Profile in Brave: Actress Victoria Maxwell talks on the intersection between spirituality and mental illness

Courtesy of Victoria Maxwell

“I went into a blissful state with powerful insights which led to a florid psychosis,” she said. “But the medical system pathologized the entire experience and didn’t give me space to tell them about the beginning part which was personally profound.”

Victoria Maxwell

Canadian actress Victoria Maxwell was quite the accomplished actress in the nineties acting and producing such films and television series as 21 Jump Street, the X-Files, MacGyver, Spin the Bottle, and acting alongside David Duchovney, John Travolta, and Johnny Depp. 

At 25, her life and career took another twist when she had a psychosis brought on by a meditation retreat, and was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

One time during a mania she ran naked through the streets, and now she’s sharing her story to help others feel they are not alone. She began writing and performing skits for a Canadian disability arts festival on her story. And now, created a career speaking and performing these short plays to audiences around the world. 

She calls herself the Bipolar Princess, which is coming full-circle to where she was twenty-five years ago cycling in and out of hospitals in denial of her illness. She turned her illness into her superpower using her skills as an actress to guide her. She doesn’t do television and film acting anymore due to the stress of rejection and financial instability of the career. 

Her short one-woman performances include Crazy for Life and Funny You don’t look crazy, a performance about working with mental illness. These are available for viewing on her web site for purchase but you can also find a trailer for Crazy for Life on Youtube

Her trip through insanity began at a meditation retreat. She had never done any yoga or meditation so her body and mind were quite unprepared for the insights she would receive. 

“I went into a blissful state with powerful insights which led to a florid psychosis,” she said. “But the medical system pathologized the entire experience and didn’t give me space to tell them about the beginning part which was personally profound.”

For this reason, she refused to accept her illness and cycled back through the hospital system frightened that this would be her life.

She finally found a psychiatrist who helped her see that she could have a spiritual experience and still have a mental illness. She was lucky to find this man. In Canada, due to universal healthcare, psychiatrist fees are covered but there is a waiting list oftentimes and not as much choice in who you see. 

“This was the first time I trusted a psychiatrist who said I didn’t have to let go of insights into meditation but could also take care of my mental health needs.”

Her psychiatrist happened to be a beatnik from the sixties. He told her it sounded like her experience was an altered state. He didn’t lump it in with being negative. 

“I was still experiencing a lot of depression and anxiety. He invited me to see if medication works and how it affects you and we’ll go from there. This was quite pivotal for me.”

Medication did work for her. Although, she’s had to play with the dosages over the years. Now at 55, menopause plays a role in her moods too. 

She describes her insights from meditation the way Maslov described peak experiences. There’s a separation from the ego and you feel one with the universe. She saw her own identity as I am not my thoughts, feelings and mind. 

She believes she had the psychosis because “I hadn’t created enough space in my psychic container. I hadn’t done any yoga or meditation before so it was impossible to hold these insights and sustain them.” 

Also, trauma from her childhood started to come up. Maxwell grew up an only child in a home where both parents had mental illness. Her father undiagnosed and her mother was diagnosed bipolar and got little help. 

Today, she meditates daily but she has to titrate her spirituality into small steps instead of great fireworks displays. Meditation for her is learning to be present in her body, watching her breath and scanning her body. 

“Sometimes when trauma and anxiety are triggered, meditation can make me more agitated. Sitting meditation is unhelpful then. Sometimes I need to be physical and not just sit on a cushion watching my breath stewing in anxiety.”

During these times, she’ll go for a run, dance in her kitchen, walk outside or in the forest, or pet her dog.

Other things she does to cope with her anxiety and depression besides meditation are exercise, chi gong like tai chi, talk therapy, Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), accepting her situation and knowing what her values are and taking the next right action. 

She values her work that allows her to be of service, friendship she makes sure to reach out to people, and making sure she has self-compassion, which is sometimes the hardest thing for her. She has to give herself a lot of kindness. 

“Sometimes my inner critic is mean to me,” she said. She sometimes feels she is doing something wrong to be feeling like this. Then, she remembers it is just an illness.

Her bipolar and trauma feed each other. “Trauma can affect my body chemistry and because I have a susceptibility to mood and energy shifts it can feed off each other if I have a trauma reaction.”

“It’s easy to dissociate then to be safe and present in my body,” she said. “It’s like peeling the onion. We learn so much about ourselves and then there is another layer.”

An apt metaphor for someone who fancies herself a lacoto-ovo vegetarian and is always trying to vegetarian recipes. 

“I feel the more I do, the more I remember who I am.”

Healing from trauma puts us in survival mode and we don’t have the luxury of hobbies. Maxwell gets to be introduced to what she likes and doesn’t every day. 

She’s becoming avid about sewing on her 1960s Singer sewing machine. Her next project is a pair of pajama pants.

In her job as a writer, speaker and performer, she understands her limitations and with self-care skills has figured out how to transcend them. She sticks to the things she’s good at and doesn’t try to be someone she’s not.

In early recovery, she worked a 9-5 office job. It was helpful for the stability and structure but she craved to be more creative. This is when she wrote a few scenes about her psychosis and read them to the disability arts festival. Over the years, she kept doing this and it blossomed into the career she has today.

She writes skits for CRESTBD, a Canadian research team, who studies the psychosocial and quality of life issues in bipolar disorder. They commissioned her to write her experiences with stigma and perform them to audiences. The research proved that narrative theatre reduces stigma and discrimination. I told her about the This is My Brave organization in America which uses theatrics and storytelling to do the same thing. 

She is also working with the Canadian health authority to tell the stories of people with dual diagnosis who have experienced the criminal justice system in three animated videos. This is a three-year project. She’ll be posting the videos on her web site soon.

Today she blogs for Psychology Today, BPHope.com and others, and writes plays and keynotes on her story with mental illness to inspire and educate others. She has won 14 awards including the Entertainment Industrial Council PRISM Award, SAMHSA Voice Award, best foreign stage play at Moondance Film festival, and she’s one of the top ten entertainers with disabilities. You can find her at www.victoriamaxwell.com.

My 8-Fold Path to Wellness in College: How I Thrived and So can You

I promised you my 8-Fold Path to Staying Stable and completing your degree. Not everything may work for you. It is up to you do tailor it and design your own road map. 

*Stigma: Combatting stigma or discrimination requires education of yourself first. Then, you must educate others. Give them pamphlets from NAMI or Active Minds or invite them to an Active Minds event on campus. Open the dialogue with your roommate and friends. First check their feelings out about the issue. Then, if comfortable with what they say, disclose yourself. Explain what it’s like for you and how they might help. You might even get a reaction like someone in their family has a mental illness. 

Disclosing to professors is tricky. You want to get the fair advantage and not seem like you want more from the professor than other students. At the same time, you want to make them aware of your disability and how it impacts your schoolwork. The Americans with Disabilities Act ADA will protect you and support you when talking with professors. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has put out a guidebook on the law for college students. You will want to be direct and not get into too much details of your illness. Just explain how your disability affects your schoolwork. If asking for an accommodation, be polite and be prepared to compromise.

  • Eat Well:         You will want to eat a variety of foods. What works for me is a low carb, low sugar diet high in greens and lean protein. Limit junk food. Find a balance of foods that fuel you and make that your daily routine. Drinking green juice is a good replacement for coffee. Coffee is a stimulant and will make you wired. Limit it to one cup a day, if any. Watch your sugar intake. Sugar is the poor man’s cocaine as a therapist once told me. Everything has sugar in it so this one is tricky. If you stick to a diet of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, nuts and seeds, you will be fine.
  • Abstinence from Alcohol and Drugs is Best: If you take psychotrophic medication, it is best to stay away from substances that alter your mind state. Alcohol, weed, opioids, cocaine, LSD etc…will alter your mind and make your symptoms worse.
  • Hitting the Books: If you are like me and focusing is a problem, study in a quiet place like a library that is well-lit. Highlight important passages, then summarize them in a notebook. Read slowly and summarize after each section break. Study best during the day after class when you are fresh. Try not to pull all-nighters. Having a planner and a daily schedule will allow you to carve out study time so you won’t have to cram. 
  • Dating: There is only one rule for dating: Disclose early on so you can gage their reaction. If he gives you the “good in bed” response, Run. Stick with people that lift you up. If you sense signs of danger in a relationship, don’t be afraid to call a Domestic Violence crisis line for help on how to get out of it. 
  • Exercise: It is important to find some form of movement you love doing and do it daily or a few times a week. Running, Rowing, Weight Lifting, Yoga, Dance, Swimming are just to name a few. Try and do cardio and strength training and remember to do your stretching first. 
  • Friendships: Like dating, stick around the people who lift you up. Listen hard and share the conversation. Remember a good friend is a good listener first. Write encouragement notes to them. Send care packages. Remember birthdays. 
  • Meditation:     Connecting to a higher purpose or the universe is good for the soul. Meditation is incredibly calming and a good tool in your wellness basket. If agitated, don’t do sitting meditation. It can make you worse sitting in your anxiety. Try walking meditation or call your therapist instead. 

Non-Profit Spotlight: Today I Matter on Addiction

At the age of 29, Timothy Lally died of a heroin overdose. He had struggled with depression, anxiety and panic attacks and tried traditional treatments that didn’t work. When he discovered opioid pills, it made him feel better. The opioids ran out and he turned to heroin. 

His father, John Lally, an APRN, wanted to turn his pain into purpose and make meaning out of his death. He started Today I Matter (TIM), the acronym is Tim’s name. Based in Ellington, CT, Today I Matter is a family non-profit that helps reduce the shame and stigma behind substance abuse and mental illness. Erasing the stigma and changing the conversation allows people to feel good about accepting treatment and getting well. 

As a psychiatric nurse, Lally Sr. is exceptionally qualified to do public speaking on these topics. As a founder of his non-profit, he makes presentations to the Department of Health, nurses associations, and schools. 

With the recent death of a 13-year-old student in Hartford due to a fentanyl overdose, he’s inundated with calls from schools to speak. Over 12 schools have made requests for presentations. 

He also gives trainings in administering Narcam and using QPR (Question Persuade and Refer)—which is a way to intervene when someone is suicidal. A lot of people don’t know what to say on the subject of addiction and mental illness and suicide. QPR teaches people how to reach out. Even if they don’t have the answer, they can show someone suicidal another way. 

Tim Lally was avid about the arts and music. Today I Matter offers scholarships for students studying art and music. 

The organization sponsors a Poster Project of 438 people who died of substance use disorder which is exhibited around New England. 

“It gives a face to the numbers. It’s quite moving,” said Lally.

On April 30, the Poster Project will be displayed on the National Mall in D.C. 

They offer a support group for adults who lost a sibling to substance use disorder. Their yearly fundraiser Out Run Addiction, a 5K road race, which they sponsor with two other groups.

“It’s easy to be judgmental if you think it can’t happen to you or your family and you are not aware of other’s struggles. But it can happen to everyone,” said Lally.

Addiction came on stronger during COVID because of the isolation, lack of structure and no support system for mental illness and addiction. People addicted or who have mental disorders don’t do well with isolation.

Lally has a blog on Today I Matter’s web site where he discusses topics in addiction and mental illness and stigma. There is a place for donations on their site too. 

It’s Just Talk. No Shame in Therapy

Cheslie Kryst

Cheslie Kryst shines the light on mental health in life and in death.

Cheslie Kryst, attorney and 2019 Miss USA winner, 30, jumped to her death in New York City’s Times Square. Her death shines the light again on suicide among the prominent and powerful, as well as on the mental health of communities of color. 

After winning Miss USA, in a now ironic statement to Inside Edition, saying that she took care of her mental health and went to therapy. 

According to the National Center of Health Statistics, there has been a slight uptick in suicides in communities of color in America. However, despite the grim statistics, there have seen more black people, especially black men, go to therapy. 

Kryst worked for a law firm in North Carolina and was passionate on criminal justice reform logging pro bono hours for those sentenced to excessive time for low-level drug offenses. She served on the boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters and Dress for Success, as well as being a correspondent for Extra on occasion. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicide or grief, it is important to seek help and surround yourself with information about mental health and suicide. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and you can find out about suicide prevention for suicide survivors at www.afsp.org. It’s no shame to see a therapist. It’s just talk. 

On the Legal Docket: New Lawsuit Aims to Reform Staten Island’s District 75 for Disabled Students

Last January 2021, attorneys from the Disability Rights Advocates, Disability Rights New York, the Bazelon Center, and the law offices of Jerry Hartman, filed a major class action lawsuit challenging New York City’s segregated school system for students with disabilities on Staten Island.

Known as District 75, many Staten Island students attend schools outside their communities and commute to school for more than two hours each day. The lawsuit seeks reforms to allow students the necessary resources to ensure students can attend their neighborhood school. 

Research has shown that students with disabilities are more likely to score higher on tests and graduate high school when included with their non-disabled peers. 

The three Plaintiffs in the case alleges that District 75 does not give students equal access to school facilities such as cafeterias, libraries and playgrounds, electives like music and art classes and extra-curricular activities and sports. Black students with disabilities are overrepresented in District 75. 

I spoke with Emily Seelenfreund, of Disability Rights Advocates, and she said that currently the New York City Department of Education has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the plaintiffs have filed opposition. They are waiting for a judge from the federal court of Eastern District of New York to rule on it. 

We reached out by email to the New York Department of Education’s legal team but did not receive comment. 

New Poetry Phone Line Promotes Mental Health and World Healing

In January of 2021, Trapeta Mayson, poet laureate of Philadelphia and a social worker, had an idea. Deep into the COVID pandemic, she wanted to alleviate the mental health crisis brought on by Covid in the city and world. 

She decided to start The Healing Verse, a 24/7 phone line promoting mental health, wellness, and mental well-being. Every Monday a new poem drops on the line. Mayson, a native of Liberia, Philadelphia resident and Temple University graduate, is committed to organizations which mobilize the arts to build community and heal. The project features 50 emerging and professional poets. It is supported by Philadelphia Contemporaryas well as the Academy of American Poets, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Kelly Writers House. 

To listen to the poems, simply call 1-855-763-6792. 

Sobriety & Dual Diagnosis

It’s been twenty years of not taking a drink or a drug. My one day at a times have been strung together some of it, good times like my wedding, and some in a haze of mental illness. My drugs of choice were alcohol and weed. I never was truly addicted but I sure did get into trouble with my using. I didn’t have to drink for long (I only drank for four years off and on), but sure it was crazy. 

I got sober a few months after September 11, 2001, a few days after Martin Luther King Day, and a few days before I turned 25. The world had changed, and I could feel that now was the time for me to look inward and change. Change meant dealing with the bipolar disorder which was also wrecking havoc and causing me unbearable internal pain. 

At 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Back then, drinking a carefe of red wine on Newberry Street in Boston didn’t seem like a big deal. I had my first drink with friends in my dorm room. I later did share blackberry spritzers with a girlfriend when I traveled from Boston to University of Rhode Island for some fun with her. I didn’t drink much after that. College life was a haze of psychiatric drug trials. 

I picked it up again when I was fired from my first journalism job after college. I wasn’t out about my bipolar back then, my symptoms flared up and it became too much for my stymied editors. I drank right through the first months after 9/11 with periods of sobriety and moments of insights, then got sober that January. 

Addiction and substance abuse is a hard road to recovery. It’s about relapse after relapse, then long term recovery. Much like mental illness, it’s about learning from your mistakes and then moving on to make different ones. The twelve steps got me through in the beginning, then therapy and developing self-care skills help me to this day. The right medications are also helpful too. I spent years on the wrong meds in a fog watching life pass me by. Then came lithium and Abilify which stabilized me for more than a decade, and now Lamictal and Abilify. I’m grateful to every sponsor I ever had who put in great effort sometimes to no avail, every psychiatrist, therapist, mental health worker who got me where I am today. I’m grateful to the jobs I lost out and in sobriety which taught me how to be a worker and what a worker was not. I’m grateful for the bad relationships, the selfishness on my part, for teaching me what I needed to be a good friend and the wife I am now to my husband. Twenty years is an accomplishment. Many addicts never reach this. This is for the ones that died and the ones still out there as it is for all those doing the work in long-term recovery. I’m a firm believer in living amends. Doing the soul work, showing up for your life and to the page, and being of service—giving of yourself to the causes and people who inspire you. 

I get to be there for the best moments of my life, the small ones and the big ones. And, I get to feel the awful ones too, the ones that force soul-searching where there is more work to be done. It’s an honor and a privilege that I’ve had so many opportunities paid and volunteer in journalism and mental health advocacy to show up and inspire others with my craft. I cannot do those things without my sobriety and my recovery from mental illness.

In early sobriety, I was hospitalized for my mental illness. I remember a mental health worker saying to me “Stay in Today” because I was in a rush to do, do, do to become someone great. I had to learn to just be and watch life unfold in the direction it had for me. Some wonderful opportunities have presented themselves when I slowed down and took the next right action. It’s all about baby steps, waiting for good orderly direction.  Taking them toward lasting sobriety and taking steps to your ultimate goals or bucket list for life. 

This sounds like a lot of platitudes but it is what I’ve learned as truth. I have no suggestions for how to get sober, everyone is on their own path. For those who don’t make it, their lives are lessons for others to learn from.

Below are resources to help you or your loved one reach recovery. 

Alcoholics Anoymous www.aa.org

Hazelden www.hazelden.org

SAMHSA www.samhsa.gov

Dual Diagnosis Anonymous https://ddainc.org

Hay House    publishing house with books on spirituality and recovery

NIMH www.nimh.nih.gov

Resource for LGBTQIA community http://glast.org

Resources for Communities of Color 

www.soberblackgirlsclub.com

www.thetemper.com

Hartford Connecticut Museum Curates Unique and Universal Exhibit on Mental Health Past and Present

The first thing you see when you walk into the mental health exhibit at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford is 18th Century artist Faith Trumbull Huntington who died by suicide. 

“Through looking through letters in our collection, we gleaned that her family had tried to help her,” said Ben Gammell, director of exhibitions at the museum. 

Common Struggle, Individual Experience: An Exhibition about Mental Health Presented by Hartford Healthcare Institute of Living will show now until October 15, 2022. 

Shortly into the exhibit you will learn about the personal stories of military and law enforcement through the use of video interviews. Also included are information about mental health of soldiers during the Civil War. As the cop said in his video, “We are the first ones you call when you need help, but we are not inclined to ask for help for ourselves.” 

Erasing the discrimination that surrounds mental health in our society is what this exhibit hopes to achieve. Through focus groups and reaching out to mental health agencies, the museum found people with lived experience to interview on camera. You will find these stories interspersed throughout the exhibit. 

I reached out to Kathy Flaherty executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, who was part of the initial focus groups and was interviewed on camera for the exhibit. CLRP is a non-profit organization fighting for the legal rights of people with mental illness.

“I was pleased to participate in focus groups while the exhibit was being planned and to film video responses to several thought-provoking questions. The Keep the Promise Coalition posters were in storage at CLRP’s office [Connecticut Legal Rights Project]; I was thrilled we were able to loan them to the museum for display as part of this exhibit, said Flaherty. 

“I hope this exhibit will get more people to think about where we’ve been, and more importantly, where we are going in terms of what “mental health” means in Connecticut. I hope it causes people to think deeply about how we can best support people in emotional distress and the systemic changes we must continue to demand.”

Because of its 120th Anniversary in 2022, there is a lot of information about the Institute of Living’s history formerly the Hartford Retreat for the Insane. The IOL is now a part of Hartford Healthcare in Hartford, Connecticut.

Through use of diverse voices from the past and present, they discuss the impact poverty and racism have on mental health and access to care. For black and indigenous cultures there is extra discrimination the way society looks at someone for having a chemical imbalance in their brain. 

Some of the voices included talked about the lack of insurance coverage and access to treatment without going bankrupt. They included a small section on mental health public policy and legislation. They even brought in voices from the deaf community talking about finding a therapist who used sign language. These was even a section on mindfulness practices in mental health treatment. 

At the end of the exhibit, there were mental health crisis numbers and pamphlets for people to take and share with their friends. 

“This exhibit helps destigmatize mental health and normalize the conversation,” said Gammell. “It talks about how people past and present struggled with mental health. It’s a universal issue throughout the ages.”

The curators dug deep through diaries and letters in the museum’s collection to find this universal truth within the texts of the past.

“It’s not a chronological exhibit. We’ve weaved voices from the past with those from the present to allow you to connect with people from 200 years ago,” said Gammell.

Author and Advocate Julia Tannenbaum, who I have interviewed for this blog, was included in the exhibit as well as her fictional trilogy the Changing Ways series were displayed. 

“I’m beyond flattered to have my young adult book trilogy, The Changing Ways Series, featured in Common Struggle, Individual Experience. My goal with writing my books and sharing my personal story of surviving anorexia was to inspire hope in those who are struggling with mental illness that recovery is possible, and that it gets so much better. Additionally, there needs to be more public awareness of mental illness and support for those who suffer, and I believe CHS’s incredible exhibit will move the needle forward on both. I’m so glad that I can be a part of this much-needed systematic change,” said Tannenbaum. 

A live storytelling event presented by writer and storyteller Matthew Dicks on Zoom was dedicated to Mental Health honoring the exhibit which happened last Saturday and was sponsored by the Connecticut Historical Society. These stories augmented the exhibit by sharing even more personal stories. 

They will also be hosting related programs throughout the year. Our next book talk scheduled is here:
https://chs.org/event/opioid-epidemic/.

A Paramedic’s Dispatches From the Front Line of the Opioid Epidemic – Connecticut Historical SocietyJoin us for a book talk with Hartford paramedic Peter Canning, author of Killing Season: A Paramedic’s Dispatches From the Front Line of the Opioid Epidemic.. In April 2021, Canning released Killing Season: A Paramedic’s Dispatches From the Front Line of the Opioid Epidemic.A paramedic on the streets of Hartford for over 25 years, Canning has seen the impact of prescription painkillers …chs.org

If you go to the museum’s web site, you can take a virtual tour of the exhibit, find out hours of operation, price of admission, and when live tours are scheduled for this exhibit. The site is www.chs.org

Author Terri Cheney Talks about her Life and her Books

Author and advocate Terri Cheney’s friends and family were often baffled by her moods and how to best help her. People offered lots of well-meaning advice but none of it got down to her core.

“When someone is depressed, say five little words: Tell me where it hurts,” said Cheney. “This helps a person open up about their feelings and pain. The darkness dissipates out into the light.”

Cheney is the author of three books, the best-selling memoir Manic about her life as an entertainment lawyer with bipolar disorder, the Dark Side of Innocence about her childhood and adolescence growing up undiagnosed bipolar, and her latest book Modern Madness: An Owner’s Manual.

 

The Reasoning behind Modern Madness

 

Cheney wrote Modern Madness to reach beyond her own experience since her first memoir was published and incorporate some of the new research on bipolar disorder. The book is more prescriptive than her memoirs but she uses anecdotes from her own life to illustrate.

“Several years ago, I bought a new vacuum and it came with complicated instructions. I had the idea that there should be an owner’s manual for mental health. It’s a frightening subject unless you break it down.”

 

Describing her manias and her depressions

 

Cheney, diagnosed with ultra-rapid cycling bipolar as an adult, describes mania like this: “I just had a manic day after not having one for a long time. I felt like I was being pushed from behind, speaking quickly, racing through my day.”

Depression is quite the opposite for her. She experiences physical paralysis or psychomotor retardation as psychiatrists call it.

“I could be looking at a pen on the desk. I’ll stare at it for 10 minutes and not pick it up. Both the emotional and physical components of depression are frightening,” she said.

 

Childhood and Bipolar on the College Campus

 

Cheney’s bipolar disorder was apparent in the Dark Side of Innocence. She explained her symptoms as the “Black Beast” inside of her. But it went untreated because she was a straight A student, popular and not the type of kid you think of as being troubled. Her parents didn’t talk about mental illness and as she says in Manicher father thought it was all in her head. By the time she stepped on Vassar’s campus, she went to the campus mental health center because she wasn’t sleeping but didn’t open up to the therapist that she was experiencing depression quite possibly because she couldn’t find the words to articulate her experience. The same thing happened to me at Simmons’ mental health center. I couldn’t find words to describe my experience so I went unnoticed until I had a manic break later that year.

“It’s hard to take the first step and acknowledge something is very wrong,” she said.

 

Talking about Mental Health Now and in the Future

 

“There is hope for the future. We’ve gone through with Covid as a nation and it has sensitized people that mental health is physical health and life is precious and fragile. This will lead to awareness and compassion.”

“We are finally seeing a shift with the NFL open about mental health and Simone Biles opening up at the Olympics. We’ll look back in 5 years and wonder why we were so afraid to talk about this.”

 

The Language we use

Cheney who writes a blog on Psychology Today’s web site spoke of the political correctness in the mental health advocacy world. “I hope we don’t mess up experience with political correctness. We have to be careful about the language we use. The mental health community focuses too much on language and not enough on talking.”

 

To have the illness or to not have it 

I asked Cheney if she ever wished she were born without the Black Beast’s influence.

“Elyn [Saks] and I talked about this quite a bit. If we could take a magic pill to get rid of our illnesses, would we? I don’t think I would take that pill. Bipolar disorder is critical in developing my empathy and creativity.”

A California resident, Cheney is good friends with Elyn Saks, also a lawyer and diagnosed schizophrenic. Cheney sits on the board of her Center for Law, Policy and Ethics at USC.

Cheney is fascinated by the subject of manic depression. It has captured her imagination. She loves to sit in coffee shops with her notebook and write on moods and madness. Although her depressions have led her to be extremely suicidal and suicide attempts, she’d still want the beauty and ability to appreciate the darks and lights and shadows of life that bipolar brings her.

“It’s a very interesting illness. I don’t know why people don’t want to find out more,” she said.

 

Education is key

Cheney encourages her friends and family to educate themselves on her illness by reading her books and other literature that is out there so they know what she goes through and what they are getting into.

“Anyone in a relationship with me is going to be educated about bipolar disorder,” she said. “I’m honest about my depressions. I isolate and don’t return phone calls and texts.”

She says all she needs is people to know her well enough to check in on her and she will do her best to stay in contact.

 

Finding the Right Treatment

 

“Finding the right treatment can be difficult as a middle class white woman. I have privilege and I still find it difficult to pay for treatment. It makes me angry. We are nowhere near where we need to be with parity,” she said.

“In a perfect world, everyone that needed it would have a therapist and a psychopharmacologist who is conservative and careful.”

She warned against people going to their PCP for a prescription for Prozac because anti-depressants are not good in bipolar patients. Peer support groups are good for people who can’t afford therapy.

Cheney began and facilitated a support group at UCLA Medical Center. “You need to be your own advocate,” she said.

 

Disclosure

 

Because Cheney has written three books and is very open about her illness, she has trouble putting herself in other’s shoes when it comes to disclosure. She advises people when telling others about their illness to gage their audience closely.

“I wouldn’t tell details about a past relationship or job. You have to be careful who you tell and when you tell them,” she said. “I tell people as early as possible. If that person has a problem with it, I don’t want them in my life.”

 

Three Degrees of Separation

“Whenever I’ve told someone I’m bipolar, nine times out of ten they tell me about their cousin or mother or themselves are too.”

 

Self-Care vs. Self-Soothing

Cheney sees self-care as going to the doctor or getting bloodwork done. However, self-soothing, for her, is reading a good book and eating frozen yogurt.

“When I’m depressed, I treat myself as if I had the flu and not set expectations of myself.”

She’s a big fan of mindless television. She likes the classics like that make her laugh such as Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers.

 

Her depiction in the Modern Love series on Amazon Prime

Cheney thought they did a somewhat realistic job of depicting bipolar disorder on the Modern Love series on Prime based on an essay she wrote for the New York Times. Anne Hathaway and her chatted beforehand to get an accurate picture of her depression. The only thing they took creative license on is they made the character of Terri get fired.

“I have never been fired from a job because of my illness,” she said.

 

Hope for the future

Cheney is writing a new memoir asking the question whether people can really change.

“It’s been a difficult life dealing with mental illness. But it’s made me empathetic and kind,” she said.

“I’m amazed at how people get through the dark times without the advantages I’ve had,” she said referring to the support group she facilitated at UCLA.

 

Terri Cheney has a website at www.terricheney.com. It is being redeveloped as an educational site but you will still be able to purchase her books or friend her on Facebook.