Mental Health Awareness Month

Hi guys! I know I know, it's been forever since we posted anything, and we've been absolutely PROMISING to get better at that. But then it comes down to it, and ... well, let's face it, editing, designing, and publishing those books is more important than blogs. =)

BUT, all that aside, we have a very special blog post today, courtesy of owner/publisher Carrie White-Parrish, in association with Ula over at Blog of Erised, who is running a Mental Health Awareness month. Ula asked Carrie to donate some goodies and do a post, and Carrie -- of course -- agreed. So without further ado, here's the blog, and down below you'll find some giveaway links. Happy reading! 

PS. Carrie asks you to please remember that she has brain damage, and if she's repeated herself in her blog, it's because she trained herself to do that! 

So a couple of weeks ago, I was minding my own business, doing what I do – answering emails, editing, deciding on cover designs, talking new contracts with authors, discussing a new company with a new partner, fleshing out an idea for a series of shorts with one of our copy editors … you know, the usual. When suddenly I get this email from one of my friends and favorite bloggers, saying that she and one of our other friends were planning to do a mental health month on their blogs, with giveaways, goodies, reviews, fun blogs, and features. She wanted to know if Glass House would donate some goodies for giveaways, and loan some authors for reviews and posts.

I was immediately intrigued. But not for the reason that Ula thought. Yes, of course we’d love to donate books and bookmarks and swag and author attention. But for me, mental health is a very important – and personal – topic. So I also told her that I wanted to do something completely different.

I wanted to write a blog of my own, and tell my story.

The truth is, I’m a living, breathing example of mental health, and it affects my life – and business – every day.

But I’m an editor, and the first thing I would tell myself is “Hello, can you please start at the beginning??” So here’s the beginning. When I was eighteen, and getting ready to go to college (UCLA – go Bruins!), I went with my mom and little sister to get all the necessary vaccinations for going out into a public place and interacting with other people. I know, stupid, but evidently you have to have shots for things like tetanus to go to college. Who knew.

And here’s a little secret: I hate needles. And shots. And doctors.

Long story short, I got my tetanus shot, stood up, and promptly fainted for the first time in my life. I fell backwards, to the (very hard) floor, hit my head, and cracked my skull wide open. Died, bled all over their floor, etc. With my mom and little sister watching. The clinic I was at didn’t have any oxygen in their tanks, because what clinic would keep something like oxygen around, and by the time the ambulance got there I was technically dead.

That’s right, that means I got the fancy shock pad treatment. Ha.

I proceeded to break everything in the ambulance, because that’s what you do when you have head trauma, until they actually had to tie me down to get me to the hospital safely. By the time I was in the ER, the way my dad tells it, I was screaming like a banshee and using cuss words that he’d never realized I even knew.

But. That’s really all beside the point. I got in, had my head cut open by – fortunately – one of the best neurosurgeons in the nation, who happened to be in residence at that hospital. I had emergency brain surgery, was in a coma for twelve days, and – against all odds – came out alive on the other side. Able to wake up, talk, and walk around, despite the doctors’ promises to my parents that I would be a vegetable when I ‘woke up.’

So. Call it what you will. Miracle of science, the will to live, fate, God’s will, dumb luck … I should have died, and I did – three times – but instead of giving up, I got out of that hospital and went back to my life.

And I know what you’re thinking … what does this have to do with mental health? Well, my story doesn’t actually end there. Because the mental health part comes in after I got out of the hospital. To start with, I came out with some – very minor – brain damage. A lot of my memories were gone, parts of my vocab had vanished into thin air, and my entire personality was that of a stranger. I was on steroids to minimize the swelling in my brain, and they were making me angrier than a girl who’s just been stood up for prom. I’d missed leaving for college – something I’d been looking forward to for years – and now had to wait for three months to go to school. I could only focus one eye at a time. I had no feeling on one side of my face, and in my scalp. And worst of all, the doctors had shaved my head.

To say that I was angry would have been an understatement. I honestly don’t know how my family dealt with me for those three months, but then they did the nearly unthinkable and packed me off to school, complete with a shaved head, scars to beat the band, and a brain that was only halfway working.

That’s where the healing started to kick in. Having brain surgery left some really shocking dents in my skull, but it scarred me in ways that I don’t think anyone had ever anticipated, and those mental changes were the hardest to deal with. I couldn’t always tell right from wrong, anymore. I’d always been great at saving money, and now I spent it the moment I had it. I was angry all the time, for no reason, and had absolutely no way to deal with it. I couldn’t remember some of my best friends from high school. My own personality was unfamiliar to me. And no one could understand it, not really. I mean people say they understand, but when it comes to mental damage like that … they don’t. They can’t. My brain had been cut open, sliced up, and then patched haphazardly together. How could anyone possibly help or understand with that?

And so it became my own job – my personal mission – to teach myself to get better. And this is where – finally, you’re saying to yourself – I’m going to talk about mental health. Because when you have problems like that, whether they’re a product of your personality, your genes, or some doctor slicing up your brain, it’s your job – your responsibility to yourself – to find a way to deal with them. To heal, to accommodate for your problems, and to go forward. I couldn’t remember something for more than five minutes at a time if I was tired. So I started writing everything down. Math had become absolutely impossible for me. So I started carrying a calculator with me at all times. I couldn’t see right out of one eye, thanks to my peripheral vision never fully coming back. So I learned to turn my head more than I would have in the past. I couldn’t smell roses or taste pesto or recognize whether I was in a Taco Bell or a Pizza Hut. I learned that those things didn’t matter as much as I might have thought, and to appreciate the things I could smell and taste and recognize. I didn’t have my vocabulary anymore. Which was a big problem, since I was an English major who wanted to go into publishing! So I started reading the dictionary. That’s right. If you’ve ever complained about dry reading, try that one on for size!

The point is, I still deal with all of that, almost twenty years later. My memory is like Swiss cheese, but I’ve put things in place to make up for that. I have systems and resets to deal with the depression and anger that comes hard and heavy with screwed-up brain hormones, and I rely on them to see me through the day. I depend on other people to do math! And when I realize one day that I can – suddenly – smell wood, wet dirt, and roses again, I spend about an hour laughing and appreciating it.

The one most important thing I’ve learned, after literally hundreds of people have told me how amazing it is that this all happened and that I function like a normal person rather than giving up, is that in the end, it all comes down to you. Sure we might have things wrong with us. Yeah we might need some help every so often, from friends or a therapist or even some well-timed medication. We have really crazy-sounding diagnoses, and people treat us like we’re fragile birds.

But the most important aspect – the only thing that really matters – is how we choose to deal with it. Because it’s always our choice. These are our brains, and our bodies, and our lives. Why would we let someone else tell us what we can and can’t do? Why would we let them tell us that we have to live one way or another because they’ve diagnosed us with what they call mental health issues? If we choose to find a way to deal with it, make up for the things we lack, and move forward, I believe that we always can.

I made that choice almost twenty years ago – to move forward, and keep living my life. I continue to make that choice every single day. I’ll never give up, no matter how challenging it gets, and no matter how much anyone else thinks I should.

And I treasure the opportunity to share my story, because if it touches even one person, and encourages them to get help or find a way to fight through for themselves, then it’s worth every second of my own fight.

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