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.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

BP Magazine Interview

Back in December, I mentioned that I was interviewed for the spring issue of BP Magazine (Bipolar Magazine). Well, that issue has been published! Check out my interview below. It was really cool seeing my story in print. I've been published in online outlets over the last few months, but there's nothing like having a finished product to actually hold in your hands. Call me old fashioned, but I still like print.
 
In the article, I discuss how difficult it was navigating my life around the depression. But somehow I managed to do it for an entire year. It helped that my employer was understanding and accommodating. I know that's not always the case.
 
Note: The article accurately captures my depression. However, they get my age wrong. I am 31 not 35.
 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Weight Loss and Weight Gain Update

In June 2013, my Seroquel dose was increased from 600mg to 800mg. Seroquel is notorious for weight gain as a side effect. Mind you, I had been on Seroquel for 6 years on a low dose of 100mg and had never had weight gain issues.
 
But at 800mg, the uppermost dosage I believe, I didn't stand a chance. I couldn't control my hunger urges. I was eating everything in sight. Literally. I was eating all the time. And the pounds packed on. I gained 52 pounds in three to four months. In my first 29 years, I had never weighed more than 128 pounds. In fact, it took me forever to break 125 pounds. I was so happy when I finally weighed that much. But after the Seroquel weight gain, I got up to 171 pounds. The weight gain coincided with a 12-month depression. I'm sure the body image issues I gained did nothing to help the depression.
 
I became manic during the summer of 2014 and the weight just started to fall off. I wasn't exercising, but I was consciously eating less (as a tactic and as a side effect of the mania). And I've heard weight loss is more about diet than exercise. Well, they work together, but portion control goes a long way.
 
After this recent manic hospitalization (March 2015), I lost a few pounds as I always do when I'm having an episode (whether manic or depressive; I don't eat much during either). But since getting discharged, I've gained about 11 pounds. I'm currently hovering between 140 and 142 pounds. I don't think I'll see 128 pounds again, but I also don't want to be more than 150.
 
I'll be going back to watching my portion sizes and I'm going to get back into a consistent exercise routine. I haven't exercised consistently since before the third mania (summer 2014). A year ago I was exercising three to four times per week. That is my goal again.
 
What a difference a year makes!
Left: February 2014
Right: February 2015

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Dating with Bipolar Disorder

When my bipolar disorder manifested, or rather, I should say, when I was diagnosed, I was 23 and in graduate school. I had recently begun dating a guy I went to high school with. So we had known each other for about ten years. When I was hospitalized for mania, he came to visit me. When I was discharged, he supported me and stayed with me. We would break up a few months later. Not because of the bipolar disorder, but for other reasons.

I did not realize that what I experienced with this guy was such a huge feat.

For the next six years I would be stable - no episodes, no hospitalizations. My next serious relationship happened because of Match.com. I met a fellow teacher and we bonded instantly. The attraction was immediate. We dated for a few months, close to a year. We too broke up, but remained loosely attached in that weird limbo of do-I-don't-I-want-you land. Then, my second hospitalization happened. He did not come visit me in the hospital. He did not call my mother to check on me. When I was discharged I did not call him out on this behavior, but I was saddened by it. A few months later he completely cut me off. With no warning or any explanation. A year would go by before we spoke again. But when we did, I asked him why the disappearing act. His honest response was that my hospitalization scared him. I do not blame him for walking away. Not everyone can handle dating a person with a mental illness/mood disorder. But what was not acceptable was how he handled it.

After this, which occurred two years ago, I became worried that no one would want to date me because of my diagnosis. I was depressed June 2013 to May 2014 so I wasn't worried about dating during that year. But when the depression ended, and the mania started, I grew interested in a relationship again. Summer 2014 I dated casually and seriously. The guy I was dating seriously would eventually become my current boyfriend.

He read and researched the topic of dating someone with bipolar disorder. He attended a Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) meeting with me in August 2014. And when I was hospitalized a month ago for 13 days, he visited me twice (commuting from NYC to NJ to see me) and we spoke every day.

Since I've been blogging, I've been reading articles about mental health and I follow a bunch of mental health organizations on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). Some of these articles discuss being in relationships with people who have mental illnesses and I must confess, people's views on dating people with mental illness scare me sometimes. There were so many horror stories in the comments section. So many people cautioning non-diagnosed people away from dating people with diagnoses. Stories of anger issues, money mismanagement, mood swings, violence, and overall low-functioning life abilities (i.e. the inability to hold down a job or pay bills on time or to seek help whether in the form of psychotherapy or medication). It all sounded so bleak.

So when my current boyfriend decided that he was ready to turn our casual/serious dating into a full-fledged relationship I was nervous and skeptical. Given all the reading he'd done, and given that my last boyfriend fled, why would he chance dating me?

Despite the dating and marriage horror stories and despite my chronic illness (I've been hospitalized every spring for the last three years), he still chose me. I chose him, too. But I just feel like I come with a lot of baggage. And the thing is, I never thought any of this until the teacher boyfriend from two years ago left. The guy I dated from high school was cool with the bipolar just like my current boyfriend is. So I guess two out of three isn't so bad after all.

If you too have a mental illness and are worried about dating, don't worry too much. I honestly believe there is someone for everyone. Just keep looking. And do not be discouraged by the articles and the horror stories. Remember: we are the masters of our own fates, the captains of our own souls. We choose how our relationship stories go. It does not have to be a horror story.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Blogging Survey Update

First of all, thank you to everyone who responded to my blog survey. The answers were encouraging and informative.

In the blog entry linked above I mentioned my reasons for blogging. I was worried that my impact was different than the one I intended. But based on the survey responses, my blogging is right where I want it to be. Granted, not that many people responded, but that just means I will give the few respondent's voices more weight.

They all agreed that my blog informs/educates and offers a story from a woman of color living with mental illness. All but one said my blog helps to dismantle mental health stigma. I am proud that my blog does all three. And I hope I am doing my story justice.

A few weeks ago when I opened the survey, I wasn't sure if I would continue to blog. But for the time being, I can confidently say that I will continue. I will continue to blog until I feel it no longer serves my purposes.

Thank you so much for reading these past 10 months. Thank you for commenting and engaging with me. Thank you for sharing with your friends and families. Please continue to do all three: reading, commenting, and sharing.

Sending you peace, love, and blessings.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cape May

My boyfriend's birthday was a week ago. To celebrate we took a trip to Cape May, NJ, a quaint beach town. It was both our first times to Cape May and we loved it. We stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast one block away from the Atlantic Ocean. It was nice to get away.

I haven't been blogging much because I was hospitalized for a manic episode for two weeks in March. And now I'm in an intensive outpatient program (IOP) three days per week. I just finished my third week, I still have three more weeks to go. Don't worry. I have plenty to blog about. And over the next two months I will be writing about my experiences with this manic episode (my fourth); my 13-day hospitalization; IOP; and my normal, non-bipolar life.

Hence, why the weekend getaway down the shore ("down the shore" is a Jersey saying) was so rejuvenating.

Here are some pictures of our weekend. We stayed this past Saturday to Monday.

 The obligatory feet-in-the-sand shot.
 
 Me and the ocean.
 
Had to take a selfie.

A beautiful capture of the sun and the shoreline.

Our bed & breakfast. A gorgeous Victorian home.

 A town trolley. Unfortunately, we were unable to take a tour around town.
There's always next time!
 
Me and the town bell.

Even though it's spring time, we still have cold days here in NJ. I had to buy a sweatshirt
because I didn't pack a jacket. The sign I'm holding says: "Take vacations. Go as many places as you can. You can always make more money. You can't always make memories."
Indeed. I'm hoping to incorporate more travel into my self-care.

My favorite picture of the entire trip. We took a bus from Manhattan to Cape May.
This is us on the return trip home.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Blogging Survey: What is My Impact?

I've been blogging since June 2014, that's about 10 months. I had lofty goals for my blogging.

First, here are the not-so-lofty goals:
  1. I wanted to write again. Before June 2014, I had not written since my days as a poet in high school some 13 to 14 years prior.
  2. I find blogging to be very cathartic. I discuss stuff here, on Manic Monique, that I haven't even fully processed in 8 years with my therapist. And I love my therapist. But in session I tend to be guarded. On Manic Monique I have let down my walls.
  3. I wanted to demystify bipolar disorder for the average reader. Granted, my blog just represents one story, my story, but I wanted to show what bipolar is and is not or what it can or cannot be.
  4. And I wanted to write this blog to show that black people, and by extension, other people of color, of various races and ethnicities, too struggle with mental illness. It is not a wealthy white person's luxury problem.
  5. And now, for my lofty goal: the blog would serve as fodder for the memoir I want to write. In 10 months that I have been writing this blog and through the two memoir writing classes I have taken, this goal has shifted some. I no longer want to write a memoir. Instead, I'll be writing a collection of personal essays. Still very much memoir-inspired. But they'll draw from my non-fiction writing strength. (Memoir while non-fiction, draws heavily from fiction in terms of style. And I am no fiction writer.).
I recently got discharged from the hospital for a 13-day stay. I'll be writing about it soon. Just doing some recovery and IOP. But the hospital stay made me question the effect of my blogging. Was I adding detrimentally to the face of mental health? If I present as highly-functioning and so-called "normal," was I not showing the true impact of mental illness on consumers?

Well, I wanted to know what my readers thought. So I created a brief Google Form survey to find out. I've shared it to Facebook and Twitter, and now I share it here. Please take 5 minutes to anonymously tell me what you think of my two blogs, Manic Monique and the Huffington Post. I really do value your feedback.

And I need to know that I am having a positive impact. If the impact is not what I want, I am considering stopping blogging and instead devoting that time to my collection of personal essays.

Please take the 5 minutes and share your thoughts with me. I will be eternally grateful.

You can access the survey through this link here.