Stories of Hope: An Interview with Christina Huff
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked mental health advocate Christina Huff about her history of mental health challenges and about some of her current advocacy work. Here’s our interview:
DS: How did your mental health concerns develop? What did you notice and how did these issues affect you?
CH: When I was in high school, I was always depressed, had a hard time maintaining friendships and relationships, but thought it was just part of “being a teenager” (because of hormones and puberty, etc.). I was also self harming (mostly my ankles, making sure it was far enough down that my cheerleading ankle socks would cover it). I wrote a lot of poetry as a way to try and cope.
By college, all those symptoms continued, and I also developed eating disorders. I had anorexia and when people found out, I switched to bulimia. I spent so much time obsessing over calories my college life was consumed.
After I graduated college in 2003, at age 22, at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale with two bachelors degrees (B.A.in Criminal Justice and a B.S. in Paralegal Studies), I came back home to Chicago and got my first full time job that offered full medical benefits. Because of that, I found a psychiatrist that specialized in eating disorders and finally got treatment for eating disorders and depression.
In August 2006, just before my 26th birthday, after a several month streak of clubbing and drinking, I woke up one morning and just wanted to die. I called a crisis line, who directed me to go to the ER, so I did and they admitted me to the psychiatric facility for the first time. What an experience! I spent about two weeks there and was then transferred for about six months in a partial hospitalization program.
In January 2007, I was finishing up the last few months of my partial hospitalization and began attending law school at night. I went on to continue and finish my entire first year of law school thanks to the tools given to me by the partial hospitalization program.
DS: What kinds of treatment have you participated in? What has worked well (or not so well) for you?
CH: I currently do therapy with a therapist and have a separate psychiatrist, along with the variety of prescription medication I have been taking since 2003. This treatment process is actually new to me because from 2003 to 2016 I had the same doctor who took care of my therapy sessions and also did my medications. I’m just now learning about having two different doctors, as well as getting to know a new therapist, because having the same psychiatrist treat you for 13 years, they know all about your life, the rise and falls, and about your past relationships.
I have been hospitalized three times in psychiatric facilities (twice in 2006 and once at another facility in 2012). Also, as I mentioned, I have participated in an intensive partial hospitalization program, which helped. Both treatment methods helped for the areas they were targeted to help.
Also, doing my mental health blogging and networking helps because it has helped me build a larger support system as well as helping others do the same.
Every treatment type that I was given, or presented, has helped for me. With medication it’s always a guessing game, but they do help in my stability once the correct combination for me is achieved.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
CH: Right now, I am doing pretty well compared to some previous times in my life. I have a new therapy team and working with them has begun to help me.
I’m starting to get stronger with my writing voice and I’ve also learned to speak up. You have to be vocal in your treatment because your doctors don’t know what you don’t tell them. The only way you can make sure your treatment works is if you let them know when it does and when it doesn’t. There are so many different therapies, medications, etc., so there ARE choices and options that can work for you. Don’t give up after the first try.
DS: You have been incredibly active in social media and mental health advocacy. How did you get into this work and please give us a brief overview of your activities.
CH: I got started with my social media advocacy when I was searching out for my own personal knowledge when I was first diagnosed in 2006. I didn’t know anything about bipolar disorder and was really committed and serious about my recovery.
Ask A Bipolar is the first site that I found and I participated in their support group for a while and got some great support. When they put out a post on Facebook that they were looking for new authors for their site, on a whim, I decided that I would submit. Well, they accepted me and that is when my advocacy took off.
While writing for Ask A Bipolar, I also became a monthly blogger for International Bipolar Foundation. I then became partners with the founder of Ask A Bipolar and we worked together for several years on the website. Ask A Bipolar and International Bipolar Foundation had pretty specific formats and I wanted to be able to write more in a more open format, which left me the only option, to start my own website/blog. So, in 2012 “Musings of the Bipolar Hot Mess” was created.
As I continued to blog with Ask A Bipolar, International Bipolar Foundation asked to use one of my blog posts in their book “Healthy Living With Bipolar Disorder.” One of the biggest surprises was in 2013 when I was a Psych Central “Mental Health Hero.” I couldn’t believe it.
I continue to do guest posts, and I do continue to post on my own site and run all the social media that goes along with it, like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
My newest venture, starting in a few weeks, will also be doing public speaking for NAMI Chicago for the Chicago Police Department and Sheriff’s office while they do their Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).
DS: What would you like to say to encourage and inspire others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
CH: Don’t lose hope or give up. Recovery takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if it doesn’t feel right, don’t forget to speak up!! Try another therapist, look for another support group or system who can relate to you and your illness. It always helps to have someone on your side as a sounding board and a support system. (throws glitter)
Christina Huff, a Chicago native, attended the John Marshall Law School after receiving her B.A. and B.S. at Southern Illinois University. She spent a number of years working as a paralegal in several prestigious Chicago law firms. After a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, Christi began the second part of her career. In learning about her own struggles with mental illness, Christi began writing for the website Ask A Bipolar, which led to becoming the President and owner of the website. She also blogged regularly for International Bipolar Foundation. Next, Christi created the website “Musings of a Bipolar Hot Mess” and a corresponding Facebook page, which has a current following of over 17,000 fans. Here Christi shares her everyday struggles as an inspiration to others that they can find hope in living with a mental illness. She is also part of the social media/marketing team for Yale Productions upcoming film discussing mental health issues called “Michigan.” You can connect with Christi at her Bipolar Hot Mess site, on Twitter, Facebook, and at Ask a Bipolar.
Thanks so much to Christina Huff 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!