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Hi folks!

As some of you may remember, I was scheduled to give a speech at the VA for National Mental Health Month on Thursday.

It went great!

The crowd was a manageble size, the room was set up for 75, and about 60 attended.

I had been working on my speech for several weeks, jotting down notes whenever I thought of them -- mostly at 2am when the thought jolted me from a sound sleep. (That's my normal pattern when I'm trying to think of something.) On Monday I grouped the tid-bits by topic or theme and wrote them on a single sheet of paper for each group. On Tuesday, a friend of mine -- a teacher in Toastmasters -- sat down with me to discuss speech giving tips, and to help me arrange the speech components into some coherent order. I wanted it to flow in a peaceful fashion, and couldn't quite see what order to say things. He knows me well, and we talked about my mindset and how I could envision myself giving the speech in a confident fashion, and I imagined that in as much detail as I could for the final two days. What a great help that was!

Wednesday I ate sparingly -- I, ehem, process food too quickly when I'm nervous, if you know what I'm saying. I didn't want to be running for the Little Girls' Necessary Room too often on speech day. Wednesday night I went to bed early, expecting not to sleep well, but I did just fine. At 2am I sat bolt upright from a sound sleep with another nugget to add to the speech. I jotted it down, and when more didn't surface I went back to sleep. At 4am I sat bolt upright again, with a whole new speech. I sat at the computer spillling it onto a WP doc until nearly 6am. I took a break from it because I've made a committement to meet my friends for coffee in the lobby at 6am, and I haven't missed a day in 35 days.

At 7am -- remember this is speech day -- I returned to the computer to flesh out the speech and dress it up a bit. I used most of the original speech, but that 2am tidbit reshaped it to a form I was much more comfortable with. When I hit save for the last time I looked up and realized that I was scheduled to leave the house in 5 minutes -- and I wasn't dressed up yet! I hit print, and the printer smiled, and declined my request. Holy Crap!

I considered hauling in my laptop and giving the speech from it's screen, but instead I called a friend and asked if I emailed her my speech would she print it out.

"Sure! When do you need it?"
"Um -- in 5 minutes!" (panic was leaking from my pores)
"Oh, sure! Send it over."

I have really cool friends!

I'm so glad I had spent the time putting 2 outfits together -- I always need a choice since I never know how I'll feel when the time comes. I jumped into my clothes and again thanked the Gods that I don't wear makeup and fancy hairdos. I was out the door in 5 minutes, and my friend met me at her door with my freshly printed speech. I made it to the event an hour early, just as I'd hoped. I knew I'd need time to sit and get settled -- meditate, time my speech, and NOT watch the crowd enter -- before I would be ready to stand up in front of them. That worked out quite well, and as I rehearsed my speech in my head from my typed notes, I discovered that even with my usual amount of ad-lib humor, I would still come in just under the 20 minutes I was asked to fill.

When I looked up, the crowd was there and the event was starting. I stood to join everyone in the Pledge of Allegence. I have never been so grateful for having gone to public school in the 60s when the Pledge was still recited every morning, since I was so nervous I wouldn't otherwise been able to remember the words. I kept finding myself distracted by the effort it took to keep my hand over my heart. At first I couldn't figure out what the problem was. True, I was shaking like a leaf, but it seemed to be more than that.

"Oh! My heart's pounding so hard it's knocking my hand away. Wait! My mind wandered again -- am I still reciting the pledge? Yup -- I'm still in sync with everyone else."

After a few brief remarks by the Chief of Mental Health and the nurse who coordinated the event, it was my turn. I stepped up to the podium knowing that I still didn't have an ending to my speech. For a bipolar person, not having an ending to a speech is an invitation to a week-long speech. I was quite worried. The day before, the second speaker had suggested that I only seguay into him, and it might be easier than an ending. So, I had agreed to go first. I'm glad I did.

Have you ever seen someone give the eulogy for a beloved departed person and be so over come that they just couldn't speak? That's how I heard myself as I began. I refused to hand it over to someone else, and took a deep breath. I reminded myself that the hardest stuff was first, and that the jokes started soon after that. I pressed on. The audience was horrified when they were supposed to be, and when they laughed the first time -- at the right place -- I settled in. It was still hard to speak at times, but I got the whole speech out and felt pretty great about how it went. You know how funny I can be sometimes, and I was "in the groove" when it counted.

When it came time to end the speech, I heard myself speak a pretty good one -- exactly as the audience heard it. Thank Goodness that my subconcious mind is so independent and on target when I'm nervous!

When the whole program was over, people were very encouraging, supportive, and bandied around the word "couragious." I felt that way, too. I was surprised to see all three of the members of my mental health care team in the audience, as well as two of my group members and their husbands. I hadn't seen them come in, and didn't notice them when I had looked at the audience throughout my speech. They were thrilled for my success, and I felt wonderful. Of all the people in the room, they knew exactly how hard this had been. I had never before stood in front of a room full of strangers and spoken the word "rape" into a microphone. It was powerful and transforming, and as hard as it was, I'm so glad I did it.

I learned the next day that several people in the audience were fragile rape survivors at an early stage of healing, and that they had commented to their counselors about how much my speech had impacted them -- favorably -- giving them hope for their own recovery. I felt better, still. I've always felt when I do something difficult and public like this, that if it helps just one person, it would be worth all the pain. Hearing that there were several, I am deeply moved. Even the other psych professionals told my care team that they were impressed with my performance.

I hope I'm don't sound like I'm bragging -- I'm still in shock at how good it felt to have tackled such a huge challenge so well. I have a natural tendency to mask my nervousness from others. I think of myself as a duck -- gliding peacefully across the surface of the water, but paddling like hell underneath. Sure enough, though the rough spots were obviously hard, everyone seemed not to notice that I was just as terrified before the speech began. Meditation works so well!

It took me several hours after the speech for the adrenaline levels to drop enough for me to feel comfortable enough to drive myself home, and I expected to remain keyed up too much to eat or sleep. Eating was hard. Although I hadn't eaten since lunch the day before, I just wasn't hungry. I opted for a bowl of saurkraut -- I love the stuff. I slept deeply and peacefully for the first time in decades. When I woke Friday morning I still felt great, and by afternoon realized that a small piece of my broken soul had been repaired. It was like getting a new tooth after having lost one for a long time. The tiny patched place feels huge, and warm. I love the feeling.

I called the nurse who ran the program to debrief. We had planned to talk by phone in the afternoon, or earlier if I'd needed suport. I could also have opted to drive in, but didn't feel I needed that. She could tell by my voice just how well I felt, and we shared a few laughs about how nervous we both had been. Knowing each other well, we could see the little signs in each other.

So -- Now it's Saturday and I still feel good. My adrenaline levels are finally dropping to normal, and without the expected jitteriness. Although I've shed a few tears this morning, I'm very pleased to report that I haven't Bipolared into a corresponding depression. This is very unusual, especially considering the massive dose of adrenaline I produced. I hope I stay level for a while, as I really like how I feel. The tears felt healthy, and I welcomed this long-lost ability with open arms and deep gratitude. Tears are a great way we all balance our emotions, and without them we become emotionally constipated. Not a good way to live, as it stifles creativity and the ability to feel anything but the stongest emotions.

Well, on with the day. I'm off to help a friend paint her deck. I really love my life.

My Best to You All!

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When Life Gives You Lemons
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