Tuesday 13 November 2018

It is two in the morning while I am driving down the dirt road about a mile from my house while my mind is going through a list of things.  And I mean a list of things. Getting the dishes done, taking out the trash, calling my Grandma back, getting my homework done, getting my four-year-old to preschool, getting diapers for the two-year-old – when am I going to get to potty training her?  Wait, I missed my turn again. Abruptly, I remember that awkward time at that Christian camp when I asked my mother to be added to the prayer list just after the other Stephanie asked for her father to be added – I asked in the middle of the prayer. Awkward.  
Last week I struggled to get out of bed before 10 am.  I was lucky to find the energy to feed the girls. Showering seemed impossible like climbing Mount Everest in a day.  Now I am driving around the small little rural town in Nebraska I currently live in at two in the morning because MY. BRAIN. WILL. NOT. STOP.  And driving around is way safer for me because if I walk into a store, I will put my family in financial ruin – again. And I have worn my husband out; he is more of a once a night/ once a week kind of guy while I am over here begging for round eight – if you know what I mean.  

I always knew that I was no quite like the others in my classes.  Outside of my speech problem and my lack of social skills, there was something that stuck out.  It wasn’t my redhead or my freckles. It wasn’t the abuse I was suffering from my mother, even though it wasn’t helping at all.  There was something not quite like everyone else, but what was it?
When I first started school, I lived in Boston, and I had large class sizes.  When I graduated, I was 333rd out of almost 1200 students.  The teachers had trouble with me.  I wasn’t a horrible child, but there were times I couldn’t sit at my desk.  Other days, I couldn’t stay awake – and this was second or third grade, why would I want to be asleep?  Those were supposed to be the best years of my life, right? Or was that high school? Or college? Or what that early motherhood?  Or when you become a grandparent? Or when you get a puppy? Win the lottery? I should probably get the dishes done. I did finally get the laundry done – and that is a good thing.  Celebrate the good things and all the small achievements. Back on topic, as the teachers struggled to keep me balanced and find some reason of why I am like this, first came the diagnosis of ADHD.  Often they give you medicine that has similar properties to meth. Ever seen an eight-year-old on meth? I was only on those meds for about two weeks before it was decided that I needed something else – not sleeping for two weeks and reading every book in the reading corner at once is a bad thing apparently.  I remember being bounced around on different meds, and, so many different meds at once I was a zombie, but I never really knew what was wrong with me.
Was I broken?
Fast forward to high school, and more issues arise.  Outside of hitting adolescence, my father was struggling with his own mental health issues (schizophrenia and PTSD), and my mother and her medical problems came to a head. My personal mood issues complicated things. The mix between hormones and adolescence is a struggle in of itself, but there was more to my issue. I was sent to the ER one morning because I couldn’t breathe.  Later the doctor told me that I’m ‘a teenager and I will have to learn to deal with things.’ Spoiler alert, I did not learn how to handle things in that ER. My inability to breath happened more and more. I also added irritability and restlessness to the mix.  It was a fun time in high school. One day, someone suggested that maybe I needed to be evaluated. I panicked and said that I wasn’t crazy, that was my dad. Reverse Dad joke. But in the end, they won and said it would help me.
I went to a shrink who took about half an hour and said words like, anxiety and bipolar and mania and depression. I know what those meant singularly but not all together and definitely not about me! After a little bit of a conversation, she told me that I had bipolar disorder and anxiety. So I started to play the medication roulette; that is where they start putting you on medicine to see if anything helps. It's not bad, but it does take a long time and a lot of patience.  
Another fast forward to now, I’m married, with two small girls and I don’t know how I got here some days. I haven’t always been on medicine, and sometimes it worked out well, other times not so well. I look back, and I am amazed at how far I have come, and in the same token, on how far I must go.  Life has not been easy – far from it. The one major thing I had learned in the last five years is that having a mental illness isn’t a death sentence or a curse. It does up the difficulty on your game of life, but it’s not impossible.  I have learned a few things along the way, and if you are up to it, I will share them with you! (Please note, these are often easier said than done and have helped me through some tough times. These are not cure-alls or overnight miracles.)  
  • Breathe. This is hard.  Way hard for a one syllable word.  But just the simple act of breathing and focusing on your breathing helps.  It gives you a quick and straightforward distraction. And it helps to keep you alive.  That is important.
  • Say out loud, “This to shall pass.”  Again, this is a hard one but just the idea of reminding yourself that this moment isn’t going to last forever (even though it feels like it).  Life is full of fleeting moments, some good, some bad. None of them last forever.
  • Find a simple distraction.  This has helped me when my mind is going around in circles to the point where I can’t stand.  Read a humor book, do the dishes (or a dish), walk around the block, color in a coloring book, watch a comedy special – do something that is simple and unrelated to what is causing a problem.  
  • Exercise.  Walk, run, skip, do cartwheels.  When Mania hits, you need to move your body.  I found an hour long walk has helped me from impulsive shopping or going on a wild begging trip with my husband.  It also gets me out of the house, so I don’t eat everything in the house or drinking the liquor cabinet. This helps refocus all that extra energy into something else that (hopefully) won’t bring downfall.  And you will burn some calories and maybe shrink your waistline if done properly.
  • Write out what you are thinking.  I am a natural writer. I love to write; I find it way easier to get my thoughts across to other people.  For me, it is a very calming and peaceful experience for me to write. I often do a ‘brain dump’ on what is going on in my head.  It helps me get what is going on in my head out on paper (or a screen), and it helps clear my mind.
  • TALK TO SOMEONE.  This one might be the hardest thing to do.  Talking to other people about what is going on in your head is hard and a scary thought.  But if you don’t speak to others, you won’t be able to get any help. Getting help involves talking to other people. It might appear as weakness, but I will tell you this, sometimes the bravest thing you do is reaching out to someone else.  
  • Medication.  Now, this is something that you need to speak to someone about, but with the right mixture of meds, you might be able to find your balance.  It takes time, but for some people, medication can be a huge lifesaver.
Now, this is a small list of very general things that might help you.  It helped me, but something that helps me will help the next person. Something that used to help me in high school doesn’t work now.  Things change so doesn’t your coping methods. One major thing you need to remember that you need to find what works for you.
One last thing I want to drill on you is that this is a journey.  Not a race and not a comparison of trophies. If you can’t find a reason for yourself to get out of bed, set a small goal for yourself.  Something simple, ‘get out of bed and sit on the couch.’ Set the daily goal of trying to be better than yesterday. Some days that is all you can hope for.  And remember one step at a time.

Stephanie Wenburg was born and raised in Boston MA; she is currently located in Nebraska.  She is the mother of two little girls, at the perfect ages of two and four years old. She is also married to the chilliest man on Earth and the only person that could beat the Pope at a popularity contest.  When she is not chasing children or battling her mind, she is reading and writing. She is a proud member of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild and was selected to be in the annual anthology this year, Voices from the Plains.  On top of that, she is the ML (Municipal Liaison) of the Elsewhere Region in Nebraska for the past for years.  Outside of writing, she is currently finishing her associate degree in accounting. She is found on several social media sites and has her own site @  Find her on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and LinkedIn.  


  1. Excellent advice Stephanie. Breathing deeply really moves the feelings along.

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