Today marks 6 years blogging

beach sunrise

{sunrise this morning, Bethany Beach, Delaware}

Today is my 6-year blogiversary. 

I still remember the day I decided to begin blogging about my story. I started a free WordPress.com blog using a domain name I had purchased. I remember pausing before hitting “submit” on bipolarmomlife.com, thinking for a moment about the brand I was about to create. It was intentional. I wanted other moms out there, other families dealing with bipolar disorder and parenting, to know that they weren’t alone and that it does get better. I wanted women to type “bipolar” and “mom” into Google and find me. That’s how it all started.

Six years have felt like an instant. My son was only two and my daughter wasn’t yet a year old when I started writing out the story of how bipolar had seemingly devastated my life. I was ready to begin writing my way through the pain of my past to heal myself. From my very first blog post:

Bipolar I is my diagnosis but I try not to let the label get to me too much. I definitely think about it on a daily basis, but I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of it anymore like I was back when I was first diagnosed. Sure, the stigma is still there, but it’s beginning to fade.

Each time I took to my laptop to tap out the thoughts and feelings swirling in my head from the memories of my struggle, I chipped away at the internal stigma that had attached itself to me when I was formally diagnosed with mental illness.

My blog was my safe, anonymous corner of the Internet for a year and a half. Friendships were forged from comments back and forth supporting each other’s writing, validating each other’s pain and progress. 

And then an opportunity arose which would change the course of my life. An editor from WhatToExpect.com found my blog and asked me to write for them. It was my first paid writing job, and she wanted me to use my voice as a parent living with mental illness. That was a huge turning point for me. It was when I made the decision to put my name and face on my writing. 

I knew that I’d never be able to make the impact on reducing stigma the way I wanted to until I put my true identity on my story.

So I took a risk. 

I worried about future employment. I wondered if people would turn away from me. I feared what I didn’t know.

I know now there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place.

None of my fears came true.

If I wouldn’t have taken the risk to open up about my bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The day I stopped hiding my mental illness was the start to living a richer, more authentic life. 

About five months after my first freelance article hit the internet with my byline {What Landed Mom in the Psych Ward was the link bait AOL.com used to tease the article, complete with our family photo}, I launched what would eventually become This Is My Brave, Inc. Only most people don’t know that I failed first.

I first launched the concept with a woman I met at a writer’s conference. She was lovely and we hit it off instantly, but after working on the idea for a few weeks together, we began to have intense creative differences. The idea was to create a show featuring people who struggled with mental health issues, to provide a creative platform for them to share and end the stigma. We called it, “Don’t Call Me Crazy” but thankfully it didn’t pan out. {Funny enough, there is now a Netflix series with the same name.}

A few weeks later, licking my wounds, I tried again. As fate would have it, I was introduced to Anne Marie Ames, the woman who would become my Co-Founder, at a mutual friend’s party. Within a few months we had launched the concept on Kickstarter and the rest is history. This fall we’re putting on our 31st show. 

The magic behind This Is My Brave is the lifesaving power of storytelling. It’s seeing people who have endured so much pain reach a point in their life when they have some perspective. They are ready to use their voice. I’ve seen people transform from being a part of our shows and our organization. It’s as if a physical weight has been lifted off their shoulders and they can finally breathe. It’s freeing to be able to talk about the invisible parts of ourselves out loud. And it shows others they are not alone. That it does get better, and that we’re all connected.

If it weren’t for this blog, I don’t know where I’d be right now. Thank you to everyone who has ever read, commented, shared. I appreciate your support more than you’ll ever know. 

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).

Bringing Mental Illness into the Light

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Rejection hurts. It stings my heart and crushes my soul. When it happens more than I can count on one hand in a matter of three days, well, it makes for a shitty week. Makes me wonder if it’s worth all the effort.

This morning I unconsciously pulled a teeshirt out of my dresser drawer. I was immediately reminded of what drives me as I pulled the shirt over my head, stared at my reflection in the mirror. What pushes me to continue on through the no’s, the unreturned phone calls, the doubts in my mind.

I’ve heard these doubts whispering in my head before. They were gossiping amongst themselves, loud enough for me to overhear, when we launched our Kickstarter in 2013. Even when we surpassed our goal, they still kept on chattering through our auditions, rehearsals, right up until I walked on stage with my cast for our debut show. Once our cast took to the podium, one by one, we finally silenced those doubts.

So they’ve returned, and I’m not surprised. I have to once again focus on our mission, why we came together to raise our voices for the greater good.

The gray tee with maroon block letters I was wearing today is one of my biggest reminders. VIRGINIA TECH. We will never forget.

I often wonder what would have happened if one person would have been courageous enough to have been the net that could have prevented the awful tragedy of April 16, 2007. One person reaching out. One person noticing. One person providing help.

I know it’s so much more complicated than that, believe me.

I remember when the news broke, where I was, what I was doing. Shaking. On the phone with my brother, a VT alum. Then my husband,  also an alum. Staring at the TV in disbelief.

The power of This Is My Brave lies in the vulnerability of the people who decide to stand up on stage and tell their story through a microphone, or publish their words to our community’s blog. We’ve been through the unthinkable. But we’ve made it to the other side. We’re stronger, better equipped to continue the fight. Ready to make a difference.

We all have our struggles in life. What if, instead of pushing those issues and problems and fear of being judged down deep inside of us, we made a bold move and opened up?

I used to be afraid of people finding out that I have bipolar disorder. But ever since I stopped hiding, I’ve noticed something huge. The vast majority of the time, the person on the other end of the conversation says, “me too.” Or, “someone close to me is suffering from depression,” or “my mom/dad/brother/sister/aunt/cousin/etc./etc./etc. has a mental illness.”

It’s everywhere.

Which is why I won’t give up. I won’t stop talking about mental illness because we’re all affected by it. And I want to change lives by continuing to bring true stories into the light. If just one person is helped by this work, it’s all worth it.

Move over insecurity, I have important work to do.

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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