Connections in this heavy life

Nine years have passed since my life was shattered by depression and anxiety. Tonight, as I sit here typing on my laptop, it’s hard to imagine how someone could be suffering so deeply that suicide could seem like the best solution. But nine years ago, I felt the pull to end my life. The pain was too heavy, I couldn’t see a future. My world was a mix of meds, doctor’s appointments and therapy appointments. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Just trying to get out of bed in the morning was a monumental feat each day. I couldn’t see hope. I was blinded by my depression. I thought maybe it would be easier to just stop living.

Fortunately I didn’t sit with those thoughts alone for too long. I was completely ashamed of having those feelings, but something inside me begged my heart to tell my husband and my parents. And so I did. They fought like hell to get me back from the ledge. I do know how lucky i am to have the support system which surrounds me.

It was during that time my dad suggested I take a part-time administrative job to pass the time and give me something to do while I worked on getting well. I was hired by an overly-confident, condescending VP to manage his calendar and other secretary work. His management style exacerbated my anxiety. I dreaded going to work three days a week, although I made several friends in the office who made it tolerable, so I stayed.

 

Bertie was my angel when I was there. A soft-spoken, slim African-American woman in her fifties, I’d take breaks just to walk by her reception desk and chat. She’d invite me to pray with her, the worn bible always in her purse, pages marked. I know she could sense my unease. Sitting beside her with my hands folded in my lap and her gentle voice reciting psalms and prayers, my breath steadied. I felt loved and noticed.

 

This week I learned of two suicides in our local area: one a young, prominent veterinarian, the other a 19-year old girl with a beautiful smile. News circulated today about a mother suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety who took her baby’s life and then her own a few weeks ago. Then the Lafayette shooting in the movie theater where it’s been reported the gunman had serious mental health issues. And of course the Sandra Bland story. So much sadness. So much lost.

 

My heart breaks for the families and friends of these victims of mental illness. We have so much work to do.

You may not be one of the 25% of Americans who live with a diagnosed mental illness. But chances are extremely high that someone in your life, someone you love, does live with a mental health disorder.

 

So what would happen if we would pay closer attention to the people around us? Be open to noticing when a friend is struggling and extend a supportive listening ear and a hug. Or help that person into counseling if you suspect they’re not taking care of themselves the way they should be.

 

In our day-to-day activities, even simply looking people in the eye and smiling can make a huge difference in someone’s day. You might be the only person who noticed them. We’re so attached to our devices that we barely look up anymore and connect with the people in front of us. I’m totally guilty of it too, but we can change.

I know it seems unfathomable to think that someone would choose to end their own life. But when your entire world collapses on top of you, and you cannot muster the strength to pry it off to start over, giving up feels like an easy way out. Let’s connect as a society so that people realize their lives are worth living. Don’t underestimate the power of extending a hand to someone in need.

Write your way through it

journal giveaway bipolar mom life

I’ve been writing in journals ever since I was a tween. Back then they were sparkly little diaries with the lock and key protecting all the secrets inside. I’d write about life and love, about boys I thought I’d fallen in love with but who didn’t actually love me back. Or about arguments with my parents or my friends, trying to justify my side of the story.

I turned to journaling whenever the moment struck me, throughout high school and college, and even once I had graduated and started out on my own in the world. My husband and I traveled Europe for a week together after I completed a 2-week study abroad in Antwerp, Belgium, and I still love flipping back through that play-by-play notebook of our trip. I can almost transport myself back by reading those words.

I never realized how many ways the simple habit of putting pen to paper could actually help someone until it helped me.

When mania threatened to ruin my life with two psych hospitalizations in a month’s time, everyone close to me was sent spinning. Psychiatrists, therapists, prescriptions. It was all so new to us.

My husband may have been scared, but he wasn’t afraid to stand by my side through the hurricane of what was now our life. My parents, although heartbroken for the pain and uncertainty I was facing, were committed to helping me get well.

In the midst of doctor’s visits and the flurry of medications I was put on, I felt out of control. Too much was going on. There were all these symptoms and I didn’t know how to describe them. I couldn’t pronounce the meds I was on. My mind felt weird.

A week after my second hospitalization, my dad came up with a brilliant idea. He bought me a plain pocket notebook at CVS, and told me to write down the same three things each day: what meds/doses I took each day, any side effects I was experiencing, and how I was feeling. That way, we could work with my doctor to figure out what was going on in my brain and how to get me well.

I kept those journals for four years straight, barely ever missing a day. Some days I’d only write those things my dad said to write, other days I’d write pages and pages. I used it to track my progress. It helped me to recognize my triggers. I learned a great deal about myself through taking the time to put my thoughts down on paper.

It was the start of my writing my way through my mental illness. Which has led me to where I am today. I haven’t kept a journal since 2010, since that’s when I starting to transition my words online to this blog. But I want to return to it because I recognize how I love looking back at the past, to see how it led to the present.

Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be absolutely terrifying in the beginning. But getting through it doesn’t have to feel impossible. It takes time to get to the bottom of things, to figure out what meds work, to start feeling like your old self again once you do find one that works. Trust me, I know.

Also trust the process.

I saw these little journals in a drugstore this week. They reminded me so much of the small Vera Bradley notebooks I transitioned to after I filled up the one my dad bought for me. I bought two, one for me, and one to give away to one of my readers who could use it.

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Why I love Stitch Fix

Why I love Stitch Fix bipolar mom life

It’s no surprise to my close friends that I’m in love with Stitch Fix. I’ve been using the service for the past few years on an occasional basis, although you can sign up for a monthly subscription if you want. It’s one way I cover self-care, since as a work-at-home-mom, sometimes I end up neglecting the importance of making time for myself. Stitch Fix has been a wonderful addition to my self-care routine and could be for you, too.

Stitch Fix makes shopping as easy as 1-2-3:

1 – Style Profile

You start by filling out a Style Profile which is what your personal stylist will use when choosing which items to include in your box. You can specify if you’d like only tops (like i did in this box) or a mix of tops, bottoms, dresses and/or accessories. You fill in your preferences on the type of fits you like, as well as your feelings on varieties of styles so that your stylist can get a sense of your likes and dislikes when it comes to fashion. You can even request certain colors if you want. The more detail you include in your Style Profile, the closer your stylist will be able to get to finding pieces you love.

2 – Pick a Date

Then you choose the date you’d like to receive your box. I tend to request a box when I have a big event coming up or a special trip. Part of the fun in choosing a date is the anticipation of the Fix arrival! I’ve even used a Fix as incentive to meet my fitness goals. You enter your payment info and when your stylist puts your Fix together and it ships out, you’re charged the $20 styling fee. (Shipping to you and any items you return to Stitch Fix is free.)

3 – Have fun trying on your Fix

After you receive your Fix, you have 3 days to try on your items with things you have at home. This is the fun part. I like to save my experience for once the kids are in bed, so that I can really enjoy mixing the pieces with items I already have in my closet.

Decide what you’ll keep and what you’ll return (if anything!). Stitch Fix sends you those neat cards I photographed above, so that fashion-challenged ladies like me can get an idea of how to dress up or dress down any piece. They also send you an inventory sheet, which lists each item with its price. They deduct the styling fee from whatever you purchase, plus, they give you 25% off if you decide to keep all 5 items!

Once you’ve made your decisions, you go to StitchFix.com to check out and pay for whatever you decide to keep. If you need to send anything back, they include a postage-paid envelope that you can stick in your mailbox for returning. So easy.

Stitch Fix Bipolar Mom Life

If any of your friends sign up for a Fix using your Referral Link, you earn a $25 credit towards your next Fix.

This time around I ended up keeping the entire Fix. My favorite piece is probably the coral tank with crochet detail at the bottom by May Pink. I had asked my stylist to include a cardigan in this Fix, and the white one she chose is so soft and is perfect to layer over these tops. I loved the colors she chose, and everything fit to a T. I know these are going to be my go-to summer pieces for the next few months.

If you’re like me and have little to no time to spend cruising the mall for new items to add to your wardrobe, you may want to give Stitch Fix a try. Careful though, it’s a teeny bit addicting. ;)

I Climb for You

Climb Out of the Darkness Postpartum Progress PPD

Last year’s Climb out of the Darkness family photo.

 

This is for the mom who emailed me three days ago asking for advice. A mom with two babies under two who thought she might have PPD, but didn’t know what to do.

You can get through this. You can climb out of the darkness.

I know it doesn’t feel like you can right now. I remember what it felt like.

Even though my type of bipolar leans towards manic episodes, I was pulled down by the darkness for an entire year. It almost suffocated me.

That year is a fuzzy mark on my memory, blurred out by the muted gray which sucked the life out of my world. Most nights I’d fall asleep sobbing, my cheek hot against the damp pillow. Food lost it’s appeal because my anxiety had burned my taste buds along with my desire to eat. The thought of doing anything – even taking a shower – was horribly overwhelming. I felt like life was just too uncomfortable, too painful. I’d climb into bed at night dreading the next day which would inevitably greet me, no matter how much I’d wish I wouldn’t wake up.

I don’t like to re-live those feelings, but they are engrained in my memory.

I’m glad they’re there to remind me of how far I’ve come. They live in me for a reason. So I can tell you to not give up. There are better days ahead. I promise.

With support, and proper treatment, you can and will get well.

I climb for you.

We emailed back and forth and you made that appointment. It’s your first step towards beating this. I’m so proud of you.

Promise me you won’t give up. This isn’t going to be easy. But by reaching out, just like you did when you found my blog, you can find more women who have overcome PPD. You will too.

I climb for you.

Having kids has definitely been the most challenging journey I’ve ever embarked on. Just when you think you have one phase figured out, they’re onto the next. Our little people watch us so closely, learning from the person who brought them into this world. Wait until they get older and you get to tell them all about how you beat this monster. They’re going to be so proud of you, mama. Beaming proud.

I want you to know that I’m pulling for you, and on Saturday, I climb for you. I’m right here beside you, cheering on each step, as you climb your way up to the summit.

*****

This Saturday, June 20th, on the longest day of the year, I’ll be participating in Postpartum Progress’ 3rd annual Climb Out of the Darkness fundraiser. It’s the world’s largest event raising awareness of maternal mental illnesses like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety & OCD, postpartum PTSD, postpartum psychosis, postpartum bipolar disorder, and pregnancy depression and anxiety. We’re aiming to exceed our goal of raising $200,000 for programs which support women and their families so they can overcome these illnesses. I hope you’ll consider donating to this important cause.