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 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.

My Mental Health Pride Parade – This Is My Brave

These past few weeks have been filled with rest, family, and relaxation. The beautiful outpouring of appreciation from those who attended the show filled me love and pride for my fellow This Is My Brave cast members and my Co-Founder and dear friend, Anne Marie Ames, without who this production would not have been possible.

During the show, I stayed in the moment the entire time. Sure, I was nervous as hell. But I could practically feel the love radiating from the audience up onto the stage, and it calmed me. Emotions flowed, and at times I wondered if my cast-mates would make it through their pieces without breaking down from the intensity of being that transparent and vulnerable in front of a sold-out audience. Each and every one of them exceeded my expectations. We rocked it and I cannot wait for the world to see what we did that day.

This debut show marked the beginning of our movement. We’ve got a ton of exciting projects in the works, but have to constantly remind ourselves to take things one day at a time. This Is My Brave has come quite a long way in 10 months. I can only imagine what lies ahead.

We hope you’ll stick around for the ride. #ThisIsMyBrave

 

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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