Stories of Hope: An Interview with Tillie Bright
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked mental health advocate and author Tillie Bright about her history of mental health challenges and her recent book. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health and when did you first get help?
TB: I knew something was truly wrong long before I actually got help. When I was in my first year of university I was invited to join an ‘encounter group’ which was very trendy in the latter 60’s. I said yes, regretted it soon after but was unable to bring myself to leave. The whole process was like scratching at scabs that I didn’t know were there.
The leader of the group (a psychologist) realized something was wrong because I refused to participate in most of the activities. He referred me to a psychiatrist. I was unable to find words to communicate what was churning up inside me. At this point I was able to remember very little of my childhood. But bits and pieces were leaking through my conscious thought.
The doctor wanted to admit me to the psychiatric ward of which he was affiliated. My parents said no and wouldn’t let me go. Too many family secrets. I actively looked for help when my difficulties with relationships and intimacy were getting in the way of my having a meaningful relationship with boys. I still believed I was a virgin.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of and what has worked?
TB: I’ve had an ongoing depression as well as dealing with the aftereffects of childhood sexual abuse. The abuse I refused to believe unless I had two corroborating accounts. My most ineffective treatment was with a therapist who had very weak boundaries and that relationship was actually destructive to me. My most useful treatment consisted of drug therapy with an empathetic psychiatrist and an intuitive therapist with talk therapy. The communication between both of them helped me stay grounded with many effective coping skills.
DS: How are things for you now? What have you learned that has helped you to stay positive?
TB: I’m on a 12-year healthy period for which I have worked hard. I am still on medication to help me stay stable but what has been the most useful have been the tools which have been taught to me. I have on my fridge a folded sheet of paper on which is written my plan for if I hit a stressful time or a depressed time or if I feel my hold on reality slipping. On that paper is a long list of coping ideas which have worked for me in the past. People to phone, music to play, gratitude lists, reminders to meditate, etc. Most of the time I don’t even need to look at the paper. Those methods are ingrained in my mind.
DS: Tell us about your involvement in mental health advocacy and social media.
TB: I am active in social media, including “To Write Love On Her Arms,” a group to discourage suicide and self-harm, and Glenn Close’s advocacy group (Bring Change to Mind) to get rid of the stigma against mental illness. I do a talk on suicide statistics and ways to deal with someone who is suicidal and the topic of stigma in general at the non-profit where I work now as a Senior Peer Counsellor. I am open in person and online about my experience with mental illness.
DS: Tell us a bit about the book you have written.
TB: My book is called “I’ve Lost My Mind: How I Found It Again.” It is my story of childhood sexual abuse and my adulthood struggling with mental illness and addiction, ultimately overcoming all those challenges to finally heal and thrive. The book was cathartic to write and the publication marked a new level of strength and wellness for me.
DS: What would you like to say to others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
TB: When I was ill and folks would tell me things would get better and to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, I wouldn’t believe them. Wellness seemed so far away. I’m here to tell you that anything can be overcome with a skillful therapist and a lot of hard work. There were many times I felt like giving up but I would pick myself up one more time and keep on trying.
I was born 20 miles from New York City so I grew up with all the amenities living near a big city would bring me. It was a culturally rich time for me. I also lived with an 11-year older brother who was physically and sexually abusive. And as I was to have confirmed many years later, my father was a pedophile who used me in his disgusting games. I got a B.A. In Psychology/Sociology at Hartwick College in New York and did postgraduate work in Family Therapy at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, where I had fled to after college. I worked on and off as a counsellor and group facilitator, working with all age groups from preschool to multi-handicapped children and their families, to groups of 25 women who had been out of the work force for many, many years. Then, after years, I lost my job, I lost my marriage and I finally lost my mind. I became too ill to work at all and was able to get a disability pension while I tried to straighten out my illness and myself. I was diagnosed with clinical depression with psychotic features, a diagnosis which did nothing to reassure me. Finally I got to a point where I could confront my demons and was strong enough to write my book. I owe a lot to my final therapist and psychiatrist. They believed in me when I couldn’t. I now live on a scenic island off of Vancouver, B.C. with my tortoiseshell cat and shelves and piles of books. I even think I may have another book in me. You can contact me via Facebook, Twitter, or my website.
Thanks so much to Tillie for 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. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend. Thanks!