New Zealand: Kia ora – Welcome to the Human Rights Commission
Read the entire interview with me by Dr. Alice Boyes, a psychologist in Christchurch, NZ: Here is part of it:
“Stephanie has had some steep challenges to overcome in this area. She works in two competitive industries (publicity and journalism) in the most competitive, intense and fast-paced city in the world. She also has bipolar disorder. These days she’s flourishing both personally and professionally. She shares what she did to get to a good place psychologically, and the psychological self care strategies she uses to stay there.”
7. Alice: You work in two competitive industries (publicity and journalism) in the most competitive, intense and fast paced city in the world. What psychological self care do you do regularly?
Stephanie: The most important thing for me as an individual—well there are two things: having a team (friends, colleagues, professionals, vendors, etc.) surrounding me who I can count on no matter what. That and having enough time alone—both just to meditate or just clear my head and to write. I write tons of stuff for other people both press stuff and magazine and newspaper articles, but I also am a published writer in my own right and need time to myself to work on my craft. So I need alone time to write and on the weekends, or a day where I am working at home all day and don’t have meetings in Manhattan or whatever, I like to take a walk in the park or even just down the block or whatever. In any case I NEED Stephanie time to deal with everything else.
8. Alice: What psychological self care do you do for an additional boost e.g., when you experience a disappointment, something goes wrong, or you’re going through a tough time?
Stephanie: Sometimes I just go to sleep knowing I’ll have a different perspective in the morning after a good rest. Often I think, when I get really stressed out, “What is the worst case scenario?” and when I think about it, there really is none, it’s just not that bad. I mean truly, I don’t get a client I really wanted to represent, or an article I am working on is not going to be finished on deadline. I don’t want to make my life more chaotic, but if I am working on an piece of writing and I simply don’t think it’s good enough at deadline, I will ask for an extension –from my editor if I am writing for a specific publication or myself if it is work on my book or other personal stuff. Or even if I’m busted financially because clients aren’t paying their bills on time or something and I need some groceries , I will reach out to the aforementioned team of friends and colleagues—my support network—to get through.
My therapist says on those occasions to look at it in reverse: “What is the best case scenario?” and then strive for it. Perhaps…but I am not there yet.
One thing I DO NOT do is beat myself up. That does nothing but breed negativity and insecurity. I am not insecure and don’t plan on becoming so…I take a lot of things in stride an roll with the punches, you’ve got to in these businesses I’m in and with the stuff I have to deal with personally. Also, business is business and really, one cannot take business decisions personally. It seems most men get that, but women often don’t. It’s something I try to spread the word about, not much is personal—whether business or not. It’s psychological crap emitting form the other person or people and rarely a reflection of whether you are a good person or good at what you do or whatever. It’s other people’s insecurities and cowardess that breeds that negativity.
9. Alice: My experiences of you are that you’re brave and confident. Do you have times of self doubt? What do you do to overcome it?
Stephanie: I’ve been through hell and come back, so yes, I think I am brave and confident and even sometimes a bit puffed up about things (and conversely a bit unforgiving towards others’ foibles). But, then I’ve been on the brink of suicide during three times I’ve been struggling with mental health issues. And, really, after that, there is nothing me to be afraid of.
10. Alice: You’re open about having bipolar disorder. What’ve been the most helpful elements of the treatments you’ve participated in?
Stephanie: Yeah, I’m all about being open about my mental illness. I want to educate individuals and society as a whole about it and remove the incredible stigma attached. There is so much ignorance about mental illness—and it’s 2009!
Elements that are particularly helpful, well, regular sleep, exercise and a healthy diet is paramount. For everyone, of course, but especially for anyone with a mood disorder. Then there is my “Team” – those who I can turn to for support no matter what: my current therapist for sure, who has in the past three years help me turn my life around by showing me that there are always options and I never have to be stuck in any situation (especially an abusive one) I don’t want to be in. She gives me these affirmations from time to time and really I think they are bullshit, very “The Secret’-like, but on the occasion that I get into a pattern of negative thought or just feeling blue, I do use affirmation-type stuff to pull me out of it.
My girlfriend is very supportive –and not afraid of my illness, which is great. And my sister—I talk to her every morning, just to check in. This has been going on for four years and it’s very helpful just to have someone to check in with, even if only for a minute or two and vent or relay what is going on or just say hello and know someone is there for me.
And then there is my pharmaceutical cocktail—that is what REALLY keeps me sane on the chemical level.
11. Alice: What advice do you have for other people with bipolar disorder who are trying to let their light shine and pursue their dreams, but are also managing their disorder?
Stephanie: Pace yourself and accept your limitations, but don’t force limitations that are not there. Society puts a fence around people—in every arena. You have to be this or that, you can or cannot do this or that because, blah blah blah….fill in the blank. Don’t listen to it. And, really, you cannot care what others people think. Who cares what they think? Many people are very pretty and angry, stuck in their own little boxes and resentful they cannot get out—or don’t want to. So they are all about maintaining appearances so as not to look foolish or…whatever it is they don’t want to look (which is usually what they really are). It’s not appearances that matter, it’s substance and anyone who cares about you or wants to really know you and accept you and your work will be impressed that you dance to your own tune. Again it’s total bullshit all this stuff about “shoulds”. I am not a rules person. I am not a criminal by any stretch, but I am not into following the script of society to obtain the so-called American dream, which doesn’t exist in any case—and I am glad of that!
12. Alice: What advice do you have for family, friends, and girlfriends/boyfriends of people with bipolar disorder?
Stephanie: That’s a hard one. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 37 and I’m now almost 46. So I went most of my life thus far not knowing why I was depressed or angry or whatever. I also have Tourette Syndrome and was already on some medication –in low doses– that is the same treatment for bipolar disorder, so it kind of kept a lid on the BP for a while. But when it exploded, everyone in my life well, first, we all finally understood my past behavior, but then they all wanted to micromanage me. Especially having attempted suicide, I was always the “sick” person in any sort of relationship, intimate or not and everyone was walking on eggshells.
For family and friends, keep an eye, but don’t overstep, snoop or invade privacy. Check in, but don’t smother. And mostly don’t assume every little change in mood means something major. Shit, everyone gets the blues and it’s okay to. Look at the world we live in. If ya didn’t get depressed or down sometimes, you’ wouldn’t be human. But, for partners especially, of a mentally ill person, be supportive. You’re not going to be trusted if you don’t give —and give willingly and without judgment. And if there isn’t trust, then there really isn’t a true relationship. And, don’t ask if they’ve taken their medication!
I’ve finally thrown off the mantle of being sick or BEING bipolar. Of course I have bipolar disorder, but I am not the disorder itself. I am mentally ill, but I also have asthma and am not defined by either of those illnesses or by any other single trait, characteristic or whatever.
13. Alice: What are your main sources of positive emotions?
Stephanie: It varies from day to day week to week. I’m happy, which I never thought I could be. That was the depression talking for 40 years, not me. I like my life and my work, I’m proud I run my own business and that I publish good and interesting journalism regularly. I’m pretty frenetic when I work, but calm and serene appeal to me. I like to meditate—in my own way—and do yoga or some sort of other calming exercise or practice. Breathing well is good for me on so many levels. A BodyTalk practitioner recently told me that depressed people usually don’t know how to breathe in properly, which means they don’t breathe in joy and life and life-sustaining emotions or life-sustaining anything. And I’ve reflected on that and found that it’s pretty true. I also write about health and wellness, calm and serenity –I usually try some sort of treatment and then write about it, which exposes me to new and different ways of being. Often I incorporate into my life and sometimes not, but it’s always exciting finding out about different ways people take care of themselves.
I like to travel and do it affordable by house swapping. It’s a great way to travel as inexpensively as possible and have the chance to experience a new place, culture and people like a local. That brings me a lot of joy—and looking forward to a planned home exchange keeps me going for the months preceding it.
I like to be up early, to work in the dark stillness and then see the sunrise. I take a photo of the sunrise every morning, just to compare it day to day and to record that I’ve actually lived to see the sun rise again!
14. Alice: You’re writing a memoir that’s getting some buzz already. Any scoop? Anything you can say about it yet?
Stephanie: Well, the title is “Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies and Suicide.” If that doesn’t pique some interest, you’ve gotta be half-dead.
But really, I just got the domain beautifulwreck.com and am working with a designer to put up some interesting stuff including, perhaps, some excerpts.
This interview skims over a lot of the content of the book, I suppose, but I’ll also give ya my elevator pitch:
In Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide, I chronicle 20 years of misadventures as a transplanted Midwestern lesbian with undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome and bipolar disease in turn-of-the-millennium New York City. I detail the psychiatric underworld—first as a staffer at a homeless shelter on Ward’s Island working with mentally ill men—and years later as a patient on a locked ward at Jersey City Medical Center. The fifteen-plus years in between are the substance of my book, a raw account of my life both marred and informed by mental illness
I wouldn’t be a good self-promoter if I didn’t tell your readers to check out my writing/journalism site at www.stephanieschroeder.com and also to check back at www.beautifulwreck.com for updates in the coming weeks and months.
Thank you to Stephanie Schroeder!
Dr Alice Boyes is a Psychologist who combines the best of Clinical, Social, and Positive Psychology. She likes to encourage people to think bravely, openly, and creatively about their dreams