Let the conversation begin.
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder of Hope Xchange Nonprofit, Preventing Suicide and Improving Mental Illness Outcomes in Our Most Vulnerable and High Risk Communities: Youth, LGBTQA+ and Bipolar.
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it felt like my world literally stopped. Although it does truly suck to have bipolar, I don’t want to talk about the almost unbearable pain and anguish I’ve experienced since my diagnosis.
Yes, 50% of us try and take our own lives at some point and 11% heartbreakingly die by suicide. I’m in the 50% (three suicide attempts) but I am still here. I’m still fighting, not only for myself, but for others as well.
But whether a person has attempted suicide or not, we are all bipolar warriors in need of compassion and understanding.
Peer Mentoring at Hope Xchange
I started Hope Xchange Nonprofit in 2013 because I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I did alone. The very first program we started, Hope for Bipolars, is a peer mentoring program. We pair someone who is bipolar, high-functioning, balanced and stable with someone who is clearly in need of help.
No one deserves to be alone or go through life feeling like no one cares; however, people do and that is one reason why suicide rates and attempts are so high.
What Does It Feel Like for Someone with Bipolar to Be Mentored by a Peer?
“When I felt like I was alone in my walk, isolated and criminalized for getting sick there was a hand that reached into my darkness, my pain, my sorrow. It was Kerry's hand that stretched out to me and her words of love and compassion . . . She has given me hope, she has helped me heal and she walks with me as I recover and try to help others. Hope Xchange offers hope and healing to those who are crying out in the darkness. They bring light and love when you feel like you're stumbling along."
"I'm the chick you called the cops on. At first I was dragon fire angry at you for it, but now I can honestly say it's one of the best things that ever happened to me. I wanted to say thank you with the most profound gratitude my heart has felt in years. THANK YOU, KERRY. YOU SAVED MY LIFE, AND I LIKE IT!"
“Kerry makes me feel good, supported and well cared for . . . She gives me good habits to follow. When we get off the phone, I always feel very happy, better and more grounded.”
"I'm not the kind of person who reaches out when I get to be in a really bad place. I tend to isolate . . . and there's not that many people who understand . . . There's no one for me to call or reach out to but with you [Kerry] being my mentor, when I got in a space that was ugly I actually had someone to reach out to and someone that I knew would understand what I was going to and just listen to me and just know that there was another human being that I can call if I needed help."
The Creation of a New Advocacy Program
It takes a great deal of courage -- even with a mentor at your side -- to stay alive on those dark days when we honestly don’t want to even get out of bed. This can make mentoring a very difficult and heartbreaking job at times.
How a Mentoring Case Created Greater Advocacy
Someone confided in me that she hadn't been able to get out of bed for seven months and her partner came home, pulled out a photo album from a vacation and asked, “Why can’t you be happy like you were in this picture? Why do I always have to come home and see you like this? Why do I have to put up with this misery when I come home after working all day? It causes me so much stress?”
He takes her meager monthly disability so she is unable to tuck away any savings. She wants out but she feels trapped. I, along with someone I used to mentor who happens to be a social worker, researched Section Eight housing for her so she could get out, as her husband was hurting her, not helping her, but the wait is five long years. Yes, she is essentially trapped.
Her situation is one of the many reasons we started our new program, Hope for Mentally Ill. This is a free mental health advocacy program for anyone in need of assistance to ensure access to the proper treatment and care we all need and deserve for mental wellness and recovery. I never want to hear again that someone feels trapped.
How a Mentoring Case Created Help for Loved Ones
Someone said to me that after his fourth stay in a mental health hospital, he felt like he had complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after he was discharged and then needed four months of therapy to recover. His mother sent me private Facebook messages telling me she felt responsible for his suffering and had in some way let him down.
I hear so often in my mentoring that parents, significant others, and siblings hurt more than help their bipolar loved ones and/or don’t understand them. They want to help, but just don’t know how, which is why we started a second mentoring program called Hope for Bipolar Loved Ones to try and address these issues. They are hurting, too.
A Mentoring Story Calling for Emergency Hope Funds
A woman confided in me that it was her 50th birthday and it was going to be the worst day of her life because no one would remember. She wouldn't get a gift and just wanted it to be over.
I was lucky enough to be able to facilitate her getting out of the house and getting the tattoo she wanted. We stayed on Facebook and designed the tattoo together.
This one, small act gave the woman hope on her birthday and, indeed, hope for life.
We are in the process of setting up an Emergency HOPE fund so we can gift people money on their birthdays or when they need to go to a hotel for a night to get away or when they need money to take an Uber to get to a doctor’s appointment because they missed the bus and are on the side of the road having an anxiety attack. We are setting up Emergency HOPE to prevent needless suffering in small ways that make big differences.
A Mentoring Story Proves the Need for Help for Those Who Are Transgender
A sweet, gentle transgender youth who was beat up the day after Trump was elected texted me. She said her gay friends’ had notes left on their car windows and tires slashed. That night she cracked a tooth from the stress whilst sleeping and had to go to the Emergency Room.
Thanks to this story and others, the very first program we are launching in 2017 is Hope for Transgenders — a virtual safe space for online (and mobile) crisis intervention that will also offer an option to request a peer mentor. She sent me this text when I informed her we were doing this:
"Awesome! Hearing that this is happening is so incredible. I have many young Trans friends who also have bipolar, and a program like this will be absolutely life saving ❤️ "
Support Needs to Happen Every Day, Not Just on World Bipolar Day
We are asking others to give us a reason to keep on fighting. If you feel, as we do, that suicide prevention is everyone's responsibility, please consider supporting us on World Bipolar Day.
"Again what an incredible job you and your organization are doing and I hope you never ever stop doing what you are doing. U R simply amazing!”
"This is one place where I know true hope is their ethos. Kerry, the CEO, cares about everyone who contacts this organisation and gives of herself until I suspect it hurts. No matter who you are, no matter what your struggle, Hope Xchange does offer hope, does not judge and absolutely works to understand and make things better."
"Hope Xchange provides many essential services in suicide prevention, helping people feel less alone and isolated. As someone who lost someone to suicide many years ago, and as someone who lives with bipolar disorder, I can attest to the need for support networks, the kind that Kerry and Hope Xchange build everyday."
Help Us Answer Every Call for Help, Every Time
What is more important than saving lives? If not you, who? With gratitude and blessings on behalf of ALL bipolar warriors on this day, World Bipolar Day, March 30, 2017.