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Grey, Everywhere

Have you ever heard a version of the saying, the only way you’ll get what you want is if you ask for it? In a lot of ways this has proven to be true in my life. I’ve learned to stop waiting for things to happen for me and to start making things happen.  I’ve learned not to complain about my life not being what I want it to be if I haven’t made any efforts to make it so. I’ve learned to trust the things that I want and to think about what it would look like for me to actually go after them. Sometimes with that last one I find that what I wanted, even when it is a genuine, strong desire, isn’t what I really need.

Often this lesson comes along with life experience. For example one time when my nephew was two years old, he felt with all his heart that I wanted to go play with the white and orange lane bumps in the middle of the road. He turned to run into the road, and when my sister stopped him he cried and cried and cried as though by not getting what he wanted, even if it was dangerous, his world had just ended. I think this is a fight that we continue to have with ourselves in different forms our entire life, we just don’t always have my sister to stop us from running into the road. As adults the decisions are ours.

How can we amass four decades of life experience, fully understanding that certain decisions will be dangerous, and still make the self destructive choice over and over again? Just because I want something doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for me. And just because something is the right choice doesn’t mean it’s going to be attractive to me at first. I want a lot of things. I want speech without consequences, I want sex without consequences, I want to deal with my problems by drinking and getting high, I want a baby elephant, I want to live in a self sustaining house in the middle of the forest and never talk to anyone ever again, I want to eat strawberry frosting from the tub with my finger.

Because I’m adult, I can choose to do any of those things. People may try to stop me, but no one can really stop me if I decide go for the frosting tub. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, don’t get between a diabetic and a tub of frosting. Just don’t. But any of those other things on the list are either not realistic, or they would have consequences that I do not want. I could speak like there are no consequences, but then I would end up hurting people I love or going to jail. I could adopt a baby elephant but I would ruin its life, and possibly vice versa.

All I’m saying is that sometimes making out lives better isn’t a matter of demanding what we want. I don’t go up to my boyfriend and demand that I want to start living in the forest and may not be home very much anymore. That would not make my life better at all, even though it’s something I think sounds attractive. Because the world isn’t black and white. It’s all grey, everywhere. Want doesn’t equal need. Want leading to happiness is as much a truth as want leading to disaster, so we have to fish around in the grey to make the best choices we can.

My heart can be an idiot and my brain can be a bitch, but every now and then, with effort, they can work together and take care of me.

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Another Note on Journaling

Another “note” on “journaling” sounds a little redundant, and I tried to make a pun out of it, but I couldn’t make it work. Let me know if you come up with something better. As I mentioned in a previous post, I discovered journaling as a coping and survival method in my early 20s with the help of one my therapist at the time. She recommended a book called The Artist’s Way, which is a book I ended up loving. It has exercises for your brain and spirit to discover the artist within you. The exercise from this book that spoke to me was “Morning Pages.” This is where you write three pages in a journal every morning. It doesn’t matter what you write, how big or small you write, or even whether or not the words can be found in a dictionary. The idea is to develop consistency and to empty your brain of whatever is cluttering it so you can start  your day with a clear head.

It was difficult for me to start writing in a journal, but once I got the hang of it I started doing it every day. There is so much cluttering my head at any given moment – racing thoughts, depression fueled thoughts, negative self talk, positive self talk, jokes that are hilarious until I write them down and read them to myself – that getting some of them out on paper, a place outside of me, frees up a lot of mental and emotional bandwidth and helps me continue to survive, function, and thrive.

My most recent psych hospital stay reminded me of how much I need journaling. I had given up journaling for about a year, and apparently a lot of thoughts and feelings and misspelled words got backed up in there and gummed up the works. My lack of journaling did not lead to my suicidal thoughts, that was my lack of functioning brain chemistry. But once I started writing again while in the hospital, a flood gate was open.

In the psych hospital there’s a lot of down time. There’s a structure of therapy and treatment and activities, but between those you don’t go home, you just, sort of, exist together. About 80% of my down time was spent journaling, sometimes by myself in my room, but usually around other people. Here is a non-sequitur journal entry from my hospital journal (written in marker because that’s all we were allowed to have to write with):

I want to say he eventually got the hang of Uno, but I don’t specifically remember that happening.

Here’s an entry about how people noticed how much I journal through the day:

The woman walked up to me while I was sitting outside, asked me if I had seen a rabbit, then pulled a carrot out of her bra and threw it in a shrub. She said, “I bet we’ll see it soon!” and winked at me. The level of commitment involved in smuggling carrots from the cafeteria impressed me.

A few people in the hospital asked me how I journal so much because they wanted to start. The first step for me it to stop judging yourself. That’s easy to do, right? Just flip the switch from On to Off, and you’re done, right? No? Oh. It takes practice. Start with words on paper. Don’t judge yourself for your handwriting, your ability to spell, your sentences, your thoughts, whether or not it makes sense…it is all good. If your pen (or hospital sanctioned marker) is making marks on a piece of paper, congratulations! You’re journaling! Now do it again tomorrow. And the next day.

I started this way, a little at a time, often writing through it when I judged myself for something. Before long I was able to just let the thoughts translate to paper. I don’t read anything I’ve written either. Not for a very long time. And when I do I realize I knew more about my own situation than I gave myself credit for.

It’s difficult for me to talk about my most recent psych hospital visit because I’m still so close to it, but I intend to face it and write through it. Reading my hospital journal in pieces is helping me process the experience, and continuing to journal daily after my discharge day is making me a stronger person every day.

Journaling is powerful. I’ve heard more times than not someone saying they would love to journal but they don’t know what to say. And I tell them that’s a form of judging themselves. We all know what to say it’s just a matter of learning how to get it from our heads to paper. It looks different for everyone so the most important thing we can do is just practice. Do it for you. I do it for me, not anyone else…

…until I scan them onto my computer and post the contents online for the whole world to see*.


*Note: you are not required to do this when you journal.

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Sticker Sale!

Get shameless for a dollar! All stickers are $1 for a limited time! Tell your friends!

There is a new sticker available too for the days when talking takes too much energy. It is also good for days when your state of brain ensures that talking can only do harm. I have these days most frequently when I’m hypomanic.

Here is a preview of the new sticker! And if you make any purchase you get the black and white website sticker for free! Let’s go shopping!

Screenshot 2018-06-30 10.19.03

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Fighting the Bipolar Carnival Ride


It’s easier to write about fighting depression stigmas when you’re not in the middle of a depression episode. Today I’m writing to you from the middle. This week my depression has gotten a little worse each day. Functioning is difficult, but I make myself do what I can. A week or two ago I was in the middle of a hypomania episode, a different middle, where I had loads of manic energy. I had so much energy that I couldn’t feel any depression. I was exceedingly productive and never needed to sleep, but I wouldn’t get exhausted.

Then my brain hopped on the slide and lowered me into this depressed darkness where getting out of bed is almost too overwhelming for me to accomplish. I did get out of bed today, and I am forcing myself to check a few things off my to do list, anger at being stuck on this bipolar carnival ride fueling all of my energy.

The picture shown above illustrates what I’m feeling right now. I’m surrounded by mud that wants to suck me under, the muddy water holding me up is cold and inhospitable and you can see my discomfort on my face. There is wood and barbed wire above my head making sure that if I try to raise myself up too high and throw off the depression status quo, I will be rewarded with pain and pulled hair (it happened: a barb caught my pony tail and it was not pleasant).

Yet, I am resisting being sucked down into the mud. I’m fighting to keep one hand on solid ground and the other doing its best to keep myself above water, even if barely. My face is smeared with grit, my hair is snarled, I am freezing, but I’m still looking ahead to the other side of this dark time.

As long as I can do that, I will be okay.


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To Shamelessly Adult

I’ve known how shameless of a person I am for a long time. I spent formative years, from age four on, fighting type 1 diabetes and realizing that if you make a mistake (and kids never make mistakes, right?) with my medical care I could die. Not only that, but it will never go away and will probably get worse. Kids shouldn’t ever have to learn to face their own mortality, and yet… Then add to that bipolar with severe depression in my early adult years, also something that doesn’t go away, and a messy divorce, and a parent illness, and losing my job and then my career…dealing with all that on a daily basis, when the hell am I supposed to have the energy to give a shit about being polite? About feeling shame for the ways I have learned to cope with my life and be productive and successful despite its best efforts to keep me down?

The older I get, the less I care about being shy, and being afraid to speak up for myself, and the less I care about changing my personality to match whatever group I’m in. In addition to the human experience of aging and developing a sense of self, my multiple and repeated brushes with death have accelerated this shamelessness I have. Yes, I have a much stronger sense of myself at 37 than I did at, say 20, but even at 20 I had faced death multiple times with diabetes complication hospitalizations and one suicide attempt that no one but my best friend knew about (more on all of this later).

When I realized that everything I know could end in the matter of a second, it gave me a new perspective. I’m alive. I’m alive because I work my ass off to stay alive, and things could be very very different. So changing who I am to fit in? Not saying something I want to say because it’s different from what other people are saying? Needing validation from people around me to feel better about myself? Ok, I still need that one, but the others are things I just don’t have energy for. They are not important in the big picture of life, and I’ve been forced to understand the big picture, over and over again).

This most recent time I was in the psychiatric hospital I saw this shamelessness with new eyes. In an environment like a hospital you have a lot of down time. Even with all the structured activities, group therapy, psychiatrist meetings, yoga and stress relief classes, art classes, exercise classes, you have a lot of time to interact with your fellow inpatients. You get to know each other very well, you get to make friends.

It’s a unique relationship because you’re all hospitalized for serious reasons and you find you learn people’s deepest secrets. You can help them through their darkest moments while they help you through yours. You find people you have things in common with and you make friends. There’s also a tendency of people in groups like this to form cliques and create their own drama. I’ve never been a fan of interpersonal drama, and I’m even less a fan of self-created drama. But I understand its function, especially in groups. It can be intimidating to join a group of people you don’t know and just be left to you own devices to find your way. Cliques can provide comfort.

Continue reading To Shamelessly Adult

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Learning to Grieve

My dad is dying.

In some universal sense I always knew I would have to say that at some point in my life, but it feels different when I’m actually facing it. I mean, parents live forever in a way that normal human beings don’t, right? No? Oh. Anyway, my dad has a rare neurological disorder called PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy) that often presents like Parkinsons but it specifically deteriorates body and eye movement, and there’s no treatment or medication. Eventually people with this disease can’t breathe or swallow properly, and cannot walk or control the body’s movements properly. It’s not something I want my dad, or anyone, to go through, especially when we’re forced to face the end of his life approaching rapidly.

Grief is an odd beast. Sure there are stages of grief, but no one tells you about how you can grieve for someone who is still alive. My dad was my comic relief in life. He entertained my weird ideas more than any other human ever would (or probably should). I have cassettes of us on road trips going to visit my brother in college, and while talking on the tape, I suddenly break into a gameshow host impression.

I say, “Hi ma’am, I’m Dr. Gameshow! We’re glad you came on the show today, tell us a little about yourself,” and I pointed the recorder at my mom.

She says, “What in the world are you talking about? What show?”

I say, “Okay, thanks for being here. Sir would you like to tell us a little about yourself before we start the game?”

Without missing a beat my dad says, “Hi Dr. Gameshow. Yes, my name is Bob, I have three kids and a pet bear, and I’m really happy to be here.”

I say, using a Minnesota/North Dakota accent for some reason, “They-ah-t’s great sir. Doncha know, we’ve got some killer prizes on the show today. Your pet bear will be so gee golly thrilled to see you after ya win these gosh durn prizes!” We proceded to put on an entire gameshow, complete with me cutting to my mom periodically, who consistently refused to be weird with us. Then when the joke ran its course we just went back to driving like nothing had happened. That recording is on a micro cassette and I almost didn’t play it, fearing I would break it, seeing as it was about 27 years old. But it held up and I’m so happy I got to hear it again and hold onto that memory.

It’s hard watching this disease take my dad from that person who could run with whatever I threw at him as a kid and even as an adult to someone who can no longer get himself around the house or focus on an entire conversation. He has days when he can’t get himself to the bathroom and back, and he used to be able to dismantle a broken toilet, rewire an electrical outlet, repair drywall, and almost everything in between at a moment’s notice.

Mentally, he’s the same man he always was, and that’s the hardest part of this disease to deal with. His body is failing him, and it affects every part of his life. It affects what he’s able to eat, how he sits, his sleep schedule, how much energy he has/doesn’t have, how he talks to people/can’t talk to people, how his daughter, who at age 5 he used to help to the bathroom in the middle of the night because she was scared to leave her room, has to help him to and from the bathroom. Physical illness affects mental and emotional health, always. He’s depressed and anxious for the first time in his life. It’s understandable, but it’s difficult to watch him go through this, especially when he seems just a little different every time I see him. We still have our rapport though, even if it’s modified now. Our conversations go something like this:

Dad:  How does blue tooth work?

Me: You have to pair something with something else and they talk to each other. I’m really not good at technology questions.

Dad: Don’t sell yourself short! You’re great!

Me: Okay fine, I just don’t like teaching technology to old people.

Dad: Well who does? Now how do I turn on the internet?

Me: No.

Dad: Hmmmmmmm…

Grief for a parent is a unique grief, especially when you start grieving a parent while they’re still alive. Because the disease seems to progress slightly every time I see him, he has new challenges every week. Every week it feels like the grief stage cycle starts over anew. But he’s the one telling me that I inspire him. He says that watching me struggle with type 1 diabetes and depression over the years, seeing how I pushed through and worked hard to accomplish things in my life has helped him realize that he can handle living with this disease. He even told me that he was always intimidated by me, even as a kid, because I was always so strong. He’s the one telling me this! It’s just so discouraging to know that he’s getting worse and suffering and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. But seeing that he’s still able to smile and be funny, and knowing that somehow, just by being myself, I was able to help him takes the edge off a tiny bit.

It’s not about me, though, or making me feel better. It’s just a type of grief I’ve never known before. The stages of grief are real and true and all that, but they do not go in order. I have days where I snap-to in the middle of whatever I’m doing, and I’m not sure what’s real or what isn’t. Like the seconds after waking from a dream, but I could be in the middle of a conversation with someone, or driving, or walking the dog. I still don’t really understand grief other than to know that it’s constant, and that it’s a strain on my already tenuous mental health.

That’s not to say that I’d change anything, though. I’ve realized how precious the time I have left with my dad really is. Even if we can only say a few words to each other, or even if the only time I see him that day is to help him into his pants. There will be a day sooner than anyone (except him) wants when I won’t have the chance to do that anymore, so I will be honored to spend whatever time I have with him.


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Journals From Past Allison

Journaling has been an important survival tool for me ever since the year 2000 when my therapist at the time turned me onto it. I have saved all my journals since that year, and sometimes I like to go through them all and find the same date in different years and read them. I do this more out of curiosity than anything else, but it can also help me track my progress, or lack thereof, through the years. The evolution of mental illness is fascinating, as is my level of denial in the early years. But simply because I kept writing, I kept following hope.

All of my journals either have titles or quotes at the beginning of them, like they were books. And they kind of were because I would fill every page of every journal I ever wrote in. I’m not sure where those bragging rights would be relevant, but that’s kind of impressive, right?

Here are some of the quotes in the beginning of my journals over the years:

For a second, two seconds, they had exchanged an equivocal glance, and that was the end of the story. But even that was a memorable event in the locked loneliness in which one had to live.
-George Orwell, 1984

Forget about what you are escaping from…Reserve your anxiety for what you are escaping to.
-Bernard Kornblum,The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay

Pretty Pink Suicide Notes
– journal title, Allison B. Hollingsworth

I feel a little down today
I ain’t got much to say
You’re gonna miss me when I’m not there
And you know I don’t care

Life is hit or miss, and this
I Hope, I Think, I Know
And if I ever hear the names you call
If I stumble, catch me when I fall
‘Cause baby after all,
You’ll never forget my name
You’ll never forget my name.

There are two ways to look at life…The first view is that nothing is stays the same and that nothing is inherently connected, and that the only driving force in anyone’s life is entropy. The second is that everything pretty much stays the same (more or less) and that everything is completely connected, even if we don’t realize it.
-Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

For Posterity
– journal title, Allison B. Hollingsworth

I’ve compiled a list of excerpts below that Past Allison wrote in a gesture of recognizing her journey. I hate the word journey, but I love Past Allison. At least I’m learning to.

Continue reading Journals From Past Allison

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The Sticker Shop Is Open!

The Sticker Shop is now open! I am so excited for the opportunity to share these stickers with you. We all need Stigma Busters like these around us at all times.

All proceeds from he sales of these stickers, with the exception of the Semicolon Sticker, which will go to Project Semicolon, will go toward helping me pay down my hospital bills from my most recent psych hospital stay. So your support is greatly appreciated. Plus, stickers are awesome. That’s just a fact of life.

Shop Now!

Coming soon: sticker packs and sticker sheets – stay tuned!


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Speak Louder Than the Stigma

The stigma surrounding mental illness is no joke. People struggling with mental illness feel isolated, ashamed, invalidated, and hopeless in a world where their condition isn’t taken seriously. There have been huge strides over the past few decades toward treating mental illness with the care it deserves, but there is still a long way to go. We who suffer from various mental illnesses often feel different from everyone, and we learn to feel shame for having an invisible illness, and the results of this can be deadly.

As long as we let ourselves give in to shame and stay silent about our experiences, the stigma isn’t going anywhere. I understand  that there are social and professional boundaries in place, and even though they are based in stigma we can’t always call our boss and say, “I can’t come in today because my depression is making me feel like I need to cut myself so I’m going to see the psychiatrist.” Things just aren’t that open yet. But someone could go up to their boss and say, “The migraine medication I’m on is making me throw up so I can’t come in today,” and no one would bat an eye. What is the difference between these two statements? They are both medical conditions.

Why is there so much shame enveloping the mental health statement especially when there are so many of us suffering from similar symptoms. How many people are not seeking help at all because they are afraid they won’t be taken seriously? I was one of those people. I’ve been invalidated and not taken seriously. I’ve had to make up the stomach viruses, fevers, and severe illnesses that would explain my missed days at work because of severe depression. I might as well have had those viruses with as bad as I felt, but I didn’t feel like I could tell the truth. And I felt every ounce of the shame that came with it.

I propose that we start speaking up. Not in a way that will make us lose our jobs – sometimes you just have to play the game to survive in this world. But when we feel shame, I propose we push through and talk about depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, whatever issues we are dealing with. Talk about the feelings we feel because we have to live with an invisible illness, about how we often feel alone. Talk about the positives (yes, there can be some) and the negatives. Basically, talk louder than the shame. Louder than the stigma. That’s the only way to fight it and break it down.

We are enough in and of ourselves, and that means that no matter who makes us feel less than or who tries to invalidate our experiences no longer has the power to change who we are. We are strong. We are not alone.

And one day, if we work hard, we can be completely shameless.