The Year I Learned to Jump

Year-Learned-JumpPhoto Credit: Jimbo N via Compfight cc

“ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU ARE AFRAID TO DO.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even in the midst of my intense wrestling match with bipolar disorder, right smack in the middle of the chaos of a frazzled mind and rattled sense of self-worth, I somehow knew one day I’d take the type of jump where there’s no looking back once you launch yourself into the air.

I knew I’d face my fear.

Today, in these moments when I type here in my makeshift office and upload my words to this space which has become my launching pad for jumping off my cliff of fear, I’m opening up. Putting it all out there, no longer the only one bearing the weight the vivid flashbacks from the brunt of my struggle. I say not the only one because inevitably after I hit publish someone will respond with a “me too.”

As 2013 comes to a close, I’m in the thrilling moments, body tingling from the pull of gravity after the big leap. The seconds are precious and they’re swiftly racing by like seconds on the New Year’s count-down clock, but I’m not bracing for the impact. Instead, I’m preparing to feel my toes slice through the surface of the water. {I prefer to jump in feet-first.}

Because in my dream about facing my fear, I’m on a huge cliff in Maui overlooking the deep blue ocean. Why not, right? It’s a dream.

I crave the feeling of weightlessness that comes from the adrenaline rush coursing through my body in mid-air. And I’m grabbing onto each and every one of those seconds as they fly by.

 

Resisting the urge to open up about my journey is almost impossible. At various times in my day-to-day activities, scenes from my first hospitalization in 2005 bubble to the surface of my memory. Or my second stint in the mental hospital. Or the third and fourth which sometimes confuse me with their shorter, more intense flashbacks. They were the times I was protecting my babies. Plus, they say the more you experience mania the less you remember. Makes sense to me now.

When mania took hold of my mind for the first time and spiraled out of control into psychosis, I spent three nights in a psych ward. Returning to the office the following Monday, I was able to gloss over my absence and say the doctor’s attributed my strange behavior to the lack of sleep and stress I was under at work. No one knew the real truth, although I’m sure there were plenty of rumors and assumptions flying while folks gathered around the water cooler on Monday morning.

I’m certain scenarios like the one I experienced happen every single day. Someone is absent from school or work for a few days or a few months and people start talking. And everything is hush, hush. Because societal norms tell us talking about mental illness isn’t the same as talking about someone who is battling cancer or severe asthma or a broken arm.

Well I have news for you: It’s time we shatter those “norms.”

And those of us who have fought these fights and who are still trudging through the pain and desperation and isolation that is mental illness could use the same support systems that other sick people receive.

More important to us than the flowers, cards, and meals you might send is simply your willingness to listen. To look us in the eyes and accept us for what we’ve been through, where we are right now, and what we will face each and every day and night for the rest of our lives.

Don’t be afraid to know our stories. We’re facing our fears, and we want you to, too.

Be open to us opening up. Give us hugs when we cry. Send us a laugh when you notice we’re down. If we’re too hyper, gently check in and ask if everything is on track with our treatment plan. It feels good to be acknowledged and cared for by those we love.

I have several close friends who do all these things and more and they make all the difference in the world. And of course my husband who is my better half, my voice of reason and the peace to the storm of what is inside me always knows when to step in with the right words to soothe me and keep me centered.

 

I will remember 2013 as the year I took the greatest leap I’ve ever taken. The year I jumped forward with sharing my words. The year I chose to only look back on the past in order to shift the future into better focus.

The year I did what I was afraid to do. And I haven’t even pierced the surface yet.

Ever been snorkeling, or better yet, scuba diving? {My husband is obsessed with snorkeling. He’s spent hours bobbing on the surface of the various tropical waters we’ve traveled to. I think it’s cute.} He knows there are treasures down there. Which is why I’m so excited for my plunge into 2014 with This Is My Brave.

But first I’m looking forward to tomorrow. We’re ringing in the New Year with my oldest girlfriends and their adorable kids and fun-loving husbands. It’s the 2nd annual #RomperRoomNYE2013 bash (follow along on Instagram!) and with 8 kiddos plus a 2-month old, the adults will be lucky to make it to the ball drop when we’ll clink our champagne glasses with a toast to 2013 and what lies ahead in 2014.

My salute to this past year is composed of heartfelt gratitude for the support of This Is My Brave and our mission to encourage people to talk openly and often about mental health issues in their communities. The year ahead will no doubt be filled with learning experiences as I navigate unknown territories, but I am eager to grow and evolve, to bring these crucial conversations about mental illness into the spotlight.

Twenty-thirteen was the year I learned that facing my fears means enjoying the jump.

 

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for all you have done up to this point on behalf of mental health advocacy, Jennifer! I’ve been enjoying your blog archives so much – they read like a book to me. I look forward to 2014 in a very special way, where I pursue my writing like never before. Although we’ve never met, you inspire me to do that now through the magic of the internet. Hope you produce a show here in California some day! Leap on, you awesome person! Looking forward to hearing about all the great things you will accomplish along the way. take care and looking forward to connecting next month!
    Dyane Harwood
    http://www.proudlybipolar.wordpress.com
    Author of the upcoming book
    “Birth of a New Brain –
    Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder”
    Consumer Advisory Council Member,
    International Bipolar Foundation
    @birthofnewbrain

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Dyane! I’m excited to read about your journey, too, and am so glad we’re connected. I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about when we get a chance to talk next month. PS. We would LOVE to expand to other cities in 2015. :)

      • Anne Purnell says:

        hi Jennifer… I admire your courage …. and you energy and focus. I am curious about your education and background. Unfortunately, if it is here, my eyes are worn out for today, so I’ll have to read another time. Best wishes to you and congratulations on all you have accomplished!

  2. Pinterest is usually my go-to site for cupcake recipes and teaching stuff… but today it brought me to you. Like you, I successfully balance a marriage, motherhood and a very satisfying job. Your blog is exactly what I need to bring in the new year!

  3. I’m in agreement with you re:jumping. I started my blog to get my feelings out and after my bipolar diagnosis I knew I could blog about my journey for others benefits as well as my own. I hope we can shatter the stigma and be completely free to live our lives unedited. My goal for 2014 is wellness and lifting up others as I lift myself up is a huge part of that. Happy New Year!

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