I remember 9 years ago my dream came true. I married my prince charming a deadhead, seattle seahawks fanatic who picked me up in his burgundy Toyota truck for our first date. I had already told Gary 2 years ago when we first started dating that I had bipolar disorder. He had seen me in remission and I believe my illness never got in his way his love for me. Ok that was great however as we took our vows we had a decision to make. To tell all his aunts and uncles, cousins, sister and brother and sister in law about my mental illness. I feared being the latest gossip of the family. I know Gary did too. I could hear it in my mind "Did you know Gary's new wife has bipolar disorder?""What was he thinking marrying her?" News would spread like the wildfire spreads in the Californina fires. Calls would be made to the Midwest where Gary's family is located.Perhaps his family would not understand the responsibility Gary took when he married me. I was not sure people in his family even knew what bipolar disorder was. Then there is the stigma having a mental illness. Some people fear it because they only see the negative that is all over the news. I had only met a few people fromGary's side of the family before we were married. With all the distance involved through the many miles we lived apart there was not a sensible way of telling them. What were we supposed to do announce it in our first Christmas letter? We could just throw that in there right? Maybe it would say " We became newlyweds this past year. Had a perfect Honeymoon in Hawaii and by the way Susie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she way 19." So we just did not say anything. Then the day came I had the crazy idea of writing my story. I realized I was not being true to myself as I looked in the mirror. I felt having bipolar was a sense of shame. Why should I have to hide it from anyone? I work hard at staying healthy. I take my meds everyday and I could not tell you the last time I forgot to take them. I go to the gym and try to watch what I eat. (Unless Gary is cooking his amazing BBQ or a good steak):) . I sleep 8 or more hours a night. The joke was always we will tell the family when the book comes out. Well as a surprise to us all the good Lord made that happen. I must say Gary's family has been nothing but supportive with my diagnosis. Perhaps it is true "There is nothing to fear but fear itself " as my grandma's favorite president Franklin D Roosevelt put it.
I found myself in my beautiful home town a few weeks ago. I had a blast from the past as I heard the song "Time After Time" by Cindi Lauper. I passed the mall and I had a flashback to a beautiful Californiagolden summer day back in 1980 something. Cindi's song came on in my best friend's blue Datsun car. I remember it was stick sift and had a rainbow sticker on the back window. My bff and I loved the song. It was a big hit on the radio. I found myself signing by The Oaks Mall only it was now 2016. My mind went back to all my best friend and I had been through as she has been one of the few people to stand by my side in the hills and the valleys of life. Penny was there that summer of the earth shattering diagnosis that changed my world. She was in the room where I had the pink neon shaggy soft on your feet rug when I felt like I was losing my mind. I did not understand what was happening to me. It was my first mania back in 1995. She was just there for me. I felt her love and friendship that day. That friendship stayed with me "Time After Time" in all the years after the diagnosis and to this day. If you don't understand that much about bipolar you must realize that when a person with bipolar disorder has mania they are very hard to be around. It is as if another person emerges. and in my case I became very moody, anxious, agitated, and filled with enough energy to climb the highest mountain on the planet. I felt as if I could reach out and touch the sun. I felt invincible. So many friends would have jumped ship on that day. Penny's never did. Penny showed me and continues to show me the true meaning of friendship and acceptance without judgment. She has been quick to forgive me throughout my entire life.. I often wonder if she was the one who had bipolar disorder if I would be that loyal all these years. I hope the answer would be yes, but honestly I am not sure if bipolar would have destroyed our friendship. I hope all of you who take the time to read this have a Penny in your life. My mental illness would have been so much harder to deal without her. I am forever grateful for her friendship
Gary and I are celebrating our 9 year Anniversary. It sounds funny hearing people say wow you beat the odds lol. Time has moved quickly to say the least. I have grown so much in the past 9 years. I was 30 when I got married. A friend who is like a father figure reached out after her had read my book. He commented that the day of my wedding was even more significant then your usual wedding day. My wedding day marked something extraordinary. It marked the beginning of a stable life. A milestone for me after dealing with a bipolar diagnosis at age 19. For most of my life I lived with extreme highs and lows. Life sucked. On that glorious day I entered into a new chapter of my life. A life of remission from bipolar. Something I never imagined could really happen to me. I have heard it said the good Lord is full of surprise. I had no idea what surprises God had in store for my future. Since that day I said I do I have thanked God for my new life and my Gary. If ever I doubted if a God existed it was on that day I was reminded of his infinite love for me. After all he was the one that joined Gary and I in that beautiful church. I am not sure what surprises our future has in store, but I am forever grateful to have such an amazing husband to share the journey.
I have been horrible about blogging lately. There has been too much going on!! I had a chance to sneak away with my husband to Cancun a few weeks ago. We were celebrating my 40th birthday a few months early. After all the celebration should be a year as far as I am concerned. Gary and I have a resort we fell in love with and we have been back 3 times now. It is a slice of heaven as far as we are concerned. As I spent every afternoon in the brilliant turquoise water I began thinking. The ocean is a powerful force. Even though the waves were small enough for both of us to jump we still were swept away by a few we just could not jump. The force was so powerful we were over taken and swept off our feet into the abyss. I though about the times when life had swept me away. Nearly 14 years ago I was at rock bottom. I don't really like to think about it,but it happened. There are moments it creeps back up. What was my rock bottom? Detoxing from being on the wrong meds and looking like I had an eating disorder. Not being able to control my emotions or sleep without disturbing dreams of blood. Being a grown woman and having to have my mom sleep next to me. Those were the darkest days of my life. Things got better. Gary and I jumped waves in Cancun. I felt an amazing thing in those waves. A washing away from the past. I was able to live in the moment. I am one of those people who finds it hard to do that. I find it hard to let go. With every way I jumped I was determined not to get swept away. I think you have to have that determination when things are not going your way in life. I ended up enjoying the days we spent in the ocean without feeling too scared that a big wave was headed out way. I don't know what my future has in store. I am sure there are going to be some big waves. It is not a question of if it is a question of when. Will I be prepared when I hit the waves? I feel I have learned enough these past 20 years as a woman with bipolar disorder to be ready. As long as God's got me in the palm of his hand there is nothing to fear.
Thank You, Patty Duke
If you have been paying attention to the news, you have heard that Patty Duke passed away recently. For those who might not be familiar with her, Patty was a successful actress who did something many people did not do in 1982. She spoke out about mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. She is considered a pioneer because she was one of the first ladies who put her career and reputation on the line. Bipolar disorder was something that no one dared to talk about. If you had bipolar, you were thought to be crazy, according to society. It was a time when you did not hear about success stories of those who took their medicine and lived a fruitful life.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that I live with. It is a mood disorder, and a chemical imbalance in the brain. When untreated, it causes extreme highs and extreme lows. About 8 years ago, I had a calling from above to write my story. Yes, I assure you I was taking my medicine at the time. I am a success story when it comes to my illness. Still, I felt a sense of shame. I hid my mental illness from so many. I felt that if people did know about my illness, I would be judged. I work with elementary school kids. If I did speak out about my illness, perhaps people would question if I was capable of doing my job. I felt like having bipolar disorder was a dirty secret. But Patty was an example of someone who was not shunned for speaking out. If she could do it, I could follow in her footsteps. So, I did.
I wrote my story about the past 20 years of my experiences. At first, it was a healing process. It was an emotional 3 year roller coaster when it came to my writing process. I used my memories, journals, and medical records to put the pieces of my past together. There were times when it got too emotional, and I had to stop writing. It was doctor’s orders. But I felt that I had to press on. I never imagined anyone would read it, but Iwas encouraged to submit it to publishers. I did, and thanks to Indigo Sea Press, my book was published and released this past November.
My message of hope is starting to impact many. People are becoming more aware of bipolar disorder. It is a beautiful thing. I am also doing some public speaking. If Patty Duke was still alive today, and I had a chance to meet her, I would give her a big hug and thank her for inspiring me.
For Spring Break a few weeks ago I went to North Carolina where my aunt and uncle live. My publisher who owns the company Indigo Sea Press is also located there. My aunt put on a book signing and 20 people were there. Flashback to the year I got married in 2007 and I never dreamed I would be at a book signing for my memoir in 2016. If you would have told be that I would have written a book and standing up talking about it along with educating people about bipolar disorder I would tell you that you had lost your marbles. You see back in 2007 I was beginning my new adult healthy life. I was ready to leave the crazy past in the past and start a new life as Mrs. Susan (Susie Johnson.) My husband had no idea what I had gone through as a person living with a mental illness and I was fine with that. Heck I didn't really want people to know because society still associates bipolar disorder with being crazy. So there I stood as my publisher introduced me saying my book hooked him in right away and he could wait to see what had happened next. He described my book as riveting. I stood at the front of the room with notecards in hand to help me organize my thoughts. I had waited for this chance for the past year. A chance to share my story. To speak out. I had joined Toastmasters (A public speaking group a year ago.) My knees shook as I started and stopped as my words came out. I shared what I do for a living. I work in an elementary school and teach kids who have learning disabilities. I am a Drake graduate who has a B.A. in Sociology. Of course my husband Gary was mentioned along with the love of our lives our Siberian cat Angel-Ann. Then I started to read my story. A calm came over me. I was really doing this. This was not some dream. I began to share intimate details of my first manic high along with my diary entry about a deep depression . Then I cracked a joke. I found that using my sense of humor for such a heavy subject is a must. Then the question and answer part came. I had some good questions and was pretty good at thinking on my feet. After my talk my publisher came up to me and said I did wonderful. It felt great. I sold 20 books that night. I said a prayer and thanked God for giving me the strength and the courage to speak. This is what I want my future to be like. To share my passion with the world and to bring hope to others. I just don't know how this is all going to go down. So I pray and ask the Lord to show me how. I have no doubt he will. In his own time.
I had a great time in North Carolina and I will talk more about it next week. While on my trip I began to reflect on Holy Week. Holy Week is BIG if you are a Christian like myself. I was on a plane yesterday and missed Good Friday services, but normally you will find me in church. Good Friday was the day Jesus died on the cross saving us from sin and death giving the ultimate sacrifice his life. I have recently seen the movie "Risen" and was reminded just how painful the crucifixion was. The way the huge nails were pounded into the bones. The way it hurt to breathe. I could barley watch it. The agony, the pain, the misery, and the humiliation. More then I can bear to think about at times. I was reminded of the many Good Fridays I have gone through these past 20 years as a woman living with bipolar disorder there were days of depression that were so deep death felt easier then living. There were days when I never thought life would turn around. I was sure the dark clouds would never lift and I would not feel the warm sun on my shoulders again. Still, I hung on with the strength only coming from above. Then Easter Sunday happened a miracle to say the least. The son of God brought back to life! Jesus he is risen! I have seen many Easter Sundays as well. The day I met my husband. If I ever doubted God's love for me it became evident on that day. My wedding day was another Easter Sunday in my life. Those are just a few. So if you find yourself in a storm on this Easter Sunday going through a hard time and not feeling like you can hang on anymore, fear not it is true after Good Friday comes Easter Sunday.I have seen it in my life time and time again.
I am starting to frantically pack for my trip to North Carolina next week. I will have a chance to meet with my publisher and even do a book signing thanks to my Aunt Judy. This will be my first time doing a reading and a whole evening event. The questions that race through my mind. What do I wear? What is the weather going to be like? I won't get my hair to look right without my hair guy. What if my butterflies in my stomach make me puke? Ha Ha. It is so easy to get caught up in the minor things. I need to take a breath and realize something. It isn't the way I look up front it is about the message. I want no one to go home disappointed with the evening. Instead, I hope to bring great passion ,education on bipolar, and hope to those in the room if they are struggling with mental illness. While selling all 75 books would be fantastic I pray that I may be a blessing to others. I pray my book with bless others. At the end of the night that is all that matters.
Last week I found myself in a situation that I would have never dreamed of. I was in the car with my Toastmaster mentor (Toastmaster's is a public speaking group) going to a book club to speak about my newly released book. It also happened to be at my vice principal's house. I work in an elementary school. One year ago my vice principal had no idea I had bipolar disorder. I was scared to tell fearing I would be discriminated against. It had happened before. A year agoI was not even sure I could stand up in front of a room and admit that I have a mental illness. In our society mental illness has a synonym which is crazy. Last year I remember thinking I don't think I can do this. I shared my doubts with a friend and she assured me that God was never going to ask of me something I could not do. Yeah right I thought easy for her to say. I had written out my talk and practiced it multiple times for my Toastmaster's group. The first time was a crash and burn the second time was successful. So there I was in front of some people who know me and had come out to support me and others I did not know. At first my heart raced a million miles a minute and I was filled with butterflies. They went away as I started bearing my soul. I started speaking the truth from the bottom of my heart. The truth about my past experiences the ups and downs that come with living with bipolar disorder. I shared of my current stability and how my dreams really did come true in my life. I brought awareness to bipolar disorder and my message of hope that night. I was told I did a great job and I know in my heartI did. I came I saw I conquered.
This thought came to my mind the other day. How could something like a mental illness which can easily tear a family apart actually bring them closer together? My family and I have been on a long roaddealing with bipolar disorder through the past 20 years. Twenty years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My family and I have been through the wringer together. It has been no walk in the park. We have had some nasty fights. There has been so many tears that have been shed they could fill the Pacific Ocean. We have weathered many many days of depression together. Something that I don't wish on anyone. The manic highs were hard to go through as well. Then there were the mood swings. I recall the time when I hit rock bottom my weakest moments living with bipolar back in Virginia 14 years ago. It was my family that saved me. Mom and dad loved me with everything they had. They brought me to Vegas and helped me rebuild my life. They reminded me that with God everything is possible. Here I nearly a decade later feeling closer to my parents then I ever thought I could. I love them more deeply because of the good the bad and the ugly we have lived though together. I appreciate them in ways I really didn't 20 years ago. I feel like they love me more too. So maybe it is possible that there is a silver lining on a very dark cloud for people like me who have a mental illness. I believe we just have to look for it.