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.

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

Older & Kinda Wiser: Takeaways From Year 26

I turn 27 this month.

27 years!!! 27 years of growing older and kinda wiser, of making mistakes, finding joy, and seeking Truth. 27 years of laughing at myself, rejoicing and weeping with others, and finding out who I am.

Year 26 was a big one: I moved into and out of my parents’ home, I started and left law school, I was promoted to a fulltime position at Summit. I went on a few trips and turned into even more of a homebody. I let some people in and put up walls for others. I started weekly clay facials and my skin is thanking me for it.

Year 26 was filled with some monumental moments and memories. Here are some takeaways from this year:

  • Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned, and that’s OK. The past several years I dreamt and planned to be an attorney. I never thought I would start and leave law school in just half a year, but I did. And I don’t regret it.
  • Everyone deserves a second chance. Year 26 tested some of my friendships. While it may be easier to walk away, I’ve found it’s better to forgive and pursue others with kindness and grace.
  • It’s OK to make the same mistake twice: we can learn and fumble and learn again. Sometimes we don’t quite fully learn a lesson the first time, and we need to relearn it down the road.
  • It takes a village. A lesson I am constantly appreciative of: I could not and would not be where I am today without the support of my community.
  • Kindness matters. Similar to what I mentioned before, it may be easier to walk away or be unkind or short with someone, but it’s much better to pursue others with gentleness and compassion.

This list is by no means exhaustive, I’m sure I could think of at least twenty or thirty other lessons. For example, I also learned that free tacos are not always a good excuse to go on a date. And a clean dog isn’t really a happy dog (hi, Jack). I learned ice cream heals all wounds and lake time is good for the soul.

While the past year hasn’t been the easiest, I am still thankful for what it was: challenging, growing, stretching. It toughened me up and sharpened my edges. Year 26 made me re-dream and re-plan and remember what matters: Jesus, kindness, community, and my pup Jack.

I am looking forward to Year 27 and to the new takeaways I’ll have this time next year.

Year 27, show me what ya got!

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.

Five Years Of Bipolar: On More To Come

Five years ago, on March 18, 2016, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

This diagnosis came after a very serious manic episode that resulted in a hospitalization. It came after a week of insomnia and scattered thoughts and concerning ramblings.

Every year when March 18 rolls around, I pause and reflect. I stop and think about how my life has changed. Before my diagnosis, I was living in Nashville, a new city that I was growing to call home. Before my diagnosis, I was on the path to work in the nonprofit field. Before my diagnosis, I struggled with pride and ego and thought I had my entire life together.

For the longest time after I was diagnosed, especially during the thick of devastating depression, I could not help but always be aware of my diagnosis. My mood, plans, and friendships changed. My life changed. I could not help but mourn and grieve the life I used to know and fear what was to come.

When I built new friendships, I feared coming out as bipolar and wondering how they would respond. When I started to think about law school, I feared how bipolar would affect my studying. When I considered dating, I feared no one would want to be with someone who struggled so deeply.

But these days, my diagnosis is not at the forefront of my mind.

My mind is much more occupied with other things. When I build new friendships, I want to know how to invest and love that person deeply. When I look back at law school, I am thankful for what it was when it was, and how my mental illness did not affect my studying. When I consider dating someone, I am prayerful about opening up about my illness, and no longer live in fear.

Getting to where I am today–embracing my illness and sharing my journey–did not come easy. It took time and energy and tears and therapy. It took medication and emotional support and prayer. But here I am today, thankful for where I am and how I’m built, thankful for how I got here and eagerly looking forward to where I will be.

My disorder has taught me there is always more to come.

When I was first diagnosed, I feared my life was over: that I would lose all of my friends, that I’d never fall in love, and I would not be able to fully function again.

But that was hardly the case. The first couple of years were tough and excruciating and painful. The first couple of years were filled with devastating depression and hopeless thoughts and extreme anxiety.

But there was more to come. The past couple of years have been lovely and life-giving and liberating. They have been encouraging and beautiful and wonderful.

I never thought I would have a job. I never thought I would be able to handle it. I never thought I would get into law school. I never thought I would mentally be able to manage the workload. I never thought I’d fall in love, make new friends, enjoy living in Dallas.

But I did! And I’m glad!

I’m glad that Jesus Man loves me. I’m glad that he provides a path for me. I’m glad he hasn’t left me despite my changing moods and fickle heart.

I’m glad that law school happened, even though I didn’t finish. I’m glad to work at Summit and cultivate community there. I’m glad to make new friends and keep the old.

Dear Reader & Friend,

Whatever you are going through now, whether you are at the highest of highs or lowest of lows, I hope you know there is always more to come. There is always goodness and hope and joy around the corner.

My mental health journey proves this to be true. If you are well, be glad in it. If you are struggling, know there is hope.

I’m rooting for you!

2020: A Year In Review

It was a weird and hard year to say the least.

Honestly, that is a major understatement: it was a wild, wacky, devastating, life-changing, year. From start to finish, it was a long twelve months.

This was the year of COVID-19 and heightened systemic racism, but it was also the year I started law school and became a dog mom. This year I wrestled with singleness, but also gained wonderful friendships. This year I was out of a job for nearly two months, but I eventually returned to the climbing gym–a job I absolutely love!

This year I was reminded of the intermingling between joy and sorrow, love and loss, mountains and valleys. I was reminded Jesus is good and loyal and loving toward us no matter our struggles, battles, or hardships. I was reminded that giving while we grieve helps even while we hurt.

2020 had its highs:

  • Getting into and starting law school!–the journey to becoming an attorney has been filled with ups and downs, but I am so grateful that I committed to pursuing this dream.
  • Becoming a dog mom!–my sweet pup Jack has changed my life for the better–his unconditional love and never-ending cuddles fill up my heart.
  • Learning how to lead climb– and continuing to practice this special type of climbing. Saying no to fear and yes to bravery and yes to trying new and hard things!
  • Celebrating one year on desk at Summit–a job I enjoy and excel at and love! And landing a promotion over the summer was a wonderful surprise.

2020 had its lows:

  • Getting rejected by plenty of law schools (but ultimately winding up at the one that was best for me was a high).
  • Moving back home–I love my family and am grateful for their generosity, but I miss my alone time and being messy! Hehe.
  • Coping with systemic racism–I live a very privileged and blessed life, but I know that is not the case for every American (or person, for that matter). It’s been a learning and growing and mourning process, it’s been an eye-opener to consider my colored friends and their daily struggles and hardships.
  • Surviving COVID-19–just like everyone else, it’s been a hard and life-changing year: having to adapt to wearing a mask everywhere, to staying at home as much as possible, to taking virtual classes.

Despite this weird year, I feel blessed.

I feel blessed to have made new friends at the gym and welcomed so many new faces into our climbing community. I feel blessed to have built new relationships, but kept the life-giving ones. I feel blessed to have consistency in my life: with Jesus, with my family, with my well mood.

I feel blessed to have learned and grown and refined who I am. I feel blessed to have loved and lost. I feel blessed to have grown in strength and independence during a year of singleness. I feel blessed to have continued writing stories and sharing my life and learning more about content creation.

It’s been an odd and life-changing year, but I am grateful and thankful and happy and whole! I hope that despite the lows and recognizing the highs, you feel grateful and thankful and happy and whole, too!

But if you do not, I hope you know you are not alone in sadness and struggles. You are loved, you are treasured, you are a delight in the Lord’s eyes. Go in peace and love, go in grace and mercy, and may you have a better 2021.

The Monthly Update: November

November highlight:

A big highlight from last month was competing in Summit’s Pumpkin Spice Open bouldering competition. It was my first comp since September, and even though I didn’t necessarily go HARD, it was lots of fun hanging out with friends, encouraging each other on the wall, and getting some good sends in.

November lowlights:

I experienced a COVID scare, which put me out of working/climbing, and placed me in quarantine for a couple of weeks. It was a bit scary and overwhelming, but thankfully, my results were negative. Praise!

This month, I was filled by:

  • I had my first therapy appointment with Chelsey in a long time; even though I was only touching base, it was still good for my soul to talk through life and law school and lessons with her.
  • I started attending couch church–where I watch church from my home group leader’s couch–which has been a good way to keep accountable to tuning into Northway’s services. It is also a great way to start my week!

This month, I was emptied by:

The time away from the gym during my COVID scare was tough–I missed my work friends, climbing community, and just climbing in general.

In December, I am looking forward to:

  • I began the She Reads Truth Advent devotional at the start of the month. It has already been a source of encouragement and delight, and I cannot wait to continue diving into God’s word with this resoure.
  • Dressember is here! We are nearly halfway through the month, and I am three-fourths of the way to my goal of $1250. I am thrilled to participate in this challenge again, and to continue to advocate for human trafficking victims.

A Heart Full Of Thanks: My 10 Top Blessings Of 2020

Thanksgiving is here!

My favorite food, my favorite people, my favorite holiday all wrapped up into one day and given to me in a pretty little bow! This Thanksgiving will look drastically different, smaller, and quieter than years’ past, but that doesn’t mean it will be a bad one–just different.

This has been a hard year for everyone, but I know we can still give thanks. We can count our blessings, we can remember the good things, we can share the highs and lows and in-betweens. We can be glad for what we have, sad for what we don’t, and still feel blessed.

I’m full of thanks this year.

Here is my list of my top 10 things I am thankful for:

  1. A well mind– I haven’t struggled with depression in over two years, and I cannot express just how huge of a blessing this is. It is a gift to pursue dreams, be happy, and laugh genuinely.
  2. A healthy body– A body that can stretch and dance and move and bounce and CLIMB.
  3. My climbing community– Truly the most welcome and inspiring community, I am thankful for strangers who turn into friends so quickly. They are kind and inclusive and just plain fun!
  4. My church community– The ones who keep me rooted in Christ and point me to what matters, the ones who love me deeply and fiercely and wonderfully.
  5. My family– My new roommates! They have welcomed me into their home, given me reason to laugh, and supported me every step of the way of my law school journey.
  6. Taylor Swift’s Folklore album– It’s a bop! The end.
  7. My pup Jack– The light of my life, the center of my world: he is small and cute and fluffy and scruffy and scrappy and the best thing that happened to me in 2020.
  8. Coffee– The fuel that gives me life!
  9. My job– I get paid to welcome people into the climbing community! I get paid to love people! I get paid to climb! (Ok, not really, but kind of).
  10. My education– Perhaps the most concrete evidence of God’s faithfulness in 2020, I am so thankful that I was able to return to school this year to pursue a law degree. Virtual learning has not been easy (and neither is law school in general), but it has been such a gift.

I encourage you to consider what you are thankful for this year.

Maybe you can’t come up with ten or even five things, but I bet you could find at least a few: maybe it is your health, your family, maybe it is your community, or favorite hobby.

And come Thanksgiving day, you can share what you are thankful for with whomever you may be celebrating the holiday with. You can sit around the table, eat, drink, and be merry, and remember the good things, remember the blessings.

The Monthly Update: October

October highlights:

  • Going to Broken Bow with my gal pal Tinker & pup Jack was a much-needed getaway. It was nice exploring the cute little town with lots of things to do outdoors.
  • Attending my sweet friend McKae’s wedding in Colorado was a pure delight! The whole weekend was great, as I was surrounded by some dear friends and reunited with one of my Chinese sisters.

October lowlights:

My climbing friend-turned-real-life-pal Ariel moved from Dallas back to her home in Arizona. Although this was the right decision for her, I can’t help but miss her!

This month, I was filled by:

I got a pedicure in the middle of the month with Tinker, and it was so, so nice to be pampered. I think it’s good to practice self-care by treating yourself every once in a while.

This month, I was emptied by:

I started feeling very low-energy toward the end of the month. It could be the weather/season, but I’m just keeping an eye on it.

In November, I am looking forward to:

Thanksgiving! It is my favorite holiday ever. The food, family, and fun just make for a great day. Plus the recognition of gratitude warms my little heart.

My Vow To You: On Daily Decisions & True Self-Care

Self-care is important.

I firmly believe that to properly and fully and radically care for others, you have to care for yourself first. You have to assess your needs, wants, heart’s desires, your time, energy, and emotions, and gauge whether or not you have the capacity to give of yourself.

Sometimes I have plenty to give. Sometimes I have little–or even nothing–left.

Self-care looks a little different for everyone–and that’s ok! We are each individuals, made up of feelings and commitments and passions that differ from the other. We are hard-wired differently, we think and process and love and laugh differently. So we can take care of ourselves differently, too!

I saw a really great quote today.

My sweet friend (and just a wonderful person) Kristin shared it to her Instagram stories. It said that true mental self-care is not solely made of spa days and chocolate cake, but it is “making choices each day that create a life you don’t need to escape from.” (Quote from Dr. Caroline Leaf).

That really resonated with me.

Sometimes petting my dog and setting homework aside is self-care. Sometimes long talks with Sweet Denise (aka Mom) or going for a walk are forms of self-care.

But true self-care leads to true change, refinement, and growth.

True self-care is making daily decisions that will positively impact my mind, body, and soul for the long-term. True self-care is establishing and feeding positive relationships with positive people. It’s asking myself what I need and following through with whatever that may be.

It’s saying no to over-exhaustion and over-commitment, to people pleasing and self-neglect. It’s saying yes to kind conversations, to life-giving activities, and to progress over perfection.

I’m not quite sure what it is, but sometimes it is hard to see bad decisions as bad in the moment. It can be easy to say yes to too many obligations, too many folks, too many things. It can be hard to say no to my friends, no to my superiors, no to my low social battery.

So here I am, vowing to take better care of myself, and hoping you will join me!

Here I am, promising to you that I will self-assess and self-protect and self-motivate; promising to you that I will make better and more wholesome decisions. Here I am, asking you to hold me accountable, and volunteering to do the same for you.

We are all in this together. We can all take better care of ourselves, at all times. Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s do this!