David Granirer’s Stand Up For Mental Health:
Last April 2014, I participated in this wonderful workshop called Stand Up for Mental Health [SMH] and performed a comedy skit at a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) event for 300 people. It was a 6 week workshop where I had the opportunity to create jokes with the comedy teacher, David Granirer and the 4 other comediennes in training.
We all practiced our skits together which was really fun! Being able to laugh with others about the foibles of mental illness was so freeing and healing. I loved receiving the one-to-one telephone calls with David.
I loved feeling that I was part of a team. I loved that the audience totally understood the jokes. To me, It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I highly recommend. I feel that David Granirer’s Stand Up for Mental Health is helping to change the world-cultural view of mental illness.
My family, also, helped me create many jokes and the whole creative process was enjoyable and fun. I was so touched when my family came to the event and gave me flowers.
After the comedy show, many people came up to me and said they really enjoyed my comedy skit and that it made them laugh. Since then I have been asked to perform at two different events in the future.
The whole experience gave me more confidence, freed me from the stigma of mental illness, made me laugh more in my life and made me feel that I am contributing to helping end the stigma of mental illness in our society. I now include a 1/2 hour a day to watch something that makes me laugh.
American Status Symbols:
I used to think that when I got “there”or could achieve “that”, that then I would become happy. In high school I was in honors classes and was a cheerleader. Then I went to Cornell and graduated with honors. After that I went to law school. I passed the New York, Massachusetts and California bar exams. I was making over making over 6 figures when my illness forced me to stop working. I especially thought that making a lot of money would bring me happiness. It didn’t. What I have found is that cultivating peace, unconditional love and compassion has made me content and peaceful.
Today’s Children with Mental illnesses:
I used to think growing up with undiagnosed depression that everybody had depression and that they were just better at handling life than I was. I had depression on and off from the age of 5 to my mid-thirties when the depression was finally diagnosed.
Because of people like you and the work of organizations like NAMI [National Alliance for the Mentally Ill] now I think that children with mental illnesses are diagnosed earlier, have better treatment and are able to suffer less from their mental illnesses.
I have had 5 mental illnesses: mainly major depression with two suicide attempts in 1998 and 2003, anxiety, sleeping problems and dysmorphia all from the age of 5 to my mid- thirties, For the last decade from age 39 to age 50 my present age, I have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
Dysmorphia is what I believe Michael Jackson had and what Joan Rivers may have. Dysmorphia is when you are never satisfied with your physical appearance and you constantly have to keep trying to fix your physical appearance. By the age of 30, (only 30!) I had had 4 major cosmetic surgeries.
At one point I took laxatives and had gotten my weight down to 106 pounds which was about 12 pounds less than my regular weight and people started to comment that I was too thin. Then I was also doing Botox, collagen injections and facial chemical peels on a regular basis. In addition I was dying my hair blonde, always using a self-tanner to cover my freckled skin and doing all of the things women, often, regularly do in our culture: having manicures, pedicures, waxing and buying every kind of make-up, hair product and cosmetic skin cream available.
I spent a lot of my money on these surgical procedures and products and I spent lot of time recovering from the cosmetic surgeries. Finally in 1997-1998 (my mid-thirties), I had a major mental breakdown. Trying to keep looking like I was 20 was an impossible task.
A boyfriend had broken up with me, I was having trouble at my job and two of the cosmetic surgeries had had bad effects.
The complete mental breakdown in my thirties was a good thing. Trying to appear normal, functioning and happy as a facade had left me feeling exhausted and had prevented my real mental illnesses from being treated. I did a lot of counseling which validated many of my feelings.
When the depression lifted most was when I first took Zoloft. In three months on Zoloft, I gained 60 pounds and it slowed down my metabolism permanently. But I didn’t care, I felt like I was in heaven – the difference was so dramatic! Now I knew how easily people could go through life.
I felt the anvil of sadness lift off my chest and I was happy. Friends commented on my 60 pound weight gain. But I didn’t care, I felt great. After about a year and a half, the Zoloft stopped working and I kept trying one antidepressant after another. Some would work for a while and then they would mysteriously stop working. I also started taking Ambien for sleep.
Side Effects of Psychiatric Medication:
I did notice four side effects from taking anti-depressants: I experienced some loss of creativity and ambition. I experienced total loss of sex drive and I gained a lot of weight. I have heard the saying “Why do they call them “side”effects? These are “major”effects that a person with mental illness has to deal with.
Becoming More Compassionate:
The great thing that the antidepressants did was that I was able to stop blaming my mother as the reason for all of my depression. Now, I am able to look at my Mom’s life with great compassion. I am grateful for her being my caregiver for many years, for being the loving and strong woman that she is and for her unfailing belief that one day we would find a cure for this depression. She took a Family-to-Family NAMI course, developed more compassion for me and today we are best friends.
At 39, I thought people were giving me messages from the TV and the computer. I was hospitalized and given a new diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. I hear voices. They are not actual voices but more like mental impressions.
I am always able to differentiate what is “real”and what is the “mental illness.”The voices are split into two types, (mean and kind). Some of the voices are loving, caring and even fun. Some of the voices are celebrity energies. Interacting with gifted and talented celebrity energies is fun for me. Who says you can’t put the “fun”in dys-fun-ctional?! I also think that I am in love with Steve Martin and that he is my soulmate. I realize that he is married with a child, I am always able to keep this in check. And I never get creepy about it or feel like stalking him.
The other side of the voices are very mean and cruel to me. They intensify and recede. They constantly belittle and attack my current physical appearance. They call me ugly and fat. They say that I am stupid because I do not believe everything that they believe. When they call me stupid, it never bothers me because I grew up with a good sense of my level of intelligence. Recently, they have started threatening me with physical violence and saying that they will cause me severe tortuous physical and emotional pain which is hard to deal with.
The mean voices have a religious theme ( which I have heard is common in schizophrenia). They believe in a wrathful, vengeance filled, jealous God and that being saved by Jesus is the only way to heaven. They also hate gay people and say that I am a dyke or a lesbian. They put me down for the fact that I want equal rights for gay people, muslims, women and all people. I also want liberation for animals. (particularly animals that live on factory farms) The voices often call me a pig, a dumb cow or a dog. The voices often use curse words like dumb Bitch, the C-word, slut and / or whore. They also put me down for my having a mental illness.
The mean voices taunt me that I no longer look like my young physical appearance. The truth is that while I have a blend-into-the-background, overweight physical appearance, I feel a lot better about myself. I think I have become a kinder person who wants to help others to shine as brightly as they can and a person who wants socially conscious issues manifest on Earth.
Fortunately, and surprisingly, lately, my self esteem has been very high. I have discovered that being connected with socially conscious issues gives my life a meaningful spiritual purpose. I have been a vegan for 8 years (being vegan means that I do not eat any animal products like meat, dairy or eggs) I have been an activist for freeing animals from factory farms. I volunteer for NAMI through the Unity Temple of Oak Park. I support socially conscious issues whenever I can.
Meditation, Buddhist teachings, affirmations, prayer, mindfulness practices and Tai Chi all bring me peace, unconditional love, harmony, equanimity & loving kindness. These practices help me to be a more compassionate person. I have been meditating for 2 hours a day for 8 years.
A Healthy Diet:
My nutrition has changed dramatically from guzzling down 7 cans of Diet Coke and eating junk food, all day, like ice cream and cookies, to eating vegan – where almost every thing I eat is healthy for my body. I drink tons of water. I, also, gave up drinking alcohol in 1997. I gave up white sugar and caffeine 3 months ago.
It is surprising to me that doctors prescribing the antidepressants and anxiety medications never asked me about my diet. I mean, of course, I had anxiety and sleeping problems I was consuming caffeine and eating junk food all day long. (now I know that I was self-medicating my illness with both the alcohol and the junk food) I hope as treatments for mental illnesses progress that examining and improving the patient’s diet will be part of regular treatment. Perhaps you would be interested in doing a story about the importance of healthy diets and mental illness.
Now I ask myself the question before I eat or drink, “Is this healthy for my body?”
I look back on all of the energy, time and money I had put into my physical appearance and remember how empty that left me feeling. Today I feel filled up with purpose and meaning by being connected to socially conscious issues larger than myself.
I am a content person today. Most of my depression and anxiety symptoms have vanished with my medication, new healthier diet and spiritual practices. I continue to take medication for my schizoaffective disorder. I see my psychiatrist on a regular basis and we adjust the medication as necessary. I love little things like splashing water directly on my face and being free of worrying that it is going to ruin my make up (because I do not wear make-up anymore!)
I wake up most days now and I am excited to start my day. It feels great!
Leelee Ward, Oak Park Illinois