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. 

Remembering This Is My Brave's beginning

Remembering the BeginningI've been neglecting my little, teeny corner of the Internet. Not because I haven't thought about blogging, it's that making the time has been a challenge lately. But after yesterday's This Is My Brave (year 3!!) Cast party, I felt drawn back to this space. My favorite mug within arm's reach, emblazoned with my favorite photo of our inaugural cast, full of steaming hot peach tea. Headphones plugged into my laptop, the rhymes of Ed Sheeran keep me company as I click a button to Add New Post. This is where it all started.

It started with a decision to tell my story nearly five years ago. Even if I told it without my name attached, I still made the choice to write about my experience living with bipolar disorder. I typed out the trauma of succumbing to two manic episodes in one month. I wrote about things like exercise and journaling that were helpful to me in finding a path to recovery amid the chaos of receiving a diagnosis.

IMG_3985I remember contemplating that I would name the blog, before those posts were even published, eventually settling on "Bipolar Mom Life" because I wanted to be searchable.

I remember feeling the wave of mental health advocacy begin to swell. I wanted to climb on, to be part of the monumental tidal wave of brave individuals who were working to drown stigma through their openness. So I grabbed my proverbial surfboard and started paddling.

Years of writing several posts a week, then writing for other websites, to landing my first paid writing gig. One thing led to another and then to another. This little blog became the catalyst for something I dreamt about but would never fully appreciate until it actually happened.

So, how did it happen? This Is My Brave has become what it is today because of the support that has emerged from the shadows. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers. So many people ready to put their silence behind them. From extreme darkness comes the brightest lights, we've seen it time and time again through our shows. Our trials, trauma, and pain have taught us we are stronger than our struggles. We are compassionate souls, brave because we want to impact change. This Is My Brave is alive because in our communities everywhere live storytellers who aren't afraid to show their scars.

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We only had to provide the opportunity for them to share.

I may have made the decision to start a blog, but This Is My Brave wouldn't have ever taken off if it weren't for people believing in its mission, to end the stigma surrounding mental illness by sharing our true, personal stories through poetry, music and essay, and stepping up onto the stage.

Our stories are coming together in a huge tsunami which is threatening to drown out the concept of stigma all together.

I may have had my doubts that this project would be able to make the impact I hoped it would, but those insecurities have been silenced. Every single time we put the call out for storytellers they bring it. Our job of casting becomes harder each year.

IMG_3998Through vivid imagery you feel their hearts bleed out onto the pages. You also learn how they made it through the minefield of mental illness. Their resilience warms your heart and in the end you're glowing with pride for everything they've become. And that they've decided to selflessly share their strength with the world. This is the magic of This Is My Brave.

I hope you'll come see a show this May. We'll be in Greenville, South Carolina; Iowa City, Iowa; Arlington, Virginia; Denver, Colorado; and Valparaiso, Indiana. Tickets are on sale now.

Come and #LiveBrave with us.

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.

Making the Invisible Visible

making-invisible-visiblePhoto Credit: Mylla More via Compfight cc

I’ve always been the type of person who wanted to make the invisible visible. It’s just in my nature. Engrained in my being. A part of who I am. I am someone who wants to share where I’ve been so that others can learn and grow, the same way I desperately want to hear what others have gleaned from their life experiences. I crave this deep, intimate knowledge of people. When I open up to someone and they lean in and open up in response, I know I’ve found my people. Small talk makes my skin crawl.

When I meet someone for the first time though, small talk is inevitable. At first glance, no one would ever guess that I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, I’d never know if the person in front of me had ever been so depressed they couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. So many of us live with these potentially, and often times, debilitating illnesses in our brains, and yet we present as perfectly capable, fully-functioning, regular old citizens going about our daily activities. Waking up, with or without incredible effort, making breakfast for ourselves and perhaps our family, getting everyone dressed and out the door to work and school, dinner, bedtime. Rinse, repeat.

We need to stop the facades and be honest and real with each other.

If we never make it past the small talk to really open up to a friend or neighbor about our depression, or our anxiety or our eating disorder or whatever it is that we’ve hid for so long because we were scared of being judged, then how would our friend ever be able to love us as who we are? It's hard to accept what we don’t know. What we don’t understand. What we don’t see.

I’ll give you an example.

One night, in early 2006, in the midst of the severe depression and anxiety I had been wrestling with since being diagnosed, I went out to dinner with my two best friends to celebrate a birthday. I don’t know how I managed to get myself up and out of bed, but it probably had something to do with the fact that we were going to my favorite restaurant {Sweetwater Tavern} and I must have been craving the salmon salad. Plus, my friend’s birthday.

K picked me up and we met M there. We had a nice meal, and the check arrived at the table to be paid at our convenience because they’re very efficient at Sweetwater. I can’t remember who paid the tab, but someone did or we split it, but it was settled, and we were just lingering there at the table, M and K finishing their drinks before leaving when it happened.

I had an anxiety attack. The normal buzz of the crowded restaurant which never used to bother me before suddenly made me want to run for the door. A wave of panic rushed up my legs and settled in my gut. I needed to get out of there.

“Are we done? Can we just go already?” I blurted out, not knowing what else to say, and not realizing how it would affect my friends.

They both stared at me for a second.

“What’s wrong with you?” M asked, frustration and confusion apparent in her tone. K shot me a look that seemed to ask, “Are you okay?” They had no idea.

I managed to squeak out something about being ready to go, apologizing for being so pushy, and they bought it. But I never did have the hard conversation. I don't blame them one bit for their reactions. They didn't know. It took me another year before I really tried to explain to them what was happening to me. What it felt like on the inside. I tried to explain the invisible.

I had plenty of reservations about revealing to the world that I’ve been living with bipolar disorder since my first manic break in December of 2005. You could say I was terrified. But it was also clear as day to me that the benefits of sharing my story were what made me feel good about my decision. Sure, there were the negatives. I may face discrimination in the future from people who don’t understand my condition or from those who may be afraid because of what they’ve seen in the media. But by standing up and speaking out in a positive, unique way, I hope to minimize any form of intolerance I may encounter in the future.

[Tweet "By combining our voices, we're more likely to be heard & understood. #ThisIsMyBrave"]

Which is why I am so proud of what is happening with This Is My Brave. We’ve come so far in seven short months. This week we announced our cast, and next week we’ll begin introducing them to the world so that you can see just how wonderful they are and why you need to come to the show in May. They’ll be up on stage, sharing a piece of their heart with you so that you can better understand their journey. Because at first glance, you’d never say to yourself, “Oh, she definitely spent a year battling agoraphobia, it’s obvious” or “You can tell he was arrested during a manic episode.”

These are invisible illnesses which we’re making visible because it’s time we shine a spotlight on mental illness. By bringing it into the light we illuminate the hope that lies in recovery so that no one who has been touched by a mental health issue has to feel alone.

Trusting My Sacred Scared

photo One of my favorite writers posted a new blog this week about being afraid in life and yet going for what we want anyway, just showing up. She talked about how if we all waited until we were all shiny and perfect and ready, we’d be waiting for eternity. No one is flawless, we’re all messy and complicated, she goes on to say. And if we could all start opening up and talking about what scares us the most, the thing we’re afraid to admit out loud because we’re scared it would make us unloveable, if we do this, we reveal our humanity to the world. When those around us see us taking off our armour, we hear them breathe an audible sigh of relief, and instead of living a life in fear, we can face them bravely together. Because, Love Wins.

I have so many fears. I wrote some of them out last summer in a post I titled: The Truth About Living Openly With Bipolar Disorder. I was scared to hit publish on that post, but I’m glad I did. Because people related to it. They saw me showing my messy, imperfect life and they got it because theirs is messy and imperfect, too.

Now, seven months later, those same fears are all still here, only now it seems as if they’ve multiplied like bacteria in a petri dish.

Lately it feels like not only am I worrying about whether I made the right decision, at the right time, to open up about living with a mental illness, I also worry about whether the show will be a smashing success or a big, fat flop. {I’m banking on the huge success, especially since I know some of the brilliant, talented individuals signed up for auditions, but still, the fear creeps into the back of my mind when I’m not having a confident day.} I’m scared that our petition to convert This Is My Brave, LLC to This Is My Brave - the Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit will fall through, and even if it does work out, how will I figure out the grant-writing process having never done it before and will I ever be able to make a living out of my passion for mental health advocacy work so that I can contribute financially to our family? I am also intimidated by hard-core activists who might say that what I’m doing with the show is just a song-and-dance and it will never make a difference to the state of mental health programs in our country.

Man, hitting publish on this one is going to be incredibly unnerving.

I hate that I have these fears. On a good day, they barely whisper. But on a day when I can’t catch a break, it’s as if they are taunting me just to see if they can get a rise out of me. They choke me and sometimes cause me to worry so much I'm paralyzed with fear and in turn, nothing gets done and I stress even more about my ability to pull this off.

The thing is, even though these fears remain, I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I know in my heart that I’m doing the right thing with my life. The emails I receive from people who have been touched by my writing drive me to keep going. To keep putting one foot in front of the other and to keep tapping on my keyboard each week. And this show/non-profit organization/community of people who are supporting each other through living with a mental illness, they are my tribe, my flock. I want them to know that I love them just the way they are and that they make me feel less alone and I hope I do the same for them. We’re all in this together and it feels so much better than the loneliness of hiding from what we’re afraid of.

Do you know the biggest lesson I’ve learned through this process of being scared and vulnerable and talking about my fears and my messy life openly? I’ve learned to trust my gut. That place in the middle which you can only sense when you’re super quiet and listening really, really closely, with intention to find purpose. I can feel it in my bones that I’m meant to do this and it brings me peace, no matter how loud my fears are on a particular day.

I’ve experienced what I have because I was meant to come out on the other side so that others can find hope. I truly believe this. So what if I have no idea what I’m doing? So what if I make mistakes along the way? These days I’m able to find comfort in the fact that I’m trusting the world with my messy, beautiful life.

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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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The Year I Learned to Jump

Year-Learned-JumpPhoto Credit: Jimbo N via Compfight cc

“ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU ARE AFRAID TO DO.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even in the midst of my intense wrestling match with bipolar disorder, right smack in the middle of the chaos of a frazzled mind and rattled sense of self-worth, I somehow knew one day I’d take the type of jump where there's no looking back once you launch yourself into the air.

I knew I’d face my fear.

Today, in these moments when I type here in my makeshift office and upload my words to this space which has become my launching pad for jumping off my cliff of fear, I’m opening up. Putting it all out there, no longer the only one bearing the weight the vivid flashbacks from the brunt of my struggle. I say not the only one because inevitably after I hit publish someone will respond with a “me too."

As 2013 comes to a close, I’m in the thrilling moments, body tingling from the pull of gravity after the big leap. The seconds are precious and they’re swiftly racing by like seconds on the New Year’s count-down clock, but I’m not bracing for the impact. Instead, I’m preparing to feel my toes slice through the surface of the water. {I prefer to jump in feet-first.}

Because in my dream about facing my fear, I’m on a huge cliff in Maui overlooking the deep blue ocean. Why not, right? It’s a dream.

I crave the feeling of weightlessness that comes from the adrenaline rush coursing through my body in mid-air. And I’m grabbing onto each and every one of those seconds as they fly by.

 

Resisting the urge to open up about my journey is almost impossible. At various times in my day-to-day activities, scenes from my first hospitalization in 2005 bubble to the surface of my memory. Or my second stint in the mental hospital. Or the third and fourth which sometimes confuse me with their shorter, more intense flashbacks. They were the times I was protecting my babies. Plus, they say the more you experience mania the less you remember. Makes sense to me now.

When mania took hold of my mind for the first time and spiraled out of control into psychosis, I spent three nights in a psych ward. Returning to the office the following Monday, I was able to gloss over my absence and say the doctor’s attributed my strange behavior to the lack of sleep and stress I was under at work. No one knew the real truth, although I’m sure there were plenty of rumors and assumptions flying while folks gathered around the water cooler on Monday morning.

I’m certain scenarios like the one I experienced happen every single day. Someone is absent from school or work for a few days or a few months and people start talking. And everything is hush, hush. Because societal norms tell us talking about mental illness isn’t the same as talking about someone who is battling cancer or severe asthma or a broken arm.

Well I have news for you: It's time we shatter those "norms."

And those of us who have fought these fights and who are still trudging through the pain and desperation and isolation that is mental illness could use the same support systems that other sick people receive.

More important to us than the flowers, cards, and meals you might send is simply your willingness to listen. To look us in the eyes and accept us for what we’ve been through, where we are right now, and what we will face each and every day and night for the rest of our lives.

Don’t be afraid to know our stories. We’re facing our fears, and we want you to, too.

Be open to us opening up. Give us hugs when we cry. Send us a laugh when you notice we’re down. If we’re too hyper, gently check in and ask if everything is on track with our treatment plan. It feels good to be acknowledged and cared for by those we love.

I have several close friends who do all these things and more and they make all the difference in the world. And of course my husband who is my better half, my voice of reason and the peace to the storm of what is inside me always knows when to step in with the right words to soothe me and keep me centered.

 

I will remember 2013 as the year I took the greatest leap I’ve ever taken. The year I jumped forward with sharing my words. The year I chose to only look back on the past in order to shift the future into better focus.

The year I did what I was afraid to do. And I haven’t even pierced the surface yet.

Ever been snorkeling, or better yet, scuba diving? {My husband is obsessed with snorkeling. He’s spent hours bobbing on the surface of the various tropical waters we’ve traveled to. I think it's cute.} He knows there are treasures down there. Which is why I’m so excited for my plunge into 2014 with This Is My Brave.

But first I’m looking forward to tomorrow. We're ringing in the New Year with my oldest girlfriends and their adorable kids and fun-loving husbands. It’s the 2nd annual #RomperRoomNYE2013 bash (follow along on Instagram!) and with 8 kiddos plus a 2-month old, the adults will be lucky to make it to the ball drop when we'll clink our champagne glasses with a toast to 2013 and what lies ahead in 2014.

My salute to this past year is composed of heartfelt gratitude for the support of This Is My Brave and our mission to encourage people to talk openly and often about mental health issues in their communities. The year ahead will no doubt be filled with learning experiences as I navigate unknown territories, but I am eager to grow and evolve, to bring these crucial conversations about mental illness into the spotlight.

Twenty-thirteen was the year I learned that facing my fears means enjoying the jump.

 

Planting seeds

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After Friday’s meeting about This Is My Brave, I felt like a kid during the December count-down to Christmas. Only I don’t want to count down, I just want to get to the big celebration already.

I haven’t stopped thinking about the outcome of the meeting all weekend. I’m giddy with the anticipation of what could happen and at the same time I find myself asking how I got so damn lucky for this all to be happening and how long is it actually going to take?

The truth is, I’m terrible at anticipation. When something exciting is going to happen, I wish it would just happen already. Why the wait? At age eight I have a distinct memory of convincing my brother to wait up with me for Santa on Christmas Eve and we both fell asleep at the top of the stairs. Sadly for us, no glimpse of the fat man in the red suit was had that night.

Impatience runs heavy throughout my blood and I have yet to find a way to dilute it. When I start a project, I tend to envision it completely finished in my head and then wonder why it takes so long to get to the end result as I trudge along on the path to the finish line.

In the summertime, I scoff at my husband’s green thumb and patient hand as he tends to our deck garden. “It’s so much easier to buy the produce at our local CSA farm than to grow it from seeds!” I complain. And yet, he takes care of those plants every day and by the end of July and beginning of August we can hardly keep up with the harvest. I sometimes wish his patience would rub off on me, but then, at the same time I fear the loss of my intense drive if I were to acquire a more restrained, laid-back approach to life.

I’m coming around though. Things have been changing for me lately. I’m learning and growing. I’m realizing that the journey to these milestones in our lives which we build up in our heads - the time it takes us to actually get there - is the real treasure. {Thank you to Jeff Goins for his book, The In-between, which helped shed light on this concept for me.}

“Learning to live in this tension, to be content in these moments of waiting, may be our greatest struggle — and our greatest opportunity to grow.” - Jeff Goins, Author

And so I’m learning to slow down the video reel of my life and steal virtual snapshots in my head of the highlights I want to remember. And when my memory fails me, there’s always my Instagram feed to scroll through.

Little by little, I’m becoming more aware of the important things in my life. The people I meet who share my passion for making a difference, the precious time I spend with family and friends, and the self-care I need to re-charge my batteries. And every day I’m taking time to savor the changes I’m going through to accomplish my dreams. Dreams that if you asked me six months ago, I didn’t know I had.

With the help of my therapist, I’ve recently realized the answer to my own question of how I became so lucky with the success so far of This Is My Brave: planting seeds.

We all know plants and flowers start out as seeds that need water and sunlight and tender loving care to grow.

Along the journey to build This Is My Brave into the theater experience we’re expecting it to be, I’ve been planting seeds. And friends have helped plant them too. We’ve watered them. These itty bitty seeds, these tiny slivers of ideas, have started to poke through the surface of the soil, reaching out for the warm sunlight to help them grow of the cold ground.

And they’re growing. Man, are these seeds growing.

So long, self-doubt

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Why does self-doubt seem to know exactly when to punch you in the gut and knock the breath out of your chest so fiercely that you wonder if what you’re doing with your life is even making an impact?

A month ago I took the greatest risk of my life thus far by launching our Kickstarter for This Is My Brave, and it went above and beyond my wildest expectations. I thought to myself, “Yeah. $6,500 in 31 days is a lofty goal, but I’m fairly confident we’ll get there.”

The love and support that poured out from our friends and family and people who we hadn’t even met in the form of donations and words of encouragement was both overwhelming and exhilarating.

There are so many people who are just as passionate as we are about spreading messages of hope and inspiration while at the same time silencing the stigma surrounding mental illness. We raised over $10,000 for our show’s mission and I felt like we were on top of the world.

But the emotional high I was surfing on came crashing down like a monster wave when the news of the Deeds' family tragedy broke on Tuesday morning. The weight of the story was like a 50-pound brick on my heart. It was all I could think about. I wanted to scream “THIS COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED!” to every person I ran into in my daily comings and goings all week.

And then I met someone who understood.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you meet someone new and you can tell after talking with her for five minutes that she just "gets" you and although you were strangers six minutes earlier, it feels as if you've known her for ten years?

It happened to me on Thursday and was the highlight of my day. Once I got my baby girl down for a late nap, I immediately took pen to paper. A piece of me still wants to prove to my mom that she was wrong. That I've received nothing but overwhelmingly positive support for opening up about living with mental illness, especially from the moms at my son's preschool. The very group she thought might shun me. Back then my mom didn't realize that by keeping quiet about what I was going through she was actually adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. We were all so new to it eight years ago. And I don't blame her for wanting to protect me. She's my mom, and moms don’t ever want anyone to hurt their babies.

We've come a long way since then and both of my parents {and my in-laws} are very supportive of the advocacy work I'm doing now.

This sweet mom whose daughter has been in my son's class all fall, yet I only met this week. She said something to me as we were chasing our toddlers out the door after dropping off our two older kids in front of their classroom. And I know will stick with me forever.

"You must feel such a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you're doing and how many people you're impacting with This Is My Brave."

And do you know what my response was? Of course I later thanked her for her kind words, but my immediate response was, "I feel like I'm not doing enough."

Part of me felt compelled to blog about the self-doubt that crept into my bones this week to remind myself that what I'm doing with This Is My Brave is pretty spectacular. Even though in the wake of the news out of Virginia this week I feel like it's only a teeny sliver of hope. A faint glimmer of the desire to improve the way society and our government deals with mental illness.

 At least it's a start.

We talked for an hour while our 3-yr-olds ran around and explored every corner of the playground. I could have talked with her for the entire rest of the afternoon. But alas, the temperature won out and after running around with no coat on, baby girl was adequately frozen and ready to call it quits. I gave my new friend a hug as we said goodbye and I'm already looking forward to our next impromptu playdate with our littles.

While driving home my thoughts drifted to how the sky looked similar to the way it did in late October of 2008 when I was released from my week-long stay in the hospital after having experienced postpartum psychosis. My heart aches for the Deeds family because they weren't able to get the medical attention and treatment that their son so desperately needed. They should have been visiting him in the psychiatric unit of the hospital today, but instead they are planning his funeral.

This isn't right.

We need the laws changed so that we can protect these individuals from themselves and others when they are so ill. And we need nets, as my friend Glennon so vividly described in this post. We need so many nets.

This Is My Brave is my effort to create a net.

And although I know that I want my next step to be petitioning our government for changes to our mental health system, my focus right now is on this show, my heartfelt contribution to changing the way people feel about mental illness.

And hopefully, in turn, it will inspire people to come together and create actions which will facilitate the change we so desperately need.

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The Stretch of This Is My Brave

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Eight years ago this Christmas my life changed forever. I didn't realize it at the time, nor did my family and friends, but it was a beginning of a new chapter. After the shock of it all, there were tears, there was the grieving of the life I left behind, and there was a whole lot of learning ahead of us.

I've always been a writer, this I knew. But never did I think that writing would be the one thing that would help me recover from a mental illness. It would be through writing that I would find my brave.

My blog began as an anonymous online place for me to write about what it was like to be a mom living with bipolar disorder. I found my voice as a mental health advocate only six months ago and I’m now in the midst of catapulting stories of inspiration and hope from people who live with mental illness into the spotlight to change society’s perception of mental illness. It’s a little project called This Is My Brave.

 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” - Maya Angelou

 

At thirty-four, I reached a point in my life where I didn’t want to regret not sharing my story. From vivid descriptions of my periods of extreme mania to the crushing reality of not being able to get out of bed during my year-long battle with depression and anxiety when I was first diagnosed, these stories were pacing my brain as if they were caged animals, desperate to be let out. And so my blog became a place where I released those memories of my story for whoever was on the other side of the Internet to read. My hope was that they found comfort in knowing they weren’t alone.

Talking about my illness and the struggles I had to overcome to get where I am today has not only been therapeutic, it’s also shown me that people are listening. People trust me to read their stories sent through emails which describe the pain and anguish they’re going through.

Then they thank me for my honesty and my ability to speak out for them since they’re not ready or able to:

"Thank you again for your blog and being brave enough to speak up about your experiences. I don't have many opportunities to talk about it in my daily life and interactions with other people.  It's just not something that comes up in casual conversation, but it is constantly on my mind." - S.H. via email

“Thank you for all that you do to advocate for mental illness. You are truly a brave and strong role model to me, as I'm nowhere near the level of acceptance or balance that you are. Anyway, I just wanted to send you my thanks and cheer you on.” - C.K. via email

"I'm in a unique position in that we recently moved here and I haven't known my friends here that long. Given all the misunderstandings out there about bipolar disorder, it is hard to know if they will get it or be afraid. I'm sure you understand. Hopefully, gradually, I can open up in a way that will educate them and not scare them. That's the challenge, isn't it? That's why we need a movement as you say!" - L.C. via email

Becoming an advocate and starting up this show is having an impact on people. People I haven't even met yet, but hope to someday. And it's not only people who find my blog via a random Google search who write to me, it's also friends of friends who stop me during my day-to-day activities to say, "Hey, what you're doing is really cool." And it's the texts and calls from my close friends who are telling me how proud they are of me.

I can't tell you how good that all makes me feel.

But this show isn't just about my story. This theater experience will be a wake-up call to everyone out there. It's a chance for those of us who know what it feels like to live with mental illness to open up and not be ashamed.

By coming together, we build strength by our numbers. And when we find the courage to share our stories, we propel a movement forward.

It starts with one person who is brave enough to share, who inspires others to share, which in turn inspires the world to change.

This past Sunday, our Kickstarter project for This Is My Brave reached its funding goal of $6,500. Because we recognize how important this show is to so many people, we've set a stretch goal of $10,000 and we now have 8 days left to reach it. With the additional funding we'll be able to extend our reach beyond just the one show. We'll be able to take our stories of hope and inspiration further. But we can only do it with your help.

Thank you so much to our incredible backers who have pledged and shared and supported us so graciously along this journey. With a week and a day left, we're hoping to reach further with the help of those who believe in this vision.

Click HERE to view our project on Kickstarter and share the info with friends on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you so much for your support!