Making Time for Exercise

Making Time for Exercise Bipolar Mom Life{photo by my kids}

This is the fourth post of a 12-week series on How I Learned to Manage My Bipolar Illness by Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle.

Growing up, I was never much of an athlete. Sure, I took dance classes since age eight, and swam on the swim team in the summers. But I could never stretch as far or jump as high as my dancer friends, nor swim fast enough to win first or second place in swim meets. Still, my love of being part of a team led me to meet some of my closest and dearest friends during college when I joined the club water polo team. I may have only scored one or two goals during my entire four years of playing, but I scored big time with the friendships I made through the sport.

Active, but not committed

Despite an active lifestyle for much of my childhood and early adulthood, I never pushed my body to truly discover what it was capable of. The closest I came to this was my junior year of college when I added a weightlifting routine to my water polo practice schedule following the advice of our coach. That year I was in the best shape of my life, but I got bored easily and gave up on the weight training during the spring semester.

Before my bipolar illness emerged, I was putting in long hours at the office, but I’d still make time for the gym. My husband and I belonged to a Gold’s Gym right across the street from our townhouse, and we’d go together five to six times a week. The time I’d log on the elliptical machine kept me in decent shape, but I always felt like dragging myself to the gym was such a chore. I didn’t look forward to it, I felt self-conscious, and when we moved we didn’t rush to join another gym. In fact, we bought an elliptical machine to put in our basement so we’d have the convenience of working out at home.

I attended my first yoga class at that Gold’s Gym, the week after I was released from my first psychiatric hospitalization. Yoga was exactly what I needed at that moment. Yoga calmed me, taught me how to breathe, and how to appreciate the struggles of my life.

Fitness took a back-burner when babies arrived

When I got pregnant in 2008, I used pregnancy as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted. I gained 34 pounds during my first pregnancy and on my small frame it was a lot for me to carry. The elliptical machine definitely was worth the investment, although it took me an entire year to lose the baby weight. I was more conscious of my eating during my second pregnancy in 2010, and took a prenatal pilates class. I made healthier choices and had a much easier time recovering from my repeat C-section.

In 2012, I became a vegetarian for about six months. I changed my eating habits and committed to an intense workout program, which jumpstarted my journey to a healthier lifestyle. Beachbody’s P90x program was exactly what I needed to understand what my body was capable of.

Realizing my potential

Since then, I’ve purchased several Beachbody home workout programs and have to say that I am a huge fan. They allow me to work out at home, whenever I can fit it into my schedule (which, with two kids on opposite school schedules, is a major benefit). Beachbody as a whole has moved almost all their programs to 30-minute workouts (or less! Shaun T has a 25-min workout), which makes their programs so attractive. For beginners, they always have a modification on the exercises in the videos, so if you are just starting out you follow the modifier until you’re strong enough to do the full exercise.

Exercise is now an important part of my treatment plan because it allows me to de-stress, unwind, and feel a sense of accomplishment for taking care of my body. Here are some tips for making exercise a priority in your daily life:

  • Write it down – schedule it on your calendar each day so that you don’t reach 9pm and realize you forgot to exercise
  • Set a goal – sign up for a 5k (or an 8k on the same day Annie runs her first half-marathon!) to give yourself something to work towards
  • Workout with a friend – set a date to walk with a friend or try out a new yoga or cycling class

I think it’s important to find a type of exercise that you enjoy, so that you don’t dread doing it. There are so many ways to get active: at-home workout DVD’s, walking, yoga, cycling classes, pilates, swimming, and more. Find what you love and then go for it!

The Key to Avoiding Mommy-Meltdown

 Self-care: The Key to Avoiding the Mommy-Meltdown

This is the third post of a 12-week series on How I Learned to Manage My Bipolar Illness by Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle.

If your winter has been as rough as ours has been so far this winter, then your kids are likely on their third snow day in a row and you may be in the middle of a mommy-meltdown. (Now it hasn’t been nearly as bad as Boston, thank heavens. That poor city deserves a break!) If you’re like me, you’ve already begun to wave the white flag. We had built forts, baked banana bread, watched movies, the kids went sledding with their Daddy (no way was I going out in the frigid temps!), wrote stories, read books, and played about thirty rounds of Pictionary.

I was frazzled. Cabin fever coupled with whiny kids wreaks havoc on my mood.

Then I realized. It had been days since I took time to myself. I don’t know why I sometimes forget to do this simple thing, but I do. I get caught up in the rush and frenzy of the days, all the while putting the kids needs before mine, and before I know it the clock says 11pm and I’m crawling into bed, exhausted and a little bitter for the absence of downtime.

Self-care is easy when we remember

One of my favorite ways to relax is by taking a nice warm bubble bath while reading a book. Another is to give myself a manicure. Or snuggling up on the couch with my husband and watching something on Netflix. The key for me is to carve out the time to let myself enjoy the luxury of doing something I love.

Lack of me-time = stress

I only realized I was an introvert a few years ago. I do love meeting new people and going to conferences and networking events, but I always need time to unwind by myself after outings like these or I get stressed out. Even a fun family trip can cause me to get agitated at the end because I haven’t had enough time to just be alone. But I’ve learned it’s important that I recognized this need so I can plan to adjust my schedule to include downtime.

Something to look forward to

I love when I’m able to schedule self-care, like lunch with friends or a yoga class or date night with my husband. Because then I have it on my calendar and I know I won’t accidentally forget. It’s something to look forward to, and that makes it even more enjoyable. The third snow day in a row doesn’t seem so unbearable anymore when I have a much-anticipated event on my mind.

Self-care is important for anyone, not only those of us who live with mental illness. But ever since I began making self-care an integral part of my treatment plan, I’ve noticed a positive change in the stability of my moods. These days I make sure to take time for myself each day – even if it’s only fifteen minutes – because the solo time allows me to avoid the mommy-meltdown.

Do you remember to make time for self-care?

Deciding to Live Life

Deciding to Live Life Bipolar Mom Life

From: *******************
Subject: Advice/getting my life backMessage Body:

Hi Jenn,

*sorry if this is long. I just wanted to give you the full picture.

I stumbled upon your blog a few days ago, and I’m so glad I found it. Your story is so inspiring, and it gives me hope that one day I will be able to live a full life with this illness.

I was also diagnosed with bipolar I in 2006, along with anxiety disorder and attention deficit disorder. It took a long time of going on and off of meds, dealing with horrible life-threatening side effects, swinging frantically from mania to depression, having panic attacks, wrecking my credit and drowning in debt, etc., until I was able to get ssdi in 2012. I haven’t had a job since.

I was lucky enough to meet a great supportive man, who is now my husband, and we have a 16 month-old daughter. Motherhood has definitely had its challenges, but I’m thankful every single day for my family. Then comes the guilt.

I constantly feel like a burden because I don’t work. My husband and I have discussed the possibility of me going back to work, but each time I think about the stress of commuting, the stress of working (which always throws me into cycling), affording daycare (I would have to make at least $50k/year to make the cost of working worth it), I get so panicked and discouraged.

I feel helpless. I feel hopeless. I feel alone and isolated. I feel worthless. I don’t want to sound self-pitying, but it makes me feel that way. We’re barely making ends meet, but we’re stuck in the middle-class trap of making too much money to qualify for any assistance, but not enough to live comfortably. I don’t know if I should file bankruptcy on my own, or if doing so will negatively impact my husband, but I feel like I need a fresh start financially. I want to make life better for my family, and have a stable quality of life for our daughter. She deserves better. I don’t want to be rich. I just want to stop struggling every day without sacrificing my sanity.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate any advice you can give me.


Hanging in there


Dear Hanging in there,

I’m so glad you found me, and thank you so much for taking the time to write to me.

First off, I want you to know that you can and you will live a full and rewarding life despite this illness. It’s possible; I am living proof. I can tell from your email that you are determined, you are strong, and that you have the fight in you to get well and thrive. How can I tell this? Because you’ve already fought your way through a triple-diagnosis, a myriad of meds and life-threatening side effects, panic attacks (which i know from experience can beat a person to the ground, pinning you down until you cannot breathe), and the roller coaster of our illness which led to debt and you’re still here.

You’re here and you’re reaching out. You are more than your illness and you know this.

Your letter means a great deal to me because I’ve been in your shoes. I want you to know that you’re not alone. I remember having the same exact feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, the despair I can hear within your words – I felt it, too. When we got pregnant with our son (our first child), I had a good corporate job. We bought our first house and everything was great. But then I lost my job due to the economy. I was scared. Who was going to hire me at five months pregnant? I ended up finding a part-time job that paid well enough that we could handle our bills. But after my maternity leave and soon after I had returned to work, I was laid off, again due to the economy. I ended up taking unemployment for over a year while I tried to find something else.

But I found that I really enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom. I ran our household and even though I wasn’t bringing home a paycheck, my contributions to our family were invaluable. So we cut as many of our expenses as we could, and lived frugally. We dipped into our savings account when we needed to. We asked for help from family when we needed to. And we got by.

Then I was hospitalized at 5 weeks pregnant with our daughter. The same fears came flooding back. Will I ever be able to work again? How am I going to recover from this monster of an illness? How am I going to mother TWO kids, let alone one, when I can’t take care of myself? I felt like such a burden to my family.

But here’s how I got through it. I took things one day at a time. I made it through the recovery phase after I got out of the hospital, I made it through the rest of my pregnancy, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. I learned how to be a mom to a newborn and a toddler. I ended up working part-time but quit because I was scared I was going to miss out on my baby girl’s milestones. But also because I felt I was being called to be a writer even though the pay was next to nothing.

Which led me to where I am right now. Leading a non-profit organization which is changing lives by sharing personal stories of living with mental illness. We’re making a difference through our work which is completely, 100% volunteer. I do not earn a salary. I still do not bring home a paycheck.

But I feel more fulfilled than ever before. I’m content with the fact that every decision I’ve made has led me to today. I’m willing to continue to live on a tight budget to follow my dream of becoming a published author someday, of building my non-profit into a thriving, well-known organization with programs that have a national reach. And hopefully a small salary will follow.

What I try to do when I think about doing something really scary, is imagine it as a new chapter in my life. Our lives are made up of so many chapters: the elementary school years, the middle school and high school years (UGH), the college years, that first job, changing jobs, meeting and falling in love with a partner, having kids, etc. I remember each time I set out to find a new job and the nervous energy that began those particular chapters in my life. I turned my nerves and insecurities into excitement for what could lie ahead.

If we don’t take risks in life, we’re not fully living. Learning to push our fears aside, trusting the little voice inside that is reminding us all that we have to offer the world, however hard this may be, we owe it to ourselves to stretch and grow.

I know these two things to be true:

1 – Our future is uncertain, for life twists and bends and takes us to places we never imagined we’d experience.

2 – We can write down our dreams and decide to go after them with our whole hearts, or we can sit back and watch our life pass us by.

Follow your intuition the same way I followed the tug I felt to keep sharing my story through writing. If you do, I think you’ll come to a place of peace with whichever road you decide to pursue. The good news is, we can always change direction as we navigate this thing called life. That’s something my dad taught me: Life is one big series of decisions.

Sending you big hugs of support as you tackle this decision. And every decision that follows.

You’ve got this.


For the love of crayons


I was honored to be invited to participate in Rachel Cedar’s series entitled, 28 Days of Play, a collection of essays by parents which revolve around how we play with our children

Initially I was hesitant to write a piece. I thought back to my son’s infant and toddler years, remembering with affection how each day was filled with hours upon hours of down-on-the-floor, nose-to-nose playtime. By the time our daughter was born, things began to change. I was back at work part-time, and then when she arrived, I had to learn how to juggle the needs of an energetic toddler and a newborn.

I’d love for you to click over to You Plus Two Parenting to read my essay and let me know your thoughts. The month is full of talented writers I admire, so I encourage you to check back often and read them all.