Today marks 6 years blogging

beach sunrise

{sunrise this morning, Bethany Beach, Delaware}

Today is my 6-year blogiversary. 

I still remember the day I decided to begin blogging about my story. I started a free WordPress.com blog using a domain name I had purchased. I remember pausing before hitting “submit” on bipolarmomlife.com, thinking for a moment about the brand I was about to create. It was intentional. I wanted other moms out there, other families dealing with bipolar disorder and parenting, to know that they weren’t alone and that it does get better. I wanted women to type “bipolar” and “mom” into Google and find me. That’s how it all started.

Six years have felt like an instant. My son was only two and my daughter wasn’t yet a year old when I started writing out the story of how bipolar had seemingly devastated my life. I was ready to begin writing my way through the pain of my past to heal myself. From my very first blog post:

Bipolar I is my diagnosis but I try not to let the label get to me too much. I definitely think about it on a daily basis, but I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of it anymore like I was back when I was first diagnosed. Sure, the stigma is still there, but it’s beginning to fade.

Each time I took to my laptop to tap out the thoughts and feelings swirling in my head from the memories of my struggle, I chipped away at the internal stigma that had attached itself to me when I was formally diagnosed with mental illness.

My blog was my safe, anonymous corner of the Internet for a year and a half. Friendships were forged from comments back and forth supporting each other’s writing, validating each other’s pain and progress. 

And then an opportunity arose which would change the course of my life. An editor from WhatToExpect.com found my blog and asked me to write for them. It was my first paid writing job, and she wanted me to use my voice as a parent living with mental illness. That was a huge turning point for me. It was when I made the decision to put my name and face on my writing. 

I knew that I’d never be able to make the impact on reducing stigma the way I wanted to until I put my true identity on my story.

So I took a risk. 

I worried about future employment. I wondered if people would turn away from me. I feared what I didn’t know.

I know now there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place.

None of my fears came true.

If I wouldn’t have taken the risk to open up about my bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The day I stopped hiding my mental illness was the start to living a richer, more authentic life. 

About five months after my first freelance article hit the internet with my byline {What Landed Mom in the Psych Ward was the link bait AOL.com used to tease the article, complete with our family photo}, I launched what would eventually become This Is My Brave, Inc. Only most people don’t know that I failed first.

I first launched the concept with a woman I met at a writer’s conference. She was lovely and we hit it off instantly, but after working on the idea for a few weeks together, we began to have intense creative differences. The idea was to create a show featuring people who struggled with mental health issues, to provide a creative platform for them to share and end the stigma. We called it, “Don’t Call Me Crazy” but thankfully it didn’t pan out. {Funny enough, there is now a Netflix series with the same name.}

A few weeks later, licking my wounds, I tried again. As fate would have it, I was introduced to Anne Marie Ames, the woman who would become my Co-Founder, at a mutual friend’s party. Within a few months we had launched the concept on Kickstarter and the rest is history. This fall we’re putting on our 31st show. 

The magic behind This Is My Brave is the lifesaving power of storytelling. It’s seeing people who have endured so much pain reach a point in their life when they have some perspective. They are ready to use their voice. I’ve seen people transform from being a part of our shows and our organization. It’s as if a physical weight has been lifted off their shoulders and they can finally breathe. It’s freeing to be able to talk about the invisible parts of ourselves out loud. And it shows others they are not alone. That it does get better, and that we’re all connected.

If it weren’t for this blog, I don’t know where I’d be right now. Thank you to everyone who has ever read, commented, shared. I appreciate your support more than you’ll ever know. 

Would you like to live on a farm in Canada?

I received what most people would consider to be an odd phone call last week. It left me thinking about what it would be like to live on a farm in Canada. Let me explain…

I was driving to meet my grad student volunteer in DC to finish up a project, when my phone rang. It was a man named Stephen who lives on a farm outside of the capital city of Canada, Ottawa. He mentioned that he found me online googling bipolar, as we both have the same condition, and that he thought maybe I might be able to help him find a family or group of people who might be interested in taking over his farm.

I found the request pretty insane, and Stephen admitted it was a little “out there,” but you never know with the internet. When we put things out via our networks, you never know how far it will go and how you might be able to find a needle in a haystack. So I asked him to send me more info via email, and later that evening, he did.

Here’s his note:

Hello Jennifer,

It was nice to connect with you by telephone earlier today with my rather unusual (insane?) idea of turning over my farm.
I clicked onto your site because I am bi-polar among other things. I’m 62 and as of two years ago freshly divorced type of situation. Messy for sure and a catalyst for soul searching avenues. What I felt made a difference is the setting I put myself in. I bought a historic farm with a water view to boot, and filled it with an insane number of farm and domestic animals. I’m sure you’ve read how some people find being surrounded by animals to be therapeutic. In this vein I thought on a long shot there may be a couple or group of people who wanted to change their life settings. I’d like to say change their life but you and I know better and that “wherever you go there you are” type of outlook. But for sure, being in a different atmosphere, if it is a fit, can be beneficial to one’s health.
My fifty tiled acre farm is located in a small town, about fifty minutes away from my nation’s capital, Ottawa. Yes, I am in Canada but perhaps there are followers of your blog that right now would welcome a move outside of the domain of that new guy in Washington!
My idea is to find someone who is not dirt poor and perhaps has a home-based business which does not restrict them to living elsewhere. I would basically allow them to live here forever without paying rent in exchange for taking care of some of my animals, a deal that would have to be customized between us. I have a car, but no tractor, four barns, a paved driveway and a wonderful stone home built in 1830 with over 3,500 square feet, perfect for a family, inviting for someone who wants to set up some sort of new business as well. My land is currently rented out to an organic farmer but could be used by the new person(s).
So basically, in exchange for taking care of what is in reality my vast pet kingdom you get to run the farm without any charge. You have to pay for the running costs and taxes of course which are not daunting mind you but it still requires an outlay. I bought this property outright and do not have it mortgaged.
I am a two minute drive to every type of store you might need for food, etc. beside a small town.
Bi-polar is not something one “cures” but as you might agree life can be beautiful if you surround yourself in an appropriate way to keep on healing and in this light I think my farm setting might be of use. I plan to go back to Japan where I was living before coming back to Canada a few years ago.
Not sure what else to add here but feel free to ask any questions.
Stephen
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I’ve spoken with Stephen, and he’d be interested in speaking with anyone who’d like to talk with him about this opportunity. So if you’ve ever dreamt of living on a farm, and you’d like to move to Canada, please email my friend Stephen at wonderfulpens@gmail.com.

Focusing on mental wellness

I had a conversation today that stuck with me. It’s got my brain focused on the concept of mental wellness and how this April it will have been seven years since my last psychiatric hospitalization. On one hand the cold metal of the handcuffs around my wrists and the click of the officer tightening them to escort me to the psych ward feels like a lifetime ago, but on the other, my choppy memories remain vivid enough to remember like it was yesterday.

I’m so proud of this path I’ve been on. I’m proud of my husband and my parents who fought like hell for me when I could only see gray. I’m proud of how I learned to advocate for myself, and how I didn’t listen to my psychiatrist who told me I should keep my bipolar diagnosis a secret when I shared my desire to write openly to fight stigma. I don’t want to think about where I’d be today had I listened to her advice.

Over these past seven years I’ve learned how to control my mental health disorder so that I have the upper hand. I’ve invested time and energy into focusing on my mental health, rather than allowing a diagnosis rule my life.

I’m becoming more aware of the fact that what we surround ourselves with has a huge impact on our well being. And I’m attracted to people, products, services, books and even clothing that helps me focus on cultivating a healthy lifestyle.

We’re only here for such a short time. Yes, there will be struggles. Yes, there will be times when we’ll fail. But we all deserve to be happy and healthy.

Today I choose to cultivate my mental health. Sharing my story has played a big part in my mental wellness because I needed to let go of the shame associated with the trauma of being hospitalized against my will, and once I began blogging, the shame, isolation and embarrassment melted away. In large part because so many people appreciated my openness and then shared their story with me. When we find the courage to be vulnerable, others feel they have permission to also share.

IMG_7544Through blogging I found info on healthy eating which lead me to make shifts in my eating patterns. I began feeling better and then became more active. Thanks to my brother’s encouragement, I found a workout program that I was able to stick with. Exercising regularly has kept me physically healthy. I can’t remember the last time I was very sick (knock on wood).

And recently I found a meditation app that I love and I’ve been making time to meditate every day. It’s amazing what a quick 10 or 15-minute meditation can do for the mind and body. I definitely feel my creativity starting to flow again, and overall my mind feels more at ease and calm.

Mental health is something that we’re all living with. Taking care of our mental health and nurturing our body so that our minds can stay healthy is so important. We only have one mind, one body, one chance at life. Mental illness may be something that you or a family member or friend may encounter. But it doesn’t have to mean that life is over.

It means there is a different path ahead, and you can get through it. Trust me. I’ve been there.

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!