Would you like to live on a farm in Canada?

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

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

Here's his note:

Hello Jennifer,

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

Focusing on mental wellness

I had a conversation today that stuck with me. It's got my brain focused on the concept of mental wellness and how this April it will have been seven years since my last psychiatric hospitalization. On one hand the cold metal of the handcuffs around my wrists and the click of the officer tightening them to escort me to the psych ward feels like a lifetime ago, but on the other, my choppy memories remain vivid enough to remember like it was yesterday. I'm so proud of this path I've been on. I'm proud of my husband and my parents who fought like hell for me when I could only see gray. I'm proud of how I learned to advocate for myself, and how I didn't listen to my psychiatrist who told me I should keep my bipolar diagnosis a secret when I shared my desire to write openly to fight stigma. I don't want to think about where I'd be today had I listened to her advice.

Over these past seven years I've learned how to control my mental health disorder so that I have the upper hand. I've invested time and energy into focusing on my mental health, rather than allowing a diagnosis rule my life.

I'm becoming more aware of the fact that what we surround ourselves with has a huge impact on our well being. And I'm attracted to people, products, services, books and even clothing that helps me focus on cultivating a healthy lifestyle.

We're only here for such a short time. Yes, there will be struggles. Yes, there will be times when we'll fail. But we all deserve to be happy and healthy.

Today I choose to cultivate my mental health. Sharing my story has played a big part in my mental wellness because I needed to let go of the shame associated with the trauma of being hospitalized against my will, and once I began blogging, the shame, isolation and embarrassment melted away. In large part because so many people appreciated my openness and then shared their story with me. When we find the courage to be vulnerable, others feel they have permission to also share.

IMG_7544Through blogging I found info on healthy eating which lead me to make shifts in my eating patterns. I began feeling better and then became more active. Thanks to my brother's encouragement, I found a workout program that I was able to stick with. Exercising regularly has kept me physically healthy. I can't remember the last time I was very sick (knock on wood).

And recently I found a meditation app that I love and I've been making time to meditate every day. It's amazing what a quick 10 or 15-minute meditation can do for the mind and body. I definitely feel my creativity starting to flow again, and overall my mind feels more at ease and calm.

Mental health is something that we're all living with. Taking care of our mental health and nurturing our body so that our minds can stay healthy is so important. We only have one mind, one body, one chance at life. Mental illness may be something that you or a family member or friend may encounter. But it doesn't have to mean that life is over.

It means there is a different path ahead, and you can get through it. Trust me. I've been there.

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.

Why I Declare My Goals

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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.

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

The Hospital Badge

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When I meet other people who live with mental illness, it’s inevitable that at some point the topic of hospitalizations comes up. It’s as if the number of times you’ve been committed is like a badge of honor.

It’s not, but it is at the same time.

When you’ve been in the hospital, you learn how to fight to get well. You learn to have compassion for other people’s struggles. You learn to realize that your brain just doesn’t work like a plain old regular person’s brain works.

And so you learn coping mechanisms for how to manage your illness.

In group sessions you’re taught how to listen and be present in the moment. You're shown how to use art to express your feelings and work through your emotions in art therapy. During the exercise class you might appreciate the calmness that comes from the breathing exercises and stretching of yoga.

But it doesn’t mean that you’ll be fine when you’re released. For me, having been hospitalized for mental illness was... a very traumatic event, each of the four times it happened.

When I came home from the hospital each time, I’d hide my feelings of guilt and shame, not really opening up about what I had been through to anyone but my therapist. It would take weeks to return to stable, and I was constantly desperate to talk with someone else who understood what I had gone through.

Luckily, I have met some friends through support groups and other avenues, who have also been through hospitalizations for mental illnesses, and it’s always interesting to compare notes. But when it comes down to it, those types of stays are all the same. Meds, therapy, paperwork, release. Then you’re on your own.

Through blogging I’ve had the privilege of hearing from some of my readers who've reached out to me via email saying they’re so glad I’m writing because stories like mine are important to share. They’ll sometimes tell me how hard of a time they’re having, and how they wish they could just go to the hospital for a week or two, maybe it would help.

What I want those readers to know is that going to the hospital may help take the edge off momentarily. But when you get out, and you’re back at home, it’s sometimes easy to fall right back to where you were before you were admitted.

Life goes on. The world keeps turning. And we have to keep on learning to lead the dance with our conditions, lest they turn us in the wrong direction.

For me, this means protecting my sleep. Last night my allergies were in an uproar, given the change in the weather this past weekend. My fitbit displayed a horrendous sleep pattern. I went to bed at 9:15pm (the earliest I’ve been in bed for the past three weeks by an hour) but yet it was quite possibly the worst night of sleep I’ve had in that many weeks.

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But I won’t give up. I'm working on staying on top of my triggers to ensure I stay mentally healthy. For myself, for my family, and for my community.

And on that note, it’s time for me to hit the sack.

Five Minute Friday {12}: Rhythm

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Right now, in this moment, I'm ready to make the climb.

I am ready to rise up at the end of the longest day of the year to make a statement.

With my family by my side, the steady rhythm of our hiking feet choosing measured steps along the trail, we will make the trek to honor the path I've walked in the past and the recovery journey I am still taking and will continue to fight for as long as I live.

I am a warrior mom. I climb to show that I am brave, that no one should be afraid to talk about mental illness, and because I passionately believe in the mission of Postpartum Progress, the non-profit sponsoring this event and the world’s most widely-read blog on postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth: to focus on positive messages of empowerment and recovery.

Today I am reminded that every day is a climb. Every day brings new challenges to face and overcome. Every day is a gift which I am honored to receive. Every day I will answer the call to climb because making the trek to the top, however impossible the obstacles to the summit may be, will be well worth it in the end. I know now from experience that what lies ahead holds more potential than I could have ever imagined.

See you at the top.

#ClimbOut

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker's

Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday {10}: Fall

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LuxICMaldives via Compfight cc

I’ve already started packing. My suitcase sits open in the middle of our bedroom and all week I’ve been tossing things in as I get ready to finish stuffing in sundresses and books, bikinis and sandals until I’ll zip it shut tomorrow evening. I’ll be wearing the perfume of coconut-banana scented suntan lotion all week, my hair will curl in it’s natural, frizzy waves as I’ll forego blow drying for air drying.

 

We’ll worry about the kids, but know that they’ll be in heaven at home with their grandparents - all four of them taking shifts so they don’t get too exhausted by the fun of it all.

Whenever we’re able to do this - to run away from the same old day-to-day for a just-me-and-you vacation, I fall back into what life was like before kids, before marriage, before the responsibilities of work and a mortgage. I feel like we’re dating again, flirting and being silly with each other. Holding hands as we walk to breakfast or dinner. Or on the beach, lounging in our sunchairs, when I look over at you and give your hand a little squeeze while we gaze out at the ocean.

Not that I need a tropical vacation to appreciate all the wonderful things about you, honey. Time on an island with you just reminds me of our honeymoon. Only now, I no longer have those anxious butterflies in my stomach, nervousness about how our future will play out. Because time has passed - almost 10 years since that week in St. Lucia after our wedding - and we’ve fallen into each other and I’m not nervous for the future anymore.

I’m only giddy with excitement, ready to fall more in love with you in the coming years than I’ve ever been before.

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Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker's

Five Minute Friday

Brave: Five Minute Friday {5}

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BRAVE

The choice to end life. To stop living. To not go on any longer because fighting is too hard, it's exhausting, and giving up would be so much easier.

 

The plan was made. Actions carried out.

 

The sand was slipping swiftly through the hourglass of life. Time was literally running out.

 

Then, suddenly, something awoke within her. She called out for help. And her cry for help was answered.

 

Natalie made the choice to be brave.

 

Now, she is telling her truth. I am watching her exude brave.

 

And I am so very proud of my friend.

Five Minute Friday

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Sunday, May 5th is her Live Day anniversary. I am running a 5k to recognize and celebrate her decision to choose life. In honor of Natalie's battle to overcome suicide, I am walking The American Federation for Suicide Prevention's Overnight Walk, June 1st-2nd.

Please visit Natalie's blog, ItWillNeverHappen2Me.com, to read her story of what took place a year ago this weekend.

Friend: Five Minute Friday {4}

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What I love about my life is that I have many different types of friends surrounding me with love. Whenever life throws me a curve ball, or things are perfectly boring, or I just need to try something outside of my comfort zone to mix things up a bit because I've been feeling a little dull, I just reach out to a friend to reconnect and nourish my soul.

 

She makes me smile over coffee.

She lets me cry if I need a release.

She hugs me when we say goodbye.

 

I would be lost without my friends. They each hold a piece of my fragile heart in their hands and I hope they feel the same about me.

 

Because life is so much better with a friend to walk with.

Five Minute Friday

Running with the Wind

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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! :)