This is what I’d like to ask of clinicians, doctors, and advocates for mental illness in general and bipolar disorder specifically: Please don’t tell me I just have a chemical imbalance. There is a whole lot more going on inside my mind and my relationships and my world than the balance of serotonin or dopamine or norepinephrine.
This past Saturday I went to visit my Aunt. And I got lost. Really lost. For 2 hours. I actually wound up at the US/Canadian border (I kid you not) with my gas tank at empty knowing my Aunt had called the ambulance to take her to emergency. If we want to live our best life we need a good map, a clear destination and some friendly folks to help us along the way.
How do you live comfortably with ambiguity so it doesn’t drive you into a panic attack or analysis paralysis? Make it official (the indecisiveness, not the panic attack). That is: choose to be indecisive.
In football, recovery is measured in weeks or months, not years. This time around, it’s not my knee that’s had to recover, it’s my mind. And it’s taken me years and been far more difficult than making any NFL roster.
Sinister self-talk slithers in & with it unpleasant emotions. It’s the usual suspects (like the Seven Dwarves but meaner): useless, worthless, hopeless, clueless, shameful, guilty & unlovable. Recognize feelings for what they are: feelings, not facts. This creates a buffer zone between yourself & your belief in them. Just because you feel worthless, doesn't mean you are.
As a Canadian (privileged) white woman, I sheepishly admitted I only had a vague notion of what was meant by ‘the strong black woman’. Christie Neptune, artist & trailblazer explains the phrase comes from the ability to endure, overcome and live through extreme adversity. “I am forced to tuck away my feelings; my grief, my hurt, my pain for the sake of moving forward.”
I had some monumental shame attacks learning to accept my long history of therapies, treatments, shrinks and all that 'stuff'. But all that 'stuff' – like my friend and her path, and you and yours - is bringing us to more awareness, self-compassion and wellness. So celebrating shame isn't so crazy after all.
Denial of an illness is the greatest barrier; acceptance, the greatest liberator. When we start, albeit slowly perhaps, to accept our illness, mental illness or otherwise, only then can healing begin. Often the longest leg and biggest barrier in the road to recovery is the journey to acceptance.
At a talk, a researcher discussed a community based participatory research project where individuals with mental illness were involved from start to finish. In the next row, I heard a delegate say “it’s just the new macramé.” Ironically the talk was being presented at an anti-stigma conference. Go figure. But perhaps due to the history of tokenism, skepticism is justified.
It's hard to watch a relationship become estranged. And even harder when you don't know what the future holds. I cannot predict the future, but I have seen horribly wounded relationships return to loving caring ones (including my own). Here are four tips that may help start the healing journey.
A new documentary by Phil Borges and his team portrays psychosis in a wider, more inclusive perspective than I've ever seen. It is unusual and doesn't apply to everyone who experiences psychosis. But for those it does, it may be refreshing and a relief.
I already felt like an alien amongst my own kin, not to mention uncomfortable in my own skin. Then when I was hit with bipolar disorder, well, talk about feeling like even more of an outsider. Now I wasn’t just that weird artsy kid of Jack and Velma Maxwell’s, I was the CRAZY weird artsy kid who been in the psych ward. Like icing on the cake I was a loony tunes times two.
What’s your psychiatric super power? What’s the strength of your bipolar bicep? The power to...persevere in the face of tall challenges...unearth humor from painful places? The power to be vulnerable and brave simultaneously?
Recently, I've had a string of ‘feeling-pretty-bitter-resentful-jealous-nasty-and-down-right-ornery-look-at-everyone-else-who-is-doing-better-bigger-more-creative-things-how-come-they-get-recognized-for-it-and-not-me' kind of days! Yup - that about sums it up.
At this time there may be no cure for the collection of emotional/cognitive afflictions known as ‘mental illness.’ That said, the medicine to cure the social disease of mental illness stigma has been discovered. The medicine is community mental health awareness events.
The more we feed our soul, the more we can feed others. Bernie Siegel, M.D., author of Medicine and Miracles, issues 'creativity prescriptions' to his patients. "Every single day it's critical that we create something." he emphasizes. The very act of creating is healing. It's not about skill or talent, quality or quantity. It’s about engaging in meaningful expression.
We are not isolated in our suffering. We all suffer from the vulnerability of the human condition. We all have imperfect and messy parts that can lead to dysfunction and despair. And we all desperately need kindness, connection, and compassion to make it through. As American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “I’m not okay, you’re not okay, and that’s okay.”
In a month, Mr. Williams’ death and the conversation of depression and suicide prevention no doubt will be trumped by frenzied entertainment news deemed more current.
But we can help continue the conversation. Talking about suicide doesn’t cause it to happen, in fact just the opposite. Talking about suicide is the most effective way of preventing it.