When I was 21, I made a suicide pact with myself. I felt the weight of the world on a consistent basis, as I struggled with depression, mania, and the chaos of jumping from one failed medication to the next. My mind was not my friend, and I didn’t feel safe in my body. At the young age of 21, I was fatigued from fighting the swirling thoughts and the heavy waves. I was burdened by being the only one who suffers from such a debilitating disorder.
I didn’t want to be on this exhausting earth any longer than necessary.
I decided that by my 41st birthday, I would end it all.
Today I turn 39. I have been in a stable place mentally for over a decade. The giant roller coaster I used to ride with my moods is now just a soft swell, a gentle up and down of a kiddie coaster.
I have no intention of ending my life. Not now. Not ever.
My life is a gift. My illness is a gift. For so long I lived in shame about my diagnosis. I didn’t want to share about it, and I didn’t want to look “abnormal.” I knew I carried a stigma. Today I am learning that thanks to my moods, I get to see the world from a different lens. Colors are richer and brighter to me. The air is fresher. Sounds are more soothing and meaningful. Everything is vibrant and alive. And even when they are not, and I experience a drop in my mood, I see the dark side and feel more deeply than others… meaning I can empathize with others’ pain in a way I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
I know now that my pain has a purpose. My pain showed me who I can be in spite of a broken brain.
No amount of sugar or substance can make my brain buzz the way a dose of hypomania can. The ideas, the thoughts, and the LIFE that course through my head – all those are amplified in a time of crisis or extreme change. Being thrown off my daily routine or sleep schedule is a risk to my mental health. So throwing me into a global pandemic and giving me access to information 24/7 can really shake things up.
I find myself hopping around from medical research sites to conspiracy theory groups to political commentaries and read over all the comments and opinions. I am an excellent mimic. In order to manage my symptoms early on, I found a way to adapt to acceptable behavior and commentary, so I wouldn’t have to stand out any more than my buzzing brain could allow. I know what I shouldn’t voice in public or on social media, at risk of anyone thinking I am “crazy,” the C word accusation being one of my biggest threats. I fear other people’s opinions of me more than the average person, because deep down inside I know that my brain functions differently from everyone else’s, and that is scary. So I turn inward, and obsess, and research some more, and head down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, at the expense of my sanity.
At first the racing thoughts and buzz are a high, and they fuel me and energize me. At some point though, my brain reaches breaking point and I have to make it stop. I’ve been down these roads long enough to know where they end – in verbal explosions or in heavy medication to shut it all off.
So I fight. I maintain my mind by shutting off my triggers. I stop researching, stop listening and reading to anything that will throw me into a black hole of information. I take naps, and I go to sleep early. I’m fortunate in that I’ve never struggled with sleep. I can always breathe myself to sleep. In for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, out for 8 seconds. I burn off the energy through heavy exercise. I write, I dig into my feelings and name what is going on instead of escaping through obsessive behaviors.
The thing about bipolar disorder, is that it manifests differently in everyone. Everyone struggles in a unique way, and everyone has different triggers.
*To hear more details from others who suffer and how they manage, click to listen to Episode 29 of the podcast on my show page or subscribe on iTunes.
I’ve compiled a list of my favorite tools for finding stability during times of major stress or life change. Before I list them, here is the caveat – these tools aren’t always effective in the middle of a full-fledged episode. It is really hard to tell someone who cannot physically get out of bed due to depression, “You should just lace up your shoes and go outside. Why are you just laying there?” Or telling someone who’s manic, “Slow down and go to sleep.” It doesn’t work like that. These are physical illnesses that affect the physical function of our bodies. Our brains aren’t capable of telling our bodies to do what our bodies need to do. This is why we have to be on the offense and employ these tools REGULARLY, during times of stability, so that they are habitual and instinctual. The sooner we can tighten up these strategies at the beginning of the roller coaster climb or at the beginning of the dip downward, the better off we will be. Continue reading “Being Bipolar in a Global Crisis”→
While my entire Facebook feed is filled with articles and comments about Kanye West’s new album and recent conversion, I have stayed silent. Why?
Because number one, I don’t really know anything about Kanye to begin with (other than the time he hijacked Taylor Swift’s speech on the VMAs and the famous rant about George Bush not caring about black people). He has kids with weird names and a wife with an awesome body. That’s about all I know. Superficial? Maybe. I can’t tell you the name of any of his songs. They’re not on my running playlist.
Number two, what he does or says doesn’t have any affect on me personally. If he wants to sing songs about being rich and famous or songs about Jesus – cool. I typically don’t speak up about issues in pop culture unless I feel they have some kind of heart-twisting impact on me and my life… or if they have some kind of mental health connection.
So when I heard he suffers from bipolar disorder, that’s when the light bulb turned on. How did I miss this? Talk about a plot twist! It led me to take an interest in all the Kanye news of the last year or so. While many out there are debating whether his conversion is real or a publicity stunt, my first thought upon learning this is – is this all a manic episode?
Exactly 20 years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
But I didn’t go public about it until last year.
Why? The stigma. The jokes. The complete misunderstanding and misinformation about what bipolar disorder really is.
Here’s what it is:
It’s like depression with some really fun occasional breaks in between that help you get stuff done… but it can completely wear you out and shut you down.
It’s like the Queen song “Don’t Stop Me Now,” mixed with Gary Jules’ “Mad World.”
It’s like Texas weather, dropping 50 degrees in a day, for a cold front that is unexpected, with a duration that is uncertain.
But most of all – it IS manageable and it doesn’t have to hinder quality of life or functioning.
Like I said, I hid it for a long time. I’m learning to manage it through a variety of tools – gut health, nutrition, movement, sleep, talk therapy.
On the first episode of my new podcast Sparking Wholeness, I share my entire journey in a way I never have before.
If you haven’t struggled with mental health issues, that’s amazing and I’m so happy for you. But chances are, someone close to you needs hope. Someone close to you needs a step toward healing. And that’s what this show is intended to do – it’s just another way to spark a little fire towards wholeness.
Click here to download and listen to this episode, or click here for my show page – and to be able to subscribe to my podcast feed (please subscribe). It will be available on iTunes soon.
“I’m not blonde, and I’m not skinny. Therefore, I’m not attractive.”
That’s a line straight from my journal in 1999.
I have healed from many things in my past, but I don’t think I ever grieved for the young girl who thought that people would only like her if she was skinny.
According to my January 1999 journal entry, I was on a mission to weight 130 pounds. Thanks to Zoloft, I had gained a good 30 pounds or so from end of sophomore to beginning of senior year, and by the first semester of my senior year I spent a lot of time isolating, reading historical romances, and pining away for a college soccer player I cared about who played me like a fresh fiddle.
This diet gave me new life. A new identity. A new way to really love the skin I was in – because it would come in a much smaller body. According to my journal, I was drinking two special protein drinks a day and going off of carbs, sugar, and caffeine. I was supposedly “retraining my body” to digest and store food, and there was an 85% chance I would NEVER gain my weight back. Continue reading “Diet Before Diagnosis – Is There a Connection?”→
Why in the world would I load my coffee up with fat? Does that sound weird and backwards to you?
Well, I’ve been doing it for almost two years now and it has changed my health in many ways. Here are some benefits I’ve noticed:
Less “hanger,” more blood sugar control
Decreased sugar cravings
More alert mentally
Able to practice intermittent fasting, which increases my BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor)
It gives my brain the right kind of healthy fat it NEEDS for optimal function
Also, it tastes really really good. Like my own homemade foamy latte.
When I start my day with a processed refined grain like cereal or a bagel or English muffin, which I did for many years, I would be hungry within a couple hours and my brain would be mush.
Starting my day with fat-fueled coffee (also known as “bulletproof coffee”) fills me up so I can prolong my brain-boosting fast, it provides butyrate and MCT oil for brain health, and it keeps my blood sugar from going crazy because I don’t need to sweeten it! I have energy throughout the day and I have a clear head to make more brain-nourishing nutritional choices.
Here’s the thing that throws people off – this IS intended to replace a meal. But listen to your body. If you are hungry right after, EAT! Fuel yourself with high quality animal protein, a healthy fat, and colorful fruits and veggies. Sometimes I prolong my fast by drinking my coffee this way, sometimes I’m ready to eat not long after. Every day is different, depending on the activity level.
This coffee is not intended to be a starvation/weight loss tool. It is just another option for those who are already drinking coffee and loading up on artificial flavors with creamers and sweeteners. Those will fail your blood sugar, every time.
This is an alternative that will make you feel good and provide health benefits. For so many, coffee provides the highest amount of polyphenols they will consume in a day. So let’s make it even better!
The hardest part about living with a chronic illness is living with a chronic illness.
Meaning, I have to be aware of my triggers, the things that make me sick, at all times. Excess busyness, excess activity, excess inflammatory foods and alcohol… all those things are difficult to escape in December… but they take a toll on me in ways most people don’t have to worry about.
I go big. I love parties. I love people. I love LIVING life. Until it all becomes too much, and I crash.
This last week I felt a crash. Minimal crash compared to the destructive collisions of the past. I have an excellent support system, I am self-aware, and I am learning to communicate when I need help. So to be clear, I am OKAY. But I knew something was off. I thought I was getting sick. My chest felt tight like I couldn’t breathe, my body felt heavy, and I couldn’t get through my typical yoga practice without taking multiple child poses to rest. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to read my new nutrition book (big sign something was off). I was negative with my husband and my kids, who I love more than the world.
They told me I’d need medication the rest of my life.
4 years ago this week, I was weaned off my last medication, 10 milligrams of Celexa. I had vertigo for 3 weeks. Some days I felt like I was riding a roller coaster. After 18 years of being medicated, it wasn’t an easy transition for my body.
My doctor said I was ready. I was eating healthier, working out regularly, and sleeping consistently. I would never have done this without her support. This wasn’t the typical bipolar action of, “Hey, I’m going off all my meds!” It was something that took years in the making. It wasn’t a decision anyone took lightly.
It took time to adjust. I needed to actively monitor my stress levels. I needed to remember to slow down and rest. I took my supplements diligently. I ran. A year and a half later, I found yoga.
This little girl didn’t know that in 10 years she would wish for death. She loved her family, her new siblings, and Jesus, too. Much like the Tom Petty song, she was about to take a free fall – down the path of a broken brain.
She was a preacher’s daughter with a genetic disposition to mental illness. Add on to that various health issues like chronic ear infections, asthma, allergy shots, antibiotics and steroids… and a budding sugar addiction, due to poor gut health. She was all energy and filled with curiosity, wanting to know the how and why of everything. So one day, when the darkness closed in, she would questions why she couldn’t just pray it away.