild your life.  The hope is that symptoms will not interfere with being able to do other things, but if they do interfere then we have the support systems in place to be able to handle them.

Everyone has her own definition of what “recovery” is.  I think of it as being able to reclaim a positive sense of self despite having a mental illness.  I look at recovery as a journey where finding healthy outlets become the “norm” and dealing with my mental illness is just part of my day but does not ruin my day.  I have always expected to recover and that’s probably a large part of why I have been able too.  But it does not mean that I don’t have bad days or difficult days where the medication side effects bother me to the point where sometimes I have to sleep 12 hours a day just to be able to function.  It used to bother me but I came to realize that if this is how I need to manage the illness this is what I have to do.

For a long time I did feel shattered because I had a mental illness.  But now I feel as if it is just part of who I am and what card I’ve been dealt in life.  We don’t get to choose what illness we get and what we don’t get but we do get to choose how we are going to deal with it.

10 Tools to Make You Stronger and More Hopeful

I’m always looking for ways to help myself feel better and today I came across Mental Health America’s ten tools for helping you feel stronger and more hopeful.  If you click on the tool it will take you to their webpage where you will be able to get in depth information on each tool.

The ten tools are:

  1. Connect with others
  2. Stay positive
  3. Get physically active
  4. Help others
  5. Get enough sleep
  6. Create joy and satisfaction
  7. Eat well
  8. Take care of your spirit
  9. Deal better with hard times
  10. Get professional help if you need it

I found the ten tools to be a good reminder of some things I already know and some things I need reminded about.  Hope you find it helpful.