Unprecedented Times Call for Precedented Measures

“In these unprecedented times…”

That’s the way the sign at the grocery store started. It finished, “…we will not be providing rain checks for unavailable items.”

They could have started with “Beginning immediately…”, or “Due to circumstances beyond our control…”, or “Because your neighbors were terrified that they’d find themselves in need of enough toilet paper to last a nuclear winter…”.

But they didn’t.

They started with “In these unprecedented times…”

Because the times truly are unprecedented. It’s so incredibly different than anything that any of us have experienced. I could run through the laundry list of all the ways life has changed in the last few months, but it’s a list we’re already familiar with. How do we adjust to the new and unwanted normal?

I don’t know how you respond to unprecedented times, but I tend to make some bad decisions.

Had an unprecedented level of difficulty at work this week? Spend the weekend playing video games.

Nearly catch the kitchen on fire trying to brew beer? Put it out, and drive to McDonald’s to order some of everything.

Coming out of an intense period of depression and isolation? Invite everyone over. All. At. Once.

I don’t respond well to days filled with the new, unexpected, or unwanted. When they occur, my default reaction is to turn them into Treat Yo Self Days.

So it is that when life took a hard turn for the weird with the introduction of Covid, my immediate instinct was to throw out the healthy routines I’d spent months turning into habit, and give into temptation a little. A little more delivery over here, a little less exercising over there, a moderate reduction in daily grooming, a month or so in the same pajama pants.

Fast forward a couple months and the unprecedented times have become the norm, and so have the lack of daily healthy habits.

I know that I can’t be alone in this.

Here’s what I want you to hear, because it’s what I need to hear too:

1. You are not the only person who went a little off the deep-end when things hit the fan.

2. If you’ve spent any amount of time pursuing healing prior to Covid, all of that work is not negated. Progress is not linear.

3. If you’re living with a mental illness, it’s more important than ever to press into healthy routines.

And I want to zero in on that last point. People living with a mental illness are in an especially dangerous place right now. The connections we need to thrive have been stripped from us in the worst possible way. Some have lost jobs, and what once took up our time and attention has been replaced with hours and hours of monotony.

That means that those things which we were doing to lead healthier, happier, lives are not less important, but more important than ever.

Whatever it is that you’ve dropped in these unprecedented times, I encourage you (me) to pick it back up again, and with a vengeance.

Take that daily shower.

Go for that appropriately distanced walk.

Skip that extra drink.

Hit that bed earlier.

Skip that third pizza delivery this week.

This is an incredibly challenging and unprecedented time. The situation caught us off guard, hit us from behind, didn’t fight fair. From all accounts, it doesn’t appear to be relenting immediately. A lot of bad has already happened, and sadly is yet to happen, but let’s not leave this fight with more bruises than are required.

 

 

The Person I Was Looking For at Denny’s

I was six months into taking Lithium, sitting at a table at the back of a Denny’s with three people I was meeting for the first time. I was the only one who had ordered dinner, and now I was feeling awkward about that decision as plates were sat in front of me. I had driven across Phoenix during rush hour to get to this Denny’s and I’d spent that drive asking myself two questions:

  1. What am I doing driving across town to this Denny’s?
  2. What am I going to order when I get there?

The answer to the second question was sitting in front me. The Grand Slam Breakfast. A long-time favorite. But sitting there with rocks in my stomach, it looked unpleasant. More unpleasant than any breakfast platter I had ever looked at in my life. I picked at it uncomfortably as the others took turns introducing themselves.

And as I picked at the answer to the second question, the first question not only remained unanswered but became more pronounced. What in the name of a Moons Over My Hammy was I doing here?

For months I’d been obsessed with meeting just one person who could relate to what I had been experiencing. Someone who had been doing this for a while. Who could talk to me about how to pick a therapist, what types of medication were helpful, how to navigate asking for an accommodation at work. More than anything I wanted to find just one person who could look me in the eyes and tell me that everything was going to be alright. Someone who’d done it. Who made it through.

I’d found this “support” group online, and after weeks of not taking any action, finally made myself get in the car, turn the key, and hit the road.

And now here I sat, slowly, painfully, working through an increasingly room temperature mega breakfast. The longer I listened to and got to know the people seated around me, the more I realized that I’d made a terrible mistake. I wasn’t a guy sitting in the midst of a community that would give him hope. I was just one more hopeless wanderer looking for answers in the back of a freeway Denny’s. Truth be told, I don’t think we were good for each other.

Q: “I don’t think Lithium is working. What have you guys tried that was actually effective?”

A: “Nothing is effective. I’m on my fifth medication in fifteen years and it’s only gotten worse.”

Q: “What have you done to get through work living with this? Have you ever talked to your job, asked for an accommodation?”

A: “Are you kidding? I’d never tell my boss.”

Q: “How did you pick a therapist?”

A: “Ha. I hate my therapist. He’s like my fourth.”

After dinner, I got in the car and headed home in silence. Feeling the sting of bitter disappointment, I kicked myself for putting all my stock into the idea that talking with someone who could relate to what I was experiencing would be the answer to it all.

After that night I stopped taking my medication. The following day I called and cancelled my reoccurring psychiatry appointments. “When would you like to reschedule?” the receptionists asked. “I’ll call you,” I lied.

Weeks later, Trish was heartbroken when she found out that I’d stopped taking the meds without talking to her first. I explained that I’d seen what I had to look forward to. That there were no medications that would help, that it would always be hard, that there was no point in finding a therapist.

And I was so incredibly wrong.

I eventually hit a new low, one that almost landed me in the hospital. After that, I reached out to my psychiatrist again. He chided me for disappearing for months, for stopping my meds abruptly, but he was thankful I’d decided to come back. This time, I had done my research (with the help of my lovely research assistant). I told him what medication I would like to try. He agreed. I’m still taking that medication, without side effects, and though it doesn’t erase the symptoms, it helps make them manageable.

Around the same time that I went back to the doctor, we found the church that we’re still a part of. It’s been a year, and while a little slow-going, we’re starting to feel known as part of this community. Beginning to feel our roots dig deeper into the soil.

After a few months of groundwork supplied by the medication I made some major changes to my diet (albeit, with the occasional Denny’s). I also started exercising, introduced mindfulness meditation, established a sleep schedule. Some of these habits have started to wane (and been difficult to maintain) in the age of the coronavirus, but I’m feeling now that they’re more important than ever.

And now here we are, a year later. One of the unforeseen aspects of pursuing healing, something that I had never even considered, was that with every step I’ve taken to get better, with every challenge faced, with every failure and setback, I’m slowly becoming the person that I was hoping to meet at Denny’s. Someone who made it through, however imperfectly.
I’m hopeful that over time more answers will be acquired, more lessons learned, and that I’ll not sit on what gifts I’m given but use them to provide a little hope to others on a similar path.

It’s Okay to Not Know How to Feel Right Now

The good news? My mangy facial hair, abhorrent in person, looks pretty decent on Zoom calls.

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You can almost imagine that it’s not whispy.

The bad news? Literally everything else. These are strange times. Significantly so. Unlike anything we’ve experienced so far, forcing change on all of us.

I, for one, seem to have forgotten that I have social anxiety. As I write this I’m sitting in my empty, recently mowed, back yard. I’m smoking a cigar under the outdoor lights that I’ve strung from my patio to the big pine tree, and back again. I’m having visions of friends sitting here with me. A million friends and an equal number of enemies. Everyone’s invited. Yes, even that guy.

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Imaginary Hosting

I’ve talked with a few friends today and they’re experiencing similar weirdness. My extrovert friend is realizing that he’s actually more comfortable being alone than he thought he could be. My introvert friend, like myself, would settle for a visit from just about anyone. Maybe one thing that will come out of this is we’ll realize that all of us, introverts and extroverts, were never all that different. Some of us just needed to be forced to sit alone long enough for it to become the norm. The rest of us just needed to be forced to sit alone long enough for it to hurt.

Those are some of the things that I’m thinking right now, a few thoughts among many. I’m actually thinking and feeling a large number of things. As I do, one thing that’s remained fairly consistent is that for every thought that I have, I find myself trying to decide if that thought is one of the thoughts that’s allowed. If it’s one of the things that it’s okay to think.

Here’s a small list of some of those thoughts, and some of the thoughts that immediately follow:

This is a really big deal (Yeah, but a majority of the population will be fine)

This is not as big a deal as I think it is (Bastard. Do you realize what 1.5% of all people adds up to?)

This is interesting (That’s the way a cold and calculated killer would think)

This is mortifying (That’s the way a faithless coward would think)

I can’t believe people are hoarding toilet paper (You should go hoard some before they do)

I’m thankful that I have a job (And you should feel horrible. So many of the people you love and care about are being laid off)

I kind of wish I was being laid off (Literally the worst thing you could possibly think. Enjoy Hell)

So those are a few of the thousand different things that are playing in my head on shuffle and repeat. It’s actually a little exhausting. I’ve heard from a number of people who seem pretty confident regarding what’s the right thing to think at the moment. I’m not one of those people. If you’re like me, then let me say this:

Nobody prepped you for how to feel right now. Hell, nobody taught you how to use a checkbook. Or even the importance of checking the lint screen on a dryer. Nobody we know has lived in this exact moment in time, or in the midst of this exact situation. It’s a first for all of us living in 2020. You’re going to think a lot of things. As those thoughts flow into your head, try not being so quick to judge them. You’ve never had thoughts exactly like these before. You may never have thoughts exactly like these again.

And you’ll have years to decide what was the right and what was the wrong way to feel. For now, know that there’s grace enough to cover all the things you’re not sure you should think. This is an uncharted chapter for all of us.

The Story that Carries Me Through Depression

When I think about Disneyland I almost always think about bromine. It’s a chemical element that sits somewhere between iodine and chlorine, and it’s what the park uses to clean the water on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It has a distinct smell, and unlike chlorine, it’s inoffensive. When I think about Disneyland I always imagine that smell. It’s tied to a number of good memories.

Similarly, I can still remember the taste of Tex-Mex cuisine served at a place called Panchos. They used to have a number of locations in the Phoenix area and throughout the Southern United States, but most are closed now. My family would go there often when I was growing up. The food was served cafeteria-style, and I would order the same thing every time. Chile relleno, rice, cheese enchilada and flautas, absolutely smothered in nacho cheese sauce. It sounds unhealthy. It was unhealthy. And I crave that familiar taste so much that I’ve considered flying to one of their only remaining locations, somewhere in Louisiana, just to eat it again.

There’s nothing to it. I can summon the smell of bromine, and the taste of Ponchos, with all the ease of pulling a book off a bookshelf. Easily accessible. Ever at the ready. Always just a memory away.

Now compare that to depression. There are times when the lows are so incredibly low that it becomes impossible to remember what it was like to feel okay.

I can always visualize a happy event, a time when an unexpected joke had me rolling with uncontrollable laughter, or the day that I got married, or any one of the times that my wife delivered a beautiful and healthy baby boy into the world (Exception being Simeon. That kid was born weird-faced, but has since improved)

But even though I can recall the vision and details of those happy events, I can’t even begin to recall what they felt like. It’s a numbness that’s hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. And sadly, many, many people have experienced it. That intense state of painful nothingness will often last days, weeks or even months.

In the community of Christians, an idea that’s often railed against while simultaneously being implicitly implied, is that faith will always be accompanied by particular feelings.

The number of times that a Christian has counseled me to feel better by believing something that I already believed, or by praying when I already prayed often, or by reading the bible I was already reading. It’s too many times to count. Each time reinforcing the same idea: Faith is a feeling, that feeling is happy (or at least not depressed), and it’s not a suggestion, it’s a requisite.

They’re not entirely coming at it the wrong way. I’ve counseled others in a similar fashion. There is reason for rejoicing in the beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ. There is comfort that eases weary souls in the reality that someone loves the terribly imperfect you. That God knows you, pursues you, and redeems you.

But there are times when the impenetrable exterior of severe depression mutes even the most glorious of truths. Times where it just doesn’t break through. Where you feel something worse than sad. In those moments, words meant to help often don’t, and the result is guilt that you weren’t able to respond to the words of comfort the way that the one counseling you wanted you to.

So what does help? What about the doctrines of Christianity has carried me through some of the darkest nights of my soul?

It’s knowing my place in the story.

The bible is often mis-conceptualized solely as a collection of rules, songs, nuggets of wisdom and separate, distinct narratives. While it incorporates all of those things, it’s first and foremost the story of God, the overarching narrative of all history, past, present, future. It’s the story that all other stories find their place in. It’s the story that defines all reality.

That story is the creation of the universe and all that’s in it, the rebellion and fall of man, God’s plan for their redemption, redemption acheived through Jesus Christ, the ensuing work of the church to proclaim that gospel and usher in the Kingdom, and the ultimate redemption of the church and universe.

This idea of the bible as an overarching narrative was first introduced to me in the book, The Drama of Scripture (Bartholomew, Goheen). A book I’ve read at least five times, if not more. In it, the writers walk the reader through the word as the acts outlined above.

It’s in that particular exposition where I learned to zoom out from the present moment of depression and see where I was in relation to the epic drama that I find myself in. Understanding that where I reside is somewhere between redemption being accomplished on the cross and redemption being fully realized when God brings about the conclusion of the story. That gives me hope for a future, where depression has robbed me of anything that feels like hope.

To borrow a description of depression from Stephen Fry, “There comes a time when the blankness of future is so extreme, it is such a black wall of nothingness, not even of bad things…it’s just nothingness.”

In that nothingness I cannot remember what it felt like when the future held somethingness. The memory of that emotion is so quelled, so terribly silent, that it’s almost painful to attempt to retrieve it.

But where feeling falls short, where I cannot emotionally muster a sense of future hope, I can intellectually be reminded in scripture that there is an ultimate end to this suffering. That the work of the cross that lies in the past is actively working to secure a hope in the future.

Peter describes it this way, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” In this, he says, you rejoice.

Because in this, I find the foundation that I need to endure the nothingness that accompanies depression. The somethingness of a good ending. The coming redemption promised to a broken people who are enduring the aftermath of a terrible fall, looking back to the man on a cross, and forward to the day when the fullness of what he purchased on that cross brings us finally, ultimately, back into the presence of God.

 

Checking-in

I realize that going a few weeks without posting anything might lead someone to think there’s something wrong. Nope! Its been a busy few weeks, and that includes time spent thinking about the direction I want to take this blog. I’m worried that I may soon exit the territory of writing what I know and enter into the territory of writing what I don’t, while sounding like I’m an authority on subjects I have no business leading others in. There’s enough people out there acting like they have it all figured out.

And that’s why it’s called Uncharted Chapter. We’re on a journey together, unaware of what the rest of the story holds, but confident that there is a “rest of the story.” I didn’t believe that two years ago, but I do today. I’m happy to share that journey with anyone who’s willing to read it.

More words coming soon, I promise.

The Greatest Lie I Ever Believed

The greatest lie that I ever believed?

It’s that I couldn’t get better.

That lie was reinforced in every medical website that told me how to just survive with a mental illness rather than thrive.

That lie was reinforced in the support group where I was told that it never gets better, that I only had struggle to look forward to.

That lie was reinforced in the administering of medications meant to manage my symptoms, when there were more tools I could use to conquer them.

Mental illness is not the end of your story.

You are not destined to keep getting worse.

You are not less than.

You are not a victim.

You have survived every day up until now, and you’ve done it with unseen strength, unmatched courage, and incredible grit.

You can get better.

Don’t give up.

Non-Negotiable #3: Diet or Die

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I didn’t even graduate cooking school. Everything I’m sharing here is based on personal experience and not meant to serve as medical advice. Also, if you hate people who talk about the ketogenic diet, please stop reading. I can’t stand the idea of you hating me.

I said that I would write one of these posts every week, on Thursdays, as part of a series where I share my non-negotiables. The habits I’ve adopted for living with a mental illness. Last week I was supposed to post about my diet. While I did write, I didn’t post. This is what I wrote:



I’m not feeling great today, so I’ll keep it short.

Diet or die.

STOP EATING SUGAR

For real.

STOP

EATING

SUGAR

The more I’ve read, and the more I’ve experimented, the more I’m certain that bipolar disorder, and possibly other mental health conditions, are the result of glucose metabolism abnormalities. Meaning, some brains suck at using sugar for fuel.

There’s only one way around metabolizing glucose (sugar) for energy, and that’s the ketogenic diet. Not simply low-carb. Ketogenic. Where your body gets its fuel from fat rather than glucose.

So that’s my non-negotiable.

I WILL not eat sugar. You shouldn’t either.

Here’s a resource for anyone that’s on the fence.


And that’s all I could write. I could barely eek out little more than 100 words.  All because, in the days leading up to Thursday, I had eaten in a way that kicked me out of ketosis. A couple days of mild carb consumption and my brain started metabolizing sugar for energy again, something it’s not good at. My mood plummeted, depression surfaced, focus dissipated. It was so bad that I had to leave work early that day. Something I very rarely do.

I first tried the ketogenic diet a few years ago at the encouragement of a good friend and personal life guru. Coincidentally, during that time, my life got a lot better very quickly. Suddenly work, though still difficult, was easier. My confidence, always low, was super high. Things that weren’t working out started working out.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that this brief bright spot of time in an otherwise dark decade and a half was not due to a random change in circumstance (there was none) , it was due to a radical change in perspective. One I can now say with confidence was shaped by a brain running on fat. I did the diet till I lost some weight, then switched back to my old ways. With the end of the diet came the swift return of the mood swings. Life got hard again, and stayed that way until September ’19.

It’s hard to stay in ketosis. The variety and texture of appropriate foods, its availability in social settings and on the road, and the relentless appeal of a quarter pounder (I know, I know. McDonald’s is gross. Everyone hates it, right? Then who are all the people in the drive-through???) It all makes staying in a state of ketosis feel impossible. I’m literally writing this while my family is sitting in the other room knocking back some McFlurry’s. I hate them with all the love in my heart.

But difficulties aside, I’ve been in a confirmed state of ketosis about 95% of the time since Sept 13th of last year, so a little over four months now. I started the diet at the tail end of a debilitating depression, and within three days, I had a brand new brain. I’ve said this a hundred times, and I’ll say it for the rest of my likely pro-longed life:

Sleep and medication provided the baseline needed to pursue healing. Diet is saving my life. 

Let me expound a bit on what’s happened since September:

  • For years I’ve tried writing, and have generally struggled to make it through one hundred words a day. One hundred very painful words. After about two months on the diet I realized that I could write without needing to stop. Waking up early each morning and journaling (roughly 700 words), and then blogging twice a week (avg. around 600-700 words, sometimes longer). That’s on top of some very long days at a rewarding, but challenging, job.
  • Sleep became effortless. Prior to September, one mistake at work, one tough conversation with a friend, could leave me reeling for days. I can’t count the number of nights that I would lie awake, tossing and turning at the thought of something I should have said differently, or how my reputation had been irreparably damaged, or how I was sure to humiliate myself tomorrow. Bipolar disorder is all about those sweet, sweet sleepless nights and paranoia. Now I’m in bed around 8:30 at night, I read for a bit, and then regardless of the day’s events I sleep great. (I had one night in December where I checked my email to some terrible news that I had very little control over in the moment. This would have normally ruined me for days. Instead, after a skipped heart beat, I responded to the email with some thoughts about appropriate next steps. Laid down. Fell asleep. This might sound minor to some, but I’ve never operated this way.)
  • My mood. You know, the thing that makes a bipolar person bipolar. While I still respond to circumstances the way a human does (Bummer things make me bummed. Happy things makes me happy), I’m not sitting in the passenger seat of a 1 star rated Uber-driver brain. My mood is constant, or near constant. It’s incredible.
  • I didn’t go on this diet to get healthy. I went on it to not die of depression. That said, I’ve lost 40 pounds, my resting heart rate has dropped from 79 to 61 bpm, my blood pressure went from hypertension levels, to pre-hypertension, to normal. I’ve also found the energy to wake up and exercise daily. That means running, sit-ups, push-ups. Nothing fancy, but I’ll take it.

I’m not afraid to say it. This diet is not ideal.

I’m a good cook. Look, I made this:

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And this:

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And this:

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Incredibly sexy food.

Nowadays, I eat pretty much nothing but meat, and eggs and cheese. Occasionally, a few veggies. It’s not always appetizing, it’s not always convenient, but it beats the hell out of being depressed.

If you decide to try the keto diet, talk to your doctor first. It may require adjusting your meds to stay safe.

Lastly, if you don’t think you can do the diet, exogenous ketone supplements may provide some of the same therapeutic effects as being in actual ketosis. But dang, it’s expensive.

Next week, on to Non-Negotiable #4: Work or Weep. Make sure to subscribe and I’ll be sure to keep providing you with as much quality content as I possibly can.

Don’t Assume You Know Why Someone is Depressed

When someone is feeling low we expect there to be  some negative circumstance that is causing the depression in their mood. When encountering some effect our brain will always desire to determine its cause. We feel that we must get at the root of the problem, must discover the source of the discomfort, must name the culprit. It’s why depression is so maddening. There’s often no easily apparent cause and without it, we’re at a loss as to the solution.

I’m not saying that depression is without cause. There’s cause. It’s just that it’s not always external. There may be a biological component, but so little is understood about the mind and the body that determining what aspect of our biology is effecting our mood so negatively requires time, and patience. There’s likely to be a slew of contributing factors.

Never assume that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt what is causing you, or your friend, or a loved one to be depressed. Examine external circumstances and see if there may be something there that would account for the depression, but don’t quickly name it definitively as the wellspring of the person’s internal experience. Depression may have many causes, and we should methodically and logically approach it from many angles.

The danger in being quick to assume definite cause for someone’s depression is something similar to what’s wrong with a justice system that assumes someone is guilty until proven innocent. You might end up hanging the suspect without a thorough investigation, while the true perpetrator remains free to cause even more damage.

There’s nothing wrong with offering advice when you think you have something to offer. I’ve done different things to tackle depression, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be willing to use my experience to help a friend. That said, I need to use discretion in how and when to broach that. What I should never do is assume that I have the magic pill that’s going to be take a person from depression into recovery. That approach is cheap, too easy, and very very dangerous. Instead, I need to be ready to walk with the person through a process. One that includes exploring external circumstance and biological factors with patience and an open mind. One that’s prepared, if necessary, to do no more than sit with someone who’s feeling isolated and alone.

I’m growing in this.

 

 

 

Non-Negotiable #2: Rest or Regret It

This is the second in a series of posts. You don’t have to read them in order, or at all, but I recommend checking out the first post for a little more context on “non-negotiables”

I can remember an incredibly busy season where I’d committed to so many different things that there was literally something happening 3-4 evenings a week, and weekends were just back-to-back things to do. My cup ranneth over.

These things that I had committed to, they were all good things. Recreational things, community things, meaningful things.

The problem wasn’t all of the stuff that filled my calendar, but my unwillingness to recognize that I am human and needed breaks, and my inability to say no. I would go and go and go until I reached the breaking point.

Contrast that to when I was in periods of depression and the pendulum swings the opposite direction. Then I’m not doing anything, but I’m missing out on what’s meaningful, nothing is recreational, I’m loathing being in community with others. See the previous non-negotiable for how I now handle this one.

Neither state, totally booked or totally isolated, is optimal. There has to be a balance, and balance is something people with bipolar disorder struggle with. It’s taken time, but I’ve managed to commit to some non-negotiables that help strike the balance. How I make time to rest:

I WILL regularly evaluate my calendar and block off times where I rest

Rest means different things for different people. For some, it’s going out with friends, hitting the links (Is that what golfers say?) or seeing a movie. I enjoy those things, except golf, but being out usually drains me. I live in a homey home, that’s the only way I can describe it. Trish and I have worked hard to make it the kind of place that’s restful for us, and provides a hospitable feeling to people who visit. It’s my fortress of solitude. Solitude with the exception of my family. A place where we can spend the day reading, playing chess, jumping on the trampoline, watching a movie, making bone broth. I need these days, they’re like water to me. I keep them frequent, I guard them, and it takes something monumentally important or appealing for me to let them go.

I WILL commit to lights out at 7, bed at 8:30

Around seven I walk around the house and turn off all the brightest lights. We don’t revert to the stone age. It just makes it a little more peaceful, a little more serene. Voices naturally become quieter in this setting, kids become a little less active, and we all start the all important process of winding down. I read out loud for a bit (currently Watership Down. Bunnies, man), we get in our pajamas, we do our nightly routines. For me, that’s flossing, brushing, washing my face.

Then in bed at 8:30. Sounds extreme, I know. However, I also get up really early. I’m a morning guy. That’s when I write, when I exercise etc… so at 8:30 I’m in bed, I put some eye covers on (married to a night owl bookworm), slip on the headphones and fall asleep to a story. My goal is eight hours sleep, and I usually manage that and get up at 4:30.

I WILL meditate

Why meditate? Because it’s what makes the previous two possible. By practicing breathing and mindfulness, I’ve learned that I’m better able to fall asleep, or fall back to sleep if I wake up. I’m better able to be present with my family when I take a day off. It even makes it possible to find moments of rest in otherwise busy days.

Meditation is not purely restful in and of itself. It’s an exercise, one that can be hard to get in the habit of doing regularly. I think of it as training for rest, the way an athlete trains for a game. I highly recommend it. I use the Calm app, the benefit here being they also have (the previously mentioned) sleep stories. If you’ve never fallen asleep to the sweet sweet sound of Matthew McConaughay talking about the wonders of the cosmos, you’re missing out.

Next Thursday: Diet or Die. Make sure to subscribe to keep these flowing into your inbox. Subscription box is on the left (desktop), or bottom (mobile). Later.

5 Things You’re Saying to People with Mental Illness Vs. What They’re Actually Hearing

We’re in the earliest stages of a new world for people living with a mental illness. Slowly, the topic is becoming less taboo and people are opening up about invisible illness in a way that reduces stigma and increases understanding. As such, you’re likely to be on the receiving end of someone sharing they have a mental illness with you.

Anytime someone’s vulnerable with us, it can catch us off guard. Much of life is lived at surface level, so when the conversation veers deep it can cause one to scramble for a quick response. That response always, on some level, plays a role in reducing or increasing stigma. I’ve been on the receiving and sending sides of these conversations and have learned from both. Here’s five common responses, the implications of each, and what you can say instead.

1. What you’re saying: “Nothing’s wrong with you.”

What you’re trying to say: “I want you to know that I don’t perceive you as being anything less than normal” or “We’re too close for me to have missed this.”

What they’re hearing: “You’re being dramatic. You should stop pursuing treatment, because what you’re experiencing is not only unbelievable, it’s non-existent.”

What you might consider saying instead: “I’m sorry that I missed that.”

2. What you’re saying: “I know someone who probably has that.”

What you’re trying to say: “I can relate to what you’re experiencing, because I’m familiar with it.”

What they’re hearing: “I’m not interested in understanding what you’re experiencing because I already understand it fully.”

What you might consider saying instead: “I know people who have had similar experiences, but I’m curious what it’s been like for you.”

3. What you’re saying: “I think I might have that.”

What you’re trying to say: “I can relate to you.”

What they’re hearing: “I have zero ability to relate to you.”

What you might consider saying instead: “I can relate with those feelings on some level, but not entirely. Help me understand what you’re experiencing.”

4. What you’re saying: “I don’t trust the practice of psychiatry.”

What you’re trying to say: “I care about you and I’m concerned that you may be being bamboozled.”

What they’re hearing: “Continuing to pursue treatment is foolish.”

What you might consider saying instead: “I’m uninformed and over-opinionated. Rather than air my uneducated grievances with a form of medicine that I know little to nothing about, I’ll say something kind instead.” Or something like that 😉

5. What you’re saying: nothing

What they’re hearing:

“That’s too much for me, and I’m not willing to go there with you.”

“You should never have trusted me with this.”

“You are unacceptable.”

“You were right. You should have kept it to yourself.”

“You’ve introduced something that renders our relationship awkward.”

and anything else the person listening fills in the silence with.

What you might consider saying instead: Something. Literally anything. Even the most uninformed comment can be better than radio silence, because when it comes to mental illness, the silence says everything.


When it comes to talking about mental illness, you’re going to mess up. Believe me, I know. I’ve messed it up more times than I can count. Your willingness to even read a list like this shows that you’re open to bringing about a difference, and for that I’m thankful. If you can’t remember any of this when the time comes, keep this tiny little one-size-fits-all combo in your pocket and you’ll be just fine: Thanks for sharing that with me. Tell me more.

And if you’re one of the many people struggling with mental illness, you’ll have to learn to forgive others when they don’t understand, or when they fail to show compassion, or when they say something that’s uninformed or ignorant. If we focus on what others are doing wrong, we’re wasting time that could be used to teach them how to do this right.