Speakers on mental illness offer hope for recovery

Sometimes the shores of our minds are dark, misty, lonely places and it seems as though rays of sunlight — good feelings — will never pierce the gray clouds of negative thoughts.

For those with mental illnesses, the aforementioned analogy is often a common way of thinking, according to Louise Newsom and Morgan Caldwell, volunteers with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota.

Newsom and Caldwell were at North Branch Area Library Thursday to give a presentation titled “In Our Own Voice.”

Newsome co-facilitates a mental illness support group that meets Thursdays at the Cambridge Medical Center. She and Caldwell have struggled with mental illness and are in recovery. Both told their stories of dark days, acceptance, treatment, coping skills, successes, hopes and dreams at the North Branch Area Library Thursday.

A 15-minute video that included people talking about their struggles with mental illnesses was also part of the presentation. The purpose of the presentation was to show that even with difficult to mange mental illnesses, there can be levels of recovery.

Dark days

Newsom has been diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar 2.

“That means I don’t have true highs, and I spend most of my time in depression,” she said.

Years ago, that depression reached a critical point. She mentioned she had actually planned suicide, but didn’t attempt it.

Newsome also said the depression also affected her work, and she was let go from her teaching job at a community college.

“Those were some of my darker days,” she said.

Like Newsom, Caldwell has also struggled with bipolar disorder, and she also has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which equates to rapid-onset manic states, panic attacks and feelings of extreme depression.

During high school, Caldwell said she only went about half the time because many days it just took too much effort to combat the depression and leave the house.

Simple tasks were very difficult, she said. “Eating, cleaning, taking a shower — it seemed like I had to move a mountain to do these things. Sometimes it hurt to breathe, and it just seemed like too much work.”

She explained that most of the time, people didn’t understand why she was depressed, and she couldn’t explain to them why she was in such a melancholy mood most of the time.

“It was just this deep sorrow that kind of lived in my bones,” she said.

She also noted there was a stigma about depression and remembered one fellow student telling her depressed people are “just a bunch of crybabies.”

“That had a devastating effect on me,” she said.

Acceptance, treatment and recovery

Newsom and Caldwell said once they accepted their disorders and sought treatment, then recovery — which seemed unattainable for both during their darkest times — was on the horizon.

Both noted they utilize a combination of one-on-one and group therapy coupled with medication to manage their mental illnesses.

At first, Caldwell only used medication to treat her symptoms, and the side effects were tough to handle.

“The medications have a lot of side effects for me,” she said, noting weight gain, fatigue and extremely low or excessively high appetites were some of the adverse reactions.

“On one medication, I could barely walk a block; my joints ached and I was short of breath,” she recalled.

She was able to reduce the amount of medications she takes through therapy and by focusing on her wellbeing by exercising, getting regular sleep and eating nutritious foods.

Newsom and Caldwell both mentioned an integral part of recovery is being surrounded by people who offer their support.

Hopes and dreams

Caldwell and Newsom said recovery from mental illness is different for everyone, and the symptoms of mental illness still arise even when combated with therapy, medication and support groups, but, in their experience, recovery from the crippling effects of mental illness is attainable.

Newsom said her battle with mental illness has prepared her for other hurdles in life.

“A year ago, on Ash Wednesday, I was diagnosed with bilateral kidney cancer,” she said.

“And I think my trials and tribulations with a mental illness was to make kidney cancer a piece of cake. I will take physical over mental anytime.”

She added that for years her approach to dealing with mental illness was like “trying to change the direction the wind was blowing.”

“I realized when I couldn’t do that — that all I could do was control the tilt of my sails — is when I sailed into recovery.”

For a list of classes, support groups and publications about mental illness, visit www.namihelps.org. NAMI Minnesota can be contacted at 1-888-NAMI HELPS.