December 11. 2015
The Brave Faces and Voices project began in 2012 as a way for Shasta County residents to reduce stigma and shame associated with mental illness and suicide by telling their inspiring stories of recovery. Nearly 30 people have bravely come forward to share their experiences with the goal of debunking pervasive misconceptions that prevent people from seeking help and support.
James Herington, Burney resident: I don’t think it’s a good idea to rely on a diagnosis from a family physician who isn’t a trained psychiatrist. When I lived in Boise, Idaho, a family physician put me on a lot of different medications that had some horrible side effects. It wasn’t until I met with a psychiatrist in Burney that I was able to get something helpful. Today, I’m taking Prozac and Wellbutrin (an anti-depressant), and they’re working well for me. I believe in doing a lot of research on medications because they can change the chemical balance in your brain. Also, really quiz your pharmacist about them because the instruction booklets don’t always tell you everything you need to know.
Sherry Morgan, Redding resident: Figuring out what medications work for you can be a trial and error process. People don’t realize that sometimes it requires six to eight weeks of regularly taking a medication for your system to adjust to it and to figure out if it works. I can understand why people may get frustrated.
Chris Stampfli, Redding resident: One time I was picking up my prescriptions, and the pharmacist lectured me about taking too many medications. He didn’t understand why they were prescribed by my psychiatrist because sometimes drugs will be used in ways that aren’t commonly labeled. The drug I take for my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, for example, is usually prescribed for anxiety. It really helps with my compulsions and eating disorder because, for me, it’s anxiety that’s causing those symptoms.
James Herington: A medication might help with symptoms, but if your problems are deeper than that, you probably have other work to do and need to develop other tools as well. I keep up with all my appointments with therapists, and I have developed other self-care techniques like prayer and pursuing my education at Shasta College.
Mary Graham, Montgomery Creek resident: You have to be careful. Medications do help a great deal with mental illness, but people get in trouble if they think everything is going to be just fine. Recovery is hard work and ongoing. Things can happen in your life that provide extra challenges, and you have to be prepared with the right tools to handle them. Today, I’m on Prozac and Geodon (a drug that treats symptoms of bipolar), and they’re working very well. I feel much calmer, but it takes a while to get used to them. You just have to be patient and go through the motions and keep trying. Hill Country Community Clinic, where I go for care, is an amazing place that provides a lot of support.
Sherry Morgan: I thought taking medications would be the answer I was looking for, but they weren’t. They helped for the voices I was hearing, but you have to work on yourself and your situation. I still have to challenge and talk back to the voices and use other tactics beyond medications to control them. I’ve had some periods where life has hit me hard, and I’ve had to deal with a bunch of stuff, like stress and grieving. Recently, I just had a knee surgery, and I haven’t been able to work and get out in the community, which is tough. You need to have more tools than just your medications to handle those things.
Carrie Diamond, Redding resident: The side effects are real. For me, they’ve led to weight gain, which can cause other mental health issues. I noticed after I was able to wean off lithium with my doctor’s help, it’s a lot easier for me to remember things and to pull things out of my head.
Donald Jacobs, Redding resident: I was on Zyprexa (a drug used to treat schizophrenia or bipolar) at one point, and that was scary because the drug made it hard for my body to cool down when I was exercising. That didn’t seem like it would be good for my long term health, so I worried about it. Other meds I took had a lot of severe side effects. Some increased the amount I slept. I’ve had dry mouth and drooling issues due to psych meds. The drug I’m currently on caused urinary tract infections until I lowered the dose with my doctor’s help. I think one drug even caused me to be incontinent. Sometimes, if you’re taking several medications, it can be difficult to tell which med is causing which side effect.
Sherry Morgan: I understand why some people would rather not take their medications than deal with the side effects. Because of meds, I’ve had to deal with dry mouth, shakiness, collapsing and, unfortunately, constipation. I stopped taking some drugs because of health concerns, like Amitriptyline (an anti-depressant) which can cause dementia. The important thing is to go off medications slowly with the help of a doctor.”
Carrie Diamond: Even if you’re in an unhealthy state, it can be hard to accept when you’re diagnosed and prescribed a medication. When I was diagnosed with bipolar, I faced some internal stigma. The medication represented this label that someone had put on me. I thought the medications were going to change me and shift my reality. I know I was concerned I would be less of a creative person. And for some people it does cause a shift in their personality, and sometimes friends and family will point it out to you, which doesn’t make it easier.
The important thing is to give the medications time to work and if you’re taking the medications consistently and going to therapy as well, you can bet better.
Donald Jacobs: I’ve been on a lot of different medications since 2003 to help with my auditory hallucinations and other issues. I really didn’t know what was going to happen to me when I started, and at first I really couldn’t function that well during the day because the medications were so sedating.
All I really take now is a big shot of Abilify (a medication for schizophrenia) at the beginning of the month. It’s a mood enhancer or stabilizer. But now that I’m living more independently, I’m working with my doctor to wean off the medication because we really don’t know what the long term side effects can be.
Mary Graham, Montgomery Creek resident: When I started out with medication, I was allergic to many of them, and I didn’t have a great relationship with my first doctor. He was pretty intimidating, and I didn’t stick up for myself. Instead of taking me off one medication and trying another one, he’d keep adding a new med to my cocktail, and it messed with my head. I was taking six anti-depressants, but I was more depressed than ever and frustrated because the pills weren’t working. Eventually, they connected me with a telepsychiatrist from Davis, and after three appointments he got me on a medication that worked for me.
Sherry Morgan: Because of my illness (schizoaffective and bipolar), I was confused and thought I had only one doctor, even though I was going to see several of them. At some point I was taking 36 medications, and I nearly died from overdoses. Eventually, I got connected with the STAR (Shasta Triumph and Recovery) team at Shasta County Mental Health, and my nurse Teri went through my big bag of meds, called every doctor and got me down to a manageable number of medications.
Chris Stampfli: My adjustment period took more than a year. I had to be very patient. At times, I wanted to throw all the medications in the trash because I felt so horrible, but I knew my doctor and I needed to find a drug that worked for me and preserved my quality of life.
I recently had to re-evaluate my medications because I’ve started aggressively treating my Multiple Sclerosis, which can cause additional reactions or side effects with the psych meds. And that can be a complication for people who have serious physical health issues as well as mental health issues that require medication. A goal of mine is to slowly get off my medications for depression, and my doctor and I are tapering it off slowly.
Chris Stampfli: There’s a lot of stigma internally and socially. One thing I’ve experienced is people assume taking medications means you’re weak, or you failed trying to beat your illness through will power. In my case, I’ve done everything I possibly could to cope with my mental illness, and I realized that medication is another tool I need in my toolbox.
I’ve also had people question my medications and assume I’m just following my doctor’s orders blindly with no agency. They say, “Why do you let the doctors jerk you around and change medications?” I have to let them know I’m being careful and deliberate about the decisions I make.
Carrie Diamond: I encounter stigma all the time. If people know you’re taking lithium, they probably figure out you have been diagnosed with bipolar and might have stereotypes associated with that. The drugs themselves can make you sound scary; I’m taking an anti-psychotic which helps reduce my hyper-vigilance which comes from my Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It’s not because I’m suffering from psychosis or dangerous, which people may think.
It can be hard when you’re in a romantic relationship. When you’re taking handfuls of pills in the morning, you’re going to have to explain to your boyfriend or girlfriend what they are. I’ve actually had girlfriends tell me to stop taking my medications because they didn’t think they were helping.
Donald Jacobs: If someone is using a medication that works for them people should be more comfortable around them, not scared. They’ve come a long way with a lot of the newer medications. When I was off my medications in the past, I would have had impulses that could lead to violence or self-medication with drugs or alcohol. With the help of medications, I’ve been pretty stable for three years now, and it’s a good time to start reducing my reliance on them.
The Brave Faces:
Mary Graham is a Montgomery Creek resident and volunteer at the Circle of Friends Wellness Center in Burney. She enjoys photography and taking care of her grandchildren. She speaks for Brave Faces and Voices about her experiences with severe depression and bipolar symptoms.
Chris Stampfli is a local mental health advocate, member of the MHSA Academy and former counselor for troubled youth and special education teacher’s aide. Chris has lived in Redding since 2006 and speaks for Brave Faces and Voices about their experiences with OCD, depression, anxiety, self-harm and many other topics.
Donald Jacobs is a group facilitator and peer support specialist for the Olberg Wellness Center in Redding. He speaks for Brave Faces and Voices about his experiences with schizophrenia, substance abuse disorders and long-term hospitalizations.
James Herrington is a Burney resident, a volunteer at Circle of Friends Wellness Center and a Shasta College student, focusing on psychology. He speaks regularly for Brave Faces and Voices about his experiences with mental health challenges and his recovery.
Carrie Diamond is a community organizer, Community Health Advocate for Shasta County HHSA, and the board president of the NorCal OUTreach Project, a non-profit dedicated to building respect and services for the Redding LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community. She is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and speaks throughout the community about her experiences with PTSD, bipolar and OCD.
Sherry Morgan is a Redding resident and group facilitator at the Olberg Wellness Center. She speaks regularly with Brave Faces and Voices about her recovery, treatment and mental health challenges.