Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Year of the Zen Jen

I started the year of 2017 grumpy and almost broken. 2016 wasn’t a great year in general but I think most feel that way. I wasn’t sure what 2017 would bring me. To my surprise, it brought a glorious amount of change. Change in the world? Meh, not so much. Change in wealth? I can’t complain. What it did bring was more than any materialistic item could bring. 2017 brought me peace. 

I joined Planet Fitness at the end of  January. Yep I’m one of those New Years resolutions type, but I really joined to help empower my niece Sarah, who I take out a few times a week for community living skills building. Sarah has a cognitive disability that can be challenging and I thought teaching her how to workout and eat right was a great thing for her to learn. Turned out I was learning from her! She would plan for us to go to the gym on certain days, and she made me stick to it, she’s not one to let you forget plans you made! I started to work out and was feeling pretty good. I started coining the phrase for myself #yearofthejen. 

At work, I have always been a bit of a hard nut to crack about changes. I admit it, I wasn’t always open to new ideas that were taking away human elements of my job. In April, we have our annual staff retreat and something just clicked in my brain. I will forever thank my colleagues Assaf and Ankit for sparking that change. They explained to me the importance of machine learning and the difference of automation. It was mind blowing. I went away with a whole new perspective of how Crisis Text Line is truly innovative and supportive to our community and texters. 
I was seeing a difference in my attitude from workouts and seeing a fresh approach to all the things I was learning at work.

May, I decide it’s time to become a mermaid. My friend and amazing tattoo artist Cheryl, created a design for my mastectomy tattoo. It was mermaid shells for the breasts and gorgeous jewels and such on the torso. And on the left breast when the tumors were it says ‘I’m the strongest girl I know’.   I begin the process and it truly made me cry with the first session and looking in the mirror and not seeing my scars. The transformation truly began.

June, 1/2 way through the year yikes! My oldest graduates from High school, feeling proud and old but more proud. I work hard to pull off a grad party that was family oriented and it went so well. (I love planning parties even if I have massive stomach issues caused by anxiety of doing it: worth it) Next, I go to a conference called BlogHer in Florida. I was invited to speak there and truly felt appreciated and heard for my stories of my own mental health journey but for the love I have for what I do at Crisis Text Line. Side note: I got to hug a Sloth! A SLOTH! item checked from my bucket list! 

After my return from Florida it’s time to travel again, this time with the family and we are heading to Nepal. 
Nepal, its magical, mystical and soul finding perfection. We went there to help underprivileged kids but we went away with a new family but I went away with even more change. New coined phrase #zenjen. My attitude changed drastically, things that would irk me before were nothing anymore. I realized that not everyone is going to be happy with change but change is inevitable and so it’s all about how you embrace it. You can go down fighting and burn in the flames. Or you can say “Why not Coconut” (a phrase I learned from the kids at CYF). How will I know if I don’t like it if I don’t try it. 

In August, we move Z into college and he starts his new adventure and it reminded me of how innocent life can be and the energy and spark of trying something new. Z reminded me of that. 

October, the annual Crisis Text Line Palooza in Atlanta. Seeing the amazing volunteers and truly feeling the love and energy from them was overwhelming but in the most magical way. I may have been drained every night but it was worth it to feel so much positive energy in every session I was in to the amazing talks on the main stage. There’s nothing like it. 

So as the year is ending, Zen Jen will remain and I think I’ll extend the Year of the Jen to 2018. I have grown so much this year. I’m proud of the changes I have made mentally and physically this year. So thank you to all of those who have helped me grow and become the beautiful soul I believe I am. Normally I would kick the years ass and say see ya and don’t wanna be ya, but this year, I’ll hand the batons to 2018 gracefully and continue on my new found peace. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

What's the deal with Self Love? (read in Seinfeld's voice)

Teaching self love to the kids here at Child Youth First is a wake up call for myself. I forgot about self love in my world. I always worry about everyone else. Self care is different than self love. I've gotten better with my own self care throughout the years, but often see much self destruction. I'm a confident person on the outside. and majority of the time that is true. But there are times that darkness sets in. Self doubt, low self esteem and most of all depression. Being bi-polar, that last part can really crushes the soul. I'm normally manic, obvious much, I know. But the depression is when I hole up in my bed and want nothing to do with the world.
Being here in Nepal, with these children and young adults, who come from under privileged families, has shown me an appreciation of my life and things I have. I feel a more minimal approach on all the material things. Maybe this is the source I need for self love. Self love ins't about my outer image, it's about the contentment of my inner soul. I'm seeing that light at the end of the tunnel, and Dammit, I can't wait to come through the other side.

*pic of me coming out of the 'Sinners Cave" in Nepal.

Monday, July 3, 2017

We are in Nepal Y'all! Part 1

The James Gang (my family) have embarked on the most exciting adventure. We are heading to Nepal. Just outside of Kathmandu to be exact to a school called Children & Youth First, Life Vision Academy. 
Working at Crisis Text Line has giving me this amazing opportunity to volunteer for 1 month anywhere in the world, as long as I'm volunteering. I came across CYF haphazardly but knew it was the place for me. I originally was looking at another organization in Nepal, and that fell through and the news went out to other orgs, and Amanda Brown, the USA President of CYF contacted us to join them. Amanda and I talked about the girls of child bearing age, dying by suicide, having anxiety and depression and not talking about it. They are fearful of being sold off to human trafficking or forced marriage. This is where I could step in. I could talk with the girls at the school and counsel them in ways to help with anxiety and depression and ways to cope and see signs in their classmates. I could train the staff of how to listen and empower the kids when they come to them for guidance. I just knew this was my place, I was destined to go there and be part of that community. 
The most beautiful thing about this adventure, is I get to take the whole family! We did a gofundme campaign for help and so many amazing donations came flooding in. I felt so blessed and loved. I was not going to disappoint anyone who was gracious enough to help us. We were going to change lives, but truly, as a family we would be changed as well. 
After more discussions with Amanda, we determined the best skill set that the boys and Kevin could be doing there to help.
Kevin, being a video game artist, could help the children create a game while we are there. This will give the kids a fun time of learning, with artistic ways to express themselves. 
Zander, a natural at the program Scratch, will help the kids, design the layout of the game they would like to do. Very basic of course because we are only here for a month. 
Gibby, being the youngest volunteer they have ever had, will be in classes with the kids, embracing them and helping them learn more English, and provide help with reading to the peers. He also is creating a documentary. A point of view of a 10 year old American kid. He will be doing interviews and filming while we will be engrossed in the activities with the kids. I will help him with some of this, but the ideas are all his. His creation. He is the Director! 

We left Detroit, Michigan June 28th, 2017 and headed to Toronto for one of our layovers. We were just so giddy about going across the world! We boarded our flight on Turkish Airlines on the biggest plane any of us have ever ridden in. It was pretty cool. We are heading to Istanbul. I can sleep pretty much anywhere, but the rest had a bit of a hard time. We were 3 hours aways from Kathmandu, and guess what? Someone broke the toilets on the plane. No, it wasn't us, though it is something that would happen to us. We had to turn the plane around and land in Baku for about 2 hours, on the plane. Ugh, that was not a fun time. We took off and finally made it to Kathmandu. 

So, remember this is the first time we have EVER traveled like this. Kevin went to Poland for his brothers wedding but it was a quick trip and he was alone. This time all of us together. It was a bit nuts. 
Culture shock kicked in. We had to get our visas, we needed to exchange our money, we got in the wrong lines, we were tired stressed and just wanted to meet up with Haushula, who founded CYF. After another security point to get our luggage, we finally made it out of the airport. All the people, all the cars, and then a beautiful voice saying..."Jen!" and it was Haushula, in a pretty purple top. She was a breath of fresh air. We make our way to her Jeep and she takes us through the city and sharing about the culture and what we are seeing. The fluid motion/chaos of the traffic was so neat to watch. No stop lights, just honks and swerves and eventually we made it to the place we were staying for a few days before the school. Super Home, a B & B sort of place. A friend of hers owns it, his name is Buffy, and we were finally here! 
Samanta, Hausula's sister, and her boyfriend took us to dinner that night. We walked around the town and found a lovely place called Sun Cafe. and Kevin finally had his authentic Nepali Mo-Mo's, Zander enjoyed some Mushroom Curry, and Gibby and I played it a bit safe with Chicken Tika Masala and Naam (soooo goood) and he had a chicken burger. The conversation quickly steered towards video games, and anime among the boys and Samanta and I commiserated over their obsession. It was a beautiful night and we went back to Super Home and crashed! 

Next day, we enjoyed the breakfast that was made for us by Sapana, the house care taker. We were still a bit tired but the boys and I explored a bit around the streets, taking pictures. Seeing many street dogs, which made Gibby sad, but the people do care about the animals and people give them water and food, so that was comforting to know. 
Hausula's husband, Anurag, came to the house to take us 'touring' it was great to have a local tour guide with us. He took us to Patan City. I can't even share how gorgeous it was. It was magical. Like a old fairy tale. Such history and beauty, but also destruction from the 2015 Earthquake, the largest Nepal has seen. But seeing the rebirth and restoration was really inspiring, the Nepalese are fighters and would not give up. 
Anurag took us to the Patan Museum. Mind Blown. The intricate details of the stone work and wood work from the 17th-18th century. The beauty and stories of all the Gods and Goddesses. They say there are over 4000 of them they worship. Saturday is their 'Chill Day' as Anurag shared. People in the streets, hanging out, enjoying the weather, laughing and eating. It was amazing. We went to dinner and Kev and Z got a traditional Nepali dish, and Gibby and I expanded our palates a bit, but still 'safe', since we have the choice. Anurag, took us through these small streets where motorcycles and scooters weaved in and out. "Just stick to the left and you will be fine." Good to know! I felt like we were in some kind of kung fu movie, waiting for people to jump out and either Dance or Fight. It was awesome. Kevin would have totally explored more but of course wasn't going to leave us alone, which I'm thankful for! 
Oh, I forgot about the taxi ride! 5 of us, crammed in a taxi. Gibby sat on my lap but best to take 1 taxi than trying to figure out 2. We made it back to Super Home, completely inspired and in awe of the beauty of this country. It was a good day. Do what you love! Or as my husband says "Things don't have to be perfect, to be perfect."  (Picture: us waiting at the airport to start the adventure)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The year of the Jen...that's a thing right?

I've been gone from home for 2 weeks. I got to spend time with staff members at the Crisis Text Line. It was magical to hang with them face to face, collaborate on ideas, and have my mind blown about automation. I have always been afraid of automating things, but Assaf, one of our engineers, opened my mind to all the things. I’m no longer afraid and feel I can be a dreamer of many ideas now. It’s bizarre. 

I’m in a new place in life, and my mind is so open to new things, new ideas and new perspective of life. It’s odd. I’m not one for change. I like my little happy world, but I’m seeing my world grow and expand to new heights. What’s up with that??
After the staff retreat I was able to travel to the American Association of Suicidology conference in Phoenix, AZ. I was there to work the booth for Crisis Text Line and to present the newest product that we will be launching soon. I’m so proud of being with Crisis Text Line. I just passed my 2 year mark with them as a full time employee. Being part of the this organization and giving me hope and strength to share so much about myself. I was able to share for the first time in my life publicly, my suicide attempt. I shared it in front of 250 people. That’s nuts. It’s something I kept quiet for so many years. 22 to be exact. AAS 2014 was the year I saw it’s okay to talk about it. Power houses like Misha Kesler, Craig Miller, Dese'Rae Stage and Kevin Hines, shared their stories. They are magical and always an inspiration to me. 
I deemed 2017 my year. My year to shine within and out. The year to screw that fear and really open up. I say “Fear is the cock blocker of dreams” and this resonates with me more than anyone can know. 
I always feared of being judged for my attempt, I also always feared change. But I recognize that it’s stopping me from reaching for the stars. 

This year is about me, not in an arrogant way, but in a way that my health is important. My family is important and my life is important. Whatever happens this year. I know it will be good. Shit happens, yes I get that, but I won’t let it smear. Just flush it down the toilet and be free. 

Yep, I totally ended that on a poop note. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pre Travel planning from an anxiety disorder sufferer..SPOIL ALERT: it sucks.

I'm not sure about you, but I freak the F out when I'm getting ready to travel. Not the plane ride or anything, but the preparation of it all. As I am sitting here typing this, I should be, finishing laundry, packing my suitcase, mail packages that I have to get out today and so many other things, besides blogging. Yet here I am, tick tacking away on the keyboard.

One of the mental illnesses I struggle with is Anxiety Disorder. So, knowing I have all these things I should be doing to make sure I'm not forgetting things and just getting the stuff while I'm away in order, I instead, stress.

My Hubs and kids are very familiar with this ritual.

  1. I get the suitcase out of the storage room a week before. Thinking, I'll be packed up and ready in no time!
    1. WRONG! It's still sitting on the floor of the bedroom. I leave in the morning.
  2. I gather all the toiletries that I have accrued over the several trips. To make it easier to pack. 
    1. WRONG! I feel I should buy ALL new things so I have to go to the store and buy stuff and putting my 'schedule' off course
  3. Finish the laundry so it's not a total mess for the husband a few days in advance while I'm gone. 
    1. WRONG! I just literally threw the last load of laundry that I NEED before I leave tomorrow. Luckily, Kev is insanely capable of doing the boys and his owns. (sigh of relief) 
  4. Carefully pack my carryon bag so it's easy to manage through if I need it on the flight. 
    1. WRONG! I throw all the shit in a bag and sort it out while waiting for the plane to taxi on the run way. 
There are a few other in between things that I am classically known to do as well, but it would make the post super long and therefore creating even more stall time for me. 

Bottom Line: Thankful that Kev and the Boys understand me and make me take a breath and help me work through my anxiety attack. They help me make lists and check the little boxes I have next to my list. 

And honestly, after it's all said and done and I'm sitting at the gate at the airport I take a deep breath, a xanax and drink some coffee and giggling that I will SO not be like this NEXT time I travel. Oh silly Jen, keep telling yourself that! Wanna see me at this very moment: click here 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Being an empath sucks

  1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Two recent deaths have shaken my world. Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon, had died by suicide. Then I learn of of my friend Mandie Wallinger, passed away suddenly last week. 

Though I didn't know Amy personally, her mission and voice has changed so many lives. Her passion and compassion will never be forgotten. Her death has many in the suicide prevention world, devastated. She lost her battle but will always be a staple in the space. 

Mandie was the VERY first person to reach out to me, when I took my first overnight shift at the Crisis Text Line. December 1st, 2013. I was working at Common Ground at the time and my friend Jonny Aguis and I went into the crisis room to start our 11pm-7am shift. Mandie immediately reached out via Direct Message to greet us. Every overnight shift, I enjoyed her humanity and love for the others on the shifts. At the time, it was just Crisis Centers taking convos from varies centers around the country. Mandie was with Samaritans of Boston. I remember listening to her passion for med school and how hard she worked to get in. In March, 2014, I helped develop the remote volunteer program and training. Mandie became a supervisor to some of the remotes. She always was doing trivia during her shift and making the Crisis Counselors engage with one another. She was a staple on the overnight shifts. Once the centers were weaned out the crisis centers at Crisis Text Line, I remained friends with Mandie and was able to watch her hilarious antics and passion via Facebook.

This sadness has engulfed my body the last few days. I think of all the good these two people have given in the world. I feel all the sadness. Being an empath I feel things at such greater height it can knock me out of commission for a few days, just so I can regroup, refresh, remain.

My heart goes out to their families and friends. There are no words I can say that will express the true emptiness in my heart.

This blog is dedicated to both of them. I promise to them and all those they have changed that I will be a source of good. I will continue to help, provide support and speak for them. Because I know that they will not be forgotten.

RIP Amy and Mandie. I will continue to share your stories.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Woman and that time of the month...Yep that's what I typed!

Some days I can't blame my mood on my mental illness, not that I do all the time. Some days when I'm extra emotional and let's face it, bitchy, I forget that the next day most likely Aunt Rose will come to visit. Gosh, she's such a bitch.

Periods suck. I get it, it's all part of being a woman blah blah blah. They still suck. I mean who really likes having a Tiger basically rip the shit out of your uterus. I know I don't!

Some women celebrate surfing the crimson tide thinking, YAY, not pregnant this month. On the opposite end, some women cry because they are NOT pregnant this month.

It's really a fickle bitch. Seriously!  Shark Week is just a pain in my ass and well uterus. I should have known it was coming when I pretty much bought every single chocolate Easter candy at the store last night. I should have known that this morning I would be riding the cotton pony. But hey, I'm healthy I suppose.
Trying to smile along and just deal. So, if I have been mean or incredibly snarky, I'm sorry. Sorry not sorry. I'm totally blaming cousin Red for giving me such pain.

Ok ok...I have run out of all the slang for a menstruation cycle, so I will bid you adieu!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Your check engine comes on in your brain...

I have bi-polar, panic and anxiety disorder. Fun times I know. I was diagnosed in April of 1995. Sometimes, the check engine light in my brain comes on. What the heck do I do?

It will be 22 years in April since my suicide attempt. Still can't believe it's been that long. Am I still suicidal? No. Do I have thoughts of suicide that crosses my mind. All the time. Huge difference is, I don't plan on dying by suicide. This world hasn't seen enough of me yet. But what I do find is that the thoughts are there, a lot. Just thoughts, but still a major part of my mental health.

When I became part of the Crisis Text Line back in 2013, it was so exciting to see this service. This technology that is basically tapping into the matrix of those who struggle. I guess a different way of putting it is, a jumper cable to a car battery. When the battery doesn't have enough juice, you give it a boost with the cables. Crisis Text Line has become that boost to so many. 

Many of us who struggle with mental health have our own plans of actions. Therapist, meds, doctors and coping skills. That's like required maintenance for your car right? A tune up.  What I never realized way back when I attempted, is that I needed to always have my jumper cables available too. My current jumper cables are my close friends and family, who know when I'm sheltering away and being that hermit crab. They reach out and basically shock me back to life. 

We see so many people come to Crisis Text Line. From all kinds of issues; from anxiety, stress and relationship issues to name a few. When you have a crisis, it's so intense you freeze and don't know what to do. That's when you reach out and get your jumper cables.

The irony of all this auto talk and car analogy is I have no clue about cars. But I do know when my brain is on the fritz, it's always good to have a healthy maintenance plan in place.

If you are in crisis and need support text Hello to 741741, we have trained Crisis Counselors waiting to listen, 24/7

Learn more about Crisis Text Line and our Crisis Trends data by going to the website: and

Random factoid about me: I was born in a 1970 Dodge Demon on Woodward Ave in Pontiac, MI.
Great start to my life!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The day after...November 8th.

I've been thinking a lot since the election night. I remember my 10 year son and I watching the results on the computer while in bed. He would let me know what states went to Hilary or Donald. I had to pick up my oldest from work and I would get text messages letting me know what was going on. Bubba stayed up til 11pm before crashing. He hoped when he woke up there would be the first female president.
As we all know, that didn't happen. That night I was watching and crying. I'm an empath, whether you believe in that shit or not, I was devastated and feeling so much sadness from our country. I work at the Crisis Text Line, for those who don't know. It's a 24/7 crisis support via text messaging. It's amazing. We got a huge spike in our texters that night and the next few days. We say so many people scared of what is next for them. Scared of what will happen to their families, to themselves, to their friends. Honestly, I was scared for them too. I didn't have the answers, I only had that ear to listen and validate that this is all so fucked up.
The next morning, Bubba wakes up. He comes to me and says, I have a bad feeling in my gut that Trump won Mom. I confirm his feelings. Trump is the president. As he was getting ready for the day he came to me and said; Mom, I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of sad and happy people today because of the results. I think the best thing I can do is smile more today, be an ear for those who may be afraid, and just be there.
How the hell did I get so lucky to have amazingly compassionate kids. I believe it's learned behavior, and I'm proud of that.
I felt so sad for the next week and beyond, hearing all the stories, feeling all the feelings. I know it's cliche and I don't care but Trump is not my president. I will not support his hateful mission. My kids and I will continue to fight for those who don't have a voice. It's my goal, passion and commitment to fight for the users. The United States is better than Trump.

Yes, this is a serious post. Something I have been wanting to put down in paper for a long time now. I have moments of clarity and focus. This was one of those times. I can't be silly when talking about this.

This next generation of kids will change the world, and I know for a fact that my two boys will be in the front lines!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Holy Crapballs

I'm so honored to be speaking at that #BlogHer17 Conference this year! I will be there representing Crisis Text Line, my lived experience in mental health and also me and my so called blog! Aw SHIT! I haven't been up on my blogging. I guess I should start writing daily. Yea, I said Daily, you may get an influx of unwanted information from me. My so Called Blog...thoughts reeling here, should I go with the very early 90's esq of the show My so Called Life, within my blog? I have so many things that have happened in my life. Majority of it is comical. And if it wasn't it eventually became comical.
As, I'm typing this out, I'm laying in my bed, my sanctuary, I kid you not I could just build walls around this and live comfortably for the rest of my life. Of course, my family wouldn't be so happy about that. But while laying here tick tick tick away at the laptop computer I have the nastiest chest cold. My hubs says I sound like Donald Trump, "I am the best at having colds, nobody does colds better than me...". I feel I have a bit of the Kathleen Turner vibe going on right now, but as my friend Fred mentioned, she would slap me for making that comment.
All my blogs are so random, so unnecessary, so silly! But I really want to be able to produce things that you like, that you want to hear from me. Let me know how I can entertain you!!!!

I only have so many poops and butt jokes to go around. Though, if you know my family you know that it can become an endless source.

And scene.