Sunday, March 15, 2015

Music Soothes Me: "Withholding Nothing"

So the blog post I published earlier today was the most vulnerable and honest I've been on my blog in awhile. I'm on watch to see if I'm headed for a manic episode. And I'm a bit emotional right now.

I'm currently at my boyfriend's house. And while he was going about his business, he was humming a gospel song, the song above, "Withholding Nothing" by William McDowell. I love this song! So I immediately went to YouTube to play it.

As I write this, I've played the song at least four times in the last hour.

While listening to the song the second time, I closed my eyes and quietly sang along, eyes closed, legs crossed. And tears streamed down my face. Not wanting to alarm my boyfriend, I said, "FYI: ignore the tears, I'm just extra emotional, but I'm okay." I then continued to sing along and cry.

After that cathartic cry, I felt so much freaking better. I had forgotten that music soothes me when the mania is coming or when I'm in a full-blown manic episode. During my first hospitalization, I listened to my iPod to calm myself down.

Watch the video and may you too be soothed.

SAD, Springtime, Mania, and Me

Most people have heard of SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some people get depressed during the winter months due to the shorter, darker days. I don’t tend to get depressed during the winter. Instead, all of my manias (and hospitalizations) have happened during the spring.

I’ve been depressed three times and manic three times. But I have only been hospitalized during the manias. I’ve had a 17-day stay, then a 10-day stay, followed by a 5-day stay. The three hospitalizations have been over the course of the last eight years. During my hospital stays, I've found that most people there are admitted for depression or age-related illnesses like dementia. I have been the only manic person each time.

For me, my manias have been a lot worse than my depressions. I have Bipolar Disorder Type I. What distinguishes type I from type II is the mania; hypomania, a lesser form of mania, defines type II, among other features. WebMD says:
People with bipolar I disorder experience full episodes of mania -- the often severe abnormally elevated mood and behavior described above. These manic symptoms can lead to serious disruptions in life (for example, spending the family fortune, or having an unintended pregnancy). 
In bipolar II disorder, the symptoms of elevated mood never reach full-blown mania. They often pass for extreme cheerfulness, even making someone a lot of fun to be around -- the "life of the party." Not so bad, you might think -- except bipolar II disorder usually involves extensive and disabling periods of  significant depression, which can often be harder to treat than if episodes of hypomania had never occurred.
When I am manic, I am super creative and productive. Ideas come to me easily and often. Ideas about career paths, writing topics, and projects. When I am manic, I spend uncontrollably, racking up thousands upon thousands of dollars on my credit cards. When I am manic, I sleep and eat less than normal. When I am manic, I lose weight. When I am manic, I talk extremely fast. In short, the mania is wholly disruptive to my normal routine.
Jessie, from Saved By the Bell, saying: "I'm so excited!"
My last manic episode occurred in June 2014, mere months ago. Since then, I've returned to "normal", but over the past month I’ve felt the stirrings of mania. I’ve been speaking quickly. I’ve been posting more to social media. I’ve been a bit grandiose. Thankfully, I have not spent any money. I’m still digging out of the tens of thousands of dollars I charged this past summer. But still my sleep has been off.
I’ve had sleep issues since the depression set in in June 2013 (the depression would last a year; insomnia is a common symptom) and it hasn’t reverted back to normal despite me being in a stable mood. I was on Lunesta, a prescription sleeping pill, for the past fourteen months. However, over the past two weeks I have stopped the Lunesta and am now taking Melatonin, an over-the-counter supplement recommended by my psychiatrist. The Lunesta caused intense grogginess. The morning after taking Lunesta I would lie in bed for too many hours of the day, halfway between sleep and wakefulness. I cannot be productive in a permanent state of grogginess and tiredness. The Melatonin has been working okay. But I still wake frequently during the night and I wake super early in the morning. I’m not sure if this sleep pattern is my new normal. Fortunately, my psychiatrist is aware of all of this and is keeping an eye on my mood.

 In short, I have to be careful with my sleep. Keeping consistent sleep hours and getting adequate amounts of sleep is crucial to stave off both depression and mania.

I was out of town at a conference this week. The entire week I was there I had anxiety around my sleep. Lying in bed, I would be thinking about the following: how long will it take me to fall asleep, will I fall asleep, will I be rested in the morning, and will I wake up (thoughts of mortality frighten me from time to time). Mid-panic attack, I called my boyfriend to process the experience. Trying to console me, he offered some suggestions. After hanging up, I did some deep breathing to calm myself down. I believe I fell asleep not too long after. However the next day, when my friends asked me how I was feeling, as I would be presenting a workshop later that day, I shared my anxiety around my sleep and started to cry. Heightened emotions are also a sign of mania for me. One of my friends present who was at the conference with me is also my acupuncturist. Thankfully she was around. She gave me a quick acupressure session and I did some deep breathing and all was right in my world again.
I’m not sure if I’m headed for a manic episode or not, but to be proactive I will be: increasing the frequency of my acupuncture appointments from once every three weeks to once per week for the next month or so and I have appointments with both my psychiatrist and therapist soon. I will also keep to my normal schedule and routine as much as possible.

I’ve written about how I generally love the mania, but I’m not sure that the mania loves me back. I mean, I’m super productive when manic. This summer alone: I started two blogs, wrote a proposal for a charter school, wrote a curriculum for a mental wellness presentation, applied to graduate school for social work, and started a memoir. Yup. I did all of that in three months. But the mania is very disruptive and expensive for me. Not to mention, exhausting -- as I’m sure you can imagine.
I would appreciate not being manic again for a long time to come.

Note: My title is an homage to Ellen Forney’s captivating graphic memoir (comic book memoir) about living and working with bipolar disorder. Check it out: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

People of Color + Mental Illness Photo Project

I befriended Dior Vargas in a secret Facebook support group for women of color dealing with mental illness. A self-proclaimed "Latina feminist mental health activist," she is doing such important work around people of color and mental illness. To say that I am a fan is an understatement: she is my mental health activist role model.

You should totally follow along with the amazing work she is doing; check out her Facebook page.

She wrote a much-needed article for the Huffington Post titled "People of Color Deal With Mental Illness, Too." It is well worth the read.

One of Dior's projects is a photo project highlighting people of color who are living with mental illness. I recently contributed my own photo to her project. To see all of the other brave folks sharing their diagnoses, click here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Three Life Lessons

A friend posted a question to Facebook this week. She'll be turning 30 soon and was asking for any advice or life lessons or tips as she heads toward this milestone birthday.
I'll be 32 in August. While not that much older than her, I've learned lots over the past few years. Two of my three hospitalizations happened within the last two years. There's nothing like a crisis to teach you some life lessons!
Here's what I told my friend, and now you:
  1. Trust your gut. Follow your instincts. This holds true for personal and professional plans. During my second hospitalization I decided that I wanted to become a therapist. I was in the hospital arguing with the doctors and nurses, telling them how to do their jobs, and advocating on behalf of the other patients. I realized I could "do this." I could become a social worker and advocate for consumers on a professional level. If all goes according to plan, I'll be in graduate school for my MSW in September.
  2. Make time for your loved ones. People are more important than things. Hands down. Don't make it a habit of cancelling plans or putting off spending quality time with your family and friends. Yes, it takes an effort, and we are all busy. But you won't regret it.
  3. Make self-care a priority. Whatever restores you and feeds your soul: do more of that. I've always been interested in self-care, but over the last two years I've realized how important it actually is for mental and overall wellbeing. Self-care is so important to avoiding the burn out that can happen from work or home life. Make you a priority in your own life.
I don't make any claims to being a life expert, so take my advice with a grain of salt. I won't be offended. I promise! But I have become an expert on me. And living with bipolar disorder for the past eight years has taught me a lot beyond the three lessons I share here. Additionally, I've also learned a lot from my non-consumer life: school, work, relationships, family, and friends.

Beyond what I've shared here, I implore you to listen to your own truths. If you pay attention, your own life has taught you many lessons too. In the words of one of my favorites, Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Does Mania Look and Feel Like?

When I started this blog in June 2014, I was in the throes of a manic episode. For me, mania looks like super productivity, oversharing on social media, excessive shopping sprees, pressured speech, and hypersexuality. It's also hard to keep my attention honed in on one thing; I flit from activity to activity and idea to idea.

This past summer I started Manic Monique's Meanderings, writing 52 posts in the month of June alone (to give you some perspective, the mania ended in August, since September I have written 1 to 3 posts per month). I wrote a few Op-Eds on mental health and contacted about a dozen publications. I was published in The Root. I started blogging regularly for the Huffington Post. I was interviewed by two internet radio shows. I planned and organized a family cookout for about 40 or so family members. I took 5 vacations up and down the East Coast. I saw 5 Broadway plays. I wrote a curriculum for a mental health presentation for high schools and colleges. I created a proposal for an all-boys charter school I'd like to found. I met with a public policy professor to discuss said charter school proposal. I charged about $23,000 to my credit cards. I posted excessively to Facebook and Instagram, documenting my activities and thoughts. And I started dating again, having taken a year break during my depression.

Yup. I was quite busy.

In previous posts, I mentioned how much I love the mania. And I really do. As I've said previously, the mania has saved me from depression twice. But as I'm sure you can imagine, the mania is exhausting. Very exhausting. And it's expensive; I can't control my spending when I'm manic. During my first mania I charged $10,000. But during this last mania I doubled that amount.

The mania lasted three months. It's never lasted that long before. So when September came I was glad to see the mania go.

Between September and January I was pretty stable. I had a depressive dip for a few weeks, but nothing major; no where close to what the depression looked like in 2013-14. This month, February, I've been getting busy again. I'm looking for a new job, so I attended two job fairs. I've had three interviews so far. I took the Praxis teacher certification test for middle school English Language Arts. And this weekend I'll be attending a two-day conference in NYC on feminism and K-12 education. Next month, I'll be attending a three-day conference in Kentucky on white privilege. I'll even be presenting on social justice English curricula I created! I'm a tad nervous as it'll be the first time I'm presenting at a national conference. Also next month I'll be attending a one-day conference here in NJ on Ferguson and activism.

When I relayed my newfound busyness to a friend, he asked if I was manic again. Now normally, that question pisses me the fuck off. In the past, when I've exhibited "normal" displays of emotion, my friends and family have asked me if I was okay. It's annoying to have others constantly on watch for mood irregularities. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the concern, I really do. But at the same time, I feel like I can't express any emotions at all.

To this friend, I told him how my current behavior differs from my behavior this summer: I don't have pressured speech, I'm not spending money, I don't feel hypersexual. But I have been oversharing on social media.

This is what he text me:
From an outside perspective, I feel like over the summer you were focused on doing everything and now you're doing what you're focused on. That's probably unclear. You just seem more focused now. 
I actually appreciated his observation. I do feel incredibly focused now. I'm not being pulled in multiple directions the way I was this summer. I'm hyperfocused on a few actions instead. But I will take his observation under advisement and keep watch. As  much as I love the mania, I'm not ready for another episode so soon.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mania... Ain't That a Bitch.

I always profess my love for my manias. I wholeheartedly believe that my mania has saved me twice. It's saved me from depression in 2007 and again in 2014. I was depressed for about two or three months in 2006. The depression ended because I became manic. At that time, I was not receiving treatment for the depression, neither psychotherapy nor psychiatric medications. I was depressed again in 2013-2014, but instead of lasting two or three months, it lasted eleven to twelve months. Thank God I wasn't suicidal. But my life was no cakewalk either. I felt incredibly empty. I had insomnia. The Seroquel had made me gain 52 pounds, so my normally 125-128 pound frame was now carrying 171 pounds. The weight made me feel sluggish and unattractive. I had no sex drive. During this depression, I was receiving treatment, both psychotherapy and meds. But the meds weren't working. And the only reason the depression ended was that I became manic. 

I was ecstatic to be manic again. I felt alive for the first time in a year. I felt more like myself. I had energy again. I started blogging. I vacationed. I saw multiple Broadway plays. I started dating and having sex again. Life was beautiful.

But I also started spending. And spending a lot. The mania lasted three months. Longer than my previous two manias. In 2007, I charged $10,000 when I was manic. During the summer of 2014, I charged $23,000 to my credit cards. I didn't realize it was this bad until I checked my online accounts and totaled my debt. I was crestfallen. In November I checked my credit report and unsurprisingly my score was poor. When just months before I had excellent credit.

The panic didn't really set in until I thought about what a poor credit score might mean for my plan to go back to graduate school. With poor credit, I probably wouldn't qualify for private student loans. I would still receive federal student loans, as these loans aren't tied to your creditworthiness. But federal loans alone are not enough to cover the total cost of attending school.

The good news is that I've been accepted to two graduate programs, I'm waiting to hear from the third school. Should have a decision within the next four weeks. And I just filed my FAFSA, so I should be getting my financial aid packages soon. So I'll know within the next few weeks what type of aid I'll receive.

Further good news is that I have made a dent in the credit card debt since the mania ended. I've managed to pay almost $10,000 towards the debt. Which is huge. I'm hoping it's enough to improve my credit score and to qualify for private student loans.

So yes, I still love the mania. I'm just not sure that the mania loves me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who Cares for the Caregiver?

Below is my latest Huffington Post blog post. I thought the message was a good one (not to toot my own horn!), so I decided to share here too.


Mark Lukach's article My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward has been making the rounds on social media for the past few weeks. It is an honest and painful read. As the title implies, Lukach writes about his experiences with his wife's psychiatric problems. Her diagnosis: depression with psychotic features. Reading it, I was struck by the depths of his love and devotion to his wife. And I was also concerned for him and for all caregivers of the chronically ill.

Yes, psychiatric problems can be difficult for the mental health consumer, but the consumer does not experience their symptoms in a vacuum. Their loved ones, family (spouses, children, extended family) and friends, are also impacted. As a bipolar sufferer, I try to be cognizant of how my illness impacts my loved ones. I've also tried to think about what I would tell other consumers' loved ones as well as my own about self-care. 

So this article is for you, the caregiver.

Here are some tips to ensure that you effectively care for yourself while providing for your loved one:
  • Don't neglect your own needs: get adequate sleep, eat regularly, and keep up with your own health needs (such as doctor's appointments, taking any prescribed medicine, exercise, etc).
  • Invest in self-care. In other articles I've written about the importance of self-care for the consumer, but caregivers also need to make self-care a priority. Self-care is whatever you do that puts you first and soothes you: listen to music, make a spa appointment, go for a walk, read a book, eat your favorite meal, take a vacation. In short, do something you love.
  • Find your own therapist. I don't mean couple's therapy or family therapy. But a therapist all your own. Everyone can benefit from having an ear to vent to and problem solve with.
  • Spend time away from your loved one. Yes, you are entitled to take a break.
  • Learn your loved one's signals. They might not always know when they're headed for an episode, but if you've lived through a previous episode or hospitalization, you probably know what to look out for.
  • Be patient, understanding, and kind with your loved one. Everyone needs extra nurturing when not at their best. 
  • Be patient, understanding, and kind with yourself. You won't have all the answers. You won't always know what to say or do. You might get frustrated or overwhelmed. Don't beat yourself up.
  • Know your limits and enlist help when you need it. Help from family, friends, mental health doctors and providers. You don't have to think of yourself as a fixer.
  • Specifically for romantic partners: 
    • Depending on your loved one's diagnosis, he or she might have mood swings or easily get angry or irritable. Try not to take it personally. With your partner, create coping strategies to handle emotional outbursts.
    • Again, depending on the diagnosis or even as a side effect from certain medicines, your loved one's libido can be impacted. Both extremes are possible: too much of a sex drive (hypersexual) or too low of a sex drive. Be patient. If a low sex drive is a problem, find non-sexual ways to be intimate. 
    • Be sure to keep the lines of communication open and honest. Listen to your loved one's concerns about his or her care, but also make your concerns known too.
If your loved one hasn't told you lately: you are important, you are valued, you are making a difference. Being a caregiver is a tough role. So don't neglect your own needs and your own life in the process of providing love and care to others. I love the airplane analogy about responsibility and help: in emergencies, you are exhorted to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting those around you. Be sure to take care of you.