Works in Progress // Sarah

Growing up in a family with mental illness, Sarah was no stranger to suffering. Living with anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia since she was just four years old, she didn’t reach out and get help until the intense hypomania of her undiagnosed bipolar disorder took a dark turn. 

Trading in her straight-A student role for an out of control musician, this creative soul eventually realized that medication would save her life. Not just surviving, Sarah is thriving through bipolar disorder. Writing music around mental health, performing at high schools to educate teens, and even practicing aerial yoga, these fantastic forms of self care have kept her going, while helping others heal as well.

 

Meet Sarah. 

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Name: Sarah Jickling

Age: 26

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I’ve had anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia for as long as I can remember. I come from a family with mental illness on both sides, and I grew up watching grown ups struggle, panic, and lose control, so I thought my experiences were just par for the course. When I was four, I slept with a fisher price knife under my pillow because I was scared someone would crawl through my window. When I was eight, my parents gave up trying to find a way to help me sleep after exhausting all their resources. When I was fourteen, I had one of my panic attacks, the one where suddenly everything is in slow motion and I forget basic motor skills, during a french class and failed a test for the first time. No one seemed to think any of this was out of the ordinary, and I never went to the school counsellor because none of the teachers even knew my name. I was too quiet.

But the quiet was about to end. In my late teens and early twenties, I went from a shy straight A student with an artistic side to a university-drop out musician who drank wine on the bus and had screaming matches in the streets. I felt completely out of control. One day I would feel excited, and feel sure that I was in the right place at the right time and it was only a matter of time before I would be opening for Feist on the big stage at a festival, and then I would wake up a few days later feeling heavy, feeling empty, and for the first time, suicidal. I would go to band practice and lie on the floor in tears. Everyone realized something was happening before I did. My behaviour pushed away my best friend, every boyfriend I had, my bandmates, and my roommates. People begged me to get help. People told me that I was broken and I needed to be fixed or no one would ever want anything to do with me. This was bipolar disorder, a new beast that was harder to ignore than anxiety and panic attacks. 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

The thing about bipolar disorder is that it can seem like so many different illnesses depending on when you go to the doctor. The first time I decided to get help was when my best friend told me she wouldn’t be my friend unless I went on medication. I went to my family doctor who promptly diagnosed me with depression and put me on a waitlist to see a psychiatrist. But of course, soon I felt better, I felt like I didn’t need a doctor and I couldn’t imagine why I thought I ever did, and I would cancel the appointment. The second time I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2. I rejected this diagnosis because I knew I was “crazy,” and I really didn’t want my ex-boyfriend to be right. Bipolar was something people had been teasing me about for quite some time.

The third time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I found myself at the hospital on boxing day, a week after my soulmate told me he couldn’t watch me suffer anymore. The doctor spent some time tracking my moods and finally asked me if I had ever “heard of bipolar disorder before,” worried she would scare me away with that big word. By that time, I had done enough research and read enough books to know that I had bipolar disorder. I accepted the diagnosis without a second thought. The doctor said that treating the bipolar might take away my ability to write songs, and that a lot of people miss the creativity of hypomania when they go on medication. I didn’t care about being a musician anymore. I didn’t care about anything but getting better.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

It’s true that medication changes the creative process for people with bipolar disorder. Before my recovery, I would black out and wake up with a song. It was the only easy thing in my life. But bipolar doesn’t provide me with my creativity. Hypomania provides artists with a chance to write without our inner critic. I’m now learning to write songs thoughtfully, with extreme focus. It’s harder, but not impossible. 

My medication has completely stabilized me, but it does have it’s unfortunate side effects. I sleep a lot. I am constantly dehydrated. I can’t drink alcohol anymore. And of course, the unexplained ecstasy of hypomania is gone from my life forever.  But I can have a steady job, a real relationship and a working memory, so I think it’s worth it. My life is still all about coping with bipolar, anxiety and panic attacks though. I exercise every single day, I take mindfulness classes, I go to DBT groups, I see my therapist and my psychiatrist often. I put my mental health before any job or other responsibility. I think back to a time not so long ago when I was overdosing, praying I would never wake up, and I remember that vigilant self care is the only thing that has kept me from returning to those life or death situations. 

I also write music about my mental illness and share them with others. I’m lucky to have an outlet, and I’ve found a community of artists also dealing with mental illness who help inspire me to keep going.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

Living with anxiety has forced me to learn how to rationally face my fears. When your fears are every where, you can’t help but bump into them at every turn. Now I feel as though I can do almost anything, whether that be travel to a different country or play on a stage to thousands of people. Learning to treat my anxiety has introduced me to all sorts of fantastic coping mechanisms… from mindfulness to aerial yoga to pole dancing! 

Living with bipolar disorder, on the other hand, has given me an ability to help other people. I have learned to live with a severe mental illness and now I get to help others, whether that’s through releasing my new album “When I Get Better,” or performing at high schools with the BC Schizophrenia Society’s musical/educational show “Reach Out Psychosis.” It’s also a great way to weed out fickle friends. If you have friends who will stick with you through bipolar treatment, you have very good friends.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

You are worth loving, even with your mental illnesses. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be forgotten immediately. 

 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Beata

Misdiagnosed with depression, Beata heard the words “bipolar disorder” for the first time in 2008. Finally given a name to her struggle in her thirties, she’s thrived on a detailed plan for mental strength and wellness.

Building a blog, Tickle My Mind, that shares her own journey – as well as the stories of others – Beata preaches a message of self care, support, and sustaining your goals.

 

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Name: Beata English (pronounced Bee-ah-ta)

Age: 44

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time? 

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008 and recently diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).  My first symptoms reared up in my teens. I spent a lot of time in my teens and early 20’s living the party life and living life on an emotional roller coaster. 

In 2008, I heard the word “bipolar disorder” for the very first time. I never felt more alone than I did in that moment sitting in my car outside my doctor’s surgery, looking down at my prescriptions with names I couldn’t pronounce, to treat an illness I had only ever heard bad things about. When the word bipolar was first mentioned to me as an illness, I immediately froze. I did not know anyone who had bipolar and my only experiences with the term had come from overly exaggerated and stigmatizing representations. In that moment I immediately rejected my diagnosis. I didn’t feel comfortable with it. 

I didn’t get properly diagnosed until I was in my thirties. I think I was late in getting diagnosed for a number of different reasons. My psychiatrist and doctor always refer to me being ‘high functioning’. Throughout my journey from undiagnosed teenager to diagnosed in my thirties, my mental health affected almost every area of my life. Education, career, my self-image. 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?-

I was first misdiagnosed with depression only. I was prescribed anti-depressants to treat it and ended up suffering a severe manic episode. In most cases, prescribing anti-depressants only to a person who has bipolar disorder can trigger a manic episode. That was the moment the doctor realized it was more than only depression. Honestly, I did not know what it meant – but I learned pretty quickly. It meant I was very sick, that I was self-medicating an illness I had no idea I had, and that unless I sought and accepted treatment, my life would not be as happy and productive as I had planned or dreamed it would be.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Yes I still experience episodes, but these full-blown episodes are now very rare.  

I have created a mental wellness plan that helps keeps me stable and well. I’m constantly learning more about myself and my illness, and any new research – my plan is a living document that can be improved and refined when needed. 

My wellness plan did not get created overnight. It was a process of trial and error over a period of time. To be honest, it’s still a work in progress. Some of the things my plan includes is taking my medication as prescribed every day, visits to the GP, healthy eating, exercise, meditation, tracking and monitoring my triggers and mood, no alcohol or illegal drugs, a strict sleep routine, practicing self-care, gratitude and journaling. 

Positive psychology has also played a big part in my wellness strategy. Scientific research has shown that there are strategies and skills that allow you to navigate the challenges of life more effectively and enjoy life despite the upsets.  It may seem like a lot of hard work, and it is – but it does get easier. I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness and like any chronic illness, there are a number of lifestyle changes that need to be incorporated into your daily life. 

Another important thing that I need to mention – you can’t do this on your own. You need to reach out for help. Your friends, family, GP, mental health organizations – they are all there to support you. With the right combination of lifestyle changes, and medication, I have been able to manage my illness successfully. 

Preventing a relapse requires motivation, a commitment to your own health, discipline, structure, courage, and more importantly a belief that you can get better. Make yourself a priority.  Every battle with a mental illness is different, my message is, be patient. There will be setbacks, sometimes big ones, and possible relapses, but there will also be moments that take your breath away for all the right reasons. My motto is to hold on. It took me a while to learn this and that’s okay. Everyone is on their own journey moving at their own pace. Everyone will have their own ways of coping and their own ways of dealing with their illness – but please don’t be afraid to seek help, or to talk about how you feel.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

I created Tickle My Mind, which is a place for me to write about my journey with mental illness and a place to empower as many people who have been touched by mental illness to live a healthy, happy, rewarding and balanced life. I am currently writing my first book, part memoir, part mental wellness guide and I’m studying a Diploma of Positive Psychology. I am also a Community Ambassador for RUOK? Day. 

I now find happiness in writing, a pastime I never thought I would be doing. I love spending time writing and promoting mental health awareness. Tickle My Mind is a place I share stories, lessons and tools that helped me to succeed, become well and to continue to stay well. Now, I advocate mental health wellness and I hope the things that I have to share will help someone else – somewhere along their journey. One thing I know for sure – it truly is possible to live a happy, meaningful and productive life despite what it throws in our path.

Without my mental illness, I doubt I would have become the strong, determined person I am today. I have learned to be non-judgmental and I have developed a strong burning desire to help others. I met my husband and soulmate, who is the single most joyful and important thing in my life.

Would I feel so deeply? Would I make the most of every happy day and squeeze as much into them as possible, the way I do now? Would I have created Tickle My Mind and studied Positive Psychology, which means the world to me without the experiences I have had to inspire me?  Would I have learned who my true friends and family are, those who have stood by me no matter what and who make my life so blessed and fulfilled? Would I be the person I am today, who I am so proud to be, without all of those experiences and without my bipolar disorder? I don’t believe any of those things would have happened without my illness. I don’t believe that I would be the person I am today, without what I have been through.  

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

I want to be honest, and say that managing bipolar disorder isn’t easy.  At times you may feel defeated, find yourself discouraged, and want to stop treatment. Every time I feel that way, I need to remind my that my brain isn’t functioning properly. I don’t resent having bipolar disorder, it’s part of the person I have become. I made sure that I continued to reach out to my friends and loved ones for support. 

Looking after myself or self-care, is important in helping me stay at the top of my physical, emotional and mental well-being. When things are getting a bit tough, it becomes so important for me to take good care of myself.  Whether it’s a stressful period at work or home, taking time to focus on self-care is essential to my well-being. Self-care helps me function at a higher level, and feeling good enables me to take on life’s challenges.

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you could be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Elliott

Suffering from multiple, severe mental illnesses since the age of 16, Elliott’s life has been a constant cycle of instability, chaos, and breakdowns. Locked up in a ward four times, it was only when he hit rock bottom that he made the decision to start attending DBT therapy.

Applying the skills he’s learned from DBT therapy to his everyday life, Elliott fights to have a fulfilling life – despite his mental illness.

 

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Name: Elliott Smith

Age: 47


Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

July 17th of this year is my 47th birthday. The first time I remember being diagnosed was 1986 – I was 16. I was suffering from depression with suicidal ideology. I came home from school one day and decided life was to painful to live. So, I wrote my mom a note, got some rope and went in search of a farm grain silo to hang myself in. A woman from my step dad’s church (he was the pastor) saw me and called my mother who came and found me and talked me into getting help. I then spent two and a half months in a locked ward where I was diagnosed with depression.

That was the first diagnosis of many. My time of service in The US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division left me with PTSD. Then the anxiety, bipolar diagnosis and Borderline Personality Disorder. Because I have so many – I feel – accurate diagnoses, I refer to the group as just mental illness. I don’t know where one illness ends and the other begins. This mix of diagnosis have so many symptoms. The depression, anxiety, mania, aggression, anger, horror and fear in the form of flashbacks. I have always, as long as I remember, felt like something wasn’t right. My life was a cycle. Stability. Then instability. Chaos, then breakdown. Then the cycle would start again.



What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I have attempted or planned suicide four times – all four times I have been institutionalized. But still, my life didn’t change. My illness and my symptoms pulled me around like a dog on a leash. I had little pockets of happiness in an ocean of fear, pain, darkness, and agony. For this period, I didn’t really have uninterrupted medical or mental health care coverage. So, I would try to get help but for years could not afford to stay in therapy. In 2010, after finding out about the VA compensation process I put in for PTSD competition. I received disability status from the VA. This allowed me uninterrupted medical and mental health covered for the last seven years. This was the point my mental illness turned a corner.

Around this time, I had a very horrible episode where I ended up hurting someone then I tried to hang myself. I was again at rock bottom. Somewhere in the process of getting back on my feet again, I decided to figure out how to change the life I was leading. I decided to work to learn how to live a quality life. It was not a bolt out of the blue or “ah-ha” moment – it was a slow realization. I was finally aware that I needed to help myself before I was going to be able to get proper help. I was going to have to work my fucking ass off to ever have a quality life.



How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?


Well for me it is everyday life. It’s been 30 years (diagnosed) of mental illness. I don’t remember anything else – it is apart of everything. This very reason is why the skills I have learned are so important.


In 2011, I attended Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT. The skills I learned there became the life-changing foundation of not just how I’ve learned to cope, but I learned to really thrive and found a way to maintain and live a quality life. The skills I learned from DBT were practical actions and strategies I could apply in specific or general ways to my everyday life.

  • Mindfulness. Focusing on what it is I am doing and saying. Focusing on my thoughts without letting them run away with my actions.
  • Wise mind. Because I lived in my emotional mind or my rational mind I would go back and forth between chaos and shame. Trying to maintain wise mind (both emotion mind and rational mind at the same time in balance) keeps me able to make decisions that help me maintain a quality life.
  • Distress tolerance. Knowing that life is probably going to get a little dicey and having the skills to tolerate the distress that is going to be apart of my life is crucial.
  • Checking the facts. This skill I learned allows me to challenge my symptoms and thoughts and hold them up to the light to see if they are real or the lies my symptoms tell me.
  • Radical acceptance. This allows me to accept the big unpleasant truths without giving up or giving in.
  • Acceptance. Accepting my reality was a life-changing experience. When I accepted that I have multiple mental illnesses and I will continue to have these issues  – I was set free. This acceptance for me also mentioned being completely transparent with my self and others in my life that mental illness was part of who I am. I would no longer try to hide how my life was to anyone ever again. My mental illnesses are always something you get to know as you learn more about me.

The list of skills go on and on and I talk about them a lot in both my @myrhoughtsracing Instagram and my blog.



How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?


Mental illness literally has only given me symptoms. I get what you’re asking, but I don’t see it as a gift or a benefit. With that said, I have learned by living through my symptoms that people – all of us – are amazing! That life is hard but worth it. That life is precious and fragile. I learned these gifts not because of my mental illness but in spite of it.



What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?

My thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to indulge them. They are not in charge of my life.

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you could be featured on the blog!