An Interview with Anna Boyett: Breaking the Teacup
This interview is part of a series that features individuals that have been impacted by mental illness. Each individual featured on the Uncustomary Housewife’s Not Alone Series has a valuable mental health story to tell. I hope that people will read these stories, find strength in them, and realize that they are not alone.
I recently conducted an interview with Anna Boyett: a blogger who photographs and writes her way through life, on a singular mission: adventure and growth – and the perfect cup of tea. During our interview we discussed the importance of ending mental health stigma, access to mental health education in impoverished areas, and overcoming obstacles while living mental illnesses. Continue reading for the full interview:
EB: Elizabeth Banks (Interviewer)
AB: Anna Boyett (Interviewee)
EB: If you don’t mind, tell me about your diagnosis.
AB: My diagnosis pretty much spans the alphabet – from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), minor Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Social Anxiety, and Type 2 Bipolar Disorder (BP II). I’ve also suffered from a number of eating disorders throughout my life, including both Exercise and Binge-Purge Types of Bulimia. In High School I struggled with Pill Addiction, Self-Harm, and Alcoholism, as well.
There are also a few other physical health issues, like Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), and others; they aren’t necessarily related to my mental health, but don’t exactly make it any easier on me.
I’m essentially a walking alphabet of both formal and informal diagnoses, some of which have only been discovered this year.
EB: When did you first become aware of concerns related to your mental health?
AB: I became aware that something was wrong pretty early on in my life. I’d go through these severe bouts of depression where I’d sleep for 10 to 14 hours a day, I could barely get up for school, I had trouble concentrating, and a number of other things. I never got any sort of “Mental Health” talk, though, so I could never really put it into words.
In 8th grade my friends and I started independently developing different Eating Disorders, and I couldn’t put that into words either. By the time I entered High School, things had hit the fan pretty significantly.
It all finally culminated in the development of a Pill Addiction and Alcoholism, which resulted in me literally dying. Thankfully, I’m no longer dead (obviously), but it was the first of many wakeup calls to come that I just couldn’t live like that anymore.
EB: You mentioned that you never received any “mental health talk” when you were younger. Would you mind elaborating on that topic?
AB: My mother — although she tried — will deny this until the cows come home. Her pride won’t let her acknowledge it — But I grew up, arguably impoverished, in a small rural agricultural community. As a result, there just weren’t any resources — or at least, not many that were easily accessible to us.
I’d known that my paternal grandmother had suffered from something; I know now that she suffered from a mental illness of unspecified nature. I also believe my mother suffers from some undiagnosed conditions as well. Ultimately, my parents came from a generation that didn’t know a lot about mental illness, and stigmatized mental illness in ways we don’t today (not as much, anyways).
EB: Do you believe that the absence of mental health education and support led to the presence of eating disorders and substance abuse in your life?
AB: I don’t think the lack of access or education had as much to do with it, no. I have to be realistic and recognize that my mental illnesses made me susceptible to a lot of the problems I developed. But other environmental factors; like poverty and abuse, contributed to it as well. I think I still would have developed those problems regardless; due to the nature of some of my illnesses, and the conditions I lived in for most of my life.
However, I do believe that access to appropriate information or care would have lessened the time I had to deal with those issues — and maybe would have better equipped me for living my adult life with them. Maybe I would have made fewer mistakes, developed healthier coping mechanisms, and gotten my life together sooner if I’d had access that earlier on.
EB: Many people want to seek help, but aren’t sure how. What process did you go through to receive your diagnosis?
AB: My main, and most important, diagnosis actually wound up being completely on accident. Last year I lost the ability to digest food and was living off (literal) baby food and toast because I couldn’t eat anything. I finally broke and went to he local General Practitioner’s (GP) office, where I made a new patient appointment for a general wellness exam. On top of walking out with a diagnosis, and prescription, for what I’d gone in for, I walked out of that office with a host of answers I never even knew I needed. Including an official BP II diagnosis, and a potential answer for why my husband and I have never been able to conceive. It was a huge blessing.
EB: You said that receiving a diagnosis for Type 2 Bipolar Disorder was a “huge blessing”. Many people say that their diagnosis day was one of the best days of their life. How did receiving that diagnosis make you feel?
AB: I’d had a friend who suffers from BP I, for years they suggested that I look into a BP II diagnosis. I’d done extensive research on it over the 6 years I’d known her. So I already had a suspicion that I had BP II when I went into my New Patient Interview. Having it confirmed, though, by a doctor (whose own husband suffers from it as well), was just… Amazing.
For me, not having a definitive diagnosis or an answer to what was wrong with me was like staring at a puzzle I’d spent years putting together, but was missing a piece of. Finally having a definitive answer, an actual name, for the illness was like finding that last piece of the puzzle. Suddenly I had the answers I’d been searching for, for decades. I finally had the information I needed to take further steps and live a healthier life.
EB: What experiences have you encountered with treatment? What works for you, and what doesn’t?
AB: I actually don’t have any experience with treatment other than the treatment I received for my Eating Disorders and Alcoholism when I was younger – and it bit me in the rear in more ways than I can count when I was younger…
Now I’m an adult, and I’ve had to deal with it on my own for so long. My doctor and I both agree that I’ve got a pretty good handle on my illness, and that I don’t necessarily need treatment unless I feel like I’m losing the control that I’ve developed.
That’s going to be different for everyone, though. I definitely don’t recommend forgoing treatment just because you’ve done the impossible and “pulled yourself up by your bootstraps”; professionals are integral for most of us, and not everyone will be as lucky as I have been in this regard.
EB: You definitely bring up important points about mental health care for impoverished individuals and poor communities. Last year The American Psychiatric Association (ADA) stated that “the distribution of mental health treatment resources varies by communities’ socioeconomic status.”
AB: I agree with those findings. Impoverished communities are often seen as being poor areas for research, education, and funding, especially since they’re the least likely to be able to afford them.
But the fact of the matter is that impoverished communities are the most likely to suffer from some of the more negative effects of mental illness. This is further compounded by the fact that impoverishment itself has been proven to increase the likelihood of developing things like substance reliance and depression.
EB: Recently, mental health awareness has been discussed frequently in the news and media. Do you believe this type of awareness can help bridge the socioeconomic gap in mental health support and education?
AB: I think talking about it is an incredibly important step in the right direction. But as to whether or not it can bridge the socioeconomic gap on its own: my answer is absolutely not. Talking about it is fine-and-dandy. It’s integral to bringing awareness to these problems; it encourages people to seek treatment, and could help with much-needed funding down the road. But how are people going to seek treatment if facilities (that cater to their socioeconomic status) don’t exist?
Ultimately I feel like talking about mental health and raising awareness is an empty gesture if it isn’t followed up by an increase in funding for needed services and facilities — especially in low-income areas that, historically, suffer the brunt of effects that lack of access can bring.
AB: I am! In fact, NAMI’s been an integral service to me throughout my years. Their free resources were the cornerstone of helping myself become healthier whenever I didn’t have access to treatment, and I’ve continued to use them even after getting my diagnosis.
EB: Do you believe that access to free programs, such as NAMI, can help people struggling with mental health conditions?
AB: NAMI is one of the few organizations that I confidently donate to any chance that I get, now that I’m more financially stable. I definitely recommend that people utilize their resources whenever they need them – or even if they don’t. I also feel like NAMI offers information that is important for those who have loved ones or friends with mental illness, and want to understand their conditions and support them better as well.
EB: Have you developed positive coping strategies? If so, would you please tell me about them?
AB: I don’t know if I would say I’ve developed positive coping strategies. What I will say, though, is that everything I’ve gone through has necessitated a deep understanding of myself that, in turn, has made me develop effective ways of keeping myself in check. Some of which are legitimate coping strategies employed through treatment. They’re effective for me, personally. But “positive or healthy” is sometimes a very different beast than “effective”. Still, I learned to cope with my illnesses so well that it took me over a decade to get a diagnosis.
Not having access to resources, and having to develop coping mechanisms by yourself, [outside of a professional environment] can be a double-edged-sword. Sure, you’re functional, and about as healthy as you can be… But it actually makes it harder to get any sort of diagnosis, because you’ve already learned to effectively manage it yourself.
EB: Why do you speak publicly about your journey with mental illness?
AB: Over the years I’ve lost a great number of friends and idols to mental Illness; I’ve lost best friends… I lost a good friend and Guild Leader in Elder Scrolls Online (ESO)… The man my husband and I bought our first house from… At one point I was sleeping in my own bed when my next-door neighbor (a vibrant man I’d had incredible interactions with) took his own life; the list goes painfully on.
Mental illness is a pervasive problem, but it’s one that only gets the spotlight when someone else loses their life as a result of lack of treatment, shame, and any number of other factors – and that’s not the way it should be.
We need to be proactive. Part of being proactive is normalizing the mental illnesses that many people suffer from. Normalizing mental illness is an integral step to opening doors to better preventative care and less social stigmatization.
To me, it requires talking about our daily struggles, and being open and honest about the struggles we face while living with mental illnesses. But most importantly, it means talking about mental illness where others can see it. So to put it simply: I guess I talk about mental illness because someone has to, otherwise nothing will change.
EB: Do you believe there is a negative stigma attached to mental illness?
AB: I absolutely do, and I’ve experienced it first-hand.
EB: What do you think causes the stigma?
AB: So many things factor into it; cultural perception, lack of resources, shame, inaccurate information about a number of disorders and what they entail. It’s a complex subject that’s a blog post in its own right, really.
EB: What challenges and/or struggles are you still facing?
AB: We can talk about how we’re “fine as we are” until we’re blue in the face… But it doesn’t change the reality… And the reality is that we’re not actually “fine”. Something is very wrong — and that’s why it’s called an illness.
No matter how much I try to accept this as my reality, the truth is that my brain and my body simply aren’t wired right. They [my brain and my body] don’t work like the human body is designed to work.
Sometimes my own mind turns against me and tells me all sorts of incredibly stupid things. Sometimes I believe those things, even if I know in my heart that they aren’t true or real. That’s the simple nature of mental illness, and I’ll never not struggle with it.
EB: Do you have a mental health success story, or update, that you would like to share with me?
AB: Despite a life of impoverishment, abuse, and addiction — I’m still here.
More importantly — I’m in a place where I’m legitimately happy now, even if my brain tries to convince me otherwise. And that’s success in its own right.
EB: What advice do you have for individuals living with mental illness?
AB: It took 10 years before I found someone who took me seriously [when I expressed concern about what disorders I had] — and that’s just the diagnosis bit. That doesn’t count the years of reconditioning and behavioral modification to overcome abuse and trauma. The coping techniques I had to find on my own without access to professionals. The time it took to build a support network of legitimate friends who could support me in my down swings and keep me in check when I got out of line, or anything else…
But, when the bad days are fewer and further between than they used to be, it’s all worth it. Keep your head above the water — and don’t give up until you find something that works.
EB: What advice do you have for friends and loved ones of individuals living with mental illness?
AB: Listen to them. And don’t listen to respond — listen to understand. Listen to support. Listen to assure. Because we don’t need someone telling us to “grow a pair of balls” or “try a kale smoothie”. We don’t need condescension, humiliation, or some unconfirmed non-scientific “fix” you read about on the blog of a lady who lied to the world about how Kale Smoothies cured her Cancer.
We need someone who will take us seriously. Someone who will call us out when we get out of line. Someone who will hide the pills or knives (or what have you) when we’re a little too down for our own safety. We need real, genuine, and continuous support and resources.
About Anna Boyett:
California Born and Oklahoma raised, Anna lives with her Husband and their veritable zoo of animal companions; with more hobbies than is actually reasonable for any single human being to possess, she photographs and writes her way through life on a singular mission: Adventure and Growth – and the perfect cup of Tea. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or read her inconsistent rambling over on her own blog: Yes, Little Hummingbird?. You can follow Anna on Twitter and Instagram.
A huge thank you to Anna Boyett for sharing her story with me. I really appreciate it… and I wish you many perfect cups of tea.
Do you have a mental health story to tell? I want to help you tell it. If interested, you can contact me and/or view the Not Alone Series: Introduction and Questions page to see the next steps. You can also subscribe to my blog, and connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.