Category Archives: life lessons

Lessons learned from dealing with depression

The first time I experienced hypomania and depression was at the age of 14 when I experienced death for the first time. My grandfather had passed away and I was devastated. His death triggered something inside me and I started engaging in reckless and impulsive behavior. I stole my parent’s car on multiple occasions for joy rides around town. The fact I didn’t know how to drive and could barely touch the pedals didn’t phase me one bit. It looked easy enough; anyone could do it. Not surprisingly, I was caught and taken to kid jail. I escaped relatively unscathed as my punishment by the courts was to write a paper on the dangers of under age driving. And though you think spending time in court, being told I could go to juvenile detention, and realizing I could have very well killed someone would put me in my place, it didn’t. I didn’t feel guilty at all. There was a certain kind of thrill in breaking the rules. It made me feel alive. So I kept testing the waters.

In the weeks that followed I snuck out and met neighborhood friends (the ones deemed bad influences) to try cigarettes and beer. We broke into empty houses being built and practiced picking locks. And, if you remember when instant message chat rooms were popular, I became addicted. I couldn’t sleep so I would stay up all night and talk back and forth with people around the world, mostly guys because I liked the attention. Looking back and knowing what I know now it’s probable some of them were pedophiles. That gives me the heebie jeebies.

To most people it seems like all of this was just me acting out. What makes these series of events a hypomanic episode is that all of it was entirely out of character for me. I wasn’t reckless or impulsive. I never got in trouble. I was the perfect child, never talking back and always doing as I was told. I never complained. Following this series of events my Dad said, “You’re not so much the angel we thought you were, are you?”

Depression came crashing into my life not long afterwards. It was as if a storm cloud had descended over me. I began spending all my time in my room in the pitch dark, not wanting to come out. I cried a lot, usually for no reason at all. It was the first time I began having suicidal thoughts. It was when I first started self-harming – in the form of picking out my hair for the pricks of pain it caused and which I continue to do to this day (aka trichotillomania). It was the first time my mom sent me to a psychologist. And, just like I did in the years that followed, I pretended like my mom was making it all up. “Dude, I’m fine. Mom is over reacting. I am totally normal.” I succeeded. I tricked the psychologist into thinking everything was fine  and he sent me on my merry way. My mom’s instincts were right but with the stamp of approval from the psychologist what else could she do.

While grief after death is normal, the mood swings I went through were not. Episodes, whether hypomanic or depressive, come and go on their own. When you experience hypomania, you crash and depression follows. Eventually the cloud of depression lifts and you have a period of normality between the next cycle. Sometimes those quiet periods can last for years but eventually it rears its ugly head. Thus, it begins again.

Every one of us has been depressed at some point in our lives. After all, grief and sorrow are normal reactions to loss. The difference between that and someone with major depression though is that major depression enters your life with or without reason and it stays there, hovering and tormenting you, for long periods of time.

I had just one other hypomanic episode but many major depressive episodes over the next 13 years. What is different about bipolar I and bipolar II is the severity of your mania and the episode you spend most of your time in. With bipolar II you spend more time in a constant state of depression than you do in the highs. Through those depressive episodes I’ve learned many lessons, which I am only now able to articulate given the medication I take to stabilize my mood. This list isn’t by any means exhaustive but which stick out to me the most.


Everyone’s experience is different
When I first started writing and publishing personal essays about what having bipolar II felt like and what it was like to be in a psychiatric ward, I didn’t imagine anyone would ever question the truthfulness of those stories or write negative comments about my experience. People commented on those articles with things like, “I call bullshit,” and “There are many flaws in this story,” and “She is making it up. That would never happen.” I make it a rule not to read any comments on my articles but inevitably someone I know reads them and asks, “Did you see what they wrote!? Those fuckers.” My curiosity peaks and I end up reading them.

Reading those kinds of comments do hurt and it makes me angry that someone would judge my experience or others’ experiences when they themselves have probably never been in my shoes. To say such a personal story is untrue is dismissive and wrong. Hospitals and psychiatric wards don’t look the same across the nation. Yet the beliefs we hold about how hospitals are run and how people are treated creates an image that we are all the same when in reality we are not. Even in the support group I attend with women who have exactly what I have, none of our stories perfectly align. Yet I believe every word of their story. When people share such intimate details of a painful time in their lives, that takes courage. We should be applauding those who speak out to bring awareness and attention to the issue, not condemn them for showing their insecurities. To do so is unkind and shows no compassion for the human condition.


It’s just as hard to articulate how depression affects me as it is for those around me to understand it
I have found major depression to be incredibly difficult to describe. In an effort to understand my diagnosis my family has asked me a lot of questions. I know early on my Dad struggled with why I couldn’t just snap out of it or perk up. He had always said you have one day to be sad and depressed. On day two you better get out of bed and get going because life doesn’t stop. Now that we have open communication about what I feel and he’s read endless books about depression to understand, I’m not sure he will ever truly get it. I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t been diagnosed with what I have will truly get it. When I talk to someone who wants to know about my story and they tell me they know what it’s like to feel depressed, it tends to irritate me. Though everyone experiences a case of the blues, it is far removed from what major depression feels like. But, just as it is difficult for me to describe, it’s probably equally difficult for others to fully grasp. I really shouldn’t get upset when people say that because at the most basic level they’re just trying to show me I’m not alone. They’re trying to offer up compassion and love. That is all I can really expect and I give them major kudos for trying.

There is no magical pill to fix pain
Though medication is incredibly helpful in stabilizing your mood, it doesn’t make the pain or despair you felt miraculously go away. A lot of times you feel ashamed when you come out of the episode. You ask yourself how you could have possibly thought the things you thought or did the things you did (self-harm, attempted suicides, negative self-talk). Long term healing takes a considerable amount of work and it takes time as well. You don’t take a pill and everything becomes hunky dory. People often say that time heals all wounds but I don’t necessarily believe that’s true. Time just  makes enduring pain and separating it from the events that happened in our lives easier. You never believe you’ll survive the pain, but you do survive it. Your life does go on and you continue living it to the best of your ability – day by day.


To make it out, you have to try.
The support and assistance I received from my family and friends after my breakdown was endless. It still is. It made me realize, if even just for them, I needed to embark on a path to recovery. Despite how much it helps to have them lending a hand and having my therapist, psychiatrist, and support group to talk to, I was never going to make progress until I started wanting to get better for myself. No one could walk my path to recovery except me. Though recovery doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes you think you won’t make it, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Things do get better. You get better.

May is mental health awareness month. Do you have a story to share? Feel free to comment below!

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Filed under bipolar II, depression, lessons learned, life lessons, mental health, mental illness, recovery

Good riddance, 26!

I often put puzzles out on the filing cabinet that sits outside my office at work. I also have a white board hanging there, both of which I use as a means of engagement with my coworkers. Puzzles are fun for breaks and what I put on the white board varies by the day. Anything from “What are you grateful for today?” to “Goals for the week” to “Let’s play hangman!” It’s a fun way for me to foster a positive work environment and if you’ve ever worked in state government, you know we could use a little light-heartedness at the office.

I’ve had a running countdown in the corner of the white board since January, keeping my coworkers guessing for months what it could possibly mean. This week they finally figured it out. What was the countdown for? My 27th birthday, of course!

April 30 is a day I’ve been looking forward to pretty much since the day I turned 26. FINALLY, I get to kick my 26th year to the curb. Sianara, sucker! Good riddance! Adios! I most certainly will NOT miss you!

I started out 27 by spilling coffee all over my shirt but coworkers were quick to the rescue with tide-to-go pens and shout wipes (I should really start carrying those) so it turned around quite quickly. Everyone has made my birthday feel special – from sending flowers and cards to taking me out for lunch to sending me loving and thoughtful messages. But the best birthday present of all?! The birth of my nephew, Sawyer Dean. It is so cool to share a birthday with him!

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Even though 26 was a trying year and I’m happy I never have to live it again, I learned some not-so-bad things too.

What I Learned About Life
Everyone, everywhere basically wants the same things: to love and be loved in return; to be joyful and happy; to feel like we belong; to have a sense of purpose that is greater than ourselves; to feel validated; to have a sense of security; to have enough money to enjoy things beyond our basic needs.

It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or who I talk to, it seems like this is always what my conversations circle back around to. Early on in my twenties and up until this past year I was fairly ignorant about that. I thought that no one else could possibly understand what I felt or what I was going through or the things I desired. I was wrong. And at some level, in the back of my mind, I already knew this. But now, I know for sure.

What I Learned About Love
I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to about love in my 26th year. I couldn’t possibly list them all here but what sticks out to me the most is this: at 26 I realized people do things to each other all the time that are awful, disappointing, and devastating. The way I was treated and the things that happened to me at the hands of someone else were flat-out cruel and deeply traumatizing. I don’t know why what happened to me did. But it did. It happened. And even though it makes no sense to me and I don’t have the answers to all the “whys” I can at least acknowledge that despite its horror, it transformed me (and for the better).

Now, at 27, I realize people also do things to each other all the time that are beautiful, uplifting, and genuine.

What I Learned About Myself
Put simply: I am brave, courageous, strong, and willing to both challenge and question myself. I am worthy of good things happening to me.

What I Learned About Work
In December 2014 I accepted my dream job. Six months later I quit.

I am unwavering in the values and beliefs I hold about creating a positive work culture – it’s probably the number one thing I look for in an organization. When a leader does not share those same values and instead abuses their position of authority, it lights a fire so deep inside me. I didn’t know this about myself until I actually experienced it.

I was fortunate enough to work for someone who became like family in the 4 years prior to accepting this particular position. With affection, we called her Mama Bear because she was fierce and firm in protecting us. If you find yourself in a situation where your supervisor does not do this and instead treats you like less than a human being, please stand up for yourself. Their authority does not give them the right to abuse you or your coworkers. No job is worth creating unhappiness in your life.

What I Learned About Family and Friends
I’m quite honestly horrible at keeping in touch regularly with my friends and family. We may only talk every couple of months but if any of us are suffering or hurting there is no doubt we will come out of the woodwork in waves to lift each other up.

I spent a long time presenting one face to the world, which had little resemblance to who I was at home alone. In fact, I was a skilled magician creating an illusion where people only saw what I wanted them to see. When that mask came off I shouldn’t have been surprised to see how many people loved and cared about me. But I was. They are the most important in my life. I didn’t fully realize how much until I hit rock bottom. I have mad love for you guys!

What I Learned About Water Parks
Best way to celebrate your birthday. Ever.

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Filed under birthday, family, lessons learned, life lessons, love, photos, self-awareness, work

Finding grace in tragedy

Elite Daily posts trending topics every day and emails them to contributing writers. One of the topics for today was about spiritual awareness month (something I didn’t even know existed!). I submitted this piece to my editor earlier this morning considering it’s a topic I’ve been obsessed with over the last few months. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been wrestling with how to find grace in all of the difficulties I’ve faced within the last year. Here is what I’ve come to learn so far:

A fundamental question we as humans have been trying to answer for centuries is if a God or Allah or Buddha (or whatever else you believe in) exists, then why do bad things happen? Why does suffering exist?

We cannot possibly imagine a reason for the Sandy Hook or Columbine shootings. The destruction of an entire city which left hundreds of people homeless after the Joplin tornado. The beheadings of innocent civilians by ISIS. Or the emotional and physical abuse we suffer at the hands of another.

Our first reaction to tragedies like this are shock, followed by horror that such inhumanity exists in the world. Then comes sadness and compassion for ourselves and for those whose lives are fundamentally altered, and not always for the better. But in all of these difficult situations our hearts open up wide and our desire to help grows.

We join hands with strangers to pray and hold candlelight vigils. We donate our time and energy into building houses for those who have no place to call home. We protect and harbor those who are escaping a horrible evil. But perhaps the evil that exists in this world is meant to remind us of the grace that can come from tragedy.

Difficult circumstances are the very things that shape us and teach us hope, endurance, and strength. They encourage us to stop being consumed by our own selfishness and become people who offer up compassion and love and understanding for strangers, for the world, for our family and friends, and for ourselves. Even if it is difficult to see, there are quiet moments of joy to be found. I am always in awe of our ability to join hands in the face of struggle.

It is true that the world and the people in it will find so many ways to break our hearts. At times, we will even break our own hearts. The disasters of the world, our failures, our grief, and our self-doubt – they are our worst enemies. They are the malignant tumors that eat away at our minds, our work, our creativity, and our desire to find meaning and purpose in the world.

But despite being awful and so unfair, these are the experiences that offer up a window into our souls. And the only way we can find peace and comfort is to not rush through the emotions those experiences bring us. We have to feel the hurt, the grief, the anger and despair. We find that the way of becoming closer to a higher power and of strengthening our spirituality is not to go around our journey but to endure it.

Our difficulties is what forces us to be the most honest, raw, and vulnerable versions of ourselves. Going around the grief, despair, anger, and hurt those experiences provoke inside of us is unfair to our very existence.

In moments of severe hurt, you have every right to feel it deeply and you have every right to not have your sh*t together every second of the day. But despite how unreasonable the injustices of this world are, we must embrace them. The disasters. The mistakes we make. The addictions we struggle with overcoming. The emotionally devastating heartbreaks we go through. The jobs we lose. The death of our children. It seems so difficult, especially in the moment, but it is possible.

This isn’t to suggest we should quickly release any negative emotions we feel in light of difficult circumstances. On the contrary, we should slow down a bit and be present during the process of healing. Quieting your emotions and jumping to forgiveness before you feel it in your bones will not get you past the visceral pain you feel right now – it only prolongs it. We can only hope to become closer to God – to reach clarity and meaning and purpose – by going through these emotions, not around them.

Sure, harboring such negative emotions is exhausting, but it can also be what drives us. Many people preach that to be a better Christian we must forgive but I believe that forgiveness is not always required to move forward. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason for the bad things that happen in the world or to us. We can find comfort in the Tao Te Ching which tells us that for every 10,000 sorrows there are 10,000 joys. Perhaps what the higher powers are trying to tell us is to find the courage to accept what has happened, to let go and to continue seeing the good that exists in spite of the bad.

However difficult it may seem, we must endure the ugly side of tragedy even if it brings out the most unredeeming qualities. Although we are quick to blame God or Allah or Buddha or whatever you believe in, they are always there to show us our true destiny. Our experiences may even redefine what is important to us and teach us more about what we value and what we find worth standing up for.

In all of the difficult moments we face there is always some sort of grace that can be found. We just have to look deep enough. We have to search for the light and cling to it like a totem pole so we can make our way out of the dark. Reveling in this process, despite it’s horror, will transform us and we will always come out stronger – as a community and as individuals.

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Filed under buddhism, compassion, faith, forgiveness, grace, healing, life lessons, sorrow, tragedy