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. 

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).

Bringing Mental Illness into the Light

ball-407081_1280 Rejection hurts. It stings my heart and crushes my soul. When it happens more than I can count on one hand in a matter of three days, well, it makes for a shitty week. Makes me wonder if it's worth all the effort.

This morning I unconsciously pulled a teeshirt out of my dresser drawer. I was immediately reminded of what drives me as I pulled the shirt over my head, stared at my reflection in the mirror. What pushes me to continue on through the no's, the unreturned phone calls, the doubts in my mind.

I've heard these doubts whispering in my head before. They were gossiping amongst themselves, loud enough for me to overhear, when we launched our Kickstarter in 2013. Even when we surpassed our goal, they still kept on chattering through our auditions, rehearsals, right up until I walked on stage with my cast for our debut show. Once our cast took to the podium, one by one, we finally silenced those doubts.

So they've returned, and I'm not surprised. I have to once again focus on our mission, why we came together to raise our voices for the greater good.

The gray tee with maroon block letters I was wearing today is one of my biggest reminders. VIRGINIA TECH. We will never forget.

I often wonder what would have happened if one person would have been courageous enough to have been the net that could have prevented the awful tragedy of April 16, 2007. One person reaching out. One person noticing. One person providing help.

I know it's so much more complicated than that, believe me.

I remember when the news broke, where I was, what I was doing. Shaking. On the phone with my brother, a VT alum. Then my husband,  also an alum. Staring at the TV in disbelief.

The power of This Is My Brave lies in the vulnerability of the people who decide to stand up on stage and tell their story through a microphone, or publish their words to our community's blog. We've been through the unthinkable. But we've made it to the other side. We're stronger, better equipped to continue the fight. Ready to make a difference.

We all have our struggles in life. What if, instead of pushing those issues and problems and fear of being judged down deep inside of us, we made a bold move and opened up?

I used to be afraid of people finding out that I have bipolar disorder. But ever since I stopped hiding, I've noticed something huge. The vast majority of the time, the person on the other end of the conversation says, "me too." Or, "someone close to me is suffering from depression," or "my mom/dad/brother/sister/aunt/cousin/etc./etc./etc. has a mental illness."

It's everywhere.

Which is why I won't give up. I won't stop talking about mental illness because we're all affected by it. And I want to change lives by continuing to bring true stories into the light. If just one person is helped by this work, it's all worth it.

Move over insecurity, I have important work to do.

Write your way through it

journal giveaway bipolar mom life I've been writing in journals ever since I was a tween. Back then they were sparkly little diaries with the lock and key protecting all the secrets inside. I'd write about life and love, about boys I thought I'd fallen in love with but who didn't actually love me back. Or about arguments with my parents or my friends, trying to justify my side of the story.

I turned to journaling whenever the moment struck me, throughout high school and college, and even once I had graduated and started out on my own in the world. My husband and I traveled Europe for a week together after I completed a 2-week study abroad in Antwerp, Belgium, and I still love flipping back through that play-by-play notebook of our trip. I can almost transport myself back by reading those words.

I never realized how many ways the simple habit of putting pen to paper could actually help someone until it helped me.

When mania threatened to ruin my life with two psych hospitalizations in a month's time, everyone close to me was sent spinning. Psychiatrists, therapists, prescriptions. It was all so new to us.

My husband may have been scared, but he wasn't afraid to stand by my side through the hurricane of what was now our life. My parents, although heartbroken for the pain and uncertainty I was facing, were committed to helping me get well.

In the midst of doctor's visits and the flurry of medications I was put on, I felt out of control. Too much was going on. There were all these symptoms and I didn't know how to describe them. I couldn't pronounce the meds I was on. My mind felt weird.

A week after my second hospitalization, my dad came up with a brilliant idea. He bought me a plain pocket notebook at CVS, and told me to write down the same three things each day: what meds/doses I took each day, any side effects I was experiencing, and how I was feeling. That way, we could work with my doctor to figure out what was going on in my brain and how to get me well.

I kept those journals for four years straight, barely ever missing a day. Some days I'd only write those things my dad said to write, other days I'd write pages and pages. I used it to track my progress. It helped me to recognize my triggers. I learned a great deal about myself through taking the time to put my thoughts down on paper.

It was the start of my writing my way through my mental illness. Which has led me to where I am today. I haven't kept a journal since 2010, since that's when I starting to transition my words online to this blog. But I want to return to it because I recognize how I love looking back at the past, to see how it led to the present.

Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be absolutely terrifying in the beginning. But getting through it doesn't have to feel impossible. It takes time to get to the bottom of things, to figure out what meds work, to start feeling like your old self again once you do find one that works. Trust me, I know.

Also trust the process.

I saw these little journals in a drugstore this week. They reminded me so much of the small Vera Bradley notebooks I transitioned to after I filled up the one my dad bought for me. I bought two, one for me, and one to give away to one of my readers who could use it.

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A Peek into My Life

New Year's Eve, 12/31/14 - on our way to the annual celebration at our friends' house in Richmond  

The first half of 2015 is almost over. This is hard to believe. It feels like just yesterday that Anne Marie and I were holed up in a Marriott Residence Inn for our 2015 weekend planning retreat. But that was January, and here we are approaching the beginning of June.

This is my first full year as Executive Director of a start-up non-profit. We've had a phenomenal start to our first full year in operation, thanks to the support of so many people and companies, plus partner non-profit organizations. We just wrapped up our fourth big-city show this season, and are gearing up to present "This Is My Brave - The Show" to help kick off the start of the Mental Health America annual conference on June 3rd. Plus, we've had several community events going on this month, to close out Mental Health Awareness Month - including a mini show presentation at our local library coming up next week! You can follow our schedule here and subscribe to our newsletter to be kept informed of upcoming events.

To say it's been a busy month is an understatement. I wouldn't have been able to do it without the support of my husband and my wonderful mother-in-law who is always available to babysit the kids when I have a meeting or event for This Is My Brave.

My writing here in this space has taken a hiatus, but I'm working on getting back into my regular writing routine so that I'll have content to start publishing new blogs in the coming weeks. I'm reading a fascinating book right now on habits called Better Than Before : Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin and it's helping me to understand my tendencies and how to use those tendencies to my advantage to create habits that I'll be able to adopt. If you wonder why you aren't able to adopt a certain habit, say, exercise for example, you may want to check out this book to learn why and how to tailor your habits to your temperament.

So as I work on my writing habit, know that my goal will be to share more here in this space. I'd like to finish out the series I started at the beginning of the year - the 12-part series on How I Learned How to Manage My Bipolar Illness by Cultivating a Healthy Lifestyle. If you've been following along, you know I've only highlighted five out of the twelve so far. Seven more of those are in draft form in my calendar, waiting to be written out and published. Bipolar disorder is a part of my life, for sure, but since learning to control it, the disease itself has taken up less space, time and energy in my life and I want to share how I've been able to do that with you. These aren't foolproof methods, and my life is in no way perfect, but they have been extremely helpful and if they can help you, too, then I'm happy to share.

Moving forward this year, I'm also going to be using video more, mainly on my Facebook page for this blog, but also in my everyday life. What better way to get a glimpse into someone's world than by peeking in on everyday moments. When my husband found a little frog in our backyard to show the kids, and when my little man took the swim test yesterday at the pool I was able to broadcast those events live on my Periscope. Are you on there yet? It's super fun, a bit addicting, and I'd love to connect with you so I could check out your Periscope, too. {You need to have a Twitter account to sign up, as it's owned by Twitter and as of right now it's only available on iPhone and Android.}

I'm off to celebrate the rest of Memorial Day weekend with my family and friends. Hope you have a wonderful, restful holiday. Thank you to all our men and women who have served, and who are currently serving, fighting for our freedom. We salute you.

Snow and writing

Snow-and-Writing This week has been full of snow and writing. I haven't posted anything to the blog this week because I've been busy writing for Postpartum Progress since I'm a member of the Warrior Mom Editorial Team. If you haven't already seen my posts via my social media promos, I'd love for you to check them out. {Postpartum Psychosis Doesn't Equal Failing as a Mom & Psychosis During Pregnancy and What It Taught Me are the titles of my two posts.} When I hear the song from Frozen it makes me think of that time in my life when I was having babies and not taking medication in order to protect them.

Seems so long ago, but it hasn't even been four years since my last episode. Back then I worked to hide what I had been going through. I've matured since then and I now know - from the tweets, comments and emails I receive from people who have read my words - that I made the right decision. Speaking out helps so many people. I'll never know how many, but my heart is content with my decision to become an advocate.

It's been a long week here with Monday being MLK Day and the little man off from school, then the snowstorm on Tuesday which led to school being cancelled for the rest of the week. I've been trying not to tear all my hair out from the "I'm-at-the-end-of-my-rope" feeling due to having to entertain a 3 and 5-yr old for four days straight. We're all getting on each other's nerves from being cooped up in the house all week. I say cooped up because for the most part I despise winter and only go out in negative wind chill weather when absolutely necessary.

Like for my therapist appointment yesterday. Couldn't ask for better timing.

I've been working on a ton of stuff for the show in May. Hard to believe it's only four months until we take the stage. Audition slots are starting to fill up and my Association Producer Anne Marie and I are thrilled to see everything coming together. If you know anyone you you think would be fabulous for the show - I'm talking creative, funny, inspirational, energetic - please have them sign up for a spot before they're gone.

I recently accepted a new writing assignment for an organization doing a tremendous amount of inspirational, educational, critical work surrounding mental health awareness. I'm honored to have been approached by them and cannot wait to share my first post with you. It's a once-a-month gig, which is definitely manageable and plus, it's an opportunity I couldn't turn down. {Sorry I broke my promise, Maria - but this is worth it!}

So yeah, a lot going on. But if I've learned anything over these last few months it's that the work eventually gets done. When the kids are calling for me to get down on the carpet and play "picnic" or board games with them, I listen. I close the laptop and grab hold of the quality time. Or when exhaustion sets in, we snuggle up on the couch and watch a movie together. Life is good. Better than good, actually. It's pretty damn amazing. (Including the occasional teachable parenting moment, which I wrote about for WhatToExpect.com recently.)

   "If you are always trying to be amazing, you will never know how amazing you can be."                                                             - Maya Angelou

Why I Write

Why-I-WritePhoto Credit: dawolf- via Compfight cc

I write to show the world the invisible parts of me.

I write because people need to know what mental illness looks like. It looks like me. A young mom of two feisty preschoolers with a loving husband by her side.

I write because it’s too hard for him to talk about the four times his wife slept so little her brain was buzzing out of control and he had to sign the papers. Talk with police officers. Visit the psych ward. Hold down the fort while I got well.

I write because my kids are too young to understand what their mommy experienced before they were born, when they were little. And I want them to know all of it. I’m hopeful they’ll wrap their arms around me with pride and love when they read all I’ve written.

I write because I want to make a difference. I’m over the old-school philosophy of “some things are better left unsaid.”

Said who?

The truth is, when things go unsaid, that’s when tragedies happen.

I write because I’m almost 35 and no one ever knows how much time is left. I don’t want to regret not speaking out. I want my story heard.

I write because although I’ve found the courage to disclose my illness, so many others are still suffocated by their conditions. They may be feeling defeated by the mental illness they’re battling. And they’re not quite ready to talk or write.

But once they push past the anger, the fear, the disbelief and the shame that their illness dropped onto their shoulders, there will be plenty of time for a coming out party.

They’ll combine voices to put the power of unity behind the message, take a look around and communicate how good it feels to have this weight lifted off their shoulders. A weight that never should have grown there in the first place.

I write because I found my purpose. I write to help others find their brave.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My book is now a Snippet! To read my short e-book entitled Find Your Brave {a manifesto}, click HERE to download Snippet in the Apple store. It’s the fun, new interactive way to read quick, engaging e-books.

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!