Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a native of Northern Virginia and live in Reston with my husband, Will, and my dog, Winston. My mom, in-laws and sister live nearby. Family is everything to me and I am so deeply grateful for their unconditional love and support. I graduated from the College of Wooster in Ohio in 2005 and have been back in the D.C.-metro area since then. I am currently in a yoga teacher training program and find that both yoga and mindfulness meditation help me cope with the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Writing has been a major part of my recovery and I am proud to share that my blog, www.bluelightblue.com, was recently named by Healthline.com as one of the 2016 best blogs on depression. I am a trained peer facilitator and public speaker with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). In my free time I love to try new recipes, bike with my husband and travel. On the weekends I can often be found drinking coffee and walking around Eastern Market, my favorite neighborhood in D.C.
How has mental illness affected your life?
Mental illness has run like a thread throughout my life. When I was 13 years old my father died by suicide and I was the first to find him. It was only hours after his death that I learned he had struggled with depression. In the wake of his suicide, I experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
When I was 21, I was diagnosed with depression myself and was terrified by my diagnosis. I would say that shame and silence characterize how I dealt with my dad’s death and my own mental illness as a young person. Talking felt uncomfortable and scary, and I worried what other people would think if I showed the deep sadness that I carried with me.
At the age of 31, the weight of all I was carrying inside finally became too heavy and I spiraled downward, finding myself in the midst of a mental health crisis. All of the anxiety and depression and trauma and grief rose to the surface and I became consumed with panic and hopelessness like I had never known before. For over a year and a half I struggled to stabilize.
As painful as every day was, I held on and kept asking for help. As I emerged from the darkness I found that I was ready to be open about my journey through mental illness. I didn’t want to hide or change my story anymore. When I finally dug deep and accepted my depression and anxiety I was able to start living a healthier, more authentic life. I have known the tragedy and pain of mental illness, and at the same time surviving it has shown me my own strength and courage. I am definitely a more compassionate person because of mental illness. I hope that sharing my story will help other people know that they are not alone and that recovery is possible and real.
Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?
I believe that sharing my story runs two ways. When I write or speak the words out loud, I am processing what I have lived through. I am finding strength in my own words, in my own voice. I cast off the weight of shame that I have carried with me for far too long. I am reminded that I am a survivor, of how far I have come. Sharing my story also reaches people who need to hear it. Whether it’s another person who lost a loved one to suicide, a parent of a child who is struggling with mental illness or someone who is personally experiencing depression – hearing the story of someone who survived and made it through to the other side throws out a lifeline.
Especially when I was very sick, listening to the stories of people who recovered and were better for their illness gave me something to strive for. I want to be a part of This Is My Brave because I want to help myself while helping other people at the same time.
What inspires you to stay mentally healthy?
When I was inpatient for the first time, in a group session I was asked to draw what “healthy” meant to me. I drew a bunch of interconnected circles and wrote these words inside of them: Meaningful work. Support of family and friends. Faith. Physical movement. Opportunity to learn. Creative expression. Positive thinking. Connection with nature. Self care. Work-life balance. Belief in myself. Even at that low point I had a vision of what I wanted my life to look like. It is so awesome to look back and see how far I have come in each of those areas. My illness and my recovery offered me an opportunity to realign myself with these core priorities. I try to make choices every day that keep me grounded in what I envision as a healthy life.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?
I’ve heard this phrase one too many times: “But you don’t look like someone with mental illness.” Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can impact people of every age, color, gender, or sexual orientation. High school students, athletes, CEOs, stay-at-home moms or dads, grandparents – anyone can have a mental illness or love someone who has a mental illness. I want the audience to walk away knowing that nobody “looks” like they should or shouldn’t have a mental illness. The people up on stage in This Is My Brave will represent a diversity of backgrounds and life experiences. I hope that this show will help all of us release some of the stereotypes and stigma that come along with mental illness. Letting go of those preconceived notions is where the real sharing and connection begins.