Maneuvering Madness into Mental Health

Yesterday, I found myself being in an interview on the Illuminating the Stories that Bind Us podcast, which is managed by two amazingly lovely women I met in recent years, Jennifer Carey and Shannon Ward. I actually met Shannon online during the Covid lockdowns and we hit it off, collaborated on a few songs together, and have really grown into a wonderful friendship. She invited me to help out at a creativity-themed retreat in Massachusetts last year, called The WOW Stage, and that’s how I met Jennifer. Long story short, here we all are and they invited me to share my mental health journey on the podcast.

When I say maneuvering madness, I am referring to the state of constant awareness that different things will trigger me and that I manage how I regulate my mental health on a very daily basis. It was nice to talk about my mental health journey at length and feel listened to, which quite frankly, does not happen too often in my life. Years ago, people in my life probably had to deal with me talking about my mental health too much, but as I felt better and improved, it stopped being such a time-consuming topic in my relationships. Interesting – that should be good, but I realized how valuable it is to keep talking about mental health when it is no longer the giant 1980s neon pink elephant in the room. We learn from one another in this life, and if we don’t talk about things after we “figure it out,” how does that help others still in the middle of the process?

There is a part of me that wishes I could be more clear about the role my mental health plays in the larger picture of my daily life. Truth be told, I’m in too good of a place now, where I run the risk of being one of those people that “suddenly” shocks everyone if I were to have another major mental health setback. I have a bad day out of the 365 days in a year, and it is a big deal to everyone around me. People in my life have learned to believe I don’t really need support or help, because I don’t ask for it as often as I once did. It’s all an interesting state of mental health in hindsight for me now.

It is a weird space to hold for myself to be healthy – mentally speaking or emotionally speaking – and to look back at my more challenging years with a distance of over 20 years now.

I’m a different person. Even without the mental health journey, at age 43, I would not be the same as I was at 22 years of age.

Similarly, the people in my life are no longer the people they were 20 plus years ago. In fact, some of them are not even on this planet anymore. And some, while still residents of Earth, are no longer in my life. We are all entitled to change and grow. There was a time when it hurt to be left behind by people who were done with me, but these days, I am happy for them that they were able to define boundaries that worked for them at that time. I’ve learned to do the same. We’re all good!

Being on the podcast was such a positive experience, and I reminded myself about the many hurdles I jumped. Some of those hurdles were placed by other people, yes, but a good portion of my own race involved me placing hurdles in front of myself. In a variety of ways, I have always struggled to share my personal experiences, because I do not always know what to share. I make art (music, books, etc) and I assume (wrongly) that anyone who wants to know more about me will listen to my music, read my books, and get lost in the notions of my creative projects. Ha – maybe that’s the little manic and delusional moments in me?

It’s a bit difficult to identify what part of my story is most interesting to someone new. Which whackadoodle story would you like to hear – the one where I was suicidal at age 8, the time I almost killed myself at 13, or would you prefer the glamorous tale of how I drank myself into a coma at 18, a year after almost dying from liver failure in high school? Maybe you would prefer to hear about my bipolar disorder diagnosis in college, and how I refused treatment until I finally checked myself into the NYSPI three months after my college graduation. Maybe you want to know about my romantic mayhem instead? Or, maybe you want to know how I survived sexual harassment and assault? I struggle with sleep, too – maybe that’s more palatable to hear? You tell me.

I was so young. It breaks my heart today that this poor girl went through so much, because I can still taste the pain if I spend enough time thinking about it. Literally, I get a bit of reflux again, a lump in my throat, and a distinct bittersweetness lands on my tongue. I assume it’s a reaction from holding back tears. I am not too sure. It’s not a vivid pain anymore after so much healing, but it’s still a dull echo of discomfort when I go down memory lane.

The thing about managing your mental health successfully is that it becomes part of the invisible illness community. Like many other physical health issues that people have – if others can’t see it, how bad can it be? I must have not been that sick.

Oh, it’s bad, sweetie.

In fact, I would say that I am alive by the Grace of God in combination with my devotion to a very consistent Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Treatment plan I began over two decades ago. Just because I “know” what to do when I feel a symptom brewing does not cancel out its effects in my life. Speaking on the podcast reminded me of how much I had to let go and move on from multiple times in my life. It was not just “Oh Prin, you were just young…” or “you’re not really like other people.” What other people? The ones who struggle today – those people? I assure you I am very much like them. I’m simply blessed with the results of effective mental health treatment and a constant state of being mindful and realistic about my mental health.

I stop the world to take care of myself. I’ve sacrificed many things over the years to make mental health happen for me.

You know when I was pregnant, the first thing I did was to make sure I went back to regular therapy sessions. I felt fine, by the way. Why did I do that? Well, I wanted to have a therapist available just in case the pregnancy hormones created an imbalance or if I developed postpartum depression after giving birth. The moment I struggled a tiny bit again with sleep that began to feel like insomnia, I went back on Seroquel for a few months in 2014. The one time I went to Nashville and discovered the joys of drinking Moonshine for the first time and began to buy it when I returned home, I never bought it again after my brother pointed out I was drinking in the afternoon for no reason. My idea of sobriety means that I can go out to a dinner with family and friends while enjoying a glass of Malbec, because I choose to not get drunk ever. As a musician, I had to keep apart from the nightlife and find better ways to pursue my work. I can’t let myself do things that will trigger me into a cycle, including something as basic as not getting enough sleep. I’m holding onto two reins on a chariot that I have to keep at a steady pace at all times, because I depend on me, and other people depend on me. That is what managing your own mental health feels like. It is not simply taking a pill and waiting for everything to be better. It’s not a magic therapy session with one and done powers. It’s a daily maneuvering of the madness to reach a stable mental health every single day. Or most days. Or most years.

I’m allowed to have a bad day in a sea of good days. I’m allowed to need help and support a handful of times per year, just like anyone else who struggles daily. We’re all the same here – healing is an ongoing journey.

After Covid, I developed Type 2 Diabetes symptoms, and I’ve been on a very low medication treatment, tested every 3 months, and I’ve been really on top of it for over a year. There are days I do everything right and my sugar still spikes, and I can’t figure it out. There are days when I eat the flourless chocolate cake and nothing bad happens. With consistent treatment, I’ve managed to keep it from getting out of hand, and I can’t help but wonder – would anyone question that I have diabetic issues with elevated sugar in my blood if I told them that about me? No.

When I made The Calm Principles, it was to celebrate my 20th anniversary of taking care of myself. It was to take pride in everything I did to survive and live fully over the years on my mental health journey. Twenty years is a long time, people! Being calm has been a huge part of that, along with music, writing, and education. I’m passionate about communication, being authentic, growing in our ideas of love, and truly knowing myself. All of this makes up the principles, but during the podcast, I was reminded that for years, I jotted down ideas for this book. Even though I wrote it during lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, I had been collecting wellness ideas for a long time. The original idea for this book was called, The Side Effect of Sober. In fact, as I was speaking yesterday, I remembered that fun fact and it prompted me to reflect further in this blog.

All of this rambling is to say – don’t give up.

Do the treatment. See the doctor. Ask for help. Talk about it. Ask people questions. Tell people what you are feeling and be honest about your journey. Show people who you are.

And if you love someone, tell them and show them. You never know who needs it the most around you. Be kind. Be real.

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