Focusing on mental wellness

I had a conversation today that stuck with me. It’s got my brain focused on the concept of mental wellness and how this April it will have been seven years since my last psychiatric hospitalization. On one hand the cold metal of the handcuffs around my wrists and the click of the officer tightening them to escort me to the psych ward feels like a lifetime ago, but on the other, my choppy memories remain vivid enough to remember like it was yesterday.

I’m so proud of this path I’ve been on. I’m proud of my husband and my parents who fought like hell for me when I could only see gray. I’m proud of how I learned to advocate for myself, and how I didn’t listen to my psychiatrist who told me I should keep my bipolar diagnosis a secret when I shared my desire to write openly to fight stigma. I don’t want to think about where I’d be today had I listened to her advice.

Over these past seven years I’ve learned how to control my mental health disorder so that I have the upper hand. I’ve invested time and energy into focusing on my mental health, rather than allowing a diagnosis rule my life.

I’m becoming more aware of the fact that what we surround ourselves with has a huge impact on our well being. And I’m attracted to people, products, services, books and even clothing that helps me focus on cultivating a healthy lifestyle.

We’re only here for such a short time. Yes, there will be struggles. Yes, there will be times when we’ll fail. But we all deserve to be happy and healthy.

Today I choose to cultivate my mental health. Sharing my story has played a big part in my mental wellness because I needed to let go of the shame associated with the trauma of being hospitalized against my will, and once I began blogging, the shame, isolation and embarrassment melted away. In large part because so many people appreciated my openness and then shared their story with me. When we find the courage to be vulnerable, others feel they have permission to also share.

IMG_7544Through blogging I found info on healthy eating which lead me to make shifts in my eating patterns. I began feeling better and then became more active. Thanks to my brother’s encouragement, I found a workout program that I was able to stick with. Exercising regularly has kept me physically healthy. I can’t remember the last time I was very sick (knock on wood).

And recently I found a meditation app that I love and I’ve been making time to meditate every day. It’s amazing what a quick 10 or 15-minute meditation can do for the mind and body. I definitely feel my creativity starting to flow again, and overall my mind feels more at ease and calm.

Mental health is something that we’re all living with. Taking care of our mental health and nurturing our body so that our minds can stay healthy is so important. We only have one mind, one body, one chance at life. Mental illness may be something that you or a family member or friend may encounter. But it doesn’t have to mean that life is over.

It means there is a different path ahead, and you can get through it. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Floating for mental health

floating-for-my-mental-health

I went floating for the first time Thursday night. Float therapy is sensory deprivation therapy and is used to help the body completely let go of stress while at the same time increase mental clarity and physical health.

After my Denver This Is My Brave Producer Lauren posted about how she had floated, I was thrilled to find out a place called OmFloat had opened in my town.

All I knew going into it as that it was like a bath tub with a lid, and the water was full of salt so you float effortlessly. Meditation is the goal while you’re floating in this pod. I’ve been trying to meditate off and on for the past few years, and this seemed like the ideal way to be completely isolated, in a way forcing myself to be still and quiet and unplugged. I signed up for a membership right away, my monthly appointment for selfcare.

I hoped on the driver over that I’d enjoy it because I was now locked into a 12-month contract. On the way home I was wishing how I could float weekly instead of monthly.

The owners Brooks and Amy are friendly and warm. They’ve been floating since 2003, so I knew I was with knowledgable folks; they weren’t in it because it’s a fad. Brooks took myself and the three others who were there to float at 7pm back to one of the rooms for an intro and some tips. Then we each made our way to our own private float room.

The room was about ten feet by twelve feet if I had to guess. Soft meditation music began playing the moment I closed and locked my door. The pod takes up most of the space in the room, with a wooden bench running alongside it. The floors are covered with the webbed flooring that you see in pool locker rooms, so the water drains through. I undressed, put in the play-doh-like wax ear plugs, and showered before opening the door to the pod.

I was surprised that there was no light on inside the pod, since I was expecting there to be a soft light that would fade off when the music faded after the first fifteen minutes, but there was no such light. The music was perfect and so soothing though, that I was able to step into the skin-temperature water, close the door to the pod, and lay back into a float. In the first moments of floating it’s a little scary. It felt like I was floating in outer space somewhere. Except for the first few minutes I’d float over to the side and my arm would bump the side of the pod. Once I found the center and was able to stay there, that’s when the fun started.

The feeling of weightlessness in a dark space is difficult to describe. The music helped me to relax. I found I had to tell myself, you are safe, several times to stay calm and relaxed. After fifteen minutes the music faded to silence and all I could hear was my own breath. Brooks had mentioned in his intro talk that we’d be able to hear our breath and our heartbeats, and to focus on them as we meditated. My heartbeat was like a whisper, so I tried to focus on the rhythm of my breathing. My breath was intensified by the earplugs which kept the saltwater out of my ears.

I floated with my arms up above my head for half the time, but when I felt a cramp form in my left arm which didn’t go away after focusing on it for awhile, I knew I had to shift position. I gently moved my arms to my side and began to settle back into the state of mindfulness I was in before the move. The rest of my time in the pod flew by because the next thing I knew my entire body was slowly brought back to reality from complete relaxation by the sounds of soft chimes. Soft lights came on within the pod and I opened my eyes and sat up.

I took my time getting out of the pod and showering. My body felt so light. It was as if all my stress was detangled and unwound.

I definitely need more practice at releasing my thoughts as they pop up while I’m meditating, but I hear you get better at that with practice. I can’t wait to float again.

If you’re local to the Ashburn, Virginia area and want to try OmFloat for $49 for your first float, email me at: jennifer(at)thisismybrave.org for a certificate. If I refer three people I will earn a free float. :)

Happy Floating!

Mental Health Stories in the news

We’re seeing more and more stories of individuals overcoming mental health struggles in the news. Stories of resilience and pride are emerging, as we work to educate society about the battles in our heads, these invisible illnesses that so many Americans live with. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the work I get to do each day because I know that by putting our stories out there, we’re slowly and steadily giving permission to so many others who haven’t yet exposed themselves for fear of being judged.

The climate is changing, although we have a long way to go.

Mental Health Stories in the news

More and more we learn about people who have lost their battle with mental illness, and the family members who are telling the truth rather than covering up the fact that they lost the person they loved to suicide. Task forces are being created, families and communities are coming together to force change when it comes to mental health awareness. It’s an uphill climb, but we’re clawing our way up the mountain.

A few months ago I had the privilege of sharing my story with an incredibly thoughtful and engaging writer. The story came out on June 2nd, on the front page of the Washington Post.

The support surrounding the release of the article was outstanding and so positive.

A month later, This Is My Brave was featured in a 4-page article in O, The Oprah Magazine. Once again, the support flowed in, and tons of interest from individuals all across the US and Canada for hosting new shows for next year.

Mental Health Stories in the news 2

It’s been a busy time. As I work with my volunteers and Board members to make the best decisions for strategically guiding our organization forward, I’m also trying to stay aware of my own mental health. I am learning to say “No” to certain opportunities simply because I cannot do it all. Even though I want to be able to get involved on so many different levels with the initiatives being created, I have to protect my health and emotional wellbeing.

When we take care of ourselves first we’re able to focus on the important things and tough stuff doesn’t feel as heavy.

I make sure to pay attention to signals my body sends me. If I’ve been at the computer too long, I get up and out of the house. Lately this has been taking the kids to the pool to enjoy the sun and fresh air. I find time each day to turn on an at-home workout DVD and get in 30 minutes of yoga or cardio (just ordered a new Beachbody program that I’m really excited about – Country Heat!). And am counting down the days until our beach trip next week, trying not to stress about the fact that we get home on Sunday and the kids start school the next day.

Life is good.

I will not hide the fact that sometimes I do feel nervous about what the future holds. I can only live in the present, plan for the future, and stay true to what I believe. That our stories provide hope, and by helping to bring these stories into the light we can hopefully be the change we want to see in the world.

image-11

Confession of a Lithium-taker

confession of a lithium-taker

I have a confession to make. I haven’t had a blood Lithium level done in over a year. My psychiatrist has the patience of a saint, but at my last appointment she got a teeny bit irritated with me.

Time is what we want the most, but what we use the worst. – William Penn

 

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. It’s the first thing I remember I haven’t done when I notice my quarterly psychiatrist appointment on my calendar. And by then it’s too late to squeeze in a blood draw, so instead I make excuses of how busy I’ve been and how challenging it is to get to the lab within the 8-12 hour window after my nightly dose with two kids in tow, not to mention their school schedules.

Plus, blood tests just suck in general. Who likes to get pricked with a needle first thing in the morning. I’d rather run three miles in the freezing rain.

I take my medication religiously, I tell her. And I do. Every night it’s the last thing I do before crawling under the covers. It’s been one of the keys to keeping me stable these last four plus years. Staying faithful to this medication which has given me my life back is a promise I made to my husband and father the morning I was released from the my last hospitalization. I won’t break that promise. My family and my health are too important not to swallow a little pill which keeps me “in the middle” each night. Unfortunately, regular blood tests come with the territory.

Making my health a priority

 

I’m sure other moms can relate to how I tend to put everyone else’s needs and issues before my own. Us moms are just used to being last in line. Running a household isn’t easy, the to-do list is constantly over-flowing with laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, picking up toys/messes/clutter, morning send-off, bedtime routine, repeat, repeat, repeat. When I do have time to myself the last thing I want to do is get a blood test. I’d much rather be making out with my husband, writing, reading, soaking in a bubble bath, or catching up with friends.

So I subconsciously put it off. Apparently for over a year, as per my doctor’s chart. Not good, as she needs to check my THS (thyroid stimulating hormone) since long-term Lithium use can affect the function of the thyroid.

Keeping that promise – an early New Year’s resolution

 

We all have things we put off in regards to our health. Maybe it’s a colonoscopy. Or a dentist appointment. Or a simple blood test. We need to stop making excuses and start giving our health the priority it deserves. Especially our mental health.

Why not get a jump start on your New Year’s resolutions by scheduling those appointments you’ve been putting off. Maybe you have something going on in your life and you’ve been meaning to find a therapist to help you work through it. Or you’ve been struggling to get out of bed for the past few weeks. Maybe you have a hard time coping with the holidays in general.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Make your mental health a priority, on all fronts. Calling a friend and sharing the hard stuff may seem intimidating, but those conversations end up to be the richest, most gut-twisting talks that at the same time are filled with relief and encouragement. Friends who know you best and who can relate allow us to see that we’re not alone.

As for me, the first call I made (well, actually it was a click using the online appointment-scheduler) was to the lab to make that appointment to get my arm pricked and the results sent to my doc. I’m heading in tomorrow after I drop my daughter off at preschool and I know it’ll feel good to check it off my list.

Yesterday you said Tomorrow. Just do it. – Nike