As part of our support community on Slack, we regularly invite mental health leaders to do open and honest Q&A sessions with our members. We discuss topics surrounding mental illness coping and recovery, advocacy, reducing stigma, and more.
Michelle Dickinson-Moravek is currently an associate director at Johnson & Johnson, a company she adores because it feels like her second family. Michelle is the author of Breaking Into My Life. A memoir that offers a rare glimpse into a young girl’s experience living with—and loving—her bipolar mother. Michelle is out to raise awareness and compassion for those struggling with mental illness along with those who care for them so that more people get the treatment and help they need and deserve. She believes that together we can eradicate the mental health stigma once and for all.
Hi everyone, our first guest speaker will be taking Q&A in this channel in two minutes.
Michelle Dickinson is currently an associate director at Johnson & Johnson, a company she adores because it feels like her second family. Michelle is the author of Breaking into My Life , a memoir that offers a rare glimpse into a young girl’s experience living with — and loving — her bipolar mother.
You can ask her questions about her book and living with a bipolar mother, about how she was able to become successful and her point of view on mental health, about the next steps to end the stigma, etc.
Thanks. So jazzed to be here. I love this community. I get what so many of you are dealing with. I witnessed my mother’s pain. Sending you all so much love.
Alright, can ask questions just in general? Like about mental health?
Anything you’d like – general or mental health, life, etc.
How did you care for yourself while you were caring for your mom?
Thanks for this question. It was finding outlets like my youth group and my friends’ mothers who really helped me. And chocolate.
I’m really depressed right now. Do you know of any ways of possibly coping with it? When thoughts come?
First step is talking about it, I think. And surrounding yourself with a support system that serves you. Personally, when I am down, I work out and reach out to my friends for support.
How is your relationship with your mother now?
She passed away. I miss her.
What if we’re alone and don’t have many friends? Is there hope for us?
You are never alone with this community. I would also make sure you are getting care by a doctor. I see mine twice per month.
What would be your number one piece of advice for caregivers? When you feel like you’ve tried all the options and don’t know what to do next?
GREAT question. Don’t get lost in the care of your loved one. Make sure you are taking care of yourself. It is the old oxygen analogy that you can’t help anyone, if you aren’t ok first.
Did you ever seek therapy to learn how to better help your mom? For yourself…
I did a lot of research and shared ideas with my dad on different ways to help my mom. Some worked. Some did not work. It was a challenging journey.
I’m pretty hopeless to this day, is it even worth it to keep going?
Well, I believe in my heart that life is truly a gift from above. I think about people who were robbed of their life too soon, and I am grounded that I have a responsibility to live my life to the fullest. But that is just me. I try to count my blessings on gloomy rainy days (like today in NJ), so that I can remember all the good stuff that is worth being happy about.
So glad to have you here! Welcome. I have a question. Can breakdowns happen at any time, even if you’re not thinking of the situation you’re in or the stress you’re under?
Thanks for this. I would think so. My mom would be happy one moment and then have a thought that would totally cause her to spiral. Our thoughts are powerful. I also think that we should not beat ourselves up when we have those thoughts. It is like a muscle. If we can recognize it and catch it before we spiral, then we can stay in control. Just my opinion though.
How do you keep fighting on the outside when you feel so weak and numb on the inside?
Great question. Ok so when I personally get into a funk – I look for who I can help. Sounds silly but it works! I mean it stops my focus on myself and my concerns and has me see the bigger picture and honestly it helps me feel great to help someone else.
Do you think it’s good for people to keep seeing a therapist once or twice a month, even if their mental health is back to normal? Does this happen often?
I think it is good to work with your medical professional to maintain your wellbeing. I think where we can get into trouble is thinking we are “all set” and then life happens and we are in a tailspin, again. I personally benefit from consistent visits with my doctor, because I can stay on track.
Do you keep going when you want to give up, but still fight it?
I hear you. Sometimes it can be hard to press forward. I have had my share of those moments. But that is a temporary place and your life has such limitless potential. Sounds corny, but think about it. Life is really a miracle. We get to have amazing experiences and create amazing things. That is pretty cool.
Ok thanks. Is it normal to be fighting this battle for two years? Been in the hospital 22 times…
I always say that we are all unique. Don’t define yourself by what you perceive “normal” to be. This is your journey. I applaud you for taking care of yourself. For being here. For pressing forward. You are the person who gives other people hope. Please, know that!
What would you suggest to people who have a mental illness that has no “cure” or “fix”?
Sometimes all you can do is find ways to manage what you are dealt with. It does not have to rob you of your joy. I think some of it falls on our shoulders to own as well. Finding outlets that bring us joy and happiness and learning what can help us (music or art) are important and empowering tools.
How long did it take you to write the book? How did you find the time to write? How did you overcome the anxiety of not knowing whether the book would be well received (if you had that anxiety)? I loved your book too!
That was three questions in one! Hang on… It took me four years to write my book. I created a structure to write every Saturday. Some Saturdays, I just could not because it was simply emotionally draining. Of course, I wondered if anyone would want to read what I had to say. So, I guess I tested my concept when I gave my talk about my mom. People were interested.
I read your book and loved it! 😀
Growing up, were you naturally compassionate and supportive of your mother, or were you once angry and confused, before you began your path of working towards understanding and coping?
OMG, I was SO MAD AT HER for the longest time. I was angry. I was resentful. I was frustrated. It took me years to reach a space of forgiveness, love and compassion for her. I watched the documentary “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive” and found deep compassion for how hard life must have been for her. And she was trying to raise me. Gave me real perspective to get the challenges people face with mental illness.
In terms of facilitating the understanding of bipolar as an illness… Where did you find the defining line from the illness itself to your mother’s own personality? I always found that line hard to see personally, so I was curious on your own insight into the matter.
Yeah that is a great question. I have family who still believe that my mother was evil. I do not. I believe that she just had a mental illness that caused her to act like she did. But I had to reach this space through my own healing journey and education. When I was able to separate mom from her illness, I could recall the kind and loving person she was at her core. It really helped me. Still did not prevent her from being mean to me when she was alive. She was very manipulative and cruel at times. But, in my boundaries as to what I would tolerate and put up with, I was able to take care of myself.
When did you realize that your mother was bipolar? Did your parents try to hide her mental illness from you? Did your friends know?
That is a really interesting question. As far as I can remember… “Nervous and upset” was common language for my mother’s disposition. When that got too extreme, she would have to go to the hospital. It was always there. I always knew she was sick, so it wasn’t like they tried to keep it a secret.
I’ve been struggling with anxiety and panic disorder. I want to ask my parents if I can go to a therapist, but every time I try, I get a panic attack. How should I bring it up?
What are you making this conversation mean? Honestly, a lot of people deal with anxiety. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. So, if you broke your ankle, would you even struggle to ask you mom to go to a doctor to have it looked at? You just need some tools and support to help you. Have no shame in asking for help. It shows you are stronger than you think.
I’m so excited that you are here! I don’t know what to ask you :joy: . Everyone is asking awesome questions.
You are so freaking adorable! LOL.
Did your mother’s bipolarity ever cause her to do questionable things or have a hard time being a parent to you? My mother is also bipolar, which caused her to not treat me very well and do some questionable things towards me… It has caused me to build up a lot of resentment towards her. Do you have any advice as to how to get past all of that and let go of the resentment?
First off, it is totally normal for you to be mad and resentful for how she treats you. But when you can separate her from her illness and how her illness causes her to act, you can find compassion. The other part is boundaries. Setting boundaries in how you interact with her. Try to not engage in arguments or discussions that will leave you feeling upset or bad about yourself. Own your balance and your wellbeing. Love her from a distance. In my situation, I was not living with her when she was trying to manipulate me, and I tried to limit my visits with her. That really helped me maintain my own balance and wellbeing. I don’t know your unique situation though.
I just want to share with you all that “it is ok to not be ok”… I have witnessed you all caring for each other in this space and being your honest selves. I think it is amazing to witness the amazing support that you all give each other. Don’t stop talking and recognize that none of us are perfect and always ok. We all have our moments.
Can overthinking lead to a lot of bipolar episodes?
I don’t know exactly cause I am not a doctor, but what I can share is that I do this on a regular basis and it SO never helps me, because it is all speculation and theory of something that may or may not be true. And in that can be unnecessary anxiety. So, what is the point?