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. 

A Lesson in Hesitation

lesson-in-hesitation {written Monday morning}

Last night was awful. Well, not all of it. I've been so stressed and when I'm stressed I snap easily. I forget that the kids are just being kids and when they're in an environment other than their own home and they're eating different foods than they normally do, they are going to behave differently. I forget that this water damage to our house and having to live in a hotel affects my husband, too. He just doesn't show it like I do, all screaming in frustration and throwing my hands up in the air. He never loses it like I do.

I got mad at him for not wanting to come with me to get dinner. {The insurance agency took pity on us and put us up in a hotel and gave us per diem for the past five days due to our lack of stovetop plus the heat and bone dry air from the blowers and humidifiers running 24/7 to dry out the damp floors.} So he stayed at the hotel, watching a movie, while I loaded up our two littles into the car to go grab takeout.

I was stopped at a red light, dreading having to load up my arms with dinner items while at the same time wrangling the two monsters when I looked out my passenger window. I caught sight of a young Indian woman on her cell phone, shivering in the cold. I wondered what she was doing out there on the corner of a busy road. Our eyes met for a moment, but I quickly went back to staring straight ahead, hoping the light would turn green already so I could get this outing over with.

Next thing I knew she was at our window. The light was still red as I rolled down the glass and she began speaking quickly, asking me for a ride to a road I wasn't familiar with. I hesitated, saying I didn't know the street and that I was headed in the other direction anyway.

I was nervous to let her in the car because her story sounded sketchy. Her husband had left her at a restaurant while he went home with the baby to get the baby's snacks which they had forgotten. She said he had been gone for twenty minutes and she was worried because when she called his phone, the baby answered and just babbled. The more she explained, the more concerned I became for her and her family. My biggest fear was that he had an accident or a heart attack or seizure or something and no one was there to help.

I told her to get in, I'd take her wherever she needed me to.

She directed me down two roads, all the while wringing her hands and talking fast, almost in tears. She told me her name and I gave her mine. They had moved here only recently and she was obviously scared.

We pulled up to her neighborhood, but she wouldn't let me drive her all the way to her front door. Maybe she was concerned her husband would be mad that she had hitchhiked home?

I didn't want to keep her longer than needed, but I gave her my number and asked her to call or text me and let me know that everything was okay once she got home. She put my number into her phone and promised to call. She thanked me profusely and said goodbye, and as I pulled away I watched in my rear-view as she walked quickly down the sidewalk, her stride turned into a run as she got closer to the row of townhouses in the distance.

The kids had been silent in the backseat the entire time. I looked back at them when we reached a red light and tried to explain what had happened.

"That lady needed to get home to her baby and the baby's Daddy. She needed a ride and we helped her. When people need help we should always try to help."

Vivian was nearly asleep since they had gone swimming earlier, but Owen listened intently and smiled with his level of understanding on what took place.

And in that moment I was thankful I had gone ahead, thankful I had pushed past my hesitation. I was still worried for the woman, but I was hopeful that things were okay and that I'd hear from her soon.

We were almost to the restaurant when my phone rang and "Private" flashed up as the caller. I knew it was her. Her voice was happy and excited as she explained to me that her husband had tried to surprise her. He had flown her mom here from India and he was on his way back from the airport. I apologized for hesitating to help her. She said it was okay and just kept thanking me, she repeated "God Bless you," several times.

What a relief. I could sense that she was likely crying joyful tears on the other end of the line. Soon her husband would be home with her baby and her mom and they'd be together. I hoped it would be a long visit, maybe through the holidays. There would probably be laughter as they retold the story of how she spoiled the surprise to friends and relatives.

We got back to the hotel and I replayed what had happened to Ben, realizing if he would have been with us, she may not have approached us for a ride as the car would have appeared full. I appreciated having to lug the two kids into the restaurant, breaking up squabbles between them as we waited for the food.

I'm a firm believer in "everything happens for a reason" and I believe this beautiful person showed up in my life because I needed to learn a lesson in hesitation. God Bless her and her sweet family.

Why I Declare My Goals

 1493334632_45256382eePhoto Credit: shirishbendre via Compfight cc

Back in June, my husband and I went on vacation with our friends to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversaries. One night at dinner, Tim asked us go around the table and share our goals out loud. Studies have proven that when you declare your goals, the act of simply vocalizing them to people, you have a much higher probability of actually reaching them.

I used to love goal-setting, but had fallen out of the habit since leaving the corporate world to become a stay-at-home-work-from-home-mom.

Ten years ago, in my career as an agency recruiter, I witnessed the power of setting goals. I’d talk about them to my boss and colleagues, and would work my tail off to attain them, seeing the direct results of my tireless dedication displayed on reports each week, month, and year of sales numbers.

These days, I am my own boss. There is no promise of a paycheck for the advocacy work I’m doing. Only the pure sense of accomplishing something that will hopefully help other people on their journey to recovery.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” - William James

Which is why I am so thankful to Tim for putting us up to the challenge of declaring our goals. I had said I wanted to write an e-book before the end of the year and self-publish it to be able to offer it for free on my website, but also to sell it on Amazon to reach people who might not have heard of my blog yet but found me via searching for books on mental health.

I’ve accomplished two of the three parts of that complex goal. The book is written and is available by signing up for my blog newsletter (which I haven’t yet officially launched - another goal in the works!), and it’s also available via the This Is My Brave website by signing up for the newsletter which will keep people informed of the progress of the show.

I hope to finish the process of self-publishing it to an online distribution channel (most likely Amazon, but I’m researching other avenues as well) by the end of November.

Right now I’m focusing on another recent goal that came to life: creating a Kickstarter campaign to fund our show, This Is My Brave. We have until November 15th to raise $6,500 which will be used to create the most inspiring, thought-provoking, entertaining show about mental illness the public has ever been invited to. If the show gets funded, we’ll have the capability of not only putting it on live in the Washington, DC area, but also reaching countless others by sharing the video of the performances after the initial debut.

Because of goals my life has meaning. No goal is too big. Take small steps and you’ll reach your dreams.

Why-I-Declare-My-Goals

 

What goals are you working on? Shout them out in the comments and create some accountability. I'll support you and cheer you on!

Five Minute Friday {14}: Lonely

Five-Minute-Friday-14-Lonely

I was lonely back then, back seven and a half years ago when I had just been told I was facing mental illness. Two stints in a psych ward and it was apparent to the doctors but I was still in denial. I was so lonely.

I longed for someone to talk to who knew what I was feeling. Someone other than a psychiatrist or a therapist or a group leader in an outpatient program. They only studied these symptoms in a textbook. How could they really know what I was going through? They didn't, in my mind.

Writing would become my call for help. My attempt to erase the loneliness by telling my story to see if there were others out there feeling my same feelings.

There were. There are. And it's a relief to no longer feel lonely in this life with mental illness.

Today, nearly two years to the day from when I started this blog, I feel so far from lonely. Instead, I feel the compassionate hugs this community of readers, fellow bloggers, friends and family have wrapped around me.

Five Minute Friday

The Best Summer Camp Counselor. Ever.

TheBestCampCounselorEverThe best summer camp counselor. Ever.

"Tomorrow I'm sending my kids to a three-night, four-day all-inclusive summer camp for FREE. It’s called “Sleep-away camp at Grandma and Grandpa’s house” and they are super excited. (The kids, that is. My parents are excited too, but are also just a teeny bit nervous that they’ll survive this little experiment.) I, however, have faith that everyone will have an exceptional time.

Including my husband and I who will be home enjoying the peace and quiet.

Sometimes parents just need to take a break from their offspring."   ....please click over to WhatToExpect.com's Word of Mom blog to read the rest of my article which I wrote last week. It was just posted today.

Thanks so much for reading my work!

After: Five Minute Friday {3}

5MinFriAfterBML

I frequently think of my life as either before or after. As in, before I got sick and after I was diagnosed. When I look at picture from my life taken around that time, I can always tell if the particular photo's event happened before or after by looking at how my eyes smile. I can't say that I like before or after better or worse than the other, because they are both just different times in my life. Struggles were different after. The importance of sleep was different after. Friendships stayed the same, for the most part, but some became even stronger after because they knew and still stood by me.

I am at the point right now where I can finally say that I like the person I've become after. 

Five Minute Friday

Today my 3rd post for WhatToExpect.com's Word of Mom Blog went up!         Pop on over and check out why I sometimes dread sleeping.

Running with the Wind

RunningWithTheWind_BML

Yesterday I reluctantly pulled on my running shoes, tied them up, and left my husband with the kids for a thirty minute jog. My mind was telling me to just skip it, given that the temperature had plummeted from seventy degrees earlier in the day to forty-five at 7pm when I finally made it out the front door. But it felt good to be moving after all the sugar and heavy food from Easter Sunday.

My phone provided music while I trotted along, my legs still sore from my first jog of the spring two days before. Now that the weather is changing I just want to be outside again. Too much time passed without us being able to go out due to snow, rain, or plain frigid temperatures. The air smells different when spring emerges. Trees and flowers perfume the breeze, along with the fresh mulch that neighbors spread to make everything look fresh. My favorite is the scent of hyacinth at this time of year. I slowed my pace when I ran past a house seemingly anchored in them, taking in the heady fragrance.

The wind was fierce, slapping my face with its icy coldness. But the extra oxygen I sucked in from the air flowing at me propelled me forward and it was as if I ran faster. My bad knee held out thanks to the patella strap I had pulled tight around my knee cap. The rest of my body got a thrill from being on my old route. I didn't do the whole loop, but it was enough to remind me of last year's jogging nights. Made me long for the strength I felt back then when I was running almost every day. I'll get there. One step at a time.

Yesterday my second post for WhatToExpect.com's Word of Mom Blog went live. Please head over and check it out if you have time! :)

Freewrite: Immersed in nature

{3/15/13, 5:30pm, PST; Top of the hill behind the Chapel Theater at the Wild Mountain Memoir Writer Retreat, Leavenworth, WA}

15-minute Freewrite

I have never in my life been surrounded by such sheer beauty. I'm sitting on a huge rock, facing gorgeous mountains covered in snow, and yet, it's the perfect temperature. Not hot, not cold, just somewhere in between.

The rush of the water shooshing downstream is so soothing. It's calming my nerves a bit. This place is so peaceful and serene.

Earlier today it was raining. Not hard, not even enough to get me wet, really. Just a gentle mist coming down. The leaves smell damp and musty, but I like it. The cool air is so refreshing.

I almost feel like I could expect to see a bear up on the mountainside in front of me. I'm looking, but haven't seen one yet. I got a close-up of that bright green moss that grows on all the trees here. It's almost fluorescent, it looks fake.

I feel like I could sit up here all day, breathing in the mountain air to become one with the perfect natural space laid out before me. But it's almost time for dinner. And time for the retreat to finally start. I better run back to my room to see if I can meet my roommate. It's 5:45pm already and dinner starts at 6.

FreewriteImmersedInNature_BML

{On Saturday afternoon at the retreat, my roommate Natalie and I went back up to that spot and she took this picture of me. I truly feel it captures every ounce of excitement and the sheer joy within me from the changes I had begun to experience at Wild Mountain.}

Happy Birthday, G! {Wordless/Wordful Wednesday}

NewSwimSchool3  

Back when "Don't Carpe Diem" went viral via Glennon Doyle Melton's blog Momastery and the Huffington Post, I spent the next week staying up late every night, reading the archives of her blog and I'm so glad I did.

She is one hell of a writer who I had the pleasure of meeting randomly last year at our local swim school. After helping my son pull on his goggles and ushering him off to his swim coach, I went to sit down in the parent's viewing room with my 2-yr old daughter and looked to my left as a pretty mom was about to sit down in the empty seat next to us.

In a surprised (and almost giddy) voice I said, "Are you Glennon?" knowing the answer before she even had a chance to reply.

"Why yes, yes I am!" she replied with a warm smile.

"I've read your blog!" I said cautiously, not sure whether or not I should admit to how much of a huge fan I was of her writing. "I love it." Realizing later I could have said, "I've read your life," that is how incredibly honest she is.

We talked for the next twenty-five minutes while our kids swam (hers crying through the lesson mostly.) And she hugged me when we said goodbye.

I called one of my best friends, Stephanie, on the way home because I couldn't contain my shock and excitement.

 

Happy 37th Birthday, G. You are inspiring, uplifting, brave, brutally honest, and hands-down, one of my favorite writers. Carry On, Warrior!

 

+ The Paper MamaLive and Love Out Loud & Baby Baby Lemon

What I learned from my Listen To Your Mother audition

You will try your best not to think about it so much, but in reality it's the only thing running through your mind since you sent in your email requesting an audition spot.

It will take weeks to choose a piece to read, then when you read it for your best friend, she chooses a different one for you.

When the Producer and Director say to bring 3 copies of your piece, the third one is for you. Bringing your own copy in large print made you look like an old grandmother who needs bifocals to read 12 pt font.

You'll practice your piece standing up, but when you get there the Producer and Director will be sitting on a couch since the audition is in a hotel room. There will be a chair waiting for you to sit and read. This will throw you off a little.

You'll decide five minutes after meeting them, that there is no doubt in your mind that you want to be a part of their show. It is more apparent to you now than ever.

You think you won't cry when you read. But you do. Just a little.

You'll feel confident going in but more unsure of yourself than ever as you walk out the door and get into your car to drive home. You'll wonder if they really liked you and your writing. Or were they just being polite?

The week after the audition will feel like the slowest week of your life. Especially since there is no school on Monday due to President's Day.

You will try your best to focus on the normal day-to-day tasks and activities of life after the audition, but really all you can think about is whether or not you made the cast.

Five days after the audition, when the email finally arrives in your inbox, you'll read it quickly. Because when it comes time to take the band-aid off, the faster you do it the less it will hurt.

You think you won't cry when you read the rejection email. But you do.

You'll wonder if you could have done something differently. Would it have changed their minds?

You'll long to hear "I'm so sorry, honey. I know how hard you worked on your piece and how badly you wanted this. It's okay." while he wraps his arms around you.

But instead, he'll say "It's not that big of a deal. It's just one audition. There will be other opportunities, honey." which will sting. And more tears will come.

You'll give the kids a bath and tuck them both in, reading more books than you usually do, because it's a distraction from the hurt.

You'll pull out your journal and you'll write until you feel better. Or at least until you stop crying.

You'll want to self-medicate with a big, expensive bar of dark chocolate and a glass or two of really good red wine but instead at that moment you'll realize you're the textbook definition of an emotional eater and so instead you'll choose to take a bubble bath.

In the end, you'll realize that this just may not be your time to "no longer be anonymous" and so you'll decide to keep your identity under wraps a little while longer.

You'll be flattered that both the Producer and Director email you to ask you to audition next year. And to not be a stranger.

And you'll think: maybe 2014 will be your year to share your story on stage.

You really hope so.

Congratulations to the 2013 Cast of Listen To Your Mother DC! I'm looking forward to another incredible show on April 28th. Last year I was inspired, this year I auditioned, and maybe next year will be my year.

LTYMAbout the show:

The mission of each LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER production is to take the audience on a well-crafted journey that celebrates and validates mothering through giving voice to motherhood–in all of its complexity, diversity, and humor.
LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER aims to support motherhood creatively through artistic expression, and also financially–through contributions to non-profit organizations supporting families in need.