Musings With: E.M. Ricchini on Mental Health

 
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Meet E.M. Ricchini. Agency Marketing Manager by day, Body Positive Enthusiast and Model — well, always. Chances are, if you’re familiar with the Philadelphia Instagram universe, this local muse has likely graced your feed a few times.

With a quick scroll through E.M.’s profile, you’d easily find yourself admiring her electric-blue eyes, enviable fashion aesthetic and endless creativity. On the surface, she seems cool, collected and the epitome of perfection – but then we’d naively be judging a book by its cover, and isn’t that how a portion of mental health stigmas rear their ugly heads in today’s society?

What really captivates you about this wordsmith – is how bravely and unapologetically she tells her own story with mental health, Bipolar Disorder and all things in between.

E.M. opens up about how she discovered her diagnosis, how to help from the outside — and quite earnestly and honestly, tells it like it is. Whether you like it or not, she’s here to break down the mental health stigma — and look damn good while doing it.

Why is Mental Health important to you? Mental health is important to me because—well, frankly, without taking care my mental well-being, I could die. I have bipolar disorder, something I’m fairly open about in friendships and throughout my online presence, but keep under wraps in the office and elsewhere. To me, the struggles have just become a part of life. I’ve been living with it so long that I barely even notice it anymore. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing. To me, mental health might as well mean “mental illness awareness.” If I’m not constantly checking in with myself, my moods will get the better of me. I’ll either be out of control and making terrible decisions, or barely able to leave my bed. Knowing the warning signs and having people to encourage me to take my meds makes a huge difference. 

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What do you want people to know about Mental Health in your own words, through your own experiences? I wish that people would stop diagnosing their friends and start just LISTENING to them. The biggest question that I get is some variation of, “my friend definitely has bipolar and doesn’t know it—how do I make her get the help she needs?” Several mental illnesses—especially bipolar—have symptoms that are similar to other mood or personality disorders, and the only person who can properly diagnose and determine a treatment plan is a medical professional. Making assumptions can seem really condescending, regardless of how well-intentioned those assumptions may be.

Making assumptions can seem really condescending, regardless of how well-intentioned those assumptions may be.

If you suspect a friend’s mood swings are deviating from the norm or they’re showing other signs of mental illness, the best thing you can do is check in on them every day and make sure they’re eating enough food, drinking enough water, and getting some sort of exercise—even if it’s just a short walk around the block. You can mention therapy or meds, but do not be pushy about it. I once had a friend who would simply ask every day, “what kind thing did you do for yourself?” That was huge and after a while, made self-care a habit. Always keep in mind that the chances are, people who have mental illnesses have had them for so long that they don’t know better, and they think that their feelings are common. They can’t relate to your neuro-typical brain, you can’t relate to their chemically-imbalanced brain. The best thing you can do is make it known that you love and care for them and that will speak volumes. 

What was it like to receive your diagnosis? Getting my diagnosis was a bit of a mixed bag: on one hand, it was nice to have an explanation for the things that were happening to me. On the other hand, however, I went a little wild and in the beginning and made excuses for myself that I wouldn’t have made without the diagnosis. As an example, I’d lean into the mania and excuse it as “my illness.” Now, rather than seeing the ups and downs as inevitable and unavoidable, I see them as something that can be monitored and mitigated. 

 What is your stance on medication and what would you say to others who are hesitant to try it out? Medication is so important. There’s a complex history behind the stigmatization of medication for mental illness but what it really comes down to is the idea that folks seem to think that maladies of the mind can be cured by fresh air and positivism. While those both can be helpful, the brain is an organ. Mental illness is caused by an imbalance in it. Why are heart medications not treated with the same stigma? To those who may be hesitant to try medication, I will say this: there is absolutely nothing shameful or wrong about having to rely on medication to get through the day. For me, it helps stop self-medicating, which is often dangerous for me and can vary from substance abuse to desperately seeking intimacy as a form of validation.

There’s a complex history behind the stigmatization of medication for mental illness but what it really comes down to is the idea that folks seem to think that maladies of the mind can be cured by fresh air and positivism. While those both can be helpful, the brain is an organ.

Why is it so important to you that you speak out about mental health and your own struggles? It’s important that I talk about my mental illness because others may not have someone in their life being strong and supportive. Just knowing that there is someone out there who can relate to them—and that there’s nothing wrong with the impulses, etc.—is healing. I’ve built a close-knit little community and it feels great being able to give others a platform to share their stories just by me being able to share mine. 

 What advice do you have for others who are unsure how to seek help with their own mental health struggles?  I think the biggest barrier to entry when seeking help is the stigma, which feeds into the shame, which reinforces the stigma. I don’t believe that the only reason to get help is “rock bottom,” though that’s what it took for me. If you’re unsure about seeking therapy, I recommend to start off by weighing out the pros and cons, the main “pro” being that you’re able to talk openly with someone who is trained to facilitate healthy and productive conversation, and, likely, the biggest con being the whole part about opening up to a stranger. Your therapy journey can be yours and yours alone, which is the best part. You don’t have to tell anyone that you’re getting help until you feel comfortable doing so. Therapy provides you with a safe space, and everyone—no matter how successful or strong they are—needs that from time to time. There is no shame in it, but if you are feeling ashamed or embarrassed at first, remember that it can be your little secret. 

 What coping mechanisms or other positive methods have you found help you through your highs and lows? Because so many other disorders are often co-occuring alongside bipolar, and a big one for me Is anxiety, I’ve done a WHOLE lot of “worry trees” in my life. Basically what you need to do is to think about what you’re worried about then consider what you can do about it. If there is something you can do to make the worry go away or get better, or at least to temporarily improve the situation, simply “do the thing.” If you can’t, simply stop worrying. If it seems like an oversimplification, it probably is, but it’s slowly conditioned me to let go of the things that tend to consume me, despite not having any power to change them. Additionally, mood journaling is important. I like to keep mine simple and use the SASHET method. Every human emotion can be stripped down and simplified into Sadness, Anger, Scare, Happiness, Excitement, and Tenderness. (Who doesn’t love a good acronym?) I pick one or two and write them down.

To follow along with E.M.’s musings, you can check her out on Instagram, Twitter and her very own website, larkandlace.com.