Guest Post! Journey to Hope

Back again with another amazing guest post, from a friend, who wanted to share their story. As always, I offer people the option to post under a pseudonym or anonymously. For these purposes, we’ll call the author of this post Inner Peer Supporter. Without further adieu, I’ll let our guest poster take over from here!

 

JOURNEY TO HOPE: MY STORY

Fall 2016

I was sitting in a peaceful room giving peer support to a wonderful person who had seen so much horrific suffering in her life. I listened quietly and felt emotional, empathy and concern for her being. The interesting thing was when I went home that day some how I didn’t allow her suffering to eat away at me and I knew for the first time that I was beginning to get stronger.

So how did I get to this place from my own suffering? This is my journey.

Underlining Reasons For Life Long  Anxiety:

Fall 1980: I was in the first Grade ready for the first recess of the day. I walked out the door and found myself being shoved around by fellow students. This marked the beginning of always running into some people from time to time who showed their resentment to me for being just me.

I was a shy meek kid who wasn’t perfect, but was good hearted and sensitive to the point that I always absorbed how I was treated and at young age defined myself as less then others. I recognise now that I had anxiety then. I always sat at the back of the class afraid to be ridiculed. Words have the power to harm and when I formed the opinion of myself as being less then others that view stayed with me until I was an adult.

My anxiety and fears had shaped me too, preventing myself from properly progressing. I remember one teacher I was scared of in a regular grade 5 class who ridiculed me for being in remedial for math. Kids in special education classes were labeled as retards then. Students in regular classes and some teachers were biased in their treatment as a result.

I remember an Olympic day in grade 4 where all the students go around the school competing in sport competitions. I was intimidated by my bullies and didn’t do well. At the end of the day the teachers gave out gold, silver, and bronze badges for participation and my teacher instead gave me a nil certificate for failure. Everyone and the teacher laughed.

I could go on with examples, but I think you get the picture that my childhood was filled with adversity that shaped my perception of myself. One side note of mention is that If I ever said something wrong or stumbled I rejected myself even more as a child.

My family was oblivious to my plight, because I never told them anything. Everything was buried within. That is how I dealt with it.

I went through high school never really fitting in and skipped my prom night as a result.

By the time I was in my 20’s I was glad to leave high school behind. I was in university studying history part time and working the rest of the time.

It began with a depression and increasing disillusionment that set in and I left University. Over the next eight years I would move in and out battling the perception I had of myself with anxiety; never dating, not having friends, never truly venturing out in life; I felt less then others; unworthy and ugly.

Down the road I would go to college instead. One program stuck in my mind. A leadership course. I knew then some how I wanted to help others, but didn’t know in what capacity. I found a best selling book there after by Dale Carnegie called, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ It floored me and I enrolled in one of their training programs. I remained on for 2 years as a volunteer coach working with other people.

Carnegie was influential in my life, but try as I did then, I never conquered that battle inside of me.

Over the years some of the depression and disillusionment returned. No matter what I tried it persisted for years and my anxiety began to get worse.

Finally in 2014 I was in total crisis. My anxiety evolved into a terrible disorder with powerful panic attacks and I turned to help at the hospital. That phase was the most grueling phase of my life.

At one point I sat across from a therapist who with compassion said, “can you do me a favour and throw away the rope.” I had revealed to her that I was suicidal. I had previously almost went through with it.

The compassion I received from her, my doctor, and a social worker, had an impact on me. Once again that urge to help others set in. My life was reignited.

I finally found a non-profit mental health organization; a cause bigger then my self to devote my life to.

I went from having no hope, no purpose to finding it again. I faced my anxiety head on and became a facilitator for wellness programs and trained volunteer peer supporter and even a board member. Our organization employs peer support workers in hospital settings. This was my calling to pursue.

Like every plateau in life, I did run into a few people who devalued my self worth, but was able to rise out of that. I found myself face to face with myself and this kick started the road to healing.

In January 2018 I took an online anxiety course with coach Leigha Benson that added to my recovery journey. It helped me to embrace myself and open the path to recovery even wider. I see now that repeated moments of self doubt in my youth and how I was treated kept me in a compartment for much of life.

I never had any animosity towards others for how I was treated for I knew God was always with me and them too. I first found him in grade one when I was being social isolated in play ground. I sat under these peaceful trees on a June day looked up and felt his presence in the breeze if the trees.

I credit spirituality as a constant in my life. For God taught me the value of unconditional love and forgiveness for people no matter what.

Anxiety will be something to always manage, but my life is gradually getting better step by step. There is more work to be done, but I can now do it with a rented strength and hope.

Advertisements

Guest Story: My Passion Project

Exciting stuff today! Last week, I shared my story and the story behind how Spread Hope Project came about. I also asked others to share their stories, and received a message from Alana Michaels, creator of My Passion Project.  Alana’s story touched me, and I wanted to share it here on Spread Hope:

One year ago today I was in the middle of a ten day stint with absolutely no sleep. Those few days lead me to a $400 hotel room in the middle of bustling New York City to spend a night completely by myself (I hated New York City). The morning after my hotel stay I was to the point where I was convinced I had been being filmed. I was awake all night “realizing” that I was being watched and observed by a camera crew and I started to question if my family and friends were “real” or just actors. I’m not quite sure how I made it out of the city that day and back to my car in New Jersey. I had numerous family and friends texting me trying to get me out in one piece… I guess they succeeded … well, sort of. It was that day that I was admitted into the psychiatric emergency room where I spent 8 hours before being taken by an ambulance to a mental hospital where I would spend 6 nights and 7 days … the reason for my stay? A severe manic episode of bipolar disorder. 

This was not my first experience with mania … but it was by far the worst episode. This particular one was triggered by the decision to get a divorce from my husband. Every time I’ve had an episode it’s been because of some sort of stressful and major event in my life. The one prior to this one was brought on by the birth of my son … I spent a year on a roller coaster of ups and downs and that was when I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

It’s a disorder that’s very hard for others to understand. Hell, half the time I don’t even understand it. But when the episodes hit, my life stops. The mania is hard … but the depression is devastating. 

Just as the manic episodes seem to get worse with each one … as does the depression. My most recent depression (that followed my severe mania) was by far the worst time of my entire life. I was in a suicidal depression …. to the point where I had a plan to take my own life. The thoughts of my 5 year old son and friends and family could barely save me.

I was under the care of a nurse practitioner through an outpatient program… she was not the right fit. I would be sitting there staring at the wall with tears pouring down my face and she would ask me if I was doing positive affirmations and eating enough protein. 

I eventually found my own psychiatrist out of network so he did cost a lot of money … but he was worth every penny because he saved me. Medication is what saves me from this life-threatening illness. 

It has been one year since my illness hit me harder than it ever had. I’ve been in therapy and keep up with my psychiatrist appointments. I haven’t been able to share this part of my story until now. I used to speak to large groups of people about my experience with my illness … but this last episode took away so much from me. I haven’t been ready … but I am now. I have H.O.P.E …Hang On Pain Ends. I hung on … and now I’m here able to share my story with you… in the hopes that it can save someone out there… like I was saved. 

Please make sure to check out My Passion Project on Instagram and Facebook

Thank you so much, Alana, for sharing your story. I’m so glad that you were ready to speak about your illness again, to help give others hope (H.O.P.E.).  Keep on being amazing!

 

passion project

(Photo credit: From the Facebook page of My Passion Project.) 

Here’s My Story. What’s Yours?

When I was two years old, I began having “episodes”. I’m quite sure now they were hypomanic episodes, but that wasn’t really talked about as much back then. And it especially wasn’t diagnosed in two year olds living on dirt roads in rural Georgia in the early 1980s. I was told I was allergic to red food dye and that it made me hyper. I am not sure why they thought this, other than I’d had some cereal with marshmallows that were red as a treat (a rare occurrence, my parents made a lot of our food from scratch), shortly before the symptoms began.

 

Throughout my youth, I experienced what my gymnastics team affectionately called “Maya Moments” – situations in which I’d get so upset, anxious, worked up that I’d have to leave practice (or whatever situation I was in). It wasn’t a tantrum, or simply being frustrated, it was a feeling that welled up deep inside of me, making me feel like I was about to emotionally burst. Letting it out was the only way to quel that. But there was no explanation. Since there was no red food dye consumed at gymnastics practice, I had to assume it was “just me.” That I was just temperamental and got upset easily, that I was “dramatic” and over-reacted. A lot.

 

Beginning my freshman year of college, other feelings crept in. Self-criticism and doubt, lack of confidence, feelings of being extremely low or anxious. I tried to control these by controlling my food intake. It seemed one of the only things in my life  I felt total control over. It resulted, eventually, in disordered eating. By my sophomore year of college, I began seeing a counselor. She was a grad student in Psychology, and she helped. I wasn’t diagnosed, but I felt comfortable with her, and it offered me an outlet to discuss feelings I couldn’t understand.

 

By the time I was 29, I had been to at least four or five counselors. During my first marriage, there were points at which I used to actually instruct my then-husband to pick me up from behind and hold me up so that I could punch and kick my arms in the air (away from him, to clarify), to release the overwhelming anxious energy that felt like it was going to explode from me if I didn’t get it out. Despite this, I was given every “reason” for the way I was feeling, except for a diagnosis. I was told it was pre-wedding jitters, then “newlywed jitters”, then stress from then my mother-in-law and I not being best friends. I was given the old Freudian “mommy and daddy issues” routine, despite my clearly explaining over and over that I had a happy childhood, and that my family was where I felt happiest and safest. No matter how often I insisted it was something inside of me, I got push back.

 

Finally, just before my 30th birthday, I went to the ER with what I thought were non-stop panic attacks. Long story short, but I ended up being voluntarily committed for several days. To clarify, it wasn’t really voluntary. I was in the ER and they asked me, in the middle of horrendous attack,  if I wanted to stay overnight. I said yes. They did not mention that overnight meant being transferred to a psychiatric inpatient hospital, where I wasn’t allowed to leave for 48 hours, couldn’t have my phone or my purse with me, and that my loved ones would only be able to see me at visiting hours. When I objected, they told me I could go back to the ER and have an assessment, but then I chanced getting committed involuntarily, in which I would have no say over when I left.  I chose not to risk it, which was the right decision. I found out later that I had been labeled a suicide risk because of how I answered a particular question. I was not suicidal, but their assumption that I was would surely have resulted in an involuntary commital.

 

Because I had been labeled as such, they insisted on increasing the mild dose of antidepressants that my primary care had put me on a couple of months back. I insisted that this was a bad idea. I felt the opposite of depressed – anxious, jittery, brain running a mile a minute. I felt worse with the increase. I told them so. I wasn’t listened to.

 

I’d like to add an insert here: I don’t want to discourage people from getting help. I was at a not ideal hospital and did not really understand what was going on.  As I was admitted at 11PM, I clearly got the short-staffed overnight team. I learned a lot at the hospital. Almost everyone there was “just like me”. I.E. they were functioning adults with jobs and families and talents, who held interesting conversations and seemed to be genuinely nice people. It wasn’t the “mental hospital’ image shown in Hollywood.  It was a place for healing and understanding, not a place people were filed away. We did group work, which I felt beneficial. I met a nurse who was wonderful and helpful and truly cared about the people there. It was the process I did not like, and some of the individuals I dealt with. But ultimately, it led to me getting the help I needed (read on).

 

I called the therapist that I’d seen after my divorce, and during some other relationship issues. I explained my situation. She told me to hold tight, get through the two days after which they had to let me leave, and then come make an appointment with her. I followed her instructions. That appointment with her proved to literally be a lifesaver. She diagnosed me with rapid cycling cyclothymia, a mood disorder similar to, but not as “intense” as, bipolar disorder. She explained that the panic attacks were actually hypomania, and that the antidepressants had made it worse. She weaned me down off of them and started me on a mood stabilizer, which made me horrendously ill (physically), until it didn’t, and I started to finally feel ok again, mentally and physically. We started discussing my treatment plan. I began to learn as much as I could about my illness. I felt that finally someone was listening to me. I had been telling doctors and therapists for years that something was happening inside of my head, that I wasn’t just down or stressed, but that something was really going on. I was finally being heard.

 

Eventually, I decided that I had to make the best of the diagnosis. I started blogging, openly, about mental health and my experiences. I started a closed Facebook group for people with mood disorders. I began actively advocating via other social media outlets. I learned I was very far from alone. While cyclothymia is rare, there are so many others who struggle with mental health. I learned that just by sharing my stories, I could help others. I could show them that they, too, are not alone. I could help inspire people to speak up about their illnesses, whether in the form of social media or a blog, or simply to talk to me about it if they needed.

 

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to take my efforts to the next level. I started Spread Hope Project, to attempt to formalize what I do. I am still weeding through it. I haven’t quite pinpointed the exact trajectory of what I plan to do, but I’m working on it. Hope can still be difficult some days. My illness is still, as one would imagine, full of ups and downs, and therefore so is my life. But I know at my core that I can make a difference. More than my blogging and social media, but on a larger level. I have the passion for it, the personal experience, the longing to do so. I just need to figure out how.

 

This is my story of mental illness. My story of how it has changed my life, and how I got to the point where I am today. I hope that in it, you can find some hope, or at least some solace in knowing that you are far from alone.

 

What’s your story?

One Month to Go

A year ago June 1, I started the #365DaysofHope campaign. The idea was to post one picture every day with some sort of Spread Hope Project gear in it, based on suggestions of photo subjects from others. I did it for several reasons: of course, to raise awareness of Spread Hope Project, to focus on even the smallest things (or seemingly smallest) that can bring hope, and to get me doing/trying some things that I may not think to otherwise.

I didn’t get a full 365 suggestions, so I had to improvise a bit. Additionally, I’ve switched jobs and have less free time to get these photos, and also realized I just don’t have *that* much SHP gear, so I’ve had to be flexible with the rules I set. Basically, I’ve been trying to post a pic a day, either with a message of hope, or doing something that makes me hopeful, using the hashtag #365daysofhope. When I can, I try to wear/use Spread Hope Project gear.  You can check them out on Instagram.  Well, it’s just under one month until June 1, and therefore the technical completion of  the#365daysofhope campaign. I have not yet managed to get all of the suggestions given. Some due to time/monetary/logistical restraints, others I just… haven’t yet gotten. Here are the picture suggestions I have yet to get:

Bike ride 

Underwater pic of fish

Jersey Jets (this is where I trained gymnastics my entire youth)

Kids performing something

Swinging on a swing set

Running through a sprinkler

Playing catch with Grace (dog)

Mailing card/letter in a mailbox

Reading an actual newspaper

Playing a board game

Walking on a boardwalk

Toes in the sand

Doing a cartwheel

Rock climbing/rock gym

On a ferry

On top of a human pyramid

Plant a tree

Draw with a child

Cook a meal from a different culture

Draw with a child

Plant a tree

Go to the ballet

Go to Niagara falls

Go camping

Magic gardens on south street

Mosaic at the Curtis Center

Lobby of the customs house

Jail at Eastern State Penitentiary (in case you’re wondering it’s now a historical site in my neighborhood, not currently working jail!) 

Lucy the elephant

Swimming

Rolling down a hill

Building a sand castle

Watching fireworks

I’m not sure how many of these I’ll get to. I’d REALLY like to get to the top of a human pyramid, but I’ll need some help. So if you’d like to volunteer for that particular tasks, please let me know. I probably (read: definitely will not) get to Niagara Falls, go camping, or to the ballet in the next 23 days. It’s unlikely I’ll go rock climbing. I may be able to improvise some pictures (I did climb on some rocks in Greece!). But let’s see how many I can get to. What are your favorites?

Of course, if you’d like to help me get these photos and/or experiences, please raise your hands! And naturally, keep an eye on our Instagram to see how I fare!

Below are two of my favorites: Climbing/hiking up a mountain (taken in Ronda, Spain – technically I climbed down it first), and doing a handstand. Well, technically it was supposed to be a press handstand but I like to keep all of my parts in tact and I’m not that strong anymore, so handstand it was.

 

ronda

Hikiig a mountain in Ronda, Spain

handstand

Handstand. Grace doesn’t look impressed.

May Is Mental Health Month

Happy May! It’s sunny and getting warmer here in Philly, which is amazing. It’s incredible how much difference a little sun and warmth make, at least to me. While I can certainly battle depression on the brightest, warmest days (because it’s an illness, which doesn’t care about the weather forecast), I usually feel significantly worse in the short, cold days of winter when it’s difficult to even go outside for fresh air. So I’m super excited for the weather to finally be turning.

I haven’t blogged in a little while. I’ve been trying to get my sh*t together, reorganize my thoughts, plus I’ve been traveling in Greece. Side note: if you ever get the chance to go to Greece, go. It’s a gorgeous place, the people are the friendliest, the food is the freshest, and …. just everything about it. You can check out pics on our Instagram.

But I digress. May is Mental Health Month. A cause near and dear to my heart, as most of you know.  Every day my brain wages a battle against me, and every day I win, even if sometimes just barely. I am the one in five adults in the US that has a mental illness. Specifically, I am one of the 0.4-1% of the US population with cyclothymia. There is little known about written disorder, and it’s difficult to find others who have it. It also tends to be pushed aside as “not as big a deal”, which anyone who’s dealt with the rapid cycling nature of the mood cycles knows is inaccurate. The lack of information and difficulty finding others who have it has driven me to do two things – 1.) start my personal  blog over at Lilies and Elephants. 2.) Help others whose causes and/or organizations need exposure. Because nobody should feel like what they’re going through or fighting for is “not a big deal”.

This month, I’ll be focusing on mental health causes and organizations, as well as those causes that can be associated. Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • Local organizations or projects raising funds or awareness for mental health.
  • Local business partnering with an organization to raise funds or awareness
  • Local, orgs, businesses, or even individual advocates looking to be more involved in mental health and related causes

We want to know about you, and help others to know about you! Zero cost, I promise. It’s just what we do here at SHP.

Questions you may have:

  • Does local mean Philly area where SHP is based? Nope. Just means not a big global or national  company. In other words, we’re a small org helping other small orgs/businesses.
  • Does it really cost nothing? Yep. Our thing is promoting your thing. Or you. Or your cause. That’s how we spread hope. Or at least one of the ways.
  • My cause/project could be related, but I’m not sure. How do I know if my cause/organization/business qualifies? Ask us! You can hit us up on email, Instagram, FB (we’re less frequent on there), or my personal account on twitter.
  • How can you help my cause/project/etc? We can help you tweet, post, and share. We also can add you under our Projects tab on the website, and if you’re interested, we can “interview” you for a blog post. We can also help you with additional ideas specific to your cause/project/event.
  • I know I/my company/my organization want to do something, but I’m not sure what. Can you help? We can. Or at least we can try. Reach out to us at the above.

Mental Health is important. It affects 20 percent of the US adult population, so the chances are, we all know someone affected – even if we don’t know it.  Let’s help erase the stigma and raise awareness together.