An Interview with Sharon Schwartz: Motherhood, Mania, and Medication
This interview is part of a series featuring 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 Sharon Schwartz: a wife, mother, and poet. During our interview Sharon discussed the impact mental illness has on her marriage, her life as a mother, and her relationship with God and organized religion. Sharon also elaborated on her time in a mental institution, and shared a poem that she wrote about the experience. Continue reading for the full interview:
EB: Elizabeth Banks (Interviewer)
SS: Sharon Schwartz (Interviewee)
EB: If you don’t mind, tell me about your diagnosis.
EB: How did you receive your diagnosis?
SS: During my teenage years I had never heard of mental health or “mental illness”. Before my diagnosis, I thought my life was “normal.” I was an alcoholic at a very young age and struggled with very low self-esteem. Several friends would comment that “I was extremely hard on myself and very moody”, but I always shrugged it off.
In 2012 I had a major manic episode and I was hospitalized… at the time I felt unworthy of my husband and kids. I had planned to change my identity and run away. I finally bottomed out when I drove myself to a local shelter and donated my car to them. This was at a time when I shouldn’t have been driving at all. I had been fasting for several days prior to this, and I was extremely thin. I also had no appetite, and hadn’t slept in days; I thought that the devil would “snuff my light out” if I fell asleep. Back then, I was very self-inflated and had become very indoctrinated by the Bible; I thought I was Jesus, or like Jesus, I even thought I was performing miracles. I also believed that Obama (and the government) was watching me. I was constantly haunted by thoughts that I was going to hell.
However, at the shelter, something clicked in my mind. I reached out for help to a random person [at the shelter], and she took me to the hospital. I guess my illness was slowly progressing and spiraling out of control. I was terrified, and it was the worst experience of my life. Literal hell on earth.
EB: You called that period in your life “literal hell on earth”. Were you referring to the mental illness, the hospital stay, or both?
SS: Literal hell means both the mental illness and the hospital. Actually, I wrote a poem on my blog about it. The poem will explain a lot;
EB: In the poem, you mentioned your medications. I’m glad to hear that they helped you.
SS: Thanks. While at the hospital, I was prescribed Lamictal and Seroquel. My medications have been my miracle. My whole life started to change after I received treatment. Luckily, my medications have continued to work so I’m very happy and blessed for that.
EB: How has all of this impacted your life as a mother?
SS: In regards to motherhood, I was unaware that I had mental health problems for a long time, even while I was raising my kids. Of course, I did all the normal things a mother would do; I read books to my kids, helped them with homework, baked cookies with them, volunteered at their schools, played with them, tucked them in at night, said bedtime prayers, took them to church so they could learn about faith in God, wiped their tears, put Band-Aids on them when they hurt themselves, and so much more.
Sometimes, I think every parent rushes the growth of their children. Like, “I can’t wait for them to smile, talk, crawl, walk, etc…”. But through all stages of life my kids were kind, compassionate, insightful, intuitive, and smart. Two of my children have graduated high school, and are going to college. My youngest is 16. They have turned out great. So, I must have done a lot of things right.
EB: A lot of people put unfair pressure on mothers who have mental health struggles. I’m glad to hear that you are such a successful mother. It’s very comforting.
SS: There is one thing I wish I could do-over, though.
EB: Okay, what?
SS: At times, depression kept me in a brain fog. I held a lot inside, and tried to keep it together. But I really wish that I could have embraced every moment, even more than I did.
EB: What about your marriage?
SS: In 1998 I decided to stop drinking alcohol and being promiscuous. God changed my life, and has helped me sustain my addiction. Additionally, my husband has been a HUGE part of my recovery. My husband is my rock, and he has always given stability to me and our kids. All women, regardless of mental illness, should have an understanding and patient husband that can be her rock.
EB: I’m glad to hear that you’ve found such a wonderful support system.
SS: I really have. There are unfortunate things as well, though.
EB: Would you mind elaborating on the unfortunate things?
SS: My marriage hasn’t been perfect, by any means. But what marriage is perfect, right?
EB: Very true.
SS: My husband and I both came from broken homes. But, luckily, we’ve both been determined to stay married. We both have a strong faith in God and we know without Him we wouldn’t still be together. Additionally, my husband has carried the burden of being my “make-shift-therapist”, too. But he loves me unconditionally. My family is a safe and stable environment, which is something I never had before.
EB: On a lighter note. Is there a particular film that portrays your mental illness well?
SS: I think Silver Linings Playbook is my favorite. I wish they would make a second sequel to show that finding “true love” isn’t the miracle cure. It’s a fight every day for your life; for you, your marriage, and your family. Just like I said, during our conversation about marriage; no marriage is perfect, and marriage isn’t the cure-all for mental illness.
One of my favorite parts Silver Linings Playbook is when Jennifer Lawrence [Tiffany] opened up to Bradley Cooper [Pat] about her experience with mental illness, and he judged her. She got really upset with him for judging her. Tiffany was being vulnerable, and opening up to Pat — trusting him — yet, he thought her experience was “crazier” than his. Being vulnerable isn’t easy, so when we are, we expect support… but we don’t always get it. This scene illustrated that well.
EB: Do you believe there is a negative stigma attached to mental illness?
SS: Yes, definitely, and it’s a terrible stigma! Things have changed since I started sharing publically about my mental illness [on my blog]. People treat me differently. For example, sometimes people ask (condescendingly), “have you taken your meds?”, and people make me feel different, even though I’m acting the same.
EB: Where have you experienced this stigma most?
SS: During all of my ups-and-downs I always continued attending church. I would either be super spiritual and manic, or super depressed and crying ALL the time; I mostly cried to my husband and people at church. I felt like if I prayed more, and did more religious duties, that I would be “okay”. The entire time I thought my behavior was normal, even the suicidal thoughts that plagued me for years.
Back then I always felt like it [my mental illness] was a spiritual condition instead of a mental or medical condition. Sadly, in a lot of ways, I was conditioned [by some of the people in my church] to feel that way.
EB: Have you done anything to correct this stigma?
SS: Actually, that’s one of the reasons I started blogging about mental illness; I felt very stigmatized by them [the church members], in a spiritual sense. I have followers from the church community, and I post in the hopes of educating them.
EB: Has your blogging helped with the misconceptions within your church?
SS: I don’t go to church at this time. But I hope the church members read my blog, and it helps end the stigma.
EB: If you don’t mind me asking, do you plan on attending church again in the future?
SS: I don’t plan on attending church or Bible study anytime soon, but I don’t know what the future holds either. I feel like, in my personal experience, church has gotten away from a simple faith. It has been turned into a duty or schedule, just something to mark off a list. I don’t want that.
EB: What about your relationship with God?
SS: As far as my prayer life, I feel like it is better than ever. I feel closer to God and I have peace. I’m not caught up in the ritual aspect of it. I just do my own devotional and journal, and it really helps. My husband and I pray together, too. On weekends, when he is off work we do devotionals together.
I am VERY thankful for the many years and great memories I have at church with my children. I am thankful they have faith in God and they will all tell you that those experiences have played a big part in who they are today. I am who I am today because of God, my church families I have had, and of course my family.
EB: What positive coping strategies have you developed?
SS: I’m learning how to aid in my own my recovery; I practice lots of self-care, and watch for triggers. I avoid all social media except my blog, I have lots of quiet time, I take my medications, and talk about my feelings. I stay connected to my kids and family. I also have 3 cats and a dog; the animals help me have a sense of responsibility, and they are good companions.
I also started running. Running helps a lot with my depressive episodes. I have run several half-marathons which has sky rocketed my “healthy” confidence. I am learning everyday what works and what steps I need to continue to take to be the best version of myself.
EB: What challenges are you still facing?
SS: Recently, I have realized there are people in my life that need to go; they are very toxic for me, and triggers. It has been a hard lesson to learn, but now I realize that it is healthy to cut toxic people out of my life.
I am still learning how to determine which people help my recovery, and which people hurt my recovery. I want to be healthy and happy, and if a person doesn’t contribute to that, well, then I need to cut them out of my life. It’s a fight everyday, but I’m starting to find a voice where I never had one before. I have to continually be proactive, for sure. I’m also becoming more aware of my weak areas; the ones that can cause me to spiral down.
EB: What advice do you have for individuals living with mental illness?
SS: Give your medications time to work, and always listen to your body. Find out what works for you, and find out what (and who) gives you peace. Remember, it’s okay to stay away from people who hurt or devalue you; even family.
Also, remember that you are not your illness. Sometimes, we accidentally stigmatize ourselves; we spend so much time trying to talk about stigma, and then we get stuck in the mindset that we “are our illness”. Find a healthy balance, so you don’t label yourself. Find your identity, know who you are.
Practice positive self-talk; “I am beautiful, I have value, I am confident, I can do this, etc…” Do what you need, read inspirational quotes and stories, and give yourself as much care and compassion as you do others. You deserve it too! To sum it up, we have to find out what works for us, and what doesn’t work for us, and then we have to achieve a balance in it all.
EB: What advice do you have for friends and loved ones of individuals living with mental illness?
SS: Stop treating us like we are different from you! Stop thinking about our diagnosis when we are trying to connect as two separate individuals. We are humans, we are not our diagnosis.
EB: Have you given any pointers to your own friends and loved ones?
SS: I have asked them to PLEASE allow me to live a life where I don’t have to walk on eggshells. I am a normal person with feelings, just like everyone else. Sometimes, I find myself trying to process feelings, and other people think that I’m about to have “an episode”, this isn’t always correct. So, I tell them; when I am trying to process my feelings, please done consider it “an episode”.
EB: Is there anything else you want people to know?
SS: I’m a work in progress. I struggle with depression and Bipolar Disorder, but it does not define me. I have beautiful days and dark days, so I write about them. I hope that my story and words will inspire someone.
Remember, mental illness is a part of my life, but it does not define me. I’ve been married to an amazing man, for 20 years. I have 3 amazing children, and 4 spoiled animals; 3 cats and a dog. I’m also a child of God!
About Sharon Schwartz:
Sharon Schwartz refers to herself as “a work in progress”. Sharon struggles with depression and Bipolar Disorder, but it does not define her. She has beautiful days and dark days, so she writes about them; and she hopes that her story and words will inspire someone. Sharon Schwartz has been married for 20 years, has 3 amazing children, and 4 spoiled animals (3 cats and a dog). Sharon is a child of God! Sharon enjoys spending time family, running, nature, volunteering and helping with the elderly, watching movies, the beach, and writing poetry. You can read Sharon’s posts and poetry on her blog.
A huge thank you to Sharon for sharing her story with me. I really appreciate your openness.
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.