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!

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.

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!

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.

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.