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An Open Letter to Everyone

jenn-oc87rd-8

Dear Wondering If I Should Share:

I used to be like you. Why should I air my dirty laundry? Why should other people hear about my problems? What if my friends all think I’m weird if they know my brain is broken?

I had those same fears. After being hospitalized four times I wondered if I had any friends left. My anxiety and paranoia made it a struggle to leave the house. I figured I probably wasn’t missed.

Life was good before mental illness invaded my world. Going from being the leading recruiter of an agency where I was making six figures at the age of twenty-six to being taken out of my home strapped down to a stretcher and later placed in a mental hospital was demoralizing. My reputation was shot to hell, or at least it felt like it. I had no idea how I was going to pick up the pieces of my life that were scattered all over the floor.

My bipolar disorder told me I wasn’t smart or successful or fun anymore. My anxiety tickled my limbs until I curled up in the fetal position only I wasn’t crying from laughter. My depression told me I had nothing left to live for. It shot vivid images into my subconscious and I couldn’t shut them out.

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Jenn in 2006, 2 months after back-to-back hospitalizations when her illness first emerged

Somehow I realized, in the midst of these conversations with the afflictions in my brain, that this was all happening to me for a reason. My pride screamed, “You don’t want to become a statistic!” while a tiny voice stirred a passion deep inside me to share my story. I wanted to be known for what I created because of what happened to me.

I wanted to make a comeback, and desperately needed it to count for something.

So in August of 2011, I set out on an adventure with no idea where it would lead. My most recent hospitalization for mania was sixteen months in my rearview. Looking back now I can easily see how those early weeks of writing pushed me into hypomania. But like the good role model I was trying to portray, I nipped it in the bud by easing up on my obsession with my new blog.

Eagerness oozed out of my fingertips as they tapped the keyboard. I polled my family and husband to get their permission to put my real name on the blog after writing anonymously for a week or two.

My mom thought the moms at my son’s preschool might not let him have friends over for playdates if they knew of my illness. Her words stung, but I knew there was a possibility she was right. My dad agreed. My husband was more sympathetic, gently encouraging me to keep writing, but still without my name attached to it.

A photo of Jenn in 2006 after another hospitalization

Another photo of Jenn in 2006, soon after her diagnosis

I asked my psychiatrist and therapist to each weigh in, figuring they both see plenty of patients and have a ton of experience, they’d both have good insight. I even asked a few of my close friends what they thought.

They all advised against disclosure. The stigma is too great, they said. I could still share my story anonymously, it was still good to share. People would still find my words.

But it wouldn’t be the same.

By telling me to keep my story private online, they were also telling me to abstain from talking about my illness in real life. Sweep those shards of my past under the rug. No one needs to know about them.

We both know they were wrong.

My gut told me I needed to put my heart out there. That I needed to demonstrate — to those who found my work and to myself — that I was bigger than stigma.

Hiding behind the mask of a pen name and ambiguous photos made me look and feel like a coward.

Jenn and her husband

Jenn and her husband

If people can blog about their battles with cancer, why couldn’t I write about my rock-star fight with a brain illness? I had my lime green boxing gloves on and wanted to wave them in the air and kiss them because I’d won. Wasn’t that worth celebrating?

It devastated me to be told to remain silent about something that had happened to me, the trauma of the aftermath, and my subsequent rise from the dirt that could have become my grave. I never asked for this condition, and so why am I being told to keep quiet about it? Mental illness is a piece of my life that I’ve fought so hard to fix.

My story matters. And so does yours.

Someone in the world is suffering from the same mental health disorder you have. Think of the potential of that person reaching the end of his rope. He’s lost almost all hope. But randomly one night, he finds himself online searching for “how to overcome depression” or “stop anxious thoughts” or whatever he types into the search bar and the next thing he knows he’s reading your words. Or listening to your music. Or appreciating your tumblr page for the quotes you’ve collected that keep you going.

He found hope. Your hope. It gives him strength. He keeps going. Keeps on fighting.

All because you decided to share your story. You made a difference.

Photo courtesy of Julie Fischer McCarter at Shoot Photo Inc.

Photo courtesy of Julie Fischer McCarter at Shoot Photo Inc.

I know this can happen because it’s happened to me more times than I can count. I put my real name on my story in April of 2013 and it was the best decision I’ve made for my mental health.

Living a life with an ever-present fear of not being able to reveal a certain part of yourself isn’t truly living. Once I was able to accept my illness for what it is — treatable and manageable — I was able to open up completely, shedding the shame and embarrassment so that I could speak out as an advocate.

Listen, I know not everyone is wired like I am. Not everyone wants to call attention to their illness and make it their career, as I have. But at least take advantage of the opportunity when it comes up. How much easier would it be for friends and family to help us cope with our condition if they knew our triggers? Why not tell them how they can best support you in your recovery journey?

I want you to know that I get what it feels like to be scared to talk about having mental illness. Being vulnerable and opening up about our biggest struggles in life is never a walk in the park. But you know what? Every time I’ve opened up to someone in my life about my past, and about the fact that I have to manage my illness each and every day, I’m brought closer to that person just by sharing this invisible thing about myself. By telling them what I hold closest to my heart, I’m telling them I trust them with a fragile piece of me.

No one has used it against me.

Jenn and her kids, photo by Julie Fischer McCarter at Shoot Photo Inc.

Instead, the act of telling my story has made my life so much richer, overflowing with deeper, more meaningful relationships with the people I love. I’ve even developed gratitude for my bipolar disorder.

Why? Because it’s allowed me to see that shimmering light can come from the fiercest darkness. That a person’s lowest point isn’t the end of their story, in fact, it’s usually the beginning. Because of mental illness I’ve grown more empathetic to the battles people face. It’s made me a better, more active and engaged listener. It’s made me a better person.

We’re in this together. And when we combine our voices and speak out because we have nothing to hide, we cultivate a powerful sense of community. A community that broadcasts it’s okay to reach out for help.

Life is too short not to take a brave stand against stigma, don’t you think? Since opening up, I’ve received hundreds of emails and messages from grateful readers and their words have become like fuel to me, igniting my passion for sharing my recovery story to help people know they are not alone. The same could be true for you. I know it. I know you can find your voice.

Jenn and her creative partner Anne Marie Ames with the debut cast of "This Is My Brave - the show"

Jenn and her creative partner Anne Marie Ames with the debut cast of “This Is My Brave – the show”

Last year I launched a non-profit called This Is My Brave to inspire those affected by mental illness to speak out in a theater performance, telling their stories through essays, poetry and original music. The show was a brilliant success, thanks to the courageous individuals who gave of their time and talents to participate. Ironically, the discrimination my mom feared I’d be submitting myself to by revealing my identity never happened. Those moms instead wrapped their arms around me in support as I had hoped they would.

And my parents have since changed their tune about disclosure. After seeing how healing it’s been for me, how could they not?

I urge you to peel the weight off your shoulders. You don’t need to keep carrying around the secret of living with a mental illness. Why not try what it feels like to walk through life unburdened, unashamed, unafraid? There are people out there who could be saved by reading your words, by being privileged enough to know your story.

I hope you decide to share.

Your friend writing openly to change the world,
Jenn

Photo courtesy of Julie Fischer McCarter at Shoot Photo Inc.

Photo courtesy of Julie Fischer McCarter at Shoot Photo Inc.

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Jennifer Marshall is a wife and mom to Owen (6) and Vivian (4). Before kids, Jennifer enjoyed a successful career as a recruiter, but several years ago traded in her resume-filtering skills to freelance write and run a non-profit. She began blogging anonymously about living with bipolar type 1 disorder and motherhood on her blog, Bipolar Mom Life, in 2011. The weight of her secret became too heavy in 2013 when Jenn realized she wanted to take off the mask and make a difference by sharing her story, and encouraging others to do the same. Today she is Co-Founder and Executive Director of This Is My Brave, Inc., an organization which provides people a platform to share their stories of how mental illness has affected their lives. This Is My Brave shows feature live performances of poetry, music, and essays in their theater setting, and are also shared via the organization's YouTube channel. Follow Jenn on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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  • Jennifer,

    Your essay put a smile on my face. We share quite a bit in common, both being former recruiters, parents, and collaborators with OC87, the least of them. Finding my voice, inspired by my daughter’s courage, has given me a new career, speaking engagements in Italy and California, and a strength I never knew I had. Candor like ours inspires others to stand up to the crippling shame and stigma of mental illness. Institutionalization and despair can give rise to a type of beauty that only comes from the hard-earned freedom of escaping from the prisons of our brains and finding our “brave”. – Evan at Child and Family Connections Inc.

    • Hi Evan! Thanks so much for reading. I agree with you completely. Every time I’ve shared my story, I have people who thank me and then share their story with me. It’s a domino effect which I know will catch on with society soon. We just need to keep on standing up for what we believe in, inspiring others to join along the way. PS. What an awesome organization you have!! Keep up the great work!

    • Rochelle Russell

      How do I tell my story? I suffer frm severe depression, and ptsd after a rape years ago and when I lost my only child last year at the age of only 20 leaving behind my 15 day old grandbaby. Since that occurred I have been diagnosed with severe ptsd

      • Rochelle, you may want to start by writing in journals, then start a blog. It was once I started my blog (even in the beginning when it was anonymous) when I began connecting with other advocates online. Then when I was ready, I put my real name on my blog and opened up completely. Therapy is also extremely important, as I’m sure you’re aware. But writing provides me with a different outlet to process my illness, and you may find it very therapeutic. I wish you the best in your recovery.

    • Angela Davis

      For years I have different experiences in whicH case, I thought were just simple feelings of stress, and a case if being overworked at home and on the job. Periods of times were I attempted to see if there was really something two be concerned about, however never following through to get help. After years of axiety, depression, panic attacts, irritability, impuslsiveness, and an episode at work were I just had enough, I finally sought help. Today after speaking with my psychiatrist, I finally feel like there is a light at the end of a really dark tunnel. This is my start to my road to recovery, and stability. Please keep writing, I now know, I am not alone.

    • My preteen daughter was recently diagnosed with bipolar. She is an extraordinary force of nature, full of compassion, wildly intelligent and an extraordinarily creative little girl with a capacity for greatness and leadership that makes my heart sing. She is also in the midst of a struggle unlike anything I have witnessed. It breaks my heart as a momma to see my baby girl unable to negotiate mood and vulnerable to every feeling, every interaction…crying in the closet for hours on end, raging against her loved ones in hopes they can feel for a second what is happening on the inside. I would do anything to alleviate the anguish and am finally coming to terms with the fact that hormones are not this vicious…I read this at just the right moment. The moment, that we have decided that mood stabilizers are a kindness. That she is not her illness. She is child of God with a cross to bear, but she will not carry it alone. Thank you for for putting your name on your story. It makes me feel like I can too. Like my daughter can claim her life and not her fate. Thank you with my whole heart.

    • Heather

      This morning has been a particularly bad morning. If fact, since last Fri., (4/3/15), I am reliving what happened this exact time last year. I am on paid suspension from my job as of yesterday, (4/6/15).
      I stand to be terminated from my job.

      The job I’m currently with, I have not divulged my disease of Bipolar. Instead I have explained away my outburst w/ having menopause, (which I honestly am going through).
      I work for Fed Ex in multiple positions. The hub that I work for, (Hutchins, TX.) has been in many ways a “godsend” for me. I can hunker down and work hard and am seldom approached, however … HOWEVER, I am “the minority” at this particular hub. This translates to me being “a target” for sexual harassment. I worked with another co-worker for the first time about a month and a half ago and this man started on and on about ” I’m waiting for a DNA test to see if I’m a baby’s daddy” and ” You see that manager over there? I had a fight with him and nearly kicked his (explicit).” I was working on some quality assurance with some pkgs. and to get him to basically “shut up,” I ask him to hold the pkg while I taped it up; this was to throw a hint his way that I am trying to work and I don’t care about your problems.
      This co-worker did not stop.
      I just finally stepped away and went to another area to finish out the day.

      It did not stop there.
      This co-worker went ALL around the building to find me and to try and give me his phone#. When he found me, he gave it to me and I promptly threw it into the trash.
      I’m sure he saw me do it.
      It did not stop there.
      A few weeks later I had my back turned and doing a task and he came right up behind me, close enough to where when I turned around, un-knowing that he was there, I nearly racked him since I was reaching for a pkg., but instead “his area” was there.
      He laughed and thought that it was funnier that I was in complete shock and embarrassed, humiliated.
      Again, he tried giving me his phone# and when I told him “No. I don’t want to date you.” He told me 3x’s to put the number in my purse or he would.
      That is a direct threat.
      I reported it immediately to a manager that evening.
      HR brought me in and interviewed me after I had submitted a statement.
      I was told point blank that I had nothing to worry about. The problem would be taken care of.

      It wasn’t.

      A week later, this co-worker was working in an area that I was and when I looked up from what I was doing, I said his name and squinted like I could not believe that he was STILL working.
      He said, ” Don’t you remember me? Have you forgotten my name?”
      I immediately left the area and told a manager.
      I was told to stay on only one side of the area and that he would also.

      So, this leaves me with last Fri. night, (4/3/15).
      This co-worker followed me out of the guard shack as everyone was leaving for their break and I typically will leave quickly given that I only have 30 min.’s to throw food down, clean up and prepare for my last shift of the day.
      He stayed “just enough behind me” so as not to make it look obvious and was shouting out things like, “Why you walking so fast, baby girl?” and “What you scared of?” I looked back and almost tripped over a speed bump because I wasn’t watching what I was doing.
      He laughed.
      It scared the day light’s out of me.

      I say all of this to say that that evening, while on my break, I went quickly home, paced the floor and then poured a shot of vodka and drank it, brushed my teeth and went back to work earlier so that I could meet with my manager to discuss what happened.
      It’s safer to say that with the combination of Bipolar and Menopause, I lost it while in the office w/ my manager.
      He just looked at me like, “Meh? So?” and kept telling me to calm down.
      I was crying hard enough for snot to run out of my nose, fist balled up, angrier, frustrated, SCARED.
      I whipped out my can of maze and showed it to him and threatened that I would use it if this individual did not stop harassing me or worse – I think he’s capable of hurting me. What’s to say he does not have a rap sheet? Fed Ex does not even drug test when you’re hired on. They only do ” a soft core back ground check” and if you pass that, then you move onto a “hard core back ground check.”
      That’s it.

      So, that evening I was taken by my manager to Concentra after hrs. care and given a breathalyzer test. It came back pretty much at nothing, ( I cannot decipher the percentage – it’s all irrelevant to me unless I was legally intoxicated, in which case the P.A. who administered the test said that I was not. Note: this was performed in front of my manager.)
      We were told by the P.A. that I could drive safely home.

      I thought after that, no big deal … let’s just see what needs to be done to this monster who won’t leave me alone!

      Oh no … I’M on paid suspension given that Fed Ex has a “0” tolerance for alcohol consumption. I was right in admitting to it, to taking responsibility for it and I did not even do it on the grounds of Fed Ex. I did it at home.

      Bipolar is such an affliction.
      It causes so much “fight or flight” responses in me and leaves me feeling like no one understands when I legitimately have an outburst after being tried over and over and over again. I cannot “read people” very well sometimes. I am an extremely outgoing person, but when I try and set boundaries with people, they do not want to be around me. They think/feel that I am being un-reasonable.

      I cannot lose my job.
      I have a son w/ Autism, bills to pay, stellar beacon score, (credit) that I have painstakingly maintained.
      Finding a job when you have bipolar is theeeeeeee TOUGHEST thing to do.

      Can anyone help me out here?
      I know that I did wrong by having a shot of Vodka and going into work and blurting it out to my manager behind closed doors, but I was trying to be honest. I was trying to show Fed Ex that I’m truly scared and cannot calm down if I know that someone could hurt or even kill me.
      That is the world we live in today.

  • Valerie Lacayo

    You popped up on my newsfeed tonight, it is so nice to find some one else who is not afraid to tell the world they are bipolar. I keep trying to tell those that I meet that the only way to end the stigma is to be loud and proud about who we are. Make it known we are here and we are not dangerous or broken, different yes, but no less worthy of love and respect than anyone else. I have made friends with my bipolar disorder, it has been a road to this point, but I like you now find myself grateful for and even proud of it. It has had a major role in shaping who I am, and I like who I am and so do so many others. I am going to share your blog on my FB page in hopes that you can inspire my other bipolar friends. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Dawn

    how do you get your family to believe you have a problem and get them to stop pushing your buttons? I have a few members of mine that I really think they find some sick kind of humor to push me. Because of this there is no one in my life. I am overly pissed at a few who seem to taunt me and the others will never hear my side of things, so I just keep to my self. I do think about suicide often. I have never attempted it, but it’s a valid option when it comes to spending the rest of my life alone and like this. I am on many depression meds, also Xanax. I have approached my Dr. Many times about changing my meds and he just tells me that I am at the max of what I can take. Frustrated and severely sad.

    • Vijay

      Hi Dawn,
      Recovery TAKES TIME so hang in there and NEVER stop fighting. Finding support through the internet is one of the things that is helping me. In fact you’re post just help me !! Let me repeat that… You helped me. See you are not alone and you matter !!!!! Here’s my 2 cents.

      Short answer is you can’t get them to believe…. but you can stop the pain of being abused by them… till eventually the abuse stops. Yes abuse… as defined by the Edmonton Police who deal with mental abuse all the time… “Abuse is an attempt to control the behavior of another person. It is a misuse of power which uses the bonds of intimacy, trust and dependency to make the victim vulnerable.” We wouldn’t tolerate physical abuse or sexual abuse yet the stigma against mental illness still exists. How others judge us is one of the greatest barriers to a complete and satisfying life. My experience is that only those who have a mental illness or are mental healthcare providers understand us (note: I consider supportive family members as healthcare providers). Unfortunately my family, friends and society have no basis to understand and without a willingness to try they never will. I don’t blame them anymore… I just accept it as the truth (i.e., it’s not accepting defeat… it’s just a fact).

      At the start (2 yrs ago diagnosed with bipolar II, OCD and social anxiety) they were hostile to me… “what do you mean you’re sick… you look fine to me”… “what is your sickness then… explain it to me”… “you were able to live a normal life all these years so what’s the problem”… “Hurry up and get better”. I know these arm-chair psychologists still think I’m acting “crazy” willingly (note: crazy is their word… I don’t like it). If they only knew how much it hurts every day they wouldn’t have the courage we have to get up every morning!!!!!

      So the first step is to realize “pushing buttons” is abuse. This should help you (us) to stop taking it anymore… seeing that it’s just plain wrong. Over time I stopped listening to them and I stopped trying to get them to understand me. It took a long time to guard myself from their abuse… and I still have to remain vigilant (although recently my father seems to want to listen and truly understand…. we’ll see how that goes). I know it gets lonely being isolated from family and friends. These days we get along only because we don’t bring up the subject. Sad very sad… oh well we’ll move on. We’re not bad or defective… just different.

      The next step was for me to closely work with my doctor and Psychologist on my recovery… understanding that they are here to guide me and that the work is all mine. So continue to get help… don’t give up.

      Finally good for you for standing up to your doctor. All I can say is to continue to work with your doctors. I know you’re frustrated… feeling that nothing is working. I’m the same… but my doctors are telling me that I am improving… and I’m sure you are too… We just can’t see it since we don’t have the support of family and friends. It will take whatever time that we need to recover/improve (i.e., we’re all different and so is our recovery).

      Have a great day !!!!!

    • Heather

      Dawn,

      I understand.
      I do.

      I just found this site today because I wanted to. I’m 44, have a child w/ Autism, helped spear head a support group for Autism, (close to 7 yrs. it was available to the public) and I have researched enough to want to regurgitate ALL that I know to the whole world!, (i.e.- biomedical studies, anti-depressants vs. alternative care, (homeopathic), behavior modification, food allergies/intolerances). These are just a handful of the many, many things that I have done to try and help myself, my son and other’s, but as a mom, I have failed “myself.”
      I took care of everyone else, (a cheating husband, a “good as gold” daughter, a precious son w/ PDD/NOS – autism, OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS who take part in making light/fun of our disease and are there when it’s to their needs, specifically).

      I know ALL ABOUT the lonesomeness, heart ache, “feeling like a crazy,” having “no clout” with other’s because I “can be” situationally quirkier.

      I wished that I knew you and thousands of other’s, personally. I wished most days that we were are “own little community,” but that’s not likely. We un-fortunately have to mesh in society whether we like it or not.

      I think of suicide daily. DAILY.
      If it were not for my children and my faith, I would just go on and take every pill that I could. I’m not living a happier life with this disease, although I try to put that on the forefront for other’s to think. I also live in shame, but often wonder, “Why?” I did not look up and ask God, “Why is my brain like this???!”

      I HATE who I feel like most days and I take my meds, sometimes I admittedly will have a drink. I work through behavior modification and trying not to be impulsive. You can’t stay away from negative people. That’s not reality – I’ve learned that. As far as stress – Ha! We live it! Right? That’s just reality, too.
      Do I have people or things that are “triggers?” YES.
      YES.
      Let me say that again – YES.
      I think EVERYBODY does – not just people w/ mental illness.
      But, of course, “if someone knows” about our disease because we impulsively told them, ( I have 🙁 than every little hurt, disappointment, frustration – even anger is “highlighted” and exploited.
      Yep.
      Nice, eh?

      Write me. I’m here 🙂

      • mike

        Find a support group you are comfortable with. For bipolar or depression. You are not alone. Interacting with others that have been there will go along way in helping your recovery.
        I promise.

  • Hi Jenn,
    I love your story. I’ve started a similar journey of sharing stories but of families with youth mental illness in the home. I’m in the process of developing a new website and writing a book with the goal of diminishing shame, decreasing feelings of isolation and increasing awareness. I will definitely include your blog and story on my site, when it’s done. You are an inspiration and a trailblazer to spread the message of mental illness. You go girl!!!
    Best,
    Andrea

  • Marisssa Cunningham

    I’m so happy to hear of your success. My journey has been very different. I have been disabled by this condition-even before my diagnosis 10 years ago. I haven’t been able to work. My family gave up on me as soon as they realized that my condition was chronic. They somehow blame me for not trying hard enough to get better. My friends are unsupportive. I try to educate the people in my life rather than get angry, but I think the whole idea scares them as cancer did 20 years ago. Sick is sick. Just bring over a casserole damnit!!! 😉 There is nothing about this illness I’m grateful for. It’s ruined my life and left me lonely. Thanks for listening.

    • dana

      Hi Marissa since I was a teen I knew I was different than my friends I grew up with an alcoholic mother who also suffered from chronic bi polar disorder my mom passed away and my dad doesn’t think anything is wrong with me I got married in 1997 and I have five children after the birth of my first child I started acting strangely walking down the street in the middle of the night I then just cut my arm and said I wanted to die I told my husband that the pain wont go away I didn’t want my baby I felt like a failure I mean who doesn’t want their own child after many outbursts the ambulance came to get me I was hospitalized for 2 weeks and told that I had bi polar disorder I know how you feel my family and friends don’t want me I have since married again and I have a very loving and supportive husband my children are wonderful we have been through so much. I to have chronic bi polar disorder i can not work I receive a disability pension .today I feel terrible its like no one knows the anguish. I have no filter I say what is on my mind to any body I pick fights with people I feel like people are staring at me I want to wake up from this torture in my brain it really hurts when I call my dad and he says well are you over it yet do you have a job are you moving on with your life I wish it was that easy thank you for reading Dana

  • Continue To Embrace Your Uniqueness & The Uniqueness Of Others One “SHARE” At A Time! “SHARE” Smiles, Hugs, A Hand of Friendship, Reach Out To Another Even Lend an Ear To Just Listen To Another! :).

  • KEEP WRITING, JENNIFER MARSHALL! YOU ARE A ONE-IN-A-MILLION YOUNG WOMAN!! AND A GREAT WRITER AT THAT!! HUGS, CAROLE

  • KEEP WRITING, JENNIFER MARSHALL! YOU ARE A ONE-IN-A-MILLION YOUNG WOMAN!! AND A GREAT WRITER, TOO! “If people can blog about their battles with cancer, why couldn’t I write about my rock-star fight with a brain illness? I had my lime green boxing gloves on and wanted to wave them in the air and kiss them because I’d won. Wasn’t that worth celebrating? “-http://oc87recoverydiaries.com/brave-open-letter-everybody/#sthash.XzOxDwcD.dpuf
    YOU ARE THE CELEBRATION! YOUR HUSBAND AND BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN! GOD BLESS YOU FOR YOUR DETERMINATION AND WILL AND STICK-TO-I-TIVE-NESS! YOU ARE WORKING TO CHANGE LIVES!

  • Heidi

    This is amazing. I’ve struggled with mental illness, specifically generalised anxiety, major depressive disorder, ptsd, Asperger syndrome, and panic disorder my whole life, first inpatient treatment at 12. I’m 40 now and have learned to accept these things and be open about my experiences in an attempt to help others, as are. I’ve had all the same issues with people telling me to keep it quiet. this was a true inspiration to me, keep writing!

  • stephanie

    I do not have bi-polar. I have soon to be step son with it (12) and his mother, grand ma, uncles etc all with it.

    It is scary, because she is not in logical frame of mind. She had lost custody due to neglect a few years ago, and was recently awarded supervised visits while the courts decide if she will have continued contact etc with the kids.

    She has been diagnosed twice, but still denies she has it.

    Meanwhile, I am walking the tightrope of not setting her off. I recently suggested that the boy talk to her and her family about strategies for dealing with disease. She went off on a rant and told the boy I had lied about her diagnosis.(both dxs were submitted as evidence in a recent court appearance). How do I help my stepson? When I talk about the disease at all it sets her off. If we talk about how to manage symptoms, or boundaries I have no rights other than to financially support her child. (I have been in his life since the state took them from her and gave them to dad almost 4 years ago.)

    how can I help him???

  • I love this. I too have decided to reach out to the general public, and have created a “group” on FaceBook. The page is a place for people who either are bipolar, or know someone who is. It was designed for people to free express how they feel about the disease. It is intended to as a non-judgmental forum. The thoughts could help someone else. Thanks.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bipolar-Discovery-Group/823607184360690

  • rodrigo

    I will love for you to try to reach to my wife she’s in a pretty dark place and right now she is pushing me away and i don’t know what to do anymore im screaming for help for her cause all her family are useless and a bunch of ignorant people …….we need help maybe you can help her better than a doctor’s cause i feel like we are loosing this battle ..

  • Russell

    Hey Jenn

    It’s great therapy. Wrote 3 books myself and countless works of art in order to put my mind in the happy space of creation. The greatest despair of depression is the lack of creativity or at least the fact that you have zero motivation to do most anything during the deeper days. I think the fundamental question to the suffering self is; What is eating me? This kind of question in the end leads you in circles because the past is the only place you search for answers. And truly the question itself is designed to keep you asking and never getting the right answer, because there is none in this context.

    The question should be rather; Is it true? (whatever it is that gives me reason to believe I should suffer) Then there are but two possible answers. Once the suffering mind understands that there could only be one true answer and that the other answer could never be true… you then have a foundation to stand firmly. No one need suffer: our true natural expression is completely opposite to everything unkind we could possibly believe about our self or anyone else. Understand that by telling your story, the message is first for you Jenn, and then for all suffering minds. There are no minds apart and what good you do pushes all forward to a healed and happy mind. Good for you my darling!

  • Steve

    Thank you so much Jennifer for sharing your story. My wife of 23 years has been going through the same struggles as you did for the last 5 years. In and out of the hospital only to be okay when she is released for a short period of time. She has recently been diagnosed with Bipolar. The Antidepressant medication she is on, works for a month after she is released, but now she keeps slipping into the Bipolar depression again. I have read that giving Antidepressants to someone that has Bipolar can send them back into the cycling moods. That a mood stabilizer, with a Bipolar medication works better to control the moods of Bipolar. I believe the Antidepressants are making her worse than better. Would you be able to tell me what works for you medication wise. She is really down again, and thinks nothing out there is going to work for her. I don’t want her to give up hope the right medication is out there.
    Thanks Steve

    • Mouse

      I have bipolar 1, ptsd and bpd. I used to be on antidepressants. They lifted me from the depressed state but sent me so high when I was manic that I felt crazy and out of control. It was the first time meds had made me feel better regarding the depression. I was on them for about 3 years. Another doctor told me that antidepressants were the worst thing ever, and put me on a mood stabilizer. At first I didn’t want to stop taking the antidepressants because I was scared to, but eventually I got off them. I felt better, but I didn’t feel like myself. I was flat and emotionless, but I wasn’t cycling up and down like a yoyo. I was learning who I really was as a person, instead of this crazy person I had known my entire life. I got pregnant and out of fear of what the meds would do to my child, I stopped them. Worst thing ever. My doctor told me I needed to go back on them but I refused. I wanted a healthy baby. I had a difficult time during my pregnancy. Once my baby was born, I started my meds again. I suffered with post partum depression for an entire year afterwards and had trouble bonding with my daughter. A few months after she was born another doctor at a mental health facility put me on a second mood stabilizer. The two combined, Valproic Acid and Lamotrigine, seemed to be a great combination for me. Until my husband changed job, lost his benefits, and I couldn’t afford my meds anymore. I have been off my meds for almost 2 years now. I am rapid cycling, having mixed episodes, anxiety, racing thoughts, insomnia, memory loss, paranoia, delusions, and psychotic episodes. My doctor wanted to put me on disability but I want to contribute to society and not be a burden. My husband left me and took our 2 year old daughter with him a year ago. I have been dealing with this alone, started cutting myself and having gruesome suicidal thoughts. I feel out of control. I truly believe I am supposed to die. I recently got a job which I thought was impossible but I think I was able because I was manic, and am getting benefits in another 2 months if I can try to keep myself going and not do something crazy to lose my job. I fully intend to go back to my meds again. I know I need to do that and get therapy as well. This mental illness only gets worse the longer it is left untreated. I’m 37 years old. Please get your wife to someone who knows about bipolar disorder and get her treated properly. Don’t let her suffer like I have. I hate to think that anyone else could ever go through what I have. Writing this was very hard but I only hope it helps someone else. No one should have to suffer. No one should go through this alone.

      • Bill Hartenberger

        I’ve found it VERY useful to increase your physical activity (to the gym) as much as you can possibly take. This helps me a lot! Make yourself sweat and work hard at it until you can get back on your meds. I use Lamotrigine, and other small dosage meds to.
        Getting good sleep is really important (as I’m sure you’ve discovered). Although I don’t by any means profess to know what’s good for anyone else I use a prescribed very low dosage (.5 mg) sleeping pill, only as needed, It eliminates insomnia for me. It helps change a pattern of poor sleep. You have to know when you will be able to get to sleep without it as well. Talk to your doctor.

        • Mouse

          Thanks for your input. This past week I started to eat clean, whole foods, with lots of water. No more processed, packaged foods and only natural sources of sugar. I have also been exercising at least 30 minutes every day, really getting my heart rate up and sweating like you suggest. This isn’t to lose weight, I’m already super scrawny, but rather just a significant change in my lifestyle, a choice to live healthier. I feel happy, healthy, and I’m sleeping better. Yes, I still need my meds but this certainly helps. I discovered bananas help with depression and anxiety, and there’s a ton of other foods that do as well. Diet and exercise are very important.

  • lena

    hi came across your page somehow, ive had bipolar 1 for at least the last 10 yrs that im aware of, ive tried many medications, none have worked and I recently gave up on taking medications all together and kind of just riding it out, telling friends and family what to not do to trigger me or how to help when it happens, sometimes theres really nothing that can be done to help though. ive had lots of physical pain that went along with the mental pain, such as aching muscles, major headaches, etc..
    but now im facing a new problem, ive let it go for so long that my whole entire body goes into involuntary muscle spams, its excruciating pain and its pretty much now left me disabled and completely handicap. im on a long waiting list now to get help for it.

    have you ever went through physical pain from this sickness? ty for taking the time to read my comment 🙂

  • Joan

    Unlike you I am using a pseudonym. My sister has bipolor, PTSD, DID and alcoholism.

    We are completely out of ideas how to help her and she is soon to be homeless. She is very very sick but she fights being helped. she has been told her only way out at this point is long term inpatient treatment. But she resists.

    One of the hardest things is that the combination of diseases takes over her personality and arouses anger in me and all who know her. We love her, want her to get better, are very aware that she is sick, and still the anger rises and takes us by surprise. How can you be angry at a sick person? You might just as well be angry at someone for having cancer.

  • Tori

    I`m sorry that this might sound rude or judgmental, but I also have been diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder, and it doesn’t destroy your life like you first portrayed in the beginning of your entry. It just makes it more difficult. I have so many problems in my family life, with both parents split and married off, and a mother who moved across the country, it makes it hard. I go to bed at night and stare at the scars on my wrists, old & new. I`ve seriously thought of suicide, believing the i wouldn’t be missed or given a second thought. But its not because of my diagnosis. I feel like you have written off your problems to apart of the bipolar. Its just how strong you are mentally to deal with things.

  • Socorro Bredeweg

    How can you live in a world of bipolar You have tried every way to love the person and helped out many nights and days. Rescue them love them again and agian and all they do is blame you. You are why they get mad its not their mental illiness is this what you hear or want to hear.
    No no its not its a world of stress not wanting to come home and hear your stepson yelling and not doing anything around the house just wants to eat meake a mess not do his homework and blame you for his problems. I have been very depressed about this for years. I ride around in my car not to come home. Its a shame that I cant come home to my own house. I know the minute I step in its trouble. We dont mistreat our stepson and yet he claims we are the worse parents. If he only knew what a bad parent is really. My husband has been the best parent I have ever seen. He always keeps his words to what would God want me to do. This son abuses him so much verbal abuse that is. He tells him he does not care and that he is going to find his bio father and move in with him. He is always trying to manipulate everything he says and does. He wants to become a girl and has asked that we pay for his surgery. I had my husband put a lock in our door because I dont want him to put my clothes on and when we put the lock and he found out he got so mad. He stated that he was going to put a lock on his door and we better not try to enter his room. However, his room is in the basement and we have to go in to do laundry. He says he does not care and he will put a lock. This is just one example of the millions of bad things he does to us and then wants to blame us for his problems. We take him to counceling, pysch dr and on medication. we try to take him with us to church and try to help him out. When he does not get his way he gets very mean and does things I really cant put on this wed site. Its been such a battle. I dont think he will ever take responsiblity for what he does. He always blames the other people. He goes out to play and he always comes back that he had a fight and they started the fight. I don’t understand how he can not see what he is doing. He does not want to take care of himself. He does not bursh his teeth does not want to bath and smells very bad. We try so hard in having boundaries rewards just to get him to shower. This battle will not stop. He is almost 16 years. I Pray one day he is free from bipolar.

  • sylvia

    Amazing that I came arcoss something I needed for so long. It seemed like no one on earth had anything remotely to my horrible endless nightmare. I have Bipolar and everything that goes along with it, anxiety and panic attacks. But one day things just got worse for me. My world became a twisted sick playground for hell. I woke up to psychiotic depression. Mental illness at its best.
    I’m 44 y.o.I have a wonderful husband of 18 years, I have 5 kids. I’m so lucky to be alive.

  • Andrew Sanders

    How I stopped cutting and took control of my bipolar disorder: http://bit.ly/1JQ1KBe

  • Jenn I love that you had the courage to put your name on your blog. I just recently started blogging about my struggle with being bipolar and having an eating disorder and everyone told me to keep my name off of it but I didn’t. Everyone that I have shared it with has given me amazing feedback. So many people have thanked me for being brave enough to talk about some of the things they don’t want to say. I would love to be able to do more advocating mental health awareness. If you want to check out my blog go to http://dancingintherain5815.blogspot.com/ I just started it in March so there isn’t a ton there yet but it’s a work in progress.

  • Thank you thank you thank you for posting this. Almost didn’t leave the house this morning due to my anxiety ( http://jessikaperrier.blogspot.ca/ ). When I finally got to work (yay, me!), I couldn’t quite control all my symptoms. wasn’t sure how to act, what to say – your post was what I needed to go back in and face it all again tomorrow. Talking to people, even posts on Facebook, when I am brave enough to be genuine, or too exhausted to be anything else, always bring forth confidences and conversation. Like you, I’ve never had a bad reaction, but somehow I’m still ashamed. Somehow, I’m sure this is still my fault.

    So, thanks for this.

  • Bill Lundin

    I have been battling mental illness all my life and have been mis-diagnosed many times and was finally given the diagnosis os bi-polar when I was in my late 20’s. I am now 48 and have been continuously on the medication (Risperdal) I take now since Oct. ’99. I made an attempt to take my life in June 2002 and almost didn’t make it. That was the last time I have been hospitalized for depression but I have been manic since then often.

    I am now able to hold a job and have been at my current job for 12 years. I attribute my success in life to my psychiatrist, therapist, AA (I am also an alcoholic, sober 4 1/2 years) and my accepting, patient life partner. You have to find someone who will understand and have a sense of humor with your illness(s). We are both HIV positive as well.

    Even though I have mental illness and other issues, I find that having gratitude and forgiveness are the keys to finding wholeness. I have surrounded myself with support, but the greatest support you can have is yourself…

  • Hi –
    Thanks for sharing your story. I agree – your story matters and so does mine. And so does everyone else’s. While I understand that the answer isn’t the same for everyone, being open and telling my story has been extremely therapeutic for me. Electro convlusive therapy has been a huge part of my wellness and I’ve started a blog (www.myelectricmind.com) to share my experience with 100 ECT treatments and tell my story of mental illness. I’d love it if you’d stop by and say hi. Be well, everyone.

    Kate

  • Jim Wade

    Hello Jenn,
    What you are doing, and the public way you are doing it, are an inspiration. In fact, your work is exactly what I want to emulate…but I could really use some advice. I want to build a site which focuses on the manic phases in men, and the incredible damage they do to other people, especially their families. In particular, I want to build a site that focuses on family reconciliation, and provides a discreet means for the manic person to reach out to estranged family members with long, private posts (secured with mutually known security questions), that can be the beginning of reconciliation. No obligation or direct contact, but something available to read privately. Additionally, of course, I’d like to have public blog posts, and resource links.
    If you could provide some advice as to which web tools start with, I would greatly appreciate it. The concept is not strictly a web site or a blog; it is, most importantly, a private and secure forum for one-to-one communication. It is difficult for me to know which tool to use, and how to start.
    Thank you for any advice you can offer!

  • Maureen Whaley

    This blog was a blessing to find today. Bipolar has been a long struggle that has confused my family thus support has been lacking for me. Finding you blog today was like an angel from heaven.

    • claudia sofia

      Hi Maureen,

      I have a son that struggles with Bipolar disorder, sometimes is very hard to understand that your child is sick and to try and maintain a harmonious environment, hope your family gives you more support. all the best. Claudia

  • crystal

    your story was wonderful my name is crystal and i suffer from bipolar disorder 2 and borderline personality disorder, ocd,post tramatic stress, and lipoedema and lymphedema. see i tried to get disability tax credted but they declinded it and i can not work because if i fall i end up in a wheel chair i can only stand for a few minutes and i can walk a little bit , i was hospitalized in 2008 because of lymphedema and my son lives with my mom in grande prairie and my husband is trying to get me on aish

    • Katherine Blakely

      You qualify for disability. It can take up to three times applying to get it. Appeal your original decision or reapply. Also, there are attorneys that help, they specialize in cases like yours and will get their fee from your retroactive proceeds. Please try again. You deserve the help and can win.

  • Paul Molloy

    Thank you for this fantastic blog. I have been living with Bipolar for 40 years. My identical twin, Kevin took his own life 10 years ago, he was my hero. I have hidden my disease from most people who know me but was recently outed by a manic attack which became apparent to all those around me. I am not ashamed of who I am but I do realize that once the cat’s out of the bag, some people don’t like cats and some people are afraid of cats. I do know that I’m not alone and just wanted you to know how much I appreciate all of this.

  • Michael Dishong

    My name is Michael, married for 33 years and 66 years old. I have Bi-polar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD, ADHD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My Psychiatrist at the hospital wondered why I am still alive or not in jail because he says that everyone he has treated for these disorders or combination of them is dead or in jail.
    I have been misunderstood, abused (physically, mentally, and sexually) throughout my life. I am married to a wonderful woman who has many health and mental issues of which Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality disorder) is the worst. Her dysfunctions help to make me functional. I have helped her continue living.
    Although I am depressed many times, no one or nothing will ever cause me to quit trying or to take my own life. I know my self-worth. I know I am loved and love myself.
    I am also talented in many areas but I don’t brag about them. I am a poet, a publisher and a Cartographer with my own mapping company.
    I discovered this web site by accident and it feels good to read peoples stories.
    I have to fight every day to validate my self-worth and to remove thoughts of suicide which are constant companions to those who have my disorders. But let me tell you, I win everyday because I know the facts about my life and my value and nothing or no one will ever be able to change those facts. God bless you all. I will be around. Thanks,
    Michael

  • beth wilson

    I believe my son (26) is exhibiting bipolar symptoms but I cannot get a clear diagnosis or any insight from his doctor due to privacy issues. We have always been a close family (only child) and are working on our communication with more reflective listening and trying to understand his feelings beyond the anger. For those of you in the know if you have any other help or advice you can offer as a parent it would be much appreciated. Thanks!

    • Sandie

      I don’t know where to start and this may stray but here goes. My son was diagnosed at the age of about 20, during his second or third hospitalization. He is now 29, and has been hospitalized again a number of times after that. Somewhere along the line it was suggested he sign a mental health care power of attorney, which he did. He has also had the same psychiatrist for at least 6-7 years, that we have both come to trust. He was also asked at the doctor’s office if his information can be shared and to designate with whom. This and the mental health care document can be revoked at any time by him. I have not taken this to mean I’m privy to everything, but rather respect his privacy and wield these documents when things really matter. (His manic episodes have put him in harms way.) I always ask if he wants me to remind, drive, or go with for doctor’s visits; or if he needs assistance with medications. I accept (and try to not judge) whatever he decides, and always leave the door open for him to seek help, hope, safety, or rest. Not only I, but others, have willingly accepted our role as his support system. It has been 3 years and 1 month that my son asked me to be his “trusted person,” and guide his care if signs of mania begin to surface, it has also been that long (and the longest) since his last hospitalization.

  • Jane Doe

    So I agree with this article…however, I think it is extremely messed up that you have ushered children into this world without consideration for their mental health. What if they inherit this from you? People need to get educated on the genetic aspects of this illness and quit spreading it. I’m not saying this without personal experience. I would never want to hurt a child and this is encouraging preventable suffering. Sorry, but if you don’t even want to be here what makes you think your child will?

    • Mouse

      I really resent these statements but I do understand where you are coming from. However, it boils down to personal choice. Mental illness is something hereditary in my family, only back then, they didn’t even know what it was. What you are suggesting is cruel. Not everyone inherits these problems, my sister didn’t. Should we all stop having children out of fear? Should people with less than average intelligence not have children? Should people with cancer not have children? Should obese people not have children? Should “ugly” people not have children? Where does this stop? I got pregnant by accident, I didn’t even think I could have children. My daughter is a miracle to me. Yes, I do worry about her inheriting this from me, but if she does I will never wish I didn’t give birth to her. I have never wished my parents didn’t have me. I only ever wished I didn’t have to suffer with mental disorders (some of which are NOT inheritable by the way). If she, and I pray she doesn’t, has bi-polar disorder or anything else, then I will understand that and be able to get her the help she needs. Forced sterilization is not right. For anyone to lash out at people who decided to bring a child into this world who may potential have a mental disorder is extremely hurtful. We are educated, we live with these illnesses and we are not ignorant. YOU are ignorant. Really, how dare you come to a forum like this where people are trying to be supportive of each other, and try to bring us feelings of guilt, shame, and pain. It is our choice to decide for ourselves if we are willing to bring children into this world, our right to do so, and our responsibility to love and help our children through any difficulties, whether they are mental illness, bullying, physical disabilities, whatever. I think everyone in this forum has shown responsibility: just sharing their story shows courage, self-awareness, and enough intelligence to seek help. I have great respect for everyone here, except you. Maybe you should not have children, because negativity is also extremely contagious. You would only breed more ignorance and hate. If my parents did not have children, then my sister and her four beautiful children (who are All healthy mentally) would not even be here today. Your ideas create a world of perceived perfection that only serves to destroy humanity. People are all flawed. That’s what makes us human. We are whole people that face a difficult struggle, which only makes us stronger and more compassionate to others who also struggle.

      • Jane Doe

        Intelligence is questionable. Cancer is an empirically researched topic that is objective. It is real and causes significant suffering. Obesity has been studied, but is also a product of the environment. “Ugly” is totally subjective and a matter of opinion. These people shouldn’t worry about conceiving.

      • Jane Doe

        I think ignorant is the wrong word to use to describe me. Hateful, maybe. Lack of compassion, sure. Ignorant is one thing I am certainly not. I am a scientist by profession and am only trying to educate people on how to prevent ongoing pain. If you have never wished you weren’t born, you are one of the lucky ones. If you have never attempted suicide, you are also one of the lucky ones. This illness is 100% preventable and that is what I am trying to get across to people who may not understand this. What is done is done. If people already have children, by all means, help them. If not, now is the time to get to know your disorder. Get to know yourself. Don’t put another human being who has NO CHOICE in the matter through all of this pain.

        • Mouse

          I’m not sure why you deleted your previous comment but here it is.
          “Jane Doe
          Intelligence is questionable. Cancer is an empirically researched topic that is objective. It is real and causes significant suffering. Obesity has been studied, but is also a product of the environment. “Ugly” is totally subjective and a matter of opinion. These people shouldn’t worry about conceiving.
          5:20 p.m., Monday Feb. 1 | Other comments by Jane Doe”
          No offense, but being a scientist does not necessarily prove intelligence, nor does it excuse you from ignorance. Being a scientist also excludes many viewpoints that people may have concerning the gift of life. You shouldn’t put YOUR views on anyone. That is ignorance. I believe we have already decided our life path before even manifesting in physical form, that we chose our difficulties. They are, after all, experience, which is what I believe life is about. Therefore, according to MY beliefs, we do have a choice. My choice is a difficult one to overcome, but it makes me stronger and more compassionate. Those are beautiful human traits that i wouldn’t trade my disorders for. I don’t push my beliefs on anyone, nor do I discredit anyone else’s. Science, unfortunately, cannot prove whether I am right or wrong either. Once again, this is a forum of support and understanding, but most of all compassion. If you cannot offer those things, then why are you here? To make someone like me, who had a child knowing full well she may have a mental disorder, feel guilty or possibly make me feel depressed because how dare I be so cruel? Your words could very potentially ruin someone’s progress. If you cannot be supportive, take your opinions to a blog where you can b*tch about how destructive we are, to people who share your narrow-minded view. Like I said before, if we have children it is our right to. Educating us is not your job, but the job of our medical practitioners who treat us. Oh, as a sidenote, I am “only” a professional gardener/landscape designer but that does not mean my IQ is below yours. It just means that my academic path was a result of my love of nature.

          • Jane Doe

            You can say whatever you would like about me. Unlike you, I don’t take it personally. I cannot make you depressed. That will come on you as a result of the illness. And I’m not b*tching, I am simply stating an opinion that could save someone the life they may not want. It’s worth it to me, no matter your view.

          • Mouse

            It’s not what you say, it’s the delivery.

  • Deidre Young

    I created this song during one of my swings its called Bipolar-ish https://www.reverbnation.com/htownbutta/song/25160851-bipolar-ish,
    Music has become my way of dealing with my disorder and helps when I am going through my situations.

    • Katherine Blakely

      OMG! This is wonderful! You are so talented and I love the references to God;) I can’t wait to share this!

  • Thank you for standing up for those of us who do not.

    I’m bipolar type 2 with psychosis.

    I’ve never hidden my mental illness. Anyone who knows me is aware of it, because I tell them. I’m unashamed.

    Yes, I fully believe some are judging me. I know some of them place that stigma on me.

    I remain unashamed.

    My general feeling is if people just spoke up more, just acting as if it’s normal to talk about, it will help the world change one person at a time.

    It’s understandable to be ashamed, to want to hide it; however, this isn’t a decade ago where the only solution was “you should have more self control, that’s just an excuse, and an invalid one, for your behavior”.

    Scientific breakthroughs have been made. More and more people are crawling slowly out of the woodwork. More and more people are talking about it.

    We’re finding we are not alone.

    I grew up in the Era of “Well just have more self control”, and I was misdiagnosed. They didn’t have the knowledge then, the research on it to know I wasn’t just some “problem child”.

    I was a child alone, hurting, screaming out for help. .. and no one was listening. Not knowing I was different, that the world I was experiencing was not truly how the world was.

    There was no one. And when there was, I was beaten down and not built up.

    It sucked.

    As an adult, after I chose to go in because I had this epiphany that I was not acting like everyone else around me, I was finally diagnosed.

    I made a promise to myself: NO ONE, absolutely no one, should have to suffer alone, in silence and feeling like there are no others like them.

    So, I talk about it casually. You’d be amazed by the responses I receive when I tell people. They open up, and tell me their struggles. 9x out of 10 the person I’m telling tells me about their struggles mentally. They understand.

    They’re not alone, and they are so relieved to finally be able to share and talk about it.

    One person at a time, if that’s what it takes, the world can change just by sharing.

  • Linda Dixon

    Thank you! My youngest daughter who is 34 was diagnosed with bipolar and borderline personality disorder. Secretly I have struggled thinking I did this somehow. Was I a neglectful mother? Where did I go wrong? How could I have stopped this? I have secretly blamed me. Her manic bouts are directed at me. Oh my, the anger, so for years her nastiness towards me fed my guilt. It must have been me. I have guardianship of her son who has ADD and we are going through with support for his aggression especially towards his Mom. As a parent and grandparent my wounds are deep and they never quite heal as it feels like the minute I start to have some peace the wounds are ripped open.

    We through an amazing support worker have started to get help. I’m part of the battle my daughter is enduring. She is making things happen for all of us.

    I will encourage her story to be written and shared. Thank you for hope knowing there is someone open and honest enough to share your story. We all have a story and yours is so important. Thank you again.

    Linda

  • Kathy Jacobsen

    My name is Kathy & I am 62 years old with bi-polar 2. I suffer with depression much more than mania. I have rapid cycling bi-polar and usually suffer with depressive incidences about 1-2 times a month. They usually last about 3 days but are very life affecting! I also have a seizure disorder & suffer from migraine headaches. It is as if my head just malfunctions!!!! Luckily I was able to hold a job until I retired 2 months ago but I find the depression seems to be getting worse. I take medication for the seizures & an anti-depressant (Pristiq). It helps to know I am not alone. Also, we lost our 14 year old daughter to suicide so I live with the guilt that I passed on this terrible disease to her even tho we had no clue she suffered from it. Life is a daily struggle!

  • Luis Crespo

    Hello Jennifer. I’m amazing for what you did. Congratulations about open yourself to a very sensitive subject as Mental Disorders. I’m 45 suffering with Bipolar II for more than 24 years. It is been hard. As you did; I will open a new Charity Mental Crisis Help Now Corporation to help people in the Mental Health. I’m targeting Central Florida with a Group support also in Orlando. I will check your Charity. We need more Charities like yours in this world including USA and other countries. There are several people that are afraid to tell the true; that they feel sick mentally; and we can help.

    I’m writing a book about my history too and I will be opening breaking the Stigma also.

  • Luis Crespo

    Jennifer; I will love to work together. As I said I’m more in florida but I will like to share some ideas to break even more the mental disorder Stigma.

    Please check this http://www.mentalcrisishelpnow.com/

    Thanks

  • Pam

    I commend you for sharing your story. I am the mother/caregiver of a 27 year old bipolar male. Caregiving for him is a daily struggle that even my own family doesn’t understand or support. I am tired of justifying why I continually do what it takes to help my son and am sick of being labeled as an enabler or as being co-dependent. Being the mother of a mentally ill child (adult or kid) is challenging and there is very little support or resources available for mental health caregivers.

    • claudia sofia

      Hello Pam, I understand, I have a 27 year old son and it has taken a lot of my energy just worrying about him, trying to see what is new, what works, hoping and failing, now I realize this is a long haul journey, I have been told enabler too, not so much codependent but also my daughter says that I favor him over her, it is very difficult position to be in, I just now realize that I have to be happy and do my own things with no expectations about him or his condition, can not put my life on hold for him nor I can make him better, he has to want to take the meds and go out etc. so I am trying to be supportive and optimistic (not angry and accusatory as I was) but also not being all over him and trying to fix his world, it is a fine line..

  • Virginia

    I am the middle child of two bipolar siblings. I will not describe the verbal abuse endured by these two unfortunate family members; I know they are/were miserable. their sickness made me sick for many years until I finally sought help for my methods of escaping the pain and dealing with the scars of growing up with the abuse. My brother ended his misery via suicide. My sister is in complete denial and has seemingly taken her family hostage. I simply pray and hope that she has some shimmer of light soon that she can be helped. For those family members trying to rationalize the behavior STOP. Pray for help for them and get help for yourself.

  • Helen Hoaglin

    Hello…..I have bipolar disorder. I just found out a few months ago. Mywonderful boyfriend was doing research on it and showed me a vcheck list. I have them all except for thinking I’m superior or smarter than others. I don’t really know what triggers are…I’m frustrated and angry. My boyfriend keeps telling me that my life isn’t so bad. It makes me feel guilt ridden because my life is really great now.
    I have started charting when I feel bad and for how long. I also chart what’s going on in my life, what I have eaten and what I’m craving. The depression times are getting worse, lower and I hurt horribly badly emotionally. I have an incredible support team. I am working extremely hard to get better but I don’t know how to help myself. I fight suicidal thoughts when I am in the depression times. Thank you very much for the blog

  • Megan M

    Thank you for this article. I am undiagnosed bipolar but know I am. I have thought about blogging my life to diagnosis. This article have me the courage to do so.

  • Jason

    Thank you for sharing your experience and showing so much bravery, Jennifer. I’ve been struggling with bipolar disorder for the past three years. It’s cost me my marriage, my reputation and my career as a newspaper reporter and columnist, but I’m still here struggling, thankful that I’m still alive and healthy.

    Mental illness snuck up on me and knocked me down before I realized what was going on in my head. I imagine that this is how it goes for many people, and I’ve known a few of them as friends and lovers before it happened to me – seemingly out of the blue – in my early 40’s. Two years after my first manic episode – there have been two so far – I’m still trying to figure out what happened and pick up the pieces of my life.

    I was the guy who was always cool under pressure and steady as a rock. I’d made very few mistakes in my life and had never been in trouble at work, with the law or with my family. That all changed suddenly and in less than a year I woke up in a padded room at the local hospital without my wife, my stepson, my home, my job or my shoelaces.

    I was a person who was well known when this all happened. As a newspaper columnist and crime writer, my name, photo and work appeared online and on the doorsteps of hundreds of thousands of people everyday. Then I suddenly disappeared.

    I was afraid to leave my house and I was afraid to drive my car for almost a year. I was too anxious to sit in the waiting room at my psychiatrist’s office and asked my sister to send me a text message when they were ready to see me so I could just walk from the car into the office and avoid the public. I left town and camped out by myself in hotels for months on end until I finally got the courage to return to my mother’s house. I was paranoid and thought that police and private investigators were following me, even after I’d left town.

    The special effects of my manic episode would rival any blockbuster spy thriller. I won’t bore you to death with all the details as this is the first time I’m writing about it, but they involved a secret documentary film about me and my Toy Fox Terrier being released in London, Apple computer technicians and a specially outfitted Audi A4 – mine – which was being developed to assist people with disabilities and brain injuries, like me.

    Picture any one of the Jason Bourne series of films and multiply by 100 and you’ll get the idea. Of course it did not help matters that I’d actually studied at some of the finest prep schools and universities in the world, traveled extensively and can speak and write six different languages.

    Did I mention that I’d gone through the selection process to become a real life spy with the CIA a few years earlier and been accepted?

    Well, there was that too. My life was already pretty unbelievable before it started to unravel. Write about a few hundred murders, organized crime, corrupt cops and then throw in a full blown manic episode out of the blue to spice things up. It seemed exciting and fun at the time, but it really wasn’t and I’m lucky I didn’t end up dead in or in some Third World prison. I’d already traveled the world extensively and my escape plans during my mania involved erasing my tracks and disappearing to somewhere like Cuba or Russia and living off the grid.

    All the technology that had helped me succeed in my career quickly became part of the problem as I felt I was being followed. My iPhone, cameras and computers went out the window, quite literally, as a schemed to make my getaway.

    I found myself walking around strange cities and dangerous neighborhoods at night, with my eyes sometimes closed, until I knew the neighborhood like the back of my hand. This was all part of my preparing to escape the people who were following me. I needed to know where all of the surveillance cameras were in the area, and where I could walk to avoid them. This went on for weeks in several different cities. I was still in touch with a few of my friends, but my bizarre, panicked calls at all hours of the day and night on “burner phones” I’d picked up for cash in ghetto did not get me the help I needed.

    It ended up being a few concerned police officers who knew me before the manic episode who finally convinced me to go to the hospital to “get checked out.” They called for an ambulance and I did not leave the hospital for two weeks.

    That’s how I found out that I have Bipolar II with mania, paranoia and anxiety disorder. I took different medications for the next year and then had another manic episode which was just as bizarre as the first, if not worse. I lost my life savings, the 401K that I’d foolishly cashed out and carried around in a plastic bag as I again lived in hotels in strange cities. I was a victim of crime for the first time in my life after decades writing about crime for a living.

    And before it was all over, I’d lost nearly all of my possessions and was homeless, sleeping in my uninsured car next to a dumpster in Miami, a city where I’d never lived before and had few friends of contacts.

    I’ll save the drug dealers, the department store magnate, the diplomat, the night in jail, the famous French artist and the corrupt congressman on New Year’s Eve for future installments or the book I’ve been promising that I’ll write since this all happened to me.

    For now I’m happy to report that I’m slowing regaining my footing. I’ve been working as a waiter at a fancy restaurant for the past few months and I’ve gotten myself a humble apartment in a trailer park in a relatively safe part of town. I’m riding a bicycle to work everyday and I’m glad that I get a good meal at work and don’t have to use the bathroom in the public library or the local grocery store anymore to clean up and shave before work. There’s no TV but I’ve managed to somehow hold onto my iMac and get free wifi here as part of the rent.

    I’ve toyed with ideas like starting a blog called “The Homeless Art Critic” or “The Dollar Tree Gourmet” but what I’m really hoping to find again is joy in life. I’ve never tried to kill myself or threatened to do so, but the depression that followed my manic episodes has proven very difficult to shake, even with medication. For the past 6 months I’ve been medication free, partly because I do not have health care coverage here in Florida and partly because I’m not sure the medications I took before (Lithium and others) were really helping me get better. Time will tell.

    Back when I was in boarding school, my mom gave me a t-shirt with the words “Follow Your Bliss” by Joseph Campbell on the front and that’s somehow popped into my head again recently. We were quite close until she started suffering from early dementia just before my mental illness appeared. I’ve not been able to ask her what do do to get back on my feet and be happy and successful again, but I think that she’d tell me something like that and it seems like pretty good advice. Or maybe she’d throw out a favorite line from Bob Dylan: “When ya ain’t got nothin’ you got nothing to lose.”

    Thanks again for writing and I wish you continued success and happiness.

  • Lisa Stout

    This is great, what a wonderful way to make something that is often perceived as negative and turn it into something positive. I have recently been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and PTSD after an inpatient stay for severe depression. After mentally arguing with myself about whether or not I should be open about this, I finally decided that I would embrace it and share my story with others. I started a blog with hopes that my story might inspire others to step forward and seek help as well as reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. If anyone is interested, you can find it at http://www.herbipolarramblings.com. Can’t wait to read more about you, Jennifer. Bookmarked the page and subscribed for updates!

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