Bipolar Disorder: Myths vs. Facts Pt. 2

I have bipolar disorder.

I was diagnosed in the spring of 2016 after a severe manic episode. And boy, has it been a long and enduring and wild journey since then.

Last week, I introduced a new series on myths vs. facts of bipolar disorder out of the hope to normalize discussing mental health and illness, sufferings that come along with bipolar, and the reality of someone who lives with it every day.

Today’s post focuses on communicating about mental health and wellness, and how we can create healthy, helpful conversations surrounding bipolar disorder (and other illnesses).

Myth: Talking about mental health is not necessary and just makes people feel uncomfortable.

Fact: Talking about mental health is extremely necessary. While it may make some uncomfortable, for others it can be beneficial, helpful, and life-giving.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, I felt this utter paradox of wanting to voice my struggles while simultaneously feeling shame and fear around it. I wanted to scream for help, but also crawl into a hole and hide forever.

At first, it seemed like no one was talking about it–not only my manic episode, but also mental health in general. It seemed like no one cared or felt confident enough to discuss my sufferings. Talking about mental health seemed like such a stigma, a conversation to avoid at all costs.

Thankfully, it does seem like society has improved some since then. Thanks to celebrities, mental health professionals, and Instagram (haha!), it seems like more people are discussing their hurt and healing. More people are being vulnerable, authentic, and transparent about their mental health struggles, and it’s an inspiring, incredible thing.

In America, one out of five adults struggle with a mental health disorder. It may be anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality, or another disorder. The odds of you interacting with someone who has mental health struggles on a daily basis is high.

It’s important to talk about mental health because you never know what someone is going through, you never know who needs to feel hope. It’s important to talk about mental health for those who suffer so they can voice their hurt and journey. It’s equally important for someone who does not suffer to talk about so they can listen, sympathize, and perhaps gain more understanding of that individual’s sufferings.

If you feel uncomfortable talking about mental health, it may be because it’s a foreign subject to you. I encourage you to read and research ways to talk about it, ways people suffer, and ways you can help.

Myth: People who have mental health struggles are too sensitive and I don’t need to be careful with my words when speaking to them about their illness.

Fact: People who have mental health struggles can feel deeply about their hurt, and it’s important to be careful when creating a conversation surround their illness.

The other night I was driving from Austin to Dallas with my sweet friends. My dear friend Ashlynn, who is on her way to becoming an amazing counselor, asked me delicately, “Is it OK if I ask you about bipolar?”

I happily obliged, and we had a very healthy discussion surrounding my mental health journey, my ups and downs, my moods, ways I hold myself accountable to healing, and more. I thanked her for listening and I thanked her for talking about it with me.

Asking for permission to discussing someone’s mental health is extremely important and considerate of others. Not everyone wants to or is ready to discuss, so asking to hold that conversation is incredibly kind and thoughtful.

When someone who suffers wants to or is ready to discuss, sometimes they will tell you, but sometimes you have to ask. Sometimes it’s a matter of creating that mutual trust and understanding, and that individual will voluntarily participate in the conversation.

We shouldn’t push people into talking about mental health. We shouldn’t be harsh or impatient, but should be grace-giving and understanding. It’s a difficult topic because it may be triggering or hurtful, but ultimately those who suffer may come around and need a listening ear.

In summation, our words matter. Our conversations matter.

Everyone recognizes when someone speaks kindly, thoughtfully to them. Likewise, those who suffer with mental illness recognize when someone speaks kindly, thoughtfully to them.

When we are careful and considerate with our words, when we create healthy conversations around mental health, it is seen, heard, respected, and cherished.

If you love someone with a mental disorder, I encourage you to ask if it’s OK to talk about their struggles, and I encourage you to listen with an open heart and mind.

We Did It! 2021 Highlight Reel

2021 was a big year.

I wound up not returning to law school, was promoted to working at Summit full-time, started and ended a relationship, and more. Let me walk you through this year’s highlights by month:

January

  • I didn’t return to law school after my first and only semester. It was a life-changing moment, but one I do not regret.
  • The same week, I found out I was promoted to Assistant GM at my beloved climbing gym where I work and play. It’s been such a thrill leading the Summit Dallas staff since.
  • I went to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, a very well-known climbing crag in Arkansas, with friends. And I visited a close friend who lives in Arizona.

February

  • My sweet girl gang and I escaped DFW and spent the weekend at my uncle’s cabin outside of Tyler. It was dreamy and exactly what my heart & soul needed.
  • I had both a therapy and psychiatric appointment this month–my therapist and psychiatric nurse have literally changed my life, and any time I get to talk to them, I am left off better.

March

  • I celebrated my sweet nephew Westin’s first birthday. Knowing and loving little Wes has been such a delight.
  • I moved out of my parents’ house! Praise! Jack and I moved to my old neighborhood in Old East Dallas in the cutest one-bed. We have loved our cozy pad since Day 1.

April

  • On April 1, I celebrated one year of knowing and loving Jack! He’s my bestest little bud and the goodest boy around.
  • My friend Emily had a baby shower for her daughter Skylar–who’s unreal cute by the way. Emily is like a sister to me so it was fun to celebrate her & her sweet, growing family.
  • I volunteered with Mosaic (a nonprofit that serves refugees and immigrants in crisis) by helping organize a clothes closet for them. It felt good to give back and be apart of something greater than myself.

May

  • Some of my Chinese sisters and I had a mini-reunion in Chicago. I met my sister Shelby’s now-fiance Austin for the first time and gave my official stamp of approval. It was also great spending time with Paulina and her husband Martin, and introducing my friend Leo to them. Worlds colliding!
  • I launched a little side hustle as a virtual assistant and landed my first client. We had an intro call and it went great!

June

  • We celebrated my other nephew Mason’s third birthday. This little man is the one who made me an aunt and our relationship has been such a gift.
  • I visited my college friend Zach in Houston. We hopped around the city, ate good food, and went to the beach. It was an amazing few days off!

July

  • I welcomed a new baby into this world — my car baby Eileen! This 2019 Rav4 is everything I hoped and dreamed of.
  • I attended one of my first Dallas Blogger Brunch meetups in a long time. We were gifted Fabletics outfits, worked out, and munched on some power bowls. It was so much fun connecting with other bloggers in the DFW community.

August

  • I turned 27 this month! Another year older and wiser, I suppose?
  • My gal pal Lauren and I went to Utah for a long weekend. We had an absolute blast. For the full weekend recap, click here.

September

  • My sweet family and I did a day trip to my college town Waco. We hopped and bopped and ate and drank. It was the best time!

October

  • I went to my first concert in a long, long time and saw an artist I’d never seen before! Julien Baker is incredibly talented, highly recommend seeing her in-person.
  • One of my oldest friends Madyson and I camped with our pups at a property in Waco the last weekend of October. We had so much fun catching up, doing nothing, and introducing our fur babies. Mine might have tried to run away at one point–still trying to forget that. Lol!

November

  • I went to the Mavs game with the guy I was seeing at the time. I hadn’t been to one in years, and it was so much fun being back in the stadium, cheering the guys on, and ultimately watching them win.
  • My climbing crew and I went to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas for several days. It was freezing at night, but the climbing and community was well worth it.

December

  • My girl gang and I went to Reimers Ranch outside of Austin for a climbing day trip. We had the best time projecting, laughing, climbing, and falling.
  • My pup Jack and I stayed at an Airbnb in the middle of nowhere, Texas, for a couple days last week. It was completely blissful. We had a wonderful time doing nothing and everything all at once.

Please note: these are just the highlights. There were plenty of lows and moments in the valley this year. Unfortunately I’m rounding out this year with a heavy heart and some lingering hurt. But I’m grateful for all of these moments: the good, the bad, and the in-between.

Bipolar Disorder: Myths vs. Facts Pt. 1

I have bipolar disorder.

I was diagnosed in the spring of 2016 after a severe manic episode. And boy, has it been a long and enduring and wild journey since then.

Today, I’m introducing a new series on myths vs. facts of bipolar disorder out of the hope to normalize discussing mental health and illness, sufferings that come along with bipolar, and the reality of someone who lives with it every day.

Today’s post focuses on defining bipolar disorder, what it means and looks like, and the reality of suffering from this disorder.

Myth: Bipolar disorder is just being moody. All people with bipolar disorder are rude and short-tempered.

Fact: Bipolar disorder is defined as a mental condition marked by alternating periods of elation and depression. There is no one-size-fits-all for bipolar disorder.

Sometimes when I tell people I have bipolar — especially strangers — they are shocked. “But you don’t act like you have bipolar. You are so nice and happy!”

And while some may consider this a compliment, really it’s a microaggression.* This statement is aggressive because it alludes that all people with bipolar are the opposite: mean and temperamental. It hints that all people with bipolar are moody and short-tempered and difficult.

In reality, the people I know with bipolar are some of the kindest, most patient, most giving friends I have. In reality, out of the several friends I have with bipolar disorder, zero of them have the exact same struggles or mental health journey. Zero of them have the exact same personality, experiences, and sufferings.

After living with bipolar for half a decade, I realize the deep truth of this quick Google search definition: I’m elated or depressed. I’m mostly elated or mostly depressed. I’m semi-elated and semi-depressed. I’m a bit of nothing and everything in-between.

Since my manic episode and diagnosis, I’ve experienced mania and psychosis, hypomania (a slightly less elevated form of mania), stability, depression, and severe depression. I’ve been all across the spectrum, sometimes changing within a matter of hours or days, sometimes alternating phases and moods over a span of months.

Bipolar disorder is cruel and brutal and unforgiving. Experiencing bipolar elation is thrilling and unreal and wild. Experiencing bipolar depression is hard and debilitating and extreme.

Next time you speak or interact with someone who struggles with bipolar, please be patient and considerate of their struggles. Please watch your mouth (more to come on that) and be forgiving. And as always, remember it’s OK to not be OK and we should all treat others who face suffering with kindness.

*A microaggression is a subtle, off-handed remark discriminating against members of a people group

Self-Care Series pt. 4: On Connecting With Others

When I’m depressed, I tend to isolate.

I feel ashamed of my depressed feelings and apathy, I feel insecure and anxious, and I don’t want anyone to see me in this state. Unfortunately the impact of self-isolating is cyclical: I isolate to avoid others, avoiding others makes me feel isolated, and it repeats and repeats and repeats.

One of the best pieces of advice my therapist Chelsey has ever given me is to connect with others when I’m feeling down, even if my mood begs otherwise. When I am down and isolate, I just feel even more crummy and anxious and devastated. But when I’m down and surround myself with my community, my spirit is lifted (even if only just a little bit) and I feel less alone in this battle with my mood disorder.

It can be tough and hard to balance. I do think there’s a fine line between pursuing community in a healthy manner and forcing myself to be around others in an unhealthy way. But what it comes down to is trusting myself to make decisions that are best for me. It definitely helps to seek wisdom in prayer and advice from mental health professionals, to be aware of my sleep, mood, and energy, and how I am feeling.

It’s important to be self-aware.

When we can identify our thoughts and feelings, when we can identify when we are experiencing a dip or feeling down, we know better what we need and how to meet those needs.

I talk a lot about sleep, mood, and energy checks, because I think they are very effective. I look at my rest and sleep patterns, what my mood has been lately, and the energy I’m giving off.

When I realize I have had a crummy amount of sleep, my mood and energy are low, I recognize I may start wanting to isolate. But then I can say no to my mind and body and seek out the community my mental health needs.

It certainly isn’t easy or natural to seek out community when I’m feeling down and numb and apathetic. But it certainly is good for my soul to do so: I feel more connected, more at ease, and more supported when I do. Sometimes it’s a matter of having a healthy, honest conversation with friends that I’m feeling low. And they usually respond with grace, kindness, and encouragement.

Dear friend,

If you have been feeling down or depressed lately, know that you are not alone. Identify what you need, seek those needs out, and lean on your community. That’s what they’re there for. That’s what I’m here for.

With kindness & love,

Mae

Self-Care Series pt. 3: Find What Fuels You

Self-care is important.

And part of self-care is just finding out what fuels you — what gives you energy, life, and rejuvenation. In the first two parts of this series on self-care, I walked you through the importance of rest, and then exercising & eating well.

Today we are talking about the things that not only bring you peace, but also joy. Things that not only make you feel rested, but also make you feel motivated.

A few things that give me life are spending time outside, meditating on scripture, and connecting with others (more on the last in a post-to-come).

Opt outside

I love to be outside. Whether it’s a hike or a bike ride, a climb or a picnic, I love to soak up the sun and breathe fresh air. There is something about spending time outside that makes my soul sing.

Unfortunately, the greater Dallas area does not have much (or really anything) to offer in terms of mountains. But when I am able to escape the 214 and hop on a plane to Colorado, or most recently Utah, it’s always time well spent.

While I prefer mountains, I’m not too picky — I also appreciate the piney woods of East Texas, or the simple parks in DFW. Thankfully, being a happy dog mom means going on a minimum of two walks a day. At times they are short and sweet, but I always treasure these times in the morning and evening.

Meditating on scripture

Spending time alone with My Heavenly Father also fuels me. It both brings me peace and lifts my spirit. I will admit I am not the most disciplined at my daily quiet time, but when I prioritize a slow morning with God, I notice a tangible positive difference in my energy and attitude the rest of the day.

I have found that having a designated devotional helps me be more dedicated when reading scripture. It gives me direction and focus, and it overall helps me have deeper, more intentional time spent with The Lord.

Find what fuels you

Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe the great outdoors or a spiritual relationship don’t speak to you. Maybe instead you’re fueled by alone time, volunteer service, or long car rides. We are all different and that’s okay! We can all like different things and have different environments, activities, or relationships that fuel us.

During times of apathy or lack of inspiration, I encourage you (and myself) to find things that motivate you. I encourage you to find what speaks to you, what gives you life. Find what gives you joy and pursue it!

Getaway Recap: Utah

I went to Utah for my birthday weekend — back in August.

Obviously this is a long overdue getaway recap, so I’m just going to dive into the good stuff. I’ve divided the recap into two parts based on the two cities my friend Lauren and I spent time in: Salt Lake & Moab. Here we go!

SLC

  • My favorite brunch was at Millcreek Cafe & Eggworks. Fresh off the plane, Lauren and I were starving. We found Millcreek where I had one of the best eggs benedicts meals of my life. No lie.
  • My favorite activity was bouldering at Momentum Climbing — you didn’t think I would go a weekend without climbing, right? Momentum is a great gym with plenty to do. The sets felt hard but were all very fun.
  • My favorite dinner was at Saffron Valley, where I pigged out on butter chicken and naan. I practically rolled back to our Airbnb.
  • My favorite alcoholic drink was at Water Witch, a neat little bar near our Airbnb. I can’t remember exactly what was in the cocktail, but I know wine and tea were involved.
  • My favorite non-alcoholic drink was a hot lavender latte from La Barba. The location we went to at the Gateway was kind of eerily calm, but the coffee itself was super yummy.

Moab

  • My favorite national park was hands-down Arches. Lauren and I opted to do a year-long pass instead of paying daily, as it was a better deal in the long-run. Arches has amazing hikes, views, and arches (duh). My favorite hike was to/from Landscape Arch.
  • My favorite view was at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. The hike is super easy and the view is absolutely gorgeous. The world looks so tiny and delicate from up above.
  • My favorite coffee was at Moab Coffee Roasters. We went there a couple of times. I got my usual iced almond milk latte, and it was great!
  • My favorite meal was my mac & cheese at The Spoke on Center because I am really just an overgrown 5-year-old. But honestly, it was delicious and we also had ice cream for dessert which was just as good.
  • My favorite moment was sitting outside Bike Fiend (a bike and coffeeshop) with our coffee-in-hand, only to watch a sweet pup named Zeke wait in line for a donut at the shop next door. It was the cutest thing in the whole wide world.

Overall we had an amazing trip and it really made turning 27 special. I am so grateful to get to travel and experience new things with wonderful people. Can’t wait to see what next year’s birthday trip holds!

Self-Care Series pt. 2: Exercise Often & Eat Well

Taking care of your body is important.

Often times I focus on the mental aspect of self-care: last week I talked about rest and the importance of setting time to re-energize yourself. But this week, I’m breaking down the more physical side of self-care, which includes exercising often and eating well.

On Exercising

I’m not a natural fitness junkie. I wouldn’t call myself a gym rat — I’m not a lifter or a runner or anything in-between. But several years ago I found a form of exercise I love and stuck with it: rock climbing.

I love rock climbing because it’s a great way to get my heart pumping, but it feels like a less traditional workout. It’s an easy way for me to make new friends and connect with others. It’s strategic and fun and not like any other workout I have ever done.

I have close friends who feel the same way about running — it’s a good way for them to break a sweat and also build relationships. Or some friends feel the same way about group workouts like Camp Gladiator, Crossfit, etc.

In my non-expert opinion, I think as long as your body is moving and you’re frequently active, it doesn’t super matter what kind of workout you’re doing. I notice differences in my energy level and overall psyche on weeks when I don’t climb. I feel more lethargic and less connected to my climbing community.

Exercising often is important for your body (and mind). If you don’t have a favorite workout or workout often, I would encourage you to try to find something you enjoy that simultaneously challenges you. I’d encourage you to find time in your schedule to workout, and stick to it.

On Eating Well

I’m also not a natural health junkie. I don’t count calories or weigh myself often, I’m not into fad diets and cooking is a struggle for me. But when I do eat well — which involves less sugar, less junk food, less eating out, and more fruits & veggies, more healthy snacks, more homecooked meals — I notice a positive impact on my energy level. It also helps me have cleaner skin!

My schedule doesn’t allow me to cook every night, nor do I really have the energy to. But I do like to carve out a few nights a week where I cook a healthy meal. Lately I have been on a salmon kick and throwing salmon and veggies on a sheet has been easy and delicious. I personally haven’t dived into the meal prepping game, but I hear that is a great way to avoid unhealthy or impulsive eating, too

Once again, I have a non-expert opinion, but I do think it’s important to remember you are what you eat. When I eat junk food, I feel like junk. When I eat healthy, I feel healthy. Eating well is important for your body and mind, too. We have to treat our bodies well, and a part of that is caring about what we consume.

Self-Care Series pt. 1: The Importance Of Rest

Rest is important.

Boom, bang, done. If there’s anything I want you to glean from this post, it is the importance of rest and taking the time you need to re-energize and re-fuel yourself.

For someone who is a rest advocate, I will confess I am not great at prioritizing time to rest myself. It is easy for my calendar to fill up quickly, to find myself running from here to there, and to realize I’m drained after it’s too late.

Take it from me — don’t be like me! Carve out time to rest. Whether it’s physically sleeping, or just sitting in silence, your body needs to rest.

Some ways I rest include:

  • Power naps (20 minutes or less, or else I feel groggy)
  • Putting away social media for a dedicated period of time
  • Cuddling with my pup Jack on the couch while listening to music

Maybe some of these resonate with you, maybe some of them don’t. I would encourage you to find what works best for you, find what makes you feel rested and what helps you reset mentally, physically, and emotionally.

It is easy for us to get caught up in the whirlwind of life — to get sucked into obligations and commitments and occasions. But let’s remember that in order to help and serve others, we also have to help and serve ourselves. And part of helping and serving ourselves includes giving our bodies the time they need and crave.

Let’s do it! Let’s do nothing. Let’s rest.

It Takes A Village: On Finding Support & Community

It takes a village.

This is a common theme I believe in and swear by and state often.

I would not be where I am today (feeling healthy and whole and happy) without my village. It’s a village made of home group members, family, baristas, climbers, coworkers, and bloggers. It’s a village of wonderful folks who have cheered me on and invested in my mental health and spoken kind words to me.

Here’s what I believe:

I believe a community of supporters and cheerleaders can empower and enlighten and encourage you. I believe in the importance of lifting each other up, not tearing each other down. I believe comparison is nasty and individualism is beautiful. I believe loving others helps you learn to love yourself.

It took me a while to find my village.

The first few months and even year or so back in Dallas were lonely and isolating. I was struggling with severe depression and I kept to myself. I was insecure and anxious and devastated. I didn’t practice self-care and I didn’t pursue friendships.

It was awful.

A couple years in I found a new church community, invested in climbing gear and a membership, and attended a blogger meetup. All of a sudden I was surrounded by like-minded believer, encouraging athletes, and inspirational creatives. It was a drastic change for the better.

The right village always stands behind your mental health and well-being.

This weekend I had plans of a night out on the town with my girl gang. We planned to dress up and eat fancy food and drink fancy drinks and listen to live music.

But I decided not to go. It was a hard decision and I genuinely wanted to see my friends, but the past few weeks have been stressful and packed and wild, and I just needed time to myself.

So I stayed home, cuddled my dog, and got dumplings delivered to my door. I took a nap and I still went to bed early. I listened to music and watched Kim’s Convenience. It was a restful, easy, peaceful night. It was exactly what I needed.

And instead of shaming me, instead of calling me a flake or talking down to me, my friends encouraged me and offered to pray for me. They affirmed me in taking care of myself and they offered a listening ear and virtual hugs.

My village is amazing. They are kind and encouraging and supportive. They listen well and pray hard. They dream big for me, they hug me, they cry with me. They celebrate and rejoice with me. They mourn and grieve with me.

Do you have a village like that? Because if you don’t, I encourage you to find one. I encourage you to pursue the right people and right relationships. You won’t regret it, I guarantee.

Healing: The Journey, Not The Final Destination

Healing is a process.

If there is anything bipolar has taught me, it is that healing is a process and a journey. There is no specific destination, no specific time and date that we are fully healed–not in my experience, at least.

When I look back five years ago to my diagnosis, I was devastated and confused and hurt. I did not understand what was happening and I faced severe depression and anxiety.

When I look back at the past couple of years, I feel encouraged and excited and whole. These years have been full of bliss and peace, they have been practically depression-free.

But I would not consider myself fully healed.

Even though I have come a long way from 2016, I still experience down days and anxious moments. I still feel over-exhausted and run myself thin. I still have to regularly assess my needs and habits and adjust them as needed.

My gut response is frustration and confusion, “Why don’t I ultimately and forever feel better? When will I be fully healed?” But when I think about my mental health journey, I realize it’s been just that: a journey. And with journeys, although sometimes there are final destinations, many times they are just an ongoing process of learning and discovering.

Honestly, I don’t want it any other way.

This journey mindset reminds me to learn and discover and work toward healing. It gives me hope and joy and pushes me forward. If there was a final destination, I would be wondering why I haven’t arrived by now. I’d be wondering when my emotional and mental fulfillment would finally come.

So if you have been hurting or lost or upset for a while now, if you feel like you’re running thing or scrambling for hope, I would like to offer you this bit of wisdom: healing is a process, a journey. You are doing a great job as you chug along and do your best. I’m proud of you and I’m rooting you on!