Yesterday I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Adam Lennon of SeaTread Studios. Adam, like me, lives with bipolar disorder.
In April of 2014, Adam had a severe manic episode after taking medication that should have been complemented with a stabilizer. This “woke up” his bipolar genes, which would ultimately have devastating consequences for his family. ~ Our Story – SeaTread Studios.
Adam sent me a list of questions to prepare for the podcast. I wrote up these talking points in response to his questions, but didn’t read them verbatim as we spoke. When Adam edits and posts the podcast, I will let everyone know.
ADAM: On your site, you mention that you had convinced yourself that your family would be better off without you. I commonly use the quote about depression, “The monster speaks to you through your own voice.” What does this idea mean to you?
- Dark side reminiscent of the demon Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Lewis referred to the human being tempted and deceived as the Patient.
- When I read The Screwtape Letters a couple of years after I had experienced suicidality and survived a living hell, I felt as though he perfectly captured the struggle in our minds when our thoughts turn against us. It’s insidious and deceptive.
- Cognitive restructuring under a UCLA psychologist helped me to stop those deceptive and destructive thoughts, wrestle with them, and prevail.
ADAM: Can you explain your first manic episode? You equate it to a trance-like state.
- When I was 21 my grandfather died, and I had the honor of giving his eulogy. My grandfather was a kindred spirit. He loved telling stories and public speaking.
- On my way back from the airport upon my return, as I was driving across the Bay Bridge, I started to have an out of body experience, which worried me, for it wasn’t safe. There was no place to pull to the side. I was on a bridge. So I used my turn signal to change lanes and verify that I was aware of my surroundings and able to drive safely, which I was. Then, I felt an energy being pushed out of my body and being replaced with a cleansing light energy. I felt grounded.
- When I got home to my roommates I declared that I had just experienced a spiritual orgasm, for that was the closest metaphor I could come up with. At the time, my roommates and I were interested in spirituality.
- I went on to go in and out of trance-like states at will by staring into a candle flame. Unfortunately, sometimes the experience felt grounding and other times I went somewhere I feared, somewhere I wasn’t sure I could return from. Somewhere I believed insanity was.
ADAM: You considered your experiences mystic. Can you tell us a little bit about Christian mysticism and being called by God?
- Christian mystics, all mystics for that matter, directly experience God. Mania feels like a direct experience of God, a communion with God. The ecstatic high is often experienced as religious.
- I chose, and I use that term purposefully for it is my way of reframing my experience, I chose to interpret my experience as God calling me to something, to some purpose. I just wasn’t sure what that purpose was. I was not churched growing up, but I was baptized Roman Catholic and felt an affinity to that faith in spite of my differences with the Church. So, what I ended up doing in my twenties was attend what’s called RCIA or Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults, but I never could get myself to take that final step and confirm my faith as a Catholic, for I believed that I was called to seminary training and ordination. I ended up confirming as an Episcopalian in the midst of my psychotic break at St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Benicia, CA – a wonderful, loving community.
- I have since twice attended and twice quit Fuller Theological Seminary, a multi-denominational Christian seminary. I enjoyed my studies, but my illness and life transitions, such as moves made it too difficult for me to continue and complete my degree.
ADAM: During your first psychiatric breakdown, you mention that you couldn’t get out of bed. This is extremely common among those with mental illness. Why is this particular action so difficult?
- Well, I was suicidal at 18, but hid it well. I did get therapy and continued therapy throughout my 20s for depression.
- At 30, my grandmother had recently died, a dear friend from high school died of AIDS, and a client threatened to rape me during a therapy session. By that time, I had completed graduate school in psychology and was a licensed psychotherapist working with severely disturbed adolescents.
- I’m don’t know the science behind it, but depression doesn’t just attack one’s thought processes, it also attacks your body. I felt leaden. I simply could not lift my body out of the bed. I called my parents and asked that they come up for I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t do the work. I couldn’t face the day. I couldn’t even get out of bed.
ADAM: Tell us about your full blown manic episode (5 days of no sleep, thinking in binary, chaos theory, etc…)
- When I was 30 and fell into a deep depression, I sought medical attention for the first time was put on antidepressants. Eventually, I became manic, psychotic even. Streaming speeding thoughts did not allow me to sleep for five days. I simultaneously thought in binary (zeroes and ones), about chaos theory (physics), and about Christian mystics (with whom I identified and honestly, still do). My friend ended up calling my Episcopal priest and my father to get me help. When the priest arrived, I called the psychiatrist who prescribed me antipsychotics for three days. The antipsychotics put an abrupt stop to the racing thoughts.
- At 30, I kept trying to get back up and I kept falling back down. Finally I moved back into my parents’ home to recover.
ADAM: How important was it to have supportive parents who were able to get you back on your feet?
- My parents were my God-send. I couldn’t have done it without them. Plus it healed anger and resentment I had toward them. In years of psychotherapy I was told that my depression was anger at my abusive childhood turned inward toward myself.
- My parents’ actions showed me beyond any doubt that my parents loved me and would do anything for me.
ADAM: How did motherhood change things psychologically for you?
- I had to be healthy for my son. I could not dismiss manic or hypomanic symptoms. I could not lose my temper and fly off the handle.
- Unfortunately, I had internalized stigma against bipolar disorder. For some reason, I thought nothing of depression. Yet, once I was diagnosed bipolar, I believed that I could not be a good enough mother for my son. I believed that he would be better off in someone else’s care, so I put him in daycare and went back to work. There is nothing more painful that thinking you are not adequate to parent your child because of an illness you have.
ADAM: When did you decide to start a blog? What was that process like? Have you had moments where it seemed overwhelming? How did you end up with thousands of followers?
- I started because I simply had to. My father-in-law developed sepsis when he was traveling in Canada. My husband and his siblings rushed up to his bedside. The stress of worrying about my husband’s parents, how it affected my husband, my son and me triggered hypomania.
- I started out slow, intermittently posting short prose poems. Then I started to attend local writers’ Meetups. The other writers welcomed me and treated me with respect. That was the start of coming out of years of isolation.
- What overwhelms me is trying to read other blogs. There are so very many excellent mental health, writing, photography, and art blogs. I simply cannot keep up. I become a social media addict, overstimulating myself.
- I ended up with my followers by diligently following and commenting on other blogs, by becoming actively involved in multiple social media platforms, by sharing others’ great work on those platforms, by aggressively following others and commenting and sharing their work.
ADAM: Who are you without your illness? Or have you fused together?
- With or without my illness, symptomatic or not, I am Kitt.
- My illness does not define me. It may in some ways limit what I can and cannot do.
- But I believe, or I choose to believe, that this illness gives my life purpose.
- I have it so I take my education and my experience to help others.
ADAM: What do you hope to accomplish by being vulnerable and letting people into the most intimate parts of your life?
- I’m not being vulnerable. I’m just being me. I’ve always been open. I may have hidden my suicidality at 18, but I thought I had to be perfect back then. Being suicidal is not perfect.
- I want others to know that they are not alone.
- I want to defy stereotypes. I am a confident accomplished woman, for the most part, aside from the psychiatric disability and all.
- And…I’ve always been something of a diva. I love being the center of attention, on stage. I hope to eventually speak publicly. For now, I write.
When the interview is live, I will blog it and try to include a transcript for the hearing impaired (my sister-in-law and one of my husband’s best friends are deaf).
Kitt, awesome speaking points! I would love to hear the interview. I can relate to a lot of what you have said.
I will! It helps to have your true empathy & support! You’re my bra!
Let it go for your own sake.
Thanks. I could definitely use the gentle reminders.
you’ll get back into it….I’ll (gently) remind you too, as long as you stay my friend. 😉 (I need to let that one go, I’ll stop it, I promise!)
Thanks, Dy! I’ve been very lax about exercising.
I’m on the “E” so this is brief, but you have excellent,insightful answers! Looking forward to the podcast!
An interview, that’s great Kitt!
incredible and touching….
Thank you, Lee.
Thank you, My Neighbor & Friend.Your are in the Moment.”-Your are a Diva,”- of understanding, compassion and Love. What i receive is that you are about-sharing/valuable-insight, willing to Communicate Truthfully and Honestly to the village people. “Blessings.”
What an intriguing interview! Thanks for sharing.