This page is for my mental health warriors who are in need of support. The page features frequently asked questions I have received about my personal experience with mental illness, and ways to find help. I encourage readers to comment, and reach out to one another with a helping hand. Always remember you are not alone!
The Halfway2hannah Resource Page provides hotlines and resources if you are in need of immediate assistance!
What is a mental illness?
A mental illness is a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.
To get more questions answered, regarding mental health go to NAMI’s Mental Health Conditions webpage.
What is stigma?
Stigma is defined as, a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. People with mental illness are usually framed by the media & public as violent, irrational, and incapable of maintaining a job and/or stable life. It is important to work as a community to help in reducing the stigma of mental illness.
What is a good mental health organization to get involved in?
I have been volunteering, and public speak on behalf of the non-profit organization NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I encourage anyone struggling with a mental illness to reach out and get involved in the mental health community. NAMI has have given me the tools to succeed in helping to reduce the stigma. If you are looking for support, ways to donate or to get involved in the mental health community, check out NAMI.
There are many other powerful organizations.
- If you are a college student, check out Active Minds.
- To find numerous mental health organizations in your area check out Mental Health Organizations Across the United States
What was it like before you got help for your mental illness?
It was like screaming in a room full of people, but no one could hear me. I was on Homecoming and Prom court, an athlete, the funny girl, the popular girl. On the surface it seemed like nothing could faze me, but I was screaming on the inside. It was difficult to be honest, because how to explain feelings to other people that you don’t even understand.
When were you hospitalized?
In 2010, at the age of 20.
Why were you hospitalized?
My friends, and college roommates called my parents with concern about my health. I wouldn’t come out of my room, stopped going to class and quit taking any form of medication. As much as a tried to put on a good front, I was slowly withering away mentally and physically. My parents took me back home, and after a few days, I refused to eat or drink and was hospitalized. I was lost in my own mind, I felt numb to everything around me, it is a feeling I cannot describe.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced since being diagnosed?
The stigma, and a little bit of the anxiety about getting sick again. Mental illness is a disease that you have to constantly be aware of. I choose to be free spirited, and creative, however, this means I have to be even more careful. The sigma is awful! The things that are said in the media and in society about people with mental illness is not only terrible, but untrue. When you express to people you have a mental illness they get this idea that we are all deeply disturbed and dark individuals, and this is far from the truth. This is why I try to add a little color to my life, and try my hardest to always keep positive. I try for it not to control my life. It is hard work to control, maintain and embrace this disease, just like any other illness. However, the challenges faced are worth overcoming at the end of the day.
What were the biggest challenges once you left the hospital?
When you feel like your starting from rock bottom it is really difficult for anyone. The moment the door shut behind me, I looked out into the distance like “Shit what do I do now?” I was petrified, but I kept moving forward. The first step, led to the second step and slowly I really came into my own. If you work hard, and set short and long-term goals for yourself, you can be successful. The first step is the hardest.
What do you do when your family does not support/understand your mental illness?
This is hard for me, because I come from a very supportive family. However, there was a time when my family did not understand what was going on. I think it is best to try and educate your family about mental health. In times of emotion, it is hard to explain these deep feelings to our family, and we find ourselves getting angry that, “They just don’t get it” or “They will be disappointed in me.” Mental illness is complex, and knowledge is power. In the situation that your family just does not support you, regardless of what is read or said, you have to find other ways to seek comfort and support. Mental Health America is a great place to start in your search for support.
Group therapy, Youth groups, online clubs, or anything that involves community are mediums for support.
My heart goes out to those individuals who do not have the support of their family. Do not let their conflict influence your health. Families come on all different shapes and sizes, and there is support out there for you. While I was at the hospital, it was essential to seek comfort in strangers. These people sacrificed their stories in group therapy, and opened me up. I had never told anybody the things I told them, and it was exactly the support needed. They gave me their story in hopes that I would share mine with others in the future.
Do you feel like people just don’t understand you?
Oh yeah! I realized that it may not be that they don’t understand me, but they don’t understand ‘it.’ It is surprising how many people know nothing about mental illness. If they begin to understand the illness, then it becomes easier to understand the person who struggles with it. My close friends have dealt with this for a long time. In the times when I don’t answer my phone, or shut down, it is not because I do not love or what to hang out with them, however, I need time to step back and regroup. I prefer to do this alone, without involving my friends. The more knowledge they have gained about mental illness, they understand that it is just the way that I am built, and they have to ride the waves instead of trying to go against the current. I am who I am. All I care that people understand about me is that I am a good person.
What has are some of the things that have helped you get to the point you are today?
Humor has been a great way for me to handle mental illness. I think being humorous, and making others laugh, reminds your soul that your still alive. It is important people develop a more colorful attitude about mental illness. We have to reduce the darkness that surrounds it. Make yourself laugh by reading a funny book, watching a funny movie, looking at funny cat videos and do whatever you can to get a little laugh. It is the best medicine, and the cheapest;)
Exercising mind & body:
I have always been physically active, but felt like I was doing it for other people instead of for my own satisfaction. When I got out of the hospital, I started walking around outside everyday. One mile turned into two miles, and next thing you know I had dropped 30 pounds and was running three miles a day. It helped get excess energy out, and refocus. Meditation is a great way to relax your mind and be still in the moment, which is something I have always struggled with.
Volunteering at the local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the local homeless shelter helped turn my life around. Taking myself out of my own pain to listen to others was enlightening. When I began at NAMI, I really started to see mental health from a different perspective, and how many people it affected. I learned a tremendous amount about my illness, and it eventually gave me the confidence to come forward about Bipolar II. Any type of volunteering is great. Look up any local volunteering opportunities in your area. Helping and healing!
When I got out of the hospital, I spent the summer with my grandparents, and then my family encouraged me to get a part-time job. I was nervous at the time. I could barely succeed at life, never mind at a job, but I took their advice. I interviewed as a nanny, took the job and began taking care of two children. If I could name a specific moment that has truly changed my life, it would be when I started working as a nanny. I was responsible for two children. Two children who trusted me and loved me. I had always jumped from job to job, but I told myself not this time. I was with them for six years until I got close to college graduation. We are as close as family. I took on another job as a waitress and bartender during this time, and becoming independent day by day. It is important to put yourself out there. When we do not feel like we are contributing to society, it only makes us feel worse about our situation. Academics has always been a struggle, but I felt it was the right time. Education opens up many opportunities. Do not let your mind tell you what you can and cannot do.
What do you suggest to parents struggling with a son or daughter with a mental illness?
I do not have children, however, I cannot imagine the pain that is felt when watching a child struggle. My parents, like most, had trouble understanding what was going on, but they supported me, while encouraging me to keep moving forward. You have to be sensitive to their situation, but also push them. I recommend the following:
- Act as a listener
- Learn about mental illness together
- Encouraging he/she to receive help
- Encouraging he/she to be productive
- Get involved– If there is an event or volunteering opportunity, documentaries/movies about mental illness, speaking events, Ted Talks, read blog posts pertaining to mental illness etc. Anything that involves spending time together wat in the mental health community, mention it and go along. This shows your willingness to understand their circumstances. Mental Health America Volunteer Opportunities
- Seek personal support-Your child’s issues cannot be properly dealt with unless your own are taken care of first
This is a great article about a mother & fathers struggle w/ their daughter who was diagnosed with a mood disorder, called “What We Didn’t Say”
For more information about coping with the mental illness of a family member check out NAMI Family Support.
*There will be future blog posts & video about my parents struggle and way of coping when I was ill.
Is there a website that explains the signs & symptoms of mental illness is someone has concerns about a family member?
What is are some helpful coping skills or outlets you would suggest on the path to people struggling with mental illness?
- Write a story about your life. This includes the struggles, the good & bad memories, your feelings and continue writing with the future you desire in mind
- Take photographs of inspirational things
- Cook/Bake Quick & Easy Recipes
- Scrapbook your emotions & future aspirations (future blog post coming about the scrapbook I’ am currently making!!)
- Get Colorful-Google Printable Adult Coloring Pages
- Exercise (simple walk, jog or yoga)-No Equipment Workout You Can Do At Home
- Read- My personal favorites and suggestions are She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True, We Are Water & The Red Tent
- Therapeutic Garden Garden Therapy Notes
Below are images of creative tools for coping & colorful drawings for inspiration
How did you handle medications?
This is a tricky one! I am not a Doctor duh. I do not give out any advice about medicines or the specific ones I am prescribed. All I can say is that you want to connect with your Doctor by building a relationship with them & let them know exactly the ways in which you want to feel (energetic, not sleepy, more sleepy, less lethargic, not foggy). Medication works for people in different ways. Just because someone else is doing well on a specific medication does not mean you will feel the same affects. Be patient, but determined to find what works!
What if you do not have enough money for insurance or therapy?
I have little knowledge in this area but I can direct you to the following resources.
Did you ever self-harm? If so, how did you recover?
I did self-harm for a period of time. It was never with the intentions of suicide, but to release the deep internal pain I was feeling. As time went on, and I became stable, the need to cut went away. Instead of cutting, I began to find other and healthier outlets. I knew self-harm would only make me feel guilty, so I thought, why keep doing it if I want to get better? I do not cut anymore, but I think the temptation is always there. In these moments, I take myself out of the environment I am in immediately, and set up a therapy appointment. To acknowledge it makes me realize it is not the path I want to, or going to walk down again.
H2H Post: “Creating Instead of Cutting” about a creative alternative to self-harm.
Did you or do you have an eating disorder? If so, how did you recover?
I did have an eating disorder & body image issues all the way into my mid-twenties. I think I will always have those critical moments in the mirror, but I have learned to control them. I have been overweight and underweight. It is difficult to maintain confidence in a society that defines ‘beauty’ as having a perfect body, mouth, hair, lips, toes etc. I overcame it slowly by building a healthy relationship with my body. I accepted the fact that I am probably never going to be a size 0 or size 2, and thats perfectly fine.
How do you embrace and/or accept your mental illness?
There is no doubt that mental illness is painful, and it breaks my heart when I see people commenting about ways to describe it with word like “monstrous” and “debilitating.” I have realized that if I look at this long-term disease as something horrible, hate it for everything it has put me through, I am going to end up withering away with it. I started researching Bipolar, and saw that there is a gift to be recognized within our minds. We do have the ability to think on a different level than others. There is a major sacrifice to this, which is having to overcome the pain of it, but if you can create a life where you can utilize this unique element of it, it will be worth it.
Why are you writing this blog?
To be able to answer these types of questions, and make people who are struggling with a mental illness know that they are not alone. To reduce the stigma of mental illness, and give a separate outlook on a disease many people are unsure about. My ultimate goal is to help those struggling with mental illness by sharing my personal story, and portray the unique characteristics of individuals diagnosed with a mental illness.
Who are people you admire or look to for inspiration? (click on bolded blue for links)
I encourage anyone to view my blog post ‘6 Astounding Must Watch Ted Talks” specifically the Talk featuring Elyn Saks. She is diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia , and turned her life around against what majority of society and medical professionals expected of her. She is one of the most incredible human beings!
I look to historical figures such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci & Isaac Newton. These individuals inspire me to reflect on the gift of mental illness rather than the pain. They used their, yet their distinctive ways of thinking to do incredible things in this world.
As far as celebrities, Demi Lovato, Catherine Zeta Jones, John Hamm, Carrie Fisher & so many more.
Patty Duke, who recently passed away, is one of my biggest role models. She is the first celebrity to have come forward about Bipolar, in a time where the taboo of mental illness was more intense than in present day.
H2H Post: Patty Duke
My ‘Media Page’ provides great videos & stories about celebrities advocating for mental health, such as Demi Lovato and John Oliver.
What would you say to people who have a negative attitude about people with mental illness?
It is beneficial to educate yourself. You cannot judge someone’s character based off of their condition, especially when you know little about it. It is easy to point the finger at others and blame them for occurrences in society. Be careful with stereotyping, stigma and framing people with mental illness as “bad people,” because you may find yourself, or someone close, in the same situation someday.
What would you say to those suffering with a mental illness, who do not feel they will ever get better or be successful in life?
The first step is believing in yourself. Do not let other people’s bias or judgement instill fear into you. You have to place your hands to your ears, and keep moving forward day by day.
No matter how dark the storm may get, the sun will appear again from behind the clouds. Never give up on your sunshine. Turn your pain into art. We can find beauty in what devastates us. You are not alone beautiful soul.