Prisoner to Mental Illness

Monday, November 20, 2017
10:55 AM

For many, prison is known as an isolated location for those who have committed crimes. A place of contained confinement for those of us on the outside to ensure our safety. Loss of control, barbed wire and armed security guards. Orange suits, questionable slop and unpleasant smells. You are told who, what, where, when and never why. Rise and shine and lights out when told. Break the rules, pay the price. Men and women live in fear behind these bars. The fear of life. Fearful of who has our back and those talking behind it. Loneliness, nightmares, scattered letters and hopeful visitation. Too much time in our heads to ponder our lives and the decisions we have made. Like a caged animal, we dream of the freedom beyond the cell door or perhaps the fear of leaving it.
What about the prison we live in every day? The prison of our thoughts, fears and behaviors. Behind the bars of mental illness and addictions. Shackled and gagged. Exhausted from the fight of escape. The lies and false promises made from the crowd of screaming voices in our heads. The reaching for an off switch that does not exist. The handful of pills and cries of wanting it all to just go away. The crippling fear of an unknown identity. “Surrender” you say. “Surrender what?” “Just stop” you say. If it were only that easy! We desperately want help but have been trained to push you away. “Go away, we can do this on our own” we lie to you as we hide our shudder and wipe a tear. You see defeat as we rise up to fight yet another round. We don’t want to die but at times death presents itself as freedom from our personal prison.

Please don’t judge something that you may not understand. We are not lazy. We fight for our lives everyday. We want freedom more than anything. We did not choose this.

Don’t give up on us.  Mental illness is not a choice!



Is life over at 40?

I spent an evening with some friends last night and I kept hearing about how “old” they are.  Loss of hearing, reading glasses, vitamins, back and knee pain, grey hair, acid reflux… why do we connect these with getting old?  More importantly, please define the word “OLD.”  According to the dictionary, old means having lived for a long time, no longer young.  I ask, “According to whom?”

I am 43 years young.  I physically and emotionally feel fantastic.  I do not feel old.  I feel like I am finally at a place that I know what I want to do with my life.  Well, no, not really.  But I’m getting there.  Fresh out of high school, I did not go to college.  I hated school. What kid doesn’t?  Many of my friends went on to college, joined a branch of the military or found a job.  No, not me.  I packed a camelback and loaded up my jeep to get the “heck out of dodge.”  I set out on a journey to figure out who Shannon is and what  role I am supposed to play in this game called LIFE.  I did not discover my purpose, what I did discover is that I was more lost than ever before.  “Where in the hell am I, Why am I here, What is my purpose?” There were no smart phones or GPS?  Siri, Siri who? What I did have was a map.  A giant map of the United States.  Spread out across the hood of my jeep, eeny meenie miny mo. “I shall go North! Wait, which way is north?” I traveled all over the nation. To survive I learned how to work multiple jobs, lie and steal.  I slept in my jeep and showered at truck stops.  I learned how a peeping tom got his name. I didn’t know how to use my voice and state my needs so  I bought a pair of black and white Nikes and learned to run away instead.  I was like a gypsy in the night.  My jeep stayed packed for the safety of a quick flight.

Why do we think that our life is “over” when we are older?  Why do we use the phrase, “If I were younger.”  My question to you is “Why not now?”  You see, I couldn’t do the things I wanted when I was in my 20’s because first of all, I didn’t know what I wanted.  I didn’t know what was out there. I needed to experience some of this adventure called life.  Up until my late teens, I had spent my days in school and the weekends swimming in the Chickahominy river.  I didn’t know what was beyond the little town of Lanexa.

Today, at the young age of 43, I am high on life.  Life is so amazing and I want to do it all. All of it!  I sure hope I live to be 200 because I need lots of time to do everything I want to do. Over half of my life has been spent raising 2 amazing children whom I am very proud of.  My son is in the Air Force and my daughter is a senior in high school.  I have loved every minute of the craziness and chaos of raising a family with my husband. They are my diamonds.  Just a few years ago I started to put my needs as equal to my family.  I take good care of them, why not take good care of me?  My life is not over at 40! I refuse to surrender to the haunting word of “OLD.” I am still young when my daughter leaves home and I will not spend the rest of my life working and waiting for the aches and pains.  Recently, I found that I have a love for the outdoors.  Running (towards a finish line, not away from a problem), training for obstacle courses, Spartan, Tough Mudders, hiking, biking, swimming, camping and playing.  I seek adventure.  It fills my spirit and makes me smile. I live life to the fullest at all times.  I have goals and dreams and I plan to reach every one of them.

This is my wish for you. While you are busy making a life, dont forget to live it. We only have one life, HAVE FUN.  You dont want to look back with regrets. What is it that you want to do?  What do you want to try? Go for it, Do it!

I triple dog dare you…

Through the eyes of your recovery coach…

As Rosewood’s Recovery Coach, I sit back and I observe. I watch. I watch as you leave our facility wearing recovery armor. Some of you are confident, others are scared. I often wonder how strong your armor is because not all give treatment 100%. Some are just in treatment buying time. Others work very hard. I speak to most of you and give you my contact information. I tell you all about the alumni program and what is available to you when you leave. Very few partake in this support. Why? Have you chosen to go back to your eating disorder? Do you feel like you are a burden? Do you not make the time? Are you ashamed? I will occasionally see photos of you. Most of the time I smile. For some, I become worried b/c of what I see. I’m looking into the eyes of ED. I check in with you. Few of you are honest about your struggle. Many of you wear a beautiful mask lined in diamonds, rubies, and satin lace. You lie. You tell me that all is good and that you are strong in your recovery. I am saddened. There is nothing I can do but offer love and support and then wait. Are you really in recovery or do you have a part time eating disorder? What do you do when you are alone and behind closed doors? Do you talk the talk but act out in behaviors occasionally? Do you turn to diet pills? Are you restricting and purging? Binging? Are you coping through addiction swapping? Drinking, exercising, self-harm? Are you self-medicating and numbing through drugs? I spend a lot time wondering how you really are. Are you struggling? You should be. You are fighting for your life. But how are you coping? Are you truly working your recovery? Are you using your skills and tools that you learned? Or, do you have a part time ED? Over the past few months, we have had several alum return to treatment. THIS IS NOT A FAILURE! This is what recovery is all about. Forward and backward. But my question is, why are you not reaching out sooner?  Why do you wait until you are spiraling to get help?  What happened to your aftercare plan?  You can not live your life with ED in your back pocket. Why do you return to the one thing that can kill you? The one thing that has stripped you of your very being. Nothing good comes from this. I repeat, NOTHING! Yes, it’s familiar and at times can feel comforting. I wonder if you have forgotten. Have you forgotten the hell that you fought so hard to get out of? Have you forgotten all of your losses that your best friend, ED stole from you? I haven’t. I remember the Loss Boards that we did in Relapse Prevention. I remember the tears that you shed as you processed. I will never forget. I can’t fight for you. You have to be willing to do the work now. You have been training for this. You are well equipped to fight this. You have to believe in yourself. You can always start over. There is no shame in returning to the basics. Is it time to surrender again? I know it’s uncomfortable and exhausting. We do not choose our mental illness, but recovery is a choice. We have to choose to fight and to keep getting back up. We choose to pick up the phone and call for help. We choose to take off our mask and bare our soul. It’s a choice. A choice that only you can make. I want you to know that you are worthy of this. You are worthy of starting over. I want a call to tell me you are graduating, getting married, having a baby, etc. Not a call to tell me that you have died. I believe in you and your fight. You don’t have to do this alone. Ask for help and support. It’s out there. If your family is not your support, that’s okay. Build it. Build your family of support. Build it big so that you have lots of support and love. You are worthy of this kind of love. Stop choosing to fight this alone. I say this with love, but you can’t do this alone. It takes a team to fight this. You know who you are…it’s time to stop playing games. If you’re waiting for a sign, this is it. Get back on track or get help. Your life depends on it. I’m not a doctor, therapist or a psychiatrist. What I am is a friend who cares and understands what you are going through. I am YOUR recovery coach and I care about you. I am not here to judge you. I am here to listen, hold you accountable, give you an occasional kick in the butt and to help guide you. Let’s do this together.

My eating disorder is my best friend…

“My eating disorder is my best friend. I love my best friend! It’s been there for me through thick and thin. It’s always there. Whenever I am lonely, it’s there to keep me company. Whether I am happy, angry, sad… it’s there with its arms around me. I feel its breath on the back of my neck. Day and night, day after day. It constantly whispers things into my ear. It always has my back and is my biggest fan. I love my best friend.” My best friend loves me so much that it has pushed everyone I love away. It has isolated me and left me alone wanting to give up and die. It has stolen my identity, my faith, my health, relationships, and a college career. It robbed me of a job, trust and my “real” smile. It’s taken my hobbies and other friends. My best friend stole my marriage and the custody of my children. My friend has robbed me of my childhood, taken my spouse and has left me on the brink of death several times. It has robbed me of family dinners and vacations, hope, joy, scholarships. It took my confidence, self-love and my sanity. It stole time, money, freedom and my desire to succeed. My best friend loves me so much that it took my home and forced me to be homeless so that I could spend more time with it. It destroyed my body and left me with having countless surgeries and stays in the hospital. My friend robbed me of growing up and being able to enjoy life on life’s terms. It has taken my self-love, integrity, independence, ability to drive, happiness and my will to live away. It took away my parents trust and amazing opportunities. It stole my high school years, self-respect and my nursing career. I’ve lost opportunities to achieve my goals and make new relationships. It robbed me of my self-worth and self-confidence, motivation, drive, and determination. My best friend stole the sparkle from my eye as it took my child away. It stole my values, peace of mind, time and energy. My friend took away my freedom to be ME! It stole my dreams and ambitions. My best friend stole everything, there is nothing left! I don’t even know my favorite color anymore. This friend that I love so much gave me a gift, a beautiful mask. It taught me to lie and to hide my feelings. It taught me to respond with “I’m Fine.” It tells me how much it loves me as it leaves me feeling helpless, hopeless and worthless. My friend causes me so much physical and emotional pain that it leaves me gasping for air. It puts it’s arm around me as it pushes everyone away and screams at me about death and how no one wants me around. No one cares and that I am a bother. I love my best friend.

For many of you, ED is your best friend if not your only friend. Look around. It has stripped you of everything you love. You wear a mask and have been trained to lie, smile and act like everything is fine. Aren’t you tired? Exhausted? Why do you continue to seek comfort in ED? Haven’t you lost enough? Aren’t you tired of being miserable and feeling alone? You are worth so much more. You deserve happiness and joy. You deserve a real friend who loves you unconditionally. Someone who doesn’t judge you and respects you. Someone you can laugh with and have fun. Real friends are forgiving, supporting, dependable and thoughtful. ED is not your friend. It is a liar and a thief! Our friends do not rob and beat us. What happened to you is not your fault. You do not deserve this. You are not your eating disorder. You have an identity. You have a name and a purpose. You are valued and loved and are needed in this world. I’m Shannon and I’d like to be your new friend.

I’m beautiful?

We are born beautiful and precious.  We are amazed with our bodies, our fingers, toes and belly buttons.  We learn how to use our hands and feet.  We have sight, hearing and taste.  We learn about our teeth and our hair.  Our body is a beautiful amazing machine.  I often wonder, when did all of this change?  When did you stop believing how beautiful and unique you are?  When did the self-love and self-care stop?  Why did it end?  When someone tells you that you are beautiful, what do you do?  Do you smile and say Thank you?  Do you roll your eyes and say “Whatever?”  How can you be beautiful when the world tells you that you are not?  Everywhere you look, society is wanting you to change.  Lose weight, change your hair, more makeup, more muscles, less fat, bulk up and another diet.  When did you start to believe you are anything but beautiful? I’m ashamed and it’s hard for me to admit, but I am a mom who taught my daughter how to hate her body.  Since a little girl, all she ever heard me say about my body was negative.  Expressions of hatred towards my weight, my stomach and my flabby arms.  The cellulite on my legs and not liking my butt.  The dark circles and double chin.  My hair was never pretty enough and I hated how my hyperthyroidism made my eyes bulge.  My teeth were crooked and my torso wasn’t long enough.  Wrinkles and puffy eyes, too.  No matter what my weight was, I was never happy.  I was full of flaws.  The mirror was my enemy, or should I say, I was my own enemy.  There were times that my daughter told me that I looked beautiful and my response was “whatever” as I shushed her out of the room.  Never once did I ever say “Thank you” or believed what she said.  Why couldn’t I be pretty like my friends or the celebrities in magazines?  At times I felt sorry for my husband because he had to look at this imperfect woman.  It wasn’t long after that I began to see a pattern in my daughter.  She began to hate her body.  Her stomach wasn’t tight enough, arms weren’t muscular enough, eyebrows were too thick, unhappy with breast size, calves were too big, nails were too short, etc.  “Mom, do I have cankles?”  I would tell her how beautiful she is and she’d roll her eyes and run off crying.  “What is wrong with you?” I’d ask her.  “I hate everything about my body!”  I could not understand why she felt this way.  She is so beautiful.  Damn you society! As I sat with her and talked about the importance of self-care, self-love and body acceptance, I began to listen to myself.  How could I expect her to listen to me when my actions said something different?  I was heartbroken with the realization that I was responsible for my daughter’s poor body image.  No, society does not help but I could not blame them.  I should have provided my daughter a safe place to learn about inner and outer beauty and I failed to do so.  “What kind of mother am I?”, I thought through the tears.  Enough self-pity.  I made plans to how things were going to be different in our home.  As hard as it was, and I mean HARD, I began to compliment myself.  “I feel good today,” “I look pretty today,” “My makeup looks great!”, “I love the way I look in this dress.”  Daily affirmations that I spoke out loud.  I let my daughter hear me speak these.  There were days that I did not feel like doing them but I did it anyway.  I would ask her, “How do I look?!  Instead of, “Does this make me look fat?”  She would say, “Mom, you look great!”  I’d give her a big hug and say “I feel great!”  After months of this, I began to believe it myself.  My affirmations grew and I found myself dancing in front of the mirror with affirmations of “I AM BEAUTIFUL!”  Through self-care and self-love, I came out on the other side.  Wouldn’t you know it, my daughter began to affirm herself, too.  Today, she loves herself!  We celebrate our bodies together.  We celebrate her strong calves, her pretty shoulders and her butt. (Yes, she loves her butt!)  Even when we are in sweatpants, no makeup and our hair pulled up, we can laugh and still find amazing things about ourselves.  We don’t focus on our flaws.  We celebrate and are thankful for the bodies we have. I’ve watched my daughter affirm her friends and pass on the message of self-love and acceptance.  Today, in schools, kids are struggling.  They are self-harming, acting out in eating disorders and have poor body image.  They need our help.  Imagine what would happen if we made a change at home?  A change that would need to start with us.  It’s not too late.  We need to show our children how to self-love.  It is an amazing feeling to experience.) Let’s make a change.  Our future needs it!  Remember, change starts with us. In case someone hasn’t told you lately, I think you’re beautiful.

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance. ~ Oscar Wilde

Sometimes we need a TIME OUT!

I was hesitant to hike the Grand Canyon because of the storms that were approaching and I didn’t want to get wet. With a little nudge from my friends, we began the journey out to Plateau Point. We enjoyed each others company, conversations and laughter. Friends who share the same journey in self acceptance. As we approached our destination, we were faced with a storm. We were not in danger, but to go through, would mean to be uncomfortable. We pushed through the wind and rain and arrived. I’ve hiked this trail many times and as usual, the view took my breath away. This time however, something was different. My heart became heavy. I sat on the edge of this cliff and began to weep. I wept for so many reasons. It’s not that I was sad, I just needed to let go. Letting go so that I can be free. Life is hard and I need to surrender again. To let go of what I can not change and embrace what I can. It started to rain harder, I looked to the heavens and just sat still. I didn’t run for cover. I remained in the moment and was cleansed by the cool rain. As we hiked out, I went slow. With every step, I reminded myself of how far I’ve come in this journey called Life. Aches and pains and soaking wet with tears and rain, I arrive at the top… Humble and grateful for all that I have and all that I am. Feeling refreshed, I am ready to go again.

Isn’t this what life is about? Be gentle with yourself. Know that you are enough and you are worthy of surrendering and starting over.


Stop being your critic and learn to be your friend.

Ghandi said it best when he said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”  Think about it, Be the change. What do you wish for this world?  What difference do you want to make? What do you want to leave for the future?  For your children, grandchildren, family and friends.

Is it money? Patience and kindness?  Love?  Openness and willingness? Motivation, drive and adventure? Perhaps grace and forgiveness? What about self love and self acceptance?  Whatever it is, my question to you is, how are we going to leave it for them?  How do we change the world when we live in a society that can seem angry, negative and judgmental?  Everywhere we go we seem to be faced with someone being judged for  their lifestyle, appearance and choices.  With magazines, TV, and social media,  Are we going to wait for society to teach them their values?   Are we waiting for society to make the change that we want for our future?

I am a mom who taught my daughter how to hate her body.  I didn’t mean to.  You see, my mom taught me and her mom taught her.  We are not born with Self Hate, it is taught.  I could not understand for the life of me how a 15 year old girl could hate her body so much.  She is beautiful and flawless.  I remember thinking, “Shame on you society for teaching this!!”  It wasn’t society, it was me.  All those years of my daughter hearing me say how much I hated myself.  Years of putting myself down, this is what she listened to. How can I expect her to be any different?  I want my children to be their biggest fan in everything they do.  I want them to learn to be their friend.  I want them to be able to give to themselves what they desire in others. But how, how do I teach this?  Change starts with me, right?  I had to make a lot of changes.  Very uncomfortable changes at that time.  I began to practice self-love, self-care and self-forgiveness. I began to honor my needs and wants. I started to practice healthy coping skills and began to affirm myself and my body out loud.  I became my own cheerleader. The coolest thing began to happen. What do you think that was?  Through my actions, My daughter started to do these things too.  I’ll never forget the day that she ran up to me to celebrate her “calves” instead of complaining of the large birthmark on her leg.  Today when we have a bad day and our morning is a challenge, we encourage each other to self-affirm.  I remember one morning when I was struggling and she asked me to self-affirm.  With great sarcasm I said, “I love my fallen knees and saggy arms.”  We both laughed and she said, “Mom, inside those saggy arms is my safe place. “And those fallen knees carry you to go shopping with me and eat lunch and they will allow you to run around with your grandchildren one day.”

Change  starts with us. Right here, right now.  If we want something different, we must do something different.  The time is NOW.  What role are we playing in our personal lives to help change this world?  We can’t wait around for someone else to do it. We teach our children and loved ones to be kind and gentle to others.  We teach them to support and encourage others.  We lift, love and forgive others.  Are we teaching them about the importance of SELF?  Self-love, self-care, self-forgiveness.  We have been taught to serve others.  Why do we leave ourselves out? Why do we neglect our own needs?  Putting ourselves first is not selfish, it’s a necessity.

Rosewood’s alumni program and I talk to kids at schools about the importance of self-care and we hear from them, “There is no time for self-care.”  School, sports, activities, homework, planning for future, clubs, volunteering, friends, etc.  We teach our children to be go getters but are we teaching them how to take a time out?  Are we teaching them to honor their body’s needs by resting?  We can’t “take the time” for there will never be enough time in our busy schedules.  We always make the time for the things we love.  Are we modeling self love and honoring our needs so that we make an impact on the future?

Now, I want us to go deeper with this thought.  Behind closed doors. When you’re alone.  Are you mirroring Self Love?  Are you kind to yourself or are you your own bully? Do you affirm yourself or do you beat yourself down? Do you engage in self harm through words or actions? Do you honor your needs or do you neglect them because of feelings of worthlessness?  Do you know how precious and loved you are?  This world needs you and you are deserving of taking up space.

We only have one body.  It’s where we live.  It is an amazing machine.  Think about it, it never stops running for our entire life!  Do we show it the same love and compassion that we show others?  Do we speak the same beautiful words to it as we speak to others?

We need to celebrate our bodies and everything it has carried us through.  Good and bad, it’s been there. Victories, celebrations and heartbreaks. Sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste are a few of the gifts that it offers us. A beautiful beating heart that will teach you to feel love and pain. You may not like the way your body looks, but learn to love your body for what it does for you.

There is no greater lesson that we can teach our future than self-love.  And in my opinion, what better place to teach this than in our homes?  If  you’re thinking to yourself, “It’s too late.”  Think again.  It’s never too late.  Our future is watching us.  Our actions speak louder than our words.  Show self-love everywhere you go.

In a world where you can be anything you want to be, stop being your critic and learn to be your friend.

You want who to dance?

So my boss calls me and asks a question.  “Shannon, do you dance?”  Do I dance?  Do I dance?  What kind of questions is that?  Umm, yeah, NO I DO NOT.  He tells me that he wants to send me to California to participate in a flash mob.  WHAT?!  I don’t think so!  I only dance behind closed doors.  I used to love to dance in high school but became paranoid of being judged as I got older.  “Okay, sure, I’ll go.”  Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?  Self Acceptance, huh?  What does this mean?  Are we dancing or are we having a therapy session?  I fly to Santa Monica and meet Alli.  Her smile was big.  Her energy was high and her hug was warm.  She taught me the dance in a small place in her office.  That night I drove to East Hollywood to have a practice with some of the members I’d be dancing with.  I danced with people of all ages and sizes.  I liked it. Coming together with people who embraced their bodies was powerful.  I started to loosen up and enjoy myself.  I found myself jumping around and laughing.  Lots of laughs, high fives and hugs.  Friendships were made quickly because we share a common bond.  We are a group of friends that want to be the change that we wish to see in the world.  SELF ACCEPTANCE IS WHERE IT’S AT!  Two days later we put on our red shirts and danced our hearts out.  I cried at the end.  Unbelievable!  I have never felt so much freedom when dancing.  I didn’t care of being judged.  I didn’t care about what was shaking or jiggling.  I didn’t care if I got a move wrong. I was having fun! My inner child was so happy and I could feel her hugging me from the inside.  This was life changing for me.  I enjoyed this so much that I ended up doing a Shake It flash mob in my hometown on the bridge. Alli and Michael traveled over here to dance (of course) and film.  Since then I have traveled to Capitol Hill and have participated in 5 of Alli’s flashmobs.  Next week I travel back to Santa Monica for my 6th one.  I would follow her around the world.Alli 2015

I only run if something is chasing me!

I have always hated running.  My breasts, legs and lungs have never enjoyed high cardio.  I had a girlfriend that encouraged me to do a 5K with her.  Who starts running at 40? Isn’t this a high school sport?  I mean, I don’t look like a runner.  I need to lose some weight first.  I said, “sure, why not.”  I jogged a little but walked most of it.  It was fun.  The running community is very friendly and high energy. I was invited to another and then another.  Surprisingly, I heard that voice that was pushing me to keep up with the other runners.  I don’t know how I heard it, I mean, I’m deaf! I was constantly stopping.  I went to Roadrunner Sports and got properly fitted for running shoes.  I was put in a very ugly pair of Brooks.  Who wears purple shoes?!  I’m not a pink and purple kind of gal.  Anything in blue?  Nope!  Pink, purple and neon yellow.  They probably glow!  After purchasing these very expensive ugly shoes, I completed my first 5K with no walking!  I was so proud of myself!  I stuck to it.  Up early for those Saturday morning races all over Phoenix.  I never got faster but I discovered that I have endurance.  Slow and steady is my pace. I don’t care if I come in dead last.  I CAN DO IT!  I ran 5K’s for about a year, then tried 10K’s and 15K’s.  Here is me completing a half marathon! Go Me!  It’s amazing what our body can do when we take care of it.