I was trained in 2013 by Stop Stigma Speakers’ Bureau to learn how to share my story and now I am blessed to be part of a tribe of remarkable people.
Thanks to the Stop Stigma Speakers’ Bureau and other programs we are seeing some major changes in how people think about, speak about, and respond to people with mental illness. We have a long way to go but I am very encouraged and grateful for the impact the speakers’ bureau has made on the community and beyond.
My diagnosis is bipolar disorder, but I have remained off the roller coaster and in a manageable mood zone ever since I got sober in 1991. I am able to take my RX regularly and they work very well.
I am the author of a book called, “In Sickness and in Mental Health – Living with and Loving Someone with Mental Illness”
As the title suggests, my husband has a diagnosis as well – schizoaffective disorder… which is a hybrid of bipolar and schizophrenia. The story is about our journey from sickness to wellness.
People are shocked when they learn that both my husband and I were diagnosed with co-existing disorders many years ago. We were once debilitated by our illnesses but against all odds we didn’t end up in jail or homeless or dead. Sadly that happens to far too many people – that is not acceptable. These are treatable illnesses and we are proof that recovery happens.
For many years we had good reason to believe that we would never get well or that our lives would amount to anything. That’s why it’s so amazing that my husband and I started a growing IT company and have been in business for the past 14 years. We have been together 25 years and are blessed with two great kids.
My husband and I discovered that after years of living in secret shame, that when we began explaining our conditions to friends and receive acceptance and compassion, it did wonders for our mental health. It actually accelerated our recovery!
I have great expectations for where we are headed in this movement. I admit, I was fearful when I published my book. My self-stigma was gone but I didn’t know how our community would respond since they only knew us as respected business owners – not people with incurable mental illness and addiction conditions.
It’s been incredible. We have had such positive feedback and encouragement from everyone. Our story has helped people who used to be hiding and limping through life.
Other speakers concur – we gain so much by sharing our stories and helping others – it is one of the most healing aspects of recovery. When the bureau simply comes together and encourages and supports each other, it helps us to grow in ways we never would have even without our conditions.
But my daughter is my progress story proof today.
Richelle is 18 now but when her best friend’s mother died of cancer two years ago – she had severe anxiety and panic attacks. Because of our experience, we recognized a swift up and down, and then she recognized that she needed to go to the hospital when her thoughts became troubling. At the psych hospital she received short term medication treatment and was given the tools she needed. She bounced back to her balanced delightful self very quickly and will be attending UCLA in the fall to study neuroscience.
I count it as a huge success that stigma didn’t hang over her head to and make her feel hopeless like it did for me. She never learned shame from us so she was open to receive support from her friends and teachers. Later that year her classmate spent 10 days in ICU after a suicide attempt. Richelle was able to share her experience with her to help her get back on her feet and not feel alone.
Because the Speaker’s Bureau allows us to share our experience and hope, others are doing the same. It is catching on!
It feels so good to help change lives and even save lives!