The winding roads that unfurl before us.
We rode them on this trip to Roanoke, descending from the top of Mill Mountain to the stately St. Andrew’s Catholic Church below. We couldn’t see our destination at first, but took faith in the ribbon of the road down the mountain.
For those of you new to this blog, #GirlsRock is a series of interviews with women who do incredible things, from musicians to writers to bloggers to those who take a dream and make it a reality. Read other #GirlsRock posts here.
Today’s guest knows all about those winding roads that bring us to our fate.
She’s Kitt O’Malley. Many of you know her for her blog, on how to Learn, Love & Live With Bipolar Disorder. It’s an incredible and inspiring journey. She’s here today to tell us a little about the roads she’s taken. Please give her a warm CD welcome.
Eli: When you were little, what did you think you’d grow up to be?
Kitt: When I was very young, perhaps 4 or 5, I was playing make believe as a nurse. My father told me that I didn’t want to be a nurse, for nurses did all the dirty work and didn’t get paid. Instead, he told me to be a doctor. From that time on I wanted to be a doctor. By the time I was in high school, I wanted to become a neurosurgeon and entered UCLA as a pre-med honor’s biochemistry major because biochem majors had the highest acceptance rates to medical school.
Didn’t last, though. Changed my mind freshman year. I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up.
Eli: Join the club on that one, Kitt. What changed your mind, though, freshman year?
Kitt: Freshman year at UCLA, I became severely depressed and suicidal. I needed to get off the speeding train I was on, and take a break. Using mononucleosis as my excuse, as I did have mono, and was ashamed to tell my parents I was suicidal, I took a semester off, then went to a community college part time for a year before transferring to UC Berkeley as a legal studies major – a much better fit for me at the time.
Eli: Did you have a support system outside your family? Where did you find the strength to find another path?
Kitt: I was ashamed, so I didn’t tell my parents at the time. I felt like a failure. My parents had high expectations of me, as did I. In fact, I didn’t tell my parents until years later. I did go home every weekend, though, for I lived in the dorms across the street from fraternity row, and couldn’t sleep because of all the noise on the weekends. Plus, I had a boyfriend in my hometown. My friends from high school I confided in. They supported me unconditionally. They made me promise to get help from student health services.
When I had a plan, the means, a time, and a note, I realized I really was about to attempt suicide, so I called a friend to sit with me until my dorm resident assistant got me in to see a UCLA cognitive psychologist. His cognitive exercises helped me get through the crisis by rewriting the depressive thoughts.
Eli: That’s incredible, Kitt. What was that rewriting process like?
Kitt: Honestly, just regular CBT exercise. Columns on a page. Irrational thought in one column. Rewrite the thought to one more rational. For example, the world would be better off without me is irrational. The world would NOT be better off without me. Those who love me would be devastated by losing me. Honestly, I didn’t deeply believe the rewritten thoughts until over a decade later when struggling as a psychotherapist. I KNEW that it would damage my adolescent clients if I killed myself. Then it occurred to me that if it would hurt them, it would no doubt hurt those I loved.
Then it occurred to me that if it would hurt them, it would no doubt hurt those I loved.
As for how it impacted the path I took as a mental health advocate, I’m not so sure. Many years – three decades, in fact – went by before I called myself a mental health advocate. That said, I did advocate for mental health when I was 18 as a UCLA medical center volunteer and as a UCLA peer health counselor trainee, in my mid to late 20’s as a psychotherapist, from 18 on as a patient, in my 30s to now as a wife and as a mother, and most recently, as a daughter.
In caring for myself and others, I advocate for mental health, whether or not I’m active as a volunteer for NAMI or active online as a social media advocate or as a blogger.
Eli: If you could enact one bill, one piece of legislation, or anything like it, to improve the state of our mental healthcare landscape today, what would you propose?
Kitt: Parity for the treatment of brain disorders and mental illnesses, including personality disorders, which are poorly understood and stigmatized by clinicians. Integrating mental health care into medical care. Coordinate care among providers and make it easier for a family to be a part of treatment planning. Create more quality long-term residential treatment options for adults unable to care for themselves because of their illness.
Right now we have a revolving door of hospitalization or incarceration and homelessness. We must address the population who needs support the most, at least to provide basic needs.
Eli: You’re on the ground, advocating for better mental health. What are you seeing?
Eli: Kitt, thank you so much for taking the time for this. What advice would you give girls about finding a way to make a difference for a cause they hold dear?
KO: Education and advocacy. Volunteer work. I used to volunteer as a teen. As a geek, I love education.