Best Day of My Life

{Have you heard the song ‘Best Day of My Life’ by American Authors yet?}

I woke up this morning to the sound of my daughter stirring in the room next to ours. Peeking into her room, I saw her sitting up smiling brightly in her teeny toddler bed, still tangled up in the flannel sheets with her lovey beside her.

Her eyes met mine and I managed a sleepy grin and a “Good morning, Sweetie” as I walked over to turn off her fan.

She hopped out of bed and I opened my arms wide to hold her and start our morning off with a hug. Her legs wrapped around my middle, wrists gripped snug behind my neck, she declared the perfect start to our day:

“This is going to be the best day evah!”

Yes, my sweet girl. With that attitude, you’re right. It’s another day we have together.

I made chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast because that’s what’s on the menu for the best day ever, of course. As I flipped the last of the golden brown circles into the pan, I eavesdropped on the conversation between my two littles at the kitchen table. They were exchanging giggles over whether to feed their Transformers tangerine slices or bites of pancakes, and I couldn’t help but catch it on video.

They play together while I do dishes and between sudsing up the pan and rinsing it off I look up through the steam to notice the snow that has started to fall outside the window. In the back of my mind I’m hoping this is the last time we see the white stuff this winter, but as I dry off the pan I am reminded of my daughter’s declaration and with that I remember the art project I had been saving for an occasion just like today.

A few minutes later the kids are elbow-deep in tempera paint when my son looks up at me and says, “Mommy, sometimes my dreams look like this."

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And I think, you know what bud? My dream looks like this, too. Except it’s not a dream. It’s real and it’s every day.

It's the best day ever.

Letting Go of the Secret

1638001945_6d2fc78977Photo Credit: notsogoodphotography via Compfight cc

Living a life with an ever-present fear of revealing a certain secret part of yourself isn’t truly living. I know, because I’ve been there. Being caught up in an inauthentic version of myself wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life. And so I made some changes. The results were incredible.

At twenty-six years old, newly married and at the peak of my career as an agency recruiter, I was hit with mania. It came without warning, and felt exactly the same as slipping on black ice and landing flat on my back, the wind sucked out of my lungs and a searing pain pulsing through my bones. I was terrified of what was happening in my brain. I had lost control of everything and my career and reputation were on the line, not to mention my relationship with my husband who didn’t see this coming.

How would I ever recover from this mess?

I would, although recovery eluded me several times. Following my diagnosis, I spent a full year in what felt like an extended visit to a deserted island: the isle of depression. It seemed like no one could possibly understand what I was feeling. I fought waves of anxiety each morning, and would calm myself down from my afternoon anxiety by collapsing on the couch in front of the television, tears soaking the oversized pillow which my head rested on.

I saw many doctors, so many that I can’t remember most of their names. My parents pushed for second, third, fourth opinions. Not because they didn’t trust the doctor’s opinions, but because we hadn’t figured out what would bring me back to my baseline. My normal. Finally, after seeing one of the top doctors in our area, a national specialist in the study of bipolar disorder, I was ready to follow his advice, the same medication recommendation that the previous few psychiatrists had been urging me to try.

Within two months I felt better than I had felt in an entire year. Slivers of my old personality were coming back. When I laughed, it felt genuine and amazing, better than it had felt even before I became sick. When several weeks had passed and I realized I hadn’t cried, I was shocked. The drug was actually working for me.

There would be two more hospitalizations in the years that followed, only because I had taken myself off my medication during pregnancy to protect my kids. When my daughter was only 8 months old, I decided I was ready to tell my story in order to help other women who might think they couldn’t have a family because of their mental illness. I launched my blog and began writing, but kept my identity a secret because I feared the repercussions of the stigma associated with mental illness.

I kept writing and sharing my experience as a mom raising two small kids while at the same time managing my bipolar disorder and over the next year and a half, I realized that keeping my identity a secret was only adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. It was a part of my life and I wanted to show society that I’m a real person with real emotions and I believe that people who live with mental illness should be treated like any other person living with any other life-long disease. We didn’t ask for these conditions we were dealt, and the last thing we need is for society to look the other way when we’re suffering and need support to find recovery.

I was no longer ashamed.

And so in April of 2013, I announced on my blog that I was “ready to not be anonymous anymore,” and I took a brave stand against stigma. The support that poured in from my family and friends, and people I didn’t even know but who had read my post, was overwhelming. The words of gratitude for sharing my story so courageously were like fuel to me, as I kept writing about my experiences and connecting with people who appreciated my transparency.

Six months ago I launched a project and couldn’t have imagined the response it has generated. This Is My Brave is a live theater production where people from the community will take turns at the microphone to share their story on stage via personal essays, original music and slam poetry. This Is My Brave is more than just a one-time performance. We have become a platform and a community for people living with mental illness to speak out in an effort to end the stigma associated with brain illnesses.

Our mission is to ignite and actively promote―through actions and social media― a positive, supportive national conversation about mental illness for those who live with, or love someone who lives with, a brain illness. Through the sharing of stories and experiences of those in recovery, we expect to provide a sense of community and hope; encouraging others to share their stories. We believe that each time one of us talks openly about living with mental illness, we create another crack which helps to break down the stigma. We’re currently in the process of converting to a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and have been actively planning the pursuit of our mission beyond the debut of This Is My Brave in Arlington on May 18th.

It’s time we bring mental health issues into the spotlight because they’ve been in the dark too long. Please visit www.thisismybrave.com to learn more about the show. Auditions are currently being scheduled (www.thisismybrave.com/auditions) and tickets to attend the show are on sale now at EventBrite.com.

Follow the show on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news!

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Keep Climbing

Keep-Climbing

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed. My little man and I both had the flu last weekend, and I spent two straight days in bed, fighting off the virus that had crept into my bones. I got down on myself because the two goals I had set for myself in January - exercise every day and write 500 words a day - both went untouched for a full forty-eight hours.

Even when I started feeling better, I felt paralyzed by the growing pile of tasks I needed to accomplish this week. Which led to stalling. And self-pity. And more procrastinating.

I am just stuck, I thought. I know there’s a way to get back on track. But how?

Not knowing whether or not it would work, but thinking it was at least worth a shot, I gave myself the day off. After dropping off my son at preschool for the afternoon, V and I had an impromptu Mommy/Daughter day.

Our first stop was the mall, where we returned a Christmas gift I had given my husband at The Gap. She had a ball hiding in the racks causing her mama anxiety, quickly indicating how much of a challenge shopping with little Miss Independent was going to be. So I decided to head back towards home to pick a different activity. But not before snapping a photo of my big girl and her new friend.

new-friend{Because this isn't the least bit creepy. That's her avocado from lunch on her sleeve.}

Every Mommy/Daughter day needs a special treat. We stopped in at Starbucks for a little coffee time. Caffeine and sugar are always good for igniting my writer’s voice. My mini-me picked a chocolate cake pop which pleased me since I know I can usually count on her to share at least one tiny bite. Her brother? Never.

From there we headed to the playground. As we drove in to the parking lot, I was relieved to find it empty, not wanting to have to make small talk with other moms I didn’t know. I just wanted to soak up the precious minutes alone with my little girl. Greedy for our one-on-one time, new territory as of recently. I've stopped fighting her on afternoon naps, reminding myself that her brother gave his up around this age.

She wanted to do everything. I watched, mostly, cheering her on from the sidelines while sipping my latte, admiring my baby’s fierce determination and squeals of joy in the little pleasures like riding the springy elephant to being pushed on the swing, her fine blonde wisps blowing in the chilly breeze.

My playground bunny asked for help scaling the rock wall. Putting my coffee down on the bench, but not wanting to give her more assistance than she actually needed, I placed a hand on her lower back so she could feel my presence. And instead of physically helping her with the climb, I used words to motivate her.

“Find your footing,” I said, as her toes tapped the ledges to find her next step forward.

“I can’t!!” she cried, ready to give up before she had even climbed a foot.

“Don’t say ‘I can’t!’” I chided gently. “You can do it. I know you can.” I reassured her. She wanted to keep going. It’s not like my little girl to give up on something that easily. I knew she was just testing me, making sure I was there to support her.

The climb was slow. She’d ascend a step, but would suddenly seem to get stuck, not knowing her next move.

Stuck. Like me.

“Keep looking ahead, Sweetie.” I reminded her. Her tiny fingers reached up to the grip above her head, legs stretched straight until she found her next step.

That’s it. That’s all my daughter needed and a few more reaches and steps and she was at the top of the mountain doing a happy little dance. Proud mama below, cheering.

We wrapped up our afternoon outing with a trip to the library before collecting her brother at preschool carline where she promptly fell asleep. In that moment I sat in the car waiting for my little boy to emerge from school, full of gratitude for a day spent hand-in-hand with my second child who reminded me how to get unstuck.

Find your footing. Don’t say ‘I can’t.’ Keep looking ahead.

My mantras for the rest of this year. Thanks for the tips, baby girl. Let's keep on climbing.

 

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!

On Hiring A New Therapist

8668157615_a9d970b4f6_b ΞSSΞ®®Ξ via Compfight cc

Change has always been a hard thing for me. When one season comes to an end, and another sweeps in to take its place, I usually need a good few weeks to adjust and settle in. Take this weekend, for example. I loved celebrating the end of August with our anniversary date night and the two days spent soaking up the end of summer at the pool with friends. But until we ease into our new school routine I’ll be fidgety and uncomfortable with the newness of it all.

Speaking of change, I had to break up with my therapist of five years because she stopped accepting my insurance and there was no way I’d be able to pay the regular office visit amount out of pocket. I’m sad about not seeing her again, and feel terrible about not having the chance to say goodbye at our last visit. But I guess that’s just the way life goes sometimes.

Tomorrow I’ll meet a new therapist who I’ll share details of my life with. It feels like the first day of school when everything is new and I’m excited and nervous at the same time for all the learning I know I’ll do while I’m there. I’m sure I won’t be able to cover my entire mental health history in our first visit. But in the event we do continue on after tomorrow, I have a few expectations for our sessions.

I hope she helps me figure my complicated self out.

I hope she challenges me to see things from a different perspective.

I hope she teaches me how to be more forgiving of myself.

I hope she realizes that just because for the past three years I’ve been a “high-functioning” bipolar 1 patient, doesn't mean I don't struggle with my symptoms on a regular basis.

I hope that we’ll hit it off and have a long-lasting patient-therapist relationship.

I know this is a tall order and I have high expectations... for how this will work out. The truth is, we may not have chemistry and I may have to try several therapists before I find one who meets my needs. I’m prepared to do that if I need to. I'm prepared to work through change.

I believe I didn’t invest enough effort with my last therapist. I didn’t go to the appointments with something in mind to work on. It was more like going to monthly appointments where I sat and blabbed about myself and what I had been doing since I had last seen her. It didn’t do me much good. I didn’t grow the way I believe therapy should help a person grow.

This time I want things to be different. I’m ready to work this time.

The sun is setting on one season and will rise with the next. Bring it on. I'm ready.

Five Minute Friday {15}: Small

Five-Minute-Friday-15-Small

I can’t help but think about how one decision always leads to the next. Some things, which may seem small and insignificant at the time, have the ability to change the trajectory of our entire lives. Choosing a major at the age of 18, going on that blind date that your friends set you up on, deciding there will never be a perfect time to have another baby and so you just go for it even though the house and cars are too small and you don’t know how you’ll ever afford college for them all.

Sometimes you have to stop over-analyzing and just pick a direction, hoping for the best.

I’m glad that I’m able to uncover and pay attention to that soft whisper of my conscious in the back of my mind. A tiny part of me believes it’s Him helping to guide me make the right choices. Yet, I’m constantly doubting myself. I’m constantly doubting my faith.

But He hasn’t let me down.

I’m still trying to comprehend my reason for being here, but I believe the decisions in my life that have made me who I am. All the left turns when they should have been right, and the right turns when I could have gone straight, the year and a half when I would take two steps forward only to fall back and not be able to get up for weeks. These small moments of my life have brought me here.

And I’m loving this place. Five Minute Friday

We All Got Bruises

You know what I love about blogging? I love getting a chance to read a glimpse of a stranger’s life. I love when someone opens their heart and pours everything out, showing you that they are just as human as you are. The incredible thing about living your life out loud, for the world to read, is that people connect with you. You get to know them. You connect with them. Pretty soon you're no longer strangers, you're friends. And if you’re lucky, you get to meet them one day. You might just become friends for life.

We all have bruises, they’re what make us interesting. How boring would life be if it was all roses and sunshine every day? It’s comforting to know that we’re not alone in our struggles. Whether it be mental illness, alcoholism, financial troubles, parenting issues, divorce, the death of a child, or countless other curve balls life throws at us. We all have obstacles to overcome in our lives.

Music is healing for me and of all the things it’s done for me, the most important lesson it has taught me is easily, “What will be, will be” and I need to put my trust in fate.

If a song speaks to me, I play it on repeat for weeks. I lose myself in the lyrics and belt the tune out while driving to the farm or the grocery story. I used to be drawn to pop hits produced by music giants whose record labels end up writing the songs for them, pumping beats into the background of the synthesized dance tracks. These days I’m much more into singer/songwriters who tell a life story through their music. The kind of songs which make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, giving you goosebumps as you listen to the words.

You feel yourself nodding, “Me too,” as your soul soaks in the sweet melody. A good song gives me a new perspective on my troubles.

I've got Train's newest album, California 37, on a loop lately.

These bruises make for better conversation Loses the vibe that separates It's good to let you in again You're not alone in how you've been Everybody loses, we all got bruises We all got bruises

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmXaaEvnnOQ&w=560&h=315]

I’ve been a little overwhelmed by life lately. Wanting to pursue my dreams, but realizing that writing doesn’t exactly pay the bills {at least, not yet}.

A lump formed in my throat the other day when looking at finances. It was obvious that I need to pick up a part-time job. We live in one of the most expensive areas in the US, and the reality is that it’s really hard to cut it on one income. So I had a rough couple of days last week when Ben was traveling for work, filled with fear and self-pity and hugging my best friend while tears poured from my eyes, the kids looking up at me wondering what was wrong with mommy.

Once I calmed down and started to look at things with a clearer head, I quickly realized that things aren’t nearly as dire as I had thought. I was talking with my brother over the weekend about what was bringing me down and he told me to call one of our oldest friends who was looking for help with his business. It’s the type of work I’ll be able to do around the kids’ schedules, allowing me time to continue with my writing projects, exactly what I need right now.

Part of the reason I was so upset last week was because I was afraid that I’d have to give up writing to go back to work, and my heart was breaking at the thought of having to stop pursuing my passion. Sure, I’d still try to write in the evenings, but I know how hard it is to juggle everything and at the end of the day you’re just exhausted. I’m hopeful that this situation will provide the best of both worlds: the income we need with time to still pursue my dreams.

In the meantime, it’s songs like this that remind me to embrace the ups and downs of life for what they are.

Que sera. {What will be, will be.}
 
We-All-Got-Bruises
 

The Truth About Living Openly with Bipolar Disorder

LivingWithBipolarDisorderMe & my little firecracker on July 4th

I will never regret my decision to write openly about living with bipolar disorder. Never. There is something to be said for reaching a point in your life when you take an important leap. One you can tell your kids about someday. When I realized it hurt too much to keep it bottled up inside was the point when I realized that I wanted people to know I’m not perfect but I still love my life just the way it is, mental illness and all.

I love the moments right before I fall asleep. My mind replays my day’s highlights, as if to ingrain the smile or giggle or kiss in a corner of my brain, so that I won’t ever forget it. Tucked away safe so that I can unwrap it again when I need that memory.

Lying still, listening to the steady rhythm of the one I love beside me, I think about the day that awaits me when the sun rises.  I soak up all the sleep I can because chances are, I was up too late writing the night before. I no longer set an alarm; the sweet voices of my kids will wake me when the sunlight pours into their rooms.

The truth is, even though I will never regret my decision to tell the world about the chemical imbalance in my brain, I still wonder if I chose the right time in my life to open my heart.

Living openly with a mental illness means you’ll always wonder if the world is judging you. You’ll wonder if you will ever be looked over for a job you applied to or a promotion you earned because of the fact the employer knows you have bipolar disorder. You might wonder if you will ever work a regular job again now that you’ve written about the darkest and also the most manic times of your life.

These are the things I’ve been worrying about lately.

The truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that even though I know my husband loves me with his entire heart, someday he might not because my illness might get in the way one time too many. My entire world would come crumbling down around me.

And if my world did come crashing down, if I was left to manage on my own, how would I do that? Again, the future employment picture bubbles to the surface. How would I support myself financially when my loving husband has been the main provider for the last six years? And would my symptoms suddenly break through the surface again, like a volcano that has been dormant but now is ready to explode?

These are the big, scary thoughts that sometimes make me wonder if I did the right thing.

Because the truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that once you’re diagnosed, it’s yours to live with for the rest of your life. It’s yours to manage, to curse, to medicate, to appreciate. There is no erasing a mental health condition. Therein lies both the beauty and the beast.

The truth about living openly with bipolar disorder is that it’s shown me how far I’ve come as a person. How I’m no longer afraid of showing my true colors. I love my brain and all the creativity it has allowed me to express. Even though it may break down from time to time, I love this piece of me which has shown me what I’m capable of. And that is overcoming my fears and insecurities.

For this I say, I’m glad I’ve decided to be open about the fact that I have bipolar disorder.

No looking back. There’s only the beautiful mystery of what lies ahead.

An Open Letter to My Former Psychiatrist: On Being Right

8122306436_73cee6df2bMukumbura via Compfight cc

Dear Dr. H***,

You were right. Seven years ago this August, I left your office with my husband, round belly bulging with my nearly full-term first child, cursing your name. It was our first appointment together and you basically told me I was going to fail. When I explained to you that I had been off meds and symptom-free from my bipolar disorder for almost a year and that I wanted to stay off medication to breastfeed, you nodded with a sympathetic smile on your face, scribbled in your notebook and simply said we needed to have a plan.

A plan for which hospital I’d go to when I became manic to the point of needing that level of care. That level of care that you were so sure I’d need.

You were right.

At that stage of my fight, Dr. H***, I was still in denial about the fact that I had been diagnosed with a mental illness. I thought maybe, just maybe, since I had nearly a full year of stability without meds, the past had been a misdiagnosis. Perhaps those eight psychiatrists I had seen over the years since my two hospitalizations for mania were all wrong. I mean, I hadn’t experienced any significant episodes of depression or mania since 2006 and most importantly, I felt solid and stable. Didn’t that count for anything?

Didn’t that make me normal again?

I was so excited to be a mom and every spare moment I had was spent preparing for this new little life who would soon enter the world. His crib was set up, clothes had been washed and lovingly put away, and diapers and wipes sat waiting on the changing table in his nursery. One of the last things on my list was meeting with you, a psychiatrist who agreed to treat me without medication for the remainder of my pregnancy and beyond, according to my wishes.

Man, am I glad we met when we did. Because you were so right. And when the time came, four weeks after his birth, when the compounded lack of sleep and absence of meds in my bloodstream caught up to me in the form of full-blown postpartum psychosis, my husband had someone to call for help.

He called you.

How terrifying it must have been for him to see me unravel the way I did. How helpless he must have felt watching me slowly lose touch with reality, my eyes glazing over, unable to focus on the simplest task of taking a shower or eating a bowl of cereal. And when the psychosis reached its peak, he saw me scrambling to pull together every journal I had ever written in, piling them up before the blazing gas fireplace in our family room like an offering before I died. My legacy, scrawled in ink for my son to read someday since in my mind, I wasn’t going to make it back to the surface. I was hurling to the depths of hell which to me felt like being dragged to the floor of the ocean, my ankles cuffed with a ball and chain pulling me to the bottom. I was sinking faster than I could breathe. And I was so scared it was my day to die and I’d never see my baby again.

Mania to the point of psychosis can do this to a person.

I was taken under a Temporary Detention Order to the Emergency Room where I was held handcuffed to the bed. The doctors and nurses eventually determined I was a threat to myself or others and the green light was given to find me a bed. I was lucky, beds aren’t always available, as the Deeds’ family tragedy recently and unfortunately proved. I only had to wait overnight and the next morning I was transferred to our local hospital’s geriatric psych ward, the only open bed in the surrounding area.

I made it through. It wasn’t easy, in fact, it was pretty awful being in a psych ward for a week of my new baby’s life. My mental illness had landed a forceful blow to the gut, showing me it was in control of my body. Still, wandering the halls at night I’d stumble, groggy from the antipsychotics, to the nurses station to ask for another dose of whatever sleeping pill they could give me. I knew sleep was my friend in there. After a week, I got well with your help, and with support from my husband and family.

I focused on getting stable. I followed my treatment plan and took my meds religiously. Then it happened again. I thought I knew what was best for my next baby. I didn’t. Acute mania reared its ugly head to the point of psychosis, repeating the nightmare a year and a half later when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter because I had stopped my medication.

You were right again. At five weeks pregnant I landed in the psych ward again.

Those days are tough for me to look back on, the times I was in the hospital and the weeks and months of recovery afterwards. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything because they are a part of who I am now and they tell the story of how I’ve evolved. Those slices of my life do not define me, but when added into everything else that makes me the person I am today, I am grateful for those agonizing, terrifying, heart-wrenching experiences.

You are the expert when it comes to psychiatry, Dr. H***. Me, I’m just the patient. But when it comes to making life decisions, I asked for your opinion but of course only I could make that call. You expressed the same sadness that so many in this world share over the injustice mentally ill people experience when they expose their conditions. I was looking for justification that it would be okay if I wrote openly about what I had been through, but I didn’t get that from you. In fact, you recommended that I keep my illness hidden, lest I be discriminated upon because of it. Once more, it was as if I were hearing “destined to fail” all over again.

Good thing I didn’t listen that time.

I’m writing now, Dr. H***. Remember when I told you I wanted to write a book? Well, I still do, but first I’ve started self-publishing online, to gain experience. I have a blog, and over the past two years my readership has grown tremendously, all organically, due to my dedication to sharing my story in order to help others.

I’ve met so many incredible people through blogging and social media. It blows my mind how I can write about the struggles I’ve gone through and in return, I get emails from people saying, “Me too!” and “Thank you so much for being so brave.” My heart is blissfully content because I know I’ve uncovered my purpose in life and my words are having an impact on people, a positive impact. I can feel it. And every time I put my thoughts out there for the world to read, my voice grows a little stronger.

I’ve created a show and non-profit organization called This Is My Brave where others like me who live with mental illness can stand up on stage and share our personal stories, our suffering and our breakthroughs, the hope we’ve found in long-term recovery. This is our chance to show the world our vulnerability in an effort to raise awareness and acceptance.

For years after I was handed my diagnosis I feared the backlash of people who knew me finding out about my mental illness. Conversations were uncomfortable, I cared too much about what other people thought of me. It didn’t take me very long to realize that living in fear is not really living. Taking off my armor and choosing to expose myself and my story was one of the best decisions I ever made about my mental health and my life in general.

Revealing my vulnerability freed me to follow my dreams.

And I have you to thank. Thank you for being right. Thank you for letting me fall. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Finally, thank you for doubting me and advising me to stay silent. Because I needed my chance to prove someone wrong and you were that person for me.

Respectfully yours,

Jennifer Marshall (your patient from 2008-2011)

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