Something incredible happened to me on Friday. I linked up with one of my favorite writers online, Lisa-Jo Baker, and her Five Minute Friday writing flash mob. The stars must have aligned for me the night before. Because her prompt last week couldn’t have been more perfect for what I was hoping to write about that morning: how my friend Natalie survived a suicide attempt a year ago and so bravely chose to live her life and tell her story to help others.
It was through Lisa-Jo’s post that I was introduced to the brilliant new single by Sara Bareilles, Brave:
I chatted with Natalie via Facetime on Friday morning and told her how awesome the song was, how excited I was that I got to write on the word Brave for my post, and how perfectly fitting it was to use as a dovetail into her own blog posts this weekend describing what she’s gone through over this past year. We couldn’t have asked for a better anthem for Nat’s Alive Day Anniversary weekend.
She went skydiving on Saturday. Talk about brave!! So proud of you, Natalie. Keep it up, girl. You’re inspiring more people than you’ll ever know.
I downloaded Brave to my ipad mini and had it on repeat basically all weekend. Besides making me wish I had been a part of the music video, it also made me want to take action. The lyrics will do that to you. Trust me.
So I spoke up.
— BipolarMom (Jenn) (@BipolarMomLife) May 3, 2013
It was a shortlink to my post about deciding to come out and write openly about the fact that I’m living with bipolar disorder.
And then this happened:
You may be squinting right now since my screenshot is so small. So I’ll just tell you.
Sara Bareilles re-tweeted my tweet to her 2,749,330 followers.
I may have let out a little “WHOOOOOOO!!!!” loud enough for our entire neighborhood to hear.
I was so flattered that she cared enough to share my tweet. She believed in my brave. Enough to share it with all. of. her. 2.7+ million fans.
And I thought that was pretty cool.
My household now has this song memorized, and I love that the kids have fun watching the video with me. We play it loud and sing along while dancing around the kitchen. I thought it was an appropriate time to share this post I wrote to them last year, which I edited a bit to use as my Listen To Your Mother audition piece in February.
Dear Mister Man and Sweet Pea,
I’ve been thinking about writing a letter like this to you two for a while now. These past four years with the two of you in our life, have been the best (and most challenging) years your Daddy and I have ever experienced. They have not passed without some terrifying ups and downs. When I say “ups,” I really mean mania. My year-long battle with depression was won before you both were born.
You see, your mommy has Bipolar Disorder.
It’s something I probably won’t explain to you until you are much older. You don’t see me take my medication every night, but you have been with me to see my psychiatrist. You both love the special toy box she brings out to keep you occupied while we talk, and now when I tell you “Mommy has to go see her doctor,” you always ask if you’ll get to play with her superheros. Last time I had to go “to the doctor” it was my gynecologist and she only had a plastic uterus to play with. Wasn’t as fun, was it?
Right now my illness is hidden from you, but there are times it creeps out. I may yell a little too loud, or in a nasty way with a scowl on my face. Maybe it’s just part of being a little worn out from the whole Stay-At-Home-Mom thing, juggling the demands of running a busy household, but I also believe that my occasional outbursts have something to do with my condition. My patience is so thin you could poke a hole through it with a feather. Not all the times, but sometimes.
Your Daddy and I have worked so hard together to manage this thing though. We’re beating it, he and I. We’re doing it together. He tolerates my moods and hugs and holds me when I need the extra love. And I know that the only way I stay balanced is by taking my meds, seeing my doctor and therapist, eating right, exercising regularly and most importantly, getting enough sleep. The occasional bubble bath doesn’t hurt either.
Whenever I do have one of my moments, I immediately feel full of regret. I wish I could go back to re-do what happened so that I could handle the situation differently, more lovingly. But I guess that’s kind of what parenting is all about; learning from our mistakes and doing things better next time. I’m always trying to do better, my loves.
It’s true, sometimes I fear that one (or both) of you could inherit my condition. If either of you end up fighting my fight, your Daddy and I know we’ll survive. In fact, we’ll do better than survive. In the years since I’ve been diagnosed I have built up a library of my personal notes and records of my treatments: things that worked and didn’t work for me. We’ll beat it because we have so many tools and resources to turn to in order to get you back to healthy. So my loves I tell you this: don’t worry your little hearts. Having a mental illness is not the end of the world. In fact, it just means you see the world differently than other people do. In some ways that isn’t always a bad thing. Some great artists have Bipolar Disorder. It brings out your creative side.
Regardless of what your future holds, please know that you both have made our family so much richer, even in the midst of learning to cope with something as complicated and intense and draining as a mental illness. I am so incredibly thankful that your Daddy and I took the leap we did to start our family. Looking at your precious smiles today, I couldn’t imagine life any other way.
Someday, when the time is right, we’ll have the talk. It’s hard for me to imagine that point in the future. I worry about how my revelation of my illness may affect you. Will it make you sad? Will you feel hurt that I waited to tell you? Will you be upset that I kept a blog about living with a mental illness in which I wrote about you? I guess I won’t know until we get there, but my hope is that someday when you’re old enough and we do talk about it, you’ll listen with open hearts.
I hope you’ll tell me that you’re proud of me. That you’re proud of me for not being ashamed of having Bipolar Disorder. That you’re proud of me for telling my story to help other people. That you’re proud of me for trying my hardest at being the best mom I could be.
Because I finally am brave enough to say: I have Bipolar and I am not perfect, but I am perfectly your mom. I hope someday when I tell you this, I see you both smiling back at me with pride.
I love you both to the moon and back.
“Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”
I have a feeling that this song will become a huge catalyst for not only the fight against teenage bullying, but also the battle to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Please share. Everyone deserves their own chance to be brave.