The Fear of a Single Word

It’s been a little over a week since Josiah and I announced that we were expecting a baby at the end of September. For the past couple of months, my emotions about pregnancy have been mixed. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see us become parents. I have a nervous excitement about the opportunity to raise a human with all the qualities that Josiah and I treasure so much.

I’m also scared. This was a total surprise for us. We had planned to really start talking about starting a family after Josiah’s first round of deployments. I selfishly wanted more solo time to get used to having my life partner gone and unavailable to talk for months at a time. I wanted to feel as mentally healthy as possible before adding anything else to our life.

And then last week happened. Last week, I got the official bipolar diagnosis. Bipolar. An intimidating word to be tied to any person, but for someone who is stepping into motherhood for the first time in six months, I’ve been terrified.

Suspicions of this diagnosis first popped up in early 2013, but the therapist I was seeing decided I was struggling with ptsd and major depressive disorder. Bipolar isn’t something that doctors and therapists like to easily diagnose because it can be a word that haunts someone for the rest of their life. But my symptoms have worsened in those four years. Untreated, they’ve started to affect more and more of my life. My depressive cycles have gotten harder to battle through, and my hypomania has left me wondering what kind of person I really am on multiple occasions.

So I’ve started medication. I’ve begun keeping a more dedicated record of my emotions. I have doctors that are helping to monitor my brain and the warning signs I might not think are important. But the fear is lingering. The fear that I won’t be able to be the kind of mother I really want to be because of my mental struggles. The worry that I’ll go through episodes while Josiah is out of the country and I’m the temporary sole caregiver of our child. The very real reality that our children will grow up knowing that sometimes their mother won’t be able to be as mentally present as they need me to be.

I know that both Josiah and I are blessed with families that would do absolutely everything they can to help us be the best parents we can be. Being willing and able to ask for that help is a constant battle for me. There are so many parenting stories I’ve been reading about mothers who struggle with postpartum depression, anxiety, and various other mental conditions. However, I don’t see many moms who struggle with bipolar. I don’t hear many successful parenting stories where a parent with bipolar was still able to provide their children with a healthy, loving, and positive environment. Part of me hopes that I’ll be able to start writing that kind of life story for our new family. Mental health is such a touchy writing subject because it makes so many people uncomfortable, and one of my goals with this blog has always been to change that stigma. But writing about it doesn’t make the fear any less real.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris, France- July 2014
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Nine Days

“Obama ought to be shot.”

This statement rang out clear at the table while celebrating Christmas this year. No joking, no wavering- just pure conviction. This is one of the things that frightens me most about our incumbent president: ever since he started gaining actual traction during the primaries, the level of hatred has seemed to rise.

I was raised in a traditional right-wing, religious household. What concerns me more and more is hearing the people who I’ve known my entire life say things like a president should be shot because his idea of government and social and economical issues doesn’t coincide with their own. What worries me is seeing these same people happily vote for a man surrounded by controversy because he vows to make our country “great” again.

It’s been said again and again, but what exactly was “great” about our country before? Slavery? Taking the land away from the indigenous people who once lived all across the continent? The fact that women and minorities weren’t able to vote? Segregation? Please, enlighten me. I’d really like to hear your version of our “great” country.

This person who said Obama should be shot was the same person who inspired a short post on my instagram about feminism:

I had an incredibly difficult talk with one of the most important people in my life yesterday. That person is one I’ve always looked up to, always valued, and always appreciated. I had to explain the difference between feminism, misogyny, and misandry when they told me they weren’t a feminist. They then went on to explain that women were more fit to raise children than men were and that women just couldn’t do some of the things that men could. I can’t express just how much my heart broke in that instance. Hearing those words come from someone who I thought was one of my biggest supporters and who thought I could do anything changed my understanding of them.

And so I’m stuck in a place that I’m not quite sure how to gracefully come out of. I’m in this situation where I don’t feel valued as a woman. Where I’m concerned to express my true thoughts and views. I don’t believe the people who make hateful or derogatory statements about the current president, women, or minorities truly see them as human beings. They certainly don’t see them as equals. How can anything be communicated if the other party doesn’t acknowledge there’s even an issue?

This situation bothers me more and more. I get sick to my stomach when I think about the fact that someone in my family, someone who claims Christianity and family values, can be filled with such hateful thoughts. As inauguration day looms nearer, the sick feeling increases. The leadership that will be the symbol of America for the next four years has created a safe place for hate, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and so much more. People are becoming numb to this rhetoric and I worry that soon, statements joking about raping and murdering people who don’t fill the “good ol’ boy” requirements will become the norm in our country.

With all of this comes one of my goals for the year: I refuse to sit by without holding people accountable for their words and the actions that follow. Hatred and ignorance are not things I want to be surrounded by. I want to live a life filled with love, acceptance, and respect for humanity, and I’m having to come to terms with the fact that some people may have to be removed from my life in order to experience those things in their entirety.

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Berlin Wall- Berlin, Germany; April 2014

 

The Rollercoaster Year

Like many, 2016 was a rough year. For me in particular, it was probably the year of rollercoasters. The year started off so strong and so full of possibilities, but my mental health kept throwing massive stumbling blocks in my path. With the spring came warning signs, the scariest suicidal and self-harming thoughts I had ever experienced. The summer had the crash. I reached the end of my rope and was so thrown out of whack that I needed a month to recover. The fall topped it all off with regular therapy appointments and a possible new diagnosis. I still haven’t made as much progress as I would like, but I now have some answers as a starting block, and I’ll hopefully be able to move forward with healing and solutions in the new year.

This year was a tiresome one for the world as well. So many deaths, so much fighting, so much hatred across humanity. During the presidential election, my stress got so high that I was physically sick. Especially in these last couple of months, it’s felt like events keep happening and kindling keeps getting added to a fire that could burn down the world. There’s a part of me that’s almost scared to see what could progress in the next year.

Thankfully, in spite of the tough, the worrisome, and the frightening, there has been hope. I’ve accomplished the goal I set for myself a few years ago to see new places and experience new things. I visited two new cities, greatly expanded my professional circles, and further proved to myself that I can fight through difficulties. There has been love and an abundance of smiles. Friendships have strengthened, my family has more than doubled, and my ability to trust and communicate has grown more than I imagined. I’ll be forever grateful that 2016 was the year I said yes. Not only yes to marriage, but yes to accepting help when it was needed, yes to believing people mean what they say, and yes to learning that love can be given freely.

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Fayetteville, AR- December 2016; photo by Cavalier Photography

The Suicide Letters

I’ve written three suicide letters in my life.

I’ve never shown them to anyone. One was to my parents, apologizing for leaving them with a mess. One was to a friend that had been through all of those feelings, in the hope that he would be able to explain why I took the actions I did. One was to someone I thought I would spend my life with. I never gave them to anyone or even told anyone about them because I felt guilty for those thoughts and feelings.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and all of this keeps running through my mind. I’m not ashamed that I’ve written those letters- they turned into a form of therapy. I refuse to keep those feels and emotions secret. I may be scared of them sometimes, but I’m not ashamed. Instead, I think they’re really good learning tools. I think it’s a reminder that as much as I wish people had checked on me more, other people need that too. I want to make sure the people I care about are safe. I don’t want my friends and family to ever doubt they are loved by me.

I think that it doesn’t occur to many people that others may need to be checked on occasionally. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t been in those deepest and darkest moments of despair when you don’t know if you’ll ever even feel again. People sometimes just don’t know to reach out and check on their loved ones, to say “you’re on my mind today..I hope you’re still surviving”.

I’m known as the bubbly, chipper person at work. I’m known as the person who has a smile on their face constantly, who is upbeat and sees the positive in almost every situation. That’s my life mask. It’s a really good mask. I just wish that I could be comfortable with showing people what’s under the mask without feeling guilt. Without feeling like it would scare everyone away or that I’m being overdramatic and just desperate for attention. Self-harm, suicide…those are things I’ve been struggling with since elementary school. However, until I verbalized those demons, nobody had a clue that I even dealt with depression at all.

Perhaps the takeaway this week for me isn’t “don’t kill yourself” or “suicide isn’t the answer”. Maybe instead, it’s a reminder for me to continue to reach out to the people I care about. If I’m so good at hiding those moments, there definitely are others as well. Perhaps also, it’s a good way to express to others that their people need reminders of love, that they can’t know what others are battling unless they express genuine care and interest. You never know the demons another person could be fighting. And maybe that’s the most important part: still living. Still fighting. Being open and honest in order to destroy stigmas and to shatter generalizations and to remove stereotypes. Healing only comes when communication leads the way.

Austin, Texas - February 2015
Austin, Texas – February 2015

Je Ne Regrette Rien

Things about me that I know for sure: I read into anything and everything far too much, and I dwell on ideas. In fact, I often get fixated on a theory until I write it all out or talk it through with someone and can finally make sense of the thoughts in my mind. That made me sound more neurotic than I probably actually am. Awesome.

I have this print hanging in my bathroom that reads, “Non, je ne regrette rien“. Roughly translated, it means “no, I regret nothing”. As much as I’d like to believe that I live with this belief every day, I don’t. I over-analyze my actions, words, and thoughts until I’ve forgotten why I’m doing it at all, and I criticize myself endlessly.

One thing I’ve been thinking through quite often lately is past relationships. I don’t look on my former boyfriends with much favor, even though a couple of them really are good people. For two years, I’ve been working on trying to remind myself of the good things I absorbed while with them.

The first serious boyfriend I had was someone I had been friends with for a long time. We had grown up through high school together in church, and he was the perfect person to start venturing into romantic relationships with. We dated twice, neither time being very long, because high school relationships are unpredictable. I was moving off to college and was not a very good girlfriend because I hadn’t learned to communicate my thoughts and feelings yet, but I still look back fondly on the brief few months we had together. From him, I learned that love letters and rocks collected from mountaintops can mean so much more than shiny presents. I learned to enjoy stargazing and night time strolls. I learned about music that I still listen to today. I credit my first boyfriend as the tender-hearted soul who first introduced me to Damien Rice. I learned how tender innocent love can be.

My first college boyfriend was somewhat of a train wreck, but he meant well. We met through university concert choir, and our entire relationship seemed to center around music. My best friend and I had decided to go see his band perform right before Christmas break, and after he got my number at his show, we didn’t go a day without talking. He was older, experienced, and musically talented. The relationship was exciting, but wasn’t meant to last. I caught him in the middle of big lies at least three times and would run away instead of talking out our issues because I still wasn’t mature enough to deal with difficult communication. From him, I caught the love of live shows. I learned how to appreciate the different parts of a song and the technicality of writing music. I learned the simple joy of having a boyfriend make food for you, even if it’s just bacon and eggs. Most importantly, I learned that I could be desirable, even during the awkward first year of college.

That relationship lasted a bit longer than it should have, but after a few months, I had moved on. I had met the man I would marry. We started off as a fling. He had never actually had a girlfriend until me, just a string of girls he had partied with. We spent three months together before I had finally talked him into “defining the relationship”. It was another month before we got into an argument and his rebuttal was that he loved me. Soon, we were on a love high and nothing could separate us. When he got offered a good sales job in Dallas, he proposed in front of both our families, and that sealed the deal. We were going to be forever. We got married eleven months later, and soon after that, we had returned to the town we had gone to college in and settled down. There were bad times, abusive times, but I’ve written about those experiences before, and here is not the time nor place. Things eventually got so bad, so damaging, that almost exactly five years after we had first met, I told him I wanted a divorce. During that, I learned how to accomplish things on my own. My parents don’t particularly agree with divorce and were occupied with a death in the family, so I was left to navigate it by myself.

If I were to sum up my ex-husband in a couple words, I would label him the ideal salesman. He’s verbally charming and knows how to present his product in a way that appeals to all kinds of people. So from him, I learned people skills. I’m excellent at the people part of my job because I observed him for so long. I learned how to make things sound appealing. On a surface level, my favorite thing that I learned from him is how to appreciate beer. High-quality craft beer has become one of my go-to hobbies in the past few years, and I can fully admit that I learned the basics from him. On a much deeper level, however, I learned that people aren’t always as they seem. They can present themselves to the world one way, yet live a different private life. I’ve learned not to trust the people who seem too charming.

Several months later, I reconnected with a special person from my past. We had a different sort of relationship. He was in Alaska. I was in Germany. We spent the few hours that we were both available attached to our phones or computers. Communication was key. We shared poems, had intellectual debates, listened to each other’s favorite songs. We had a fourteen year friendship set on fire by infatuation, and it was the first time I was able to experience the joy that comes with being understood in a relationship for the first time. It was also the first time physicality wasn’t a deterrent in building an emotional and mental connection with another person, so the kind of love we experienced was refreshing. I discovered beliefs and ideas from Kahlil Gibran, Oliver Sacks, and independent rappers from the Midwest who actually had songs that spoke to me. I was appreciated for my contribution toward theoretical discussions, and I was encouraged to share my singing (a thing I hadn’t done in seven years). I learned that I was worth more than just a nice smile, a female body, and comforting words. I learned that I was smart, funny, someone’s dream girl. However, we were both damaged in very similar ways. We were damaged without having time to heal, and we leaned on each other to soothe that pain. Because of that, I learned that healing takes time, and mistrust will arise in a relationship when both parties struggle with the same problems. Eventually, I learned true and gut-wrenching heartache.

After not going more than six months relationship-free, I decided to step back and reevaluate what I wanted. There were men that were temporary during that time, but there were no true romantic relationships. I learned a lot about myself during that year of being single. I learned that I am a subconscious self-saboteur. I learned that I liked the idea of people falling in love with me before I was ready to love someone else because it made me feel worth something. I learned that I didn’t actually share the deepest parts of me with anyone, so I was unable to fully connect with another human being. I learned the first steps in becoming vulnerable.

I spent a year like that. I spent a year learning how to actually accept love from another person, but most importantly, how to love myself. When I spent an entire night talking to a man that I worked with outside on my front porch until the sun came up, I realized that I had also learned to trust. Sharing some of the biggest hurts in my life to someone that I only knew in passing showed me that I had allowed myself to become vulnerable. This man became my boyfriend, and during that time, I learned how healthy love can be when there’s a backbone of complete and utter trust. I learned that someone could actually see all of my flaws and not love me in spite of them, but could view my flaws as reasons to love me.  I learned what it meant to be understood completely, and I’ve gained so much confidence and assurance from that understanding. Now, that boyfriend has become my fiancé. With that stage comes more learning. I’m now learning how to be in a committed long-distance relationship with someone who I’m used to being with every single day. I’m relearning communication skills sometimes based solely on words, because facial expressions and physical presence aren’t always present. I’m learning to stop being so stubborn in my independence and to allow the person that understands me best in the world to show his love for me in ways that make him feel like he’s making a positive impact on our relationship. I am learning to allow this relationship to actually be a two-way street.

I suppose it all comes back down to trying to be a person who can say they regret nothing. It’s being able to completely own all of the decisions you’ve made and accepting what happens next, regardless of the outcome. I’ll need to consistently work on being someone who can be proud of their experiences and decisions, but making that a life goal is one of the healthiest plans I believe a person can have.

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