Stories of Hope: An Interview with Tina Busby
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked peer support specialist and advocate Tina Busby about her history of mental health challenges and her current 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?
TB: When I was 31, postpartum depression became the initiating event, although it took 10 years of trial and error with various antidepressant medications before bipolar disorder was determined as the culprit for my depression. In retrospect, it’s clear to see now the very first clue should’ve been the fact most of the medications induced suicidal thoughts for me, but my symptoms didn’t present in a classic way to make an early clear-cut diagnosis.
As the years went by, while experimenting with different medications, I found that suicidal urges tended to subside but the underlying depression never lifted. I was both relieved and frightened when bipolar disorder was diagnosed because I was aware of the stigma and shame that had haunted my family with its history of mental illness. However, hitting the diagnostic target accurately saved my life and returned my healthy state of well-being. In spite of bipolar’s bad reputation, it came as a gift bearing welcome relief with its promise of precise care.
My primary coping skill during times of heightened depression took the form of withdrawal from most social activities and interactions. I couldn’t stand the thought of inflicting pain or discomfort onto others just because I didn’t feel well, but over-stimulation to my already heavily-taxed energy system left little choice if I were to function in any capacity as a responsible adult with a full time job and duties at home.
Comically, we used to laugh when I needed to retreat into my “cave.” So, I was very fortunate to have the love and support of friends and family who respected my sensitivities. In return, my husband and sons have also developed their way of retreating to restore and renew themselves, and so we have this open system of communicating our needs with reciprocal respect. It’s awesome!
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
TB: The turning point occurred at a girlfriend’s house one evening during a small social gathering when I was 40 years old. Aside from myself, the others singled out one woman to harrass for smoking cigarettes, which triggered a protective instinct in me and a flashback of my dad being harassed by other family members for smoking, but my reaction with the girlfriends was what I’ve called an ‘out of body experience.’
Upset about the mean-girl situation, my mouth began speaking while my mind had no idea what was being said. It’s like I split in two. Whatever seized control of my voice box could neither be detected nor heard by me, but my internal dialogue remained fully engaged as I watched the facial expressions of my two best friends waver between bewilderment and mouth-dropping alarm.
Horrified, I quickly grabbed my keys and drove to a private place where I could sort out what had just happened. I instantly knew something was seriously wrong and didn’t hesitate to schedule an immediate appointment with a psychiatrist who I still see today. I had promised myself as a young girl never to turn a blind eye to mental health concerns because of a family history of mental illness, which oftentimes was avoided when it should’ve been addressed but instead caused tremendous unnecessary suffering in my household growing up.
It’s this pattern of avoidance, denial, silence, refusal to reach for help that underlies my passion for advocacy, but also because my mother was afraid to seek help for fear of being “locked up and called crazy” as she said her relatives had been. Thankfully my friends from that fateful “turning point” night have remained my best friends.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
TB: The magic has come to me in the form of a mood-stabilizing medication, intermittent anti-anxiety and sleeping medications, combined with talk therapy with a trusted counselor and the compassionate ears of friends and family. I’ve found that regular exercise, time spent in nature, and journaling have consistently been my best coping mechanisms.
‘Listening walks’ are a favorite with the purpose of mindfully focusing on sights, sounds, smells in nature as I take a stroll along a favorite road near my home. It’s amazing how the changing of seasons in the south where I live provide the most nourishing natural healing resources. Faint hints of cedar, fragrant gardenias, the scent of damp earth, twinkling stars as day fades into night bring my senses alive, and the best part about nature is it requires no prescription, office visit, lab test, insurance plan, and it’s always open for business!
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
TB: Even as I age into my 50’s feeling great, I’m discovering there’s so much more wellness potential for our bodies and minds than there was 10 years ago when I was first diagnosed. What’s kept me healthy and on a positive track has included constant learning about mental health matters and the mind-body connection, practicing spirituality, maintaining healthy routines, and knowing my limits well-enough to plan in advance for work/life balance.
Being a member of a women’s healing circle the past six years has been like therapy on steroids with its support system of women whose diverse backgrounds and ages provide a rich environment for personal development. And finally… the icing on the cake has been education within an intensive outpatient program recently, which has inspired a new direction for my personal recovery journey: It’s helped me understand why it’s so important to stimulate our minds and bodies on a regular basis, create things for ourselves to look forward to, build healthy bonds with others, engage socially, and rewire our brains by practicing learned optimism, yoga, meditation. I’m thrilled beyond words to discover there’s a whole lot of life yet to explore!
DS: You’ve been active in mental health advocacy. Tell us about your involvement in those activities.
TB: Advocacy…wow. “The Lethal Nature of Silence” would be an appropriate headline for this topic. If I’d known years ago how “breaking the ice” of silencing-shame would stoke the fire of my inner hearth and invoke a purpose to help others, I would’ve put my fear aside and shown up for life a lot sooner to expose the deep secret of my invisible disease.
It was when I realized ‘my story’ isn’t just about me that courage rose up inside my heart to speak on behalf of every person who has ever suffered with an emotional condition and felt isolated, silenced, ashamed, afraid to reach for help or support. I want others to know they’re not alone, and to see we can create a safety net woven together by those of us who share similar stories because we’re stronger together.
Our collective network of stories may give others the courage to open up about their suffering and reach for support, consider medical intervention, and find greater well-being. Our emerging strength and presence may silence what actually needs to be extinguished: rejection, ridicule, judgment, criticism, lack of empathy and compassion.
However, a very important factor to communicate is the benefit of modern medicine, which offers new medications and treatment modalities that weren’t available even a decade ago! Subtle body yoga and holistic wellness techniques are promising for alternative means of recovery.
So, what had started for me as the opportunity to tell my story for Mental Health Awareness Month in May 2017 with the intention of letting others know they’re not alone, to share that hope and healing are not only possible but very attainable, has become a greater concern for silence’s lethal relationship to suicide. Our family’s experience with suicide occurred multiple times with a youth, one who survived but did not know how to articulate his pain or dark thoughts. An underlying mood disorder was involved, yet it was a “mute disorder” that could have taken a child’s life.
One in five people who attempt suicide have an underlying (often undiagnosed) mental health condition. Although suicide is the #1 most preventable death, our young people – starting at the age of 10-years-old! – have an alarming rate of suicidal deaths in my state, which is terrifying! We have to do something about this, our youth and families and communities deserve it.
I hold hope that we as a state and nation can institute emotional education programs in schools for students and educators. I would like to see each person know the at-risk signs for someone in emotional distress, become familiar with ways to approach a sensitive situation effectively, and then broaden the knowledge-base with enough detail to make a long-term difference in people’s lives.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
TB: Develop a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) and while putting into practice one’s chosen healing methods, also take time to have fun along the way! Be your own best friend sometimes. Romance yourself with lovely things. Enjoy and find value in all parts of your precious self: your mind, emotions, brain, body, spirit, senses, heart, hopes, wishes and dreams!
I’m a mother of two sons, Parks and Riley, and have been married to my wonderful husband Ryan for 28 years. I’ve lived in North Carolina my whole life. Having worked in healthcare since 1985, I was recently certified as a Peer Support Specialist. My interests include reading, journaling, enjoying the outdoors and all things beautiful and serene… especially flowers and laughter! You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Thanks so much to Tina for her wonderful 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!