An Evening of Hope Speech
What Began as a Joke, Became My Personal NightmareWhen my husband and I first moved to Brown County, we jokingly called our beloved acreage “Edelen Acres” after Green Acres. Green Acres was an American sitcom starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. A couple from New York City move to a country farm. Recently relocated back to Ohio from Silicon Valley, I did so tongue-in-cheek. Both being high technology professionals, I was in earnest that we could turn our hand at organic farming. But as life would have it, my dream home became the set for my own personal nightmare.
My Mental Health Journey
My journey began about nine years ago when I went five nights without sleep. I would walk by my bathroom sink and smell lavender. My walk-in closet was as cold as a Butcher’s walk-in freezer. When I would sit down at the piano, I thought I heard voices whispering. Every day I would say to my husband, “I am so tired. I am sure I will sleep tonight”. I thought I was walking through water. Everything was transparent, but a little distorted, my hearing was muffled, and my body felt heavy. At night I began to feel a warm sensation creep gently over my skin. It was nice, at first. But then it would increase from warm until it felt as if my entire body was burning alive. That weekend, my parents came down. Immediately my mother knew something wasn’t right. That night I confessed to her, “I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.” “It’s time to go to the hospital,” she said. I was having a psychotic break.
After I got off the psych ward, my doctors expressed their regret that I had not come to the emergency room sooner. I didn’t know it but because I went five nights without sleep, I went into psychosis. Not allowing an enemy soldier to sleep is a form of torture. A portion of my brain responsible for sleep wasn’t working. But, “REM sleep” in my brain was working. I was relieved to learn that I was in effect dreaming with my eyes open!
Accepting My Mental Illness Diagnosis
Immediately after my diagnosis, I was put on medication. I did not want to believe that I had a mental illness. I kept asking my psychiatrist to reduce my dosage but then I couldn’t sleep. Getting a mental illness diagnosis feels like a death sentence. In a way it is. Your old self has died. After my psychotic break, I threw out everything I believed and started over from scratch. For me, I had to walk through each of the stages of the grief process— denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance until I could “accept” the new me with a mental health diagnosis.
My biggest fear was that my whole brain was like “French blue cheese” consisting of veins of blue mold —useless. In January of 2010, I walked on to the NKU campus to attend Dr. Aron Levin’s Market Research class. I was so nervous. “What am I going to say to these people?” I thought. By the last week of school, I had a 4.0 and a job offer. The first year of working was a big mile marker for me. As I continued to work, I proved to myself that I had lost nothing. Like a diabetic whose body doesn’t make enough insulin: only a small portion of my brain was like “French blue cheese” and didn’t make enough of certain chemicals. Once I take my medicine, I am fine. In fact, I was able to implement a website in six weeks that generated over $300,000 in sales. I lost nothing.
Finding the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
In 2015, I found NAMI. Through the NAMI Southwest Ohio chapter in Cincinnati, I was able to attend support group meetings and realize I am not alone. I call NAMI the grade school and high school for people like me. NAMI’s free educational classes taught me to understand the biology behind having a brain disease, but also helped me to psychologically accept the fact that I have lived through a traumatic event. I started telling my story. I began to blog for NAMI. Mothers thanked me for sharing my experiences. I tell my story for NAMI as a part of the In Our Own Voice Program. People routinely come up to me and say, “You are so brave” or “You are an inspiration”, etc. In fact, I feel privileged to be able to speak on high school and college campuses to help individuals suffering in silence know they are not alone. I also share my stories with police officers, so they are better equipped to recognize a mentally ill person on patrol. My work for people like me is very fulfilling. NAMI has been a lifesaver for me but, it took me seven years to find NAMI.
In July, Brown County hired me to work part-time as a Mental Health Advocate. My first objective is to build a NAMI chapter in Brown County. Isn’t that wonderful? I realize how fortunate I am to be in recovery living with a mental illness. Because I am so transparent, people confess to me their mental illness stories.