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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

Grace Can Change The World

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San Diego Street Art

My name wasn’t supposed to be Kelsey; it was supposed to be Grace.  Actually, I was supposed to be named Sandra, but my aunt Sandra wouldn’t have that, and picked the name Kelsey instead.  So my mom named me Kelsey, but often she tells me, “I love the name Grace.  I should have named you that!”  *Side note: I love my name.  And if you would like to name your child Kelsey, I would be forever grateful!

I digress… Recently I had the pleasure of leading a bible study on 1 Corinthians.  We talked about grace.  What does it mean?  How do we practice it?  Grace, in my opinion, is a tricky concept and thus can be hard to practice.  But I am going to make a bold claim:  I believe that grace can change the world.

Author Kenneth Copeland wrote, “Grace is God’s overwhelming desire to treat you as if you had never sinned.”  Through my study of grace, I have come to summarize it as intense love and radical acceptance.  Let me repeat that: grace is intense love and radical acceptance.  But how do we put this concept into practice? How to we receive grace?  How do we give it?

First, we forgive.  When someone has hurt us, it is natural to not want to forgive them.  We may even hope that they suffer too, so they can experience our pain.  Grace jumps in here and says, “I forgive you.  I forgive you so deeply that I hope you don’t experience my pain.”  That is intense love.  Loving someone so intensely and intently that you give them grace.  You forgive them without reservation.  You love them so much that you hope for only the best for them.

But radical acceptance?  I know what you’re thinking: Kelsey, how do I radically accept everyone?  Here is the answer: one by one.  We can be so quick to judge.  And let’s be honest, judging people can be so easy and even amusing.  But we all know what it is like to be on the other side of that judgement.  It hurts.  So I say, stop all the judgement.  Accept others for exactly who they are and where they are in their life, regardless of if you like it or agree with it.  And let others love and accept you, for exactly who you are and where you are in your life.  And try to love and accept yourself that way, too.

Imagine this: you’re bearing your heart to someone new.  You pause, waiting for judgement or condemnation.  Instead, they tell you they love you so much.  They tell you they accept you for exactly who you are, flaws and all.  That thought warms your heart, doesn’t it?  That is grace.  Give it, receive it, and then go give it more!  We can change the world, one act of grace at a time.

So, I think I’ll stick with the name Kelsey.  But you can now call me Trying-to-be-more-grace-filled Kelsey!  But don’t name your kid that…

 

That is not my problem…

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That’s really not my problem…

Okay, I know this sounds harsh.  It’s not supposed to be harsh.  It is supposed to be honest.  Do you ever feel like you have too much on your plate?  Do you feel like you worry way too much?  Are you overwhelmed by problems in your life?  I’m here to tell you something bold: it’s not all your problem.  And you can only do what you can do.  This might be hard, and it has been for me, but it is time to separate your problems from the world’s problems, and let the responsibility drop from your plate.  The results will be life changing!

I have a friend who is highly sensitive.  He is the type of person who feels deeply what other people feel.  I can relate to him, because I am the same way.  Recently he confided in me some of his worries.  He has a trying relationship with his step dad.  This has always given him worry and stress.  But now, his younger half-sister is having some of the same troubles.  Tears filled his eyes as he shared with me how worried he felt about his sister.  He was so worried, though, that he wasn’t sleeping.  I completely understood.  It is heart breaking to watch our loved ones struggle, especially with something we have also struggled.

I think it is natural to want to carry some of their pain, to bear some of the burden so they don’t struggle so hard.  But this is an unhealthy approach for two reasons.  First, it is not your job.  You will have your own struggles and problems in life, and you will have to carry those.  But you shouldn’t try to carry someone else’s.  Second, by trying to carry someone else’s burden, you are robbing them of the experience.  Life is going to throw us all kinds of trouble and it is part of our journey to experience it.  There is no other way except to go through it, and be made stronger in the process.

The trick in this whole thing is to find the line between being supportive and loving, and bearing the burden.  Supportive acts can include listening, offering advice when asked, spending time with the person, or even joining them for difficult appointments or meetings.  If you take it too far, however, you might be trying to make a decision for that person or handle it all yourself.  If you notice that your life is being bogged down with negativity due to other people’s problems, you may have crossed the line into co-dependence.  In my experience, this can be one of the hardest balances to strike.  But keep practicing!  You should be a supportive friend and family member.  You should care about those around you.  But you have your own issues to deal with and your own lessons to learn.  You cannot learn a lesson for someone else without stealing their victory.  Let others bear their burdens and learn that they have the strength to persevere.

Someone wise once told me, “Kelsey, ask yourself: what is my responsibility in this?  And then ask: what is God’s responsibility in this?”  I have used these questions to help draw the line between supportive friend and controlling friend.  And you know what I have found?  I am happier!  And those around me are happier, too!  You see, when you give someone the opportunity to learn their own lessons, you not only empower them, but you also demonstrate your faith in them.  Give others the chance to struggle and find out what they are made of.  And even more importantly, give God the time to work in their lives.  Maybe this person needs God, even if they are asking for you to help.  Don’t steal their opportunity to grow in faith.

Be a good friend.  Be someone in the world who cares deeply.  And in this light, remember that caring deeply does not mean taking away someone’s problems.  It means standing by them through the storm.  It means loving them despite the trials.  It means believing that they are capable of persevering through whatever life throws at them.  Loving others and allowing them to navigate their own struggles is liberating.  You can only do what you can do, so do what only you can.  Give it a try.  Let me know what you find…