Where’s My Cape? I’m a “2014 Mental Health Hero” in Chato B. Stewart’s Cartoon-A-Thon

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Yesterday on the first day of Mental Health Month, I was triggered.  In reading the local news headlines I discovered that someone I knew who I’ll call Elana had been reported missing.  She was found alive through an aerial search, but she had attempted to take her own life.  

I told my husband about this tragic news last night.  Craig was a friend of this woman’s long before I met him, but they lost touch over the years.  Yesterday he found out exactly where she was being hospitalized and he spoke with an administrator working on her case.  I encouraged him to get her a card and he sent it to her this morning.  I know that a card sounds like a little thing, but it’s not.  Especially when the illness is a mental illness connected with a suicide attempt.  I know with all my heart that as she recovers, she will appreciate his gesture very much.

Today I kept thinking about Elana’s situation, although I moved on with my obligations.  I dealt with various mundane duties: making beds, bill paying, laundry, putting away dishes, working out, driving the girls back and forth from ballet and playdates etc. that I was supposed to accomplish. Was a little Facebooking & Twittering thrown into the mix?  You know it was!  (And yeah, it was more than a little.  I’m working on it!)

My day brightened up considerably when I got an email from the mental health advocate/cartoonist Chato B. Stewart.   Who is Chato B. Stewart?

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Chato is a man of many talents.  I’ve known Chato as the Psych Central Network and BP (Bipolar) Magazine Cartoonist/Blogger .  He’s the artist behind the “Mental Health Cartoons” drawn from his personal experience of living with bipolar disorder.  Chato creates positive, provocative and sometimes even funny cartoons!  (He is sensitive to the subject matter, that’s for sure.)

Chato believes there is power behind humor, and his motto is “humor gives help, hope and healing”. His mission is use humor as a positive tool to cope with the serious effects of mental illness. He has won the Wego Health Hilarious Activist Award and  a prestigious Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) award, and he’s a father of four and a devoted husband to his wife Joan.  (Plus, he has a full-time day job, no biggie!) 

Chato emailed me to let me know that he selected me to be one of his 2014 Mental Health Heros!  Chato’s recognition of my mental health advocacy efforts, which I’ve done on and off over the past five years, completely lifted up my spirits.  He’ll be publishing my story on his Mental Health hero website this month, and get this – he’ll be drawing a cartoon of me (yep!) for what he calls his Cartoon-A-Thon.  

When Chato started the Cartoon-A-Thon in 2008, he wanted to “actively contribute in a small way to Mental Health Month, which was established by Mental Health Americana in 1946.” Since then Chato has drawn many heroes who can be nominated by anyone, or personally selected by Chato. 

Why a Cartoon-A-Thon?  

Chato explains his philosophy on the Mental Health Hero website:

“The purpose of the Cartoon-A-Thon is to use humor and laughter as positive tools in dealing with emotional disturbances which affect many people and families due to mental illness.”  

Chato brainstormed an idea of drawing cartoons about mental health disorders each day in May for Mental Health Month.  In 2008, he drew 18 cartoons. The following year he drew 31 cartoons .  In 2010, he introduced his Mental Health Heroes and he featured 31 heroes in the mental health community.  

In 2011 and 2012 he kept up with the hero theme to give his peers a platform to tell their story.  Many readers were excited in 2012 when Chato’s three daughters started drawing their versions of the heroes.  Once again, they’ll pull out their crayons and draw alongside him in 2014.  The fact that Chato’s little girls will be drawing pictures of me will be funny, and my two girls will get a HUGE kick out of their efforts as well.

Here’s an example of 2013 Mental Health Hero Margarita Tartakovsky’s cartoon!   460-Margarita-Tartakovsky-Mental-Health-Hero-for-Mental-Health-Month-2013-cartoon-by-Chato-Stewart-150x150

So my day contained happiness and sadness, just like every day does, but on this symbolic beginning of Mental Health Month, I felt those two emotions to a more amplified degree.  All the more reason for me to make time to exercise, even though it was a heatwave and I felt like blowing it off.  And all the more reason to calmly reassure my husband that when I said to him that I felt “triggered” by Elana’s situation, it didn’t mean I was going to fall apart.  

I emphasized to Craig that triggers are not always rational; they are not always easily tamped down and controlled.  He told me how much he appreciated my explanation, and that it helped him to hear my perspective.  Then he wrapped his arms around me and he said how glad he was that I was doing well.  That was pretty cool to hear, and his words meant more to me than any award I could ever receive.  

To view the 2013 winners, see their cartoons and read their stories, visit: http://mentalhealthhero.com/

To learn more about the illustrious Chato B. Stewart, visit his website: http://www.chatobstewart.com/

 

                                                    Please donate to my walk benefitting Postpartum Progress! 

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For more information about the June 21st walk for Climb Out of the Darkness and to donate please visit:

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/join-climb-out-of-the-darkness-2014#comment-18563

 

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Freaked to Meet With My Pdoc

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For those of you who are fortunate enough not to know what “pdoc” means, it’s a shorthand term often used for psychiatrists in the bipolar community.

My pdoc is wonderful.  Out of the myriad of doctors I’ve seen for bipolar disorder, “Dr. D.” has been the most compassionate, the most capable, and the most “normal” pdoc I’ve ever met with.  Maybe he seems normal because he isn’t clueless, overly detached, arrogant and/or misogynistic like the other pdocs I’ve consulted with over the years.  Even his fees are lower than other pdocs in this county.  He deliberately created lower fees as he wanted to reach people who couldn’t afford the exorbitant psychiatry rates in this area.

Most significantly, it was Dr. D. who suggested the only medication that lifted my severe bipolar depression.  I tried over twenty meds before I met with Dr. D.  He advised that I try the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) Parnate and lo and behold, it worked.  Until then, I wasn’t aware that MAOI’s are used for “bipolar medication-resistant” patients, and it baffles me that none of my other pdocs even thought to suggest a MAOI (an “old-school”) medication.

Logically speaking, there is no absolutely need for me to be scared of Dr. D. – he’s anything but the boogeyman!

However, I’ve created my own psychological trip: Dr. D.’s authority as a psychiatrist scares the sh*t out of me.  I’ll admit I’ve done this sort of thing with the other pdocs I’ve encountered.  Every time I meet with Dr. D., I worry that if I seem off or if I say the wrong thing,or if I start to weep, he could *5150 me with his pdoc power!

I feel like I have to “act normal” in front of my pdoc.  It is exhausting and anxiety-producing to place that kind of pressure upon myself.  While I can often “pass” for normal, even when I’m having an anxiety attack, I’m always worried I’ll slip up.

So I try to act normal, and “fake it ’til I make it”.  It’s not a natural or comfortable way to live, to say the least.  Both of my parents were professional performers: Dad played the violin with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and was a soloist with various orchestras.  Mom won the University of Michigan’s first television acting award and she moved out to L.A. to pursue an acting career.  I realized I inherited a little bit of their talent after I won the lead role in a play produced by a professional L.A.theater company, and when my music teacher told my Dad he thought I could make it as a professional violinist.

In an ironic twist, I come from a family of accomplished doctors on my mother’s side.  My mother, who I think secretly wanted to be a doctor, brought me up to revere doctors and she treated them as demigods.  I developed my own attitude towards the medical profession in which I too worshipped them, and I followed whatever instructions they gave me…until I became acutely manic.  (That’s a story for another post.)

My primary point is that I didn’t want to act like a fake at today’s session with Dr. D.  Faking it was getting way old!

I remember how proud I felt when I was selected as the International Bipolar Foundation’s first 2014 *”Story of Hope and Recovery”.  I didn’t want my story be a sham!  The truth is that I am stable, and I’ve been this way for almost a year. (I know a year doesn’t sound that long, but I feel that a year of my mental stability is akin to calculating dog years, i.e. one year feels more like seven years!)

I am happy to tell you that when I met with Dr. D. this morning our meeting went well…much better than I expected.  Right off the bat,  I told him all about my deep-seated fears of his authority.  We spent most of our monthly session discussing how I felt and how to move beyond my fears.

I remember when I first met with Dr. D. he candidly shared how he planned to either be a physician or a therapist, and that many of his friends thought he’d do best as a therapist.  He chose the doctor route because he thought he could be more helpful that way.  I could see the therapist in him as he told me he was grateful I could be honest with him about my fears.  He emphasized that if I kept this information to myself, he wouldn’t be doing a good job.  Throughout our conversation, Dr. D. reiterated several times how well I have been doing, which is always fantastic for me to hear.

We moved on to discuss other topics such as my lithium refill, and blood tests.  We also talked about my sugar addiction of which Dr. D. (he specializes in addiction psychiatry) said must be contributing to my anxiety.  While it’s not pleasant to analyze one’s addictions, I felt comfortable, safe, and supported in doing so with him.  It helps that it’s obvious he knows what he’s talking about!

I know I’ll always be a little intimidated by my pdoc simply because he could dial a number and advise that I be involuntarily hospitalized – all within sixty seconds or less.  But worrying about that is like worrying about an asteroid hitting the earth. It’s more probable we’ll have another big earthquake here than Dr. D. pulling out the big pdoc guns.  I have to learn to…dare I write this “Frozen” phrase?

Let it go.

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*5150= Known as a 72-hour-long involuntary hold in a psychiatric institution

Here’s the link to my Story of Hope and Recovery

http://ibpf.org/story-hope-and-recovery

Story of Hope and Recovery for the International Bipolar Foundation

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Yesterday I was asked by the staff of the International Bipolar Foundation to be their first “Story of Hope and Recovery” for 2014.  I’m honored and thrilled to have been selected and I’d like to share my story with you!

This Q&A will appear on their new website later on today, http://www.ibpf.org, which has a ton of great resources.

Their Facebook page is:  https://www.facebook.com/InternationalBipolarFoundation

Dyane Leshin-Harwood is a forty-four-year-old married mother of two young girls. Raised in Los Angeles, Dyane grew up close to her father who had bipolar disorder one, and who played violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic for over twenty-five years. Dyane has a B.A. degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz in English and American Literature. She has been a freelance writer for the past fifteen years and has interviewed such mental health luminaries as Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison and Dr. Martha Manning for nationally published articles. Dyane lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California where she is working on her book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder and blogs at www.dyaneharwood.wordpress.com.

Q: When did you first learn of your diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder?

A: I had given birth to my second daughter, Marilla, at age thirty-seven.  Immediately after her birth I became hypomanic and experienced the rare condition of hypergraphia, which is compulsive writing. Two months later I had full-blown postpartum mania and admitted myself for hospitalization, where I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder one.

Q: Could you describe your support network, positive influences and how you find balance and stability?

A: A few years ago I founded the DBSA Chapter (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) for our county and I created a women’s support group. It was there where I met two women with bipolar disorder who have become close friends. I also find support online through Facebook’s miscellaneous private bipolar groups and the Mental Health Bloggers network. BP Magazine’s bloggers are a great resource as well. (www.bphope.com) International Bipolar Foundation’s Facebook page offers a newsfeed that shares inspiring pictures and quotes.  That really brightens my day! I find balance and stability in five key ways: seeing my “team” (psychiatrist and counselor) regularly, medication, steady exercise, writing, and of course enough sleep! My goal this year is to improve my diet and try meditation.

Q: Who is your greatest inspiration and why?

A: My two daughters Avonlea, age 9, and Marilla, age 6. The love I feel for them is ineffable, and their unconditional love for me makes me want to be stable with bipolar more than anything; after all the trauma they’ve been through (I’ve been hospitalized five times for this illness since Marilla was born.) I am motivated to do all I can to show them that one can live well with a mood disorder.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

A: As a writer I can’t resist quoting my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle. I had the incredible experience of working with her at a writer’s workshop. It was impossible for me to choose just one quote, so here are two short ones: “Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.” This quote is from her best known work A Wrinkle In Time: “Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.” Speaking of the mind, I love what author Melody Moezzi (Haldol and Hyacinths) said in her recent webinar for International Bipolar Foundation. While Melody asserted she didn’t want to glamorize bipolar, she noted, “There’s something extraordinary about a mind that works differently.”

Q: What is your message of hope to others living with Bipolar Disorder?

A: The beautiful Peter Gabriel song “Don’t Give Up” comes to mind as I write this. There were many times I wanted to give up. I know this will sound like a cliché, but if you are feeling stuck and hopeless, please reach out to others. Seek a therapist and/or psychiatrist. My Dad always told me that by the time I was older, a cure would be found for bipolar. Although that hasn’t happened yet, we shouldn’t rule out breakthroughs with the tremendous amount of research happening. I was cynical about feeling hopeful regarding my recovery for such a long time, but that finally shifted. We can hope together for medical advancements, and in the meantime, do all you can to ask for help so you feel supported, not isolated. You don’t have to suffer needlessly – there is hope for each and every one of you!