It’s going to be okay…

imageInauguration Day. No matter which side you were on during this election, I hope we are able to be compassionate. We never know the road another human has walked, or what might trigger emotional response in people.

Today is going to be extremely difficult for some folks. Not necessarily for political views – but for highly personal, emotional reasons.

There were moments during the year,  when tone of voice, condescension, belittling, verbal abuse, narcissism, prejudice, etc., triggered emotions in fellow citizens victimized by such things in the past or present.  I’m one of you.

Those not living with certain mental health conditions mIght have a hard time understanding such deep reaction to election rhetoric. If, however, you have lived with such abuses and triggers, you may not be at all able to help having those rising feelings of fear, panic, and isolation. Worse still, reactions can become physical; shaking, rapid respiration, anxiety, panic, chest pain, nausea, headache… if you’ve lived it, you know what I’m talking about.

But, it’s going to be ok.

We know we have choices in life. Life is good, and it goes on.

We can leave the news off. We know how to check up on the world from reliable sources. We can then focus on what’s meaningful for us. Whether it’s advocacy, community service, more regular involvement in contacting elected officials throughout the year, not just during election season. Or realizing perhaps, we may not be at that point, but that we can still take care of ourselves, be kind to ourselves; utilize those items in our wellness toolkits; utilize our supports. Care for one another, and be understanding of those who view things differently.

I have reached a point of peace with it. This is how our system works. It may not be perfect, but we are a free people. If we want candidates we feel better about in the future, we can ensure the voice of the constituency speaks well and often in the interim.

For now, be well; breathe in, breathe out, repeat. Everything’s going to be okay.

A salute & a thank you…

Recieved via email 7.16.2016, in response to an online letter I had written to the President and First Lady, advocating for Mental Health Awareness, reform, education, reducing stigma, and more. I was beyond honored to receive a reply, and have written them again today, thanking him for his support of the 21st Century Cares Act, which does make some steps toward the diversity of work that needs to be done in mental health. I also wrote about this project. We’ve just started, and they are just changing chapters. With no political voice intended, and sincerely just as a fellow human and fellow citizen, In tribute to every positive thing accomplished and achieved during the work of the First Family these last eight years, I just share this, with respect…


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The White House, Washington
Dear Kathleen:

Thank you for sharing your story. I have heard from many Americans whose lives have been affected by mental health problems, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.

As you may be aware, in any given year one in five adults experiences a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress, and many others are troubled by significant emotional and psychological distress—especially in times of hardship or difficulty. They are our family members, friends, and neighbors, and I believe there are things we must all do to help. As a Nation, we can strive to eliminate the barriers that still keep people from accessing life-changing treatments. We can also make sure every person struggling with psychological and emotional pain knows that asking for help is not a sign of weakness—taking action is a sign of strength.

My Administration has worked hard to help increase mental health services and improve access to care. We are working with community health centers to expand the availability of behavioral and mental health services across the country, including in rural areas. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, over 60 million Americans now have expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections. This law also prohibits insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions like a diagnosis of mental illness, and it requires most insurance plans to cover recommended preventive services without copays. Additionally, as part of the BRAIN initiative, we are supporting innovative research that aims to revolutionize our understanding of how the brain works and uncover new ways to address conditions like depression.

We continue to support our troops and veterans. I signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act on February 12, 2015, which authorized additional steps to address mental health and prevent suicide. The year before, I announced 19 Executive actions that make it easier for members of our Armed Forces and veterans to access the care they need, when they need it—including a new policy that will ensure the continuity of medication for mental health problems as service members transition to care at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA has also worked to increase mental health staffing, enhance community partnerships, and expand the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line.

To learn more about mental health assistance and health care reform, please visit http://www.MentalHealth.gov or http://www.HealthCare.gov. Calling 1-800-662-HELP is also a free, confidential way to receive a treatment referral or further information.

Again, thank you for writing. Michelle and I—like so many Americans—have known people who have experienced mental health problems, and we understand the effects these illnesses have on their lives and on their families. We must continue to work toward better prevention and treatment, and as caring individuals, we must do what we can to ensure those with mental health issues get the care and support they need and deserve.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
Visit WhiteHouse.gov

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Who’s writing this blog anyway?

Seems only fair, if I’m gonna talk the talk, I should share where it comes from.
Excerpt from one of my presentations:

Inspiration From Within, Part II: Walking the Walk
A Journey of Diagnosis & Recovery – to NY Certified Peer Specialist

I am a survivor.

I live with multiple mental health diagnoses of post traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and general anxiety.

I am also a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a homeowner, a taxpayer, a volunteer, and an advocate. I worked amongst the gainfully employed to take care of my family from the time I was twelve, until I was diagnosed in 2010.

Now, six years into recovery, I am a NY Certified Peer Specialist in mental health. My message is one of encouragement, inclusion and a call to action. Regular folks out there in the big world don’t talk about mental illness very much. Because it’s taboo, or against their religion or, it’s just “too uncomfortable”. Truth is, most people don’t understand emotional wellness OR mental illness; it scares them. That’s the stigma attached to mental health. Stigma is based in fear and misunderstanding and builds barriers to wellness and community. Sharing positive information and lived experience have been shown to reduce fear and stigma, encourage recovery and break down barriers for those living with diagnoses, which is positive for them, for those who care for them, and for their greater community. But, I’ll come back to that.

For my own experience, I have lived abuse and trauma experience since early childhood, domestic violence at home throughout childhood and two prior marriages. I am also a survivor of rape, and chronic sexual abuse. I have survived armed robbery, arson, untimely deaths of family members, and the kidnapping of one of my children. I also experienced stalking and menacing subsequent to two divorces.

Despite seemingly insurmountable traumas, I am now happily married for over four years, to a very good man I’ve known for three decades, and between us, we have five grown sons, four of whom have known each other since nursery school. In spite of what both my husband and I come from, all of our sons have had opportunities and life experiences we could never have dreamt of for them, or as youths, for even ourselves. We have, somehow, seemingly reprogrammed the results of our own epigenetics.

Four of our sons are married or in long term relationships. One of our young men is an air traffic controller, one is a supervisor in commercial production and distribution, one is a director in media marketing production, another does band tour management for other musicians and is a professional musician himself. Well, actually, two are musicians, two are parents, one has traveled to all 48 states in the continental U.S., two have traveled to multiple foreign countries, two own homes so far, and one is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. They continue to be the greatest joy of our lives. They are, collectively, our own personal miracles, and we are so grateful for them.

When I first “destabilized”, it was 2010, and it was a long and difficult path. I suffered two nervous breakdowns within three years. They don’t call them that any more though. They are now referred to as major depressive episodes. Like somehow, that sounds so much better. Doesn’t matter what you call them. They suck. Such episodes are different for everyone. In my case, I initially believed I was having a heart attack, chest pains, short of breath. Had all the tests. Nothing. I’d rest, but then have racing thoughts in my head, couldn’t keep my thoughts straight, couldn’t read a sentence and understand it, I’d feel physically unwell again, and confused; uncontrolled shaking, long crying spells, just lost, and in such emotional pain, like I just shouldn’t be here, my heart literally felt broken. I. Felt. Broken.

When my mental health diagnoses came, I was scared. stunned. I thought my life was over. How would I tell my sons? What about my job? I had always worked. We couldn’t survive without that income. We were going to lose everything we had worked for and it was all my fault. Ugh. It was just beyond my comprehension. I was completely overwhelmed and as scared as I had ever been in my life.

Since then, I’ve been through trial and error to find the right interventions for myself. A year and a half to develop a med regimen that let me function, think straight and sleep without nightmares. Voluntary In patient hospitalization, day treatment, six months of dialectical behavioral therapy, private counseling, EMDR, support groups and workshops in trauma informed healing, workshops of all kinds – ACEs &Resilience, art therapy, music therapy, wellness programs in yoga, mindfulness, meditation. I have explored a lot of ground in working my recovery. The Mental Health Association was there for me, with someone who helped me file my complicated disability application, when I was too unwell to comprehend it. My husband was there for me through every struggle. My grown sons supported me and loved me, despite the fact that my illness brought such fear to them.

Recovery is possible. I am living proof. It turns out, recovery is normal. It’s what most of us do, just like we do with physical illness. Sure, there are extremes in any illness. Most of us are not the extremes. Not if we take responsibility for our own wellness, our own abilities, our own rights, and our own responsibilities. Now, I offer encouragement toward resilience, recovery and hope. I encourage people: if it’s not for yourself, then someone you know, find out what works for you and use those tools toward wellness. If you put your mind and your heart in it, there is nothing beyond your reach. There are good resources available, no matter your need.

I am also a firm believer in keeping your sense of humor. It can help you through absolutely anything. There has not been a day since my beloved husband and I got together, that we haven’t laughed. And he lived with me through those breakdowns, hospitalization, recovery, all of it! He also says he met all of my personalities before he married me and everyone gets along, so we are all good.

It’s a scientific fact though, that laughter releases naturally produced endorphins in your brain, which are known to reduce stress and anxiety. Along those lines, I have also, for the sheer fun of it, AND toward my own wellness, completed an 8-week comedy improvisational boot camp, TWICE, with the local Geva theatre’s impov group. It’s two months of weekly skill building and losing inhibition and then…. GRADUATION. Boot camp graduations consist of performing onstage at the theatre for a live audience of family, friends and community. I encourage you, no matter your circumstance, to find your funny. It is very liberating, and I highly recommend it.

I hope to utilize skills developed thru all of these explorations, to find ways to move forward and encourage others. If I had connected with someone like me early in my treatment, who had survived and thrived, I know it would not have taken me six years to get to the point I’ve reached now. If there were school age requirements in wellness instead of just physical education, I might never have gotten to the extreme level of illness I did.

There were also times, I have to admit, in the depths of my illness, I was sure the world would have been better off without me. Were it not for recognizing the need to take action and get help, were it not for the love and support of my husband and sons, were it not for my sheer curiosity as to how all this could possibly work out, I might not have found the strength to go on. Some people don’t have those kind of supports in their lives. They may have NO ONE.

Mental health systems in our country are reactive only, AND we have to pound on the door several times to get even that help. Mental health reform is slow and painful, but it is not the only piece of the puzzle.

WHATS MISSING? What are we not doing to be proactive in today’s world? We do not teach emotional wellness. Physical health and mental health are inextricably linked, yet we only teach physical education in school. With over 50% of diagnosed adults experiencing onset of mental illness prior to age 14, the two should not be treated as separate issues. Recovery is the norm for those who get treatment and support. Every illness has its extremes, but like any other health condition, most mental health diagnoses are treatable, manageable, and we can recover to become more than we were before treatment.

Those who live with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, we are homeowners, coworkers, taxpayers, parents, teachers, volunteers, first responders, musicians, artists, authors, scientists; we are every where. We make up 20-25% of the global population, across cultures, genders, races, religions, including gun owners and non-gunowners alike… 70% of our prison population are estimated to have mental health conditions.. . And to repeat, 50% of all adults diagnosed, experience onset prior to age 14! Teaching and promoting and encouraging wellness, awareness, breaking stereo type and stigma, can go a very long way toward improving the lives of future generations.

If I had been involved with a peer support professional earlier in my diagnoses,, I might never have had suicidal thoughts. Well, I guess that’s not really true, because I had those thoughts in childhood. You see, what ever you live through, or come up through during your youngest years, that’s what normal looks like for you. If your existence is dysfunctional, you don’t necessarily realize it’s dysfunctional. To you, that’s normal, that’s how life is. Doesn’t everyone live this way? But at every stage of brain development, and there are seven stages, those early traumas impact emotional development going forward. And then to learn as you grow, that in fact, no one lives the way you do, you grew up with a sociopath, well, by then, you just get good at it. Trying to fake normal everywhere else, when you aren’t even sure what that looks like, or feels like. Of course, this was way before information became so widely available. Without all of today’s technology, the Internet,, or cell phones, things were just much easier kept hidden back then. It was a different world then. When I was 9 yrs old, our family of six moved from a cottage in Western NY to a single wide trailer in the backwoods of SW Florida. We walked a dirt road to our school bus everyday, through a nearly abandoned strip of dilapidated migrant shacks. Just a small scary, everyday thing then. It was a very strange childhood, but at the time, I thought everyone lived like we did. I do not remember much of my youth without fear as a daily component. But that is a whole separate conversation.

The world is a very different place near fifty years later. I want to help people understand that recovery is the norm, that recovery is different for everyone, that it does take time, but all of it is progress toward wellness; that there are tools to help in developing our resilience; That knowledge equals power. Power equals resilience. Resilience leads to recovery. That there IS hope. HOPE, is a great acronym – Hold On. Pain Ends.

And when it does, some of us want to give back. To make it better or easier for the next person in our shoes. This thought is not new amongst survivors. The peer support movement in mental health actually began over one hundred years ago. It gained more prominence with deinstitutionalization, and the end of involuntary treatments and medical experimentation. Now, peer support is a recognized piece of the recovery puzzle. New York State his behind the curve though, and we need to change that.

This is my mission now. To raise awareness, encourage emotional wellness and self-advocacy, dispel myth, reduce fear, share lived experience, encourage resilience, recovery and hope. If I am able to somehow just help one person come back from, or maybe avoid, some of those darkest places, I will have been successful in this mission.

I thank you for your time today. Be well.

Welcome to WisdomWithin!

SO very glad you are here!  In fact, so very glad WisdomWithin is premiering!

This brand new blog is intended to encourage mental health awareness, wellness, self-advocacy and recovery. I am a New York Certified Peer Specialist in Mental Health, which is a fancy way of saying I have lived experience in mental health and recovery, have chosen to pursue education enabling me to help others in recovery, able and willing to disclose & share experience, insight and encouragement. The resources you will find here are legitimate, evidence-based, and of proven value in recovery. The need is real; 20-25% of society live with mental health conditions at any given time. That’s across cultures, ethnicity, religion, gender, education level, income level, political position, or any other position.

In the course of survival, in life, throughout my illness, recovery and further education, many roadblocks have arisen. We will be exploring all of that, and hopefully, providing some extremely useful resources and information along the way. This minimal initial post is just a dipping of our proverbial toe in the water. This site is intended to develop as a true resource, and one survivor’s field guide, to living with, living through and rising above mental illness.

In honor of a recently lost and truly inspiring  mental health activist, Carrie Fisher, we encourage your wellness, your wisdom, your humor, your support, your input, your presence; you, as a human being, of great value and worth, no matter the current state of your battle! Therefore, and evermore, “…may the force be with you!” All Best, Kathy & WisdomWithin