May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
I believe wholeheartedly that it is important to keep the focus on mental *health* rather than be bogged down by discussions of mental illness. If we focus on pathology rather than solution, we stay stuck.
I also, however, wholeheartedly believe that when we share our stories of trials and tribulations, we can build bridges of connection through our shared humanity.
This is why I choose to speak candidly about my mental health journey.
I live with Type II Bipolar Disorder. I am unashamed to be associated with mental illness for one reason: my diagnosis does not define me.
Yes, it is true that I have a mental illness. It is also true that I have a full life complete with healthy relationships and profound peace, and I coach others on how to do the same.
I first noticed signs of mental illness as a teen. My emotional outbursts and instability began to affect my relationships and ability to preform my responsibilities as a student and an employee. Looking back, I can now see that the signs began much earlier in childhood, but were interpreted as “immaturity.”
I have experienced loss of relationships as a result of my behavior, and I have been held back in my professional pursuits because of my inability to regulate my mood and focus on my goals.
I am proud to say I have worked diligently on building a large tool box of coping mechanisms that have allowed me to navigate life with more grace. I have used traditional talk therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medication, journaling, community, Yoga, meditation, prayer, time in nature and self help books. In my opinion, more is better when it comes to coping strategies because there is no one tool that always works. The more options I have when experiencing a high or low, the better the odds are that I will have access to the one I need in that moment. For me personally, the most impactful tool has been my Yoga practice.
Gratefully, I have experienced very little stigma related to mental illness. What I have experienced is a struggle to be taken seriously by those closest to me when they believe I am “up” or “down” — sometimes I’m just experiencing normal human emotions totally unrelated to my mood disorder.
I feel free to share about my diagnosis because I recognize that it is not “who I am.” Just as being a mother, a daughter, a wife, a teacher etc. don’t define my worth or my identity, neither does the reality that I live with a unique biochemistry that challenges my ability to regulate my mood. Because I am comfortable owning this truth, answering questions and sharing honestly, I have found a lot more acceptance from the outside world.
There’s no shame in living with mental illness. Whether you can relate to my story and want to connect, or my experience is foreign to you and you are curious to know more, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m an open book because I want to do my part to end the stigma.
We all benefit when we allow ourselves and each other to be human and still worthy of love and belonging.
The story of Ginny’s fierce and serene birth begins before conception…
My husband Dan and I had been a family for four years already, although we weren’t yet married. We lovingly coparented our daughter Thea, although she is not biologically related to Dan. Over the years we discussed back and forth the idea of creating a child together and how that might impact our relationship and Thea’s life. There came a time where we decided to open our hearts to the possibility of expanding our family, knowing full well that conception is beyond our control. Without expectation, I consciously stopped refilling my birth control prescription and let go, knowing that we had already been blessed beyond measure to be parents of a healthy daughter.
Then, life was flipped upside down by one phone call. My dearest friend, my chosen sister that I have spent my life alongside, tragically and unexpectedly lost her sweet husband, Justin. She was pregnant with their rainbow baby that they had waited patiently for, and she was beside herself in agony. I flew out to be with her as she reeled from the million ways her life had changed.
When I returned home, I made an appointment with my doctor to get back on birth control and put pregnancy on pause for the time being. Then I received another call: my sweet Stevie was losing her baby. Again, I rushed to be by her side and sat with her while she grieved like I had never seen before.
It was that second trip that I realized I had missed my period.
“This can’t be happening. That would just be cruel!” I thought to myself.
Once back in Cali, I went to my doctor appointment, got my birth control, and went home. I thought it was strange that I wasn’t given a pregnancy test and wanted to be sure before I started back on my regimen, so alone in my bathroom I took a test.
I lost my breath. I wept.
“Oh my God! My Stevie!” The words flew out of my mouth.
You see, Stevie was there the first time I took a positive pregnancy nine years prior. I had “accidentally” been granted a gift that countless women pray for and agonize over month after month. I had watched Stevie walk a painful fertility journey, and knew how her soul longed to experience this joy with Justin.
Now, once again, without struggle, I was blessed with a baby.
I was excited! This was a brand new experience. The first time I was pregnant, I was a teenager and it was “shameful.” The announcements I made were dreaded and met with judgement and concern. I needed to celebrate this new life for the miracle it is! I wanted to shout for joy, but I hesitated because I knew how painful this news would be to the one person who had walked beside me my whole life.
Instead of being swept away by confusion and fear, I chose to dive into faith — Shradha. I chose to trust the bizarre timing of this blessing and allow myself to be guided by my Higher Power — Isvara Pranidhana. I relaxed into my mantra “It is well with my soul.”
I knew what I had to do. I felt like I had a dagger hidden in my pocket as I picked up the phone. As soon as she answered I spit it out like ripping off a bandaid. There was no better way to do it.
We sobbed. We said “I love you” and ended the brutality quickly.
The next few weeks were beyond hard. I deserved to celebrate this blessing and she deserved to grieve her losses. So that is just what we did. We loved each other through the awkwardness and gave each other plenty of space to have our feelings.
This is true friendship: to hold each other’s hand through thick and thin while honoring the other’s unique journey.
Thanks to our unconditional love, Stevie was present at my wedding on the three month anniversary of Justin’s passing. She was at my baby shower months later, and she agreed to be by my side when I welcomed baby Ginny into the world.
That was a great day….