Can you progress when you’re bipolar?

Happy Halloween. Err at least it was Halloween when I wrote this. I’m watching true crime right now – it’s my favorite type of entertainment when I’m depressed. Not that true crime is entertaining in a happy way, but it definitely captivates me. I think that’s what I like best about true crime – it captures my attention fully and lets me forget about my own life while I’m consuming it. My favorite true crime show is That Chapter, an amazing YouTube channel by a guy named Mike Oh. Or O. I don’t know. But he’s an incredible storyteller and manages to infuse these horrible stories with humor but in a way that’s respectful to the dead. He’s good shit.

At least my true crime obsession makes sense on Halloween.

Halloween season has been slow this year, as I imagine it has been for everyone. I usually try to do some ghost hunting or at least find a way to get in the spirit early. It’s my way of coping with a bad trauma that happened in October. The trauma is far enough away now that on the anniversary, I didn’t even think about what happened. So that’s progress!

One of my greatest fears lately is that there’s only so much progress I can make as a bipolar person because I will always be bipolar, even if I heal my trauma. There is no cure as of yet to bipolar disorder and that’s daunting to sit with. Just knowing that if I go off my meds, I am liable to become manic and destroy my life is kind of heavy. And lately, I’ve been tired and unable to carry much weight.

Because I’ve been so fucking tired, I’ve decided to start eating a keto diet again. I did this in my 20s and I had a lot of success with balancing my moods, though I was unaware of my mood disorder at the time. I just generally felt so much more stable and regulated. I’ve read some cursory reports of keto working well for managing bipolar disorder. There aren’t many thorough studies of this, but the ones that do exist have shown positive results. I’m not approaching keto as a fad diet but as a lifestyle choice that’s meant to be longterm. I’m interested in seeing if keto is capable of lifting my dysphoria and allowing me to feel energized again. I will keep you updated on whether or not that’s the case.

I’ve gained about 50 pounds since I got pregnant and I don’t hate my body but I don’t really feel comfortable in it, physically. It is hard to do the strenuous exercise that used to keep me mentally stable. My body feels heavy and tired and difficult to maneuver. I am usually only able to workout 30 minutes a day, compared to my former one to two hours. And I know that sounds like a lot, but I am usually a very intense person with a ton of energy and that’s always been my means of burning it off. Now I have no energy. I honestly eat like shit. I eat fast food at least a few times a week and I notice that my mood drops as soon as I am finished and sometimes stays that way for a full day.

I enjoy eating but not to the extent that it impacts how I feel during the day. I eat too many carbs and sugars, as do most Americans, and I know that’s the major contributing factor in why I’ve been gaining weight lately, on top of taking a new anti-psychotic. Those drugs notoriously make people gain weight. I have no problem with fatness aesthetically but my cholesterol is also high and when weight gain starts to impact my physical health, that’s when I start to take issue with it.

Earlier this year, I had a period of feeling super confident in my bigger body. I think I was manic, but still – I felt great. That’s one of the things I sort of miss about mania, the crazy confidence. The belief that everything is not just okay, but fucking great. That I’m not mentally ill. That my body is wonderful. That I am happy and the world is beautiful and perfect. Thinking back, I can hardly believe I ever thought like that but I did. And I thought that very recently.

Sometimes I feel sad that my anti-psychotics take these things away from me but I also know that I didn’t feel that good all the time. Sometimes I felt extremely suspicious and paranoid. I stopped trusting my loved ones. I pushed loads of people away. I obsessed over numbers on social media and made content that not embarrasses me. And when the mania was over, I would crash into massive states of depression that took months to climb out of. In fact, I am still trying to climb out today.

When I told my old therapist that I’d been diagnosed with bipolar, she kind of chuckled and said something like, “well, that’s not too surprising, is it?” And I feel a bit bitter about that because she’s the one who instilled in me that I have borderline personality disorder and that it was the cause of all the problems in my life. In hindsight, it makes so much sense why that diagnosis never sat well with me. It was wrong. There was something else going on. I had undiagnosed bipolar disorder behind the scenes and this brilliant psychotherapist totally fucking missed it and diagnosed me with the same thing she diagnoses all of her patients with.

I have so many issues with the mental health establishment. It’s such a fucking inexact science, almost like new agey bullshit. Half the time, doctors are just speaking from their asses, making guesses about what could be wrong with you and then guessing again about how they can treat it. The truth is that there are so few solid answers within the mental health field about why we are the way we are. All they seem to know for sure is that we need to be medicated and we need to devote the rest of our lives to engaging in mental health treatment. Sounds a little bit like they’re making sure their pockets stay lined forever, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I just wanted to check in and spill some of what’s on my brain because there tends to be a lot at all moments. I’ve really enjoyed blogging again and I missed blogging here in particular. I stopped because of social media, bane of my existence. But that’s a topic for another day.

It’s the day after Halloween now and my second day on the keto diet. I already have a noticeable amount of energy and motivation and I feel a lot less heavy in my body, even though my weight hasn’t changed. Carbs have been making me so damn lethargic and as a mother to a one-year-old, that isn’t very practical. I am excited to be taking back control over my life and finding the motivation to make changes. I am excited to be starting something new. I haven’t even thought about smoking weed since I decided to start the keto diet, which is a huge improvement compared to where I was at a week ago, when all I could talk about was how much I was missing weed. I don’t miss it as much when I have something else to work towards and look forward to. Half the reason why I smoked was plain and simple boredom. Fill that time with something motivating and a lot of the obsessive thoughts go away.

I’m still very confused about what I’m doing with my life, as it seems to change every few weeks. The main thing I’m doing is parenting and I need to be okay with that. Parenting and caring for my mental health. I had such a big episode this summer that I think I need to accept that it’s just going to take some time to crawl out of that and it’s time to be patient and not force myself to accomplish all of my dreams while I’m trying to recover. My life is likely not going to end tomorrow. There is time – for all of it. I can allow myself to rest and come to terms with my diagnosis on my own time. Keto is part of that. I am learning new tools to manage my moods every day. That is progress. It really is. I may not be able to heal this shit, but I can learn to live with it in a way that isn’t so destructive to my life.

So yes, I think you can make progress when you’re bipolar, it just doesn’t look the same as other types of progress. And when did any of my quests resemble the mainstream? Lol.

That’s all for now. Hope you get something out of this. If not, hope you enjoyed the reading.

Have an awesome start to your week!

Best,

Leif

Grim indeed.


My mental heath is shit lately. Coming out of a depressive episode now that lasted about three months and in that time, I learned that I have Bipolar I, which has been causing me great distress since long before I realized what was going on.

My moods, like the river, are erratic. My moods, like the river, change drastically with the seasons. My moods, like the river, are uninhabitable for others for half the year. My moods, like the river, can drown the unprepared. My moods, like the river, flood into parts of life they aren’t supposed to touch.

I like the river because I’m also chaotic. I’m unpredictable. My changes come without warning. I seem fun from a distance but lurking in my waters is a recipe for trouble. I relate to this river. I feel her on a deep level. And for that reason, I don’t mess with her. I know what she’s capable of. I don’t tempt fate.

The river has many moods. Mostly mean. Even when she seems calm, she’s not. She’s just waiting to suck her next victim under, and I know that’s what many think when they think of me. They look from afar but they don’t get too close. I don’t blame them.

I wish that, like the river, I didn’t owe any reasoning for my changing moods. I wish people just knew when they looked at me that I‘d be liable to change course, change intensity. I wish, like the river, I wouldn’t have constantly apologize for these changes. That I could embody change in all it’s uncertainty and be accepted that way. But people expect consistency if you aren’t a river, even if I insist that I am. People want you to act like they do, even if you aren’t them. They want you to be slow, predictable, measurable. I am none of those things.

I’m a raging current and, like the river, if you try to tame me, I act out. I flood over. I destroy. Some things aren’t meant to be tamed or even understood. They are just meant to be as they are, imperfect and wild. Wild. Unrelenting. Immeasurable. Inconsistent. You read these words and you have judgments about them, don’t you? But are any really “bad”? Is it bad to defy? Is it wrong to veer off course?

I like the river because I relate to her and I’ve felt equally as misunderstood. I like the river because my depths also hold the casualties of my moods. I like her because, frankly, she’s beautiful, and endlessly intricate and complex. She’s more questions than answers, wrong answers, more questions.

I am sorry I’m not less like a river and more like a rock. I wasn’t made solid. I wasn’t made stagnant. I was made to rage and twist and flood and curve.

And I think that’s okay. You want stagnancy, swim in a pond. You want solidity, collect rocks. You want straight lines, find a stick. There should be a place for everyone. There is in nature. Nature doesn’t discriminate between types. It makes room for all.

I sit at the banks of the river and feel at home. Cradled. Understood. No words necessary. No excuses. No explanations. Home.

Imposter Syndrome

Another post I’m transferring from my new blog because it fits better here.

I enjoyed my blog more when I wasn’t trying to get followers – when it was just a project meant to provide a home for my photography. Now I’m back in that sick cycle of feeling irrelevant unless I have such and such amount of followers. I got back on Instagram and now I’m back to comparing myself and judging the quality of my photos. I see professionals who have probably been at this for 10 years and I think, “well I might as well give up because they’re so much further along than me.” But is that really why we, as humans, have hobbies? To show off? Or is it because we love the craft and the process.Mother Mary

I know this about myself – as soon as I get wrapped up more in gaining attention than in the process of making art, the art becomes miserable. Why do I do this? I don’t know. It could have something to do with my mania. But it’s unnecessary. An artist makes art because they have to, not fundamentally for others. Sure, the eyes of others are a bonus. We want that validation – everyone does. But that’s not why we make the art in the first place. It’s not why we need to write or paint or sing. We need to do those things because there exists a force within us that tells us those things are necessary. Save us all!

Because I have only been taking photos for about a year, I struggle endlessly with feeling like an imposter. It’s a brand new craft and even though I love it, there are many things I don’t yet understand and haven’t been able to grasp. Something that brings me solace is the fact that I’ve seen loads of old people take up photography as a hobby in their old age and, in doing so, they probably rarely if ever think about the eyes of others, but only about the fact that taking photos brings them joy. I hate this obsession I have with validation and needing the eyes of others to create and I think the only way to fight it is to keep creating regardless of who watches. To do it because I have to, because I love it.

I’ve been doing things I don’t really enjoy because I get more followers. Things like making videos for YouTube and considering a podcast and posting videos on TikTok. I did those things because I knew there were people consuming that type of content, even if it wasn’t the type of content I wanted to be making. Part of the reason I stopped blogging was because I knew people weren’t reading blogs as much, even though blogging brought me more joy. It was a slower pace and allowed me to practice the skill I went to school for – writing. I traded that for something hollow for the sake of validation from people I don’t know and will probably never meet. I couldn’t just be satisfied with the modest reader-base I had acquired. I needed more.

And I do think that’s my mania speaking. My manic self wants fame and glory. My depressed self doesn’t give a shit. She’s satisfied with hiding, with the slower paced, more modest life. My manic self is not. She wants the spotlight. And perhaps that’s not only because of mania but also because of my trauma. I seek attention because I don’t have a lot of people in my life. I seek validation from strangers because I don’t have a family. That’s sad. The validation I get from strangers isn’t the same. It’s not like the love of a family. It’s fleeting. And that’s why I always need so much more of it.

I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life. I thought I would have a book published by now but instead I have a child and I can’t afford to edit a potentially traumatizing book while I’m trying to raise her. So it’s gone on the back burner and I have photography in its place. I’m not the best at it but I’m not the worst. I’m just okay. And if I want to progress at all I need to be satisfied with that and stop striving for this American ideal of being the best. I know that’s where half of this comes from is just American dream bullshit. We’re not supposed to be satisfied with having just enough. We’re supposed to want millions, the big mansion, the fancy car, the perfect family, the perfected skill. We’re supposed to strive for greatness. And I think that American ideal got lodged somewhere in my brain even though my heart doesn’t fully agree with it – even though part of me wants a humble, quiet, just-enough life. I suppose that bipolarity fits my diagnosis, doesn’t it? I’m a person of extremes.

The undertone with all of it is a fair amount of self-hatred. I’m just endlessly uncomfortable with who I am, how I feel, the way I exist in the world. Because I haven’t been on social media for a few months, I feel like no one, like all of my friends have forgotten about me. It feels like in order to be loved, you have to be a slave to these systems that you may hate. And boy do I fucking hate them. I hate the feelings I get when I scroll Instagram and see people who seem to be doing better than me in this or that way – a feeling I don’t really have when I’m not on the Internet. I’m much more comfortable with modesty and humility when I’m disconnected. Social media raises the stakes in ways that feel involuntary. Does anyone else feel that?

I prefer the quiet life to the comparisons, judgment, self-hate, and isolation I feel when I’m connected to the Internet. Isn’t it supposed to have the opposite effect? But then how would they rope us in? These negative emotions are crucial for maintaining an audience. The worse you feel, the more you check, the more you compare, the more you judge, the more your scroll. It’s brilliant, really. And since social media has been compared to a casino, we can roll with that metaphor and consider the poor soul who loses ten bucks to a machine, feels shitty, and then is hit with this determination to feel better using the very thing that’s caused them distress. They spend ten more. Lose it. Another ten. Lose it. And on and on. That’s what I feel every time I post.

Blogging is different. It is slower. It’s fairly desolate. I’m doing it for me more than for accolades. And so I will continue to do this so long as I still have words to write. Typing hurts less than handwriting these days because of my pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel. And I enjoy providing a home for my photos. But the more I think about the eyes and trying to find validation, the more I want to curl up and die. So perhaps it’s best to just do this in silence, for myself, because I have to.

Blogging again.

Hello. I miss writing. I was going to start writing on a new blog but I realized that the things I want to say probably fit better here. So here’s a recent post from the blog I tried to start. I’ll be moving all of my recent posts to Big Mouth and then I’ll start blogging new stuff once I’m done.

Hi friends. I just finished cleaning my house and so now my brain is clear enough to write. Does anyone else find that you can’t do anything that requires thought when your house is a mess? I’m not the best cleaner, but I have to tidy in order to think creatively or otherwise. Sometimes I feel insecurity over my cleaning abilities because I feel I just do the bare minimum. I still have some of that punk rat mentality in my bones, though I’ve gotten better over the years. One time my brother came over to my house and told me my bathroom looked like it belonged to a drug addict. He wasn’t far off.

I guess that’s a decent segue into where my mind has been recently. I made some drastic changes in my life this summer and I’m not sure how happy I am with some of them. I’ve been clean (I hate that word) from weed for three months now and I’m considerably less happy than I was when I was smoking it. I love weed. I really do. But right now I can’t afford it and it doesn’t mesh well with my medication. As in, it makes me feel like I am on meth (which I have never used). If they ever change my meds and weed is legalized federally or locally, I will surely smoke it again. I have no shame about that. It was medicine for me, as it has proven to be for many folks who suffer from PTSD.

I’m not super impressed with the “care” I got from the Mayo Clinic over the summer. They’re the folks who made all these changes in my life and told me I needed to quit weed and CBD permanently. They didn’t put me on Latuda – another doctor did – but they certainly won’t let me get off of it. A few weeks ago, I decided I was going to stop taking it on my own and I got a stern lecture and a threat with inpatient. I didn’t appreciate that very much. As soon as you take their control and power away, it’s like these doctors have to resort to threats to maintain their hold on you. They especially did not like it when I told them I probably know more about mental health than anyone working in inpatient. Perhaps that sounds conceited but when you consider how young many of the employees in the system are, it’s kind of true. I’ve been in the system for 20 years, which is longer than most of them have been in school.

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abandoned property with lots of old cars and trucks.

And I don’t just swallow my pills. I do my research. I know my body and my mind pretty fucking well. And sometimes the things they say don’t sit right with me. Sometimes the things they tell me to do feel wrong. I let these doctors take full control over my life this summer and then they dropped me and I’ve been suffering since. I don’t feel pleasure anymore. I feel flat and uninterested in life. I miss the ways I used to think. Sometimes I even miss my mania. I miss my antics. I miss the excitement.

That’s not to say that my life is bad – it’s not. I have a ton to be grateful for and I am. I am even grateful, some of the time, for the stability. Stability just scares me because it isn’t distracting. I’m forced to sit with and confront the pain that I’m able to avoid while manic or smoking weed or traveling across the world and sleeping with a bunch of randos. And again, I’m not saying any of these things are better for me, but sometimes I get bored when things are… boring.

I know I talked about that last week.. my unending boredom. It’s getting sort of better, I guess? Idk, I’m kind of your typical Aries in that I always need to be starting new projects that I rarely finish, like this blog or like becoming a seamstress, which is what I decided I was going to do a few months ago and which I now realize I hate. Why in god’s name did I ever think I would have the patience to sew full getups for myself? Am I crazy??

Well, yes.

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Earlier this fall, Forrest and I were determined to start a podcast called Grim River, thinking we could maybe find time between parenting, work, and maintaining our house to do something like that. Turns out we don’t really have that kind of time and we generally aren’t even that good at working together on that level. We’re better at maintaining separate passion projects because we have vastly different working styles. But anyway, that’s just another example of a project I put a ton of work into only for it to fizzle out and transform into something else (this blog.)

Parenting takes up most, if not all, of my time. I get two nap times a day where I can do what I need to do but you can’t cram it all into that time. Like just now I remembered that I’ve forgotten to meditate today. Well, how exactly am I supposed to find time for that when I’m also responsible for cleaning, cooking, and caring for a child? And when I have ideas for, say, a YouTube video or a blog post that I want to churn out in the small period of time while she’s asleep? Then the meditation doesn’t feel like medicine, it feels like slow torture, lol. It feels like me prying myself away from my life so that I can do something arbitrary and check off a little box on a list.

The thing is, no one knows what is best for me other than me. People like the Mayo Clinic doctors can make guesses, but I am ultimately in control over my life. I am not powerless and I refuse to believe that ever again. What a horrible thing to tell survivors of assault! No, we are not powerless. We are not destined to give our lives over to others so that they can dictate what we do and how we live. We are no longer children. We are no longer being bullied or abused. We are adults and we get to make choices over how we live. If I want to smoke weed, that’s within my rights. If I want to stop taking Latuda, that’s my right. Do I plan to? No. But for my own sanity, I need to know that I am the one in control over me and not some doctor who has only talked to me for ten minutes.

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I am sick of feeling frail and week. When I got my bipolar diagnosis, I felt just that. I felt out of control and like I didn’t know myself anymore. I felt like I needed someone to tell me what to do and how to live because I thought I’d gotten it all wrong for all these years and that I was truly just batshit insane. But I am not insane. What we call insanity, a quote that I don’t fully remember says, is a sane reaction to an insane world. I am fundamentally incapable of pretending to see things in ways that don’t ring true to me. I was born to be fully honest about how I see the world and myself and if there’s anything I can give people, it’s that honesty.

And, friends, I honestly hate the mental health system. All of it. I hate it. I think it’s fully inadequate, misguided, and problematic. I hate feeling infantilized by people who frankly know less than I do (and less than most of the afflicted know). I hate feeling forced to give over my self-control. I hate feeling imprisoned. The main reason I wanted to be hospitalized earlier this year was because my perception of myself didn’t line up with the perception others apparently had of me and it was a terrifying feeling to experience when I’ve spent so much time trying to be fully honest with myself and others. It was like… how could I have missed this? Maybe I don’t know myself so well after all.

But I do and I did and there was no need for me to feel powerless. I have held my personal power all along. I am capable of being sober if I want to be sober and I’m capable of smoking weed if I want to smoke weed and I’m capable of being medicated if I want to take meds and I’m also capable of doing the opposite of all of those things. The most important part is knowing that I have a choice. For so long throughout my childhood, I didn’t have any choices. I was trapped, imprisoned. That is no longer the case. And the more I tell myself I am powerless, the more those memories of abuse and assault and imprisonment start to consume me. I am free. Hallefuckinglujah. And I will never allow anyone to take that from me.

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I think of my “insane” siblings of the past and the things they went through in order for these changes to be made in the mental health system. Changes like having a choice over your care. Having a choice over the meds you take. Having a choice about whether or not you go to the hospital. So many people like me were taken (and still sometimes are) against their wills and imprisoned in asylums. They were beaten and betrayed by the very people who were supposed to help them. And these practices are hardly old and, in some ways, they have hardly changed. Asylums still exist, but not as publicly. Psych wards are more like prisons, too unlike the “real world” to be effective for anything other than keeping people from killing themselves for short periods of time. And if you’re not suicidal but you are feeling downdowndown, where do you go? There is nowhere for you, really. You just suffer through it, especially now during pandemic times. Most of our safe spaces are closed. We are left to fend for ourselves. Can we? How many will die by their own hands by the end of this?

I fear for winter.

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My view is dark and depressing, sure, but I live this. I watch my loved ones live this. I watch people clench their teeth and suffer through life, experiencing so little pleasure because of their limitations and because of the limitations society has placed upon us. How much easier would life be if people made room for difference? I suppose we can’t know that.

My life is good, though, and I’m happier than I’ve been in months this week. I remind myself daily of the things I have to be grateful for – my daughter, my partner, my dogs, my home, my breath, my being. But being grateful doesn’t mean I can’t also be angry and dissatisfied. You can be both-and. You can feel the full spectrum of emotion at the same time – that doesn’t make you wrong.

I think I will always challenge the things I don’t agree with. I’m not a sheep – I can’t be herded. I won’t be silenced. I won’t be satisfied when I know we could do so much better. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like. I have ideas and they fizzle out. I think about things like starting a big Zoom meeting for survivors and people suffering through the pandemic and I make these plans and then I feel small and powerless and useless and like i want to give up and hide. I don’t know the answer. I just have a lot of questions.

This week, I’ve challenged myself to stop striving and start accepting. My goal is to stop setting so many goals. To just be – still and satisfied. My goal is to do nothing and to be okay with that. To rest, to move my body, to make nourishing meals, to spend time with my child. To not have to strive for something grandiose beyond that. To be okay in my skin, where I sit. I must do this so that I can come back wiser and with more fight in my bones. I’ve been fighting blindly in my pain and rage. It’s important to take time to reflect on where we want to direct that fight so that we aren’t wasting energy. So that I’m not wasting energy. I’ve been wasting my energy on these blind fights. I will sit and reflect so that I may someday find my way again.

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Motherhood has left me with an identity crisis like I haven’t experienced since the start of my pregnancy. When I found out I was pregnant, I feared I would have to throw my life and dreams away. Now I just don’t know what or where my dreams are. I don’t know what I want. I barely know who I am. I am caught in this place between mother and artist, sometimes falling more to one side than the other and realizing my balance is off. Realizing that I need to make a change and show up more for one part, only to find then that the other is missing. I wonder if and when I will ever find that balance. I wonder if I will find my footing again.

Being real with myself, though, I know I’ve never found that footing. I have never had balance. I’ve always been wild. I find stability for a short period of time, get bored, and destroy it. This is the longest period of stability I’ve ever had in my adulthood and I know that’s part of why I am having this crisis… because so much of my identity has been plain and simple chaos. The chaos is gone and now who am I? Mother? I’m a MOTHER?? That’s a wild concept to a formerly wild child. But every day, I choose to embrace it. I choose stability. I choose my family. And that choice isn’t wrong but it comes with pain and uncertainty. And yet, I still choose it. I choose it despite my own discomfort because I know it’s a million times better than where I was.

Why do we crave our own sickness? As a child abuse survivor, it’s probably because that’s what I know. Sickness is what I grew up with. Sickness, chaos, insanity – it’s in my bones. I have to actively choose against it in order to be safe and okay. And I do. And I will continue to.

Perhaps I’ve drastically contradicted myself through this blog post. Forgive me if so. My brain is still recovering from the summer and my switch from massive mania into deep depression and then slightly back up to this… stability? And stability is more uncomfortable for me than either of the extremes. It is the most unknown – it’s foreign. And so I hate it, lol.

Maybe my inconsistency in this post will make more sense if I tell you that the first and second parts were written on two separate days. Can you feel, then, how jumbled and uncertain my state of mind is? I never know who I’ll be when I wake up. I never know what outlook I’ll have or what mood I’ll be in or how I’ll interact with the world around me. And that, fundamentally, is what makes me “crazy.” But it’s also what makes me an artist. It’s what makes me … me. And I think I’m okay with that so long as I still have my breath, my heart, my family, and my ability to communicate those wild feelings with words – here, for you.

Bye!