Friday, September 9, 2016

Weight Gain Struggles

One of the enduring effects of my psychiatric medication side effects is the weight gain.

Side effects can occur when one starts a new medicine or when there is a dose change in a medicine one is already taking. I had a medicine dose change, an increase, in 2013, shortly after the picture on the left was taken to control a manic episode. In 2013 I gained 52 pounds over the span of a three- or four-month window of time.

In 2015, while manic again, I managed to lose about 25 pounds or so. I wasn't consciously trying to lose weight, I wasn't exercising, but when I'm manic I eat less. I wrote about my weight fluctuations last year. But since then I've gained all the weight back. I think it partly had to do with my birth control.

I used to avoid taking pictures after I initially gained the weight. I was used to being thin my entire life and to all of a sudden put on so much weight... I didn't like the way I looked in clothes. I felt frumpy.

Now, I make an effort to buy clothes that flatter my shape. And it doesn't hurt that my boyfriend likes my current body. It's a great boost to my self-esteem and body image.

I'd still like to lose some of this weight. I don't need to get back down to 128 pounds (I'm currently 169 pounds), but I want to be smaller. I haven't been exercising consistently. To change that, I signed up for a fitness class held at my town's recreation center. The first class is next week. I'm hoping to attend regularly.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Quick Spring and Summer 2016 Update

I need to be better about blogging more often.

In my defense, this summer was really busy. I took two summer school graduate classes during summer session (May and June). Then, when the classes ended, I started a summer job for July and August. I live in New Jersey, but this summer I worked in Brooklyn, New York. My days were long. Super long. I didn't feel like doing much when I got home.

But I maintained my mood stability! This Spring was the first mania-free one in the last few years. 2013, 2014, and 2015 saw me manic and hospitalized. But not this year :)

At the end of my summer graduate classes, I completed my first year of graduate school for my Master's in Social Work. I'm proud to report that I finished my first year with a 4.0 GPA and I was awarded a National Association of Social Workers (NASW) scholarship in the amount of $5500! My first year was a smashing success. A week and a half ago I started year two of graduate school. (I'm attending part time, so it'll take me three years to graduate instead of two.) And this year I begin an internship. I'll be interning three days per week at a local hospital's adult outpatient substance abuse program. The internship lasts all year, September to early May.

Even though I haven't blogged much on Manic Monique, I was published this summer on The Mighty and the International Bipolar Foundation. The outside sites are where I publish less personal, more broad posts. I'm trying to have a presence on multiple fronts.

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 :-)