I haven’t known Kitt for a very long time, I was introduced to her through the brilliant Dr Walker Karrara, when I had the honor of contributing a piece on Stigmama, but I felt like I had known her for years. She is a regular contributor on Stigmama, and welcomed me with lovely comments on my post. She made me feel very welcomed. She is wonderful. Immediately there is a nurturing vibe that comes across when you correspond with Kitt, she’s just so lovely. She has lived a fascinating life, filled with many different adventures, and at the heart of that is her family, her faith, and her calling. I thank you Kitt, for all that you have done to help so many, all that you continue to do, to help yourself, and your work with NAMI. You have a beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing your story here with The Lithium Chronicles.
By Kitt O’Malley
So here it is, May, Mental Health Awareness Month. No different than any other month for me, really. Every month I blog and tweet and share to a plethora of social media outlets great content advocating on behalf of those of us who live with mental illness, advocating against ignorance and discrimination. Basically, I’m a social media slut.
I do not know if I make a difference in the world, but I do know I make a difference in the relationships I’ve developed over cyberspace. My son once referred to my online friends as my “fake-friends,” but they are very real and the support we provide to one another is real and valuable.
In some ways I isolate myself. I’m not nearly as socially active as I once was many years ago. I can’t be. It’s too taxing, quite honestly. I become overwhelmed and overstimulated. I start to become hypomanic. I want to help everyone. My boundaries are somewhat permeable. I lose myself in others’ needs.
So, I’m taking it slow by methodically entering the world of volunteering for NAMI or the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I like that they require highly structured training before volunteering to present their programs. Their structure keeps me from burning out, from over-extending myself.
Once upon a time I was a psychotherapist, back when I was in my twenties, decades before I knew I had bipolar disorder. I knew I had depression and was diagnosed dysthymic, having fought off suicidal ideation since I was eighteen.
But the extent of my illness was not clear until I was a thirty-nine year old mother of an extremely active toddler son. Then it became clear to me that I was experiencing manic symptoms. The euphoric feeling that God was calling me to a higher purpose (whether or not true), was clearly, in my mind, at that time, at last, manic. Yes, I was manic. I called the advice nurse, had my husband listen in to the conversation, and described my symptoms to her. She recommended that I see a psychiatrist or go to the ER immediately.
I was being treated for depression by my family practitioner at the time, and could not find a psychiatrist to see me on such short notice. She prescribed divalproex for the weekend, until I could see a psychiatrist the following week. I left our toddler son with my husband for the weekend. He weaned him cold turkey from mama (what a hippy, I know, breast-feeding a twenty-seven month toddler, I disgust even myself, but I’m a total pushover when it comes to my son).
The following week, I saw a wonderful female psychiatrist and began my journey as someone living with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder type II, cyclothymic. Honestly, I’m not sure whether type I or type II makes much difference. I may “pass” as someone who does not have a mental health diagnosis, or perhaps at one time did, but in doing so I simply hid what went on inside my head. I hid my illness even from myself for decades in spite of my own training, in spite of my own “consumption” of mental health services.
Once again, here I tell the beginning of my story and leave the middle blank. Those years I’ve lived with this diagnosis. I do not know when I will be writing more about those missing years. Those years I actually followed God’s call twice to attend seminary, but found myself dropping out twice due to family moves and the difficulties I had adjusting to those changes. Those years I struggled as a mother to a sensitive child suffering from severe migraines. Until then, I leave you with another version of the beginning of my story. Feel free to visit my blog to hear from me now, what I’m up to today.
Kitt O’Malley is a mother and wife who lives with bipolar disorder. She is licensed in California as a Marriage and Family Therapist, but hasn’t practiced as a psychotherapist in over 20 years. She has a bachelors in legal studies from UC Berkeley, a masters in psychology from New College of California, and has attended Fuller Theological Seminary. Her career path has included working as a legal assistant, psychotherapist, and commercial real estate professional. Obviously, she can’t stick to one thing for very long.
She can also be found on:
Make sure to check out her YouTube channel as well.