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Bullet Journaling 101

The first time I read about bullet journals, I wrote them off as being too complicated and fussy.  The second time I read about bullet journals … I still wrote them off as being too complicated and fussy.    A few months ago, when I was waxing poetic about my love for all things pens and paper and lists, a friend (her name is Sarah, and she’s awesome) said, “I think you’d really love bullet journaling.”

I’ve looked at that before;  it seemed too complicated.

It’s really not, she said.  It’s as simple or as complicated as you make it.  I really do think you’d like it.

Sigh.

Okay, FINE.  I’ll look it up one more time. 

GAME.  CHANGER.  This time it was love at first (third) sight.

So what the heck is it?  It’s part planner, part journal, and part to-do list.  For some people it’s also a sketchbook, and/or an art journal.  Ryder Carroll, the gentleman who created the system, describes it as something to help “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.”

The video below is from the official bullet journal website, and gives a good basic overview about setting one up.  But if you’re not sure, or you’re confused, or you want to see more…. keep reading for how I set up and use my own.  A Google and Pinterest search showed me that there is a whole world of bullet journal ideas and inspiration and adaptations out there, and that rabbit trail was what got me really excited about bullet journaling.

A few disclaimers before I go on though:

  • Most of the links to products are affiliate links, which just means that if you purchase from them, I’ll get a few pennies from the sale, at no extra cost to you.  But if you don’t want to give me any pennies, look them up on Amazon anyway, because I still recommend them, whether you give me your pennies or not.  🙂
  • A lot of what I’ve done here has been inspired by other bullet journal lovers/bloggers/website owners, especially Kara over at Boho Berry.  She’s awesome.
  • And finally, please, please DON’T COMPARE mine to yours to anyone else’s.  So many people feel like they need to compete, and/or make it look a certain way, but the whole point is that it’s totally customizable to you.  If you want simple and streamlined, awesome.  If you want to decorate it all up with colors and stickers and washi tape and sketches, awesome.  If you want it fancy but don’t have the time or inclination to do it by hand, awesome.  That’s where things like stencils and printables come in handy.  I belong to a few Facebook groups for inspiration, and there’s thread after thread filled with people worried they’re not doing it “right”. There is no right and wrong.  For real.  This is supposed to be fun.  At a minimum, it’s supposed to be functional.  If you hear nothing else, hear this:  Your bullet journal is WHATEVER YOU WANT AND NEED IT TO BE.

Supplies & Getting Started

All you need to get started with bullet journaling is a notebook of some sort, and a pen or pencil.  That’s it.

Some of us have turned ours into more of a… project… but you absolutely don’t have to.  A notebook and a writing utensil, and you’re good to go.

The notebook I use is the Leuchtturm 1917 in the A5 size. I love, love, love this notebook. It’s pretty and sturdy and the perfect size. All of its pages are lightly gridded, so it’s easy to make nice straight lines, and keep everything nice and neat.  Its pages are numbered too, which is incredibly helpful when setting up the index.

 

If your notebook isn’t numbered, you’ll want to number the pages before you get started, so that you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for later on.

Some other supplies that are not necessary, but might be nice to have

A selection of pens – I’m a bit of a pen hoarder collector, so I like to have a variety to match my mood/desired outcome.  My favorite everyday pen is the Sharpie fine tip, and I also love the Pitt Artist Pens, and the Micron Pigma pens.  They all write nice and black, don’t bleed to the other side of the page, and come in a range of tip sizes.  It’s nice to be able to get those super fine lines when I want them.  I also have a set of calligraphy markers that are fun for a little extra pizazz.

Markers and/or colored pencils – My favorite markers are the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, and for colored pencils I like the Derwent Water Color Pencils.

A good ruler – Useful for both making straight lines and helping to plan out your pages.  I like this one because it’s clear, flexible, and sturdy.

A kneaded eraser – Yes, a regular eraser works just fine, but I’m so enamored with the kneaded one I use for drawing that I use it for everything.  And bonus, no shavings to brush away!

Correction tape – I tried to use regular white-out when I messed up, but it always felt lumpy, it was difficult to write over, and it took forever to dry.  Now I use Bic Wite-Out EZ Correction Tape, and it works much better for me.

Decorative things like washi tape, stickers, stencils, stamps – Go crazy, or skip it altogether.  I think a lot of us are somewhere in between.

The Initial Set-Up

I started setting my bullet journal up in December, in preparation for the beginning of the new year.  But the great thing is that you don’t have to start at the beginning of a new year!  Since it’s hand-made and prepared as you go, you can start a new one 365 days a year.

As mentioned above, if your pages aren’t numbered, you’ll want to start there.  Part of the genius of the bullet journal is that you put everything into a table of contents, so then you won’t be frantically flipping pages trying to find the list of books you wanted to read this year, or all your meal-planning ideas, or little Johnny’s soccer schedule.  Just check the index and you’re good to go.  Every time you add a new page to your journal, you’ll add it to your index:

The next thing I included was a key.  I don’t use all the same exact symbols as Ryder Carroll’s system, but I use many of them:

Next, I did a year-at-a-glance.  Not everyone includes this, but for me it doesn’t make sense not to be able to have an overview of the whole year, right up front.

Speaking of white-out, if you look closely, you can see that I messed up the numbering on the last full week of April, and had to white-out the whole row. Mistakes happen. 🙂

The next page I included was a Mood Tracker.  I track my mood anyway because of my bipolar (I have an app on my phone), but I loved the idea of seeing it in colors this way.  This was shamelessly copied/adapted from a whole bunch of examples I saw on Pinterest.   I’ve seen people do mood mandalas too, and those are super cool as well.  Again, this isn’t something everyone is going to want to do, but I love it.  Add what you love, forget about the rest.

The last thing I included, in terms of my initial set-up, was the Future Log.  I mostly use it for birthdays and events that I know about well in advance.  If you want a simpler version of what I made, you can simply divide each side into six boxes (or three, if you think you’ll need more space)

Using Your Bullet Journal

The whole point of using a bullet journal is to keep you organized.  I use mine to keep track of what I’ve got going on on a monthly and weekly basis, plus keep track of…. a whole bunch of other things:  daily habits I want to try to do on a regular basis, books I’ve read (or want to read), blog post ideas, hikes I’ve gone on, etc.  People use it to track their exercise habits or weight loss goals, to meal plan for the week or the month, places they want to visit, Netflix series they’d like to watch.  Etc. Anything you can think of can become a page in your bullet journal.

One thing that I had trouble wrapping my head around when I started was how to plan out the pages.  How much space did I leave for each month?  Did I want to do a monthly page, then a weekly page, AND a daily page (some people use all three)?  Did I want to have all my lists/collections together, and if so, how much space should I leave for them?  What if I want to add something later in a place that doesn’t make any logical sense?  Phew.  Exhausting.  (And it all brought me screaming back to my earlier opinion of “Too complicated.  Too fussy.”)

But t turned out that I was single-handedly making it too complicated.  I do that.  Often.  Yes, it took a bit of thinking/researching/looking around at other examples to figure out what I wanted to do, but once I did that I was ready to jump in.  And it wasn’t nearly as daunting as I’d been making it.

I do a monthly page, and then I do weekly pages (photos to follow).  The original system relies on daily pages, but I found that doing weekly pages still gave me enough room to write down all my tasks for each day, plus I was able to see and plan the whole week in one glance, a drawback I was having with the idea of doing daily pages.

I might do a page or two of weeklies in advance, but otherwise, I just build as I go.  When I think of some list or something that I want to add, I just do it on the next free page, and add it to the index.  It’s why we have the index in the first place!  No fuss, no muss.  If I know what I want to do with the next few pages, but don’t have time to do it at the moment, I just reserve them with sticky notes to mark their spot until I’m able to get to them.

Ryder Carroll’s system has you do your monthly log as a single list of dates down the side of the page, like this:

Then you’d just write whatever plans, appointments, etc you have on the corresponding date.  If you want simple, this is definitely the way to go.  I knew that I wanted something different for this (that would still serve the same function), so after a whole lot of looking around, playing with different ideas, and trying things out, I came up with this:

I’ve got traditional calendar boxes to write upcoming events and plans, space for a general to-do list for the month, and a habit tracker to fill out at the bottom.  I put washi tape on the edge of my monthly pages so they’re even easier to find and flip to.  This is what my month looks like when it is fresh and brand-new, and this is what it looks like when it’s been used and written all over:

Immediately after my monthly pages, I start my weekly pages, and those are really the heart and soul of the bullet journal (in terms of keeping me on task).  All my daily to-dos, appointments, and tasks are written on the appropriate day, and it makes it really easy to see – in black and white – what I’ve got going on.  Here are a couple of examples:

And finally, here are just a few of the “extra” pages I’ve done so far.  They’re sort of addictive, so I know I’ll be adding more and more as I go:

Bullet journals aren’t for everyone, to be sure, but if you’re someone like me who loves putting pen to paper, loves lists and organizing or writing or doodling or planning…… DO IT.   It keeps me more organized, it makes me more apt to do what I need to do, AND it allows me that meditative/creative time that I so badly need. Try it.  It’ll change your life.

And maybe (hopefully?) you won’t have to wait for your third exposure like I did.  🙂

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Real Ways To Help When Your Loved One Has Depression Or Anxiety – 46 People Weigh In

 

When I’m in the midst of a deep depression, or grappling with a bout of anxiety – both of which often come together – very few external things help me.  I never want someone to try to help me fix it (I have a therapist for that), and it’s extremely rare that I want to talk about it, if I even can talk about it (I have a therapist for that, too). More often than not, even the best of intentions and attempts to make me feel better only serve to make me feel worse.  I feel like it’s important to clarify that I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, and I don’t mean to lay blame.  I blame nothing other than ignorance, inexperience, and a stigma surrounding mental health that means it’s not talked about nearly as often, or as openly, as it should be.   How could anyone possibly know what to do – and what not to do – if no one’s ever told them?  The irony of course is that the times I need support the most are the times when I’m least able to articulate, or even identify for myself, what may or may not be helpful.  When I’m depressed, I’m not rational.  I’m never “with it.”  I’m not always nice.

Still, there *are* a few things that help, none more than simply being there.  Not trying to fix, not judging.  Just seeing me, and loving me, right where I’m at.  When I asked my readers to share their own experience on my Facebook page, the response was overwhelming in its solidarity.  People with depression and anxiety just want to know they are loved.  While that might look slightly different for everyone, the sentiment remains the same.  Far and away the most common response was some version of, “Just be there.  Just love me.”

A selection of those responses, plus several others, are what follow.  A few times the responses directly contradicted one another, which I loved (we’re humans, not robots).  I tried to group those together.    I added a bit of commentary a couple of times, but mostly let them stand on their own.

Listen – and really hear – what helps these brave individuals when they are struggling:

“Just listening and not trying to fix things.  I usually just need a sounding board, not answers.” ~ Kelsey S

Validation helps, not necessarily trying to find you a solution.” ~ Ladasha M

“When they reach out and just offer support or when they let me just “be” until I’m ready to talk.  It’s super helpful when they don’t try to “fix” things.  I think that helps me more than anything.  Just to know that they are there for me and don’t see me as broken and unuseful.”  ~ Laura L

“Letting me talk about it without offering an “answer.”” ~ Valerie S

“The most helpful thing is when a friend/loved one just sits next to me (literally or metaphorically) and says “I’m here”. No false promises that things will get better soon, no attempts to cheer me up, just sitting with me and letting me feel what I need to feel” ~ Chelsea S

“The most helpful for me is for my friends/family to just be there.” ~ Katie C

“”I’m here if you need me”. You have to truly mean it, because you might get a call in the middle of the night.”  ~ Alisha T

“Nothing they really say helps because when I am in deep, I can turn anything into a negative.  Just being there, never giving up on me, and loving me helps.” ~ Ashley A

“Just being listened to.  Having someone just witness my experience.  Believing my experience is real and not just “in my head.”  ~ Patty M

“”I’m here if you need to talk.”” ~ Jay T

“Giving me some space to just be with how I’m feeling, and letting me know they’re there when I’m ready to talk.”  ~ Jessica M

“Just simply saying they are here for me but also reminding me that I’m strong and brave.” ~ Kellie M

“Empathy:  ‘That sounds really hard.  Do you want to talk about it?'” ~  Catherine D

“It’s not anything said; it’s simply being near me. Even if the company is silent, having somebody sit with me and be willing to listen, watch a movie, or just exist for a moment makes me feel supported, more supported than any words.” ~ Reggie R

“I have anxiety and panic attacks so it’s very helpful if my family can remind me when I have a panic attack that I’m okay and that I only have to get through the next few minutes.  Asking why or what I’m upset about or trying to “fix” it does not help.  Also, being understanding when I need to leave the room to have a few minutes to breathe and let the anxiety wash over me.” ~ Ursula D

“Mostly just NOT saying, “What’s wrong?”  There doesn’t have to be anything wrong, and there usually isn’t.  Expecting me to be able to give some reason makes me feel guilty, like I have no business feeling awful when everything is going well in my life.” ~ Elizabeth S

“Being a compassionate, non-judgemental ear helps me a lot.  Being able to talk it out or cry it out works for me.”  ~ Michelle J

“Believing me.  No second guessing, no hedging.”  ~ Julia J

“The best thing ever was when I was having a bad day and I felt like I was causing so many problems for my husband. I was crying and promising him I would try harder to change. It was such a relief when he told me that I didn’t need to change, that I was fine just the way I was, and we just needed to find ways to cope. I had never felt so accepted and loved and it helped give me a solid base from which to blossom.” ~ Alicia R

A lot of people pointed to physical affection, along with physical presence:

“For me what is most helpful is when a friend is there for me letting me know they are there to listen.  When they make time to just come over and be present.  When they try to get me out of the house and out of my own head.  Another big one for me is a hug.  Hugs really help me.”  ~ Tamarah C

“Holding me tightly until the storm passes- that feeling of someone seeing you at your ugliest and not running away, not trying to make it better either.” ~ Crystal M

“It’s not so much what my loved ones say, it’s what they do (and don’t do). My partner gives me massages. He does my head, neck, back, shoulders, arms, and hands. Tension melts away. My family all knows the special treats I like, so they’ll bring me truffles or a bottle of sparkling cider or spicy hot V8 or chile rellenos from my favorite restaurant. Then they leave me alone. They don’t try to talk to me unless it’s essential. They know I’ll eventually be okay, and time alone to sleep or read or snuggle my cats helps immensely.” ~ Jenny R

“”Are you having a hard day?  Do you need a hug?””  ~ Naomi R

“Hugs. And not all hugs are created equal.   Also, encouraging me to take a break, because I get stuck in the “I need to finish this,” mindset and have trouble seeing the solution.”  ~ Rob T

“It depends on how close I am to the person.  With my house humans, I definitely like hugs, back rubs, and someone just sitting quietly with me.  Hugs from acquaintances… nope.  A sincere compliment from anyone goes a long way, though.”  ~ Joan C

For some of us, tangible, practical help with the necessities of life goes a long way:

“Cleaning or cooking. Taking over administrative household things would be a tremendous help.” ~ Renee M

“When someone notices I’m down or very anxious and instead of asking me what’s wrong they simply do something kind.  Another question to ask instead of “what’s wrong” is “What can I do for you?” Or “What do you need right now?”  I don’t really get asked these but wish I do more often as they are the most helpful words at the time.” ~ Rebecca B

“Taking something off my plate or doing something kind for me helps a lot.” ~ V Sue H

“What can I do to help out?  What can I take off your plate for you?  What would make you feel better that I could do for you.  Feeling overburdened (by my own rules and expectations, mostly) was a huge part of my depression and anxiety.” ~ Sue S

“When they ask me what they can do to help.  That’s the best help.  Instead of assuming what I need, it’s nice for them to ask.” ~ Stephanie J

“Dear Lord, not the open ended, “How can I help?”  That question is so overwhelming to me when I’m depressed.  “Can I do X for you?” is much more helpful.  Trust me, if an alternative is better, I’ll let you know.”  Mariellen M.  I could really relate to this, and it took me a long time to realize it.  I’d often just wonder what the heck is wrong with me.  (That’s something I wonder a lot, especially when I’m depressed.)  Here I have this well-meaning, loving friend who wants to help me, and the offer only makes me more frustrated.  It’s not because I don’t appreciate it, and it’s (usually) not that I don’t want help.  It’s that I DON’T KNOW what kind of help I need.  The question feels overwhelming and impossible to answer.  A specific offer would be much easier to respond to.  I still might decline it!, but it’s far more likely to help.

“I would say whatever they think would help me out, just do it.  When I’m overwhelmed by depression and anxiety, someone asking me a question is incredibly stressful.  But if they just go ahead and hug me, call me, clean something, etc, it’s definitely appreciated.” ~ Issa W

“Can I bring you a cup of soup or a Coke?  Or can I watch the kids for you for an hour or two?  Just these simple things remind me that I can get through the darkness and I am not alone.” ~ Jennifer E

“Would you like to have a cup of tea with me?”  It just helps to fill the empty hours more pleasantly.”  ~ Margaret B

“Basically treat me like I have stomach flu!  I’m sick at the moment, let me act like it, and treat me like it.  Tuck me in and bring me tea.  The show of understanding and love will give me the strength to rise up.” ~ Seana R

“Not trying to whisk me away to my bedroom for alone time, and then taking over all the household things with the family. That would be helpful. I like knowing I can be present and included even if I am depressed. I don’t need to be quarantined.”  ~ Shelly C

And sometimes, what we need is a little bit of gentle pressure from the right person:

“Want to take a walk?  No?  I’d like to take you for a walk.  I know it helps.”  ~ Heather Y

“”Have you taken a shower today?  Text me after you get out of the shower.”” ~ Roya D.  Self care, even something as seemingly simple as a shower, can be incredibly hard when you’re depressed.  Gentle encouragement from a trusted friend can go a long way.

“Make me food.  Offer to get me out of the house.  Gently ask if I’ve showered/eaten something/taken my medication/stepped outside.” ~ Idzie D

“My husband helps me by giving me alone time or encouraging me to go to yoga.  I often give up yoga when I’m overwhelmed, and it’s one of the things that helps me the most.  He also gently helps me get to bed, as sleep always helps.  He just kind of takes over and says, “Why don’t you get in bed and I”ll put the kids to bed.”  No judgement.” ~ Audrey B

One of the biggest reasons that I continue to write about this is that it has helped me SO MUCH to hear from others who get it.  Commiseration from someone who’s been there is a powerful thing, and I’m not alone in that belief:

“When I went through a four-year struggle with depression and anxiety, what helped me the most was 1) knowing other people had been there.  I loved it when people were willing to share their experiences. 2) Learning to seize the day.  That is, I had to learn to live life to the fullest.  I had to learn to do things I enjoy.” ~ Kandy C

“Personally, hearing someone say, “I’ve struggled with that too” has helped me the most. That hardly EVER comes from my spouse or family.  It has to come from someone outside my current situation like a close friend.”  ~ Mandi P

Depression is an incredibly isolating illness.  It’s about us, and no one else, so it’s important not to take it personally.  Here are just a couple of examples:

“Not take it personally and keep getting angry because I won’t say what exactly is wrong.  Most of the time I don’t even know what’s wrong, but everyone is so quick to think I’m upset with them” ~ Kelly J

“Don’t take it personally when I cancel plans to go out at the last minute”. ~ Jenica M

One of the things that helped me a lot when I first started talking about this was simple honesty.

“”I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just glad you told me.”” ~ Jessika B

And finally, when all else fails, there is this:

“Saying that no matter what, you love me.” ~ Rebecca R

46 different people in different places, with different struggles, and different stories.  But one common plea that unites us all:

Just be there.

Hear us.

See us.

Love us.

xo

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Dear Parents Who Are Dreading The Teen Years

paxtontrail

The scene: 

A Wednesday night, after dinner.

I had music blasting on my little bluetooth speaker, because I’d been working on building a new playlist, and wanted to listen to it while I picked up the table.  Paxton, who’s 16 and a talented musician who’s been instrumental (ha, see what I did there?) in helping me discover new bands to listen to, came into the room just as the husband had picked up the ukelele and started to strum along to the music when a new song came on.

“Paxton! This is the Best. Song. Ever” I told him.  “See if you can play it.” 

He grabbed my acoustic guitar from its stand in the corner – where it lives, sadly, mostly untouched by me – and quickly picked up the chorus of the Best Song Ever.  I cranked the volume even further, and he continued to play while Tegan (who’s 8 and never misses an opportunity for a dance party) grabbed my hands and twirled me, laughing, around the room.  Everett (12 going on 17) heard the commotion and eventually joined us, curling up on the couch next to the cat.   The bond he has with that cat gives me serious relationship goals.  Not just pet relationship goals, but relationship goals in general.

The song ended and the next one began… but no one really noticed.  Everett kept petting the cat, and Tegan kept dancing, and Paxton kept playing, challenging himself to play along by ear with even the most unfamiliar songs.

At some point, Spencer (19) came into the room and announced, “It’s so nice having socks.”  We all stopped and looked at him.  If you know Spencer, you know he’s the king of the non-sequitur, but that was random, even for him.  And then I realized he was wearing new socks that he’d gotten for Christmas…. which is the goofiest, most cliche Christmas present ever, except he needed them and wanted them and asked for them.  And in that moment, he appreciated them, and his comment wasn’t so strange after all.   He laughed at the way it had sounded, and we went back to dancing, and singing, and playing.

So is that what it looks like after dinner every night in our house?  Well, no, but it’s not unusual for us either.  And I share it today for one simple reason:  I want you to know, dear-reader-who’s-stressing-out-about-the-teenage-years, that having teens is really freaking FUN.

I always hesitate to pick a “favorite” age, because they’ve all been wonderful.  Seriously.  But I think I enjoy them more and more as the years pass.  I enjoy the snuggly baby years (but then there’s that whole getting no sleep thing), and I enjoy the sweet, exploring toddler years (but then there’s that whole frustration on both of our parts as they learn about and test their budding independence thing), and I enjoy the young childhood years (and really have no disclaimer for that).  But the teen years…  I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated being a parent more than I do right now.

Teens are funny and intelligent and interesting creatures.

Just a few of the many, many reasons I’m enjoying my boys more than ever:

They make me laugh.  We laugh around the dinner table a LOT.  Not politely chuckle, but LAUGH, with full-on snorts and tears and gasps for air.

They make me think.  All three boys have their own ideas and opinions about religion, and about politics.  They have their own unique views about the world around them.  I genuinely feel privileged to get to talk to them about it, to learn from them, to think about things in a new light and in a new way, and to learn to appreciate the world from an angle other than my own.

They inspire me.  If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you likely know about the journey I’ve been on to discover who I am, and what it means to be my own authentic self, not worrying about what others think of me.  But my boys?  They already have that, in spades.  They know who they are, and they have more integrity than I’ve seen in many adults.  This year I got to witness one of my boys carrying something incredibly difficult, and he carried it with so much grace.  It was something that a child never should have shouldered on his own, but something he carried in part to protect me…. and it was poignant and painful and I wish that he hadn’t had to do it.  But it showed me – in a way I hadn’t seen before – how much maturity and class that he possessed.  Light years ahead of where I was at that age.  Light years ahead of where I am at my current age.

They are great friends and companions.  The popular opinion in current parenting lore is that you should avoid being friends with your teens at all cost.  But I think that that’s bunk.  Teens make the best friends!  I love to hike with them, to talk with them, to laugh with them, to share my life with them.  I think that if you’re not friends with your teens you are seriously missing out on something great.

They are interesting conversationalists.  To be clear, I enjoy talking to my kids when they are younger too, but there’s just something really cool about the mature conversations you get to have with teens.  Not only can you talk about shared interests like TV shows and books and movies and music, but you can talk about the sticky things like politics and religion.  You can talk about life and relationships and the thrill of a first love and the betrayal of a false friend.  You can talk about hopes and dreams and disappointments in a way that you just can’t do when they’re younger.  You can talk about Donald Trump, and about news around the globe.  I love hearing my boys’ unique take on current events and all the goings on in their lives and in the world around us.

They still need me.  One of the interesting thing about teens is that while they are often independent adults… sometimes they still just need mom.  They come to me with their problems, they share with me honestly, they get me in the middle of the night when they’re sick.  They ask for advice for everything from blisters to broken hearts to ingrown toenails.  They’re six feet tall and fearlessly forging their own paths…. but I still get to be mom.

Even so,

They’re independent.  There’s a whole new dynamic in the house once you have teens.  They cook for themselves.  They pick up after themselves (sometimes usually).  They do their own troubleshooting.  They largely keep track of their own life.  Just by virtue of their age and ability there is a different give and take in the relationship that didn’t exist when they were younger and required more direct care.  I bring them fresh-baked cookies when they’re at their computers (unless they’ve made them themselves, something that Everett excels at), and they bring me coffee when my cup is empty.

But wait, are there ever bumps in the road?  OF COURSE.  They’re still humans, still doing the human thing.  The reality is that being a teen is hard sometimes, that there are inevitably going to be growing pains, and that sooner or later there are going to be problems to solve and hiccups to be worked through.

Relationships – of any kind – require care and attention, and relationships with your teens are no exception.  But it is NOT a foregone conclusion that when you have teens that they are going to be sullen and angry and rebellious.  A good relationship with your teens is very possible.

Is it work sometimes?

Yes.

It is worth it?

Yes.

Yes.

A million times, yes.

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Today, I’m Sad

It’s not quite raining, but the sky is dark and the air is heavy with the dampness that comes right before the clouds open up.  It’s not exactly morning anymore, but it’s not quite noon, which absolutely qualifies as far as I’m concerned.  Three of the four kids are sleeping, and the only sound I hear is the clicking of my laptop keys.  I’m drinking industrial strength coffee – one cup of regular coffee, three shots of espresso.  It just felt right today – and I’m eating a snickerdoodle fresh from the oven, made at the extraordinarily talented hands of my 12 year old.

And I’m completely, and profoundly, sad.

I am not watching the inauguration, and I am doing my best to stay away from Facebook, but it’s still out there.  It’s still real.  It’s still happening, whether I’m okay with it or not.

And I’m sad.

I’m sad for my fellow women, for our immigrants, for people of color, for people of the LGBTQ community, for people who are poor, for people who are differently abled.

I’m sad for the people who have legitimate concerns about the future of their healthcare and of their access to needed medications and procedures.

I’m sad for the people who worry about the future of the legality of their marriage.

I’m sad for the parents who will live in fear of their transgender child not being safe at school.

I’m sad because so many of my fellow Christians seem to have mistaken Mark 12:31 (look it up) to mean:  “Love your neighbor as long as he is a conservative Republican like you.”  Over this past election season, I have felt many, many things from Trump’s Christian supporters.  I have felt disdain, I have felt hate, I have felt mocking.  But love?  No, love’s not something I’ve felt.

I’m sad because I see gloating.  Not humble acceptance, but honest to God gloating, even while people mourn.

I’m sad because your cheers today seek to erase the very real experiences of the people who are genuinely afraid of what this presidency is going to mean for them.  People are legitimately afraid, and I can’t help but think if you understood that – if you really, truly let yourself understand it – that you wouldn’t be so quick to celebrate.

I’m sad because today you are celebrating a man who bragged about sexual assault… sexual assault that you so eagerly dismissed as “locker room talk.”

I’m sad because today you are celebrating a man who has spent the last several weeks feeling as though his time would be best spent not graciously accepting his win, or preparing for the very real job ahead, but behaving like a petulant toddler on Twitter.

I’m sad about the hypocrisy it takes to call people whiners and cry-babies for exercising their right to peacefully protest, in essence giving the finger to the very Constitution that you claim to so deeply want to uphold.

I’m sad because people keep wanting to tell me – and people like me – to sit down and shut up.  Don’t whine.  Don’t complain.  Don’t FEEL.

I’m sad because people keep wanting to tell me – and people like me – not to stand with those who are suffering.  Not to advocate for the rights of others.  Not to peacefully protest that which we do not believe to be right, and true, and good.

I’m sad because the very same people who mightily complained about, mocked, and disparaged President Obama for eight years are now telling us to “accept it.”  To be respectful.  To support our new president.

I’m sad because people are telling me to deny the sadness.  People are telling me to just think positively.  To just be kind, to just adjust my attitude, to just love.

Sure.

Yes.

But not today.  Not when so many are grieving.  Not when so many people have actual cause to grieve.

The earth will keep spinning, to be sure (although what that is going to look like for many Americans is very much up for debate), and tomorrow I’m going to get up, and I’m going to put two feet on the floor, and I’m going to go about the business of living my life.

But today?

Today, I’m sad.


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She Let Go

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She let go.

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.

She let go of the judgments.

She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.

She let go of the committee of indecision within her.

She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.

Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice.

She didn’t read a book on how to let go.

She didn’t search the scriptures.

She just let go.

She let go of all of the memories that held her back.

She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.

She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go.

She didn’t journal about it.

She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.

She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.

She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.

She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.

She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.

She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.

She didn’t call the prayer line.

She didn’t utter one word.

She just let go.

No one was around when it happened.

There was no applause or congratulations.

No one thanked her or praised her.

No one noticed a thing.

Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort.

There was no struggle.

It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.

It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be.

A small smile came over her face.

A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore…

~ Rev. Safire Rose

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2016 Top Ten

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In a perfect world this was supposed to have been posted last week… you know, when it was actually still 2016.  But it wasn’t, because I was trapped under something heavy and couldn’t get to my laptop was busy eating and watching movies and marathoning It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I feel like my limited vocabulary doesn’t contain the necessary words to describe 2016 in all of its… all of its… see, I don’t even know the word.  It’s been a painful year.  Not just for me, but for lots of people.  And sure, there has been progress and personal growth and all that touchy feely stuff that makes me so uncomfortable, but still.  IT’S BEEN A YEAR.

So I’m thrilled, and happy, and hopeful to put to 2016 behind me, and to move onto bigger and better things in 2017.  Before I do though, one last look at 2016, blog-wise.

Here are my top ten most read posts last year, from least to most amount of views.

10.  The One About The Boobies  – I’m happy that this one made the list, and I’m glad that Kaitlyn Juvik so openly protested when she was treated unfairly.  This is a conversation that needs to be happening.

9.  Yes, I’m Upset, and No, I Won’t Shut Up – I’m not super excited that Donald Trump is going to be sworn in soon (especially when he is still tweeting stuff like this), but this is reality. And at the moment, this is just what had to be said.

8.  When You Can’t Walk Into Their Room Without Tripping – Some kinder alternatives to the viral photo that was going around at the time, encouraging parents to bag up your children’s things and then make them pay you $25 a bag to get them back.

7.  My Summer To-Do List For My Kids (And Myself) – This was just an antidote to all the rigid, hyper-scheduled, micromanaged to-do lists I was starting to see crop up as kids headed into summer (which is supposed to be a break.)

6.  I Could Have Been The Disney Mom – Every time a family’s tragedy becomes public, my heart breaks for the parents… first because of what happened, and second because of the public lynching they inevitably receive. I try to remind myself that no one is immune, and we are ALL those parents.

5.  In a World Where Rapists Only Get Six Months – I wrote this over six months ago, and I still don’t even know what to say.

4.  My Dear Daughter, Your Value Doesn’t Change With What You’re Wearing – Misogyny is alive and well, and I’m going to call it out every time I see it.

3.  Humiliation Isn’t Funny – So, it’s something I talk about a lot on my blog, but it’s truly difficult not to, when SO MUCH of what we see, hear, and are bombarded with as parents is the message that kids need more punishment. That they need to be treated as lesser than.  That they are somehow less deserving of kindness.  Well, I believe that kids need more compassion, and more respect, and that is a hill I will stand on all day long.

2.  I’m Not The Meanest Mom – Something that I noticed several years ago – and am noticing again as I get to these top two posts – is that you guys always respond in a big way when I write rebuttals (except I don’t really like the word rebuttal.  Alternatives.  When I write about alternatives).  I always have mixed feelings about writing them, mainly because I have trouble with the negative attention, but I still think they need to be written.  So I’ll still continue writing them.  There is ALWAYS a kinder, gentler alternative

1.  5 Phrases To Use When Your Child Is Having A Hard Time – Always a kinder, gentler alternative.

Happy New Year my friends.  Thanks as always for reading my words, and sharing my words, and for being overall awesome.  I appreciate you all more than I can say.  xo

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The Human Condition

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*Fair warning:  The end of the year always makes me crazy introspective, even under the best of circumstances.*

I went to an open mic night a couple weeks ago.  We’ve been checking them out for Paxton (16 at the time of this writing), because he’s looking for local places to play his music.  This one place we went, at an old church-turned-theater downtown, was really interesting.  And I don’t mean “interesting” as a polite yet sarcastic way of saying it blew.  I mean it really was interesting.  All ages.  All walks of life.  All kinds of talents.  There were poems and music, originals and covers.  There was a little boy who sang a Bruno Mars song.  There was a young woman who performed a rap that she’d written for a friend who’d died by suicide.  There was a 75 year old comedian who I didn’t find particularly funny but respected like crazy for getting up there and doing his thing.  There was a young girl who forgot the lyrics to her song, got swept up in her nerves, and stood there frozen and crying until two of her friends jumped onstage to help her finish.  There was a room full of people giving nothing but massive amounts of love and support and encouragement for their fellow artists.

And the whole thing made my fragile little creative heart break and swell at the same exact time.

It was just like …. life.  This being-a-human thing is so complex.  The heartbreaking and the beautiful.  The deepest of sorrow and the sweetest of elation.  All captured and bottled and either tentatively eked out bit by bit, or forced out through a cataclysmic explosion.  While friends stand by offering hugs, and encouragement, and “If you’re having trouble finishing your song, then dammit, I’m coming onto that stage and holding you up and singing for you until you’ve regained your own voice.”

Too. Many. Feelings.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who regularly reads my blog, but I’ve had a hard year.  I’ve actually had one of the hardest years of my life.  And it was one of those years where just when I thought I had some forward momentum going, something or someone else would completely kick out my footing, and I’d be once again scrambling for air.  Hope.  Despair.  Serenity. Anguish.  I don’t think I’ve left a single emotion untouched in 2016.

And now there are 10 days left in the year, and I’m reviewing, and I’m reflecting, and… I wanna say breathing, but really I’m gulping… and remembering.  My heart wants to make a list of the big lessons I’ve learned this year (and I still just might) but my brain tells me there may be bandwidth issues if I even try.  I’ve learned a lifetime’s worth of painful, messy truths about myself and my life and why I work the way I work.  But no one wants to hear that.  Besides, while personal growth sounds all nice and everything, my final takeaway from 2016 is much more simple yet more profound:

I’m still here.

Still running.  Still trying.  Still fighting. Still loving.

I was here to see the 12 year old score his first touchdown.  I was here to see the 8 year old play Alice in Alice in Wonderland.  I was here to see the 16 year old sing his first solo song on stage.  I was here.   And more than that, I am glad I was here. 

I’m glad I’m here… right here, right now.  (And if you are reading this, wherever and whoever you are, I’m glad you’re here too.)

2016 didn’t take us down.  We’re still here.  And given the alternative, that’s a whole hell of a lot to be thankful for as we round out the year.

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Relinquishing The Fear of Self Care

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A cake pop I brought home to surprise Tegan. It’s so easy to care for someone else.

Did you ever notice how you have to learn the same damn lessons over and over before they stick?  (Unless that’s just me?)  You know in your heart that something is true, and right, and sensible… but there’s a disconnect somewhere in between your heart and your brain, and you can’t seem to make yourself do or practice or even believe that which you know is true.  Then, when things start to go haywire – and they will go haywire, when you’re ignoring a vital piece of your well-being – you remember.  And you go, “Oh yeah, I learned this once before.  Maybe this time it’ll last.”  But no.  You’re stubborn.  And busy.  And stubborn some more.  And before you know it you’re once again off the rails and the lesson comes screeching back to remind you.

Repeat 12,000 times.  It’s exhausting.

For me, the area in which this most applies, BY FAR, is the idea of self-care.  In fact I get a little cringey at the thought of self-care, particularly the idea of self-love.  It just sounds so touchy feely and woo-woo and kind of makes me think of naked people hugging around some sort of goddess-worshiping sun circle.  (*Disclaimer:  I am not judging.  More power to you if that’s your sort of thing.  It just doesn’t happen to be mine*)  It makes me feel uncomfortable and icky.  Plus, as a mom, there’s the whole issue of balance.  And guilt.  And “Do I really want/deserve/have time for self-care, when I could be doing something for my kids?  Or my house…  Or my husband…”  Really paying attention to self-care, and self-compassion (seriously, I even have trouble using the word, “love” in there) means prioritizing.  It means deliberately choosing to take time away from something or someone else, in order to invest it in yourself.  It’s hard.  And it’s conflicting.

And it is so. freaking. important. 

I hear moms all the time saying that they’d love to take up this hobby, or read this book, or pursue this craft, but that they don’t have time.  That their KIDS are their hobby.  Their kids are their passion.  Their kids are their life.   They don’t have time for anything else.  I know because it’s what I’ve done.  It’s what I do, even when I swear that I’m going to be better about it.

But you know what?  I really am a better person – a healthier person, a stronger person, a more contented person – when I take time for myself.   By extension, I’m a better mother too.  A better wife.  A better friend.  I know this.  I know this.

So why do I keep having to learn the same lesson over and over?

I’ve been depressed lately, and the approaching holidays (and all the trappings they bring) don’t help with that.  Self-care – or any kind of care, if I’m being honest – has once again slid by the wayside.  And I’m beating myself up because the laundry is piled up, the house needs cleaning, there are presents to wrap, there are cookies to make.  So much to do and so little time, and I’m going to add more to my plate by doing something for myself??  I find myself constantly conflicted between giving myself the rest I so desperately need, and tackling the next Very Important Thing on my to-do list.  The dissonance makes me immobilized, and the immobilization makes me sit there, hovering, right in the middle…. not doing anything to take care of myself, and not getting anything productive done either.  I’m stuck.  And guilty.  And burnt out.

And again, I find myself having to confront the icky love stuff.  The thing I can dole out in spades to my children … but not so much to myself.

imgoodenough

I’m working on it.  I have to work on it.  It’s not optional.  I’ve seen firsthand what it does – not just to me, but to everything around me – when I make it an afterthought.  It isn’t pretty; it’s really not.  My mental health suffers.  My physical health suffers.  My relationships suffer.

So I’ll deal with the discomfort of whatever it is that makes me balk so much at the very words, “self-love”.  I’ll face all the yuck of my past that makes me think I’m not worthy.  I’ll work through my issues of perfectionism and guilt and black-and-white thinking that make me think things have to be done to a certain standard or the whole world order will collapse.  I’ll give myself the care that I deserve – and good grief, that I NEED – and not feel guilty about what I have to say no to in order to make it happen.

(Well, maybe just a little guilty.  I’m a messy work in progress.)

ikickass

My too-often ignored reminders on my dusty mirror with my unmade bed in the background.

It is now four o’clock in the afternoon.  I’ve been home for about an hour.  There’s unfolded laundry beside me.  There are stains to be scrubbed out of the carpet.   I need to vacuum.  There are emails to answer, and bills to be paid.  I need to make a list of cookie ingredients so I can go to the store.  I still have to plan a menu for Christmas day.  I need to finish shopping for stocking stuffers.  There are packages to go in the mail.  The bathrooms haven’t been cleaned in…. too long.  And have I mentioned the laundry??  Holy hell, the laundry.

But it’s okay.  IT’S OKAY.  It really is.  And I’ll sit.  And I’ll write, and I’ll drink my tea and eat my candy cane, and I’ll breathe, and I’ll know that I’m not doing nothing, but rather doing something… for me.  And once I’ve done something for me, and filled up my own cup (another phrase that gives me the absolute heebie-jeebies but I’m going to use anyway), I’ll know that it’ll be easier to commit myself fully to whatever task I decide to tackle next.  Full attention on me.  Full attention on the next thing.  And so on.  Non-negotiable from here on out.  And I’ll resist and I’ll whine and I’ll grumble… and I’ll lean into it all and trust that eventually I’ll get it.  Eventually it won’t be so hard.

Because I really am worth it.  I really do kick ass.

And sooner or later I want to be able to say the words, “Yes, I DO practice self-love”, and no longer wince when I say it.

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I’m Loving My Kids And Calling It Kindness

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Every year at Christmas time, there’s a sudden rush to share articles warning us about “spoiling” our kids.

Don’t get them everything they’re asking for!

Don’t give into their whims!

Don’t SPOIL them!

This one particular piece (titled We’re Killing Our Kids and Calling It Love) that recently came through my news feed brought a dire and overwrought prediction of killing our children through our generosity.    We’re too concerned with our children being happy, she tells us.  So we’re spoiling them, and in turn we’re harming their character.  But wait, is it really so wrong to want to our children to be happy?

According to this author it is.

Isn’t that what we’re after? Happy children?

I hope not.

The measuring stick of successful parenting is definitely not happy children. Well-adjusted, responsible, kind, and selfless? Absolutely. Happy and spoiled? No way.

Later on, she says:

The truth is that giving them everything they want and ask for is the opposite of showing them love. It’s showing them that they’re the center of the universe, and it’s teaching them that the purpose of their lives is fulfillment of their material desires.

Here’s the thing.  The article is making two rather large and erroneous assumptions.  The first is that parents who are generous with their children believe that “things” will buy their child’s happiness, and the second is that spoiling occurs when children are given too much.

Neither of these are true.

To start, happy and spoiled are oxymorons.  A child who is genuinely happy cannot be spoiled, and a child who is genuinely spoiled cannot be happy.  True spoiling occurs not when a child is given too much, but when a child is given too little … No, not too little material things, but too little love, too little attention, and too little connection.  The problem isn’t “stuff”:  the problem is an unhealthy base relationship.  The problem is that the child is not being shown and modeled generosity, or kindness, or respect.  The problem is a lack of a human connection, or an emphasis of stuff in place of relationship.

Giving of ourselves, sharing abundance, and showing our children generosity is not synonymous with “spoiling”.  In fact, you know what happens when you show your kids kindness?  They become adults who are kind.  You know what happens when you show your kids generosity?  They become adults who are generous.

Giving of ourselves as parents is what we should be doing.  We’re hard-wired to selflessly give to those we love.  I see it as my job as a parent (and for that matter, as a conscientious human being) to give more.  Not less.

More generosity.  Not less.

More time.  More attention.  More kindness.

And yes, when we can, more of those material things that make their life more comfortable, or colorful, or enjoyable.   I do want to raise children that are happy.  I want to raise children that are “well-adjusted, responsible, kind, and selfless.”  Of course.  I also want to raise children that know how good it feels to give to the people we love.  I want to raise children that understand that when we give to others it creates more abundance, not less.  I want to raise children that understand that while yes, material things aren’t what make the world go round, that they don’t have to carry any sort of guilt for enjoying them.  (She says as she sips on her overpriced coffee and types away on her laptop on her high speed wifi)  We all have and appreciate certain material things, and to justify our own baubles but purposely deny our children – in an effort to teach some sort of lesson – is inconsistent, hypocritical, and counterproductive.

Giving to our children… truly giving, from the heart… does not spoil them.

Truly “spoiling” a child requires a relationship that is insincere, shallow, and detached.

A relationship in which a child is treated with kindness and generosity is very much the opposite.

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10 Things I Wish People Knew About Bipolar

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It’s been nearly seven months since I first walked into the behavioral health clinic and basically said, “I need help.”  I wasn’t surprised to hear the words, bipolar disorder, that day (I knew.  You can read my story from the beginning here), but I was surprised by much of what followed.  Treatment has been both harder – so, so much harder – and more rewarding than I thought.  I’ve found unexpected encouragement from some people in my life, and unexpected absence from others.    I’ve found a lot of support and information… and even more misunderstanding and judgment.

Ever since that day, I’ve been devouring every related article, website, and social media account that I could get my hands on.  The relief of knowing that someone else gets it, and the feeling of validation and comfort that comes with, “Oh my gosh, this is describing ME!” is immeasurable.  At the same time, there is so much information out there, much of it repetitive and/or of dubious quality, that it’s hard to know where to begin if you’re a loved one wanting to understand.

Here then are ten of the top things I want people to know, and misconceptions I’d like to dispel.  It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but merely a place to start.

1. It doesn’t look the way it looks in the movies.

A quick Google search will yield you a nice little list of a handful of movies with characters with bipolar (or characters with unnamed mental health issues that present a lot like bipolar.)  I think I’ve watched them all.  And while some are of course better and more accurate than others, in general they’re full of stereotypes, and/or appear as if someone was just going down a checklist of symptoms, trying to hit them all.  Also, what movies tend to portray the most is unmanaged bipolar, not the day-in, day-out, un-sexy business of taking meds, going to therapy, and making a concerted effort to get enough sleep.  Movies are meant to entertain and shock and awe, so it only stands that they’re going to emphasize the wildest and the craziest extremes.  It’s important to remember though that the face of bipolar may also be the guy minding his own business next to you on the train.  Your doctor.  Your neighbor. Your mild-mannered mail man.   It won’t sell movie tickets, but it’s also me… cross-legged on my couch in my furry pajama pants, drinking tea, and watching the Cardinals lose (again.)

2. It is different for every person.

Like any illness, mental or otherwise, bipolar is not one-size-fits-all, and can manifest itself in many different ways.  Just because your brother is prone to violent and angry outbursts when manic, it doesn’t mean that that same symptom applies to every other person with bipolar.  Yes, there are common symptoms used for diagnosis (more on that in later points), but the intricacies and variations are infinite.  It is both unfair and inaccurate to presume to know exactly how bipolar presents for any one individual, unless you are intimately involved in the day-to-day life of said individual.  Even then, so much of bipolar is intrinsically wrapped up in a person’s inner psyche, and not something you can see anyway.  Don’t assume.

3. Depression doesn’t necessarily mean not leaving your bed all day.

Depression, the first half of a bipolar diagnosis, is often portrayed (again, think of the movies) as a person who is nearly catatonic.  Unable to leave bed, unable to eat, unable to really do anything but exist in a haze of sleep and crying jags.  And yes, absolutely, this version of depression is very real.  But equally concerning, and equally real, is something called “functional depression.”  I am intimately familiar with this form of depression, as it’s the type of depression in which I most often find myself.  With functional depression, the person is able to go through the motions, albeit in a fashion that is greatly hindered.   Depending on how brave of a face this person can muster, you may not even know anything is wrong.  People who are functionally depressed may still go to work, take their kids to dance class, and show up at church every Sunday.  Outwardly, they may be doing everything they need to do, while inwardly they are completely withdrawn, immobilized, disconnected, despondent.  They might have lost all pleasure, and all interest, in life.  Last spring, just before I’d bottomed out and finally decided to seek help, I was in the middle of taking my daughter to lengthy dress rehearsals several times a week for a theater production she was a part of.  I was contemplating suicide, and no one had any idea.  Even now, seven months later, seeing that sentence terrifies me.

4. Mania doesn’t necessarily mean wild flights of out-of-control fancy.

mrjones

There’s a scene in the movie Mr Jones where Richard Gere’s character dances on a 2×4 (sans harness), high above the ground, in the midst of an manic episode.  I think this is the sort of thing that people think of most often when they think of mania (the second major piece of a bipolar diagnosis):  extreme, dangerous, and devil-may care.  And it happens, to be sure.  People experience euphoria.  They may have hallucinations.  They may become sexually promiscuous.  They may engage in any number of risky behaviors.  A lot of times someone’s manic episode will be the thing that lands them in the ER for the first time, leading to a proper diagnosis.  But mania doesn’t always equal danger.  It doesn’t have to mean amazing and exciting.  It doesn’t have to mean wild and out of control.  For me (and for a lot of people) it’s somewhere in between all of the above.  It’s staying up all night to write, or create, or plan, because sleep suddenly isn’t really needed.  It’s feeling like you can be anything, or do anything, or experience anything.  It’s feeling that the world is at your fingertips.  It’s bursting with great ideas and big plans, and spending lots – and lots – of money to make them happen.  It’s talking too fast, because you’re just too excited, and your mouth won’t keep up.  It’s motivation; motivation to do more projects than most people do in a decade.  It’s a whirling and swirling and unending rush of adrenaline.  It’s crying every time you go for a walk because the trees and the sky and the cracks in the sidewalk are just so. damn. beautiful.  So is it a good feeling then, some might ask?  I’ll be honest:  it does sometimes feel like a positive in that it does bring euphoria.  It does bring such a rush of ideas.  It does bring so much creative energy.  The problem is that along with that creative energy comes restlessness, and racing thoughts, and a feeling of wanting to crawl out of your own skin.  And through it all, no matter how good it may feel in the moment, it’s all happening with the knowledge that the crash is coming.  Like a tidal wave it’s coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

5. It’s not just about depression and mania.

Depression and mania of course get the most air time, but the symptoms don’t end there.  There are actually a lot of different symptoms, many often occurring at the same time.  There is something called a “mixed episode”, which as the name implies means that elation and depression are present at the same time.  There’s the propensity for addiction.  All or nothing thinking.  Irritability.  Impulsiveness.  Sleep disturbances. Memory issues. Racing thoughts.  Agitation.  Sexual symptoms.  Anxiety (this is currently the most debilitating piece for me, particularly in the “bridge” phase between depression and mania).  There is lack of – or too much – energy.  There’s fatigue, both mental and physical.  There’s physical pain.    Symptoms can last for weeks or months at a time, or they can be rapid cycling, meaning that you’re never quite sure what may be coming when.

6. It is more than just “ups and downs.”

“We all have ups and downs.  Why would you feel the need to label it as bipolar?”  Well first, I didn’t label it bipolar, medical professionals labeled it bipolar.  Second, yes, absolutely… we all have ups and downs.  When I’m doing really really well, I have ups and downs.  Bipolar is a very different thing than “ups and downs” though.  It is completely, 100% normal to have ups and downs.   It is NOT normal to have “downs” so low that you no longer see the point in living, and to have “ups” so high that you no longer feel the need to sleep, or to make prudent decisions.  When I first heard this comment, several months ago, I felt frustrated and insulted.  Today I recognize that it just comes from genuine ignorance, and I feel happy (really) for this woman who does not have to experience the actual and extreme “ups and downs” that bipolar brings.

7. In order to be managed, it first requires treatment.

Bipolar treatment may include any combination of:  medication, natural therapies, lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, etc.  I carry no shame in saying that my treatment currently includes medication (a cocktail of three different meds at the time of this writing), though many people certainly try to shame me.  Some comments are overt, and others are more subtle about it, but the judgment is still there.  I won’t defend or excuse my own choices, but I will simply say that for me, I have absolutely zero doubts about the path that I’m on.  I tried all the supplements, the herbs, the oils, changing my diet, getting enough exercise… and for me, it wasn’t enough.   Taking the right medications at the right time quite literally saved my life.  As did therapy – which I fought tooth and freaking nail at the beginning, but that ended up becoming one of the most important things I’ve ever done.  Without appropriate treatment – no matter what that treatment ends up looking like –  people tend to either self-medicate (with things like alcohol, drugs, compulsive behaviors) OR they continue to cycle through the elation and the depression, going through lengthy periods of dysfunction.  I have done both, and I recommend neither.  Bipolar doesn’t go away on its own.  It doesn’t go away by force of sheer will power.  It doesn’t go away by talking about it with a friend, no matter how understanding that friend might be.  One of the most insensitive things someone said to me in the early days of diagnosis came in response to my confiding in her that I’d had to admit to the psych doctor that I’d been suicidal.  “But didn’t the feeling go away once you said it out loud?”, she asked me.  It doesn’t really work like that.  Saying things out loud was what served as my impetus for getting help,  but it for sure didn’t help in and of itself.  Admitting you need help is hard.  Doing the actual work needed to help yourself is even harder.  If your friend/family member/loved one is seeking professional help, support them.  Support them like crazy.

8. Managing bipolar is a full-time job.

There’s no “cure” for bipolar.  It can be managed, but it doesn’t go away.  Dealing with bipolar is a lifelong, 24 hours-a-day job.   There are good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks.  At the time of this writing, I’ve been in a dip for the past couple of weeks, and am trying to give myself lots of gentleness and grace as I work my way through it.  Medication helps.  Therapy helps.  But they’re just the beginning.  The day-to-day management, the will-I or won’t-I make the commitment to stay as well as possible is all on me.  And it’s hard.  And it’s tiring.  And it would be SO EASY to let myself slide back into the safety of the darkness of depression, or into the numbness of a strong Captain and Coke (or five).  I know I can’t skimp on sleep.  I know I need to regularly take my meds and my supplements.  I know I can’t skip appointments. I know I need to keep up with exercise and eating right and doing all the effing hard inner work that I complain to my therapist about every week.  And sometimes  a lot of the time, it pisses me off that it’s all so much work right now, but I do it.  Because I owe it to my kids.  I owe it to my husband.  I owe it to MYSELF.

9. You don’t understand it… unless you do.

I think a lot of the time we so badly want to be supportive that we say things with the best of intentions that just aren’t truthful.  Or helpful.  Or kind.  At the top of this list is “I understand.”  Please, please don’t say this if you don’t in fact have personal experience.  Having a bad fight with your husband or going through a funk because you can’t lose those last 10 pounds sucks, and I’m really sorry you’re experiencing that.  Truly.  But it’s not the same thing as living with a mental illness.  It’s just not.  Like so many other things, you can’t understand it unless you live it.  I’m living it myself, and I’m still figuring it all out.  Being supportive doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) include words like, “I know how you feel.”  To this day, the best thing anyone’s said to me about it all was this:  “That sounds really hard.  I’ll be thinking of you and sending you love while you work through this.”

10. It doesn’t define who a person is.

It always makes me cringe a little every time I hear the word bipolar used as a major descriptor.  Especially since it’s so often used in a negative way.  Ie:  “My bipolar brother just went to jail again.”  “My stepfather is such a jerk.  He’s bipolar.”  People with bipolar can go to jail, sure.  And yup, they can also be jerks.  But so can anyone else.  Having bipolar doesn’t need to be a negative, nor does it excuse negative behavior.  It is one piece of a very big, very complicated, very intricate whole.  I’m not a “bipolar person.”  I’m still ME.  I’m creative and dorky and love my pets more than I love most people.  I like coffee and movies and office supplies.  I love the smell of the desert when it rains, and laughing till I cry around the dinner table, and getting new tattoos.  I get excited when there’s a new episode of my favorite TV show.  I’m me.  I’m you.  I’m all of us.  A unique, imperfect, multi-faceted human.  Not a diagnosis.

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Bipolar (and mental illness in general) still very much comes with a stigma, largely due to misunderstanding and/or fear.  It’s why I continue to talk about it, and write about it, despite the people who tell me not to, or are uncomfortable with hearing about it.    I’m here to ask you to get comfortable with your discomfort.  It’s not just that I think it’s okay to talk about it… I think that we need to talk about it.  So many people are afraid to mention it, afraid to ask questions.  But I’ll tell you what: when I know that you know, and the topic is deliberately avoided?  It is so much more awkward than even the most awkward of questions.  It’s an illness, not an elephant.

I have learned so much in the past seven months.  So, so much.  Bipolar has forced me to learn, and to grow, and to do all those hard and adult things that productive people are supposed to do.  Calling it a blessing doesn’t seem quite right, but there is a greater good to be found, and I think that’s okay.

But some days?  Some days it just really, really sucks.  And I think that’s okay too.

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Filed under bipolar, depression, mania, mental health