Drunk on Sunshine

Like Christmas, I think appreciate summers in Iowa more because they come but once a year.

Let them eat cake!

I recently celebrated my birthday. It was so joyful I don’t ever want to forget it: a cloud-free sunshine day, a bike ride by the river with my mom, a diet Coke cake with Cool Whip shared with my dad, and seeing a funny movie at the theater with my husband, a trip to the bookstore and a slice of pizza at the mall. Add the love and cuddles from my dog, I’ve never felt so content.

Spring showers bring Summer flowers

The official first day of summer has arrived on the calendar and I’ve finally been able to come out of hibernation to enjoy all the activities that the warmer weather allows. Where I live we do not have four seasons. We actually have three: 1) the it’s freezing cold-I can’t feel my fingers-why do I live here in the winter season 2) the middle season when the forecast calls for a mixture of snow, rain, wind, mild and blistering hot days in the next 10 days so dress accordingly and 3) the it is summer so cram in as many events and activities as possible because there are only three months before everyone returns to their caves.

Trestle Trail in Madrid Iowa

Tis the season to smell the roses that are blooming! Enjoy the small gifts God has given us like purple wild flowers in the ditch along the highway, smiles from strangers, and the taste of a full-strength Coca-Cola after trying unsuccessfully to quit drinking them. It’s time to get drunk, not on beer or wine, on sunshine! ☀️

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Posted in Mental Health, Random Crap, Seasons

Spring Happens

How can we fully appreciate the light of sunshine without experiencing the darkness of night?

The past few months have been good. I’ve given a couple speeches at law enforcement academies describing my darkest days with mental illness, showing them what I look like most days, and reminding them to “see the individual not the illness“.

“Yes, it is all in my head. That’s where my brain is.”

Another positive is I trained to become a facilitator for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) peer support groups. I have received so much from participating in them it feels good to be able to give back.

It hasn’t been all chocolate and cheeseburgers.

Thanksgiving/Christmas was a bit stressful. It irritated me that there are 365 days in a year but because one is designated a holiday, relatives who I haven’t heard from for 364 days want to gather on that one day and that one day only. I am still coming to terms that all they offer may be really all that they are able to give.

Sad Puppy

January:

I committed to self-care.

“It is inevitable when one has a great need of something one finds it. What you need you attract like a lover.” -Gertrude Stein

I began to worry about time, money, my weight, my health, the future. I tried to get outside of myself by volunteering. Fearful of falling down a rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland, I immediately retracted all but my minimum commitments. Doing so was difficult. I hate breaking plans (which is also why I hate making them). I want the ability to do whatever I want, but I have to budget my energy. If I push myself too much my mood will travel to the extremes which means being more susceptible to an episode of low depression or high mania. I strive for the sweet spot between mediocrity and better than average.

February:

It was longest shortest month ever. I wanted to complain about the freezing-cold dreary weather, but every time I started to do so I couldn’t help think I choose to live here. I really need to rethink that life choice!

My February could be summarized as “minimal energy spent”. I was grateful for the fact I could ease into the day. Not having to be at work early in the morning meant I didn’t have to fight with myself to get out of bed and get going. Very blessed. My medical costs these past 12 months have been the lowest I’ve had in years! Money IS less important than good health.

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March:

The past two weeks I’ve seen glimpses of spring. There have been a couple of days where it’s been nice enough to go for a bike ride and even more nice days to go for a walk. When I see eagles nesting and young woodchucks by the riverbanks my spirits can’t help but be lifted.

I believe in process. I believe in four seasons. I believe that winter’s tough, but spring’s coming. I believe that there’s a growing season. And I think that you realize that in life, you grow. You get better. – Steve Southerland

That brings us to today.

Today I write for no other particular reason than to put out into the blogosphere that I’m still here. Still showing up. Still sharing my story and letting myself be seen.

I Hate Selfies, Can You Tell

Hi!

I’m not out to prove anything to anybody including myself. However…

it’s easy to say to self ‘I should be doing this, I could be doing this, I should do more, I could do more’. Especially, if I compare myself to others! I was in conversation with old friends who told tales about their on-going Monday-Friday Project A , how they’ve just started Project B, difficulties co-chairing Project C, helping a friend begin Company XYZ in addition to taking their kids to soccer, ballet and band practice while getting ready to go on another vacation to the North Pole. They then turned to me and asked “So, what have you been up to?” Mmmm. “Watching paint dry?” Over-simplification of course. My real answer, “Nothing special. Just staying healthy and happy.” And that’s good enough for me. It’s my new normal.

Posted in Courage, Mental Health, Random Crap, Seasons | Tagged

1,000 miles

I don't get mad anymore. I just accept it for what it is and move on.

Saying Goodbye to the Past

Back in January, I quit my full-time job to seek less stressful work good for my mental health. The hardest part was saying goodbye to work friends and the routine I’d established. I would no longer have someone readily available to have lunch with daily. No more work potlucks. No after work socials. No birthday cards and well wishes. I had to let go of the known and embrace the unknown.

My work ethic wouldn’t let me leave without having a plan. I left my old employer on Friday then started a part-time temporary job on Monday. Was it perfect? To be honest, I Googled “How to Quite a Job after the First Day”.

However, I stuck it out and a three-month temp job turned into six. They kept asking me to stay and again for fear of the unknown I kept saying yes. When the job did end, I doubt that they’d ever seen anyone happier on their last day of work.

Silver lining = I was learning what I didn’t want and what I needed to do.

TickTockClock

Time is What You Make It

Fortunate to have the support of my family, for the first time since childhood I had the summer off. I began going to a writing workshop offered at the National Association on Mental Illness affiliate (www.NAMI.org). I met some new acquaintance sat NAMI who invited me to gatherings and, having more free time than I knew what to do with, I would show up. There I’d make another acquaintance or two who would invite me to another gathering where I’d show up. Rinse and repeat.

Still, that good ‘ol American work ethic keep nudging at me, “You must find a job now. You must know what you want to do now. You must do something, do anything!” One of my new friends told me “No! Think of this as Me-time. Don’t force yourself to do anything. Let it come to you.”

I’d like to tell my past self “Thank you for heeding that advice. It has been a glorious time of healing and enlightenment. When you get to this here and now, you’ll be so grateful you did!”

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's this day to day living that wears you out.

If I hadn’t shown up, I would have never [_____]

It’s said that showing up is half (if not 90%) of the battle. One invitation to a coffee shop gathering led to meeting someone who really helped me bloom. She is a life coach, a wonderful life coach, but most importantly just a wonderful person.

When we met she asked all the right questions, making me realize how my confidence was lacking (to say the least) and invited me to one of her workshops. I took some time to consider because it was a little pricier than I was comfortable. Again, I was scared of the unknown. Would I be wasting my time and money? I knew if I kept trying the old ways, I’d get the same results. If I wanted new results, I needed to learn new things. I took the leap!

Her workshop was invaluable and the kickstart I needed to get outside my comfort zone. With NAMI, the Courage Collective, familial support, and time I’ve allowed myself to improve my mental health, this year has been so different than any other I can recall. I feel free and light and myself. All because I let go and embraced the unknown.

It’s still a journey, a process. I know it is not linear. There will be steps backward. I also know that I am not alone. I know I can be gentle with myself. And I know if I can’t take a leap, I can just show up and take a baby step in the right direction. That’s how everything always begins.

Posted in Courage, Mental Health, Random Crap | Tagged ,

To thine own self, be kind.

Permission Defined

I give myself permission to NOT do things. Yes, there are consequences and the ‘What if?’s’ that must be lived with. What if I cancel? What if I miss something important?

For ‘What If’s’ the ‘So what?’s’ come in handy. So what if you cancel? I may not get invited again. So what? I’d feel left out and dejected a bit. So what? I’d have to find something else to do. So what? I’d find something else more fun to do that I wanted to do.

I gave myself permission to not publish this blog for awhile. I gave myself permission to finish cleaning for fall, to squeeze the last drops of summer out of the calendar that could be wrung out, and to take time for myself resting on the couch with my puppy on rainy days napping, watching movies, and reading.

I believe people have good intentions.

One of my friends who has never sick a day in her life has beliefs like if you think good thoughts you can cure yourself of arthritis. I love her to death, respect her beliefs, and hope to God above she never has any serious illness. She said to me when I had to cancel our plans

“Why don’t you come out anyway? You’ll feel better if you do. Sometimes you just need to get moving to get more energy.”

Duh. ‘I have pushed myself for 72 hours with other activities. My energy is non-existent. If I get in the car I may fall asleep driving. If I managed to get there in 3 hours you would need to drive me home. Tomorrow, I’d likely be sick and need to stay in bed all day.’

My real response “Really need to stay home and take care of myself. Thanks for understanding.”

No, is a complete sentence. 

I worked with a lady who is the kind of person I aspire to be. She and I were seated together at the office Christmas luncheon. A co-worker came up to Lady and asked, “I’m working on Project X. Would you help me with it?” Without a moment’s hesitation, she simply answered “No.” Our co-worker walked away knowing Lady wouldn’t be swayed.

That was a few years ago and I still think about that moment often.

Don't Explain

Why explain? 

My supervisor would “ask” me to come in 2 hours early about once a month to set up for a board of directors meeting. I always said yes. After many months of doing this, he “asked” me again if I could help set up for the meeting and this time I said, “I’m sorry but I am not able to do so. You’ll need to find someone else.”

I was not prepared for his rage of “I expect you to do what I ask of you! Do you understand how strange it would look to ask another assistant in a different department to help me with this?! Why can’t you do this?

I replied “If I could do this I would. I am just not able to this time.” His eyes glared, skin flushed, mouth tensed, nostrils flared, and his hands pressed flat on his desk. I didn’t want him to think me insubordinate so I had to fess up and explain. If I didn’t I feared he might tank me on my performance review.

It was humiliating to have to say, “I have had trouble getting up in the morning. February is always one of the hardest months for me.” He looked at me like I had antennas growing out of the top of my head.

Then I started to leak tears. “Forgive me. Please ignore these.” as I waved around my face. “Sometimes I just leak. It doesn’t mean anything” I pressed on.

You know I have bipolar disorder. Sometimes that means that I lack energy. Most days I can fight it. Most days I win. In February though, there are other circumstances that make it a lot harder and I lose. The cold dreary weather and lack of sun, like I think they do for everyone, make it hard to get going. When I wake I move like I’m moving through molasses. My bones feel so heavy they seem to be filled with cement and covered with lead. I think about death; how much I rely on my loved ones and if I’d manage to survive without them. My “appointments” for which I have scheduled time off for this month are to see my doctor and therapist to help me stay on top of it. These are just a couple of the things that I deal with in the morning. There are more things I deal with during the day and night IF you’d like to hear them. 

When I say I canNOT help you please know that I mean I cannot help you. It does not mean that I will not help you or that I don’t want to help you. If I was able to help you I would. I’ve NEVER said no to you. In the year and a half we’ve worked together, have I ever refused to help you with anything?” Silence. I looked and his stunned face, open eyes, and mouth. His eyes were still confused but I could see the wheels beginning to turn faster.

Please ask someone else this time.” I left and closed the door behind me.

It sucks to educate people. 

back-to-school-999248_960_720

When I had cancer I didn’t have to teach people about it. The ignorance and misconceptions people have about mental illness get frustrating. It IS easier give other more acceptable reasons. (I’ve had many “stomach bugs” in my lifetime.)

I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time someone told me to “try the all-natural herbs I use.” My reply, “You know what else is all natural? Mud.” End of conversation. I often feel like I should carry around National Association on Mental Illness brochures.

When I was unable to help my supervisor because I was struggling with depression, I apologized to him for the inconvenience. I was sorry for having bipolar. I was ashamed.

Cancer made me so weak in the morning I could barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom or pick up the phone. Bipolar disorder made me so weak in the morning I could barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom or pick up the phone. I never apologized for cancer. The difference? Stigma.

supergirl-2478970_960_720If I only pushed myself hard enough and focused on positive thoughts I would easily jump out of bed, move more, get more energy. Leukemia doesn’t work like that. Neither does depression.

So as much as it sucks to educate people that is one of the reasons why I write this blog. Talking about brain-based disorders helps eradicate stigma around mental illnesses.

Another reason I write this blog

is to help others who are going through what I have and let them know they aren’t alone.

If I could go back in time 3 years and talk to my past self, what would I say?

  • First, I’d advise researching Canadian or Italian citizenship.
  • Then I’d strongly emphasize
    • Life is too short to be miserable. Do things that make you happy. Enjoy being silly. Laugh loud.
    • Just because you made plans and God put your plans in a shredder, lit the shredded pieces on fire, then threw water on the ashes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make more plans.
    • It’s okay to dream. It’s okay to try to make your dreams come true. Sometimes you don’t know what you truly want until you know what you don’t want. Try, try, and try again. Fail, fail, and fail again. It is in the failing that we fall and fly.
    • It’s also okay to just be. Just be. 💕

The Meaning of Life?

Last week I re-watched the movie “Passengers” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. In it, Jennifer’s character watches a video of her best friend saying ‘I hope you learn that you don’t have to do anything extraordinary to have an extraordinary life.’

Jennifer Lawrence in movie Passengers

“I’m stuck in a spaceship that has a swimming pool, a bar, robot waiters, a Chinese restaurant, a French restaurant and handsome Chris Pratt. Oh, woe is me. What is the meaning of life?”

Life is made up of the small moments. Do your best to have a lot of good moments. Put them all together and you have a good life.

So I give myself permission. Permission to just be.

I am happy. I am enough. I’ve nothing to prove. 😁

A Must-Read Essay

For well-meaning friends, share “The Spoon Theory” written by Christine Miserandino (butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory). It’s the best description I’ve come across of what it is like to live with an invisible illness.Invisible Illness

Posted in Mental Health | Tagged ,

The Art of Letting Go

The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.

The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.

I’ve been preparing for the colder weather by decorating and cleaning.

This has included going through old papers deciding what needs to be shred. Some of the things I’ve come across, like a term paper from 20 years ago, have given me a good laugh. Yesterday, however, I came across some that document loss – of job opportunities, of time, of plans for a family.

Reading them was like reliving the painful experiences over again.

Cancer left more heart-centric feelings than head-centric memories. I had no time to think of it during; only survive. I was blessed to be cured of cancer, but the treatment took its toll not just on my body but on my life.

I’ve come across old calendars.

They remind me I was constantly “in the hole” at work using the Family Medical Leave Act to take time off without pay after using up all my paid vacation time and paid sick time for my medical appointments. It seemed like the only time I spent with family and friends was when they accompanied me to doctor visits. Weeknights and weekends I used for resting to recoup the energy I expended from working.

All work and no play took its toll, physically and especially mentally.

It wasn’t long before I had the most serious manic-depressive episode I’ve ever experienced. I wish I could go into more detail, but it was so severe I only remember waking up in a psych ward with no memory of the four months prior.

When I ask about those months…

My husband gets a faraway look in his eyes and starts describing my mother going crazy like Shirley MacLaine in the movie “Terms of Endearment”. When I ask my mother she does start to sound like Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment” and tells me that it’s probably a good thing I don’t remember. My best friend who visited me in the hospital she can’t even talk about it; her eyes fill up with tears. All of them say ‘We weren’t sure we would get you back.’

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What is Past is Prolong

My husband has encouraged me to throw out the old stuff and let the bad memories go. He promised I could rely on him, my family, and friends to be my memory. So with that, I promised in return that I’d toss it but ‘Wow – it is freakin’ hard!’

I am really relating to the people on the television show “Hoarders”.

As I’m purging the past, I’m keeping these things in mind:

  • I’m making space for new positive memories and experiences.
  • CTRL+ALT+DELETE. Take control, consider alternatives, delete what doesn’t work!
  • Can I get this elsewhere (the library, online, from a friend)? If yes, discard!
  • If I died what would my loved ones do with it? Try to minimize possessions!
  • Do I already have one? For example, a VHS taps and a DVD of the same movie?  Consider discarding both because I can probably get it at library or on Netflix!
  • Can’t decide? Place in a “save for later” box. Things still in the box 6 months/1 year from now can then be purged.
  • Think of others who would make better use or appreciate more things I am not using (like clothes, shoes, purses, blankets, toys, etc). Feel good about helping others less fortunate and donate them to a local St. Vincent DePaul or women’s shelter!
  • And most importantly, in addition to singing the theme song from Disney’s movie “Frozen” while I clean I am reminding myself to let go of
    • my attachment to things
    • guilt
    • hurts (real and perceived)
    • things that make my heart feel heavy
    • old plans and desires
    • the past!!
Posted in Cancer, Courage, Mental Health, Random Crap, Seasons | Tagged , , , ,

I Hate Autumn

On Second Thought…

 

The first time I had a Depressive episode was Labor Day of the year I turned 13.

I was out to dinner with my dad. He asked me how my day went and I burst into tears. Concerned he asked me what was wrong but all I could do was answer “I don’t know” while I hyperventilated. Every Autumn since, I’ve had to fight the demon that is Depression.

It’s that time of year again.

I am entering Fall with my usual trepidation and taking the necessary precautions to ensure good mental health: eating healthy, getting enough but not too much sleep, keeping active, staying in a routine, and being diligent about taking my medications including a Vitamin D supplement.

Autumn Bike Ride

One of my favorite ways to stay active is bike riding.

This summer has been especially beautiful for it filled with many days of warm sunshine. Last week I was out for a ride when on the path in front of me the wind blew and a shower of crisp dry leaves floated to the ground.

My heart sank. I felt sadness so acutely and tears came to my eyes. A semi-famous sports player recently Tweeted something to the effect that Depression isn’t real and that such crybabies need to suck it up. I wish that someone with beliefs like his could feel what it is like to be in my body at such a moment when I “leak tears” for no rational reason or am overcome with forceful emotions.

After crying in the woods over fallen leaves, I asked some friends for their wisdom about Autumn blues.

They gave me three things to do.

  1. Utilize essential oils/fragrances
  2. Clean my home with a pleasant vision of using each space in the colder weather adding blankets and pillows
  3. Decorate my home for the season with encouragement to make a special visit Hobby Lobby.

The biggest takeaway from my friends: Don’t psych yourself out over Fall; psych yourself up for it!!!

So I’ve started to Fall clean and am happy to report I am making steady progress.

I went out and bought a beautiful jar filled with cinnamon scented potpourri, some artificial Fall foliage, a handful of knick knacks, and a special pillow burnt orange embossed with leaves with “Thankful” on it. In every room, I’ve placed at least one item that cheers me: a trio of orange daisies in a tiny orange vase wrapped in burlap and tied with a straw bow,  miniature wooden squirrels holding sunflowers, garlands of golden warm burgundy leaves. My husband and I both have noticed how much more relaxed we feel embracing the Autumn slow-down in our decorated surroundings.

In addition to cleaning, I’ve also started a Favorite Things List to help psych myself up for Autumn.

My original list was rather limited, as you may have guessed, not even large enough for a “top 5 things”. For this reason instead of making routine small talk about the weather I’ve been asking “What do you like best about Autumn?” and adopting the nuggets I glean that ring true for me.

“Things I like about Autumn 🍂 Fall”

  • Pumpkin bread
  • Marching bands
  • Thursdays (when new movies are released)
  • Movie weather
  • Fireplaces
  • Hot chocolate
  • Hedgehogs
  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • Monarch butterflies
  • Wild flowers
  • Neapolitan tree leaves (green, red, orange, yellow)
  • Crisp scent of fall
  • Sound of leaves under my feet
  • Soft PJs
  • Layers
  • Fuzzy socks
  • Scarfs
  • Sweaters

Happy Autumn! Happy Autumn!

 

Posted in Mental Health, Random Crap, Seasons | Tagged ,

We Are Not Alone

Last week I had lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile and her husband.

They had only been married one year with a 3-month child when Husband was diagnosed with cancer. As the conversation came around to something about doctors, I replied ‘oh yeah, I know how that is.’ to which Husband exclaimed ‘you had cancer?’ I laughed and nodded.

So we got into the nitty-gritty of the cancer experience.

Many memories came rushing back – the fear, the frustration, the appreciation of every moment. When I came home I watched more reports on Hurricane Harvey and started to see the similarities between that disaster, cancer, and mental illness.

Such events are unexpected and devastating and put you into crisis mode.

Those around you jump in as superheroes giving you support, love, and prayers. At the same time, people stand by feeling helpless because what they can do doesn’t seem like enough – they cannot be in your shoes.

We form a bond with fellow survivors. Talking with my friends going through cancer, they were relieved that I too was familiar with having diminished patience when others complain about “trivial things” and the lack of interest in things that once brought joy (for me it was the television show Grey’s Anatomy).

GreysAnatomy

A trauma forces a shift in your worldview; you find a clarity of what you value. It reshapes you.

I am lucky (knock on wood) that my cancer was cured.

However, the effects on every aspect of my life – body, soul, mind – lingers. Physical wounds visibly heal. Mental wounds are more difficult to triage. Everyone can understand the common pain of a bruised knee. It’s harder to understand the pain you’ve never personally known.

Having a mental illness is much like cancer.

It’s a serious medical illness that affects every aspect of your life. It can keep you out of work, requires treatment, and sometimes hospitalization. It’s very disruptive, chaotic, dangerous. Yet, the suffering of mental illness is invisible and hard to understand.

My personal hurricane –

I had cancer followed by a major manic depressive episode. My expectations of the future and trust in others weakened. My grief, anger, and feelings of loss deepened. My faith was twisted; grateful to God for the life I was given, angry at God for the life I worked for taken away, and confused as to the purpose of it all.

I was blessed to work with many soulful, intelligent, kind young people who helped restore my faith. They gifted me with a great hope for the future. I wish everyone such a life-saving experience.

As we’ve witnessed with Hurricane Harvey,

There is good, there is kindness, there is love, there is light in this world. Most importantly, we are all survivors and we are not alone.

Posted in Cancer, Mental Health | Tagged , , ,