A Peek into My Life

New Year's Eve, 12/31/14 - on our way to the annual celebration at our friends' house in Richmond

New Year’s Eve, 12/31/14 – on our way to the annual celebration at our friends’ house in Richmond

 

The first half of 2015 is almost over. This is hard to believe. It feels like just yesterday that Anne Marie and I were holed up in a Marriott Residence Inn for our 2015 weekend planning retreat. But that was January, and here we are approaching the beginning of June.

This is my first full year as Executive Director of a start-up non-profit. We’ve had a phenomenal start to our first full year in operation, thanks to the support of so many people and companies, plus partner non-profit organizations. We just wrapped up our fourth big-city show this season, and are gearing up to present “This Is My Brave – The Show” to help kick off the start of the Mental Health America annual conference on June 3rd. Plus, we’ve had several community events going on this month, to close out Mental Health Awareness Month – including a mini show presentation at our local library coming up next week! You can follow our schedule here and subscribe to our newsletter to be kept informed of upcoming events.

To say it’s been a busy month is an understatement. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of my husband and my wonderful mother-in-law who is always available to babysit the kids when I have a meeting or event for This Is My Brave.

My writing here in this space has taken a hiatus, but I’m working on getting back into my regular writing routine so that I’ll have content to start publishing new blogs in the coming weeks. I’m reading a fascinating book right now on habits called Better Than Before : Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin and it’s helping me to understand my tendencies and how to use those tendencies to my advantage to create habits that I’ll be able to adopt. If you wonder why you aren’t able to adopt a certain habit, say, exercise for example, you may want to check out this book to learn why and how to tailor your habits to your temperament.

So as I work on my writing habit, know that my goal will be to share more here in this space. I’d like to finish out the series I started at the beginning of the year – the 12-part series on How I Learned How to Manage My Bipolar Illness by Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle. If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve only highlighted five out of the twelve so far. Seven more of those are in draft form in my calendar, waiting to be written out and published. Bipolar disorder is a part of my life, for sure, but since learning to control it, the disease itself has taken up less space, time and energy in my life and I want to share how I’ve been able to do that with you. These aren’t foolproof methods, and my life is in no way perfect, but they have been extremely helpful and if they can help you, too, then I’m happy to share.

Moving forward this year, I’m also going to be using video more, mainly on my Facebook page for this blog, but also in my everyday life. What better way to get a glimpse into someone’s world than by peeking in on everyday moments. When my husband found a little frog in our backyard to show the kids, and when my little man took the swim test yesterday at the pool I was able to broadcast those events live on my Periscope. Are you on there yet? It’s super fun, a bit addicting, and I’d love to connect with you so I could check out your Periscope, too. {You need to have a Twitter account to sign up, as it’s owned by Twitter and as of right now it’s only available on iPhone and Android.}

I’m off to celebrate the rest of Memorial Day weekend with my family and friends. Hope you have a wonderful, restful holiday. Thank you to all our men and women who have served, and who are currently serving, fighting for our freedom. We salute you.

Pushing past my fears to run an 8k

#running4brave Bipolar Mom Life This Is My Brave fundraiser

I’ve hated running for as long as I can remember. This fierce hatred stemmed from the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenges we had to endure in grade school. Middle school was rough enough with puberty. Why did they have to throw in a rigorous athletic test which we had to perform in front of our peers?

I could care less about doing the most sit-ups or pull-ups or push-ups. I just wanted to get through it. Especially the mile. The dreaded mile. It seemed like an impossible task to run an entire mile without stopping.

I’d make it through a lap before the monster would begin to take over. The monster being my horrendous blood sugar which would end up taking a nosedive. My breathing would become shallow, my knees ready to buckle as my sneakers hit the track, and I’d begin to lose control. If I tried to talk, my speech came out slurred and jumbled. I was afraid. But instead of telling anyone I needed help, I hid my weakness until I was able to regain control of my body, which I could usually do by slowing to a walk.

Walking when everyone around you is running is not a great feeling.

My best friends from growing up who I danced with for years

My best friends from growing up who I danced with for years

My blood sugar issue continued to follow me through my high school and college years. As a dancer, I had a few embarrassing episodes during recitals. Front and center during one dance number, the excitement of being center stage reached a peak towards the end of the song and I nearly passed out from the severe drop in my blood sugar. I pretty much wanted to quit life after that moment, and almost gave up on dance all together. I didn’t know what was wrong with my body, and was too afraid to ask for help.

 

Similar to how many young people feel about mental health disorders, I’d imagine.

JMU women's water polo - where I met my college best friends

JMU women’s water polo – where I met my college besties

In college I played club water polo all four years, despite almost drowning during one game my freshman year. I was somehow able to get to the side of the pool – I think one of my teammates may have jumped in after me sensing my level of distress. You’d think I would have dropped the sport at that point out of shame, but I stuck it out. The friendships created through my years of dancing and playing polo were what kept me going. I could struggle through my health issues but didn’t want to let go of those friendships.

This was all happening before the world wide web exploded, so naturally I turned to books to try to understand what was going on with my body. A few I found explained that I was experiencing hypoglycemia or a sudden drop in blood sugar. After mustering up the courage to talk with my family about this weird thing that was happening to me, I learned that both my mom and my brother experienced similar issues. I was never formally diagnosed with a condition, but simply learned how to manage my blood sugar on my own through diet, as many of the books I read advised.

My issues with blood sugar caused me to settle into a comfortable, low-impact workout routine once I graduated from college, got married, and started a family. I’d go to the gym and log 45 minutes on the elliptical, sometimes doing a little weight training, but never pushing myself to do more than I thought I was capable of.

Then one day a friend asked me to run a 5k with her. I figured it would be fun to challenge myself, and I had heard of the Couch-to-5k training plan, so I signed up. Getting outside to run 3-4 times a week was invigorating. Before I knew it, I went from running one minute, walking two, to running five minutes then ten, until eventually I was running the entire 3 miles with limited blood sugar issues. Within the next year I ran two more 5k’s. And just this month I ran my fourth 5k in honor of my friend Anna’s son Jack who tragically left this world too soon.

#running4brave This Is My Brave fundraiser

Lucky Leprechaun 5k in Reston. That’s me in the black knit cap and fluorescent yellow jacket.

I never thought I’d do more than a 5k until I met Annie.

Annie has such a big heart and from the first time I met her it was like we had known each other for years. She told Anne Marie and I that she wanted to train for her first half marathon and at the same time raise money for our This Is My Brave high school program. She’s been blogging about her training and each week on thisismybrave.org. I’m continuously impressed by her drive and commitment to reaching her goal. I couldn’t very well sit on the sidelines knowing that an 8k is only 1.8 more miles than a 5k.

I say “only” now. Sitting here tapping away on my laptop from the comfort of the couch.

But on Thursday I went on a training run and it felt great. I know I can do this, and would love your support. If you believe in me, please donate to our #running4brave fundraiser on Crowdrise. All proceeds will be used to create a This Is My Brave high school program to help teens realize they are not alone in dealing with mental illness. With the money raised we’ll be creating a comprehensive video program featuring teens from our spring productions which we hope to be able to offer to Loudoun County Public Schools this fall as an assembly.

Your contribution will make a difference. Annie and her team of runners has already raised nearly $3,000 and we need your help to get to the overall goal of $5k. Every contribution counts. Thank you so much for your support.

#running4brave

Stitch Fix makes shopping fun

Stitch-Fix-5-Review

By now you’ve probably heard about Stitch Fix, the styling service that sends five pieces picked just for you directly to your doorstep so that you can try them on with items from your own wardrobe. In case you haven’t, here’s a peek into my latest fix.

As silly as it may sound, I like the anticipation of waiting for my fix to arrive. I scheduled it so that I might be able to find something to wear for our cast welcome party for the DC cast of This Is My Brave. We have a fabulous photographer who is donating her time and talent to take headshots for our cast members, and I didn’t have anything in my closet that I thought would work well. Luckily, Stitch Fix came to the rescue.

Here’s what I got in this box:

StitchFix5Collage

I loved all the pieces on paper. It was a little odd to me that every piece had cobalt blue in it, but not a big deal. Starting at the top right corner with the Kamile Jersey Ruched Detail Dress by Gilli – I just didn’t feel as though it flattered my figure. The material was soft and stretchy, which I loved, but the thick tank straps weren’t making me feel good. Plus, I think the waistline for me needs to be a tad lower.

The Lydia Floral Print Key-Hole Blouse by Collective Concepts was my favorite piece I pulled out of the box, but when I put it on I just felt overwhelmed by the print. I thought it was a little too busy for my style, but if it would have been a little less pricey, I may have splurged on it to push my comfort zone. At $68.00, it was more than I wanted to spend on a top.

The Zaiden Printed Dress by Skies are Blue was cute out of the box, but was too roomy in the bust for me and overall just didn’t flatter my figure. I did like the cute detail at the hemline, but again the thick straps at the neckline aren’t my favorite.

The Alessandra Striped and Colorblocked Blouse was the piece I was least excited about when I opened the box, and my instinct was correct. The bold stripes didn’t work for me, plus it was too loose around the armpits. I probably would have fit into an XS in that top. But I wasn’t a fan of the layout of the shirt, so I passed.

The last piece was my absolute favorite and definitely a keeper. The Holston Crochet Trim Solid Blouse by Fun2Fun in cobalt blue is perfect for Sunday’s gathering and I have a feeling it will work nicely for headshots, too. The cap sleeve detail is absolutely beautiful and it also has a notch detail at the hip. I tried on my fix quickly, so I didn’t add accessories, but I do happen to have a perfect statement necklace to go with this top. It’s similar to the one my stylist showed the top with on the outfit cards with the cream skirt. I like how I can dress this top up or down. And the price tag couldn’t have been better: $38.00.

So four items are back in the postage-paid return envelope, ready to ship back to Stitch Fix. I checked out online and my $20 styling fee which I paid when I scheduled my fix was applied to my purchase and all I simply paid the remaining balance for the one perfect blouse I kept.

I’ve already decided that I NEED Stitch Fix. Why? Because otherwise my entire wardrobe consists of Old Navy workout clothes and college hoodies. :) I’ve scheduled my next fix for April and really hope that my stylist can hit a home run with all the feedback I gave her when I checked out.

If you’re ready to give Stitch Fix a try, please use my referral code to schedule your fix: https://www.stitchfix.com/referral/3024828 (each time someone orders their first fix, I earn a $25 credit)

Stitch Fix makes shopping fun again! Try it!

Books that heal & inspire

Books-that-heal-inspire

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

Reading is one of my passions. Lately making time to read has been a challenge. Still, knowing that a good read can be extremely beneficial to my mental health, I do my best to fit it into my schedule.

My favorite books tell stories straight from the heart. So naturally, I gravitate to memoir. I find other people’s true life stories fascinating, mostly because I like to learn from the experiences they write about. It’s almost as if I’m living vicariously through them while reading their words.

Ever since my diagnosis, I’ve sought out books dealing with mental illness and all the devastation, sorrow, exhilaration and exhaustion that comes with it. I wanted to know I could find a way to live with bipolar disorder. I wanted to find examples of people who were not only overcoming their illness, but living highly successful lives despite their mental health disorders.

I just finished reading Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness by Jessie Close with Pete Earley. I was captivated from page 1 of this unimaginable story of Jessie’s lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. It wasn’t until adulthood that she was finally properly diagnosed and received treatment. Her illness controlled her life until Jessie realized that she wanted, and deserved, a better life. Through the help of her family and sister, actress Glenn Close, Jessie was able to turn her life around. She became a leading advocate for mental health awareness when she joined Glenn in founding Bring Change 2 Mind. I highly recommend Resilience if you’re looking for a story about hope.

Here are some of my other favorite memoirs about mental illness:

An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness by Pete Earley

Learning to Breathe by Priscilla Warner

Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life by Melody Moezzi

The Beast: A Journey Through Depression by Tracy Thompson {Tracy was in our debut This Is My Brave show!}

Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg

Good Cop, Bad Daughter: Memoirs of an Unlikely Police Officer by Karen Lynch

Detour: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4D by Lizzie Simon

Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher {Marya is in our Boston This Is My Brave show!}

Freefall to Fly by Rebekah Lyons

Perfect Chaos: A Daugher’s Journey to Survive Bipolar, A Mother’s Struggle to Save Her by Linea and Cinda Johnson

I’ve found parts of my own story wedged within each of these books. Reading helps me to realize I’m not alone. In making time to read, I allow myself to get lost in the brave stories of authors like these I’ve listed. I am encouraged by their fierce determination, their drive to get well and stay well, and their willingness to continue to share their experiences to help others.

They are my tribe.

What’s your favorite memoir about mental illness? Let’s connect on Goodreads!