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Into a New Groove

Today’s story is written by my younger sister, Tiffany, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Tiffany has shared regular stories on my site since February 2015. The purpose of her writing is to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with mental illness, and serves as a gentle reminder for ALL of us to continually press forward towards mental health and wholeness. If you’d like to read the stories I’ve written about Tiffany’s journey and all the stories she’s shared on this site, check out Tiffany’s Story. Without further ado, here’s Tiffany.

I’m still kinda bummed that summer is over and school has started. The fun-filled days of warmth, all-day play outside, friends, dolls, flowers, t-ball, swim lessons, pools, weddings, parks, parties, and staying up later and sleeping in. I will miss those summer days.

This year, I have a second grader and a preschooler. With both kids at school, I have some extra free time for myself. The ups and downs of this school year have pulled at my heart. I have experienced emotions I did not even realize I had anymore. This past summer was full of appointments to get both kids back on track. With hesitation, I’d like to share with you what’s going on at home and at school.

My seven-year old daughter, Raegan, can be a lot of work sometimes. After hours of observation and therapy, we were told she has conduct disorder. We were referred to people who could help out. Raegan has improved drastically. She is a perfect angel at school, but at home she went from having around six uncontrollable fits a week, down to one or two. Some weeks, she doesn’t have any fits and rages, as my dad would call them. She still, at times, wants what she wants and will cry and be out of control until she gets what she wants. In the past, I gave in more than I do now.

Raegan’s behavior has passed on to my three-year-old son, Xander, as children learn from their siblings. Xander attends preschool two mornings a week at the same elementary school that my daughter goes to. They like to look for each other throughout the day. Xander also attends a group three afternoons at a center that focuses mostly on emotions. He was just recently diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder. I hope that neither of their diagnoses are lifelong, but we are working on both kids early to fix whatever is going on. They like to keep a close eye on the kids since I’m a single mother with a chronic mental health diagnosis.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Xander has separation anxiety?! Every day that he has had school so far, I’ve had to hand him over to his teachers crying. They all give me updates on how he is doing. He usually goes in and out of crying during his time at class, but from the pictures I’ve received from his teachers, he seems to be having some good moments too. Am I putting him through too much at such a young age? That question goes through my mind every time I drop him off at school. One day I hope to be confident in the choices I am making for my children. It takes a village to raise children, and I’m utilizing all the help I can get!

During the first couple weeks of school, I found myself looking all over for my kids in a panic. Oh my gosh, where are my kids? Slow down. Slow down! Xander is fine, and he’ll be done with school at this time. Raegan is at school, and she’ll be home on the bus at this time. Everything is okay! Now, fifth week in, I find myself more and more aware of the places they need to be.

At the end of each day, I wait for Raegan to get off of the bus. I wait for Xander to get out of the van. I really miss them. I’m excited for them to be home. I look forward to their hugs! I look forward to their smiles as they tell me about their day, piece by piece. Everything may not be great in my life, but we are surviving. Hopefully, everyday we can get some smiles out, some happy feeling. Raegan and Xander are on a path to becoming who they are. I am so happy to be their mom on this journey!

With both of my kids at school, I’ve had blocks of time to myself. I’ve experienced good things and bad things. Many times, I have been uncertain and confused about what I should be doing with my time. I’m so used to having both kids with me most of the time. I’m still trying to figure out how I can make the best use of my time. The main emotion I have experienced with both kids gone during the day is sadness. Am I making good decisions to have them in the programs they are in? It’s very difficult to leave a crying child, yelling “MAMA!”

I’ve also experienced lack of motivation. I have lists of things I could be doing, but I end up doing nothing. One day I was so tired that I planned on taking a nap. I just laid there thinking about the kids. I felt uneasy that I was not utilizing the free time I had. Week two started and slight motivation started happening. I hung out with friends a couple times and thought of more ways to spend my time.

I have reached out to others, asking them what they thought I should do with my free time. Some people thought I should start working or volunteering, while others felt I should spend my time doing whatever makes me happy. I am not in any condition to start working. I feel that I could volunteer, as long as it’s something I enjoy doing. I thought of volunteering at the behavioral health center, because their building is located right next to my place and I spent months there when they first opened. I would really enjoy working with others who deal with mental health issues. But they gave me a “no-go” to volunteering there. They are super locked down and only let service dogs in. Another volunteer opportunity I thought of was to look into publications I could write for. Other than that, I’m still exploring ways to make the time I have off productive.

The school year has started, and if we have school-aged kids, we’re all adjusting in some way or another. The process takes time, but I feel the kids and I are adjusting well to the new school year. They are happier knowing what’s coming next. They like eating breakfast at school each day. For the most part, they are enjoying their daily routine at school. For me, there has been good, not so good and uncertainty so far. Only time will tell how the remainder of the year goes. I am hoping for fewer tears and more smiles!

Tiffany
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The Day I Lost My Voice Over Paint Colors

For months, the striped duvet and shams in the Pottery Barn catalog wowed me and called me. When it comes to decorating, our master bedroom is at the bottom of the barrel. The dining room, living room, powder room, kid’s bathroom and kids’ bedrooms have always taken priority over ours. It’s just the way we’ve operated. So there wasn’t any chance I was getting that Pottery Barn duvet until Chrismas Eve 2008 when I opened a surprise package from my mama. Somehow, she’d gotten whiff that I wanted that duvet. She bought it and packaged it up pretty with my name on top. It seems silly now, but I shed a few tears over that surprise. Because somebody noticed what I loved, somebody cared, somebody bought me something beautiful. Just for me.

Within a couple weeks, I’d ordered shams and pillows. In no time flat, the set was up. Bright and beautiful, comfortable and classy, just the way I envisioned it.

Now all we needed was fresh paint.

We just so happened to be working with an interior decorator on window treatments for our living room, kitchen, entryway, and two kids’ bedrooms, so when he came over for the consultation, we brought him upstairs to look at paint colors for our master bedroom.

I had a plan. I had a vision. I’m telling you now, I knew what I wanted before the interior decorator even stepped in the room. I wanted green, one of the shades of green in the duvet. Either shade, any complementary shade of green would do. That’s all I wanted. GREEN. Just make it green, please.

I told him straight up. “I want green. I was thinking green. Like this shade or this shade.”

He pulled out his big ring, flipped through all the blessed colors of green, and by golly, green just didn’t seem to settle right with him. (To this day, I still wonder if he didn’t have a true paint match, or whether he just downright hated green. The world will never know.)

“How about tan?” asked the interior decorator as he flipped through his color ring in search of the perfect tan to match my beloved duvet.

“I’d really love a dark brown wall,” my husband added. “Maybe on this wall, behind our bed.”

Honestly, I don’t even know how green turned to tan and dark brown, but it did. Before I knew it, this wall was going to be dark brown, this wall was going to be tan, so forth and so forth. Right before my eyes, the whole room had been revised. Tan and dark brown. And oh yes, let’s add a dark red stripe on the top AND on the bottom for good measure. Maybe it sounded like a good idea at the time. Yes, that would pull the color and pull the stripe up from the duvet onto the wall. A pop of color. Yes, indeed. I reasoned with myself, I convinced myself that’s just what we needed.

So up it went. Up went the paint. We hired the interior decorator’s suggested painter to come and do it. Because TAN plus DARK BROWN plus a DARK RED stripe not only on the top, but the bottom, too, was going to be a lot of work and there was no way I was doing this myself.

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I liked it at first. It was good.

I had my duvet. I had my shams. I’d even met the interior decorator at the discount fabric store and found the crazy floral fabric for our window treatments (all by myself, mind you…without his help, but with his approval).

But as each day passed, I grew to hate the tan, the dark brown, and especially the red stripes on the top and bottom of our walls.

I never wanted tan.

I never wanted dark brown.

I never wanted dark red. And I never wanted stripes.

I loved the striped duvet.

I loved the striped shams.

But I wanted GREEN on the walls. GREEN.

Every morning since the winter of 2009, I’ve woken up next to my beloved husband, snuggled up in my striped duvet. I look over on my dresser where I keep a family photo and all my Kenya, Haiti & Dominican treasures, and I’m grateful for the life and opportunities God has given me. But then I look up at the Target tan and red walls, I look over to our beautifully framed wedding photo and the big red stripe right above it, and I’m reminded that I LOST. MY. VOICE. I didn’t know how to assert myself in a moment that counted. Sure, paint color WAS and IS a simple thing, a superficial thing. Honestly, paint color doesn’t matter one iota in the scheme of much-more-important life things. But my voice DOES matter. My opinion DOES matter. What I THINK, what I HOPE for, what I WANT, what I DREAM of, and what I LOVE DOES matter. I must not deny that. I must not deny my voice. Even when it comes to superficial things, like green walls.

Not now, but sometime in the next year or two, we’re hoping to buy new furniture and bedding for our master bedroom. As two first borns, it takes us a bazillion years to agree on pretty much anything, so we’re already starting to look and dream and talk a bit about what that new bedroom furniture and bedding might look like.

This week, we received a Pottery Barn catalog in the mail. I’ve been throwing them straight away for months because we’re not in the position to buy furniture, bedding or anything from Pottery Barn right now. But this time, we did take a peek. My husband wants this page…neutrals, grays, dark browns with a light neutral on the walls. I want something more like that page…creams, linens, with more color in the quilt. And I won’t say what color I’d like on the walls until I know what bedding we’d get.

Yes, I reminded my husband that I won’t be promising anything this time.

Because I’ve learned my lesson.

I will not surrender my voice to paint colors. I will not surrender my voice to the colors on a quilt. I will not surrender my voice to the type of wood we have or the type of light fixtures that hang from our wall, or anything of the sort.

Never again will I stare at a wall for 9 years, letting it remind me that I not only surrendered, but LOST my voice for no good reason.

Just in case you wondered where all the passion comes over paint colors…this losing my voice for no good reason? It isn’t a first, you know. This isn’t about green paint. This isn’t about tan or dark brown. This isn’t about red stripes. This isn’t about my beloved duvet. This isn’t about me being married to another first born or us taking a bazillion years to choose things together. This isn’t about our interior decorator. This isn’t a debate about superficial things vs. things that really matter. This isn’t about me being a bratty baby and needing to “suck it up buttercup” because paint color doesn’t matter in light of hurricanes and fires, nuclear bombs and starving children. This is about me OWNING my VOICE, being able to express myself and standing strong and steady in that space. This is about me seeing that I matter, that my thoughts and opinions count for something, that I was created for a reason and that I should feel free to release my voice and gifts into the world just as much as anyone else.

Bet your bottom dollar, I’m saving my beautiful, beloved duvet for a guest room. Maybe this time, I’ll paint the walls green.

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