Stories of Hope: An Interview with Rebecca Lombardo
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked author, blogger, and mental health advocate Rebecca Lombardo about her history of mental health challenges and about some of her current advocacy activities. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
RL: I started to notice my senior year in high school that my moods would often go up and down very quickly. I remember feeling incredibly depressed at times and spending hours on the phone with certain friends, crying and playing the same sad song on the stereo over and over again.
I had a couple of teachers ask me if everything was OK at home, and I always said yes, even if it wasn’t. After high school, I moved into an apartment with another girl. I was working 2 jobs and trying to take classes. I was also partying as often as I could. I started taking No-Doz to stay awake during the day, and then taking handfuls of Benadryl to go to sleep at night.
Eventually, I had a severe breakdown. I went into my walk-in closet and laid on the floor sobbing for hours. I finally got up and called my mom. She sent my brother to get me, and once we finally got all of my stuff out, I never spent another minute in that apartment, and I never did speak to that roommate again.
At age 19, my parents took me to see a doctor through the county that we lived in and she put me on Prozac to start with. I guess I thought it was kind of cool, Prozac was on the news and in the movies! I remember thinking, I’m sure this will do the trick and I’ll just go on about my life. I don’t remember a lot after that up until about the age of 24. I know I had a few jobs and some that I actually loved, but ended up losing them for one reason or another.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
RL: When I got back home at 19 and told my parents about the No-Doz, the Benadryl, the nightmares, the constant feeling of being afraid and overwhelmed. Naturally, they were worried. But, it wasn’t until one day when I was at my day job, which at the time was at a tanning salon, when I really knew I needed help. I was alone in the store, but I suddenly felt terrified. I couldn’t breathe, and I was hallucinating that the walls were closing in on me. My heart was racing and I was sweating. I locked the front door and went and called my mom. I think it was shortly after that we sought help.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
RL: Over the last 24 years, I’ve been hospitalized 4 times, seen countless doctors and therapists, and tried an endless amount of medications. There have been a few things that worked, but unfortunately the relief didn’t last long, so I’m not even sure I could remember them if I tried now.
What has helped me the most is the work I’ve had to do within myself. I’ve had to change my perspective on how a situation makes me feel. Grow up, I guess you could say. I can’t name any one thing medically that has helped me for any period of time except the medication Seroquel. Despite an obscene amount of weight gain, it has been the only medication that has consistently worked for me. I’ve been on it more than 15 years now.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
RL: Life is still a bit of a roller coaster for me now, but because I am more self-aware and I’m more realistic about my symptoms, the bad patches don’t seem as long. I’ve come to a stage when I can actually feel my mood changing to a state of depression. It takes over my entire being. Thankfully, I have a very supportive husband that is always there for me, and I have my writing. It has saved me more often than not. I wouldn’t say that I’m an exceptionally positive person, but I am realistic, and I am always looking for ways to improve.
DS: You’ve been active in mental health advocacy and social media. Tell us about your involvement in those activities.
RL: I sort of wandered into mental health advocacy. I had no idea that’s where I was headed, but I’m glad that’s where I landed! In 2013, I attempted suicide. I was involuntarily committed to a terrible facility and I knew I needed to do some work to change my life. I’d always loved to write, so I went back to it, and started a blog, for myself mostly but partly for my husband. He could read it and get a better understanding of what I was going through.
Writing how I’m feeling is easy, but saying it is a lot harder. When my husband kept telling me it was really good, I showed it to some friends. They also said it was really good, so I decided to make it public. That started the whole advocacy ball rolling. People were approaching me every day from different places to say thank you or ask for advice. It was amazing, so I kept on writing.
After a year or so, I gained the confidence to turn it into a book, but that wouldn’t happen for a while. It was tricky at first getting used to the ins and outs of Twitter, Instagram, and how to promote your own blog. Not to mention finding a publisher! What a nightmare! Eventually, it all started to come together and the online mental health community began to accept me and I am so grateful for all of them.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
RL: The best advice I can give is to be realistic about your symptoms. Accept that you may have to take medication for the rest of your life, but understand that there are millions of people in the same boat. Keep an open line of communication with the people you rely on for support.
Always be 100% honest with your doctors about medications and side effects. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t spend any time online searching for your diagnosis. Half of what you read will be wrong and just freak you out. Try not to isolate yourself. Even when you feel like doing nothing, at least communicate that to your parents, roommate, spouse, whoever.
Your experiences with mental illness will be completely different from anyone else’s. Try really hard not to let something that has happened to someone else worry you or scare you. It may not ever happen and you’re just making yourself feel worse. If you do start to get scared or worried, ask yourself if getting upset about this is going to make the situation any better. Will it change the outcome of the event? Will Friday go better because I’m in tears about it on Tuesday? The answer is no, so try to keep that in mind.
Please don’t ever just stop taking your medication cold turkey without talking to your doctor. It’s going to be OK. You can get through this, you just have a little work to do.
Rebecca Lombardo is 43 years old and has been happily married for 15 years. She lives in Michigan with her husband and cats. She is a published author, a Huffington Post blogger, and a podcast host. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 19. She has battled that as well as several other conditions for over 20 years. In 2013, she attempted suicide. Grateful that she survived, she decided to tell her story in the hopes that she could help others choose a different path. You can connect with Rebecca on her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn.
Thanks so much to Rebecca for sharing her inspiring story of hope!
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!