A Letter to a Teen Aged Me

So I saw an article on The Mighty today that talked about people writing their teen aged, bipolar selves letters.  I’ve done that a few times in my life, writing letters that are supposed to span generations like that – from me to myself you know?  Sometimes they’ve been forward in time, other times they’ve been backwards.  Every time though, they’ve been insightful and informative and a real eye-opening process.  With all that being said – here is my letter to me:

Dear 2004 Will –

Those feelings that you have right now are not bad things.  Nothing is wrong with you, despite what you may feel, or what you will be told.  Your heart is good, and your head is in the right place, trying to get the most out of life at this age.  When you feel those powerful emotions swinging, regardless of where they’re going, don’t stop them from happening and don’t be afraid to let the emotions out.

If in fact there is one thing I can tell you, it’s to always let emotions come to the surface and come out.  Whether those emotions manifest themselves in the form or tears or laughs or whatever it may be – LET THEM OUT.  Holding emotions in leads to further fear and anger.  Like Yoda says in Star Wars, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side.

Know now, what Elder Holland will say in General Conference in several years, “Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters … do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it!”  At this point in your life you have tried to do that once, and you will be driven to the edge of doing it twice more in the coming years.  Life can be a dark place at times, but it is never ever worth trying to end it.  Please don’t do it, once or twice or at all.

The questions you feel about wondering who you are and why you feel the way that you do in your head and heart are all valid.  There is nothing wrong with you – you just don’t know what’s going on yet.  Keep asking questions and pushing for more information.  It may make your parents and friends and those around you uncomfortable right now, but there will come a time when you’ll regret not asking more questions.  Please take the time to take care of you.  Keep that in mind across the board – from spiritual things, to professional things, to education related things, to relationship things.  Please take the time to take care of you – depletion depression and anxiety are real and can be a big downward spiral.  Take time to be well, so you don’t have to take time to get better.

Love yourself fully and passionately.  That will lead to you loving others fully and well.

Most importantly Will, let yourself live well.

All our best,

2018 Will

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Clear for Takeoff

TAB2

It’s been 13 months nearly to the day since I left a mental health facility in the city where I live.  In that time, I truly have seen my whole life and world change.  At the beginning, it was a case of things about me changing: my perceptions of the world, and my perceptions of me, and how I felt about people and things around me.  Over the last six to nine months though, it’s evolved from being changes related to me to changes related to thinking about how I can be a voice for the silent among us who suffer as I do.

There are so many among us who suffer from some form of mental illness, and they do so silently.

I have found that as I’ve changed my perspective, it’s freed me from concerns and worries about what I “have” or who I am.  The skies have turned blue.  By acknowledging that I am like so many other people out there who suffer like I do, or worse, it’s allowed me to think outside of myself and shift focus for what I can do to others.

So – I am now officially rededicating this blog to the idea of advocacy.  All I can do is talk.  I don’t have lots of money, or a degree where that makes me an expert – but I’ve got experience.  I’ve suffered, and felt emotions across the spectrum, and made it through what – I hope – is the worst of the worst.  I can talk about how I got through, or rather – how I get through.  I can talk about what I’ve done to be the best version of me for my family.  I can talk about how I’ve taken this challenge and used it for my betterment professionally.

What I want this to be for anyone who may read these words, is a place for people to feel like they can share who they are.  The idea of talking about mental health when it applies to you is scary as hell, don’t get me wrong.  But know that it doesn’t define who you are.

Yes, I have bipolar disorder and struggle with anxiety.

No, it doesn’t mean I’m less of a person.

It means I see the world in brighter colors, and sharper images and understand things that I never would have dreamed about otherwise.

It means I get to survive, in living color with bright beautiful blue skies.

Distracting and coping.

Over the course of therapy and treatment during the last year, a lot of time was spent talking about ways to get through moments of anxiety, and manic episodes.  Almost everything came back to two ideas – distracting methods, and coping skills.  That may not be the official psychological term, but that’s what I’m remembering a year later.

When I think of those words, I see them as verbs – as action words.  To distract means to prevent (someone) from giving full attention to something.  To cope means to deal effectively with something difficult.

Distraction is turning on an episode of Seinfeld, or an Avett Brothers album when I’m feeling super off.  Coping is going through grounding exercises, or finding another effective method to deal with a manic episode or an anxious moment.  Recently I’ve been going through the old wake up in the middle of the night, thoughts racing stage.  It feels like I’m on the verge of a hypomanic state, or even worse a full on manic state.

It’s hard to know what to do when I wake up at 1:30 in the morning, and can’t fall back to sleep.  Do I just fart away the time on my phone, mindlessly scrolling?  Do I get up and exercise?  Do I read?  I don’t want to waste that time when I’m awake … if I’m destined to spend a few hours most nights that way, then I figure I may as well make the best of the time.  What to do?  I’ve gone to the gym three days in a row hoping for help, and it’s been a bit of a help – but it hasn’t solved things yet.

My first instinct is to pray.

My second instinct is to survive the moment.  For me, that means going to a solid distractor – Seinfeld, phone time, exercise – or trying to work through the grounding steps.

How do we ease back down the scale from hypomania to balance?  I need to be in a balanced place so that I can function fully and effectively, you know?  That’s the fallacy of hypomania:  You feel like you’re clicking along and everything is just going gang busters, but it’s a short leap from that to too much too fast, and we’ve been there.   And I’m not keen to go back.

So … survival.  It’s another verb that means to continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship.

That about says it all, no?

 

A Life Lesson Learned from History

Earlier this week I spent several hours at a World War II museum with a member of an author group for a textbook I work on.  It was great to go through a museum and see and experience history through the eyes of an acclaimed historian.  He made a comment half way through our visit though that really stood out to me as a life lesson:

As I tell my students all the time, if you don’t know where you’ve been you can’t tell where you’re going.  That is the critical feature of history, that it shapes everything.  And unless you understand the forces that shape the present, there is no way to understand it, let alone repeat it.  

My personal history, and especially the last 16 months of my life has truly shaped a lot.

It’s shaped who I am today.

It’s shaped my perception of the world around me.

It’s shaped my family relations.

It’s shaped my professional trajectory.

It’s shaped my vision of my future.

Because of all I’ve been through to this point – because of what I’ve seen, and where I’ve been … I know how to survive what comes at me in the future.  To paraphrase the author – I understand the forces that I’ve dealt with in the past, and so I can be confident and sure in shaping my future.

Dealing with mental illness is not fun.  Let me be the first to assure you that I’m not having fun with this … but it’s something that I feel like/want to believe that I am in the driver’s seat with.  It is a blessing to have the support system that I do.  Like I’ve said before, Bipolar is a blessing (and a curse, but that’s not what we’re on about right now) in how it lets me see the people and the world around me.

I know what has shaped me, and because I understand that I am able to get through so much more than if I didn’t.   Because I know where I’ve been, I can survive.

Because I can survive, I can live well.  And that’s what I consider winning.

Wisdom and hope – found in a fortune cookie.

Thanks Panda Express. I needed that.

Reminders like this can be so important in the day to day existence of bipolar. From minute to minute, and day to day it is unnaturally easy to forget that happiness is in my life and right there in front of me.

When I forget about what’s in front of me, it doesn’t mean that I don’t care. I just lose sight.

Bipolar seems to be like a pair of funny goggles you know? It can feel like everything is magnified to the nth degree to the level of detail that keeps you from being able to see much of anything else. I’d call it kind of a blinder effect as well – when you’re in those moments, you can see extreme detail in the world around you, but that’s all you can see.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t remember what else is in the world around me. I just can’t see it in that moment.

Like Dr Jamison has said – I have seen the world in such exquisite detail tang I could never adequately describe it.

That’s why I love what I have (to deal with) on a day to day basis.

When there’s a gift like this in such a small silly seeming place as a fortune cookie, it means more than it normally would. This picture above goes from being just a piece of paper, to a message from God himself – sent at the exact moment when it’s needed the most.

Wisdom and hope are everywhere around us. Keys to survival are everywhere around us. I want to be able to make sure it’s visible in my life, and clearly there in the lives of those around me.

Let’s all get through this. Together.

Six days, and a life time later.

I find myself feeling nervous about an upcoming doctor’s appointment.

I find myself fighting what I’ve heard called “depletion depression,” and I’m not sure how to win.

I find myself tired.  Physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Tired.

What is going on?

I’m at a loss.

 

What would you do …

If you knew someone was struggling with a mental health challenge?

Would you hope they never talked to you about it so you don’t have to truly engage in it?

Would you hope for the best for them, but not do a whole lot about it?

Would you do some research online to see what they were dealing with?

Would you reach out and have a conversation with another friend, and express concern?

Or would you sit down with this someone and see how they were surviving? Would you say, “I’m here for you, please let me help?”

That’s my goal with this blog.

It may seem grandiose, and perhaps even a side effect of my mania to put this in writing. But it’s been one of the main reasons that I write this. The idea of putting a face on mental illness, a normal one at that, is part of why I write.

I suffer from mental illness. And I know that the odds are likely that someone who reads this, or has read this in the past suffers as well – whether anxiety or bipolarity or anything anywhere on the spectrum.

I’m normal, and so are you.

Mental health should be looked at the same way as dental health, or heart health, or allergy health. It does not define us. It – in many cases – does not inhibit our ability to love or be loved. It does not make us lesser people. It does not make us unable to fulfill personal and professional duties. A mental health diagnosis is not a death sentence anymore.

Abraham Lincoln.

Winston Churchill.

Carrie Fisher.

Linda Hamilton.

Vincent Van Gogh.

Edgar Allen Poe.

And many many more.

You do not have to be famous to live well with mental illness. All we need is each other, and it can happen.

Surviving with mental illness isn’t some grand thing.

It’s simple – it’s living well.

Time waits for no man, nor WordPress.com post

After blogging fairly reliably – reliably? – for a year, I’ve come to realize a few things about this blog:

  • It’s more than a journal. It’s a conduit into my brain and into my soul.
  • It’s a pressure release valve to my mind. When the manic depressive-ness is extra heavy, I come here and just start typing. Magically – it all gets better.
  • It’s a way to memorialize moments that come into my life.
  • It’s a way to document high points in my manic depressive journey as they come.
  • It’s much much more than I could ever fully explain.

Sometimes the moments can come too fast though, and life starts spinning beyond my abilities to deal with, you know? It’s hard to be here and there.

Then before I know it, it’s been two months and I haven’t written a word. I’m sorry for those gaps that have happened, and will likely happen again. I’d like to believe that someone who’s read this has been helped and made to feel better about their situation, whether it be mental health related or not you know? Is it self centered to think that I’m helping someone, anyone? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m wrong. Heaven knows I know I need help too.

Of the many things I’ve learned from all of this, here’s perhaps the most important one – time keeps on moving no matter what we are going through, or what’s happening to us.

The key to surviving – to winning – in all of this, is to keep moving forward. Whether that means blogging, or praying, or running, or whatever … find your out, as long as it’s healthy, and go for it.

Time keeps on moving. Don’t let it pass you by.

What a difference a year makes.

365 days ago to the minute, I found myself relieved and scared at the same time.

I was staring at the walls of a waiting room in a mental health facility in the city where I live. Part of me felt that relief because at that time I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I needed some form of help. The other part of me felt feat because there were some people in the waiting room who were clearly suffering from some form of mental illness worse than mine.

“What the hell am I doing here?” was the one prevailing thought I had. The thing of it was though was that I couldn’t back out. Once you check in to a place like that you don’t leave until you are evaluated and a determination is made about you.

After 7 long hours of waiting, I was taken to a building and processed into a room. It was 4:45 AM and the next five days were going to change my life.

I won’t talk about the details here – the details are found in other entries in this blog – because those details were from then. A year later my life is different.

My head is in a different place.

My heart is in a different place.

My treatment plan is in a different place.

My desire to stay on plan is in a different place.

My ability to cope with my manic depressive reality is in a different place.

My ability to love my family with this disorder is in a different, and better place.

My desire to survive is in a different and better place.

My mind is still unquiet. But my care for my mind is in a different, and better place.

What a difference a year makes.

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