Welcome to my blog. Here’s a little video introduction about me. It is unedited and raw but I’m working on my voice confidence skills so you will see more video messages on this blog and on my IG stories. By the way my IG is @s.m.lewis.
I bought a computer because mine wasn’t working and I needed it the next day for learning at home. I’m a teacher who is also trying to teach her own kids while balancing her emotions and mental wellness during a really unstable time.
I needed a working computer.
I instantly regretted it but instead of pressing the cancel button I shut the lid to my laptop and walked away.
I bought a computer…
Because I’ve started wearing a FitBit again and I only had 8345 steps before bed so I paced around my bedroom until I reached just over my goal of 10,000
Because I’m weighing myself again when I haven’t in 2 years. I’m also staring at myself in my full length mirror hating what I see. Even though I know the people that love me don’t care so why do I?
I also cleared out the too small clothing finally and cried the entire afternoon because that small size is unrealistic to maintain and achieve again.
I cannot change my snow tires as I see people doing in their driveways as I take my long neighbourhood walks and greatly miss the hiking trails and beach. My eyes are sick of the same old houses. same old driveways and crisscrossing the streets every time I see people in the nearish distance.
I’m not sleeping well and when I do sleep it’s riddled with curious thoughts and terrifying nightmares which eventually wake me up and then leave me awake scared of random noises houses make during wee hours of the morning. I hate being alone sometimes still.
I have to go to Costco soon to pick up my prescription and I’m afraid to go there. I’m annoyed that I’ll have to stand in line to go and pick up one thing but then I feel guilty because the store is asking us to do what’s responsible and right.
I went to the grocery store last week and their was a verbal fight among two other customers that resulted in one man being told to leave the store which in a spectacular demonstration of rage, he threw his hand cart across the way smashing cans of glass. I cried, which made my lovely cashier cry. She subsequently thanked me and told me I made her day because clearly I was a sweet and sensitive soul.
I’m alone every other week when the children go to their dad’s and while I understand co-parenting and sharing is so important this mama bear wants to keep her littles with her the whole time.
The loneliness is daunting.
I bought a computer because perhaps I’m a little bit manic, and maybe not doing as well as I care to admit. But also I acknowledge that life is really hard right now so I’m doing amazing given all the challenges.
I am returning the computer.
My wonderful partner gave me the number to applecare and 2 hours later my laptop was working again. I felt foolish for the impulsive decision but relieved that I’m not actually going to open that box and at some point I’ll be able to return the computer.
And tomorrow I’m going to call the dealership and figure out what I can do about those snow tires.
Today, March 30th is World Bipolar Day. I’m using this post to brag about how well I’m doing. I’ve “graduated” from the Mood Disorders/Women’s Health clinic, my medication is optimized, I have a bank of good strategies that I can turn to when things go awry.
But I am not perfect.
The unprecendeted changes that Covid-19 has brought about makes it challenging. I’ve cried a lot of tears, I’ve feared lonliness and bordeom and worry about he impact it will have on my mood. I’m waching my spending because boredom and the accessiblity of online shopping can signal a spike in mania for me. I get dressed, do my hair and makeup everyday because this helps me not sink into a depressed state. I try to go for a long neighbourhood walk daily, even in the rain because it keeps my mood equalized. As does journalling and meditation. I’m making sure I get a lot of sleep and drink a lot of water. However, the thing that makes the biggest difference for me is the friends and family who understand the challenges I am faced with and check in.
I am very grateful for them.
So check in on your loved ones especially the ones you know struggle with their mental health.
Also wherever you are in your mental health journey, whether you have Bipolar Disorder or something else know that you are loved, you are valued and your struggles and successes are real.
8 years ago I went into labour. I had my friends over for dinner after a day of shopping for a new car and at the mall. Contractions had been happening all day. I was in denial because 1 was a week early, had just finished work the day before, and wasn’t ready to become a mom of 2 quite yet. But like children so often do, William decided storming into the world on his own time was the way things were to happen. He continues life in this fashion too which I love.
This post isn’t meant to be a labour story. It’s not even a recap of the severe postpartum depression I would fall into – though I will blog about that soon. What I want to talk about is co-parenting and how sometimes it’s really hard.
William and I are close. We have a really strong connection. I can usually count on him not to stray too far because he just likes to be in close proximity. When he was 3 I can remember being far too touched out and asking him for space. His little face looked up lovingly and say “but can my arm touch your arm?” It doesn’t help that he is my miniature version of myself. When I look at his face I see my own smile and eyes looking back at me.
Tonight William is with his dad. And I’m sad. I’m sad that I won’t wake up to his little face or be able to give him morning birthday hugs. How cruel it seems for a mother to endure the tremendous work it takes to deliver a baby and 8 years later to not have that baby in her arms. But this is the reality of our family. Sometimes the children are with me and sometimes with their dad. Being separated means sometimes missing out and while it’s reality it sucks!
So I have given myself permission to feel the things I’m feeling. The nostalgia of becoming a mom of 2. The joy of watching my little bug grow up. The sadness of not having him here. The anticipation of his excitement over a balloon bouquet and chocolate cupcakes. The thrill of the biggest hug after school. The anger that it’s not fair that no matter what there’s things I will always miss out on for my kids. The peace that I’m still raising beautiful children.
William is an amazing kid. As is his sister Keelyn. Despite the sadness that I have in my heart tonight I know that he will have an amazing 8th birthday and when he does get to see me it will just add to the greatness that is his special day!
I stopped sharing.
I stopped posting and caring.
I even let this site which I care so much about expire.
It wasn’t until some lovely women reached out. One wanted to know the site link to share it with a friend and two others recently commented that my sharing struggles and successes was inspiring and even helped make themselves feel more open.
So I’ve renewed this. And I’m using my voice and sharing again. Not because I feel pressure to do so but rather it has helped me tremendously on my journey.
My candidness and vulnerability makes others feel uncomfortable. Sharing the experiences I’ve been through, the actions I’ve taken goes against the moral fabric of some. But it’s helped others too. It’s normalized mental health struggles, created some understanding of Bipolar Disorder, humanized it and given compassion.
It’s helped me. A lot. And I miss it.
Recently, a dear friend of mine, Jam Gamble – aka Slayer of the Mic, sent me a reminder via IG saying “WHY ON EARTH ARE WE STRUGGLING TO INTRODUCE OURSELVES?”
Oh does she know me well!
I can talk, a lot. But when it comes to introducing me I pause and I feel awkward and I struggle to find what I want to say. I usually end up giving a very surface, stock answer. Usually how I’m a mom, and a teacher… things I’m very proud of but not exactly what I want to say. It’s part of it but I always stop short.
But I’m changing this and this is the intro I will proudly use going forward. So here I go.
“My name is Shivonne Lewis and I am a tattooed teacher, bipolar single mama of 2. I’m not sure some days how I’ll do it but I’m always figuring it out with grace and confidence.
I am a mental health advocate. Because it’s 2019 and not “getting it” or having a frame of reference for it or believing in it are not excuses. It’s time to fucking figure it out. Check your bias and figure it out.
I’m a mental health advocate because I have Bipolar Disorder Type I not because I am Bipolar. My disorder doesn’t define who I am. It’s caused me to act outside of my moral values, do to some things that may seem harmful and shameful. It became larger than what I could handle but it isn’t me.
I’m a mental health advocate because the supports and systems in place are shockingly bad. Like so bad.
I’m a mental health advocate because I want women, young women to see that you can have a disorder and manage it with support and have a great life. You can have a career, a house, kids if you want to. It doesn’t get to take away your life goals and dreams!
Oh yeah, I’m not blonde anymore 😉
Last night I was digging down deep into my Instagram feed. Way back to 2016. In 2016 I was about 30lbs lighter than I am now. I say about because I haven’t weighed myself in over a year. It was something I had to let go.
After I was done looking at the photos I said, “Well at least I got to experience what being thin was like.”
What being thin was like.
Obviously my body positivity and self love campaign is something I fake every day. Like so many women I know in real life and behind our phone screens this struggle is real. But we have to keep on faking it. To challenge the idea that beauty and worthiness is linked to a certain size. That our size dictates what we are allowed to wear. We have to challenge the idea so we nourish our bodies with food without guilt or fear. So we enjoy chips and beer and family dinners with our loved ones. We have to fake it so our daughters aren’t trapped into such an unhealthy mindset. We have to fake it so we truly start to love and value ourselves.
So what was being thin like?
People held the door open for me more often. Let me ahead in line ups smiled and complimented me more.
It was constant compliments about how great I looked but it was also was constant comments of concern about when was I going to stop – my answer was ALWAYS in 20 more pounds.
I could run faster because I had less weight to move.
I ate 700 calories or less a day only because I was afraid that I would gain it back.
I trained for a half marathon and several nights a week did a popular home/streaming 90 minute workout – on 700 calories a day.
It was being told by different men that I was skinny fat, that I needed to tone and do more situps if I truly wanted to be attractive.
It was looking in the mirror and seeing flaws, worried that I didn’t look good or thin enough it was constantly comparing myself to other women – did I look as thin as they did, was I still too large?
It was removing myself from social times at work because I was so afraid that I’d not have the willpower to not eat the bagel or danish.
Ultimately it was control. As my mental health was spiraling out of control (I didn’t know), my relationship crumbling. As I was digging myself deeper and deeper into an affair I felt a huge loss of control. Losing weight, restricting what I was eating and working out in extremes – that gave me a sense of power and control back.
Fast forward to 3 years later, I still struggle. But I’m in a better place that most of the time I can recognize the unhealthy thought patterns and get myself unstuck. My medical care providers have told me I struggle with disordered eating. All of the work I’m doing on my mental health helps me keep it in check.
I am training for a marathon now. I won’t lie part of is is about overcoming a huge personal goal but there’s a part of me that hopes it’ll bring upon some weight loss.
That longs to be thin again.
I wanted to share some of the simple, low or no cost activities that I do that help me feel grounded and balanced. Many of these things have become part of my regular routine, so I save for tricky, stuck moments and some are interchangable.
Feeling or getting stuck, spinning and spinning isn’t a very good feeling. I suspect all of us, whether you struggle with mental health or not, have felt this before.
I use to ruminate on the feeling. Replay situations or outcomes I wanted to force over and over. I would “vent” to friends but not in a healthy way, I was actually trying to unload my stuck feelings onto them – to release it and pass it on, or have them solve it for me. This put a strain on relationships. Many of those friends love me and have supported me as I’ve worked through challenges but it feels good to be growing healthier relationships with them.
So here’s my list of things I do to avoid getting stuck, or help me get unstuck.
Skin care routine – regardless of age and gender if you haven’t adopted a skin care routine I highly recommend it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a premium product either. A cleanser, a toner, and a moisturizer. I practice my skin care routine in the morning and again when I go to bed. Sometimes if I’m stuck or upset I just go and wash my face and moisturize. The practice of the cool water splashing my face, the circular motion of my fingertips on my face, the soft scent of the moisturizer is often enough to ground me. Let’s not forget the added benefit of nicer skin.
Chewing strong mint gum or candy – This one I use in the moment. The strong mint and the chewing I feel in my jaw is just the right amount of sensory stimulation to calm my sense so I can focus on what I need to.
Meditation– I know, I know you’re going to tell me that you can’t meditate. That you’ve tried it before and it doesn’t work. That your mind wanders, that you giggle, that your body hurts and you feel uncomfortable. Guess what I felt that way too, everyone feels that way when they start meditating. In fact, isn’t that how we feel when we start ANY new activity. I’ve been meditating consistently for over a year now and it’s brought a calm and balance to my life that I’ve never thought possible. I started with the Calm app and used the guided meditation but now I find guided distracting. I use music, sometimes a triangle and focus my breathing on the ringing sounds. I have a meditation corner in my room, I meditate on my couch, in my classroom, in my car . I meditate with my students and if I can get pre-adolescent kids to buy into meditation I’m pretty sure you can do it.
Run/Walk/Bike/Lift – do something that puts strain on your body, lungs and heart. I run (okay I’m just getting back to it after coming off a long break which was caused by a mental block holding me back) but I run. The feeling of my feet hitting the ground, the sweat dripping down, the sounds of nature, traffic, people. Knowing that I’m mentally challenging myself keeps me grounded. I can’t always just go for a run when I’m feeling stuck so that’s why keeping a consistent running schedule is key for me. I urge you to find your version of running.
Hot or Cold Shower – this one works wonders to snap me back out of place where I am ruminating about something. It’s so sensory in many ways and I stay in and breathe deeply until I feel that sense of calm. If I can’t shower I wash my face. If I can’t wash my face I wash my hands or stick them in cold water.
Loud Happy Music – I put on my favourite music. Not music that reflects how I am feeling but rather how I want to feel. Recently my friend played me Yoga Beats and it was just so uplifting so next time when I’m feeling off I’m definitely going to use that to help ground me.
Mascara and Lip Gloss – What is something you love to put on that makes you feel like a super star? Is it a certain tie, a silk scarf? Maybe a favourite scent, special socks? Your best pair of jeans? For me it’s mascara and lip gloss. I can be having the worst day but those two things make me feel like “damn girl you got this.”
Essential Oil – When I am feeling off I apply a few drops of peppermint oil to the inside of my wrists and behind my ears. It’s instantly soothing. I take a few deep, slow breaths and the scent carries me through a few hours. When I’m at home I diffuse essentials oils. Often peppermint or lavender but sometimes I’m fancy and I use pinterest to find combinations to reflect the mood I want to bring about.
I’m sure there’s more subtle things I do regularly that I’m not mentioning but the point is you can bring yourself back to a grounded reality in a very low or no cost way. It’s being deliberate and intentional and practicing them when you are balanced so they become automatic when you aren’t.
Share, what works for you, what have you tried or might like to try?
My pharmacy is Costco. It’s good because the filling fees are cheap. It’s bad because well Costco.
If you ever wanted to really know what Bipolar Mania feels like I urge you to really take it all in the next time you go to Costco. In a half hours time your impulses are challenged like never before. “Why yes I need a 7l jar of green olives and a blow up raft with oars only 29.99. Do I need 250 AA batteries well that’s a silly question. Do I buy 1 24 pack of puma socks or 2?”
The lights are brighter than bright the sounds are intense. Somebody is screaming, another is crying, carts are bumping into you like the last time you went to a dark and dodgy dance club. And to top it all off there’s food to sample. For free.
I get to experience this magic a few times per month all for the low prescription filling fee of $2.00.
Jokes aside, when I’m in a manic place, Costco is a challenging place to be. It’s loud and extremely stimulating. Nobody is happy, everyone is in a rush and not a single person can go anywhere quickly. Once I did load up my cart with an inflatable raft, an area rug, a package of steaks, yoga pants, batteries and a 3 pack of raisin bread. I wandered around with my cart full of impulse purchases and with tears streaming down my face I put it all back away. Every.single.item.
It was a huge win.
When I started this post my intention was to recount a heart felt reflection of this time a year ago. To give insight to the haunting feelings that I was struggling with.
But I’ve changed my mind.
I don’t want to focus on that. I don’t want to get stuck there. In that darkness. I’d rather share the small everyday things that have been bringing me joy and some of the lessons that have gone along with it.
It goes without saying my kids. They are affectionate, strong willed, stubborn and funny. I’m excited for the world of possibilities that lay ahead for them. But family is also my extended family. My parents, siblings, nieces, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparent(s). I’ve come to understand that the expectations I’ve placed on family aren’t always realistic and I need to love and value them for who they are.
Friends that are Family:
I use to think that to be truly loved you measured this by a great number of people surrounding you. I’ve since learned the difference between friends that are family, friends that are for fun, family that are friends, friends that are circumstantial and friends that are acquaintances. All have their place and some people start as one, change or blur the lines.
I have developed a network of people that fiercely love me for me. As I love them. We check in when we know we are struggling, include in family moments, parent one anothers children, have fun self-care days, send each other funny memes or inspirational quotes. We laugh – we laugh a lot. We act silly, sometimes inappropriately.
We love each other fiercely.
Oh and a nice side effect to losing friendships – the space it’s opened for new ones ❤
Recently a friend brought me her leftover popcorn because she knew how much I loved it. I ate it my bed with the biggest smile on my face!
Food is NOT the Enemy:
Okay I’ll admit this is one I still struggle with. All.the.time.
But I’m getting better.
Food is feeding your body. Food is treating yourself. Food is time spent with friends and family. Food is celebration. Food is not something to restrict and then binge on. It’s not out to get me.
So I’m reclaiming it. I try new recipes. I say yes when friends invite me for Nachos, I drink the champagne and I have ice cream and coffee for lunch (like I just did now).
I was not prepared for how much I would love this dog.
I knew I would appreciate the companionship. The opportunity to walk more. The running buddy (which training starts soon for her). I knew it would be a lot of work to train a puppy – it is. I knew it would be expensive. But I did not know that she could fill my heart with as much happiness as she does.
“I’m bent, but I’m not broken
I’m stronger than I feel
I’m made of flesh and bone
Not made of steel” – Miranda Lambert
“I paint my lips red, I turn my own head
Don’t need nobody’s help, zipping up my own dress
Pay my own tab, with my own cash, unattached” -Lady Antebellum
I’ve learned to love my time alone. I turn the music loud, I dance, I clean. I get my nails done and buy myself pretty things.
I decorate my skin with meaningful tattoos that tell my story.
I meditate. Often. I journal and colour. I appreciate nature and look for small simple signs.
I walk down the stairs each morning and I smile because the beauty that surrounds me is mine.
The Real Secret to Joy is Finding Your Own Version of Eating Popcorn in Bed:
Also known as do what makes you happy, unapologetically.