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Managing my Bipolar in a Tough Season

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So, I have bipolar.  If you know me, you know this.  If you don’t know me, yes I am clinically insane and I own that as part of who I am.  Because in the times when I have tried to deny it, or to pretend it doesn’t exist, I have experienced some pretty terrible sh**.  And even when I have tried, I’ve gone through hell and back.  And those lows are not something I ever want go to through again.  So, I manage it.

(Here is my disclaimer: just like all humans are unique, all cases of bipolar are different.  I’m not a doctor or counselor, just a patient. Tips and tricks that work for me might not work for you.  Always always always talk to your doctor.)

This season has been a tough one for me.  For one, fall is always a hard time of year for me.  The shorter days, the cold coming, less time outside, all of that can get me down.  And some of my daily joys are no longer here. My sister and her kids moved back to WA.  As much as kids can be little hellians, they can also be a huge source of joy, and laughter, and love, and kids have always been that for me.  And my sister is my best friend, so not being around her on a daily basis… well, it sucks. Plus, my favorite guy is deployed and contact is limited.  And I know what you’re thinking… girl, that would be tough for anyone! And you are right!

But I’m not just anyone.  In my beautiful brain, a little can turn into a lot, fast.  It’s taken me years to learn myself (that’s a constant though, right?), and especially to navigate my bipolar. Through this process, I’ve learned to recognize my warning signs before they turn into triggers.  Before I lose touch with reality. Before I lose my hope, my will to live, and end up in the hospital. Because again, I’m not going backwards. Only forwards.

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So, mine go a little like this:

1. I worry about things that I can’t control, or things that I definitely don’t need to worry about.  Like politics. I do not need to overthink and panic about the world’s problems because of politics.  Or even how I’m going to afford a house one day. That is far in the future, there is no sense or reason to be stressing and obsessing about it now.

2. I get more tearful.  Now, I am a cryer. And sometimes I just need to cry things out.  But when I start crying more frequently, I have to ask myself, is something wrong?  Am I crying too often?  Am I crying more than I am laughing?  Because if I notice that, I know that I’m not feeling good enough.

3. I just feel down.  I have a harder time feeling joy.  I have a harder time feeling happy.  It feels like joy and laughter and warmth feel further and further away.  And I have to try to reach them.  And that becomes exhausting.  Just to feel good, just to wake up happy, becomes a chore.  Blah!

4. And the big one: my sleep.  It becomes harder for me to fall asleep.  I can’t seem to slow my brain down. Or once I’m asleep, I dream so much that I wake up feeling like my brain never really rested.  Normally I need a lot of sleep. When I’m at my best, I get 8-10 hours on a weeknight, 12-14 on a weekend. Again, that is just who I am.  And when that starts to slip, I know I need to make a course correction.

So what do I do first?  Ask my safety team. A safety team is a small group of people, all who you can trust, who know you well, who can be honest with you and who you can be vulnerable with.  They are the people you save in your phone as ICE (in case of emergency) and that on the tough days, you can always go to. For me, I check in with my family and the people who love me lots to see what they think.  Because they know me well and can give me the encouragement I need to GO TO THE DOCTOR.

So a few weeks back, when I checked in with my sister, she was able to tell me with lots of love, you have seemed down, maybe just go in and ask?  Which means: girl, get your butt into the doctor! I went in 2 days later.

Second, I take my meds.  I will never, ever, ever quit my meds (thanks T-Swift!).  My life is too hard without them. (And life is going to be hard enough by itself, I don’t need to make it any harder).  It took a long time to find a medication combination that works for me. But, because life comes in seasons, sometimes I have to make adjustments.  So I talked to my doctor. I shared what I was feeling; my concerns, and asked what we should do. And we came up with an adjustment together. Ultimately, I was SO thankful, because that feel better was on its way!

Next, I check in on my self care.  Am I eating well? Am I exercising?  Because believe it or not, that matters.  A lot. And the answer for me, a few weeks back, was: not really.  I had let it slip. More sugar, more carbs. Less walking, less exercising, less movement altogether.  Also, how is my fun? Am I making time to do things with friends, or pursue hobbies? Because fun matters.  Laughter matters. In this life, if you don’t say no to stress, it will work its way into your life and take over. I realized I was letting that slip, too.  Not scheduling enough fun time, not scheduling enough friend time, not pausing to chat with my roommates or taking a moment to joke in the hall with my coworkers.  Not cool, Kels. Life should be fun, full of love and laughter. And while not every day, or every moment will be, it’s something we should pursue with vigor.

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Finally, I check in on my soul.  Yep, faith has been the key that unlocked my freedom.  My relationship to God, and to Jesus, has to come first.  Because while I can’t let all the other pieces slip, and hope that prayer alone saves me (cause it won’t) – I am an eternal being.  And in my prayer and my worship, and pursing my God-given gifts, I find my purpose. And when I have a purpose, I have a reason to live.  I know that the world needs me, people need me, my friends need me, my family needs me, I need me, and most importantly, Jesus needs me.  Right here, right where I am, right exactly as I am.  And even in a tough season, God reminds me of that.  He pulls it all together in the most magical ways. And reminds me, I have BIG purpose here.

So, yep, I’ve been having a tough time.  And sometimes admitting that sucks. I’m a strong and powerful woman, so saying I have weakness is uncomfortable.  But that’s okay, I can handle uncomfortable. I can get accustomed to that place of need. Because in the past, when I haven’t, it’s turned bad.  And to be really honest, sometimes the fear of having another episode brings me to my knees. It’s in those same moments, I am reminded to give my worries to God.  I step out in trust and say, You have gotten me this far, You will get me through anything. I trust YOU with my future. I trust YOU with my health. I trust YOU with my heart.  Jesus and I make a pretty fantastic team that way. Together, we got this…

Are you struggling?  Are you hurting? Are you in a dark season?  I’ll tell you, I’ve truly been there… and it truly is going to be okay.  Check in with yourself, and turn to those who love you most.  Make those gentle adjustments. Choose a little bit more light, a little bit more ease,  a little bit more laughter, and a lot more love. Choose that for you, and then trust that you are going to be okay.  Because in the end, it will all be okay. And if it’s not okay, that’s just because it’s not the end.

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I write this for you just as much as I write it for me.  Maybe more…

Love,

Kels

30 Things

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30 Things I’ve Learned in 30 years

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  1. Find your purposes.  All of them, big or small.  And then live those out.
  2. The whole ‘separate laundry by color’ thing is a myth.
  3. Listen to your mom.  She knew you first and loves you most.  Lean on her for friendship and advice.
  4. Even though you didn’t choose your family, remember that no matter what, they will always choose you.  Family is forever.
  5. Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness, and sometimes it’s better to ask permission, and you probably won’t know until after the fact.
  6. Figure out what you believe.
  7. Be unapologetically who you are.  It is the only thing that you can be.
  8. All we can do is what we can do.
  9. Dogs really are man’s best friend.
  10. Reading is the cheapest/easiest way to learn.  Do more of it.
  11. If you aren’t gifted at lying, tell the truth.  If you are gifted at lying, still tell the truth.
  12. Peeing in the ocean is cool.  Pooping is frowned upon.
  13. It is your job to heal from the brokenness life will give you.  
  14. Find your sense of self worth, your reason for living, and keep it in the depths of your soul, so that nothing on earth can take it from you.  
  15. Be more afraid of not trying than of failing
  16. Listen to older people that you trust and respect.  You can learn from their mistakes. You won’t have time to make them all on your own.  
  17. Ice cream really does help with heartbreak.
  18. Don’t live in  one place your whole life, get out into the world.
  19. Pizza is life.
  20. Find any reason you can to laugh.  I personally prefer dad jokes.
  21. As Mother Theresa said, there are 3 virtues: kindness, kindness and kindness.
  22. If you can’t find your purpose, just help people.  That is enough.
  23. Learn to manage your money.  Dave Ramsey is a genius at it.
  24. Do everything with sincerity.
  25. If you screw up, apologize.  Even if it wasn’t intentional.  
  26. Trust your Dad more than Google.  He has probably been around longer.
  27. Life should be easy.  Don’t look for the harder road, it will be hard enough.  
  28. Let your light shine, and bask in the shiny light of others.  
  29. The foundation of all good relationships is friendship.  
  30. Life is about love.  It is just love story after love story, if you choose to see it that way.  I do.

Love,

Kels

How Do You Spend Your Misery?

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No one on Earth is immune to misery.  Not one of us.  But, how you spend your misery is something you can control.  Let’s face it:  we all have times in our lives when we feel miserable.  Situations in life cause us to feel sad, depressed, and angry or an overall feeling of suffering.  This is inescapable.  But how we react, how we process, how we proceed… all of these things we can control; all of these things can take us from miserable to better.

This is my practical guide to misery, just for you.  Yes, I’ve experience misery myself, sometimes so badly that I was sure I’d entered the depths of hell.  It is only this that qualifies me to write this article, nothing more, and nothing less.  Even given my limited expertise, I think this is applicable to us all.

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1.     Process with a purpose

During college, a close friend went through a break up.  (I think a lot of us did, really.)  She was devastated.  She did everything she could think of to move on: go on other dates, have fun with friends, exercise, throw herself in to school and even study abroad.  Despite her efforts, her misery lingered.  We talked about it almost every day.  We replayed their recent encounters; we analyzed every word, every text, and every email and then did it again.  And again.  Some people would have gotten sick of going through that, and wouldn’t have let so much time go on but I knew there was a bigger reason.  She was processing so thoroughly because she never wanted to go through that again.  She wanted to see every mistake.  She needed to know that she missed the signs and didn’t listen to the people who warned her.  Every time we talked about it, she learned a little bit more about herself.  It took months, but she worked through it.  After it all, she was thankful for the experience and thankful that it didn’t work out.  The misery didn’t last, but the purpose she found, that she could get through anything and that she would find love, that did last.  She processed that misery and became the woman she needed to be to find the man who was her soul mate.  Now, they are happily married.  All the feels, I’d say.

Moral of the story?  It is okay to wallow.  Suffer through those tough times with purpose, though.  Don’t think that going over something every which way in your head is pointless, unless you aren’t learning.  Let the crap that happened, and the pain that it caused, be your teacher.  Mold that energy; process until the pain ceases and in its’ place, you have purpose.

2.    Keep Going

Have you ever gone to a haunted house?  They are the worst!  For my best friend’s birthday (when we were like 13) she insisted that we go to a haunted house.  Six of us girls in our awkward early teen stage got dropped off by her mom (cool, I know).  We got our tickets and proceeded to the entry room.  There they played a quick clip about the house we were in, how something terrible happened, and we would experience the horror that remained.  I was not excited.  The birthday girl led the way and in we went.  Scary things popped out, we went through rooms that were pitch black, fake smoke was billowing out of the walls and we were a pre-teen screaming and huddling mess.  But, we couldn’t turn around.  It was a one way street.  No matter how we screamed, how frightened we were, or even when one of us broke down crying (spoiler, it was me), we could not turn back.  The only way out was through.

Life is so much like that.  Misery, in particular, feels like a haunted house we can’t escape.  We can’t see the end and can’t predict how long it will last; all we can do is keep going.  And my tools for getting through that haunted house have come in handy in life:  Cling to those you love.  Hold tight to the people who support you, who are going to walk right alongside you through that terrible mess.  Do not forget that the true source of light is not outside you, but right in your heart.  Cry when you need to.  And above all, keep going.  In the midst of that scary dark place, you cannot see ahead to know that you are making progress, that you are heading for something easier.  Don’t let that stop your progress.  The only way out is through.  Keep going.  I promise it will get easier.

3.    Let it change you 

Read this one carefully:  let your misery change you.  But (and this is a big but), let it change you for the better.

Do you love coffee?  Cause, me too.  I read a story once about a daughter who was going through a hard time.  Her mother sat her down in the kitchen and boiled water to cook eggs, carrots and coffee.  They eggs started fragile on the inside and became hardened.  The carrots started hard and then softened.  But the coffee changed the water entirely.  All three things faced the same adversity, the boiling water, but only the coffee was completely changed.

This is how misery should change you.  You are going to go through that black mess, and you can come out on the other side with a hardened heart or a self deprecating weakness, or you can change.  We will all go through a black mess at some point.  But we don’t all let it change us for the better.  I hope that you choose to be like that delicious coffee.  Let that black mess change you into something amazing!

Misery is not optional.  No matter the gravity, we all experience it in some form.  But how we work through it can make the difference between having a miserable life or having a life well lived, even in the midst of misery.  How will you spend your misery?

Love, Kels

Tell Kids the Truth About Who They Are!

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I’m sitting on my bed, reading the news, looking down at my sweet niece Violet sleeping soundly next to me, and I wipe away the tears running down my cheeks.  I scroll over the details of the loss and tragedy, and of the pain and suffering that our world endures.  I pray that this violence stops, that no more families have to suffer this way, that no more children or people feel so far from love that they are capable of this, that my precious family is kept safe; but deep down know that God made me to do more.  I have a bold voice and I will use it.  I hope you read this, and then are motivated to talk to children and each other the way we were meant to.  And I ask that you stand up for mental health acceptance (awareness is not enough, folks), that you vote for lawmakers who make decisions based on the best interest of the people they represent and not the best interest of their wallets, and that you personally practice kindness, even when it feels impossible.  Kindness is a specific, tangible, love-inspired concept that can change our hearts and change the world.     

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Recently, I began ministering to others through a counseling program my church offers.  In this, and in my general interactions, I have found that we have an epidemic of low self esteem in America.  I am going to touch on a few things that I believe to be harmful to self image, and then also share what I believe can be solutions (because if there is a problem, there is always a solution.  Always.)

Here are the three things that I believe diminish our self esteem and personal sense of self worth:

  1. Social Media
  2. The way we talk to each other  
  3. The pursuit of the truth about our value.  (Heads up, I am Christian, so I believe that God gives us innate value.  But even if you have another faith, or are still figuring it out, I know that the general concepts of value apply to you as well!)  

Okay, social media… I’ll keep this short (cause I could write a whole post on this):  

  1.  Social media does not accurately represent our lives or the lives others.  
  2.  Social media begs for comparisons, and often not positive ones.
  3. Social media does not allow for genuine connection.  

Now number 2: The way we talk to each other. Somewhere along the line, we became too critical.  Instead of building each other up, we became this every man for himself, don’t pass out or accept compliments, competition driven society.  Many people don’t even know how to accept a compliment anymore (tip: it’s just a simple thank you).  They deny the compliment, saying oh no, not really.  Or even if they accept it, they don’t truly believe it.  Let me tell you something (that you’ve probably heard a million times but is worth repeating): Trying to dim someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours burn any brighter.  Ever.

Okay, number 3 is big: we must pursue the true value of our lives.  Somewhere along the line, we forgot how important we are.  A wise man once told me that we must value each other for who God says we are, instead of what we can do for society.  (Who is that guy?  Pastor Tim Scott.)  We live in a world where accomplishments mean so much.  When we hear a person’s introduction, it’s all about what they’ve done.  But less often, we hear about who they are.  Let me tell you something: you are valuable because of who you ARE, regardless of what you can or can’t do.  We need to tell remind each other of this, and treat each other accordingly.

Alright, now you’ve heard the problems… Let me share my ideas for solutions (I’m sure there are many, but I’ll share a few):

  1. Tell kids the truth about who they are.  Kids should truly believe that they are smart, kind, capable, loved and important.  Their identity should be formed around this belief.  They should trust this truth so fully that it cannot be shaken, regardless of a failure or what some critical person may say. Because, honestly, kids are all these things.  Regardless of their actions, or accomplishments, children must understand that they are special and loved and that the world needs them
  2. Turn off social media, and connect with people in a real way. (That’s it!)
  3.  We need to build each other up.  We need to overdo it with compliments, love and affirmations.  We need to be a fierce tribe of people that don’t allow any child, or adult, to be sucked in to a place so dark that they forget their true value.  We need to notice each other.  We need to ask the tough questions:  Are you really ok?  Can I help you?  Do you need to talk?  How can I give you support?  What are you feeling?  Ask them all!  And often!  And then meet them with love, while reserving judgement.  Because you know what?  When people are loved, and feel safe, that is the jumping off point for them to grow!  (My church Grace SD taught me that one, and tells me again every Sunday, because we can never overdo it with creating safety in love).

When these terrible acts in our community happen, I ask myself, who in that person’s life could have stepped in and said something?  Maybe you think that mental health access needs to change, or gun laws need to change, or lots of things need to change (and I’m sure that we can always be improving things)… but at the same time we have to ask ourselves:  How can I change?  How can I be better?  Am I noticing the people around me?  Am I being kind?  Am I shying away from tough questions and conversations just because it isn’t easy to dive into?  Am I loving others deeply?

To my very core, I believe that we can end the epidemic of low self esteem.  We can be the community that rids itself of these extreme evils.  We can be people who love ourselves and believe in each other.  But it has to start with you, and with me, and with action in love.  Above all, I believe that the cure-all for the world is kindness.  Be kind to others, and be kind to yourself.  I pray that we all do this a little more, and that we have a world that is a lot better for it.

Love,

Kels                     

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A Christmas Poem