Even the Best Warriors Fail Sometimes

Even the Best Warriors Fail Sometimes

So, here I am, creating a blog focused on helping others learn more about mental illnesses and cope with chronic conditions. It’s something I’m very passionate about, for sure, but I need to stress that I am not an expert. In fact, I frequently fail to listen to my own advice. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been in therapy for years. It doesn’t matter that I have a fantastic psychiatrist. Sometimes, I just fail.

And….well…I think you need to know that.

rain on a window

The truth is, we are all doing the best we can. The demons we face internally when it comes to mental health are strong. They take your own brain and turn it against you. They undermine everything you do and try to keep you from ever starting. Depression, anxiety, bipolar, and so on, are strong. Without help, they would be even stronger, but even with help, it’s inevitable that we will lose some battles.

I was reminded of this recently at work. Things happened (what those things are isn’t important), and they broke my control. I’ve been back at work for approximately 4 weeks, and only the last 3 of them were full time (and short work weeks at that). The stress of going from half days to full days tied up with the stress of how busy we are and how short staffed, well, it’s been keeping me right on the edge of falling apart.

smooth black pebble on beachThat means, when I got hit by one more thing, a pebble really, I fell right over the cliff. I had a panic attack. At work.

First, let me clarify what a panic attack is for me, because everyone is different.  For me, it’s burning skin, watery eyes, shortness of breath, compulsive touching (and picking and clenching) of anything in reach, culminating in intense sobbing and physical collapse.

At work.

Yeah, to say it was humiliating and terrifying is an understatement.

Now, as I said, I’ve spent years learning how to cope and get through situations like this. I focused on my deep breathing. I counted, I redirected my mind to a simple task, I mindfully took in my surroundings and the sensations around me. I did everything I could. It didn’t work. By the end of that work day, I had endured three separate panic attacks.

Needless to say, I was exhausted when I got home. It was horrible and I hope to never repeat it again but odds are that I will.

Why do I share this with you?  Well, I guess because it’s important to be aware that it happens.  We all do our best, we fight our battles, and sometimes we lose.  Sometimes it’s everything you can do to just get through it until you can retreat and lick your wounds.  But, you know what? I got through the day.  You can, too.

And remember, we’re all fighting this battle together.



Stuff That Sucks – A Mental Health Book Review

Time for another book review!  This one is a little different from my last few.  Usually I pick one of my favorite fiction novels, as I tend to read when I’m stressed.  This time, however, I want to review a book we picked up for my daughter on a whim.

Before we get too far, I do use affiliate links to bring in income for site costs. As such, there may be links within this post to allow you to purchase items discussed. If you chose to purchase, I get a small fee but you don’t have to pay anything extra. If you have questions, see my disclosures here. On to the post!

Stuff That Sucks Ben SedleyStuff That Sucks is a teen self-help styled guide written by Ben Sedley, and it talks about exactly what the title suggests, a whole bunch of sucky stuff (including the stuff that makes the stuff that sucks suck more). Thankfully, he also talks about ways to accept this and not let it get in the way of what’s important to you.

Confused?  Let me clarify a little.

This book is based on a form of therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy, or simply ACT.  The main premise behind this particular therapy is learning to accept that sometimes things really do suck.  Sometimes you will be worried about something, or scared, or ashamed, or any number of awful feelings, and that’s alright.  The idea is to acknowledge the feelings, accept their value, and not let them get in the way of your goals in life.  That’s the commitment part.

ACT focuses on creating a value driven life. Think of it like this: We all have something that we care about, a major driving force in who we want to be and something that gives us the reason to continue.  Those things are our values.  For me, teaching is something very important to me and it influences almost every decision I make in life. In order for me to live a value driven life, I do things that uphold that value.  For instance, I regularly make time to tutor, and I always look for new ways of teaching and connecting with my students. I will even find ways to incorporate teaching into my daily life, from being open to answering questions, training at work, to this blog.  All of these actions bring me closer to my values.

Stuff That Sucks, in particular, focuses on identifying emotions as they occur, learning ways to feel and accept them. Once the reader has passed that point, the book walks them through how to identify their values and how to create a value driven life.

Who should read this?

Stuff That Sucks is technically marketed as a quick help guide for teenagers, and I’d say they’re a good option. But beyond that, almost anyone could benefit from this book.  The fact is, we all go through things that suck now and then, and learning how to live with it is a giant step toward a better life. With that said, I would honestly recommend this for kids as young as 8 or so, depending on their needs.  The reading is not overly complex and the content could do a lot for an anxious or depressed child. As for adults, well, lets just say I read it quickly, but I’ve also gone back to it again and again.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book.

Who shouldn’t read this book?

Avoid it if you live a life without anything bad in it at all.  Or maybe don’t avoid it, because I suspect you have someone in your life that could really benefit from it.

A final note

This book is by no means a fix for all that ails you.  It is a great tool, but anxiety and depression often require more than just one tool.  Proper therapy, medication, and support are also often critical in managing a chronic mental illnesses, so please keep that in mind.

Also, note that this is a “quick guide” and so it’s not going to cover everything that could be learned about ACT (which is also only one of many different therapies for chronic mental health conditions).

And with that, I say…

Go get this book!



Experiencing the Roller Coaster of Bipolar

Experiencing the Roller Coaster of Bipolar

I’m going to start this post out by confessing something… I LOVE roller coasters. My favorites are the ones that zoom around with twists and turns and maybe a couple loops. I am not a fan, however, of the ones that launch you in the air like a rocket and then drop you just as fast.  Those are just too much for me. Why does this little fact matter? Well, one of the most common analogies for bipolar disorder is a roller coaster ride.  As always with mental illnesses, not all will find this accurate, but for me it works pretty well. Let me explain why.

At the Station

Imagine “normal” is the station.  This is life as lived by those who don’t suffer from chronic mental illnesses. Here you wait in line for the ride.  For some people, those who don’t relapse very often, the line can be incredibly long.  You watch a video on your phone, chat with your friends, watch the clouds go by, just generally enjoy life while you wait. Maybe sometimes it’s boring, but it’s steady and predictable.

For those of us with bipolar, and especially those that relapse more frequently, the line is shorter. We may still get time to chat with friends, enjoy some time to relax, but it’s not a long wait.  Far too soon, we’re sitting in our car, strapping in, and climbing that hill.

desert mountain roller coasterThe Climb

Depending on your view of roller coasters, this can be the best part of the ride.  It’s the anticipation of the thrills to come. You’re slowly inching your way up, waiting for that thrilling moment when your stomach drops and you’re speeding off. When you hit the top and the train stops for a second, you hold your breath, and then whoosh! You’re off, and screaming and laughing with glee.

For others, say the friend that was coerced into climbing aboard or the kid that was goaded into it because they didn’t want to look weak, that climb is horrifying. Each click of the car ratchets the fear up one little notch until suddenly, you’re at the top and time stops for just a breath. You exhale. You pray.

You crash. It’s the inevitability of the up, that there will always be a down.

There are different ways to look at this stage through the lens of bipolar. The climb is the elevation of your mood.  It’s slow, sometimes too subtle to notice, but it’s there. Eventually, you peak at the top. You are above everything, looking out to see the beauty of the world and you know you can do absolutely anything. This is the mania. This is the point at which most people with bipolar tend to do the most damage to those around them. When you’re on top of the world, anything is possible, even if it really shouldn’t be.

at the top of the roller coasterOr maybe that climb up means you slowly grow happier and more engaged. Maybe you’re finally getting things done. Maybe you’re chasing dreams, and it’s amazing until that moment when you reach the top. And then…reality sets in, and you realize why you’ve been feeling so good. You realize what’s about to happen. Everything is about to fall apart. That’s what it is for me when I’m in a hypomanic state. I don’t typically realize it’s happening until I hit the top and see the inevitable fall before me.

One Wild Ride

A common theme you’ll hear from those of us with bipolar is that with every up, there comes a down. Our manic, or hypomanic, episodes tend to be followed with a swift and brutal depression.  Everything becomes harder. It’s like the pressure you feel as you’re whipped around that coaster right, forcing your head back into the seat and causing you to hold on desperately to the car. If you’re at all nervous about that roller coaster, chances are this is the time when you pray that your restraint holds, and you envision all the terrible ways you are about to die.

Yeah, let’s be honest.  That’s a pretty literal translation of what it’s like to experience bipolar depression.  You’re just holding on, praying that you stay safe, and envisioning all the ways that you won’t. It’s terrifying.

Returning to the Station

Eventually, though, things stabilize again.  Your train car pulls in to the station, and you get off the ride. You can finally relax, unclench your fists, take a deep breath, and walk away. At least, you can in a real roller coaster.

For me, though, that exit leads straight into the entrance and I’m forced back in the line. With proper medication, therapy, and support, I might end up with a long wait before I get on the roller coaster again. But no matter what, I will eventually be forced on it again.


5 Ways to Keep Sane While Going Crazy

5 Ways to Keep Sane While Going Crazy

It happens to every parent.  You’re going about your day when you suddenly notice the massive pile of clothes in the middle of the floor.  And then you see the juice on the counter because someone didn’t bother putting it away.  And then, it’s the chewed up pen that the dog got to, and the baby is screaming, and you have to make dinner but there are no pans, and, and, and.  And suddenly, you snap.

stressed woman screaming black and white“That’s it! I’m done! Do your own dirty work from now on,” you say, stomping off to your room and slamming the door.

Okay, maybe not. Maybe you manage to keep your cool, let the annoyance simmer under your skin, and get things moving.  I know for a fact that I can’t, though, because when I talk about sanity, I mean dictionary definition of sanity. In my world, days like this can mean a full swing into a depressive state, and if my environment doesn’t get better, that can turn in to weeks of depression.  Even worse, a chaotic environment tends to ratchet up the anxiety, which means I get really irritable and end up isolating for the sake of everyone. It’s a terrible cycle, all around.

So, how do I keep sane? Well, there are a few different things I’ve found that help.

1. Stave off what chaos you can.

Now, this comes with the understanding that some things you really can’t control. Others in the house are bound to put their stamp of mess on the public spaces, but you can focus on keeping your own personal refuge tidy and comforting.  In this way, if you do end up with an explosion in the rest of the house, you have a safe space to retreat that doesn’t add to the stress.

And on that topic:

2. Have a personal refuge!

woman in bed hidden under blanketI know for some this is easier said than done, but it is really helpful if you can manage it.  Your refuge doesn’t have to be anything big, even.  I personally have a bedroom of my own right now, but in the past I’ve had a corner of a room, a walk in closet, a utility room, and even a fort under the table.  Okay, that last one was a little more temporary, but it worked! In the end, it’s about having a space that is all your own where you can take a deep breath and regroup.

3. Enlist help.

Guess what. If your kids are the ones leaving clothes and stuff all over the floor, it’s totally fair to make them clean it up! Likewise, if the spouse is sitting around and there are dishes needing doing, get them on it!  Most of the time, I’ve found family members are more than willing to help with the workload, if they know what to do.  As much of a pain as it can be, teaching them what to look for can help in the long run.  And in the short term, you get an army of helpers!

4. Pick a small thing and attack it.

Maybe for tonight you just wash the one pan you need most.  Or maybe you just focus on moving the clothes to wherever they belong. Whatever it is that you can do, go ahead and do it.  Even the little things can make a huge difference and sometimes the little things add up to big things!

5.  If all else fails, get a baby and dog sitter, pack up the rest of the household and run away.

Okay, maybe don’t run away…  Still, keep in mind that it’s okay to pick your battles.  Sometimes that means you leave the dishes until tomorrow and get food somewhere else. Or, if that’s too expensive, let the kids make sandwiches. Either way, people get fed and you get a little less fed up.



2 Years Without Love – A Tale of Postpartum Depression

2 Years Without Love – A Tale of Postpartum Depression

9 years ago, I was sold a lie.  That in itself is bad enough, but the heartbreak of it was that I had no idea until it was too late. In fact, many new parents are lied to, every day, and in the most oblivious way. Well wishers, proud parents, tell you how lucky you are and how much you are going to treasure your new child. When they’re born, you’ll look into those big eyes and your heart will swell.

Well, guess what. That’s not necessarily true. Let me tell you a story about what it was like for me.

Waiting for Baby

My daughter was born the end of August, on a day that I can’t remember much about. It might have been hot, it might have been windy (it probably was because its always windy here). I honestly don’t know though, partly because I was busy getting ready to birth a child and partly because I had to be induced, so I was admitted the night before.

pregnant woman in darknessMy mom had arrived two weeks before hand because she wanted to make sure she was here whenever the kiddo showed up. Mom showed up on my due date and the kid…well, she waited the full two weeks. I didn’t mind though as I knew it was my time with my mom, and likely to be the last bit of “free” time I would have. Or rather, on the surface I knew that. Every mother out there was telling me to cherish these last bits of time carrying her because it’s “so much harder once they’re on the outside.” I’m not saying they were wrong, but I really wanted my own body back.

That said, the pregnancy wasn’t actually difficult. My mood was fine, appetite and activity level were pretty normal, and I tested perfectly on all of my check ins. I just really hated being pregnant. Some parents cherish the feeling of their child in them, but I found it creepy.  There was a whole ‘nother human in there, waiting to get out. I didn’t like that. But I did like getting to have Mom all to myself.

The Arrival

Suffice to say, delivery was painful. I mean, I don’t imagine any one who has birthed a child would disagree, as all forms of delivery come with their own pains. Induction is supposed to be one of the hardest but I couldn’t say, since my son came on his own schedule and it was pretty much miserable too. I do remember the moment I accidentally turned the TV on with my elbow, because Mike was suddenly distracted from counting me through my contractions. He denies it to this day, but I know better.

Eventually, she made her way into the world, 8 lbs 14.7 oz, scaly and hairy, and according to the doctors, absolutely perfect. It was that moment a parent dreams for, the moment you lay eyes on your creation for the first time, you lovingly cradle their hands and count fingers. A nursing mom is encouraged to bring their baby to feed in that first hour and I appropriately obliged, but it was a little off. The nurse helped me reposition and latch correctly and gave us our privacy. My husband stared down at us, tears in his eyes.

But still, something was off.


I’m not sure when I figured it out, but eventually I realized my magic moment was never coming. I cradled the child that I had created, I did all the actions I was supposed to, but the feelings of love and awe never appeared. Everyone I had spoken to told me that all the pain was worth it because when you hold your baby for the first time, you feel a fullness, a rush of joy and love.

It was a lie.

Or rather, it was a lie for me. At the time I didn’t know it, but not every new parent feels love and joy when they meet their baby. For some of us, it takes time to develop a connection. For me, it was over two years for that sense of awe to arrive. Two years. Somewhere between the bipolar disorder and the severe postpartum depression, it was impossible for me to feel that love.

Quick aside: this is actually something I have discussed with my daughter, now that she is older. I have always tried to keep the conversation as positive as possible, but also realistic. If she grows up with the same illnesses I have, I want her to be aware what it might mean.

So, we come to the meat of the conversation: how do you connect when you have no sense of connection?

First things, First:

If you have postpartum depression, GET TO THE DOCTOR. Seriously. Postpartum is hard, but postpartum depression is scary. I was very grateful that Mike and I had talked about it before Eileen came along because as soon as I started to feel unsafe, he got me help. Far too many horrifying things happen because parents don’t want to reach out when they start to feel off. So yeah. Talk to someone you trust and get help.

Second things, Second:

Remember, not everyone is going to feel like they’re in a magical wonderland when baby arrives. Sure, for my son, I felt my heart swell and I wanted to constantly cuddle and love on him. But the first time around? No. The only time I felt love for her was when we were nursing, and you can probably blame that on the chemicals. So, if you’re a new parent and your heart isn’t swooning at the sight of your new creation, don’t worry. Keep them safe and alive and chances are good you’ll get there.

So, how to stay connected?

Well, to that I have no answer. I wish I did, but it was all I could do to stay present during those two years. My husband (thank God for him) did almost all of the parenting, and ultimately it cost him his job. We lived with his parents for a good part of those two years, too, and they helped a bit then. But me, I was just too disconnected. I threw myself into work, telling myself we really needed the money so it was good that I worked so hard. Sometime, though, I look back and wonder if it was a lie I told myself to ease the pain.

Ultimately, I moved away to go to school full time while my husband and baby girl (who was two at that time, so not quite a baby anymore) stayed behind. We talked every night and they visited as often as they could, but I was here and they were most definitely there.

By the time we were reunited, I had missed years. It wasn’t until 2014, around my daughter’s 6th birthday, that we were finally living in one house. And, somehow, it was different. Somewhere in those 6 years, my heart healed. Maybe it was all that time. Maybe it was the realization of how much I’d lost that I would never get back, but finally I felt the love I’d been promised so long ago.

I don’t know how it happened, though. I wish I did, because I know so many other parents go through the same pain and I wish I could hand them the key to fix it.

But I can’t.

Instead, I teach them what I learned. I tell them congratulations, and wish them well. When they ask for advice, I tell them “It’s okay if you don’t love your child right away. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. You will love them eventually, even if you don’t feel it to start with.”

It may seem an odd bit of advice, but I promise I will never sell a new parent the same lie I was faced with those two years. And I promise I will do anything I can to help them if they ever land in the same place.



My Top 10 Favorite Ways to Cope

My Top 10 Favorite Ways to Cope

In the mental health community, there is a ton of talk about the importance of self care and coping mechanisms. Both of these are critical parts of the healing process, but today we’re going to focus on coping. I hear you asking: Cope with what? Well, that’s the thing. Joys of bipolar and all means there’s an awful lot you have to cope with. So, here are my top ten that I use pretty much no matter how I’m feeling.

1. Belly Breathing

I seriously cannot beat this one when it comes to quick comfort. The idea is to take a slow deep breath in through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand while keeping your chest still.  Hold it for a moment, and then exhale through your mouth. This type of breathing is supposed to trigger an instant (or almost instant) relaxation effect, and I can say that for me, it seriously works.  Admittedly, if I’m in a full blown panic attack, I have to make sure to breathe out before I try to take a deep breath, or sometimes work myself up to bigger breaths.  It’s totally worth it, though.

pet rat2. Tactile feedback

I’m super oriented to touch.  When I’m really anxious or depressed, I have stuffed animals I will pet (or if the rat baby is agreeable, a rat). Generally, I like soft fuzzy textures, but I’ve known people who calm themselves by any kind of touch.  Rough rocks, sand between the fingers, a bowl of beads, or any other thing, can work as long as it helps distract you long enough to calm down.

3. Singing

This one comes with a disclaimer:  I’m a horrible singer. Doesn’t matter though.  if i’m at work and freaking out, you can hear me humming to myself as I make coffee.  When I’m alone, I’ll put on my favorite songs and sing them as loud as I can. Either way, the effect is the same.  A moment of forgetting and a moment of calm.

4. Warmth

Yeah, this one is a little vague, but honestly the method is so flexible.  I love warmth when I’m upset, whether it come in the form of tea, a hot shower, or a nest of blankets (bonus points if the blankets are fuzzy). I know some people that prefer cold, but I suppose for me the warmth is a reminder of a childhood spent in the desert.

5. Coloring

Colors!  Yay!  I love the colors and always have.  Actually, when I was in high school, my Winnie the Pooh coloring book was my best friend.  Now that I’m older, I still love coloring as a calming method.  To be honest, I still prefer the kids coloring books even though there are so many more options on the market.  I even prefer my crayons.  They’re simpler, soothing, and there’s just something about the scent of crayons that makes me feel peaceful.

6. Healthy Snacks

bowl of tomatoesThis one is a little trickier, because when I’m really depressed it’s hard to want to do anything.  When I’m in a bad streak, though, we tend to plan accordingly and stuff the fridge full of veggies and munchables that don’t take any work at all. And, if I’m really lucky, Mike will make me a snack plate. Then I get good food without the work, and get to feel extra loved and cared for, too!

7. Ice Water

This is a quick and easy kick in the pants to clear the mind.  Water is good for you, that goes without saying, butice water ice water is refreshing.  When I’m down, a glass of ice water is usually one of my first few choices to pick me back up again.  Worst case, I’m a bit more hydrated.

8. Hugs and Cuddles

Seriously…. I may not always want to be around people, but if I can handle it there’s nothing better than a hug.  Especially if the hugger asks for permission before barging into my space. Physical touch has been proven time and again to be important to physical and mental health.  So, hugs.  Or snuggles. Or whatever works!

9. Music

This one is close to singing, but not quite the same.  When I’m really down, it’s all about the music.  And not what some might expect either… I do enjoy my peaceful piano playlist on Spotify, sure, but when I’m really down it’s usually rock. Metallica? Oh, yes.  Iron Maiden? Definitely. I’ll even enjoy a little NIN and Korn.  May not make sense, but it’s what works for me.

10. Quiet Spaces

woman with coffeeThis is usually a final step if the others don’t work out.  Sometimes, there’s just too much going on for me to be able to focus in enough to actually relax and cope.  In that case, I will walk away, find a quiet space to be, and start from the top.  In my house, my bedroom is a known quiet space, so I know I always have a place to be, but that doesn’t always work for others. When I was younger and had to share a room, my quiet spot was a closet.  As silly as it may sound, I would hide in the bottom corner of my closet and wait for things to calm down.  It was my only quiet space.

Everyone has different ways of getting through difficult times.  For me, these are my typical tried and true actions, some are about staying healthy while others are about comfort.  I’ll admit, though, just because they typically work for me doesn’t mean they always will.  It’s important to be open to trying new things.  Keep growing and learning because you never know what might help you break through to the other side of your bad spell.