A Weekend At Home

This is going to be a long, boring post. Bear with me. I feel the need to justify my blogging absence by writing it all out. If only for myself.

It’s been a busy couple of months in our household. At the end of August, Ben and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary surrounded by our friends and family. It just happened to coincide perfectly with the summer house concert we had booked with independent artist and now friend of ours, Shannon Curtis. The evening was the perfect way to mark our special day. Shannon’s music was simply beautiful and she played under the big oak tree next to our house while the crickets chirped and the lights that Ben strung twinkled. My only regret is not taking more pictures, but I am glad I remembered to stay present and in the moment. It was a magical night to remember.

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The kids started school in the weeks that followed and I was busy helping our New York City team prep for their October show. The first weekend in September, my brother and I surprised my mom in Florida for her 65th Birthday. The look on her face was priceless when we both walked in the door, but lucky for her I decided not to Periscope or even photograph the surprise since she was still in her pajamas. You’re welcome, mom. Instead we have a photo of us wearing bibs. I loved getting to see my Grandma, too, since I hadn’t seen her since February which felt like so long ago.

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The second weekend in September Wear Your Label, a conscious clothing company out of Canada, invited me to emcee their fashion show at New York Fashion Week in New York City. The timing couldn’t have been better, since that was the same weekend our New York City cast was getting together for the first time and I was able to attend and meet everyone. It was an awesome {albeit fast-paced} weekend. I loved meeting Kaylee and Kyle {the Co-Founders of Wear Your Label} and look forward to working with them in the future on another mental health awareness event.

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The third weekend of September was the Northern Virginia NAMI {National Alliance on Mental Illness} walk. Anne Marie and I hosted a This Is My Brave table and got to talk with lots of attendees about our organization and what we do. We sold a bunch of Brave tees and brave beads, and our cast member Laurie was there to help us and catch up. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful, to top it off.

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The last weekend of September I was invited to the DBSA {Depression Bipolar Support Alliance} annual conference in Chicago to present during the Peer Showcase night, the first evening of the conference. I was joined by Canadian comedian David Granier of Stand Up for Mental Health, and my friend, singer/songwriter Shannon Curtis. We kicked off the conference with storytelling, comedy and music, and everyone had a lovely evening. The weekend was full of incredible speakers: Dese’Rae Stage of Live Thru This, Mariel Hemingway, and Andrew Solomon. I met so many amazing, like-minded people, and I felt at home.

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Just this past weekend, on October 4th, This Is My Brave had our first show in New York City. I can’t even begin to describe how proud I am of our cast and production team. I was beaming from the moment the curtain went up until I closed my eyes to fall asleep that night, exhausted with the joy of what they had accomplished.

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My parents flew in from Florida to spend the weekend with me and see the show. Despite the threats from Hurricane Joaquin, we made it. We drove to Long Island on Friday to see my Uncle Marty and his partner Ralph, and had a great time catching up with them before heading into the city on Saturday. I was able to attend the second half of rehearsal on Saturday, and then spent the rest of the day and evening getting last-minute details ready for the show. Sunday morning, my dad and I went to the Today Show with signs to try to get some free publicity. The show touched me on so many levels and I loved seeing and hearing how the event impacted all who attended. Monday was my dad’s birthday, and I am so thankful I got to celebrate it with him and my mom over a lovely dinner after the show. Living over a thousand miles apart makes me so grateful for the moments we get to spend together.

This weekend I was supposed to host a table at the AFSP {American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – there will be a quiz on all the mental health organization acronyms at the end!} community walk in DC, but after being in DC on Friday for the International Bipolar Foundation breakfast, I knew I needed a day off. That, and realizing the tornado inside of our house was screaming to be tamed, I made the decision to take this weekend to re-group, clean and spend time at home with my family.

I spent yesterday attacking one room at a time with a duster, the vacuum, and the desire to give everyone a fresh, clean start as we tumble into autumn. As I cleaned, I listened to Jenny Lawson’s new book, Furiously Happy, and found myself having to stop what I was doing and tweet out quotes it was so good. It made me want to get serious about writing my own memoir about living with bipolar, which is something I desperately want to do someday. But at the moment my focus is on This Is My Brave, our seventh and final show of this year {LA’s book launch event for Amy Ferris’ Shades of Blue on November 19th! Details coming this week!} and planning for 2016.

I’m not going to lie. These past few months have been exhausting. But at the same time, they are what fill me up. It’s hard to be away from my family, but I return to them more complete. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know in your heart that you’ve found your life’s calling, and I don’t take it for granted. Whenever someone tells me how much my work touches them and it’s so wonderful I’m helping so many people, I am overwhelmed. All I ever wanted to do was encourage people to be open and share their stories. It’s only because people believed in me that this work is able to touch so many. I am so grateful people had confidence in my vision.

I can’t help but let my insecurities creep in from time to time. Typically when I hear about a suicide or that someone I know is struggling with their own mental health. I feel so helpless, even though I’ve battled similar demons. Why can’t I find the right words? Why can’t I be a better friend? Why can’t I make a bigger difference, help more people, stop the suffering?

I know it has to do with the issue of being enough and accepting that I am enough, and these are things I’m working on. This is not a plea for pity or praise. I’m just putting it out there because I want to be real, and I want my readers to know that I still have plenty of things I’m working on. Just because I’ve found stability with my mental health doesn’t mean my life is perfect. If only it were that easy. Anne Marie reminds me nearly every week that we’ve accomplished a great deal in our first two years, and I know she is right. I know that I want This Is My Brave to grow slowly and sustainably, staying true to our mission of ending stigma through storytelling, which is exactly what we’re doing.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey, especially my husband, parents and in-laws who are always willing to jump in and help with the kids so that I can attend meetings, conferences, and special events. I wouldn’t be on this journey if it weren’t for my friends cheering me on, my readers continuously reaching out to tell me how much they appreciate me being open about my story, and my growing This Is My Brave family for contributing to this dream. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real, like when I saw myself on the cover of Bipolar Hope Magazine this week. I am full of gratitude for this life.

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Happy Holiday weekend, friends. Thanks for being on this journey with me.

The Time to Talk Openly About Mental Illness

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Photo Credit: Thomas Rousing Photography via Compfight cc

 

When I tell people I have bipolar disorder, I usually find myself explaining that I have Bipolar Type 1, since most people don’t realize there are different types. When asked about what I do for work, I tend to mention that I live with mental illness since my story led me to create This Is My Brave and they’re both so tied together. I take it upon myself to educate them because the more people who understand that my condition is treatable and manageable, the more accepting our world will become, one person at a time.

How I got to where I am today

I wasn’t always so confident when talking with people about mental illness. In fact, I remember quite vividly how terrifying it used to be to attend social gatherings after my illness emerged. It was as if embarrassment oozed out of me because of having to quit my job to take care of my mental health. I knew the small talk would at some point gravitate to conversations about work, and I often had to leave the room so that I wouldn’t start sobbing right there in front of my friends.

This went on the entire year following my diagnosis. I eventually learned how to skirt my way around the career discussions, simply suggesting I was taking some time off to regroup, a “sabbatical” of sorts. No one really felt comfortable inquiring about how I was doing otherwise, and I wasn’t in a position to be able to talk about it. Not yet anyway.

Even once I had found a medication that was working well to stabilize me, I still wasn’t ready to talk openly about my condition. Looking back now it’s apparent that my heart hadn’t fully accepted my illness as the life-long condition it is. A part of me was holding out for my bipolarness to go away after a few months of medication. The medication worked, and I was willing to take it. Until two little pink lines showed up on a white stick.

Throw in pregnancy and new motherhood

Bringing a new life into the world was a big decision. My fierce determination to have children without psychiatric medications in my system was not met with success. Yes, with my first pregnancy I was able to maintain stability until four weeks after my son’s birth. But the trauma of postpartum psychosis was a horrific price to pay.

Attempting to remain drug-free during at least the first trimester of my second pregnancy was also met with a less-than-desirable outcome. I never intended to be hospitalized at 5 weeks pregnant, forced onto antipsychotic medication to bring me down from the mania radiating from my every pore. But it had to be done. My mental health had to be put before the baby, as difficult a decision that was for me to have made for me.

Six years + stability = my turn to open up

Six years isn’t a magic number, but it was the amount of time my story needed in order to reach the point where I was ready to share it. I began blogging here, and even though I started anonymously, my gut told me soon my mask was going to be removed. Shedding the shame and embarrassment was easy. Today saying, “I live with bipolar disorder,” is like telling someone what I ate for lunch yesterday. It just is something in my life.

Staying committed to my medication, healthy sleep, and my doctor’s appointments is a promise I do not intend to break. My family is way too important to let my mental health slip.

Getting people to listen is a lot harder. But each time the door opens for me to tell someone I live with bipolar disorder and I’m okay, you can bet I’ll take advantage of it. It’s my hope that by continuing to share my story, others will be able to find the voice inside them telling them it’s okay they share, too. Collectively our voices are changing the way society thinks about mental illness and mental health. So let’s keep the conversations going.

 

So long, self-doubt

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Why does self-doubt seem to know exactly when to punch you in the gut and knock the breath out of your chest so fiercely that you wonder if what you’re doing with your life is even making an impact?

A month ago I took the greatest risk of my life thus far by launching our Kickstarter for This Is My Brave, and it went above and beyond my wildest expectations. I thought to myself, “Yeah. $6,500 in 31 days is a lofty goal, but I’m fairly confident we’ll get there.”

The love and support that poured out from our friends and family and people who we hadn’t even met in the form of donations and words of encouragement was both overwhelming and exhilarating.

There are so many people who are just as passionate as we are about spreading messages of hope and inspiration while at the same time silencing the stigma surrounding mental illness. We raised over $10,000 for our show’s mission and I felt like we were on top of the world.

But the emotional high I was surfing on came crashing down like a monster wave when the news of the Deeds’ family tragedy broke on Tuesday morning. The weight of the story was like a 50-pound brick on my heart. It was all I could think about. I wanted to scream “THIS COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED!” to every person I ran into in my daily comings and goings all week.

And then I met someone who understood.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you meet someone new and you can tell after talking with her for five minutes that she just “gets” you and although you were strangers six minutes earlier, it feels as if you’ve known her for ten years?

It happened to me on Thursday and was the highlight of my day. Once I got my baby girl down for a late nap, I immediately took pen to paper. A piece of me still wants to prove to my mom that she was wrong. That I’ve received nothing but overwhelmingly positive support for opening up about living with mental illness, especially from the moms at my son’s preschool. The very group she thought might shun me. Back then my mom didn’t realize that by keeping quiet about what I was going through she was actually adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. We were all so new to it eight years ago. And I don’t blame her for wanting to protect me. She’s my mom, and moms don’t ever want anyone to hurt their babies.

We’ve come a long way since then and both of my parents {and my in-laws} are very supportive of the advocacy work I’m doing now.

This sweet mom whose daughter has been in my son’s class all fall, yet I only met this week. She said something to me as we were chasing our toddlers out the door after dropping off our two older kids in front of their classroom. And I know will stick with me forever.

“You must feel such a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you’re doing and how many people you’re impacting with This Is My Brave.”

And do you know what my response was? Of course I later thanked her for her kind words, but my immediate response was, “I feel like I’m not doing enough.”

Part of me felt compelled to blog about the self-doubt that crept into my bones this week to remind myself that what I’m doing with This Is My Brave is pretty spectacular. Even though in the wake of the news out of Virginia this week I feel like it’s only a teeny sliver of hope. A faint glimmer of the desire to improve the way society and our government deals with mental illness.

 At least it’s a start.

We talked for an hour while our 3-yr-olds ran around and explored every corner of the playground. I could have talked with her for the entire rest of the afternoon. But alas, the temperature won out and after running around with no coat on, baby girl was adequately frozen and ready to call it quits. I gave my new friend a hug as we said goodbye and I’m already looking forward to our next impromptu playdate with our littles.

While driving home my thoughts drifted to how the sky looked similar to the way it did in late October of 2008 when I was released from my week-long stay in the hospital after having experienced postpartum psychosis. My heart aches for the Deeds family because they weren’t able to get the medical attention and treatment that their son so desperately needed. They should have been visiting him in the psychiatric unit of the hospital today, but instead they are planning his funeral.

This isn’t right.

We need the laws changed so that we can protect these individuals from themselves and others when they are so ill. And we need nets, as my friend Glennon so vividly described in this post. We need so many nets.

This Is My Brave is my effort to create a net.

And although I know that I want my next step to be petitioning our government for changes to our mental health system, my focus right now is on this show, my heartfelt contribution to changing the way people feel about mental illness.

And hopefully, in turn, it will inspire people to come together and create actions which will facilitate the change we so desperately need.

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The Stretch of This Is My Brave

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Eight years ago this Christmas my life changed forever. I didn’t realize it at the time, nor did my family and friends, but it was a beginning of a new chapter. After the shock of it all, there were tears, there was the grieving of the life I left behind, and there was a whole lot of learning ahead of us.

I’ve always been a writer, this I knew. But never did I think that writing would be the one thing that would help me recover from a mental illness. It would be through writing that I would find my brave.

My blog began as an anonymous online place for me to write about what it was like to be a mom living with bipolar disorder. I found my voice as a mental health advocate only six months ago and I’m now in the midst of catapulting stories of inspiration and hope from people who live with mental illness into the spotlight to change society’s perception of mental illness. It’s a little project called This Is My Brave.

 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Maya Angelou

 

At thirty-four, I reached a point in my life where I didn’t want to regret not sharing my story. From vivid descriptions of my periods of extreme mania to the crushing reality of not being able to get out of bed during my year-long battle with depression and anxiety when I was first diagnosed, these stories were pacing my brain as if they were caged animals, desperate to be let out. And so my blog became a place where I released those memories of my story for whoever was on the other side of the Internet to read. My hope was that they found comfort in knowing they weren’t alone.

Talking about my illness and the struggles I had to overcome to get where I am today has not only been therapeutic, it’s also shown me that people are listening. People trust me to read their stories sent through emails which describe the pain and anguish they’re going through.

Then they thank me for my honesty and my ability to speak out for them since they’re not ready or able to:

“Thank you again for your blog and being brave enough to speak up about your experiences. I don’t have many opportunities to talk about it in my daily life and interactions with other people.  It’s just not something that comes up in casual conversation, but it is constantly on my mind.” – S.H. via email

“Thank you for all that you do to advocate for mental illness. You are truly a brave and strong role model to me, as I’m nowhere near the level of acceptance or balance that you are. Anyway, I just wanted to send you my thanks and cheer you on.” – C.K. via email

“I’m in a unique position in that we recently moved here and I haven’t known my friends here that long. Given all the misunderstandings out there about bipolar disorder, it is hard to know if they will get it or be afraid. I’m sure you understand. Hopefully, gradually, I can open up in a way that will educate them and not scare them. That’s the challenge, isn’t it? That’s why we need a movement as you say!” – L.C. via email

Becoming an advocate and starting up this show is having an impact on people. People I haven’t even met yet, but hope to someday. And it’s not only people who find my blog via a random Google search who write to me, it’s also friends of friends who stop me during my day-to-day activities to say, “Hey, what you’re doing is really cool.” And it’s the texts and calls from my close friends who are telling me how proud they are of me.

I can’t tell you how good that all makes me feel.

But this show isn’t just about my story. This theater experience will be a wake-up call to everyone out there. It’s a chance for those of us who know what it feels like to live with mental illness to open up and not be ashamed.

By coming together, we build strength by our numbers. And when we find the courage to share our stories, we propel a movement forward.

It starts with one person who is brave enough to share, who inspires others to share, which in turn inspires the world to change.

This past Sunday, our Kickstarter project for This Is My Brave reached its funding goal of $6,500. Because we recognize how important this show is to so many people, we’ve set a stretch goal of $10,000 and we now have 8 days left to reach it. With the additional funding we’ll be able to extend our reach beyond just the one show. We’ll be able to take our stories of hope and inspiration further. But we can only do it with your help.

Thank you so much to our incredible backers who have pledged and shared and supported us so graciously along this journey. With a week and a day left, we’re hoping to reach further with the help of those who believe in this vision.

Click HERE to view our project on Kickstarter and share the info with friends on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you so much for your support!