Erin Kerry

@erinbkerry | contributor
I am a survivor of bipolar disorder, certified integrative nutrition health coach, and podcast host of Sparking Wholeness. I am passionate about holistic health and inspiring others to find wholeness and healing. Follow me on my blog, podcast, or Instagram @sparkingwholeness
Community Voices

Make Like a Tree and Let Go

There are less than 60 days left in the year. This inspires a lot of go-getters, influencers, self-help authors, and leadership coaches to call for some kind of goal-setting push to finish the year strong.

But I want to consider something else.

Instead of doing a hard push, forcing yourself to live up to some imaginary expectation for yourself only YOU are freaking out about, let’s acknowledge what you’ve been through and the coping mechanisms you’ve developed in effort to support you.

No judgment. No shaming.

I’ll go first.

When I’m stressed, I like to numb out with a bag of flavored chips that will make me feel like crap afterwards.

Do I want to do it? No. Is it “healthy” from a physical, mental, or spiritual standpoint? Probably not. But it’s familiar to me. It’s comfort. This coping skill worked when I was younger. It brought me temporary relief and comfort when I was depressed and couldn’t find relief or a way out of the dark hole I had fallen into.

By beating myself up for continuing to fall victim to my coping behavior, I make it worse, and cause more stress… making me more likely to repeat the behavior, perpetuating the cycle of unpleasant feeling, coping, shame, unpleasant feeling, shame, and coping.

So the worst thing I can do, in order to cope with my stress, is to add on more rigidity, more standards to live by, forcing an already stressed out and emotionally dysregulated brain into more dysregulation.

It’s going to backfire. My brain wants to keep me alive, and when things get hard, my brain will find the familiar way out. Every time. It’s what brains do.

I’m in a season of growth and healing. I’m in a season where I’m sick of quick fix programs that don’t allow me to do the deeper work of accepting where I’ve been and how I’ve gotten there, and the habits I’ve formed along the way. Even the habits we consider unhealthy have served a purpose at some point to create escape and survival. Imagine where we’d be if we didn’t have these escape mechanisms!

Instead of setting another goal, I want to make room for the mistakes, the slip-ups. Observe them, notice them without judgment.

Maybe you’re reading this and you’ve been beating yourself up for your go-to behavior. Maybe it’s a bingeing, or maybe it’s obsessive exercise or some kind of food restriction that you turn to when you’re stressed. Maybe you hop from diet to diet as a way to cope with not feeling in tune with your body’s needs. Maybe you have unpleasant symptoms, physically or mentally, and in order to not feel as bad, you try to beat your body into submission by finding a new diagnosis, or new treatment, or new solution. Maybe it’s a nightly glass of wine to help take the edge off so you can sleep, maybe it’s adding one more item to your Amazon cart. Maybe you cope by staying busy and overcommitting and coming to everyone’s rescue.

Whatever your thing is, before you get mad at yourself and plan to turn it into a New Year’s Resolution or quit cold turkey, do some digging. What is the cause of that behavior? How has that behavior been helpful for you? Can you reframe it so it isn’t shaming? Can you share it with someone so it doesn’t hold power over you?

And the bigger question – can you make room for growth and find what triggered the behavior to begin with?

Removing all sugar from your diet will not remove the unpleasant feeling that sends you into your kids’ Halloween bucket. Quitting all processed carbs won’t quit the feeling that sends you to numb yourself through chewing through a slice of warm, soft, fluffy bread.

Deciding to stop buying flavored chips will not cause me to not buy into the feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and self-avoidance that bring me to the Doritos.

I’m done with the “band-aids on bullet holes.”

We can confront our coping behaviors without trying to shame or fix or suppress. We can ask ourselves what they’re telling us. We can thank them for their presence, and we can ask ourselves if their services are still needed.

So for the rest of this year, I’m going to follow the example of the trees. I’m going to patiently, in my own time, let go of what is no longer serving me, all the while staying rooted in the Truth of who I am. Maybe I’ll allow a few coping leaves on my tree. Maybe I’m not ready to let go of all of them.

This body of mine has been through a lot, and I’m done contributing to the onslaught. It’s time for rest. It’s time for healing and renewal. Healing will not come from a place of avoidance or shame. It comes from looking deeper within, and acknowledging that I’m already whole, and I have everything I need, right here in front of me.

Erin Kerry

How I'm Breaking Myself Free From the Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

The little girl didn’t know in 10 years she would wish for death. She loved her family, her new siblings and Jesus, too. Much like the Tom Petty song, “Free Falling,” she was about to take a free fall — down the path of a broken brain.She was a preacher’s daughter with a genetic disposition to mental illness. Add on to that various health issues like chronic ear infections, asthma, allergy shots, antibiotics and steroids …. and a budding sugar addiction and insatiable appetite. She was all energy and filled with curiosity, wanting to know the how and why of everything. So, one day, when the darkness closed in, she would question why she couldn’t just pray it away. It was a few years after witnessing the death of her grandpa when it hit. Why couldn’t she get out of bed? Why couldn’t she stop crying? Why couldn’t she pray enough to make it stop? She filled up on academics and activities, theatre and cheerleading, sports — ways to escape. To cope. She used and abused food, she developed an unhealthy body image. All she thought when she looked in the mirror was, “Fat. Gross. Unloveable. Broken.” She begged her God to fix her, to make her a better Christian, a better person. She had long bursts of success, though. Times when she’d be flying high on ideas and inspiration. Poetry, short stories, novels. Achievement, awards, the spotlight. She loved people and fun! She could stay up for hours and never feel tired the next day. She could talk a mile a minute and felt she could charm the world. Grandiosity was productive. Antidepressants helped the lows not to be so destructive, but the highs only got higher. The word “mania” was first mentioned to her in the fall of her freshman year of college. Though she developed mononucleosis, she didn’t slow down much. At one point during the illness, she stayed up for over 36 hours. “Manic?” She thought. “No way. I feel good. I could get through college in a day. I make good grades. People love me. I’m good at so many things. I don’t even need to sleep.” Yes, that was mania. Though it was productive, it was also destructive. The confusion toward God became a budding resentment, as more medication numbed the fun feelings. Alcohol helped. But it led to dangerous blackouts.There were periods of calm, of stability, but not for long. The academic world provided respite, where she could focus on words and ideas and research. She made good friends. She didn’t try to understand her diagnosis, she simply accepted it and tried staying on medication, with bitterness. Until a surprise pregnancy woke her up and provided the hope of restoration. During pregnancy, she felt a brief remission from the waves. After the birth, she moved and found a teaching job to pour her heart into. She was determined to get healthy for her daughter and stay on medication for her baby’s sake, if not her own. She ate better. She exercised. She made herself sleep. She began to heal … and she met someone special. This is where I switch from third person to first person to take ownership, because though my writer’s heart loves a third-person narrative, this is real life. This is my life. I have bipolar disorder. My fingers shake as I type this, and my palms sweat. There is such a stigma with that diagnosis, a stigma that comes from years of misinformation and misuse of the word. What does this mean for me? It means I would have periods of productivity, then I would crash. This doesn’t make me “crazy,” it just means I sometimes see the world in brighter colors, feel a little more strongly and go at an extremely fast pace. They told me I would be on medication my entire life. They told me it was just chemicals in my brain. It was so much more than just that. I’ll never see the full picture, but I can say my label doesn’t limit me anymore. At the time I write this, I have been stable for six and a half years now. I know I am an anomaly. I know I may need medication at some point in the future. It saved my life, many times. I know not everyone with bipolar disorder will experience this. Maybe trauma plus hormones plus stress plus adolescence made it worse for me early on. Who knows? But, this is my story, and where I am at the moment. It’s always there, under the surface. While the lows of depression threaten to take me under, the hypomania urges me to come out and play. I am alert to every trigger. I focus on anti-inflammatory foods that stimulate brain health. I exercise, I monitor my stress levels and I choose sleep even when I would rather stay up and be productive. I see a counselor every month, and I never miss a doctor’s appointment. I take supplements to make up for vitamin and mineral deficiencies caused by so many medications and lack of proper whole food nutrition over the years. I read everything written on brain health to look for further ways to improve and maintain my health. Yes, I may seem a little obsessive at times, but I’ll do whatever I can to keep my brain clear and to help encourage others. My illness is a gift. It gives me empathy. It keeps me grounded. It causes me to surrender. To trust. To persevere. It makes me who I am. So, for anyone out there hiding under the weight of a broken brain, whatever the diagnosis, you are not alone and you are not “crazy. “There are so many different degrees, different phases, different triggers. Your story is your own; your journey is your own. But you are not the only one struggling in silence. There is no one-size-fits-all. There is no shame in taking medication. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in relapse. There is no shame in asking questions. There is no shame in searching for other treatments. There is no shame in mental illness.

Erin Kerry

How I'm Breaking Myself Free From the Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

The little girl didn’t know in 10 years she would wish for death. She loved her family, her new siblings and Jesus, too. Much like the Tom Petty song, “Free Falling,” she was about to take a free fall — down the path of a broken brain.She was a preacher’s daughter with a genetic disposition to mental illness. Add on to that various health issues like chronic ear infections, asthma, allergy shots, antibiotics and steroids …. and a budding sugar addiction and insatiable appetite. She was all energy and filled with curiosity, wanting to know the how and why of everything. So, one day, when the darkness closed in, she would question why she couldn’t just pray it away. It was a few years after witnessing the death of her grandpa when it hit. Why couldn’t she get out of bed? Why couldn’t she stop crying? Why couldn’t she pray enough to make it stop? She filled up on academics and activities, theatre and cheerleading, sports — ways to escape. To cope. She used and abused food, she developed an unhealthy body image. All she thought when she looked in the mirror was, “Fat. Gross. Unloveable. Broken.” She begged her God to fix her, to make her a better Christian, a better person. She had long bursts of success, though. Times when she’d be flying high on ideas and inspiration. Poetry, short stories, novels. Achievement, awards, the spotlight. She loved people and fun! She could stay up for hours and never feel tired the next day. She could talk a mile a minute and felt she could charm the world. Grandiosity was productive. Antidepressants helped the lows not to be so destructive, but the highs only got higher. The word “mania” was first mentioned to her in the fall of her freshman year of college. Though she developed mononucleosis, she didn’t slow down much. At one point during the illness, she stayed up for over 36 hours. “Manic?” She thought. “No way. I feel good. I could get through college in a day. I make good grades. People love me. I’m good at so many things. I don’t even need to sleep.” Yes, that was mania. Though it was productive, it was also destructive. The confusion toward God became a budding resentment, as more medication numbed the fun feelings. Alcohol helped. But it led to dangerous blackouts.There were periods of calm, of stability, but not for long. The academic world provided respite, where she could focus on words and ideas and research. She made good friends. She didn’t try to understand her diagnosis, she simply accepted it and tried staying on medication, with bitterness. Until a surprise pregnancy woke her up and provided the hope of restoration. During pregnancy, she felt a brief remission from the waves. After the birth, she moved and found a teaching job to pour her heart into. She was determined to get healthy for her daughter and stay on medication for her baby’s sake, if not her own. She ate better. She exercised. She made herself sleep. She began to heal … and she met someone special. This is where I switch from third person to first person to take ownership, because though my writer’s heart loves a third-person narrative, this is real life. This is my life. I have bipolar disorder. My fingers shake as I type this, and my palms sweat. There is such a stigma with that diagnosis, a stigma that comes from years of misinformation and misuse of the word. What does this mean for me? It means I would have periods of productivity, then I would crash. This doesn’t make me “crazy,” it just means I sometimes see the world in brighter colors, feel a little more strongly and go at an extremely fast pace. They told me I would be on medication my entire life. They told me it was just chemicals in my brain. It was so much more than just that. I’ll never see the full picture, but I can say my label doesn’t limit me anymore. At the time I write this, I have been stable for six and a half years now. I know I am an anomaly. I know I may need medication at some point in the future. It saved my life, many times. I know not everyone with bipolar disorder will experience this. Maybe trauma plus hormones plus stress plus adolescence made it worse for me early on. Who knows? But, this is my story, and where I am at the moment. It’s always there, under the surface. While the lows of depression threaten to take me under, the hypomania urges me to come out and play. I am alert to every trigger. I focus on anti-inflammatory foods that stimulate brain health. I exercise, I monitor my stress levels and I choose sleep even when I would rather stay up and be productive. I see a counselor every month, and I never miss a doctor’s appointment. I take supplements to make up for vitamin and mineral deficiencies caused by so many medications and lack of proper whole food nutrition over the years. I read everything written on brain health to look for further ways to improve and maintain my health. Yes, I may seem a little obsessive at times, but I’ll do whatever I can to keep my brain clear and to help encourage others. My illness is a gift. It gives me empathy. It keeps me grounded. It causes me to surrender. To trust. To persevere. It makes me who I am. So, for anyone out there hiding under the weight of a broken brain, whatever the diagnosis, you are not alone and you are not “crazy. “There are so many different degrees, different phases, different triggers. Your story is your own; your journey is your own. But you are not the only one struggling in silence. There is no one-size-fits-all. There is no shame in taking medication. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in relapse. There is no shame in asking questions. There is no shame in searching for other treatments. There is no shame in mental illness.

Erin Kerry

How I'm Breaking Myself Free From the Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

The little girl didn’t know in 10 years she would wish for death. She loved her family, her new siblings and Jesus, too. Much like the Tom Petty song, “Free Falling,” she was about to take a free fall — down the path of a broken brain.She was a preacher’s daughter with a genetic disposition to mental illness. Add on to that various health issues like chronic ear infections, asthma, allergy shots, antibiotics and steroids …. and a budding sugar addiction and insatiable appetite. She was all energy and filled with curiosity, wanting to know the how and why of everything. So, one day, when the darkness closed in, she would question why she couldn’t just pray it away. It was a few years after witnessing the death of her grandpa when it hit. Why couldn’t she get out of bed? Why couldn’t she stop crying? Why couldn’t she pray enough to make it stop? She filled up on academics and activities, theatre and cheerleading, sports — ways to escape. To cope. She used and abused food, she developed an unhealthy body image. All she thought when she looked in the mirror was, “Fat. Gross. Unloveable. Broken.” She begged her God to fix her, to make her a better Christian, a better person. She had long bursts of success, though. Times when she’d be flying high on ideas and inspiration. Poetry, short stories, novels. Achievement, awards, the spotlight. She loved people and fun! She could stay up for hours and never feel tired the next day. She could talk a mile a minute and felt she could charm the world. Grandiosity was productive. Antidepressants helped the lows not to be so destructive, but the highs only got higher. The word “mania” was first mentioned to her in the fall of her freshman year of college. Though she developed mononucleosis, she didn’t slow down much. At one point during the illness, she stayed up for over 36 hours. “Manic?” She thought. “No way. I feel good. I could get through college in a day. I make good grades. People love me. I’m good at so many things. I don’t even need to sleep.” Yes, that was mania. Though it was productive, it was also destructive. The confusion toward God became a budding resentment, as more medication numbed the fun feelings. Alcohol helped. But it led to dangerous blackouts.There were periods of calm, of stability, but not for long. The academic world provided respite, where she could focus on words and ideas and research. She made good friends. She didn’t try to understand her diagnosis, she simply accepted it and tried staying on medication, with bitterness. Until a surprise pregnancy woke her up and provided the hope of restoration. During pregnancy, she felt a brief remission from the waves. After the birth, she moved and found a teaching job to pour her heart into. She was determined to get healthy for her daughter and stay on medication for her baby’s sake, if not her own. She ate better. She exercised. She made herself sleep. She began to heal … and she met someone special. This is where I switch from third person to first person to take ownership, because though my writer’s heart loves a third-person narrative, this is real life. This is my life. I have bipolar disorder. My fingers shake as I type this, and my palms sweat. There is such a stigma with that diagnosis, a stigma that comes from years of misinformation and misuse of the word. What does this mean for me? It means I would have periods of productivity, then I would crash. This doesn’t make me “crazy,” it just means I sometimes see the world in brighter colors, feel a little more strongly and go at an extremely fast pace. They told me I would be on medication my entire life. They told me it was just chemicals in my brain. It was so much more than just that. I’ll never see the full picture, but I can say my label doesn’t limit me anymore. At the time I write this, I have been stable for six and a half years now. I know I am an anomaly. I know I may need medication at some point in the future. It saved my life, many times. I know not everyone with bipolar disorder will experience this. Maybe trauma plus hormones plus stress plus adolescence made it worse for me early on. Who knows? But, this is my story, and where I am at the moment. It’s always there, under the surface. While the lows of depression threaten to take me under, the hypomania urges me to come out and play. I am alert to every trigger. I focus on anti-inflammatory foods that stimulate brain health. I exercise, I monitor my stress levels and I choose sleep even when I would rather stay up and be productive. I see a counselor every month, and I never miss a doctor’s appointment. I take supplements to make up for vitamin and mineral deficiencies caused by so many medications and lack of proper whole food nutrition over the years. I read everything written on brain health to look for further ways to improve and maintain my health. Yes, I may seem a little obsessive at times, but I’ll do whatever I can to keep my brain clear and to help encourage others. My illness is a gift. It gives me empathy. It keeps me grounded. It causes me to surrender. To trust. To persevere. It makes me who I am. So, for anyone out there hiding under the weight of a broken brain, whatever the diagnosis, you are not alone and you are not “crazy. “There are so many different degrees, different phases, different triggers. Your story is your own; your journey is your own. But you are not the only one struggling in silence. There is no one-size-fits-all. There is no shame in taking medication. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in relapse. There is no shame in asking questions. There is no shame in searching for other treatments. There is no shame in mental illness.

Erin Kerry

How I'm Breaking Myself Free From the Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

The little girl didn’t know in 10 years she would wish for death. She loved her family, her new siblings and Jesus, too. Much like the Tom Petty song, “Free Falling,” she was about to take a free fall — down the path of a broken brain.She was a preacher’s daughter with a genetic disposition to mental illness. Add on to that various health issues like chronic ear infections, asthma, allergy shots, antibiotics and steroids …. and a budding sugar addiction and insatiable appetite. She was all energy and filled with curiosity, wanting to know the how and why of everything. So, one day, when the darkness closed in, she would question why she couldn’t just pray it away. It was a few years after witnessing the death of her grandpa when it hit. Why couldn’t she get out of bed? Why couldn’t she stop crying? Why couldn’t she pray enough to make it stop? She filled up on academics and activities, theatre and cheerleading, sports — ways to escape. To cope. She used and abused food, she developed an unhealthy body image. All she thought when she looked in the mirror was, “Fat. Gross. Unloveable. Broken.” She begged her God to fix her, to make her a better Christian, a better person. She had long bursts of success, though. Times when she’d be flying high on ideas and inspiration. Poetry, short stories, novels. Achievement, awards, the spotlight. She loved people and fun! She could stay up for hours and never feel tired the next day. She could talk a mile a minute and felt she could charm the world. Grandiosity was productive. Antidepressants helped the lows not to be so destructive, but the highs only got higher. The word “mania” was first mentioned to her in the fall of her freshman year of college. Though she developed mononucleosis, she didn’t slow down much. At one point during the illness, she stayed up for over 36 hours. “Manic?” She thought. “No way. I feel good. I could get through college in a day. I make good grades. People love me. I’m good at so many things. I don’t even need to sleep.” Yes, that was mania. Though it was productive, it was also destructive. The confusion toward God became a budding resentment, as more medication numbed the fun feelings. Alcohol helped. But it led to dangerous blackouts.There were periods of calm, of stability, but not for long. The academic world provided respite, where she could focus on words and ideas and research. She made good friends. She didn’t try to understand her diagnosis, she simply accepted it and tried staying on medication, with bitterness. Until a surprise pregnancy woke her up and provided the hope of restoration. During pregnancy, she felt a brief remission from the waves. After the birth, she moved and found a teaching job to pour her heart into. She was determined to get healthy for her daughter and stay on medication for her baby’s sake, if not her own. She ate better. She exercised. She made herself sleep. She began to heal … and she met someone special. This is where I switch from third person to first person to take ownership, because though my writer’s heart loves a third-person narrative, this is real life. This is my life. I have bipolar disorder. My fingers shake as I type this, and my palms sweat. There is such a stigma with that diagnosis, a stigma that comes from years of misinformation and misuse of the word. What does this mean for me? It means I would have periods of productivity, then I would crash. This doesn’t make me “crazy,” it just means I sometimes see the world in brighter colors, feel a little more strongly and go at an extremely fast pace. They told me I would be on medication my entire life. They told me it was just chemicals in my brain. It was so much more than just that. I’ll never see the full picture, but I can say my label doesn’t limit me anymore. At the time I write this, I have been stable for six and a half years now. I know I am an anomaly. I know I may need medication at some point in the future. It saved my life, many times. I know not everyone with bipolar disorder will experience this. Maybe trauma plus hormones plus stress plus adolescence made it worse for me early on. Who knows? But, this is my story, and where I am at the moment. It’s always there, under the surface. While the lows of depression threaten to take me under, the hypomania urges me to come out and play. I am alert to every trigger. I focus on anti-inflammatory foods that stimulate brain health. I exercise, I monitor my stress levels and I choose sleep even when I would rather stay up and be productive. I see a counselor every month, and I never miss a doctor’s appointment. I take supplements to make up for vitamin and mineral deficiencies caused by so many medications and lack of proper whole food nutrition over the years. I read everything written on brain health to look for further ways to improve and maintain my health. Yes, I may seem a little obsessive at times, but I’ll do whatever I can to keep my brain clear and to help encourage others. My illness is a gift. It gives me empathy. It keeps me grounded. It causes me to surrender. To trust. To persevere. It makes me who I am. So, for anyone out there hiding under the weight of a broken brain, whatever the diagnosis, you are not alone and you are not “crazy. “There are so many different degrees, different phases, different triggers. Your story is your own; your journey is your own. But you are not the only one struggling in silence. There is no one-size-fits-all. There is no shame in taking medication. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in relapse. There is no shame in asking questions. There is no shame in searching for other treatments. There is no shame in mental illness.

Community Voices

Dear 2020: A Letter of Loss

Dear 2020,

I recently heard that it may be helpful to write a letter as a way to process grief and loss.

Because loss comes in many different forms and there is no one size fits all to grief, I want to say goodbye to you and process my losses in a way that makes sense to me. Since I’m writing to an inanimate object, I will try not to get bogged down by my perpetual fear of offending anyone or hurting anyone’s feelings.

You know the song lyric that goes, “You don’t know what you got til its gone?” 2020, you made those lyrics more real than anything. As I have been processing my grief since March, I realized that most of the things I lost, I didn’t appreciate until they were gone.

The first thing I lost this year is the belief that I don’t have to pick a side. You taught me that the lines are tattooed into the sand so tightly that we must choose. I thought I could avoid that. But it’s not true. We must pick sides, and we must use extreme assumptions. For example: If I believe that black lives matter, I’m a Marxist. If I am pro-medical freedom and body autonomy, I don’t care about other people. If I question Fauci, I’m a conspiracy theorist. If I do my own research, I’m anti-science. If I don’t vote for Trump, I’m not a Christian. If I do vote for Trump, I’m a racist. There is no middle ground, no exception, no gray areas. You are the year that forced us to believe we must all play your twisted version of Red Rover.

At some point during your reign of terror, maybe around May, I lost the silly notion that as humans, we can assume the best about each other and offer one another the benefit of the doubt. These days, thanks to the ease of social media, I see that we only assume the worst, then swiftly cut contact, de-friend, unfollow, cancel anything that we disagree with. We make posts that start with, “I’m about to get real, and if you don’t like it, block me and unfriend me.” I’m grieving the belief that I have the option to share that which offers encouragement and hope, not division and dissent. Many times, what I thought would be encouraging, was offensive.

The other big loss I experienced this year, something I didn’t know was a luxury until now, is the loss of smiles. Thanks to the cooler weather, I’ve started walking and running outside again, and it is such a gift to receive a real life toothy smile from a stranger as I’m passing by. Many people walk by expressionless, not saying a word to me. Were they like that before? I don’t know. But 2020, you have made me hyperaware of how other people interact, or fail to interact, with one another. I really miss smiling. Facial expressions are important to my psychological well-being, and I didn’t know it until now.

I feel as if I’ve lost connection to other humans. Maybe it’s because I now feel pressured to pick a side, and the strong dividing lines cause me to be wary of others. Maybe I never had the connection I thought I had. Maybe it’s because most of the connections I have now happen via blue light from a screen. Either way, the loss of believing we can connect despite differences – that cuts me deep. I’m still processing this big loss.

I’ve never been accused of being too optimistic, but thanks to you, 2020, I lost what little optimism and positivity I had about the future. I’ve grown skeptical, negative, and pessimistic that things will ever change. I grieve the loss of expectation for life to be the way it has always been – because I fear it never will be again. I remember hearing about this “new virus,” right after I met you, and thinking naively to myself, “Maybe this is the thing that will draw us together. Maybe this is how we truly become the united states.” Silly me and my silly optimism.

Your presence taught me that contradictory virtue signaling is more important than true preventative measures and evidence-based health. You taught me that politics have made science completely irrelevant. You taught me how powerful and contagious fear is. You taught me that it’s okay to sacrifice mental health for immune protection – which contradicts my belief that mental health and immune health are connected. In fact, you showed me how often I contradict myself. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of trying to see both sides – and that isn’t acceptable during YOUR year. No, you are a year that doesn’t value an open mind.

Speaking of contradiction, I say I’m not an optimist, but I can’t end my letter to you without sharing what I’ve gained. You showed me that there are certain comforts I valued too much, maybe to the level of idolization. And for that, I thank you for helping me see what’s really important. You showed me that I allow other people’s views and opinions to paralyze me and cause me to doubt my own credibility. Not anymore. You taught me what a rebel I am, that my refusal to just do what I am told and not question may actually be a gift. It may lead to deeper healing and new exploration. It may lead me to deeper spiritual, emotional, and physical health. It may lead to empathy.

Oh, you don’t like that word, 2020? Empathy? Does it make you nervous? Does it make you want to tighten your grip on me and my cognitive dissonance? Well guess what? I refuse to let your presence in my life change the way I connect with other people. I refuse to let you hinder me from sharing ways to improve mental health. I refuse to stop listening to viewpoints that are different than mine in order to seek understanding. I refuse to let our brief meeting keep me from continued growth. I refuse to sit in my grief, helpless and beaten down by your onslaught.

Because in the end, you were just another year. You hold no more power over me than your buddy 1991 (although that guy was pretty mean, not gonna lie). You don’t define me. What I did or didn’t do with you doesn’t give me value. The fear, the worry, the heartache, the disappointments – every year has those. You’re nothing special.

Know this – what you taught me about myself and others will pave the path I forage in 2021. The foundational lessons I learned will propel me forward. So instead of wallowing in your destruction, I will say goodbye to you, along with my old ways of thinking, and embrace what is next. You are – as they say – history.

Annie Beikoff

Bipolar Disorder: What Hypersexuality Is Really Like

Let’s get real and explicit for a minute. Sex is one of my favorite things. There is nothing wrong with having consensual sex with whom you want, when you want. I believe everyone should be able to embrace their sexuality and enjoy sex as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Most of us love it, we crave it and it’s a natural part of life. But imagine thinking of it constantly, feeling like nothing else matters. Having this electricity that crackles under your skin, longing for it. A burning desire, an itch that can’t be scratched. A feeling of never getting enough and never being satisfied — because it’s not about orgasm. It’s not about falling in love or dating or finding someone to spend time with. It’s chasing a high like someone struggling with addiction. Welcome to the burden of hypersexuality. It carries a lot of controversy in the world of psychiatry, but is generally seen as a period accompanying mania when a person’s sex drive is heightened. While it’s argued how you measure a person’s sex drive and what is classified as “too high,” it is somewhat agreed upon that this is a state of increased libido. But for someone who has a high sex drive normally, I can say that it’s a completely different feeling. It’s not even really about sex — or at least the climax of it. Definitely not about connection. The best way I have to describe it, is an inane craving to be touched and validated physically. Wanting to feel sexual and powerful. Wanted. Feeling like I have control of my actions when everything else internally is out of my control. It ties in far too neatly with the mania symptoms you might experience. Poor decision making, lowered inhibitions, delusions of grandeur. This feeling like I am larger than life. No regard for consequences, and chasing a high you don’t feel you will come down from. You crave something dangerous, risky, sexy and exciting — almost like you’re living in a movie. Now I am sure those who have been on the receiving end of one of these moods think it’s harmless fun. And don’t get me wrong — this isn’t some deep and meaningful feminist rant about how I have been taken advantage of. I enjoy most of these encounters and there isn’t anything sinister about this piece. But I also would be lying if I said something I sought out to feel validated and in control didn’t sometimes leave me feeling devalued and degraded. Not everyone has our best interests at heart nor the respect for you or potentially someone else in their life that they should. Like anything in life, it has consequences. Now this isn’t all the time and doesn’t always result in a physical encounter either. It can be a flirtatious conversation with someone, sending a photo to an ex, simply impact the way you dress that day or make you jump onto a dating site hastily, or even question if maybe being a stripper would have been a much more fun career choice. It can be a simple thought that turns into a consuming obsession about being validated in that way. A feeling that keeps you awake at night until you figure out how to get that approval. Now I’m not saying when I feel this way all I do is have sex and when I’m not I don’t like to be touched. I just finally have the courage to openly delve into how I really feel after years of experiencing these hypersexual states for those who feel ashamed or are questioning theirs. Whatever it may be, the point is not that it could lead to a questionable or casual decision — we are all adults here. The point isn’t about the sexual way in which it manifests. The point is that on some level it really makes you question your worth and the control you have of your life. And that is the hardest part to grasp. Because physically or emotionally, there is no one thing your value depends on. It’s a collection of everything you are and even the decisions you make. Good or questionable.

Community Voices

What Kept Me From a Breakdown in 2020

How does someone with an active mental health get through 2020?

My first response is, “I have no idea.”

But that’s not true. In reality, I’ve spent years prepping for 2020. I’ve spent years restoring my body and brain through a variety of therapies because I know that I can’t guarantee smooth sailing in every life stage. I’ve spent years reading, studying, and educating others about mental health tools.

I am so glad I did. I believe the key to treating mental health, in whatever form, is to initiate tools for healing before times get bad, before the waves of instability hit. I played defense with my health for far too long, so at some point in the last decade or so – I started playing offense, and I implemented a wide range of strategies to manage my moods.

Yes, this year I have struggled with bits of anxiety, disrupted sleep patterns, and moments of apathy. Hello, 2020! I have had days where I lay around the house and don’t shower, eating at random times and doing nothing but reading crap fiction and watching crap TV shows. But that is very rare, and honestly – sometimes I plan for those days of doing nothing and I schedule my lazy days like I schedule my appointments – which makes them intentional and responsive, not reactive.

So this is my “pat myself on the back” moment. I haven’t had a breakdown. I haven’t gone into a full blown manic or depressed episode. I haven’t lost it.

But I’m not out of the woods. Ever. I must stay vigilant. I must continue to utilize the tools that have gotten me through so many years of stability.Whether you have been diagnosed with a mental health, or you are simply struggling with the mental fog that is the year 2020, I want to share some of my tips that keep me sane in the hopes that it helps you, too. There is no one cause to mental health, therefore there is no one solution. What works for me might not work as well for you. This list is not exhaustive and is only a brief summary. There are always more tools we can put to use! Here are my top five non-negotiables for my mental wealth.

1.     See a counselor. I go to an amazing therapist for maintenance every month, and I have for almost four years. She specializes in bipolar disorder, and helps me process my thinking and keeps my negativity in check. Because of her, I can often reframe my anxious or fearful thoughts and plant myself back into reality.

2.     Maintain a regular sleep routine. It amazes me how many people are NOT getting deep quality sleep, or they’re getting artificial sleep from substances or medications that come with pretty serious adverse side effects. If you aren’t getting deep, consistent sleep, consider these options: go off or limit sugar, keep your caffeine to morning only or quit it completely, get morning sun, exercise in the first part of the day, and/or cut out alcohol (I know, I know). There are many safe supplements to help with restorative sleep like full spectrum hemp oil, melatonin, magnesium, other herbs and more that many people see success with. Of course, if you are currently taking any medication, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first. There are also sleep hygiene hacks like a gratitude journal or a nightly brain dump, plus tools like taking a warm Epsom salt bath and wearing blue light blocking glasses.. I could make this an entire post in itself (and there are entire books and articles written on the importance of sleep for mental health), but just know – my sleep routine is absolutely essential for my maintenance and stability.

3.     Exercise. Just like I am amazed at the number of people who don’t get quality sleep, I’m amazed at how many people don’t make time for exercise. If you have time to read this list, which you most likely saw from scrolling social media, you have time to lace up your shoes and take a walk. Do some push-ups, jumping jacks, deep stretching, anything – just move! Movement promotes the presence of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) so our brains can grow new cells. Movement helps to decrease cortisol and increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, where we make our decisions and show empathy. It is the most powerful antidepressant we have available to us – some studies say it works just as well, if not better, than medication. I like to change up my routine and alternate from strength training to HIIT to running to yoga. It depends on my mood, but I always try to make time for some form of movement every day. My brain relies on it.

4.     Practice Gratitude. Negativity is toxic – but it is also addictive. The more negative thoughts we have, the more we will continue to have. The science of neuroplasticity backs that up. Likewise, the more we practice gratitude, the more we will wire our brains to be thankful and positive. I know it works because I catch myself being grateful during times when it doesn’t make sense. When I used to spiral down into negativity about the world and what is happening, I catch myself looking around and finding something to be grateful for. It could be my wall color, my cozy bed, my tantrum-throwing child, anything – my brain becomes more trained for gratitude and positivity every day that I actively practice. When I’m driving, I think of what I’m thankful for. When I go to bed. When I wake up. When I’m running. It has become an activity, like exercise, that I have to constantly engage in. I wouldn’t have believed it a decade ago. I would’ve said it’s cheesy and “nah, I’m good. I don’t need a gratitude list.” But IT WORKS. It keeps me sane.

5.     Good Mood Foods. Yes, I’m a health coach. You know I had to go there. But sugar and processed carbs are brain drains for me. Mindset about food is important, and for my mental health I give myself the freedom and permission to eat whatever I want, so I never feel restricted by a specific set of dieting rules or guidelines. However, I know that there are some things that just kill my mood. Too many processed carbs, flavored chips, heavy food, sugary sweets and drinks and baked goods – I’m just better off when I limit them. Do I have them every once in a while? Sure! But I make sure the majority of what I consume are veggies, quality protein, healthy fats, and lots of water! Here’s the catch, though – I can’t say no to these foods if I’m not practicing the first four items on this list. When my sleep is off, when I’m not being mindful about gratitude and managing my stress, it is much easier to overdo it on the processed foods that drain me. Those come first!

Which brings me to the unspoken essential item I have left out of this list: stress management. The more I dig into brain health and learn about how our brains function (or fail to function) under stress, the greater the emphasis I place on stress management. And the BEST tool for managing stress is creating a predictable structure and routine that your brain recognizes as non-threatening and safe. This will limit the trigger into “fight or flight,” which throws off just about every single process in the body – including how our neurotransmitters are signaled. All of the five items I listed can be added to a predictable and safe routine that, as a result, minimizes stress for our overloaded brains and bodies!

By implementing these suggestions and creating a consistent routine, we all can have a fighting chance – no matter what the end of 2020 or the start of 2021 throw at us.

7 people are talking about this
Community Voices

What Kept Me From a Breakdown in 2020

How does someone with an active mental health get through 2020?

My first response is, “I have no idea.”

But that’s not true. In reality, I’ve spent years prepping for 2020. I’ve spent years restoring my body and brain through a variety of therapies because I know that I can’t guarantee smooth sailing in every life stage. I’ve spent years reading, studying, and educating others about mental health tools.

I am so glad I did. I believe the key to treating mental health, in whatever form, is to initiate tools for healing before times get bad, before the waves of instability hit. I played defense with my health for far too long, so at some point in the last decade or so – I started playing offense, and I implemented a wide range of strategies to manage my moods.

Yes, this year I have struggled with bits of anxiety, disrupted sleep patterns, and moments of apathy. Hello, 2020! I have had days where I lay around the house and don’t shower, eating at random times and doing nothing but reading crap fiction and watching crap TV shows. But that is very rare, and honestly – sometimes I plan for those days of doing nothing and I schedule my lazy days like I schedule my appointments – which makes them intentional and responsive, not reactive.

So this is my “pat myself on the back” moment. I haven’t had a breakdown. I haven’t gone into a full blown manic or depressed episode. I haven’t lost it.

But I’m not out of the woods. Ever. I must stay vigilant. I must continue to utilize the tools that have gotten me through so many years of stability.Whether you have been diagnosed with a mental health, or you are simply struggling with the mental fog that is the year 2020, I want to share some of my tips that keep me sane in the hopes that it helps you, too. There is no one cause to mental health, therefore there is no one solution. What works for me might not work as well for you. This list is not exhaustive and is only a brief summary. There are always more tools we can put to use! Here are my top five non-negotiables for my mental wealth.

1.     See a counselor. I go to an amazing therapist for maintenance every month, and I have for almost four years. She specializes in bipolar disorder, and helps me process my thinking and keeps my negativity in check. Because of her, I can often reframe my anxious or fearful thoughts and plant myself back into reality.

2.     Maintain a regular sleep routine. It amazes me how many people are NOT getting deep quality sleep, or they’re getting artificial sleep from substances or medications that come with pretty serious adverse side effects. If you aren’t getting deep, consistent sleep, consider these options: go off or limit sugar, keep your caffeine to morning only or quit it completely, get morning sun, exercise in the first part of the day, and/or cut out alcohol (I know, I know). There are many safe supplements to help with restorative sleep like full spectrum hemp oil, melatonin, magnesium, other herbs and more that many people see success with. Of course, if you are currently taking any medication, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first. There are also sleep hygiene hacks like a gratitude journal or a nightly brain dump, plus tools like taking a warm Epsom salt bath and wearing blue light blocking glasses.. I could make this an entire post in itself (and there are entire books and articles written on the importance of sleep for mental health), but just know – my sleep routine is absolutely essential for my maintenance and stability.

3.     Exercise. Just like I am amazed at the number of people who don’t get quality sleep, I’m amazed at how many people don’t make time for exercise. If you have time to read this list, which you most likely saw from scrolling social media, you have time to lace up your shoes and take a walk. Do some push-ups, jumping jacks, deep stretching, anything – just move! Movement promotes the presence of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) so our brains can grow new cells. Movement helps to decrease cortisol and increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, where we make our decisions and show empathy. It is the most powerful antidepressant we have available to us – some studies say it works just as well, if not better, than medication. I like to change up my routine and alternate from strength training to HIIT to running to yoga. It depends on my mood, but I always try to make time for some form of movement every day. My brain relies on it.

4.     Practice Gratitude. Negativity is toxic – but it is also addictive. The more negative thoughts we have, the more we will continue to have. The science of neuroplasticity backs that up. Likewise, the more we practice gratitude, the more we will wire our brains to be thankful and positive. I know it works because I catch myself being grateful during times when it doesn’t make sense. When I used to spiral down into negativity about the world and what is happening, I catch myself looking around and finding something to be grateful for. It could be my wall color, my cozy bed, my tantrum-throwing child, anything – my brain becomes more trained for gratitude and positivity every day that I actively practice. When I’m driving, I think of what I’m thankful for. When I go to bed. When I wake up. When I’m running. It has become an activity, like exercise, that I have to constantly engage in. I wouldn’t have believed it a decade ago. I would’ve said it’s cheesy and “nah, I’m good. I don’t need a gratitude list.” But IT WORKS. It keeps me sane.

5.     Good Mood Foods. Yes, I’m a health coach. You know I had to go there. But sugar and processed carbs are brain drains for me. Mindset about food is important, and for my mental health I give myself the freedom and permission to eat whatever I want, so I never feel restricted by a specific set of dieting rules or guidelines. However, I know that there are some things that just kill my mood. Too many processed carbs, flavored chips, heavy food, sugary sweets and drinks and baked goods – I’m just better off when I limit them. Do I have them every once in a while? Sure! But I make sure the majority of what I consume are veggies, quality protein, healthy fats, and lots of water! Here’s the catch, though – I can’t say no to these foods if I’m not practicing the first four items on this list. When my sleep is off, when I’m not being mindful about gratitude and managing my stress, it is much easier to overdo it on the processed foods that drain me. Those come first!

Which brings me to the unspoken essential item I have left out of this list: stress management. The more I dig into brain health and learn about how our brains function (or fail to function) under stress, the greater the emphasis I place on stress management. And the BEST tool for managing stress is creating a predictable structure and routine that your brain recognizes as non-threatening and safe. This will limit the trigger into “fight or flight,” which throws off just about every single process in the body – including how our neurotransmitters are signaled. All of the five items I listed can be added to a predictable and safe routine that, as a result, minimizes stress for our overloaded brains and bodies!

By implementing these suggestions and creating a consistent routine, we all can have a fighting chance – no matter what the end of 2020 or the start of 2021 throw at us.

7 people are talking about this
Community Voices

What Kept Me From a Breakdown in 2020

How does someone with an active mental health get through 2020?

My first response is, “I have no idea.”

But that’s not true. In reality, I’ve spent years prepping for 2020. I’ve spent years restoring my body and brain through a variety of therapies because I know that I can’t guarantee smooth sailing in every life stage. I’ve spent years reading, studying, and educating others about mental health tools.

I am so glad I did. I believe the key to treating mental health, in whatever form, is to initiate tools for healing before times get bad, before the waves of instability hit. I played defense with my health for far too long, so at some point in the last decade or so – I started playing offense, and I implemented a wide range of strategies to manage my moods.

Yes, this year I have struggled with bits of anxiety, disrupted sleep patterns, and moments of apathy. Hello, 2020! I have had days where I lay around the house and don’t shower, eating at random times and doing nothing but reading crap fiction and watching crap TV shows. But that is very rare, and honestly – sometimes I plan for those days of doing nothing and I schedule my lazy days like I schedule my appointments – which makes them intentional and responsive, not reactive.

So this is my “pat myself on the back” moment. I haven’t had a breakdown. I haven’t gone into a full blown manic or depressed episode. I haven’t lost it.

But I’m not out of the woods. Ever. I must stay vigilant. I must continue to utilize the tools that have gotten me through so many years of stability.Whether you have been diagnosed with a mental health, or you are simply struggling with the mental fog that is the year 2020, I want to share some of my tips that keep me sane in the hopes that it helps you, too. There is no one cause to mental health, therefore there is no one solution. What works for me might not work as well for you. This list is not exhaustive and is only a brief summary. There are always more tools we can put to use! Here are my top five non-negotiables for my mental wealth.

1.     See a counselor. I go to an amazing therapist for maintenance every month, and I have for almost four years. She specializes in bipolar disorder, and helps me process my thinking and keeps my negativity in check. Because of her, I can often reframe my anxious or fearful thoughts and plant myself back into reality.

2.     Maintain a regular sleep routine. It amazes me how many people are NOT getting deep quality sleep, or they’re getting artificial sleep from substances or medications that come with pretty serious adverse side effects. If you aren’t getting deep, consistent sleep, consider these options: go off or limit sugar, keep your caffeine to morning only or quit it completely, get morning sun, exercise in the first part of the day, and/or cut out alcohol (I know, I know). There are many safe supplements to help with restorative sleep like full spectrum hemp oil, melatonin, magnesium, other herbs and more that many people see success with. Of course, if you are currently taking any medication, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first. There are also sleep hygiene hacks like a gratitude journal or a nightly brain dump, plus tools like taking a warm Epsom salt bath and wearing blue light blocking glasses.. I could make this an entire post in itself (and there are entire books and articles written on the importance of sleep for mental health), but just know – my sleep routine is absolutely essential for my maintenance and stability.

3.     Exercise. Just like I am amazed at the number of people who don’t get quality sleep, I’m amazed at how many people don’t make time for exercise. If you have time to read this list, which you most likely saw from scrolling social media, you have time to lace up your shoes and take a walk. Do some push-ups, jumping jacks, deep stretching, anything – just move! Movement promotes the presence of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) so our brains can grow new cells. Movement helps to decrease cortisol and increase blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, where we make our decisions and show empathy. It is the most powerful antidepressant we have available to us – some studies say it works just as well, if not better, than medication. I like to change up my routine and alternate from strength training to HIIT to running to yoga. It depends on my mood, but I always try to make time for some form of movement every day. My brain relies on it.

4.     Practice Gratitude. Negativity is toxic – but it is also addictive. The more negative thoughts we have, the more we will continue to have. The science of neuroplasticity backs that up. Likewise, the more we practice gratitude, the more we will wire our brains to be thankful and positive. I know it works because I catch myself being grateful during times when it doesn’t make sense. When I used to spiral down into negativity about the world and what is happening, I catch myself looking around and finding something to be grateful for. It could be my wall color, my cozy bed, my tantrum-throwing child, anything – my brain becomes more trained for gratitude and positivity every day that I actively practice. When I’m driving, I think of what I’m thankful for. When I go to bed. When I wake up. When I’m running. It has become an activity, like exercise, that I have to constantly engage in. I wouldn’t have believed it a decade ago. I would’ve said it’s cheesy and “nah, I’m good. I don’t need a gratitude list.” But IT WORKS. It keeps me sane.

5.     Good Mood Foods. Yes, I’m a health coach. You know I had to go there. But sugar and processed carbs are brain drains for me. Mindset about food is important, and for my mental health I give myself the freedom and permission to eat whatever I want, so I never feel restricted by a specific set of dieting rules or guidelines. However, I know that there are some things that just kill my mood. Too many processed carbs, flavored chips, heavy food, sugary sweets and drinks and baked goods – I’m just better off when I limit them. Do I have them every once in a while? Sure! But I make sure the majority of what I consume are veggies, quality protein, healthy fats, and lots of water! Here’s the catch, though – I can’t say no to these foods if I’m not practicing the first four items on this list. When my sleep is off, when I’m not being mindful about gratitude and managing my stress, it is much easier to overdo it on the processed foods that drain me. Those come first!

Which brings me to the unspoken essential item I have left out of this list: stress management. The more I dig into brain health and learn about how our brains function (or fail to function) under stress, the greater the emphasis I place on stress management. And the BEST tool for managing stress is creating a predictable structure and routine that your brain recognizes as non-threatening and safe. This will limit the trigger into “fight or flight,” which throws off just about every single process in the body – including how our neurotransmitters are signaled. All of the five items I listed can be added to a predictable and safe routine that, as a result, minimizes stress for our overloaded brains and bodies!

By implementing these suggestions and creating a consistent routine, we all can have a fighting chance – no matter what the end of 2020 or the start of 2021 throw at us.

7 people are talking about this