Stepping Away from the Blog

The good writer seems to be writing{A photo I took on one of our hikes on Mt. Rainer.}
 

I read a piece in The New Yorker online recently by an author I deeply admire. In it, she spoke of how social media – with its ease of sharing, the way it encourages us to gloss over and digest large quantities of information, its impersonal nature – is threatening a writer’s ability to think through and reflect upon his or her life. Will we ever really connect with our readers if we’re so wired to spit out episodes of our life in 140-characters?

We’re all so busy lately. Constantly plugged in. The week before we went on our summer vacation I found myself noticing that it’s been so long since I was last able to sit down and do nothing. Other than the three minutes it takes me to fall asleep after I crawl into bed, hours after everyone else in my house has. And even then I have a to-do list of things still waiting for me running through my head before I nod off. Life is so damn non-stop these days. Dani Shapiro is right – most times these little bits of our life are dashed off on social media to efficiently inform our entire networks. What ever happened to picking up the phone? And why does the entire world need to need to know what we ate for lunch?

We’re such a distracted society. I often find myself thinking back to when my son was a baby (he turns 6 next month) and how people in my life barely used Facebook, Instagram wasn’t born yet, and Twitter was just a toddler. I spent more time on the living room carpet playing with my child than I did on my phone and laptop combined. The ipad wasn’t even an element in the equation in our household yet. Sadly, I can’t say the same today. I know I only have myself to blame.

My blog turned 3 this month. Three years of my life written out in blog posts, shared on the vast interwebs by clicking “publish.” I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in three solid, fairly consistent years of blogging. And I’m in awe of the incredible connections I’ve made in this virtual world, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person, who I’ve built lasting friendships with.

The time just feels right to take a step back from this space. I’m not calling it a break because I may get the burning desire to hop back on here and share my perspective on one thing or another. But at this moment my heart is telling me if I put more energy and time into reflecting on the story I want to tell – this memoir living inside me – I’ll become a stronger writer during the process.

One of my idols in the literary world, Cheryl Strayed, wrote a book called Tiny Beautiful Things. When she signed my copy at the Wild Mountain Memoir Writers’ Retreat, she wrote this:

WP_003980

The red-cover collection of letters, her advice on life, love, loss and humanity will blow you away. Cheryl’s inscription refers to her response as the advice columnist Dear Sugar, to the final letter captured in her book. A twenty-two year old had written Sugar to ask one simple question: What would you tell your twentysomething self if you could talk to her now?

Cheryl may have inscribed all the copies of Tiny Beautiful Things the other writers in line handed her with the same note, because it’s rock solid advice from a writer who’s been there. The essay she wrote when she replied to “Seeking Wisdom” included the following paragraph:

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”

I know my book has a birthday. It’s coursing through my veins. It permeates my thoughts countless times a day. It’s a part of me and I need to nurture it and develop it and give it wings by first doing the work of practicing to fly. I need to practice my writing with pen and paper and my thoughts and crickets chirping when everyone has gone to sleep and the house is quiet. Staying focused is something I’ve never been that great at. I’m recognizing this now and in recognizing this I’m also realizing that surfing Facebook does not contribute to a page count of my memoir. I want to find discipline in my writing practice to reach my dreams and I know I can do it.

I’ll be posting here less and will be writing more by hand with my flowy, fast pen and my favorite notebooks anxiously awaiting words to fill them up. If anything happens to be born from this more focused writing, I promise to share it with you here. I’ll still be tweeting and Instagramming and taking Facebook breaks only once I’ve put in my writing time for the day offline. I hope to continue to write for What to Expect.com, PostpartumProgress.com, and the International Bipolar Foundation, in addition to running our non-profit, This Is My Brave, Inc., with my creative partner Anne Marie Ames.

I’ve been thinking of doing something like this for a few months, and am thankful I finally listened to my gut and the wise advice of two brilliant writers I look up to. This isn’t goodbye, it’s only so long for now. I hope by shifting my priorities from blogging to practicing the discipline of writing, that I’ll be able to wait, as Dani Shapiro describes, “for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself in time.”

 

#TBT – A Much Needed Vacation

St Thomas & new house pics 011

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.

St Thomas & new house pics 004

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?

St Thomas & new house pics 008
{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.

St Thomas & new house pics 055

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.

You Can Find Your Brave *

ShareYourStoryQuote

Dear Anonymous,

A year ago I was you. I was writing about my life via my blog but was too afraid to use my real name for fear of being looked at and treated differently by people in my life, in my community. What I didn’t know was that once I did reveal my true identity to the world, how nothing would change, but in fact, things would actually become much more real. In an intensely positive way.

The shame that is attached to being diagnosed with mental illness is physically heavy. It’s a weight that is dumped on a person’s shoulders the moment they hear the words clinical depression, schizophrenia, OCD, bipolar disorder, anxiety or any one of the many different mental health disorders. It makes us feel like outcasts, unworthy of love and respect, when in reality there are millions of Americans living with the same conditions we are.

The problem is, many of us are scared to talk about it, which makes living with a mental illness feel even more shameful. Because shame breeds on secrecy and silence, the longer we remain anonymous and hidden, the more power we hand to our shame.

“Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.” – Brene Brown

I’m writing you this letter because I want to see you rise above the shame. I want to invite you to join our movement. I want to see you find your brave. The world is waiting. Now is the time.

It’s incredibly hard to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To open up about the times of our lives that we’ve shoved to the back corner of the closet and piled stuff on top of so we could forget. But the memories remain, and the longer they stay secret, the more damage they do.

I found that the more I write about the lowest, darkest points in my life, the less power they have over me. The control shifts from those haunting memories to my tender heart and it feels good to have the upper hand. My initial fears of living the rest of my life with a brain illness have all but melted away. They’re still there, as they’ll always be there, but they’re more like raindrops of a quickly-passing storm rather than the thunderous, torrential downpour they were when I was first diagnosed.

“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”            – Brene Brown

Even more than writing about my experience, talking about what I’ve gone through has been a life-changing experience. I’ve learned that by accepting my past and embracing my imperfections, by talking to people about my condition, I am helping others find the courage to talk openly about their struggles, too.

We all have struggles. We all have things we’re afraid to talk about. But if we weren’t put on this Earth to help others in life, tell me – why are we here?

I believe we can all find the courage to share our stories. Maybe it starts by telling a few close friends. Maybe you find a support group in your local area specifically targeted towards your condition and you go and share part of your story. Maybe you decide to write a blog and connect with other writers online.

Or maybe you decide to show the world your vulnerability in a new and different way. You’re an artist, and so you dream up and write down the thoughts that are floating around in your head. And they come out as a song or an essay or a poem, so lyrical and beautiful and heartfelt and emotional. For the world to know the true you, the whole you. Because every piece of us is something to be celebrated.

Join me in twelve days for This Is My Brave. If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, act fast because they are running out. Click here to get yours now. If you can’t make it to the show, but want to support our efforts, consider making a donation to our newly-formed non-profit to help us get up and running, or buy a BRAVE bracelet to show your dedication to our mission. Let’s tell the world our stories and kick the shame that is stigma to the curb.

Everyone is capable of finding their brave.

With love and encouragement,

Jenn

*This letter originally appeared on thisismybrave.com.