Monday, January 18, 2016

Learning Spanish

I studied French in middle and high schools. Then once I got to college, I switched to studying Spanish. The result was that I knew neither language well. For instance, I would know a word in one language but not the other.

Case in point: I studied abroad the summer before my senior year of college in Spain, Morocco, Egypt, and Italy. While in Spain, some of my friends and I went to a local grocery store to buy sandwich meat, cheese, and bread. All I could think was "fromage." Fromage is cheese. But in French! For the life of me I could not remember the word "queso." And everybody knows queso is cheese, even people who haven't studied Spanish.

Well, when I was hospitalized in 2013, I was highly manic. Somehow I became fluent in Spanish. The Spanish that I learned in college combined with working one-on-one for a few days with my Spanish-speaking roommate worked a miracle. A symptom of mania is pressured speech (aka talking really fast), combine my pressured speech with the Spanish and I sounded like a native. One of the hospital techs thought I was Latina!

However, once the mania subsided so too did my Spanish-speaking ability. Three years later and I'm doing something to reclaim my lost fluency. In November, I enrolled in a 10-week beginner course that I found a $79 Groupon for. (Yay for Groupon!) The class meets in Manhattan once per week for 90 minutes. I'm nearly done with the course. I take the exam this Tuesday to see how much I mastered from Level 1. But I know I'll pass. I feel pretty confident about the basics of Spanish. So I already went ahead and registered for Level 2, for another 10-week course. It starts next week.

Yo quiero hablar espanol. I want to speak Spanish.

Give me time, and I will be fluent again.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Personal Growth and Goals

I've been thinking a lot about personal growth and pursuing dreams. This fall I started graduate school for my Master's in Social Work. And two weeks ago I started a beginner's course in Spanish. Both have been longstanding goals for me. And I'm finally in a place to pursue them.

I also want to be more deliberate about exercising consistently and eating healthy. There are so many benefits to exercising, both mental and physical. I want to reap the rewards. I also want to stop gaining weight. Between late last year and earlier this year I lost about 35 pounds. Weight that I had gained from one of my psychiatric meds, However, I've since gained back about 17 of those pounds. Lately I feel extra hungry and just eat nonstop. I'm sure it's a side effect of one of my meds. So I need to be proactive and cut back on my portion sizes, make better food choices, and exercise again.

The last goal I have for myself is to get my driver's license. I have a lot of anxiety and fear around driving. That's why I'm a non-driving 32-year-old. I took driver's lessons a few months ago, but then I didn't go to my road test. I'm hoping to kick this fear and get the daggone license once and for all. Wish me luck!

Lastly, I wanted to ask you all: what have you been putting off? What do you want to do? Hobby, career, fitness/health/nutrition, etc? We get a brand new month today. How are you going to use it to get one step closer to the YOU you'd love to be?

Let's become our best selves together!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 + Gratitude


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the food! And you know that I love to eat; just check out these two food posts.

This year I spent Thanksgiving with my boyfriend and his family in Pennsylvania. I was a bit worried that I might not like his mother's cooking, but my worries were pointless. The food was good. We had traditional black Thanksgiving foods: ham, turkey, yams, macaroni and cheese, collard greens. His family also had dishes that my family doesn't make on Thanksgiving: lasagna and chicken parmigiana. 

All in all it was a relaxing and fulfilling holiday. I hope your holiday was wonderful, between the food and quality time spent with family and friends!

Furthermore, 'tis the season of reflection and gratitude.

Here's what I'm grateful for:
  • My physical and mental health. 
  • My family.
  • My boyfriend.
  • Being able to pursue my MSW and change careers.
  • Blogging and sharing my story and life with you all.
  • My friends.
  • The things we take for granted: a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear.
  • Health insurance.
  • Good credit.
  • Savings.
  • The readers of my blog, especially those of you that leave comments. I love to hear from you all!

What are you grateful for this season?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Grad School Accommodations

I've worked - as an instructional assistant, substitute teacher, and full-time teacher - in schools for a little over 7 years. In that time, I've come to see that different students have different needs. For students who receive special education services, they have a legal document in place called an IEP or an Individualized Education Program. It basically lays out the modifications and accommodations that the school and teacher must comply with in order to meet the student's needs.

But, IEP's only apply to K-12 education. There are no IEP's in college or graduate school. However, many colleges do have an Office of Disability. And colleges can't discriminate against students for any disability the student may have.

I don't know how I found out about accommodations at the higher education level, but this summer I sought out the Office of Disability at my grad school to find out about what I am entitled to. Yesterday I finally followed up with them.

I brought a letter from my psychiatrist stating that I have a mood disorder and am under her care. And I had a 30-minute intake meeting with a staff member to discuss my medical and school histories. She determined that the two accommodations that would suit my circumstances best are extended time on 1-2 assignments per class per semester and 1-2 excused absences per class per semester. I knew about extended time as it is one of the accommodations some of my students received. But I was unaware of the excused absences.

I'm grateful to have been approved for these two accommodations. But in all honesty, I'm hoping that I won't need to use them. When I'm stable I can produce work. It's when I'm in the midst of an episode that I would need the help.

I really needed the help the first time I went to graduate school (for my Master's in Education. I'm now in school for my Master's in Social Work). I was depressed and could barely get out of bed to make it to student teaching and my seminar class. I did no work for my seminar class at all that semester; in fact, I didn't finish that work from fall semester until the spring semester. But at this time I wasn't diagnosed yet. I was just acting erratically. I didn't know what the problem was. I just knew I wasn't myself and I couldn't focus long enough to get my work done.

I'm hoping to make it through this grad program without enduring an episode. My program is three years long, so here's hoping. I say that because I have been manic and hospitalized every spring for the past three years. Three hospital stays in three years is a lot.

Despite that history, I'm hoping to stay stable. Thereby not needing the accommodations. But if I need them, they are there. I can't tell you how much peace of mind this brings me.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Creative

I've always been a writer. But only recently have I taken an interest in other types of art. Two summers ago I took a drawing class. It was fun. And a year ago I attended a drawing class at MOCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts) in Brooklyn. The class was taught by artist Shantell Martin.

When I was in DC last summer I bought the following clutch from one of the Smithsonian Museums.


And during one of my hospital stays we had art therapy. We made collages. Here's a collage a fellow patient made. I liked it so much so he let me keep it.



Here's the collage I made. I had both collages framed.


Here's what they looked like on my bedroom wall.




Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Making Time for Self-Care

Tonight I checked in with a friend who recently tried to commit suicide. Thankfully, she's doing much better and is in recovery. She then asked how I was doing. I told her balancing teaching and grad school is tough.

My current schedule is kicking my butt. I'm teaching middle school English full-time, 7:20am to 4:45pm. I'm at a charter school so the hours are extended. Plus, I'm in graduate school part time for my MSW (Master's in Social Work). And on top of both I have insomnia; I wake frequently during the night and I can't nap during the day. Surprisingly I'm alert during the day. But around 5pm I get tired. Which is no good for doing grad school homework or lesson planning for work.

After updating my friend on my current life, she asked what self-care I was engaging in. My heart melted at this question. I live for self-care. And I've written about it multiple times: Who Cares for the Caregiver, Self-Care as Revolutionary Action, How to Rebuild Your Life After a Mental Illness Hospital Stay, and How I Manage My Bipolar Disorder.

Right now, for self-care, I am:

  • drinking 40 to 60 ounces of water a day
  • exercising three times per week
  • receiving an acupuncture treatment every three weeks
  • taking my psychiatric medicine as prescribed
  • keeping up with appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist
  • spending quality time with my boyfriend
  • getting my hair done once per week
  • blogging again
  • and I'm staying abreast of grading assignments at work
I also love getting massages. I'm hoping to book an appointment within the next few weeks. And I'm hoping to hang out with friends soon; I've been slacking lately. But I have to remember to schedule in social time.

So what are you doing for self-care? What restores you? What refuels your tank? Do more of that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My 4th Mania and 4th Hospital Stay

If you go back and re-read (or read for the first time) the blog entries for March 2015 it's pretty evident that I was headed for a manic episode. I was having sleep issues, I was posting more to social media, I was extra productive and creative, I had pressured speech (speaking quickly), and I had racing thoughts.

The mania started to surface in February 2015. I was grandiose in a job interview, basically told the interviewer "I'm the shit." There were other signs too (as mentioned above).

March 11th to 14th I was in Kentucky presenting at a conference. While there my manic symptoms escalated. My sleep issues worsened and I became extra emotional. The pressured speech and racing thoughts were worsening as well. My acupuncturist said the spring-like weather (it was warmer in Kentucky than in my home state of New Jersey) and the excitement of presenting a workshop did not help the mania. As I've written previously, spring is a trigger for my mania. All my manias, all four of them over the last eight years, have happened in spring, March to June.

Leaving Kentucky further worsened the mania. The flight was delayed, causing me to miss my connection in Charlotte, NC. There were hold ups at the airport and hotel. When I finally got to my hotel room it was after midnight. I had to be to the airport at 7am, so I had to be on a 5am shuttle. I only slept three hours that night. This was Sunday March 15th. Sleep, like spring, is also a huge trigger for me. I knew I was in trouble. I made an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist and acupuncturist for that Monday, March 16th. My psychiatrist increased my meds and told me to let her know if I still wasn't sleeping. My acupuncturist tried to bring the mania down. This session was my most intense acupuncture session in the two years I've been receiving treatment. I cried during the entire session. From the pain of the needles - I never cry from the needles, they're not very painful, for the most part, but the mania had me emotionally sensitive and physically sensitive. Each needle was incredibly painful. I talked through most of the session, explaining to my acupuncturist that I did not want to be manic. I lamented the fact that every spring for the last three years I had been manic (and also hospitalized). I wrote how the gospel song Withholding Nothing was extremely cathartic for me. I listened to it on repeat during my treatment. After this emotionally draining session I felt tons better. Calmer.

The next few days I slept three to four hours per night. Then, Tuesday night/Wednesday morning I slept an hour, at 6am on Wednesday morning. I was up all night on the computer. Being hyperproductive. Researching and writing. I knew I was in trouble after I woke from the one hour of sleep. I don't drive, so I text five of my closest family and friends asking for a ride to the hospital. It didn't occur to me to call an ambulance. Even though I had seen my psychiatrist two days prior, I knew that the mania had progressed too quickly, too fast for her to treat me outpatient. I either needed IOP (intensive outpatient program) or a hospital stay.

Even though I was in the throes of a heightened manic episode, I had enough sense to pack my hospital bag: loose fitting, comfortable clothes; underwear; toiletries; notebooks; and my bible. My mother returned home, my aunt, who I text for a ride, must've called her. When I woke I knew my mom wasn't home, but I wasn't sure where she was so I didn't think to text her for a ride. But my mom is the one who took me to the hospital. My aunt met us there.

The ER visit was pleasant enough. Since it was still early in the morning (in the past I've gone to the ER in the afternoon or evening) I didn't have to wait in the ER that long. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the process for a mental health hospital stay. But first you go to the Emergency Room. They have a crisis counselor assess you: they ask you a bunch of questions about your behavior, mood, and drug use. If you were accompanied to the hospital they also talk to your family member or friend, to get another perspective on your behavior and symptoms. The crisis counselor might also talk to your providers (therapist or psychiatrist). Next, a determination is made: inpatient (hospital) or outpatient (a few days per week of intensive therapy, but you get to live at home). It was decided that I'd be hospitalized.

Once I got to the behavioral health unit, it felt like returning to a second home. I hugged the nurses that I knew from my three previous hospitalizations. I updated them on what had been happening since my last hospital stay, only 10 months prior.

I don't remember much from the first few days. But the salient memories for me from this hospital stay are:
  • I really liked my psychiatrist. Every psychiatrist I've had while hospitalized has been great.
  • The food is always really good. But it took me about an hour or so to eat each meal. When I'm manic I'm easily distracted. I'll do anything but eat: talk to another patient, talk on the phone, wander around, etc.
  • I didn't get many visitors this time. I normally have at least one visitor per day. I don't know if people were busy with their own lives and concerns or had conflicting schedules or no babysitters or whatever, but for whatever reason, less people visited me. It snowed one day while I was there and no one showed. I cried. I was on the phone calling everyone trying to find someone to come visit me. Understandably, people did not travel in the snow to come see me.
  • I was supposed to be discharged on a Friday. That morning the psychiatrist told me he was concerned that I was only still sleeping three to four hours per night. So he was going to keep me until Monday. Three more damn days. I cried hysterically at the news. So instead of 10 days, I was hospitalized 13 days. This would be my second longest hospital stay. My longest stay was 17 days. To give you some perspective, most people stay, on average, 5 to 7 days. I doubled that number. It is incredibly hard to be "locked up." Meal times are scheduled. Computer and phone time, your links to the outside world, are rationed. Visiting hours are only two hours per day. You can't have any technology: phone, laptop, tablet, iPod. And your expected to attend group therapy and process why you're there in the first place. Plus, you can't go outside; there's no terrace or courtyard we have access to. So 13 days is a long ass time.