Everything Ain’t For Everyone: A Word on Protecting Your Dreams

Photo by Allee Ilyse Photography

“Real Gs move in silence like lasagna.” – Lil Wayne

I’ve made the mistake of telling others about my dreams more than once. I don’t know, I guess I’ve always had this insatiable need for validation.

I’ve wanted people to respond by saying, “Yeah, totally do that thing you really care about. I’m here for it.” 

And then when that doesn’t happen, I curl up like a cinnamon roll and my dream – my precious dream – becomes this impossible, irrational thing. 

But let me slow down for a sec to just say that not all dreams are possible or rational or even attainable as is. Sometimes they need to be edited, altered, scaled down.

Still, there’s nothing assuring or loving about someone telling you that what you want for your future is dumb.

There are a variety of ways respond to someone telling you their life’s passion, and yet, so many of us have experienced the laughs or scoffs or sighs of disappointment that come from people who never deserved to bear witness to our vision in the first place. 

Lemme say that again for the people in the back: everything ain’t for everyone.

Some people don’t deserve to be in the writer’s room of your life.

This goes for family, the girls in the group chat, the workout buddies, the pastor, and sometimes even your therapist. We need to be careful about seeking feedback and guidance from people who haven’t been where we want to go.

It’s a natural tendency to unintentionally deter someone from their dreams because we: a) are unknowingly jealous/envious or b) think we’re doing the right thing by saying, “Pick another dream. That one doesn’t suit you.” 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with advising someone to be realistic or to slow down and rework their plan. But this needs to be done with great grace and care. Our words hold power and our dreams can be fragile from being bruised over the years.

Be mindful of who your share your first and second drafts with because you will absolutely be judged and graded on them. 

Be selective with the people you add to your personal board of directors. Our mentors should have lived the experiences we seek to have.

Resist the urge of just linking up with the first person who will give you the time of day and listen to your story, because you actualizing your dream might mean lives being saved or changed.

Your dreams coming true might mean chains and burdens being broken for someone else. Your vision might bring more beauty to this world and Lord knows we need that.

This is a call to move in silence, because sometimes that’s required to position you for a blessing. A call to be extra intentional with how you move.

It’s a nudge to go back into that cobwebbed closet and dust off that dream you retired because someone dismissed it and invalidated it.

In fact, here’s all the permission and validation you’ll ever need. You’ve been put on this earth for many many reasons and in your heart was planted a great dream – maybe several dreams. It may very well be something you have a natural affinity for, or it might be something far off that you’ll spend a lifetime working for, or some combination of it all.

Never mind all that.

Just get started now because this dream is yours and you are absolutely the right person for the job.

Use your resourcefulness and just get to the next step on the journey of making this thing come true. Keep at it.

Get smart people around you, and make sure your basic needs are taken care of so you’re not suffering while trying to make awesome happen. And remember that relationships matter. Don’t neglect the people that care about you. Take them with you and encourage them to go after their dreams too. 

And no matter what happens, stick with it. If you have to put it on the shelf at times that’s okay. Life happens. We’re keeping it real here, but always come back to what you care about. The way you come back to anything you really love. 

Your dreams matter. Protect them. Chase them. Be mindful of how you talk about them. And never ever stop dreaming. 

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How to (Finally) Stop Beating Yourself Up

Photo by Allee Ilyse Photography

A few weeks ago, I was at my weekend retail job silently cursing to myself. I was upset, feeling over it, and feeling pretty embarrassed. 

But let’s jump back a decade real quick.

Jersey City was my home during college. I interned at MTV, helped plan large scale university events, did service in Honduras (while surviving an earthquake), and got a degree. 

A few years later I got another degree. Married the love of my life who birthed the world’s most precious baby, and took on several master’s level positions in the higher ed field. The resume was on lock.

Then disaster struck. My brain was hijacked. Our life and finances in shambles. My situation dire. 

2019 crawled forward and the world kept moving as it does. I eventually picked up weekend work in the fall while continuing to be a stay at home dad during the week.

And let me tell you, though I am over the moon about getting to raise my daughter so closely and for so many hours a day, I felt a great sense of pride when I was cleared to work again. 

My therapist and psychiatrist told me I was “stable”. Stable enough to get a retail job and finally help a little with the bills.

I went from having back to back to back jobs with free housing, an excellent credit score (yeah, I was in the 800+ club), and money in tha bank, to spiraling to a really low place with lots of debt, tears, and pretty much the opposite of everything I worked with my family to build. 

So off to work I was. I told myself my number one goal was to create an amazing experience for every guest that came to my lane. I’d bag their items with a smile, take genuine interest in them, and give them the service I’d expect.

October 2019 was me as the comeback kid and a busy Christmas season later, I’m still here. I’m still smiling – except for the other day when I stood silently cursing to myself while shuffling in carts from the parking lot and emptying trash. 

“I have a master’s degree. What am I doing emptying people’s trash. How did I end up back in this stigmatized class of unskilled workers. I didn’t sign up for this! I worked so hard NOT to be here!”

And I didn’t, but God spoke to me in the gentle way He does when I’m feeling weak, broken, triflin’. He said, “Fam, what’s up? Have you forgotten what this all really means? Have you forgotten who you are and whose you are? I love you but you are no better than anyone.” 

I’ve struggled with the idea of humility for a long time. I’ve been resistant to the idea that we’re all on the same page. Surely having more money, more degrees, better credit scores, more accolades, better character and morals, better better, surely all that put you further along and higher than others who weren’t working as hard.

Surely I could work to be better than those who gave up easily, committed crimes, held petty grudges, gossiped, lied, did their worst on purpose, pierced their upper ears and got lower back tattoos. Right? 

Once, I even debated a close friend on this. I was high up on a horse that hadn’t even left the stable. I was judgmental with a capital J and indignant to a fault. I’d earned the right to be this self-absorbed and myopic – to be better.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it took having a world shattering manic episode to humble me, but I’ve certainly learned a new – more compassionate – version of humility amidst the ashes, the hurt, the pain, and the loss. So much loss. 

So as I tied that trash bag and hauled it to the back of the store, I realized – just a little more – how it’s important for us to resist thinking too highly of ourselves. Especially when much of the world lives without clean access to clean water or clean air.

Especially when all of us are broken in some way and in need of reconciliation.

Especially when none of us could do any good for anyone else by dying on a cross.

Especially when the richest of the richest still struggle with skeletons, mental illness, and grief.

And definitely when the person you secretly compare yourself to every time they pop up on your timeline still experiences hurt, loneliness, and insecurity. 

All of this is a reminder of how short we fall, how messed up we are, and how we need to really actually die to ourselves daily so we don’t forget how to love and show up fully to the people who need us most.

I believe humility is an understanding that we can’t effectively serve others until we get out of our own way. I don’t wanna take advice or guidance from anyone who’s condescending.

And, I’m betting you don’t want handouts or pity from anyone either.

What we want is for someone to say, “I see me in you. Neither one of us is perfect. And still we get to do life together and give all that we can while we’re here.” 

My hope and invitation today is for you to reflect on the small ways in which you puff yourself up, distance yourself from people you’ve judged, or have been hard on yourself because you’re not where you should be in life (I’m talking to the unemployed person, the person on medical leave, the person who just got out of jail, the person back in a rehab situation, the person who just fell off their diet again – the imperfect person). 

My hope for you is just to get in touch with the whole, failure prone, probably-undeserving-but-still-worthy person that you are. That I am. That all of us are. Imperfect. Beautiful. Messy. And, though sometimes unnoticeable, loved.

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You Will Get Through This

Photo by Matthew Bookhout

Your storm will not last forever. You will get through this. 

It’s hard to believe this when the calls stop coming, and the text messages go unanswered, and the showers become a chore to take. But, even still, you will get through this. 

Though your relationships have shifted and your dreams don’t look the way they used to, there’s hope for you yet. 

There’s hope for the person struggling to navigate a toxic relationship. For the person who can’t quite figure out how to stand up for their values. There’s hope for the person that cries themselves to sleep every night – often unsure of why they’re crying in the first place. 

You will get through this.

No matter how hard it is right now, know that something brighter and sweeter is coming. These are not words to be taken lightly – not empty promises. 

Keep showing up however you can – you don’t need to look your best or even do your best. Just keep getting to that next breath. And the next one.

I believe in you. 

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Why Compassion is an Antidote to Loneliness

Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash

Two years ago, I experienced a major life crisis. I wasn’t myself, but my self was doing terrible things. Regrettable things. 

Eventually, I returned to reality and watched as wind displaced ashes of my past life. The stench of death impossible to remove. Death of friendships. Death of security. Death of faith. 

A new beginning lay before me, but it was the restart I never requested. No requiem nor relief. 

One of the most challenging aspects of my restart was the isolation. 

In fact, I was inspired to write this post because I’ve recently had several people – friends and colleagues I’ve deeply cared for, for quite some time – tell me: “I wish I would have reached out sooner, but I didn’t know what to say.” 

And, let me be clear when I say I don’t blame them. I don’t. 

One of the most heartbreaking things about a heartbreaking disease like bipolar disorder is that it creates a chasm between persons living with the illness and the ones they love (and even the ones they just see on a regular basis like the professor, or the coach, or the neighbor, or even the pastor.)

While coping with a new diagnosis or continuing to battle a recurring nightmare, people living with bipolar disorder often feel alone in plain sight. Bearing great pain and living with the awareness that some of the people they used to break bread with aren’t in a place to say anything. No happy birthday. No Merry Christmas. No “it’ll get better.”

This is often the deepest wound: grieving people who are still living. 

Bipolar disorder was – and has been – a disruption of everything. When you’ve gone full blown Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde like I did, it’s hard for others to know how to relate to you, be near you, work with you, or approach you.

I, too, would be hesitant to reach out to a person who – for a time – unknowingly succumbed to madness and horror. Whose brain couldn’t be trusted and whose actions brought forth havoc. The hesitation is human and the reservations are valid. 

All this to say that someone in your life will inevitably experience a great disruption. Things may eventually calm, and they may begin their own intentional journey of healing.

At this point, you might feel compelled to reach out because the compassion you have for them outweighs the judgement in your heart. You might feel anger, resentment, and fear, but you know you want to connect.

I invite you to go ahead and reach out to them.

Take your feelings with you. You don’t have to put them on the shelf. Take your questions with you. Take your truth with you. Gather it all, pick up the phone, and let that person know you’re thinking of them.

Promise yourself that you’ll try to listen, and remind yourself that you get to be heard as well. 

I received several “I’m thinking of you” texts last year. They lifted me during some of my most shame filled moments. They cut through darkness and briefly shook me out of isolation.  

If you find that the relationship is worth it and you deeply care for the person, I invite you to commit this act of bravery: write a few genuine words to the aid the unseen in feeling seen and hit send. It could very well save a life. 

It saved mine. 

With a stable mind and a positive prognosis, I’m grateful to know that death didn’t claim every relationship. That my faith wasn’t killed, just strengthened.  And that, my security has been renewed. It’s now firmly planted in God. 

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10 Things Bipolar Disorder Is Not

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I attended a dinner party the other night. Nothing fancy. I was a friend’s plus-one and was excited for free food and light conversation. The room was mostly filled with my friend’s co-workers, people who I’d met once or twice.

I’d found this particular group loved to gossip … and gossip they did. An uninvested audience to the venting and storytelling, I silently munched on cheese and crackers. Then, the focus shifted to someone they all knew, someone who’d been going through a tough time.

“Oh, her? She’s a complete mess.”

“Yeah, she’s off her meds again. Hahahaha.”

“Ugh. Right!”

They talked so much crap about this woman, highlighting her shortcomings as if they were all perfect and without fault.

More laughter. Knee slapping. Me feeling increasingly agitated. Whatever excitement I entered with had dwindled.

At some point, the topic of Kanye West came up. No one directly mentioned his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but I gripped my chair tightly and slowed my breathing, bracing myself for the topic to arise, and for the rap superstar to be regarded as someone else ​off their meds​ ​again​.

I often coach myself to “toughen up,” or “let it go” when I’m at social events. I rarely go out much anymore now that I’m a stay-at-home dad. Also, a lot of my friendships burned down during my manic episode last year. I’m aware everyone isn’t actively fighting mental health stigma, but words can hurt. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much for a phrase or a story to snap us back into a negative feeling or down a shame spiral, especially if your life has been impacted by mental illness.

Back to the dinner party. A majority of the people dining that night knew all about my manic break last year because I shared so much of the experience in real time via social media. They’d never brought it up in my presence, but I couldn’t help but wonder: ​have they talked about me like this and the mess I am? Did they make me into a hated pariah when I was at the height of my episode, destroying everything in my path? Have they jokingly referred to me as being off my meds?

I found myself silently defending myself. I assumed no one would turn to me and flat-out ask me about my bipolar disorder, but what if they did? What would I tell them?

People say inaccurate things about mental illness all the time. We live in a world of armchair therapists. So for starters, I’d challenge the misconceptions around it. I still struggle with a lot of these lies about my illness, and you might, too. But, it’s important to face what we’re up against and name the places where we get stuck, the places where we believe things about ourselves that aren’t true.

Here are 10 lies about bipolar disorder we can stop believing.

Bipolar disorder is not:

1. An invitation for anyone to call you “crazy.”

​The word “crazy” is trite and dismissive. It’s a word that’s been used to other people and push them out. It invalidates your experience, and in turn, suggests you’re invalid.

2. How anyone gets to define you.​

I’ve opted to use people-first language as much as possible. For example, I wouldn’t call someone an anxious person. I’d say they’re someone living with anxiety. Saying someone lives with an illness gives them their power back, and allows you to regard them with dignity. People are complex. We’re multi-dimensional and layered. So, it doesn’t make sense to boil a person down to one trait they have, even if it might seem like their most salient quality.

3. An excuse for how you’ve hurt anyone in your life.​

For many people, mania has left a wake of hurt and destruction in its path. But, it’s not an excuse. It doesn’t absolve you of the pain you’ve caused. So, I’ve found it both liberating and important to apologize and take ownership for the things I’ve done that have negatively impacted the people in my life.

4. As an invitation to treat you badly.

Yes, your actions may have caused harm, but you are not a “bad” person. There’s a difference. Guilt says, “What I did was wrong.” Shame says, “I am wrong.”

5. Something that makes you undesirable.​

You can still date if you live with bipolar disorder. Swipe left. Swipe right. You still have qualities that people will find interesting, intriguing and awesome.

6. Something that makes you unlovable.​

You get to have the relationships you want in your life. People might take a long time to completely forgive you, but know that healing takes time. Still, I hope you’re able to open up to the people closest to you, and feel seen and heard.

7. Grounds to call you untrustworthy. ​

My therapist taught me a technique to use when I find myself buried in guilt. She told me to ask myself: “Is this true?” Someone recently told me a lot of people don’t trust me anymore. So, I asked myself if that was true (it wasn’t) and I realized a more powerful truth: I trust me. I take my meds. I go to therapy. I know I’m a reliable person.

8. Always easy to live with.​

Some days are better than others. Sometimes the meds don’t work or have adverse effects. Living with bipolar disorder can be a real struggle bus.

9. Widely spoken about in an accurate manner. ​

This is part of the reason it’s so hard to fight and end the stigma around bipolar disorder and mental illness in general. In addition, each person has a unique experience with bipolar disorder, even though some of the symptoms may be similar.

10. A sign your life is over.

​Keep showing up. We need you. You will get through this. I’ve found group therapy to find to be a helpful reminder that others face the same challenges I do.

As we continue to challenge the misconceptions around bipolar disorder, let’s also remember to rest and to set boundaries. Every battle doesn’t need to be your battle. And every fight doesn’t need to be your fight. You’ll never be able to change everyone’s mind about the illness you live with, but you can certainly work on unlearning your own false narratives. That’s what I’m working to do every day — even at dinner parties.

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How to Apologize When Bipolar Disorder Ruins Everything

Years ago, I learned about making amends. I know a few people who’ve gone through Alcoholics Anonymous and they’ve shared how powerful it was for them to do the hard thing of apologizing to the people they hurt. They talked about how it’s important to go into these conversations with

zero expectations. Their purposes are to share what they did wrong and sincerely admit responsibility and remorse for it.

When I heard this was even a thing I thought, “Wow, that’s intense!” But, I never thought I’d be on my own journey of forgiveness.

Last fall, I experienced one of the scariest and most isolating events of my life. I had just turned 31 and was going through my first full blown manic episode. Everything burned down. I hurt a lot of people because of my disorder and left so many tears and broken relationships in my tracks. This year has primarily been about healing — which is a lifelong process. Because I’ve always been committed to personal development and growth, I took it upon myself to reach out to people I’ve hurt, and apologize for my actions.

This hasn’t been an easy process. Typically, I’ll text or email the person, and once I hit send, beads of sweat begin to collect on my forehead. My heartbeat quickens and my mouth dries. I panic. What if this person is still angry with me? What if they don’t accept my apology? What if they stigmatize bipolar disorder so much that they don’t believe me?

These fears are all valid, and if you’ve ever apologized to anyone, you know what I mean. It’s hard to be vulnerable and put yourself out there. But, it’s important to remember that making amends is for you as much as it is for them. For me, it’s about freedom, owning up to my stuff and allowing myself to move forward.

Whenever I reach out to someone, I make sure to get right to the point. I acknowledge and point out my actions, I take responsibility for what I did and I share my diagnosis.

There’s a reason I do it in this order. First of all, yes, I know in my heart and mind that I didn’t purposely hurt them, but this isn’t about intention or fault. For example, if you accidentally step on someone’s toe, they don’t want to hear about how you were distracted, they want to hear an apology. They want to know that you recognize the impact of your actions, even if it was an accident. So that’s what I do. This is the hardest part for me because I didn’t intend to hurt anyone.

Mania can take over you and wreck everything in it’s path. Still, taking responsibility for the impact of my actions has helped me have so much peace and freedom. I take the last step of sharing my diagnosis so they have context as to what happened.

As far as responses, most people either:

  1. Tell me they forgive me. This one rarely happens.
  2. Ask me how I’m healing and what I’m doing to heal.
  3. Hit me with the “hope you’re doing well.” This is honestly annoying because I’ve poured my heart out only to receive a message that essentially says “good luck” with nothing else in it. But, this is why it’s so important to continue to drop expectations when apologizing. I can’t get anything from anyone that I don’t get myself.

My life truly has begun to change and I’ve reached out to so many people this year. Yes, it still hurts to think back to all the things I did. Yes, I’ve lost friends, business contacts, customers, followers and family because of my disorder. And, yes, this is only the beginning of my healing.

But, I’m a better person for even attempting to make amends and I feel more and more empowered every single day.

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