Jennifer Marshall is the brave and wonderful writer/mental health advocate of her blog,Bipolar Mom Life. She’s currently producing a live performance theater show on mental health awareness and appreciation, which will debut in Arlington, VA in May of 2014 called This Is My Brave. Take a moment to check out her non-profit’s website: www.thisismybrave.com and they are running a tee-shirt fundraiser where people can buy a shirt and the proceeds go towards ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. That link is: www.booster.com/thisismybrave. When I read Jenn’s blog, I’m deeply grateful that she takes the time to share her story and to advocate for the millions who are unable to share their stories about mental illness.
Q: Can you tell me about the moment that you decided to hit ‘Publish’ on Bipolar Mom Life?
JM: Even when I was in my darkest moments of dealing with my bipolar disorder, there was always an underlying desire to tell my story in order to help others. At times it was barely a whisper, but as I grew stronger and more confident on my recovery path, I realized that the only way to stand up to stigma is to put a face and a name with the condition I was living with. So after blogging for a year and a half under a pen name, I finally opened up about my true identity and never once regretted that decision. The rush of support from friends and family was overwhelmingly positive. And the more that I opened up about my journey and all the setbacks along the way, it became more and more clear to me that I made the right decision. Hearing from people who have read my story and are appreciative that I have shared everything I’ve been through is all the validation I’ll ever need to know that what I’m doing is making a difference.
Q: What does the world need to know about mental illness, Bipolar Disorder in particular? Are there hidden blessings that have surprised you?
JM: People who live with bipolar disorder are, in general, highly creative people. Many are artists, musicians, writers and poets. The world needs to know that we are just regular people who have an illness like any other illness. It just happens to be affecting our brain. So just like a diabetic takes insulin to be able to function a lead a normal life, a person with bipolar disorder takes medications that help to treat our symptoms. The majority of people in this world who live with mental illness are not violent, and are much more likely to be a victim of violence than to commit a violent act themselves.
I’d say the hidden blessing has definitely emerged for me and that is a deeper sense of empathy towards people who suffer from mental illness. Before I was diagnosed I had no understanding of the various types of mental illnesses and how they affected people. Now, from my nine years of experience with bipolar disorder, I am able to truly grasp the level of pain and suffering a person has endured when battling a serious mental illness. I think it makes me a much more compassionate person in general for which I’m thankful.
Q: Writing is your passion; what authors have influenced you? If I give you a shoebox and ask you to fill it with the most important books, what’s in the box?
JM: I love this question. I have always loved writing, ever since I was in grade school. But when it came to choosing a major in college, I was too afraid to follow my passion and become a “starving artist” and went the more sensible path, studying Business instead for the security the degree offered upon graduation. So since I didn’t study writing in college, I’m influenced more by current popular authors like Cheryl Strayed, Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle Melton, Kelly Corrigan. I love writers who teach about writing, like Jeff Goins, Anne Lamott, Marion Roach Smith, Ariel Gore, Theo Pauline Nestor, Natalie Goldberg and Beth Kephart. The books in the shoebox (let’s say it’s a box for boots) would definitely be: Tiny Beautiful Things, The Middle Place, Learning to Breathe, The Gift of an Ordinary Day, Wild, and Daring Greatly.
Q: When have you been most satisfied with your life?
JM: I am most satisfied with my life at this moment. I have learned that there is no greater moment than the present, because in that moment you have it all. There is no guarantee of another day, let alone another moment, so that moment you find yourself should be embraced and celebrated. I’m loving that song “Best Day of my Life” by American Authors which is popular on the radio right now because every time I hear it I am reminded that I only have today and I should focus on the positives and let go of the negatives; life is way too short!