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 😉

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.

May The Fourth – 2 Years Apart

May the Fourth, Star Wars day.  Always a fun day in my home for William and I since we are fans.  Admittedly I love it even more because how much William does.

Facebook memories showed me the photo on the top left this morning from 2 years ago.  The bottom right picture is from today. Not that long ago I would have looked at the old photo and looked at myself now and be upset that I was much thinner then.  I would have tried the shirt on today and immediately remove it in disgust. It would have ruined my day.  I would have been emotional, short with family and friends.  I probably wouldn’t have eaten very much and worked out a ton. I probably would have researched diet options and developed an intense calorie restricted plan. But today I didn’t. Today I proudly wore my same shirt, took a silly photo to represent the joy I am starting to feel.

I did compare the two photos. Blonde hair, bold glasses, and smile.  The girl in the top photo.  She wasn’t actually happy. Things internally, emotionally and in her world were escalating and spiraling out of control.  Control. Control made her feel like life made sense. As she was starting to feel out of control she learned to find it by striving for perfection. She had lost a significant amount of weight but kept losing because she felt that it would make her happy,  desirable. It would make people want to be around her and love her . As mentioned before her greatest fear is the fear of being alone.

The girl in the bottom photo is about 15 lbs heavier but she doesn’t care. Or at least she tries not to care. She’s learning that people don’t love her because of her hair colour, or size or what she puts on even though she had been made to feel that was important. She sees that people don’t love her because she’s perfect, but rather because she’s not. They love love love her because she’s quirky.  She’s mischievous and full of spark. They love her because she’s fiercely loyal and values their presence in her life.

Today’s theme was really about reflection. Reflection is so important. It’s not the same thing as dwelling on the past. Rather it’s taking inventory on where you were and where you are in this moment and where you want to go. I have to say I like where things are going.

 

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