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. 

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward

Feb 4, 2014 - One of my dear friends from college sent me a link to The Moth podcast on which Mark Lukach told his story about supporting his wife through her struggle with mental illness. On May 2, 2017 Mark published his first book, My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward

Two weeks after my friend Jen sent me the link to Mark's story, we were on vacation in Florida for my grandmother's 90th birthday. I sat my family down - Ben, my mom and my dad - around the kitchen table to listen together. Tears flowed. Giulia's story had so many parallels to my own. I was so moved and impressed by how her husband could articulate what he had went through as he watched her struggle with her illness, helpless at times but he never gave up on getting her well.

In reading Mark's book, I had a glimpse of what my family and husband must have gone through during the early stages of my illness. The research, navigating the system, figuring out how to best support me as I called my parents sobbing every day for a year. Actually, their response to my depression seemed intuitive. Both my parents were so supportive and patient with me as I struggled to understand what was happening to me. My mom and I are similar in our typical impatience with nearly everything, but this was different. It must have hurt them to see me in such pain. 

This was brought to light in Mark's storytelling. He was able to so eloquently take the reader into the thoughts and emotions running through his mind as he watched his wife lose hers. I often think about how terrifying it must have been for Ben and my family to see me lose control of my thinking. To this day Ben has a hard time talking about it.

My guess is this book was as therapeutic and healing for Mark to write as participating in This Is My Brave has been to me and my storytellers. Each time we are able to unpack those complicated memories from our experiences with mental illness, we relieve the burden of holding onto those heavy secrets. 

Loving someone who lives with a mental health issue is definitely not easy. But I don't think a person has ultimate control over who they fall in love with. And with the statistics on the number of people living with mental health issues, chances are high most relationships face these challenges. In our case, and in Mark and Giulia's, the journey only made us stronger. It changed my relationship with Ben for the better and I wouldn't change a thing. My guess is Mark and Giulia wouldn't either.

To order My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward, use our This Is My Brave Amazon Smile link and we'll earn a tiny donation. {I had pre-ordered the book and was lucky to receive this beautiful coloring page from Mark and Giulia's son Jonas when it shipped in February. Been meaning to write this review ever since.}

Fun side note: Since connecting with Mark and Giulia on Twitter a few years ago, we're hoping to meet in person this summer since Mark's family still owns a beach house at Bethany Beach and my parents just bought one. It's neat when internet friends meet up in person. Today is also Mark's Birthday! Happy Birthday, Mark!

I Landed in the ER after watching '13 Reasons Why'

Four days ago I finished watching the Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why’ and drafted an opinion piece which I published Monday morning. The show rocked me to my core. So much so, that I landed in the Emergency Room of my local hospital. This is the story of how and why that happened. emergency room after 13 Reasons WhyI live with type 1 bipolar disorder. For those who aren’t aware of the various types of bipolar disorder, Bipolar Hope Magazine is an amazing resource and they have an informative section on their website which describes the types of bipolar and different symptoms. In a nutshell, my type of bipolar disorder means that I lean towards the manic side of the condition. If I’m not careful to protect my sleep, I could find myself launching into a manic episode. It doesn’t happen overnight, rather, over the course of several nights of getting little to no sleep.

As I mentioned in my opinion piece, I put my mental health at risk by choosing to watch the show. I didn’t know how risky it was to begin watching the show because I’ve been mentally healthy for the past 7 years. The last time I was hospitalized for a manic episode was, ironically, exactly seven years ago this month, when I was 5 weeks pregnant with my second child. I thought since I had been so stable for so long, it couldn’t possibly be that risky to watch a few episodes.

I was wrong.

I started watching the show Friday evening, and got through four episodes (binging) before forcing myself to shut it off so that I could get some sleep before flying to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for my nonprofit’s show the following night. Our Iowa Corridor This Is My Brave show was incredibly moving and inspiring, as all of our shows are, and I was so excited to get to spend time with the show’s producers and cast members afterwards. We went out to a local bar and played Cards Against Humanity while eating and hanging out. I had a blast. But unfortunately didn’t get to sleep until 2am EST, and awoke at 6am Sunday morning. I usually sleep well when I’m on the road, but I had so much on my mind having started watching the show the night before and wanting to continue watching.

I pushed play on episode 5 shortly after waking up, and was able to finish the series in the airport on my way home on Sunday. I was furious by the time I finished, and reached out to several of my friends via text to see if they had watched and to get their thoughts. Everyone seemed to have similar feelings, but slightly different reactions. Overall, the few people I was able to connect with directly were shook up by the show, but were glad it was out and was opening the eyes of the public.

At that point I began thinking about those in my circles who were already vulnerable, sensitive. How would they take it if they had watched? How would teenagers react to the show? Especially if they didn’t have solid support systems in place, if they were already in a tough place, if they didn’t have the energy or resources to access proper mental healthcare.  

I landed around 8:30pm and grabbed an Uber home. I normally enjoy chatting with the driver, but on this particular ride I needed to connect with one of my close friends. I called my This Is My Brave Co-Founder Anne Marie Ames. She and I have been friends for four years, and I needed to tell her how the show affected me. We talked the entire ride home, and agreed to catch up again during the week.

My husband had let our kids stay up late so they could see me, so I hugged and kissed my little people and got them tucked in by 9pm. My husband knew how I was feeling because I had called him from the airport, and he knew that I wasn’t sleeping well. The plan at that point was to focus on sleep all week, make it a priority again. On the flight home from Chicago I had jotted down my feelings and initial reaction to '13 Reasons Why', and I told him I felt that if I was able to get them organized into a piece that made sense, I’d likely sleep better. I started pulling my thoughts together, tapping away at my laptop, and he went up to bed.

I crawled into bed around midnight, as it had taken me longer than I had hoped to draft my reaction. But I did feel better once I got it out, so I was hopeful I’d be able to get some quality sleep.

Only, instead of crashing and sleeping hard, my sleep was broken and riddled with nightmares. I woke at 5:30am, and since my husband was already downstairs doing his normal early morning workout in the basement, I grabbed and pen and paper and let my feelings flow again. I shot off a draft of my revised piece to two friends and by then it was time to wake the kids and get them off to school.

I recognized my symptoms of hypomania and immediately told my husband that I was going to call my psychiatrist at 8:30am when they opened to get an appointment. He said that he thought that was a good idea and off my family went to work and school. I normally find relief in the calm of the morning once the house is quiet and I’m on my own. But instead I found myself feeling that familiar current of mania beginning to rush through my blood and anxiety creeping in.

I still hoped I could relieve some of these symptoms by publishing my reaction to the show. I felt a little better after hitting Publish on Medium, but things escalated quickly from there.

I picked up my kids from school and took them out for frozen yogurt, one of our favorite treats. I hadn’t seen them all weekend, so it was fun to catch up. As we were sitting there, Kelly, my best friend from college called to see how our Cedar Rapids event had gone. I told her it was amazing, as all our events are, but that I had a lot on my mind. She caught on immediately that I wasn’t in a good place, probably based on the tone of my voice, but I told her I couldn’t talk because of where we were and the kids were with me. She offered to pick up the groceries I said I’d be running out for later that evening, so that I could head to bed early instead. She agreed to meet me back at my place in ½ hour.

{One of the things Kelly asked was critical for her to know how I was doing mentally, and she knows this from being there when my very first manic episode came on back in December of 2005. She asked me where I was on a 10-point scale. I was at a 6-7.}

When a person with type 1 bipolar is at a 6-7, it means that they’re in a hypo-manic state. A person can very quickly go from a 6-7 to a 9-10, meaning they need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, if things aren’t addressed in an urgent manner.

Once we were home, I did my best to summarize for Kel why the show '13 Reasons Why' affected me so deeply. She’s a teacher, and hadn’t heard of the show, but when I told her how I had met a friend of mine for coffee that afternoon, she had a better understanding. The friend I met up with had been directly impacted by suicide, as her son Jay took his life last year, and now the family is pursuing a lawsuit because Jay’s guidance counselor had been alerted by a friend three weeks before he took his own life. The counselor had neglected to contact Jay’s parents. You can read about it in the Washington Post.

Little did I know, Kelly had already set an emergency intervention plan into place, even though she may not have noticed it at the time. While she was picking up the groceries for me, she called my husband and let him know that she was concerned about me. She also texted another one of our close friends from college who had a friend who was a pharmacist. (What can I say? It takes a village.)

When Ben got home, he found the kids happily playing video games, while Kelly and I were sitting in the dining room trying to figure out a plan. I needed Ambien to ensure that I got a solid night’s sleep. The only problem was that I hadn’t used a sleep medication in seven years, so we didn’t have anything (expired or otherwise) in the house. We called my psychiatrist’s office to see if we could get through to an after-hours line. We left a message for my doctor’s medical assistant, but by then it was already 6pm and we were running out of time. We called my regular pharmacy, but my psychiatric medication info was out of date. (Side note: I use a mail-order pharmacy to fulfill my regular mood stabilizer prescription which I’ve been on for the past 7 years at the same dose.) The pharmacist at my regular pharmacy recommended an over-the-counter sleep aid, but we weren’t convinced that would work for me given my level of hypomania.

Our friend who is the pharmacist (in California) communicated by text that if I didn’t have Ambien on hand at home, I would need to go to the Emergency Room to get a prescription for it, and that was what she recommended given my symptoms. I argued it was overreacting, but based on my experience living with this condition for eleven years now, and my past 4 psychiatric hospitalizations for mania, I also knew she was right.

Kelly offered to drive me to the hospital while Ben held down the fort at home. I resisted at first, as it seemed dramatic and unnecessary. I wanted to just get an OTC sleep med, and said we could get Ambien the next day from my psychiatrist. But looking back now, it's a good thing I didn't resist as I could have ended up in handcuffs again, being carted off to the Emergency Room and then the psychiatric hospital. I didn't want my kids to have to see that happen, so I happily went along with the intervention plan. 

We joked on the drive over about how efficient my intervention team was and how I was voting her President of the team based on her stellar performance. (In college, Kelly was President of the water polo team and I was Vice President, so it seemed fitting.) We were immediately admitted to the ER, the intake nurse took my vitals, and I was sent back to a triage room with a bed. By that point I had called my parents to let them know what was going on, letting them know the plan and that we had everything under control. They were worried but relieved, and asked that I keep them posted.

The ER doc was really great, and got us in and out quickly with a script for the Ambien that hopefully would do the trick and get me through until I saw my psychiatrist on Wednesday. Ben had called his mom and she was already at our house by the time I was getting my discharge papers, and he met us at the hospital right as I was released so that he could drive me to get my script and Kelly could head home to her family.

Ben’s mom got the kids in bed as I called my parents to update them once we got home around 8:30pm. I ate a little something for dinner, and was crawling into bed by 9:30, ready to let the meds do their trick and lull me into a deep sleep.

Only it didn’t exactly work as planned.

I slept from 10pm until I woke at 1:30am, unable to get back to sleep. Hypomania/mania has a way of doing that to a person. I woke my husband and told him I couldn’t sleep, so I took another dose of the sleep med. I woke groggy at 6am Tuesday morning. Concerned that I had to take two doses, when in the past one dose had worked for me, we called to bump up my psychiatrist appointment, and luckily she had a slot in her schedule for Tuesday afternoon.

My husband was able to take time off from work to drive me to my psychiatrist appointment. We filled her in on everything that had happened, and made a new plan including medication changes. She provided us with her emergency contact info in case we needed it, and answered all our questions. We were in and out in an hour total. My mother-in-law was able to help us with our kids while my husband went back to work for the afternoon and I went to run a few necessary errands, including picking up my new prescription. My therapist (who I haven’t seen since December, because I’ve been “busy”), has an awesome online scheduling tool for current clients. I grabbed one of her only two open appointment slots for Thursday.

Tuesday night we followed the plan. It was extremely difficult to get out of bed Wednesday morning due to the side effects of the medication changes. I haven’t had trouble getting out of bed because of my mental illness for so many years that I forgot what it felt like. It’s hell.

My anxiety has returned due to this “almost-episode,” which is totally normal. It’s just been so long since I’ve felt it that it’s been a little overwhelming. Uncomfortable, yes. Manageable, yes. Especially when I have such an incredible support system and so many resources at my fingertips.

I may have been able to stay mentally healthy for seven years, and yes, that's a long streak. But if this week has taught me anything it's that I'm not immune to relapses. I live with type 1 bipolar disorder and I'll always have it. Like any other chronic condition, it's lifelong. I'll continue to kick bipolar's ass, I know I will. I'm even a little grateful for this week's experience because I had been feeling like a bit of an imposter lately, having not felt symptoms for so long and getting to do this nonprofit work where I hear stories of individuals overcoming mental illness every week. I'll forever be a member of the club, my tribe, as I call it. And together we're ending the stigma surrounding mental health disorders. One true story at a time.

*****

About a year ago, I wrote a guest post for a website called OC87Recovery Diaries, and in it, I stated that we didn’t have a plan. The reason I’m publishing this post is not to highlight how fortunate I am, but to point out how I almost landed in a psychiatric hospital this week, but didn’t, because we had a plan. It may not have been a formal, executed WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), but it was darn near close, and it worked.

If you or someone you love lives with a mental illness, it's important to have a plan. And if you're in a tough place right now - here are some things I find helpful:

  • Know your local and national mental health resources, including the crisis hotlines. This Is My Brave's Resources page is a great place to look, or even just Google it and keep that info handy.
  • Make sure you know how to contact your psychiatrist after-hours in case of emergency.
  • Keep a journal that lists the meds you're currently taking and what's working for you. Allow those closest to you to have access to this in case of emergency.
  • Don't be afraid to be completely honest about how you're feeling. Feeling overwhelmed, triggered, fragile, etc., and sharing your feelings with those you trust is NOT weakness. In fact, it's the complete opposite. It's brave to allow yourself to be that vulnerable and it leads to deeper, more close-knit relationships with the people you love.
  • Don't lose sight of self-care. We often get so wrapped up in our day-to-day lives that we forget to take time out for ourselves, and being too "busy" can lead to burn-out and mental health issues.

Would you like to live on a farm in Canada?

I received what most people would consider to be an odd phone call last week. It left me thinking about what it would be like to live on a farm in Canada. Let me explain... I was driving to meet my grad student volunteer in DC to finish up a project, when my phone rang. It was a man named Stephen who lives on a farm outside of the capital city of Canada, Ottawa. He mentioned that he found me online googling bipolar, as we both have the same condition, and that he thought maybe I might be able to help him find a family or group of people who might be interested in taking over his farm.

I found the request pretty insane, and Stephen admitted it was a little "out there," but you never know with the internet. When we put things out via our networks, you never know how far it will go and how you might be able to find a needle in a haystack. So I asked him to send me more info via email, and later that evening, he did.

Here's his note:

Hello Jennifer,

It was nice to connect with you by telephone earlier today with my rather unusual (insane?) idea of turning over my farm.
I clicked onto your site because I am bi-polar among other things. I'm 62 and as of two years ago freshly divorced type of situation. Messy for sure and a catalyst for soul searching avenues. What I felt made a difference is the setting I put myself in. I bought a historic farm with a water view to boot, and filled it with an insane number of farm and domestic animals. I'm sure you've read how some people find being surrounded by animals to be therapeutic. In this vein I thought on a long shot there may be a couple or group of people who wanted to change their life settings. I'd like to say change their life but you and I know better and that "wherever you go there you are" type of outlook. But for sure, being in a different atmosphere, if it is a fit, can be beneficial to one's health.
My fifty tiled acre farm is located in a small town, about fifty minutes away from my nation's capital, Ottawa. Yes, I am in Canada but perhaps there are followers of your blog that right now would welcome a move outside of the domain of that new guy in Washington!
My idea is to find someone who is not dirt poor and perhaps has a home-based business which does not restrict them to living elsewhere. I would basically allow them to live here forever without paying rent in exchange for taking care of some of my animals, a deal that would have to be customized between us. I have a car, but no tractor, four barns, a paved driveway and a wonderful stone home built in 1830 with over 3,500 square feet, perfect for a family, inviting for someone who wants to set up some sort of new business as well. My land is currently rented out to an organic farmer but could be used by the new person(s).
So basically, in exchange for taking care of what is in reality my vast pet kingdom you get to run the farm without any charge. You have to pay for the running costs and taxes of course which are not daunting mind you but it still requires an outlay. I bought this property outright and do not have it mortgaged.
I am a two minute drive to every type of store you might need for food, etc. beside a small town.
Bi-polar is not something one "cures" but as you might agree life can be beautiful if you surround yourself in an appropriate way to keep on healing and in this light I think my farm setting might be of use. I plan to go back to Japan where I was living before coming back to Canada a few years ago.
Not sure what else to add here but feel free to ask any questions.
Stephen
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I've spoken with Stephen, and he'd be interested in speaking with anyone who'd like to talk with him about this opportunity. So if you've ever dreamt of living on a farm, and you'd like to move to Canada, please email my friend Stephen at wonderfulpens@gmail.com.

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.

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).

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!

A Memorable First Day of School

Memorable First Day of School 4Memorable First Day of School 3Memorable First Day of School 2

First Day of School

Today was my kids' first day of school and although they were excited to meet their new teachers and see if any of their friends were in their classes, no one was more excited than me. I love back to school time. I had been dreaming of 7-hour, uninterrupted work days since they started preschool four years ago.

Don't get me wrong, I love spending time with my kids. I love the fact that I'm able to work from home and my non-profit work is so flexible that I make my own schedule. But having worked in 15-minute, 1-hour, and 2-hour increments for the past 3 years, I was finally ready to have a regular workday. I envisioned seeing the kids off on the bus at 7:45am, working for 7 hours, then picking them up at the bus stop. My hope is that with our new schedule I'll be able to have more work/life balance with those 7 hours of uninterrupted work time while they're in school.

First Day of School Drama - chairWe had a great 1/2 week vacation at the beach with our friends, and returned home Sunday afternoon. To celebrate the start of school, and the fact that my tushy would be spending more time in my home office working, I made a trip to World Market to see about buying a new office chair. I found the perfect one - on sale, too! My new office is starting to look more and more like the productive workspace I was hoping it would become.

This morning was the big day. I got the kids up at 6:30am and made them and easy and fun breakfast (thank you frozen french toast sticks), packed their lunches, and took a few photos before my husband and I walked them to the bus stop. They were all smiles waiting for the bus and Owen agreed to walk his sister to her classroom since we had missed Meet the Teacher day last week while we were at the beach.

The bus arrived right on time and we sent them off to school with kisses and hugs. The bus driver gave us parents all a knowing wink and told us to enjoy our days. I couldn't wait to get started in a nice, quiet house which was all mine for the next 7 hours.

Memorable First Day of School 1For a second I contemplated making myself a Bloody Mary to celebrate the occasion, as one of my best friends from high school had sent me a bottle of famous Natural Blonde Bloody Mary mix - a specialty product we had tried on our girls' trip to Charleston back in April. Then my productive side kicked in and decided to save the drink for Sunday brunch instead. Good thing.Memorable First Day of School 5

Ben was packing for a quick business trip to Denver while I figured I'd use some of my time to bake some banana bread with our spotted bananas. The kids would have a nice after school treat for their first day. Got it into the oven and set the timer, grabbed a mug of coffee and sat down at my computer to start my first glorious full day of work.

Thirty minutes in, I got a call from school.

At first I was worried one of my kids was sick. But the nurse quickly assured me Vivian was fine, but that she couldn't be in the classroom since they did not have her completed health forms.

F*@&#@&-A!

Parent of the year over here. I thought I was winning when I ordered their school supplies in June when we got the email from the PTA.

I nearly broke down in tears as I was talking to the school nurse. All I could think about was my little girl in tears because I was going to have to pick her up. I knew she'd be devastated and I'd feel like a terrible mother for ruining her first day of Kindergarten.

I asked the nurse if she could stay at the health office until I called the pediatrician to see if they could fax over her forms. (I was pretty sure her health records were up to date, and that I'd just forgotten to turn them into school, but I was freaking out a tiny bit that I missed the boat all together and she'd need a complete physical which could take who knows how long.) The nurse said that was fine and I assured her I'd call back as soon as I spoke to the secretary at the pediatrician's office.

The hold time during that phone call seemed to take an hour.

Finally I got through and told the secretary I felt like the world's most awful parent. I asked if she could please look up my daughter's record because I forgot to turn in her forms and today was her first day of school.

Thankfully, her health record was complete, but the doctor who did her physical wasn't in today and she'd need to sign the form before they could send it to school. So I'd have to wait until tomorrow. I pleaded and asked if there was anything they could do. She said I'd need to come in and fill out the top of the form and they'd see, but they couldn't promise anything because they had patients to see, etc. I said I'd be over right away, and may have cursed (loudly) after making sure I had hung up.

I didn't care anymore about having a day to myself to work. I didn't want to disappoint my baby. I felt like such a failure. I screamed at my husband for not helping me remember things like stupid health forms. He said he didn't even know they needed health forms. (Of course he didn't, because it was always my responsibility. Moms are in charge of everything.)

Instead of turning into a sobbing mess, I decided to just do what I could do.

"Take the banana bread out of the oven or turn it off before you leave!" I yelled as I ran out the door.

Driving over to the pediatrician's office I told myself that there are worse things that could have happened, and that if she has to come home today and start school tomorrow, it's not the end of the world. I could figure out something to make it up to her.

To make a long story short, the secretary said she'd do her best to get another doctor to sign the form and she'd fax it over during the morning. As I handed over my credit card to pay the $15 administrative fee I told her to charge me extra for messing up. She laughed. I took that as a good sign that she'd take pity on me and help me out.

On the phone again to school, I told the nurse they'd be faxing over the forms. Within 20 minutes I had a call back saying they got the forms and she was walking Vivian back to her classroom.

Parenting crisis averted.

 

They both had awesome first days of school and Vivi didn't even mind missing "morning work" in class since she did it while she was waiting in the nurse's office. The first thing she noticed when they walked in the house was the smell of banana bread. It turned out to be an eventful and memorable first day of school. Here's to a full day of work (and school) tomorrow. Cheers!

 

How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Explained My Bipolar Diagnosis

How I Wish My Doctor Would Have Handled My Bipolar Diagnosis Looking back on my bipolar diagnosis nearly eleven years ago, there are many ways my doctor(s) could have handled explaining the news to me. Only now am I able to clearly see the advice and encouragement which would have made my recovery journey a little easier.

A diagnosis of mental illness is not a life sentence.

When I first heard the words "Generalized Anxiety Disorder" and "Bipolar Disorder" I was devastated. The doctor may have well handed me a slip of paper that said: BROKEN BRAIN and MENTAL PATIENT, because that's how those labels made me feel. Instead, I was given a diagnosis and left to figure out what that meant. I wish my doctor would have taken the time to assure me that yes, I may have bipolar for the rest of my life, but that it was treatable and manageable and that I'd be able to have a full and rewarding life despite my diagnosis.

Keeping a journal or mood chart would help me reach a recovery path sooner.

I wasn't introduced to the concept of the mood chart until several months into my diagnosis. My dad was the one who from the beginning encouraged me to keep a small journal where I could jot down the date, the meds I took (and dosages), how I felt that day, and any side effects I experienced from the meds. It was a simple activity that helped me to get a handle on my illness and I encourage everyone to utilize it no matter what type of diagnosis you encounter. Looking back at my old journals sometimes makes me sad because I remember how sick I was back then, but I also realize how far I've come.

You may have bipolar disorder, but that doesn't mean you can't have children.

One of the things that most devastated me when my mental illness first emerged was an intense fear of not being able to fulfill my dream of one day becoming a mother. I don't remember many of the doctors I saw during the first year following my diagnosis ever broaching the topic of motherhood, except for one. The consultation with the doctor who listened to my concerns over not being able to have children provided me hope for the future. He assured me that wasn't the case, and that by working closely with my doctors and putting a support system in place, a family was indeed something I could have. Within eighteen months after that consultation I was pregnant with my first child.

Learning to protect your sleep will be your greatest advantage next to your medicine, for managing your condition.

I am a night owl. I've tried to flip my preferences, by forcing myself to go to bed earlier in order to wake up before the sun. But I just love the way the house gets quiet after the little ones have been tucked in. There are plenty of nights when I have the motivation to keep burning the midnight oil, but experience has taught me that I will only pay for the lack of sleep in the days that follow in the form of erratic moods. Maintaining a regular sleep/wake pattern has been crucial to my long-term recovery and I wish I would have known this earlier.

The sooner you begin talking openly about your struggle, the sooner your true healing will begin.

I hid my struggle for many years because I felt so isolated and embarrassed. I was convinced that none of my friends or extended family members would understand. I thought everyone would think I was "crazy" for having suffered the number of manic episodes I had endured. The feelings of shame were so intense that I began searching for stories of other people who had made it out of the darkness. I told my psychiatrist that I wanted to start blogging about my experience and then write a book, and she immediately discouraged me from disclosing. I'm glad I didn't listen to her advice. The point at which I made the decision to write openly about my mental illness was the beginning of a better life. One in which I didn't need to feel ashamed about a condition that affected my brain.

 

What do you wish your doctors would have told you when you were first diagnosed?