I feel more comfortable writing about my struggles and successes when my name is Jane. The name provides a little protection; it is my turtle shell. My name is not Jane. It is my grandmother’s name and my middle. I was named after my dad, Samuel. My name is Samantha. Most people call me “Sam.” It is an honor to be named after one of the coolest people I know.
I am ready now to own my truth and to step out of Jane’s shadow. I have a psychiatric disorder and a label stamped on my head, but I do not let it define me. I lead a stable life, and I have schizoaffective disorder. This psychiatric disorder is like a mixed salad that you did not make for yourself. Imagine that you went to a dinner party, and the host brought out the salad as the first course. There is so much going on in this bowl that you cannot distinguish all of the ingredients even after you have tasted it. Schizoaffective disorder is full of indistinguishable ingredients. Not all cases are the same, but many people struggle with one or more of these illnesses: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, etc. with a dash of salt and pepper on top. My illness is a mix of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. From my perspective, it is so complicated that even after tasting it I cannot decipher everything within this salad.
*Shifts in mood/demeanor
*Unexplained dread in the pit of your stomach
*Sadness for no discernible reason
*Shopping sprees and accruing debt
*Too much sleep
*Lack of motivation
Unknown Ingredients: ???
As a writer, it is important to write what you know. This is what I know. As I embrace the complexity of my illness and the aspects I cannot fully understand, I must confess that I rarely eat salad.
***Chester’s story continues…If you haven’t seen or heard of Chester, I encourage you to learn more about him from previous articles. He is my cartoon self. He portrays my actions, feelings, and big events in my life. It is easier to see what is going on inside my head when I step back and look through Chester’s eyes. I encourage you all to embrace the cartoon character who inhabits your mind. You will find it helpful and fun!
Our story continues as all stories do…but first, a look inside Chester’s heart on the week he first he met Lucy.
When Chester was a young boy, he watched a movie that changed his life forever. He is a romantic, and perhaps this is why. Toward the end of the movie, the protagonist goes to the fair and rides the ferris wheel with the girl he loves. Since then, Chester vowed never to ride the ferris wheel until he was absolutely sure he was riding it with his true love, and never before. Many years passed. No ferris wheel. When Chester was twenty eight years old, he moved to a small town in north Georgia, where he met Lucy. Chester has a friend named Krupa who had a shop called “Roots and Remedies” next door to Lucy’s gallery. Inside his friend’s shop, there was a section by the window filled with models you could build. There was a ferris wheel standing completed and only for show. Chester bought that ferris wheel the very week he met Lucy…
Chester began to really love Lucy. Not in the “We’re just friends,” kind of way. He more than liked her. Not the way people “love” each other when they are infatuated or projecting. He really loved her. He loved her when she was goofy and when she made him laugh. He loved her when she was grumpy and it was his turn to cheer her up. They became so close that they could read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences! But he was too afraid to tell her; he was afraid of her rejection. So, hoping she may (or may not) know what it meant, he told her in Spanish.
“Te amo,” he said.
She said it in return.
This went on for quite a while, as Chester built up the courage to tell Lucy that he loved her–in English. Chester’s friend, Diana, told him that it didn’t count until you both knew what it meant and it was said in your native language.
Lucy beat him to it.
They were pulling up to a Mexican restaurant for dinner when Lucy said, “I think I love you,” to which Chester asked, “You think?”
Lucy said, “I love you.” Chester was so relieved. He responded with, “I love you too, Lucy.” From then on, the love blossomed.
This is the beginning of Chester and Lucy’s epic love story.
Five years later, on the anniversary of their first kiss, Chester presented the Ferris Wheel to Lucy, as he had known long ago that it would someday find its way into her hands. Years later, Chester asked Lucy if she did, in fact know what “Te amo,” meant, and she said, “Yes.”
Chester and Lucy have been married for one year!
As far as I know, we aren’t born happy. We enter the world screaming at the top of our lungs. This is a world outside the comfort of our mother’s womb–the safest home we have known. Once we step into this big, wild, complicated environment, we face issues that later seem trivial; right out of the belly they seem humongous.
Many people have to work diligently to achieve happiness. There are pills to relieve anxiety and depression, but no pills full of happiness. We make our own happiness when we are not enveloped in its presence. I take several medications which aid in my struggle for happiness. I also muster all of the energy I possess toward reaching the level of happiness I require.
My growth was stunted at the age of fifteen because of my illness. My mind reverted to happy times in my past to help me forget the hard times. When I was nine, I was interested in reading about and collecting historical dolls, their clothing, and accessories. I have a massive collection now, because when you are an adult and have money you can buy toys that your allowance couldn’t cover when you were little. I can hold my first doll and breathe deeply, remembering the happy Christmas day when I first saw her under the tree. This comforts me. I can do this remembering technique with every doll and stuffed animal I have in my “nest” at home. I can snuggle with Tigger and remember the Disney store in New York City on a trip with my husband. Every time I hold “Bert,” my teddy bear, I am reminded of my earlier childhood happiness. There is one book that can comfort me like nothing else.
My Grandmama Patte was a storyteller. When I was little, she told precious stories to me and my sisters. We would ask her to tell us a story and request our favorites. There were five that stuck with me. She embellished and the details differed somewhat each time she told them. She would ask us to help her tell the stories, as she couldn’t quite remember everything. We would fill in the blanks where she forgot. I think she was trying to commit these stories to our memories long after she was gone. She succeeded. We grew up thinking she made up these stories on her own. When we were older, she gave us one of the most special gifts I have ever received. She bestowed upon each of us a book of Native American folklore; we found all of the stories she had told us throughout our lives. This book is so important to me because she died a few years later, but the stories live on. The happiness I gain from this book is monumental. Whenever I want to hear my Grandmama’s voice, I turn the page and concentrate with all my strength. I can hear her reading the story to me. When I am trying to fall asleep, daydreaming, or trying to control a panic attack, I think of joyful times I have experienced in my life. Deep breathing is key. Grandmama Patte’s voice is soothing.
There are many avenues toward happiness. One should not rely on another person for one’s happiness, though it is wonderful to have people in your life who bring you love and peace. There are steps to be taken in order to harness happiness and everyone has their own way of coping. Making art brings me closer to contentment. I sketch and color under a bright light that keeps me focused and comforts me. I am a pen pal to my older neighbor across the street. Sending and receiving letters with him brings me great joy. Stepping out for sunshine is an excellent way to soak up some natural therapy. Exercise is also helpful and will raise levels of serotonin, which stimulate delight.
These activities help me as an individual and may not work for everyone’s brain. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?
A psychiatric diagnosis is not required in order to express your feelings through creative outlets. In fact, it is a rewarding task. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, give it a try! There are many creative outlets to explore. Here are some examples:
*Keeping a journal/Writing
*Keeping a sketchbook
*Playing an instrument
There are many more, but these are a few to think about. I would love to hear about your endeavors. Send me an email or a comment about an activity that you found fulfilling. I suggest you try more than one!
There are numerous people in society who feed the stigma of psychiatric disorders. Some are afraid of the unknown, while others choose to believe that this illness does not exist purely because it is intangible. Unfortunately, mental illness is inaccurately displayed in the media and in countless films. People who suffer with mental illness are often portrayed as the “bad guys.” Asylums are prevalent in some of these movies, where the protagonist is committed for experiencing traumatic events that no one else can see, hear, or believe. Though the “patient” in the movie is usually telling the truth, that person is deemed incompetent and treated with a dose of anti-psychotics and therapy. Their accounts are no longer taken seriously. The real bad guys get away with their evil schemes, while the innocent suffer. Once you have seen the inside of these hospitals first hand, it is hard to watch movies like these. For instance, when you have personally been subjected to electroconvulsive therapy, witnessing a misrepresentation of this technique is unbearable.
When a school shooting, or similar situation takes place, the media usually jumps first to the conclusion that the perpetrator is mentally ill before there is evidence to suggest otherwise. This is a blow to the whole mental health community.
United we are strong, despite the challenges we face, but turning the tables to represent mental illness accurately has been no small task. The best way in which we can lose the stigma is to learn how to communicate effectively. This is a delicate subject, but it is important to speak the truth in order to shut down the negative connotations surrounding psychiatric disorders. I have been holding my mental illness inside like it’s a secret for over half my life. I have written and illustrated books about my experience and told my entire story to the world, hoping to be a catalyst toward change. My goal is to reach as many people as possible.
I published my “secrets.” I thought that keeping my mental illness hidden from others gave me some semblance of control or power over them. Now, I am able to speak freely about my experience and the topics to which I had been privy. A burden has been lifted off my shoulders. It feels wonderful to share my story with anyone interested or in need of help. Everyone deals with mental illness in their own way. Talking, listening, researching, reading, and sharing our stories with others will shed light on the reality of mental illness. It will instill hope within us that one day mental illness will be acceptable in the eyes of society. Change will not happen if we hold our tongues. Positive energy is required in order to change the minds of those around us who have closed their eyes.
My Grandma Sandy is a fountain of wisdom, a brave soul, has a huge heart, and stands up for individuals who need her most. She invites strangers to her house on Thanksgiving. She loves all and she is full of prayer. She doesn’t tolerate bullying. She is a pioneer in the way of taking steps toward positive change.
Sandy befriended a person with mental illness and strives to engage him in social settings, getting out of the house, and living life to its fullest. These can be challenges when one feels down and out. Sandy is tenacious and I know that she will never give up on this endeavor. When someone is suffering with a mental health condition such as depression, it’s like drowning. We struggle to tread water. It can be difficult to get out of bed. Walking around feels like a chore. Cleaning the kitchen? Keeping a tidy house? Yeah, right. Think again. Sometimes, it takes too much energy to utter words. We must jump through hoops to get back on our feet. Society does not understand this invisible threat, and those who carry the burden of mental illness know this better than anyone, yet no one wants to talk about it. In their state of ignorance, “normal” people try to push these issues under the rug and ignore them; if you can’t see them, no one else will, right? Mental illness is not caused by fault and is not a shameful secret. The stigma associated with the mentally ill leads to the belief that we are the “bad guys.” Not so.
While the stigma rounds us all up and stamps a label on our heads, we all suffer differently and do not fit neatly in a box. There are human beings with mental illness who live beautiful lives despite the “Berman” traveling with them. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, friends. Just because you aren’t labeled doesn’t mean that mental illness doesn’t lurk inside your mind.
Recently, my grandma and her friend were at a group assembly and people told her to “Stay away from him!” My grandma said, “Shut up!” She protected her new friend from close-minded bullies. There are those in society who live in denial about the existence of mental illness because they do not want to accept the truth and move forward. The world is full of nonbelievers, but I hope that gradually those numbers will see the light and treat people with respect instead of fear. I am so proud of my grandma. Bullies should never have the last word. Sandy is a blessing in my life and many others. May this day and all days be filled with her radiance and courage.
I dedicate this article to two of the loves in my life, on their birthday.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GRANDMA SANDY!!!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, COURTNEY BLAIR CARROLL SANTOS!!!
Due to some upsetting news and family trauma, I implore you to pray for our family. Especially my Grammy and my dad. Please take a moment of silence in respect for the life of my Grandaddy, whether you knew him or not. Thank you.
I am grateful beyond words for my mom. I am her firstborn. She has always kept me out of harm’s way. She encouraged me as a child and as an adult to reach for my dreams, work for them, and achieve them. I realize how lucky I am. She is one of my greatest loves. I have many loves in my life, and thanks to her, I not only have Mom and Dad. She gave me three wonderful sisters. My mom is not only the bearer of daughters. She is my best friend.
When I was a child, I was very particular about clothing. I wouldn’t wear tights, hated elastic, and never wore shorts or pants. I didn’t want to wear tight fitting clothes. If I had my way, I would have run around naked. Before my chest developed, I pretty much did. I normally wore loose dresses that I picked out. I was all about comfort, without a care for fashion. It bothered my mom to no end. I would try to get away with wearing a dress several days in a row, and all of my family members–immediate and extended–remember a specific green dress.
Mom and I got into huge fights about my wardrobe. I pitched angry fits. One day, she handed me to Dad and he ended the dressing battles. The rules were that I came up the stairs, lifted my arms, and twirled around so he could smell me. If I didn’t smell like a “little goat” (as my mom would refer to me upon sniffing my forehead), I could wear whatever I wanted, much to Mom’s chagrin. My relationship with my mom began to strengthen after our frustrations subsided. I love my mom, and I always have. It is difficult to relay that message when you have had a big fight.
My mom has been with me through thick and thin. I am tired of talking about the hospital, which I think is a very good step away. One last time. Mom was devastated. She had to go to work every day knowing where I was, thinking about me, and telling no one. At one point, I didn’t recognize her. Still she fought to bring me home, knowing in her heart that I would return. She brought me her homemade bread when I wasn’t eating. I devoured it. There is no way to turn down that bread. Absolutely no way.
In my adult life, we have spent a lot of time together. I visit her and Dad every Saturday for breakfast; sometimes she stops by my house for coffee. Often we have walked together. We have been on many road trips and she is good company. She decorates her house for my birthday every year no matter how old I get, and makes my favorite cupcakes (red velvet with cream cheese icing). When Rush and I got married, she planned the whole day and helped to make it the best day of my life. She makes my whole life special.
My mom is a huge part of my life, and without her I would be lost. She is my guiding star.
To clarify, this illustration is a depiction on Jesus, not of my dad.
My dad, “Father Sam,” retired recently. He was my favorite preacher. Of course, I am biased, but his were not the only sermons that entered my head. I have heard other sermons at different churches. I have done my homework. Nobody preaches like my dad. His sermons resonated throughout the week, and will reside inside my mind and heart for the rest of my life. As a priest and a dad, “Father Sam” taught me many lessons. These are some examples: God is love. God forgives. Love your neighbor as yourself, and not only the person who lives next door. Keep growing. Build relationships and work through conflict with words. Encourage God to shine God’s light into your life. God is everywhere. Church is a place of fellowship and worship, but not the only place to feel God’s presence. Jesus is a corrective measure. The Kingdom of Heaven is on Earth.
I grew up in the forests; I climbed the tallest trees. I swam in the cold, refreshing whitewater rivers. I wanted to be Pocahontas. My family camped, hiked, swam, and traveled the country. I have never seen a family bond like the one we share. Dad plays a large role in gluing us together.
When I was little, going to church was mandatory. I thought the point of church was to hear Dad preach. Over the years, worship has changed me, and now I know Daily Morning Prayer Rite II by heart. I confess that I have not read the Bible cover to cover, but I have heard most of the parables, and a good many Old Testament stories. The ritual of Holy Communion has always been sacred to me. I have taken a leave of absence from the church. It is no longer my duty to show up, worship, and keep important secrets. Though I am relieved of my “preacher’s kid” duties, I feel a little empty inside. It is an emptiness I cannot fill with material possessions, no matter how full my Amazon shopping cart becomes. God is everywhere, and much like mental illness, God appears invisible, though I have faith because I believe in the unseen.
I have thought about this for some time. Going to church all the Sundays of my life has been special to me. My mom, three sisters and I have always been seated in the front pew. As I understand, it is hard for a child to concentrate and listen for an hour. So, my earlier days in the church were spent reading, coloring, and listening selectively. The most special part about that time in my life was napping on my mom’s lap. As an adult in church, I have often been tempted to do the same.
When I was six years old, my friend, Rob, and I became acolytes. We carried the candles during the procession into and out of the church. Early Christians worshipped in caves to hide their spiritual practices from those who meant them harm. The purpose of the candles in the procession is to remind us of the darkness of the caves, where the only light shining inside was that of the candles and of God’s Holy presence within.
I realize now that the church does not rest on my dad’s shoulders. It is more complicated. My relationship with God was instilled inside of me from the start, and while my dad had a hand in guiding Jesus into my heart, God has been there all along. Leave the church? Maybe for a bit of a vacation, but probably not forever.