Floating for mental health

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I went floating for the first time Thursday night. Float therapy is sensory deprivation therapy and is used to help the body completely let go of stress while at the same time increase mental clarity and physical health.

After my Denver This Is My Brave Producer Lauren posted about how she had floated, I was thrilled to find out a place called OmFloat had opened in my town.

All I knew going into it as that it was like a bath tub with a lid, and the water was full of salt so you float effortlessly. Meditation is the goal while you’re floating in this pod. I’ve been trying to meditate off and on for the past few years, and this seemed like the ideal way to be completely isolated, in a way forcing myself to be still and quiet and unplugged. I signed up for a membership right away, my monthly appointment for selfcare.

I hoped on the driver over that I’d enjoy it because I was now locked into a 12-month contract. On the way home I was wishing how I could float weekly instead of monthly.

The owners Brooks and Amy are friendly and warm. They’ve been floating since 2003, so I knew I was with knowledgable folks; they weren’t in it because it’s a fad. Brooks took myself and the three others who were there to float at 7pm back to one of the rooms for an intro and some tips. Then we each made our way to our own private float room.

The room was about ten feet by twelve feet if I had to guess. Soft meditation music began playing the moment I closed and locked my door. The pod takes up most of the space in the room, with a wooden bench running alongside it. The floors are covered with the webbed flooring that you see in pool locker rooms, so the water drains through. I undressed, put in the play-doh-like wax ear plugs, and showered before opening the door to the pod.

I was surprised that there was no light on inside the pod, since I was expecting there to be a soft light that would fade off when the music faded after the first fifteen minutes, but there was no such light. The music was perfect and so soothing though, that I was able to step into the skin-temperature water, close the door to the pod, and lay back into a float. In the first moments of floating it’s a little scary. It felt like I was floating in outer space somewhere. Except for the first few minutes I’d float over to the side and my arm would bump the side of the pod. Once I found the center and was able to stay there, that’s when the fun started.

The feeling of weightlessness in a dark space is difficult to describe. The music helped me to relax. I found I had to tell myself, you are safe, several times to stay calm and relaxed. After fifteen minutes the music faded to silence and all I could hear was my own breath. Brooks had mentioned in his intro talk that we’d be able to hear our breath and our heartbeats, and to focus on them as we meditated. My heartbeat was like a whisper, so I tried to focus on the rhythm of my breathing. My breath was intensified by the earplugs which kept the saltwater out of my ears.

I floated with my arms up above my head for half the time, but when I felt a cramp form in my left arm which didn’t go away after focusing on it for awhile, I knew I had to shift position. I gently moved my arms to my side and began to settle back into the state of mindfulness I was in before the move. The rest of my time in the pod flew by because the next thing I knew my entire body was slowly brought back to reality from complete relaxation by the sounds of soft chimes. Soft lights came on within the pod and I opened my eyes and sat up.

I took my time getting out of the pod and showering. My body felt so light. It was as if all my stress was detangled and unwound.

I definitely need more practice at releasing my thoughts as they pop up while I’m meditating, but I hear you get better at that with practice. I can’t wait to float again.

If you’re local to the Ashburn, Virginia area and want to try OmFloat for $49 for your first float, email me at: jennifer(at)thisismybrave.org for a certificate. If I refer three people I will earn a free float. :)

Happy Floating!

A Memorable First Day of School

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First Day of School

Today was my kids’ first day of school and although they were excited to meet their new teachers and see if any of their friends were in their classes, no one was more excited than me. I love back to school time. I had been dreaming of 7-hour, uninterrupted work days since they started preschool four years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my kids. I love the fact that I’m able to work from home and my non-profit work is so flexible that I make my own schedule. But having worked in 15-minute, 1-hour, and 2-hour increments for the past 3 years, I was finally ready to have a regular workday. I envisioned seeing the kids off on the bus at 7:45am, working for 7 hours, then picking them up at the bus stop. My hope is that with our new schedule I’ll be able to have more work/life balance with those 7 hours of uninterrupted work time while they’re in school.

First Day of School Drama - chairWe had a great 1/2 week vacation at the beach with our friends, and returned home Sunday afternoon. To celebrate the start of school, and the fact that my tushy would be spending more time in my home office working, I made a trip to World Market to see about buying a new office chair. I found the perfect one – on sale, too! My new office is starting to look more and more like the productive workspace I was hoping it would become.

This morning was the big day. I got the kids up at 6:30am and made them and easy and fun breakfast (thank you frozen french toast sticks), packed their lunches, and took a few photos before my husband and I walked them to the bus stop. They were all smiles waiting for the bus and Owen agreed to walk his sister to her classroom since we had missed Meet the Teacher day last week while we were at the beach.

The bus arrived right on time and we sent them off to school with kisses and hugs. The bus driver gave us parents all a knowing wink and told us to enjoy our days. I couldn’t wait to get started in a nice, quiet house which was all mine for the next 7 hours.

Memorable First Day of School 1For a second I contemplated making myself a Bloody Mary to celebrate the occasion, as one of my best friends from high school had sent me a bottle of famous Natural Blonde Bloody Mary mix – a specialty product we had tried on our girls’ trip to Charleston back in April. Then my productive side kicked in and decided to save the drink for Sunday brunch instead. Good thing.Memorable First Day of School 5

Ben was packing for a quick business trip to Denver while I figured I’d use some of my time to bake some banana bread with our spotted bananas. The kids would have a nice after school treat for their first day. Got it into the oven and set the timer, grabbed a mug of coffee and sat down at my computer to start my first glorious full day of work.

Thirty minutes in, I got a call from school.

At first I was worried one of my kids was sick. But the nurse quickly assured me Vivian was fine, but that she couldn’t be in the classroom since they did not have her completed health forms.

F*@&#@&-A!

Parent of the year over here. I thought I was winning when I ordered their school supplies in June when we got the email from the PTA.

I nearly broke down in tears as I was talking to the school nurse. All I could think about was my little girl in tears because I was going to have to pick her up. I knew she’d be devastated and I’d feel like a terrible mother for ruining her first day of Kindergarten.

I asked the nurse if she could stay at the health office until I called the pediatrician to see if they could fax over her forms. (I was pretty sure her health records were up to date, and that I’d just forgotten to turn them into school, but I was freaking out a tiny bit that I missed the boat all together and she’d need a complete physical which could take who knows how long.) The nurse said that was fine and I assured her I’d call back as soon as I spoke to the secretary at the pediatrician’s office.

The hold time during that phone call seemed to take an hour.

Finally I got through and told the secretary I felt like the world’s most awful parent. I asked if she could please look up my daughter’s record because I forgot to turn in her forms and today was her first day of school.

Thankfully, her health record was complete, but the doctor who did her physical wasn’t in today and she’d need to sign the form before they could send it to school. So I’d have to wait until tomorrow. I pleaded and asked if there was anything they could do. She said I’d need to come in and fill out the top of the form and they’d see, but they couldn’t promise anything because they had patients to see, etc. I said I’d be over right away, and may have cursed (loudly) after making sure I had hung up.

I didn’t care anymore about having a day to myself to work. I didn’t want to disappoint my baby. I felt like such a failure. I screamed at my husband for not helping me remember things like stupid health forms. He said he didn’t even know they needed health forms. (Of course he didn’t, because it was always my responsibility. Moms are in charge of everything.)

Instead of turning into a sobbing mess, I decided to just do what I could do.

“Take the banana bread out of the oven or turn it off before you leave!” I yelled as I ran out the door.

Driving over to the pediatrician’s office I told myself that there are worse things that could have happened, and that if she has to come home today and start school tomorrow, it’s not the end of the world. I could figure out something to make it up to her.

To make a long story short, the secretary said she’d do her best to get another doctor to sign the form and she’d fax it over during the morning. As I handed over my credit card to pay the $15 administrative fee I told her to charge me extra for messing up. She laughed. I took that as a good sign that she’d take pity on me and help me out.

On the phone again to school, I told the nurse they’d be faxing over the forms. Within 20 minutes I had a call back saying they got the forms and she was walking Vivian back to her classroom.

Parenting crisis averted.

 

They both had awesome first days of school and Vivi didn’t even mind missing “morning work” in class since she did it while she was waiting in the nurse’s office. The first thing she noticed when they walked in the house was the smell of banana bread. It turned out to be an eventful and memorable first day of school. Here’s to a full day of work (and school) tomorrow. Cheers!

 

How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Explained My Bipolar Diagnosis

How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Handled My Bipolar Diagnosis

{Ben and I on a vacation in St Thomas, 2 months after my illness emerged.}

Looking back on my bipolar diagnosis nearly eleven years ago, there are many ways my doctor(s) could have handled explaining the news to me. Only now am I able to clearly see the advice and encouragement which would have made my recovery journey a little easier.

A diagnosis of mental illness is not a life sentence.

When I first heard the words “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” and “Bipolar Disorder” I was devastated. The doctor may have well handed me a slip of paper that said: BROKEN BRAIN and MENTAL PATIENT, because that’s how those labels made me feel. Instead, I was given a diagnosis and left to figure out what that meant. I wish my doctor would have taken the time to assure me that yes, I may have bipolar for the rest of my life, but that it was treatable and manageable and that I’d be able to have a full and rewarding life despite my diagnosis.

Keeping a journal or mood chart would help me reach a recovery path sooner.

I wasn’t introduced to the concept of the mood chart until several months into my diagnosis. My dad was the one who from the beginning encouraged me to keep a small journal where I could jot down the date, the meds I took (and dosages), how I felt that day, and any side effects I experienced from the meds. It was a simple activity that helped me to get a handle on my illness and I encourage everyone to utilize it no matter what type of diagnosis you encounter. Looking back at my old journals sometimes makes me sad because I remember how sick I was back then, but I also realize how far I’ve come.

You may have bipolar disorder, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have children.

One of the things that most devastated me when my mental illness first emerged was an intense fear of not being able to fulfill my dream of one day becoming a mother. I don’t remember many of the doctors I saw during the first year following my diagnosis ever broaching the topic of motherhood, except for one. The consultation with the doctor who listened to my concerns over not being able to have children provided me hope for the future. He assured me that wasn’t the case, and that by working closely with my doctors and putting a support system in place, a family was indeed something I could have. Within eighteen months after that consultation I was pregnant with my first child.

Learning to protect your sleep will be your greatest advantage next to your medicine, for managing your condition.

I am a night owl. I’ve tried to flip my preferences, by forcing myself to go to bed earlier in order to wake up before the sun. But I just love the way the house gets quiet after the little ones have been tucked in. There are plenty of nights when I have the motivation to keep burning the midnight oil, but experience has taught me that I will only pay for the lack of sleep in the days that follow in the form of erratic moods. Maintaining a regular sleep/wake pattern has been crucial to my long-term recovery and I wish I would have known this earlier.

The sooner you begin talking openly about your struggle, the sooner your true healing will begin.

I hid my struggle for many years because I felt so isolated and embarrassed. I was convinced that none of my friends or extended family members would understand. I thought everyone would think I was “crazy” for having suffered the number of manic episodes I had endured. The feelings of shame were so intense that I began searching for stories of other people who had made it out of the darkness. I told my psychiatrist that I wanted to start blogging about my experience and then write a book, and she immediately discouraged me from disclosing. I’m glad I didn’t listen to her advice. The point at which I made the decision to write openly about my mental illness was the beginning of a better life. One in which I didn’t need to feel ashamed about a condition that affected my brain.

 

What do you wish your doctors would have told you when you were first diagnosed?

 

Mental Health Stories in the news

We’re seeing more and more stories of individuals overcoming mental health struggles in the news. Stories of resilience and pride are emerging, as we work to educate society about the battles in our heads, these invisible illnesses that so many Americans live with. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the work I get to do each day because I know that by putting our stories out there, we’re slowly and steadily giving permission to so many others who haven’t yet exposed themselves for fear of being judged.

The climate is changing, although we have a long way to go.

Mental Health Stories in the news

More and more we learn about people who have lost their battle with mental illness, and the family members who are telling the truth rather than covering up the fact that they lost the person they loved to suicide. Task forces are being created, families and communities are coming together to force change when it comes to mental health awareness. It’s an uphill climb, but we’re clawing our way up the mountain.

A few months ago I had the privilege of sharing my story with an incredibly thoughtful and engaging writer. The story came out on June 2nd, on the front page of the Washington Post.

The support surrounding the release of the article was outstanding and so positive.

A month later, This Is My Brave was featured in a 4-page article in O, The Oprah Magazine. Once again, the support flowed in, and tons of interest from individuals all across the US and Canada for hosting new shows for next year.

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It’s been a busy time. As I work with my volunteers and Board members to make the best decisions for strategically guiding our organization forward, I’m also trying to stay aware of my own mental health. I am learning to say “No” to certain opportunities simply because I cannot do it all. Even though I want to be able to get involved on so many different levels with the initiatives being created, I have to protect my health and emotional wellbeing.

When we take care of ourselves first we’re able to focus on the important things and tough stuff doesn’t feel as heavy.

I make sure to pay attention to signals my body sends me. If I’ve been at the computer too long, I get up and out of the house. Lately this has been taking the kids to the pool to enjoy the sun and fresh air. I find time each day to turn on an at-home workout DVD and get in 30 minutes of yoga or cardio (just ordered a new Beachbody program that I’m really excited about – Country Heat!). And am counting down the days until our beach trip next week, trying not to stress about the fact that we get home on Sunday and the kids start school the next day.

Life is good.

I will not hide the fact that sometimes I do feel nervous about what the future holds. I can only live in the present, plan for the future, and stay true to what I believe. That our stories provide hope, and by helping to bring these stories into the light we can hopefully be the change we want to see in the world.

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