Don’t Forget to Pack Awareness

By Kate Lynch O'Neil

May moving picRight now…

…my family and I are transitioning from our life-long home base in Massachusetts to a new home in Richmond, Virginia. This past year we struggled; job prospects in our home state were few, and the competition was fierce. So I knew supporting my husband’s amazing job opportunity in Richmond was paramount. I also knew that uprooting our little family from our beloved Massachusetts home would be stressful – and could possibly trigger a bipolar episode.

They say transitions take time, and I remind myself of this daily. I get it.

Letting go

Now we’re residing in a small apartment in an unknown neighborhood of a larger urban landscape in Virginia. Yup, we’re lost. We’re relatively alone. As Dr. Seuss would say, “We’re in the waiting place.” We’re hopeful our previous house sells so we can purchase one here – in one of several well-researched neighborhoods.

Letting go was, and is, still hard. I left my job in a flash one Friday. Saturday we had yard sales and packed. Sunday I drove ten hours to meet my husband in Virginia. Almost overnight, I had left my sense of self on the sidewalk with an old television and a vintage armchair.

Memories and stories tell great tales of our New England life, but now our family is from Virginia. It’s a lot to swallow. So I get up early and walk. I get my sleep. I try to eat relatively well.

Understand: Even positive change can be scary

Change is necessary, but the process can be long, confusing and tiring. We need patience, fortitude and self-awareness to negotiate the journey without major bumps and bruises. My goal? To fly away from my chrysalis as a healthier, happier and wiser butterfly.

I’ve retooled a few coping skills for managing my currently stressful, topsy-turvy life. A diagnosis of bipolar doesn’t own me – it’s something in my life that I manage carefully. In this new frontier, it’s my responsibility to put this transition in perspective, keeping stress at bay and watching for telltale signals that my disorder could rear its ugly head again. Every day is different, but understanding how enormous change affects me is critical to maintaining my health.

Step One – Garner support

My first calls in Virginia were aimed at building at least a temporary medical team. I met with a primary who I hoped could suggest my other clinicians. Going through this process from scratch made me realize how lucky I’ve been these past 18 years. I managed to secure a psychologist for therapy. My first psychiatrist appointment isn’t until August – and that was a tough nut to crack. Regardless, I have a nurse practitioner who can cut through the red tape if need be.

Having even this loose structure helps me build confidence about my mental wellness. I’m Kate – not bipolar Kate. Self-regulating my fears with my husband’s support makes this possible. Therapy will also serve me well.

Be aware – know the future is bright

I’m now looking forward to a positively changed life. What will it look like? How will we all change and grow? I’ve always lived day-to-day. Currently, I schedule and look forward to good things ahead. Daydreaming about our future helps me maintain hope.

Those good things ahead include our son beginning camp, where he can play with new friends. My mother is coming to visit, and we have some family here who have been beyond kind and accommodating. In the coming months, our son will start full-day kindergarten and I will get closer to my next job.

I haven’t always felt positive during this transition. But I get it: my husband is blissful and well-challenged in his new position. My turn will come soon enough. The biggest ledge on the mountain? Purchasing a new house to call home. Suddenly we’ll be back to community-building, school activities and successfully managing our professional lives.

My own work has included writing and advocating for mental health on local and national levels. I’m serving as a committee member for our new city’s Homeless Coalition; it has a large fundraiser in the fall. Hope and a sense of purpose help ground me.

Small gains count

Today’s star on the horizon? A consignment couch and lounge chair will be delivered to our apartment this afternoon. Who knew Nirvana could be achieved by sitting on a couch? This is another step toward establishing roots here in Virginia.

Soon, we’ll spread our new wings and soar. Stressful triggers are inevitable, but I’ll have the emotional awareness to redirect my flight plan if necessary. I get it. Thanks to good perspective, good support, all brands of hope and listening to my sense of awareness, I know everything’s going to be okay. And that’s priceless.

One response to “Don’t Forget to Pack Awareness”

  1. Christine L says:

    Excellent job Kate! Keep up the good work.

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