Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mania-Free. So Far, So Good.

Life is really great right now. Like, really great.

I deserve a little bit (or a lot of) goodness right about now. The last three years were rough for me. I was hospitalized for mania every Spring for the last three years. Yup. You read that right. Three hospital stays in three years. However, it's even worse than it sounds. Because after the hospital stay is the recovery window, which can last months to years. For instance, I was hospitalized for 10 days in March 2015. I didn't feel like my whole self until August 2015.

But I made it through this past March with no manic episode! I just gotta get through April and May.

As I said, life is great right now. In the last two weeks I had four interviews for summer employment (like camps and enrichment programs for high school students). I didn't get one, still waiting to hear from the other three. Today I had an interview for my Fall internship for graduate school. It was at my first choice placement. Thankfully, the interview went well; just have to interview with the Director of the department I would be interning with. And graduate school is going well. One of my professors praised my midterm paper in front of the class and declared that I should be in a PhD program. He wants me to present my paper at a conference in the Fall at a college in Pennsylvania.

More importantly, life is going great without the mania. In the past, the mania has given me energy, creativity, and productivity. But I don't need it to be energetic, creative, or productive.

As much as I am pleased to have survived March, I am also not ignorant of my recent track record regarding Spring. So if the mania makes a return, I will deal with it as I have the previous four times. I can't change my disorder, but I can learn to live with it, when I'm in crisis and when I'm in recovery.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Miss Teaching

I have worked with children my entire professional life and even before that. In high school, I volunteered at elementary schools and I taught a Sunday School class for preschoolers at my church. In college, I tutored elementary children as my work-study job. So that's nearly 18 years experience with  K-12 students.

Up until two years ago I taught high school English at a private school. I loved it. I love English and I love that age of kids. I had fun at work. While I don't completely agree with the adage "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life," I understand the sentiment. Teaching was definitely work but it was meaningful work.

Most recently, I taught middle school English at an urban charter school. I resigned after three months. The school and I weren't a good fit. So now I am substitute teaching in my hometown. It's steady work and stress-free; I don't bring any work home.

This week I was in a 5th grade class. It made me nostalgic for my own teaching days. Deciding to go to graduate school for my MSW wasn't an easy decision. I had a career I loved and thoroughly enjoyed. But I felt called to pursue social work. So I don't regret it.

Even though I'll be a social worker in two years, I still have plans in my future to return to an English classroom. Ideally, I'd love to be a part-time teacher and a part-time therapist. Don't know how feasible that is though. Given both fields can be high stress.

I'll figure it out though. I have time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Prioritizing and Cultivating Friendships

In the last two weeks, I've consciously made a decision to reach out to friends I haven't been much in touch with. The results have been quite productive.

I have two classifications of friends: those I know from school or work and then those that I met in the hospital or outpatient therapy (IOP). I appreciate both. But I feel a certain connection to my friends dealing with mental health issues. Unfortunately, we don't speak much.

However, in the last two weeks I either text or called thirteen people. I've heard back from all but three. It was just a check-in text or call. But about half have resulted in plans to hang out. I'm happy. I'm a very sociable person.

One of my IOP friends expressed an interest in having a closer and more consistent relationship. I'd like that. It's nice to be around people who understand your mental health struggles and successes.

Hopefully I can maintain my friendships better. I like having friends :-)

Monday, March 7, 2016

New Schedule for My Time

I need more structure in my life. I haven't been exercising consistently for weeks now and I'm not studying my Spanish like I need to if I really want to be fluent.

I got sick in January with a sinus infection and bad cough. That threw me off my exercise routine. Ever since I haven't been able to get into a good rhythm. And from November to January I was enrolled in a Spanish level one class in New York City. I made flash cards, I did my Duolingo app, I spoke to my boyfriend in Spanish via text and in person, and I studied. I'm now in Spanish level two and I'm not doing any of these things. Sadly, level two is nearly over; there are just three more weeks left. But I'm about to re-implement the habits that served me well in my level one class.

To that end, I've decided to create a schedule for my time. I'm going to set aside specific days and times for the activities I want to prioritize: exercising, learning Spanish, and studying for grad school.

What I want to fit in:
  • Exercise four to five days per week (2 days at the gym and 2 or 3 days at home)
  • Study Spanish one hour per day between the Duolingo app and my flash cards 
  • Attend Spanish-speaking meet ups once or twice per month to get in actual practice with people
  • Read grad school homework two to four hours per day (there's a crapload of reading!) and start assignments weeks before their due dates
I'm only working part time while in grad school, so I have the time to make this new schedule work. Let's hope I can stick to it. I'm gonna start today. 

What do you want to fit into your life? How do you prioritize your time? Got any tips for me? I'd gladly welcome them :)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

If Money Was No Object...

Today in one of my Master's in Social Work (MSW) graduate school classes, we had an interesting writing exercise. My professor asked us:
"If you had ten million dollars, what would you do with your life? What would change? What would stay the same?"
I didn't even have to think about my answer. I immediately wrote down that I would:

  • Pay off my student loan debt and my boyfriend's student loan debt
  • Start trust funds for my nephews and cousins who are under the age of 18
  • Found an all-boys' middle and high school 
  • Found a holistic wellness center that offers mental health counseling, acupuncture and yoga
  • Travel
  • Finish my MSW degree
My professor than told us that what we wrote down is what we should be doing with our lives right now.

I felt great when she said that, because founding a wellness center is one of my social work career goals (the other is to be a therapist for college students on a college campus). I feel like I'm on the right track to actualize my goals. This exercise was a nice reality check.

However, my professor said that just because you write something down doesn't mean it's going to come true. But it can point you in the direction that your life should go.

What would you do if you came into ten million dollars? So, what should you be doing right now?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Mania Season

Every year for the last three years I have been hospitalized for mania. That is, three hospitalizations in three years. To put that fact into perspective: I've been hospitalized four times, my first hospital stay was in 2007 but the second stay wasn't until 2013. That means I was stable for six whole years. But since 2013 stability has been hard to sustain.

All four of my manias have happened in the springtime. There's something about the sunshine and flowers blooming that send me into a tailspin. In fact, I wrote about me, mania, and the spring this time last year.

For the past few months I've been apprehensive about spring's arrival. I mean, three for three, what are the odds? And what are the odds that this year won't continue the trend? My boyfriend is claiming the Law of Averages for me. Meaning, my episodes will even out. I've had a crappy run of it the last three years, so my luck must look up soon. I don't know if I believe it, but I'm hoping that it's so.

Knowing that spring is coming and soon, I've been on high alert for warning signs of mania. For instance, twice in the past few weeks I've stayed up writing until the wee hours of the morning, midnight on the first occasion and 2am this morning. I felt incredibly productive and felt driven to keep working even though I know how important good sleep hygiene is. (Decreased sleep is often one of the first signs of mania and depression for me.)

You see, the mania doesn't care about my sleep. The mania is single-minded. But I can't feed into it, which I've now done twice.

However, I am taking care of myself: I take my psych meds regularly, I see my therapist every three weeks, I see my psychiatrist pretty regularly as well, I increased the frequency of my acupuncture sessions knowing that spring is a trouble time, I'm exercising and trying to eat healthy. On the self-care front I've got it covered. If only I could stop giving into the heightened-productivity impulses. I vow to work on that.

I claim that this year I won't be hospitalized.

But if I am, I will commit myself to recovery as I have done the previous four times. Neither mania, nor depression, will bring me to my knees.

I am more than my bipolar label.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lifestyle Changes and Weight Loss Goals

I want to lose about 10-15 pounds. To do that I've been trying to become more conscious of what I'm eating. I recently started working with a new doctor on lifestyle changes. She believes that there are two types of food. Foods that heal and foods that harm. I can dig that. There is certainly a connection between certain diseases and the foods we eat.

One of the many changes my new doctor suggested is that I stop drinking milk and eating milk-related products. No yogurt, no cheese. This was tough. I used to eat a Greek yogurt for breakfast every morning like clockwork. Well, I needed something to replace the yogurt so I googled healthy breakfasts.

BREAKFAST

This is chia seed pudding. It's made of almond milk, chia seeds, and maple syrup. 
It tasted okay. But I'll definitely have to get used to the consistency and hopefully I
eat it more, as it is packed with nutrients. Chia is known as a superfood.


These beauties are egg muffins
They were super easy to make and tasted just like miniature omelets.
I put spinach and diced red and green peppers in mine. But you can add any filling you want.
I've seen some with bacon.

Speaking of omelets... 
For about a week I was obsessed with them 
and they were the only thing I was making for breakfast.


In addition to breakfast, I wanted to also make healthy choices for lunch, dinner, and snacks.


LUNCH/DINNER

I love plantains. I know they're not the healthiest thing I could eat, since they're fried, 
but they're oh-so-good! I paired them with green beans, black beans, and jerk chicken.
I marinated the chicken in a store-bought jerk seasoning,


SNACKS

I made a visit to the year-round, in-door farmers' market. I was impressed with the wide selection of fruits and vegetables they had. I'm trying to snack mostly on fruits and veggies and not junk food.


I've found snack prepping extremely helpful. I measured (literally, with a measuring cup) out a serving size and then put the goodies in Tupperware or Ziploc baggies. Here I have apples, kiwi, strawberries and blueberries, trail mix (cashews, almonds, and cranberries), and carrots. Not shown are my red pepper strips. I eat the carrots and red peppers with hummus.


In the past month, I've already lost about 5 pounds, I just want to lose 10-15 more. I have an ideal weight in mind. Last month I tried to do a 30-day fat loss challenge. It included a meal plan and a 5-day per week workout plan. I only lasted a week. Then I came down with a cold and a terrible cough. Threw me off the workout regime. But to be honest, the meal plan was hard to follow. The food was good but the portion sizes were small. I know I have to change my portion sizes if I want to lose weight. But I was constantly hungry that one week I participated in the fat loss program. However, I wish I could have stuck it out. The other participants posted their before and after photos to Instagram and they got some amazing results in four weeks. I need to get back into my groove of exercising. What are your fitness and health goals?