Laura Bemis

My name is Laura and I am a professional photographer and teacher. I teach adults photography and enjoy doing photography for pleasure. I also enjoy playing pool, taking walks, visiting with friends and spending time with my wife and dog. I am a NAMI Sacramento speaker, a member of the Sacramento County Mental Health Board, and an advocate for mental health and well-being.
I don’t have many childhood memories but I know I was a perfectionist, shy, a tomboy and sporty outdoor gal. I had a tough childhood but I thought it was normal. I grew up with what I call a large elephant in the room and what happened at home stayed at home.
I tried to do everything right yet at the age of 18 I was raped. This rape was the trigger and trauma that set off my mental illness or mental health challenges.
Still I continued in sports and entered college… but I never felt I fit in. I always felt different and never told anyone about the rape. I carried a lot of shame and guilt around the assault and blamed myself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I felt like I got what I deserved. This guilt distanced myself from others and I trusted no one.
I began dating this guy in college because that is what I thought I was supposed to do. We went rock climbing, windsurfing, hiking, kayaking, and all kinds of fun activities. I enjoyed his family and the outdoors but was not really connected. After 5 years we ended up getting married…for 6 months. I developed anorexia and was hospitalized for 6 months and tube feed. I believe my anorexia steamed from the stress of the rape. My husband got an annulment saying “If I knew she was crazy I never would have married her.”
This failed marriage shattered my life. I did not seek mental counseling or treatment but once I became physically gravely disabled I received mental health services. During my hospitalization for anorexia I was introduced to group therapy and learned self-abuse. I began to abuse myself and then quickly I began to have suicidal thoughts.
I have been treated for a number of diagnoses, had many doctors and therapists and done a variety of types of therapy and taken many different types of medication. I also had ECT or Electro-convulsive therapy for 5 years and it damaged my long term and short term memory. Unfortunately, it did not erase the traumas from my life.
I never considered myself mentally ill. I knew one of my sisters had mental illness since she had tried to kill me a couple of times when I was around 5 – 7 years old. She could be very violent and ran away at the age of 12 for over a year.
My other sister was never diagnosed but I believe she battled many mental health challenges herself. In 2013 – 2014, within 9 months, both of my siblings took their own lives.
The death of my only two siblings made me look at myself and realize I am not invincible, that any one of my ICU trips could have been my last, and my mental illness is a genetic, biological brain disorder. Several of my relatives also struggle with mental illness, including my grandfather.
I realized at an early age that I was not attracted to boys or girls. I was more attracted to a personality but got along with girls much better than guys. Like my mental illness, I did not accept that I was gay. My parents never accepted my sexuality but would accept that I was mentally ill and that I could be cured. Once cured they figured I would no longer be gay. Because I was always trying to please my parents, I tried to accept this philosophy too.
When I came out, I lost a lot of friends, relatives and immediate family. I felt like an orphan with no direction. So I made a new family of friends that were straight and gay.
I actually now have more support than I did when my biological family was alive. Although my wife does not understand me, she is supportive. She even holds on to a medication that I have used to overdose on in the past. And she is always available to get a hug from.
I see a medical doctor a few times a month and a psychologist weekly. Therapy is very important for my journey through recovery. I take medications regularly, do some exercise, watch my food choices and have a strong belief system. Social time is also very important to my recovery. I carry a coping card in my wallet.
And a big part of my treatment comes from telling my story. Some people may not relate to it, but allowing me to share it with you is aiding me on my healing journey.
I don’t believe I can be “cured” of my mental health challenges, but I can continue to cope and move forward in educating myself of my mental diagnosis. AND I can continue to educate my friends about mental illness and especially my diagnosis.
By explaining my symptoms and behaviors when I am not coping well versus how I am when I am in recovery, my friends can keep me in check. I am very thankful for my non-judgmental and accepting friends.
I want to thank you in aiding me in my treatment by reading my story and not judging me. I hope my story inspires you to get more involved. Involvement can even be “changing your personal views and impressions of what mental illness is and how you may perceive someone with a mental illness.
Remember Mental Illness is
1. A biological brain disorder
2. A chemical imbalance
3. No one’s fault and
4. Cannot be wished away
Please support one and other no matter what community, ethnicity or culture you may come from.