What I Want You To Know on World Bipolar Day 2016

World Bipolar Day 2016Today is the third annual #WorldBipolarDay. This day is important to me because it is helping to open up and continue the conversation surrounding a mental illness that is misunderstood in our society – bipolar disorder.

I was diagnosed over ten years ago. My world was turned upside down when I suffered two manic episodes in one month, each requiring hospitalizations. Soon thereafter, I received the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and spiraled into a severe year-long battle with depression and anxiety. I felt utterly alone, scared to talk to anyone about it outside my immediate family. My illness told me I was broken, worthless, and that I’d never get better. I believed it for over a year.

But it was lying.

I eventually found the right medication, and I did get better.

But then I got sick again when I was trying to protect my kids. I thought as their mom I knew better. I should have listened to the doctors.

Hindsight is 20/20 though, I had to learn the hard way. I don’t regret my decisions. They brought me to where I am right now.

I’m no one special. I’m just a person who was handed a diagnosis, went through a fierce struggle, learned to accept it, and wasn’t willing to allow society to intimidate me, judge me, and discriminate upon me for something that wasn’t my fault.

I am playing the cards I was dealt, as my favorite author, Cheryl Strayed, has so wisely stated.

You don’t have a right to the cards you think you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding. – Cheryl Strayed

I share my story because I know there are people out there searching for stories of resilience right now. I know because ten years ago, I was one of them. If my story can help just one person understand that they can overcome bipolar disorder, than I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do.

Never give up. Reach out for help. Your story matters.

My favorite Bipolar Resources:

ProFlowers #BringOnZen Bonsai

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Disclosure: I received a complimentary ProFlowers bonsai tree. Opinions are my own.

#BringOnZen

What would you say if a flower company offered to send you a beautiful little potted Bonsai tree to help you bring a little “zen” into your life? Well, if you’re like me, you’d say: Bring it on! I could use all the zen I can get.

“We want to send you one of our bonsai trees, a plant that symbolizes balance and peace, to help bring some zen into your hectic life.”

I couldn’t say no.

No matter how hard I try to scale back and keep things simple, life and schedules can get overwhelming at times. Which is why I was excited to pick out this ProFlowers bonsai tree for my home office as a reminder to take a deep breath when things get hectic.

Gardening has never been my forte. I’ve always admired my Grandma’s ability to keep a beautiful garden each year, full of blooming flowers which I could see from the road as I pulled up to her condo of twenty years in my hometown. She had a green thumb and kept many flourishing houseplants throughout her home.

Me? Whenever I’ve tried to grow anything it would usually not make it past a month.

But when my bonsai arrived, perfectly and securely packaged, I was relieved to find out that they don’t require all that much upkeep. Mine is an indoor bonsai which may shed some of its leaves as it gets used to its new environment. I water it daily and the excess runs out through the glass pot’s drain holes into the pretty decorative rock tray.

I love it in my little home office, as it’s got the perfect spot next to my desk where I can admire its beauty and simplicity.

As my new bonsai reminds me to #BringOnZen, here are my favorite ways to relax when I’m feeling a little stressed:

  • 30-minute yoga DVD
  • cup of coffee and a good book
  • a walk at sunset
  • taking a bubble bath
  • sitting outside in the sunshine

And since the weather is especially gorgeous here in Virginia today, I’m going to take a hint from my new ProFlowers bonsai tree, and am heading outside for a cup of iced tea in the sunshine.

If you’re interested in checking out a ProFlowers bonsai tree, or any of there beautiful arrangements, they sent me their current Coupon Codes to pass along to my readers.

Thank you so much, ProFlowers!

 

Remembering This Is My Brave’s beginning

Remembering the BeginningI’ve been neglecting my little, teeny corner of the Internet. Not because I haven’t thought about blogging, it’s that making the time has been a challenge lately. But after yesterday’s This Is My Brave (year 3!!) Cast party, I felt drawn back to this space. My favorite mug within arm’s reach, emblazoned with my favorite photo of our inaugural cast, full of steaming hot peach tea. Headphones plugged into my laptop, the rhymes of Ed Sheeran keep me company as I click a button to Add New Post.

This is where it all started.

It started with a decision to tell my story nearly five years ago. Even if I told it without my name attached, I still made the choice to write about my experience living with bipolar disorder. I typed out the trauma of succumbing to two manic episodes in one month. I wrote about things like exercise and journaling that were helpful to me in finding a path to recovery amid the chaos of receiving a diagnosis.

IMG_3985I remember contemplating that I would name the blog, before those posts were even published, eventually settling on “Bipolar Mom Life” because I wanted to be searchable.

I remember feeling the wave of mental health advocacy begin to swell. I wanted to climb on, to be part of the monumental tidal wave of brave individuals who were working to drown stigma through their openness. So I grabbed my proverbial surfboard and started paddling.

Years of writing several posts a week, then writing for other websites, to landing my first paid writing gig. One thing led to another and then to another. This little blog became the catalyst for something I dreamt about but would never fully appreciate until it actually happened.

So, how did it happen? This Is My Brave has become what it is today because of the support that has emerged from the shadows. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers. So many people ready to put their silence behind them. From extreme darkness comes the brightest lights, we’ve seen it time and time again through our shows. Our trials, trauma, and pain have taught us we are stronger than our struggles. We are compassionate souls, brave because we want to impact change. This Is My Brave is alive because in our communities everywhere live storytellers who aren’t afraid to show their scars.

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We only had to provide the opportunity for them to share.

I may have made the decision to start a blog, but This Is My Brave wouldn’t have ever taken off if it weren’t for people believing in its mission, to end the stigma surrounding mental illness by sharing our true, personal stories through poetry, music and essay, and stepping up onto the stage.

Our stories are coming together in a huge tsunami which is threatening to drown out the concept of stigma all together.

I may have had my doubts that this project would be able to make the impact I hoped it would, but those insecurities have been silenced. Every single time we put the call out for storytellers they bring it. Our job of casting becomes harder each year.

IMG_3998Through vivid imagery you feel their hearts bleed out onto the pages. You also learn how they made it through the minefield of mental illness. Their resilience warms your heart and in the end you’re glowing with pride for everything they’ve become. And that they’ve decided to selflessly share their strength with the world. This is the magic of This Is My Brave.

I hope you’ll come see a show this May. We’ll be in Greenville, South Carolina; Iowa City, Iowa; Arlington, Virginia; Denver, Colorado; and Valparaiso, Indiana. Tickets are on sale now.

Come and #LiveBrave with us.

A Weekend At Home

This is going to be a long, boring post. Bear with me. I feel the need to justify my blogging absence by writing it all out. If only for myself.

It’s been a busy couple of months in our household. At the end of August, Ben and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary surrounded by our friends and family. It just happened to coincide perfectly with the summer house concert we had booked with independent artist and now friend of ours, Shannon Curtis. The evening was the perfect way to mark our special day. Shannon’s music was simply beautiful and she played under the big oak tree next to our house while the crickets chirped and the lights that Ben strung twinkled. My only regret is not taking more pictures, but I am glad I remembered to stay present and in the moment. It was a magical night to remember.

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The kids started school in the weeks that followed and I was busy helping our New York City team prep for their October show. The first weekend in September, my brother and I surprised my mom in Florida for her 65th Birthday. The look on her face was priceless when we both walked in the door, but lucky for her I decided not to Periscope or even photograph the surprise since she was still in her pajamas. You’re welcome, mom. Instead we have a photo of us wearing bibs. I loved getting to see my Grandma, too, since I hadn’t seen her since February which felt like so long ago.

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The second weekend in September Wear Your Label, a conscious clothing company out of Canada, invited me to emcee their fashion show at New York Fashion Week in New York City. The timing couldn’t have been better, since that was the same weekend our New York City cast was getting together for the first time and I was able to attend and meet everyone. It was an awesome {albeit fast-paced} weekend. I loved meeting Kaylee and Kyle {the Co-Founders of Wear Your Label} and look forward to working with them in the future on another mental health awareness event.

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The third weekend of September was the Northern Virginia NAMI {National Alliance on Mental Illness} walk. Anne Marie and I hosted a This Is My Brave table and got to talk with lots of attendees about our organization and what we do. We sold a bunch of Brave tees and brave beads, and our cast member Laurie was there to help us and catch up. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful, to top it off.

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The last weekend of September I was invited to the DBSA {Depression Bipolar Support Alliance} annual conference in Chicago to present during the Peer Showcase night, the first evening of the conference. I was joined by Canadian comedian David Granier of Stand Up for Mental Health, and my friend, singer/songwriter Shannon Curtis. We kicked off the conference with storytelling, comedy and music, and everyone had a lovely evening. The weekend was full of incredible speakers: Dese’Rae Stage of Live Thru This, Mariel Hemingway, and Andrew Solomon. I met so many amazing, like-minded people, and I felt at home.

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Just this past weekend, on October 4th, This Is My Brave had our first show in New York City. I can’t even begin to describe how proud I am of our cast and production team. I was beaming from the moment the curtain went up until I closed my eyes to fall asleep that night, exhausted with the joy of what they had accomplished.

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My parents flew in from Florida to spend the weekend with me and see the show. Despite the threats from Hurricane Joaquin, we made it. We drove to Long Island on Friday to see my Uncle Marty and his partner Ralph, and had a great time catching up with them before heading into the city on Saturday. I was able to attend the second half of rehearsal on Saturday, and then spent the rest of the day and evening getting last-minute details ready for the show. Sunday morning, my dad and I went to the Today Show with signs to try to get some free publicity. The show touched me on so many levels and I loved seeing and hearing how the event impacted all who attended. Monday was my dad’s birthday, and I am so thankful I got to celebrate it with him and my mom over a lovely dinner after the show. Living over a thousand miles apart makes me so grateful for the moments we get to spend together.

This weekend I was supposed to host a table at the AFSP {American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – there will be a quiz on all the mental health organization acronyms at the end!} community walk in DC, but after being in DC on Friday for the International Bipolar Foundation breakfast, I knew I needed a day off. That, and realizing the tornado inside of our house was screaming to be tamed, I made the decision to take this weekend to re-group, clean and spend time at home with my family.

I spent yesterday attacking one room at a time with a duster, the vacuum, and the desire to give everyone a fresh, clean start as we tumble into autumn. As I cleaned, I listened to Jenny Lawson’s new book, Furiously Happy, and found myself having to stop what I was doing and tweet out quotes it was so good. It made me want to get serious about writing my own memoir about living with bipolar, which is something I desperately want to do someday. But at the moment my focus is on This Is My Brave, our seventh and final show of this year {LA’s book launch event for Amy Ferris’ Shades of Blue on November 19th! Details coming this week!} and planning for 2016.

I’m not going to lie. These past few months have been exhausting. But at the same time, they are what fill me up. It’s hard to be away from my family, but I return to them more complete. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know in your heart that you’ve found your life’s calling, and I don’t take it for granted. Whenever someone tells me how much my work touches them and it’s so wonderful I’m helping so many people, I am overwhelmed. All I ever wanted to do was encourage people to be open and share their stories. It’s only because people believed in me that this work is able to touch so many. I am so grateful people had confidence in my vision.

I can’t help but let my insecurities creep in from time to time. Typically when I hear about a suicide or that someone I know is struggling with their own mental health. I feel so helpless, even though I’ve battled similar demons. Why can’t I find the right words? Why can’t I be a better friend? Why can’t I make a bigger difference, help more people, stop the suffering?

I know it has to do with the issue of being enough and accepting that I am enough, and these are things I’m working on. This is not a plea for pity or praise. I’m just putting it out there because I want to be real, and I want my readers to know that I still have plenty of things I’m working on. Just because I’ve found stability with my mental health doesn’t mean my life is perfect. If only it were that easy. Anne Marie reminds me nearly every week that we’ve accomplished a great deal in our first two years, and I know she is right. I know that I want This Is My Brave to grow slowly and sustainably, staying true to our mission of ending stigma through storytelling, which is exactly what we’re doing.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey, especially my husband, parents and in-laws who are always willing to jump in and help with the kids so that I can attend meetings, conferences, and special events. I wouldn’t be on this journey if it weren’t for my friends cheering me on, my readers continuously reaching out to tell me how much they appreciate me being open about my story, and my growing This Is My Brave family for contributing to this dream. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real, like when I saw myself on the cover of Bipolar Hope Magazine this week. I am full of gratitude for this life.

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Happy Holiday weekend, friends. Thanks for being on this journey with me.