What Mania Looks Like, For Me.

Now that I am older and have lived with bipolar disorder for such a long time, I can look back on my life and recognize many of my manic episodes. I had no idea at the time that I was experiencing mania, but it is as clear as day to me now. Even after being diagnosed in 1995 I did not accept the diagnosis until years later, in 2005. I remember doing my own research on bipolar disorder and then going to my doctor and explaining that I think I am experiencing manic depression and am not truly bipolar. I will never forget his kind chuckle and soft admonition that he believed the original diagnosis was correct for they were in fact the same illness, and that everything was going to be OK because we would work together to find the best solution for me no matter how long it took.

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He explained why my previous medications did not help me. A chemical imbalance in the brain is such a complex issue. No two bipolar brains were exactly the same, so there was not a one-for-all solution like there may be for many other illnesses. He asked me questions about my history of symptoms, what medications I had tried, and how each affected me. At this time I was already on a mood stabilizer and had been for about 7 years. We tried 2 other medications in the next few months and neither of them worked better than the mood stabilizer, so I ended up settling here for the next two years. The mood stabilizer almost completely eliminates my manic episodes, so in all, I was generally mania free for 10 years.

In early 2009 we tried again. My depressive symptoms were worsening by leaps and bounds. I did not know how much longer I could hold on. So he prescribed a medication that is designed to treat Major Depressive Disorder and added that to my current medication that he had recently doubled my daily dose and not seen the desired result. Within days I knew we had found my perfect solution. (See my blog post ‘Finding My Wonder Drug’ at www.flowerinthemud.com for that story.) I felt like I had opened the door to a windowless room that I had been stuck in for 17+ years, stepped outside into the sunshine and closed the door behind me. For good. Since that time I have attempted to remove the original medication from my routine on a few occasions, one of which lasted a few years. I have also increased my dose of the new medication at a time in my life where I was experiencing situational depression. As I recovered from the situational depression, I experienced a lengthy manic episode.

It must have happened so gradually that I didn’t notice, but in time, the change in me was rather drastic. The people closest to me noticed the changes first. I was becoming unstable again. To my husband, I seemed impulsive and uncaring, aloof and distant. I was making bad decisions and saying and doing things that were out of character. My son was now a young adult and I was empty nesting. I had reached an age where I knew I had likely already lived the first half of my life, if not more. I thought it was just a mid-life crisis. While today I do still strongly believe that these things did contribute to my need to make changes in my life, I can now see that they were not the reason for what I was going through mentally and emotionally. Things that I struggle greatly in trying to describe with any accuracy.

I felt like I was drowning.

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At work, at home, in my car, in my head, in my heart, in my marriage. I needed to run away. I made mental and physical lists of everything I needed to do to be able to leave my life behind. First and foremost, sell my house. In order to do that, there were a lot of repairs/updates that I would need to do if I wanted to get the best selling price. Or should I settle for a short-sale to get this over with? I had post-it lists everywhere, of repairs and updates that I wanted to do and had not saved for them. I could not decide what I would do when the house sold, so in between visiting local flooring stores and window replacement websites I was also researching studio apartments and spending hours on RV sales lots and collecting month-to-month and long-term rental rates for RV parks within a 50 mile radius of my job. I often did these things with my husband who was dumbfounded. When he would ask me what in the world was going on, I could not explain it to him, which just confused him more. It did not help that all of the same music I had always been listening to now took on new meaning. It was speaking to my soul. Go! Run! Stay! Laugh! Cry! Smile! Love! Hate! Sex! Drive! Live! Free! I would break down crying in exhaustion from it all and tell him he should leave me because he deserved someone who loved him and wanted to be with him, and that wasn’t me anymore. I fantasized 24 hours a day about leaving. I needed new and unfamiliar like it was air to breathe. Now, I am not talking about normal urges, we all have those. This was so much more. It felt so much like withdrawals from drug addiction. It consumed me. If I didn’t run, I was going to die.

I decided to make an appointment with my doctor to talk about adding the mood stabilizer back to my routine. In the meantime, I thought I would lower my dose of Depression medication back to it’s normal amount. I started feeling better right away. I still had all of the same urges, desires and cravings for change, but they were manageable. As soon as I felt better and my mind could focus on something other than running, I realized that I had experienced this before. Years ago. Completely different thoughts and urges, but the intensity, the live or die. I was working at the front door of a bar, checking IDs, charging cover, and tending a beer-only bar. I had been working there for 2 and a half years already, but the music started feeling different to me. It would suck me in and I was finding myself in this different world. I was so full of love. I felt like a hot air balloon, floating in the sky.

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I had so much love inside me, that I had to let it out. I knew it was enough to save the world if I could just share it. One of my favorite co-workers was the house DJ. He was stuck in a booth all night, so I would write him little notes on the bar napkins and pass them to him each night. He would respond with little phrases or quotes that made me feel understood. Even if he really wasn’t, I felt like he was floating up there with me, another beautiful hot air balloon.

Eventually, these love rushes must have worn me down, the energy involved is tremendous. It was getting harder to function normally during the day. I was making bad decisions and taking risks I normally would never take. I was hurting the people who loved me and I knew it. It was during this time that I began experiencing my first panic attacks. I believe this was due to the bad decisions, risks, and expenditure of energy combined.

I had no idea what was happening to me as I had never experienced a panic attack before. All I knew, was that the bar was closing in on me slowly and I couldn’t breathe. I recognized claustrophobia, not because I had experienced it before, but because I knew the definition and had seen plenty of it in movies and such. I would ask the door-man to watch my post for me for a few minutes and I would go outside to get fresh air. Once there, the sky, all dark and endless only made things worse. I needed air, but if I breathed this wide-open oblivion into my lungs, I might get lost in it. Was gravity enough to keep me here, or am I going to get sucked into space? Now I didn’t know what to do! So I went into the rest room and crouched on the floor in the corner, underneath the pay-phone (yes, this was a long time ago, haha) for protection and cried with my face in my hands so I could not see the walls constricting around me or the endless formidable sky.

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Thank goodness, a close friend and co-worker recognized what was happening and shared her story with me. She was able to help me recognize when a panic attack was coming and I could react without losing my mind. I knew to keep breathing, slowly. And if all else failed, my doctor prescribed an allergy pill, much like Benadryl, that would help me calm down without triggering my addictive nature, for I had only been drug free for 5 years at this time.

Looking back, I can also see the similarities between my manic episodes and my drug addiction. It makes sense to me that I would gravitate toward a drug like crystal meth. drugs-21541158I was a shy introvert. This drug could instantly turn me from wall-flower into the life of the party. It was so all-consuming that it completely numbed me. Far from love rushes and cravings for adventure though, it was hell and heaven at the same time. I could feel the blood tingling in my veins. I could hear every heartbeat. I could taste death. This took my mind off of any turmoil in my life or any emotional disturbances I was experiencing at the time.

I have to remember that while I may find my manic episodes appealing due to the flightiness and free-floating feelings, they are not healthy or normal. I can feel the harm it does to my body as it eats up all of my energy, mental and physical. I can see the heartache it causes in my loved ones. But I still count myself as lucky, for over the years now, I have met others who suffer from bipolar disorder as I do, and the mania each of us experiences is different. For some, mania presents itself as anger amplified. Violence. Self-destruction. For others it may be talking too much and being unable to stop themselves, or shopping sprees, gambling binges, and other pernicious behaviors that they can’t control. But for me, I will accept the fierce euphoria, the wild exhilaration, and zeal for all things life and love. I am still learning how to recognize these episodes for what they are and try not to make decisions in these moments. I am learning what works to calm the frenzy and how to find my perfect balance. I am learning to love and embrace my mental illness instead of despise and battle it. It is part of me. I take medication to keep myself as mentally healthy as I can. And I write, to connect with and support as many others like me as I can find.

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The Greatest Gift

I think I am pretty good at saying I’m sorry……

I think I am pretty good at saying I’m sorry. I wasn’t always good at it. In fact, it was a terrible weakness for most of my life. Until I learned how, it was probably my biggest personality flaw. Even if I KNEW I was wrong and wanted with everything in me to apologize, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

It would weigh on me like a thick, heavy blanket; but I would be unable to open my mouth. I would choke on my words before letting them escape my lips. To this day, I don’t know why. I can sit and think about it. I can recall the feelings, but I can’t figure out what I was so afraid of. And afraid is what I was. I was terrified. I can remember the internal struggle. “Just DO IT! Now! Spit it out!” I would tell myself. Trying to muster the courage, like I was jumping into cold water. But I was too damn stubborn, and the little girl inside me would stand, feet planted, arms crossed, mouth shut as tight as a vice. “Nope! I won’t. You can’t make me!” She would shout back with fire in her eyes.

Then, one day, I was given a gift.

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My son was about 12 years old. Headstrong and stubborn, just like his Mama. I can’t remember what we were arguing about, but it got rather heated. We both got pretty worked up, saying things we didn’t really mean and using words and tones we wouldn’t use if we were in control of our emotions. Voices rose and tempers flared. The argument ended as those kinds almost always did; both of us screaming our last few jabs at each other and someone storming away. This time, it was him who chose to walk away, pounding up the stairs and slamming his bedroom door. I sat slumped at the bottom of the stairs and rested my head in my hands. I knew I had lost my cool. I was the grown-up. As Mom, I should have controlled my emotions better. What kind of example was I being? What was I teaching him? If I had done better, this whole thing could have ended much differently, or not even happened at all.

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I felt terrible for screaming at him. I did not mean whatever ugly things I had said. I love that boy with all of my heart and soul and did not want him to feel unimportant, unappreciated, unloved or unsafe. I do not want him to think for even a half a second that I dislike him, distrust him, am angry at him or that I hold any unforgiveness in my heart for him.

I sat there, having that familiar stubborn argument with myself in my head. “Go. Tell him you are sorry. Hug him and let him know that no matter how much you disagree you will always love and support him. Tell him that no action, thought or opinion he has could EVER change the way you feel about him” my heart tells me.

Scared little me says “No! I can’t!” Eyes wild with fear, she says “Please! Please? Please don’t make me….”

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This time did feel different. My love for my son was compelling me to move! My love was overcoming my fear. I was going to do it! Scared me was still quite literally frozen in fear, but I knew I had to. Mom me had made up her mind. Scared me dug her heels into the ground as deep as she could, leaning back, pulling with all her might. I was in a tug-o-war battle with myself.

Then it happened. My cherished 12-year-old champion came walking down the stairs.Skater There I sat, in the same pathetic place, exhausted from my imaginary battle. I can see it in my mind even now. He was shirtless, wearing basketball shorts. His flawless boy skin as beautiful as anything I had ever seen. His brown skater hair in all these soft half-curls around his face. His eyes. His eyes so big and round and full of forgiveness. The softest brown forgiveness there ever was. Before he could speak a word, I knew exactly what his heart was saying. His eyes spoke directly to my soul. “I’m sorry Mom” he said.

That was the moment that changed my life. I would never be the same, thank God. I knew without a doubt that if my son could humble himself enough to do it; so could I. He deserved it. We sat side by side on the stairs and talked calmly about what had gone wrong, how sorry we were for our words and letting our emotions get the best of us. We hugged and accepted each other’s apologies, but I had one last thing to say.

I told him how proud I was of him for being the first to apologize. I explained that I knew it was not an easy thing to do and that I had failed while he had succeeded. I confessed how badly I wanted to be as brave as he was.

I can’t say it was an easy transition. I would be lying. But I was so determined. It got easier as time went on and I had more and more opportunities. I am proud of how far I have come.

My son is now a 23-year-old young man. Today, he still inspires me to be a better person. Aside from God Himself, I consider my son to be the most influential force in my life. The ability to say I am sorry is one of the most important lessons I have ever learned. It is the most precious gift I have ever received.

Thank you, son.Us

 

 

Finding My Wonder Drug

When I was 23 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Anxiety.

 

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When I was 23 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Anxiety. The Dr. put me on Neurontin, telling me it was a synthetic version of Lithium. I am still not sure if that is true as I have been unable to find any documentation that confirms that. But I am not a doctor. What I do know is that I went to the doctor because I was losing control of my emotions and I was watching as my mood swings caused my 1-year old son to react to me. Sometimes he was scared, sometimes confused, but I knew I had to do something when I saw the look on his sweet innocent face. And when I was put on Neurontin, things got worse instead of better. I had already been on a downhill slide, so it took me about 2 months to realize these new symptoms were the medication, and not my issues worsening.

I felt like the chaos in my head was building momentum and growing stronger than me. It literally felt like a tornado in my brain at times. I could feel the debris that was being picked up and tossed about causing more damage, like rooftops that were being torn off and slamming into neighboring houses destroying everything in their path. This was the first time in my life that I understood why cutter’s cut. I thought they did it for attention until I experienced it for myself.

For multiple reasons, I did not actually cut but instead found other ways to relieve the internal pain. I could not sleep, so I would lay in bed and grab large chunks of my hair and pull until I felt satisfied; for the moment. I would scratch my back, slowly and with as much pressure as possible without breaking my skin, making sure to leave as little evidence as possible. I would hit and slap myself to feel the pain but not leave marks. My favorite thing to do was wait until very late at night and go outside into my driveway. I would lie face-down on the hot pavement, wearing as little as possible so that I could feel the sand and small rocks sharp against my skin. I would lay there and fantasize about walking barefoot into the desert hills just north of my house. Walking in one direction over rock, cactus, anything in my path until my feet were a bloody pulp and I could walk no more. All of these things brought relief from the endless torment in my head. Physical pain on the outside of my body demanded my attention, taking it away from the emotional pain inside my body.

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Another thought that seemed to consume me during this time was my death, but not in the way I imagined a suicidal person would imagine their death. I was confused by this. I did not want to kill myself. I did not imagine the act itself. Just the aftermath. I would have visions of my lifeless body slumped at the bottom of my shower. Always the same vision. Naked and bloody. I was seeing myself from the left side of my crumpled body, and slightly above. I had a large bathroom with a garden tub and a separate 1-person shower. The shower was located in the far-right corner. Sometimes the vision moved as if I was coming up to the scene. Already very close to it, my focus turned to the right taking in the whole red picture. My bloody feet in the left front corner of the shower floor leading to my bent knees higher up. Back down to my thighs, butt, and hips. Smooth wet skin. My limp arms and still hands stuck in a graceful palm-up pose and my bent, leaning torso. My wet hair stuck to my head, face and shoulders as they were held somewhat upright by the bottom of the right wall of the shower stall. Blood mixed with the water and left pink trails all over my body as gravity pulled it to the shower floor. It was beautiful and calming.

I don’t remember how I came to the conclusion that it was the Neurontin, but I thank God that I did. I stopped taking it immediately, even though I was warned to taper off. I went to see my regular doctor and told her of the diagnosis as well as the experience I had with Neurontin. She prescribed a different medication, and there began my search for normalcy and what I would later call my Wonder Drug. The new medication helped a little. For 2 years I settled for this, in fear of changing meds and feeling like I did on Neurontin. Then it just stopped working. I tried another that did absolutely nothing, and another one made me feel so numb, that I couldn’t hold a conversation. I would become annoyed at just being asked a question because it meant I had to talk. I would even roll my eyes when my family said, “I love you” to me because I was expected to say it back, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t feel anything. Finally, I found one that helped a little and lasted for almost 10 years.

When this one stopped working, I remember telling my doctor that all I wanted was Tunnel.jpgsome light at the end of my tunnel. That has since become my favorite description of depression. A dark tunnel. My medications usually gave me a light at the end to look forward to. A reason to not drown in despair, to keep fighting. The light had gone out and I was sinking. My doctor listened, really listened, and prescribed a new medication to take in addition to the one I was already on.

I was 37. 37 years old! Almost immediately the light at the end of my tunnel grew so bright that the tunnel disappeared. I had never ever lived outside of this tunnel before. I did not know that people inhabited a place other than tunnels. I remember telling anyone who would listen, “This is what life is like?!?! I had no idea!” I felt human for the first time. Like I was seeing the sun for the first time after living 37 years under a rain cloud.

I knew a wonder drug existed because I met other people along the way that had already found theirs. I am 45 years old now and have been taking my wonder drug (it is actually a cocktail as I take low doses of 2 different medications) for 8 years. There have still been ups and downs. I sometimes feel so good that I think I am cured and decide I don’t need medication anymore. Big mistake. Big. I have also gone through life changes that cause my depression to worsen temporarily. The kind of depression most people experience when life throws curveballs. I have increased my dose slightly to help me through only to find that as the depression fades, the higher dose causes me to experience severe mania. But I am so familiar with mania that I don’t realize right away that it is severe and out of control until I look back at the destruction it is causing in my life.

While the journey has not been easy or uneventful, I consider it a great success. I know how hard it is to accept the diagnosis and to come to terms with needing medication just to function like a normal person. I know the stigma well, from believing it before I was diagnosed, to experiencing it firsthand in the eyes of friends and family. I know how long and sometimes torturous the road can be to finding the right medication, as each and every chemical imbalance is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. I know the danger of taking the wrong medication. But most importantly, what I know, and what I want to shout from the mountain-tops, is that you can’t give up. I know it is scary and exhausting and sometimes you will settle for just better and that is OK. But keep pushing! Keep reaching out! Relief is out there. It exists, I am living proof. Give yourself permission to want and even expect better than ok! There is more than just light at the end of the tunnel. There is sunshine. Glorious sunshine.

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Please share this post if you or anyone you know has struggled with mental illness. My intention when writing this post was to encourage anyone who is going through the trial and error of finding the right medication for them. It can be painstakingly time consuming when you feel like you might break at any moment and you are already hanging by a thread. Keep your head up, you are almost there! And you are not alone!

Who are you REALLY?

 

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I heard or read somewhere recently that everyone who has ever seen you or met you, has a ‘version’ of you living in their head. Let that sink in for a minute…

We have all used the phrases ‘in my own little world’ or ‘in your own little world’. The terms sound cliché but are uncannily accurate. We all live in a universe of our very own, and our worlds do quite literally revolve around us.  If each of us is, in fact, an individual universe, that means there are a million versions of “you” out there, and not one of them is the real you. Yet all these versions of you are living in these other universes. Sometimes our parts are big, other times they are so tiny as to barely exist. But we are there, living our imagined lives.

 

Think about this in your own world. When you pass someone in the mall or in traffic; at the doctor’s office or at the park, your subconscious immediately makes assumptions about people based on your past experiences. Within seconds, this person and the life you imagine they live now occupy a space in your universe.

You may have seen me drive by in a 2017 Dodge Challenger mean machine a couple weeks ago. You may assume I am wealthy, care-free, definitely Type-A, and all that means I must be a pretty confident and ambitious person, right? If I caught your eye, you might wonder what I do for a living, or where I was going. A version of me now exists in your world. What you did not know was that I was driving a rental car because I had just had a car accident. I really drive a total mom-mobile Toyota Camry. Driving gives me extreme anxiety ever since a bad car accident when I was 17, and this recent accident has just taken me back almost 30 years of progress. I am still living paycheck to paycheck. At 45 I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. And my bipolar self is FAR from a Type-A personality.

Let’s take this a step further with another example. You. Imagine the you that lives in your family and closest friend’s worlds. The people who would know you best. Do you think they see the same flaws you see? Do they obsess over your weight, the texture of your hair or the imperfections of your skin? No way. They are not aware of your internal negative self-talk (yes, we all do it!) or your struggles with anxiety or addiction or whatever specific personal issues you deal with on a daily basis. The version of you that they know is an effortless flow of your best qualities and your quirks. They love you for your strengths and accept your weaknesses. In their universe, you just…..are.

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Now back to reality. My world. Your world. Am I a badass, mean machine driving, alpha female? Or am I an anxious, aging, bipolar mouse? What if I am just perfectly uniquely both? What if the real me is not the me that I imagine at all? But an intricate and precious blend of all of the “me”s that have been brought to life in other’s imaginations. I am an ever-changing free spirit who loves the way she feels in a muscle car, has to remind herself to breathe every now and then, needs lots of hugs to keep depression at bay and loves mimosas and sunshine. Are you the perfectly coiffed bombshell that I saw leaving the salon 3 weeks ago that I imagine has personal assistants, her own fashion line, and an Instagram following? Or are you the frazzled, cereal crusted, weary mom of

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3 whose workaholic husband gave her the gift of a day at the salon for their 13th anniversary? What if you are a splendid combination of capable and vulnerable? A confident mother with a teachable heart who loves hard and is absolutely adored by her family. An independent woman who thrives on encouraging others and recharges with dark chocolate and solo adventures to the spa.

 

None of us are exactly who we think we are. As the saying goes, we are our own worst enemies. We know we shouldn’t judge others but have we learned to not judge ourselves? I have been trying to build a new habit of thinking of

and looking at myself from other people’s points of view. I try to see myself as I exist in all those other universes. It is such a difficult habit to create because I must replace my old habit of being self-critical. But, WOW!!!! This new me I am getting to know, she is pretty incredible. She is everything I want to be; loving, accepting, encouraging, carefree and everchanging. She has no limits!

You should try looking at yourself through her eyes. Or through someone else’s eyes; a stranger, the barber, your mentor, someone who you admire, and lastly and most importantly, someone who admires you. Next time you walk by a mirror and are tempted to judge, just glance and smile at the version of you that is beautiful, confident, capable, and worthy of so much love and acceptance. A perfect blend of all of the million imagined versions of yourself. That is the real you. And SHE IS SPECTACULAR.

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Ready…. Set….

Hello world! Flower In The Mud has taken a little bit longer than expected to get up and running, but I have been working hard in the back-ground. I should have a few great posts coming next week! So keep an eye out!!!!

Since I am new to blogging, I am sincerely hoping for feedback! Good, bad, and everything in between! See a typo? Let me know! Grammar nazi? Lend me your skills!!!!! Like a particular piece and want to know more? Tell me! Am I rambling on and need to cut to the chase? Help me out!

Stay tuned! And Thank you in advance!

Welcome to Flower In The Mud!

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I chose the name Flower In The Mud in 1998. At the time I knew it was me, and it was important, but I was not sure why. It is a small piece of lyric from one of my very favorite songs “Am I Getting Through?” written and performed by Sheryl Crow. The song resonates with me because I can look back on my life and see that it was the cry of my heart, and still is. The soft statement “I’m a flower in the mud” became my definition. I knew even then that it is who I am, and who I will always be. Here I am in 2018 and I know I am still a flower in the mud. If you want a glimpse into my heart and soul, just listen to the song. I am made of a million pieces, and this is just one, but it is a perfect representation of that piece. Through this blog, I hope to show you why. And maybe, just maybe, I can help others who are stuck in the mud see that they are flowers too.

I will be writing about the things I know and have experienced, things I am currently going through and am still trying to process. I will always be brutally honest, and if I am wishy-washy, it is because I am still trying to figure out where I stand. As often as possible, my posts are meant to encourage or connect, but sometimes I may be struggling to accept or understand something, and that may be the sole purpose of a post. Putting my thoughts in complete sentences helps me wrap my head around things and I find peace in that. I have opinions and you will see them here. My opinions may change with time or new experiences, that is the wonder of growth. My opinions are just that, my opinions, and are never intended to tell you that yours are wrong or that you are not entitled to them. I will never try to impress my opinions on you, I am simply giving food for thought. I am always open to feedback, especially if you think you can help me see things from another point of view. While our opinions may be different, neither are wrong. It may appear that some of my thoughts or ideas contradict each other; all I can say is that I honestly feel both ways. While I believe myself to be an optimist, not all of my posts will have an upbeat ending. I am very passionate about forgiveness, but sometimes you might still see me angry.

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I believe my purpose in this life is to be an open book. I am willing, even eager, to share my stories, good, bad and ugly in the hopes that someone who needs to know they are not alone will hear me. My life experiences acting like a beacon allowing me to draw in wounded people from all walks of life. In the times that I have felt most alone, abandoned and discarded, I have been blessed with people who have crossed my path at just the right time and provided me with the support I needed to keep going. I want to return that favor. I have always tried to be an open book for friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, fellow church members and even strangers. Often to the dismay of the other players in my life, and the discomfort of those who were not ready to hear or willing to accept my truth. But I refuse to cover myself up with a mask or hide my scars behind a pretty picture for the comfort of others. I was chosen for this path because I was strong and brave enough to travel it and now I hope to guide others who may be traveling it after me. I pray this blog will help me reach and encourage those weary travelers who need a place to recharge. A place full of love and free of judgment.