"Here's a little story about three people: a mother, a father, and their daughter. The daughter loved them both dearly, but the mother didn't love the father, so in return the father refused to love the daughter. The pain and bitterness that rooted its way around the chambers of his heart were too great to break free of. Hate grew exponentially in his heart and flowed from his lips and out of his fingertips as easy as the wind on a Fall day. He thought their daughter would hurt him the way her mother had, and he couldn't bring himself to face that kind of pain again; ruining their daughter's life became his method of coping and healing instead. He ruined their daughter's life the way her mother had ruined his...or at least he tried to. He couldn't though, despite his attempts, because although she was broken and her eyes never seemed to be rid of tears, she triumphed by forgiving both her mother and her father. She forgave them for the mistakes they made in their youthful haste to play grown ups. She chose to forgive because she loved them in spite of the history they had written for each other. She forgave them because if it wasn't for them, she wouldn't be here and she wouldn't know of a God who redeems all and loved her when they could not. So she won. She lived. She loved. Because love conquers all. "
To this day there is only one other person who knows the exact whys and hows of that season and what had been happening over the two year time period that finally forced me to leave. That person was my closest confidant and more importantly, believed me when I told her what was happening. She was the only one who ever has. I didn't always do right by her as a friend, I couldn't I was too much of a mess mentally and emotionally, but I'm grateful for what she gave me: a place to stay, friendship, an escape through writing and art journaling...an identity. It was she who first told me I that really, I was an artist and was born to create. A poet. A wordsmith who's words bore power. When I had told her that I was afraid to write because writing had always been dangerous for me, that my words unfiltered and raw on the page pushed others to silence my voice and invalidate my sense of being upon discovery, she gave me an alias: Nicole Paul. My middle name + my favorite apostle.Read More
Last year I wrote here about my initial experience with the VA during my pregnancy with Austin. So many of you reached out and helped me make my voice heard online and the VA eventually heard me and decided to treat me throughout my pregnancy again. Dealing with their mental healthcare system hasn't been easy since I gave birth a year ago. It's been manageable, but it's been a process that has challenged me significantly.Read More
"List ten beautiful, amazing, breathtaking experiences you want to have THIS YEAR with your art," my friend and story coach Elora wrote on the wall of our writing community's Facebook group last Monday. As I watched the women in our group start to brave the vulnerability that comes with speaking your desires and dreams out loud and post their lists of ten, I sat with my heart pounding and wrestling itself, hands frozen over the keys, barely breathing.
"I'll be back. I have to think about this...I can't answer this yet." That was my response.
I couldn't answer right away because I was too afraid and unsure of how big I should dream for the next 12 months. To break through fear's paralysis, I pulled out the Life Menu I hadcreated at Lime Retreats last month and looked over the things I had written, at the light words that had emerged as themes on that list.
I re-read notes I've been jotting down as I read my way through Desire Map and reminded myself how I want to feel as I go about my life as a writer, artist, advocate, and mother. I sat in my living room after tucking the boys in their beds and meditated on new horizons as I stared at this painting above our TV.
I had my answer by the end of the week, but I didn't sit down and write them out until yesterday. In the end, I decided dreaming big and wild with some wouldn't hurt anything. Writing them out, however was another, scarier matter. My hands shook and Doubt shouted all kinds of not so nice things as I wrote out each one in my art journal. Afterwards I jumped on the computer, pulled up Facebook and wrote my response on the group thread:
"Ok. Here goes:
1. Finish writing my memoir.
2. Launch Kintsukuroi Women's website/blog and self-publish the KW anthology for women of color living with mental illness. 3. Hold an art show or exhibit my work at a local street fair.
4. Paint 100 canvases.
6. Enhance what I offer in my Etsy shop or find a more comprehensive selling platform that affords me the chance to offer more of my artwork on products and make a bit more money.
7. Pitch a conference idea for creatives/writers/artists to BlogHer or some other media entity.
8. Become fully rooted in my identity as a writer, artist and activist.
9. Lead an art journaling or painting class w/a humanitarian organization in Africa, South America, or Asia that empowers girls and women. Help them find the beauty in brokenness through artistic expression.
10. Begin writing a web series pilot that focuses on a black woman navigating mental illness and motherhood and pitch it to Issa Rae's creative content startup."
There they are. Ten beautiful, amazing, breathtaking experiences I want to have with my art & words between now and the end of December 2015. I want to inspire, empower, connect to and equip others as well as create art that provokes, moves, and enlightens myself and others in some way, on some level.
Will they happen? Who knows. Perhaps some will, others perhaps not, but what if it's less about accomplishing all ten and more about learning to dream and live intently, driven by "goals with soul" as Danielle LaPorte describes it in Desire Map. As long as I'm focused on the WHY I want to do those things and find ways that allow me to live the Why out loud, I don't think it'll matter so much if any of these exact things happen as I wrote them out...and that's completely ok.
It's less about exactness and completion and more about embodiment and purposeful living, for me.
Here's to THAT in the coming months.
Austin will be a year old on Wednesday. Half of me is consumed with relief, praising God I made it through his first year with my mental health (mostly) intact. My biggest fear as I approached his birth was that I'd relapse and be ill like I was during Alex's first year. Granted, the past 12 months haven't been free from moments of anxiety and forays into darkness, but I don't live in it's oppressive fog like I did back then. Many things have thankfully been different this time around, and the ones that weren't I've been able to address as needed thanks to knowledge and increased self-awareness.
The other half of me is dumbstruck, in search of where the time went. How did it pass by so quickly? I'm not sad necessarily-to be honest as much as I love how adorable fresh life is, I enjoy watching my children get older and find new ways to step into their independence and personhood. From my experience, babies are precious, but hard, especially in those first four months when everything becomes about surviving sleep deprivation and learning who this stranger is that emerged from your body. They then become conduits of wonder between six to nine months, granting you an opportunity to see the world through eyes and a perspective thrilled by discovery and exploration. Teething and rapid leaps in development make the last three months of their first year reminiscent of the first four, leaving you to wonder if you'll ever get uninterrupted sleep or your own skin to yourself ever again. So I'm not sad to see him turn one, even though he's my last. I'm embracing it, eager to watch him chase after his brothers on wobbly legs still finding their rhythm, and hear his first words. I'm just...surprised at how quickly it went. Alex's first year seemed like an eternity, Austin's a nanosecond.
I've been watching him intently these past 2 days, in awe of how rapidly he's becoming his own person, holding his own as the youngest in a family of five. He has this wild joy about him and thirst for living that makes my heart dance. His laugh frees my soul in a way that's hard to articulate with words...it triggers a release from what's binding me, causing me to rise and walk free; revived like Lazarus emerging from the tomb. Perhaps that's why this year has gone by so quickly-joy has been carrying us through it, even during the moments I thought I'd fall and break.
I snapped this photo of him yesterday evening. He was staring out of our hotel window, looking out of the expanse of the city and babbling emphatically as he pointed to various objects in the distant that only he could identify. He would look back at me every so often and clap his hands, a smile bursting across his face and excitement dancing in his eyes, then turn back and bang on the window, letting out a yell, as if to say, "Let me out, I'm ready! I'm coming for you, world!"
It was in that moment that I recognized what I love the most about watching a child cross the threshold of their first year-the readiness. It's in their eyes, lives in their voice, and dominates their body language. It's life-giving to witness, their daily declarations of readiness for what's next in life, their head first leap into further exploration and discovery, their fearlessness and wonderment.
He is my baby but already not so much of a baby anymore. Instead he's a little boy with an emerging independence that tells me when he doesn't need me to be so close, with eyes that ask for a bit of freedom and autonomy every day. I've held him so close to me this first year that watching him at the window yesterday reminded me it's time to start releasing my grip just enough so that he can stand and take on the world-one wobbly step at a time.
I quickly scanned through my inbox this morning on my phone while getting dressed. My eyes rested on an email from LinkedIn, notifying me that people were congratulating me on a work anniversary. Puzzled, I logged into the site to see what work I was being congratulated for, considering I don't have motherhood listed on my LinkedIn profile as my full-time gig.
I've been writing in this space for the past four years. Well, actually a little more than four years, closer to four and a half-my first actual post here was in March 2010. I wrote one or two posts after that, but it wasn't until November 2010 that I said, "I'm going to really make this a home for my words," and became intentional about utilizing this space to write out my thoughts and share my life.
Four years. So much has happened in my life since I made that first post (Truth vs. Circumstance), and I've chronicled most of it here with you. I started this space in part because I wanted to do just that-chronicle my life. I wanted to create a space where I could leave behind a legacy, a story for my boys to read when they're older and want to know about who I am as a person and a woman-not just their mother. I wanted to share my experiences with mental illness and abuse so others feel less alone and empowered to find beauty in their brokeness. I also just wanted to create a safe space where I could come and think and be completely A'Driane-as raw and honest and ME as I want to be...unmuted and free. Growing up, I wrote in journals, but my father always found them and took them away, threatening to use my words against me in some way. I was never given any agency as a child or teen nor the freedom to let my voice speak. So I wanted a space no one in my life could touch unless I allowed them to. So I came here and determined this would be a space I could process and find my way through my life.
I've written my way through postpartum depression and anxiety, my diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the ups and downs of my relationship with my husband who back in 2010 was just my boyfriend and co-parent. I've posted dance videos here, written about the soul work I did in therapy in 2011-2012. I graduated from one college and attended another for 2 semesters. I left the Church. My faith evolved to something completely different than what it was when I created this space. I've had two children since I began writing here; Alex is the same age as this space. I had my first psychiatric hospitalization. I moved to a brand new city. Brennan started school. Alex was diagnosed with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. I got married in the Texas Hill Country surrounded by family and friends. Austin was born. I stopped attending school and became a stay at home mother. I've completely rebuilt my life.
Writing my way through the highs and lows lead to my finding my voice as a mental health advocate. Two years ago, I attended a panel at BlogHer 12 that featured other women who blogged openly and willingly about "the issues." I walked out of that session with their words burning hot in my heart and shortly after began giving my thoughts on various social issues based on my lived experience, reawakening if you will, a deep passion for activism I've had since I was a kid. I've lead a team in a worldwide fundraiser and awareness initiative for Postpartum Progress and am a contributing editor to Postpartum Progress' blog. I'm currently working on a development project that will help Postpartum Progress diversify its outreach and engage mothers of color. I had the honor of helping in the initial planning of their upcoming Warrior Mom conference. I spoke at BlogHer's HealthMinder Day in 2013 on a panel about mental health and sharing in the online space. This year I was selected as a Voice of the Year and given the additional honor of reading my piece, "America's Not Here For Us" at the keynote reception...and received a standing ovation I left the stage too quickly to see, I've been told :) Upworthy picked up the video of me reading that piece and featured it on its site. I've been featured on BlogHer. I've been Freshly Pressed, and had the joy of hanging with the Automattic Team in the Wordpress booth at BlogHer. I've become a visual artist, opening a shop on Etsy to share my paintings. I've taken eCourses from amazing artists and creatives. I attended Lime Retreats with the phenomenal Karen Walrond aka Chookooloonks.
None of that compares the community I've found here though and in other spaces online over the last four years. Blogging here has brought the most incredible people into my life, some of whom have become my closest friends, my tribe. I've danced to Prince with some of my sHeroes. The Warrior Moms and the PPDChat communities are my sisters. I've been challenged, encouraged, loved on, lifted, and empowered by the people blogging has brought into my world. I've grown and changed in ways I wasn't expecting. I am the person I am typing these words because of my online community, because of YOU. You've celebrated with me, you've cried with me, you've danced with me, you've laughed and clowned with me, you've mentored me, you've hugged me when you saw me in person, you've said, "hey girl, I know you, come here, it's so good to finally meet you!" at conferences, you sent me gifts when I got married and love letters and rainbow colored flowers when I got home from the psych ward. You've befriended me and you've entertained all I've shared with you in the last 4 years. You've given me life and allowed me to share mine with you. I could go on, because there's so much more but I'd be here til the morning typing it all out, sharing memories...I'll just save those for future posts :)
I'm blown away by all that's happened since I sat down and typed the words "Butterfly Confessions" into the domain box and signed up for a Wordpress account. I honestly don't know what's next, and I'd be lying if I said I haven't wanted to walk away from this space from time to time over the last 4 years....but I keep coming back because this is home, this is my safe space, and I'd miss it too much to abandon it completely. So...I don't know where I'm going from here, but for right now I'm content with just being grateful for all this space and blogging have given to me. Thank you for reading.
"She found hope laying in the street as she made her way across the unknown expanse before her. When she picked it up it burned hot her palm, leaving its truth imprinted on her being. She knew then she was ready for the journey that awaits."Read More
I never planned on having children, so the fact that I have 3 almost feels like I've been punked by one of those "never say never" situations. I remember being 18 in the women's underwear section of Target with my mother and sister, arguing with my mother that I didn't "owe" her any grandchildren. I had absolutely nothing to do with the physical event that led to my conception; that was purely her choice and I was determined then that mine would be absolutely no biological children. I preferred adoption, if I decided to have children at all. The aspiring world changer in me, freshly graduated from high school, had her sights set on joining the Peace Corp and from there, who knew where life would take me. I wanted to be free as a bird, on the front lines of a cause, making my voice heard, putting my hands to work for others, advancing justice while rocking out to Prince. Children? Pfffft.Read More
Confession: My greatest fear is that I will lose my life to suicide.
I don't say that to be melodramatic, I simply state it as a fact. As a person living with bipolar disorder, it is a fear that silently stalks me, always watching for a misstep to expose a weakness it can take advantage of, a crack it can slide itself into. Once inside it starts searching for the gaps serotonin has been unable to fill, settling into each one, and methodically goes to work on eroding my mind's defenses.
Sometimes the process is slow, my mental erosion, building up to a collapse. Others it is swift and jarring, flinging me from the light of life into a plunging darkness that swallows my soul instantly. And then there are times when it's an excavation of my insides, a scooping and hollowing out of my personhood designed to leave me as nothing more than an outward shell of a woman.
When I was 13, years of abuse at the hands of my father gave birth to a despair that swiftly engulfed me one Saturday afternoon while my belly was empty from hunger and my father was out on a golf outing. That time it was pills. It was an amateurish and desperate attempt at escaping the hell I lived in that lead me to a drugged sleep but not death.
At 20 it found me after a series of rapid changes over a short amount of time and the hormonal shift that comes with miscarriage. Becoming an airman, being stationed at my first base, the dissolving of a tech school relationship that had left me pregnant and then suddenly not, surrounded by people I did not know, working a job that wasn't what I had envisioned or hoped for when I swore an oath to protect and serve my country, being estranged from my family...it found me in my dorm room and I went to work at my next shift, telling my supervisor I couldn't arm up and that instead, I needed to be taken to the mental health clinic on base to be seen.
It started feverishly raking its claws on the walls of my mind daily just shy of Alex's first birthday. I was constantly triggered by anxiety and depression, guilt over not being the mother I thought my kids deserved, feelings of overwhelm when he would scream inconsolably, and my thoughts dancing with sudden desires to just leave and never come back. I started seeing a therapist who specialized in treated women with postpartum mood disorders like PPD and its grasp on my mind unclenched just enough for light to enter in again.
In July 2011 I woke up on a Monday, found it staring me steadfastly in the eyes and just knew: I wouldn't make it past the next two weeks alive if I didn't get help. Even with the help I had been getting, my symptoms had been getting worse. I was dancing with what I know now was hypomania and plummeting into gravity wells of depression hourly. It was constant and unrelenting, its devouring and feasting on my mind. It's appetite was insatiable and if I wasn't crying from the burn depression's cold grip had around my heart, I was screaming from the rage flashing through me...if I wasn't bounding off the Earth from the energy vibrating through my body and bursting out of my fingertips, I was pressing my sweating, anxious body into the coolness of my bathroom floor, praying each inhalation would quell the panic trying to claw it's way out of my skin. My mind was too loud, full of thoughts that spun and splintered into chaos at a pace that often left me nauseated. Two days later, I found a sitter for Brennan, put myself on a bus with Alex wrapped to my chest in the Moby, and walked into the VA Behavioral Health Clinic in Philadelphia, with whispers of death roaring in my ears. The intake psych diagnosed me with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 & OCD and put me on a mood stabilizer. Within a week it kicked in and I embarked on a new treatment journey for an illness that I could more accurately name.
Treatment has helped, and while other times it just shows up to flirt, every Fall has become hunting season. Suicide is the predator, my life and sanity the prey. No matter how well I've been taking care of myself and compliant in treatment, it hunts me down, licking its chops as it circles me, watching...waiting.
Two years ago I had to go inpatient to stay safe from its advances. I slowly paced the halls of the VA Mental Health psychiatric ward in Waco in my green, floppy, foam sock shoes desperately wanting to go home to my boys and my life but at the same time stay hidden, monitored by those who whose job it was to not let Death have me. "Do you really want to die?" the doctor had asked me. No. I didn't. I just wanted relief and couldn't find it in living with a mind designed to self-destruct...fray at the edges...unravel...erode...become my enemy.
It's found me again as I'm nearing one year postpartum. It's been a year that's come with it's difficulties as I've adjusted to mothering three while living with this illness, but joy has found me at various points throughout, grabbing my hand and saying, "dance with me, Addye. Be free."
This is the freest I've ever felt in my almost 32 years of living and yet here I am again staring at the whites of Suicide's eyes and searching desperately for a gun to shoot it with...
I want to keep dancing in the light.
But my marriage is barely breathing as my husband and I scour the landscape for a path that brings us back to each other. Each of my sons has An Issue that demands every ounce of my mental capacity daily that leaves me exhausted and specialized attention that is straining our finances. Writing here has brought some success this year, but exposure saw my inboxes become inundated with vitriol from those who'd rather the Other stay silent. I look at my baby as he screams and cries like babies do and brace myself against the panic that floods my system. Images I'd rather not see flash through my mind, unwarranted and unwanted. Overwhelm asks me repeatedly throughout the day if I'm done and my breath is labored when I whisper "No." Worry fills me. Depression courts me. Anxiety ravages my insides, ripping me open, exposing where my heart and resolve are weak.
I want to keep dancing in the light.
So I tighten my grip as my mind cycles from one extreme to the next. I expand my ribs out as far as my bones and skin will allow and I drink in the morning air as I take Alex to school. I concentrate on the laughs bubbling up and spilling out of my infant son and use it to anchor me to the present. I respond when Brennan asks me if I know that lions are the only big cats that live in packs, and beg him to tell me more so I can marvel at how much information his brain clamors to hold. I take their pictures on my phone and use them to dig in and root deeper when the darkness pulls at me. I paint my lips with my favorite shade of purple lipstick because it makes my heart beat a little faster and my hips sway with power and allure when I walk. I text my friends. I use the internet to distract. I read the words of others, press my hands in paint, go away for a weekend retreat to hold onto myself. I call my psychiatrist and resolve to hold on until December 9th when I can sit in her office and say "help me."
And I come here. Today. To find my way back after struggling to see Why My Words Matter in the hopes that it will help me remember why my life does.
I'm here to dance in the light even in the seasons when it can't be found.