Today marks 6 years blogging

beach sunrise {sunrise this morning, Bethany Beach, Delaware}

Today is my 6-year blogiversary. 

I still remember the day I decided to begin blogging about my story. I started a free Wordpress.com blog using a domain name I had purchased. I remember pausing before hitting "submit" on bipolarmomlife.com, thinking for a moment about the brand I was about to create. It was intentional. I wanted other moms out there, other families dealing with bipolar disorder and parenting, to know that they weren't alone and that it does get better. I wanted women to type "bipolar" and "mom" into Google and find me. That's how it all started.

Six years have felt like an instant. My son was only two and my daughter wasn't yet a year old when I started writing out the story of how bipolar had seemingly devastated my life. I was ready to begin writing my way through the pain of my past to heal myself. From my very first blog post:

Bipolar I is my diagnosis but I try not to let the label get to me too much. I definitely think about it on a daily basis, but I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of it anymore like I was back when I was first diagnosed. Sure, the stigma is still there, but it’s beginning to fade.

Each time I took to my laptop to tap out the thoughts and feelings swirling in my head from the memories of my struggle, I chipped away at the internal stigma that had attached itself to me when I was formally diagnosed with mental illness.

My blog was my safe, anonymous corner of the Internet for a year and a half. Friendships were forged from comments back and forth supporting each other's writing, validating each other's pain and progress. 

And then an opportunity arose which would change the course of my life. An editor from WhatToExpect.com found my blog and asked me to write for them. It was my first paid writing job, and she wanted me to use my voice as a parent living with mental illness. That was a huge turning point for me. It was when I made the decision to put my name and face on my writing. 

I knew that I'd never be able to make the impact on reducing stigma the way I wanted to until I put my true identity on my story.

So I took a risk. 

I worried about future employment. I wondered if people would turn away from me. I feared what I didn't know.

I know now there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place.

None of my fears came true.

If I wouldn't have taken the risk to open up about my bipolar disorder, I wouldn't be where I am today. The day I stopped hiding my mental illness was the start to living a richer, more authentic life. 

About five months after my first freelance article hit the internet with my byline {What Landed Mom in the Psych Ward was the link bait AOL.com used to tease the article, complete with our family photo}, I launched what would eventually become This Is My Brave, Inc. Only most people don't know that I failed first.

I first launched the concept with a woman I met at a writer's conference. She was lovely and we hit it off instantly, but after working on the idea for a few weeks together, we began to have intense creative differences. The idea was to create a show featuring people who struggled with mental health issues, to provide a creative platform for them to share and end the stigma. We called it, "Don't Call Me Crazy" but thankfully it didn't pan out. {Funny enough, there is now a Netflix series with the same name.}

A few weeks later, licking my wounds, I tried again. As fate would have it, I was introduced to Anne Marie Ames, the woman who would become my Co-Founder, at a mutual friend's party. Within a few months we had launched the concept on Kickstarter and the rest is history. This fall we're putting on our 31st show. 

The magic behind This Is My Brave is the lifesaving power of storytelling. It's seeing people who have endured so much pain reach a point in their life when they have some perspective. They are ready to use their voice. I've seen people transform from being a part of our shows and our organization. It's as if a physical weight has been lifted off their shoulders and they can finally breathe. It's freeing to be able to talk about the invisible parts of ourselves out loud. And it shows others they are not alone. That it does get better, and that we're all connected.

If it weren't for this blog, I don't know where I'd be right now. Thank you to everyone who has ever read, commented, shared. I appreciate your support more than you'll ever know. 

Clarity. We all need to talk about mental illness, celebrity or otherwise

I've been thinking a lot about the post I published yesterday about my inability to relate to Kristen Bell opening up about her anxiety and depression. I don't know why it struck me to write about my feelings, but I wrote them out and put it out there, and the more I thought about what I wrote, the more I began to disagree with myself.

Sure, it's hard to relate to a celebrity because their lifestyles seem so dramatically different from the average person who struggles to pay bills or isn't able to get appropriate mental health care because they don't have insurance. But this lack of being able to identify with a famous person shouldn't have any impact on my appreciation for their ability to share their story about overcoming mental illness and stigma.

I'm sure it took a great deal of courage for Kristen to open up in that interview, the same way our This Is My Brave cast members conjure up a certain amount of bravery to audition for, and then share their stories on stage through our shows.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I think what I was feeling had more to do with envy than of not being able to empathize with a famous person sharing their story of mental illness. I'm envious that a celebrity has a much bigger platform than we do, and therefore when they share their stories they immediately garner a TON more attention than we've seen for all the hard work our organization has done over the past three years.

One of my favorite writers once wrote about envy, and I found myself re-reading her words today. Glennon reminded me today that: Envy is just unexpressed admiration. It’s respect holding its breath.

I constantly need to remind myself that we need to focus on the important work we do and that when the time is right, I'm confident our organization will attract the attention of national media. In fact, it may begin happening sooner than we thought.

This is my life's work now, this work of storytelling. My organization encourages individuals to share their stories to end the stigma. I have no right to say that a celebrity sharing her story is any less impactful than a member of my own community.

Kristen, blog reader Jill, and anyone else I may have offended from my post yesterday, please accept my apology. Thank you to all who join us in the effort to end stigma, celebrity or not.

Clarity. We all need to talk about mental illness, celebrity or not.

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

 

Why I Write

Why-I-WritePhoto Credit: dawolf- via Compfight cc

I write to show the world the invisible parts of me.

I write because people need to know what mental illness looks like. It looks like me. A young mom of two feisty preschoolers with a loving husband by her side.

I write because it’s too hard for him to talk about the four times his wife slept so little her brain was buzzing out of control and he had to sign the papers. Talk with police officers. Visit the psych ward. Hold down the fort while I got well.

I write because my kids are too young to understand what their mommy experienced before they were born, when they were little. And I want them to know all of it. I’m hopeful they’ll wrap their arms around me with pride and love when they read all I’ve written.

I write because I want to make a difference. I’m over the old-school philosophy of “some things are better left unsaid.”

Said who?

The truth is, when things go unsaid, that’s when tragedies happen.

I write because I’m almost 35 and no one ever knows how much time is left. I don’t want to regret not speaking out. I want my story heard.

I write because although I’ve found the courage to disclose my illness, so many others are still suffocated by their conditions. They may be feeling defeated by the mental illness they’re battling. And they’re not quite ready to talk or write.

But once they push past the anger, the fear, the disbelief and the shame that their illness dropped onto their shoulders, there will be plenty of time for a coming out party.

They’ll combine voices to put the power of unity behind the message, take a look around and communicate how good it feels to have this weight lifted off their shoulders. A weight that never should have grown there in the first place.

I write because I found my purpose. I write to help others find their brave.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My book is now a Snippet! To read my short e-book entitled Find Your Brave {a manifesto}, click HERE to download Snippet in the Apple store. It’s the fun, new interactive way to read quick, engaging e-books.

So long, self-doubt

so-long-self-doubt

Why does self-doubt seem to know exactly when to punch you in the gut and knock the breath out of your chest so fiercely that you wonder if what you’re doing with your life is even making an impact?

A month ago I took the greatest risk of my life thus far by launching our Kickstarter for This Is My Brave, and it went above and beyond my wildest expectations. I thought to myself, “Yeah. $6,500 in 31 days is a lofty goal, but I’m fairly confident we’ll get there.”

The love and support that poured out from our friends and family and people who we hadn’t even met in the form of donations and words of encouragement was both overwhelming and exhilarating.

There are so many people who are just as passionate as we are about spreading messages of hope and inspiration while at the same time silencing the stigma surrounding mental illness. We raised over $10,000 for our show’s mission and I felt like we were on top of the world.

But the emotional high I was surfing on came crashing down like a monster wave when the news of the Deeds' family tragedy broke on Tuesday morning. The weight of the story was like a 50-pound brick on my heart. It was all I could think about. I wanted to scream “THIS COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED!” to every person I ran into in my daily comings and goings all week.

And then I met someone who understood.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you meet someone new and you can tell after talking with her for five minutes that she just "gets" you and although you were strangers six minutes earlier, it feels as if you've known her for ten years?

It happened to me on Thursday and was the highlight of my day. Once I got my baby girl down for a late nap, I immediately took pen to paper. A piece of me still wants to prove to my mom that she was wrong. That I've received nothing but overwhelmingly positive support for opening up about living with mental illness, especially from the moms at my son's preschool. The very group she thought might shun me. Back then my mom didn't realize that by keeping quiet about what I was going through she was actually adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. We were all so new to it eight years ago. And I don't blame her for wanting to protect me. She's my mom, and moms don’t ever want anyone to hurt their babies.

We've come a long way since then and both of my parents {and my in-laws} are very supportive of the advocacy work I'm doing now.

This sweet mom whose daughter has been in my son's class all fall, yet I only met this week. She said something to me as we were chasing our toddlers out the door after dropping off our two older kids in front of their classroom. And I know will stick with me forever.

"You must feel such a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you're doing and how many people you're impacting with This Is My Brave."

And do you know what my response was? Of course I later thanked her for her kind words, but my immediate response was, "I feel like I'm not doing enough."

Part of me felt compelled to blog about the self-doubt that crept into my bones this week to remind myself that what I'm doing with This Is My Brave is pretty spectacular. Even though in the wake of the news out of Virginia this week I feel like it's only a teeny sliver of hope. A faint glimmer of the desire to improve the way society and our government deals with mental illness.

 At least it's a start.

We talked for an hour while our 3-yr-olds ran around and explored every corner of the playground. I could have talked with her for the entire rest of the afternoon. But alas, the temperature won out and after running around with no coat on, baby girl was adequately frozen and ready to call it quits. I gave my new friend a hug as we said goodbye and I'm already looking forward to our next impromptu playdate with our littles.

While driving home my thoughts drifted to how the sky looked similar to the way it did in late October of 2008 when I was released from my week-long stay in the hospital after having experienced postpartum psychosis. My heart aches for the Deeds family because they weren't able to get the medical attention and treatment that their son so desperately needed. They should have been visiting him in the psychiatric unit of the hospital today, but instead they are planning his funeral.

This isn't right.

We need the laws changed so that we can protect these individuals from themselves and others when they are so ill. And we need nets, as my friend Glennon so vividly described in this post. We need so many nets.

This Is My Brave is my effort to create a net.

And although I know that I want my next step to be petitioning our government for changes to our mental health system, my focus right now is on this show, my heartfelt contribution to changing the way people feel about mental illness.

And hopefully, in turn, it will inspire people to come together and create actions which will facilitate the change we so desperately need.

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The Stretch of This Is My Brave

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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!}

#ForMiriam I Advocate: World Mental Health Day

For-Miriam-On-World-Mental-Health-Day

When I think of what happened in DC last week, I keep coming back to the same feelings of anger, frustration and sadness.

Her life shouldn’t have ended that way.

There is something called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training, which is a training program developed in a number of U.S. states to help police officers react appropriately to situations involving mental illness or developmental delay. The Washington, DC chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness has a page on their website describing the District’s Crisis Intervention Officer Program, as having "had 5 graduated classes of officers so far, as well as new recruit trainings."

I can’t help but wonder if the officer {or officers} who pulled the trigger had gone through CIT training.

If they had, or maybe had remembered the training during the incident, maybe the outcome would have been different.

Maybe not.

The only good thing that can happen as a result of this tragedy is advocacy in Miriam’s memory.

Advocacy to prevent something like this from happening again.

We can speak out. People like myself, who have experienced the hell of an inexplicable train of discombobulated and paranoid thoughts running through our heads. The hallucinations that come and go as fast as the minutes flying by on the clock next to the bed. The feeling that we’re invincible and don’t need sleep.

I've been there and I will continue to speak out about my experience in an effort to raise awareness for the signs and symptoms of postpartum psychosis. Because if even one person is helped through my writing, than it is worth all the effort.

Just because I experienced postpartum psychosis doesn’t make me a bad mother. It doesn’t make me a monster. It is an illness and my brain was sick. The important thing is that I got well and I made it through with treatment and support. I'm now able to help others by my work as an advocate.

And Miriam should have had that same chance.

But instead her friends and family are left to mourn this beautiful person who touched their lives and left behind is a constant reminder of her legacy, her baby girl.

It is my hope that once the darkness of their grief begins to dissipate, however far in the future that may be, the family will assume the role of advocate in their dear Miriam’s honor.

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived,but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. - Maya Angelou

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#OK2Talk: Join the Mental Health Movement

#OK2Talk-Join-the-Mental-Health-Movement2 Experiencing a psychotic break can be an isolating and debilitating event. If I talk about it, will everyone think I’m “crazy”? Will I lose my friends? Will I lose my job? Will I ever get better?

When mania grabbed a hold of my brain at the age of twenty-six, I thought my life was over. I had been hospitalized for three days and had to be tranquilized in order to force sleep, my mind brought back to reality only through the use of antipsychotics. The details were not pretty. I practically suffocated from the weight of keeping my pain bottled up inside. It seemed like no one in my immediate circle of family and friends understood what I had just gone through. My close friends tried, but the truth was everyone was so scared to talk about it.

I wanted desperately to find someone, anyone other than my psychiatrist and therapist, who knew what I was feeling. Wasn’t there anyone out there, a peer, who was like me?

My emotions pummeled my personality to the ground with their negativity. Thoughts raced through my head and nothing I did could make them stop.

Fear of the future. Guilt over what I had put my husband and family through. Sadness for the career that I had to leave behind. Disbelief in the words the doctors kept repeating. Anger that this was happening to me. Why me? Why?

I remember visiting bookstores with my parents where we’d search the Psychology section for titles that might help us understand what was happening to me. On one trip, my dad bought three thick paperbacks with promises on the cover which gave us hope. We went home and flipped through the pages, eager to find the answers to our questions.

We did find some, but they were clinical in nature. I was searching for different answers. I wanted to read personal stories of recovery and inspiration. I wanted to know that others had walked in my same shoes, had lost touch with reality, came crashing down to the darkest place they’ve ever felt, and made it out okay.

I wanted to know I’d be okay too.

Back then, in 2007, there weren’t many people blogging openly about bipolar disorder. There were women bloggers who were starting to open up about their experiences with postpartum depression, but blogging wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today. Social media was in its infancy, at least for regular Internet users like myself, so the ease in sharing information wasn’t quite there yet. You had to do the digging yourself, and my efforts at finding stories of hope and inspiration from other mental health consumers weren’t successful.

Back then.

The times, how they’re changing.

Today there are more and more people opening up each day about their journey to recovery from mental illnesses. There are blogs and vlogs, online support groups, Tedx talks, Facebook groups, and community performances which are educating the public on what it’s like to live with a mental illness. I’m proud to have opened up on my blog, sharing my true identity because I can now celebrate being a part of this change.

I can feel the change as its happening. I feel it in every email I get from a friend thanking me for writing about my story because they’ve been through something similar. I feel it in every message I receive on Facebook or Twitter from someone I’ve never met who has read my words and felt inspired to share their own.

This is how a movement starts.

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

 

On Tuesday I attended the launch event on Capitol Hill of #OK2TALK, a national media campaign produced by the National Association of Broadcasters in an effort to spread mental health awareness and teach young adults that sharing our stories of hope and healing can help others who are struggling. The campaign includes PSAs in both English and Spanish featuring teens and young adults talking openly about their experiences with mental illness. At the end of the ads, there is a call to action directing you to create the conversation about mental health online via social media.

NAB President and former Senator Gordon H. Smith described the campaign as “bringing the issue of mental health into the sunshine,” and I couldn’t agree more. I applaud the NAB for its commitment to increasing the awareness and understanding of mental health and I encourage you to contribute to the conversation via the blog, www.ok2talk.org.

Help is available and treatment is effective, and by encouraging society to be supportive of those struggling we will save lives.

 
#OK2Talk-Join-the-Mental-Health-Movement

What's Your Definition of Crazy?

When you think of the word crazy, what comes to mind?

Yesterday, my friend Natalie and I were walking down the streets of DC, on our way to see Mary Leaphart’s show about her life with bipolar disorder. As we made our way to the ticket venue, we passed two men on the street, one shouting violently at the other, yelling something about needing to move. It was obvious they called the city sidewalk home, as we could see their belongings piled up next to the man who was sitting on a wool blanket, and there was a good chance one, or both, suffered from a mental illness. I know because I’ve read the statistics.

It broke my heart.

Later, while walking into a restaurant, we were approached by another homeless man, this time asking for money. He was wearing an old, stained jacket, despite the intense, muggy July heat. A woman, dirty and weary, sat on the street corner begging with her eyes, tattered luggage in a heap beside her.

The despair was written on her face, her slumped shoulders spoke her story. Her melancholy eyes will haunt me forever, my soul crying tears of compassion.

 

This is the harsh reality of mental illness and homelessness in our country.

It’s unfortunate that a well-known US brand chose to market themselves by exploiting these serious issues, turning them into a parody, the leading character who they claim as their Chief Generosity Officer, “a brilliant activist” {their words, not mine} who just happened to be plucked off the streets where he was shouting at people walking by. He’s dressed in ill-fitting clothes and looks as if his hair and beard, both overgrown, haven’t been washed in weeks.

Please, enlighten yourself if you haven’t seen the spot yet: http://youtu.be/AUf53_2hGkM

These brushes with homelessness yesterday were ironic, given the conversation I had just hours earlier with Barbara Goodstein, Vonage’s Chief Marketing Officer, regarding their new “Crazy Generous”-themed ad campaign.

You see, the 30-second spot left such a bad taste in my mouth that I sent an email to Vonage on Monday to voice my disappointment and frustration with the commercial.

I wrote them to express how hurt I was by the campaign, given the fact that I live with a mental illness and I know how scary that can be. I cannot imagine having to sort through the voices in your head without any psychiatric care, while sleeping in a cardboard box, no support from family or friends.

I’ve been blessed with an incredible support network, without which, I could easily have ended up on the streets. When I became sick for the first time, I had to resign from my job. It’s painful to think about what could have happened had I not had my husband, family and friends there to help me navigate my way back to healthy. Not to mention the health insurance I had which helped to cover the cost of getting well.

Homeless people with mental illnesses don’t have such luxuries.

Whenever I walk down the streets of a city, I inevitably pass a homeless person and each and every time have the same gut reaction: uneasy pangs of guilt.

 

Why am I the lucky one with a roof over her head and food in the refrigerator?

 

The advocate in me always wants to do something, anything, to help. To help that person get out of the situation they’re in, and into a better one.

The letter was something I thought I could do to help. Or at least I could voice my opinion and make sure I was heard. Besides, I wasn’t the only person who was offended:

whatsyourdefinitionofcrazy

{click to enlarge}

To my surprise, Vonage did respond. I had the opportunity to speak with Barbara Goodstein, yesterday afternoon and I took her up on the chance to discuss the campaign in more detail.

What she told me did not change my opinion and reaction to the campaign. She simply and politely reiterated everything she had explained in her response to my original email. To me, Vonage appears to be backpedaling to justify their creative concept which was intended to show how generous their company is with their communications services.

Their message was lost on me because I couldn’t get past the fact they were using a homeless person who may or may not be battling a mental illness as a lighthearted attempt to deliver their company tag line.

I told Barbara my story of how stigma affected how I shared my story. How I blogged anonymously for the first year and a half because I was afraid of people calling me “crazy” for having suffered a manic break. Four, actually. And how I finally decided to do my part to end the stigma by coming out as myself. Showing my face and using my real name because I’m not ashamed any more.

 

cra·zy {as defined by Dictionary.com}

 [krey-zee]  Show IPA adjective, cra·zi·er, cra·zi·est, noun, plural cra·zies.

adjective

1. mentally deranged; demented; insane.

 

By using the word crazy in their campaign, Vonage has pointedly decided to ignore the fact that the first definition of crazy is exactly what came across via their Chief Generosity Officer character, whether they choose to admit it or not.

Vonage can try as they may to make it look all funny and cute and they can wrap it up with a happy ending, but that isn’t the reality of living on the streets. This ridiculous ad pokes fun at the serious, chronic issue of homelessness and the struggles homeless people have with mental health in this country. By producing this “Chief Generosity Officer” character, they are only adding to the stigma that surrounds mental illness in the U.S.

You want to know what the truth is?

The truth is that there are over 675,000 homeless people in the United States and approximately 45% of those people report mental health problems. About 25% of the homeless population suffers from a serious mental illness.*

And even if you take the mental health component completely out of the picture, Vonage still created a character out of one of the darkest corners of the society we live in. There is nothing generous about downplaying the issue of homelessness.

The sad truth is that most Americans ignore homeless people on the streets, turning their heads to the sight of someone sleeping on a park bench or in a dark corner. The homeless population is invisible to us, not because we don’t care, but because it’s painful to acknowledge it could be us had our life situations played out differently.

What can Vonage and J. Walter Thompson do to apologize for the insensitivity of the campaign?

For a start, they could stop running the ads immediately, cancel the campaign and apologize.

But I’m realistic. I understand they have millions invested here and I’m only one person voicing her opinion. I’m only asking them to have a little compassion.

So here’s a thought. If they really want to be crazy generous, I’d love to see Vonage make a donation to a charitable organization dedicated to changing the way people think about homelessness, such as the National Alliance to End Homelessness (www.naeh.org) so they can further their efforts at ending this social problem across our country.

Vonage should admit their lack of foresight by publicly apologizing for trivializing issues as serious as homelessness and mental illness. Individuals who live on the streets are real people with real feelings, emotions, and stories. They didn’t ask to sleep in a flimsy cardboard box or on a rock hard park bench. They ended up homeless for a variety of reasons, but whatever their reason for ending up on the streets, it doesn’t make them any less human than anyone else.

 

Vonage has an opportunity to turn a wrong into a right. It would be crazy if they were to turn their heads instead.

 

*Facts on homelessness were taken from the National Alliance to End Homelessness (www.endhomelessness.org).