Mental illness: The unsung heroes and information

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, this post is a second installment about revealing my struggles with mental illness in order to help fight stigmas. You can read my first post here.

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Today I’d like to tell you a little bit about the unsung heroes behind people living with mental illnesses, provide some factual information, and share a few thoughts that have come to mind since “outing myself” about my own struggles with mental illness.

In some of the response I received after writing my blog post, people called me a hero. Although that is an extremely nice thing to say, the true heroes are the family members and friends who have to live with or be around a person who is mentally ill. The people who try to convince a mentally ill person that they need help or do not understand what they are going through, I imagine, is frustrating.

My husband is one of those heroes. Although he likes to maintain a low profile online — he’s German and stoic and private like that (unlike his wacky wife!) — today I am going to acknowledge him anyway. There were many times when I was sick that he was not only my first point of contact, but the only person who’d see my worst symptoms rage up in fire. It’s a lot for a person to handle.

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An honest take on mental illness

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month I am revealing my struggles with mental illness.

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Lately I have been thinking about what got my blog started. I decided to go back and read the very first post I ever wrote, almost five years ago.

It’s titled:

“First post as I try to learn WordPress… You gotta start somewhere, folks.”

The body is a whopping 23 words long:

“So I was thinking… Most of the information I process and concepts I learn in life seem so obvious after I learn them.” 

(Wow, I was like SO smart back then. And, damn I have gotten long-winded since then).

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Over the last year I have had pain in my right forearm in wrist. I’ve put off going to an orthopedic doctor because I feared I had an injury that would require me to stop writing and stop doing yoga until it healed. As a writer and someone who enjoys exercise, those orders would not mesh well with my commitment to practicing them regularly. Even worse — as a person living with mental illness, those orders would be part of a death sentence because writing and exercise are an integral part of my treatment plan.

I started this blog in July 2011, three months after I had my first psychotic episode that led to being diagnosed with a bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder. I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed of the complete loss of control I felt during the paranoia, hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, insomnia, mania, and intrusive thoughts. I completely lost my grip on reality and was involuntarily hospitalized. The racing and incoherent thoughts, sleepless nights, impulsively, agitation, and reckless behaviors were not a pretty sight.

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Opening up this Spring

I went for a three-mile run this morning after I dropped the kids off at pre-school. It’s the first three miler I have run in months, and boy was it rejuvenating. As it seems, spring is about to officially arrive this week with warmer temperatures. In tandem with the start of a new weather-related season, I am entering a bright, new season in my life — one filled with openness to the world around me, yet not without tentativeness when I think about exposure and vulnerability.

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The Pocketbook that Sparked Joy

I recently started reading a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo as part of my quest to go through boxes that piled up after my move in the spring 2014. Those boxes, and more from my childhood bedroom, The Shrine, have been cluttering up my space. It is not so much the physical space of these boxes sitting in an unused room in my house that agitates me, but the mental/emotional space in my brain that feels hindered by them. I realized this when I wrote I May Be a Hoarder and I Know It. Not long after that, my cousin pointed me to Kondo’s book. As I started turning the pages, it became blatantly clear to me that my problem was much bigger than I had realized. So slowly, and in conjunction with reading this book about the KonMari Method, I have been rooting through old belongings trying to decide what to keep, also known as “what sparks joy,” and what to discard.

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On Halloween night 2

In our neck of the woods, trick-or-treat was Thursday evening.

That information is a precursor into the really annoying talking pumpkin we own that sings a song that goes like this…

I’m out of my skull on Halloween.

I’ll find a way to make you scream.

I’ll be everywhere on Halloween.

I’ll find you and I’ll scare you.

Ahahaha (evil laugh).

That’s right.

On Halloween night.

On Halloween night.

On Halloweeeeeeen.

Ahahahahahahaha (evil laugh).

I’ve written about it before, which begs the title On Halloween night 2. Not exactly like a horror movie, but more like a happy mommy remembrance, like the lyrics, all over again.

That pumpkin has claimed his place as the “it” toy that my kids and their friends are going to remember from Halloween. That creepy voice that they love and get scared of all at the same time. That voice that played nonstop tonight in the already noisy background of multiple families joined together in camaraderie.

Kids, costumes, chili, cornbread, homemade wine, candy, friendship and fun beckoned my door tonight. Buckets of candy chased nine kids into our home after an evening of trick-or-treating.

I found a half eaten lollypop under the couch and few Snickers bars in my daughter’s toy baby cradle as I cleaned up long after the guests had gone and my kids were in bed. On both accounts, I smiled.

My husband wore the same clown wig he’s been wearing for a few years, and I wore my, now traditional, cat mask. As a parent, it was one of those nights that I wonder who had more fun — us or the kids?

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Now the day is over. The annoying talking pumpkin, the spider candelabra, and the decorations are all put away until next year. The kitchen is clean; the house is quiet.

When my kids wake up, the magic will be gone. Their candy has been secretly screened (by me!), yet their buckets are in the same position they left them. They will feel enough ownership to remember the magic, yet a controlled (I hope) desire to make it last.

Tomorrow we will lounge in our pajamas and watch movies and know that another spooky night has graced our doorstep.

Happy Halloween, even if a few days early for most!

Seven on Sunday 5:6 – CONFESS

List of Seven on Sunday is a weekly column that I write intended to entertain avid readers with short attention spans who like avoiding the real world at all cost on weekends. This column, written in a newspaper parody form,  falls most closely into the genre of creative nonfiction. Derived from my own life, the content is loosely structured around sections in a traditional newspaper. 

1. News — 

Today is Tuesday. Not Sunday.

Given my track record on meeting my own deadline for this Sunday column, something is clearly not working. Seven on Sunday is going by the wayside for a while.

I am a hobby blogger who, alongside my real job as a stay at home mom, has experimented with all sorts of writing styles and content. When something does not work out, it is really no big deal. I make changes, take breaks, recalibrate, and dream up the next idea as I gain another layer of experience to, ultimately, help me advance in a writing career at a later date.

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Seven on Sunday 5.5 – INTERRUPTION

List of Seven on Sunday is a weekly column that I write intended to entertain avid readers with short attention spans who like avoiding the real world at all cost on weekends. This column, written in a newspaper parody form,  falls most closely into the genre of creative nonfiction. Derived from my own life, the content is loosely structured around sections in a traditional newspaper. 

1. News — 

Last weekend I got backed up again and didn’t post Seven on Sunday.

I attribute it to two reasons.

  1. I went to Corning, NY to run the Wineglass Half marathon. Traveling up there and back and running 13.1 miles left me with very little energy to write. Or stand vertical for more than a few minutes at a time the rest of the week.
  2. My life has been nothing but a series of constant interruptions by a certain two small children that live at my heels and need me ALL. THE. TIME. How dare I take time to write and center my thoughts with full concentration.

This week I am mindful of all the many things I am thankful for, even on days when I wish I could put a “Do not disturb” sign on my forehead.

2. Weather —

Signs of fall are all around me.

Five of my favorite signs are:

  1. Finding acorns in little sweatshirt pockets.
  2. Picking leaves out of hair at the end of the day.
  3. Pumpkins of all colors and shapes and sizes.
  4. Mums lined up outside of every grocery store and farm stand.
  5. College football every weekend, especially if it involves a tailgate.

These and more make me smile and appreciate how much I love the changing of the seasons.

Lance attended his first Penn State game… and LOVED being inside the stadium and watching the game.

Thanks Uncle Mark & Amy!

Thanks Uncle Mark & Amy!

Vivian got to take a quick peek, but this was her take on the experience…

Ears covered, eyes closed.

Ears covered, eyes closed.

Her favorite part of the experience: Eating a lemonade icy outside of the stadium.

Her favorite part of the game: Eating a frozen lemonade by herself outside of the stadium.

3. Sports —

I completed the Wineglass Half! First half marathon since having kids.

I’ll save the gushing for another post that I’ll probably never get an uninterrupted chance to write, but I had a happy run, felt strong the whole time, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

With no interruptions.

Moments like these are what I try to focus on in the midst of all the drafts and unfinished business scattered across my desk. Training for the race constantly felt like a hardship among all my other responsibilities, so when I crossed the finish line ahead of my anticipated pace, I felt great deal of accomplishment.

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Wine me!

Thanks for encouraging me to sign up, Amy!

Thanks for encouraging me to sign up, Amy!

The glass finishers medal – a suitable memento for this glass making town.

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4. Arts & Entertainment —

The giant glass pumpkins at the Corning Museum of Glass were absolutely stunning. I’d like this display in my front yard next year. Ha!

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5. Lifestyle —

Corning, NY is also a paradise for all types of dishes. CorningWare, Corelle, Pyrex, you name it!

The world's largest Pyrex measuring cup.

The world’s largest Pyrex measuring cup.

6. Opinions —

I have been thinking a lot about the use of technology in my home right now. Opinions about the right balance of “screen time” for kids is everywhere. We don’t use that term in our house (yet), but I am very much in the process of figuring out the boundaries for television time, iPad time, and computer time – the three types of technology my kids engage in.

How much is too much? At what age should children be allowed to use what devices? What is the appropriate amount of time per day? Should we have “no technology” days? Should I let them determine their own limits and take a more laid back approach to all of this?

Although I have more questions and in-progress opinions on this topic, one opinion has been constant for me: My phone is off-limits to both of my kids.

More on this topic as time goes on and I have some sort of guidelines in place that work for my family based on the ages of my kids (going on 5 and 3). I’d love to hear thoughts from other parents.

7. Comics —

Before I crawled into bed the other night, exhausted after another long day of taking care of people and a pug, I noticed a piece of Scotch Tape on the side of my foot.

Oh right. That was for the small post-race blister on my foot that I let Vivian use tape on because she wanted to ‘bandage’ my boo boo. I was trying to make dinner, and even though she had already wasted almost the whole roll ‘bandaging’ her babies and I didn’t really want anything covering my blister, I appeased her insistence.

The things I do to get shit done.

At the time it was irritating because I had to keep stopping to hold my foot up for her to examine as I was chopping vegetables, but it sure did make me smile when I found it at the end of the night. I guess she wants to take care of me just as much as I want to take care of her.

So about half marathons and parenting?

Worth every hardship and interruption.