Salem woman's disorder leads her to help others
Kristy Worthen for years had been frustrated with wild mood swings, uncontrollable crying and the deterioration of her relationships with her friends and family.
She decided suicide was the only way to end the turmoil which was erupting inside of her head.
Fortunately, Worthen's suicide attempt failed.
Over the last two years Worthen, who was diagnosed with bi-polar disease, has traveled with her mother, Mary, to each state capital promoting mental health awareness.
"It's just something I felt like I had to do," the now 26-year-old Worthen said.
As of November, the mother-daughter team has visited 31 state capitals.
During her odyssey Worthen has been interviewed by The New York Times and other news organizations, has appeared on several television and radio shows and has met with President George W. Bush.
Worthen, who lives in Salem, said her and her mother's efforts to educate people about mental disease have been well received. At each stop, Worthen meets with the lieutenant governor of that state and a flag titled Shedding Light on Mental Health Issues is flown above the state capital for a day.
Arkansas Lt. Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller helped the Worthens coordinate their meetings in each state. Often the night before a flag raising, Worthen will have dinner with the governor, congressman or state legislatures in the state. The predominate dinner topic is mental health issues, she said.
At the culmination of the ceremony, each lieutenant governor signs a separate flag to show his support of mental health awareness.
President Bush has signed the flag and met privately with Worthen on several occasions.
"It was a thrill to meet President Bush," said Worthen. "The last time I saw him he asked for my autograph."
Worthen said the general public needs to be educated about the symptoms of mental diseases.
According to the National Centers for Disease Control, over 2.3 million Americans were afflicted with a serious mental health disease in 2002.
The majority of mental diseases can be treated if they are properly diagnosed, Worthen said.
Worthen said her personal journey with bi-polar disease began after she turned 14.
Mary Worthen said her daughter would experience wild mood swings, going from happy and ecstatic to depressed and violent within a few minutes.
After Worthen's suicide attempt, she was admitted into the Arkansas State Hospital in Little Rock were she was diagnosed.
Bi-polar disease is a serious brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and brain function.
Worthen treats her condition with medication and therapy.
Mary Worthen said Kristy may have a television interview with Jane Pauley next year. Pauley suffers from the same disorder as Kristy.
Besides her active role in mental health awareness, Worthen is an accomplished artist, author and Native American rights advocate.
Worthen said her favorite art medium is paint. She said she has painted hundreds of pictures since she was a child.
"Sometimes its hard to sell my paintings because they're a part of me," Worthen said.
In 2002 Worthen's artwork "Pieces of Life" was displayed at the United Nations building in New York.
The same year Worthen was asked, along with several other artists, to design a flag to honor the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
The flag was signed by President Bush and is now on display in Cheney, Pa.
In 2004 Worthen authored the book Girl in a Blender. The book chronicles Worthen's struggles with Bi-polar disease and how she overcame them.
The book follows a book written by her mother titled Journey Not Chosen, Destination Not Known. Mary Worthen's book details the affect her youngest daughter's disease had on their family.
Mary Worthen said her book has sold over 80,000 copies to date.
A passion for both Worthen and her mother is Native American culture.
This year Worthen and her mother attended the grand opening of the American Indian Museum wing at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Over 35,000 people participated in the opening ceremonies. During the ceremony Mary and Kristy wore Native American regalia.
Mary Worthen said she is 1/8 Cherokee.
"I want people who have who have Native American blood in their veins not to be ashamed of their culture," Worthen said. "I hope they will embrace it."
Worthen will continue to lead a busy life in 2005. She said she plans to visit some if not all of the state capitals she hasn't visited yet.
"Most of the states I haven't visited are out west," she said.
Worthen is also working on a documentary for the UN that may be released next year. In her spare time she said she will continue working on art pieces and supporting Native American causes.
As for the disease?
"It shouldn't have taken a suicide attempt for me to find help. I will do whatever it takes to help people find out if they have a mental disease and what steps they need to take to get it cured. Look at me. It can happen," said Worthen.