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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

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…

Happy vs Content

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Happy vs Content

What do you want most out of life?  Seriously, answer the question.

Two weeks ago I walked in to a gym looking for a kick boxing class.  I was in the wrong gym (I found out later), but the owner, Dave, was there and the first thing he asked me was, “What do you want most out of life?”  I thought it was a rhetorical question but he just stared at me quietly, so I started thinking.  He then said, “Yeah, I know, it is happiness.  That is what we all want, isn’t it?”  I told him no, that wasn’t what I wanted out of my life.  “I want a full experience.  I want to be able to look back on my life and say that I lived fully.”

Dave smiled.  I think it was refreshing for him to hear.  I feel like we hear so many people talk about how they want to be happy.  It is an admirable goal. The Dalai Lama said, “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”  Happiness is one of the best feelings life has to offer.  And after all, who doesn’t want to feel good?  But, in my humble opinion, there is more to strive for in life than just happiness; strive for fullness.

My mother is one of the people who know me best and she phrased it accurately when she said, “Kelsey, you have always wanted a rich, full experience.  You don’t just go through life, you purposefully experience it all.”  I will not tell you that my life has been easy, because it hasn’t.  And my life hasn’t been impossible, because I’m still here.  I have had both easy and hard times, smiles and tears, ups and downs.  I think we all have.  I notice though, how many people shy away from the hard.  I can’t blame them; being down feels like sh**.  But do you let the possibility of being down keep you from living fully?  Life is a risk; take it!

When I was 20 I moved to Spain for three months to study abroad.  It was one of the most exhilarating and terrifying experiences of my life.  I flew there without knowing where I was going to live, without knowing where my school was or having enrolled prior to going and without knowing a single other person in the city where I was staying, Granada.  Yes, this is the point when you can call me crazy.  But after three months, I can tell you (still to this day) that it was one of the best experiences of my life.  It was hard, no doubt.  I had to make new friends (they ended up being awesome, by the way.  You know who you are!); I traveled alone at times and even felt lonely on occasion.  Looking back though, I think it was the tough stuff that made it as rich of an experience as the good stuff.

We can’t go through life thinking that it will be easy.  It won’t.  But if you live fully, it will be worth it.  To have a great life, you have to struggle at times.  God does give someone an easy road to walk down and then call them to great things.  No, He says: struggle, keep trying, fail, get back up, and then you will be ready to do great things.  And so when I think of happiness, I do strive for it.  But when it’s all said and done, I would rather have contentedness.  I would rather look back over my life and know that when it was hard, I made it; and when it was fun, I enjoyed it; when it was sad, I cried and when it was funny, I laughed.  The full spectrum of a life lived well is not only marked by the good, but also by the hard.  I hope my life includes a lot of happiness, but more than that, I hope I always feel content that I have lived my life fully.

So, what do YOU want most out of life?  Really, I want to know.

Raise the bar. High.

IMG_2963Are you sick of dating? Me too!  I’ve decided to give up, but trust me, I’ll never give in.  Let me tell you what I mean.

A few weeks ago, I had a great phone call catching up with one of my best friends from college, Katie.  Of coarse, during the conversation, we gave each other updates on our love lives.  Both of us are single and actively dating, and yet, we both agreed that it was really hard to date.  I told Katie that I had given up expecting a man in my life.  She told me she had come to the same conclusion.  We both want to get married one day, if we met the right person, but neither of us was sure that was ever going to happen.

Now, to give you some history on the subject, I should tell you about my first memory.  I was two and a half and my parents were getting married.  My mom was trying on her wedding dress in my parents room, and I thought it would be awesome to get under the dress and make it my own white satin fort.  To this day, I remember her vividly: how she looked, how she smiled, and how exciting it was for her to be getting married.  I have always dreamed of being married: the wedding, the love, the family; it all sounds so great to me.  But it hasn’t happened.  And I have asked myself so many times: if it hasn’t happened, will it ever happen?

My friends would tell you I’m a big believer in true love.  I also have a tremendous capacity for love.  For most of my adult life, I have been waiting for that perfect individual to come in to my life and make me the happiest girl on the planet.  Well, I’ve quit waiting.

I recently read a book called We Were Feminists Once.  In it, author Andi Zeisler makes reference to Hollywood movies.  She makes the excellent point that so many (and I mean SO many) of the movies that hit the theaters are stories of women who are lacking until they meet a man.  Maybe they are miserable, or haven’t come into their true personalities, or are just overall lacking in life; and then all of the sudden Prince Charming rushes into the scene and saves the day.  The woman is now the happiest girl on the planet and voila! they live happily ever after.

This common theme got me thinking: have I been waiting for a man to start my story?  It seems so ingrained in our culture and ingrained in our minds that our stories must indeed revolve around our relationships.  Sure, we can talk about our careers and adventures, but I notice that it always seems to circle back to, you guessed it: Prince Charming.  Once I realized this, I made a bold decision: I am giving up on finding Mr. Perfect.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Kelsey, you cannot give up on your dreams.  Kelsey, he is out there and you just have to be patient.  Let me tell you something: I’ll never give up on my dreams.  I will always be open to meeting a man who is going to help make my life awesome.  But in all honesty, it is up to God.  And only He knows how and when and if that person will be a part of my life.  But thinking of it that way is actually the best feeling I have had about dating in a long time.  I trust whole heartedly that He has an amazing future planned for me.  I don’t have to worry about making it all happen; God will take care of that.

I have taken a real look at my life now.  What do I want to accomplish?  What are my ambitions and dreams?  How do I want to spend my time?  You guessed it again: doing awesome stuff!  I need not hold back.  I am hiking and traveling, learning guitar and making new friends.  My life is awesome.  And if someone is going to come in to my life and be a big part of it, they have to be the kind of person who is going to make it even more awesome!

I sincerely refuse to give in.  I refuse to believe that I have to lower my standards or settle for less than what my needs really are in order to be in a relationship.  I refuse to conform to what other people think is best to ‘complete me’.  I refuse to be okay with mediocre dates, guys who are only nice some of the time, or anything short of amazing.  I refuse to accept that my life story has to start when I meet a guy.  Nope!  My story started long ago, and Mr. Perfect or not, my story will go on.

So, I say raise the bar.  Raise the bar high!  Live your life to the fullest and wait for no one to complete you.  Be complete by just being the wonderful and unique person that you are.  I’ve adopted this attitude and it has helped me to be excited with my life and satisfied with who I am.  Because I’m awesome.  And my life is awesome.  And I’ll accept nothing short of awesome.

You can’t escape LOVE

IMG_3085You can’t escape LOVE

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about love.  I’m not talking the boyfriend/ girlfriend, can’t get enough of you, kiss you in the rain love.  I’m talking about unconditional love.  The love you feel when you hug a friend you haven’t seen in a long time.  The love you feel when you see a mom kiss her child’s scraped up knee.  The love you feel when you tell someone something hard, and their first response is to hug you and say its all okay.  The love I have been pondering is the deep, the true, the soul to soul love of the world, and of people.

In the wake of the Orlando attack, I have had so many questions.  But the one I keep coming back to is: how can someone lack so much love in their life and in their heart that they would be capable of that?  Simultaneous to this event is my own search for meaning.  I have been trying to find a passion in my life.  Someone recently told me, “Don’t worry about finding your passion.  Make your passion helping people, and in that you will find your true purpose”.  This opened up the idea in my mind that my true passion is to love people.

The path continues to thinking about infinite love, the love of God.  We live in a world of judgement.  And this judgment goes against the true love that God means for us to have.  As a Christian, I am often bombarded with ideas of what other Christians think it means to love and accept someone.  “The bible says you shouldn’t be gay” they say.  Or “the bible says you won’t be saved if you aren’t a believer”.  And while I am in no place in my faith to refute the bible, I am ready to say that if you look closely, I think the most important message is one of love.

One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:37 (thank you to my uncle for introducing me to it), and it says: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who love us.  For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our lord.”  Powerful!  Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from His love?  Let that one set in.

It is easy to get caught up in not loving others.  I am guilty of it all the time.  Gossiping about someone, or wishing something bad on someone I don’t like, or judging someone.  We are bombarded with information on what separates us: our color, our beliefs, our location, our values, our language, our status, our gender and so much more.  And when we feel separation, it becomes easy to judge.  But I don’t want to live that way.  I want to put all that down and say, no, this is my fellow human and at the end of the day, I love them.

We see hate in the world, and harshness.  But to be honest, I see so much more love.  If God does not let anything in all creation stop him from loving each and every one of us, why should we let anything stop us from loving each other?  I don’t care who you are.  I don’t care what you believe.  I don’t care the worst thing you’ve done.  Just get to God.  Get to the love of God.  Get to the love of each other.  Just feel the love that the world has for you, and for everyone.  And then go spread that love.

 

Spoons

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When I was a kid, my family would go camping every Memorial Day weekend.  When it was cold and rainy, and we had nothing else to do, we would play a card game called Spoons.  The basic idea is that the players pass around the deck of cards continuously until someone has four of a kind.  They grab a spoon, and the rest of the players grab at spoons.  The last player without a spoon is out.  Those camping trips are some of my fondest memories growing up.

Recently I was admitted to the hospital in a mental health ward.  My thoughts were spiraling deeper and deeper in to depression that I gave up on myself and my life.  I felt like I was in the darkest place of my life and had no way out.  But my family never gave up on me.  I had visitors daily and love pouring in.  Slowly but surely, I began improving, finding my way out of the darkness.  I prayed constantly: prayed for help, prayed to feel hope, prayed to feel love.

On one of my last days in the ward, a few of the patients and I decided to play Spoons.  Now you can imagine how hilarious it would be to play this game in a mental ward:  people of varying ages, with a wide range of mental states going on.  It wasn’t easy to explain, it wasn’t easy to get participation, but when the spoons went flying I started to smile.  Cards were dropping, players were grabbing at the spoons at the wrong times and it was a mess.  But it was the light at the end of the tunnel for me.

I was reminded that life is messy, dark times are gong to happen, nothing and no one is perfect.  If everything were perfect, imagine how boring life would be!  Do you struggle?  Are you in a dark time?  Does it feel like you’ll never find your way out?  Keep looking for the light.  It will come.