Stories of Hope: An Interview with Heidi Sullivan-Inyama
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked author and mental health advocate Heidi Sullivan-Inyama 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 issues our mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
HS-I: I can recall during my elementary years longing for close connections with family and friends. However, I was unable to tolerate being surrounded by those I loved due to an overactive mind occupied by unfamiliar voices, personalities and other distractions.
Gatherings were difficult because I couldn’t relate to anyone or anything. My perceptions were skewed. I was angry, fearful, insecure, anxious with periods of madness and unable to focus. I often asked myself would I ever come down from my room during family gatherings without being asked an exorbitant number of times.
I wondered why I heard voices inside my head, responded to those voices quietly in my mind. I questioned why I couldn’t hear what my teachers and peers were saying to me when I was clearly looking into their eyes. My mind, body, and spirit couldn’t deal with the pain that accompanied the answers. So I retreated.
The two major effects of these issues were: 1) an inability to build a positive relationship with myself which sabotaged my ability to build healthy relationships with others, and 2) I was consumed with suspicions, fearful of emotional closeness, preferred isolation, thereby missing out on social interactions that are critical for emotional growth and development. This lasted for 30 years.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
HS-I: Having kept so much to myself, I attempted suicide at the age of seventeen. I was hospitalized, medicated and attended therapy sessions. However, I can’t refer to that experience as a turning point because I still wanted out.
I was stubborn and for the next 18 years, even after I had given birth to my son at age 24, I defied the rules for managing my illness. I skipped doctor’s appointments, inconsistently refused medications and tried to hide my illness to avoid being stigmatized. I lived dangerously; dodging responsibility for safeguarding my health.
Then, two years ago at age 35 I crashed. I crashed because I wasn’t following medical treatment, but most importantly, I was lost within. I hadn’t developed an identity nor a social identity. I was too consumed with social and cultural norms and expectations and outside of family members, I was surrounded by peers who mocked those with a mental illness.
Overwhelmed with manic and depressive symptoms, a lack of identity, unfulfilled with my life purpose, I collapsed. I was a little girl once again, in a dark space just looking for a way out. Trying to find a means to the end, hoping the voices, fear, anxiety, and unhappiness would stop.
As I lay on the bathroom floor in tears once again, my husband picked me up off on my knees, held me tight, and told me he’d never let me go. He told me I had too much to live for, too much to accomplish, and my time on this planet was over yet. He told me he’d walk this path of recovery with me no matter how hard it would be.
I was also reminded of my beautiful son. How could I leave him without a mother? Not like this. Since that day, I’ve never looked back. That was the turning point for me. I sought help and committed myself to the work I had to do to heal my life.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
HS-I: My treatment has consisted of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, physician-ordered medications, family support and finding and living my life purpose. All have played a role in my return to balance.
DS: How are things going for you now? What challenges are you still facing? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
HS-I: At this time, my life is wonderful. I am living my purpose. I have completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, I am preparing to start my Master of Science in Clinical Psychology program, I’ve published my book, and I started a blog.
My greatest challenge right now is maintaining balance at all times. Specifically, while I have a number projects in the works, my ongoing family responsibilities and managing my self-care routine.
Through trials and triumphs I have learned that each of us is responsible for and holds the key to our own healing. Medication is very important and we are fortunate to have access to it. However, I have also learned that self-awareness is essential to the recovery process. I must be aware of any negative behaviors I am displaying so that I can prevent recurring manic or depressive episodes
Also, creating a plan for getting back on track can be very helpful. Most importantly, I have learned that acceptance of our challenges requires courage while overcoming them requires determination, discipline and above all, self-love.
DS: You’ve been active in mental health advocacy and social media. Tell us about your involvement in those activities.
HS-I: My mental health advocacy began recently with the publication of my first book, Staying Balanced in an Unbalanced World, Quotes and Affirmations. In addition, my recent social media engagements include Facebook, Twitter and my blog.
My book is dear to me because it is the product of the beginning steps to my healing journey. Its contents are compilations of emotional, thought-provoking quotes and affirmations written during my journaling practices; one of many tools that supported my healing process. One of my favorite affirmations is “I am living in one body with two minds, but I am at peace with myself.”
My blog is a culmination of personal stories, mental health and wellness survival tips, motivational and mindfulness articles and more. This blog is most importantly about Hope, Courage, and Strength! I want everyone to know we all have a purpose and if just for a moment we silence the unnecessary chatter in our minds, it’s then our journeys can begin.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
HS-I: To those who are still working on their recovery journey, I first say to you, CONGRATULATIONS! Second, I continue working on my recovery because I view “recovery” as a lifetime endeavor in pursuit of staying balanced through self- evaluation, self-acceptance, self-care including having a healthy relationship with yourself, healthy relationships with others, releasing guilt and identifying your purpose.
Against all odds, I have and will continue to face my fears in an effort to help others face theirs. I choose to no longer live in the past, but instead accept all that I am, all I am not, my challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. My experiences, positive or negative have only empowered me to be who I am today.
I am thankful for my son. If not for him, I would not be here today. That being said, I encourage all to face their fears, make peace within themselves, and make peace with their past.
“I might be shaped by my past, but my past does not have to define me.”
Heidi Sullivan-Inyama is a mental health advocate, scholar, mother, and wife who has found peace of mind and the strength to heal from within. She has become a successful author whose writings guided her through a difficult and continuous healing journey. Heidi is an African American woman who was challenged with PTSD and childhood anxiety and diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her teens. A suicide survivor, she is dedicated to suicide prevention programs. She continues to work through anxiety, bipolar disorder, and traumatic life events. Recognizing that healing one’s life is a life-long endeavor, she continues to face her fears, embrace challenges and maintain inner peace in an effort to demonstrate the well-being we all deserve can be achieved. Through firm belief that the journey to healing begins within and with unwavering commitment, Heidi hopes to inspire hope, courage, and strength in those facing any life challenges and to help raise mental health awareness; her journey is just beginning. Heidi holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and plans to pursue her Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology. She continues mental health advocacy through her book Staying Balanced in an Unbalanced World, Quotes and Affirmations, her blog and community activities. Heidi is looking forward to future youth outreach and suicide prevention programs. You can connect with Heidi on Facebook, Twitter or through her website.
Thanks so much to Heidi 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. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend. Thanks!