Two weeks ago I found my way back to a place that changed the course of my life in a moment.
It was the same makeshift stage I sat on four years prior. In front of (mostly) the same constellation of women. I would talk about the same topic. The one that used to make my voice crack and my heart pound. I would make the same announcements. Subscribe to the same labels. Tell essentially the same story.
Except this time I would do it through an entirely different lens. One that took four years to develop.
The first time I sat on that stage, I was a reluctant participant. The audience, all 80 of them women, was as welcoming as they get. Yet the ‘liquid courage’ I had been downing all night wasn’t cutting it. I had never been the type to participate in an open mic and that night was no different.
But thank goodness for friends that know better. As the last act geared up, and my window was closing, Jenn took things into her own hands and went straight to the emcee.
Next thing I knew I was sitting on a shaky stool, at the front of the room, with only my journal to cling to.
By that point in my life, ‘it’ had happened enough times that I understood what was going on. I could feel time slow down around me, and my awareness expand outward. Though my heart beat quickened and adrenaline flooded my veins, my higher self was at peace. I knew that I was now inside a pivotal moment of my life. What I was about to do would forever change me.
At that point I craved change. I was one very long year into life after being diagnosed with post-partum Bipolar Disorder, and three years into the slow process of recovering from psychosis and mania. I was working on learning to love all the parts of me – even the ones that seemed forever unlovable. And quite frankly I was ready for change.
I had been ruminating on a thought for quite some time. I knew that if I was going to live successfully with Bipolar Disorder, I was going to have to make myself separate from the good opinions of others. I knew I needed to take what only my inner circle knew about me, and give it away in the hopes of helping someone else.
So I did. I gave it away to a room full of strangers.
I took the big bad bag of ‘bipolar’ crap I carried around with me and I dumped it on the floor for all to see. My eyes didn’t meet anyone’s in the audience while I read from my journal. I kept them lowered and focused on purpose. I guess as a way to protect myself.
And when I finished, I stood quickly. Wanting nothing more than to leave the spotlight, but she stopped me. The emcee grabbed my left elbow and said “wait”. She turned me to face her and then took one step back from me, as she began to clap her hands. And that’s when I realized she wasn’t alone in what she was doing.
The entire room of 80 women was on their feet. And when I finally met their eyes I saw intense emotion and acceptance. There was no need for words in that moment. I knew that they understood. I felt the weight of their own stories unearthed by mine. I felt the intensity of shared pain given permission to breathe. I understood the power in sharing a story that no one wants to tell.
Four years later, it was important to go back to that stage. And sit on that stool. And once again tell my story.
Except this time it wasn’t ‘change’ that motivated me. This time it was gratitude.
Since outing myself four years ago, I have told and retold my story to many audiences, both in person and online. I came to understand how cathartic and healing writing was for me, so I started this blog. I now also do workshops and presentations in schools. I support friends, and friends of friends through mental health crises of their own. And I have built a retreat business to help women getaway, re-center and heal from their own difficult stories of past pain.
At every opportunity I am given, I happily share my story with others. And every time I do I take back some of the power Bipolar Disorder stole from me in the beginning.
It wasn’t about me when I got on that stage two weeks ago. It was about them – my first audience. It was about the connection in the room. It was about the way they encircled me. It was about experiencing the healing that vulnerability inspires.
There is no turning back for me now. Telling my story has emboldened me in a way no ‘liquid courage’ could. It all began on that stage four years ago, and who knows where it will end up.
It is with deep and sincere gratitude, that I thank the women of the Canadian Wilderness Women’s Weekend for being my first.
Reflecting on Mother’s Day – 2015
Mother’s Day this year is significant for me.
It was five years ago, on Mother’s Day weekend that I was hospitalized and given the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. After five years free of a major episode, I feel nothing but gratitude for this illness and all it has taught me about myself. To any mothers out there living through post-partum mental illness, please connect with Postpartum Progress and know that there is hope and light at the end of your tunnel. Just keep digging – you’ll get there!
Thanks, Sarah. A wonderful post. Elizabeth