Stories of hope: People share mental health journeys at ‘This is My Brave’ performance Posted on May 25, 2019June 3, 2019 By LEAH WILLINGHAM Monitor staff Published: 5/25/2019 9:31:20 PM All Beth Starck can remember about the hours before she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder is driving to the Charles River on a cold April day, drinking a pint of vodka and leaving her car running as she placed her wallet on a bench, took her shoes off and got into the water. “After wading through the river fully clothed, nearly fully submerged, a kayaker found me and asked if I needed help,” she said in front of a packed crowd at Concord High School on Thursday night. Starck was brought to a Boston hospital where she was treated for hypothermia. She was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Starck said she had struggled with alcoholism throughout her life but always felt there was something else wrong: she often experienced racing thoughts, pressured energy mixed with feelings of worthlessness and depression. After her son was born, she struggled with postpartum depression and her drinking got worse. “It was like my train left the station never to return,” Starck said. “I felt as if I had no control over my actions and who I was becoming.” Starck lost everything to addiction and mental illness: her marriage, her son, and her home. She had to battle to get custody of her child while acknowledging and facing her alcoholism. She has now been sober for two years, and said she wants to help other moms who have struggled with similar issues gain confidence and stability. “I never wanted to tell anyone the shame, the guilt, the fear and awfulness that comes from having your child taken away from you,” she said. “I find there to be a particular type of shame for moms with mental illness and recovery issues. What I have taken from this experience is I want to show people what it is like in my shoes.” Starck was one of 12 individuals from the greater Concord and New England community who shared their stories as part of Riverbend Community Health’s “This Is My Brave” event to wrap up mental health awareness month. “This Is My Brave” is a national movement that encourages people to share their personal challenges with mental health and addiction. Samantha Captain Samantha Captain remembers counting one pill bottle for every reason she had decided to end her life: the deaths of her mother and her aunt – less than a year apart – the rape she experienced at age 14, a relationship with an ex she said was abusive and her diagnoses of bipolar disorder, panic disorder and PTSD. “I faced the line of pill bottles, touching each one, mulling over in my mind what it would be like to face my mother again,” she said. Suicidal thoughts weren’t a new experience to Captain, then 31 – she had written her first suicide note at 10 years old in school. But it was the thoughts of what her mother would say if she knew Captain was contemplating taking her life that made her pick up the phone and call her trauma therapist. She didn’t know then how much that night would change her life. “That moment in my kitchen, faced with enough medication to kill me, that was the beginning of the biggest transformation of my life, but I had no idea that was the case at the time,” Captain, who now lives in Hillsborough, said. “I could not have known then what I know now: that the circumstances of my life could and would get so much better.” She was transferred to a psychiatric care hospital where she worked hard to develop coping strategies. She met her husband Dave, a musician with a great sense of humor, and found her job as a peer support specialist at Riverbend Community Mental Health, where she helps mentor other people struggling with mental health issues. “I was, for the first time, seeing the pain and all that I had been through have purpose,” Captain said. “My recovery was serving as an example of what could be possible for the clients I was working with.” Terry Marcille Terry Marcille only ate when she felt so much lightness in her head and weakness in her body that she thought she might faint. Marcille, who struggled with anorexia nervosa for 34 years, said her diet was always strictly regimented: 20 Cheez-its here, two graham crackers there, one banana, a plain turkey sandwich. “I hate it. I hate eating,” Marcille said. “It’s only fuel for my body to keep it going.” Marcille said she still has days filled with self-loathing for her body and fear of gaining weight. She looks in the mirror and worries that her stomach sticks out too far. She fights against voices in her head that tell her that her clothes fit too tightly. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, Marcille said. She has now been at a stable weight for three years and is gaining confidence every day. “My journey to wellness with anorexia has been long and arduous and it still continues today, but it has been worth every step. I have been medically stable for three years, and can openly talk about my illness. This is huge,” she said. “In the past, I have been so physically ill that I had to direct all my energies into just keeping myself alive. I’ve learned to trust my body and its needs.” Cara Haley Everything about Cara Haley appears colorful: her blue and purple dyed mohawk, the tattoos of that cover her arms. But Haley, 32, of Concord, said there is a darkness she has carried around with her, too. “Colors swirl around me, my hair paints the air. Bright life lessons decorate my arms,” Haley read from a poem she wrote. “Inside me though, live grey and black: colors I must blend and balance every day.” Haley said she has been dealing with the dual diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and autism her entire life. “The autism part is pretty socially acceptable these days, but the mental illness part is still scary to many people, especially when the prefix ‘schizo’ is mentioned,” she said. “People tend to back away.” Haley said she’s felt scared of her own reality, where she saw hallucinations and heard voices, and blamed herself for her mental illness. “I felt like I was doing everything wrong and when people looked me, they saw an ugly non-human. I could barely look anyone in the eye,” she said. But after counseling and taking the right medications, she is feeling better. Art has been an anchor for her through her journey. “My artistic nature has saved me from myself. Painting and writing have allowed me to see myself as someone who has something to say that other people need to hear.” Haley shared a series of poems documenting her journey called “Becoming Color.” Matthew Francis It was a cancer diagnosis that influenced Matthew Francis to change the way he thought about mental health. Francis, then 41, had dealt with complex PTSD, depression and dissociative disorders since he was a child, as well as autism and learning disabilities. His family had lived through generations of poverty. So, when he received his cancer diagnosis, he felt relieved. “I was glad,” he remembered. “I was going to let the cancer overtake me.” But being forced to confront his physical wellness made him confront his mental health, too. He realized he had been feeling shame about his mental illness that had paralyzed him. He was living in a basement at the time, smoking a lot and not spending any time building social relationships. “I remember I received so much support: meals, flowers, cards (when I was sick). Cancer was not my fault,” he said. “The cancer set up a paradigm that I wish trauma and mental health would implement: I wish people would see those of us with mental illness as brave, courageous and know it’s not our fault.” Francis stopped blaming himself for his struggles with mental health and feeling pride for all that he had lived through. “For the first time in my entire life, I genuinely saw myself as brave and courageous, and as hard as cancer was, dealing with trauma and mental illness has been harder,” he said. He attended adult education classes, support groups and tried improvisation classes. Through self-care and introspection, he came out as a transgender man. “Once I owned that aspect of myself, I was able to own other aspects of myself as well,” he said. “Finally, for the first time in my life, I was able to love my whole self.” Teresa Moler The college social worker found Teresa Moler hiding outside her office under a table, laughing like a witch. Moler had skipped classes that day, now decades ago, to go on a hike around campus, believing she was Juanita, another one of her puppet characters. Moler was dressed up like her Juanita puppet, wearing a green skirt and a red shirt. The social worker immediately realized Moler needed help. Moler, who was suffering from schizophrenia, was a puppet artist who spent a lot of time making puppets and putting on performances. She began having delusions that her puppets were controlling her. “The puppets started writing the scripts instead of me writing them,” she said. Moler was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit, where she faced suicide and feelings and continued to experience being taken over by puppet characters. She could no longer perform puppet shows – something she had once loved to do – because it scared her. “I was suffering so much inside,” she said. “I could not express myself and I had very little friends.” Moler worked for years to fight against her illness. She found medication that works for her, a good treatment team and she relies on peer support. She said she can’t believe sometimes how well she’s doing now. “I have puppet shows, paint pictures, volunteer for political organizations, am a selectman and am on the NAMI NH board and consider myself a mental health advocate,” she said. “I am taking action on my hopes and dreams.” Moler said she still experiences symptoms of her mental illness from time to time, but it’s more seldom and it doesn’t scare her like it used to. “Puppetry has been an art form for me, an emotional and creative outlet and a way to convey a message about society,” she said. “Today, I have fun with puppetry, I do it so an audience will come away with something meaningful.” * * * If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. For additional resources, visit NAMI New Hampshire’s Connect Program at theconnectprogram.org.