By: Laura Sanscartier
I first knew there was something different about me when I was about 7. I kept my mouth shut, as I was the oldest of 4 kids, and mom and dad had many things to take care of. I could feel my body shift into moments of extreme anger, sadness, or happiness. Whenever these moments "leaked out", my family would attribute it to my "dramatic and theatrical nature". It's no wonder I went into opera performance as a career.
But this was more than just "drama" or "theatrics". When I was 12, I started self-harming. When I was 19, I tried to commit suicide twice. When I was in my early 20s, I had my first full-blown manic episodes. From the age of 18 until today, I have been hospitalized nearly 40 times. No drama or theatrics in that. Just the cold hard AWARENESS that I had a raging mood disorder, and it needs to be continually managed.
In my family, these things weren't discussed. There was actually a fairly well-marked "chain" or progression of family members with mental illness, but no one would talk about it. I had no idea until my 20s how insidious mental illness truly was on both sides of my family. When I found out, I got active. I did NOT want to hide in the shadows. I wanted to shine a big ol' operatic spotlight on this whole issue, and began to work on a number of projects.
I have a blog called "Coffee & Lithium" (my diet of choice), at coffeeandlithium.wordpress.com, and it's now been online for about 10 years. I work with a number of patient advocacy groups, including WEGO Health and Patientslikeme. I've written, spoken, and sung on their behalf, and I am always looking for new opportunities to be helpful with any kind of advocacy group. I am even working on a recital/one woman show kind of project using Sinatra tunes. I hope to donate the proceeds to mental health advocacy groups.
But for me, the biggest thing I do for awareness of mental illness (and bipolar disorder specifically) is tell my story to all who will listen...and then just LISTEN. I hear from people all the time who are afraid to say anything to their parents, children, spouses, friends because they are afraid they will be shunned or pushed away if they speak. Clearly, we need to speak more loudly than ever, for only then will people hear and see that mental illness is nothing to be afraid of; mental HEALTH is what we strive for.
Awareness of my own mental health grew slowly over many years, and is continuing to bloom. I now know that we as a community need to do just that: bloom. We are a beautiful group of some of the most diverse people known to man, and our voices and actions raised toward awareness will eventually take stigma away and bring us into the fold.
How do we raise mental health awareness? We simply speak.
Why do we raise mental health awareness? So we can be who we truly are.