Friday, June 24, 2016

A Letter to My Little Cousin, Recently Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

Dear Little Cousin,

When your mother told me that you had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I cried.

I wept because I did not want anyone else in the family to walk the road I am on with my own bipolar disorder diagnosis. I wept because bipolar disorder can be more difficult to manage the younger that you are when you are diagnosed. I was 23 when my symptoms surfaced. You are 14. I feel that is too young to have to deal with emotional and mental concerns.

And yet visiting you in the hospital was bittersweet. It dredged up memories of my own hospitalizations – all four of them – but I was glad that you were receiving treatment and on the road to recovery and wellness.

Attending your 8th grade graduation, my heart swelled with pride. And love. And hope. I felt all of this because the last few months were not easy for you. You had more than your fair share of challenges to overcome. Thankfully, you did not have to do any of it alone.

The relationship you have developed with your therapist warms my heart. She has impacted you to your core, so much so that you, too, now want to be a therapist. That would be the ultimate way of paying it forward, of passing on what was instilled into you.

I know you are only 14, but if this career goal sticks, I know that you will make an excellent therapist. You have firsthand knowledge of what it means to live in mood instability and mood stability. You know the impact of a caring adult and professional; and from what you told me about how you relate to your peers, listening and giving advice, you are already honing important skills.

Listening to you talk about your newfound career interests made me beam with pride. I, too, want to become a therapist because of my own experiences with my diagnosis. I, too, have been blessed with great, caring mental health providers and I want to pay it forward.

I hope that I can also be a role model for you in how to live in recovery and instability. I’ve had nearly ten years to learn about my bipolar disorder. I’ve learned to be reflective and proactive. If you ever need help navigating your moods or self-care or high school next year, I’m here.

Love always,

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Law of Averages, Mania, and Spring

I survived Spring 2016!

Every spring for the last three years (2013, 2014, and 2015) I became manic and was hospitalized for a number of days. I was worried that I'd bat four-for-four and also become manic this year. However, that was not the case. And I am so relieved.

Earlier this year my boyfriend mentioned the Law of Averages to me regarding the streak of manias I had been experiencing. He claimed for me that my luck would change, that after three years in a row I was bound to have some reprieve.

Back in February and March, on about two occasions, I felt the twangs of mania: hyperproductivity and insomnia. But luckily nothing came of it.

To stave off the mania, I continue to take my prescription medications; I see my psychiatrist and therapist regularly; I increased the number of acupuncture treatments I receive per month; and I continue to make self-care and sleep priorities.

I know there's no magic bullet to living in recovery, but I like my system. Every component is important, but perhaps the most important two, for me, are sleep and meds.

Additionally, I am glad that I made it through my first year of my graduate school program without a hospitalization. I experienced my first bipolar episodes (one depression and one mania) ten years ago when I attended graduate school for my Master's in Education. I took a leave of absence from the program to focus on my recovery and wellness and would not graduate until two years later. Now, back in graduate school, this time for a Master's in Social Work, I am happy that the first year is down, and without any mental health crises. Just two more years of grad school to go. I'm claiming that I'll be bipolar episode free for the duration.

I know that relapse is part of the disorder. And I've learned to handle both the depression and mania as best can be expected. But I'm hoping the Law of Averages holds true for the next few years.

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?