Life, Love, Adventure

My Quest to Erase the Stigma of Mental Illness

Fighting The Winter Blues…

This is a throwback to an article I wrote in December 2010 for our local running club’s newsletter. I decided to share it with you now because I think it is interesting that I had been diagnosed with bipolar by this time but I couldn’t yet fully come to terms with it or admit it to anyone. My doctor had suggested that I may also be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder due to the fact that certain symptoms worsened during the winter.

This is the time of year our moods tend to shift whether we have a full blown mood disorder or not. Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real and when fall is in full swing with winter on the horizon, daylight decreases and time spent outside becomes limited. Many people — approximately 10% of Americans — will experience this disorder. This is the article I wrote based on what I was experiencing at that time. I think it also illustrates how writing down and tracking our symptoms is extremely beneficial in understanding behavior and mood ultimately leading to a proper diagnosis along with finding strategies for coping with these shifts in mood. See if you can relate:

It’s 4:45 am. Thirty seconds ago I was peacefully dreaming and now my head is screaming “NO!” at the blaring alarm clock. I don’t feel like running. I reset the alarm and go back to sleep. The next morning I wake up at 3:00 am and obsess over the treadmill awaiting me downstairs. I once again reset the alarm. That night I slip into bed and just say screw it altogether and set the alarm for 5:30 — not going to even try to get up early this time. I already don’t feel like running. I’ve succumbed to my lack of motivation and laziness which is what I beat myself up with.

I ask myself…is it pure laziness or is there more to it than that? According to my doctor and a recent newspaper article I read , I may be among the 10% of Americans who suffer from the “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder– SAD. The symptoms include:

A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy food
Weight gain
A drop in energy level
A tendency to oversleep
Difficulty concentrating
Irritability and anxiety
Avoidance of social situations and a loss of interest in the activities you used to enjoy.

I think they were observing me when they wrote these guidelines.

Throughout all of the research I’ve done, everyone seems to agree that exercise, especially in the morning, is crucial in overcoming SAD. Now I don’t know about you, but having been a runner since I was five, I don’t actually feel like I’ve exercised unless I run. Lifting, ellipticals, walking — none of them provide the feeling of accomplishment running always delivers. Running is in my blood. The catch is, I know it will provide the relief I seek, but part of the problem is the overwhelming desire to stay sedentary especially during the darkness of winter.

I try to recall the days of summer when SAD doesn’t seem to exist. The long hours of sunlight that fuel the sensation that I could run forever. Taking trips to destinations simply to run on the trails a place has to offer seems so long ago. Running feels so much different in the winter than in the spring and summer. And I remember having this problem all the way back to my competitive days in high school. It was torture for me to compete in indoor track, but by the beginning of April I began to feel the weight lift from my being; running and life would turn back to normal.

I often think of my running friends who boast about running 10-18 miles when it’s single digits outside. I’m sure they didn’t wake up exclaiming, “YES! It’s 8 degrees out and I get to go run for two hours!” But I know the feeling of accomplishment that lasts with me throughout the day after I’ve actually done it.

As I sit here wrapping up my thoughts I can feel the soreness in my legs settling in from my four miler on the treadmill. It may not have been from a ten miler but it’s from miles and effort nonetheless. I can’t help but smile knowing that today I conquered the lack of motivation I woke up with this morning and hopefully that will inspire me to repeat the action tomorrow. I’ve convinced myself that every run counts and I’m one step closer to overcoming this hurdle. I remind myself to savor every run I manage to take and the feeling it gives me when I’m done.

So if you can relate to any of these symptoms, know that you are not alone. It was a relief to read about it in the paper and come to the realization that I’m not just being lazy. It’s also comforting to know that being a runner I’m already one step ahead of the game.

I once heard someone say, “ I always regret it when I don’t run, but I never regret having run.” It’s days like these I try to remember that. With every step I take I’m claiming victory over each daily battle and thanks to running I know I have it in me to beat this thing.


Looking back at this I am reminded how important it is for me to exercise in order to maintain stability. I struggle with this constantly especially in the winter, as many people do, when outdoor conditions downright suck. Whether it’s bipolar disorder, depression or SAD it is clear that maintaining a healthy workout regimen is extremely helpful in prevention and management of symptoms.

If you think you may suffer from SAD be proactive. Get plenty of rest and exercise. If any of the above symptoms interfere with your ability to function and complete ordinary daily tasks see a doctor. You can also find more information here:

Revealing An Eating Disorder…

I woke up one morning when I was 15 and decided to stop eating. Was there a specific reason for that decision? Not really. I don’t remember saying to myself, “Well ___ happened so now I have to starve myself.” But looking back, armed with the knowledge I have now, I clearly see how the development of an eating disorder (ED) coincided with the early symptoms of my bipolar disorder and in my particular case ended up becoming my primary coping mechanism for dealing with the total chaos that had taken over my teenage body and misfiring brain.

I was extremely sensitive — as many teenage girls are — but imagine that typical sensitivity intensified exponentially by a blossoming mood disorder. Add to the equation a natural tendency toward perfectionism along with a competitive drive to be the best at EVERYTHING…well let’s just say for me it was the perfect storm.

The need for attention, the insatiable drive to compete with other girls on every level and desire to maintain a sense of control certainly contributed to my illogical thinking. Regardless of what led me to the decision to stop eating I ultimately used it to cope with my out of control emotions which in reality just intensified my mood swings. Walking around starving all the time heightened the anxiety and agitation that was already present. Checking the mirror literally 100 times a day to see if I got fatter from the 3 carrots I ate tired me emotionally and defeated me. I became obsessed with food and how I looked compared to everyone else around me. This obsession took over my life to the point I no longer cared about getting straight A’s or winning races because I had no energy left to care. Anger would rage one day while numbness and apathy overwhelmed me the next. I never knew which part of me I would wake up to. I was trapped in a vicious cycle.

During the early stages of my ED I suffered mainly from depression and would often have no desire or energy to eat. But I clearly remember one day flipping through the channels on tv and stumbling upon a show about eating disorders. The girl being interviewed was there because she made herself throw up after every meal. At first I was appalled but that didn’t last very long before I was convinced that this behavior was the answer to my struggle. Was it really possible to actually eat — a lot — and then get rid of it and not have to feel guilty for eating? It seemed so perfect!

One characteristic of my mania back then was a sense of invincibility. Consequences for my actions did not exist in my mind. When I heard about bulimia that day I only paid attention to what I believed to be the answer to my prayers and immediately fell in love with the idea of bingeing and was overcome with excitement to finally eat.

Looking at my reflection in the mirror I simply said, “Screw this not eating crap” ran to the kitchen and ate everything I could get my hands on. It was such a rush being able to do whatever I wanted knowing there was a way to deal with it afterward.

It was not long before my ED became entangled in the vicious cycles of my mood swings. When I was depressed I starved myself. When I was feeling invincible I decided it was ok to eat whatever I wanted. Giving myself permission to eat whatever I wanted granted me an overwhelming sense of relief and intensified the high of my mania. Either way the end result was an out of control teenager who began making extremely bad choices.

I was sensitive to everything and everyone around me and often blew up at the drop of a hat. Grades? Sports? College? None of it mattered anymore. Even when I received acceptance letters in the mail from colleges I blew it off and felt no joy about my accomplishment. All I knew was I was miserable, moody and trapped in a full blown ED. Yes, I was well aware that my eating habits were abnormal but the point is I did not care. Even when someone scribbled in my yearbook under my senior picture “bulimic asshole” initially I got pissed but then accepted it as the truth. That was my identity and I believed every word of it.

This pattern was prevalent all throughout college and my early adulthood. Once I became pregnant though I was able to remain healthy and stable which to me is ironic given the hormones that rage throughout a pregnancy. It wasn’t until several years later that I experienced a full blown relapse that coincided with my bipolar diagnosis and several hospitalizations…one at an actual eating disorder facility.

Today I still have tendencies and sometimes find myself going back to that mindset but through a lot of work and management of my bipolar I am, for the most part, able to keep myself in check. In hindsight I have learned so much and it has always been a part of my mission to share this portion of my story.

The time has come for me to share this other facet of my life. I want those who are trapped in an ED to understand that they are not alone. I want to share the coping tools I have learned with anyone who is suffering with this mental illness — yes, it is an illness — give insight to parents and teachers who need to be aware of the intricacies of this disorder especially since far too many girls (and boys) are dealing with this struggle. The statistics are staggering. BUT…it is treatable and recovery IS possible. Just like any other mental illness we have to become informed, aware and empathetic in order to make progress and ultimately save lives.

Thirty years ago I never ever believed I would get married, have children and a successful career. I only envisioned dying. I was convinced I was “crazy” and would never be able to survive. However, there were many defining moments that helped me recover and gave me strength to keep going. My mission is to openly and honestly share so you can see that a healthy life truly is possible and that no matter how helpless and hopeless you feel about yourself or a loved one there is HOPE. Continue with me on this journey and no matter what DO NOT GIVE UP.

~~ You are not what you’ve done
and this is not who you are
no matter how far you’ve run
you have not gone too far ~~ For Today

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4

Shout to the World…

There’s just something extremely powerful about a former drug addict or a survivor of suicide attempts or mental illness standing on stage at a music festival sharing their testimony for hundreds o…

Source: Shout to the World…

When Things Make No Sense…

What if you woke up tomorrow and for the life of you couldn’t figure out how to measure ingredients to make breakfast for your family? What if on the way to work you experienced a full blown panic attack because you suddenly couldn’t remember where you were going? What if you found yourself staring blankly at your checkbook unable to grasp the concept of writing a check which is a task you’ve completed effortlessly a million times before. Would you feel desperate and afraid? Would you obsessively wonder why your brain is constantly backfiring causing routine tasks to become nearly impossible? These situations are just a few examples of what I’ve been dealing with lately.

Unfortunately I’ve dealt with cognitive difficulties such as an inability to string thoughts together coherently or process and organize information ever since my doctor and I began what has been nearly a decade long search for the right medication cocktail. But lately I’ve sensed these issues are more than just a result of a med change especially since they seem to be lingering longer than usual. Something odd and scary seems to be happening in my head making it very difficult to function, especially at work. Whether due to med changes, aging, years of being a lab rat for countless psychiatric drugs, lack of sleep, excessive sleep, the cloud of depression or detachment of hypomania — who knows? Most likely the answer is all of the above, but regardless of the cause I’m learning that it is a common component of bipolar that I’m just beginning to learn about.

Several months ago I started to notice that I couldn’t keep up with certain tasks. I couldn’t sleep because I was under a tremendous amount of stress and little by little I noticed I was struggling to keep my moods stable. Processing, organizing and keeping track of data became much more difficult. Presenting information to my class or to peers took a tremendous amount of effort. Participating in professional conversations triggered panic attacks because I feared that whatever came out of my mouth would be nonsense. Imagine standing in front of a room full of children when your thoughts suddenly freeze and no matter how frantically you search the next thought remains out of reach. Feelings of stupidity, uselessness and embarrassment quickly settle in as your audience stares at you wondering why you’ve stopped talking. Hopefully you eventually recover, but everyday the fear of it happening again haunts you.

What makes it more frustrating is that one day I might be totally productive as I am able to complete all of the tasks in front of me (including data and planning) seemingly effortlessly. Everything makes sense and not another soul — including myself — would ever sense there was something wrong with me. However, the following day I may not be able to add fractions or comprehend a fourth grade reading passage. More often than not though the second scenario has become my reality.

Over the years I have become quite good at coping with these issues and have been able to function successfully in most situations. I’ve learned when to ask for help and when to keep my mouth shut. I know when it’s necessary to allow myself extra time to complete tasks or take time to be alone to gather my thoughts and recharge my batteries. However, in the last few months it has become increasingly difficult to manage these symptoms successfully even to the point I’ve had to take time off from work.

I’ve been avoiding sharing this because I feared it would discourage those who follow my story. But then I realized the most important thing I can do is to remain completely open and honest. This became clear when I read an article on a mental health website where the author described the exact symptoms I was facing. It made me feel so much better to know I was not the only one experiencing this and it gave me hope.

Right then I decided it was more important to be honest than to remain prideful for fear of appearing weak or like a failure. I’ve had to remind myself that despite these setbacks there are still things I am really good at and it’s ok to have to put other things on the back burner for now. I’ve had to work really hard to keep from resenting what is happening or feeling robbed by this illness. I’ve felt sorry for myself and wanted to throw in the towel completely instead of searching for the silver lining. After all, this has thrown a huge wrench in my plans for the future and I’ve struggled to understand where this will lead me and why it is happening.

But recently a friend compared life to a story that is full of plot twists which has really helped change my perspective. Maybe the strengths I have been discovering will turn me toward bigger and better opportunities where I’ll be able to help people in a different capacity or perhaps I will wake up tomorrow morning with a clear mind able to pick up where I left off without ever having to change my path. Either way I am learning that no situation is hopeless. Afterall, God already knows how my story will turn out and all I have to do is trust and follow his lead. Never in a million years did I think I’d actually go through with writing and sharing my struggles with the world. But in the midst of dealing with these cognitive issues I have learned to channel my energy elsewhere and it has opened unexpected doors. When I focus on that and keep moving forward in faith, I see this current plot twist taking me down a path full of unknowns but I’m also witnessing the good resulting from my willingness to take risks.

Whenever I’m on the brink of succumbing to the belief that things will never get better, without fail something totally unexpected happens to remind me that God is really looking out for me and using me to help others, just in a different capacity than I envisioned. Isn’t the most memorable part of any story when the main character is confronted with something completely unexpected but she digs deep to endure all of the twists and turns, ups and downs, roadblocks and surprise detours? The author knows exactly where the character will end up along with everything it will take for her to get there. She just needs to keep moving forward.

Yes I’m having difficulties managing and dealing with these worsening set of symptoms but if my past is any indication the road ahead is sure to make me stronger. It was only a year ago that I first wrote about my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Clicking ‘Publish’ was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done because I had absolutely no idea where it would take me or what the consequences would be. At that time I never imagined I’d experience a relapse or have major trouble solving simple problems. But every single setback has presented new lessons and opportunities to strengthen my faith and trust God because He already knows what’s around every single corner.

Maybe this current set of circumstances will make me more compassionate to others. Maybe being honest will help someone else who is struggling. Maybe writing about these symptoms will encourage someone else or enable others to understand what it feels like to have to deal with these difficulties.

So as difficult as it is to deal with these cognitive difficulties now, I have to remind myself that it really will all work out as it is supposed to even if it looks completely different from what I envisioned a year ago. I’ll go to bed tonight not knowing what tomorrow will bring but I will continue to remind myself that’s ok because the author of my life knows and that is enough to give me peace and carry me through another day.

Depression…My Chilling Account

Yesterday I took some time to re read old journals and I stumbled upon something I wrote that illustrates just how serious my depression got years ago. As I reread this section the words seemed so distant and hard to relate to but it was very chilling to me to reflect on just how debilitating it had become.

I’m sharing this journal entry despite how scary and crazy it seems because I want people to truly get that depression is so much more than sadness. And for those who have been in this dark and desperate situation thinking you have lost your mind because the thoughts and feelings become so horrible and overwhelming…you are not alone! The thoughts and feelings do not define you and they will go away…I promise.

This was written when I felt hopeless and was the only way I could describe what was going on inside me:

I’m alone in a pitch dark room but I feel something approaching me. I keep turning around but it always seems to be behind me. The presence is darker than the room and no matter how hard I try I can’t see anything. It’s dark and mean and finally I recognize it — the depression is back. I want to escape but there is no way out. It’s starting to envelop me and I can’t get away from it. It breathes in my ear and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. My nervousness is slowly turning to panic because I know what it is capable of doing and I can’t stop it. I flail my arms around blindly hoping to catch it off guard but there is no contact. I’m completely surrounded.

It’s starting to penetrate me. It slowly crawls into my skin and takes my breath away. It starts to laugh and my nerves become irritated. I feel like I’m being violated and I want to tell it to stop but I can’t get the words out. It’s now saturating my brain, squeezing all the goodness and life out of it. It fills the space with fog and engulfs my entire head. Thoughts become muddled and I try to complete a thought — just one — but I can’t find a way to finish. There’s this noise. It’s soft at first and then slowly turns into a dull buzzing sound that grows with every attempt to think.

Suddenly it drowns out my inner voice that’s trying to stay alive but there’s no use. There’s no point in fighting it. It knows my weaknesses and it’s preying on them all. I fall to the ground, curl up and try to make myself as small as possible. I grab my head and try to shut out the noise but it doesn’t work. I get a burst of courage and in my head shout “NO! Please no. Go away. Get out of me.” Then I start to cry. I know it won’t listen. My whole body becomes agitated — every nerve and cell feels as if it’s on fire. I know suddenly that I have to rip my skin off to make it stop.

I look around and stare into blackness when suddenly I spot it. It’s shiny and has my name on it. I feel relief because I know I’ve found an answer. I take the razor and study it but a tiny voice tells me to put it down so I listen to it. Then it hits me. What was I about to do? How could I be so stupid? Panic overtakes me and I have to get out of there but I’m lost and alone and have nowhere to go.

Reality takes a stab at me and shakes me out of my trance and it’s too much. A voice tells me, “Go ahead. Kill yourself, you know you want to. Do everyone a favor. It will be such a relief. No more pain. No more madness. Just do it.” I squeeze my head hoping it will explode. It won’t go away. It has me. It’s in charge but then all of a sudden I’m calm again. I see it in the corner. My meds. That’s it. Just a handful and you’ll go to sleep forever. The depression will be quiet and the noise will go away. It’s so tempting. That’s all I want right now. For the madness that’s taken over my brain to go away.

Enough is enough. I come to the realization that it’s never going to end unless I take matters into my own hands. It’s necessary. It’s time. I move slowly toward it hoping something will interfere and stop me. My strength and hope is gone and I have one last thought to grasp at…Please just someone stop me. Take over, hurt me, hit me, knock me out, kill me. Do something so I don’t have to.

But I give up. There’s nothing. Just my meds and they have my name on it. My mind has been made up. It’s the only way. And that realization brings me peace and sadness and suddenly I wish things could have been different. How did I let this happen? What did I do wrong? Why won’t it leave me alone? I’m so confused and conflicted. I realize this must be what it’s like to go insane. I never thought I’d get there but now there’s no way out. That I’m positive of. I have the pills in my hand and the voice is whispering in my ear to do it. But something keeps me from swallowing them. I scream, “I f**king can’t take it anymore!”

I know there are reasons why I shouldn’t do this but what they are I can’t figure out. It’s too blurry. I feel like if I knew I’d change my mind but no matter how hard I try I can’t focus on anything. Nothing will stay still. I drop the pills because I’m so confused. I pray for God to kill me then I pray for Him to help me and then I just break down and cry.

I feel myself floating and it’s eerily quiet. I have this burning desire to find God. I want His help so badly but I can’t figure out how to find Him. I try to remember everything I’ve been told about Him but nothing makes sense. I feel like He’s too far away and I’ll never know Him. I’ve heard other people talk about Him and how He intervened and changed their lives but I’m so defeated. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do. I know what I want suddenly but I know I’ll never get it. There will be no clarity for me. I am convinced I am going to be stuck here forever and I should just accept that. I finally pray to fall asleep hoping that God will decide to help me…guard me in my sleep.

As I begin to drift I envision the darkness and evil exploding and evaporating. There is a sense of relief and freedom. I take a deep breath and it’s cleansing and when I exhale the poisonous fog leaves me. When the voice in my head starts to scream at me I look it straight in the eye and say, “Get the hell away from me!” The fog recoils and when I open my eyes again I say thank you to God and it is finally destroyed.

What Scares Me Most…

When you hear the word Bipolar or the phrase Manic Depression are you like most people and tend to automatically visualize two extremes? I’ve previously described in another blog what it can often feel like when my mind is in the throes of either extreme — mania or depression. However, some people like myself who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder struggle with an additional state — the dreaded mixed episode. For me this is the most difficult to deal with and I think probably the most difficult for others to comprehend because everything about it is contradictory.

How is it to feel two opposite emotions/sensations at the same time? It often happens during times of major stress or interestingly enough change of seasons. What makes it so maddening is that it seems as though every fiber of my being is violently being pulled in opposite directions and the rope I’m holding onto is quickly fraying and about to snap. Times like these I so desperately wish one side would pull me over the edge because at least then the tug of war would be over.

Recently I experienced this torture — yes, make no mistake, it is torture — in my mind and body and in an attempt to stay sane I recorded my thoughts in my journal and I’ve chosen to share them because it is often misunderstood or overlooked. My hope is for you to continue to understand what a person with this diagnosis goes through and by describing my experiences it will assure those who struggle that there truly is someone else who gets it and that it is possible to lead a productive and meaningful life despite this illness.


There is total chaos going on in my brain and it is the only thing I can focus on.
Inside I feel desperate but I’m numb.
Fear is overwhelming but part of me is content.
I am fidgety but my body is paralyzed.
Agitation saturates every cell within me but my outer shell is containing it.
I feel inspired by a note from a friend but I’m convinced I’m useless.
I am ready to explode but it remains contained although bubbling just below the surface.
I want to care about something but everything pisses me off.
I ask for help but when I get it I feel resentful.
I feel stable but am choking.
I want more than anything to be dead but desperately want to live.
I want to bury myself in my bed but being still is bound to be maddening.
I want to scream but can’t utter a sound.
I want to go into a frenzy of cursing even though I know how completely inappropriate it is but it’s on the tip of my tongue and shouting obscenities seems so necessary.
I feel something boiling up inside me as I sit on my porch swing swaying back and forth trying to write. The pen moving across the paper is soothing so I keep going even though I don’t know what I’m saying.
I look at the paper and want to tear it to shreds.
I know if I was among people I’d be rambling and my words would fly out of my mouth but thankfully I am surrounded by silence and say nothing.
I sympathize with those who engage in self harm and wonder if it would help.
The cycle is physical, emotional and psychological and everything clashes into deafening noise triggering the desire to get it out of my body. The intensity of the battle can become unbearable and with it is the certainly that physical pain — however it is inflicted — will release some of the pressure that is built up inside like a volcano within my bloodstream poised to erupt.
My entire body feels as if it’s being ripped to shreds despite all of my efforts to keep it intact.

All of these feelings fire rapidly becoming intertwined. Over the years I’ve learned how to cope with this so I attempt to summon a strategy that will work. Running to release the tension would be wonderful but the thought of moving makes me cringe. Praying is absolutely necessary but quickly that thought seems absurd. Listening to music would soothe me but that would require effort that I’m not willing to give. Going for a walk in the woods would relax my mind but it reduces me to tears because I don’t want to put on my shoes. I have medication my doctor prescribed to ease these symptoms but I refuse to take them because I don’t want to feel like I gave up or didn’t try hard enough.

I run through this list in my mind and it irritates me because I know any and all of those things will help but I can’t convince myself to take the first step. For what seems like eternity yet in reality only a blink of the eye I close my eyes and hope to disappear. The desperation is threatening to take over but as long as I keep swinging I’m ok. Eventually I realize I can’t sit there forever and if I continue to give in I will truly go crazy. The only thing I am willing to try is a prayer since it will not require movement. All I can bring myself to say is “God make it go away.”

Eventually I am forced to get up. Moving around seems to help. I wonder if God has stepped in. I know I have to force myself to use my coping mechanisms because I do not want disaster to come, so I once again ask God to motivate me to keep moving. The battle in my mind and body continues but it becomes more bearable and some of the negative emotions begin to fade.

Occasionally this state disappears as quickly as it came. Most times it lingers for hours. When I am fortunate enough to fall asleep the sensations are gone by the time I wake up. If I remember I pray for just that — sleep.

The word I hate most during this time is “JUST” even though I sincerely know others have the best intentions. But this is why I’m writing this. I wish it was as easy as “JUST.”
“You know how to cope…JUST do what you need to do.”
JUST pray and God will help you.”
JUST think positive and focus on all you have to be thankful for.”
Trust me…I JUST want to do anything other than what I am currently doing. Intellectually I know what’s necessary but there is a disconnect that I still struggle to explain. But it’s not for lack of trying.

So please understand…if you are someone who has ever felt this way….I GET IT! I hate it too. I know how scary it is. You are not alone. Ever. And it will pass.

As friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers and fellow human beings we need to understand that people need help and empathy, patience and love no matter how difficult it may be. Our minds and bodies are amazingly complicated. There is so much we need to research and discover when it comes to mental health. But as we learn we need to create a safe environment where it’s ok to share our scary thoughts and experiences that often are inexplicable because only then will we open the door to understanding. Be the person to facilitate change. Be the one who shows compassion and reaches out to those who struggle and be assured that when you do you truly are making a difference!

Please Show Empathy…

So last week I had an appointment with my doctor and left with a prescription for an increased dosage of my antidepressant and a new one typically prescribed for high blood pressure and sometimes ADHD in children. I had them filled even though I have neither high blood pressure nor ADHD. I had expressed my concern about having difficulty learning and organizing new information but somewhere along the way mentioned that I couldn’t concentrate. Apparently I had raised the red flag for ADHD and since I was having trouble expressing and processing information I was not successful in getting my point across. Out of frustration and a looming deadline to learn a new curriculum I started taking the medication as a last ditch effort to get past the roadblock in my brain.

Within the first 2 days of taking it I felt my brain backfiring as the tiny pill tried to find the target it was aiming for without messing up everything else around it. However, my entire being was quickly affected. For 3 days all I could do was sleep. Moving around exhausted even my fingertips. Stringing words together to express the muddled thoughts swimming around my brain into a coherent sentence was nearly impossible. On the third night I felt as though I had completely disconnected from the world around me. When I stood up I had to steady myself to keep from passing out and I no longer felt any emotions or cared about anything. Confusion and panic would set in when I couldn’t remember where I was or where I was going.

Long story short my husband insisted I stop the medication and within 24 hours I no longer felt as if I was dying. However I still continue to have lapses in memory along with difficulty comprehending and processing information. Why? I haven’t quite figured that out yet although I have my theories.

But as all of this was happening many of the students I have had the privilege of teaching through the years popped into my mind. What did they have in common? They had all been on a course of medication to treat mental health issues. Often they were on meds I was currently on or had taken. The point of this is not to discuss whether or not children should be medicated. It’s to consider the reality that so many kids are currently dealing with powerful drugs and if they have affected me in the ways I’ve described I can only imagine how they might possibly feel at any given time.

Think about this for a minute:

I have been dealing with Bipolar Disorder for 30 years but only 8 years ago received a diagnosis and began treatment. I am a well educated professional with the ability and means to research every treatment, track my progress, articulate how I’m feeling with my husband at my side to debate with my doctor when things are spinning out of control. This has helped tremendously in taking charge of an illness I have learned a great deal about. AND I’M STILL STRUGGLING!!!

When I miss a dose or change meds my mind and body react — often in negative ways. But I have a general understanding of what’s happening and why. Does a 9 year old have those means or capabilities? I’m not talking about the parent’s understanding. That’s different. I’ve had many students over the years who don’t even know they are taking medication because they’ve been told it’s their daily vitamin, while others are well aware of their diagnosis and medications. They realize how they feel and behave is changing but don’t necessarily understand why. They equate it to being a bad kid and have made up their mind — at the ripe old age of 9 — that they are incapable of doing what is required of them and will always be a failure.

As I could do nothing but sleep for 3 days my heart went out to my kids who couldn’t keep their eyes open during a test or sit still for more than 5 minutes because their parents forgot to give them their pills or their insurance had run out. I’ve greeted students in the morning and could immediately tell if they had taken their meds and have selfishly thought, “I’m in for a long day.” Too many times I’ve seen the empty look in their eyes or the wild glow I can relate to all too well.

I know what it’s like to want to rip my hair out or throw a desk across a room out of frustration or because the sensations coursing through my body are unstoppable and unbearable. And when I’m experiencing withdrawal because I’ve forgotten to take my meds that’s the only sensation I can focus on even though I know there are tasks that need to be completed. I understand how it feels to sit in a room full of peers feeling stupid because I can’t follow what’s going on. I’ve cringed during group “fun” activities because the depression inside me had taken over causing any attempt at being enthusiastic to become nothing short of torture.

But you know what?

I’ve had EIGHT years of therapy to help me understand and learn healthy coping strategies. Imagine being 9, just beginning this process while sitting in a bright, noisy classroom trying to absorb information for 6 hours a day. Learning to cope has just begun and that’s only if they are able to find, get to and afford a counselor.

When a student tells me they want to die or disappear or that they simply don’t care anymore — I get it! Not always, but often it’s because something is wreaking havoc in their brains. It is not their fault even though most of the time they believe it is.

I could go on and on about the education system and the lack of resources we as teachers (and parents) have to deal with these struggling students. But for now I just want anyone who deals with kids to get a glimpse of what it may feel like because so many kids do not have a voice. They swallow a pill and hope to make it through the day successfully.

I wish I could say to every kid I’ve come in contact with who has started down the path of dealing with mental illness and medication that I get it. I understand. I’ve been there and they are not alone. But unfortunately I fear the repercussions I could face due to the stigma that exists about these illnesses. That has to change.

If anything at all, think about what I’ve shared and if you have a child or student who may be struggling, have compassion and try not to let your frustrations show. They realize they might not score as high as you need them to on a test and they feel badly and perhaps worthless or stupid after they fall asleep or scream at you for the tenth time that week. As difficult as it may be, show them that you care and love them anyway. When someone says to me that they might not understand what I’m going through but they are here for me and love me regardless, that could very likely have been the only reason I didn’t give up that day.

I was prescribed blood pressure medication for ADHD which I did not have. I couldn’t (and still have trouble) comprehending a fourth grade curriculum that I’ve taught for several years. Imagine what that child who is staring blankly off into space may be feeling. Or if they don’t get it regardless of how simple it may be — love them and tell them you are there for them and make a solid commitment to never give up!

Shout to the World…

There’s just something extremely powerful about a former drug addict or a survivor of suicide attempts or mental illness standing on stage at a music festival sharing their testimony for hundreds of people.

That’s exactly what my family and I witnessed many times this past weekend at Creation Festival — a 4 day music and camping extravaganza that was amazing in so many ways. From 9am until 11pm each day there was music and testimony going on non stop at several different stages. We camped among thousands of people in grassy fields and when we weren’t listening to music we played frisbee, Cam Jam, Spike Ball, soccer and catch or spent time with band members after they performed. Home base was at the smaller stage where the hard core, heavy metal and rock bands played. Believe it or not there have been people in the past who have complained that heavy metal, circle pits and screamo lyrics have no place at a Christian festival. It’s unfortunate that people don’t take the time to listen to the lyrics and stop to watch and experience the passion these bands bring to the stage. A person cannot stand on stage screaming their lungs out for 45 minutes if they are not passionate about what they are doing and believe with every fiber of their being that their message is important.

Sure it’s loud — sometimes painfully. Sure they bang their heads, whip their long hair and thrash their tattooed bodies all over the stage (as well as most of us in the crowd) but they are telling stories, sharing pain and triumph and worshipping in such a raw and genuine way you can’t help but feel the power as it rocks your soul.

To me, these are the bands I connect with. While on stage screaming, singing and connecting with the crowd, they seem larger than life. But then a mere 10 minutes later they are giving you hugs, asking for your story, giving advice, taking pictures and praying with or for you.

I think it’s awesome and beautiful to hear traditional worship music and listen to a speaker share scripture and talk about how great God is. For me though, that has never moved me. I need to know someone gets me. When a band member speaks to the crowd and holds nothing back, turning away from the rock star status announcing that it’s not the music that matters but the message, it means something special. Then with tears in their eyes (yes, the big tattooed, long haired, former drug addict) but thunder in their voice they proceed to share their experience with drugs, suicide attempts, depression etc. This is the point I get chills and something moves me powerfully. They talk about how they overcame all the hardship, pain and despair only because of God’s help and they owe everything to Him. They dedicate their lives to sharing their story because they were changed so dramatically and are unashamed while doing so. That is inspirational. That’s what chokes me up. It touches lives and we were able to be a part of that power of testimony and faith.

So many times I have been on the brink of tears from the rawness. I have felt the presence and power of God through this and have wanted to run to the stage and scream about everything that’s ever hurt me,the hopelessness and anger that’s overwhelmed me in order to let others know that I get it. I’ve been there and it will get better. Because He’s saved my life over and over again it’s worth screaming about.

But I’m not a singer (as my kids always remind me!) but I do write. As I write I feel the emotion travel through my pen as it becomes my voice on the page. I want people to know that no matter how lost, depressed, hopeless or suicidal they feel they are not alone.

I want more than anything to continue to share my story because I know so many struggle with the exact things I’ve overcome. At times it can feel embarrassing or cause me to feel uncomfortable as I let skeletons out of the closet but if it helps just one person then it’s worth it.

That’s why we ALL have to get real. We can’t hide by putting on masks and pretending everything is perfect. I guarantee there is at least one person out there who feels alone and needs to hear what you have to say. Every single one of us should have the opportunity to stand on stage and passionately tell our story. It should be a requirement for this life. That’s what I envision every time I write.

Be brave. Take the first step whether it’s to share what you’ve overcome or what you are in desperate need of. We are all together in this journey that I like to think of as an adventure leading to bigger and better things. Let’s not judge. Let’s join together and get real. Let’s accept and love and be touched by each unique story there is to tell.

Who knows…the dude covered in tattoos or the girl with purple hair and countless piercings might just have exactly what you need to hear but YOU need to stop and listen. Chances are you will have more in common than you know and when we share and listen that’s when we find out that we are not alone. I have learned so many lessons from the people I would least expect. Sometimes it’s through a song or a book or a blog. Sometimes it’s through students or family or strangers at a concert. The common thread is that I would never have learned what I needed to know at the time if that person hadn’t taken a risk, opened up and got real. That’s when lives are changed and isn’t that something we all want to accomplish? It may be difficult at first but I promise you it is absolutely worth it!

Here are some bands who have made a very big difference in my life and my family’s lives and I want to thank them for being open and raw and inspiring me to do the same…


Silent Planet
Seventh Day Slumber
Lacey Sturm
Sleeping Giant
August Burns Red

Rap/Hip Hop:
Andy Mineo

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