Saturday, June 23, 2007

Curbing my financial enthusiasm

In years past, one of the major symptoms of a hypomanic episode for me was excessive spending. My hypomanic episodes usually came after an extended period of depression. Perhaps it's the other way around, but I'm not sure it really matters. The point is that I'd feel depressed for a very long time, then it's as if I woke from a long sleep and the world was bright, shiny and new again. I wanted to jump out in it and make up for all the time I'd lost. So of course, I'd need a new wardrobe. Not a few new things, but an entire wardrobe - even new pajamas. Then I'd convince myself that I needed to spruce up my home, so maybe I'd buy new furniture or home furnishings. I think it wasn't so much about what I was buying, but about the fact that I was taking control, taking charge of my life, making positive changes, doing something big and bright to overcompensate for those long periods of darkness.

The problem was that I couldn't afford these spending sprees, but there was always a handy little piece of plastic nearby. The bad news is that I'd inevitably run them all up to the limit during these splurges. The good news is that thankfully, my credit limits weren't so high as to bury me in debt - although I came close a few times. It's really sad to spend years paying off things that you don't even have anymore. But that's exactly what I did.

I knew that I needed to make a budget and stick to it. This sounds like simple advice, and maybe it is, for some people. But not for me. Sure, I'd start with great plans, and it would work for a short time, but I could never make it stick. I tried several software packages, tried doing it myself on paper and on my computer, but nothing seemed to work. Then, about 8 months ago, I found a piece of software that literally saved my financial life.

It's called You Need A Budget. I know, kind of a ridiculously simplistic name for an amazing piece of software, but it really is amazing. I liked it when I started with the original version which was a fancy Excel spreadsheet, but after a few months, they came out with a free-standing application which is absolutely awesome! It is only $39.95, and it was money very well-spent.

It has all of the things you'd expect in a personal budgeting software program - a register to record expenditures, a monthly budget planner, a way to see if you're over or under your budget for the week, and even a way to automate recurring expenditures. But the beauty in this simple system is that it goes well beyond that and fundamentally changes the way you approach the budgeting process, and I think therein lies the reason that it works.

First, it forces you out of the habit of living paycheck to paycheck. No matter how much money I was making, I was always one paycheck away from financial disaster. If I knew that I got paid on the 1st and the 15th of the month, I'd figure out which bills to pay with the first check and which bills to pay with the second check. This usually worked, for the most part, until a big expenditure popped up, like they always do. Whenever it was time to pay homeowners or auto insurance, an unexpected medical bill, or a tax bill, it would take months of robbing Peter to pay Paul before I was back on track.

Not so with YNAB. The system is set-up to "force" you to work one month ahead. In other words, the money you make this month is used to pay next month's bills when they're due. This may not sound like a big deal, but in reality it's HUGE. Before, I always found myself trying to figure out which bills I'm going to pay with the paycheck I just got, and hoping all the time that the check came before those bills were due. Now, at the beginning of the new month, I already have all the money that I'm going to have to pay that month's bills, so I can pay all of my bills for the month on Day 1. Of course, not all of the bills have come in by then, but I know what I've budgeted to spend on them, so I can write those checks when they come in. Admittedly, this took some getting used to, but it has revolutionized my relationship with my money. Finally I feel like I have some control over it, not the other way around.

The second fundamental paradigm shift that YNAB uses is the concept of zero-based budgeting. No matter how much you have available to spend in a given month, you allocate all of it, every single dollar and cent, to a category (which you define). This does not mean that you have to spend every cent, it just means you have to prioritize where you want it spent. Don't worry, all budgets are living, breathing documents, and you can change your priorities at any time. The point is that you're constantly making choices, rather than reacting as things come up.

Why is this such a big deal? Take those pesky auto insurance bills that I pay every six months. Instead of trying to figure out which bill not to pay for those two months each year, now I figure out what the semi-annual bill is, divide that number by 6, and "set-aside" 1/6 of the semi-annual payment each month so that when the payment is due - viola - the money is there! I do the same thing with savings, my vacation fund (which I wish was much bigger), my self-employment taxes, and even auto repairs. Imagine the relief knowing that the money will be there when I need it.

I also discovered another unintended benefit. It annoyed me at first to discover that because there was money being put aside (I call it forced savings) that was allocated but not yet spent, my YNAB budget balance at the end of the month was always $0, but my bank statement never was. The two never match anymore, which takes some getting used to. But the good news is that because there is always that extra money there that I've set aside for some future expenditure, if there were a major emergency and I needed the money, it's there. And of course, I know longer worry about accidently overdrawing on my account because that cushion is always there.

If you're interested in learning more about YNAB, visit their website here

Friday, June 22, 2007

Support is as support does

Last month I wrote a post about what NOT to say when someone is depressed. I had no idea at the time that it would be my most-visited post yet. Hopefully that's a sign that people are beginning to consider this question of how to be supportive of someone with depression, or more specifically, with bipolar disorder.

I'd planned to write about something totally different today, but went to visit Susan's blog first, as I usually do. I was blown away by her post today, and decided I needed to write about that instead.

Susan addresses the issue of support from a slightly different angle, eloquently expressing her feelings in an open letter to her non-bipolar friends and family. I'm reminded yet again of the irony of realizing that those that we expect and need the most support from during difficult times, are often the ones who let us down the most. It is embarrasing, and it is painful, to be minimalized, written off or otherwise discarded by strangers or casual acquaintances. It is excruciating and appalling to be similarly "dissed" and dismissed by family and friends.

There is something to be said for ignorance. I try to give a pass to people who don't know what I've gone through or aren't aware of the constant struggles of daily living that I face. I try not to be disheartened when they fail to see how much I've accomplished, in spite of my challenges. But when I pour my heart out in letters, e-mails or even this blog, when I open the doors of my soul in an effort to help them understand who I truly am, the silence that I hear in return is deafening.

This begs the question... what is family, really? Why is it that so much emphasis is placed on the sanctity of blood relations, even if the only thing we share is similar DNA? Why is it assumed that family sticks together, no matter what - even if a family member is dead wrong? Why is it that wives in the midst of being beaten senseless by their husbands suddenly turn on the police officers who come to their aid? Why do parents protect and defend children who have been convicted of horrendous crimes, even when they know they're guilty? Bad behavior is bad behavior. Period. Regardless of whether we share the same surname. What is up with that??? I know I'm guilty of this too, though. Why is it that I expect family members and "friends" to accept me unconditionally, make an effort to empathize with me, or to simply treat me with the same respect that they treat neighbors, co-workers or the people at church just because we're "related"? I believe the truth is that I shouldn't.

I've finally decided that for me "family" is not the gene pool I was born into. It's the pool of people that provide all those things that we typically look to families to provide - unconditional love, support, loyalty, companionship, security, comfort. It would be great if the two pools were the same, and while there is some overlap in a few specific instances, for me they are different.

I said in my comment on Susan's blog, and I'll say it again here, that I think that every person with BP who reads her post and has a blog should post a link back to her post. What she has to say on this needs to be heard by everyone with a family member or friend who lives with BP. For those who are truly being supportive, Susan's letter should be a validation of how rare and precious a gift their support of us is. To the others, and they will know who they are, it should be an ice cold wake-up call!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The journey towards forgiveness (Part 2)

It's been a year since I forgave K.T. and I have never regretted the decision to do it... not once. So given my "success" at forgiving the stranger who caused such horrific pain in my life, why have I not been able to extend the same forgiveness towards the parties involved in the second most devastating pain of my life? Perhaps it's because they are members of my own family.

On the surface, it probably seems odd that it's been easier for me to forgive a total stranger than to forgive family members I've known for my entire life... people with whom I had strong history and a strong connection. After much reflection on this, I've decided that it's not that surprising after all. It's precisely because of that history and that connection that the pain is so devestating and far-reaching. Perhaps I expected more from the people I loved and who I thought loved me. Perhaps I thought that because we all profess to be Christians, that truth and justice would prevail. Perhaps I simply thought that "doing the right thing" counted for something. And there's definitely the fact that I knew I'd never have to see or otherwise deal with the man who raped me again... but my family is a different story.

I won't name names, and out of respect for the parties involved, I won't divulge the specifics of the incident, but it was HUGE. And it has created an invisible gulf in my family that will probably never be healed. There are many casualties of this conflict, and sadly, some who've landed on the other side of that divide may never know why.

That said, I've still been haunted by the feeling that I really do need to forgive them. This need to forgive them is not for their sake. Not only have they not asked for my forgiveness, but they don't appear to think they've done anything that would require it. They've moved on with their lives, as if nothing ever happened. And that's exactly the point. They've moved on. I haven't. Spiritually, I believe that this leading to forgive is about me, not about them.

In an article entitled Tap Into the Amazing Power of Personal Forgiveness", Connie Domino says that "Forgiveness is actualy a 'selfish act.' This doesn't mean it's a negative act. Far from being negative, it's one of the most loving and positive things you can do for yourself, as well as others."

She goes on to say that "unforgiveness acts as a kind of 'energy dam.' The negative energy between you and the person(s) of your unforgiveness actually creates a steel-like bond that keeps you tied to them. This negative energy attachment is stagnant and immobile, and keeps you from your highest good. Yes, lack of forgiveness keeps you 'literally glued' on an energetic level to the last person(s) in the world you want to be harnessed to."

So why has this been so difficult for me? I think it's because my family has shown no remorse for the pain and suffering they've caused me and the other injured party (the primary victim in all this). For the record, I would have forgiven them had they asked. But because they haven't, and because they don't think they need to, I don't think that reconciliation is possible or healthy. While these made be valid observations, they have nothing to do with forgiving them... A fact which makes me guilty of being one of many people who have difficulty taking their own advice. It took re-reading my previous post and reading a book entitled "The Healing Power of Forgiveness" by Ray Pritchard to be reminded of some key truths about forgiveness:

It doesn't matter if the person(s) has asked for forgiveness. Ray Pritchard says that "forgiveness is something we give to those who don't deserve it. It is grace pure and simple. If people deserved forgiveness, they wouldn't need it." I'm reminded that Jesus' dying words were a prayer that God "forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

Forgiveness does not have to be communicated. This was a big deal-breaker for me. As I said, if my family had asked for my forgiveness, I would have freely given it then and there, but they didn't... leaving me with the hard work of eventually choosing to do it anyway. Mr. Pritchard says that "most of the time, the people who hurt us are not seeking forgiveness or reconciliation. Sometimes it isn't helpful to say 'I forgive you', for then you end up picking a fight because the person responds, 'I didn't do anything that needs to be forgiven.' Remember, your forgiveness doesn't depend on them. You don't need their permission to forgive them. You don't need their agreement that they were wrong. Just forgive them. Choose forgiveness in your heart, and then move on with your life."

Forgiveness doesn't always lead to reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Mr. Pritchard reminds us that "Reconciliation requires forgiveness, but forgiveness does not demand reconciliation. Forgiveness depends on you. Reconciliation depends on you plus the other person. It implies confession, repentance, forgiveness, restoration of trust, the passage of time, and a mutual desire to reconcile. Often it is not possible; sometimes it is not wise.

Forgiveness is a process, and it's not always easy. This would all be so much easier if we could all acknowledge when we've done something to hurt someone, ask for their forgiveness and then be forgiven. Sometimes it does happen that way. When I was a freshman in college, my roommate and best-friend-in-the-whole-wide-world had a brief affair with my at the time love-of-my-life boyfriend (my first). The two people that I loved most had betrayed me and I was devastated. It took a while, but I forgave them both. I transferred to another school at the end of freshman year, but saw her again about a year later at the wedding of a mutual friend. I tried to tell her that I'd forgiven her, but because of her shame and guilt, and my difficulty in expressing myself I'm sure, she couldn't really hear what I was trying to say. Ironically, I gave him another chance, and then another, and then another. It took way too long for me to realize that he was a pathological liar and an incurable womanizer.

Anyway, 20 years later I got a call at work. It was my former roommate who'd been searching for me unsuccessfully for years, and then just happened to see me in an interview on the evening news the night before. Because the interview was work-related, she was able to find me by contacting the company where I worked. She asked if she could come see me, and she did the very next day. What she did when she showed up was astonishing. She sat there, in my office, looked me straight in the eye, acknowledged how deeply she hurt me and how sorry she was. She asked me for my forgiveness, but told me she would understand completely if I couldn't give it. We both cried like babies. Just writing this now, 10 years after that meeting, has brought tears to my eyes. Of course I forgave her. We saw each other a few times after that and tried to rekindle our friendship. I'm not sure why it never worked out, but I will never forget the courage, the class and the grace she showed that day. I wish only the best for her.

So, while some people make choosing forgiveness easy, I'd argue that most do not. How ironic that it's the person who was hurt that usually ends up having to do the hard work. But, as the old saying goes... "Somebody's gotta do it."

So here goes... Although I don't intend to say this directly to the parties involved for the reasons I've already stated, I will say publically here that I have finally made the choice to forgive them. I have earnestly and sincerely expressed my desire to forgive them to God because I know that I can't do this alone. I prayed that all parties involved would be released from the strongholds that have bound us, and that we can each be free to pursue our highest good. I prayed that God will re-direct all of the negative energy that I've expended on this situation into positive and productive energy that can be used to manifest His blessings in my life and allow me to help bless others lives as well.

And while I was in a forgiving mood, I prayed forgiveness for everyone else who's hurt me that I still held feelings of unforgiveness towards. I also prayed for forgiveness for anything that I've ever done to hurt another person. I specifically named those situations I was aware of, and then said a generic prayer to cover those cases in which I'd unknowingly caused another person pain. I'd be lying if I said it was easy, or if I said that I don't expect to ever think about the hurtful things of the past again. But my prayer is that I will be released from the pain and the bitterness and the resentment a little more each day, and that when the memories do come, I can gracefully (and expeditiously) let them go.

Now, there's only one person left for me to to forgive... myself.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Apparently justice IS blind

I can't say that I'm sorry that Mike Nifong, the prosecutor in the now famous (or should I say, infamous) Duke lacross team rape case has just been disbarred. But I am sorry, no, I'm appalled that the story is apparently going to end here.

Mr. Nifong was found guilty today of "ethical violations while pressing a false accusation of sexual assault against three former Duke University lacrosse players." He deserves to be punished. But so does the young woman who started this whole mess by claiming that she was raped if she wasn't. Given the secondary assault that so many victims of sexual violence face at the hands of the criminal justice system under the "best" of circumstances, I can't for the life of me imagine why a woman would accuse someone of rape when no rape occurred. But sadly, that does happen. And every time it does, it's another knife in the collective heart of legitimate victims who must work twice as hard to prove that their allegations are credible because of women who "cry wolf".

I don't necessarily believe that the young men involved in this case are totally free of any responsibility for this mess, if the allegations of horrid, sexually-degrading and racially inflammatory comments and behaviors as reported by witnesses other than the dancers are to be believed. In an interesting article by Ann Coulter entitled Lie Down With Strippers, Wake Up With Pleas, Ann suggests that "You can severely reduce your chances of having a false accusation of rape leveled against you if you don't hire strange women to come to your house and take their clothes off for money... Also, you can severely reduce your chances of being raped if you do not go to strange men's houses and take your clothes off for money." Regardless of how I may feel about her style of delivery on many controversial issues, I've got to admit that I agree with her on this point. Hopefully these young men, and many others like them, have learned a painful but important lesson.

However, prior behavior leading up to the now-known-to-be-untrue allegations notwithstanding, I find it deplorable that this woman will get off scot-free, after having destroyed the lives of these three young men and cost their families millions in legal costs defending themselves against her charges. She has done a major disservice not only to those young men, their teammates and their school, and the judicial system, but also to every woman who is a true victim of sexual violence. And she, too, deserves to be punished.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The journey towards forgiveness (Part 1)

The theme of forgiveness has been heavy on my mind and heart for some time now, but a seed has been quietly germinating ever since reading Susan's post about forgiveness which she posted almost a month ago today. I remember telling her at the time that I may post on this some day, and I've decided that today's that day.

There's good news and there's not-so-good news. The good news is that I do believe that forgiveness is cathartic. It heals. It releases. It liberates. How do I know this? Because I've experienced it first-hand.

I've decided to repost a post from my other blog, Soulful Knitting Ministries, written a year ago during my last epic battle with the subject of forgiveness. This was the third of a three-part series that I called "Radical Obedience" and it deals specifically with my belief that I needed to forgive the man who raped me at gunpoint 27 years earlier, a man who is serving a life sentence in a maximum-security penitentiary.

I'm still working on the afghan for the man who raped me. Without a doubt, this is the most dificult thing I've ever been asked to do. Many thoughts are racing through my head... I've been thinking about that awful night. I've been thinking about what KT's life has been like for the past 10,000 days. I've been thinking about how he'll feel when he receives the afghan and my letter. I wonder if he's already accepted Christ in his life or if he'll even consider it. I wonder if he'll feel remorse or anger to hear from me after all these years. I wonder if he's accepted responsibility for what he did to my life or whether he still blames me for what I did to his.

But there's one theme that keeps running through my mind in connection with this situation as well as some other issues I've been dealing with, and that's the concept of forgiveness. I'm continually praying that God will give me a heart of sincere forgiveness for this man, and for others who have hurt me. I've really had to pray about this and I've come to realize that it wasn't that I didn't want to forgive, it's that I really wasn't sure what true forgiveness would need to look like. defines the verb forgive as "to renounce anger or resentment against." During my research, I found an article on the top 10 steps to forgiveness. While the article expressly states that some of the steps may not be relevant or appropriate in certain situations (such as random acts of violence or child molestation), I still found the article very helpful. The author, Diana Robinson, PhD, writes that

"For many people forgiveness is one of the hardest steps of all in our progress toward freedom of spirit. Yet it is essential. For as long as we are unable to forgive, we keep ourselves chained to the unforgiven. We give them rent-free space in our minds, emotional shackles on our hearts, and the right to torment us in the small hours of the night."

Well, she's right. I've been emotionally shackled for my entire adult life, in ways that I'm only now beginning to see clearly, and I'm so ready to move on. I believe that God has wonderful things in store for my life, but in order to move on, it's important to take this final step in putting my past behind me. As part of that process, God has revealed some things to me about the nature of forgiveness that finally make it possible for me to forgive those who have hurt me so deeply.

Before I could begin to forgive, I had to understand what forgiveness was NOT. In a great article entitled How to Forgive: 10 Guidlines, Minister Victor Parachin references work by Robert Enright, a PhD and education psychologist who describes four things that true forgiveness is NOT:

Forgetting. Particularly in the case of random or extreme violence, this may simply not be possible.

Excusing or condoning. Wrong is wrong. Period. It should not be accepted, denied, minimalized or justified.

Reconciling (this one was HUGE for me). It's possible to forgive someone who has hurt you without rekindling a relationship with them. Sometimes reconciliation is not possible or advisable.

Weakness. Forgiveness does not make you weak or powerless. In fact, the opposite is true. It gives you strength. As Minister Parachin notes, "Ultimately, forgiveness is a gift you give you yourself. Bitterness and anger imprison you emotionally. Forgiveness sets you free."

There are a few other things I've realized about forgiveness:

It doesn't matter whether or not the person you're forgiving has asked for forgiveness, or even thinks that he/she needs forgiving. The act of forgiving if more about you than about them anyway. It's about making the life-altering shift from "victim" to "survivor".

Understanding "why" is not essential to forgiveness. I know that I will never understand how human beings can hurt each other as much as we do, and I'm not even sure that K.T. knows why he did what he did to me. At this point, "why" is a useless question that will tie me up in knots for the rest of my life if I let it.

Forgiveness doesn't necessarily involved publically acknowledging your forgiveness to the person you are forgiving. If you were hurt by a stranger, you may not even know who they are or how to contact them. They may not know that you have forgiven them, but God knows. And that's the most important thing. By all means, if it's possible and appropriate, let the person know you have forgiven them, but don't use the inability to tell them you have forgiven them as an excuse for not doing so.

So why forgive? As I've briefly mentioned, there are a lot of psychological (and related physical) reasons for forgiveness. I can search for and find answers to that question that are lengthy and complex. Or I can choose to forgive for one very simple reason, because God requires it of me.

If I forgive people their trespasses, my heavenly Father will also forgive me. (Matthew 6:14)

And whenever I stand praying, if I have anything against anyone, I forgive him and let it drop (leave it, let it go) in order that my Father Who is in heaven may also forgive my my failings and shortcomings and let them drop. But if I do not forgive, neither will my Father in heaven forgive my failings and shortcomings. (Mark 11:25-26)

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Corinthians 2:7-8)

So, in God's name, I chose to forgive K.T. for what he did to me. He has not asked me for my forgiveness, and I have no idea whether he will even acknowledge the afghan and my letter when he receives them. It doesn't matter. Forgiving him has set me free from years of emotional bondage. I only hope it will do the same for him. I'll post a picture of the afghan along with my final thoughts on this process in a few days when I'm done.

I did finish the afghan. If you're interested in the rest of the story, it's detailed in a subsequent post at the same blog.

Now, I said at the beginning that there was good news and not-so-good news. That was the good news. The not-so-good news is that forgiving the man who raped me was easy compared to the forgiving that remains to be done. (to be continued...)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Am I really what I do?

I made a major career change about a month ago. The change was largely by choice, but with equal doses of necessity. Several months earlier I'd tried to embark on an orderly, logical vocational planning journey to try to determine what my true "vocation" is so that I could chose the perfect career for the second half of my life. Unfortunately, I was much too ill, frightened and financially stressed to do that. So instead I prayed, not as much as I'd like to have, but apparently enough to receive and answer.

I'm not sure that this job is where I'll be for the next 20 years, and with the economy and the nature of change being what they are, it's not likely, but it's a good landing spot for me for now. There are many things about my new job that are very well suited to my personality, my interests and my skill sets. It's much more enjoyable than many jobs I've had although it doesn't pay as well as many jobs I've had. But at this point in my life, as much as I'd love to be making a lot more money, I believe that this is where I'm supposed to be.

That said, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick jaunt down memory lane, and list some of the many jobs I've had (in no particular order, including permanent, temp and part-time jobs):

  1. summer day care camp counselor

  2. market research analyst (enjoyed it - sometimes)

  3. legal secretary

  4. account manager

  5. call center trainer (enjoyed it)

  6. receptionist (hated it!)

  7. retail salesperson (hated it!)

  8. administrative assistant for a non-profit

  9. certified nursing assistant (hated it!)

  10. small business owner - market research and data collection

  11. small business owner - handmade jewelry and knitted items

  12. dispatcher for an auto salvage yard (hated it!)

  13. telemarketer (hated it!)

  14. manager of a GIS research unit (my all-time favorite job)

  15. corporate concierge

American attitudes towards mental health

Apparently it took Mental Health America, the nation's leading nonprofit mental health support organization, 10 years to confirm what most of us already knew... that knowledge about, and acceptance of, the seriousness of mental illness such as depression and bipolar disorder lags behind that of other health issues, such as diabetes and cancer.

According to the just-released Mental Health America Attitudinal Survey, while there has been improvement over the past 10 years, the study finds that "Americans are [still] more likely to view mental illnesses and other behavioral health problems as personal or emotional weaknesses -- rather than real health problems -- more often than they do other illnesses.

I found it particularly interesting that while 85% and 82% of Americans would feel comfortable sharing the fact that they or someone close to them has diabetes or cancer, respectively, only 58% would feel the same comfort level concerning bipolar disorder. In fact, survey respondents were more comfortable discussing alcohol and drug problems or a suicide attempt than bipolar disorder.

The study goes on to say that "the discomfort Americans continue to feel towards people with mental illnesses is disconcerting." No kidding. Maybe it's me, but does anybody else wonder why the leading advocates for mental health issues continue to label them "mental health" issues? Why aren't they "health issues" like cancer and diabetes, for example? The fact that the "experts" themselves are making the distinction between mental health and every-other-kind-of-health simply reinforces the notion that mental health issues are somehow different than "real health" issues.

The reality is that my brain is not functioning properly - the results are bipolar disorder, insomnia and sleep apnea, to name a few. So why should I be perceived or treated any differently than someone who's heart or liver or pancreas isn't functioning properly? The medical and insurance communities go out of their way to support people with heart issues or lung issues. They understand that a poorly functioning heart or lungs can lead to a whole host of serious and potentially life-threatening consequences. Considering that the brain is Command Central for every bodily function, why are my health concerns unworthy of the same respect and care?

Perhaps going straight to the insurance companies in our quest for health care parity is premature. Perhaps the cultural education process needs to go back even further, to those "mental health" advocacy groups that are perpetuating the myth that "mental health" is different from every other kind of health. Perhaps it time for "mental health" advocates to do what many advocates for children with disabilities have done in education - stress the importance of mainstreaming - in this case, mainstreaming health care, health insurance, workplace acceptance, and media enlightenment. Society has come to understand that people with physical disabilities can often accomplish just as much, and in some cases more, than their "able-bodied" counterparts. I would argue that the same is true of people like me.

It really does take a village

Just about every person I know, with the exception of my mother and my aunt, would think I was absolutely insane if they knew about this blog. They'd ask me how I can pour out my heart and soul about matters that are so intensely personal in such a public forum. They'd wonder if I couldn't find a more productive use of my time and they'd warn me of the dangers of the internet.

What they wouldn't consider (or understand if I tried to explain it) is that I have found more support, encouragement, helpful suggestions and relevant resource information through this virtual support group, than I have in any other source either before or after I've been diagnosed. Perhaps most importantly, no where else have I found the empathy that has been so sorely lacking for most of my life. I spent so much time knowing that something was wrong, but not knowing what... feeling as if I was the only person on the planet experiencing the issues I constantly struggled with. While I would not wish BP on anyone, to know that I'm not alone in the struggle somehow makes it easier for me to bear.

As anyone with bipolar disorder knows, the nature of the illness often causes a shift in perception, both of ourselves and what's going on around us. Typically I am either extremely down on myself when I view my life through the prism of depression. Or, equally as problematic, I'm extremely overconfident in my abilities and make very poor decisions based on grandiose thinking. Knowing that there are people in this bloggerville who understand that, and who can help me view a situation more clearly is invaluable. Case in point, Susan's reply to my last post about my reaction to a situation with my salsa instructor.

While I often receive positive confirmation here, it's important to note that I know that if I'm off-base, or over-reacting, or drowning in a sea of despair because I'm feeling particularly depressed, the same support structure is there to help reign me back in. While it may not feel as warm and fuzzy, it's needed and appreciated just as much.

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read my musings here and a special thanks to Susan and Marja, who have been there to support me from virtually day one of this blog. May we all continue to share our joys and our disappointments along this road together.