An Introduction

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.

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“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 😉

Because it’s Impossible to Not Feel Joy when You Eat Popcorn!

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.

My Family:
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).

Scout Fluffy:

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.

 

Myself:

“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.

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The Real Secret to Joy is Finding Your Own Version of Eating Popcorn in Bed:

Also known as do what makes you happy, unapologetically.

Jenga. The Great Relationship Metaphor

There are a lot of great metaphors for life and life balance but when I think about my own personal experience, especially when it comes to love and relationships the idea of a jenga tower comes to mind. First it starts out pretty solid as you build it up piece by piece starting with a stable foundation. You want to make sure those bottom pieces are aligned just the way they should be.  You carefully place the blocks one at a time following the set pattern. Going rogue or off book will inevitably lead to a quick crash. Once you’ve finally built your tower it looks perfect, strong, stable and you have it made! Like nothing is going to take it down. But as you play the game, remove pieces and stack them back on you’re changing the game. Adding instability, danger, challenge. It’s a rush until one moves makes it all come crashing down. You instantly regret the choice but the damage is done. The tower is splayed out on the table pieces everywhere. When this happens, there’s two kinds of people. The ones who build it back up again without a thought and the ones that put it away and save it for when their head is back in it.

Which type of person is right? I guess it depends on their motivation.  Are the rebuilders building it back up because they are resilient and willing to jump back in and correct what might have gone wrong the first time? Or are they blindly building doomed to make the same errors again?  What about those who promptly put it away? Are they throwing in the towel too soon avoiding the chaos and the mess from happening again? Or are they taking the time to process, think of their game plan carefully before returning to it?

Which type of person am I?  Both and neither really. I’ve played a dangerous game when it comes to relationships. I’ve added instability, danger, challenge. I’ve shown resiliency, and tried to correct mistakes and fix what went wrong. I’ve jumped in without thinking of the consequences and impact. I’ve avoided chaos and mess but I’ve also given myself space, time to reflect, to process and return.  The problem is once I return I find myself still feeling unstable like I can’t trust that the whole thing isn’t going to crumble yet again. So I push and back away. The rest of this post is a pretty explicit account of my past relationships. It could be triggering or disappointing so this is a good place to stop if you worry about that.

For being almost 40, I haven’t actually had many relationships to base my experiences on. I started dating quite young and pretty much jumped into longer term “serious” relationships. It was a critical time when I should have focused on discovering myself and findinging what brought me happiness but instead I felt like happiness was related to a sense of pleasing someone else. It was tied to not being alone and feeling like I was part of a larger community. This would remain a constant theme throughout all of my young adult and adult years.

My first longer relationship was pretty standard in terms of a young teenage relationship. He drove, was interested in things I wasn’t but I gave up my interests for his. His family was lovely and they included me in family dinners and activities. He was also the first person I was sexually active with. I don’t want to paint the wrong impression that I was forced because it wasn’t like that. But we weren’t taught about consent and what that meant. He never asked me if I wanted to and I never said that I didn’t. I don’t actually know what the outcome would have been if we had that discussion but it makes me a little sad to know that it didn’t necessarily have to go the way it did. It did because we were uneducated that there could be another way.

Him and I broke up but not before I “cheated” on him at a party with another male that I sort of knew. I use to say it just happened but experience has taught me that things never just happen. When you partner alcohol (especially underage), low self esteem and little understanding of self this can easily happen. But even then I was already engaging in self-destructive behaviour and I wanted out of a relationship I felt stuck in so this seemed like the perfect way to make it happen. Even then the signs of emotional dysregulation and bipolar disorder were evident. I would later on return to this exact situation for the exact same reasons.

My now ex-husband and I started dating approximately 2 weeks after this relationship ended. We both jumped in with strong intensity. It was a few months before our 18th birthdays and it was a pretty serious “adult” like relationship. I was still a confused, lost young girl with no sense of self, dealing with mental health issues I had no idea were issues.

A year later we were making living arrangements because we had decided to go to the same university. At the time it was exactly what I wanted. Again his family was lovely and included me. I felt a sense of community and the loneliness had ceased. I was building a strong, secure, stable base for the life that I thought I really wanted. But I was still a child, we both were and we didn’t give ourselves space to grow into the adults we weren’t meant to be. We had personal issues neither one of understood in ourselves or each other. Mine were extreme emotional highs and lows and his were anger. The combination together was catastrophic. We kept building the tower because the dream was more important than the underlying issues. He doesn’t like me talking about him on here. He’s asked me not to and I’m torn between wanting to respect his wishes – as he is the co-parent of my children-  and wanting to tell my story. He tells me he’s dealt with the things that have happened between us and moved on. I feel like he hasn’t. That he is embarrassed by it and isn’t ready to own it, to be accountable for it and say this is what I am doing to repair harm. I’m also a little envious because if he has actually moved on than what is wrong with me that I’m still so haunted by the things that transpired?

When the tower fell, it fell hard!  My ex husband didn’t know (he does now) but I was having an affair and i’ve talked about this before on my blog. I don’t even pretend that it “just happened” because again experience has taught me that nothing just happens. This “relationship” was was with someone I was friends with. He was one half a couple friend. The four of us were close but hindsight shows me that we didn’t actually know each other well, just versions of what we wanted one another to be. I knew the affair was wrong, I can tell you that the communication between us very early on hinted at being inappropriate. A little too flirty, a little too often. I can tell you the exact moment when the interaction definitely crossed the line. It was April. I was out with girlfriends for an overnight trip in Toronto and I posted a photo on my social media where I was wearing red lipstick and felt pretty. A feeling that I didn’t often have about myself. I didn’t exactly know where things would go between us but I did know I was willing to completely let it go wherever it was going to. It was also an adrenaline rush which now I understand was tied to bipolar mania.  Again he gave sense strong sense of community. His family was lovely, they included me in activities. We had mutual friends and I felt like those friendship were my whole world. His attention made me feel like I was loved and belonged. But it was still linked to my low self esteem, little understanding of self and mental health issues I didn’t see. I also think it is important to mention that I would tell this person imaginative stories about illicit, sexual relationships I had engaged in with others. But imaginative was the key. They didn’t happen but I realized he wanted me to be the kind of person who did. So again I sacrificed my interests for his.

My tower blew up. It didn’t just collapse but it scattered into thousands of pieces like the small glass cubes when a window shatters. While on vacation with our friends and our respective families my ex would walk into a sexualy compromising situation on the beach between myself and our friends. This collapsed his tower too and his anger response took over and he hit me in the face and when I got out of the ocean he continued and I hit him back this likely caused me to break my hand. I remember falling to the ground hard asking for help and watching the person I thought cared a lot for me walk away with his partner. Once again in that moment I felt very a strong wave of loneliness and I wished the ocean could have swallowed me up to release me from that feeling.

I wish I could say the affair ended at this moment but it didn’t. It would continue for another year or so. It was definitely an imbalance of power and while it didn’t cause my mental health struggles or eventual breakdown it was certainly one of the key pieces.

I use to think that in all of these relationships I lost myself. But the truth is I never actually knew who I was. I was able to shape myself and become who the people I was around needed me to be. That was all.

I’ve been doing a lot of work to build my tower back up again. The process is slow and it certainly isn’t linear. I may build a few pieces, knock some or all down. I repeat the process and learn why it didn’t work that time. I’m learning a lot about myself, my challenges but also my strengths. I have a strong sense of empathy. I see things from all angles and shades. I have a gift for creativity and making my space functional but beautiful. I have a strong motherhood instinct and I’ve created a loving, supportive home for my children. I advocate for their needs and I’ve become confident in the parenting decisions I make. I have a talent for baking and cooking and it’s been trial and error with a lot of of error but that makes me want to do it even more. I have a gift for writing and I’m not afraid to share my story even if it makes people uncomfortable. I say “I refuse to stay quiet so you can stay comfortable.” I’m an advocate for mental health and social justice and I have no space in my life for bigoted and close minded thinking. I’m creating a life that is authentic and at the moment I don’t want surface friendships. There’s a time and a place for that but right now isn’t the time for me.

All of this does have an impact on what it means for me moving forward with a new relationship. I’ve tried dating on and off again and it goes the same way. I sign up or start. I have some interesting interactions  and some pleasant.  The pleasant ones make me the most uncomfortable so I push back and abandon them. I’m not sure I’m in a place where I can trust that someone isn’t going to inevitably hurt me. Or I’m not going to shape myself into someone I think they want me to be. How do I bring up my past struggles and my mental health. I’ve tried immediately bringing it up but then I’m left feeling too vulnerable. I’ve tried not saying anything but then I feel the weight of a crushing secret. So I don’t actually have an answer at this time. But maybe that’s ok too.

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About IT…

I have this recurring dream.  It started when I was probably 17 or 18.  It’s neither scary or happy, it feels kind of empty. In this dream I am at an art gallery. It’s fancy and everyone is in black, there is music playing. Soft classical piano. The art changes. Sometimes modern paintings, sometimes sculpture, often photography black and white. In the dream I am there but I never see my face. I know it’s me because I’m present in my body but I’m also detached and watching from over head. It’s this really strange two perspective sensation. I always look the same. Hair is up, pearl earrings, black dress that is backless. I am always thin even during times of my life when I am not. My hair is always blonde. I’m looking at the art work and I have a glass of champagne in my hand, a delicate tall thin flute. My nails are perfectly manicured. I’m looking at the art work but I don’t actually see it because I’m not paying attention to it.  I’m waiting. For someone. I assume it’s the artist but I can’t really say because I never actually meet the person I am waiting for. The dream ends in different ways.  In some versions I finish the champagne and leave and I wake with such a heavy feeling of sadness. Sometimes I study the artwork and then the dream just dissipates. Sometimes I feel a hand on my shoulder. That’s my favourite version because I know it’s who I have been waiting for even though I never get more than that feeling of their presence.

I feel like this dream infiltrates my awake world. I often feel that sense of detachment. Like I am in my body but at the same time a spectator watching my life unfold from above. I usually have the feeling of sadness because I am alone. It always feels like I’m waiting for someone, anyone. Just to notice me.

I mentioned before that not all of these posts would be comfortable. For me to write or for others to read. This is going to be one of those.

**Warning**  I am going to talk about sexual things that may challenge your values, attitudes and beliefs. If this makes you uncomfortable especially if you are a family member or friend then I suggest you stop reading.  Browse another blog post like this one, or go back and analyze my dream.

I’m terrible at interpersonal relationships.

With friendships I can come on too strong. It’s like I miss the social cues. I may come for a coffee but stay over too long. I’ve been told by someone else that this is an issue that others are too polite to mention. I can get slightly obsessive and focus all my attention on a particular friend or group and basically ignore my other friendships. I struggle with balance and boundaries and take it personally if a friend tells me they are busy or don’t respond. A good friend of mine, who has been with me every step of this journey said to me, “silent just means busy.”  But I read into and catastrophize the silence. I often have difficulty seeing others needs and take this a personal attack rather than understanding that other people are dealing with their own struggles.

During a manic state it’s all about what is fun, daring and risky and little attention to consequences is paid. I’m the “life of the party”.  My libido is intense and my extroversion is sky high. After the inevitable crash I’m left with a sense of shame for acting outside of my core values. I’ve crossed boundaries and lines sometimes it’s just a toe over. Something like a hug that lingers, extra held eye contact, a brush with my hand on a leg or an arm. Sometimes I go a little further over that line. I might bite an earlobe during a simple goodbye, make overt sexual comments, grab and hold a hand, lap dances because really it’s just “fun”. In some instances I’ve not only crossed the line but crumpled it up and stomped on it. I’ve put myself in some potentially dangerous, compromising situations with individuals that are little more than strangers. And… I’ve had an affair.

Why? I don’t know, I don’t understand it.

I’ve always felt a little like something is wrong with me. That I lack values or maybe I’m a sexual deviant. But I struggle with that idea too because I do have values and this behaviour contradicts what I value.

Recently I came across a term for this – Hypersexuality. 

“Hypersexuality tends to occur during mania or hypomania and it creates the need for sex such that it seems you could claw through a wall if it meant getting to the sex on the other side. Picture being turned ravenously on by a dish towel. Or a floor lamp. Or a piece of tuna fish. And then needing to sate that need with the nearest warm body. Hypersexuality sort of like that.

(Of course, the opposite phenomenon also occurs. When in a depressed phase a person with bipolar may want nothing to do with sex at all.)”

Also:

  • People with bipolar are more sexually adventurous than the average
  • People with bipolar are more likely to have had sex with both genders
  • People with bipolar may or may not identify as bisexual, regardless

I do know that impulse control, especially during a manic state is a thing.  Some people will struggle with drugs and alcohol, shopping, gambling, driving too fast, hypersexuality. Or some people all or many of the above.

Being bipolar means being insatiable. The high of the mania is never high enough. There is always a desire, a need, to push the high to the next level, in the same way a drug addict constantly requires more and stronger drugs. For a person with bipolar disorder, risky behavior can be the best drug of all.”

Hypersexuality is a struggle for me. When I’m manic it’s like I don’t have an off switch.  Jess Melancholia in her post puts it to words better than I could. She says,

“When I’m hypersexual, I get intense cravings for sex. It’s similar to the sort of “butterflies in your stomach” feeling when you fall in love. It’s an intense high that gives me a massive boost in self-confidence. The temptation to act out is so strong I can practically feel it on my skin and taste it on my tongue. The worst part about hypersexuality is I’m never satisfied. I have to actively resist what my body is essentially trying to do on autopilot. If I’m not careful, then I’ll do something I’ll regret.”

And I’ve done things I regret.

But I’m also trying to forgive myself.

And learn to be better.

This is one piece of my bipolar disorder puzzle.  It’s not simply hypersexuality. It also comes from my fear of being alone. So the attention seeking behaviour fills that need. It makes me feel that by being desired that I’m not alone.  It kind of works the same way with friendships.  If I constantly lend myself out, offer to help, and go out of my way it fills that same need of not feeling alone. I guess it goes back to that dream.

I also struggle with boundaries. Not just other peoples boundaries but my own. Someone will ask me to do something (personal or work related) and my head is saying no but my mouth instantly says yes. Then I feel guilt for saying yes when I don’t want to. I’ll take it on and pile my full plate a mile high or I’ll last minute make an excuse why I can’t actually fulfill the commitment. Recently I had an oil change for my car. I had to reschedule it and the day she gave me I knew it didn’t work but my mouth said yes. I then tried to cancel it but I couldn’t so I just didn’t go. Now they are calling me to rebook it but I feel humiliated that I just didn’t go.

Here’s what I am learning.

I’m learning to change the behaviours.  That doesn’t mean I’m always going to get it right. I’m learning to value my time alone and find joy in that time. I’m training myself to love the space I’m in by creating a structured routine of my day, much like I would do when I have the children or am at work. I’m learning to respect my friend’s boundaries and show empathy toward what they are going through. I’m trying to ask them how they are doing instead of launching into a rant about how I am. I’m understanding that silent often does mean busy and not get out of my life. I’m learning to respect my own boundaries and establish for myself what those are. I’m learning that “love” and manipulation are NOT the same thing. I’m learning that I am who I am. I can be me in a way that is risky, fun and exciting but is also safe and doesn’t harm others too.

On Friday I went on a date.  Like a normal, lets have a drink and a bite to eat kind of date. He seemed nice, conversation was great and I was thinking I’m not sure if he’s what I’m looking for but I thought if he’s interested I would go out again.

However, before I left I set up the following boundaries for myself.

  • A kiss is fine but that is all. But ask me, even ask me if you want to hold my hand or hug me. It’s all about respect and consent!
  • I don’t want to be called “beautiful, gorgeous, honey” etc.  Those are presumptuous  terms from someone who is basically a stranger. They make me feel icky.
  • I don’t owe you an explanation so if you ask me something and I politely decline or say that’s a story for another time, it needs to be respected and not probed deeper.

He didn’t follow all my boundaries. And to be fair I didn’t share them but I am kind of looking for someone who just is naturally that way. Someone’s who values and boundaries align with mine.

When he texted me the next morning I instantly felt compelled to agree to meeting up again, because he was nice enough and I was feeling guilt for not wanting to disappoint him. I also felt maybe my bar is too high I mean let’s face it I’m a risky investment. Getting caught up with me – who would even want that? I also told myself I don’t want someone who is nice, I want daring, risky, dangerous. But really that wasn’t any of it. I went back to the boundaries I established for myself in the first place. He didn’t follow my rules. Period. I can change my mind, I have choices. So I thanked him, politely declined and wished him luck in his search (thanks to my awesome support network for helping me through it).

So I am learning, and I do want to change my behaviour.

I also think, that this week I’m going to go to the local art gallery, and I’m going to let my hair down lose and wild and i’m going to take my time and really appreciate and soak in every single art piece that is in there.  And I’m going to go it alone!

xo

 

Medication

There’s this underlying idea that taking medication for brain disorders is okay if it’s a short term solution. To give your time to sort your life out and get it together and get back on track.

This was the mindset that I had.  When I had postpartum depression with my second child I was relived to be prescribed Zoloft. Everything I understood about PPD led me to believe it was a temporary condition that would correct itself once my hormones were balanced and the medication simply let me weather the storm.  I didn’t feel shame, though I did feel like I fought the fight and then threw in the towel. But I was okay because this was not going to be forever.

A year later I weaned off Zoloft.

November 2016 I went on Wellbutrin (I didn’t love Zoloft because it made me feel too flat).  Again, in my mind this was a temporary fix for a problem directly related to a situation that I needed help weathering. A few months before, in August my long term relationship and marriage to my husband had ended.  This was not a “neat” and “tidy” separation. It was “messy” and “enormous” and built on lies, partial truths, deception, anger and hurt. Storms had been brewing between my ex and I for quite a few years.  We lost the ability to communicate and rather than coming together to find common ground we became angry, retaliatory and distant. Looking back I can see that my mental illness played a huge part in this break down and of course my ex had his own issues to navigate.

The breakdown event was a trigger for what was diagnosed as Depression, Anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder. A misdiagnosis for Bipolar I disorder, which I wouldn’t uncover for another year and a half. So after fighting the good fight for 3 months I took the meds. This time there was more shame attached and eventually I went back to the Dr. because it wasn’t working. I had Celexa added and then this past January the Celexa was removed and Effexor was added, and Wellbutrin reduced. I was also in counselling.  All of this treatment was only going to be short term.  Until I got it together, adjusted and accepted my new life as a divorced mom of two.

Except it didn’t get better.  It got worse. Much worse.

As it turns out the medication I was taking to treat Anxiety/Depression was making me worse.  Because I was misdiagnosed and actually I had Bipolar I disorder.  after a correct diagnosis was given my medication was switched to a mood stabilizer. In my case, Lamotrigine.  I felt a sense of relief and hope. With a correct diagnosis I could educate myself and learn about the illness.  With the correct medication I could take the edge off, get it together, become adjusted and accept my life as a divorced mom of two.

But then she said it.

The psychiatrist on the inpatient mental health floor. “You need to understand that you will need to be on a mood stabilizing medication for the rest of your life. If you come off of it, your manic episodes followed by the crash into depression will return.”  I told her I understood but that night I cried myself to sleep.

Pharmaceuticals are bad for us. They are suppose to be a temporary solution until you find the proper diet, exercise, lifestyle, essential oil, meditation, organic food option to actually keep you well. The aren’t suppose to be forever.

But it’s not true. That might be the truth for some people. But the truth is a combination of all of this is wellness.

What works for me works for me and that’s it.  I shouldn’t feel shame because I’m going to need a mood stabilizer for the rest of my life.  Because it will keep me alive. I may have side effects (brain fog, sleepiness). There may be long term harm caused (I’ve heard it harms your immune system) but the reality is the medication is keeping me alive. It’s taken away all passive and active suicidal thoughts. It is slowing down my brain so when the mania builds and I’m about to make an impulsive decision it gives time for to make more reasonable decision or at the very least turn to my support network.

Don’t assume that because I’m medicated that I’m not allowed to have bad days. I’m still going to have days that are challenging.  I’m still going to feel the euphoria of a manic episode going on.  The medication will not make Bipolar Disorder disappear. It’s not like an infection that will clear up with a good round of antibiotics. It’s one piece of the wellness puzzle.  For me, I need therapy, I need to run and work out, I need to snuggle my dog, I need to journal, I need to sing, I need people – the people who love me because being lonely is a major trigger for my mania. I need a good budget and savings plan. I need to learn boundaries and respect the boundaries I’ve established for myself. I need to write this blog and be upfront and open and honest. I need to become a mental health advocate.  All of these things are what will help me manage my illness.

So I’m accepting that being on medication is going to be for the rest of my life.  And i’m okay with that.

 

 

 

Getting My Finances in Order

Remember in the beginning I said not all of these posts would be easy. This is one and there is a lot of shame and guilt attached to it. It’s about finances.

This weekend I talked to my mom, and my best friend, and my ex-husband (all people who know me well and know that finances are a struggle for me) and they all said I can get on top of this. That I’ve done so much healing emotionally so maybe it’s time to get this in order. My mom said “write about it, it always makes you feel better.” She is onto something because writing is very healing for me. It gives me perspective, it allows my brain to slow down and plan instead of just reacting. It gives me time to process what I want to say.

My best friend said, “I think this might be linked to your bipolar disorder.” I found this a weird comment because how could it be?

Turns out it might.

Naturally, I did some research last night. I read earlier from another blogger (I wish I saved the link) that finances were a struggle for her too that it was a symptom of Bipolar Disorder.  This shocked me because I never considered the two related but it is. There is a ton of research and anecdotal evidence to suggest it is.  

I particularly liked this quote which talks about feeling confident and feeling invincible with money:

“Then you “wake up” after the mania and find yourself with half the savings you had before – feeling embarrassed and worried about your future. This might have a negative impact on your self-esteem, family functioning and confidence in moving forward. It might even trigger an episode of depression.”

This quote was extremely eye-opening as well. “Typically, impulsive or self-destructive behaviour around money and sex are two of the most classic symptoms of mania.” Actually when I read it, my heart raced because both statements were true. I had participated in both types of self-destructive behaviours.  Yes, that’s right – both.

I found these images from a report by Dr. Thomas Richardson called, “Bipolar Disorder and Financial Difficulties.” I connected to the visual and it made sense to me. The impulsiveness, the desire for comfort, excessive generosity, plans to make more money, worry about finances, avoiding finances, poor planning, regret and guilt. Every.Single.One, every single one of these fits my profile!

So the research fits, but here’s my own personal evidence and story.

A few months ago I had a major melt down because it had been rumoured that I couldn’t pay my bills and I was thinking of selling my house. I was so upset because the truth is while it was a strain, even a struggle I had managed to make it happen, I never skipped a bill or mortgage payment even when I was unpaid for a year and a half. It wasn’t always easy but in the end it always worked out. But, there was some truth to the rumour.

I was surviving but no thriving and there wasn’t any reason for it financially.  On paper, my house, my bills worked well within my budget. I would wonder so often why it was always tight, and sometimes needed to use my credit cards or overdraft to make it through. I would joke “thank god for overdraft” while simultaneously feeling sick to my stomach. I would redo my budget only to figure out that the numbers made sense. So what was happening? I concluded that it was simply because I was unpaid from March – August  and then only 80% salary from September – December. But I had savings from the sale of my house, it should have more than got me through.

When I look back on my bank records it’s shocking. There were large purchases like 9000.00 for a cosmetic surgery procedure, 700.00 for an apple watch for a friend plus another 500.00 to get one for me. Close to 1000.00 in tattoos over the year, 1400.00 for flights to Florida plus the condo cost, rental car, food and shopping. 1000.00 to have my house painted (which didn’t actually get done but that’s another post). 8000.00 for new appliances for my townhouse because the ones it came with were clearly not good enough. 2000.00 as a car downpayment.

Those are the huge things the day to day is just as bad!  Typically a month can look like this;

$15.68 Wendy’s

$83.54 Nail Salon

$21.00 McDonalds

#3.55 Tim Hortons

$5.00 overdraft fee

$49.49 Pet Valu

$19.75 Home Depot (for decor items)

$38.57 Canadian Tire (plants for my garden)

$16.82 Symposium Cafe

$46.77 Kelly’s Bake Shoppe.

Total: 300.17 in extra, not needed purchases!

This doesn’t account for the Amazon purchases on my credit card either.

Why does this happen?  Entitlement I feel like I’ve worked hard and I have a great career so I deserve it.  To ease guilt for my children for changing their whole world but also to ease guilt for myself to make life seem less of a downgrade. A self-medicating response to stress. When I have extra money/savings I feel so confident, and blessed so I just carefree spend it. Impulsive spending sprees when my mood is good (or in a manic state). It spirals out of control very quickly and I tell myself, “It’s fine, I’ll make it work”, “I can pay it off next pay”, or “I deserve nice things because I work hard”.

But I don’t want this anymore. It brings happiness for a moment, it eases the guilt/shame for a minute. It cures stress for a second but then it makes me feel sadder, more guilty and a lot more stress.

I want to get this in control because only then will I actually be in a place where I am thriving. I overheard my best friend saying this weekend to someone when they were talking about making large purchases or going on trips “Save for today to spend for tomorrow” I want to adopt that mindset. I want less things, and more moments.

My ex told me through my tears, that I need to release myself of my guilt.  That the kids are fine and the love me and they love the life we have created for them even if it’s in separate homes now.  He told me they just want to be with me they don’t actually care about gifts, trips, movies, amusement parks. He said those things won’t be what they remember.  He also said the flip side is sometimes we just have to go for it – he told me getting the dog (I recently purchased a shepherd/husky cross puppy) while expensive was a good decision because now I always have a companion. I know he worries when I am alone.

“Beating yourself up about financial problems when you have bipolar is like a person with diabetes yelling at their pancreas for not making enough insulin.”

I want to find “Financial Harmony” 

Managing finances when dealing with bipolar disorder symptoms can be a major challenge. However, there are many tactics that can help you achieve financial security.

So here is my game plan.

  1. Credit cards are in a ziplock bag in my freezer.
  2. Delete any places where they are saved online (amazon, Old Navy, Lululemon)
  3. Call my EAP to see if they offer financial counselling
  4. Pay off my credit cards (I can do this in 12 months)
  5. Go to a cash system for purchases. Leave money in the account for my bills, and put aside 80.00 a month into savings
  6. Talk about it – share with my support network how it going
  7. Create a spread sheet with monthly purchases to make sure I am on track with my budget.
  8. Sell off things I don’t need or use.

I read this great quote on IG today from @tidymoose  “Look around. All that clutter used to be money.”

So less stuff, more moments.

Like the rest of my healing journey this won’t be easy and without bumps in the road. But I can do it.  Just like I’m doing it!  “A smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor”

 

Forgiveness is Solo and Reconciliation is Joint

After a hard week and half I’m moving out of it and into a place of understanding. I’ve leaned heavily on my support network which includes my family, my friends, my counsellor and even myself. I’ve been able to confront and unload some of my darkness which in turn has made me feel so much lighter. Like the burden isn’t weighing so heavily.

I’ve been reading a lot about forgiveness and reconciliation. I really didn’t realize there was a difference between the two but I’ve learned that forgiveness is solo and reconciliation is joint.   This is difficult for me to accept because naturally I want people to just be ok, to love me despite my flaws and the difficulties I have put them through. I struggle with the idea that my actions hurt people but at the same time I was dealing with an illness that I didn’t understand. But the truth is even though many of my past mistakes were consequences of Bipolar Disorder undiagnosed, untreated, they still had an impact on people I cared for.

I just want to love and be loved. Not cause harm, make people feel uncomfortable, be sad or upset with me.

I remember once, when I was in University I was in a chat forum – if you are 40 ish you’ll remember those. Anyway I was chatting with a male and just as the conversation ended I told him my name was my friends name and gave him her phone number. It was an impulsive reaction to his request and even now this friend is still a very dear friend, and I know she has long forgiven me I haven’t forgiven myself so the issue isn’t actually reconciled.

At a keg party once again in University I arrived late. A male friend made a comment that I could only have a beer if I kissed him. In an impulsive reaction I did. In a room full of friends and acquaintances and here’s the thing I was in a long term “committed” relationship and I acted this way without any second thought to consequences. My partner, now my ex-partner doesn’t know about this action, or similar actions that occurred after so I have no idea if he forgives me, but I certainly do not forgive myself.

I’d like to think he would – because despite the break down of our marriage being quite traumatic and not 100% honest I think he shows me empathy and understanding. Recently I reached out to him and offered him an apology for and event that happened – it was a dramatic life altering evening –  August 24, 2016. He was really made out to be the scapegoat and in fact he deserves a bit more compassion than he was afforded.    (And yes we did get married and I often wonder if the outcome would have been different had he have realized the above events). Here’s the thing, this event isn’t reconciled because  while he might forgive me, I don’t forgive myself.

This is where I am now. Self-forgiveness.  I need to let go. Whether my actions were symptoms of Bipolar Disorder or just really shitty decisions I need to forgive myself. It is very easy for me to forgive others but I’ve never really given myself the same privilege. I need to release my darkness so I can truly heal.

Today is better. The sun feels vibrant. I slept really well. I did a lot of hard work with my counsellor  and she acknowledged that forgiving yourself and forgiving others when you can’t actually get closure is really hard. But I know I’m ready for this step in my journey.

Angry

I’ve had a dip and I feel a little bit like I’m losing ground. Mostly this dip is making me feel all sorts of angry.

I’m not a negative person. But negative thinking and self-talk are a by product of Bipolar Disorder and I’m learning to counteract them but keeping a wellness journal and reminding myself that in spite of everything I’m still a good person. But sometimes even when I have best intentions and even when I try all of my strategies I still feel angry.

Here’s why:

I’m angry at myself for going my entire life and not recognizing that what I just assumed was who I am was actually symptoms of bipolar disorder.

I’m angry at friends who have turned their backs on me. Sure what I’ve gone through, the choices I’ve made, the reactions I’ve displayed, the secrets I’ve kept are uncomfortable. They may challenge your values, you might even judge them. But here’s the thing why would you walk away from someone during their darkest hours? For the record judgement is just fear. So you’re not better than me but something about me elicits a fear response in yourself.

I’m angry because I can’t shake feeling angry, and being emotional even though I’ve been in a really good place since my hospital stay.

I’m angry because my medication increase happened on Friday and I’m not feeling calmer just tired and angry.

I’m angry because I cried on the phone when a friend called me and asked how I was doing and for one of the first times I wasn’t able to just put on a brave face and say “pretty good.”

I’m angry because in a heightened emotional moment this afternoon my travel coffee mug broke on the driveway… confession, I threw it on the ground because the actual mug when I picked it up triggered such strong physical response that I felt like I was going to be sick so I acted without thinking.

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I’m angry because I’m struggling with past choices. I want to just forgive myself, make peace with my past and move forward but I can’t.

I used my journal today to remind myself to breathe. To show myself compassion and self love and pray that tomorrow is a new day and I feel less angry.

 

 

 

Mother’s Day Guilt

Before I start, I want to put this out there.  This post could be triggering. If you have dealt with suicidal or self harming thoughts/actions or know someone who has. If you have lost your mom or a child or struggled with miscarriage/loss/infertility. Please stop, close this down and go about your day.

 

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I’ve had a hard week. My progress since my hospital stay, re-diagnoses with Bipolar Disorder, and medication switch has gone really well.  I’m off work, taking it easy. Exploring my creative side, learning to be grounded and working with professionals to help me do so. But that’s not to say there aren’t any challenges and this week has been one. My counselor even noted this week that the light-heartedness that I’ve been showing is dimmed. While it’s been a combination of a few things it comes from Mother’s Day just being around the corner.

Why would Mother’s Day have such a negative triggering effect on me?  I have two vibrant, loving children. I am a single parent but I’ve worked hard to create a safe, stable, warm home for them. Life with them is generally easy and simple and when we are together we just love each other. From warm Saturday morning snuggles in my bed, working on our new garden, going for long walks, park dates, baking and cooking. Generally our life is really good.

Behind the happy moments, I’m often struggling with my own battle with Bipolar Disorder. My kids make it easier to push through the tough moments, to keep going and work to get better but unfortunately in March I just couldn’t anymore. I ended up in the hospital after a suicide attempt. It’s hard for me to admit this and I am struggling with  the idea that it came to that even though I have so much to live for. I feel guilty that my two beautiful babies weren’t enough to keep me from going to that dark place.

So that’s where I am. How can I actually enjoy Mother’s Day after what I tried to do.

I am well aware of the stigma “how could she do that to her kids”, “but she has children”, “how could she give up and not see what she has”, “could she be anymore selfish”, “clearly she is just seeking attention”.  My heart goes out to those experiencing grief this time of year. Maybe you’ve lost your mother or a child. Maybe you don’t have a good relationship with them. Maybe you’ve struggled with infertility and loss. But here’s the tricky thing.  I didn’t do this to my kids, and I’m actually a really good mom.

It’s hard to explain it when I don’t really understand it myself. I fought the darkness for a long time. Even that day. I didn’t want to go home that night because I was alone and I was terrified of what was going to happen. I knew what was going to happen and I felt alone and afraid. My disorder caused this to happen.  This expert from an article by Katie Hurley, “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide” explains it really well and certainly applies to Bipolar Disorder.

Suicide is a decision made out of desperation, hopelessness, isolation and loneliness. The black hole that is clinical depression is all-consuming. Feeling like a burden to loved ones, feeling like there is no way out, feeling trapped and feeling isolated are all common among people who suffer from depression.

People who say that suicide is selfish always reference the survivors. It’s selfish to leave children, spouses and other family members behind, so they say. They’re not thinking about the survivors, or so they would have us believe. What they don’t know is that those very loved ones are the reason many people hang on for just one more day. They do think about the survivors, probably up until the very last moment in many cases. But the soul-crushing depression that envelops them leaves them feeling like there is no alternative. Like the only way to get out is to opt out. And that is a devastating thought to endure.

That night. I did think about my kids, my family, my friends. I thought how they would be better off without my constant ups and downs. The grand plans, the crash, the pushing away, the guilt, the asking for forgiveness… again and eventually yet again. I thought about how I ripped my children from a neighbourhood full of friends and though we were always welcome to return I struggled because it brought on extreme feelings of sadness and heightened paranoia made me feel like we weren’t welcome because we didn’t belong anymore. I was getting divorced and didn’t fit the image of a suburban two parent “perfect family”. I would be moving us into a small townhouse so no more vacations, promise of a pool, and all the the things that they had become accustomed to living their previous life. I thought about a life for my kids that didn’t include having to live split between 3 homes, how it could be simple for them again. How their dad could remarry and they could be once again part of a unbroken family. I thought about how in the future they wouldn’t have to be embarrassed of a mom struggling from mental illness. Or handle the disappointment of a promise made during a manic episode and then broken during a crash. Bipolar Disorder convinced me that my kids would be better off without me.

I know that this is not true. None of those. I know that I’m really doing my best and being a mom with Bipolar Disorder will always make it a little bit more difficult. But it doesn’t mean I don’t get to enjoy my time with my kids or be grateful that I’m still here. I get to enjoy Mother’s Day because I’m living and loving and celebrating it with those I love and love me too. And I’m really sorry if you don’t get to. My heart truly feels your sadness,  but it isn’t my fault that I survived. Having ill feelings toward me won’t actually reduce your pain.  I promise you I’m sending you extra light and love this weekend but I’m also going to send myself extra love and light and try to have a guilt free day.

I want to end this with something written by Mindy Morgan

I see you, Mama. You’re going to do this thing. You’re going to make it and your kids will be OK. By loving them with every fiber of your being, you will save them and yourself in the process.

We’ve got this.

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