Deja Vu/Vuja De

It was a year ago, around this time on the calendar when I finally admitted to myself and to my psychiatrist that everything was most definitely NOT fine and a change of venue was in order. My doctor, being the good doctor that he is, referred me for psych evaluation and an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) to deal with the immediate concerns and to eventually get my mood rightened and myself back to the land of brilliant Technicolor, instead of the shades of black in the world I was living in. Well, fast forward a little over a year and guess what? I’m back in the same place, with the same therapists and doctors, cafeteria style lunches and rooms with uncomfortable chairs, lots of Kleenex boxes and people with stories, like me and very much unlike me. My immediate thought upon having to tell my doctor YET AGAIN that I was losing my s**t was not one of “Atta Girl!” but more like, “Seriously? Didn’t we JUST do this?? WTF is wrong with you, loser??” because my first thoughts are always from a place of extreme judgment and an unrealistic goal of perfection, no matter the circumstance.

Now, I wouldn’t say that to my worst enemy anymore than I would say it to someone who was doing another round of chemo or radiation in an effort to destroy that which is trying to destroy them. Treatment is treatment; the disease may differ, the course of treatment may differ but the goal is the same, to provide relief of symptoms and improve the health of the individual, thus improving the quality of life. Mental health is really no different, although much less one size fits all. Mental illness and those who battle depression, mania and other disorders are as different and varied as any selection of human beings can be; one person’s burden is another’s blessing. There is no absolute 100% guaranteed course of treatment and whatever course is selected, the patient must be able and willing to follow subscribed course of treatment, which often if not always includes eliminating substance (pick a poison, alcohol included) abuse and implementing a medication program that includes a cocktail (pardon the pun) of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and perhaps a little Antabuse thrown in for the hard core alcoholics. The patient must be willing to give up those self-medicating methods and switch to the psych meds, which usually come with a hefty side of side effects, weight gain being at the top of the list and covering all manner of ailments including, but not limited to: psychosis, permanent facial and/or body tics, blindness, headaches and possibly (of course) death by suicide, because some of these drugs have induced suicidal tendencies in certain groups, such as adolescents and the elderly. Go figure. Seems kind of counter-intuitive, but every rose has its thorn, as we learned from Guns ‘n Roses/Poison.

If you’re still reading and still awake, I commend you. 

Back to the present time – I am back in the land of black and bleh, trying to find my way to the light and a coherent, relatively calm mind so that I can make some decisions that will hopefully keep me from having to return again at this time next year. I have a great many decisions to make at some point in time and I want to choose wisely and make choices that are good for me and my health. It’s easy for me to say that (I’ve said it over and over again) but the execution is where I falter. I guess if I’m thinking about what I SHOULD do instead of what I NEED to do, that could lead me to an unwise choice.

For all of you who have sent happy thoughts, well wishes and in reached out to me in general, I want you to know I feel the love. Seriously. Those of you who are thinking about me but haven’t reached out, I assure you, I still feel the love. You are the difference between me giving up or carrying on; your belief in me is my sword of truth, fighting against the lies and untruths that hold my spirit hostage, trapped in a dark and dismal mind. Your love and support brings a light to the darkness, a trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow to come back to the land of the living and love. I have talked to many people who have no family, no friends and oftentimes it is because their mental illness/addiction issues have exhausted the supply of people willing to lend a hand or support that person. Some people have a limited time only offer of assistance and once that window is closed, there are no more. I understand the reasoning behind this; if you are trying to save a drowning person, but don’t know how to swim yourself, you will both most certainly drown. Dealing with mental illness is neither pretty, Facebook post-worthy or fun. It tests  your limits, your love and your own mental stability. It’s like a fire you can’t get too close to or you end up with some pretty serious burns. It’s a rollercoaster ride you don’t remember buying a ticket to ride, a storm that was born of sunny skies and fluffy clouds; sunny and bright one minute, dark and destructive the next. It can tear apart the closest family, take away your best friend and leave a wake of destruction miles wide and years long. Knowing this makes you and your continued support all the more precious and appreciated.

Shooting thoughts of love and gratitude to you. Wish we were there (Half Moon Bay)

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On Loss and Carrying On

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Today marks yet another anniversary of my dear friend JJ passing away and this year, the passing of other, more well-known people has added to the sense of loss. David Bowie, Prince and too many others to mention have left this earth and moved on but not without leaving an imprint on our hearts and in our souls. I will still hear songs by Bowie and Prince, just as I will replay conversations I’ve had with JJ. I still hear my father’s voice when I’m lost and seeking guidance and hear my mother’s voice when I’m doing something that I know would cause her concern and/or anxiety, so in that way, they live on because I will not forget. I will not let the sense of grief and loss keep me from living the life I know they all (well, maybe not specifically D.B. & Prince) would want me to. I believe strongly that we are all interconnected and the more I try to be solitary, aside from everyone else, the more I realize that’s not really possible. What my loved one goes through, I am emotionally right there by their side; when someone is angry and hurting, those feelings project out of them and I feel as though a barrage of emotionally-charged arrows are heading straight for me, like heat-seeking missiles. When I am with someone who is depressed, I cannot help but feel for them; I have been there, I know the way and I know how dark it becomes. I can tell myself it is their problem, their burden to bear and logically it is. But there is a voice that tells me that if I am able to help, I should. If I have a light to give this person to help them find their way through the darkness, how can I not offer it? If I bring happiness or even a temporary relief of a great burden or guilt, does that not benefit me as well?

Prince and David Bowie are part of the soundtrack of my life and they will call to mind the times I’ve had, good, bad and amazing with my friends, my family and you, my dear readers. I will do my best to cherish the good times and not let the loss overshadow the gifts that I’ve been given. When all else fails, I’ll put on their music and just dance.

That’s how I’ll get through this thing called life.

Scotland -Part III

The day after Christmas 2015 found me at the airport, excited, tired and ready to be on my way back to Scotland. I had arrived at the airport at an unreasonably early hour (per my request) and had thoughts of my previous two visits and wondered what this visit would bring. I’d been there all alone, with eyes wide and full of wonderment for my birthday in December 2014, met someone in July that multiplied the happiness, the pleasure of traveling and exploring, not only Scotland, but our personalities, our experiences, hopes and dreams, fears and flights of fancy. I didn’t think I could be happier than I was on my first visit, but the second visit changed all that. What would the third visit bring? Would it be even better or would I have raised my expectations so high that they couldn’t help but fall short? These questions swirled around in my mind as I walked the airport, burning nervous energy and trying to fill my mind with something other than those unanswerable questions.

Well, it’s now almost the end of January and I’ve been back about 3 weeks and I have to say, this time was such an incredible experience. I couldn’t have scripted a better visit, traveling and exploring again, but this time, with hours in the car, talking about nothing and everything at once; taking photos like a mad tourist while speeding down the highways and two-lane roads. Sometimes the only car as far as the eye could see, with endless stretches of gorgeous landscapes, skies full of strange clouds I’d never seen back at home; sunsets and sunrises so beautiful, it takes my breath away each and every day. Being so far away from everything and everyone I know, I found myself. I found the calm I’d always prayed for, the serenity I didn’t think existed and the ability to live fully in the moment, not looking back in regret and not looking forward with fear and anxiety. This couldn’t have been possible without the company I was keeping; I have been a solitary creature by choice most of my life but this was comfortable, effortless and I had the feeling that all was right with the world.

That being said, returning to reality is rarely effortless or comfortable and this time was no exception; the higher you are, the harder you fall. The dizzying heights I had occupied while in Scotland gave way to the deepest depths and dark days (and nights) while my spirit tried to break free of the shackles of everyday life and return to the freedom and wide-open spaces I’d flown; now seemingly a dream I had dreamt. Remembering the calm and trying to get that thought to translate to feeling isn’t the easiest or most natural thing for me to do; I am more prone to go worst case scenario and lock the memory away, for the pain of being away from such bliss is too much to delve into. But this is a new year and the time for change is always, so I am embracing my pain, along with the pleasure the memory holds. Bittersweet is a flavor we’re all familiar with and while it’s not something I’d want to taste at every meal, it’s one of the flavors of life, so it will make an appearance from time to time. Every piece of pain contains a lesson, something learned or experienced that will last far longer than the original discomfort that bore it. It’s easy to say and hard to remember when it happens, but it is a choice. I choose to take the bitter with the sweet, the pain with the pleasure and the heart break with the bliss.

I choose to get up and try again. I choose to belief this, too shall pass. I choose to believe that I will return to Scotland, hopefully again and again, until I am an old lady tottering along with a cane, telling my grandchildren about my time in Scotland over and over again, until they can tell the stories themselves, word for word.

 

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Talk to me Goose

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I remember the first time I saw the movie Top Gun. My girl friend and I giggling our little hearts out in the movie theater, so in love with our respective characters (I loved Maverick, she loved Goose) and it was pure fantasy for a couple of troubled teenage girls. Every shot was glossy, full of man candy, motorcycles, leather jackets and super fast, cool looking jet planes with good-looking guys piloting them, all patriotic and hot as hell.  Aside from all of that, something that has stuck with me after all these years about that movie is the camaraderie between the guys. Not just Maverick and Goose, but the entire squad/group/whatever. When you know people have your back, want to you to succeed and believe in you, it makes all the difference in the world, whether things are going great or at an all-time low. The perspective that others can provide for us and sometimes by doing nothing more than just showing up, listening and being a friend.

Now, this is all well and good, but the other part of this whole wonderful thing is that one often times needs to ask for the lending of the ear, the spending of the time and the shoulder for crying on. That’s where I often falter and fall; it’s my delicate ego that keeps me from making the phone call, saying the thing I detest saying the most (I can’t do it by myself, I need help) but need to say, as I am human. Sometimes I can reach out if the discomfort of white-knuckling it becomes greater than my ability to bear it, but oftentimes I just am like Rocky hitting that bag, never letting up and fighting the good fight. We all have our battles and within those battles we have our fights; my fight against depression, addiction, temptation and the voice that says I can’t be successful, I’m not deserving of happiness, no one will ever love me and (the all-time classic) I’m a failure. Even Rocky had others in his world and they provided what he needed from them; inspiration, belief in him, hard work and above all else, love. I understand these things in concept, but I am working on putting the concept into practice and will let you know how that goes.

So, if you’re struggling with something, if the weight is becoming too much to bear and you need to share it, don’t wait too long before reaching out. People do care and “a burden shared is a burden halved” (T.A. Webb) after all.

C’mon.

Talk to me, Goose.

Swim

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim”Tyler Knott Gregson

My big little brother sent me this quote via Pinterest and as always, it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, as if in answer to the questions I’ve been yelling at the Universe lately. I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy many things because I have been solely focused on trying to cope using ways that (obviously) have lost a degree of effectiveness. I have been so focused on just “keeping it together” that I have turned blind to simple things that I had once remembered to seek out; tiny moments of everyday miracles happening all around me. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly, a baby is born far too early and fights to draw each breath, yet he fights, and he lives. People die, yet their spirit and the essence of who they were live on; the deaf can hear, the wounded heal and rise to fight another day. A mother does the impossible everyday, bringing food to the table, keeping her children safe yet aware of the dangers in this world. A father works himself into an early grave so that his children can have a better life than he did. So many miracles, unnoticed when I’m so deep into myself, my “troubles” and my rollercoaster of emotions that are as much a part of me as my curly hair and my tattoos. Living with mental illness, addiction and temptation are my trifecta of Troubles. But there is so much more to the world, to me, to what I want to accomplish and who I wish to become. As with anything, I must adjust, adapt and/or accept what is happens to me, around me and within me, but that doesn’t mean that I should disregard the beautiful insanity that is my world. A world where people are still my friends, even after I have proven myself to be less than perfect and wholly human, a world where a man knows me, good and bad, happy and sad, sane and mad and still loves me. Where I have a son who has every reason to begrudge me happiness, yet wishes it for me abundantly and repeatedly; where a friend sees the crisis and helps in the the best way possible, giving me sanctuary from stress, mental exhaustion and emotional bankruptcy….next stop Complete Shutdown. I was able to avoid that next stop and it’s due solely to my friend’s generosity, which I will try to repay, but can’t imagine how I will be able to.

These last few days have been an effort to get back into the River that is Life and swim, just for the sheer joy of it. Spending time being creative, whether it’s writing, coloring with crayons or just seeking out beauty and capturing it in a photo, stealing a moment in time and keeping it forever, unchanged and unspoiled. Just walking through a park, on a trail, really looking at the trees, majestic and tall, decorated in Autumn’s colors and waving to me with the crisp morning wind shaking their leaves. This brings me back; this slowly cleanses away the grime and dust of depression, that black dog who creeps in and lies on your chest until you know you will never rise again. Nature fights that, gives you light and beauty and life, but we need to be aware, to reach out to it and let its goodness in.

Oh – and swim. Just for the love and the sheer joy of it.

 

A Walk to Remember

Yesterday I participated in the Out of Darkness walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). This is the second year I have walked and both years I have been overwhelmed by the emotions that accompany me on it. There is so much love in the crowd, not just for the loved ones they have lost but for those they wish to keep alive and protect against such a destructive, secretive and shameful act. I say shameful because that is how society (in general) sees it; a coward’s way out, not thinking of those who are left behind, selfish. What they don’t understand and should thank God they don’t, is the pain. The unrelenting pain of simply being alive; the thoughts that drive one to believe it IS hopeless and NO ONE cares, there is no other way and this is THE ANSWER. Depression to me is a magnifying glass to the tiny imperfections and doubts every person has; those who do not suffer from it can put those doubts into perspective, focus on the positive and realize it’s all pretty much good. When under the influence of depression, there is no perspective, no light, no tunnel, no nothing but blackness and sense of doom. This is why it’s so important to be vigilant with our loved ones, family members, friends and even people we just know. Our society seems to encourage independence and if you know me at all, you know I’m all about independence but there is a time and a place for everything and when dealing with depression, independence should take a back seat to seeking help and triage. Get talking with someone, whether in a phone call, Skype, tin cans attached by string, smoke signals, Morse code or Ham radio; the way in which communication takes place is not important, only that it happens.

The men and women of our military are coming home and the numbers of suicides by service members is growing and that is a number we cannot afford to rise any further; these men and women have put themselves in harms way for their country, for us. We need to be there for them. I’m not speaking of the government, although that is the obvious choice, if our world was fair and just and if their priorities didn’t begin and end with their benefit, the stroking of their egos and caring for their own personal agendas. I’m speaking of you and me, Joe Citizen. We can donate to causes that we know support them, we can spend time volunteering, writing letters, sending care packages and being a thorn in the side of the government until they do the right thing, recognize they have a mental health epidemic and get off their fat, entitled asses and take some action.

Sorry – bit of a rant there, but it is something that I have witnessed first hand; the devastation resulting from lack of action and heads deeply buried in sand or up their collective asses. The damage to families, friends, fellow service members and society in general is impossible to grade or measure, as the ripple effect will continue through lifetimes yet to come. Children who will be born without a father to raise them, a father will never get the chance to walk his daughter down the aisle, a mother will have to bury her child, a son will know mother only from stories and photos; this all doesn’t have to happen. We can get OUR heads out into the sunshine, take a deep breath and try in whatever way we are able to fight the good fight against not only suicide, but mental illness left untreated, people suffering because they are afraid of the shame and ridicule associated with mental illness STILL. For God’s sake, it’s almost 2016 and although we can clone sheep, genetically modify food and update our Facebook status every 3 seconds, we still cannot come to the place where we treat mental illness like it is – an illness. Not a personal choice, a personality flaw or a bad strand of DNA, it is an illness just like any other. Cancer used to have the same sort of stigma attached to it but we’ve gotten past that. I would like to write someday that we have gotten past all the negativity surrounding those who suffer with depression, anxiety, mania and all the other flavors of mental illness. We are not to blame and we cannot simply think happy thoughts, suck it up and put on my big girl panties or just get over it. Tell someone who is suicidal to “Get over it” and they will, just not in the way you had in mind.

This walk is a walk to remember; to remember those we have lost, to remember that it effects people of all walks of life, races, religions, social and economic classes and levels of intelligence. This is what its name implies, bringing the issue and those who suffer out of the darkness and into the light.

For more information on mental health in general please visit NAMI.

For more information on our service men and women, please check out the Wounded Warrior Project. Sorry – I tried to add links but couldn’t make it happen.

Thanks for stopping by!

Better Living Through Chemistry, Again

Today I realized that there is a reason why doctors (shrinks/psych docs, etc.) want us “chemically special” people to stay on our psych meds. It’s mostly because if we don’t, we tend to go a little bat-shit fucking crazy. My special brand of b.s.f.c. is my temper (see previous post about the Incredible Hulk) and my innate ability to see the funny/crazy/stupid things and comment on them in a (I’ve been told) highly entertaining manner. Combine those two fabulous talents and you end up with a really angry, funny, scary woman. It’s no wonder I haven’t had tons of men clamoring at my feet, begging me to marry them and make them the “happiest man in the world”. Yeah, you see it.
So, today at work, I was doing my very best to muzzle that mad, crazy, funny woman and get her to SHUT UP so we could keep our job and not call undo attention to ourselves (you do know by now that it is not single-occupancy in my mind, don’t you?) when, much to my dismay, a rather (ok seriously) snide comment flew out of my mouth. Oops. Did I say that???? It wasn’t the worst thing I could’ve said and it wasn’t said within hearing of the subject of said comment (at least I don’t think so) but it did help to illustrate in glorious Technicolor and Dolby Surround Sound that my filter had gone the way of my meds; outta there. Which leads me to this post. I know I haven’t posted in a long, long time, but I thought today I would try to channel some of my inner rage in a more positive, less fallout kind of way.
The flip side to the incredible anger is an equally incredible sadness. If I ever want to make myself cry, all I have to do is go to Facebook. There, I can find all the happy couples, the vacationing families with their matching outfits and cute poses in front of every scene imaginable. I can locate ex-boyfriends that still have my heart and find out that they have remarried, had more babies, vacationed in Italy or just gotten shitfaced at a friend’s wedding. All of this is wonderful and some part of me is happy for them, but another bigger, louder part of me thinks, “That’s all fine and good for them, but it’s not for you. You have your independence, your solitude and you can leave the toilet seat down until the end of time. Celebrate that!” Yeah, I do have those things. But I think the root of this deep sadness is the feeling that I had that and I let it go. More to the point, I set fire to it, destroyed it and made sure it was good and dead. At the time, it made perfect sense and it was the best thing to do for all concerned. Now I am starting to believe that was my one chance at happiness; that was the one man on the face of this wretched planet that loved me with all his heart (until I broke, crushed and basically shredded it) and I threw it away. Damn. My Bad, In a BIG WAY.
Of course, I know (logically) that there is more than just One True Love. I also know that hiding out in my apartment, binge-watching Netflix and investing my emotions in characters in a story is no real way to find love, or even quality of life. You gotta break some eggs to make an omelet and you’ve got to risk leaving your safe place and venture out into the cruel world to find what’s you need to feed your soul, give you a different view and possibly expand your horizons, challenge yourself and GROW. The only thing I’m doing by hiding out is allowing my fear to grow and God knows, it doesn’t need much help from me. It grows just fine so long as I give it lots of darkness, isolate myself away from people who may tell me that they are concerned about me or God forbid, have someone they’d like me to meet….eek!
Yet, it doesn’t do any good to have the knowledge and not act on it. So, my first step is to get back on my meds (I promise I will, Michael!) my experiment in going med-free has not been a total failure, as it has shown me how much of a difference they make in the quality of my life. I wish I didn’t have to take them, but I would bet that the diabetic wishes he could eat candy bars and not have to worry about his blood sugar; the cancer patient wishes she didn’t have to do chemo, etc. In the face of everything going on in the world, my problems are certainly First World problems, as my son would be quick to remind me.
That’s all for now. Love and light to you all.

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.

Retail Therapy vs. Real Therapy

When I was in my last huge manic episode, I was completely unable to resist the urge impulse and ended up maxing out seven credit cards to the tune of around $2,500. I was actually lucky that I didn’t have more because I am certain I would have maxed out 100 credit cards. I would shop if I was happy to celebrate whatever had made me happy; if someone made me (you notice the “made me” in that sentence?) angry or hurt my feelings, I would shop. If the sky was blue and the day ended with “day” I would shop. I would buy anything from pink parachute pants to Wonder Bras; ceramic masks to luggage sets. It didn’t matter what I was buying, it was just the whole experience of retail therapy. I thought that by going with these impulses, I would find a way to happiness. Never mind that I was setting up a financial nightmare for my future, non-manic self. Why think about tomorrow when you can spend freely today? Besides, I had to buy these things. The world would stop spinning, I would stop breathing and all would turn to darkness if I didn’t. After all, that’s what the voice inside my head was telling me and if you can’t trust that voice inside of your head, who can you trust? 

Of course, nothing lasts forever and thank God for that. After the madness had passed and I had returned to the reality of debt, I was deeply depressed. How would I ever be able to pay off all those cards? What did I have to show for all those thousands of dollars? Well, the parachute pants had long since gone out of style, the Wonder bras surely didn’t add up to a couple thousand and change. Oh and the other thing I loved to do was give things away. Almost as soon as I had purchased something, the impulse to give it away usually followed. Sometimes I could bargain with myself and give away something that old, that I had already bought months or years ago. That’s also why I had nothing to show for it. But, as my dad used to say, the hardest lessons are the ones we most need to learn. Or something like that.

Today, I still have that urge to go shopping and buy whatever catches my eye or my fancy. However, I have no credit cards and if I overspend, I go hungry. This makes it much easier to put things down and walk out of the store empty-handed and not feel cheated. Also, since people aren’t making me anything, I can’t use that excuse. If I have made choices that lead to me being angry, I now understand that no amount of retail therapy will make that anger go away. I now understand the difference between therapy that helps me to deal with difficulties and therapy that enables me in avoiding them. One doesn’t have to be manic to be a slave to impulses or to engage in behavior with no limits, no boundaries. I am constantly working on disciplining myself against those behaviors that hold me back from realizing my True Self and exercising those actions that bring me closer. I will go shopping and if I find something that interests me, I will put it in my basket or carry it around with me for a while to see if my desire for it can last more than 15 minutes or so. You’d be surprised at how many things actually leave the store with me. It’s little tactics and tricks like that I use to save me from myself. So far, it seems to be working. 

Now I’m off for some Friend Talk Therapy over coffee and to celebrate my independence from credit cards, mountains of debt and the end result – debilitating depression.

Happy Independence Day!