Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 + Gratitude

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the food! And you know that I love to eat; just check out these two food posts.

This year I spent Thanksgiving with my boyfriend and his family in Pennsylvania. I was a bit worried that I might not like his mother's cooking, but my worries were pointless. The food was good. We had traditional black Thanksgiving foods: ham, turkey, yams, macaroni and cheese, collard greens. His family also had dishes that my family doesn't make on Thanksgiving: lasagna and chicken parmigiana. 

All in all it was a relaxing and fulfilling holiday. I hope your holiday was wonderful, between the food and quality time spent with family and friends!

Furthermore, 'tis the season of reflection and gratitude.

Here's what I'm grateful for:
  • My physical and mental health. 
  • My family.
  • My boyfriend.
  • Being able to pursue my MSW and change careers.
  • Blogging and sharing my story and life with you all.
  • My friends.
  • The things we take for granted: a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear.
  • Health insurance.
  • Good credit.
  • Savings.
  • The readers of my blog, especially those of you that leave comments. I love to hear from you all!

What are you grateful for this season?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Grad School Accommodations

I've worked - as an instructional assistant, substitute teacher, and full-time teacher - in schools for a little over 7 years. In that time, I've come to see that different students have different needs. For students who receive special education services, they have a legal document in place called an IEP or an Individualized Education Program. It basically lays out the modifications and accommodations that the school and teacher must comply with in order to meet the student's needs.

But, IEP's only apply to K-12 education. There are no IEP's in college or graduate school. However, many colleges do have an Office of Disability. And colleges can't discriminate against students for any disability the student may have.

I don't know how I found out about accommodations at the higher education level, but this summer I sought out the Office of Disability at my grad school to find out about what I am entitled to. Yesterday I finally followed up with them.

I brought a letter from my psychiatrist stating that I have a mood disorder and am under her care. And I had a 30-minute intake meeting with a staff member to discuss my medical and school histories. She determined that the two accommodations that would suit my circumstances best are extended time on 1-2 assignments per class per semester and 1-2 excused absences per class per semester. I knew about extended time as it is one of the accommodations some of my students received. But I was unaware of the excused absences.

I'm grateful to have been approved for these two accommodations. But in all honesty, I'm hoping that I won't need to use them. When I'm stable I can produce work. It's when I'm in the midst of an episode that I would need the help.

I really needed the help the first time I went to graduate school (for my Master's in Education. I'm now in school for my Master's in Social Work). I was depressed and could barely get out of bed to make it to student teaching and my seminar class. I did no work for my seminar class at all that semester; in fact, I didn't finish that work from fall semester until the spring semester. But at this time I wasn't diagnosed yet. I was just acting erratically. I didn't know what the problem was. I just knew I wasn't myself and I couldn't focus long enough to get my work done.

I'm hoping to make it through this grad program without enduring an episode. My program is three years long, so here's hoping. I say that because I have been manic and hospitalized every spring for the past three years. Three hospital stays in three years is a lot.

Despite that history, I'm hoping to stay stable. Thereby not needing the accommodations. But if I need them, they are there. I can't tell you how much peace of mind this brings me.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Creative

I've always been a writer. But only recently have I taken an interest in other types of art. Two summers ago I took a drawing class. It was fun. And a year ago I attended a drawing class at MOCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts) in Brooklyn. The class was taught by artist Shantell Martin.

When I was in DC last summer I bought the following clutch from one of the Smithsonian Museums.

And during one of my hospital stays we had art therapy. We made collages. Here's a collage a fellow patient made. I liked it so much so he let me keep it.

Here's the collage I made. I had both collages framed.

Here's what they looked like on my bedroom wall.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Making Time for Self-Care

Tonight I checked in with a friend who recently tried to commit suicide. Thankfully, she's doing much better and is in recovery. She then asked how I was doing. I told her balancing teaching and grad school is tough.

My current schedule is kicking my butt. I'm teaching middle school English full-time, 7:20am to 4:45pm. I'm at a charter school so the hours are extended. Plus, I'm in graduate school part time for my MSW (Master's in Social Work). And on top of both I have insomnia; I wake frequently during the night and I can't nap during the day. Surprisingly I'm alert during the day. But around 5pm I get tired. Which is no good for doing grad school homework or lesson planning for work.

After updating my friend on my current life, she asked what self-care I was engaging in. My heart melted at this question. I live for self-care. And I've written about it multiple times: Who Cares for the Caregiver, Self-Care as Revolutionary Action, How to Rebuild Your Life After a Mental Illness Hospital Stay, and How I Manage My Bipolar Disorder.

Right now, for self-care, I am:

  • drinking 40 to 60 ounces of water a day
  • exercising three times per week
  • receiving an acupuncture treatment every three weeks
  • taking my psychiatric medicine as prescribed
  • keeping up with appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist
  • spending quality time with my boyfriend
  • getting my hair done once per week
  • blogging again
  • and I'm staying abreast of grading assignments at work
I also love getting massages. I'm hoping to book an appointment within the next few weeks. And I'm hoping to hang out with friends soon; I've been slacking lately. But I have to remember to schedule in social time.

So what are you doing for self-care? What restores you? What refuels your tank? Do more of that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My 4th Mania and 4th Hospital Stay

If you go back and re-read (or read for the first time) the blog entries for March 2015 it's pretty evident that I was headed for a manic episode. I was having sleep issues, I was posting more to social media, I was extra productive and creative, I had pressured speech (speaking quickly), and I had racing thoughts.

The mania started to surface in February 2015. I was grandiose in a job interview, basically told the interviewer "I'm the shit." There were other signs too (as mentioned above).

March 11th to 14th I was in Kentucky presenting at a conference. While there my manic symptoms escalated. My sleep issues worsened and I became extra emotional. The pressured speech and racing thoughts were worsening as well. My acupuncturist said the spring-like weather (it was warmer in Kentucky than in my home state of New Jersey) and the excitement of presenting a workshop did not help the mania. As I've written previously, spring is a trigger for my mania. All my manias, all four of them over the last eight years, have happened in spring, March to June.

Leaving Kentucky further worsened the mania. The flight was delayed, causing me to miss my connection in Charlotte, NC. There were hold ups at the airport and hotel. When I finally got to my hotel room it was after midnight. I had to be to the airport at 7am, so I had to be on a 5am shuttle. I only slept three hours that night. This was Sunday March 15th. Sleep, like spring, is also a huge trigger for me. I knew I was in trouble. I made an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist and acupuncturist for that Monday, March 16th. My psychiatrist increased my meds and told me to let her know if I still wasn't sleeping. My acupuncturist tried to bring the mania down. This session was my most intense acupuncture session in the two years I've been receiving treatment. I cried during the entire session. From the pain of the needles - I never cry from the needles, they're not very painful, for the most part, but the mania had me emotionally sensitive and physically sensitive. Each needle was incredibly painful. I talked through most of the session, explaining to my acupuncturist that I did not want to be manic. I lamented the fact that every spring for the last three years I had been manic (and also hospitalized). I wrote how the gospel song Withholding Nothing was extremely cathartic for me. I listened to it on repeat during my treatment. After this emotionally draining session I felt tons better. Calmer.

The next few days I slept three to four hours per night. Then, Tuesday night/Wednesday morning I slept an hour, at 6am on Wednesday morning. I was up all night on the computer. Being hyperproductive. Researching and writing. I knew I was in trouble after I woke from the one hour of sleep. I don't drive, so I text five of my closest family and friends asking for a ride to the hospital. It didn't occur to me to call an ambulance. Even though I had seen my psychiatrist two days prior, I knew that the mania had progressed too quickly, too fast for her to treat me outpatient. I either needed IOP (intensive outpatient program) or a hospital stay.

Even though I was in the throes of a heightened manic episode, I had enough sense to pack my hospital bag: loose fitting, comfortable clothes; underwear; toiletries; notebooks; and my bible. My mother returned home, my aunt, who I text for a ride, must've called her. When I woke I knew my mom wasn't home, but I wasn't sure where she was so I didn't think to text her for a ride. But my mom is the one who took me to the hospital. My aunt met us there.

The ER visit was pleasant enough. Since it was still early in the morning (in the past I've gone to the ER in the afternoon or evening) I didn't have to wait in the ER that long. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the process for a mental health hospital stay. But first you go to the Emergency Room. They have a crisis counselor assess you: they ask you a bunch of questions about your behavior, mood, and drug use. If you were accompanied to the hospital they also talk to your family member or friend, to get another perspective on your behavior and symptoms. The crisis counselor might also talk to your providers (therapist or psychiatrist). Next, a determination is made: inpatient (hospital) or outpatient (a few days per week of intensive therapy, but you get to live at home). It was decided that I'd be hospitalized.

Once I got to the behavioral health unit, it felt like returning to a second home. I hugged the nurses that I knew from my three previous hospitalizations. I updated them on what had been happening since my last hospital stay, only 10 months prior.

I don't remember much from the first few days. But the salient memories for me from this hospital stay are:
  • I really liked my psychiatrist. Every psychiatrist I've had while hospitalized has been great.
  • The food is always really good. But it took me about an hour or so to eat each meal. When I'm manic I'm easily distracted. I'll do anything but eat: talk to another patient, talk on the phone, wander around, etc.
  • I didn't get many visitors this time. I normally have at least one visitor per day. I don't know if people were busy with their own lives and concerns or had conflicting schedules or no babysitters or whatever, but for whatever reason, less people visited me. It snowed one day while I was there and no one showed. I cried. I was on the phone calling everyone trying to find someone to come visit me. Understandably, people did not travel in the snow to come see me.
  • I was supposed to be discharged on a Friday. That morning the psychiatrist told me he was concerned that I was only still sleeping three to four hours per night. So he was going to keep me until Monday. Three more damn days. I cried hysterically at the news. So instead of 10 days, I was hospitalized 13 days. This would be my second longest hospital stay. My longest stay was 17 days. To give you some perspective, most people stay, on average, 5 to 7 days. I doubled that number. It is incredibly hard to be "locked up." Meal times are scheduled. Computer and phone time, your links to the outside world, are rationed. Visiting hours are only two hours per day. You can't have any technology: phone, laptop, tablet, iPod. And your expected to attend group therapy and process why you're there in the first place. Plus, you can't go outside; there's no terrace or courtyard we have access to. So 13 days is a long ass time.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Food, Part 2

My blog is about my life, living and thriving (not surviving) with bipolar disorder. I write about my diagnosis but I also write about my life outside of that. There are blog entries about my hobbies and interests, my work, my writing beyond this blog, and other stuff.

But do you know what the most popular/most viewed blog entry is? It's this one, called Food, which shows pictures of various dishes I've eaten over the last two years. As of today, September 26, 2015, this entry has 1,023 page views. The second most viewed entry only has 588 page views.

You know what this tells me? You all love food porn as much as I do :)

So here's some more recent food pictures from the past few months...

Chocolate mousse cake. I took my 13-year old cousin out for her birthday.
This is from Dinosaur BBQ.

I went out for NYC Restaurant Week with a friend. We tried an Italian restaurant, Abboccato.
This here was my appetizer, a Caprese salad. It was really good!

This is also from Abboccato. My dessert, a streusel. Also very good!
However, I wasn't too impressed with my entrée. I ordered steak.

Brunch! I had a date not too long ago with two girlfriends.
We went to brunch at Toast and visited the Montclair Art Museum.
On the table you see carrot cake pancakes, red velvet pancakes, scrambled eggs, and home fries.
All very delicious! I highly recommend this spot.

My boyfriend and I had a date at Rustico Cooking for a pasta cooking class.
I had my birthday party here a few years ago and we all had a blast, so I had to return.
This was my first time making fresh pasta and using a pasta machine (I have no idea what it's called).

Me using the machine to turn the pasta sheets into Tagliatelle pasta.

In March 2015, I attended the White Privilege Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.
It was my first time in KY and I loved it. This is from Bristol Bar & Grille in downtown Louisville.
I ate crab cakes for an appetizer and for the entrée I had Thai shrimp stir fry.

Lately, I've become obsessed with fresh fruit and veggie juices. This is from Rejuvenate.
I forget what fruits and veggies were in this one.

Here's another fruit/veggie juice and a yogurt granola parfait from Juice Caboose.
The juice is called Juice Appeal and is made of carrots, spinach, and apple.

My boyfriend has turned me on to Manna's, a soul food spot in Harlem.
Here's my favorite combo from there: jerk chicken, sweet corn, and rice & beans.
In the corner is a Jamaican-style ginger ale; this was my first time trying it, it was good.

My grandmother was a great soul food cook. But she died while I was a teen and not much interested in cooking. Not many in my family can cook like her. But my mom tries. Well, this meal really hit the spot! My mom made ham, collard greens with smoked turkey, baked macaroni & cheese, yams, and Red Lobster biscuits. I don't eat ham so she bought me chicken from KFC. I think of this as traditional Thanksgiving food, and I love it!

Here's another girls' lunch date. This time at Duke's Southern Table, a fairly new restaurant in downtown Newark, NJ. Starting in the upper left hand corner and going clockwise: jerk chicken lettuce wraps; macaroni & cheese, yams, collard greens, and garlic sautéed string beans; blackened whiting sandwich and fries; and smothered turkey wings.

 I am obsessed, obsessed I tell you, with the steel-cut oatmeal from Jamba Juice
I add in brown sugar, slivered almonds, and sliced bananas. 
I believe you can choose from about a dozen toppings. You get to choose two toppings,
and have to pay for any additional.

My mom and I went to NYC for a TriBeCa Film Festival showing of a documentary on Mary J. Blige followed by a concert by the artist. The show was phenomenal. Before the show though, my mom and I had Chipotle burrito bowls. I'm kinda really into the corn, so I always get extra. Bet you can tell which one is mine.

I like to eat, but I'm not that adventurous when it comes to trying new dishes. I stick to what I know. I had a lunch date with a friend at Summit Thai. I ordered the pineapple fried rice with chicken. My friend ordered a Thai tea. It sounded good, so I tried it too. It's really milky and sweet, but delicious. You should try it if you like either tea or milk.

 This is the Acai Berry Bowl from Jamba Juice. I wanted the oatmeal, but this particular location doesn't serve it, so I figured I'd try the bowl. In it is acai, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, soy milk, almonds, and honey. It was good. But it was a bit too cold. I think their refrigerator settings are too high, that, or they keep the ingredients in the freezer. One of the strawberries was frozen, so the freezer hypothesis is likely.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Graduate School

Rutgers University was my first choice for graduate school for my MSW (Master's in Social Work). Unfortunately, they did not accept me :(

However, I was admitted to the other three schools I applied to: NYU, Fordham, and Kean.

Three out of four ain't bad.

I've decided to attend Fordham University in NYC. In 2012 their MSW program was ranked at number 11 in the country. (NYU was ranked at 16, Rutgers at 26, and Kean at 172). I don't really care all that much about rankings, but it is good to know that I'll be attending a top program.

I start grad school in a month and a half. I'm not as excited as I could be though. I'm trying to tell myself to live in the moment and enjoy the experience. But I just want to be done with the degree already so I can work as a social worker.

With that said, I am looking forward to the two internships I'll have. I'm hoping I get assigned to either a hospital, outpatient program, or a college campus. My dream social work job is to be a therapist at a college. My bipolar disorder surfaced in graduate school. And I did not receive good care from the campus therapist. I'd love to work with this population, to provide the kind of care I wished I had received. I also wouldn't mind working in a hospital or outpatient program. I really liked attending group therapy as a consumer. And I think I'd be good at leading group therapy as a clinician. It seems just like teaching and facilitating. I've done both for 5 years. And if I must say so myself, I am a great teacher.