How Do We Instagram Neuro-Psychiatric Illnesses?

Photo of me by Meagan Shuptar | 2014

Photo of me by Meagan Shuptar | 2014

How Do We Instagram
Neuro-Psychiatric Illnesses?

“We shouldn’t be sharing about this topic at all” is my first response.
Isn’t this digital haven of squares a place we’ve created to become inspired & escape? So why would we share excoriating truths that we meticulously attempt to conceal?

“We shouldn’t share because it is no one else’s business.”

I agree with this one too. Sharing the intimacies of our stories for the consumption of casual acquaintances is an appalling suggestion. My covers are very warm this cool autumn morning & I prefer the comfort of my silence.

“What if sharing our stories could change a life?”
Neuro-psychiatric disorders are too common to be exclusive. Speaking up could help people feel less stigmatized. THIS is why I wrestle with the implications of how my silence serves me vs what it could do for other people. I think about the people who suffer alone or with little access to resources. Decreasing stigmatization could help people feel less responsible for the cause of their diseases and more empowered to seek professional + social assistance.

People are genuinely curious why I’ve chosen to go back to college to prepare for medical school. Why physiology? Why neuroscience? This could be paraphrased to ask me why I am ok with such a tremendous educational burden in my mid-30’s as a single mom.

Sharing Neuro-Psychiatric Diseases on Social Media |

My brother developed psychiatric symptoms in response to neurological changes almost twenty years ago. He was diagnosed with paranoid-schizophrenia. It has changed my family’s life as his cruel disease played out and wreaked havoc on him. While you wouldn’t know this about me unless I shared it, i.e. my social media pictures don’t reveal this, I can not deny the responsibility to become part of the solution to help people heal. We don’t understand the complete etiology of the disease, (the exact cause of the disease), but I hope we can move past conversations that label this as a shortcoming, a failure, a spiritual problem, or any of the other inappropriate terms that I have heard over the years. The brain is an organ, a refined organ, that I hold in high esteem. Yet, it is composed of cells, ion activity, hormones, neurotransmitters, chemical cascades, receptors, voltage activity, an immune system, and the capacity to deviate from homeostasis. The brain has the capacity for dysfunction, just as the kidneys, lungs, liver, or eyes can develop problems. I’ve worn glasses since seventh grade and each year the deterioration is slightly worse. I can not imagine living in a world that made me feel guilty or responsible for my vision loss. This is an oversimplified analogy, but I hope the message is clear.

I hope we can move past the unfortunate stigma of “mental illness” to embrace the idea that one day there will be interventions and treatment options to help more people THRIVE despite having what were once considered to be life-altering disease processes.

When I watched Brain on Fire, I was so excited to see her story shared. Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis is a frightening disease, like other neurological diseases. I’m so thankful that more people are coming to terms with the fact that hallucinations, delusions, or other psychiatric symptoms are not spontaneous. There are biochemical explanations for why they occur. One day we will be able to pin-point causes for the variety of mechanisms that cause depression, bi-polar disorder, dementia, or schizophrenia based on a more elegant understanding of the way the brain interacts with the rest of the body. I hope that in our lifetime, we will move closer to effective precision therapies. Until then, we can offer awareness, kindness, patience, and encouragement. The age of marginalizing people needs to be replaced by an attitude of compassion. More resources need to be allocated to give support to patients who could benefit greatly from a world with more empathy.

I remember being tested for thyroid dysfunction as a teenager, because of my depressive symptoms. I felt very guilty when the doctor told me it was functioning properly. It seemed like my organs were fine, but it was my own fault for my symptoms. Wish I could go back and speak to that version of myself. If you struggle with something you’ve been told is “all in your mind” or is frustratingly invisible to other people, please read this:

While our organs are magnificent and often work very hard without our conscious awareness- biological & environmental factors can interrupt the machinery. Even in our brains. You might need medical, pharmacological, and psychological interventions. That is ok. A disease that is not understood does not make a patient more at fault for having that disease. Seeking help is not indicative of weakness or shame. You would seek medical attention for a laceration on your arm or chest pain. Please begin to view your mental health as analogous to physical health, even though the path to recovery may be different or difficult.

There is one more thing about our brains I’d like to point out. There is great capacity for elasticity, for change, with proper treatment and support.

Please be patient with yourself, and the science that slowly investigates how to help you.
I hope you understand how dignified you are for fighting to be where you are.
It takes a large amount of courage to exist in a world that does not always understand your battles.

I hope you feel less alone.



Inside the Rabbit Hole


When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
-Max Planck

Both of my sons had strep this week. Speaking with our social worker from base about getting them treatment in the midst of a changing healthcare plan and the transition of our divorce helped bring clarity to our options. Hearing her sassy voice echo through the speaker of my cell phone took me back to when I first met her almost three years ago. I needed help bringing our sons home. My oldest was attending his first week of school in Florida, because their dad decided to keep them after a summer visit. Armed with documents from my lawyer, (that he secured from our judge), I stumbled into her office and told her my story. She nodded and said, I know exactly what to do. She towered over me, and I felt safe under her wing as we walked to her office.

Down the Rabbit Hole | It's not John B McLemore's maze, but it's where my story started. I got married here.

Her confidence, her strength, and her grit supported me as we worked to negotiate how the boys would come home safely. She was a source of practical information as I attended to the challenges of working through all of our emotional hurdles of this situation. She came to my home and checked on me, helped me get groceries through a food bank, brought us school supplies for use home here in Ohio, and restored my faith in the military as she saw us through the beginning of a custody storm I wasn't aware had been brewing. Their father had moved away on amicable terms almost a year prior, and gave no hints he was going to permanently keep our sons with him. He had deployed twice in two years and spent almost a year living in Florida. When he asked if they could visit over the summer when he returned from his latest deployment, I sent them with blind kindness. I believed they should have time with him and didn't want to obstruct their relationship. Our divorce wasn't final, but I didn't have any hint that he would betray my trust (about bringing them home). However, the summer visit was part of a secret & methodical plan to relocate the boys to live with them. He finally disclosed his actions once he thought it would be too late for me to do anything about them.

Maybe he was right, because I was paralyzed by this nightmare.

But I wasn't alone.

I've only spoken about Miss J. to my close friends. I describe her and the other women from family advocacy as guardian angels that fought for me as I slumped in a corner seat and cried from exhaustion and gratitude. In all, it was fourteen days of tortured sleep, unimaginable stress, and being overcome with helplessness as I wrestled with the dark intentions of this twisted plan. My family, friends, and even photography clients, were constantly near me and supporting me. My lawyer fought for us and insisted that we patiently trust the system. I never knew I would come to depend on white sheets of paper to grant me the ability to continue raising the sons I had grown in my body. I didn't know I would have to be so adamant in my fight, just to continue the life we had already been living. I have replaced the original orders each time they are updated, and tuck them in my backpack. Sometimes when I'm digging for chemistry or calculus homework, I see familiar blue and red stamps from the court and am glad to have them. I want to be prepared to use them, or fear would affect me more than it does. For almost three years, this has been normal for me.

It is easy to talk about my classes, behavioral neuroscience research, or plans for medical school. I often omit the years I spent working to get custody of my sons. It's a significant part of our story, but it's embarrassing. It's not tidy. It's not like commenting about weather, discussing my favorite podcasts, or sharing funny stories about my kids. It also doesn't seem to have an end. Even after the final decision was made in my favor, there always seems to be something else that flares up. Like news of the submission of an appeal on the heels of our final divorce decree. It feels less dignified to admit that this week was one arduous legal event after another. Those papers in my backpack were summoned again. Another hearing. Another lawyer. Another week as a human filing cabinet weighed down by the pull of another world's gravity that detracts from the freedom of living my life.

I work to keep my mind occupied on other goals. I have to make a conscious decision to move forward or I would have drowned in this rabbit hole a long time ago. When I returned to college, I was desperate for something new to think about. Math and memorization help to keep my focus on something productive, but it can still be isolating to endure the battles that aren't mentioned in polite conversation. Some feelings don't seem appropriate for social media, even though they are all encompassing. It's hard to find a way to make a sensitive family circumstance a caption. Typically it isn't done, even though there is much comfort in knowing that other people have similar experiences. If you've ever felt like your body is exploding from the inside, time and time again,  I understand. Even though the situation is no longer acute, I'm still impacted daily by the trauma. I shy away from talking about it, because I still have to process the anxiety it gave me. Sometimes I wonder if that means it's a good time to get started? Maybe it doesn't all need to be neatly packaged to be useful to help someone else feel less alone. I am curious to know if there is a way to own our scars as part of the larger narrative that highlights the strength we attain from fighting back.

It always seemed like there would be a distinct line I would cross that would signal when this is over. Maybe the terrain would feel different under my feet? Maybe the air more clear? Maybe sunlight itself would reach my eyes without the diffusion of the cavern walls? That doesn't seem likely.

Instead, I carry the burden with me as I build our new life and acknowledge it is part of me. I try not to let it get in my way. On good days I use it as fuel. On other days I'm not so strong, and it locks my feet in place like cement. Sometimes other people help me carry it, like Miss J, my family, my friends, or other professionals. I try to make myself notice the people in my life who support me. Their kindness, strength, and humor help me continue to move forward.

When I was exposed to darkness I could never have imagined, I also experienced a cascade of love that held me together.

When I felt like my body was exploding from the inside, time and time again, they patiently wove me back together with threads of hope.

While I heal, I choose to bathe my thoughts in the memories of the love I witnessed. My sons need this from me and I want it for our future.


It's been a few days (well, more than ten), since I began writing this. My sons finished their antibiotics and feel much better. I listened to S*Town and need to talk about it to SOMEONE. Also, I think the rain is procrastinating. My hydrangeas could use it.