Although I was diagnosed with Rapid-Cycling Bipolar Disorder with some sassy schizoaffective delusions tossed into the mix when I was 20-years-old, it truly wasn’t until my tumble from the living one February, many winter’s ago… that I was not-so-gently shown my path to be a mental health awareness advocate and creative empowerment mentor. I live to share how I stay afloat in this ever-cycling existence, and to help others understand that they can, too.
It was while I was curled into myself, cradled uncomfortably into the corner of my parent’s couch following a psychotic episode… incapacitated, overmedicated and unable to keep my coveted job as a high school English teacher, that I found my way out of my own hell with a pen and paper. It was all I could do, and the first step in a separation from an insidious diagnosis that did not allow itself to be ignored, until then. Despite the ever-present fog and deleterious effects from prescribed little blue and pink imagination slayers that riddled me, I wrote letters. I wrote letters that documented my fall to those I loved and admired, here and gone. And with each letter I wrote, a piece of MYSELF, riddled with rapid cycling bipolar disorder smothering my solar plexus unraveled, detangling the viscous knot that choked the essence of who I am: ME.
My self-absorption index, inherent with mental illness, slowly dwindled into nothingness. I unfurled from the chrysalis state back into the world of the living, and by mid-Spring, I was able to reenter the world and work as a bartender and server. It was then, with a new clarity, that I saw the profound importance of the letters I wrote as a potential creative tool to help others with their own struggle with mental illness, and life stuff in general. I crafted a frame story about Ana, an alter-ego like MYSELF around the letters… a fictionalized account of a mentally ill Ana’s escape from a Rhode Island State Hospital and her existential journey to the Florida Keys to meet her demise, unsuccessfully. Her story is narrated by an angel guide named Gabriel, who shows her the importance of her life to the tapestry that connects her to others. Gabriel shows her how time is only linear in our perception, and our purpose is timeless and unfathomably deep. Loosely based on my own experience with mental illness, “Dear Prudence” was born.
I eventually found my way back to teaching, and shared my manuscript with my creative writing students. In 2009, illustrated by Amanda Kunzman who was a 14-year-old creative writing student, with special artistic contributions by Jean Melancon, Mishelle Wilson and endless inspiration from all of my students, family and friends, I published “Dear Prudence,” my first novel, followed by Motherhood Made ME Get Over MYSELF: A Metamorphosis in 2014, a self-help anecdote. It was my metamorphosis. By telling Ana’s story of hope, I was able to help, honestly… not hide from a so often stigmatized bipolar disorder. I was finally ME.
I didn’t succumb to the illness; that was my choice. I live with it like a roommate, sometimes home too long, sometimes gone for days. Often times punctual with the rent, many times shirking all responsibility. Sometimes deliciously fun, often times infinitely dark. She (MYSELF) is always there, but at arms length.
MYSELF is an appendage of my totality; she can overcome like thick fog, but will dutifully go back to her room, back to her chrysalis state when I am needed. ME; it is my choice. I LIVE with Bipolar Disorder, and advocate mental health awareness; it is not to be ignored. I choose writing and radio as my creative, cathartic medium to help others, provide mentoring and welcome sharing my story in a public speaking forum. My life experience with mental illness, self-medication and ten years in education lends listeners, readers and client’s invaluable, empowering, often quirky life advice.
Please tune into "Dear Prudence" Radio - Life Advice to Help YOU Cope to share in life's struggles, folly, laughter, tears... idiosyncratic oddities cradled by eclectic music selections. It will provide you with entertaining and informative fodder about life stuff, backed by research, justified by public opinion, and humbled by ill-experience.
I would love to be interviewed about my writing, my experience with mental illness, how I stay afloat... how I will help others find purpose. As a mental health awareness advocate, I feel it is essential to give the so oftern stigmatized mentally ill a voice... rather than hide them from the "Jones'" - It is imperative... and creativity is the medium! Write. Speak. Share.