“Thriving with Mental Illness” is a regular interview series featuring individuals who have a mental illness and are living well. Unfortunately, we don’t hear these stories nearly enough.
We don’t hear nearly enough about people with mental illness who are living healthy, meaningful lives. And we don’t hear nearly enough about how they manage their illness.
This month we talked with Heather Foster, a new blogger at Psych Central. Foster pens “Mental Momma,” here on our site.
As she writes on her about page, “I want to show people you can be an amazing mom, awesome person and have a mental illness. My goal is to be a small part in changing the way people see mental illness and to help make life easier for people like me.”
Below, Foster shares the hardest parts of dealing with three mental illnesses, what helps her manage them, her advice on the treatments to try and how loved ones can help, and much more.
Please tell us a bit about your background and when you were first diagnosed.
I am a mother to two children, Gabriel and Emilia, and a wife to my amazing husband Joe. I currently live in a rural town in northern Michigan, which has long and cold winters and short but amazing summers. I am a mental health blogger for my own site Mental Parent and I also blog for Psych Central as Mental Momma.
I have spent a lot of my time in life being diagnosed and misdiagnosed. My first “diagnosis” was when I was 17 when my mother assaulted me when she found pills in my room. I was sent to a mental health facility where they diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder.
I self-medicated my bipolar disorder most. After the birth of my second child, I went through an extreme manic-depressive episode that nearly took me to the brink of suicide. It was a very dark time for me. Luckily, my mother-in-law is also bipolar and noticed the signs of my condition.
After being diagnosed and misdiagnosed several times, I finally got a semi-close diagnosis from my MD (I suppose I am too poor for a psychiatrist) of Bipolar 1 (rapid cycle), Borderline Personality Disorder and PTSD. I am hoping that sometime soon I will be able to actually see a professional to make a true clinical diagnosis despite me having no doubt of the diagnosis.
What have been the toughest parts of having several disorders: bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and PTSD?
It is hard to differentiate which condition is flaring. I am currently on medication, but I still have symptoms. I find it hard to figure out what is plaguing me, be it a manic episode, a borderline episode, PTSD flashbacks. It is difficult to know which is which sometimes.
It is also difficult for me to handle my symptoms with a family. If I were alone, I could only hurt myself. With my family, I find it hard to not be overcome with my symptoms. I still have to be mommy and wifey. It can be daunting, particularly through a depressive episode.
How have you overcome these challenges?
Baby steps. I haven’t overcome them. I most likely never will. Challenges are not always meant to be overcome. Sometimes challenges are meant to be fought every day, and success is attained on a daily basis.
What treatments and strategies have helped you the most in managing your illnesses?
It helps that I am a pretty introspective person. I feel like I can sometimes tell if I am about to go into a manic episode, so I can somehow prepare my family for it. This isn’t always so. My husband has been my rock. Growing up with a severely bipolar mother has taught him how to manage himself and another person with the condition.
I am also an advocate for psychiatric medications. This is actually slightly humorous, as I am a very natural person who doesn’t take medications normally. There is usually a holistic alternative. I have tried them all and they didn’t work for me. My medication has helped me regain my strength and has saved my life in many ways.
What do you think of psychiatric medications?
I feel like they are almost always necessary. In the U.S., we are definitely overmedicated, but I think that stems from the inadequate mental health system. Like I said before, I am too poor for a psychiatrist so I have to go to an MD with no formal training on mental illness to medicate me.
A lot of people I know have had this happen to them. Doctors are not meant to handle these conditions, but people like me need someone to help them. I couldn’t wait two years (yep, that is what I needed to wait for a state psychiatrist) to be medicated.
Overprescribing is the result of doctors being ignorant to mental health problems but wanting to help with what they can. We need a mental health overhaul if we want to actually change the minds of those who think mental health drugs are the problem, instead of the institution it is built on.
What do you think of psychotherapy?
I have had a few therapy sessions when I was younger, but I personally found them to be ineffective. I think this is because I am always very blunt, and I talk about everything about me. I have no real secrets. I am a chronic over-sharer.
What advice do you have for someone about what treatments to try?
It depends on diagnosis. Some conditions can be overcome or managed by talk therapy and some are a result of an imbalance in the brain. You can’t talk serotonin into your brain. I think you should always do your own research and try everything. One medication or therapy may work for one, but not another. Always remember that it is about you and your condition. We are all different.
What would you like someone who’s been newly diagnosed to know?
You are not alone. I know it sounds cliché, but it is true. With the 1 in 4 statistic, it is a very true statement. People like me and other clinicians and bloggers are bringing mental health to the forefront and fighting against the stigma. No one should be scared of their diagnosis. One wouldn’t be afraid to admit they had diabetes, why should they be afraid to say they have bipolar disorder? They shouldn’t. I will continue to tell my story to anyone who will listen until something changes.
What’s the best way loved ones can support someone with mental illness?
That is a kind of touchy question. Again, it depends on what someone is dealing with. I know that during a manic episode if my husband says “relax” I will go bonkers. I think loved ones need to talk to you about what you are going through and you need to talk to them. No matter what you are going through.
In the beginning, I felt like all I was talking about was my mental illness: “I feel sad today”; “I feel anxious today”; “I think I have a manic episode coming on.” These phrases taught my husband what to look for. I don’t have to say it anymore. He can tell by how I am acting. It is no longer a guessing game. If you don’t talk, no one can help you.
What are your favorite resources on mental health?
Blogs and Psych Central. Psych Central is great for knowing what the conditions are and articles about them. Blogs are best for seeing how people are living with them. I am 100 percent honest on my blogs. My blogs can even be controversial at times. But I know I have helped people with them. There are a lot of mental health bloggers sharing their stories and being brave and talking about their condition. It helps to know you aren’t the only one.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Be yourself and don’t be afraid of your mental illness. We are all dealing with something. We need to stand up and say that we will not be discriminated against any more. We need to fight for our own rights. No one will do it for us.
Please come and visit me!
Mental Parent: http://www.mentalparent.com/
Psych Central: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mental-momma/