For professional speaker Carol Kivler, life threw a curve ball a decade into her executive coaching career. After being diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and failed trials of medications, her decision to use Electroconvulsive Therapy to “reboot” her brain proved successful. She now speaks to thousands around the world promoting the education and awareness of mental illness, delivering a powerful testimony to a commitment to wellness and working toward eliminating the stigma of mental illness. I had the privilege of interviewing this amazing lady this past week and wanted to share with you some of her answers to questions I posed in the interview.
- In your experience are there any misconceptions about mental health?
Yes, there are many misconceptions. The first is a lack of understanding, and people aren’t arrogant about it, they’re just ignorant. They don’t understand that mental illness is an illness of the brain and that yes, trauma can bring on some mental stress if you have a precursor for it. You didn’t cause this, you can’t will it away, you have to make long term sustainable lifestyle changes in order to keep yourself in wellness. Two-thirds of those with mental health disorders don’t go for treatment. They’re either afraid of treatment, don’t have the funding, the resources aren’t available…whatever it is, two-thirds go without treatment. It’s scary and sad…because people don’t have to live with it.
There’s a solution, they can get well, and that’s what people don’t recognize: that you can get well with the right treatment and right attitude. In our society when I visit medical schools and speak to medical professors, they say they learn about diagnosis and pharmaceuticals. They don’t teach recovery. They look at me and say “Really? People can recover?”
That’s why we’re out saying what we say. When I speak at mental health conferences to consumers they say “Oh man, you made it to the other side.” And I say “Of course you can! You can make it to the other side.”
Some people, because they’ve been depressed for so many years, they don’t realize that they are depressed, they think it’s their normal. And because depression manifests itself differently in different people. Sometimes it comes out in anger, in irritability, then because they don’t feel “right” they turn to drugs and alcohol and that’s when they make decisions that aren’t healthy.
- How would we be able to show those with undiagnosed depression they are depressed?
First is awareness, taking a 15 question [test]. Heightened awareness is the first step. The second step is absolute acceptance. “This is my illness, this is something I’m gonna have for the rest of my life.” The third step is total commitment to wellness. That I’m gonna make sustainable lifestyle changes in order to keep myself well. Because that’s not what the medical field tells us. They plant seeds of limitation and fear. They told me to go on disability, saying “you shouldn’t be a professor anymore, you shouldn’t put myself in stressful conditions, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t”. But we need to change our focus – and they will have to do things different, to know they can still be productive, still be members of society…still have children and buy a house and pay taxes. What you’re telling people is what they’re manifesting…
Projections manifest. You attract what you focus on, so for ten years I focused on being sick. They said “Carol, you have the kind of depression that comes back.” And it came back three more times. So it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Then I said to myself, “You know what, I’m not doing this to myself anymore. I’m going to focus on getting well, and not being sick”. And that was the best thing I did. I did that in 2001 and I haven’t been sick since then.
- Where are people finding relief and shelter, if not from the storm of mental illness? In a healthy way?
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), peer groups and being around positive people who have recovered and they stop hiding their illness. When they hear your story, it’s powerful.
- What kind of therapy do you use?
Talk therapy, anytime I feel like I’m slipping a little bit, I do a tune up. I go to my psychologist. I’m not afraid to go to the therapist, because you gotta deal with things, you can’t push things under the rug. They come back to eat you up.
- What kind of resources and tools should people be aware of?
Those grassroots organizations, NAMI, NBSA – see how they not only survive but thrive in their illness. They need to interact with other people to sustain their wellness.
Carol is a very popular mental health speaker at consumer conferences across the country. Attendees are motivated and empowered by her story of how electro shock therapy helped her and her message of hope and recovery. Carol serves on several boards and committees addressing mental health issues and has received numerous awards for her work.
Carol’s powerful and passionate telling of her very personal and harrowing journey profoundly impacts her audiences and the way they view mental illness and mental illness stigma. Carol wants everyone to know that: “People with mental illness want to be viewed as courageous survivors – to be accepted, not rejected; respected, not pitied; and admired, not feared”.
For more information, see her website CarolKivler.com.