Heroes or Ghosts

Heroes or Ghosts…the people we look up admire most.  Is it time to let go?  I’ve been a fan of U2 for over 30 years.  It’s all I’ve ever known.  They have been the soundtrack to my life.  Maybe it’s time to start a new soundtrack.  There was a HUGE fiasco with purchasing tickets for their new tour.  Many long time fans were left out and ticket touts won, yet again, despite “efforts” to stop them.  As fans were forced to renew fanclub subscriptions early just to get presale codes, tickets were still on the secondary market within minutes at inflated prices.  Also, many of those lifelong fans didn’t even receive codes.  And what did the band do?  Nothing.  What did the band say to their fans that gave them their great life?  Nothing.

For a band that prided themselves on truly caring for their fans,  the silence was excruciatingly deafening.  It shattered my rose colored world and many others as well.  Perhaps they’ve gone the way of corporate (something they swore they’d never do). Perhaps they’ve just given up since Paul McGuiness left. Ever since this shift in management to Maverick (Guy O’Seary….aka Sleazy Car Salesmen), they’ve never been the same.  The music has remained great, but the soul has definitely left the building.  I don’t think their heart is in it anymore.

For someone like me, with Bipolar Disorder, their music has been a haven for me.  Their concerts have transported me out of my chaotic mind.  They have been a respite for my turbulent world.   I know they are just four men, nothing grandiose about them.  They just happen to play the best music I’ve heard and became famous for it.  They have lives and families like everyone else.  The take away from all of this?  Be careful of your level of admiration for anyone.  Someday they might do something and that fall from “grace” can really throw you.  I never thought this day would come.  37 years I have been a fan…37 years of my life…37 years of moments that I can pinpoint to their songs.

Am I devastated?  Yes.  Do regret that level of fandom?  No.  I found my voice because of their music.  I became more involved in charity work because of them.  This certainly isn’t the end of this chapter of my life…it’s just a twist in the plot.

“Big D”, Glass Art, and Peace

Glass art, for me, is my self care.  I think it’s the only thing that will keep “Big D” at arms length.  I know it sounds very strange to use very sharp glass as a means of self care, but it works for me…most days. There’s just something about stepping inside of my studio and seeing that wall of glass, seeing the rainbow of colors, envisioning what those sheets of glass will become, and bringing them to life.  It gives a great sense of calm.  Now, I will admit there are those times that I curse out loud like drunken pirate because the glass isn’t cooperating.  It decides to break in an entirely different direction than I want it to.  If I find myself too frustrated, I turn off the power to the studio, walk out, and close the door behind me.  I have to respect the glass.

I have been creating glass art for nearly 15 years now.  I used to just make it for myself and my family and friends.  I then started making pieces for charity.  That brought me so much joy.  The art that helped me could now help others.  About two years ago, I started Zarit Glassworks (www.zaritglassworks.com).  That was both rewarding and frightening all at the same time.  I made the decision to turn my coping mechanism into a business so it could self supporting and so I could donate proceeds to local charities.  My goal was not to make to a ton of money, but to help.

You may wonder why I decided to donate rather keep all my profits, maybe not.  I’m going to tell you anyway.  I’ve always believed that I had Bipolar Disorder for a reason.  For me, that reason is to help others find a way to work with their mental illness; to find the positive in it.  There is always a positive to be found within all the negative.  I will never be rich from art and I’m okay with that.  I can help organizations that don’t get much, if any, government funding and that’s all I need.  It’s my hope to inspire others to something similar.  You don’t have to donate money through your art to help others.  You just have to be kind.  You just have to listen.  You just have to be present.  You just have to be mindful.

So, yes, glass art is an odd choice for coping with the day to day battles of Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.  Sparkle is my favorite and in my world it is a valid color.  🙂  When I complete a stained glass piece, I rush outside and hold it up to the sunlight to watch the way the rays of light dance through it.  I’m always amazed at the way the colors change.  It’s like the sunlight and the glass are doing the Tango.  It’s beautiful to watch…mesmerizing really.

What do you do to keep “Big D” away?  What’s your best coping skill?  I would love to hear from you.

Time to Beat “Big D”

I’m left with that feeling of disbelief…that feeling you get after you’ve just witnessed something horrifying.  Your body goes cold. Your hands start to shake.  Your heart starts to race.  Your head aches.  I call it the “Depression Hangover”.  You’re not truly out of the depression, but you’re nearing the end of it.  It feels like I’m walking in a wintry fog.  “Big D” is looming ever close.  Oh he’s never for behind.  I think he has abandonment issues.

This part of “Big D”, sleep is elusive.  (As I write this, it’s 1 a.m.)  My mind is running its umpteenth marathon…trying to stay one step ahead.  We all know that’s NOT possible, but it tries (bless it’s heart).  In my mind, I’ve completed all the glass art my gallery opening (that isn’t even on the books…yet).  I’ve finished every unfinished conversation.  I found every lost item.  I’ve fixed the mental health system.  I think you get the picture.  This all happens while my family blissfully slumbers…so envious.

Oh, “Big D”, the things I could accomplish without you interrupting my life!  Wait a minute.  I’ve accomplished plenty.  True, I could have done so much more without the constant derailments from “Big D”, but I have done quite a lot:

  • graduated college
  • married & started a family
  • taught French & HIstory
  • went to Belarus on a charity aid convoy
  • tons of charity work
  • traveled
  • spoke to thousands about mental health
  • spoke to congressional members about mental health
  • lobbied for mental health care change
  • started a glass art business (Zarit Glassworks) (shameless plug)
  • and more that I can’t think of at the moment

There are still many more things I’d like to do”

  • fix the broken mental health care system
  • educate people about mental health
  • stop discriminating bills against people with mental illness
  • exercise more
  • travel more
  • and so, so, so much more

I can’t keep using “Big D” as an excuse for not doing more. It’s easy to do when I’m caught up in that roller coaster ride.  I have to remember the strength that I do have…that we all have.

Fighting every day for my life, I am stronger than I realize.  I am on this earth for a purpose.  “Big D”, you will NOT beat me !

The “Big D”

I want to be better, but why bother?  No matter how hard I try… No matter how many medications I try… No matter how many doctors I see; the “Big D” always returns.  What’s the “Big D” you ask?  Depression!  It always comes back and with a vengeance! I want off this roller coaster ride!

That’s what it is.  Up, down, round, and round!  Here we go ladies and gentlemen!  Step right up! Sit down! Fasten your seat belts!  You’re in for a bumpy ride! I can visualize the master puppeteer running the ride… the “Big D”.  He’s menacing, maniacal, with a handlebar mustache that he’s waxed at the ends so he can curl them up.  He wears a tattered old black top hat, dirty overcoat, and pin striped pants with mud splatters from tromping through the rain soaked fairgrounds.  He has oil under his fingernails, not from fixing the ride…no…from sabotaging it.

As the ride come to a stop, just as you are about to get off, he starts it up again!  No medication can stop the “Big D”! No talk therapy…No coping skills…you’re screwed!!  Well, at least I am.  I seem to have run out of options.  No, suicide doesn’t enter this scenario.  I won’t give “Big D” the satisfaction of winning this ongoing battle.

The ride continues as if he doesn’t see that I want to get off.  I’m trying to get out.  I’m taking my medications.  I’m seeing my doctors every week.  I’m using my coping skills.  Yet, he continues the ride.  Am I being punished?  Or am I meant to learn something from all of this?  For the love Pete “Big D”!  Enough is enough!  My brain, my body, my friends, my family can’t take much more of this.  Release this vice like grip you have on me.  I can’t take much more.

These are all of the things I so desperately want to say, but I don’t…or won’t.  I’m a fighter.  Although, I feel my resolve is weakening.

Fear Nothing

I was sitting in a hospital room almost 15 years when I received my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.   This particular time was a voluntary “commitment”.  Oh that’s a strange word in this scenario.  The dictionary defines commitment as the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.  Well, I suppose after 3 or 4 involuntary “commitments”, you could say I was dedicated to this particular cause,activity,etc.    What else would you call it “voluntary lock-up”?  That’s really what it is, but then that implies the person has perpetrated a crime and is in jail.  So that won’t work.  It feels a bit like a prison.  You can’t go anywhere.  All of your rights are taken away while you’re there.  Your every move is monitored.  How about “voluntary time out”?  That really doesn’t either…sounds a bit childish.

In this 15 years, I have learned a tremendous amount.  I still have a lot to learn.  Once the unknown had a name, it suddenly didn’t seem quite so daunting.  I had a starting place at least.  I also became a master list maker.  I had a list for EVERYTHING!  It gave me a sense of control over the uncontrollable.   I had a list for weekly tasks, cleaning tasks, work tasks, exercise, goals, things I wanted to accomplish before I die (not that I was in a rush), places to visit, glass projects to make.  Keep in mind one thing, I didn’t always finish everything on these.  As the years went by and my Bipolar ebbed and flowed as it does, I became better at it.  I refined my lists to more meaningful ones.  I maintained the ones that kept me in check like the weekly tasks ones.  Apparently my doctor thinks it’s good to stay on schedule.  😉

What’s the point of all this rambling?  To be honest, I’m not really sure.  I had a thought in my head and had to get it out.  I’ll try to make next post better.  🙂

Embracing Your Illness

The Guest House

When my doctor gave me this poem, I was so grateful.  I refer back to it often to remind myself that I need to be mindful of every emotion, every experience I have, every person in my life, and every journey I am on.  Each one of those teaches me, shapes me, and emboldens me.  Don’t get me wrong, not all of these experiences are good ones.  Not all of the people who come in and out of my life are pleasant.  Not all of the journeys I embark on are straight forward and obstacle free.  However, without those, I would not be who I am today or will be in the future.

Once I started to embrace my Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder in this way, it started to make more sense to me.  It didn’t happen overnight, but I’m so glad it finally did.  My life have lost the shackles of any stigma that may be around me by embracing my disorders.  By embracing the disorder, you take away the power of anyone that tries to shame you.  You take away the power of anyone that tries to tell you that “You can’t…” Simply put, once you embrace your diagnosis, you then know that “You can…”.  It is so liberating!

As you can from my blog, it’s been quite some time since I last wrote.  I took a “bit’ of time off to pursue my glass art.  It’s something that I love and something that helps manage my symptoms.  It’s also how I am able to give back to my community.  This is very important to me.  So often I feel that I take so much from the people around me (in time, support, energy) as often happens when “episodes” occur.  I feel the need for this outlet…the need to help others, including my loved ones when I am able.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit in this posting.  My apologies.  I am bit rusty.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep this blog more current.  I am stepping back into the Mental Health Advocacy arena once again after a LONG break.  I feel it is time. So, there more posts about that.  I would love to hear from you.  What are some of your resolutions?

Mental Health and Exercise?

You may wonder why I added the question mark when all the research clearly states that exercise is so good for our mental health.  I don’t deny it.  Exercise is a key component to our well-being and our recovery.  I question it sometimes because I feel so guilty when I don’t exercise.  I want to exercise…really I do.  I have all of the equipment for it.  I just don’t do it.  I find every excuse under the sun not to do it… “I’m too tired.”  “I’m too busy.”  “I have to do the dishes.”  That one makes me laugh… I hate to do the dishes more than I hate to exercise.  Oh dear!  Did I just admit that I hate to exercise?  I guess I did.

Hate may be too strong of a word.  It’s more like a very severe dislike of exercise…is there really a difference there?  Anyway, I’ve read the research and I KNOW how much it will benefit and how much it DOES benefit when I do exercise.  I do walk 3 days/week (give or a take a few) with my best friend.  I love it!  Well, I love the talking and spending time with her.  I’m ready for a nap when we’re done.  All those people that tell you how invigorating exercising is and how it wakes you up…well, they are liars!  At least in my case they are.  Exercise puts me to sleep.  Perhaps this is why I find it so difficult to exercise on my own.

Now what really works for the state of my mental health is glass art.  When I am creating something new in glass, oh there’s no other feeling like it on earth!  I put my creation in the kiln and in the morning it’s just magical!  It’s the same when I’m creating stained glass.  Once it’s all soldered in place, I raise it up to the light and see how the sun’s rays hit it.  Oh, it’s just stunning!  I live in a world of rainbows and band aids.  (**Band aids are for my fingers.  Accidents happen with the glass.)

So, if you’re able to exercise on a regular basis, kudos to you!  Could you let me know how you do it?  If you’re like me and can’t get the motivation to do it on your own, what do you do to improve the state of your mental health in the place of exercise?

To My Former Self…

To my former self,

I will never be the same again.  I will never be as carefree as I was once was nor as naive. I will never be the same free spirit that I once was.  I will never again look at the world in quite the same way…and for once, this okay with me.

I’m not the same person I was before my Bipolar Diagnosis, before my suicide attempts, before the hospitalizations, before my treatment…before any of that.  I’m a much stronger and wiser person now.  I may not be carefree and naive of the Bipolar, but more aware and careful.  I’m not that same free spirit, but a different one.  I look at the world with a new purpose now.

Bipolar Disorder did not change me for the worse or for the better, but it did change me.  The change was inevitable.  I’m still me…perhaps a little wiser.  I hope in the long run that my change is for the better, only time will tell.  Everyday I am little stronger.

So, to my former self, I learned from you and for that I thank you.  You went through many tumultuous times and still came out the other side.  You are to be commended.  You bare the battle wounds of a war that many know, yet no one can see.  I will continue to fight.

Remember Me?

I don’t know the last time I wrote a blog post.  I have been so very busy creating my glass art and following my favorite band on tour…U2.  In other words, I have been happy.  The happiness has not been constant.  After all, I have bipolar disorder so happiness comes and goes.  BUT, there has been for more happiness in my life than sadness.

What do I attribute that to?  1.) I did start a new medication.  The down side to that is I have to take another medication to combat the insomnia that comes as a consequence. However, if stability is the outcome, then it’s worth it.  2.)  I’m making more of an effort to work with my glass art that brings me great joy.  This year Zarit Glassworks (shameless plug) is having a great year.  It’s all because I decided not worry about the negativity of other people.  I am creating for myself.  It’s selling (well, most of the time).  I’m able to donate to local charities that need funds and I find that very fulfilling.  3.) I have found a way to tell the world to “piss off” if they aren’t ready for me or my illness.  I have a mental illness…I am NOT my mental illness.  For those that don’t/won’t understand that, I just don’t have the time or energy to waste on them.  This may sound harsh, but it is a sanity saver, an anxiety saver, and a life saver…my life saver.  My life is far too precious and means more that someone’s lack of understanding.

Those three combined have given me a whole new outlook on life.  They’ve given me permission to live my life…the life I want to live.  It’s so freeing.  I do still have down days, but they don’t last nearly as long as they used to.  When they do happen, I head straight into my studio and create something in glass.  It’s a form of therapy for me that even my own therapist had agree was better than talk therapy…for me.

What works for me may not work for everyone.  What are some things that you have done to get through the day?  What have you done to tell the world, “to heck with you, I’m fine the way I am!”?  I’d love to hear about it.

Like I said for me, it’s glass art and listening to music (especially U2 music).

Thank you for reading and remember you are amazing!

10 Positive Attributes of Mental Illness

We hear so much about the negative side of having a mental illness, all of the stuff that can go wrong, the medication changes, the medication side effects, the lack of understanding, etc. Sure, that’s all part of it, but there’s so much more to it. Just as we are NOT our illness, these negative parts are NOT the whole of the illness either. There is so much good that can be accomplished as a result of having a mental illness…here are just a few.

1. Life is NEVER boring! There is always something going on (be it bad or good). It makes for an interesting life.
2. It can open doors you never thought existed. For example, I have been given many opportunities to help shape national and local legislation that have greatly benefited mental health care and mental health education. This would not have been possible were not for my lived experience with mental illness.
3. There is an increased capacity/ability (even responsibility) to help others. Through sharing my story, starting support groups, and even writing this blog.  I am able to help others. That knowledge of not being alone in your mental illness is huge.
4. It can enhance your creativity. I never thought of myself as particularly creative, but it has been brought to my attention that I am. I create stained and fused glass pieces, do photography, and write, all of which take some degree of creativity. I am currently working on a stained glass depiction of Bipolar Disorder. When it’s done, I’ll post it to see what you think.
5. We have a very different outlook on the world. I know people may see different as a negative thing, but I don’t. It is our way of thinking and seeing things that can bring about change. Change can be good.
6. You find out who your true friends are. You may lose a few friends or many along this journey. Those that leave are not bad/weak people. They just knew they may not have been able to handle it and be the support that you needed. The ones that remain are the ones worth keeping. Their bond is stronger than steel.
7. Once you’ve become more familiar with your illness, you don’t have to be enslaved by it. You can build on your strengths…knowledge is power. For instance, I have been able to use my education background to work with at-risk youth (elementary – high school) in my local school districts. Since I can empathize with these students, I am able to help them achieve academic goals. I’m also able to help them cope with what they are going through. As many teachers will tell you, we’re not just teachers. We are counselors, friends, sudo-parents, the list goes on and on.
8. It can strengthen a family. It does not have to be a death sentence to the family unit. I know this is not always the case. For me, it was very touch and go in the beginning for my family before education and understanding kicked in. It was extremely difficult (to say the least) at times. In the end, what has come out of it is an incredible family bond. They may still not fully understand everything that I go through, but they don’t have to. They love and support me. That is all I need.
9. It doesn’t have to be a disability that prevents you from doing what you love or have to do. In my case, I am a credentialed teacher. I know that being in a classroom of 30-40 students is just too overwhelming for me. So, the classroom isn’t for me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work in education. I have been working with my local districts as a Home Hospital Tutor for those students that can’t go on campus due to illness or are not allowed on campus. It’s one on one teaching. It presents it’s own challenges, but I’m still in the field of teaching. Find your strengths and make them work for you.
10. What is your #10 good thing about having a mental illness? I would like to hear it from you.