Sparkles in Our Jar – Christine’s Story


Look up “glitter in a jar” on the Internet. It sounds just as beautiful as you would think. It seems as though this idea is being used in many different ways like for calming and relaxation as you watch the glitter in the jar float to the bottom. The most interesting article that I found was for learning about the brain. When your emotions are rising up, the brain (the jar) floods with cortisol (the sparkles) and you flip your lid (shake the jar), you lose access to the prefrontal cortex, and its flexibility and reasoning capabilities. As you breathe, the cortisol dissipates (the sparkles settle to the bottom of the jar) and you feel calmer and the prefrontal cortex comes back online, making it easier to relax and make better decisions. As I researched more I began to think about this idea of the sparkles in a jar and I started to create my own metaphor and relate it to mental health and in particular, a patient that I had in the clinic during my mental health rotation in nursing school.

Mr. D has been a patient at my clinic for many years; he is diagnosed schizoaffective bipolar type. He came in to receive his injection the one day, and when he arrived he was very manic. His affect was labile and would be laughing uncontrollably one minute, and crying the next, although he stated that he was feeling amazing. When my mentor and I sat down to speak to him, Mr. D began explaining some grandiose delusions that he was having about being “the king of the land” and having millions of dollars all over the world. He also described voices that he heard. All throughout this time, he was very intense and he fluctuated from being irritated by some of my mentor’s questions and then ecstatic about how amazing his life is. Then, when the conversation turned to speaking about his social connections he began to cry and stated feeling lonely, depressed and that he was missing his children who lived far away.

I figured that making this would be easy. The way I set it up is that:

  • The jar is us and our brain
  • The sparkles are our emotions
  • The way that they behave in the jar is the symbolism towards how we control our emotions and how we let them control us

I put water in the jar with the glitter and shook it up, but I realized that the effects wouldn’t last long. Quickly the sparkles would fall to the bottom and to me, when comparing that to mental health, was just unrealistic because it is never that simple and quick to gain control of your emotions. When I researched it some more I found that you needed to put glue in the bottle so that the glitter would stay suspended longer and would sparkle.

I compared this to Mr. D and mental health. The first jar with just the water faded quickly. There was nothing there to hold it up or help it along. That is like a brain with mental illness without support from medications, social connections, or therapy. You have no glue to help hold it together, so it is either erratic right after shaking it, or falls apart quickly. Without the help from the glue, the brain can quickly fall apart again and lose its sparkle. Once the glue was added to the jar and I shook it up the sparkles seemed to spin even faster and more erratic. This really made me think about the hypomania that Mr. D was demonstrating.

Sometimes it is okay to have your sparkles all over and erratic.. Life isn’t always going to be calm and rational. Sometimes it is okay to have your sparkles at the bottom of the jar and not moving.

Every one of us will have emotions in our head, like sparkles in a jar, and some of us will go through times where the sparkles are crazy, or at the bottom of the jar more than others. What is important is that we recognize where our emotions are, how we are able to work with them, and remember that we have amazing supports in all different forms there to help us. In mental health and all types of health, as long as we have the glue in the jar, like our loved ones or other supports, those ups and downs are okay and we need to support each other through it to let their sparkles shine.

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