Friday, December 28, 2007

The year in review

It's been quite a year. If I were to liken this past year to an amusement park ride, I'd have to say it was a roller coaster. To be honest, the past several years have been like a never-ending roller coaster ride. The problem is that I don't like roller coasters. I'm afraid of heights and I don't like getting jerked around, especially to the sound of people screaming. But if I can stick with the amusement park analogy just a bit longer, I must admit that when things looked the scariest, I was able to catch a glimpse of a water ride that looked much more appealing. So, I decided right then and there that it was time to get off this ride and move on to another one that was much more to my liking.

However, before moving on, I think it's helpful to look back on lessons learned this year. This exercise reinforces the fact that those lessons that were so painfully learned only have value if I apply the knowledge moving forward. It also reminds me of how far I've come, because of the challenges, not in spite of them.

So, I've selected what I consider to be my most significant post of each month in 2007 as a whirlwind review of the year that was.

April: In Triggers I made my first attempt to identify the events that lead to depression or hypomania for me. It was a painful exercise, but a very important one, both in terms of understanding my past and preparing for my future.

May: One of my most frequently viewed posts so far has been Things NOT to say when someone is depressed. I was angry and frustrated when I wrote it, but it just goes to prove that even our negative experiences have value when we're willing to share them.

I wrote one of my favorite posts in May, Salsa Therapy (part 1), in which I discussed why learning to dance salsa is one of the best things I've ever done for myself.

June: In June I wrote a 2-part post on my journey towards forgiveness (part 1) (part 2) in which I shared what I've learned during this painful but crucial path towards healing.

July: The receipt of a beautiful gift from one of my dearest friends, Susan, prompted me to write about the art of gifting.

August: I had an epiphany about relationships this summer, which prompted me to write The power of perspective. If I could remember just one thing I learned about relationships in 2007, this would be it.

September: In September I started exploring the possible connection between bipolar disorder and Myers-Brigg temperment and found the information to be very enlightening. I'm an INFJ, which represents only 1% of the population and the more I read about my temperment the more comfortable I feel in my own skin. I want to explore this connection more in the coming year, but I think "I" is for Introvert" was a good start.

October: In October I hired a team of professional organizers to completely reinvent my home office. The intention was a makeover of one room, but the reality was a makeover of my entire home and much more. I wrote about the process in a series of three posts, ending with Afterthoughts on personal organizing.

November: One of the most powerful and profound gifts we can give ourselves (and others) is an attitude of gratitude. In Gratitude and wellness I wrote about the spiritual, emotional and physical benefits of living a life full of gratitude.

December: I started a theme that I want to focus on a lot more in 2008 - pay it forward. In Random Acts of Kindness I set the stage for a challenge that I'm setting for myself and visitors to my blog in the coming year.

I'm so glad to see that this blog has evolved in the 8 months since I started. I've gone from being frightened, confused and depressed about being depressed to accepting the fact that my moods are simply another part of who I am. They don't make me a bad person, or a weak one. There is nothing to be gained by assigning judgments to feeling depressed or hypomanic or lonely or afraid. Instead, there is power in accepting the person that I am, loving her unconditionally, identifying the areas in which I want to grow and evolve, and focusing my energies there.

While I have and will continue to write about various aspects of depression and bipolar disorder as the mood strikes me, I will also continue to expand the focus of the blog, as it is a mirror of my life. Now that I am no longer focused with laser-like vision on the mistakes of my past and their resulting limitations on my life, I am finally free to explore this new and exciting second half of my life with optimism and enthusiasm. While I do not expect a lifetime of wine and roses, I do believe in the depths of my soul that the worst is behind me and that I have all the tools and resources I need to live a life of love, beauty and bliss. I intend to make 2008 my very best year yet. I wish the same for you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Frugality, simplicity and creativity: Pulling it all together

I want to save money - a lot of it. I've decided that I want to travel and I want to build a dream home. I also want to live a simple life, yet one that is full of love and beauty. It may sound like I'm asking for a lot, but I've finally realized that these three core life values are all interconnected. And I believe that acknowledgement of the synergies between frugality, simplicity and creativity makes achieving them possible in ways that can be delightfully productive.

So, beginning in 2008, I plan to challenge myself to commit more fully to a path that I started on in 2007. I've already downsized into a (temporary) home that I enjoy, I've purged a lot of extraneous clutter from my home and from my head, I've identified triggers that make me sick and self-care strategies that help me feel well. Now it's time to get serious about creating the financial resources I need to meet these two life goals (travel and a home), but to do it in ways that still allow me to live a fulfilling life now.

Over the past few weeks I've been developing a list of creative things I can do that support my future goals while preserving my current lifestyle. The key is to focus on strategies that combine 2 or 3 of my core values. Here's my list (F=frugality, S=simplicity, and C=creativity):
  1. Cut back on unnecessary spending by staying focused on my short- and long-term goals and prioritizing non-essential purchases. (F/S)

  2. Drink more water - spend less on sodas and coffee drinks. (F/S)

  3. Get my coupons organized and start using them regularly. (F)

  4. Research and then make bulk purchases from discount retailers on frequently-used items (i.e., coffee pods for coffee maker). (F/S)

  5. Scour the paper for coupons and sales and organize them efficiently - keep them in the car so I'll have them when I need them. (F)

  6. When buying clothes, focus on high-quality, timeless fashions in solid colors a basic color palette so that I can mix-and-match items. (F/S/C)

  7. Pick a standard collection of make-up and skin care products - only use those. (F/S)

  8. Use aromatherapy essential oils for home fragrance instead of candles, sprays, air fresheners. (F/S/C)

  9. When it's cheaper to make an item of clothing or household item, sew it instead of buying it - and get exactly the look I want (F/C)

  10. Stop buying new books - read the books I already have, use the internet, go to the library, and/or borrow books with friends. (F)

  11. Only use the dry cleaners for special items, otherwise use the $1.99 cleaners or DIY dry cleaning sheets. (F)

  12. When buying clothes, try consignment shops first, but only buy items that are truly a good value. (F/C)

  13. Be more conscious of planning meals around left-overs. (F/C)

  14. Send more free e-cards and less printed cards by mail. (F)

  15. Buy blank card stock and envelopes at the craft store and make my own cards when needed. (F/C)

  16. Use store brands if they are of sufficient quality at a better price than name brands. (F)

  17. Combine errands to use less gas (and to save time). (F/S)

  18. Be more creative in gifting - make gifts or offer services instead (F/C).

  19. Walk and dance instead of joining a health club or buying expensive exercise equipment and/or DVDs. (F/S)

  20. Use NetFlix subscription instead of going out to the movies - get my money's worth each month. (F/S)

  21. Scour the paper and the Internet, and talk to friends, about free or low-cost activities around town. (F/C)

  22. Utilize existing cookbooks or recipe websites to try to foods at home instead of going out to expensive restuarants. (F/S/C)

  23. Grow my own fresh herbs at home. (F/S/C)

  24. Take my own photographs and/or find photographs online to print and frame. (F/C)

  25. Use my budget/financial planning software faithfully, set up special categories for travel fund and dream house fund. (F/S)

  26. Get my books written, published and marketed as a source of additional revenue. (F/C)

  27. Purchase as much as possible from the Dollar Store, make it a scavenger hunt for great bargains. (F/S/C)

  28. Pack lunch for work at least 3 days each week - keep it simple. (F/S)

  29. Find out what savings and other benefits are available through AAA and other discount programs I belong to and use them whenever possible. (F/S/C)

  30. Plan dates and weekend activities around free or low-cost activities. (F/S/C)

  31. Don't buy anything that I don't absolutely need and/or love. (F/S/C)

  32. Keep my home organized, with a place for everything and everything in it's place to avoid purchasing things that I don't need because I can't find them. (F/S)

  33. Listen to cable radio or Internet radio instead of buying new CDs. (F/S)

  34. Use a list when I go shopping and try not to buy anything that's not on it. (F/S)

  35. Plan a weekly menu (incorporating new recipes) and try to stick with it. (F/S/C)

  36. Create a personalized cookbook of easy and inexpensive recipes that I can prepare on short notice with standard pantry items (stock up during specials). (F/S/C)

  37. Eat more veggies and less meat. (F/S/C)

  38. Double recipes and freeze for later. (F/S)

  39. Keep track of the number of days I can go in a row without spending any money - make it a game. (F/S)

  40. Pay bills before they're do to avoid late fees. (F/S)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Hope of Christmas Present

This will be the first Christmas in 18 years that I'll be spending without my daughter (who'll be spending Christmas on a military base in Iraq). I still remember our first Christmas in 1989. She was just over a year old on our first Christmas, had been with me since April of that year, and her adoption had just become finalized. Of course, I didn't need or want anything else for Christmas that year. I'd gotten the best Christmas present ever.

So much has happened since then. There have been wonderful memories and tragedies as well, goals accomplished and dreams deferred. The path from there to here has been circuitous, to say the least. It's been mostly an uphill struggle, but there have been bright spots in which to rest and regroup along the way. There were dark days, many of them, in which I seriously questioned whether it was all worth the effort. I finally know that the answer to that question is a resounding "Yes."

I don't have a Christmas tree this year. In fact, I haven't put up a single decoration. I'm not wrapping many presents this year, and I don't expect to unwrap many either. But it doesn't matter, because I understand the true meaning of the season, and it can't be found in a box or bought with a gift card. It doesn't cost a thing, and yet it's priceless. It can't be broken, doesn't need batteries, and is guaranteed to fit. God's love offers us peace, joy, comfort, strength, guidance and perhaps most importantly to me at this point in my life... hope.

I'm wishing you a joyous and joy-full Holiday season too, and may all your Christmas wishes come true.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Life as a paradox

Someone asked me the other day why I named this blog "Bipolarity." It was an interesting question which I don't think I've ever covered here. And since the focus of my writing has evolved and the name is perhaps even more relevant as a result, I thought I'd share my answer.

I started writing after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, atypical bipolar II to be exact, although nothing about my medical history has ever been exact, including this diagnosis. However, every name I could think of that had "bipolar" in it was already taken, so I chose "bipolarity."

My early posts dealt almost exclusively with my thoughts and fears about the diagnosis, about my prognosis, and about re-evaluating former events and relationships through the new lens of knowledge provided by my new diagnosis. As the depression lifted and I started to write about other things, I realized that there was more to my choice of a name for this blog than I'd orginally thought. defines bipolarity as "having two opposite or contradictory ideas or natures." I don't have two contradictory natures, but I do often have the ability to see both sides of a situation, and often find myself embracing a point of view and/or a choice of action that is the polar opposite of what most would do under similar circumstances. From an intellectual standpoint, this often makes my life interesting, but socially, it often leaves me feeling emotionally isolated, wondering where are the other people in the world who view the world as I do.

In "The Invitation," Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes that "beneath the small daily trials are harder paradoxes, things the mind cannot reconcile but the heart must hold if we are to live fully: profound tiredness and radical hope; shattered beliefs and relentless faith; the seemingly contradictory longings for personal freedom and a deep commitment to others, for solitude and intimacy, for the ability to simply be with the world and the need to change what we know is not right about how we are living." I think she lives a life of "bipolarity"too.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Random Acts of Kindness

A favorite movie of mine is Pay It Forward. I love the idea of random acts of kindness and I try to do something nice, say something nice, or go the extra mile with the customers and guests that I meet each day. But to be honest, when I do these things on a daily basis, I don't really think of them as random acts of kindness. I think of them as treating people the way my parents taught me to, so I do these things without giving them the conscious attention that they probably deserve.

I was reminded of this today when I read a post about faith in humanity and restoring kindness at one of my new favorite blogs, ZenHabits. I started to think of what I might have done recently that I would truly consider a RAK and there wasn't much. But I did remember that last week an elderly woman using a walker was leaving the building, having just left bankruptcy court. She asked me if I could call a cab for her. When I asked her where she needed to go, she said that she needed the cab to drive her about 4 blocks away to where her car was parked. My heart went out to her immediately. I thought it was so sad that she had to pay a cab to drive her 4 blocks - not to mention the fact that in the time it would take a cab to get there in our town, she could have walked herself with her walker faster. Without giving it another thought, I told her that if she felt comfortable with it, I'd be happy to drive her to her car in my own.

She couldn't stop thanking me during our entire ride. She seemed to surprised and overwhelmed that a stranger would do this for her. She kept saying that she realized that I'd left my job to do this for her and she just couldn't believe it. Of course I didn't mention that if my boss found out, she'd probably fire me on the spot! I just kept thinking that although my grandmother is deceased, I would hope that someone would have done the same for her had she been in that position. As she was getting out of the car, she said a prayer that God would bless me for the kindness I'd shown her that day. She thinks that I made her day, but in truth, she made mine.

I've decided to accept Leo's challenge and make a more conscious effort to pay it forward. Of course I plan to continue to do the things I would normally do, but I want to do more. It's like the difference between "tithes" and "offerings". I believe that tithing is what's expected of me, while offerings are anything above and beyond my tithes.

And I'm not the only one who's caught the fire that Leo is spreading. Susan wrote about her thoughts on Leo's post today as well. And, if you're really serious about this, check out the Random Acts of Kindess website.

I'm going to start thinking about some simple "pay it forward" ideas that I could do. When I come up with a list, I'll post it here.