Pushing Myself to Write a Book

5325613416_0964491115Photo Credit: Honey Pie! via Compfight cc

You say you want to write a book. You say this, and yet, you let days slip past without writing anything but emails or tweets or status updates. Those are never going to turn into a book.

You say you want to write a book. And yet, the days keep passing, the weeks and months that put more and more distance between you and your experiences of mental illness. They are beginning to feel more and more like harrowing nightmares that you’ve woken up from all sweaty and breathing fast.

But they weren’t nightmares. They were real life. And you better get these experiences down, out of the corners of your memory where you buried them for safekeeping, or else they may fade away completely.

Just write it already.

I’ve got a new Ed Sheeran album to inspire me. Plus, binders full of tips and tricks I was fortunate enough to acquire from a dear online friend who I’ll be meeting a year from next month.

But then summer schedules get in the way. My body moves like it’s stuck in quicksand. Each morning the early sunrise finds me digging myself out after staying up too late because after a 7:30pm yoga class is the only time I have peace and quiet to write and surf the internet. Walking into a quiet house at 9pm, grateful the kids are asleep, the dishes await me. The laundry needs to be folded. Trash taken out because it’s full to the top.

Still, I’m grateful my husband at least watched the kids and put them to bed so I could have my time.

Seventy-five minutes of pure blissful stretching, sweat rolling down my legs and arms as I melt into the poses which center me. Class leaves me tired, yet energized. These past three weeks of practicing yoga twice a week have begun to chisel my body and mind. Next items to tackle are prioritizing my schedule and sticking to it.

When there’s camp in the morning with only an hour and a half before early pick-up so that he doesn’t have to miss swimming and then dance class in the afternoon for her, the moments for writing are consumed by responding to emails and texts. And phone calls from my love in the middle of the day or on his way home, just checking in to see if I need anything.

I wish it didn’t take me an hour to get warmed up when I finally sit down at my desk and the clock reads 10pm. Discipline and focus are what I lack. I know this, and yet still have to click around for awhile, loosening up my typing fingers. It’s something I want to work on this procrastination issue I have. Wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t struggle with this monkey on my back.

Baby steps. Other women writers with families have written memoirs. I’ll get there. I have a feeling my memories will protect themselves inside my head until I’m ready to resurrect them in the order that makes the most sense for this book that is sleeping in my heart. One step at a time.

Help Me Reach {or exceed!} my goal for Climb Out of the Darkness 2014

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Going through a postpartum mood disorder is something no woman should have to experience alone. Which is why I am so passionate about Postpartum Progress and all of the incredible programs this non-profit organization provides through the connectivity of the internet.

Back when I had my first child almost six years ago, there weren’t many people talking openly about postpartum mental health. Sure, there was the literature you’d see in the waiting room at the OB’s office during your monthly visits and the brief articles in pregnancy magazines. But no one really talked about the kinds of postpartum mood disorders, or, more importantly, what they felt like.

None of my friends ended up having PPD, or at least none that I knew of. And even though I had been diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1, and had been hospitalized twice for mania before my pregnancy, I honestly thought I was in the clear. I thought that part of my life was behind me and I no longer needed to worry about a mental breakdown of those sorts since I had been “in remission” for over a year and was completely med-free during my pregnancy. Looking back now I can’t believe I was worried more about PPD than PPP, especially given my previous manic episodes.

I know exactly why. Depression almost killed me in 2006. Two manic episodes, two weeks apart, two hospital stays and I was left a shell of former self. I had been crushed from the outside in, and stayed that way for an entire year. My career came to a screeching halt. I would wake to anxiety wrapped around my entire body, making me wish I could just end it all. I dreaded going out with friends because everyone was always talking about work and family and I was terrified I’d never be able to return to the work that I loved, and was even more fearful of not being able to have the children which I desperately wanted.

The silence surrounding mental illness was part of what made it so hard to pull through that year. I wanted someone to talk to. I tried. But whenever I would try to bring it up, awkwardness would inevitably kill the conversation.  I felt so ashamed. Blank stares, no words, uncomfortable silence. That damn silence. So I stopped trying.

I don’t remember exactly when I found Postpartum Progress, but I do remember how I felt. These are my people. They understand me. They understand what I went through. They understand all the pain and suffering and how unbelievable it feels to come out on the other side. And they want to talk. And listen. And help society to understand that maternal mental illness is just like any other illness. When we’re able to get help and we have support, we can get well and be the mamas we’ve always dreamed we would be. I’ve become friends with a number of phenomenal, passionate, empathetic women through Postpartum Progress who encouraged me to continue sharing my story. I peeled off the layers of shame and found my voice as an advocate.

This coming weekend, women all over the world will be climbing mountains, hiking trails and speaking out about postpartum mood disorders during the 2nd annual Postpartum Progress Climb Out of the Darkness. They’ll be climbing with their friends and families to raise money for Postpartum Progress which will help the organization continue to focus on its key initiatives: raising awareness, fighting stigma and providing peer support for pregnant and new mothers.

My family and I completed the climb last year by ourselves, but this year I volunteered to lead Team McLean, here in Virginia, in a hike at Great Falls National Park on Sunday. I am so honored to head up this wonderful group and can’t wait to meet them all in person. Whenever I meet people who have walked similar roads to mine, I feel an instant connection.

Our team has done a tremendous job fundraising, but we still have time! Personally, I am only $290 away from my goal of $1,000 and would be so appreciative of your support. The minimum donation on Crowdrise is $10, but no donation is considered small in my eyes. If I’m able to raise $1k by this Saturday, June 21st, I’ll earn a ticket to the first ever Warrior Mama Conference in Boston next July and I would SO LOVE to be there to hug all these warrior mamas I’ve gotten to know online over the past few years.

Here’s the link to donate: https://www.crowdrise.com/jennifermarshall3-cotd2014/fundraiser/jennifermarshall3

We’re #BackInTheWorld! {See if you can spot me and Owen in the video! Vivian took the picture.}

Thank you so much to David Gray for the use of his new single, Back in the World, from his new album, Mutineers. LOVE THIS SONG.

Your donation will help bring a voice to postpartum mood disorders. It will encourage conversations that will help heal mothers who may be suffering in silence. Please consider donating to this life-saving organization today. Thank you so much!

Just Ask: How a Friend Can Make a Difference

This is a guest post written by Erica, one of my oldest and closest friends. We made it through middle school together, many years of dance recitals, boys and our first parties, a few memorable nights with cigarettes involved, going off to colleges two hours apart only to have her introduce me to one of her new best friends freshman year who would become my husband years later.
I asked her to write this post after a few conversations around the topic of how it’s sometimes tough for friends to talk with each other about mental illness when one has gone through it and the other hasn’t. And how a friend can be supportive when faced with their friend’s mental health disorder. I love her honesty, her willingness to face the hard moments such as visiting me in the psych ward, and her loving friendship over the years. I don’t know where I’d be without her in my life. {The tucks pads, well, let’s just say that I had been through a C-section only 4 weeks earlier, and I might have had another flare-up. Or, maybe I was just hallucinating.}

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“She is so crazy,” I said as we were discussing our love/hate relationship with Miley Cyrus. Jenn and I were on the phone and I cringed as the words came out of my mouth.

We have been friends for as long as I can remember…

Scan_Pic0001{Middle school: backstage at our dance recital}

Scan_Pic0002{High school: football game, cheering on the team from the stands}

Scan_Pic0003{College: Spring break in the Bahamas with the guys who would later become our husbands. That guy in the Hawaiian shirt isn’t one of them.}

photo (4){Jenn’s wedding to Ben: August, 2003}

I never would have guessed that Jenn would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She first told me about her illness and diagnosis over drinks at TGI Fridays (classy, I know) the night before our friends’ wedding. The conversation was light and I am sure I asked some surface-level questions because I didn’t really understand what she was telling me. I knew nothing about mental illness.

My lifelong friend trusted me enough to tell me and then nothing, we never really talked about it…like really talked about it…until Jenn was hospitalized shortly after the birth of her first child.

I remember Jenn’s husband calling and asking me to talk to her. She asked me to visit and bring her face lotion, tucks pads, mascara, and eye shadow. I obliged and headed to the hospital. In my mind, Jenn was staying in a pseudo-retirement community (it was a geriatric psych ward, the only place they had been able to locate a bed for her).

In actuality, the situation wasn’t pretty. I remember the person at the entry desk taking the CVS bag from me. I mean, did I really think they would let me give her mascara? Sterile is the best way I can describe the hospital. I fought back tears as I saw Jenn in her barren room looking like a shell of herself. We went to a common area and she introduced me to some of the other patients.

I couldn’t focus.
This is serious.
I don’t know what to do or how to be a good friend.
Will we talk about this when she gets out?
When will she get out?
Why didn’t I realize she was so sick?

I had so many questions and the hospital visit was a wake-up call. No more sweeping this under the rug. I needed to ask the tough, sometimes uncomfortable questions.

And I did. But you know what? It wasn’t so tough.

Jenn told me that not getting enough sleep is her trigger and shortly after finding out she was pregnant with her second child, she told me she had stayed up all night getting organized. I knew something was wrong. I called her husband and he told me that she wasn’t taking her medication and indeed needed help. Just as soon as I hung up the phone with him, I received calls from two other friends who were equally concerned. Jenn is so very lucky to have such a strong support network. Immediately we all knew the signs because we talked with her about her illness when she was well – so much better than waiting for a crisis.

Just Ask.

Be part of someone’s success story.

As the inaugural This Is My Brave show approaches, I marvel at Jenn’s success story. But so many people play a role in her story. I hope if there is someone you know or suspect is living with a mental illness that you can be part of their support network. Because talking is therapeutic – and therapy comes in many different forms.

As for Miley…she is still engaging in shocking behavior and singing some pretty catchy songs but I am done calling her crazy.

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Erica blogs at ConflictedPixie.com and has recently become a stylist for KeatonRow. She created a fun look book of affordable special occasion spring dresses for me to choose an outfit for the show. It’s free to sign up and have Erica create a look book for you, plus the best part is that Keaton Row offers FREE shipping AND returns! Check out her blog today – budget conscious style for your home and self. Follow Erica on TwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

My Story Isn’t Over – #SemicolonProject416

story-isnt-over

It rained today. Hard, pounding raindrops came down in sheets and I remember the bitter hatred I have towards this type of weather. How frustrated I get with the wetness, the dreary clouds that hang around until the storm finally passes. And then I realize – that’s the takeaway.

With my form of bipolar illness, I lean towards mania, rather than depression. Three or four nights off meds and with poor sleep and I’ll end up manic to the point of hallucinating, needing intravenous antipsychotics and a week in the mental hospital to return me to a semi-normal state. Then there are the weeks of recovery afterwards. I don’t dare mess with my treatment plan. It’s as much a part of my life as breathing and eating. It keeps me in the middle and for me, that is a beautiful place to be, especially with a household to run with two little ones looking up to me and counting on me to stay healthy.

But the rain. It’s still coming down, relentlessly soaking everything without a roof over its head. Rainy days can so easily take me back to the year of my life when I was so smothered by depression that I contemplated ending my own life to make the pain stop. I had been diagnosed a few months earlier with Bipolar Disorder Type 1, had to resign from a career I had worked so hard at, and was afraid the confidence that used to sparkle in my eyes would never return. I felt so far gone. I couldn’t see an end to the stormy fog I was living in.

The hardest part about the year I was being suffocated by depression was that I didn’t have people to look up to. People who had been in the dark, murky trenches of mental illness and yet had emerged stronger and more equipped to keep going. Because when one is diagnosed with a mental illness it never goes away, we must find a way to live with it and manage it so that it doesn’t manage us.

I recognized my suicidal thoughts, was absolutely terrified by them, and although I was ashamed by these feelings I was experiencing, somehow found the courage to tell my husband and parents and my psychiatrist who then changed my medications. Within a few weeks I started to feel better, the thoughts began to fade, and I was able to lift my head above the fog. I chose not to end my story, and because I was able to get help and support, I am here today advocating for mental health awareness through my blog and my show, This Is My Brave.

SemiColonProject

These conversations don’t have to be hard. The more we open up and talk about mental illness, the more people will realize that it’s an illness like any other and that with proper treatment and support, anyone can overcome mental illness to lead happy, successful lives. The more we share, the more we encourage others to be vulnerable, and this ripple effect is the change that the mental health community needs to break down the ignorance that surrounds societal views on mental illness.

We are human. We live with mental illness and we want to be heard. We can persevere because our stories matter.

#THISISMYBRAVE