“No Strings Attached” 09.22.23

Upon committal to a psychiatric ward, there are sacrifices beyond freedom: No personal items. No choices. No colored pencils. No jewelry, shoe laces, or draw strings. If you want to retain certain articles of clothing, you must weigh their value against your attachment to the strings.

Such was my life for six months, ten years ago. Doctors told me that it may take a couple of years for my brain to heal from this trauma, but how very wrong they were. I am followed by details. They cling to me, as I reminisce in waiting rooms. Nostalgia floods my senses and memories flow through me in strange pieces. These feelings are impossible to explain. Every time I step into a hospital I run the risk of witnessing a stretcher rolling past with two orderlies, a ride so familiar I can almost taste it. The scent of hospital food causes waves of anxiety, crashing through me like spikes of adrenaline. I remember how the staff sometimes passed out menus, allowing us the illusion that we had free will, then serving us nothing we desired.

When I was little, I frequently experienced ear infections. My mom and I often visited the emergency room for this reason. It was an exciting adventure to leave the house in the middle of the night, and while I waited my turn I rummaged through my mom’s purse. She carried many interesting and seemingly irrelevant items everywhere she went. I suppose the candle stick was in case the power went out and the flashlights were low on battery.

After these appointments, we would head home; Mom attempted a return to the realm of dreams. I loved wearing the hospital bracelet and kept it on for as long as possible, feeling special and important. Oh, how the tables have turned. Now, having worn that bracelet for months, it feels like a handcuff.

Several years after the age of two, I have come to the conclusion that whether or not I wear the bracelet I am tethered to the place I try so desperately to forget. Leaving, escaping, moving on, I will always have strings, but they loosen with time. I hope that in my future, these strings will be easier to cut than the ones I surrendered from my favorite sweatshirt.


“Kimberly and Amy” 9.14.23

September 14th, 1993

I woke up sleepy and disoriented, on the top bunk above my little sister, Jessica. It was early, barely dawn. My confusion subsided as excitement enveloped me; I realized why this day was special.

My parents weren’t home, but my Granmama was watching over us in their absence. We did not hear them depart last night. Jessica, on the bottom bunk, gasped in surprise and pleasure as she awoke with two new stuffed animals. She was ever so thoughtful, delivering mine up through the small space between the bed and the wall. Granmama entered the room; we got dressed and headed to the hospital, eager to welcome two new sisters into the world.

After we had washed our hands and donned child-size hospital gowns, we entered the room with broad grins spreading across our faces. Mom had been quite full and now she was elated, exhausted and empty, the contents of her womb being held by her two older daughters. They were beautiful, fragile, so perfect I could cry. Jessica and I had been awaiting two babies, so she asked,

“Which one is mine?”

Mom and Dad told us we would have to share. Amy and Kimberly. We loved them before they were born and they had finally arrived!


My three sisters and I share a bond I have not seen elsewhere. Throughout our childhood, we laughed, cried, and experienced joy and pain together; growing closer with each passing day. We love deeply; we hug so tightly we border on squeezing each other to death. Never have we found truer friends.

Kimberly and Amy filled our family tree with rare flowers. They introduced mirth where there was space to grow. My little sisters fused us, and our puzzle is complete.

Those girls are no longer babies, but beautiful, intelligent, kind young women. Both driven, they have grasped life and carried it with grace. Many lives are brighter in their light. On the day of their birth, every day of their life, and always, I am so proud to be their big sister.


“Voices” 09.08.23

In the beginning, I was a quiet, shy child. My life was happy, but sometimes I wasn’t. I had few friends to confide in, though my parents were loving and my sisters were kind. I bottled up some of my feelings and shared my private thoughts solely with myself. She was the entity I talked to more than anyone else. Years later, myself answered me. This was difficult to understand, but there she was. I did not hear myself with my ears; the voice was inside my head, but I was not conjuring these words. Confused, I had a panic attack. Seemingly, my thoughts were not my own.

Everyone talks to themselves in some form, whether or not their questions are rhetorical. My voice tells jokes when I am stressed and in need of comic relief. She makes suggestions when I require guidance and keeps me company when I am lonely. Where there is fear she chases it away, tail between its legs. When I am lost in thought, she finds me. My voice is comforting.

There have been more voices as my disorder has progressed. Sometimes it gets busy in my head, which makes it hard to concentrate.

Some people think this is the very definition of “crazy.” For me, it’s normal. Voices can be negative, and I understand the urgency to push them out; in my life, voices are treated like a disease. I am supposed to rid my mind of their presence, but I enjoy their company. Though I have pruned the intricate spaces of my brain garden, my most beloved voices are never truly gone. I have embraced this part of my disorder. As long as my voices are harmless, I see no reason to banish them.

Often, I wonder if the close-minded among us will ever pull their heads out of the sand and make an effort to understand psychiatric disorders instead of feeding lies to the general public through media and word of mouth. The stigma expands and ignorance is passed through generations. I long for the day when mental illness is widely accepted, detached from unnecessary shame, no longer kept secret: the day when stigma disintegrates.

Alone we are fearful of a fate we cannot control. Together our voices can overpower the quickest of sand.


“Mental ‘Illness'” 09.01.23

My husband owned and managed an art gallery for many years. When my books were published, they were available in the shop.

“Remember Who You Are: Defining Yourself Despite Your Mental Illness”

Some people looked on with curiosity; others bought copies; many had ideas on how to publicize my books on a grander scale. A few customers made derogatory jokes to one another. “We should buy this for your mother,” a woman whispered to her husband, suppressing a laugh.

One customer surprised me.

I left the gallery to retrieve lunch one day, as per usual. Upon my return, my husband recounted a conversation he’d had with a woman in my absence. She was bothered by the title of my book, voicing her opinion that it may be insulting and should have been expressed in a different light. At the time I was offended and confused, but I was so greatly intrigued that I think of that encounter often, to this day. I have considered many possibilities for her reaction and settled on this explanation: Illness suggests frailty and weakness; something is wrong. In truth, this is not a communicable disease, but an invisible life-long struggle. This is neither frailty or weakness, but fortitude.

A “psychiatric disorder” is another way to phrase “mental illness.” This title leads society to rip these words apart and see only “psycho,” which is a whole different ball game. I cannot be certain, but I think “Remember Who You Are: Defining Yourself Despite Your Psychiatric Disorder” just doesn’t roll off the tongue so smoothly and could turn many away, judging a book by its cover. Separating “disorder” implies a constant state of chaos. “Mental” is often interchangeable with “crazy.” These adjectives are cast about casually, without thought of their weight.

The key inappropriate word in this title is “despite.” Remembering who you are includes your mental illness. You are not defined by your disorder, but it is a piece of your puzzle.

Though I will continue to wonder how this stranger would title my book, I think we can all agree that the point here is to embrace every part of yourself as you…

“Remember Who You Are.”


“Secrets of Poisoned Apple Juice” 08.25.23

When I was an infant, my father attended seminary in Virginia. He graduated an Episcopal priest three years later with Mom, another infant, and a three-year-old in tow.

We migrated to Georgia, where Dad catapulted straight into the profession of head priest of two small parishes simultaneously. Most graduates tend to slowly rise from Deacon, Assistant Priest, and a few years later become head of their own church.

My dad skipped all of that and dove head first.

I grew up in a tight knit, two-parent household with three little sisters. Open lines of communication were “normal” for us. We had regular family meetings where we “passed the stick,” each member taking the floor while holding the stick. We rose into adulthood with a clear sense of how to solve problems without violence.

As a preacher’s kids, my sisters and I had an important duty to uphold. We must keep one secret from everyone, no exceptions. This task was difficult, especially for kids no older than six years.

When we planned to move away and join another church, we could not let that secret slip to anyone. If the church discovered this secret before Dad was ready to reveal this piece of information to the whole congregation, many problems would arise. We could not tell a soul, not even our best friends.

In the second grade, I sat next to the same boy at lunch every day. He would trade me his roll for my corn.

I got the better end of that deal, right?

During that time in my life, I had issues with texture and constraint in the clothes I wore, so my wardrobe was free of pants, elastic, tights, etc. Only loose dresses and skirts. My shoes always clashed, and sometimes my socks matched.

One day, for reasons unknown, I wore a pair of denim shorts to school. Aforementioned boy shouted across the cafeteria when I walked in, “Samantha is wearing pants!” It was big news. Seriously, it was big news. Of course, I was mortified, and probably rescinded my corn offering that day.

Shortly before my family moved to Savannah, having hidden this news even from my best friend, my eighth-grade class took a field trip. On the bus, this corn-loving childhood friend asked if I would “go out” with him. I denied his request, and could not tell him why. If I had wanted to be his girlfriend, there was no time.

Secrets can hurt. Before the move, I developed my first signs of depression. I stayed home from school; I had a stomach ache, headache, and I was filled with dread. I drank apple juice and ate nothing. I had no psychiatrist, and my pediatrician was baffled. Holding that secret inside, I was seized by the crippling anxiety of imminent change.

Now, apple juice is a trigger for me. I do not drink it, for fear of flashbacks.

We all keep secrets. When I discovered the existence of psychiatric disorder within myself, I kept this secret. I felt privileged with information only I could see, holding an invisible weight above society. Many years later, revealing that secret felt brave. A burden was lifted. Due to my vulnerability, I am able to speak freely about mental illness without shame. I am filled with hope, caused not from hiding but for opening my heart to help others. Secrets can protect us, but some secrets need air.


“Why Not?” 8.18.23

I think many of us can agree that sugar and salt are delicious; water is an option but not a necessity; and vegetables should remain buried in the ground. Who brings kale chips to a movie theater when the mouth-watering scent of buttered popcorn engulfs them? How many of us prefer the gym over the living room couch? It’s important to sleep deeply, but for some, it is a chore to get out of bed.

Sometimes I wake up in a low mood, my toes reluctant to touch the floor. If I have plans for the day, I often cancel them. Several excuses form behind my eyelids, reasons to skip the gym. My dad is my workout buddy. He keeps me on track, and sees through my lies.

When I have finished, my day looks brighter and my lips curve into a smile. Serotonin floods my system, and all of my troubles melt away. I feel this way each time, though my first instinct every day is to reschedule for never.

Vegetables are a healthy substitute for junk. They are brain food. Walking into a grocery store, I look around and see people in every direction. In their carts I find bread, cereal, crackers, cookies, pasta, potato chips, canned foods, preserves, soft drinks; everything that tastes delectable. My cart looks no different. Often, I have thought, “Pick your poison.”

Water is essential to life. The clear, tasteless, vital source controls all of our bodily functions. It generates glowing skin, shiny hair, and strong nails. Water induces regularity. It feeds our organs. Yet, some of us prefer the taste of more exciting beverages, slowly killing ourselves with each sip. We need to drink half our body weight in ounces of water every day. Easy, right? So, why not?

Why do we deprive ourselves of our basic needs? Food, water, sleep, sunshine and exercise maintain our bodies and minds. Fuel your body; care for your body; feel the difference in your life. These are not outstanding requests, yet we do not meet them. The tasks seem daunting, like a massive puzzle. Build your life one piece at a time. Why not?


“The Window” 8.11.23

“They” say that when one door closes, a window opens. Sometimes the door hits you on your way out, or slams you back into your cage. In my experience, the window does not always open, and rarely of its own accord.

Imagine a tight space pressing forcefully around yourself, growing smaller by the day. A tiny box, in which to spend your days and nights for a few long months. The details become ingrained inside your mind. Lying on your back is faintly akin to gazing at clouds, the water marks on the ceiling creating dark shapes. The room encompasses its prisoners with thick blue walls. A small black mattress sans bedding rests in the corner. There is an opaque window above an air unit on one wall. The window never opens, and it is impossible to glimpse the outside world.

You have become so small that you can sit on the window unit and wish with all the strength you can muster that the window will grant freedom.


There was a door, locked from the outside. Two large guards leaned patiently against it, anticipating an escape attempt. The door had a square window the size of a small picture frame, fit for one human face.

The window had black, sticky, malleable glue in its creases. Every day, shaping that glue into tiny little works of art occupied my time.

I pushed the door. At times, it gave. During this period of time, I had the strength of a mother lifting a car to save her child. I was fighting for my sanity, my freedom, my rights, my body. I was molested and violated in my vulnerable state. I was given shots in sensitive areas when they could pin me down, because I refused to take my medications. When those heavy pigs succeeded in catching me-in order to administer the shots-one sat on my back, crushing my rib cage. The monsters laughed in triumph, as I could not breathe.

Through the thick glass of the tiny window, I could see into the hallway. When I did escape the room, I had only entered another prison. Doors closed, but windows never opened.

I forcefully rejected everyone who asked me if I was “ready to talk,” so I spent a large portion of my “visit” in solitary confinement. I was treated like a Rottweiler which has never set foot outside its cage, a “danger to myself and others.” All I wanted was sunlight and exercise.

When I was finally released, I had a new best friend (myself), with whom I had become very close. I was damaged. I was stronger.

Part of the injustice was the lack of consequences bequeathed unto the men who had violated me. They walk around free and unsuspected. No one would believe my word over theirs, because I had been “incompetent.” It is infuriating. No one can fully understand the personal hell I suffered through. It was horrific. But I rose from the ashes, and left the box behind. I sealed that door. I opened a window.


“Care Full” 8.04.23

When I was first introduced to bipolar I disorder, I scoured book stores and picked apart the internet for information concerning this topic. I wanted to know everything so that I could help myself and others. One of the most helpful resources I discovered was the “Bipolar Disorder for Dummies” guide. Those books contain a wealth of information on every topic imaginable. Over the course of several years, I learned about and experienced bipolar I disorder. I have made it my mission to learn everything possible so that I can provide useful knowledge to those most in need. Also, I love to learn. These are a few pointers I have picked up along my mental health journey:

*Weighted blankets (gravity blankets) are a tremendous aid for subduing anxiety.

*Run cold water over your hands/body. I have found that natural resources provide healing properties. My anxiety melts away in a cold shower or when I run my hands under the cold stream from a faucet. The best medicine I have experienced by far is total submersion in a frigid white water river.

*Surround yourself with familiar people and tell your story as often as needed to help heal trauma. Many people have heard my stories several times.

*Keep a journal and track your moods, thoughts, feelings.

*Find a comfortable place to feel at peace. Spend time alone to become familiar with yourself (but not too much time alone, which can lead to low mood and/or paranoid delusions, in my case).

*Laughter is the best medicine. Watch a funny show; spend time with friends; read a funny book. I recommend “Hyperbole and a Half,” and “Solutions and other Problems.” by Allie Brosh.

*Exercise increases serotonin and gives you a happy feeling you can find no other way. It helps secure a deep sleep later. I walk my dog in the morning, and hike with my dad once a week. I also hit the gym to release toxins and keep my body and mind fortified.

*Gardening is an excellent reason to get dirty on purpose, to become more intimate with the earth and your own peace of mind, while also soaking in refreshing Vitamin D. Wear sun screen!

*Track your water and food intake. Keep a food log (not to lose weight; feed your body the healthy fuel it needs). In order to stay hydrated and regular, a person must drink half their body weight in fluid ounces each day. I weigh a little over 130 pounds, so I am supposed to drink at least 65 fluid ounces each day. I admit that I often do not reach my target. I track both of these on my watch, because I have trouble remembering. It doesn’t have to be an expensive watch. There are many which serve the same purpose. I prefer to keep it simple.

*Talk therapists (counselors) provide someone to listen and keep conversations confidential.

*Psychiatrists (in some cases) prescribe medication. I recommend following that regimen because I have fallen subject to the consequences of abstaining and sorely regretting it. However; that is not the only route and every body has its own system. In case you are prescribed medication, take your meds! Also, taking them with food helps your body absorb them.

*Accept the support of family, friends, and loved ones (sadly, not available to all).

*Emotional support animals if necessary/affordable (I have a small dog) are comforting.

*Sleep! I have a lot of trouble with this one. It is important to maintain a regular sleep cycle. Routine is key in that area. My body needs 9 hours of rest. I have to get to bed early so that I can fit all of those hours into my schedule.

*Meditation and focusing breath can relax and ground a person. It can help with anxiety, irritability and frustration.


*I am not a licensed professional. I cannot diagnose, or prescribe medication.

These are my personal helpful suggestions.

“A Backward Glance” 7.28.23

March 2013

I sit alone with my back to the wall, in a corner made comfortable by my frequent occupancy. Hiding from the other patients in a necessary attempt to acquire time for myself, I have donned my favorite hooded sweatshirt; I wear it every day and feel safe within its confines. They took away my sandals due to their buckles. I now wear soft, lightly treaded slippers in a shade of magenta. Little did I know I would be wearing the nasty things for the next six months. A sketch book lies in my lap, so close to my heart it may as well be glued to the spot. Colored pencils are near. I raise my hood and begin my day, blocking out the world to sink into my own mind, wishing never to return to this living hell.


I had a beautiful childhood, but toward adolescence I was an angry, sad twelve year old; I experienced depression at an early age. I hid that part of myself craftily. I had perfect grades, friends, extracurriculars; yet, smiling was difficult and noticeably rare. I loved to run, to escape, to experience freedom. I read many books, played outside, and my sketchbook was always close. My dad taught me how to draw. I fell in love with art. When I was in the fourth grade, I anxiously awaited Thursday afternoons; I joined other young artists for lessons in a quaint loft above a frame shop. I smiled. Art became my outlet.

When I was fifteen, I experienced my first bout with mania. I painted and sketched and wrote such wonderful pieces of art. My mess created masterpieces. Through the chaos, my skills expanded and art became therapy.

In high school, I honed my artistic roots and attended a performing arts school in Savannah, Georgia. Four years of visual arts training taught me that there is always room for improvement, and sometimes when you think you are finished, you have just begun.

After five years of college, I graduated with a bachelor degree in Fine Art. I was immersed and well-rounded when I finally surfaced. I worked in a grocery store; I was a professional babysitter and nanny; I was an assistant teacher; I worked with handicapped children.

Under pressure, without the right combination of medications, and an absent psychiatrist, I cracked and continued to break.


March 2013

The security guard confiscated my colored pencils. Too sharp. How upsetting to lose partial freedom. They believed I was “a danger to myself or others.” I was given a coloring book and crayons, as if that were a fair trade. I am not one to follow trends or benefit from the work of another. Why color something I did not create? It feels like renting a house: pouring money down the drain to stay afloat when you could have been paying a mortgage and working toward owning a place of your choosing. I am irritable today. Sometimes I blackout. I say things, then snap out of a daze; I do not remember what happened or the offensive way I treated someone without conscious knowledge. Today was a bad day. I blacked out and angered a huge male patient, emerging from my haze and into danger. He attempted to hurt me; he punched a hole in the wall. He created a hole in my corner, just as I exited that scene. I was whisked away. I have lost my safe space.


Dating back to my childhood, I have created safe, comfortable spaces for myself. My mom calls them “nests.” I built them in the exposed roots of massive trees, curled up in blankets on the windowsill behind the couch, in a handmade tent, in my own room. When my nest is challenged or destroyed, I feel as exposed as those roots. I have always found a haven in which to shut out the world and spend hours alone, thinking. The day aforementioned, I lost my corner. Weeks later, I also lost my hooded sweatshirt. I was naked without it. Now, there was nowhere to hide.


March 2013

My head is pounding. Where am I? Did I just undergo brain surgery? No, my brain was electrocuted a couple hours ago. A last resort to raise me from the dead. I guess this is what some call the “after burn.” It aches. I’m exhausted.

Where am I? Do I have to eat that? No, I do not want to take those meds. You are trying to poison me (delusion). This is a nightmare.

Search high and low for the sweatshirt you misplaced in the laundry! Give me a sketchbook! Include the colored pencils!


When I first began my relationship with the realm of art, I realized how frustrating it could be when the images in my head did not transfer to the canvas. Years of experience taught me that practice does not make perfect. The greatest lesson is this: never will your work be finished, just as you will never stop growing and changing. My story begins here, but my journey continues.



“Monsters” 07.21.23

Vampires are among the most misunderstood mythical creatures. Maybe they are pale, attractive, with dark bruises under their eyes. Perhaps they are monsters in the dark, resting during the day and hunting in the evenings. They are believed to feast on human blood. Some say they will dissolve like a wicked witch under a bucket of Holy water, or disintegrate when they step into the light of day. Others believe they will twinkle in the sunshine. Popular delusions insist that The Reaper visits them with wooden stakes to the heart, exorcisms, death by nemesis. Rumor reveals that they are allergic to garlic. Presumably, these beings cannot enter your home without your invitation. Though vampires are fictional, their details are ambiguous.

There are also common misconceptions about mental illness. Psychiatric illnesses do not yield tangible evidence. This causes many to disbelieve. It creates a realm for guessing and closed minds. We think nothing can touch us until it slaps us in the face. Some think that mood swings equal bipolar disorder; depression is comprised of brief feelings of despair. Anxiety cripples us all, no matter how far we will go to play the part of “normal.” Vampires may not exist, but the whole truths of mental illness elude us like shadows as we stumble in the dark.

The media paints with thick oil. The layers of truth lie so far beneath the surface, and the canvas is still wet. “Ignorance is bliss” covers the top coat. Many are afraid of the unknown. We want to escape our fears with a brush, wash our hands and walk away empty. The media suffocates the truth and replaces it with rumors and judgement. Without key ingredients, they force feed the stigma.

We are all surrounded by adversity too heavy to carry alone. Sharing this burden lightens our load. Everyone needs a shoulder, whether or not you have a psychiatric disorder, you are a family member, or a friend. Instead of viewing people as cases, we must open our eyes and see neighbors.

When we can see, believe, and certainly know, there is no room for “probably,” or “maybe.” We have bested the unknown. We have outrun the real monsters.