What It Takes to Be a Mental Health Advocate: An Interview With Christina Huff
At one point Christina Huff was living her dream: thriving as a paralegal in Chicago and newly in love. Five years and one divorce later, she’s still piecing together the debris – living with bipolar disorder and accepting a different kind of life. She has translated her passion for law to mental health advocacy, helping others rise from difficulty with gracefulness and determination, and is a beautiful model of turning pain into service.
Living with bipolar, anxiety, eating disorders, and chronic pain, she beautifully weaves bits of her life and advice from other warriors on her site, Bipolar Hot Mess, ranked number five out of the top 100 bipolar blogs on feedspot, and on her other site is Askabipolar.com. I asked Christina about her life as an advocate, advice for persons for bipolar, and where she finds the strength to overcome her many challenges.
Therese: What made you want to become a bipolar advocate?
Christina: When I was first diagnosed in 2006, I didn’t know anyone who had bipolar and I didn’t know anything about the illness. My immediate response was turning to the internet to look and search for information and first-person accounts so I knew what to expect. But, to my disappointment, I found very little. I did find a website called Ask A Bipolar and so I followed it for a few days and searched it. They put up an ad that they were looking for new authors and one of the qualifications was that you had to have bipolar. I applied, and then within a few months, I was learning so much, I was helping the site grow. The site owner and I became partners and off we went.
It sort of happened by accident that I became an advocate. Since the site was such a strict Q & A format, I wanted to be able to write more freely about my life and about bipolar and such, so I started my own website Bipolar Hot Mess. It started slow then one day just took off and now, if you google “bipolar hot mess” I fill the page. It amazes me every single day!
Therese: What is most challenging/rewarding about it?
Christina: The most challenging is that I do still have the illness that I’m an advocate for, so there are times that I crash. I still have the side effects and have to take care of myself the same way I advocate and help people to realize they need to do to take care of themselves too. The rewarding part is when I’m mentoring someone and I see how much progress they make, or when someone sends me an email saying how much a post, or an interview, or something I’ve done or said has helped them. Those are the things that make it all worthwhile. Or when someone was so down and was suicidal and the next time you speak they are doing well, have their life back on track, and have found happiness. Just knowing you helped that person find the light or find the path they needed, sometimes all they need is a nudge.
Therese: What would your advice be to people just diagnosed with bipolar?
Christina: Make sure you see your psychiatrist as frequently as they suggest and take ALL MEDICATION AS DIRECTED! That is super important. If your meds aren’t correct, everything else isn’t going to help properly.
Next, find a therapist. They are going to help you sort things out. When you are first diagnosed things are so confusing, they help a lot.
Work with your family and try to explain what is going on. This is a hard one, but if you are living with them, they are going to see the ups and downs everyday, so they should have a general idea of what to expect. If you have a spouse, I highly recommend the book Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder, by Julie Fast. It’s a very good book for your spouse to read to let the, know what to expect, how they could handle things etc. In addition to some great websites, there are now a lot of books you can purchase for more information. Facebook has a lot of “private” support groups that you could try out. NAMI.org will give you info and you can find your nearest support group or events like book readings and signings etc. DBSAlliance.org will do the same.
Therese: What keeps you going during the really hard stretches where you want to give up?
Christina:My family, friends, and boyfriend. They help me see that this is just another bump in the road and I am going to make it out again alive. They show me that they still love me and will still love me on the other side and on the other side, I’m going to be even stronger than I was when I crashed. Each time I crash, I come out stronger and more aware of my symptoms, how to combat them and fight back. Granted, not every time can be a fight back moment and sometimes we just have to let it take its course, but if we know that and are aware of that ahead of time, we can at least be prepared to settle in to acceptance that we have an illness that sometimes we can control but sometimes we just have to accept we can’t control.
Therese: Do you have things you do every day to stay well?
Christina: I need to take my medication in the morning and evening, need to maintain a regular sleep schedule, eat regularly (that is for my eating disorder recovery), try to get a decent amount of sun, and try not to isolate and make contact with friends or family daily, and try to accomplish at least one task a day so I don’t sit in bed all day which could spark a depressive cycle.
The medication part though is absolutely key though. If I miss my medication even one day, it affects not just my brain chemistry but my body and takes days or weeks to even get back to normal.
Therese: What is your biggest work challenge due to bipolar disorder?
Christina:Well, I was able to work for over four years in corporate America as my dream job as a paralegal at a prestigious Chicago law firm, but unfortunately, life got in the way and triggered my bipolar symptoms and I was put on disability. It amazes me now how many are on disability. I never really thought about it until it happened to me. I guess that’s true for a lot of us for a lot of things.
Now, I work on my website bipolarhotmess.com and sell things on eBay. It’s tough most days because of my concentration and sometimes lack of motivation, but I know that if I don’t do anything, I’m going to get into the depressive slump. It’s so much easier to get IN the slump than get OUT. If I don’t work on the website I feel like I’m letting my followers down and I have to list items on eBay because the site is funded only by me. Those are some great motivators.
To conquer the concentration issue, I try different working areas and try taking more frequent breaks. That seems to help. I also make sure to keep my projects at a reasonable size. I used to make a to do list a mile long and beat myself up for not getting it done. Now I create one that is more manageable and that I know I can complete so I feel better at the end of the day, not defeated. That tip took a very long time to master!!! I’m an overachiever so it was so difficult, but if I could do it, so can you!
Borchard, T. (2019). What It Takes to Be a Mental Health Advocate: An Interview With Christina Huff. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 28, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-it-takes-to-be-an-mental-health-advocate-an-interview-with-christina-huff/