“The Times They Are A-Changin” ~ Bob Dylan

So, I’m changing the focus of this blog after thinking long and hard about it. You know, my sissy and I spent Sunday together (making macrame’ leaves…we can’t show them to you…they were pretty bad 🙄) and we did a meditation together and really talked about some things. She made a point I’ve really been thinking about and couple that with what I’m learning in my mindfulness/meditation class, I’m ready for a change.

First, T said: “Kristi, you over-analyze things too much.” And…drum roll please…I do! Part of that is being bipolar and having a ___ brain (I was going to say the f-word but restrained myself 😬) that fires differently…I ruminate, worry, go over things again and again in my head while beating myself up. I’m tired of that! Plus, I studied Psychology for years and have taught it for almost 30…analyzing is what we do! So together, I am either in the past, in the future, or trying to force everything to mean something. It’s too much. And, more importantly, there’s no longer a reason to do it.

In mindfulness, you live in the present…the here and now. I’m going to be 55 this week (holy shit that sounds old 😐) and don’t want to spend the next 55 years of my life not being aware of my time now. My pets and my students and my home and my friends and my family and my colleagues and my runs and my walks and my activities…the list goes on. I want to be in each of these moments as they are happening…because I’ve come to understand it’s that moment that really matters. Or almost all that matters!

When I started this blawg, I did it for a few reasons: I wanted to have a place to work out some things which writing helps me to do. I also wanted to show that those of us with mental illness have the same problems and love and work and family stuff that everyone else does. We aren’t weirdos or curiosities. We’re people struggling in life like everyone else with one added ‘thing’.

Finally, I started this right at the beginning of the pandemic when I was stuck at home with Ed and Dottie and going a little bonkers with all the quiet. This gave me something outside of school and I love it.

But, I’m putting a lot to bed today. Like, the past. I’ve made so many mistakes in my life and screwed up so many things…and continually beating myself up over them or thinking I can make things different by typing about them isn’t what I want to do anymore. The past…it’s over. I can celebrate the good from it…make peace with the bad…and work to be mindful of my life right now.

My Shelf!

T and I talked about ‘putting it on a shelf’…you know, like you ‘shelve’ something to think about later. But what if you put something on the shelf and let it collect dust? Why would that matter? So, I actually got a shelf and have a jar and paper. When I get upset or need to vent or need to say something that no one else needs to hear, I’m writing it down and putting it on the shelf. Literally. This visual really helps me to understand that what’s behind me is ‘there’ but no longer affecting me like it has.

I’ve written a lot about the men that have been in my life and I haven’t always been kind and that’s not fair. I have never been in a committed relationship where I didn’t love the guy more than anything at that moment and all are special to me. I have had 3 marriages and 2 serious relationships that all have given me so much…my son, laughter, love, passion. Whatever problems we had, I was just as much to blame and probably even more so a lot of the time! I never want to leave the impression that I was the victim…because I wasn’t. And I apologize if things looked that way. I could fill up a fucking football field with little pieces of paper noting my mistakes and it wouldn’t be enough.

In my class this week, we learned that we need to view mistakes as part of our learning process and to see them as getting us closer to our goals. Further, our mistakes help us to make better choices and decisions next time (Shauna Shapiro”Good Morning, I Love You”). Isn’t that a neat way to look at them?

So, from this point on my blog is going to change a bit. I’m going to write about current issues, my life TODAY, things I’m doing in my classes, outings with ma and sis, etc. And I’m excited about it. 😃

I’m mostly delighted about this though: letting go of all of this is freeing. It truly is. Forgiving myself for all of my mistakes is also needed and I think I’m almost there. You know, it sounds so silly or cliche’ but meditating and relaxing and learning to be mindful are all making me see my life so much more clearly. That I need to embrace today. Love people today. Learn something today.

So, bye bye past. You are on a shelf and I might glance at you now and then but I won’t let you control my life. I’ve learned that I’m the driver of it and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

I love you, peeps…thanks for joining me on this ride. 😍😍😍

Kristi xoxo

“So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me” ~ Ben E. King

So, one of my students and I always walk out to our cars together after my last class and today she said something no one has asked me before: “How do you take everything people put on you?” I looked at her quizzically and she went on to say this: “We are always sharing things with you and burdening you with our problems…doesn’t that get hard to deal with?” I told her that it didn’t and I was just the kind of person people open up too. But, as usual, I started thinking about this more and realized that it probably does affect me more than I let on…or that I even admit to myself.

As the Grand Poobah would attest too, teaching Psychology (and Sociology) puts you in a position of teaching topics/issues/concepts that are so personal. For example, in my Marriage and Family class (my area of expertise…I have enough experience 🙄) we talk about issues including domestic violence, child abuse with special emphasis on sexual abuse, rape, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, mental disorders and their affect on relationships and the list goes on. Pretty heavy stuff, huh?

In my Theories of Personality class that my student is in we talk about attachment, parenting, various conceptions of personality development that can go awry, personality disorders, theories that explore our neurosis, Horney’s Tyrrany of the Shoulds, the Inferiority Complex (Adler), our Shadow archetype (Jung), anxiety and defense mechanisms (S. and A. Freud), identity formation (Erikson), issues relating to freedom (Fromm), love (Fromm), conformity, social belonging, narcissism, psychopathy, real self vs. ideal self (Horney and Rogers), self-esteem, self-worth, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-image and you get the point. ALL of these topics can bring things up in students and even though it sounds absolutely horrible to admit, tears are sometimes shed.

Today we talked about Humanistic theories and discussed Roger’s belief in phenomenology and how it’s OUR perceptions, based on OUR experiences, that need to be the focus of attention. We live in our own bubbles based on things we have gone though which skews perceptions…but those perceptions, though maybe not rational, are real and need to be validated. After all, they’re ours.

So one of my students is a recovering heroin addict who spent 6 years in prison and has been clean since. She lost custody and contact with her first 2 children because of this but has another little girl she’s raising with her partner. The little girl has special needs and acts out uncontrollably at times. She’s in the process of being evaluated, etc. but it’s really hard for my student to handle. When we started talking about how our experiences shape our perceptions, she started crying and said this: “I’m a horrible mom. I get so impatient and so frustrated and I’m giving her these experiences that are going to screw her up. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a mom.”

This broke my heart. This woman is one of the kindest, smartest, and most motivated person I know and she works and tries with her daughter so hard. But, she makes mistakes. She yells and gets upset and cries and is now beating herself up over these times her daughter is taking in. After she calmed down I asked her this: “Name a perfect parent.” She couldn’t. I said: “Name a parent who is 9.9/10.” and she said YOU and I started laughing. WHAT? I told her that you could write every single mistake I made with O on the huge walls of our lecture hall and would still need room for more. I even called O on speaker and asked him to rate my parenting…he said he would probably give me around a 7.5-8. So, in other words, I have degrees in Psych and Family Studies, have worked with ages from 2- 70, have certifications out the wazoo…and I’m a C parent 😳.

She started laughing and we talked about how we are all going to ‘give’ our kids negative experiences because we’re human…they’re human…and when you have 2 imperfect humans interacting, there’s gonna be issues. But that’s OK. It’s normal!

Throughout the same class, students have also talked about lack of self-worth stemming from an assault, growing up in an abusive home where there was never any acceptance or positive interaction, feeling inferior to everyone else, confronting their ‘shadows’ and things they have done that they regret, etc. And I listen, validate, comfort, and sometimes advise if I think it’s appropriate.

And you know, in all of my 28 years of teaching at the college level, I have NEVER once talked about domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, alcoholism in families, or anything else without a handful of students in each class talking about their own experiences or coming to my office to share with me. It breaks my heart. So much. And it’s hard to not bring that home and have it haunt me. I just want to take these young people and wrap them all up in a blanket and schlep them off to a bubbled island where they won’t ever hurt again.

But I have my own issues too. Ever heard of ‘Imposter Syndrome’? This is when you feel like a fraud in what you do…that you really aren’t good enough for the position. I feel like this a lot! Here I am…someone who did shitty in high school…standing in front of future lawyers and counselors and executives and teaching them for a grade that will be on their transcript forever. Sometimes I think I should be in one of the seats…not out in front.

And today? We’re talking about DV in class and I always get choked up. How can I not when ma suffered 28 years at the hands of a batterer? And then we listen to a 911 call placed by a little girl, 7, who’s reaching out for help while her step-father beats her mom in the background. This resounds with me. I used to hear R beat mom when I was in bed. The fear and paralysis and sounds and powerlessness are still there in my head. The first time I heard it I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was the most awful night in my life and growing up in a home with that throughout my teen years has affected me. So when I hear the call, I can understand the girl’s anguish. (And yes, I called 911, my grandparents, my sissy, etc. and we all tried to help ma as much as we possibly could but ultimately, it’s the victim that has to take the help 😔).

When I lecture about sexual abuse, how can I not think of the 2 years I was abused by my psychologist? How can that wound not be re-opened every single semester in multiple classes? Then, when my sweetie students start to share their stories with me, it crushes me.

I never get through my lecture on divorce without choking up to where I sometimes need to take a breather. I hated my parents divorce…it was so hard on sissy and I, and I swore my kid would NEVER ever experience the break-up of their family. Yet he did and I remember his pain. His tears. His shouts. His haunted eyes. And I beat myself up again and again for that.

When we talk about mental illness and it’s stigmatization and how hard it is to live with, I get angry. Why is there still so much shame associated with illnesses no one wants or deserves or asks for? And then when my students message me and tell me they experience depression or anxiety but can’t ask for help because they’re scared people will look at them differently, I cry…because they’re right. You are looked at differently.

So I guess I take on other’s burdens because they need me too. They need someone to share with and talk too and learn from…something I didn’t have in school. They come to me because I’m open about things I’ve gone through…they know about ma (she has actually spoken to some of my classes), me having bipolar, me having been abused, etc. I share with them because they need to know there are people behind these statistics…text chapters…articles. When I say to them: “I understand” they know it’s true. Look, they’re there for me everyday…the huge family I never had and they let me live out my passion to teach and make me feel like I might be making a bit of a difference in their lives. I get back so much more than I give to them so if another student ever asks me why I take so much on, here’s what I’m going to say: “Because I love you all.” It’s as easy as that.

Kristi xoxo

“Ignorance is the enemy and it fills your head with lies.” ~ Rodney Crowell

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So, the Grand Poobah (my office buddy 😃) and I were yacking yesterday while he was working on an assignment that he didn’t know was appropriate or not. In the chapter he teaches on depression, he wanted to focus attention on suicide with the students reading various articles and watching a documentary about it before writing a paper. He wondered if this would be too triggering for some and we had a discussion about this.

Here’s the thing about triggers: we all have them. After my nephew died in the Navy, every time I heard anything about the military, my heart would pound and my stomach would get a hollow feeling. Before I was open about being bipolar, I’d get nervous talking about mental illness and the importance of awareness, yet I was living a lie which made me so anxious. After I engaged in self-harm, I would get horribly defensive if anyone mentioned cutting or accused me of doing it until I was able to share what I had done. And yes, after I attempted suicide myself, I was extremely sensitive to the topic.

But being a prof of Psychology and Sociology, I can’t back away from these issues because I talk about them in most of my classes. I’ll admit that the first time I taught about suicide after my attempt, I started crying…right in front of my class. I was so embarrassed because that has only happened a couple of times in my entire 3 decades of teaching, but the incident was still fresh in my mind. When I started crying, I quickly thought of lying to my students and telling them I wasn’t feeling well, etc. but then went back to how hypocritical I had been covering up being bipolar for most of my life. I lecture to my students how you have to live authentically and how there is no shame in having a mental illness or having attempted suicide. With that in mind and after a deep breath, I shared that I had attempted suicide myself and explained where I had been in my life at that time.

As I was talking, I couldn’t believe the reactions of the class…some shed tears and some nodded so genuinely that I knew they had had suicidal ideation themselves. After the lecture was over and resources perused, papers were turned in and this is some of what was written to me (with any identifying info taken out but all words of the students as they were written):

“I think the reason it was so hard for me to watch this film is because I have a history with depression. I will not lie and say I have never had a suicidal thought because I have. I used to be in a dark place with my mind and I am not ashamed of that because of how much I have grown. My chest started to get tight while watching the film because it took me back to that time in my life when I was really unhappy. I paused the film and took a break and it helped me. I thought this documentary was very sad and it shows a part of human life that is not shown that much. Suicide is not talked about as much as it should be. There should be more awareness and conversation.”

“This week was a very hard week for me when going over the material. I personally have battled with thoughts of suicide but never had the courage try anything. I grew up with a bipolar mother and struggled with my own anxiety and depression.”

“This topic is tough for me to discuss. I have lost multiple friends due to suicide. I was also almost a suicide victim myself. I struggled my entire life with depression and anxiety. To fully understand the impact of mental health and suicide, I will lay out my story. This is hard for me to do, but I feel it is essential to speak about it.”

“Lastly , I am a survivor of depression and attempting suicide as well. I chose article one because it really touches my life in the last year. My son was self harming by cutting himself on the legs and arms. The day I was told I stopped at nothing trying to find my son’s help. It went from that to last month I found out my son tried x-pills, 2 years of alcohol misuse, becoming withdrawn, rebellious, and just 2 months ago he attempted fighting my daughter and I , he would go from saying he wanted to kill himself, to nobody loving him, to breaking down crying. Glass shattered everywhere, holes in my wall that I’m still trying to get fixed, me trying to console him and my daughter, finally having to call for assistance and watching my son leave by the ambulance screaming he loves me.”

“I can relate to those who express suicidal thoughts, as its something I myself have struggled with. The best way to describe it, is a voice inside your head telling you that no one cares, and your life doesn’t really matter.”

The saddest thing about these comments is that I only picked out these 5 out of the 20 students I had; however, EVERY one of them wrote about their own personal struggles with suicide (the majority) or having a friend or sibling that has attempted or completed. That boggles my mind.

There is so much pain out there. So much loneliness. So much neediness in terms of connection. How horrible that for my students that this has already touched their lives. And from comments in other classes, I also know this class wasn’t an anomaly at all.

Now we talk about triggers which is something I hadn’t heard of or been cautioned about until a few years ago. Us professors are told to tell students when we’ll be studying a subject matter that could be triggering to them and to offer them alternatives. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. However, the research begs to differ.

Take a look at findings published in Clinical Psychology Article:

“The consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, including literature passages, photographs, and film clips: Trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress. They do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts, two hallmarks of PTSD. Notably, these findings hold for individuals with and without a history of trauma.”

Also, Forbes magazine reported this:

“Across all the variations in the studies, trigger warnings had trivial effects. In the words of Mevagh Sanson, senior author of the study, “The results suggest a trigger warning is neither meaningfully helpful nor harmful.” “The format of the presumably upsetting content, whether in text or on video, did not matter. Neither did a personal history of trauma; participants who reported they had experienced actual trauma in their lives responded to the distressing material similarly, regardless of whether it was preceded by a trigger warning or not.”

Finally, the Chronicle of Higher Education says this:

“We are not aware of a single experimental study that has found significant benefits of using trigger warnings. Looking specifically at trauma survivors, including those with a diagnosis of PTSD, the Jones et al. study found that trigger warnings “were not helpful even when they warned about content that closely matched survivors’ traumas.””

What do psychologists think? Let’s take a look-see at an article in Psychological Science:

“Specifically, we found that trigger warnings did not help trauma survivors brace themselves to face potentially upsetting content,” said Payton Jones, a researcher at Harvard University and lead author on the study. “In some cases, they made things worse.” Worryingly, the researchers discovered that trigger warnings seem to increase the extent to which people see trauma as central to their identity, which can worsen the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long run.”

So, this sheds all new light in terms of triggers. Not only do they don’t seem to work, but they can also increase the distress of a student.

Now, what are usually seen as triggers? Suicide, eating disorders, sexual assault, domestic violence, mental illness, sex, murder, death and anything else the professor deems might be triggering to a student.

There’s absolutely no doubt these are very difficult subjects to learn about, but they are very important to understand. Every 11 seconds, another American takes their own life while there’s also 14 people being hurt by their intimate partner. One in 5 Americans live with a mental illness (51+ million people) and someone is raped every 68 seconds.

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Look, these are serious numbers and obviously going to touch all of our lives in one way or another. I once had someone tell me, after a difficult lecture, that ignorance is bliss. Heh? IGNORANCE is bliss? NOT understanding and being oblivious and uninformed is better? For who exactly? You? Us? Me?

If we don’t address these issues…talk about these issues…and learn all we can about them, how in the hell are we going to work at turning these numbers around?

You know, I was really distressed over the sexual abuse I experienced from my psychologist and I’ll be honest: anytime I heard about sexual abuse or rape, I would break out in a sweat and feel like my stomach dropped 10 floors down an elevator. Worse, I started working on a psychology degree and guess what I had to learn all about? I was really nervous when the topic was being presented but the way the professor taught it, I was able to look at it academically and there was truly a comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. That what I was going through was normal. I learned about sexual abuse and realized that if I always turned my head away from it, I would never be able to use what I’d been through to help others. And that’s what I try to do now.

So here’s the answer to the Grand Poobah who is going to be reading this: keep your assignment on suicide. Students can take breaks when reading articles or watching videos but the information is vital. Suicide (as well as so many other topics I mentioned) is an epidemic and NOT talking about it and teaching about it only keeps it hidden away. I want my students to understand why people want to kill themselves…what signs they can look for…how to talk to someone who is suicidal. I want them to know what early signs of domestic violence are and to understand the pathology of mental illnesses. I want them to be educated in the issues that Americans face every day of their lives.

Unfortunately, I’ve had students come to me days after being raped and I would never ever expect them to complete a unit on sexual assault so soon after the traumatic experience…so there’s obvious exceptions to this. But, ignorance is not bliss and the info we teach isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. Until we face things and help students to understand that their own experiences can be talked about and explored and validated, we are doing them an injustice. We’re simply keeping everyone in the dark.

Kristi xoxo

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

So, it was a long weekend of reflection, ruminating and crying…something a bipolar woman like me is very good at. Go figure. 🙄

I was talking to ma about how my last boyfriend moved on so quickly and seriously and how rejected I felt. He ghosted me after an argument where we both said things we shouldn’t have. However, I truly believed it was a cooling off period and he would come back so we could talk. I tried to talk to him once myself and didn’t get an open response so waited for him to make a move. Living 2 doors apart and the time we spent together along with things we went through had me convinced that this was the guy that was going to be the one to stick around and work on what we were building. Once again, the old refrain holds true: I was wrong.

It hit me this weekend when I saw him with his ex in the house I thought he was buying for ‘us’ so that we could have a balance of togetherness and independence and do the relationship ‘right’…not living together already but living close. This is going to be interesting now.

I lied to myself after J and I broke up. After that fiasco, I told my son (who is very strong emotionally…he obviously takes after me 🙄) that I would never let my heart be broken like that again. Never. And I was living up to it…for a while.

The rejections I’ve experienced in my life make me very hyper-sensitive (for lack of a better word) towards them and I think I know who was the biggest rejection of all: me.

My Theories of Personality class and I were discussing Anna Freud today and the various defense mechanisms we might use throughout life to mitigate internal stress. Three of them really smacked me in the face for some reason and made me think about the weekend: denial, distortion, and delusional projection explain so much to me about how I lived my life for decades.

You see, I always knew something was wrong with me…I’ve mentioned that before. I got help in high school and that led to 2 years of sexual abuse by the psychologist and understandably, that was a HUGE rejection of me as a person as opposed to an object. When B and I were married, I thought “this is it!” This is the guy I’m going to spend the rest of my life with and build a family with no matter what. In other words, despite the fact I had a mental illness, I was going to build that life perfectly come hell or high water.

So, I ‘denied’ everything that pointed to me being bipolar. Mania? Nah…I’m just really really ‘happy’ right now. Depression? Nope…not me. I just needed to clean more or make a big dinner. And then to deal with the imperfection inside my mind, I ‘distorted’ my reality in that I figured if the OUTSIDE was wonderful and perfect, then the INSIDE would be wonderful and perfect. I was perfect in a lot of ways…our house was fastidiously clean, dinner was always on the table at 5, holidays were a huge to-do, my room mothering was like no other (teachers fought to have O in their class since my class parties were legend 😳) , I parented the crap out of my son and loved on him until he was blue in the face, and pretty much created this ‘delusional’ world where everything was great. Super. Wonderful. Perfect.

I’m not going to lie…it was tough as fuck to do this. Sometimes getting out of bed took ages and I had to force it and then other times, not going through the roof took all the control and energy I had. The worst part? This charade obviously didn’t work…no matter how hard I tried. Why? Because charades are a game…not reality.

Hubby 3 accepted me completely…sorta. He accepted me completely as long as he was happy and settled and content. If I tried to talk about needing help or other issues, I was told: “You don’t need that…you’re perfect like you are.” Bless his heart…he meant that and thought that was what I needed to hear, but what he didn’t know was how devaluing that was for me. He wasn’t seeing ME. He wanted me to be the perfect one. He didn’t want to know that I was broken too. When our lives began going on different trajectories, he decided he needed to choose between his motorcycle ‘club’ and me and you know who won. I was thrown away for a group of grungy guys who drink beer, belch, ride Harleys and think they’re contributing a lot to the world. Ok. That didn’t hurt the old self-esteem.

J rejected me in the worst way possible and actually SEEING it made it that much worse. The absolutely most horrible and humiliating thing I’ve ever done in my life was to go to his apartment after this situation to ask him to work on things ONE more time. He rejected me (‘she’ was there 🤢) again when ironically, I should have been the one to kick his butt to the curb.

And now? It’s happened again. But the funny thing is this was a guy that I didn’t think would do it because it’s been done to him a lot of times too. It was like I finally found the man who could understand me. Would persevere with me. Would work with me. I did. I handled his ‘drinking’ problem…his anger issues…his trust issues. But he couldn’t handle anything about me? Women cheated on him with best friends and I’m so bad of a person that I’m left for saying 1 thing I shouldn’t have? Really? That’s how disposable I am as compared to others? Wow.

I threw my true self away for so so long in my life and I’ve had others do the same. I’m getting to where I feel unloveable. Or at least I’m loveable when they’re happy, but just not when I’m unhappy. They’re happy when I forgive their outbursts. Their anger. Their diatribes. But they can’t reciprocate. Really?

Maybe that person isn’t out there. I know I finally found her in me and am living as authentically as I possibly can (which is the only reason I can even write these things let alone hit the publish key). It took me about 35 years to do it and I’m wondering if that’s how much longer it will take me to find the person who accepts me for me…imperfect me who is going to fuck up and make mistakes. I’m ok with that me now. I hope someday I’ll find another who will be as well.

So, I realized I’m not just crying for the loss of another relationship that really meant something to me. I’m crying over the years I was lost to myself. For the hiding I had to do. For the daily performances I had to give. And I’m also crying for just how fucking hard it is to be the ‘real’ me.

Kristi xoxo

“It took all the strength I had not to fall apart…” ~ Gloria Gaynor (I Will Survive)

So, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and although I’ve written about this before, it’s such an important problem to understand and address with so many myths abounding about it.

Let’s take a look-see at some facts which clearly illustrate what an epidemic DV truly is:

  • 20 people are physically abused every minute by an intimate partner in the U.S. Total number: 10 million a year. Now take a look at this, peeps: by the time you read through this blog post which I’m going to gauge at 5 minutes, 100 people will have been physically abused by the one person in the world who is supposed to love them. And remember…I said PEOPLE, not women. BOTH men and women experience DV with 1:4 women and 1:9 men experiencing some level of physical violence in their lifetimes. That’s a scary thought.
  • Domestic violence is the #1 leading cause of violent death for women in the U.S. – even more than rape, muggings, and car accidents combined.
  • 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year with 90% being an eye-witness. This is heart-breaking to me and we know that kids exposed to DV experience a plethora of behavioral, social, psychological and even physical issues.
  • On average, 3 women are killed by her partner every day (the UK has the same stat). Every. Single. Day. Worldwide, it’s over 50,000 women a year which is about 137 a day. Every. Single. Day.
From The Guardian – the faces of some of the women killed in the UK.

Even scarier? According to an article in TIME: “Growing evidence shows the pandemic has made intimate partner violence more common—and often more severe.” And why? Because COVID has given abusers more tools and more chances to control their victim (COVID doesn’t cause one to be abusive but it can exacerbate abuse). One main thing all abusers do is isolate their victims and the pandemic made this extremely easy to do.

How do we know this for sure? Well, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine found this: In Portland, Oregon public schools closed March 16th, 2020 and residents were quarantined at home beginning on March 23rd; soon after, the Portland Police Bureau recorded a 22% increase in arrests related to DV compared to prior weeks. The same thing happened in San Antonio, Texas. After schools closed on March 20th, 2020 and stay-at-home orders began March 24th, the San Antonio Police Department experienced an 18% increase in calls pertaining to family violence in March 2020 compared to March 2019. And, this trend is happening all over the country.

Excellent book by Leslie Morgan Steiner that tells her story of being in a DV relationship and how she was able to leave. It’s available on amazon.com.

In other words, this already horrible problem is worsening.

When I teach about DV in my classes, one of the first questions my students pose is this: “Why does she stay?” which is something VERY wrong to ask about a DV victim. Couldn’t we also say: “Why did she allow herself to get robbed? Hit by a drunk driver? Mugged?” There is no other crime, except rape, where the victim is more often than not blamed and we wonder why victims are reluctant to seek help. (You know, it’s also interesting that the pronoun ‘she’ is always used when asking about victims…men who experience DV are a ‘hidden’ group).

So, I use the Power and Control Wheel to explain why it’s so difficult for victims to leave (this wheel was developed in 1984 for female victims and work has been done on a wheel for male victims which is similar in most regards):

Research Gate
  • Being intimidated and constantly reminded that this person is one to fear (including showing weapons, breaking things, and creating an atmosphere where there’s always the threat of violence).
  • Being beaten down emotionally and made to feel as if they don’t deserve anything better.
  • Being shut off from their family and friends and having every part of their life controlled from computer use, to miles driven in a day, to trackers on phones.
  • Being told that ‘everyone’ has problems, that the abuse wasn’t ‘that bad’ and making light of it, or that the victim caused it themselves.
  • Using the kids: if anyone told me to do something or my son would get hurt, I’d do it in heartbeat. Hands down.
  • Using male privilege in that the man is ‘king of his castle’ and even using scripture to justify the abuse.
  • Using financial abuse by controlling all of the money. You need money to leave and to live.
  • Living in an atmosphere of constant threats. “If you leave, I’ll kill you.” And this is a viable threat since around 75% of victims who die were killed as they attempted to leave the relationship or after the relationship had ended.

There are other reasons why the victim finds it extremely dangerous and difficult to leave:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Trauma bonding which is experiencing powerful feelings it’s difficult to make sense of since the abuse is also alternated with kindness. Also, the person the victim fell in love with is still clear in their mind.
  • The hope for change is strong, and the love from the ‘love-bombing’ stage is powerful. At first, this person is your soulmate! The one person who understands you! The one person who reflects back what they know you want to see! The one person you can confide all your secrets in! And then, after the person has completely fallen in love, the devaluation begins and abuse comes into the relationship…just bit by bit…until the victim is trapped. BTW: love-bombing is not LOVE on the part of the abuser! It’s a manipulative technique used to trap victims.
  • Societal denial (“But he’s a nice man!”)
  • Threats of retaliation (threats of custody; threats to withhold money; threats to interfere with the person’s job; etc.)
  • Access to a shelter that is available, can take kids, is accessible for those that are deaf, disabled, etc. A study in 2017 showed that “…while more than 72,000 victims of domestic violence received services on a single day, nearly 12,000 requests were turned away because programs lacked the resources to help.” Also, shelters are cutting staff due to a lack of resources/funding.

So, are there signs that someone could be an abuser? Red flags? Oh yeah. However, when someone is falling in love, the emotions supercede the rational side of our minds and we either don’t see these signs clearly or rationalize the signs away.

  • Jealousy – “He loves me so much he can’t stand me to be with anyone else!” 🙄
  • Controlling behavior – picking out clothes, looking at phones, insisting on shared social media accounts, etc.
  • Isolation – ‘We only need each other.’
  • Blames others for problems – nothing is ever the abusers fault and they are incapable of taking responsibility for any of their actions. However, they insist others take total responsibility for anything they perceive was wrong.
  • Hypersensitivity – I once had a partner who called me some pretty horrible names (along with some threats) that I ‘had’ to forgive him for since we were committed to one another, all while being chided for being sensitive. However, when I finally got so angry during an argument and called him a name (which wasn’t a curse word), I never saw him again. Go figure.
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Use force during arguments or ‘playful’ use of it during sex
  • Verbal abuse – names, put-downs, etc.
  • Sudden mood swings – from nice to angry and back again. When I experienced this, I was simply told “I have an anger issue.” Ya think?
  • History and/or threats of violence
  • Also, abusers are also more likely to be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Anyhoot, that’s just some info on DV that is so important to understand and so important to share. No one deserves to be abused and this isn’t an individual or a couple problem. It’s a WE problem. The annual cost for DV in the U.S. is estimated to be around $12 billion which includes health care, counseling, emergency services, work missed, etc. There’s also the threat of others being caught in the middle of incidents and 3/4 of victims are harassed at work by their abuser.

Just writing this today has made me sad because whenever I talk about DV, it’s ma’s face I see. Ma was young and vulnerable and heart broken when she met R and he used all of that to his advantage. I saw ma with black eyes, bruises all along her arms/legs/face, with internal injuries, and the list goes on. Plus, I know me and sis didn’t see it all…she tried to cover up as much as she could.

Ma!

I also saw ma go from a vibrant, funny woman to a shell of who she had previously been. To survive R, she drank with him and now has liver damage and esophageal varices that pose a risk to her. For 28 years, the light in ma’s eyes dimmed and a lot of times it was completely out. After she left R and was safe, she slowly started to blossom. Started to live again. Enjoy again. She’s made friends and goes places and is believes in herself more and more. Of course she carries scars from her marriage to R…how could she not? She lived with a monster for 3 decades and was abused throughout. But, ma is strong and has come through on the other side with a new lease on life. We’re so proud of her!

So that’s why I’m passionate about teaching this to my students and writing about it to you, my sweet peeps. This is an epidemic no vaccines or store closings are going to fix. And the saddest part of all? Long after COVID is under control, women will still die everyday because of DV. Kids will be damaged for life. And both men and women will experience assault from the one person they wanted to love forever.

Kristi xoxo

“Just another manic Monday…” ~ The Bangles

So, I called in sick on Friday which is something I rarely do. In fact, I have 2,176 sick hours accumulated over the course of my tenure which will add a year to my retirement when I decide to take it…I’m still so young now (cough cough). Anyhoot, my symptoms were: fatigue, lower back pain, arm pain, chest pain, shoulder pain, hand pain, leg pain, foot pain, and knee pain. Other than that, I felt great. 🙄 And, since I have so much insight into the workings of the human body and read WebMD on a regular basis, I have figured out the culprit to all of this: a patio.

For the last couple of years, my backyard was ‘meh’ and after getting Mally, it worsened this summer. There was a BIG dirt & weed (not the good kind 😐) patch and although I tried seeding it and covering it and watering it and putting barriers up around it, Ed and Mal continued their quest to make my backyard look like crap in that particular area. I called a couple of landscapers about laying a patio in the spot and the best quote I got was $2000. Wwwwaaayyy too much for me to justify…so…I decided to do it myself. Let’s take a look-see:

Digging this area out wasn’t bad at first…in fact the first shovel full was quite delightful as I reveled in creating this myself. By the 5th shovel full, I wanted to move to a condo that offers complete yard maintenance. But, with Edward, Mally, and Chloe (my baby grand-chihuahua) cheering me on, I got it done and after her inspection, Mally told me it was fine.

Now the fun part was going to start: picking my pavers at Lowe’s but before I could do that, I had to move the dirt pile I had stupidly piled up on the little concrete pad right behind me. I was so intent on digging, that I just tossed the scoops of dirt willy-nilly and was now trapped. So…I grabbed the God forsaken shovel again and moved all of the dirt to my driveway. In front of the garage and too close to the backyard fence gate. Then, I hosed off the area by where I was working and created a crap ton of mud…in front of my garage and the fence gate. The result? A 6×6 area of mud that I had to shimmy through the gate and climb over in order to get into said garage all while wearing clothes caked in dirt, water, mud, and I think some poopies I missed while cleaning up the yard before digging. Charmed, I’m sure.

Finally, I was off to Lowe’s without changing. What the hell…I just plopped a beach towel on my Jeep seat and took off with the assumption no potential mates would see me. 🙄

Did you know that when you study psychology and sociology in college, you don’t pay too much attention to math? Did you know it’s very difficult to turn 16″ paver sizes to feet in terms of figuring number and did you know it doesn’t take 100 of the fuckers to cover a 10×10 area? Well…I didn’t. And, when the old man was waiting with his forklift to get me a pallet and I was on my calculator punching in random numbers because I had no clue what I was doing, I said: “Bet you wouldn’t believe I’ve been teaching all my life…” He said: “Nope. I wouldn’t have.” Thanks, gramps. 🙄

So…since my Jeep could only hold so many pavers, I took 16 with me, along with sheets of paver bases which I also had to figure size of. To make a long story short(er), I ended up going back to Lowe’s 4 times. To get more pavers. To get 1 more paver. To return the many paver bases I had bought too many of. And, to get moolah back on the 64 extra pavers I had paid for and didn’t need. As a result, I know every person in the Garden Center by name now…everyone in the Garden Center thinks I’m an idiot…and they are all praying I never start another project again.

I got the area paved and it’s not perfectly level. No matter how much I tried, some of the pavers just wouldn’t get even! Once my back gets better, I’m going to dig out 3 and if I get those OK, it will look great! All in all, I lifted 1,750 pounds of pavers, pea gravel, and bricks along with the hundred shovel fulls of dirt.

Plus, I did a few more things in the backyard:

The bricks I took out are now bordering these grasses…I’m going to fill in with pea gravel later!

Now, along with this rigamarole, I also painted shutters, my awning, and trim on my house along with cleaning up the gutters. My sweet neighbor watched so he could YouTube it if I fell off the roof. I didn’t, but it was close.

Now, I did all of this in a period of just 4 days. That’s a manic episode for you, peeps, and I’m in a doozie of one because of all my med changes. You know, mania is a tough thing to handle. On one hand, getting all of this done by myself makes me really proud…unlevel pavers and all. I love knowing I accomplished fixing things up myself and have learned a lot! But, the motor inside of you during a manic phase never shuts off…and you can’t make it. I knew I was exhausted on day 3 but couldn’t stop myself from continuing until I about dropped. This weekend, I’ve been be TRYING to lay around and rest and I’m doing my best. Ma’s first tendency is to say: “Kristi, you need to slow down and not worry about getting things done so much!” and I know this is what I would probably say to someone too. But, that’s akin to telling a depressed person to “Just cheer up” or a person with anxiety to “Just calm down.” Neither works for those either. Mania is just as much out of my control as when I’m depressed. I’ve been on my mood stabilizer for a week now and up my dose tomorrow. It’s going to take a couple more weeks to kick in and until then, I just need to deal with this the best I can. I’m trying to channel it in ways that are productive, but it is what it is (my least favorite saying of all time.).

Anyhoot, thanks for looking at my yard work and understanding how much it means to me to have done it myself. Y’all are wonderful…truly! 😍

Kristi xoxo

“He opened the lid and shook his fist…” ~ Monster Mash

A drawing I did of my brain this week.

So, I got my daily newsletter in my inbox today from bphope which is an excellent website all about bipolar with features and stories, treatment news, relationship advice, etc. and every so often, there will be articles about the myths which abound with this mental illness. There always seems to be new ones and I’m sure I could add a lot to what’s already out there. But I’m having a somewhat down day today and realized that myths aren’t what I am most focused on in with this disorder right now…it’s fears.

“You have nothing to fear but fear itself.” This gem was first said by President Roosevelt in 1933 (after being swiped from Thoreau 😳 ) and I don’t want to be disrespectful but this is a crock of crap 💩 . Now, I understand what he was saying: you don’t want fear to paralyze you to where you can’t keep advancing but instead move backwards, and in the context of the Great Depression, this is probably sound advice. But, it also puts an onus of responsibility on people to never think they have a right to buckle…to stress…to become overwhelmed which to me are very human reactions to fearful situations that need to be expressed and validated.

Look, if a tiger was charging at me full-speed with fangs gleaming and roars emanating, I would NOT advance. I would NOT be able to retreat. I WOULD, however, most likely stand in that spot, paralyzed, with pee running down my safari shorts. Right? 😳 (Note to self: order some cute safari shorts…)

Those of us who have bipolar…or any mental illness…experience a lot of fears and if we can’t admit to them…talk about them…be validated for them…we feel yet another piece of additional guilt added on to an already huge list of things we have to feel bad about.

One of my biggest fears is that I’ll never find anyone in my life (outside of my wonderfully supportive family who truly does understand this 🥰) who will be able to fully understand that having bipolar is not a character flaw, a weakness, a manipulative ploy to control them. Bipolar is a biologically based illness…period. Various medical tests including MRI’s and CT’s show dramatic differences between healthy brains and bipolar brains and being a neurological illness, it literally changes how the brain operates.

Now, do we understand exactly WHY this happens? Nope. Does that mean it doesn’t happen? Nope. There are lots of times this happens with ‘accepted’ disorders/illnesses/diseases: Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Bell’s Palsy, and Parkinson’s to name just a few. There’s no question that these are biological in nature…I don’t think anyone would dare say that those with Alzheimer’s are just being dramatic and if they would just try, their memory and associated physical conditions would miraculously return to normal. It gets old to be blamed for a condition you have…and it’s gets old for having to apologize for it over and over again.

Silhouetted profile with pills forming a brain’s outline

On the same note, having to rely on meds to control this illness is scary too, although I realize that all meds can be scary. Look at what we’re seeing in terms of conditions that have altered their chemistry as a result of the over-use of antibiotics. According to the CDC, more than 2.8 million of these antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. yearly and no fewer than 35,000 people die because of this.

Psychotropic meds are scary simply for the fact they are operating on your actual brain functioning…your center so to speak. You know, in a way it’s like being an alcoholic: you need the ‘chemical’ to balance yourself. Take a look-see at this from Alcohol Rehab Guide:

“When someone abruptly quits drinking, the neurotransmitters are no longer inhibited by alcohol and the brain scrambles to adjust to the new chemical imbalance – causing the debilitating side effects of withdrawal which are separate from the “feel good” effects of alcohol consumption.”

It’s the same with my meds in that they affect my neurotransmitters and chemical balances; however, I NEED the meds to do this or my bipolar would be completely out of control. It’s not an addiction…but a need. And of course there are withdrawal effects when the med is stopped. According to Healthgrades: “Some drugs (and combinations of drugs) are linked to higher risks of obesity, diabetes, heart problems, thyroid disorders, kidney problems, and other chronic illnesses, all of which can shorten lifespan when left untreated.”

Courtesy of imgflip.com

If this isn’t bad enough, there’s also the fear that our meds will lose their ability to be effective and will need to be changed (like mine are right now). So, you’re faced with often terrible withdrawal effects as your brain re-adjusts without the med and then have to begin something new…hoping it will work.

In fact, Healthgrades also states: “Studies show that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to die early than people without the condition, by anywhere from 10 to 25 years.” I’m 54 (blech 🙄) years old. I want to live as long as I can to see my future grandbabies (cough cough, son…), to be productive in my life, to fulfill dreams I have…and the list goes on.

Another fear? Research at The National Center for Biotechnology Information has shown a significant increase in dementia in older people who have bipolar. Well hells bells…that’s great to know. 🙄 Not only is my life-span shortened but I may not realize what’s happening in it the last few years anyway. Charmed.

So, there are things to fear but fear itself and when you have a mental illness, there can be a lot of fears. Having these doesn’t mean I don’t move forward but it does mean that I carry the burden of these everyday. We all do. And we all need to be ensured by others that we are loved…special…smart…funny… in spite of what’s on our shoulders. Or what’s in our heads.

Kristi xoxo

Happy Trails ~ Roy Rogers & Dale Evans

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So, I’m sitting in my office at school and I feel like bawling but in a good way! A few things have happened that make me feel that feeling where you’re so happy but so emotional that bawling just happens.

Ma went in for a procedure yesterday regarding her esophageal varices and the news was good! Everything is looking the way it should and this issue is definitely under control! YEA! As my peeps know, ma is my rock and has always been there for me and I don’t know what I’d do without her, though most likely it would be moving in with my son (don’t tell him that and God forbid he’s reading this right now 😳).

But for the past couple of years, sissy and I have been doing a lot for ma and it feels good to us. We like being able to ‘pay it back’ in terms of what she’s given us and all I can say is this: “T….when ma moves in with you in her ‘elderlier’ years, I’ll come by and help all I can. K?” 😎

Then, I’m completely off one of the meds (Effexor) that was causing me to have MORE issues in terms of mania than I would have had without it. As I wrote before, 2 of my meds were at odds with one another and just getting this one completely out of my system has made such a difference. Before ma went into the OR she even said to me how much more calm and centered I am! (We ended up having to wait for about 3 hours before she got in so I read her some short-stories…when I’d look up at her, she’d be so engrossed in listening that it tickled me 😍).

I go back to the doc tomorrow and he’s going to start weaning me off my 2nd med (Prozac) which should be an easier process. The withdrawals from Effexor can be bad unless you’re carefully weaned. I had forgotten to take it a couple of times during the last few years (I wasn’t diligent in filling my script 😬) and after just 2 days without it, I was a crying/yelling/manically depressed mess. My sissy experienced the same thing when she was taking it and missed a couple of doses. Prozac should be easier on me and then I’ll start the mood stabilizer that is indicated for bipolar! I can’t wait to continue on this road because my hope is so high with controlling this fucking (sorry, ma 🙄) illness.

Also, my Mally is doing so much better! She is coming when I call her about 80% of the time and is interacting more with Eddie and I when we’re all inside. She’s responding more to treats and knows some commands: night night (to get her in her crate to sleep in at night), walk (she loves these but if I don’t get the leash on her before she goes out, she won’t let me put it on her…and that little shit can slip by me quickly!), c’mon, and treat! A couple of nights ago, I walked both her and Eddie together and besides Ed almost pulling my arm out of it’s socket, it went really well. I’m so pleased with Mally’s progress!

Finally, I am so so happy to be back on campus and for some reason, feel much more relaxed and loose. I think it’s because I missed it so much and also because of the last year and a half online. Putting all of my classes out there virtually made me go through the materials so thoroughly and I kept searching for more and more ways to encourage engagement. I’ve always been prepared but just feel like I have more in my storehouse of info. Today, 2 girls walked me to my office and one of this said this: “I love your class! It’s the only one I’m actually learning something in!” The other student agreed.

Now, am I bragging? Well…a bit…🤭…but actually, that’s the way it should be. I want my students to come out of each class feeling it was worth their while and these comments made me see it is so far. But the best thing is this: I get something from my students everyday as well…and that makes me happy!

So…I’m feeling emotional. A good emotional. When you have a mental illness, things don’t always line up like this and when they do, it needs to be savored. I’m always going to have good weeks…bad weeks…mediocre weeks…tough weeks…depressed weeks…manic weeks…and just plain shitty weeks. But, this week is a winner…and I’m lovin’ it!

Kristi xoxo

“And the beat goes on…” ~ Sonny & Cher

So, I went to a specialist a couple of weeks ago in another city and feel so good about what my future bipolar treatment plan looks like! Yea!

First, this guy has both an M.D., and is a psychiatrist, plus a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. In other words, we’re on the same intellectual level (🙄). Anyhoot, he did the most thorough evaluation I’ve ever had and really dug around in my brain…Lord knows what he could have found.

According to Doc, I have been on the WRONG bipolar regiment for quite a while now and he was gobsmacked by what I was being treated with…particularly since the treatment was OK’d by another psychiatrist in the town I live in. However, that doc only met with me for minutes…he didn’t take the time to really find out all about my symptoms, and I’m a bit pissed by him just throwing some meds at me.

Basically, I am on 3 different anti-depressants which actually are working AGAINST each other in my brain. The 3rd is pretty much a mild one and is OK right now, but there are a few problems with the 2 main ones: just taking them together, which I’ve been doing for a couple of years now, actually counteract one another and are NOT indicated for bipolar. In fact, Doc said that both together are actually causing a ‘conflict’ in my brain chemistry and are most likely worsening my bipolar symptoms. He said that not only has it been like I’ve been on nothing for the my mental illness, but I’ve actually had a drug combo that was triggering more symptoms. What??? It’s making my bipolar worse? Yep…it sure is.

This was a major kick in the ass for me. For these past couple years I have been struggling more and I truly blamed myself. I kept thinking: “Hey…you are on these meds so anything you aren’t ‘controlling’ is your fault.” But actually, that’s not true. Doc put it this way (I think he dumbed it down a tad for me…thank God 😳): “These 2 meds are fighting one another…one is pulling stuff out and the other is pushing it back down. This fight is stressing out your brain chemistry even more.” NOTE: I’m assuming he means neurotransmitters but I can understand him using the word ‘stuff’ because when I asked what country he was from…he has an adorbs accent…he said to try to guess. I said “Turkey?” and he said “YES!! How did you know that??” And I honestly replied “I watch 90 Day Fiance.” He gave me a look for a long minute or two, scratched something else down on his pad, and continued our talk. 😳

Now, he also informed me that these 2 meds can also cause sweatiness, nausea, tremors, incoordination, etc. and I actually do have some tremors…they mostly occur in the evenings but were scary when they first started. I’ve also been tripping since I was a tot so I’m assuming my body was preparing itself for this drug cocktail ever since. Just sayin’.

Anyhoot, Doc is weaning me off of one of the meds right now and I’m almost completely done with it. I already feel better and he said I would because I’d be stopping that conflict in my brain! I feel MUCH less rattled and MUCH less manic…it feels goooooood! After I’m off of this one completely (Thursday) I see him a week later and then I’ll wean off the 2nd med. Once these are out of my bod, I’ll get prescribed Lamotrigine again which he feels is the best mood stabilizer for bipolar.

However, I’ve been on it before and although it seemed to help me, I was pretty zombie-ish. Doc said that was partially caused by these other meds and the fact it couldn’t work on my fucked up (he didn’t use that particular word but it’s the closest one I can think of…sorry, ma 🤨) chemistry. He said that really, all I need is a mood stabilizer and mild anti-depressant. With these 2 working together the way they should, I will be more stable than I’ve ever been before.

You know, it’s scary to sometimes think of how different my brain chemistry is and how much I need meds to stabilize it. During my evaluation, doc had me pick a past manic and past depressive episode and tell him all about it…he guided the questions. It was like he was dissecting my brain to really understand what happens when I experience these. Then he had me talk about my most recent ones and he did the same. After doing this, I realized that the episodes really have changed over the last couple of years.

When we were looking at these, I started bawling (go figure 😐) and he asked me why; after all, I wasn’t talking about anything disastrous that should be upsetting me. I said this: “I’ve been feeling like I’m on my own with this (bipolar) and to know I just wasn’t getting the right help I needed makes me sad. I would love to turn back these couple of years and live them differently.” He said he understood but that time can’t be changed…we just have to go forward and live from this moment on.

That’s sometimes easier said than done though…isn’t it? I actually wish I would have gotten help a LONG time ago instead of thinking: “I’m a psychology professor…I know what I’m doing.” I hate that I hid from this diagnosis for so much of my life and that it’s finally at the age of ‘cough-cough’ 54 that I’m seeing long-term hope. I hate that people have been affected by something I’m trying my very best to deal with. I hate I need meds and help and that this is one thing I can’t do on my own. I hate that at times I feel sorry for myself when I should always be grateful for who I am and all I have.

Anyhoot, I’m just so relieved that not only am I on a much better plan for bipolar, but I have some understanding of why things have been so tough for me. I love that I’m already feeling less conflicted and more ‘even’ and can’t wait to continue on this path.

Like any physical condition, mental illness is something that needs treatment…help. It’s not something we can talk ourselves out of or wish away. Like a broken leg, it needs a cast to straighten it out. In my case, both of my legs were casted and I couldn’t move/improve easily…I was battling myself. I’m not shamed by having to see a psychiatrist…by having to be on meds…by having this fucking (you call it this too, ma 🤨) illness. I’m just grateful there are people out there that can give me the tools to control it the best it can be controlled so I can live my life in the way I want…not in the way the illness wants.

Kristi xoxo

I love this art by Ellen Forney who has drawn her life with bipolar.
She is the author of 2 amazing books and you can learn all about her here!!!

“How he longs to be Beneath his dreaming tree…” ~ Dave Matthews

So, I love to re-read favorite books and I just finished one that’s 3rd on my list of all time favorites: “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. For some reason, I highlighted the crap out of it this time and it really made me think of some things in my own life.

Anyhoot, the story is about a girl named Francie who grows up very poor in Brooklyn but has aspirations of education and being on stage. There are a lot of roadblocks in this pursuit but she perseveres. While she’s growing up, we’re treated to her thoughts which are so often profound and to be honest with you, humbling as well. Let’s take a look-see:

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”

Isn’t that an absolutely wonderful view? I don’t know about you, but I sometimes think we frantically busy ourselves in ‘pursuing’ this thing called happiness because we believe it will miraculously make things perfect when it’s finally achieved. The problem though, is that we don’t recognize the actual happiness we take for granted in our everyday life. Maybe like Francie says, it’s not necessarily a state, but moments that simply swirl around us. It’s like the dust mites in the air (at least my air…2 shedding dogs and an aversion to dusting 🙄); unless you’re looking through a window, you’ll miss that they’re even there. I was thinking about this last night while I laid in bed. I was looking around at my cozy room and how I’ve been looking out the same window while falling asleep for 15 years now. It’s so comforting to me and just laying in bed and taking it in makes me content…settled…secure…and yes, happy.

I was also looking at the pictures on my dresser mirror of all the people who love me. Oliver, ma, pop, step-ma, Terri and her hubby, my nieces and nephews, and my pets. How lucky I am to have these people in my life, yet I often take them for granted! Going out to breakfast with pop and step-ma…shopping with ma…going down a water slide with my sissy while my niece and nephew laugh…those are moments of happiness to be treasured. You know, it’s easy to forget how many people are searching for someone to give them unconditional acceptance and love…to experience the feeling of having a place in the hearts of others.

Then I think about my students. Just today, I laughed with my classes and felt such a sense of being where I belong…smack dab in the front of my classroom. Doing what I love. Doing what I believe I was born for. Doing what makes me realize so many times of happiness with so many amazing people.

Here’s another quote I love:

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

You know, sometimes I think I just sail through my days and not truly recognize the actual living I do minute by minute. It’s like 1 day bleeds into another and weeks go by without really being able to say what they were all about.

Finally ready to start painting!

A couple of days ago, I was pulling out ceiling tiles in my basement…the last big project to complete my house renovation. It was a fucking (sorry, ma 😬 but you were there and saw it for yourself) nightmare and I was beside myself. It’s a drop ceiling and the tiles were 20+ years old and getting stained and crumbly, etc. So, I started ‘removing’ (tearing out is a better word since there was only 1″ clearance between the tile frame and the rafters 😡…a big fucking thank you to whoever put them up in the first place) the 2’x4′ tiles and they were breaking apart and falling on me and were heavy and dirty and dusty and smelly and I was covered in sweat and grime and filth. Charmed, I’m sure. My basement looked like it had been hit with a white, powdery sand-storm and I was bawling. I knew I was way over my head when I started it, but it was just too devastating to admit I was failing at the last task I had for my house after having accomplished so much.

Bill came over near the tail-end when my emotions were at their peak, and I bawled and snapped at him, and he left. For good. I don’t blame him. My bipolar can amplify my emotions 100 fold and it was bad. I’m just so glad ma came over and comforted me and helped as I got it all cleaned up. I don’t know what I’d do without her and I have forbidden her to ever die. Period. (By the way…I’m going to paint the ceiling rafters for an industrial type vibe…very cool and, as God is my witness, NO ceiling tiles ever ever again!).

What I hope my ceiling looks like when it’s done. 🙄

But here’s the thing…even with something like this, at least I’m living. Feeling. Breathing. Accomplishing. Trying. Working. I’m living a moment that I need to appreciate. You know, I think we all try way too hard to sail through the bad, and only really allow ourselves to live the good. But, according to Francie, we need to live it all. I learned a lot about myself that night. I learned my limitations. My tenaciousness. My staunch refusal to ask for help when I need it the most (and the foolishness of that). I learned that a ceiling is only a fucking ceiling…and believe me, mine ain’t no Sistine Chapel. Hard lessons? Yep…you betcha. But living those moments created lessons I’ll learn from and grow from and hopefully be better for in the long run. And that, my sweet peeps, is enough.

I love how Francie explains this concept of living even more…

“Sometimes I think it’s better to suffer bitter unhappiness and to fight and to scream out, and even to suffer that terrible pain, than to just be… safe. At least she knows she’s living.”

Wow. Just wow. You know, there have been thousands of time I’ve cursed this fucking bipolar. Not just for what it does to me, but how it affects others as well. Still, it’s ‘only’ what I have…not the whole of who I am, and I tend to forget that. Others suffer with so much worse and having that mini-bawling breakdown cleansed me and let me get emotions out I had tucked away for a while. And I’ve felt better ever since.

Do I want a life that’s more relaxed? More casual? More laid back? More easier (I don’t think this is grammatically correct…but you get my point 🙄) than life is with bipolar? Of course I do…duh. But, on the other hand, not really. Yes, I feel too much. I emote too much. I react too much. But I’m alive…living my life the way it’s been made.

And finally,

“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong.”

Having bipolar is a struggle…an every hour, everyday, every week, every month, every year struggle (like all mental illnesses are 😥) and I’ll be damned that I’m going to sugar-coat it and say it’s not. It’s a terrible mental illness that I didn’t ask for…want…deserve. But it’s made me strong in so many ways. It’s made me help others. Made me more compassionate. Made me able to laugh loud and cry hard. It’s made me…me. Me who is struggling to grow. Struggling to learn. Struggling to always try. Struggling…I guess…to live.

Kristi xoxo

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