Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, IA. I attended the University of Iowa and graduated with a social work degree in 2001. I worked in social work for several years. I am the mother to three daughters, the oldest is nine and the twins are six. I have stayed home with them while working different part time jobs since they were born. I have an amazing and supportive husband; we celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary in March. Currently I work as a receptionist and Reiki practitioner at a massage spa. I am planning on attending Carlson College of massage therapy in the fall. I enjoy writing poetry and narratives as well as creating with wool felt and wood. One of my favorite place to be is in the woods.
How has mental illness affected your life?
Mental health has permeated every part of my life. I am currently diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 2 and P.T.S.D. from childhood sexual abuse. I am also a recovered alcoholic and drug addict. I can’t remember a time when I felt normal or at ease in life. I began cutting and acting out suicide when I was eleven. This is also when I started writing about my depression and anxiety. My first serious suicide attempts started in high school. I started therapy when I was twelve and began receiving psychiatric care when I was fourteen. Most of my energy in life has been spent trying to manage my mental illness, whether in healthy or unhealthy ways. When your focus is on surviving and hiding mental illness there isn’t much left for other pursuits. I have been fortunate that I was able to excel in school and have been able to work except for during the worst of my symptoms. I have had to leave jobs I loved due to my mental health. As a mother I have battled post-partum depression, anxiety, shame and fear.
Why did you want to be a part of This Is My Brave?
I am excited to be a part of This Is My Brave because I am passionate about ending the stigma associated with mental health issues. Sometimes I think I am blessed that I wasn’t able to hide my struggles from the people in my life. Stigma or not, my illness spread over every area in my life and person close to me. I got to a point where I even stopped trying to hide my cutting. Although I wasn’t “out” for healthy reasons at that point in my life it meant that my family and friends knew what was going on. When I became a mother and experienced postpartum depression and OCD I became passionate about sharing my story. I felt so much shame and loneliness but I knew I wasn’t alone. I am honest on social media, with my employers, friends and family about my struggles. I do this because I have a lot of support and privilege and it isn’t safe for everyone to be honest about their mental illness. The more we talk about mental health the less alone others will feel. I no longer feel persistent shame about my mental health and the best way to keep it from creeping back in is to talk about it.
Who or what inspires you to stay mentally healthy?
My daughters inspired me to get and stay mentally healthy. I didn’t plan to live past 30 years old. I figured I would kill myself through suicide or drug/alcohol overdose long before that birthday. I wanted to stay alive long enough for my ten years younger sister to reach adulthood. But motherhood changed everything for me. When I found out I was pregnant with my first child at 27 I realized I would have to figure out a way to survive for her. I sought out a new therapist specializing in P.T.S.D. I didn’t seek out another psychiatrist until she was born and I experienced severe postpartum depression and O.C.D. I was overwhelmed with shame, fear, anxiety and a strong desire to protect her from my mental health. I have since realized that my daughters will be affected by my mental health, that is the reality. My job is to do everything in my power to stay as mentally healthy as possible. At some point I stopped doing this work just for my daughters and started doing it for myself. My experiences are a gift that allow me to help other people struggling with mental illness.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?
I hope that audience members who have experience with mental illness will realize that they are not alone, that they do not need to be ashamed and that there is hope. I hope the audience members who have not experienced mental health issues will walk away with a better understanding of what we face daily. How hard we fight to be well. How scary and confusing mental illness is. I hope they see mental illness for what it is, a disease that we didn’t choose to have, that is not our fault and that we can’t do it alone.