you call me brave

Back in April, I had the privilege of being asked to join the cast of This Is My Brave. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, then this isn’t news to you. However, I’ve held off on publishing the essay that I delivered until today. One year ago today, I tried to end my story. The thing about stories, though, is sometimes they write themselves… and mine wasn’t ready to be finished.

To be honest, being at the one year mark doesn’t feel much like an accomplishment. I am constantly beleaguered by thoughts of “I should be much more grateful to be alive” or “I should be in a better place by now”. It’s hard to not feel like a failure when you set the bar so high for yourself. But then, it doesn’t seem to me that being glad to be alive should be considered a high standard.

I digress.

The creators of This Is My Brave are passionate about their belief that storytelling saves lives. We connect with each other and realize that we’re not alone. Someone out there gets it. And someday, there will be a time when talking about mental illness won’t be seen as an act of bravery; it’ll just be seen as a conversation.

But until then, you can call me brave.

You know how every once in a while, something happens and you say to yourself, “If someone had told me five, ten, twenty years ago that I would be here, doing this thing or that thing, I’d have never believed it”? If you had told me when I graduated high school that I would be not only a regular church-goer, but someone who sang on a church worship team, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I’d move to Amish country and still be there twelve years later, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I would be placed in a psychiatric hospital four times in three years, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I would someday be standing in front of strangers talking about the inner workings of my mind, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you. Sometimes, the thoughts inside my head really shouldn’t meet the outside world. And yet… here I am.

Last year, when This Is My Brave debuted, I briefly toyed with the idea of auditioning for the show, and then immediately convinced myself that – ironically – I wasn’t brave enough to get up in front of people and tell my story. It’s one thing for me to blog about my struggles with being bipolar and rant online about the unfairness of mental health stigma, because writing it is the easy part when nobody knows who you are.

I have lived with anxiety and mood disorders for essentially my entire life, but it wasn’t until about eight years ago that a big, cataclysmic trigger set me on a path of therapists and medications and hospitals. I kept a lot of what was going on with me to myself for the most part, largely because my family had just gone through a traumatic couple of years. I heard over and over again how amazing it was that I had the strength to get through it, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to tell people that in the end, I lost that strength.

After my second hospitalization, I started becoming more open and direct on my blog. It was therapeutic for me, and helpful for friends of mine to understand what I was trying to say when I couldn’t find the words to say it in spoken conversation. But still, it was only a handful of people who knew that I was the one authoring these words.

And then came the day that I was asked by my worship pastor to give a very brief testimony during our worship set about an experience I had when I wanted to commit suicide, and received a very personal display of grace from God. Now, I have to explain something here: I’m one of those people who has a very difficult time saying no, so when he asked me to do this less than a week before the Sunday I was to tell the story, I immediately said, “Sure! No problem!” Anxiety? Big problem. I remember one of my first thoughts being, “YES! We’re finally going to have somebody say SOMETHING about mental illness in church!” The thought immediately behind that was “Oh, crud. That someone is ME.”

That Sunday morning, I was terrified as I stood up there singing, knowing what was coming. Honestly, the only thing going through my mind was, “Really? I still have to sing after this?” I had no notes, but somehow managed to tell a story that made sense and seemed to make an emotional connection with the congregation.

A few weeks after that Sunday, a woman came up to me to thank me for telling my story and said how powerful and moving it was. I was in the middle of trying to figure out how to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” at the same time without sounding completely awkward when she finished with “especially because I always thought you were so perfect and put together”.

Wait… what?

No.

I’m so not perfect, nor am I even remotely close to being put together.

If I was a perfect, put together, normal human being, I would not have found myself in critical condition in the Medical ICU of the University of Maryland Medical Center last summer, waiting to see if my liver and kidneys were going to completely fail after I had attempted to kill myself for the second time in two months. The human body is an amazingly resilient being, and I can stand here today and say that I am a suicide attempt survivor.

I know how incredibly lucky I am to have people in my life who truly do understand what it’s like, and to also have people who know how to simply  listen when they don’t understand. I have an amazing mental health professional team who work with me in my treatment and recovery process. I have people who have seen me at my very worst and have never left my side. I have people who tell me that their office door is always open, and if I need to just sit and be in the presence of someone who cares, I can. These are the people who let me know that even when I’m not okay, I am still a person of value, and that I can get through to the other side.

I’ve been complimented with words like “strong”, “courageous”, and yes, even “brave”, because I have been bold enough to step out of the darkness and say, “HEY! This is what it’s like for me to have bipolar disorder and be suicidal.” And maybe, just maybe, those people are right. So this year, when This Is My Brave put out the call, I became determined to claim my brave.

This is my story.

This is my brave.

what i know…

This blog post talks a bit in depth, but not graphically, about my suicide attempt on June 8, 2014 and the feelings I experienced after surviving. It is not meant to be a guide for how to attempt suicide; in fact, I hope I have explained well enough of what I went through in the hospitals to give you pause if that is what you are looking for. I give no specific details as to my actions, so you won’t find help there. I cannot, in good conscience, publish that information. There are many, many resources available to those in crisis, and I would encourage you to try reaching out to one of them. I know you feel like you don’t want to; I didn’t either. But it could be different.

I don’t know if I meant to do it or not. There’s a line between wanting to do something and actually intending to do it. And believe me, I wanted it. For weeks, I wanted it in the worst way. Maybe it was a bad idea, but there was no convincing me otherwise.

But I still don’t know if I meant to do it.

Continue reading what i know…

why orange juice made me run away from god

I was three years old the first time I tried to run away from God.

My mom and I had spent the night at my grandparents’ house and I woke up to the sounds and smells of breakfast being cooked. I padded out to the kitchen, probably getting underfoot as Grandma was pouring juice for everyone and setting places at the table. There had been plenty of visits and meals at Grandma’s before, so I knew the routine: the grownups brought all the food to the table, we sat down, I was supposed to be quiet while Grandpa or Grandma thanked God for the food, and then we ate. Like most parents, my mom tried to keep me from drinking my juice or milk or whatever until after I had eaten (a habit that has stayed with me through adulthood), so in my three-year-old mind, beverages were off limits, too.

Well, this particular morning, I had climbed up into my chair, and without even thinking about it, reached across for my cup and took one sip – one sip – of orange juice. And panicked. The grownups were all still in the kitchen; nobody had thanked God for the food yet. So I did the only thing I could think of.

I ran and hid under the bed.

When breakfast was ready and my mom came looking for me, she found me curled up in the fetal position, sobbing hysterically and completely terrified. Not exactly a scene any mother wants to come upon first thing in the morning. She kept asking me over and over if I had hurt myself, and all I could do was cry. I was scared. Scared that Grandma would be mad at me, and worse yet, that God would be mad at me and take me away because I drank juice before grace was said. It was a fear so strong that decades later, I can revisit that morning in my mind and feel the same physiological response. The only thing I managed to say to my mom was, “I drank the juice.”

My poor mother, having to discern that her three year old daughter was having a theological meltdown without even understand who God was.

This is where the memory falls apart in my mind. I don’t remember what my mom said to me to comfort me, although I imagine it was along the lines of “nobody’s going to be mad at you”. The natural things that one would say to a preschooler who thought her life was over because she prematurely sipped orange juice.

It makes for an endearing bit of storytelling now, and thankfully, I’ve learned a bit about God since then. And perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned is that God is the embodiment of love. I so deeply wish others of my faith would learn this. God’s grace is bigger than any of our fears. I’ve long since stopped fearing God; it’s people that I still fear. And I know that in the midst of my fears, no matter how deep inside myself I try to hide, God is still going to find me. And cover me in love. And wait until I feel love, and not fear.

I recently revisited Grandma’s house for the first time in many years (she lives several hundred miles from me), and I took a peek into the rooms where I used to stay. Those beds don’t seem so big anymore; I’d have a hard time fitting underneath them now. But just to be on the safe side… I passed on the orange juice.

just one last post for the year…

About two weeks ago, pretty much the one story you could count on seeing on television, in the newspaper, and on every platform of social media was the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty controversy. Don’t worry; this blog post is not about that story. You see, a couple days after that story broke, during the peak of pro- and anti-Duck Dynasty, a much sadder headline caught my attention:

It wouldn’t surprise me if you’re wondering if you should know who Ned Vizzini is. The link in the tweet gives a brief bio – his most popular novel is It’s Kind of a Funny Storya novel about a teenager who seeks and finds help at a mental hospital after wanting to commit suicide. A novel based on Vizzini’s own experience in a psychiatric ward where he was treated for depression. A novel that ends (gigantic spoiler, sorry):

I feel my brain on top of my spine and I feel it shift a little bit to the left.

That’s it. It happens in my brain once the rest of my body has moved. I don’t know where my brain went. It got knocked off-kilter somewhere. It got caught up in some crap it couldn’t deal with. But now it’s back – connected to my spine and ready to take charge.

Jeez, why was I trying to kill myself?

It’s a huge thing, this Shift, just as big as I imagined. My brain doesn’t want to think anymore; all of a sudden it wants to do.

Run. Eat. Drink. Eat more… Ride your bike. Ride in a car. Ride in a subway. Talk. Talk to people… Travel. Fly. Swim. Meet. Love. Dance. Win. Smile. Laugh. Hold. Walk. Skip…

Enjoy. Take these verbs and enjoy them. They’re yours, Craig. You deserve them because you chose them. You could have left them all behind but you chose to stay here.

So now live for real, Craig. Live. Live. Live. Live.

Live.

And in the end, Ned did not live. He sought help and in the end, was still overcome by his demons, still committed suicide.

***

One of my fears is that no matter how well I learn to cohabitate with my mental demons, they will win in the end. I know that I’m not completely helpless and I have an arsenal of skills and knowledge, not to mention friends and family and doctors and faith. I know all that. But what is hope without doubt?

I didn’t realize how much hope Ned Vizzini and his book had given me until he committed suicide, and it felt like a little bit of that hope got taken away. To be honest, I still don’t quite know what to do with that. It makes me look (again) at what I write on this blog and wonder… well, it just makes me wonder. It also makes me want to apologize for ever blowing out your flame of hope during my relapses. I truly am sorry if I’ve ever brought you down with me. On a related note, it’s a bit terrifying, the thought of being somebody else’s hope.

This recovery business is a tricky one. I really did think that I would be strong enough to face December this year without any worries, and then life happened. I held my breath for the better part of the month. I crossed my fingers and prayed that last year’s non-hospital stay wasn’t a fluke. I had my moments of overwhelmedness that made me want to break down and go to that dark place that pulls me completely in. I felt that pull, and I fought back.

And I made it.

I’ll be seeing you in 2014.

when blogging holds you hostage

I’ve never been a fan of therapy homework; it’s not a fun thing to do, touch on thoughts and emotions that you want to keep buried beneath the surface. But this last time, I talked myself into an art therapy assignment: capture my emotions in some kind of artistic form. I had this grand scheme of… well, I’m not entirely sure what, because perfectionist me got in the way, so I reverted back to my old standby of coloring mandalas.

It was a Wednesday night, and I was sitting at a friend’s tattoo shop, waiting while my husband got his arm worked on. I knew it would be a couple of hours, so I had brought along my colored pencils and a mandala book to keep myself occupied.

On an emotional level, I was slightly manic, a little bit irritated. I flipped through the book a few times and ultimately landed on a design that had flames around the outer edge, thinking that I’d start with the flames and work my way inward. This was the night I learned that my old artwork had been thrown in the trash. Normally, I don’t start shading until I’m done with all the basic coloring, but that night, I wanted those flames to burn. Unfortunately, time was running out and I had to pack up before I made very much progress.

flame mandalaThe next day, I woke up with the need to get out into nature. I left the mandala at home, and by the time I came back to it, I couldn’t get back into the same emotional headspace. I felt guilty whenever I looked at the book, like I should be working on that mandala because it was an assignment. But I just couldn’t feel that same emotional impact. I may as well have been coloring a picture of a My Little Pony prancing around with the Care Bears.

And you know what? My therapist was absolutely delighted.

Because emotionally, I was done. I was able to walk away from the intensity of where I was at and not let it consume me for days. I was able to hit the pause button, and be okay with it. Yes, it is, to the naked eye, strikingly unfinished. There are white gaps everywhere. The shading isn’t done. But on an emotional level, it’s finished. For now.

That feeling of ‘should’ is precisely where I have been with this blog for quite some time now. I even pondered shutting down the blog several months ago because I wasn’t posting the way I thought I ‘should’. It felt unfinished.

After a conversation with a writer friend of mine, Shawn, I came to realize that I’ve been trying too hard  to force myself into pointing this blog in a direction it doesn’t want to go. I’ve been advocating for mental health awareness for so long that I’ve painted myself into a corner as a mental health blogger. Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with niche blogging as such. But it isn’t for me. It isn’t the writing that happens in my head that doesn’t get written.

My blog was essentially holding me hostage.

I tried to deny it, but I thought about it some more after our conversation, and Shawn was right. I stopped writing because the snippets of posts that I was mentally composing didn’t fit in mental health. “But wait,” I thought, “when did mental health become all that I am? When did I become just a mental health blogger?”

It isn’t. I’m not.

I have bipolar disorder; I am not bipolar disorder. It is a part of me; it does not define me. 

It’s time to hit pause on that part of the writing. I’ll still write about it. I can’t make it go away, but it isn’t forefront in my daily life anymore. I’m not struggling to live every day anymore.

I am growing. I am remembering.

And I invite you to grow and remember with me.

this is her brave

It should come as no surprise that blogging is my main platform. Heck, it’s pretty much my only platform. If you’re new around here, my big thing is mental health awareness. If you’ve been around for more than several months… my big thing is mental health awareness. I have fought, and am still fighting, the red tape battles as both the patient and the patient advocate. The stigma that still exists surrounding mental health is sickening. The number of people who go without help because they feel too ashamed is saddening.

So when I found out that a Twitter / Instagram / blogging acquaintaince of mine was hoping to take on an even bigger platform and produce a stage show putting a positive spin on the difficulties we face dealing with mental illnesses, I wanted to help. But you know what? When you’re debuting a show just outside of Washington, D.C., there are a lot of costs involved. A lot. And thus, a kickstarter campaign was born to help fund This is My Brave.

A year ago, I found my brave and told my church community that I wanted to jump off a ship and drown myself on my way to the Caribbean. I told real people who knew me, who knew my face and who could recognize me in a crowd. It only a brief moment – two or three minutes – but it cast a light on something that I knew was so very familiar and relatable to far too many people in that congregation. That’s what This is My Brave aims to do: shove mental health awareness out of the darkness and into the spotlight.

The producers of This is My Brave need backers in order to make this show happen, a show I strongly believe in. I wish that we were in a financial position to donate and attend the show (although who knows… things could change in six months), but as it sits, we can’t right now. I’ve had an unbelievably crappy month and you could make it a lot better by donating to this great cause on my behalf. If you do that, you’ll make me smile, and I’ll look like this: Smile!

But even if you can’t donate, that’s okay. I’ll still smile. Just for you.

10 reasons i suck at facebook

Okay, before you read any further, know that this list stems from a place known as Tongue-In-Cheek Humor. If you can’t handle that, go away. If you’re disappointed in me straying from my mental health focus, I apologize. Or, consider this a form of therapy.

1. I don’t change my profile picture every 3 days. And when I do, it’s always to something boring and recognizable, like… my face.

2. I don’t take 25 selfies and then post all of them, even though they all look exactly the same. Heck, I don’t even like calling them “selfies”.

3. I LOVE CANCER! …obviously, because I don’t hit like or share all those pictures that tell me to do so if I hate cancer/child abuse/the mistreatment of Jell-O.

4. Similarly, I HATE JESUS! Oh, and I’m embarrassed to be a Christian because I don’t share those pictures, either. How come you never see “I’m going to share this because I’m proud to be a Buddhist!” pictures?

5. Kids! I can’t stop posting all the funny things my kids say and do! Oh wait. I don’t have any kids.

6. Look at these 947 pictures that I took in the parking lot that show how adorable my kids are! Oh… right. No kids. Here, have a look at my dog:

IMG_2907

7. I don’t care about privacy settings and posting how to change my settings so your settings are affected. Or some other Inception-style privacy clickeroo. In fact, I’m only going to change MY privacy settings!

8. GAMES! ‘Nuff said.

9. I don’t share EVERY SINGLE THING that runs through my mind, every thirty seconds.

10. It’s your birthday? And we haven’t “spoken” in exactly 365 (or 366, depending on Leap Year status) days since the LAST time it was your birthday?? OMG HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! Exclamation point!

the musings of some stranger

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