Find Your Brave

find-your-brave

Someone recently asked me how I knew I was ready to talk openly about living with a brain illness. (We also talked about how maybe it was better to use the term “brain illness” versus “mental illness,” thus my change in terminology.)

The Right Time for Me

My answer had several layers. First, I had reached a point in my recovery when I knew I wanted to speak out. I’ve known all along - ever since my very first episode in 2005, that I’d eventually speak out. It was just a matter of when.

I reached this conclusion after my fourth hospitalization, five years after my illness emerged. In having experienced mania to the point of psychosis four times, I sought a stop to the madness that was happening in my brain. I knew the chemicals were completely out of balance, and it was proven that when I was unmedicated, or not on the correct medicine for my body chemistry, combined with not getting at least 6-7 hours of quality sleep a night, I couldn’t function.

Concurrently, I pledged my commitment to my treatment plan. No more going off meds to have babies (or for any other reason, for that matter). I wouldn’t breastfeed my second child because I knew how critical sleep was to my mental health, and I’d make and keep regularly scheduled appointments with my psychiatrist and therapist.

For me, I was ready to become an advocate when I had proven my dedication to staying well. I successfully planned and accomplished my goal of finishing The Overnight walk for AFSP last June, which was a risky event to attempt, given my need for decent sleep. But it was important to me that I do it. So I put the proper precautions in place and I went for it. And I’m glad I did because it paved the way for my future as a mental health advocate.

Recovery

To me, recovery means stability. Long-term stability. It means I remember my past so that I can look forward to the future with the knowledge of someone who has been there.

By "there", I mean exhaustion to the point of insanity. Having to endure the feeling of being taken to jail because you’re basically living in a cell, eating meals at certain times and only given the chance to call home twice a day. There’s even solitary confinement in the form of a padded room with a camera for the staff to keep an eye on you to make sure you’re safe. Having been in one of those twice, in two separate hospitals, I can tell you, they’re all the same. Horrible.

This is all in the past, encapsulated memories which I know will never fade. The scars help me to stay motivated and focused, to avoid another trip to the psych ward. The goal is always long-term recovery in my world of living with bipolar disorder.

Being Brave

Today, I speak out with confidence. And yet, I know there are plenty of others who may not be ready or have a desire to be open about living with a psychiatric condition. I can understand and respect the person who prefers to keep their life private. Some topics are not exactly material for casual conversation at the neighborhood party or your kid’s soccer practice, or around the conference table at work.

But I urge that person to reconsider. The person who has kept their illness a secret for their entire life. And I’ll tell you why.

Because we’re on the cusp of a movement. Little by little, brave individuals are beginning to speak out. But until we all band together, we won't be able to erase the stigma associated with mental illness. We're just drops mists of rain coming down in the endless sky that is life.

Now is the time to realize the power of sharing our own stories of hope and inspiration for the sake of helping others who are still in the thick of it. By merging together we'll create the most beautiful, healing rain storm. And we'll emerge with a deeper appreciation for the journey. The rainbow after the downpour.

find-your-brave2

There's strength in people coming together to fight for what they believe in.

I believe everyone is capable of overcoming a mental illness with access to proper care and the support of friends and family. But until we all open up and talk about what we're going through, really talk about it without fear or shame or embarrassment, the dark cloud of stigma will remain because the world needs to hear our stories in order to understand where we've been.

We need to come together as a community, embracing our conditions so we can show the world our BRAVE so others don't feel so alone. So they can join the movement, too. The stronger we become, the easier it will be for us to shatter the silence surrounding mental illness and shine like rainbows.

 

Remember, #BraveChat launches this week on Wednesday, January 8th at 9pm EST on Twitter. We want to see your brave! Join us!

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

PS. I was recently published on 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.