On relating to Kristen Bell's mental illness disclosure

Last week Kristen Bell became the latest Hollywood star to mention that she's not ashamed for taking medication for her anxiety and depression, and the news of her mental illness disclosure went viral. I'm grateful she used her fame to bring awareness to an issue that touches so many of us, but at the same time felt like I couldn't quite relate, even though I've been affected by the same disorders. Listen, I'm all for celebrities sharing their stories. They have platforms much, MUCH, bigger than mine, and the more people who open up, the better. The more attention we can draw to the cause, the better. The more we normalize mental illness, the better.

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I guess I just can't really relate to a celebrity. I've never met one myself, although I'd imagine most of them are down to earth. They are human, too, after all. Albeit humans with seemingly endless streams of money, and access to practically any doctor they would ever need to see. They experience mental illness the same way the rest of the population does, only with privilege. Many of them receive the proper diagnosis, effective treatment, and manage their conditions successfully.

On the flip side, no matter how much wealth and access to care they have, some we lose to suicide, like Robin Williams.

Now let me back up for a moment and acknowledge the fact that when I experienced my most serious battles with my mental illness, it was partially my privilege which allowed me to be able to get well. I recognize this.

What I'm trying to say is that to me, when a celebrity goes on camera and talks about having gone through a mental health issue, it's not nearly as impactful as when regular people I meet through my advocacy work share their stories. It's also not the same as a celebrity figure who has made a commitment to fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness by continually sharing her story - the way Demi Lovato has. There's a big difference between mentioning the fact that you take medication for anxiety and depression, and making it part of your purpose in life to educate people.

Also, last time I checked Psychologists weren't licensed to prescribe medication.

When I started this blog my goal was to simply inspire one person not to give up. To let her know that there is life after a mental illness diagnosis and multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. That the months spent crying and sleeping and barely eating because you're so nauseous even the thought of toast turns your stomach, that all those months and maybe even years spent suffering could come to an end.

I truly believe finding other people's stories online helped me to find my recovery path. Which is why when I found the right time to begin writing out my own story, I went for it. I knew that being anonymous wasn't the answer. But at the time I felt a responsibility to my family when making the decision on whether or not to use my real name in my writing. My disclosure would affect them, too, after all.

Then, after eighteen months of blogging, I reached a point where my anonymous writing had reeled in a regular paid blogging gig for WhatToExpect.com, and I wasn't willing to go on without receiving recognition for my work. I wanted to do my part to stand up to stigma, and I knew the best way to do that was come out of the closet about my mental illness. So I did.

And none of my fears came true. The fear of losing friends, of being discriminated upon, of being looked down upon. None. Instead, the response was the complete opposite.

Which is why I am such a strong believer in the power of storytelling. Yes, I come from privilege. But in our This Is My Brave shows there are plenty of people who have come forward to share their stories and they didn't have the same access to care that I did. They still made it out of the darkness. Their stories are extraordinary.

The power behind sharing our stories lies in the ability to comfort others. In our country alone, one in five adults is living with a diagnosable mental illness. We are all affected by it, whether we realize this or not. Mental illness is mostly invisible, and because of both internal and external stigma, and the fear it instills in people, those suffering often times do not reach out for help. They feel isolated, like they are the only one who has ever dealt with that condition.

It's not true. When we share our stories openly, people suffering in silence realize they are not alone. And they see that if someone like them was able to get well, they can too.

Which brings me back to my point about celebrities. Celebrities are people just like you and me. They're human. But given the world they live in, my guess is that it's hard for an average American to relate to their stories.

I urge you to visit our This Is My Brave YouTube Channel where you can view over 100 true, personal stories of overcoming mental illness from regular, everyday people. Teachers, students, small business owners, stay-at-home-moms, community service workers, and the list goes on.

This month, for Mental Health Awareness Month, we have five all-new This Is My Brave shows on the schedule. Our Greenville, South Carolina show was this past Thursday night and it was incredible. Our Iowa City show is this coming Friday night, the third annual DC-area show is this Sunday. And finishing out the month on the same date, May 19th, are our Chicagoland and Denver shows. All our new shows will be added to our YouTube channel this summer.

Deciding to share your own struggle with mental illness is a personal choice. It's This Is My Brave's goal to inspire people to #LiveBrave which means when you're ready, and you find the right opportunity to share your experience with someone, whether privately or publicly, you will. Your ability to be brave will give the other person the comfort and solace they need to feel understood. We've seen it happen through our guest bloggers and our live show presentations. It's life-changing and extremely powerful.

Whether you get that feeling from a celebrity talking about her experience, or someone you know and love in your life, the point is that together we can dissolve the stigma surrounding mental illness by sharing our stories.

LiveBraveIf you decide to #LiveBrave with us, we've designed an overlay you can add to your Facebook profile pic and Twitter profile pic. It's easy, simply follow the instructions here: http://twibbon.com/support/live-brave

 

Remembering This Is My Brave's beginning

Remembering the BeginningI've been neglecting my little, teeny corner of the Internet. Not because I haven't thought about blogging, it's that making the time has been a challenge lately. But after yesterday's This Is My Brave (year 3!!) Cast party, I felt drawn back to this space. My favorite mug within arm's reach, emblazoned with my favorite photo of our inaugural cast, full of steaming hot peach tea. Headphones plugged into my laptop, the rhymes of Ed Sheeran keep me company as I click a button to Add New Post. This is where it all started.

It started with a decision to tell my story nearly five years ago. Even if I told it without my name attached, I still made the choice to write about my experience living with bipolar disorder. I typed out the trauma of succumbing to two manic episodes in one month. I wrote about things like exercise and journaling that were helpful to me in finding a path to recovery amid the chaos of receiving a diagnosis.

IMG_3985I remember contemplating that I would name the blog, before those posts were even published, eventually settling on "Bipolar Mom Life" because I wanted to be searchable.

I remember feeling the wave of mental health advocacy begin to swell. I wanted to climb on, to be part of the monumental tidal wave of brave individuals who were working to drown stigma through their openness. So I grabbed my proverbial surfboard and started paddling.

Years of writing several posts a week, then writing for other websites, to landing my first paid writing gig. One thing led to another and then to another. This little blog became the catalyst for something I dreamt about but would never fully appreciate until it actually happened.

So, how did it happen? This Is My Brave has become what it is today because of the support that has emerged from the shadows. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers. So many people ready to put their silence behind them. From extreme darkness comes the brightest lights, we've seen it time and time again through our shows. Our trials, trauma, and pain have taught us we are stronger than our struggles. We are compassionate souls, brave because we want to impact change. This Is My Brave is alive because in our communities everywhere live storytellers who aren't afraid to show their scars.

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We only had to provide the opportunity for them to share.

I may have made the decision to start a blog, but This Is My Brave wouldn't have ever taken off if it weren't for people believing in its mission, to end the stigma surrounding mental illness by sharing our true, personal stories through poetry, music and essay, and stepping up onto the stage.

Our stories are coming together in a huge tsunami which is threatening to drown out the concept of stigma all together.

I may have had my doubts that this project would be able to make the impact I hoped it would, but those insecurities have been silenced. Every single time we put the call out for storytellers they bring it. Our job of casting becomes harder each year.

IMG_3998Through vivid imagery you feel their hearts bleed out onto the pages. You also learn how they made it through the minefield of mental illness. Their resilience warms your heart and in the end you're glowing with pride for everything they've become. And that they've decided to selflessly share their strength with the world. This is the magic of This Is My Brave.

I hope you'll come see a show this May. We'll be in Greenville, South Carolina; Iowa City, Iowa; Arlington, Virginia; Denver, Colorado; and Valparaiso, Indiana. Tickets are on sale now.

Come and #LiveBrave with us.

Touched With Fire: a movie about bipolar's mania

TouchedFire When I received an email recently with an invitation from Mental Health America to attend a free screening of Touched With Fire a new film about bipolar disorder starring Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby, I RSVP'd immediately. It fascinates me to view my illness through the eyes of another person touched by this diagnosis. And this film was written, music composed and was directed by a man who lives with bipolar illness.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 11.37.54 PMFilmmaker Paul Dalio was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 24, and like me, struggled to accept the label. He said he romanticized the mania, pointing to famous poets and writers who shared the condition. He's developed a strong sense of pride and I could wholeheartedly relate. It seems his experience over the years has led him to a place I find myself in now: able to live in harmony with bipolar, with a loving family and a full life.

Touched With Fire screening attended by This Is My Brave

Several of my volunteers and one of our new This Is My Brave interns joined me at the screening. We all were impressed by the film, it's ability to express the artistic side of the disease, how family members struggle with how to help or walk away, and what happens when one refuses to comply with medications and treatment.

Plus, it's a love story. That was probably my favorite part about the movie. And it has a great ending.

I did have a concern as I reflected back on the scenes and the dialogue though. So many moments brought me back to my initial diagnosis and the years that followed.

Like when my parents kept referring to what was happening to me as "episodes" which made me feel so broken. 

And when I questioned whether I even had bipolar disorder. I didn't think I needed the meds.

And the times I went off my meds (to protect my unborn babies) only to end up manic and hospitalized within a week both times. 

I worry that the film will be dangerous to those who are not in a solid place of recovery. It's been ten years since I've been diagnosed. Coming up on six years since I've had a manic episode requiring hospitalization. I'm at a place where I know that I will never go off my meds. I know what my triggers are and I know how to manage them. I take such better care of my body and my mind compared to where I was back when I was still learning to understand my condition.

{Q&A panel discussion following the screening, from left: Debbie Plotnik (MHA), Paul Dalio, Dr. Kay Jamison, Paul Gionfriddo (MHA President), Luke Kirby}

Someone who is early in their recovery journey may be tempted by the film to get rid of meds, to go back to life before being medicated because they were so much more artistic (not true). Paul, the filmmaker, even commented on the fact that he's so much more able to utilize his creativity to attain his goals and dreams being on medication and stable. Something that Dr. Kay Jamison taught him when they met and she became a mentor to him, a connection made possible by his own psychiatrist.

Speaking of Dr. Jamison, she makes a cameo in the movie and I got to say hello to her after the screening and Q & A. I told her how much I admired her work and how I attended one of her book signings in 2007 and asked her about pregnancy and medication. Her advice to me was to stay on my meds, which I did not heed and learned my lesson the hard way. She was very glad to know of the work This Is My Brave is doing and I'm hopeful she'll be able to attend a local show in the near future.

{David, me, Dr. Kay Jamison, and Annie after the Q & A following the screening of Touched With Fire}

You never know how someone will respond when you put your story out there, when you put your art out into the world. Paul has taken a risk that was no doubt worth taking. My hope is that the film will not live up to my concerns, but instead serve as a springboard for important conversations surrounding mental illness and mental health that need to be taking place in communities everywhere.

The film opens tomorrow, February 12th in New York City and Los Angeles, and on February 19th nationwide in select cities. You can watch a trailer of the film HERE. This Is My Brave is hosting a Meetup for anyone in the DC-metro area who would like to come together to support the film's opening weekend. Click here to sign up to meet us on Friday at the Angelika Film Center in Fairfax for the 7pm-ish showing.

A Weekend At Home

This is going to be a long, boring post. Bear with me. I feel the need to justify my blogging absence by writing it all out. If only for myself. It's been a busy couple of months in our household. At the end of August, Ben and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary surrounded by our friends and family. It just happened to coincide perfectly with the summer house concert we had booked with independent artist and now friend of ours, Shannon Curtis. The evening was the perfect way to mark our special day. Shannon's music was simply beautiful and she played under the big oak tree next to our house while the crickets chirped and the lights that Ben strung twinkled. My only regret is not taking more pictures, but I am glad I remembered to stay present and in the moment. It was a magical night to remember.

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The kids started school in the weeks that followed and I was busy helping our New York City team prep for their October show. The first weekend in September, my brother and I surprised my mom in Florida for her 65th Birthday. The look on her face was priceless when we both walked in the door, but lucky for her I decided not to Periscope or even photograph the surprise since she was still in her pajamas. You're welcome, mom. Instead we have a photo of us wearing bibs. I loved getting to see my Grandma, too, since I hadn't seen her since February which felt like so long ago.

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The second weekend in September Wear Your Label, a conscious clothing company out of Canada, invited me to emcee their fashion show at New York Fashion Week in New York City. The timing couldn't have been better, since that was the same weekend our New York City cast was getting together for the first time and I was able to attend and meet everyone. It was an awesome {albeit fast-paced} weekend. I loved meeting Kaylee and Kyle {the Co-Founders of Wear Your Label} and look forward to working with them in the future on another mental health awareness event.

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The third weekend of September was the Northern Virginia NAMI {National Alliance on Mental Illness} walk. Anne Marie and I hosted a This Is My Brave table and got to talk with lots of attendees about our organization and what we do. We sold a bunch of Brave tees and brave beads, and our cast member Laurie was there to help us and catch up. The weather couldn't have been more beautiful, to top it off.

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The last weekend of September I was invited to the DBSA {Depression Bipolar Support Alliance} annual conference in Chicago to present during the Peer Showcase night, the first evening of the conference. I was joined by Canadian comedian David Granier of Stand Up for Mental Health, and my friend, singer/songwriter Shannon Curtis. We kicked off the conference with storytelling, comedy and music, and everyone had a lovely evening. The weekend was full of incredible speakers: Dese'Rae Stage of Live Thru This, Mariel Hemingway, and Andrew Solomon. I met so many amazing, like-minded people, and I felt at home.

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Just this past weekend, on October 4th, This Is My Brave had our first show in New York City. I can't even begin to describe how proud I am of our cast and production team. I was beaming from the moment the curtain went up until I closed my eyes to fall asleep that night, exhausted with the joy of what they had accomplished.

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My parents flew in from Florida to spend the weekend with me and see the show. Despite the threats from Hurricane Joaquin, we made it. We drove to Long Island on Friday to see my Uncle Marty and his partner Ralph, and had a great time catching up with them before heading into the city on Saturday. I was able to attend the second half of rehearsal on Saturday, and then spent the rest of the day and evening getting last-minute details ready for the show. Sunday morning, my dad and I went to the Today Show with signs to try to get some free publicity. The show touched me on so many levels and I loved seeing and hearing how the event impacted all who attended. Monday was my dad's birthday, and I am so thankful I got to celebrate it with him and my mom over a lovely dinner after the show. Living over a thousand miles apart makes me so grateful for the moments we get to spend together.

This weekend I was supposed to host a table at the AFSP {American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - there will be a quiz on all the mental health organization acronyms at the end!} community walk in DC, but after being in DC on Friday for the International Bipolar Foundation breakfast, I knew I needed a day off. That, and realizing the tornado inside of our house was screaming to be tamed, I made the decision to take this weekend to re-group, clean and spend time at home with my family.

I spent yesterday attacking one room at a time with a duster, the vacuum, and the desire to give everyone a fresh, clean start as we tumble into autumn. As I cleaned, I listened to Jenny Lawson's new book, Furiously Happy, and found myself having to stop what I was doing and tweet out quotes it was so good. It made me want to get serious about writing my own memoir about living with bipolar, which is something I desperately want to do someday. But at the moment my focus is on This Is My Brave, our seventh and final show of this year {LA's book launch event for Amy Ferris' Shades of Blue on November 19th! Details coming this week!} and planning for 2016.

I'm not going to lie. These past few months have been exhausting. But at the same time, they are what fill me up. It's hard to be away from my family, but I return to them more complete. It's an unbelievable feeling to know in your heart that you've found your life's calling, and I don't take it for granted. Whenever someone tells me how much my work touches them and it's so wonderful I'm helping so many people, I am overwhelmed. All I ever wanted to do was encourage people to be open and share their stories. It's only because people believed in me that this work is able to touch so many. I am so grateful people had confidence in my vision.

I can't help but let my insecurities creep in from time to time. Typically when I hear about a suicide or that someone I know is struggling with their own mental health. I feel so helpless, even though I've battled similar demons. Why can't I find the right words? Why can't I be a better friend? Why can't I make a bigger difference, help more people, stop the suffering?

I know it has to do with the issue of being enough and accepting that I am enough, and these are things I'm working on. This is not a plea for pity or praise. I'm just putting it out there because I want to be real, and I want my readers to know that I still have plenty of things I'm working on. Just because I've found stability with my mental health doesn't mean my life is perfect. If only it were that easy. Anne Marie reminds me nearly every week that we've accomplished a great deal in our first two years, and I know she is right. I know that I want This Is My Brave to grow slowly and sustainably, staying true to our mission of ending stigma through storytelling, which is exactly what we're doing.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey, especially my husband, parents and in-laws who are always willing to jump in and help with the kids so that I can attend meetings, conferences, and special events. I wouldn't be on this journey if it weren't for my friends cheering me on, my readers continuously reaching out to tell me how much they appreciate me being open about my story, and my growing This Is My Brave family for contributing to this dream. Sometimes it doesn't feel real, like when I saw myself on the cover of Bipolar Hope Magazine this week. I am full of gratitude for this life.

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Happy Holiday weekend, friends. Thanks for being on this journey with me.

Making the Invisible Visible

making-invisible-visiblePhoto Credit: Mylla More via Compfight cc

I’ve always been the type of person who wanted to make the invisible visible. It’s just in my nature. Engrained in my being. A part of who I am. I am someone who wants to share where I’ve been so that others can learn and grow, the same way I desperately want to hear what others have gleaned from their life experiences. I crave this deep, intimate knowledge of people. When I open up to someone and they lean in and open up in response, I know I’ve found my people. Small talk makes my skin crawl.

When I meet someone for the first time though, small talk is inevitable. At first glance, no one would ever guess that I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, I’d never know if the person in front of me had ever been so depressed they couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. So many of us live with these potentially, and often times, debilitating illnesses in our brains, and yet we present as perfectly capable, fully-functioning, regular old citizens going about our daily activities. Waking up, with or without incredible effort, making breakfast for ourselves and perhaps our family, getting everyone dressed and out the door to work and school, dinner, bedtime. Rinse, repeat.

We need to stop the facades and be honest and real with each other.

If we never make it past the small talk to really open up to a friend or neighbor about our depression, or our anxiety or our eating disorder or whatever it is that we’ve hid for so long because we were scared of being judged, then how would our friend ever be able to love us as who we are? It's hard to accept what we don’t know. What we don’t understand. What we don’t see.

I’ll give you an example.

One night, in early 2006, in the midst of the severe depression and anxiety I had been wrestling with since being diagnosed, I went out to dinner with my two best friends to celebrate a birthday. I don’t know how I managed to get myself up and out of bed, but it probably had something to do with the fact that we were going to my favorite restaurant {Sweetwater Tavern} and I must have been craving the salmon salad. Plus, my friend’s birthday.

K picked me up and we met M there. We had a nice meal, and the check arrived at the table to be paid at our convenience because they’re very efficient at Sweetwater. I can’t remember who paid the tab, but someone did or we split it, but it was settled, and we were just lingering there at the table, M and K finishing their drinks before leaving when it happened.

I had an anxiety attack. The normal buzz of the crowded restaurant which never used to bother me before suddenly made me want to run for the door. A wave of panic rushed up my legs and settled in my gut. I needed to get out of there.

“Are we done? Can we just go already?” I blurted out, not knowing what else to say, and not realizing how it would affect my friends.

They both stared at me for a second.

“What’s wrong with you?” M asked, frustration and confusion apparent in her tone. K shot me a look that seemed to ask, “Are you okay?” They had no idea.

I managed to squeak out something about being ready to go, apologizing for being so pushy, and they bought it. But I never did have the hard conversation. I don't blame them one bit for their reactions. They didn't know. It took me another year before I really tried to explain to them what was happening to me. What it felt like on the inside. I tried to explain the invisible.

I had plenty of reservations about revealing to the world that I’ve been living with bipolar disorder since my first manic break in December of 2005. You could say I was terrified. But it was also clear as day to me that the benefits of sharing my story were what made me feel good about my decision. Sure, there were the negatives. I may face discrimination in the future from people who don’t understand my condition or from those who may be afraid because of what they’ve seen in the media. But by standing up and speaking out in a positive, unique way, I hope to minimize any form of intolerance I may encounter in the future.

[Tweet "By combining our voices, we're more likely to be heard & understood. #ThisIsMyBrave"]

Which is why I am so proud of what is happening with This Is My Brave. We’ve come so far in seven short months. This week we announced our cast, and next week we’ll begin introducing them to the world so that you can see just how wonderful they are and why you need to come to the show in May. They’ll be up on stage, sharing a piece of their heart with you so that you can better understand their journey. Because at first glance, you’d never say to yourself, “Oh, she definitely spent a year battling agoraphobia, it’s obvious” or “You can tell he was arrested during a manic episode.”

These are invisible illnesses which we’re making visible because it’s time we shine a spotlight on mental illness. By bringing it into the light we illuminate the hope that lies in recovery so that no one who has been touched by a mental health issue has to feel alone.

Letting Go of the Secret

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Living a life with an ever-present fear of revealing a certain secret part of yourself isn’t truly living. I know, because I’ve been there. Being caught up in an inauthentic version of myself wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life. And so I made some changes. The results were incredible.

At twenty-six years old, newly married and at the peak of my career as an agency recruiter, I was hit with mania. It came without warning, and felt exactly the same as slipping on black ice and landing flat on my back, the wind sucked out of my lungs and a searing pain pulsing through my bones. I was terrified of what was happening in my brain. I had lost control of everything and my career and reputation were on the line, not to mention my relationship with my husband who didn’t see this coming.

How would I ever recover from this mess?

I would, although recovery eluded me several times. Following my diagnosis, I spent a full year in what felt like an extended visit to a deserted island: the isle of depression. It seemed like no one could possibly understand what I was feeling. I fought waves of anxiety each morning, and would calm myself down from my afternoon anxiety by collapsing on the couch in front of the television, tears soaking the oversized pillow which my head rested on.

I saw many doctors, so many that I can’t remember most of their names. My parents pushed for second, third, fourth opinions. Not because they didn’t trust the doctor’s opinions, but because we hadn’t figured out what would bring me back to my baseline. My normal. Finally, after seeing one of the top doctors in our area, a national specialist in the study of bipolar disorder, I was ready to follow his advice, the same medication recommendation that the previous few psychiatrists had been urging me to try.

Within two months I felt better than I had felt in an entire year. Slivers of my old personality were coming back. When I laughed, it felt genuine and amazing, better than it had felt even before I became sick. When several weeks had passed and I realized I hadn’t cried, I was shocked. The drug was actually working for me.

There would be two more hospitalizations in the years that followed, only because I had taken myself off my medication during pregnancy to protect my kids. When my daughter was only 8 months old, I decided I was ready to tell my story in order to help other women who might think they couldn’t have a family because of their mental illness. I launched my blog and began writing, but kept my identity a secret because I feared the repercussions of the stigma associated with mental illness.

I kept writing and sharing my experience as a mom raising two small kids while at the same time managing my bipolar disorder and over the next year and a half, I realized that keeping my identity a secret was only adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. It was a part of my life and I wanted to show society that I’m a real person with real emotions and I believe that people who live with mental illness should be treated like any other person living with any other life-long disease. We didn’t ask for these conditions we were dealt, and the last thing we need is for society to look the other way when we’re suffering and need support to find recovery.

I was no longer ashamed.

And so in April of 2013, I announced on my blog that I was “ready to not be anonymous anymore,” and I took a brave stand against stigma. The support that poured in from my family and friends, and people I didn’t even know but who had read my post, was overwhelming. The words of gratitude for sharing my story so courageously were like fuel to me, as I kept writing about my experiences and connecting with people who appreciated my transparency.

Six months ago I launched a project and couldn’t have imagined the response it has generated. This Is My Brave is a live theater production where people from the community will take turns at the microphone to share their story on stage via personal essays, original music and slam poetry. This Is My Brave is more than just a one-time performance. We have become a platform and a community for people living with mental illness to speak out in an effort to end the stigma associated with brain illnesses.

Our mission is to ignite and actively promote―through actions and social media― a positive, supportive national conversation about mental illness for those who live with, or love someone who lives with, a brain illness. Through the sharing of stories and experiences of those in recovery, we expect to provide a sense of community and hope; encouraging others to share their stories. We believe that each time one of us talks openly about living with mental illness, we create another crack which helps to break down the stigma. We’re currently in the process of converting to a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and have been actively planning the pursuit of our mission beyond the debut of This Is My Brave in Arlington on May 18th.

It’s time we bring mental health issues into the spotlight because they’ve been in the dark too long. Please visit www.thisismybrave.com to learn more about the show. Auditions are currently being scheduled (www.thisismybrave.com/auditions) and tickets to attend the show are on sale now at EventBrite.com.

Follow the show on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news!

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Planning the Future and Enjoying the Journey

planning-future-enjoying-journeyPhoto Credit: Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel via Compfight cc

It can be almost dizzying to have to plan for what's ahead, but yet keep your focus at the same time on the daily details that actually may make the future happen.

There is so much written lately about staying “in the moment” and how we need to remember to cherish the everyday little events that happen to us rather than spend all our time anticipating the next big thing: graduating college, getting married, buying a house, having kids, etc, etc. I even wrote recently about how the swift tick of the clock changed me when reflecting on my daughter’s hospitalization for Kawasaki disease.

I agree wholeheartedly with this concept of fully enjoying the time in our lives that falls in-between those major life events. But things also change when you’re planting seeds. You have to set long-term goals. Write strategic plans. Manage expectations of your backers.

Because success is on the line.

I’m starting to think like a real entrepreneur and I’m loving it.

So I write big goals. I check with experts in their respected fields. I make connection after connection.

There is a chance things won’t work out. There is a chance we could fail. But the only way to prove that chance wrong is to plan. To read. To talk it through. To set the bar high. To take the leap of faith because I believe in this project and its mission.

You know how I can tell This Is My Brave is a critically needed movement? Because people tell me every day.

And it’s the passion in their voice, the stories they share with me, the emotions they trust me with which whisper to me, “Keep going!” and "What you're doing is so important!" when my thoughts run away from me and threaten to bruise my confidence.

Every time I see an email pop up in my inbox from someone saying “I stumbled upon your blog and wanted to thank you,” my heart smiles. Because I’ve touched someone to the point that they took the time to write me an email and in it they tell me about how mental illness changed their life. I can’t even tell you how much this means to me.

Maybe it was a sibling, a child, a best friend, or a parent. Usually it is the person who is writing. Mental illness affected their life in a major way and they are relieved to find another brave soul who is open to talking about their experience. And they just happened to choose me.

Friends, the reason I created This Is My Brave is to encourage conversations - like the ones that happen in my inbox - to occur in communities everywhere. I want people to not have to be afraid of talking with their families, their friends, their neighbors, their religious leaders, about what it’s like to live with mental illness. To not be afraid to ask for help. The more people open up, the bigger the impact and the more lives we’ll save.

I want people to be helped by the sharing of personal stories. And we’re doing it in an energetic, eclectic way. The essays, songs, and poetic readings you’ll experience at This Is My Brave will leave you with a new, more positive view on mental illness. There are benefits to living with some of these conditions, believe it or not. Creativity, for one. Compassion, resilience, a fierce will to figure out what will bring relief are some of the others. I know there are more, too.

We want to show you what we’re capable of. In four short months we take the stage. I’ve been cognizant of the journey and have been diligently keeping my eye on the future at the same time.

Best of both worlds, for sure.

PS. I’ve been nominated for the WEGO Health Rookie of the Year Health Activist Award! I’d be so grateful if you’d take the time to endorse me via my Nominee Directory page. It only takes a minute - simply click the link and then select the purple thumbs up button beneath my profile picture. You can endorse me once a day until February 1st when they vote. {The 3 nominees with the highest number of endorsements will be named finalists!} Thank you so much!

The Year I Learned to Jump

Year-Learned-JumpPhoto Credit: Jimbo N via Compfight cc

“ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU ARE AFRAID TO DO.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even in the midst of my intense wrestling match with bipolar disorder, right smack in the middle of the chaos of a frazzled mind and rattled sense of self-worth, I somehow knew one day I’d take the type of jump where there's no looking back once you launch yourself into the air.

I knew I’d face my fear.

Today, in these moments when I type here in my makeshift office and upload my words to this space which has become my launching pad for jumping off my cliff of fear, I’m opening up. Putting it all out there, no longer the only one bearing the weight the vivid flashbacks from the brunt of my struggle. I say not the only one because inevitably after I hit publish someone will respond with a “me too."

As 2013 comes to a close, I’m in the thrilling moments, body tingling from the pull of gravity after the big leap. The seconds are precious and they’re swiftly racing by like seconds on the New Year’s count-down clock, but I’m not bracing for the impact. Instead, I’m preparing to feel my toes slice through the surface of the water. {I prefer to jump in feet-first.}

Because in my dream about facing my fear, I’m on a huge cliff in Maui overlooking the deep blue ocean. Why not, right? It’s a dream.

I crave the feeling of weightlessness that comes from the adrenaline rush coursing through my body in mid-air. And I’m grabbing onto each and every one of those seconds as they fly by.

 

Resisting the urge to open up about my journey is almost impossible. At various times in my day-to-day activities, scenes from my first hospitalization in 2005 bubble to the surface of my memory. Or my second stint in the mental hospital. Or the third and fourth which sometimes confuse me with their shorter, more intense flashbacks. They were the times I was protecting my babies. Plus, they say the more you experience mania the less you remember. Makes sense to me now.

When mania took hold of my mind for the first time and spiraled out of control into psychosis, I spent three nights in a psych ward. Returning to the office the following Monday, I was able to gloss over my absence and say the doctor’s attributed my strange behavior to the lack of sleep and stress I was under at work. No one knew the real truth, although I’m sure there were plenty of rumors and assumptions flying while folks gathered around the water cooler on Monday morning.

I’m certain scenarios like the one I experienced happen every single day. Someone is absent from school or work for a few days or a few months and people start talking. And everything is hush, hush. Because societal norms tell us talking about mental illness isn’t the same as talking about someone who is battling cancer or severe asthma or a broken arm.

Well I have news for you: It's time we shatter those "norms."

And those of us who have fought these fights and who are still trudging through the pain and desperation and isolation that is mental illness could use the same support systems that other sick people receive.

More important to us than the flowers, cards, and meals you might send is simply your willingness to listen. To look us in the eyes and accept us for what we’ve been through, where we are right now, and what we will face each and every day and night for the rest of our lives.

Don’t be afraid to know our stories. We’re facing our fears, and we want you to, too.

Be open to us opening up. Give us hugs when we cry. Send us a laugh when you notice we’re down. If we’re too hyper, gently check in and ask if everything is on track with our treatment plan. It feels good to be acknowledged and cared for by those we love.

I have several close friends who do all these things and more and they make all the difference in the world. And of course my husband who is my better half, my voice of reason and the peace to the storm of what is inside me always knows when to step in with the right words to soothe me and keep me centered.

 

I will remember 2013 as the year I took the greatest leap I’ve ever taken. The year I jumped forward with sharing my words. The year I chose to only look back on the past in order to shift the future into better focus.

The year I did what I was afraid to do. And I haven’t even pierced the surface yet.

Ever been snorkeling, or better yet, scuba diving? {My husband is obsessed with snorkeling. He’s spent hours bobbing on the surface of the various tropical waters we’ve traveled to. I think it's cute.} He knows there are treasures down there. Which is why I’m so excited for my plunge into 2014 with This Is My Brave.

But first I’m looking forward to tomorrow. We're ringing in the New Year with my oldest girlfriends and their adorable kids and fun-loving husbands. It’s the 2nd annual #RomperRoomNYE2013 bash (follow along on Instagram!) and with 8 kiddos plus a 2-month old, the adults will be lucky to make it to the ball drop when we'll clink our champagne glasses with a toast to 2013 and what lies ahead in 2014.

My salute to this past year is composed of heartfelt gratitude for the support of This Is My Brave and our mission to encourage people to talk openly and often about mental health issues in their communities. The year ahead will no doubt be filled with learning experiences as I navigate unknown territories, but I am eager to grow and evolve, to bring these crucial conversations about mental illness into the spotlight.

Twenty-thirteen was the year I learned that facing my fears means enjoying the jump.

 

The Stretch of This Is My Brave

Brave-bracelet-pic

Eight years ago this Christmas my life changed forever. I didn't realize it at the time, nor did my family and friends, but it was a beginning of a new chapter. After the shock of it all, there were tears, there was the grieving of the life I left behind, and there was a whole lot of learning ahead of us.

I've always been a writer, this I knew. But never did I think that writing would be the one thing that would help me recover from a mental illness. It would be through writing that I would find my brave.

My blog began as an anonymous online place for me to write about what it was like to be a mom living with bipolar disorder. I found my voice as a mental health advocate only six months ago and I’m now in the midst of catapulting stories of inspiration and hope from people who live with mental illness into the spotlight to change society’s perception of mental illness. It’s a little project called This Is My Brave.

 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” - Maya Angelou

 

At thirty-four, I reached a point in my life where I didn’t want to regret not sharing my story. From vivid descriptions of my periods of extreme mania to the crushing reality of not being able to get out of bed during my year-long battle with depression and anxiety when I was first diagnosed, these stories were pacing my brain as if they were caged animals, desperate to be let out. And so my blog became a place where I released those memories of my story for whoever was on the other side of the Internet to read. My hope was that they found comfort in knowing they weren’t alone.

Talking about my illness and the struggles I had to overcome to get where I am today has not only been therapeutic, it’s also shown me that people are listening. People trust me to read their stories sent through emails which describe the pain and anguish they’re going through.

Then they thank me for my honesty and my ability to speak out for them since they’re not ready or able to:

"Thank you again for your blog and being brave enough to speak up about your experiences. I don't have many opportunities to talk about it in my daily life and interactions with other people.  It's just not something that comes up in casual conversation, but it is constantly on my mind." - S.H. via email

“Thank you for all that you do to advocate for mental illness. You are truly a brave and strong role model to me, as I'm nowhere near the level of acceptance or balance that you are. Anyway, I just wanted to send you my thanks and cheer you on.” - C.K. via email

"I'm in a unique position in that we recently moved here and I haven't known my friends here that long. Given all the misunderstandings out there about bipolar disorder, it is hard to know if they will get it or be afraid. I'm sure you understand. Hopefully, gradually, I can open up in a way that will educate them and not scare them. That's the challenge, isn't it? That's why we need a movement as you say!" - L.C. via email

Becoming an advocate and starting up this show is having an impact on people. People I haven't even met yet, but hope to someday. And it's not only people who find my blog via a random Google search who write to me, it's also friends of friends who stop me during my day-to-day activities to say, "Hey, what you're doing is really cool." And it's the texts and calls from my close friends who are telling me how proud they are of me.

I can't tell you how good that all makes me feel.

But this show isn't just about my story. This theater experience will be a wake-up call to everyone out there. It's a chance for those of us who know what it feels like to live with mental illness to open up and not be ashamed.

By coming together, we build strength by our numbers. And when we find the courage to share our stories, we propel a movement forward.

It starts with one person who is brave enough to share, who inspires others to share, which in turn inspires the world to change.

This past Sunday, our Kickstarter project for This Is My Brave reached its funding goal of $6,500. Because we recognize how important this show is to so many people, we've set a stretch goal of $10,000 and we now have 8 days left to reach it. With the additional funding we'll be able to extend our reach beyond just the one show. We'll be able to take our stories of hope and inspiration further. But we can only do it with your help.

Thank you so much to our incredible backers who have pledged and shared and supported us so graciously along this journey. With a week and a day left, we're hoping to reach further with the help of those who believe in this vision.

Click HERE to view our project on Kickstarter and share the info with friends on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you so much for your support!

Staying Brave During the Holidays

I met Pauline Campos through social media. Her tweets are funny, outrageous, smart, and inspirational. She is a columnist for Latina Magazine, authors her own blog - AspiringMama.com, and the Founder of GirlBodyPride.com, a blog dedicated to helping women to grow strong in mind before all else. She lives with ADHD and works to help eliminate the stigma surrounding all types of mental illness through her writing and her outreach.

I love this about Pauline: "But when it all comes down to it, I’m a mom trying to reach out to other moms." {quoted from the Platform page of AspiringMama.com}

Pauline did just that, and offered to make a video clip for Anne Marie and I on why she believe in our show, This Is My Brave and the Kickstarter we're currently running. She spoke on our Update video and also pledged a generous donation to our project. We couldn't thank her enough for her support. But she didn't stop there.

Pauline accepted a guest post I wrote for her blog, GirlBodyPride, and it went live today. Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story and our project on your blog today, Pauline! Your support for This Is My Brave is beautiful and so appreciated.

Staying-Brave-During-the-Holidays

The holidays are coming up and for me this time of year is always bittersweet. The end of October marks the anniversary of my postpartum psychosis experience. Leaves changing to shades of yellow, orange and red, combined with the smell of real wood-burning fireplaces in our neighborhood on a chilly night can take me right back to that place of fear and disbelief buried deep within my memory.

Why me? Why did it have to happen to me?

I try to focus on the excitement of my kids deciding what they want to dress up as for Halloween and the carving of our pumpkins, turning them into...{to read the rest of the post, please click over to GirlBodyPride. Thanks so much for reading and Happy Halloween!}