Until

I didn’t know how lost I was until I found my way.

I didn’t know how miserable I was until I felt true joy.

I didn’t know how many people loved me until I almost lost them.

I didn’t know how many gifts I had until I began to give them away.

I didn’t know how beautiful the sun felt until I left the darkness.

I didn’t know how brave I was until I faced my fears.

I didn’t know how much I had to say until I spoke.

I didn’t know how much I took for granted until I almost lost it all.

Giving Thanks

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.  ~Jean Baptiste Massieu, translated from French

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I hope you will have a day filled with not only food and thanks, but family, friends and community. It’s very easy to let this day be the only day to reflect on our lives, the blessings and bounty that we have. Just as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day shouldn’t be the only day we let our parents know how much they mean to us, giving thanks should not happen only once a year. I have gotten in the habit lately of running through all the things I am thankful for each morning before I get out of bed. The simplest things we tend to take for granted are the often the things that mean the most. Our health, our home, family, faith and of course, our means of making a living. Material things often are represented as the most treasured, when in reality, they mean nothing if you have no one to share them with or if you are sick or dying.

I feel that it’s very important to not just run through the list of things I’m thankful for, but to actually give thanks to those who I’m grateful to have in my life. All too often, people are starving for words of encouragement, gratitude and just to know that they matter. So, first and foremost, thank you to those who have served in the Armed Forces, their families who all too often have lost their loved one, not only to death, but to the trauma of war and the devastation upon their psyche. Without them, we would not have the luxury of freedom to speak, to live, practice our faith or to even have a choice. Thanks to the teachers who accomplish the impossible on a daily basis; educate and encourage young minds. Often, they are the role models who make the most difference. The rebels who refuse to settle for mediocrity and dare to be different, to challenge what defines them; they keep us from growing complacent. Thanks to those who have had the courage to share their stories of struggle with mental illness, who have faced discrimination and ridicule, yet still found the strength to speak up and demand to be heard. Thanks to those who have fought for equality, who cast a light on the oppressed and downtrodden. Thanks to the dreamers who shared their vision of the future and thanks to those who see the good in all mankind and refuse to believe that all is lost. Thanks to you, my dear readers, for your encouragement and your continuing support of me and my writing. I couldn’t do this without you.

Take a minute today to share with someone how thankful you are to have them in your life and what they mean to you; it could make a world of difference to you both.

Daydream Believer

That was the #1 song on the day I was born. I had to laugh when I looked that up. I love the  Monkees and their music has always made me feel happy. I mean, who can be unhappy when you hear Davy Jones’ voice and picture his cute smiling face? I fell in love with him, his accent and his wonderful personality. I remember seeing him on the Brady Bunch when he sang “Girl” to Marcia Brady and decided then and there that my dream was to be an actress.

Little did I know that I would actually be able to fulfill that dream, but not on screen or stage. I spent a great deal of my life acting, although it was unscripted and mostly not for entertainment. I believe that most people who suffer from mental illness, addictions or other “secrets” become by necessity actors and actresses. Even today, there is still a great deal of stigma associated with mental illness and addictions and no one I know wants to be scrutinized under the microscope of judgement and ignorance, so we lie. We act like we’re not hurting inside, scared of our feelings, of voices saying terrible things in our minds. We smile when we want to cry, we get up every morning, ignoring the heavy weight of dread at facing another day. We say that everything is fine when nothing is fine. We deny that we need help or that we have a problem because we don’t want to believe it ourselves and we certainly don’t want to be seen as weird, crazy or worse, pathetic. But the truth is if we can’t be honest with ourselves we will never be okay. It takes a great deal of courage to just accept the fact that we are not normal, whatever the deuce that is.

So, today I try my best to be truthful and if I’m acting, I’m simply acting like myself. The Daydream Believer has finally begun to believe in the daydreams of that little girl of long ago. Not about being an actress, but about being okay with who I am, having friends and family who love me in spite of my diagnosis and who see me as who I am: a mystery wrapped up in a riddle surrounded by an ever-changing, developing, funny and loving personality. But enough about me….

Mr. Davy Jones, God Rest Your Soul and thank you for the music, your cuteness and your wonderful smile. You will not be forgotten and you will always have a special place in my heart.

Friendly Fear

I have been trying to get a handle on some serious anxiety I have around returning to work next week and in the process, I have come to realize just how powerful fear can truly be. In feeling my feelings, I have had the most difficulty with fear/anxiety; for whatever reason, it’s the one feeling that I cannot intellectualize or rationalize my way out of. It is the one emotion that has driven me most of my life. Fear of rejection led me to avoid relationships; fear of failure kept me from following my dreams and fear of judgement kept me from sharing those dreams and even most of my thoughts. Fear of feeling my feelings led me to my addictions, which led me to despair and a great deal of self-loathing.

I wish I could say that I have learned to embrace my fear, but that is not the case; at least not yet. I have come to understand that fear is not the enemy. Rather, fear is the first step on the journey to personal enlightenment and inner strength. If I can work through the fear and learn what is the driving force behind it, then I may potentially be able to develop the skills to see the lesson that it is trying to teach me. For instance, within my fear of rejection, there exists a perfectionist view of what a successful relationship consists of; if I am not perfect, then I cannot have a successful relationship (this is my flawed logic) so the lesson is that nothing is perfect, all relationships have their own challenges and the end of a relationship is not necessarily a failure. Understanding that all successful relationships have at their core the desire of both parties to hear the other out, be willing to be flexible, forgiving and most of all, honest. Not to mention being respectful of the other person, their feelings, insecurities and of course, fears. There is more than one lesson to be learned inside that particular fear. If I run away or close my mind to the possibility of having a relationship, I will never learn and as a result, not grow. But the fear will.

Hence, the title of Friendly Fear. I am learning that Life is a series of lessons and I am the eternal student. I will be a student for the whole of my life here on Earth and perhaps even beyond that. I will return to work with my friendly fear, a plan of action and a whole lot of deep breathing and centering. It will be interesting to discover what lesson is to be learned this time.

Breathe, breathe deeply, breathe out and breathe in. Fear please leave me, hope please come in. Lesson to be learned, show yourself to me; strength to learn and faith to see.

 

Creativity, Mania and Meds

“Saying I don’t take my meds because they make me feel funny is like cannibals saying they don’t eat clowns because they taste funny” 
― Stanley Victor Paskavich

For the longest time, I fought against taking any kind of psych meds for a myriad of reasons; it would most certainly interfere with my alcohol and substance use, it could make me “normal” (God forbid!) and more importantly, I was deathly afraid that I would become someone else. As someone who could handle anything, it seemed as though it was somehow cheating to take them. Of course, drinking and self-medicating were perfectly acceptable and didn’t constitute a crutch at all, in my mind.

There is a great deal of fear around medications, especially psych meds for those who have the bipolar diagnosis. I can only speak for myself, but when I look back at all the wonderfully dark poetry I wrote while in the midst of a manic episode, I wonder if it was the mania or me that created them. I know now that my talents are not solely dependent upon my state of mind, but rather the end result is colored by my mental state. I don’t need to be hopelessly depressed to write about sadness or riding the tsunami of mania in order to write of bliss. I now know that my creativity exists within myself, my heart and soul. My moods may change, but the core of who I am remains. I will admit that a good manic episode, much like a good acid trip, may open doors within my mind to places that I would normally not be granted access to, but that does not diminish my potential for creativity. I am able to open doors to creativity through meditation, deep thought and following my intuition to wherever it leads me.

I love the quote above because it reminds me so much of myself in years past. I have argued with my psychiatrist for many years about getting clean and sober, taking my prescribed medication and finding sustainable sanity. It was as though I feared sanity more than I feared a lifetime of wild mood swings, severed friendships and day trips to insanity. I am thankful that I was able to finally face my fears and give myself the chance to live without extraordinary pain and suffering. Of course, this is not the end of my story, but rather the beginning. I hope that as I continue to write, I will be able to open those doors in my mind that will allow me to better understand my illness, my talents and my future as a creative woman who happens to have bipolar disorder.

I hope you will follow me on this journey.

Happy One Year Anniversary to Me

Today I celebrate my one year anniversary of freedom from drinking. When I started out on this journey, I had great expectations and a healthy dose of fear about giving up my dear friend, alcohol. We’d had a long relationship that started when I was 13 and it had been my constant companion throughout my life. I wasn’t sure that I could manage without it. From the days of standing outside the liquor store asking people (mostly men) to buy me Bacardi, to the homesick days in Mississippi, drinking White Zin (yeah, I know – yuk!) to the days of red wine and roses (without the roses) to the final days of Happy Hours ending in blackouts, not to mention the poor choices I made while intoxicated, I have come to the realization that alcohol is no friend of mine.

Since I have quit drinking, I’ve been able to reconnect with myself, feel my feelings and have regained a sense of power that I thought I didn’t have. I have faced events that would have sent me running to the nearest bottle before and I have lived through those events, shed the tears and moved on. I have regained my self-esteem, my confidence and my ability to truly be present. I would have to say this is the best gift that I’ve ever given myself and I know that there will be times when I romanticize those drinking days, but much like the boyfriend that wasn’t any good for me, I will have to strive to remember why we parted in the first place.

Today I celebrate my first year and I pray for the strength to have many more years to come. I have made a promise to myself that I will nurture and love my mind, body and soul; I cannot keep this promise if I am drinking. I have found a clarity that is better than any buzz I had gotten while drinking and have shed the guilt, the shame and the constant worry that came with drinking. I no longer have to wonder if I’ll make it home without getting pulled over; I no longer have to ask someone else what I did or said the night before. I don’t have to choose between buying a bottle of wine or buying groceries. It sounds pretty simple, but it all adds up. I am by no means stress free, but I have a found better ways to cope with my stress.

So, today I will be celebrate my one year with family and look forward to the next year. I have found a great strength and comfort in the Serenity Prayer and for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, I’ll leave you with the prayer in closing.

God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Anger Revisited

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. 
Buddha 

I have shared with you before how I have issues with anger and how at different times in my life it has almost been my undoing. I had heard the quote above before (Kevin?) and it really spoke to me. I had been holding anger against so many people, situations and just in general. To me, there was no other emotion that made me feel so alive, humming with emotion and intensity. The only problem is that it was a very damaging state to maintain for long. Anger is like battery acid, eating away at anything it comes into contact with and it wasn’t long before it began to eat away at my self-esteem, my outlook on life and how I dealt with the world in general. I was like a walking furnace of anger, radiating negative energy all around me. People instinctively pulled away from me, as if knew that getting too close would be harmful to their well-being.

There is a seductive pull of anger, the absolute power of it; it made me feel as though I could fight the world and win. I could blaze a path through a crowd, scare the Hell out of any fool who had the bad luck to try to make me feel better. But, at some point, the anger turns inward and the acid eats away at me. I had managed to wound myself seriously, push away all those who care about me and put myself in a position of great unhappiness. This would be the time I would go out and drink until I blacked out, trying to numb myself from that unhappiness. The unhealthy behaviors would gladly jump to the forefront of my consciousness and before I knew it, things had gone from bad to worse.

It has taken me a great deal of time to fully understand where this anger came from, why I felt justified in blaming others for it and how to undo or heal from the anger I’ve inflicted upon myself. It’s very easy to blame others for my feelings and my failings and very difficult to turn that critical eye inward. Accepting responsibility for my choices, my thoughts and my actions is the only way that I believe I’ll ever find true happiness. Forgiving myself, loving myself and learning from those bad choices are the healing balm for the burns of anger. 

I recognize that a lifetime of behavior cannot be undone in one day and that I will more than likely spend the rest of my life adjusting my thoughts, pulling back the reins on my anger and finding ways to cope with the consequences of my actions that are not self-destructive or destructive to those around me. I believe that anger comes from a place of powerlessness, of feeling as though fighting back is the only option. I no longer believe that I am powerless; I know that I have no power over others’ actions, but I do have power over how I respond to them. Rather than judge them, I need to have compassion and understand that they are driven by things that I cannot see nor can I understand. But just like me, they are doing the best they can with what demons and limitations they carry with them. It’s hard work, though. The force of anger is always right on the surface, while forgiveness, compassion and understanding are further down and take effort to access. I cannot expect things to change if I continue to follow the old behaviors and thought processes. I am no longer the victim, the wounded child or the misunderstood manic-depressive. I am just me, a child of the Universe searching for my destiny and my own self-realization. The people that I meet along the way are on their own journey and when our paths cross, I believe we each give something to the other. My gift will no longer be red-hot, scalding, soul-killing anger. I have many gifts to offer that are healing, understanding and loving. I will do my best to holster the anger and reach deep to find the positive. 

One day at a time.

Radio Silence

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, mostly because I’ve not been feeling like I have much of anything to say. At least, anything I want to share. I am feeling better each day; my medications have been adjusted, I’ve been in therapy that I will continue even after I return to work. I feel as though I’m learning all over again what it means to be me. Not just because of my diagnosis, but also because I am the sum of all my experiences, good and bad. I am the child of an alcoholic, the rebellious teenager, the young mother and the me I am today. Tomorrow I will be slightly different than today, as the dreams and thoughts I have between now and then have the power to make me see things differently, adjust my perception of each passing day as new challenges are presented to me.

I would like to say that I will not have to pass this way again, so far down I cannot see the sky, but I know I cannot predict the future. I do know that I have the ability to sense when things are getting bad and not wait until they are worse before seeking help. I also have a better understanding of my cognitive distortions and how they color my perception of reality, my mood and my interactions with people, both in my private and my work life.

It’s as if I have this wonderful red, shiny toolbox with all the tools and knowledge I have accumulated throughout my lifetime. Some of these tools are rusty, outdated or have no use in my life today; I need to sort through all of this, throw away what no longer serves me and add the new tools I’ve found along the way. I need to remember the tools are there, but they can accomplish nothing by themselves, sitting in my toolbox. I need to take them out, use them and remember they are there for a reason.

I’ve also realized that being inside my head and being alone does me no good. There is a reason why human beings are social creatures; we need each other. My family has always been my rock and my lifeline, as well as being just fantastic human beings in their own right. I sometimes forget that I am not in this all by myself, but like the tools in the toolbox, people cannot help me or befriend me if I never pick up the phone, reach out, invite them over for dinner or just send an e-mail saying how much I love them.

So, my dear family, I love each and every one of you so much. I cannot express how much you all mean to me and how much you have stayed by my side through some really dark times. By family, I include those friends of mine who have been like family to me; who hold a special place in my heart and who have also carried me when I couldn’t walk, loved me when I couldn’t love myself and gave me hope when I had none.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to stop by and read my little blog; it means so much to me.

The Black Dog

…if my black dog returns. He seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colours come back into the picture.” -Winston Churchill

Drugs are good. Let me clarify…psych meds are good. For me. Apparently.

I have started a new mood stabilizer and due to drug interactions, side effects, etc., this is the first time I’ve been on a mood stabilizer, period. When I took Lithium, I broke out in a rash on my legs; with Depakote, it was on my chest. There are too many others to list, but you get the idea. I’ve been on Wellbutrin at a fairly low dose forever and it was doing the job keeping the “blues” away and not kicking off a manic episode, but it certainly failed to stop this most recent sneak attack of the Black Dog. Thankfully, this new medication seems to have accomplished what I couldn’t have imagined; not only is the black dog away from me, the anxiety that I had carrying around with me for months has gone as well. So – yay drugs!

I love Churchill’s quote because it describes perfectly the feeling when the depression finally lifts. The air is sweeter, the colors rich and so beautiful, you almost can taste them. It’s a gift that one never tires of receiving. I am thankful that there exists something in this world that can pull me out of the muck and bring me back to myself. The rest of it is up to me, as the treatment is not simply the pills. There is the regular maintenance, the upkeep and the checking in with my doctor and my therapist, but all in all, I believe I’ll be able to get back to good and maybe move on to excellent, in time. Staying connected through the support and educational groups reminds me that I am not the only person dealing with this diagnosis.

As for the black dog, I will work to keep it at bay in every way possible; diet, exercise, sleep, meds, therapy, etc. As for the mania, my hopes are that this mood stabilizer will keep that under wraps, as well. But for today, I am off to walk along the trails and listen for what nature has to tell me.