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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Mental Illness Allowed Me To Find My Gift – My Messy Beautiful

A close family friend who I’ve known since I was a baby invited me to his parent’s house for a Jewish holiday meal one night in 2009, as they did whenever those special occasions roll around. I’m not Jewish, but they treat me like family, so it’s only natural to be at these events, surrounded by friends and loved ones and good food.

After dinner, Dave and I were chatting, catching up on what we both had going on. He described his plans of starting a non-profit with a good friend of his, to give back to the community. I remember my exact first reaction:

“Why on Earth would you want to start a business that doesn’t make you a profit?” although luckily I didn’t say it aloud.

What I forgot in that moment was what Dave had been through. Early on in his life, he had everything going for him. Top athlete, funny guy, made decent grades in school. But in college he got caught up with the new found freedom and after making some bad choices, started doing drugs to self-medicate the pain away. Hard drugs. One night he almost died and so his parents found a treatment facility in California and he went away to get help. He found his recovery path and stayed at the treatment center to become a counselor himself. His addiction led him to a place where he found his gift. And now he had come home and was ready to give his gift away to the world using his non-profit as the vehicle through which to share it.

It would take five more years for me to understand this concept.

Growing up, I painted murals on the walls of my room and wrote in my journal, read poetry and spun dreams of becoming an artist. But when the time came in college to pick a major, I reached for the safe choice: Business, with a concentration in Marketing. That way, I could graduate with a degree that would ensure I’d be able to get a job, while at the same time I’d be able to tap into my artistic side. Really, I was thinking more about money and my future and much less about long-term happiness and making a difference in the world.

I wasn’t following my heart and my lack of follow-through made me envious of my girlfriends who entered the fields of teaching, nursing, and speech-language pathology because they were going to graduate and go out into the world and touch people’s lives each and every day with their talents and they’d get PAID to do what they loved. I wished I could follow my dream of becoming an artist by studying writing or art or design.

But could my creative, business-y work really touch someone’s life the way theirs would?

I was too afraid of the unknown.

Too afraid to fail.

Too afraid to be less than perfect.

Too afraid to expose my feelings through my work.

Too afraid I wouldn’t be able to support myself.

Too afraid of all these things that stood in my way.

They were my fears. And piled up together they appeared as a roadblock to the path to following my dreams.

Upon graduating, I start out in the corporate world with that versatile Business degree and I get a taste of success in the form of bonuses and commissions that keep rolling in as I continue to prove my worth to the company as the top grossing recruiter within the agency. I like this compensation system, and so I work harder and harder. I’m helping people find jobs and I’m helping companies to find talent they desperately need and it feels rewarding all around.

But over the years I become greedy. I work longer and longer hours to pull in the “big bucks”.

At the end of 2005, as I am anticipating the best year-end bonus of my career, the life I had worked so hard to build up to that point, came crashing down around me. I suffered what could only be described as a “nervous breakdown” at that moment. I spent a few nights in a psych ward, but upon my release the psychiatrist I saw attributed the episode to the lack of sleep I had experienced the week before when my husband was away on business travel.

Two weeks later that hypothesis would be proven wrong when my mind succumbed to another manic episode for which I had to be hospitalized on Christmas Day. Talk about the lowest low one can feel. Being left by your family at a psych ward while your mind unravels faster and faster until you’re unrecognizable to even yourself pretty much describes it. That was eight years ago and Christmas, to this day, still brings up mixed emotions for me. More so gratitude now, but fear used to consume my thoughts. Fear that it could happen again, that my life was over now that I was diagnosed with a mental illness. That I’d never have children. That my husband might leave me. That my life was practically worthless now that my brain was sick.

I spent 2006 behind a veil of black. I mourned the life I had to leave behind. My success as a recruiter, my friends at work, my nice, fat paycheck with all those bonuses and commissions. The tears were in endless supply that year, though I tried never to let on to my friends how unhappy I was. I woke up most mornings with anxiety crawling up my spine, and would crumble onto the couch at the end of the day, a mess of nerves and sadness and self-pity.

In my mind I couldn’t see past the day ahead of me. My future was so cloudy, it was as if my diagnosis had pulled an eye mask down over my forehead so that my vision was blocked. No more thinking a year, two years, five years down the road like I had been so used to doing. Those days it was about surviving to see the next sunrise. I battled suicidal thoughts and although ashamed to tell my husband and parents about the images in my head, I did. My psychiatrist adjusted my medication and over the course of several months, the thoughts gradually began to dissolve. I was no longer fighting for my life each day, but I was still battling the voice in my head which asked me continuously what my purpose was.

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It’s been almost nine years since I was diagnosed with type one bipolar disorder. I’ve had two kids, and had two more hospitalizations because I was protecting my babies from the psychiatric medication in my bloodstream which I know now I’ll have to take for the rest of my life. I made it through five years of mania and meds and therapy and psychosis and depression and wanting to just make it all stop. And came to the conclusion that the reality of life with mental illness is that it will never stop; you can only learn to manage it so it doesn’t manage you.

Having overcome my mental health disorder allowed me to find the courage to write about my experiences. It may have taken me time to understand the beauty and impact of true vulnerability, but I’m proud to say that I’m there now. Telling the world that I live with bipolar disorder and still love my life has been the most liberating and gratifying step I’ve taken in this career I’ve carved out for myself. Dave is now the first person I go to for advice. I feel lucky to have such a close friend as a mentor so I don’t feel like I’m starting completely from scratch.

I’ve become a mental health advocate and I run a non-profit called This Is My Brave whose mission is to ignite and actively promote a positive, supportive, national conversation surrounding mental illness. Next month my Associate Producer and I will debut This Is My Brave – the show: a live, theater-based production made up of fourteen individuals from the community who will share their stories of living with mental illness through personal essays, poetry and original music in an effort to silence stigma and inspire change.

I found beauty in the messiness of life with bipolar disorder. It’s in the people who lift me up when I’m down and in the people who have opened up to me about the struggles in their life with mental illness.

I’m grateful to have found meaning in my life, and to be able to give hope away to those who might be in the midst of the same painful place I found myself in years ago. I know they can find a way out with the support of friends and family and quality psychiatric care. If I can do it, they can too.

My messy beautiful is encouraging others to share their stories of living with mental illness so that no one has to feel alone.

I’m thrilled to be participating in the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Glennon Doyle Melton is one of my favorite writers because she taught me that vulnerability is okay. Carry On, Warrior taught me that by showing the world that the imperfections that make me who I am, I in turn am giving others permission to share their messy, beautiful with me. I’ve met some of the most loving, supportive friends this year and my hope is that by giving away a copy of this special book, I’ll be paying it forward so that another person can learn the magic of sharing their messy, beautiful instead of covering it up.

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Good Cop, Bad Daughter – Book Review & Giveaway

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In November of 2012, I attended my first writer’s conference on Sanibel Island in Florida with a pen in hand and the nervous anticipation of a freshman on day one of English 101. I couldn’t wait to learn tips and technique from the master presenters and instructors, and was eager to practice my craft during the workshops and through the homework they assigned.

The conference was incredible and after meeting such inspiring, brilliant talent – in both the faculty and attendees alike – I left there with the confidence to finally call myself a writer. I came home with renewed drive and ambition, ignited by the tribe I had surrounded myself with all weekend.

The schedule was packed so there was little time to talk to other attendees in between classes, but I did have a chance to make a few strong connections and we’ve kept in touch over social media and email. One of the friends I met at Sanibel was Karen Lynch. She had just finished reading a piece aloud in class, and it was so vivid and stunning, I had to compliment her afterwards. As usually the case when you strike up a conversation with a fellow writer at a conference, we asked each other what we were working on. It just so happened we had the topic of mental illness as common subject matter.

We exchanged email addresses and promised to keep in touch and I was thrilled to learn that her book was recently published – the same book from which she had read an excerpt in class at Sanibel. When her publisher contacted me via email to see if I’d like to review the book and do a giveaway, I jumped at the opportunity to read it before it was released.

Amazon Book Description

Publication Date: February 3, 2014

Karen Lynch was an unlikely person to become one of the first female cops in San Francisco. Raised by a counter-culture tribe in summer of love Haight-Ashbury, she was taught to despise “The Man.” But when the San Francisco Police Department was forced by court order to hire women, she found herself compelled to prove to the world that women could cut it as cops, a betrayal that caused her police-loathing mother to brand her a Nazi.

Good Cop, Bad Daughter is an often humorous, poignant adventure story of Karen’s journey from pot-smoking Cal student, to Renaissance bar serving wench, to street cop. Recounting the story of the first women cops, she reflects on life with her bi-polar mother, and comes to realize her chaotic past unwittingly provided the perfect foundation for her chosen career.

As she finds family and acceptance in a men’s club that never wanted her as a member, she fears she will one day face her mother, not as a daughter but as an arresting officer. When that day came, and it did, her private life and her career would collide dramatically.

As a mother living with bipolar disorder, the book’s description definitely intrigued me. Karen survived what can only be described as an unfathomable childhood at the hands of an unmedicated, mentally ill mother. I was sucked in from the first chapter and couldn’t stop reading.

Despite the lack of adult supervision and guidance throughout her upbringing, Karen found the fortitude within her to hold on and forge ahead. The spontaneous cross-country and international travel excursions at the hands of her mother were riveting and her determination to make it through the police academy had me cheering for her to cross the finish line.

Karen’s ability to relive her tumultuous early years on the page with honesty and without shame is what makes this such a compelling book. She provides the reader with an inside view into the life of someone struggling for survival because her mother is failing at fighting the internal demons of mental illness. Those years of struggle and the gut-wrenching resilience that got her through created the perfect prelude to her future career as a cop.

This is a story about how one woman channeled her pain and sense of abandonment and used the energy to create a better life for herself and her family. Good Cop, Bad Daughter is a book you won’t soon forget.

Enter to win a signed copy of Good Cop, Bad Daughter: Memoirs of an Unlikely Police Officer! (Available NOW via Amazon on Kindle or in paperback!) US and Canada only, please.

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