‘Bipolar’ Is Not My Name

I had my first therapy appointment the other day. It was great.

At one point, I rambled on to my therapist about cyclothymia and bipolar — the differences between them, which one I thought I had been “before” and which one I suspected I was becoming, etc.  When I was done, she said something very profound. I’d heard it before. But for some reason, when she said it, it hit me differently than it had every other time I’d heard it. I can’t quote her verbatim but the paraphrase is this: labels don’t matter. Labels are just one means to an end; overall, labels are simply a mechanism for efficient articulation, and the primary purpose of labeling mental health is to drive the treatment.

I’d heard that concept before, but this time it was freeing.

Bipolar is not my name. My name is……
Well.
Fae isn’t really my name, either. And I’m not going to put my real name out there. Alas, I have thwarted my own melodramatic point.

Let’s start over.

Who am I? (Hey, when you can’t pull off the melodrama, waxing philosophic is The Next Best Thing, amiright?)

But no, really—who am I?

Sometimes I’m happy-go-lucky, little miss free-spirit. Creativity flows through me like blood and my head is clear and focused. I’m motivated, productive, impassioned. I experience self-confidence and a zest for life.

Sometimes I’m depressed. Low-energy, unmotivated, apathetic. Brooding, pondering, stuck-in-my-head. Hopeless, discouraged, wrestling with the accuracy of my perceptions of life (my faith, who loves me, my worth, etc.).

In short, I’m moody.

I have a tendency to jump on bandwagons. To shoot my mouth off about things I feel strongly about. To start things I will never finish. To be “noisy” on social media. To disappear from the face of the earth for days on end. To over-book and over-commit myself. To give up too easily. To fixate on things.

In short, I have tendencies.

There are labels for some of the moods and tendencies I experience. Bipolar, OCD, paranoia, depression, irritability, anxiety — oh yes, and let’s not forget PMS.

But I am not Those Things. Rather, Those Things help to describe various aspects of who I am. And some of Those Things need to be treated because they’re harmful to who I am.

Sometimes, labels can act as a cage, even though they’re supposed to function as the gateway to freedom.

That day in therapy, these labels became irrelevant. I no longer cared if I could be “diagnosed bipolar” or if I was “mildly OCD” or if I “had depression”. It didn’t matter.

Inside the walls of that room, as I sat there blathering on, I was just me. I was me, acknowledging that sometimes I feel sad and hopeless and sometimes I feel great. I was me, realizing that I didn’t know how to handle sad and hopeless and I needed help. I was me, being me, understanding me, and getting me help.

If you experience things that feel harmful to you, I encourage you to get help too. It doesn’t always have to be professional help. Confide in a dear friend; ask for prayer; talk to your pastor; Google “what to do when I’m _________”. Don’t stick a label on what you’re feeling and then go on about your business; that doesn’t fix anything. The purpose of a label is not JUST to articulate what’s going on — it’s supposed to drive the treatment.

Don’t stop at simply acknowledging your tendencies—there’s freedom out there for the taking—because yes, sometimes we really are our own worst enemy and we have to intervene on our own behalf.

The Label is not The Thing. Bipolar is not my name. It’s just a label. ‘Life’ is The Thing and labels are just vehicles for helping us get from one part of it to another.

So don’t just sit there! Start driving. ;)

A Letter To Myself

dear self,

we want to get better. it’s just that…sometimes you’re too tired or weary or…overwhelmed. so let me help with that by writing a nifty letter to you (aka me) that you can read when you’re feeling tired/weary/overwhelmed/something else.

first of all, we are not schizophrenic. it’s difficult to write to myself without getting all confused about who’s who, even though we’re just me. (see??) so to keep things simple, i am you, you are me, and we are we. got it? >_> uh. moving on.

we are going to set some goals. (i.e. Past Me is setting goals for Future Me—and don’t hate, cos Present Me is the one who’s gonna have to do all the work! yes, yes, i see the discrepancy there…but with every word typed, the author changes from Present Me to Past Me so…[those two might actually have a personality disorder…])

where was i? setting some goals. okay, yes. and you have a tendency to get…shall we say, over-zealous? oh uh-uh, it is ALL you, sister! i’m the one who keeps you in check! like i’m doing now! *cough* so anyway, you tend to get over-zealous so i’m going to try to keep this underwhelming. trust me, there will come a day (sooner than you think) when you will feel quite overwhelmed and perhaps even resentful toward me for setting these REASONABLE goals. thus, the letter to accompany it, with lots of encouragement and friendly reminders as to why we’re doing this in the first place.

so, without further ado, here they are:

1. exercise a minimum of 3 times a week.
i know, i know, you want to exercise EVERY DAY! remember what i said about being over-zealous? no? *points* right then, so 3 times a week is quite REASONABLE. go every day if you want to, but only 3 days are required to achieve this goal.
aaand…THE REASON WHY is because
a.) you’ll feel better in your body
b.) it will help fend off depression.
there will be weeks that you won’t want to exercise AT ALL. please, please, pretty-please DO IT ANYWAY. i really promise that it will stink to make yourself do it but i ALSO really promise that you will not regret it. not once. SO DO IT.

2. try to cut out sugar as much as possible.
i know how you do with ambiguous boundaries so let me get more specific. (no, i am not blaming everything on you!!! we’re the same person! stop—would you just let me finish please?? man…)
a.) only eat straight candy twice per week, preferably with a day or two in between. single portions, ONCE per allowed day.
b.) only drink tea with sugar twice per week, preferably with a day or two in between. want more tea than that? use honey. or stevia.
c.) limit the rest of your sugar intake to cereal in the mornings and one sugar-with-fat dessert per DAY—only on weekends (cereal all week but dessert on weekends).

THE REASON WHY: we have discovered that sugar negatively impacts your moods. you will FEEL BETTER if you moderate considerably. note that this goal leaves plenty of room for sweets! so there’s no need to get all mopey and hyper-focused on sugarsugarsugar-i-want-sugar-now-and-all-the-time! no, i know you. i AM you. we totally do that. so don’t.

3. GO TO SLEEP!!!
i shouldn’t even be writing this right now. i should be enforcing this goal. but we’ll start tomorrow, cos if i don’t finish this now, you’ll use that as a reason tomorrow for completely ignoring this whole thing and i know you think you want to do that, but you really don’t. Present Me wants to, no doubt. but Future Me definitely does not. (Past Me could care less.)
so. go to sleep—the goal is specifically this: go to sleep by 10pm. absolutely no later. c’mon, the self-discipline will be good for you. (seriously. we are way too lacking in that. see, i blamed both of us that time so you know it’s bad.) 10pm—phone off, lights out. there is absolutely NO REASON not to meet this goal every night!!! even your Bible study is over by 8:30pm!! in bed at 10pm! period. (no kindle. no phone. no nuthin’. close your eyes. at 10pm.)

THE REASON WHY: this one is the most obvious but i know on your night-owly nights, you’ll need it spelled out for yourself again: you. feel. miserable. if. you. don’t. go. to. sleep. before. midnight.
capice? or is it capiche? capeesh? whatever. you know what i mean.

really truly, self, i am not trying to steer you wrong; i know you can hear the wheedling sincerity in my tone right now. (sorry. i know wheedling annoys you.) you will really feel better if you do *just* these three things! really.
really better, physically and emotionally. and the sense of accomplishment from meeting your goals will be bonus. you’ll start to feel like maybe you’re a teensy bit self-disciplined! it’ll be great! really, it will.

so when you feel like giving up, give yourself some grace. don’t give up for more than a day. read this letter to yourself. make your darling husband read it to you in a funny voice (cos if nothing else, the endorphins from laughing will do some good). grace for a day, push yourself the next. okay?

you won’t regret this. i promise.

i have just as much to lose as you do, if i’m wrong. and you know i’m not. ;)

love,
me, myself, and i.
aka The Royal We

The Yoga-Pant Years and What A Good Mother Looks Like

God has blessed me profoundly by surrounding me with wise mothers from early on in my own motherhood. This was something I totally took for granted until I started a community moms group and had my eyes suddenly opened to the stress, anxiety, and insecurity that most mothers face on a daily basis.

I had been oblivious to the judgemental nature of “other mothers”.

I had been unaware of controversies ranging from cloth diapers vs. disposables to what brand of sippy cup you use. (I am not even joking.)

I had been mercifully sheltered from society’s idea of The Perfect Mother and was virtually skipping down the lane of Young Motherhood. Not that I didn’t have my share of troubles, mind you. But I took them in stride as normal setbacks, oblivious to the fact that hundreds of mothers in my community were daily feeling like they were “bad moms”.

Shortly after starting the moms group and realizing that I’d practically had a fairytale existence when it came to being a young mom*, I discovered a new passion: freeing moms up so they could enjoy their blessed roles as mothers.

I was constantly telling them, “There’s no one right way to be a mom. If you love your child, you are a GOOD mom!” But I often felt like I was swimming up-stream against a massive down-stream current. Occasionally, it felt like I was making a difference, but mostly it felt like I was talking to a wall. The culture of motherhood as it’s portrayed in television, via celebrity mothers, and through our own unrealistic expectations (of ourselves AND of others) is so utterly pervasive. I eventually realized that, like a lot of other freedoms, it had to be grasped by choice. It’s cliché but it’s true: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it.

In retrospect, I think I likely did more good than I’ll ever realize. While freedom is something to be chosen, it can be helpful to have someone yelling about it all the time—makes a body more conscious of its existence, for example. ;)

I decided to write this post after reading a blog post by another mother who outlined what a day for her looks like. She’s a mother of five and has very solid goals and values for her family while also being a writer and a team-player wife.

At one point, she mentioned that she showers,dresses, and puts on make-up every day because she believes she feels better when she looks better and it’s beneficial to her family when they see her looking presentable. She added that it doesn’t take that much effort to put on clothes rather than yoga pants. But it was the next part that I loved her for—she wrote:

(NOTE: while my children were very little, I wore yoga pants daily, no makeup).

It was a breath of fresh air! Why? Because there are some things that I know in my gut I’ve just got to give myself permission for and it’s SO NICE when that gut-grace is validated by Another Mother!

I’ve heard other mothers exonerate the benefits of getting dressed and putting make-up on; Fly Lady even advocates tying your shoelaces. And I tried that; I really did. But it just wasn’t edifying for me—and by proxy, it was unedifying for my family. I was less likely to clean house if I felt all done up; I didn’t want to get sweaty after fixing my hair! And jeans are not comfortable for getting down on the floor multiple times a day with my babies. Getting nice shirts spit up on or smeared with boogies made me a frustrated, irritated mommy. We’re not even going to talk about the agitation of having mascara running down my face when frustration and stress gave way to tears!!!

In other words, hearing an older, more experienced mother acknowledge that she started off in yoga pants freed me up even more than I already had been. It took away the last niggling bits of doubt & guilt and replaced them with the drops of grace I’d been missing.

And that’s what I want to impart to mothers everywhere, at whatever stage they might be in: whether you’re in the Yoga-Pant Years, the Bridge Club Years, or something in between, give yourself permission to do it WELL, not perfectly. Do it in a way that edifies your family, regardless of pressure and perspectives from the status quo.

What does a good mother look like? Well, I’ve seen all kinds: frazzled and yoga-pant-wearing, pristine and accessorized, exasperated and helpless, tender and wise…but they all have one major thing in common—they love their kids and they regularly sacrifice their own needs and desires to take care of their children’s.

THAT’S what a good mother looks like; don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. ♥

*I use the term “young mom” to mean “new mom” or “mom of littles”. It does NOT mean “young in years”!

Just Do It.

I’m getting it over and over: do something with your writing. For the last several months, I’ve been getting this message but like a shy 1st grader getting a compliment on her dress, I just smile and nod. In my head I think, “What could I possibly do with my writing? I don’t feel driven to write a book—I barely feel driven to blog!” But the message came yet again today; every time it comes, I’ve felt that little nudge that comes from the Holy Spirit but honestly? I’m waiting for Him to push me. Nudges are so easily mis-perceived, you know? I mean it IS a nudge, it’s slight and barely there, so later I wonder if maybe I was making it up after all…but of course, God gets through all that by nudging me over and over so many times that I start to realize, I am NOT making this up.

Or, like today, He nudges me and then He follows up with another one, a little stronger but not quite a push.

One more person to add to the list of People God Has Nudged Me With. And I had the same response: “Hm. But what? I don’t know what to do…” and then I let myself get distracted with something else. Funny thing was, God didn’t. And since I was expecting Him to let me get away with distracting myself (like He has been the last several nudges), I totally didn’t see it coming:

“Have you walked this path? Deep within the recesses of your soul you know the Lord is leading you to do something in particular. Though the impression is unrelenting, you’re at a significant crossroads in your life.  Should you or shouldn’t you?

I’ve stood in this threshold as well, transfixed by the possibility of what could be yet mired in the fear of being wrong. How will I know this is what I am to do, I wonder. I don’t want to get it wrong.

The thriving Believer encounters this on a regular basis.  But even the Israelites who had the benefit of messages given directly from God, from God’s anointed and from God’s angels still wondered if indeed they had understood correctly.

Zechariah’s response in Luke 1 doesn’t surprise me. The angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, appeared to Zechariah explaining he and Elizabeth would have their long time prayer answered. A child.

What were his first words? “How shall I know this?” I see a lot of me in that answer. It’s rife with doubt and hesitation. And it cost him. He couldn’t speak until the baby was born and named John.

Yet we are called to trust, to a life buoyed by ardent belief. Ebullient faith.” (from http://wp.me/p24pA6-aM)

Okay, so God wasn’t letting me table it again this time. Phooey.

Earlier in the post I just quoted, she talks about how her husband prayed and asked God to confirm it for them four different ways. It was on the tip of my tongue to do the same thing, but I could almost hear God audibly say, “Uh-uh-uh…” and I sheepishly realized I was STILL just trying to find a way to table it; because God had already confirmed it and I knew it.

“Okay God…what am I supposed to do, really?”
Just start writing.
Really? That’s all?
But of course that’s all; I keep forgetting that doing what God nudges me to do is not about pulling off some amazing fireworks display of whatever He tells me to do. It’s not my job to wow anyone or get published or anything. He hasn’t been nudging me to put off fireworks, He’s been nudging me to “do something with my writing” and if I’m honest, I haven’t been doing anything. I put words in my blog when I think I have something worthy of telling the world—and yes, that’s doing something with my writing but that wasn’t what He wanted because it was manufactured and polished. He wants all of my writing, the unpolished, the heartfelt, the what-seems-to-me-to-be-meaningless writing, all of it.

Because it’s not my job to put on a show; that’s His job and His alone because He’s the only One who should ever be ooh’d and aah’d at in the first place.

So I have absolutely no idea where this road is going to take me but I’ve finally made my choice; I’m going to write and I’m going to wait and see what God does with it. And I know that, whatever it is, it’ll be exhilarating cos that’s the really interesting thing about God: when He uses you to bring glory to Himself, He makes it exhilarating and always, always in the end, worth it. Almost always painful, too, but still exhilarating—and the joy makes up for the pain, kind of like giving birth…

So here we go.

Planning Ahead For Looking Back

Every year, I wish I’d done a better job of documenting the previous year. I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, mostly because I don’t trust myself to follow through, but this year, I’m making one: Better documentation of life throughout the year so that, next year, I’m not wishing I’d done a better job of it!

I’m sharing my ideas and plans here for two reasons:

– It might inspire someone.
– I would love—read LOVE—to hear your thoughts and ideas about how you document various aspects of your life.

And now for The Details:

Evernote* has been on and off my radar ever since it first came out a few years ago. I have decided to use it as a hub for my Better Documentation because:
» I’m a geek and I like things in the cloud, rather than on paper. (I can always print it out on paper, if I get a hankering.) Evernote is The Ultimate Portal to “the cloud”. I can use it on my phone or on my PC or via my email from someone else’s PC! (I use Gmail because I also like my email in the cloud.)
» I like to do everything with my phone— (no, EVERYthing. I’m writing this post from my phone [thank you WordPress!] and I’m annoyed that they haven’t yet developed a phone that turns into a car — and also a bed ;)). But when I don’t feel like thumbing it out on my phone, it will be nice to be able to access/add to my notebooks from my computer.
» I can create multiple notebooks and post pictures, videos, notes— even files! —to them. It will be a virtual library of scrapbooks, without the clutter! Evernote also has the handy capability of searching for text within images!!! So if I jot “Dream House Floorplan” on a napkin while at the coffee shop, draw out the floorplan, take a picture of it and upload it to Evernote, I can do a search later for “dream house” and Evernote will find that image! That’s just geeky coolness, even if I don’t end up utilizing that feature much. ;)
» Did I mention you can also share individual posts and/or whole notebooks from Evernote with your friends and family??

So those are the reasons I’m picking Evernote as my primary tool for accomplishing this year’s resolution. On to the good stuff…

The Resolution
1. I WILL take a picture of my family once a week (group or single shots). At the end of the year, I’ll have at least 52 pictures documenting how we have changed in appearance.
2. I WILL write a diary entry every day, no matter how short. I plan to include Weather, Mood, and Highlights from the day. I HOPE to include daily details as often as possible, but realistically, it’s going to be tough enough just getting the basic details down on a daily basis. But the FUN part of all this will be in two years, when I can look at diary entries from exactly a year ago and see what we were doing and how I was feeling (and whether or not it was raining that day too!).
3. I WILL take more pics and videos of the kids!! These will be posted to Evernote with a specific tag so they can be meshed in with everything else but capable of being separated into their own group for easier browsing.
4. Lastly, I plan to have a virtual scrapbook of get-togethers, parties, and other events or special odds & ends. It will contain things like pictures of birthday cards, movie tickets, group photos, cherished gifts, favorite clothing, etc.

Interestingly enough, as I was brainstorming all of this yesterday and today, one of my best friends was apparently having a similar inspiration. She discovered something called a “Smash Book“. You can see a short but very descriptive video of it here: http://youtu.be/_PFsArr4Z1s

Basically, it’s the papery, non-geek version of what I’ll be doing with Evernote— and it’s pretty cool. If you’re not a cloud-freak like I am, or if you like being able to touch mementos, you should check it out. It’s a great concept, and while they sell everything you could possibly need to make one, there are lots of YouTube videos on how to make your own.

So there you have it: my ideas for better documentation of my family’s life in the coming year. Did any of it inspire you?

Please share your thoughts, suggestions, and original ideas because I would love the opportunity to be inspired by YOU! :)

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*I was not asked to promote any of the products mentioned in this post nor was I compensated for said promotion. The entire post is comprised of my own thoughts, opinions, and preferences.

Since Then…

This was one year ago today: a page from my diary.

Now, a year later, the ride downhill is long over and the trek up a new one is still in progress. This particular hill is in the desert. The manna from Heaven is abundant, but the sand in our shoes is uncomfortable; the heat is draining. Water is plentiful but we constantly have to drink it or we suffer the headaches of depression and a terrible thirst for joy. There have, however, been several oases along the way: staying at friends’ houses while they travel, good times with treasured friends, and camping trips.

I sense that we’re either coming to an end in this journey or we’re about to round a bend. God is quietly but steadily allowing His hand to be seen and His presence to be felt, moreso than when we first began this journey. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just paying more attention…

Nevertheless, it’s been quite a year. I can truthfully say it’s been one of the best. Our time in the desert has been spent patiently plugging along, day by day, as God unties various knots of bondage in our lives—to material possessions, to past mistakes, to fear, to guilt…we are truly learning to fly!

I suspect this hill doesn’t have a downward turn. I suspect this hill’s upward climb leads right to a ledge. But it won’t be a dead-end. Oh no.

It’ll be the launching site, into What’s Next, into an exhilarating opportunity to put into practice the freedoms we’ve learned on this journey!

At least, that’s what I *think* is coming up. You never really know with God. And often, He lets you guess so you can be that much more surprised when you find out what He’s REALLY up to (and you realize you were wrong!).

But I do know one thing is for sure—at some point, we *will* be flying. Cos God doesn’t give you wings for walking. ☆

Better Blogging: Things I’ve Learned

1. Preach at yourself. Change those inspirational exhortations from “you” to “I”. Example: “God is present in the little things; you just have to open your eyes” — that sentence is more relatable and impactful when written this way, instead: “God is present in the little things; I just have to open my eyes.”

This is a phenomenal little tip; I don’t understand how it works, but it *does*! Shannon Popkin over at Tiny Paragraphs taught me this, when I submitted to her Yellow Ball feature. It totally goes against the way I write naturally but she is so right—it really does have a more powerful and personal effect when you write in the first person.

2. Keep it short. I actually learned this back when I tried vlogging—videos under two minutes got a lot more views than the longer ones, and as a viewer of vlogs myself, I rarely watched more than the first two minutes. It had to be reeeally engaging to keep me past that point.

Blog posts are the same: if they’re not engaging enough and/or if my readers are short on time, the majority of my writing gets lost. When I write, I assume all readers will be short on time, so I try to write for two minutes of reading or less. Of course, sometimes the subject doesn’t allow for that, but usually, it’s *also* engaging enough to compensate.

3. Don’t try to write if there’s a poopy diaper within smelling distance. That is to say, don’t try to write during distractions! If I can smell a dirty diaper while I’m writing—and worse, if the smell wafts in and out, my thoughts will likely be fragmented, hurried, and inarticulate. I do better if I confront various distractions first and then sit down to write. (Although, as a stay-at-home mom, there are rarely NO distractions; but I can usually minimize them. i.e. “Honey, can you change Bubby’s diaper?” ;))

Have you discovered techniques that make for better blogging? Please share them here or, better yet, write your own post and link me to it—we can hold a potluck of sorts, tips galore! :)

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These tips are from Kina at Human In Recovery. I thought they were quite excellent.

1) Add visual interest: Using photographs you’ve taken yourself or make sure you are using “borrowed” pics according to legal fair use and copyright laws, If you have several pics, utilize the embedded slide show feature, or link to a YouTube relevant video, preferably a song that connects to the content in some way. Use spacing and formatting to break up text and give the readers’ eyes a break.

2) If you can’t keep it short (800-1,000 words max) try to break it up into a series of posts. Then you can add visual interest and keep the reader engaged and wanting to come back.

3) Get interactive and involved with your readers. When you notice a comment, like, or follow try to respond in a timely manner. Go visit their site and leave a comment or like of your own (as long as it’s sincere and authentic). If you read something on someone else’s blog that gives you insight, makes you think, or inspires you to write a post of your own, include that information with a link back to their content, don’t just re-blog. Ask questions on your posts that invite your readers to comment. If you receive an award or invitation to participate in a game of blog tag and you aren’t able to play or you feel it isn’t in alignment with what your blog is about, give the one who tagged you the courtesy of a reply. By tagging and linking to you, they just sent their readers to your site.