Here’s the deal. This will likely be the only non-cake related blog post I’ll ever make, and I beg you to stick around for a few minutes to read. There will be no pictures, no silly commentary in my usual form, and it will be heavy. It should, and hopefully will, place a burden on your heart to help.
It’s important. To me, and to millions of people worldwide.
I’m saddened immensely by the Germanwings plane crash. I’m frustrated at how the international media has framed this tragedy. Instantly, to make sense of the deaths of 150 people who had families, futures, hopes and dreams, we jump to the first plausible idea to place blame and create a comfortable-to-the-masses answer.
For co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, the media has decided to act as counselor, doctor, judge and jury, has found him guilty. What of? Mental illness. They have declared this to be the reason this plane went down. This to be the reason that 149 others died, because he must have wanted to kill himself AND them. Without more than 24 hours of investigation by experts and authorities, they have decided that they know best. Shame on YOU international media. You are a huge problem in society. Perhaps one of our largest problems as a human race. I hate you. Yeah. Hate.
Me. My story. And why it matters so much.
Let me tell you something that I swore to not tell anyone a long time ago. And for the most part haven’t told people (minus a handful).
I am bi-polar. I was diagnosed 14 years ago, before it was the “it” diagnosis with commercials all over the airwaves for pills and drugs to help make you better while never actually curing it (there is no cure, by the way). I was diagnosed after a stay in a hospital for what was believed to be severe clinical depression, borderline mood and personality disorders. It was there, under that 24 hour clinical supervision, that they finally figured out what I was: bi-polar.
I was given numerous different pill cocktails that always made me worse. SSRIs, MAOIs… Neither worked, though MAOIs made me want to die. A clever Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner I began seeing had worked with an anti-convulsant in the past to treat bi-polar, and it worked surprisingly well to help take the dangerous edge off. It worked ok. But okay was better than anything I’d ever had before.
My past before this treatment? Moods that I couldn’t control; destruction of relationships; harming myself; spending disgusting amounts of money on things I can’t remember; wanting to die; overdosing on prescription narcotic pain killers and Jose Cuervo intentionally because I didn’t want to open my eyes another day.
It was too much.
I was too much.
I wasn’t worth it.
The pain wasn’t worth it.
Only by the hand of God am I alive. Doctors don’t know how I survived because I shouldn’t have. But perhaps it was for this moment and one other in August of 2014.
Depressed Cake Shop Los Angeles
Many of you know I have become involved with my beloved Depressed Cake Shop Los Angeles, which works to stamp out the stigma around mental illness that prevents many people from seeking help. Hoping to reach the unreachable. To create conversation.
I spent a few days in August of 2014 at the home of one of DCSLA’s founding co-conspirators (yeah. that’s the cool name we give ourselves) to join in celebrating it’s first birthday. Weeks prior to this trip Robin Williams had committed suicide – he was bipolar. My depression instantly took hold and I swung lower than I had been in years. Not because he was a great actor and a loss to society for his talent and generosity; but because this son of a bitch disease took another one. Another beautiful soul lost. It was time for me to come clean.
I told Val, our fearless leader at DCSLA, why I answered her call to action the previous year. I told her about me and gave my personal testimony. It was time to face my fear, for his memory and for all the other lives lost to bipolar and to mental illness; time to speak and tell my story to the crowd that would be there to celebrate with us. I did. And I was terrified. I’ve been judged harshly for this disease by many, and by some people close to me. It has left me incredibly isolated, alone, without anyone. No matter how well you know me, you don’t know me. You know the fun, happy face, cracking jokes, and busy being entertaining and opinionated. A bold personality. But that’s mostly show. That’s the “me” I’m rewarded for. People don’t reward you with friendship or presence for being depressed, unexplainably sad, or suicidal. So, a show it is. A performance to keep people physically close, while remaining desperately alone.
Strangers were in that crowd I spoke to. Only strangers. But they were there for a reason.
The love, kindness, and sense of NOT ALONE I felt for the first time EVER in my life was palpable. So many shared their stories of pain with me. Shared the struggles they’ve had. Shared what they don’t often share… And with ME. A stranger, but a sister in a struggle they understood.
Why say something now?
My intention had always been to stand up at the end of my career and say to the world “See? See what I’ve accomplished? See what I did? I succeeded. I made a name for myself based on my talent and ability to teach and connect through food art. I impacted others in many ways, and for the better. I bettered my life and the lives of others. AND I DID IT UNDER YOUR NOSES WITH BIPOLAR. Betcha didn’t think someone like me was capable of these things.” I’d list out all of my accomplishments, achievements, awards and accolades as my evidence. To then show the world that we, the mentally ill, are some of the most talented, intelligent, strongest leaders and those who impact their fields and the world heavily in positive ways. World changing ways. Human existence changing ways.
However, if I wait, someone else might die, someone else might take their own life. Why see another soul leave this earth that may have been prevented by knowing that somebody else out there gets it? If these words give hope and pause to even one person standing in their bathroom with a bottle of pills and bottle of tequila about to take their life like me, then it was worth the near paralyzing fear of hitting “Publish” in the back end of my website.
What if? What if my story helps to destigmatize this thing, bipolar and mental illness, for even a handful of people? Then I’ve succeeded bigger than anything I’ll ever accomplish in my career.
Let me explain the fear.
The fear comes from the stigma.
STIGMA: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
Let me tell you another brief story. After I sent that email confessing myself to Val of DCSLA last August, I told a group of friends my story. I was going to be going public for the first time ever at this event, didn’t know how far my words would travel, and this group of people meant more to me than for them to hear it through the grapevine. I respected and valued them more than that.
Just a few weeks later, after telling them about my bipolar, I was escorted out of that immediate group (despite telling the one sending me away why I had seemed distant and needed space, being emotionally spent in every way possible from what I had done at the celebration event). A few months after that, with a number of my friends from that social circle still standing beside me, one of those that did not stand beside me, took what she knew of me and tried to use it to harm me; approaching a mutual friend and “warning” her about me because I’m bipolar. Our mutual friend did not know this about me prior to this point.
As if I’m irreversibility and fatally broken. As if it’s dangerous to be around me or associated with me. As if I’m contagious. As if it’s not worth the risk to befriend me.
Luckily that mutual friend is a far better soul and our relationship has not changed, in fact it’s become stronger. Take that.
So there’s the fear. People leave you, write you off, assume you’re too broken to bother with.
It was said to my husband (who at the time was my brand new boyfriend) upon seeing the many self inflicted scars on my arms, that “Loving her isn’t worth the risk.”
I don’t think crueler words have ever been spoken. And despite trying to forgive this person, I’m not sure I ever will. It’s a pretty strong thing to say another person doesn’t deserve to be loved because of a genetic disorder they cannot fix and that will never be cured. Something I don’t choose to have and cannot choose to not have. As though there is nothing redeeming enough within me to hang around for or love.
We, the mentally ill, experience cruelness; mostly due to stigma and the lack of understanding, the lack of conversation, based on a disease 1 in 4 people experience in their lifetimes: mental illness.
So when I see the media immediately condemn a man for his mental illness, taking it upon themselves to convict him of murdering 149 others, I get pissed. We know nothing yet. Nothing. Believe it or not, the vast majority of people with mental illness have no inclinations to harm anyone else, and rarely ever do. But those that do, seem to be made the poster children for all mental illness. Not ok.
Please understand the amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins allowing me to write this and publish it. Please know that I don’t want accolades or applause for doing so. I want to help. I want to save a life. I want to let someone out there know that SOMEONE ELSE GETS IT and you are not alone.
As for my disorder, I’ve done lots of reading. I’ve talked clinically to my doctors wanting, needing, to understand the genetic components and the medical, physiological occurrences that make this disorder, bipolar, take over my life.
I know I will live with it all my days.
I know it controls every moment of my every day.
It takes an exhausting amount of effort to keep it hidden and keep people from knowing. And when I’m not social, it’s because I’ve grown too weary to hide, and instead hide myself.
I have a respect for my bipolar like nothing else.
I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if I ever let that respect slip, I will lose my life.
Bipolar takes more lives than it leaves. It is complex, it is not fully understood (like mental illness as a whole). And the stigma around it costs lives.
…that after reading this you will feel empowered to reach out for help, or to help.
…that if you meet me, you will share yourself with me if the moment strikes you. I’ll get it. And I won’t think one bit less of you. Chances are I’ll wrap my arms tightly around you hoping you feel some small bit of love.
…when you look at my arms, and see my battle wounds from the immense battles I’ve won, you won’t become uncomfortable or awkward. That you will ask kindly about them and me and open a dialogue.
…that even one life might be saved.
As written by an army of comedians, though it is not funny: http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/robin-williams-why-funny-people-kill-themselves/
One of the unfair headlines about Andres Lubitz: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/11501981/Andreas-Lubitz-inside-the-mind-of-a-mass-killer.html
To follow Depressed Cake Shop Los Angeles: https://www.facebook.com/DepressedCakeShopLosAngeles
Stamping out stigma with mental illness: https://www.projecthelping.org/stigma-of-depression.html?gclid=COXW-5OMzsQCFU0vgQod8qMAfA
Thanks for reading. I’ll return to my normal shenanigans shortly. Promise.