Dreaming Tree

10552368_10204353021647962_127558677699681406_nThis photo was only my fourth Instagram shot taken in March 2012

 

There is an enormous old tree in the lot next to our house. It’s full of big climbing branches and there is a rope someone nailed into the massive trunk so that you can get up. I haven’t tried it yet.

I remember the tree being a big selling feature when we were deciding on which house to buy six years ago. The house had plenty of other pluses on our list of pros and cons: a finished basement, an open kitchen and family room layout, nice big deck, corner soaking tub in the master bath. But the tree tipped it over the edge for us. Never will another home be built in the space next to where we’ve planted our roots.

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Six months after we moved in, October of 2008. The smell of autumn danced in the breezes and I was finally home again after a week of receiving antipsychotics via injections, then by mouth, then back to my regular meds for good. I was somehow able to release the bleeding ambition I had to be a breastfeeding mom. It hurt. We had seemingly made it through the hardest part – the learning curve of the first four weeks. And now, as quickly as my mania lurched into psychosis, my baby had converted to formula from my motherly nectar.

Why was I so hung up on being my first baby’s sole source of nutrition? Why couldn’t I see past all the outside pressure, push past my own sense of guilt over using formula? Why did I equate breastfeeding with being the ultimate mother? I don’t know.

What I do know is that after twenty-eight days of getting by on the amount of sleep reserved as a form of torture, I fell apart. That morning, on the twenty-ninth day of my newborn’s life, my husband handed our son to his mom, as I flitted around the house collecting my journals from nightstands and closet corners. I clutched them in my arms, along with all the cards friends and family had sent to congratulate us on becoming parents for the first time. I piled them up by the fireplace, making a shrine to my myself. A temple of my words and the love of others to remember me by.

I was terrified of being forgotten.

Lucky for me, a few days of a high dose of Lithium does wonders to balance out the chemicals out of whack in my head. I went from feeling like the sand was about to run out in my hypothetical life timer to realizing that I was still very much alive. I now had someone to take care of other than myself, and if it meant I needed to take medication for life, that’s what I would do and I wasn’t a bad mom because of it or because of having to change feeding methods.

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In the bathtub my first night home from the hospital, looking out the mini-blinds to the branches of the tree glowing in the moonlight, I reached a conclusion. Dave Matthews was playing on the mini CD-player and I remember singing The Dreaming Tree, my heart swelling with the energy of renewal. A deep longing to see my future life in recovery from my mental illness came alive within me.

I had officially been broken. A new mom is fragile to begin with. Throw in an episode of postpartum psychosis and the result is pure poison dissolving the paper thin skin. I thought maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe people like me weren’t meant to have kids. Being diagnosed with mental illness had ripped apart my confidence, my ability to see more than a day ahead at a time, and for awhile it was ruling my life. There were a few months when I rationalized it would be easier to end it all than to try to learn to swim through the waves of anxiety pummeling me day in and day out.

I was being pulled down by an anchor, drowning by waves of this emotion which everyone around me seemed to think I could just push out of my mind. Gulps of air were all I could manage and thankfully there were enough to sustain me. Because eventually, after bobbing in the waves for the roughest storm I had ever known in my 27 years, I was able to pull myself out of the water and onto dry land. With the wherewithal that the rains might very well come again.

We wanted children and so we took a leap of faith that I’d be able to handle motherhood.

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I remember sitting in that tub for almost two hours, scrubbing the film of hospital grime from my skin. I’d only showered once while I was in, as the first few days the psychosis held me tight in its grip, rendering me incapable of taking care of personal hygiene. As I lathered up my body, rinsed the soapy bubbles from my hair and let the rest of me soak, I kept thinking of the tree.

My brain had begun to process feelings and emotions and random images floating through my psyche at a normal rate, as compared to only six days before when the rapid fire of information flooding my mind crashed like an old computer’s hard drive. The meds were doing their job, and although I was lucid, my thoughts were still swirling a bit.

Thoughts of being chosen to go through this. Thoughts of feeling grateful for the trauma my family and I had endured. Thoughts of getting well and making memories with my son under our dreaming tree.

I just knew in my mind that I would find a way to use my story for good. I would give meaning to all the pain and heartache. I had to. I had a child now who’d be looking up to his mom. And I wanted to show him how to fly.

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#TBT – A Much Needed Vacation

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The other night as we were getting ready for bed I complained of my lack of writing lately to my husband.

“I just feel so disconnected from my illness. Like I haven’t been experiencing any symptoms so how can I write authentically on my blog?” I whined.

He smiled at me. “That’s a good thing.”

I’m not arguing that a lack of symptoms is anything but wonderful. These past four years I’ve felt better than I ever have. At about year five was when I crossed over to the point of understanding why my body did the things it did, and what I needed to do in order to control my illness lest it control me.

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of scars from where I’ve been. I especially remember the emotional rips to my heart from the stigma I feared in talking about what I was going through early on.

I wasn’t the only person affected this way by my illness.

Less than two months after my first two episodes and the hospitalizations that followed, Ben and I found ourselves in a tropical paradise. That fall we had booked a romantic February vacation to celebrate our birthdays and Valentine’s day. I spent months researching bed & breakfast spots on the island before settling on one that looked absolutely breathtaking, cozy and perfect.

I still can’t believe I made it through the trip.

The sunsets were magical and sitting across from this man who had cared for me so lovingly brought me to tears almost every night. Even though I was desperate to talk about what had happened to me, to try to figure out why my brain got so screwed up, we couldn’t. It was too soon. It hurt too much to revisit those excruciating moments so soon after we had managed to pull through.

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Our B&B host was welcoming and sweet, and I would have loved to have chatted with her if I would have been able to make it through three sentences before getting choked up. I could barely tell her how much I enjoyed her homemade breakfast let alone tell her how special this trip was to us, how we both needed the relaxation the island was providing more than she’d ever know. It was as if my story was caught in my throat. But why wouldn’t it be? It was so raw and I hadn’t yet been able to process everything that had happened so no wonder my words got stuck and jumbled. It was easier to let the tears speak for me.

My love. He must have been so scared of what was ahead of us. Would I recover? Would I ever be the same woman he fell in love with? Would he be able to hold on to our marriage until I was able to pull myself out of the fog I was sinking into?

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{After I snapped this picture, Ben came face-to-face with a barracuda when he was snorkling!}

People often write to me and ask how I was able to make it. They look at my highlight reel and wonder how I make it look so effortless. But the photos of today don’t reflect the pain and suffering of eight and a half years ago. If you look closely at pictures from 2006, my eyes show the trauma. My feelings may have been bottled-up back then, but photos can’t lie. My smile isn’t as bright and true. My eyes are distant, cold, afraid of the future.

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The future keeps coming. And now I find myself here, ready for what is lies ahead still. But I haven’t done it alone, that’s for sure. My partner honored his vows and stayed by my side, cheering me on each and every day. Through the days when I said I didn’t think I wanted to go on anymore. Through the days when I doubted whether we’d ever have a family. Through the days when I fell asleep crying for it to be over, for the clouds to make way for the sun again in my life.

The sun came back. And although I know that it will come and go at times in my life, I hold on to the past as a reminder of how far I’ve come and how grateful I am for the life I have today.

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.

The Definition of Brave

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We think that by bearing our truths and sharing our stories, we’ll be faced with disapproval, ignorance, judgement, indifference even. We fear a painful backlash if we are to open up about the ways our brains are unique.

Some people would say the definition of brave is fourteen individuals standing up on stage in front of a sold-out audience of almost 400 to talk about what life feels like when one has been dealt the mental illness card. It’s knowing the entire performance is being videotaped so that it will be shareable to the world later. There is the potential it will reach thousands of people. Maybe millions.

It’s pacing backstage, outside a tiny dressing room, as we hear our anthem belted out with such beauty and soul that it’s impossible not to lip sync to calm our nerves.

It’s voices shaking, mouths dry as toast, weight shifting as we sit in a chair waiting for our turn to be introduced. It’s a deep breath sucked in and sighed out nervously before beginning to speak. It’s making eye contact with the audience members we can see outside of the tight spotlight shining directly on the space within our arms’ reach.

The definition of brave is not letting the cry pierce the surface when reminiscing about all the pain and suffering we endured, even though verbalizing the memories is like rubbing salt into a wound with tiny cracks in the scab that has yet to crust over completely. Brave is letting the feelings and emotions catch in bated breath for a second. Or a few seconds. Then continuing to finish the story. No one said it was going to be easy.

Brave is not giving up on sharing our story even though it hurts like hell.

What we’ve been through has taught us intense empathy, and for that we wouldn’t trade our conditions for that of a healthy, non-mentally-ill person. We are the lucky ones. Our determination to get well and stay well earns us the title of fighter on the outside. On the inside, it’s more like embracer.

We tell our stories as a reminder of how far we’ve come and how we work hard to stick to our treatment plans each day in order not to fall backwards. The days and weeks and months and years may put distance between our horrible sadness, our frantic madness, the chaos and confusion in our minds. Those are the moments we only keep in our memory for the reminders of what it felt like so we never let ourselves return there.

We are brave not because it’s a walk in the park to relive those moments, but because we know that by sharing our stories there’s a chance that one day, someone who is looking for a sign that things will get better, might find our stories. They will listen to us speak our raw truths and though our voices may shake, and tears may fall, they’ll see us rise above. We’ve been able to overcome mental illness. We chose life and we choose to be brave and continue to share our stories in hopes that we’ll inspire others to share theirs, too.

We share our pain because it only takes one person saying, ‘Thank you,’ to make us realize why. Why we chose to be brave in the first place. Why we chose to bare our souls and hold up our hearts for those before us to drink them in. Why we chose to walk off that stage with no regrets.

We are brave to demonstrate to others the power of sharing their stories. How powerful and healing it could be for more people to share their personal journeys of living with mental illness. The definition of brave shouldn’t have to describe talking openly about mental health disorders. It’s more accurately courage: the ability to do something that frightens one.

Because although we may be scared, and we may feel as though we will face danger or endure pain from sharing our stories, the reality was that when This Is My Brave took to the stage, the theater was filled with nothing but love, encouragement, understanding, acceptance and appreciation for what we did. Which is exactly why I’m excited to continue this journey.

Someday, in the very near future I hope, we will live in a world where we won’t have to call it brave to talk openly about living with mental illness. We’ll simply call it talking.

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