Returning to my writing practice

returning-to-the-page

It’s been a long time since my writing has been regular here. Priorities keep leaning heavier towards my nonprofit work, which is so rewarding it never feels like work. And I do my best to strike a balance between work, family, and taking good care of myself. Lately my self-care routine involves a lot of bubble baths and reading, while my writing practice has pretty much been non-existent.

But I need that to change. I want to get back into writing. I want to find my voice again.

Over the past two years I’ve found a way to make physical exercise part of my daily schedule. For the most part, I’d say 6 days out of the week, I find the time to fit in at least 30 minutes of exercise. The trick was to make working out a priority, and for me, to be able to check some type of box to show that I’d completed it. I took up space on our family chalkboard wall in the kitchen, and wrote out a calendar each month. Then each day I completed my workout, I’d check it off. Finding that motivation – being able to mark off a workout – worked for me. After a few months, exercising each day became second nature. Now I even crave a workout most days. It’s odd how that works.

I’d like to get to that point with writing. If anyone has any tips out there, I’d love to hear them. Sometimes my brain says, “Ah, just wait for that inspiration.” But when month after month passes, and inspiration hasn’t hit, it’s apparent that I need to find a better way.

I like prompts sometimes, but not all the time. I do like the challenge of having written every day, so maybe I’ll try that and then make a commitment to myself to share at least a piece a week here on the blog.

A writing class to kick me into gear

This past weekend I attended, thanks to the persistent encouragement from a dear friend, a writing workshop by The Op-Ed Project. It was fantastic. Sure, I was overwhelmed and intimidated at times (the room was full of brilliant, accomplished, outspoken women and men), but the atmosphere bubbled with encouragement and support.

I hesitated to speak up at first, but found some confidence after the first major exercise of the day where we learned the importance of recognizing our area of expertise and how to back that up with our credentials. Sounds so obvious, but as a group it took us some time to master this simple first step. Once we were able to articulate our area of knowledge, the rest of the course flew by. We learned every facet of building our argument, how to address critics, utilizing news hooks, and pitching. Anyone with an idea to change the world needs to take this course.

I met such incredible people. Each is working to use his or her voice to change the conversation surrounding the topic they are most passionate about. The energy in the room was inspiring and motivating. We can’t wait to see each other succeed.

My goal after taking this course is to pitch a piece in the next two weeks. I have more specific goals but want to keep them to myself for now. I feel confident I’ll be able to do this having taken the Op-Ed “Write to Change the World” course. Now, it’s a matter of carving out the time.

* If you’re interested in a $50 discount to the Op-Ed Project’s “Write to Change the World” workshop, shoot me an email and I’ll send you the code. They have them all over the US – San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago and more. But hurry because the discount is only available through today (Monday, February 6th).

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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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.

Being Known as Bipolar Mom

Bipolar MomSummer Beach Trip, August 2014

Back when I started my blog three years ago, I guess I had the right idea when it came to choosing a name. It was me in that moment. I was a mom with bipolar, and I wanted a website where other moms with bipolar and other mental illnesses would land. And regular people, too, for that matter. I wanted my site to show up in search results. I was determined to get my story out there to help others who were going through similar experiences. Determined to make an impact, no matter how small. My heart told me that if I could reach people through my writing, I could help change the way people viewed mental illness in our society.

I knew in the back of my mind that I was so much more than my illness, but I needed a platform. So I built it, giving it the most obvious name. I set out on a quest and had no idea where it would lead me.

My words appeared anonymously at first, I had to test the waters. I wrote just words and only shared photos where faces weren’t recognizable to protect our privacy. But blogging behind a mask felt disingenuous and a bit like I was hiding something. It didn’t take long for me to realize my story was one I needed to tell with my real name. I wasn’t ashamed of the fact I had an illness in my brain. I deserved to have a voice, an authentic one, and I was ready to share my real life through not only my stories, but also through real photos of me and my family.

You see, until we put a face on mental illness, the face of a person who has learned to manage their illness so that the illness doesn’t control them, society will continue to stigmatize those who live with mental health disorders because they don’t understand. They don’t understand what we go through on a daily basis, they don’t understand how hard we fight to educate ourselves on the best medicines and treatments for our conditions, and they don’t understand how to support a person who is struggling with a mental illness. They fear what they don’t know. They don’t know it’s possible for a person with a mental illness to fully recover and live a beautiful, productive, successful life.

We can begin to change this ignorance by simply being open. By sharing our story when we have the opportunity. By letting go of the shame and embarrassment we inherited when we were diagnosed. And by not being afraid of being treated differently because of having a mental illness, but instead looking at it as a chance to educate someone and make a difference.

These days when Mary Lambert’s song Secrets comes on the radio, me and my kids sing it loud and proud. It’s no longer a secret that I live with bipolar disorder. I am sometimes recognized as “Bipolar Mom” when at networking events and I’m okay with this. I am a mom with bipolar disorder and my mental illness allowed me to become an advocate. I’ve rediscovered my love of writing and my blog guided me to create This Is My Brave with my creative partner, Anne Marie Ames, providing a platform and community for others living with mental illness to do what I’ve done.

I couldn’t imagine life any other way.  Happy Mental Illness Awareness Week, friends.

Today is National Depression Screening Day. Do yourself a favor and spend 2 minutes taking an online assessment of your mental health.