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Mission Statement

Hello!

Thank you for stopping by to learn about my mental health project. I’d like to share what it’s about, first a bit about me — My name is Meredith, I’m a thirty-something California native living in San Francisco. I have a diagnosis of clinical depression, major anxiety, and ADHD. I work full time, I enjoy music, books, pizza, outdoors, dancing, and my friends and family. I live a full life, but there was a time not that long ago where I enjoyed none of the above, including life itself. My illness consumed my entire twenties. I was fortunate enough to find my way to the other side of it, but it was the fight of and, for my life. I found my purpose along my journey to wellness, and that’s why I’ve begun this project.

The problem I can help solve:

  • The mental health care system is broken. Via private or public care, the key piece that’s missing is the necessary follow up, and follow through on both medication and therapy, i.e. a continuum of care.
  • Lack of guidance on how to go about acquiring and navigating care or insurance.
  • Lack of substantial coordination of community resources, as well as comprehensive formation and execution of a recovery plan for each individual.
  • The system fails to persevere with care when the patient lacks the wherewithal. Forcing someone who struggles to make it day to day to advocate for their own care in a broken system is cruel. There needs to be a service within the system to bridge the gaps.
  • The path to mental health is an arduous one that often leaves people feeling like abandoned, disheartened lab rats who, in spite of their best efforts, often fall off the path because they don’t know what to do or to whom they can turn to for support, guidance, and much needed hope.

How I plan to solve it:

  • I’ve built a service open to everyone 18 and over, based on the peer perspective of my own experience in navigating, bending, and pooling mental health care resources to help chart a path to wellness for those who feel they need help getting help.
  • Providing facilitation and third-party accountability in order to focus on the individual’s bigger picture. No two paths to wellness are alike. To try and shuffle vastly different cases through a very narrow, disorganized system with no checks and balances to ensure people stay the course is failing them and they’re falling through the cracks.
  • The path is tailored specifically to your needs, to be shaped over time through evaluation of your current state and end goals at regular intervals, with comprehensive follow up ensuring you’re seen through to achieving your goals.
  • Think of it as a personal road map allowing you to circumvent the gaps, thereby wasting less of your valuable resources, to get your life back on track faster and more easily by someone who is invested in your wellness.

What I can do for you as an individual, and our community:

  • I want to see the entire mental health care community working together to create a cohesive, welcoming environment of wellness, advocacy, and access to care.
  • I want to see a society that is educated on mental illness that has broken down the stigma, and can approach the topic with open minds and hearts.
  • I want to see individuals who are happy to be alive, can hold down a job, take care of themselves and their families, get off the streets, who are doing the things they love, and loving what they do.
  • I want to see those afflicted with mental illness and their loved ones who care for them be able to live the most free, fulfilling, and happy lives they possibly can in spite of the challenges they face.
  • I want those in their darkest days to know that someone is always there for them when they feel lost, to know that someone is invested in their recovery, to feel safe and secure reaching out for help, and to feel hope for themselves and their future.
  • I want to completely change the way mental health is regarded and the way care is administered. I plan to begin one person at a time, then one city at a time starting here in San Francisco, eventually bringing my service standards to every major city in the country I can.

Disclaimers:

  • I am not a health care professional in any way, nor do I plan to dispense health care in any way. I am here to advise, advocate, educate, navigate, and instill hope as a peer.
  • This project is a work in progress. My guidance will be based on trial and error as all mental health care already is.
  • I do not have personal experience with all mental illnesses. I am more than willing to help anyone facing any mental illness with the understanding on your part that your illness may be new to me but I can still help advocate for you.
  • I’m a resource for an objective and clear path to recovery, attempting to test my proof of concept, not a therapist or an emotional outlet.
  • Any information provided to me either verbal or written will be kept strictly confidential.

What I am looking for:

  • Individuals afflicted with any type of mental illness who feel they need help getting helpThis is a free of charge service.
  • Those who truly want to get better, who want to take their lives back, and want to become empowered to do so.
  • Those who live in the Bay Area and are willing to meet with me in person.
  • If this speaks to you at all, and you understand that this project is in beta mode, I invite you to contact me via the form below.

Thank you for your interest in my project, I look forward to hearing from you!

These are my Confessions

These are my Confessions

I’m having an apathy day. I just woke up that way, there’s not much I can do about it except honor it, try to go deeper to find out where the feeling is coming from, remember to be grateful for what I have, and then use it as a muse for expressing myself. Life must go on even when it involves doing things I don’t want to do.

Onto things I do want to do: my project. It’s slow goings. I’ve accepted the fact that it’s been that way since the get-go, sometimes that still bothers me. It’s really the only thing I want to be doing with my life right now, helping people. And I am, I still have my two clients, they’re both doing pretty well thanks to our teamwork. I’m also continuing working in the background on pieces of the project, slowly but surely. I’m incredibly grateful for the support I’ve been given thus far.

I obviously haven’t blogged in a while and the Instagram hasn’t seen much action lately either. I feel badly about that. It’s not that I haven’t been inspired, it’s that I still have yet to find the means to get this to take off, and meanwhile I still have to dedicate the remainder of my spoons to managing the rest of my life; for example, the stuff I don’t feel like doing today. I have to also remember I’m not your average entrepreneur who inherently has the spoons to work full time and simultaneously dedicate the other 50% of my life and resources to my project. I face mental health challenges too and if I don’t put myself and my health first, then nothing comes second or third or fourth to that. I run myself into the ground, get sick, and nothing happens at all. I’m doing the best I can with the means I have.

I didn’t think it would be so difficult to launch a project that is meant to help people and contribute to society. It’s not as though I’m trying build another app (that’s not to say apps don’t contribute to life, but there’s no shortage of them), I’m trying to use my hard-earned knowledge and experience to help people get their lives together in the face of mental health challenges.

I can tell you my dream will never die. I don’t care if it takes years to turn this thing into what I’ve envisioned. The peer support marketplace isn’t nearly as saturated as it could be, so I’ll just keep plugging away at the most efficient pace I can manage on my own, and meanwhile probably still feel guilt and disappointment that it’s not coming along the way I wish it would. One thing I’ve learned in life is that nothing truly good comes quickly or easily.

It’s frustrating, but the more entrepreneurs and mental health professionals I talk to in this space, the more I find out that the unfortunate truth is that it’s easier and faster to garner funding and support to launch an app (following the comparison example I’d previously used) than it is to produce a service meant to help rein the beast of mental illness. If this were a Trump tweet, I’d end it with “Sad”, but I’ll just cut my lament here and move on.

Since I’ve decided to use my random strike of apathy today as fodder for content, now is an appropriate time to mention I’ve recently decided take my Instagram posts in a slightly different direction. I realized that I can keep posting positive reinforcement to the effect of “You’ve got this” or “You are enough”, but what I’d rather do is make posts that speak to people.

Truth is its hard for me to do that sometimes because its been so long since I’ve been in the depths of my own madness that I’ve lost touch. I’ve always had this protective mechanism built in that makes me blank on what it was like to be in the throes once they’ve passed. That’s why I want to start sharing posts from this account Art for Mental Health because it comes directly from sufferers and shows so boldly and truthfully what it feels like to live with illness. These people are doing exactly what I’m doing right now: bravely using their challenges as a positive channel to express themselves, to share their struggles, and to find solace in a community.

The pieces on this account serve as a reminder to me of what it was like to feel the feelings of absolute despair, grief, desperation, sadness, loneliness, etc. so that I can keep my content relevant and meaningful. To me, it’s by posting things people can relate to that has that impact. Friendly reminders that you’re worth it, and loved, and can keep going are great, but at some point its nice to just relate to someone else’s struggle and know you’re not alone.

It’s nice to see people basically rip their hearts and minds out, put them on paper, and remember I was there once, too. What’s even nicer is to recall those memories and become even more inspired and motivated to want to help people, because there was a time when I didn’t want to wake up each day because I knew some fresh hell was there to greet me without fail. The thought of that all of a sudden kind of makes me laugh at myself and my apathy I woke up with this morning. Perspective is so f*cking powerful. As is self expression.

So I will continue to seek out and share pieces from the Art for Mental Health account and others that speak to me. I will continue to use my experiences and others’ to help reinforce and uplift the mental health community to feel safe and comfortable expressing themselves. Our society teaches us to follow the straight & narrow, to keep your issues under wraps, to say the right things and act the right way, don’t rock the boat, mind your P’s & Q’s.

Anyone who’s ever dealt with mental health challenges knows there is no such thing as a straight and narrow. It’s not natural whether you face mental health issues or not, people for whatever reason just seem to fall in line with it. Anyone who has ever deviated from that path knows how good it feels to finally let go and express themselves. Anyone who is human, I think, knows deep down that it’s not conducive to a happy, healthy existence to stuff your problems down, mute yourself, and press on. It may not be regularly, but I will be here continuing to express myself be it via my own words, art, and actions, or someone else’s, in an effort to help you. There, I feel a little better now, I hope you do too.

Peace, love, and wellness.

I’m Only Human

I’m Only Human

Anytime I feel like I’m breaking down, I have to break down what’s behind it. What I believe first and foremost that lies behind any illness, breakdown, or trial in life is the simple fact that we’re human; we’re incredibly fallible whether we want to admit that to ourselves or not, whether our ego can handle that fact or not. It doesn’t really matter if we can accept the facts, what matters is whether we can cope with life as it’s dealt to us, and execute our response to it’s adversities properly, per the way nature intended. Truth be told, at various points in our lives, most of us can’t and we break under the pressure. Another truth: It’s ok to break down, it’s part of being human!

I believe that to be human is to be fallible. I’ve proven it to myself time and time again, I’ve seen it in others, and in the end we come out of it alright if we allow nature to take its course. It’s only our egos that tell us otherwise, and present the false illusion of who we are based on how we feel others perceive us, then tell us we must adhere to that illusion. It honestly makes it easier to synthesize the traumas we endure, be they physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, and their impending effects when I look at myself and those around me simply as over-intelligent, survival-based creatures. We are far from the overly stimulated, over-worked, under appreciated, perfection-obsessed, stoic machines we insist we are cut out to be. We need to process, we need to feel, we need to emote.

We live in a day and age where we readily force ourselves to operate at mach speed in the world outside of us in order to distract ourselves from what’s really going on inside. We don’t take good loving care of ourselves, time is just a construct meant to be whipped through as fast as possible out of the self-imposed necessity of what we see as productivity in our world around us, with no regard for the world within us. And for whatever reason we blindly accept this without ever slowing down and allowing ourselves the space to reconcile the daily influx of life. We deny our most primal processes then wonder why we get sick, feel fundamentally void in some ways, or why we feel the need to medicate in a vain attempt to cope.

Trauma is a process that we need to allow to run its course so we can move on and be able to live from our essence, who we really are underneath the ego so that when we are challenged in the future, we can act instead of react to whatever we face. So that we can be mindful and let go instead of being mindless and controlling. You can’t control everything that happens in life, but you can control how you react to it. Stop stifling the subtle voice coming from deep down inside that wants you to know that its ok to feel feelings and move forward a better person for having had the experience, and gaining the wisdom from it. Trauma-based acumen is real, ego is false. Not much goodness in life comes without the hard work to gain it.

Have you ever seen an animal that’s been startled by something? It reacts instinctually by entering into fight or flight mode, assesses the potential danger and either acts out of instinct for survival, or retreats realizing the perceived danger is not actually imminent. No matter the outcome, once an animal has been triggered, when the threat is over it shakes. This is a natural bodily function innate to both animals and humans, to help process and release the trauma of the scare. Humans, if we allowed ourselves to, should and could react in the same manner thereby relieving the trauma of the incident and moving on. We all know we shake when we’ve been startled but we tell ourselves it’s not ok, its a sign of weakness, so we suppress it and any of the other innate reactions we should be allowing ourselves to experience. Our ego as well as societal stigma tell us to absorb the reactions and the trauma, shove it down, and proceed with caution. We then carry on through life as damaged goods, having stored incident after incident’s worth of trauma in our minds, bodies, egos, and spirits, which severely inhibits our natural right to live free of fear.

That’s not to say there is no such thing as healthy caution, boundaries or self preservation. Those are inborn elements to a healthy relationship with the world around us. But when we refuse to properly process our traumas they create layers of fear within that hinder us from staying grounded and operating from the true nature of who we are, which, again, is to be free of fear. We have to be smarter than our fear and our egos. We have to break through the lies we’ve been told or we tell ourselves that keep us imprisoned by fear and judgement. Things like it’s not ok for a man to cry, it’s not ok to ask for help, it’s not ok to admit you’ve been affected, it’s not ok to fail, or it’s not ok to be afraid. I’ll put it this way — how is there light without there also being darkness? How is the light supposed to shine through if its consistently enshrouded in the darkness?

Circling back to the fact of the essential nature of our existence, we’re only human. A good place to begin is to stop expecting yourself to absorb it all and press on trepidatious. Stop telling yourself you can’t or don’t deserve to be free of fear. Enable yourself to raise your vibration and ease the heavy of life by allowing yourself to be human and work through your trials. By doing so you’re not only healing yourself and creating space in your life for freedom and happiness, you’re creating the space for others around you to do the same. Leading by example, showing the world exactly how basic of creatures we are at our core, and that healing isn’t as far-fetched of a concept as we perceive it to be, and that self-actualization is attainable.

The sooner we quit fooling ourselves the sooner we can live freer and easier. The closer we get to being at peace with ourselves and the world as it is whether it presents us fear or confidence, good or bad, happy or sad. As one of my favorite personal anthems goes “There’s a beautiful way of being that allows one to stay rooted and present in the moment, comfortable and calm. Your thoughts and your feelings are energy. The more we can utilize this energy to generate feelings that feel good, the more easy and harmonious or lives become”. It’s so simple yet we choose to make it so complicated. It is being free of fear, it is the true essence of our being as humans. Who doesn’t want that??

Peace, love, and wellness.

Hey, Can We Talk?

Hey, Can We Talk?

 

Reform: It’s not a glamorous topic, but one very much at the forefront of the battle to make proper mental health care a true reality in our country. I’d like to get a dialogue going on the various article-based points in this post. Whether it’s here, or you take this topic with you as a talking point into your own personal conversations. As long as you’re talking about the current state of mental health care, I’m happy.

Politicians and health care administrators can think they know what’s best for us all they want, however as recipients of mental health care, I feel we have much more of an insider’s perspective. Wouldn’t you agree? How can we use that for the greater good and effect real change in the system? As individuals what can we do, and how?

Looking back at the 21st Century Cures Act: I believe it was set up in good faith by the Obama administration, with attempts to help preempt mass shootings and other acts of violence, fund prescription drug R&D, and strengthen the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, but likely won’t be administered as such. Case in point, specifically on my favorite topic — peer support, from a Mad in America article: “Money is also being taken away from peer support efforts, as these are deemed inessential and a waste of money. Peers, in the mental health system, are considered any individuals who use their own lived experiences with similar issues to support those in crisis. In other words, those who have been there help out those who are having difficulty finding their way. At the same time, the peer supports that are being funded are going to be transformed into some kind of clinical caricature, wherein peers must follow clinical guidelines established by medical doctors that, basically, amount to telling people to take their meds. Peer support, which can be enormously helpful for many, is being corporatized and “manualized” to fit into the current psychiatric machine.”

^NO, NO, NO!^

“The thing is, relationships don’t always require a manual. And sometimes, when a person has been through something and comes out the other side, that person might actually have an idea or two on what could be helpful to someone else.” (Hmm…sounds familiar to me)

^YES, YES, YES!^

Going forward, given the current political climate, we’ve again got consumers of mental healthcare now worried over the possible repeal of Obamacare which brings with it the threat of pre-existing conditions stopping them from obtaining health care coverage. In fact two of my own clients have expressed their concerns regarding obtaining either mental health coverage or a diagnosis due to fears of this exact threat. Pre-Obamacare, I was personally denied health coverage by multiple providers for a pre-existing diagnosis of depression and anxiety. To this day it gets a rise out of me just thinking about it. Suffice to say however, one could safely assume that essentially being left for dead in your early twenties would be upsetting.

A great U.S. News article penned by my personal inspiration for the foundation of my project, Dr. Lloyd Sederer, articulates one thing we are all very familiar with in the wake of the new presidency: We are going to have to stand up and fight. Speak up, speak out, take action.

As Aziz Ansari both shrewdly and comedically reminded us in his recent SNL monologue: “change doesn’t come from presidents. Change comes from large groups of angry people — and if day one is any indication, you are part of the largest group of angry people I have ever seen. Good luck.”

Now here we are, 4 months into the new presidency with nothing but question marks in the air as to what the future of mental health care looks like for us, and how we fit into this already broken system. The least we can do is educate ourselves, and those around us. TALK ABOUT IT…Here’s a really great article with some incredibly keen, easily understood talking points. Start a dialogue. Speak up (kindly) when you hear people say things out of ignorance or stigma. Use the tools we already have like social media, and support/advocacy/awareness groups like NAMI and Bringchange2mind. GET INVOLVED HOWEVER YOU CAN.

If you take away nothing else from the information presented here, at least take the resolute notion that as long as we continue to fight for what is right in our community, and for what we need, WE WILL BE HEARD. I urge you to make this a topic of civil conversation, whether for your own benefit, for someone you love, or for the greater good. And remember, all progress takes place outside the comfort zone. Start talking!

Peace, love, and wellness.

 

An Open Letter on Having the Talk

An Open Letter on Having the Talk

When I first began treatment for my illness I never knew who in my life I could tell, or when or how. In a time where I so desperately wanted to tell everyone who cared about me how much I needed help, acceptance, and compassion, I told no one. My subsequent faltering behavior with no explanation only stood to make me look bad, and help usher me into failure in certain rights. Thankfully much has changed since then and more people and places are coming to accept the idea of mental illness affecting our population instead of rejecting it.

Looking back I’d always wondered if I were given the opportunity to come out to anyone at anytime barring any judgement or repercussions, what I would say and how I would say it. It’s a challenging and harrowing endeavor given both the immensely pervasive stigma and ignorance toward the subject. How could I get people to understand and sympathize with something they likely haven’t experienced or been educated on?

I figured if I’m looking for compassion then I’d be better off starting from a place of compassion. I would’ve wanted to try and find a way to put myself in an outsider’s shoes to help them get an idea of what I was going through and how it affects me, just as I’d hope they could do for me. I imagined I would’ve written an open letter to the world, on behalf of myself and anyone with mental illness that just wanted to be known for who they really are – a human being. Here it is:

Dear Parents, Siblings, Employers, Friends, Coworkers, Extended Family Members, Significant Others, Neighbors, Acquaintances, et al.,

Some of you may have known me for only a short time, some for years. I’m scared as hell right now because I have something to tell all of you that many, few, or none of you might know. I don’t want to tell you as it may shock you, because of the fear, stigma, and judgement that are sadly so very prevalent. By the same token I absolutely want to tell you, because if you care about me at all you will do your best to keep an open heart and mind, and know that there should be no shame in what I am about to tell you.

Nobody’s perfect, and I’ve definitely had my moments. For the most part I realize I seem to keep it together fairly well day-to-day. But if you knew what I go through when you’re not around, or you knew how hard I have to work to hide what I want to tell you to keep my life in one piece, I’d be willing to bet that underneath any adverse inherent reaction you might feel upon finding out, would hopefully be some compassion and kindness.

If you knew about the secrets I’ve kept, or the stories and lies I’ve forcibly crafted to cover the sacrifices I’ve had to make on behalf of my wellness. If you knew the lengths I’ve gone to under the most trying conditions to keep my feet on the ground and my head on my shoulders. If you knew how much grit and strength it takes to wake up and press on almost every single day, or the decisions I have to face knowing I’m ultimately going to disappoint someone in the end, or how hard I have to work on top of the task of existence as it is to save face, I know you’d find the understanding and love in your heart to support me to the best of your ability through what I’m about to confess to you.

Truth is, this shouldn’t have to be a confession at all. Like any other illness I should have the freedom to come out with it to anyone at any time and not live in fear of having misguided judgement cast on me. The unfortunate fact is that illness often lends itself to losing relationships. If nothing though, it should at least be enlightenment to the fact that looking back on the mistakes I’ve made or times where I’ve fallen short, that I was actually trying my best given the hand I was dealt. If there is compassion within you for that, it should hopefully help things make a lot more sense in retrospect. You may even realize how brave I have been all this time, and that I am also not alone in this fight. Many people suffer from the same illness I do, yet 60% of them go untreated each year out of fear and shame, or lack of access to proper treatment.

You might also realize why I am so scared to tell you this, or why I chose to wait so long. There is no instruction manual on who to tell, who not to tell, and how to go about it, or how to deal with their reactions be they good or bad. I’ve been let go from jobs, I’ve lost friends and relationships. I’ve been called a burden, a faker, and a flake. I’ve been edged out, walked out on, mocked, judged, put down. All for something that I never asked for, and I was responsible for fixing on my own. I’m lucky enough to say I was able to do that.

Before I say what I need to say I want you to know that you have the power to help my life and many others become better, healthier, and more productive by allowing us to come out with this into open arms. By accepting me as I am and knowing that I am doing everything in my power to right size my condition and take charge of my life again, you are helping give me the gift of life. After all, you wouldn’t tell someone who has cancer that they’re a burden or pass judgement on them for the sacrifices they have to make on behalf of their wellness.

I want to tell you that I have mental illness. I hope you can accept my apology for any of my shortcomings, past or future, and their effects on you. I hope you can still see me for me, and not my illness. I hope you know that I wouldn’t be telling you if I didn’t care. And I hope for myself, for all those directly affected by mental illness, and everyone indirectly affected because that’s what keeps us going through the hardest times of our lives; hope for our future and the actions we take to effect change on behalf of the hope we have for ourselves.

Signed,

Meredith

Peace, love, and wellness.

Getting to Know Your Illness: A Call to Go Deeper

Getting to Know Your Illness: A Call to Go Deeper

When I was first diagnosed with mental illness I thought it was traditional western medicine’s job to fix it for me. It seemed as though the answer was pretty straight forward: take my meds, see my therapist, go to classes and everything will get better eventually, right? Not necessarily. What I’d been unknowingly handed in that moment in time was a call to action that went light years beyond the aforementioned docket . It was a call to get a real grip on the who, what, why, when, and how of my illness.

It hit me about 4 or 5 years into my journey when I realized that as much effort as I was putting into the assigned duties of managing my illness, that I’d hit a wall with my progress and wasn’t getting any better. As per usual whenever I got hit by something major, I got desperate. Except this time the desperation led me to want to understand where all of this was coming from because, maybe, if I could start untangle this web that had been weaved over 20+ years of my life that continued to run and ruin my life, I could get to the root of my issues and remedy them on a level that doctors and prescription medicine couldn’t touch.

I started with research. I figured if I wasn’t going to get out of bed or leave the house in the first place, I may as well spend the time educating myself. I began by just googling my illnesses and learning about them, what’s behind them, and other people’s experiences with them. I knew there had to be another way out.

Mental illness for me wasn’t just a chemical imbalance that decided to show itself as soon as I no longer had ‘teen’ following my age. It wasn’t just the stress of adult life becoming insurmountable. It wasn’t just a congenital disorder that I’d inherited. Turned out it was all those things, and more. What I’d learned is that it had always been there in the form of PTSD from the trials I’d endured in my life thus far, genetic predisposition, and likely my history of operating purely on survival skills, lying in wait for me to drop my guard and be able to succumb. Waiting for the point in my life where I was no longer forced to just cope and slog on. Waiting for me to open up just enough to start to feel feelings, and through this process, allow myself to heal.

I had no idea what the healing process was made up of at the time. I thought I’d been broken down to this bottom-of-the-barrel level of existence. I thought all this weight I knew I’d been carrying but never had the chance to acknowledge was culminating in this explosive, all-consuming shit storm that was actively destroying my life as I knew it. I thought I had no solution as to how to bootstrap myself out of this on my own. I was right on all counts, but somewhere deep inside myself I knew the healing had to go deeper than just talking it out weekly, and chemically balancing neurotransmitters daily with my doctorate cohorts, and hoping for the best. What I’d unknowingly come upon by my own accord, was a functional medicine approach to my illness.

While traditional medicine aims at solving the problem chemically, functional medicine works toward the actual root and cause of the problem itself. It digs so much deeper than the band-aid that comes in the form of a prescription pill, and aims to treat the whole person, not just their symptoms. Bingo. This was my call to work to find another solution to breaking down my recovery wall. I went deeper into myself to try and find out what it was inside me that wasn’t being conventionally healed, and how I could work on it more unconventionally. I knew it was going to get worse before it got better but I was in for the ride because I felt like I had few options left, and I refused to give up on myself.

No matter how painful the things I was feeling at the time were, once I began actually paying attention to them instead of trying to mute them and make them go away, I started realizing I had something in me. I could almost feel it in my core as though something was stuck there, not necessarily in just my brain. It no longer felt like an illness of my mind, it was in my being. My mind and emotions were working against me in tandem with this thing; a pain, or trauma, or demon, or scar or whatever seems most appropriate to call it, that kind of didn’t want to let go. It wasn’t ready to heal, but it kept rearing its ugly head every time something would trigger it. I didn’t know my triggers well enough at the time to be able to tame it on my own, but I knew I had to do something about it to get me over this last, albeit massive hurdle, and onto the other side of illness.

With a new understanding of my illness, I went the complete opposite direction of western medicine and began researching every alternative therapy I could find. How else could I bring healing into my mind, body, and emotion, and what was the right way for me to go about it? Not unlike induction into western medicine, it’s a lot of trial and error. I just tried my best to be as deliberate and instinctively guided as I could about the decisions I made. I’d also found that once I began paying attention to my feelings that my personal intuition as to what was right for me, and what was going to bring me the right kind of healing at the time I needed it, got a lot stronger. I already felt better relying on my inner guidance rather than the doctor’s.*

It’s like working from the inside out rather than the outside in. I started with a lot of self-reflection, and attempting to uncover and face whatever that thing was inside me that was so volatile and needed so much healing. I knew meditation would be a key factor for me, I did a 10-day silent Vipassana course, as well as making a habit of frequently practicing at home. I started realizing what I was putting in my body with my convenience food diet, I cleaned up and went vegetarian. I learned about the gut-brain connection, and how I had completely disrupted it by constantly being in fight or flight mode because of my illness, so I began seeing a naturopath to detox my system and get it back on track without prescription drugs. We all know exercise is a big deal when it comes to wellness, I began running a few miles a few times a week. I kept going to therapy because I’d finally found a great psychologist who gave me one of the best tools ever, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I realized the energetic force or being within me and how important harmony is within it, and I began going to acupuncture. Once I became more energetically sensitive I began also seeing a Shamanic healer to get a deeper regular energetic cleanse and re-balance. Most importantly I never stopped educating myself on how to quell the different facets of my illness as I continue on my path to wellness.

I now feel free of the thing that had its grip on me, and I was eventually able to slowly quit medication all together. This has been a process over the last 4-5 years though, and nothing ever happened overnight. If anything, holistic healing takes longer to see results because you’re specifically aiming for the root of the cause instead of band-aiding it. Sometimes it almost felt true to the adage “if it doesn’t burn, it’s not working”. Over time my tools and implements have become dynamic, I don’t do all of them all the time. I do what I need to, as I see fit. I prescribe my own regimen to myself and I’m really grateful to be in a place where I can successfully do that. My hope with this project is to be able to help others do the same for themselves, however they see fit based on what they feel is right for them.

Peace, love, and wellness.

*I want to make a disclaimer that I do not disregard or dismiss traditional western medicine on the whole in any way. It served its purpose in my life and does so for many people. I felt as thought I had personally exhausted the modality by the time I began seeking out alternative therapies.

Training Day, Every Day

Training Day, Every Day

Remember the 2001 movie Training Day, with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke? Here’s the gist — “Police drama about a veteran officer who escorts a rookie on his first day with the LAPD’s tough inner-city narcotics unit. Training Day is a blistering action drama that asks what is necessary, what is heroic and what crosses the line in the harrowing gray zone of fighting urban crime. Does law-abiding law enforcement come at the expense of justice and public safety? If so, do we demand safe streets at any cost?”

Now think of your life with mental illness as the blistering action drama, and your environment as the tough inner city where your illness is the incessant daily onslaught of urban crime. You are the combination veteran officer and rookie cop, and it’s your job to decide what is heroic, and what crosses the line in the name of fighting your illness. Every day you’re forced to make decisions on behalf of your wellness, but at what cost? How do you even begin to weigh the cost-benefit analysis, and what are the repercussions of making the wrong choices?

Sounds like a lot of weight to bear, right? Those of us with mental illness, especially those in the throes of active combat as opposed to solely daily management of relatively quelled symptoms, go through this to some degree every single day of our lives. It’s exhausting, and still people wonder why we fall short in life sometimes. They also wonder how such menial successes in our lives can mean so much to us. They don’t understand because they’ve never had to fight this fight. You’d be doing yourself a favor by not expecting them to.

You’d also be doing yourself a favor to let their understanding fall by the wayside in favor of consistently putting your core focus on yourself. Not all of us have that luxury all the time; some of us have spouses, children, clients, employers, friends, family, peers, etc. that also must absorb our resources if life is to carry on. But if every day is training day, you have to remember you’re both the veteran and the rookie at the same time. You can’t do it all, you probably don’t even know how to as mental illness is constantly throwing us new curve balls we’ve never dealt with before. In many ways we’re just learning as we go, guided by the wisdom of our past experiences.

Some issues we are surely pros at by now, and with some we are still very green. For some of us we are just getting to know ourselves through our diagnoses, some of us have been chipping away at it for years. Either way, we are all still simultaneously veterans and rookies no matter where you’re at in your life or with your illness. Acceptance of your circumstances should bear no less weight than putting yourself first. After all, the veteran officer is not going to walk into a scene, deny what’s happening, then put the rest of the team’s needs first. If he’s going to truly serve his purpose, he knows better than that.

You may know better than that as well, you have been with you all your life. You probably know yourself pretty well by now, that’s the veteran side of you. But with mental illness always lying in wait to present us with a new challenge, we are repeatedly being placed back in the vulnerable rookie position. How do you balance and at what expense? That’s the million dollar question because at times there truly is no balance when it seems like every day you’re waking up a rookie to your new assignment at the same job you’ve been working for years. How do you perform under all this pressure, and where is the veteran officer to guide you through the ride-along?

These are the tough decisions and sacrifices we are faced with on a daily basis. The only answer is to shake down your illness the best you can with the arsenal you’ve extracted from your veteran days, and the wide-eyed hope and perseverance of a rookie, every single day. Just like on the streets of the inner city, every day is different, and presenting you new challenges. As such your decisions and sacrifices will vary. You may not agree with them, nor may others. But you don’t need to abide by that because you’re doing what you have to do to survive each day, and that’s what matters. At times your wellness will come at a cost. In the end you’re taking care of you, and we all know you can’t pour from an empty cup.

It’s a mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual battle to constantly be in shake down mode. Akin to daily battles in the streets officers face, the daily battle of mental illness that everyday people face is our lot in life and we are given the choice to quit our job or press on.  Some days you may concede because you’re tired of the fight. That decision and its corresponding sacrifices are ok, too. Everyone needs a day off, so long as you get back to taking care of yourself when you’re ready. As the saying goes — It’s ok to not be ok, but it’s not ok to stay that way. There is no definitive answer as to how to go about this blistering action drama that is your life, and there is no one right way except for embracing your position as officer and never giving up on yourself. You are your job. Try your best to do what you love, and love what you do.

Peace, love, and wellness.

 

 

 

The Bible: Lloyd I. Sederer, MD Edition

The Bible: Lloyd I. Sederer, MD Edition

I’ve known for a long time that I was cut out to help people. I spent a while sorting out how I was going to make my dream a reality, then I woke up one day and conceived the idea for this project. I quickly realized the need for clear fundamentals upon which to build the foundation so I immediately turned to my favorite fallback of books. What I now refer to as my bible, immediately fell into my lap. The Family Guide to Mental Health Care by Lloyd I. Sederer, MD arrived in my mailbox and I immediately tore through the entire book in a week, furiously highlighting, annotating, and transcribing the wealth of information within it.

To my surprise it was no average layman’s guide authored by your average white coat. It was thorough, comprehensive, but high-level enough to efficiently guide both veterans and newcomers alike through the realm of mental health care. I was first greeted by a foreword from Glenn Close who heads up Bring Change 2 Mind, a non-profit aimed at ending the stigma of mental illness through public education. Beyond that I read through the following chapters that perfectly outlined the fundamentals I was looking for.

It starts with compassion, goes into education, breaks down what good care looks like, how to go about getting help, the various illnesses and how they show themselves, medication, rehab, insurance, recovery, and resources. Along the way its dotted with hard-hitting factoids and numbers, gems of wisdom, and incredibly substantial pieces information that no one on this journey should do without, yet is so hard-pressed to discover by their own accord. It wasn’t necessarily all new information to me, but I was blown away by the end of chapter 1.

What I didn’t expect was to learn what a pioneer Dr. Sederer is and has been in the mental health community. Bravado aside, I found Dr. Sederer’s guide peppered with his own innovations and achievements in the community, and I went from impressed to awe-struck. The term “pioneer” doesn’t really cut it, he’s been dubbed New York’s “Chief Psychiatrist”. He is currently serving as the Chief Medical Officer for the New York State Office of Mental Health, which annually serves over 700,000 people, and includes 22 hospitals, 90 clinics, 2 research institutes, and community services throughout a state of 19 million people. That’s a lot to wrap your head around.

In 2002 as New York’s director of mental hygiene services, his agency was charged with overseeing the response to the psychological consequences of the 9/11 attacks. By 2004, 1.5 million NY residents had received outreach, crisis counseling, and education through Project Liberty.

In 2004 as mental health commissioner in NYC, frustrated with the poor detection and treatment of depression he spearheaded a screening and management campaign by placing posters in subways and kiosks advocating for screenings. Depression screening and evidence-based management is now showing up in a growing number of primary-care settings across the country.

His laurels also include being an adjunct professor at Columbia, he has worked for a Harvard teaching hospital, as well as the American Psychiatric Association. He’s been given several accolades for his contributions, published 7 books, authored 500 articles in medical and non-medical journals and publications, he serves as the mental health editor for the Huffington Post, and does regular radio appearances.

I feel confident with the direction of this book as a basis for my service. I would highly recommend it for anyone who feels they could use guidance at any point in the process of utilizing mental health care services. Whether you’re the patient or a loved one who cares for a patient, this could be an invaluable resource to navigating a broken system. He says it himself in the first chapter “If the mental health care system were not so broken, if it served patients and their families as it should (and can), I might not have had to write this book”.

Peace, love, and wellness.