“Friday the 13th” 05.13.22

I love Friday the 13th. I was born on the thirteenth of January. Thirteen is my favorite day and color, and a lucky day for me. If I had a cat, he would be black with green eyes, but my husband is allergic. We settled for a “cat-size” black dog with brown eye brows. We love him better, anyway. Many people associate this day with bad luck, superstition, and black cats with green eyes. They approach the day with trepidation. It reminds me a bit of the misfortunate children whose parents denied them the pleasures of trick-or-treating and Harry Potter. I also see this day as a chance to binge watch scary movies and stay inside with pizza, away from imminent doom. When we watch scary movies, we enjoy the darkness the characters experience. We tend to believe, “That could never happen to me.” Never say never. It is a day to ponder why the “bad guys” became bad guys.

The roots of many “villains” are often overlooked. There are trees tall enough to spout volumes about how the “bad guys” weren’t all bad. The “good guys” take precedence, and the criminals are instantly evil, with no back story. Frequently they have untreated psychiatric illnesses and are deemed incompetent. Many “bad guys” are committed to asylums (an antique term for a psychiatric hospital). Incompetent. Committed. From experience, I know how frustrating, infuriating, and painfully heavy those words are, and how much smaller the room. I think that “villain” is a tough label to give someone you don’t understand. I know how it feels to struggle, and how your brain can at times explode with rage. Every villain has a story. Everyone has a story. Everyone. No matter how short, long, exciting, adventurous or boring. Friday the 13th can be just another day. The beginning of the weekend, a break from hard work. It can also be a special day to test your own competence and to feel compassionate toward others. Cuddle up with your black cat, and keep him inside. Today, do not let him cross the street.

–SJB

*I will be taking a break from publishing blog posts, no more than two Fridays. It is not because I have run out of things to say. I am having some trouble with my eyes and will be limiting my screen time. I will return soon. Thank you for your patience!

“Happy Mother’s Day (It’s tomorrow, for those who have forgotten)!

What is a mother? She is your first home. She teaches you how to breathe, eat, walk, talk. When you’re little, she holds your hand when you cross the street. For those lucky few, she never lets go.

Fur babies are children, too! My mom has four human daughters, and is the grandmother of Logan, Marty, Ed, Murphy, Beans, Nugget, and Gizmo (four dogs and three cats).

I am a dog mom. Logan is a dog, but he is my kid.

Today, we celebrate moms of every kind. Thanks, Moms!!

–SJB

“The Caterpillar and the Butterfly” 05.06.22

Once upon a time…there was a caterpillar named Hilda. She had no close friends in her community. Her friends had all abandoned her because she was still a caterpillar and they had moved on to the next phase. The butterflies there had deemed her “abnormal,” mostly because she was still a caterpillar and possibly would be for the rest of her life. She thought something must be wrong with her, because she was “different,” and “different” is scary to “normal” people. They locked her up in a tiny box. She didn’t know how long she was in there. Hours? Days? Months? The days bled together. It was a space too tight to build a cocoon. Hilda had tried to be normal and to act the way other caterpillars acted. She tried to be popular. Hilda’s goal as a caterpillar was to be such a beautiful butterfly that others would desire wholeheartedly to be her friend. Several groups of friends had pushed her out or moved on. There was trivia, writing groups, game nights, and hero quests. Everyone shut her out and she ended up in this box, confused and alone. Hilda’s real friends all lived far away. Sometimes it struck her in the gut when she realized she might not see them again if she never made it out of this box. Hilda began to believe that she built this box around herself to prevent inevitable heartache.

Hilda learned a lot in the box as she accepted defeat. She had searched for every possibility of escape. She began to know herself better than anyone ever could or would again. Hilda was changed. She was not a butterfly and would never sprout wings, so she settled in and succumbed to her dark captivity. One day, her situation altered drastically. There was a sliver of light peeking through a corner of the box. Had it been there long? Why was it here now? Seeing that light instilled hope inside Hilda. Was help on the way? She shielded her eyes, as they adjusted to this new development. Next, the walls seemed to crumble and fall away. The caterpillar felt a strange tingling between her shoulder blades. Was her period of solitude falling down around her?

When Hilda could see all she had been missing, the first pair of eyes she saw were her own. She was looking into a pond of fresh water. How did she get there? Surely, she had not crawled. Maybe she was so glad to be outside that her tiny feet started moving and never wanted to stop. But how had she gotten to this place so quickly? How far had she traveled? Upon further inspection, Hilda observed the beautiful wings on her back, fluttering in a soft breeze. Now she could visit her real friends. Hilda came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter what she looked like, or what people thought of her. She was finally free, and eternally grateful.

–SJB

“True Friendship” 04.15.22

I have few friends, because I am picky. I know when I encounter a good one, and never let her go. But not in a creepy way.

Diana and her husband, Lee have been my best friends for many years. We met through work. They are good at keeping secrets, as best friends are expected to do, but they are so much more to me than best friends. They visited me often while I was in the psychiatric hospital in Savannah, GA. They did not think I was crazy. They were very supportive. They kept my whereabouts a secret because I wanted to keep that part of my life hidden from the public. I didn’t want anyone to know where I was, as I was embarrassed about my illness at the time.

I am “Aunt Sam” to their two sweet, highly intelligent, beautiful girls, and I have always felt like part of their family. I love the two of them and their daughters with my whole heart.

This is a silly exercise, but Diana would call it magical, because she’s cool like that. I will imagine the day I met my best friends’ from their point of view. These are friends who have never turned me away and have loved me as I love them. I will try to predict the inner workings of those minds when we first encountered one another.

“Diana meets Sam”

“I am a music teacher, and was teaching my 3rd grade special needs class. The kids are always accompanied by a paraprofessional. Miss Buice (Sam) was the paraprofessional in that classroom. One day, Sam came up to me after class and-very much like a kindergarten student-asked if we could be friends. “You are so fun!” she said. “Will you be my friend?” I said, “Totally!” and we exchanged phone numbers. I was new at this school and didn’t really have any friends, so I was happily surprised. After that, we spent a lot of time together, never running out of things to talk about. She has been in our lives far longer than we have had children. We take turns venting and listening, much like free therapists. Every Thursday was “Pool Night,” and Sam accompanied me while my husband, Lee played pool with his team. We both feel comfortable sharing things between us that we could tell no one else. She loves our kids as if they were her own.”

“LOGAN meets Juniper/Emily meets Sam”

My dog, LOGAN, has an Aunt Emily, and a sister named Juniper. This is how we met, maybe accurately, from Emily’s account:

“I am a waitress in a restaurant low on staff. I have a hard time saying “No” when asked for help. I am always cheerful and everyone would describe me as a really sweet person. I am worked until I almost drop from fatigue. I am always following orders, taking orders, checking people in, and wearing a smile, as I dream about getting off work and returning to my couch, finally resting my legs. I have a new puppy, and cannot tell you how much I am about to explode with desperation and excitement to see her greet me when I get home. Her name is Juniper, but we call her Juni. She is so sweet and tiny. We rescued her out of a litter of puppies in a shelter near Helen, GA. We went out of our way a bit, out of county to pick her up. When we adopted her, there were two remaining puppies from a six puppy litter. There was only one boy. One day, a regular came into the restaurant for a take-out order, and a woman was with him, carrying a puppy which looked very similar to my own! We introduced ourselves, and I showed her a picture of Juniper. The likeness was undeniable. I asked her where she found him, and we had adopted both puppies from the same litter! She introduced me to LOGAN and we talked about setting up a playdate. That is how I met Juni’s “S-A-M,” and LOGAN met his “Aunt Emily.” Sam and I have been friends ever since, and the two siblings have a playdate every week”

Courtney meets her cousin, Samantha, not for the first time:

“She stole my toy. She has the advantage. She can crawl and sit up. She is very close to learning how to walk. I better prepare for that. I will hide all of my toys when she comes to visit. When I can sit up and crawl. I am a sitting duck in Superman stance. Will I get my doll back? Probably not. By the time the grown-ups realize what has happened, they will assume the doll is Samantha’s. Then she will take it home and I won’t ever see it again. I loved that doll. Samantha is growing quickly into a bully. I love her anyway.”

I have a few more friends, but mostly they are my sisters, and I talk about them all the time. I wonder how my friends’ accounts would differ from my own. Just for fun.

—SJB

“Undesirable” 04.08.22

There are several avenues of media–including news articles, films, books, and other forms of communication–with more questions than answers. This is why the media should either keep their heads buried in the sand when it pertains to unknowns, or change their tunes. Many make assumptions and publicly announce suspicions, fears, and misunderstandings about mental illness throughout their network. They feed the public what they perceive to be “truths,” of which they really have no idea. These suppositions feed the stigma and set us back in our quest toward acceptance, love, and equality. One who has suffered under these circumstances–occupied a tiny room alone for several months–can tell a true story about the injustice of the system. Recovery from all of the trauma I have experienced in the hospital takes time. I will be holding on to that trauma inside my brain for the rest of my life, trying to set it free. That very same brain possesses my depression, anxiety, mania, psychosis (to name a few). “She” is living proof that this illness exists, is treatable, and that “crazy” does not exist. Unfortunately, that proof is intangible. Therefore, according to the notorious “They,” the proof does not exist. To see is to believe. Everyone thinks nothing will touch them. “Not me,” they say. “Never could this trauma attach itself to my life. I am invincible.” Until it does. Then, they become part of the unknown, and will never be “normal” again. Never say Never.

The media labels people with psychiatric disorders. We are bullied, misunderstood, and often the butt of a joke. Misunderstanding stands alone, but add cruelty to the mix. Emerging victoriously from a psychiatric facility should be recognized, a cause of pride and celebration. Sadly, this fact is often buried beneath the rug or six feet under; distanced as quickly as possible. Instead of triumph, your word now means nothing because you were deemed incompetent. Sometimes, when the whispers grow from seeds to weeds, people with mental illness are approached as though their struggles are contagious. Even pity, which is meant to be polite, only feels like distance.

I have read and watched several movies with elements of jest at the expense of the mentally ill. I try to push through; I get mad, then sad, then turn it off. It is a personal challenge to ignore horrible statements such as, “My father married a bipolarity woman who had her ups and downs. When I marry, I will not make that mistake.” Or, “He used to be a genius before he became mentally ill. Isn’t that how it always goes?” It infuriates me to read these words, but I take a break, breathe deeply, and continue, with the knowledge that the author is quite ignorant. If I quit at every insult, I miss out on the good parts. I have decided, despite the irritation, to push through. It certainly has its difficulties.

I imagine that those most afraid of “crazy” people are truly fearful that their own sanity may be called into question. I would venture to say that everyone is playing pretend to protect their own “normality.” Such a state is unobtainable, just as sure as “crazy” is nonexistent.

We ARE desirable and we DO have voices! Let them be heard!!

“There’s no such thing as normal. There’s no such thing as crazy.

We’re all a little in-between and the line is very hazy.”

–SJB

“Campfire” 04.01.22

My family has always been drawn to the earth. We would all rather be outside than in. My sisters and I grew up hiking, camping, swimming in whitewater rivers, kayaking and sitting around campfires sharing secrets and telling stories. Campfires were magical settings which brought us closer together. Each member of our family is tethered to one another. Our lines of communication have always been open and honest. We swept nothing under the rug. Everything was discussed and resolved. Most of the time this happened when we “passed the stick.”

When “passing the stick,” whoever holds the stick has the floor. Only that person can speak about their issues, and once the stick has been passed around in all different directions, the situation is handled and the family meeting is over. Oh, how hard it is to hold your tongue until it is your turn with the stick!

Time flies by. Everyone moves in different directions. If the stick were passed around now, it would take days to catch each other up or to resolve issues, no matter how old. It’s important to check in with each other so that you can grow up together instead of apart. Our parents anchored us so that we would never drift away. Sometimes a campfire is needed to remind us of who we are now, as well as the part we play in our family.

–SJB

“Writing Well” 03.25.22 *100th Article*

“They” say you should write about what you know; the truth is far easier to convey than a fabrication. I follow this logic. However; in my experience, I know that this is not always easy. Sometimes it is more difficult to speak the truth than it is to lie. Generates vulnerability. It feels like exposing your whole self to the public in order to reach your target audience. There is wonderfully crafted fiction, well researched non-fiction, and there are beautiful children’s books in the world. My books don’t fit within those parameters. I write about what I know: I write about my experience, and hope to give others strength with my words.

The truth is that when you grow up with a mental illness like mine, you become “self-focused,” according to my therapist. Not “self-centered,” or “selfish.” I have been so aware of my illness from the beginning, and especially attentive for many years concerning the shifts in my mood. “Am I manic? Do I have endless energy? Am I avoiding sleep, feeling it is a waste of time? Am I losing my appetite? Is my handwriting sloppier than usual? Am I talking more than usual, but mumbling incoherently?” or “Am I down? Am I sad and tearful about everything? Am I anxious for unknown reasons? Do I cry every morning because trees are being cut down and I feel that nature has taken a huge hit from mankind? Do I sleep more? Am I feeling ‘not in the mood’ to get out of bed? Am I disinterested in every routine activity? Does it take a lot of work to speak, or even to smile?”

I have been so hyper aware of my moods and trying to control them that I had energy for almost nothing else. My doctor assured me that I am not a selfish person, but have been self-focused for so many years trying to fix the wiring in my head. Nothing is truly broken, but sometimes, I admit, it is harder than others to keep my head above water. I was diagnosed with Bipolar I at age 16. I did not have a good time in high school, when I wasn’t truly awake and aware of my surroundings. This illness progressed, and I am trying to keep up. Sometimes it feels like treading water, but most times I can reach the shore. I ask myself all the time, “How and why did this happen to me?” Of course, I have no answers. No one does. But I squeeze all the lemons I am given, and play the cards I am dealt. I believe that sharing my story and helping others is my purpose in life. Writing words people want to read and need to hear. Writing what I know.

–SJB

I want to thank all of my readers for your support and interest in my cause. Thank you for tuning in as I release my 100th blog article!

Throughout the one hundred Fridays which led to this day, I have written articles about standing up for what you believe in, being yourself, realizing you are not alone, and defining yourself despite your mental illness. I have told fictional stories, and informed you all about my experience with many areas of mental illness. I have told my story; I have enjoyed sharing it with you. My intent was to instill hope in your life, inspire you, shed light on issues that must be spoken about, and comforted you. Most of all, I hope you feel like part of something big. Perhaps now, you can acknowledge that you are surrounded by others who may share your loneliness. You are not alone. I plan to continue my journey with you. Many stories await.

“From Victim to Victory” 03.18.22

I wrote a book. I illustrated my illness in what I hope is comforting, helpful, and honest. I unabashedly poured my soul into those pages. I have always been a storyteller, and this is the story of a journey that will never end, and will follow me wherever I go. It is a piece of who I am, like it or not. I don’t like it. I hear voices and have conversations with intruders inside my head. I have delusions and can usually recognize them for what they are-pretend. Every time I take my dog outside, there is a tree that I swear is a man, but it’s just a tree. Every time. Just a tree. I experience mania rarely, I am not often depressed, and live a stable, almost “normal” life in a sleepy little town. I am frequently paranoid, but even so, I know I probably have nothing to fear. If I feel sick or something is physically worrying me, I call my mom. She is a nurse, and I am a hypochondriac. I disturb her slumber in the dead of night in order for her to reassure me that there is nothing wrong. I have stopped this ritual, as for years she has the same response. There is nothing wrong.

I want the world to know that living with a psychiatric illness is not a death sentence. There is no cure, but it is not a cause for embarrassment and doesn’t have to be kept secret. I used to feel like I could pose like a “normal” person and fit into the crowd, hiding my secret and feeling powerful because I knew something others didn’t. I guess it didn’t work, and that’s alright because “different” is far better than “normal.”

Repeatedly, some people living with mental illness feel like victims. When I shared my story publicly, I meant to share the fact that no one is truly alone in their struggles. The message was positive. Not a bit of that story was implying that I am a victim. I am the survivor of a disease which nearly pulled me under. I fought to reach the surface and was successful. This book means that I struggle but there is not a victim inside me. I rose above and will keep rising until I have reached the sun and carried it back to those who need the light.

–SJB