Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

This was a speech I gave in Toastmasters for the International Competition in my home club in 2014…didn’t make it to the next level but I am glad I had the courage to do it. I dream that someday I will get to use some of it in more formal educational presentation.

Greetings Contest Master, fellow Toastmasters, and guests.   How many of you have seen the movie, Beautiful Mind? The movie is about a famous mathematician John Nash.   Mr. Nash lives with Schizophrenia and he won a Noble Prize in Economics.   You wouldn’t know it to look at me but John Nash and I have something in common.  We both live with mental illnesses.   I live with Bipolar 1, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Driving Anxiety, and Social Anxiety.   Asperger’s is not a mental illness but the rest of them are.  Do you remember how Mr. Nash had all of those notes all over his home?   The first time I was on my own, my bathroom mirror was covered with sticky notes.  Just like Mr. Nash, I had an overactive mind.   It used to be before I took my medicine, that I could not think one thought at a time.   I have been taking a religious course and the author of the one of the books Christopher Bryan said, “For me to “understand” what it is that my friend enjoys about stamp collection would be for me to become in some sense a different person.”  And basically the same is true of someone with mental illness.  It’s just a part of us, one of our traits that makes us different.  You won’t “become” me in trying to understand me.  You can’t be me or any other person. In a way, our “cultures” are different. 

Michael W. Smith wrote “The wind is moving but I am standing still….a life of pages waiting to be filled…a heart that’s hopeful…a head that’s full of dreams…but this becoming is harder than it seems…” The song is called Place In This World.  It has been my favorite song since 2008.  Sometimes for me, all 33 years of my life seem like waiting for my years…waiting for my time.  (pause)    

I am not violent, I don’t rob banks, and I would take a job if offered one and stick with it as long asI was useful in the job.   It is unlikely that I would cheat on a partner or spend thousands of dollars several days in a row.   Hypersexuality and overspending are two traits associated with Bipolar I that those who don’t know call “typical”.  (pause) I take all of my meds as prescribed.  I am well educated, I have a Masters Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, and I’m looking for a job that needs me—the unique me. J   An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults, suffer from mental illness every year.  (according to the National Institute of Mental Health).   Two of my best friends are very successful and are living with Bipolar and Anxiety.   With the right combinationof medications and therapy, individuals with mental illness can succeed in today’s world, especially if we are given a chance!   J Hollywood doesn’t get it right.   We’re often portrayed at our extremes, portrayed as non medication compliant, criminal, belligerent, or sometimes even alien-like.  There are hundreds of negative stories out there in newspapers.   But what I choose to focus on are the magazines like Bipolar Hope, that promote wellness, and lots of great books that can give hope and information and coping tips.  Suicide is a risk for individuals who live with mood disorders.   If you want to know more about suicide, Dr. Kay Jamison wrote a book called Night Falls Fast.  And Bipolar is more common than you would think.   According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar affects about 2.6% of the United States general population.      

At the last Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance conference in Miami, I met a young Muslim woman who just published her second novel, this time about her experiences with Bipolar.  I got to see a Canadian woman doing a funny one woman show.  But for me the highlight of the conference was meeting Patrick Kennedy.   I never knew that there was a former political figure who was also a mental illness survivor.   DBSA is a great organization.   If you ever have the opportunity to hear Patrick Kennedy or Dr. Kay Jamison speak, take it.  Dr. Kay is one of the most famous individuals with Bipolar.  Her book An Unquiet Mind changed my life.   I met her in 2008.  While it was fabulous to meet this kind, gracious, eloquent lady who is hero to millions of people around the world, some of my peers became my heroes too.   J One fellow consumer and friend is a charge nurse at a hospital and another is a therapist.  J

A supportive family makes a difference.  I am very thankful for my family.  Lots of people in Toastmasters have inspired me to go on when I wanted to give up.  Greg, Sandy, (Joe?) thank you.  (Make sure you look right at whoever you’re talking about). When I gave one of my competent communicator speeches, I was just starting to get out of a really hard time in my life.  I hugged Joe my evaluator, before I gave my speech.  I think that helped.   Everyone in Toastmasters has always made me feel validated.   (pause) I figured now was the time to share my story that I have been wanting to share for four years.  So, if you ever have any questions about Bipolar I, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Driving Anxiety, or Social Anxiety, remember that the resources like these (take out of Cancun cloth bag and read off titles) (An Unquiet Mind, Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide, BP Hope Magazine, Solutions for Adults With Aspergers Syndrome, and Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts) and talking to individuals living with those conditions are the best ways to answer those questions.     

Thank you.

My First Blog Post Trying To Live To Serve: My Life with Multiple Mental Health Diagnoses

Charity Riley


            Living With Multiple Mental Health Issues

I spend a lot of time alone with my thoughts.  We can never be ashamed to ask for help if we’re not right mentally.  We have to be our own self advocate.  Sharing stories really does save lives.  Former President Bill Clinton once said, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”  I hope to someday live in a world where mental illness will be taken as seriously as diabetes.  Sometimes we have to accept things that happen to us and our labels.  We have to be determined and not give up even when things are rough.  For me, looking back usually helps.  It makes me really believe that old cliché that which does not kill us makes us stronger.

I used to wish I could go back in time knowing then what I know now but the older I get, the more I am able to understand why everything happened the way that it did.  In therapy, I am trying to learn to stay in the present but it is very hard sometimes.  I have some regrets but I mostly am thankful that I survived everything I did and I have better friends and relationships with family than I did when I was younger.  Even though I am single and jobless I can still contribute to society in small ways.  I try to find the good in every day. 

I remember crying when I got home from school at least once a week if not more often for seven years.  I was so sensitive to the negative comments my peers made and I felt bad about myself the majority of the time.  Introverted, socially backward, highly nervous, nerdy, old fashioned outsider  Those are the words I would use to describe myself from 6th grade through college.  I never really felt like I fit in anywhere.  Until the fall of 2002, there was no medically defined reason for the differences.  Now I am 38 years old wondering what I am going to do with the rest of my life.  

I have become a little less anxious socially and have made some good friends.  I still spend the majority of my time alone without any plans on a Friday night because my friends live far away.  But I have traveled and I’ve been educated and have a lot to be thankful for.  It took almost twenty years for me to qualify for Social Security and now that I have it I am not sure if I will ever work again.  All I have left is my ability to write about what has happened, my strong desire to help others doing community service, and my strong self awareness.  My diagnoses are now Bipolar 1, Aspergers Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, situational Social Anxiety, and Driving Anxiety.  I did not get diagnosed with the Aspergers until I was 28 years old.  I think knowing that would have helped me accept why I was so different in school and never had a lot of friends.  The Bipolar Disorder is something I have a hard time accepting even now seventeen years after the diagnosis but I believe that I was born different and if how I write about how I survive my struggles can help give someone else hope then I am glad I was born this way.