Stories of Hope: An Interview with Shannon Love
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked author and advocate Shannon Love about the struggles and triumphs of her personal journey. Here’s our interview:
DS: When did you first start becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health? How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
SL: I remember it all vividly. It was 2012, I was living in Beijing, China, and it all began with a routine physical. The moment the doctor inspected my EKG reading, patted me on the shoulder, and informed me of her concerns, my neat and orderly life rerouted itself from bliss to a riddled mess.
When the heart condition emerged, it led to a series of medical tests that revived a dormant anxiety disorder. Soon after, a series of unwise choices and unforeseen circumstances littered my path and rolled themselves into an ever-growing ball that eventually knocked me off my feet. I must have been living on the edge already, for when I slipped, I fell from this world into another one far from reality–one much like the twilight zone. Mental health professionals call this a psychotic break.
I wish I could say that it came and went quickly, but that’s not how it happened. Throughout an eighteen-month period, I suffered three episodes and found myself in three different hospitals. Such circumstances put my husband, three children, and me through hell. That they didn’t pack their bags and run is a miracle that can only be explained by unconditional love, and it is their devotion that saved me.
You see, Mother Nature had drugged my mind, creating a paranoid woman who answered to the voices in her head rather than to rationality. I assumed that, in fact, the world had gone crazy–not me. I feared that people were out to get me. I even suspected that my husband wanted me dead. I became consumed with hyper-religiosity and delusions of grandeur—first believing that I was a prophet, and later convinced that I was god-like.
However, the worst part was not the overwhelming sense of responsibility or the molesting voices. It was the idea that the world watched every move I made and heard my thoughts. The invasiveness of it all drove me to lock up my emotions and bury my thoughts. At one point, I became so overwhelmed that I contemplated suicide as my only escape.
And there was still more. Tangled language and hidden messages made it impossible for me to communicate adequately with anyone—even those closest to me. I had become a shadow of my former self, unable to parent my children and reciprocate my husband’s love. These encroaching symptoms prevented me from living.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help? What diagnosis did you receive?
SL: I was psychotic for a month without anyone knowing. Then the voice in my head assured me that my husband, along with China, wanted me dead. I fell into a state of terror. My hallucination advised me to go to the hospital, assuring me that the doctors there would transport me back to the United States to safety. On his counsel, I took myself to the emergency room of a nearby international hospital and feigned severe abdominal pain. When they couldn’t find anything wrong with me, I broke into tears, crying “They’ll kill me if you send me back.” At that point, the physicians recognized that I was in psychiatric distress.
They kept me overnight and transported me via ambulance to a psychiatric hospital in another part of the city the next day. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. But later in the United States, they determined that I had Bipolar I disorder with psychotic features. Since then, I have suffered two more psychotic breaks. The second one followed a very short manic phase. My third episode was not preceded by mania.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
SL: Psychotherapy and psychiatry have both played major roles in my recovery. I have managed to remain stable for over fifteen months with a combination of Abilify (antipsychotic) and Wellbutrin (antidepressant). My psychologist has also taught me ways to reduce stress in my life, as well as recuperate from the traumatic experiences of the breaks themselves. She also did a marvelous job of teaching me ways to help my husband and children heal.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
SL: Life is fabulously normal! My teenagers keep me busy with their activities. My husband chases me around the house in games of “Catch Me if You Can!” I spend time with my loving family, genuine friends, and jovial neighbors. In other words, I go about my days with a smile on my face and the moment on my mind.
How have I done this? First, I must commend my support system. My partner in life is as devoted and loving as they come. As much as he despises my illness, he loves me infinitely more. My kids are intelligent and knowledgeable about my disease. They recognize it as a separate entity from me. Because of this and excellent professional help, I feel secure in the foundation of my family unit.
I’ve also learned to balance my life more. Getting involved in the community and helping others gives me a sense of purpose and prevents me from dwelling on my own problems. It offers me a positive outlet for my energy and keeps me social.
That being said, I’ve also mastered the ability to recognize my limitations. If taking on that fourth task will pass my stress threshold, I exercise my “no” muscle. This means that I include “me” time in my daily routine. Whether that is reading a book, exercising, or simply taking a short nap, I find a few moments to be by myself and regenerate.
Finally, I take my medication seriously. If it makes me feel uncomfortable, I inform my psychiatrist and we tweak it. My condition is physiological. Just like diabetes, I can manage a lot through diet and life choices. But, for me, that is not enough. I attempted to handle it without medication and found myself climbing Mt. Everest. That’s not something I wish to do on a daily basis. Therefore, at 6:30 every morning, I take a blue pill and two white ones with a glass of water. It’s my life and it’s what keeps me happy and sane.
DS: Tell us a little about your book and your efforts to advocate for improved mental health care.
SL: Like many authors, my book “Twisting My Kaleidoscope” is my baby. In it I share my story in a way that places the readers in the mind of the psychotic, while simultaneously entertaining them. It is meant to be enjoyed and understood by anyone.
As someone who was not fully aware of the effects of mental illness until my own encounter with it at the age of forty-two, I acknowledge the difficulty in understanding something foreign to many. Therefore, my book acts as a tour guide that transits those brave enough to visit, into this other world. I truly believe that the experience will allow others to appreciate the complexities and difficulties those afflicted face.
I also manage a website, loveskaleidoscope.com, dedicated to those who struggle with mental illness and the loved-ones of those battling with such diseases. As a result, I have been the guest of a few podcasts and blogs and have led a Q & A session at a local mental health facility. I am always open to answering questions about my personal experience. Knowledge empowers us to empathize and remove the stigma attached to things we once didn’t understand.
DS:What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
SL: Don’t give up. I almost did at one point, and am so thankful that I didn’t. Learn to articulate exactly how you feel when you are on and off your medications. Work with your psychologist to recognize your triggers. If you don’t have the resources, call a helpline. There are so many out there that are free and want to help. It took time and an open and honest relationship with both my psychologist and psychiatrist. But, I did get my life back.
Shannon Love began life in rural Alabama as a seemingly stable and content youngster. After marrying her childhood sweetheart she continued on this path of fulfillment, expanding her household to five members and thoroughly enjoying a nomadic and international lifestyle. Three countries and five states later she suffered a psychotic break, forcing her into yet another world – that of mental illness. Repatriated to the U.S., Shannon now resides in Houston, Texas where she hangs her many hats as a mom, wife, writer, creative thinker, and regular gal. You can reach Shannon via Twitter or her website.
Thanks so much to Shannon for sharing her inspiring story of hope!
Here’s a question: Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!