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 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