Charlie T Savage Of Charlie Bit Me Joints: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was First Diagnosed With Mental Illness

An Interview With Stephanie Greer

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Self-Compassion is Vital: Understand that what happened to you is not your fault. Be compassionate with yourself and acknowledge that healing takes time. You deserve understanding and kindness from yourself.

Navigating the complexities of mental illness can be a solitary and daunting path for many. The initial diagnosis often comes with a deluge of emotions, confusion, and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty about the future. It is a pivotal moment where guidance and wisdom from those who have walked this path before can make a significant difference. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlie T. Savage.

Charlie T. Savage, a Navy Veteran and New Orleans native, is the Founder of Charlie Bit Me Joints, where she creates visually captivating literature that highlights the rich tapestry of the black female experience. As the Executive Producer and co-creator of “URIEL” at Nikky Productions, she has also led the production of “ALL THINGS CONSIDERED” and collaborated on the audio thriller “THE NIGHT I ALMOST DIED.” Charlie is a 2023 Collective 5 Entertainment’s Mentorship Academy Showrunner, excelling as the Producer of “THE P.I.O.V.T PANEL,” a professional discussion series. A finalist for The 2023 Universal Women Network’s “Woman of Inspiration Award” in Toronto, Charlie is a devoted mother with a postgraduate degree in Management and a background in Journalism and Mass Communications.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

To be candid, my childhood wasn’t a typical sitcom family tale. Raised in New Orleans, LA, I lived with my grandparents as my mother, who had me at a young age, felt unprepared for motherhood. Due to my grandparents’ struggles with gambling, homelessness and hunger were part of my experience. At 18, I made the decision to join the US Navy. After completing my enlistment, I pursued my childhood dream of becoming a screenwriter and producer in Los Angeles. And now, here I am.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite life lesson quotes is by Denzel Washington: “You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That’s a part of it.” This quote has been incredibly relevant in my life. It reminds me that when pursuing goals or seeking positive change, challenges and obstacles are inevitable. Embracing the difficulties that come with the journey is crucial for growth and success.

Then there is Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s quote, “Wise men listen and laugh, while fools talk,” underscores the importance of attentive listening and learning from others. It has taught me the value of humility and the wisdom in being observant before expressing opinions.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you share what your journey with mental illness has been like? Can you share the moment you first realized what you were experiencing was a mental illness, and how that initial understanding evolved with time?

My journey with mental illness has been challenging, marked by a diagnosis of PTSD in 2015 due to Military sexual trauma. The realization that something was wrong came when I found myself unable to sleep at night, haunted by nightmares that left me feeling unsafe. For a long time, I thought there was something wrong with me or that I was broken but did nothing about it, convinced that I should have been over what happened to me.

The first nightmare occurred in 2011, soon after the traumatic event. That same year, my grandmother, the only mother figure I had ever known, passed away due to breast cancer. It was a year filled with inconsolable grief, and despite moments that should have been joyous, I found myself in tears. The struggle to accept and address my mental health became intertwined with the profound losses and emotional turmoil of that year. I experienced a prolonged period of feeling lost. No one was able to offer me peace. Concentration became a struggle, leading me to make some risky choices in an attempt to feel alive. I found myself feeling jumpy and uneasy in my male-dominated work environment. I didn’t know what was wrong with me until speaking with a doctor who looked me in my eyes and told me “I think you have PTSD.”

I was so confused. I shook my head telling him no you must have me confused. I’m not some crazy man who shot a bunch of people. I didn’t go to war. He looked at me and said “but you did. In you’re own way you are at war inside of you.”

That was the first day of my new life.

Was there a turning point for you when things started to change for the better? Can you please share a story?

Recovery from PTSD isn’t a quick fix, but there came a moment where I made a conscious choice for myself. I decided that I couldn’t let the trauma control me any longer. Acknowledging that there was nothing inherently wrong with me, I refused to let the hurt consume me.

Taking a brave step, I began to open up to people around me. Until then, nobody knew what I had been through or how my body was coping with the aftermath. I realized I had been isolating myself in a room of pain, unnecessarily alone. Making the choice to share my experiences and seek support became a pivotal moment that set the stage for positive change in my journey of recovery.

Who are some of the people in your life who have been on this journey with you? How have they either helped you or made things harder?

A close friend, whom I met after both of us completed our Navy enlistments and now have known for years, has been a crucial part of my support system. She is facing her own battles with spinal myelomalacia and PTSD after leaving the military. Our shared experiences create a unique bond, and she has become one of my biggest cheerleaders. Her understanding nature, non-judgmental support, and empathy make a significant positive impact.

Then there are my two sons who play a vital role in keeping me on a positive path. Their presence serves as a constant reminder for me to engage in the necessary self-work, understanding my emotions and feelings. This proactive approach allows me to manage my pain without projecting it onto my boys. Having such supportive and understanding individuals in my life has been instrumental in navigating the complexities of my mental health journey.

How did your personal relationships and social interactions shift following your diagnosis, and what advice would you give to others navigating similar changes?

Initially, I found myself adding people to my life as a way to avoid loneliness. Even after learning about my PTSD, it took me a considerable amount of time to realize that what happened to me wasn’t my fault. I also came to the realization that I didn’t need a large group of people around me solely for the purpose of feeling safe. I had allowed individuals into my life who were using me, and deep down, I was aware of it. However, I tolerated it because I feared being alone. The return of PTSD symptoms and the haunting memories of pain made the prospect of solitude intimidating. It was a challenging realization, but I eventually understood the importance of surrounding myself with genuine, caring individuals who prioritize my well-being.

My advice to others navigating similar changes is to prioritize quality over quantity in relationships, focusing on those who truly care about your well-being and support your journey toward healing. Embrace the solitude that nurtures your healing. In the company of authenticity, find the strength to let go of those who merely occupy space, and welcome connections that resonate with the true essence of your journey.

What are 5 things you learned from your journey that you think other people navigating life with mental illness would benefit from knowing?

When it comes to PTSD, it’s for sure self-compassion is vital, seek professional help, authentic connections matter, embrace your emotions, and patience is key.

Self-Compassion is Vital: Understand that what happened to you is not your fault. Be compassionate with yourself and acknowledge that healing takes time. You deserve understanding and kindness from yourself.

Seek Professional Help: Don’t hesitate to reach out to mental health professionals who specialize in PTSD. Their expertise can provide valuable insights, coping strategies, and a supportive environment for your journey to recovery.

Authentic Connections Matter: Surround yourself with genuine, understanding individuals who support your well-being. Quality relationships contribute significantly to your healing process, while superficial connections may hinder progress.

Embrace Your Emotions: Allow yourself to feel and process your emotions. It’s okay to experience anger, sadness, or fear. Recognizing and understanding your emotions is a crucial step towards managing and overcoming the impact of PTSD.

Patience is Key: Healing is a gradual process, and progress may not always be linear. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. Every step forward, no matter how small, is a testament to your resilience.

As you navigate the path of healing with PTSD, remember that resilience is your greatest companion. Embrace the journey, seek support from genuine connections, and be patient with yourself. In every step forward, find strength, and may the gradual progress illuminate the path to a brighter, healthier future.

How has living with mental illness affected your relationships, both romantic and platonic? Any advice for others who are navigating relationships while managing the condition?

Initiating conversations about it isn’t easy, especially in romantic relationships where explaining the reasons behind nightmares requires revisiting challenging memories. It can be emotionally taxing as not everyone is equipped to handle such discussions, leading to some leaving more quickly than anticipated.

Similar challenges exist in friendships, where explaining experiences unique to military service might not resonate fully with those who haven’t shared similar backgrounds. However, through this process, I’ve learned to take my time and carefully consider the kind of people I need in my life. Vetting individuals becomes a more manageable process when prioritizing those who understand, support, and contribute positively to my well-being.

My advice to others navigating relationships while managing a mental health condition is to surround yourself with understanding and empathetic individuals who can provide the support needed on this challenging journey.

Reflecting on your journey, what do you believe are the common misconceptions about mental illness that could be dispelled to support newly diagnosed individuals better?

First and foremost, understanding that mental illness is not a sign of weakness but a complex interplay of various factors is essential. Rejecting the notion of a one-size-fits-all treatment approach and acknowledging the gradual nature of mental health recovery helps set realistic expectations. Dispelling the idea of quick fix solutions and recognizing that mental health struggles may not always have visible symptoms promotes patience and understanding. Lastly, challenging the misconception that mental illness equates to a permanent disability encourages hope and emphasizes the potential for fulfilling lives with the right support and coping strategies. By addressing these misconceptions, we can contribute to a more empathetic and supportive environment for those navigating the challenges of mental health.

What strategies or practices have you found most effective for managing your mental health, and how did you tailor them to fit your unique circumstances?

Regular therapy sessions have been instrumental in providing a safe space to explore and understand my emotions, particularly related to PTSD. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep-breathing exercises, have helped ground me during moments of heightened anxiety. Engaging in creative pursuits, like writing and art, serves as a therapeutic outlet for processing emotions. Establishing a strong support system, including friends who understand military experiences, has been crucial for moments of vulnerability. Maintaining a consistent routine, ensuring adequate sleep (which I personally still struggle with) and prioritizing self-care activities contribute to overall well-being.

Looking back, what is one thing you would tell your past self in the wake of your diagnosis, and what message of hope can you offer to those who are just starting to come to terms with their mental illness?

Looking back, I would tell my past self that it’s okay not to have all the answers and that healing is a gradual process. Embrace the journey, be patient with yourself, and seek the support you deserve. To those just starting to come to terms with their mental illness, I offer this message: You are not alone, and there is strength in seeking help. Healing is possible, and with time, understanding, and self-compassion, you can navigate the challenges ahead.

Are there any books, podcasts, or other resources that have helped you understand or manage your condition better?

Books like “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk and “Mindsight” by Daniel J. Siegel provided valuable insights into trauma and the brain. Podcasts such as “The Mental Illness Happy Hour” and “The Hilarious World of Depression” offered personal stories and discussions that fostered a sense of connection. Additionally, engaging with mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm has been beneficial for incorporating meditation and relaxation into my routine.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

Given the chance, I’d be thrilled to share a private lunch with Taraji P. Henson. Her candid discussions about facing anxiety and depression, coupled with her devoted efforts to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community, serve as a profound source of inspiration. Henson’s advocacy, notably through the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, showcases a sincere dedication to promoting awareness and offering support. Having a personal conversation with her would be invaluable, providing an opportunity to connect over shared experiences and glean insights from her transformative journey of utilizing therapy as a powerful tool for mental well-being.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can stay connected with my work by visiting my website at www.charlie-savage.com. I’m also active on Instagram, and they can follow me @charlie.t.savage for updates and insights. I appreciate the support and look forward to engaging with readers online!

Thank you for your time and thoughtful answers. I know many people will gain so much from hearing this.

You’re very welcome and thank you! I’m glad I could contribute to the conversation :)

About The Interviewer: Stephanie Greer, PhD is the Co-founder and CEO of Akin Mental Health — a company dedicated to guiding families on their journey supporting a loved one with mental health challenges like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression. Stephanie is passionate about this topic from her own personal experience growing up with a mother who struggled with bipolar 1 disorder and found a path forward to overcome the obstacles and live well. Stephanie’s professional experience includes a PhD in neuroscience as well as design research roles at Hopelab and Apple. Stephanie brings this personal passion together with her world class science and technology background to support families across the US in their personal journey’s supporting loved ones with mental illness. To learn more about how Akin Mental Health is supporting families, visit us at akinmh.com.

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Stephanie Greer, CEO of Akin Mental Health
Authority Magazine

Stephanie earned her PhD in neuroscience from UC Berkeley and uses her knowledge of the brain to translate insights from science into actionable tech products