by Jennifer Marshall
Jennifer is a former professional recruiter turned writer/mental health advocate via her blog, Bipolar Mom Life. She’s currently producing a live performance theater show on mental health awareness and appreciation which will debut in Arlington, VA in May of 2014 called This Is My Brave.
There is nothing glamorous about being placed in handcuffs under an emergency custody order, led away from your house, from your family, from everything you worked to create in your life up until that moment, to a waiting cop car. Your father on speaker phone over a thousand miles away, listening in on the chaos as it unfolded–helpless and concerned to the point of not being able to talk. Your mother on another phone in the background, rapidly making plans to be by your side as soon as humanly possible.
I would return home a week later, my mind having been brought back down from the madness of the postpartum psychosis I experienced during the fourth week of my son’s life. It was the third time I had to be hospitalized for mania and a definitive turning point in my understanding of the severity of my illness. Looking into my son’s eyes as I fed him a bottle, a ritual so foreign to the both of us as we had been breastfeeding since his birth, I pledged my commitment to my treatment plan so that I would never have to leave him again.
My journey living with bipolar disorder has often times felt like I’ve been to hell and come back. My mental illness has been the source of my life’s lowest lows, some days causing me to wish I didn’t have to wake up the next morning, and yet, I did wake up. Today I’m in a place in my life I could never have imagined eight years ago when my brain illness first emerged–all because I didn’t give up.
It’s a scary thing to have to deal with mental illness. It can rock you to the core. Make you question your future. Turn your world upside down. Turn your family upside down. Your friends may even shy away from trying to help, not because they don’t care about your well-being, but because they don’t know how to help. They are clueless as to where to start, even though they want desperately to have their old friend back. They feel helpless.
The same emotion the person who has been handed the mental illness card feels: helplessness.
When a chemical imbalance occurs in someone’s brain, of course the first thing a person feels is helpless. A band-aid won’t fix this. It’s not something visible from the outside that a regular doctor can address. The brain is miss-firing. Something is deficient within the cells and synapses and it will likely take some time, effort, therapy and a good doctor to figure out how to get things back to the baseline.
It took me many months after each of my four hospitalizations to get back to the old me. The confident, out-going, social butterfly I had always been was devastated by mental illness. But I got through it with hard work and time. And these days, I embrace the illness in my brain and I’m appreciative of what I’ve gone through.
Because I now get to help people realize that they can get well too.
Twenty-thirteen was a noteworthy year for me. I made the decision to take off my mask of anonymity. I put my real name on my writing and no longer hid behind a pen name. I created a show so that people could come together as a community and celebrate the hope and encouragement of long-term recovery which can follow a mental illness diagnosis.
This Is My Brave isn’t just about me. I want other people living with mental illness–especially those who aren’t ready to share their stories yet–to know that when the time is right for them, I’m confident they’ll find the strength to be brave and they’ll know there are others walking beside them.
This Is My Brave started from a desire deep within me to find a way to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. My Associate Producer and I may be laying all the groundwork to bring this concept to life, but it’s our supporters who have pledged thousands to make this theater production possible because they believe in our vision. When the curtain opens on May 18, there will be thirteen other courageous souls lined up alongside me to open their hearts, share their voices, and make a difference.
Watch here for updates on Jennifer’s live performance theatre show, and for a review of her book, Find Your Brave, here in KRL later this year. Find Your Brave is the manifesto of a young woman who learned that – yes – being handed a mental illness diagnosis can be devastating. At first. But you CAN get your life back. If only you take an unconventional approach. This Is My Brave – the show – is her call for action. Let’s open up about mental illness so that others can realize they’re not alone.
Learn how to purchase Find Your Brave on her blog. At the moment, it’s only available on ipad and iphone, but they are working on a full web version which their website says will debut soon, followed by an Android version.
You can find more mental health articles in our Mental Health section.