“Harnessing Happiness” 10.01.21

As far as I know, we aren’t born happy. We enter the world screaming at the top of our lungs. This is a world outside the comfort of our mother’s womb–the safest home we have known. Once we step into this big, wild, complicated environment, we face issues that later seem trivial; right out of the belly they seem humongous.

Many people have to work diligently to achieve happiness. There are pills to relieve anxiety and depression, but no pills full of happiness. We make our own happiness when we are not enveloped in its presence. I take several medications which aid in my struggle for happiness. I also muster all of the energy I possess toward reaching the level of happiness I require.

My growth was stunted at the age of fifteen because of my illness. My mind reverted to happy times in my past to help me forget the hard times. When I was nine, I was interested in reading about and collecting historical dolls, their clothing, and accessories. I have a massive collection now, because when you are an adult and have money you can buy toys that your allowance couldn’t cover when you were little. I can hold my first doll and breathe deeply, remembering the happy Christmas day when I first saw her under the tree. This comforts me. I can do this remembering technique with every doll and stuffed animal I have in my “nest” at home. I can snuggle with Tigger and remember the Disney store in New York City on a trip with my husband. Every time I hold “Bert,” my teddy bear, I am reminded of my earlier childhood happiness. There is one book that can comfort me like nothing else.

My Grandmama Patte was a storyteller. When I was little, she told precious stories to me and my sisters. We would ask her to tell us a story and request our favorites. There were five that stuck with me. She embellished and the details differed somewhat each time she told them. She would ask us to help her tell the stories, as she couldn’t quite remember everything. We would fill in the blanks where she forgot. I think she was trying to commit these stories to our memories long after she was gone. She succeeded. We grew up thinking she made up these stories on her own. When we were older, she gave us one of the most special gifts I have ever received. She bestowed upon each of us a book of Native American folklore; we found all of the stories she had told us throughout our lives. This book is so important to me because she died a few years later, but the stories live on. The happiness I gain from this book is monumental. Whenever I want to hear my Grandmama’s voice, I turn the page and concentrate with all my strength. I can hear her reading the story to me. When I am trying to fall asleep, daydreaming, or trying to control a panic attack, I think of joyful times I have experienced in my life. Deep breathing is key. Grandmama Patte’s voice is soothing.

There are many avenues toward happiness. One should not rely on another person for one’s happiness, though it is wonderful to have people in your life who bring you love and peace. There are steps to be taken in order to harness happiness and everyone has their own way of coping. Making art brings me closer to contentment. I sketch and color under a bright light that keeps me focused and comforts me. I am a pen pal to my older neighbor across the street. Sending and receiving letters with him brings me great joy. Stepping out for sunshine is an excellent way to soak up some natural therapy. Exercise is also helpful and will raise levels of serotonin, which stimulate delight.

These activities help me as an individual and may not work for everyone’s brain. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?


“Creative Outlets” 9.24.21

A psychiatric diagnosis is not required in order to express your feelings through creative outlets. In fact, it is a rewarding task. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, give it a try! There are many creative outlets to explore. Here are some examples:


*Keeping a journal/Writing

*Keeping a sketchbook




*Playing an instrument

*Graphic Design




*Basket making

*Candle making



*DIY projects

There are many more, but these are a few to think about. I would love to hear about your endeavors. Send me an email or a comment about an activity that you found fulfilling. I suggest you try more than one!

Happy creating!


“Birthday Blessings” 9.10.21

My Grandma Sandy is a fountain of wisdom, a brave soul, has a huge heart, and stands up for individuals who need her most. She invites strangers to her house on Thanksgiving. She loves all and she is full of prayer. She doesn’t tolerate bullying. She is a pioneer in the way of taking steps toward positive change.

Sandy befriended a person with mental illness and strives to engage him in social settings, getting out of the house, and living life to its fullest. These can be challenges when one feels down and out. Sandy is tenacious and I know that she will never give up on this endeavor. When someone is suffering with a mental health condition such as depression, it’s like drowning. We struggle to tread water. It can be difficult to get out of bed. Walking around feels like a chore. Cleaning the kitchen? Keeping a tidy house? Yeah, right. Think again. Sometimes, it takes too much energy to utter words. We must jump through hoops to get back on our feet. Society does not understand this invisible threat, and those who carry the burden of mental illness know this better than anyone, yet no one wants to talk about it. In their state of ignorance, “normal” people try to push these issues under the rug and ignore them; if you can’t see them, no one else will, right? Mental illness is not caused by fault and is not a shameful secret. The stigma associated with the mentally ill leads to the belief that we are the “bad guys.” Not so.

While the stigma rounds us all up and stamps a label on our heads, we all suffer differently and do not fit neatly in a box. There are human beings with mental illness who live beautiful lives despite the “Berman” traveling with them. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, friends. Just because you aren’t labeled doesn’t mean that mental illness doesn’t lurk inside your mind.

Recently, my grandma and her friend were at a group assembly and people told her to “Stay away from him!” My grandma said, “Shut up!” She protected her new friend from close-minded bullies. There are those in society who live in denial about the existence of mental illness because they do not want to accept the truth and move forward. The world is full of nonbelievers, but I hope that gradually those numbers will see the light and treat people with respect instead of fear. I am so proud of my grandma. Bullies should never have the last word. Sandy is a blessing in my life and many others. May this day and all days be filled with her radiance and courage.


I dedicate this article to two of the loves in my life, on their birthday.



“Mom” 8.27.21

I am grateful beyond words for my mom. I am her firstborn. She has always kept me out of harm’s way. She encouraged me as a child and as an adult to reach for my dreams, work for them, and achieve them. I realize how lucky I am. She is one of my greatest loves. I have many loves in my life, and thanks to her, I not only have Mom and Dad. She gave me three wonderful sisters. My mom is not only the bearer of daughters. She is my best friend.

When I was a child, I was very particular about clothing. I wouldn’t wear tights, hated elastic, and never wore shorts or pants. I didn’t want to wear tight fitting clothes. If I had my way, I would have run around naked. Before my chest developed, I pretty much did. I normally wore loose dresses that I picked out. I was all about comfort, without a care for fashion. It bothered my mom to no end. I would try to get away with wearing a dress several days in a row, and all of my family members–immediate and extended–remember a specific green dress.

Mom and I got into huge fights about my wardrobe. I pitched angry fits. One day, she handed me to Dad and he ended the dressing battles. The rules were that I came up the stairs, lifted my arms, and twirled around so he could smell me. If I didn’t smell like a “little goat” (as my mom would refer to me upon sniffing my forehead), I could wear whatever I wanted, much to Mom’s chagrin. My relationship with my mom began to strengthen after our frustrations subsided. I love my mom, and I always have. It is difficult to relay that message when you have had a big fight.

My mom has been with me through thick and thin. I am tired of talking about the hospital, which I think is a very good step away. One last time. Mom was devastated. She had to go to work every day knowing where I was, thinking about me, and telling no one. At one point, I didn’t recognize her. Still she fought to bring me home, knowing in her heart that I would return. She brought me her homemade bread when I wasn’t eating. I devoured it. There is no way to turn down that bread. Absolutely no way.

In my adult life, we have spent a lot of time together. I visit her and Dad every Saturday for breakfast; sometimes she stops by my house for coffee. Often we have walked together. We have been on many road trips and she is good company. She decorates her house for my birthday every year no matter how old I get, and makes my favorite cupcakes (red velvet with cream cheese icing). When Rush and I got married, she planned the whole day and helped to make it the best day of my life. She makes my whole life special.

My mom is a huge part of my life, and without her I would be lost. She is my guiding star.


“Christmas in July” 8.6.21

I am soaking in the melody of this morning, as my dog and husband are sleeping. The early birds are catching worms and the crickets haven’t yet realized that night is over. The small quiet sounds are peaceful; I am listening to the day awakening. Sometimes lack of noise on the outside invites thoughts and regrets on the inside. Recently, my family celebrated “Christmas in July” literally, as we were not able to gather for the real festivities last year. I don’t think we always appreciate the wonderful people in our lives. I had a month to catch up with my little sister, Jessica, before she moved across the country. I wish I had spent more time with her, but if I look deeper, I see that our time together was valuable and good quality. There are always regrets and things we could have done differently. Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda.

One problem with our pretend Christmas was that it was supposed to be my parents and all of my sisters and brothers. We weren’t all present. We had planned very far in advance so that we could set the date in everyone’s calendar. We were missing my sister, Amy–who suddenly found herself buried in work on Saturday and Sunday–and my brother, Rob, who usually doesn’t go anywhere without her. The family dynamic is thrown off balance when any of my family members are absent from group gatherings. Every member of our family carries a different candle, and when a candle is absent, that bit of darkness is distinguishable.

Mom rented a boat on Sunday to increase the fun factor of “Christmas in July,” and we spent the day on the lake. Logan (our dog) spent the day at his sister’s house because he is little, doesn’t have a life jacket, and can’t swim. Not a good combination. I think he had a better time in the yard than he would have on the boat, despite his love for sun bathing.

It was a great day. A day without worries or obligations. If you didn’t wear sunscreen, it was noticeable later. We swam in the lake, had a picnic, and felt the wind in our hair.

There is no better way to be reminded of what you have until you almost lose it. While my sister, Jessica, was here I was in the mindset that even when she lived far away, she would always be around; she would probably return to our part of the country one day. I took her for granted. She and Dad drove the truck and trailer to Virginia to gather her possessions and then headed to her new home in Portland. When they were two hours from their destination, they were moving slowly and about to stop for gas. The driver behind them was coming up fast and not paying attention. Luckily, my dad is a good driver and noticed this in his side mirror. He told Jessica, her dog, and two cats to “Hold on.” They were hit hard from behind; the truck and trailer flipped and landed right side up. The truck, trailer, and most of Jessica’s belongings were totaled. Dad, Jessica, her dog and two cats walked away physically unscathed.

Every night since, I have had a hard time falling asleep because I cannot shake the fact that I almost lost two of my favorite people in this world. This near-death experience amplifies the voice in my head that screams, “Appreciate them! Love them! Spend every moment with those you love as if it is your last chance.” I will never take them for granted again. Let this be a lesson that no one is invincible and we must love as deeply as we possibly can.


“Communication” 5.21.21

There are many ways to communicate. We relate to one another not only with our words, but with our actions, our body language, and our tone of voice.

Communication begins at a young age. We begin to speak through our actions before we possess words. As babies, we learn the language of our origin. We speak the language as soon as we can. When we can string words together into sentences, our words have power.

Our words have a greater impact on others than we know. As parents, teachers and other leaders in the lives of little ones, we must know that they are hanging on our every word and following our examples. They are tiny sponges soaking up knowledge about how the world works and the parts they will play in the future.

It is important to relay information in a calm tone when speaking to children, and to judge not the actions which may be without their control. The way we communicate with children is a stepping stone for how they will interact with others when they are adults.

My parents taught me and my sisters to speak openly and honestly about all issues and helped us to grow together as a unit without being passive aggressive. We learned to face conflict head on. Our family has a special bond to prove that this method worked for us. There were no problems pushed under our rugs, and no skeletons in our closets.

Everyone has their own set of issues and requires communication specific to their particular condition, whether or not they have a mental illness.

At one point in my life, I required the reassurance that everything was fine; the world was not falling apart; my family was safe; I was not in danger; I did not have a deadly disease. My sister, Jessica, discovered a communication technique which brought me back to reality. The best way to ground me is to look straight into my eyes without breaking contact and calmly tell me the truth. At first I needed Jessica to do this because I could not console myself. We have a special connection, so it worked like magic. Later, counselors learned this trick from my sister and used it to persuade me that everything was fine and that I was really okay. Now, when I seek solace I stand in front of a mirror and look deep into my own eyes, comforting myself. Communication is not always between two people. One must also learn to communicate with oneself.

As a younger person dealing with Bipolar I Disorder, there were things I did not like to be asked or to talk about. I did not like to hear, “How are you feeling?” “Have you taken your medication?” “Are you manic?” “Are you feeling revved up?” Those were the questions asked most frequently, especially from my mom. “Are you okay?” was my least favorite.

When I was first diagnosed, I made it my mission to catch the mania before anyone else could. I wanted to know my body better than my mom, my dad, the general public. But in the beginning, I wasn’t so quick to the draw. Mom always said she “had a visceral reaction to my mania,” or she suspected a bout of mania was on its way because I became extremely irritable. I hated that. I wanted to realize it before she did.

As my illness progressed, I became more aware of myself, and now I know my body even better than my doctor does (or so I like to think). He listens to my suggestions, and most of the time we are on the same page. I appreciate that we are able to communicate on that level.

I am now not so irritable when asked, “Are you ok?” but my mom doesn’t ask me that anymore. She has moved on to “How are you?” which is much better. Many people ask that question to start a conversation–or even in passing when they don’t care about your response–but I know my mom cares and I know that “How are you?” really means “Are you okay?” I love her and I know she just wants me to be happy and healthy.

Communication can be very complicated and sometimes it’s hard to get it right. It does get better though, with practice and time. My mom always says, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

That can mean a number of things, but in this instance, I want to address the inevitability that not everything a person says can be nice. There is also the possibility that when you try to be helpful it can sound mean or hurtful. You just have to roll with it and keep trying. “Are you ok?” wasn’t meant to be negative, but at the time, it felt that way to me. Now, my mom and I have a very strong friendship. Sometimes the wrong words will eventually be understood as the right ones.


“Physical Health” 4.23.21

Physical health is just as important as mental health. In fact, the two are related. Nutrition and exercise feed the mind, metaphorically like the gas you pump into your car. If you fill your body with diesel and your tank runs on 87, your body and mind are poisoned from the inside out. Your body, like your car, cannot run with the wrong fuel. The ingredients needed to encourage your “car” to move are the healthy choices you make in your diet, and the exercise that fills your mind with endorphins, which stimulate happiness.

Not everyone likes to eat healthy food. Unfortunately, vegetables taste so much worse than chocolate. Why do all the “wrong” foods taste so good, and why is it so difficult to make it to the gym five days a week? A thirty minute workout video at home feels like a chore!

You have to get off the couch and make yourself go for a walk, at least. My husband and I walk about three miles every day and it has become part of our routine. It gives us a chance to talk while we exercise so the time goes by more quickly. Before we know it, we are home again! I will admit, we do not eat as healthily as we should. I would feel like a hypocrite asking you to eat vegetables and fruit, because we eat pizza for dinner a lot. We have cut back on a lot of the sugary food we used to eat and it has had a great impact on our bodies and our minds. Baby steps. Nobody is asking for cold turkey.

Sleep is of utmost importance, especially with cases of mental illness such as bipolar disorder. Trust me, staying up all night being productive and feeling like sleep is a waste of time is exhilarating. It comes back to bite you. I am certain, from personal experience, that we all need sleep in order to have a clear mind and a functioning body. Sleep is your friend. Don’t neglect her.

When you take care of your body, you are taking care of your mind. Remember to give yourself the right fuel.


“Recognition” 4.9.21

The mind is a powerful entity. Much of it is still a mystery. What causes us to dream, to remember, to recognize the people in our lives, and to comprehend the situations happening around us? I don’t have these answers, but I am no stranger to memory loss and lack of recognition.

When we are children, we are taught basic table manners. We learn how to use napkins, utensils, and to keep our elbows off the table. I never imagined that one day I would not recognize the relationship between the utensils and the food. The key to starving is forgetting how to eat.

I tell this story many times over because this is something I will never forget and letting it out helps with the pain of remembering. While I was in the psychiatric hospital in 2013, I didn’t realize that the medication the doctors were trying to force down my throat was for my benefit. I couldn’t recognize that the doctors weren’t “bad guys.” I had horrible dreams that felt so much like reality. They clouded my judgment and caused me to believe my delusions. It was nearly impossible to talk me down.

Worse than mania, depression, psychosis, memory loss, or delusions, was not recognizing my parents and loved ones. I understand now how much harder that was for them than it was for me. I have been reminiscing today and some terrible memories have come to light. I am sure that during our sheltering in place we have all had time to think about things we wanted to bury. Memories can be repressed, but they are always in the back of our minds, waiting to be remembered.

Sit down. Write down what you are remembering, good or bad. It may help you to release some of your emotions. While it is more fun to drown our sorrows by binge watching television, we have to do the real work of recognizing our deepest traumas if we are to put our bad memories behind us. Talk to someone you trust. Release your emotions. Recognize your feelings. Cry. Laugh. Heal.


“Triggers” 3.19.21

Triggers are events or reminders of past trauma which can send a person over the edge into mania or depression.

Triggers can be big ordeals, or small details that open up a part of the brain and reintroduce the trauma a person has experienced. My triggers began with apple juice.

My dad is an Episcopal priest. When I was in the eighth grade, I was told that we were moving away from the town I grew up in. I was feeling uprooted. When you are the daughter of a priest, you are not supposed to tell anyone if, when, or where you are relocating until the whole church is informed. I wasn’t even allowed to tell my best friend. Unfortunately, it took her a while to forgive me for keeping such a secret from her, but it was my duty.

Once reality set in and the move was impending, I got very sick and stayed at home from school for a week. I laid in my parents’ bed and didn’t eat or drink much other than apple juice. It was the beginning of my worst depression. To this day, I cannot drink apple juice without being reminded of that depression and once reminded, I start to sink.

Another of my triggers is oatmeal with butter and brown sugar. It reminds me of the days when I was literally starving, in a hospital that couldn’t take care of my needs. Trying to fatten me up, the women serving breakfast always gave me an extra bowl of oatmeal. I remember a man in line behind me ask, “Hey! Why does she get two bowls?” To which the woman replied, “Look at her!”

Now, when I eat oatmeal with butter and brown sugar I cannot help but think of that time. It reminds me of sick days spent in bed as an adult skipping work. I stayed away, depression enveloping me. I burrowed into my blankets and felt the guilty aches of anxiety deep within my core.

Anxiety is the trigger that has the biggest effect on my life. I cannot work, because I cannot handle the stress. I have been unable to keep a steady job because of my disability. I cannot even handle a part-time job.

As my illness progressed, I began to recognize running as one of my most heartbreaking triggers. It was always my favorite activity and my greatest escape. I have ruined my knees due to years on my feet. I no longer run, but it is not solely due to my injury. When I run, the occurrence of an ocular gyro crisis is highly likely. An ocular gyro crisis is involuntary rapid eye movement. I lose control of my eyes. It is an extremely rare side effect I inherited from one of the many medications I was prescribed in the past. Running also invites the voices into my head; one voice is encouraging and the other is reckless. Although I realize these consequences, my desire to run is high and my loss of running is emotionally painful.

Even if you don’t have a mental illness, everyone has triggers. Sit down and write a list of the things in your life that make you “tick.” Once you have named them, they will be easier to circumvent.