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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

A Christmas Poem

A Woman Warrior

For my sister, Alexis

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As the sun rises, she prepares her heart

The height of the mountain is seen

But she doesn’t cower or quiver

She knows she can scale the whole thing

The cheers from the crowd give her strength

The sun on her face brings her light

The journey will be hard, no doubt

But she is prepared to fight

The thing about adventures is

Sometimes they are easy, sometimes they are lonely

They change and change and change

And she keeps going and going

As the sounds behind her fade

She hears whispers of doubt in the wind

Is she truly a warrior?

Is this a battle she can win?

She slips and falls, and sheds a tear

She looks up, the summit seems so distant

But she doesn’t try to stop

A woman with a heart of gold doesn’t quit

If you’ve ever known a woman warrior

You know the danger when she falls

Because she is preparing to come back

She is about to give it her all

She stands again.  She will always stand again

And continues the journey

Because she is a woman

A woman warrior

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.