Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Chronic illness, depression, mental health, motherhood

Bipolar and My Middle Name

Nicole means Victory for the People. I remember sitting on a green upholstered church pew when I was little and reading that on a bookmark that I owned. I’d twist the burgundy tassel top around my fingers and imagine myself helping people that needed help. I never realized that victory was meant for me, too.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Bipolar Disorder

To date I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder three times.

I have lived in denial for about two years and have avoided being medicated like the plague. I couldn’t reconcile that I was being diagnosed with the same illness that my father had, even though he had bipolar type 1 and I have been diagnosed with bipolar type 2. If you’re curious about the difference between the two types, I encourage you to read about it here.

Over time, the depressive episodes have gotten worse and lasted longer. The hypo-manic episodes have surfaced as severe anxiety and paranoia. Just this week, I hit rock bottom and realized that my misery outweighed my actual fear of going on medication. I saw the psychiatrist on Wednesday and began medication immediately.

I’ve lost too many precious days with my family to postpone treatment any longer.

I’m ready to redefine my normal and to discover facets of the “real” me again.

Victory Redefined

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

All those years ago when I was imagining myself being a helper, healer, and victor for those in need on a church pew in East Tennessee, I think I had it all wrong. I’m learning that victory isn’t always what we imagine.

Maybe I’m not running into a physical battle like I imagined as a kid. I’m not advocating for justice in a courtroom or championing for the rights of the oppressed.

I’m advocating for myself and because I’m doing that, I am fighting along some of the bravest people I’ll ever know. That’s you, by the way!

I believe victory isn’t about what you accomplish, but instead how you persist.

My middle name is Nicole.

I hope I can help you you acknowledge the victories you have every day.

Keep going. xx

Anxiety, Chronic illness, depression, mental health, motherhood, parenting, women's health

Mental Health and Motherhood

Dear Stranger,

Mama, I see you. I see beyond your pajama pants and messy bun in the school drop off line. Two panes of glass separate us–yours tinted darker than mine. There, in the shadow that the morning sun is casting on your face, I see the dark circles under your eyes and the taut thin line that your lips create just above your chin.

I look in the rear view mirror at my daughter.

She’s talking about how she doesn’t need her coat because the sun is out. It’s 34-degrees outside. I catch a glimpse of myself in that rear view mirror then I look back over at you. I see myself in you. We’re tired, aren’t we? Being a Mama is hard.

Nobody told me how hard it would be to navigate motherhood. No one took me by the hand and showed me that I can live with Major Depressive Disorder and still be a good mom.

Maybe you’re reading this as you’re rocking your newborn to sleep. Maybe this is reaching you as you’re sitting on your bathroom floor crying while your toddler throws a tantrum just outside the door.

I am writing this to you wherever you are, Mama.

I am writing this to me.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

I know what it’s like to be full of enthusiasm and greet the day and your child with wide eyes and sweet kisses. The day ahead like a blank canvas–yours to fill with color and memories. Breathing in the scent of your kid as they lean in for a tired afternoon hug feels like magic.

Then there are the other days. Those days.

I know what it’s like to be full of dread and greet the day and your child with a hurried pace and tired eyes. The day ahead like a burden–yours to crawl through. Catching your breath at the end of the day as you lay your head on your pillow feels like magic. The regretful rush, lack of patience, and short temper sit heavily on your chest. Hot tears form in your eyes, but you never feel them fall because you’ve already fallen asleep.

Most Mamas can fully relate to both scenarios.

There’s the other days. The days when everything in the external world is just as it should be, but the storm rages inward. There’s a cloud so dark and heavy hanging above you and you can feel yourself fading–becoming it.

Then, there are the times adjusting to a new psychiatric medication. There’s the initial hope followed by the deep fatigue and other symptoms that creep in and take over for the weeks following. Finally, the medications sync with your system and you feel some sort of relief from depression’s weight and anxiety’s grip. You’re left wondering if the weeks of investment are going to pay off–the torture of adjusting to new chemicals swimming in your body.

The stigma associated with medication seems to find you on a cellular level and although you’re happy to feel more like yourself, you’re also struggling with feeling like a failure for having to need help.

All of this is so difficult. Yet, only the faithful few–sometimes the faithful one–check to see how you’re doing.

Motherhood is an all encompassing, invigorating, and absolute “play it by ear” song and dance. For those living with a mental illness it feels impossible to care for yourself–not to mention the tiny human that God has entrusted you with.

So, we prioritize those we love and let whatever treatments that may or can be wait on the horizon for another day.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Mama, this Little Hope Note isn’t a list of things you can or should do to make your mental illness more manageable. Thankfully and also ironically unfortunate, there are enough of those blogs awaiting you in your next Google search.

What can I give?

I just want to acknowledge you. I want you to know that you’re lovely and you are loved–as you are.

You aren’t broken.

There isn’t a day that I don’t think of you. In fact, acknowledging that you exist means that I’m not merely existing, but am part of a community–a tribe of Mamas suffering, but loving deeply despite it all.

You?

You’re a beautiful Mama.

The best that your child could ask for.

Be her.

Anxiety, art, Chronic illness, faith, mental health, parenting, rest, slow living, women's health, writing

Dear Stranger, it’s time to rest

This guest post is by my dear friend Kiersten. She’s a nurturer, a soul filler-upper (that’s a word, right?), and hysterical breath of fresh air. She loves deeply and creates art with all of her soul over at all.from.home. Kiersten offers virtual yoga retreats a few times a year where she invites you into a safe slow yoga flow, a meditation on scripture, and a corresponding craft. Follow her on Instagram to stay in the loop and join us in her next retreat. She has been a huge influence in my own journey in true self-care and honoring my body by seeking regular rest.

Photo by Ellieelien on Unsplash

I’m currently sitting in bed eating Ben and Jerry’s as I write this. I think that’s pretty appropriate with this topic.

The relationship between rest and me has always been a murky one. What is laziness, and what is this so called “self-care?” Where is the line? What is “rest,” and am I even allowed to have it?

As far back as I can remember, I’ve worked for rest. I’ve worked myself to the bone so that I could be deserving of a nap. I’ve pushed myself to the point of being sick, so then I could rest guilt-free, because “doctor’s orders!” I’ve spiraled in anxiety and depression over and over, because I didn’t give my body a voice. And why?

Photo by Ellieelien on Unsplash

I grew up as a minister’s kid in a Christian home, and would still say of myself that my faith in Jesus is the biggest part of who I am. While I am so grateful for my upbringing, I think that this has often been my downfall. Growing up in the church, and constantly being involved in ministry has more often than not left me feeling that I am not enough. I don’t bring enough, I could never help enough people, I don’t donate enough money, I don’t give enough hours, I don’t fast enough, I don’t pray enough, I don’t care about the “headed straight to hell” souls enough, etc. etc.

I do want to note that this is MY experience. My experience has been in the area of religion. Maybe yours is in a career path, a relationship, or a family situation. I don’t know. But what I do know is that this seems to be a huge part of the human condition, no matter what or who you believe in. This overall dreadful feeling of “never enough.”

What if the reason we feel this way isn’t because we aren’t enough? Because we are completely drained? Will you do something for me?

Close your eyes, and picture a house plant.

Photo by Ellieelien on Unsplash

Imagine the leaves are brown, dry, and droopy.

Visualize the soil pulling away from the side of the planter due to how dry it is.

Now, see yourself getting a glass, and filling it 1/8th of the way with water.

See yourself walking over to the plant, and trying to water the plant with that amount of water.

Can you see the water barely wetting the soil at all?

Imagine that you are that water glass. Trying to nurture and create life, hoping to make some sort of difference, but totally and completely empty from the start. It was never going to be enough, because you started with a near empty glass.

I believe that God created the world in seven days, and on the seventh day, He rested. Now, he made man on the sixth day, right? Why not on the first day, so that man could help God do all the work? No, the very first day of man being a living creature, he woke up, and God said, “Today, we rest.” He started him off with rest. God knew that to give anything, there has to be something received first.

What if instead of living for rest, we lived from rest?

What would our lives, or marriages, our homes, our communities, and our world look like? The truth is that we’d all be pouring from glasses that are always full, not trying to squeeze out every last drop, and failing miserably.

I know I’ve asked a lot of questions here today, but I think that true rest to me is taking the time to notice. Rest can look like so many things, from naps, to creative time, to movie nights, to journaling.

But “true rest” to me is being present wherever I am, and living from the peace I have on the inside. It is asking myself questions all throughout the day.

Things like:

Mind, how are you today? Is there anything you need to lay down?

Body, how are you feeling? What do you need? If it’s a nap instead of a walk, that’s okay.

Soul, how are you? If you’re overwhelmed, it’s okay. Or if you’re hopeful, you have permission to be excited!

And then not judging myself for anything I feel, but answering myself in kindness, and taking the time to fill up my own cup. Because if I don’t, I am doing the world around me an injustice, because I will have nothing to pour out.

So, take some time today to find true, honest, real rest! Maybe it’s an hour, or maybe it’s 5 minutes. I just want to invite you to take some time to close your eyes, and listen. And hopefully be inspired to take a rest.

So much love, friends!

Kiersten

Anxiety, Chronic illness, parenting, women's health

Money and Mental Health

It was time for me to face my fears. Money wasn’t just a tangible exchange of currency for goods. For me, it was a deeply rooted fear of going without, being out of control, and letting go.

Photo by Katie Harp – Pinterest Manager on Unsplash

To me, the world has always been a picture of souls interconnected by an invisible string. I’ve seen how just the “right” person enters my life at just the “right” time. It never ceases to amaze me and I find that it’s rarely easy to ignore.

The Way it Went Down

Matt and I have been struggling with our finances since we got married.

Money tips and wisdom weren’t shared with either of us growing up. In fact, money was a major trigger for stress in both of our homes. We were both raised by single parents for a long duration of childhoods. There was very little money and very little resources because of it. Ironically, both of our single parents married their spouses when Matt and I were around the same age. New income from new “breadwinners” in the home meant new opportunities that weren’t afforded to our parents when they were single.

All of a sudden both of our families were able to afford name brand cereal (heck, cereal at all!).

We got new school clothes instead of second hand clothing.

Matt looks back on his household and I look back on mine and it’s shockingly similar. Our parents essentially went from having nothing to having excess. This created a culture of entitlement, living beyond the families’ means, and debt. Then, as the credit card statements arrived in the mail, the arguments surrounding money began.

We both remember our parents and step parents fighting over money. Shouting matches over the stress of it all. Still, behaviors went unchanged and we both grew up in homes where money wasn’t dared brought up in discussion.

Avoidance became the key to keeping arguments under wraps.

Til’ Debt Do Us Part

Our lack of money smarts wasn’t all on our parent’s shoulders, of course. Matt and I never really talked about the financial specifics of our relationship, goals, or even pasts. Our conversations went as deep as:

“Yeah, my parents fought a lot about money.”

“Yeah, mine, too.”

Or, we would set lofty goals without any plan in place.

“The goal is to not go into debt.”

“Yeah, that would be horrible if we ended up in a financial situation like our families.”

The wedding came and went. We immediately spent the cash from the wedding envelopes immediately. On what, I don’t remember.

We opened credit cards for emergency situations because we didn’t have a savings.

Then, my health quickly and suddenly declined. Medical bills were thrown on credit cards and small personal loans with high interest rates became our cushion for survival. For years, and I mean years, we went into debt and total denial that our situation was as bad as it was.

Blank Slates and Fresh Chances

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Years passed and debt increased.

Unforeseen circumstances kept mounting and throwing us into what felt like a whiplash state of saving then spending. We would make progress and then fall right back into spending and avoidance. We’d become stressed and then splurge on a vacation to get “away from it all”. (That doesn’t work, by the way).

Our daughter was born and we imagined a new chapter beginning. We dreamed new dreams. We made new lofty plans without any accountability or measurable goals in place.

Her 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th birthdays passed and we were sinking further into debt. In this span of 5 years I began and quit multiple jobs because of my health. I could not hold down a full time job which left our finances even more unpredictable. Finally, we enrolled in the debt management program with CESI and consolidated our debt. (they’re a non profit and I highly recommend them!)

With new tools in our tool belt and a breath of fresh air, I started back to full time employment.

Unfortunately, after nearly two years of employment, I had to resign due to health issues once again. I immediately talked to my therapist during this grieving process. It was so taxing on me and disappointing that I had to give up a position I loved so much. She suggested that I consider freelance work as a virtual assistant and writing. My love for administrative support (major geek over here!), writing, and desire to stay on track with CESI gave me the push I needed to jump into the unknown.

Enter Amazing Breakthrough

Photo by Sarah Gualtieri on Unsplash

My freelance profile posted and I got a message shortly after from the lovely Whitney Hansen of Whitney Hansen Co. It turned out she needed a virtual assistant ASAP and well, I needed a job! The thought of working for a finance guru intimidated me like crazy!

Day One: I pushed my fear aside and got to work on my newly assigned tasks.

I read all about her work, listened to her podcast, and began reading her blog. She had me hooked. Whitney talked about things I had never heard about: side hustles, how to start a savings, and manageable goals for paying off debt. I soaked in everything like a sponge. She wasn’t talking at me, she was sharing her heart and also her mind. In one of her podcasts she interviews Cait Flanders, author of The Year of Less . My intrigue was sparked. I bought the book used on Amazon and got to reading.

My Rude, but Gentle Awakening

Photo by Nika Akin on Unsplash

The first few pages of Cait’s book made me cry.

Whitney’s podcast made me cry.

Sessions with my therapist made me cry.

Something ran deep within me and I couldn’t figure it out. What was it?

I began to grieve.

I dug deep into the soil of my soul and there, just at the rock bed, was fear. On the surface everyone else saw my health concerns, my best intentions, and my polished facade. Deeper, there in the dark, was the fear I had buried as a child. Fear of losing what I held dear, fear of lacking control, fear of letting others in. Spending had become my salve. I shopped for comfort. I shopped to forget. I shopped to control.

“Tiny” well-meaning purchases over time had buried me.

It was time for a rebirth.

I could not be held responsible for what I did not know growing up, but I was responsible for choosing not to grow up.

The following weeks, I decided to stay at that root and to look it dead in the eyes. I observed the deepest and darkest places of my behavior. Places that I felt ashamed of–the impulsive spending, relentless excuses, and denial. I did not stay there, though.

We cannot dwell in a place of regret. Nothing blooms there.

I asked Whitney for help by joining her in her 1:1 coaching. She graciously accepted us and all of our nasty debt into her arms and began gently coaching us on how to take ownership over our finances.

I began working intentionally with my therapist about my desire for comfort, suppression, and hiding from fear.

This has been difficult. The first month of setting a budget did not go as planned. We basically fell on our faces. Whitney helped dust us off and encouraged us to keep going. I replaced spending with eating for a short time. My therapist listened with true empathy as I cried through the realization that I had exchanged one bad habit for another. (Cait highlights this common tendency in her book).

Matt and I are setting goals and working hard to be a team. It’s fun to be on the same page and dream together!

I’m learning to not be fearful of finances, but instead feel empowered by my choices.

Let’s End With This

You’re not defined by the mistakes you’ve made.

Evaluate the “mood behind the motion”. Are you eating, spending, sleeping, avoiding, or drinking when you’re stressed, scared, overwhelmed, sad, or angry?

You’re not alone.

Advocate for yourself. Ask for help. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

I promise, there’s something beautiful waiting to bloom.

You are lovely + You are loved,

Nikki xx

Anxiety, caregiver, Chronic illness, mental health, parenting, rest, slow living, women's health

Dear Caregiver…

Black and white photo of the back of a woman. She is dressed in a sweater and has her hair in a low messy bun that touches the back of her neck.
Photo by Ellieelien on Unsplash

I know it’s hard to imagine taking time for yourself. In fact, I imagine it’s like asking the moon to pull itself away from the tide. Where would the moon shine if it wasn’t on the crashing waves? How would the tide know where to go if it wasn’t for the moon’s gravitational guidance?

The Overlooked

There are these unsung heroes wiping their children’s mouths, reading old magazines in psychiatric ward waiting rooms, and sleeping upright in outdated Emergency Room chairs. They resemble the average person in the daily grind of the mundane 9-5, but they’re anything but ordinary.

The caregivers.

They drink their cups of coffee cold, eat their meals two hours late, and wear the same shirt three days in a row without realizing it. They are not forgetful when it comes to their service to their loved one they hold so closely. Medication is administered at the ding of a preset alarm. Necessities are on auto ship with Amazon and meals are planned and prepped in advance. Still, they neglect to take their own multi vitamin days in a row, forget to buy deodorant for themselves during their Target run, and leave their packed lunch on the counter top at home.

Suffering with a chronic and/or mental illness is difficult. Caring for someone that suffers is just as taxing.

Why You Matter

Dear Caregiver,

It’s been a long road. I know that and I don’t even know you personally. You see, there’s only so much that you can take without reaching out for help. You yourself tell people that again and again. You’re the advocate, the believer, the helper, and the friend. Everyone around you comes to you and deems you a saint of sorts. After all, the main question you’re asked is, “How do you do it?”

What do people even mean when they ask that?

Do they mean “How do you handle the stress?”, “How do you manage to keep your sanity when you’ve been up all night with your suicidal loved one?”, “How do you balance work, home, and taking your teenager to his third therapy session this week?”, or do they mean “How have you not given up on yourself yet?”

It’s such a loaded question: “How do you do it?”

What is “it”?

What they don’t see are your own panic attacks in the shower and the obsessive thoughts that race through your head each night. They don’t understand that you’re balancing medical bills in your head as you’re blowing out the birthday candles on your cake. After all, the days turn into months which turn into years. It all seems the same when you’re in survival mode.

Nobody says thank you which isn’t what you’re wishing for, but is also exactly what you need. It all just builds up and you cry in your walk in closet again for the second morning in a row. Your excuse your tears as selfishness and push your worry deep down behind your ribs again.

Sweet stranger, I see you. There have been times when I have been the care giver and times when I have needed someone to care for me. The hardest role of the two was caring so deeply for the loved one that was suffering that my very heart felt like a heavy stone. I know you’re rarely understood, checked on, or appreciated. Sometimes illness doesn’t allow those we are caring for to shower us in gratitude.

I want you to know here and now that you are seen, you are loved, and that you matter–outside of what you do there is you. You are not forgotten and you are not alone. Right here and now let me say, “You matter.”

This is a universal thank you to each and every person that has lost sight of who they are in the act of focusing on others.

You matter.

You matter.

You matter.

Nikki xx

Side profile of a woman dressed in a sweater and low messy bun. Her face is not shown.
Photo by Ellieelien on Unsplash