Living With & Loving Someone With Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

I’m so delighted that 1) this month exists and 2) I have yet another reason to share mental health journey with you.

As someone who’s lived with bipolar for over half a decade (six years, to be exact), I have grown passionate about discussing mental illness, encouraging those who struggle, and educating those who don’t.

Mental health can be a sensitive subject for many people, but it doesn’t have to be. 1 out of 5 Americans struggle with some form of mental illness. The odds are, even if you don’t struggle yourself, you know someone — or several someone’s — who do.

Living with mental illness can be hard.

And I mean – really, really hard.

But I’m hoping this blog post can give you a glimpse into my life and struggles, my habits and hurts, and that you can use this glimpse to relate to someone in your life who struggles, as well.

Personally, my disorder has led me to struggle particularly with depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Thankfully, all three have been less extreme and fairly manageable in the most recent years. I credit this to my supportive community, my work, my therapist, and my psychiatric nurse. Let me break those down a little bit:

  • My community – it includes friends, family, baristas, climbers, creatives, and my church group. My community has built me up instead of torn me down, they’ve accepted me as I am, and they’ve embraced who I am since my diagnosis.
  • My work – working in the climbing industry has been amazingly rewarding. My specific job aside, having a work schedule, having discipline, having something to show up to every day has given me stability and something to look forward to.
  • My therapist – Chelsey has given me helpful tools when I catch myself feeling anxious, to feel out my feelings, and to express myself. Acknowledging my feelings and giving myself room to feel has been a huge part of my wellness journey.
  • My psychiatric nurse – Grant has found medication that works for me. It took time and several trials, but it’s worked wonders. Medication isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is for me.

Pre-diagnosis life is starkly different than post-diagnosis.

Pre-diagnosis, I struggled with insomnia and anxiety, but didn’t even realize it. I didn’t think about my needs or wants — physical, mental, or emotional. I struggled with feeling my emotions and allowing myself to feel. I struggled with perfectionism and people pleasing.

Post-diagnosis, over time and therapy and learning the hard way, I’ve learned to acknowledge what I need and how to voice those needs. I’ve learned to “sit in my feelings,” as Chelsey would say, and to not be afraid to feel. I’ve learned to say no, learned to put myself first, learned to even let others down at times.

Post-diagnosis, I’m actively monitoring my sleep, mood, and energy, and noticing how varying levels impact my wellness. I’m pursuing healthy relationships so I can feel healthy and happy, too. I’m learning and re-learning it’s okay to not be okay, that it’s not a bad thing to lean on people, and that being alone doesn’t mean I have to be lonely.

Loving someone with mental illness can be hard.

But it doesn’t have to be.

In the end, we all need love and kindness and acceptance. In the end, we all need someone to show up and show out for us. In the end, we all need a community to build us up and make us feel special.

Friends, I encourage you to reach out someone you love who struggles with mental illness today. Tell them you see them, you know them, and you love them. Tell them you’re here for them. It will mean the world to them.

6 Years Of Bipolar: On Gratitude

I was diagnosed with bipolar six year ago.

And what a wild ride it has been!

Since my diagnosis, I’ve worked in the PR, legal, and climbing industries. I’ve moved several times — including in, out, and back into my parents (currently I’m on my own). I’ve become a plant mom, dog mom, and car mom (in that order). I’ve gone through several major life changes, including starting and quitting law school.

The first couple of years of living with bipolar were hard — and I mean really, REALLY hard. I had two major manic episodes. I was hospitalized twice. I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. I lost some close friendships.

But the most recent years have been a gift. I found medicine that worked. I have hardly suffered with depression or anxiety. I’ve made wonderful, deep, lasting friendships.

And to sum it up in one word, I’m thankful.

I would never wish bipolar or depression/anxiety on anyone. And if I had the option, I certainly wouldn’t wish it on me.

But I’m thankful for my disorder. Before my disorder, I didn’t go to therapy and never thought I would need it. I neglected my feelings and emotions. I didn’t take care of my body, and certainly didn’t care for my mind.

Since my disorder, I’ve established an amazing relationship with my therapist. Therapy has taught me to acknowledge and embrace my feelings and emotions. And now I care for both my body and my mind by monitoring my sleep, mood, and energy.

I spend more time doing the things I love, things that fill me up and make me whole. I’m more present-minded, more grateful, and more self-aware. I’ve experienced the benefits of therapy and medicine. I’ve surrounded myself with an amazing community, with friends who care for me deeply and love me well.

It’s been a long six years.

It really, really has. But I’m thankful for my experience with this mood disorder, for what it’s taught me and how it’s shaped me. I’m thankful for this space to share my mental health journey. I’m thankful for readers and followers who support and encourage and cheer me on. I’m thankful for you!

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

Four Years Of Bipolar: On Hope + Expectation

Commissary

I was diagnosed with bipolar four years ago.

Four years!! That is four years of all sorts of mood swings, all sorts of both valley and mountaintop moments. That is four years of on-and-off depression and mostly-off manic moments (phew!).

My mental health journey has certainly been that: a journey.

Years and years ago, a mentor of mine Claire told me that my life is like a tapestry, this wonderful, brilliant, beautiful grandeur of a thing. She said that the hardest moments, the moments of doubt and weakness and trial, will only be a blip, a small stitching within an incredible, grandiose piece of artwork.

And she was right.

When I was first diagnosed, I thought my life was over.

I was afraid I would struggle with severe, debilitating depression the rest of my life. I was afraid of losing friendships and loved ones because they would not understand, they would not be able to empathize with my darkest lows.

I was afraid I would have to give up on my dreams, that the reality of bipolar would just keep me in the pits. I was afraid I would never fall in love, because who could love someone who was so unstable?

My fears were unfounded.

Yes, I have struggled with depression on and off and on again, but the past couple years have been surprisingly and wonderfully magnificent, practically depression-free. Most of my friendships have only strengthened as dear ones have stepped into my sadness with me, coming alongside me in the valley.

I have pursued my dreams harder and fiercer than I ever did before: chasing after this law school goal, taking the LSAT, actually following through with applications. I even fell for a guy who in turn fell for me for most of 2019. It was the most delightful surprise, and though we moved on, I am still abundantly thankful for what it was when it was.

I guess one of the biggest takeaways is this: goodness always lies ahead.

I have a lot of hope and expectation for the future. I have a lot of eagerness and readiness for what is to come. I know Jesus Man is good to me even during the darkest times, and I know His Father will surprise me with the best of things time and time again.

I know there are plot twists and turns and trials coming, too. I know the valleys loom ahead even though I don’t want them to — no one wants them to, after all. I know there will be moments of doubt and fear and weakness and mourning.

But there will also be times of joy and gladness and radiance. There will also be times of gratefulness and a heart that is overwhelmed with love and grace and utter peace. There will also be delight in its purest form as I give thanks to God Above as I am wrapped up in His merciful kindness.

So my friends, be encouraged.

Be encouraged that no matter what trials and tribulations you face, they are but a small blip in the grand tapestry that is your life. It may not feel like it now, but this too shall pass.

Be encouraged that you are not alone in your hardships or suffering, but instead remember you have a village of friends and loved ones who care for you, ones who will gladly come alongside you in the valley.

And lastly, be encouraged that good times and a hopeful future do lie ahead, no matter what your life may look like now: up, down, or in-between.

It Takes A Village: On The Value Of Deeply-Rooted Community

I used to feel awfully alone.

When I first returned to Dallas from Nashville, I felt awfully alone. Not the kind of loneliness that comes and goes with varying moods or circumstances, but the kind of isolation and desertion that leaves you feeling empty and saddened.

Only a handful of my hometown and college friends were also living in Dallas at the time. As I struggled with severe depression and anxiety, the symptoms of shame and false guilt caused me to withdraw even further away from people who loved me.

But these days, I feel awfully loved.

After three+ years of living in Dallas, I feel awfully loved. Not the kind of vague kindness between civil acquaintances, but the kind of radical and reckless and over-the-moon compassion that makes you feel full and thrilled.

Today I am overwhelmingly cherished by a community of family, friends, churchgoers, climbers, baristas, and more. These are people who show me kindness when I am anything but. These are people who sit and weep with me when I am down. These are people who jump and scream with me when I am up.

It takes a village.

They say, “It takes a village.” I don’t know exactly who “they” are, but it’s a common saying I have heard time and time again, and now I know it to be true.

It takes a village to make me feel loved and supported and welcomed and accepted. It takes a village to make others feel needed and cherished and wanted and treasured. It takes a village for each of us to do this thing called life, and to do it well.

Here are some thoughts on the value of a deeply-rooted village:

  1. Community is worth it. It’s worth the trouble, it’s worth the search. Community is important and it may be hard to find, but I promise if you try hard enough and do discover one, your life will be better.
  2. Community is hard. It’s not easy to be vulnerable and transparent, which are two keys to building a deeply-rooted community. It’s not easy to see someone you love hurting or in need, but I promise if you stick with your community, when your hurts eventually heal, you will have a body of cheerleaders to celebrate with you!
  3.  Community is life changing. When you find people who love you, with heart and soul and in every possible way, your world is entirely rocked. You will never be the same — and I mean this is the best way!

Be Kind To Your Mind: Three Takeaways On Wellness

Bipolar disorder is no joke.

I was diagnosed three(+) years ago, and it’s rocked my world in ways that I could have never imagined, in ways that are hard for me to express and put words to. But even during periods that are down and low, I realize that having mental health struggles has taught me so much and helped me grow immensely.

Even though life would be much easier without facing bipolar depression and anxiety, I am thankful for the lessons it has taught me about mental health and wellness. I am thankful how it has pushed and stretched me in ways that make me better. Here are some of my top takeaways on wellness that bipolar has taught me:

1. Self-love isn’t selfish.

I used to think taking care of myself was overrated and unimportant. I thought taking care of myself meant I couldn’t care for others, and that people would see me as selfish and self-centered.

After pursuing holistic wellness, after taking healthy eating and regular exercise and much-needed therapy seriously, I realize I was wrong. My community has surrounded and encouraged me in my self-care endeavors. In order to fully love and serve others, I must take care of myself first.

2. It’s important to be kind to your mind.

As someone who loves (and is slightly addicted) to social media, it’s easy for me to buy into the idea that beauty is more important than brains. It’s easy for me to see these Insta-models and gorgeous influencers and think to myself, “They have it all. They have everything I want.”

I do believe it’s important to be able to present yourself well. But it’s also important to take care of your mind, to seek holistic wellness by taking emotional and spiritual health seriously, too.

Ways I am kind to my mind include: going outside, having slow Sunday mornings, spending time in the Word, rock climbing, surrounding myself with people who love me well, etc., etc.

3. Bad days happen — to everyone.

During my first year of bipolar disorder, my moods were all over the place. The good days were mostly OK, but the bad days were extremely awful. The bad days also outnumbered the good ones, which were few and far between.

Now when I’m on a streak of good days, I feel insecure about even the tiniest inkling of feeling off. I’m afraid that the off days will turn into bad days and the bad days will turn into dark, depressed days.

But it turns out that everyone has bad days, including and especially those who have bipolar, yet we overcome them all the time. Even the worst of days only last one day each (that’s a mere 24 hours) and then we can go to sleep, wake up and handle the next day as it comes.

What It’s Like To Live With High-Functioning Depression

High-functioning depression can be hard to see.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Here are a few of my symptoms with depression:

  • When I feel depressed, my energy is extremely low. I have zero motivation to get out of bed, shower or even change clothes.
  • My high-functioning depression is very present, even when it’s less noticeable. I feel heavy-hearted and utterly devastated for no apparent reason. It’s like walking through molasses and living in a world of grey.
  • It usually makes me less social. So I bail on plans or only agree to one-on-one events with people who know me well and are familiar with my struggle. I may seem flaky, when really I struggle with shame and social anxiety.
  • But sometimes seeing plans through is helpful. When I am being social — even while depressed –it keeps me distracted from the pain and hurt I feel.
  • I don’t know why it happens. It’s not because I was dumped or fired or betrayed — it comes out of nowhere and I cannot control it. I ask my friends and family to be sensitive to that, and not ask, “Why so sad?”
  • I feel isolated in this seemingly internal battle. It seems like it’s just me, myself and I going against depression, against mental illness and internal hurt. I know in my head I’m not alone, but emotionally I feel singled out.
  • Affectionate gestures mean the world to me. Offering a hug, to sit with me or even just an ear to listen mean so much. It makes me feel less alone and much more supported.
  • I notice and value support. Though I may be challenging to break through to when down, I truly do see your support and note it in the back of my mind, tuck it away in my heart.

No man is an island.

I have learned the hard (and sometimes easy) way the past 2 years since being diagnosed. Though I often feel false shame and guilt, I have seen a proverbial village of friends and family — both new and old — arise and support me and say, “I’m with you” during this battle.

I see the hurt depression not only causes me, but inhabits those who care for me. They exude this empathy and sympathy and outright compassion that humbles me greatly. They struggle with it in an equal, though certainly different, way as I do.

I seek out these three qualities for those who care for the depressed to have:

  1. Patience — patience to sit and humbly wait for the storms to pass, even though they may come and go and come again. Patience with depression and patience with the depressed.
  2. Kindness — please extend compassion when responding to someone who is depressed. Consider placing yourself in their shoes, consider their constant internal struggle.
  3. Grace — grace to give when a depressed person wrongs you or bails on plans or causes hurt. Grace because no was is perfect and we all struggle in one way or another.

Myths & Facts About Mental Health

It’s mental health awareness month.

If you’ve been keeping up with my journey, then you are aware that I struggle with bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. I’d like to discuss some myths and facts about each of these illnesses.

Bipolar disorder:
  1. Myth: bipolar disorder is just an excuse for someone to be moody. Fact: bipolar is a mood disorder marked by uncontrollable emotional highs and lows.
  2. Myth: all people who have bipolar cannot be trusted because their moods change within seconds. Fact: bipolar is different on a case-by-case basis. While some may be more temperamental than others, every bipolar person should be supported.
  3. Myth: everyone is a little bipolar. Fact: every person has changing moods, but those who have bipolar are unable to regulate theirs.
Depression:
  1. Myth: depression is just being sad. Fact: depression is a real mental illness that is marked by extreme, long-lasting sadness.
  2. Myth: people with depression should just choose to be happy. Fact: those who are depressed cannot simply snap out of it.
  3. Myth: depressed people can’t be helped. Fact: depressed people need a support group just like anyone else. If you know someone who struggles, reach out to them today.
Anxiety:
  1. Myth: anxiety is just being overwhelmed. Fact: anxiety is caused by negative, false thoughts that hinder people from going about their everyday lives.
  2. Myth: anxiety is not a big deal, because everyone has it. Fact: while almost everyone struggles with mild forms of anxiety, not everyone battles anxiety disorders. The latter need extra self-care to help alleviate the pains of anxiety.
  3. Myth: anxious people can only be helped by therapists. Fact: friends and family can make a huge, positive impact when they help those with anxiety.

It’s important to talk about mental health.

I hope when I share my journey of mental wellness, that I am able to break down some myths you may have believed all of this time. I hope that when I tell you about bipolar/depression/anxiety, you learn about how to love others who have similar struggles.

Thank you for reading. As always, feel free to reach out to talk more about what you read.

8 Lessons From 2 Years Of Being Bipolar

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago.

Plenty has changed, several things haven’t. I’ve said hello and goodbye to new and old friends. I’ve moved houses and churches and community groups. I’ve returned to my roots, learned to dwell in the present and chased new dreams.

Two years of living with bipolar — and living in general — has challenged and stretched and molded me into who I want to be, while also anticipating who I will be in the future. Here are 8 lessons I’ve learned in the past two years:

  1. People change. Based on the time and place, pressures and obligations, people will always change. Sometimes for the better, at times for the worst. Individuals will change within themselves, groups of friends will phase in and out.
  2. God stays the same. As undependable as humans can be, Christ is that much more stable. Hebrews tells me he stays the same forever and ever. This is my most favorite quality about The Lord.
  3. I am more than my disorder. People change and God doesn’t, which means I can be strong and I can lean on God, and I am more than my diagnosis. I am more than depression and bipolar and mood swings. This does not define me, but it is a part of my story.
  4. I can’t do this alone. They say it takes a village, and these words ring true every day it my life. It takes friends and family and coworkers and doctors and counselors and community. It takes more than me, myself and I.
  5. The world keeps turning. Even when depression or bipolar gets me down, the world moves on. This can be encouraging and discouraging, but such is life.
  6. I’m still human. Similar to #3, my humanity keeps my sanity. I’m a person before I’m bipolar. I have thoughts, feelings, dreams, desires, all longing to be fulfilled.
  7. Bipolar isn’t pretty. It’s freaking tough and painful and a constant thorn in my flesh. But the ugliness of bipolar only brings out the strength and beauty in my tenacious soul.
  8. Resilience is a choice. When I feel down, I can cave into the lethargy and apathy. Or I can follow through with plans, see people and do my best to bounce back.

Struggling with a mental illness is hard.

To be more specific, it is the downright hardest battle I’ve ever fought, and hopefully ever will. It’s an everyday choice to find joy even when depressed, to be strong even when I feel weak.

I hope that by sharing my struggle with bipolar, depression and anxiety, my friends, family and readers will feel more confident to share their own stories. It’s OK to not be OK. No man is an island.

We are brave. We are strong. We can thrive.