Monday, June 30, 2014

Online Psychotherapy

Today NPR posted an article about online psychotherapy. It's an interesting read. I suggest you check it out.

Online psychotherapy has a few benefits. Like what if you move but loved your therapist. Through Skype you'd still be able to keep your same therapist and have continuity of care.

However, I don't think I'd like to Skype with my therapist. We have had phone conferences if I couldn't make it into the office or if I was having a crisis. But for the most part I prefer in-person sessions.

There's a lot your therapist can tell about you in person: have you gained weight from the medicine, what is your affect and disposition, are you making eye contact?

Ultimately, the decision rests with the patient. I say go with whatever type of therapy suits you best. At the end of the day what matters is that you are getting the help you need. I can't recommend therapy enough.

I'm Here

A few years ago I read Alice Walker's The Color Purple. I thought it was a good book. And a few years later I saw it on Broadway. I really liked the soundtrack. There's one song, "I'm Here," that particularly spoke to me. It is about courage, and strength, and resiliency, and self-love. I love it. I sometimes think of it as my anthem. Here it is.


I got my children
I can't hold them now
They may not be here
But they still mine
I hope they know I still love them
Got my house
It still keep the cold out
Got my chair when my body can't hold out
Got my hands doing good like they supposed to
Showing my heart to the folks that I'm close to
I got my eyes though they don't see as far now
They see more about how things really are now
I'm gonna take a deep breath
I'm gonna hold my head up
I'm gonna put my shoulders back
And look you straight in the eye
I'm gonna flirt with somebody when they walk by
I'm gonna sing up, sing up
I believe I have inside of me everything that I need to live a bountiful life
With all the love alive in me
I'll stand as tall as the tallest tree
Yes, I'm thankful for each day that I'm given
Both the easy and hard one's I'm living
But most of all I'm thankful for loving who I really am
I'm beautiful
Yes, I'm beautiful
And I'm here

Saturday, June 28, 2014

IOP Concerns

Yesterday (Friday, June 27th) in IOP the therapist had us share our weekend plans. I'm trying to make up for lost time, so I have a lot of plans. Friday I had IOP from 10:30am to 2pm, met up with a friend for dinner at 4:30pm, saw Dave Chappelle with another friend at 8pm, then met another friend for drinks at 11:45pm. Today I'm going to Spike Lee's block party at noon, a Broadway play at 2:30pm, a Match.com dating meet up at 7pm, and a club at 10pm. And tomorrow I'm going to another Broadway play at 3pm.

Yes, it's a lot!

But after the year I had, I want to have fun. I have no responsibilities at the moment other than focusing on my recovery.

After I relayed my weekend plans, the therapist asked the group if anyone was concerned about me. Four out of twelve people raised their hands. The first person said they weren't really concerned, that they had more of an observation. She said that if she was new to the group she'd think that I was the therapist. This made me happy since I want to become a social worker. The next person said that it sounded like I was biting off more than I could chew and to be careful not to get overwhelmed. The group also had concerns about my shopping. I've charged about $3500 in three weeks.

I told them that I have no concerns. I told them that this is my 3rd depression, 3rd mania, 3rd hospitalization, 3rd IOP. I got this. I know how I behave when manic and depressed. I know my triggers. My warning signs. I know when to be concerned. I was concerned June 2nd, a few days before I went to the hospital. I'm not concerned anymore. Yes, I am still manic. But I'm coming down. I know that I'm coming down because the shopping has slowed down, I'm not posting as much to Facebook/Instagram/my blog. And I'm sleeping normally. I no longer take sleeping pills. Sleep is a huge marker! If I'm sleeping well on my own; I'm okay.

Two friends also relayed their concerns to me yesterday. One says that I shouldn't be dating right now. Says that I'll scare guys away since I'm still manic. And my other friend is worried about my shopping. I'm not worried about the shopping because I recently reworked my budget.  I'll be out of debt in 13 months. Moving back home with my mom was the best thing I could've done. Instead of paying $1375 in rent, I'm now putting $1000 per month on my credit card debt. I'm also saving a little over $400 per month.

I really do have this under control. I'm in IOP, I'm taking my medicine, I'm sleeping.

No need to worry.

Friday, June 27, 2014

My Summer Plans

After the year I've had, I decided to spare no expense to have a great summer vacation. I have scrapped my budget for the summer.

I'll be taking three vacations (Raleigh, NC; Washington, DC; and Ocean Grove, NJ).

I'll be going to see three Broadway plays: Once, Avenue Q, and Book of Mormon. I'm also going to see Fuerza Bruta Wayra.

Tonight I'm going to see Dave Chappelle at Radio City Music Hall.

Tomorrow I'm going to Spike Lee's block party in Brooklyn. Last weekend I met Spike Lee at a pop up shop for the 25th anniversary of Do The Right Thing. I bought a book and two t-shirts. He signed the book and I took a picture with him.


Last weekend I had a dinner party for about 30 friends and family. Everyone had a good time. The food was good. The kids played in the park across the street. And the adults sat around and talked. We also played Taboo. I'll be having a game night next month.

 Aren't the plates, cups and napkins so cute!

I cut and dyed my hair last week. This is the first time I've colored my hair (other than black rinses I used to always do in high school). I really like how it came out! What do you think?


I haven't watched much TV lately. But I want to catch the second season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. What shows will you be watching?


This week I went to the Montclair Museum with a coworker and her daughter. We had a great time. I loved the museum exhibits.

 Me and a bust of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He's one of my favorite historical figures.

I'm hoping to go see Amma in NY in July. She's called the Hugging Saint. She stands in line for hours and hugs everyone that comes.


I've already mentioned in other posts about the 10-week memoir writing workshop I'll be taking through Gotham Writer's Workshop. I'll also be taking a workshop through them on how to get published.

I'll also be going out to brunch with former students. Here are the restaurants we'll be going to: Max Brenner, Sarabeth's, and B Bar & Grill.

I'm also hoping to do a lot of reading. I have 20 books that I want to read. I've read two already.

What are your summer plans?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Writing

I've always been a writer.

In high school I wrote poetry. During my senior year I even thought about publishing a book of poems. I spent weeks typing up my poems. When all was said and done I had about 200 pages.

I even contacted publishers. One sent me a mailing to send back my manuscript. Then just as fast I lost my interest in publishing my poems and never contacted the publisher. I know now that this was mania. When the mania passed so too did the interest in publishing.

Fast forward more than ten years, and here I am contemplating publishing again. This time I will follow through on it. I will be turning this blog into a memoir. Hopefully in a year or two.

Starting July 8th I'll be taking a 10-week memoir writing workshop through Gotham Writer's Workshop. I'm looking forward to it. Last summer I took a one-day memoir writing workshop through Gotham. It was a nice taste test. I'm looking forward to delving deeper than a one-day workshop allows. The 10-week workshop meets every Tuesday from 10am to 1pm. I'm looking forward to getting feedback on my work.

What do you think of my writing?

Clothes Really Do Make the Person

I've been doing a lot of shopping lately (this could be a manic shopping spree, although the mania is starting to come down). With my 17 pound weight loss, I've decided to buy clothes that I feel great in. I've missed getting dressed. I really miss my wardrobe. All last year I felt frumpy and fat. A number of people (family, coworkers, strangers) asked me if I was pregnant. My response was, "No, I'm just fat." It is beyond me why people think it is appropriate to ask a woman if she is pregnant. I found their question highly offensive and invasive.

Psychology Today recently published an article on the link between mood and clothing. Caring about your appearance is not frivolous or narcissistic:

"When a University professor asked students to put on Superman t-shirts, there was a scientific reason behind the request. Professor Karen Pine wanted to know whether the heroic clothing could really have an unconscious effect on the students’ thought processes. Her suspicions were confirmed. She found it boosted their impression of themselves and made them believe they were physically stronger than control groups. This, and other discoveries of how clothing can change our minds, is the topic of her new book called Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion.

When wearing a Superman t-shirt, Professor Pine’s students rated themselves as more likeable and superior to other students. When asked to estimate how much they could physically lift, those in a Superman t-shirt thought they were stronger than students in a similar t-shirt without the Superman logo, or in their own clothing. Through the book Pine reveals how people’s mental processes and perceptions can be primed by clothing, as they internalise the symbolic meaning of their outer layers."

Last year my friends suggested I buy clothes that I felt good in. I didn't heed their advice right away. I wish I would have. But I did not like how my body looked in clothes. My stomach was huge (I really did look pregnant). The one good thing about the weight gain was that it was evenly distributed throughout my entire body. I finally had a big butt! I've always wanted a stereotypically black body.

The article furthers the link between mood and confidence and clothing by saying:

"She describes the link between women’s moods and their clothing choices. Having found that women are more likely to wear jeans when feeling low or depressed, Pine explores how clothing can reinforce negative mood states. She also uncovers recent research into the link between mood and clothing, showing that when women are stressed their world narrows down and this results in them wearing less of their wardrobe, neglecting as much as 90 percent of it."

So choose your clothing carefully!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Weight Loss

As I've written before, I gained 52 pounds in about a three or four month window last year. I normally weigh between 125 and 128 pounds. I've never been heavier than 128. At my heaviest last year I weighed 171.

I can proudly report that I have lost a total of 17 pounds! I now weigh 154. I exercise two to four days per week. And since I got out of the hospital two weeks ago, I've been making a conscious effort to eat less. The IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy) nurse also told me that the new medicines I'm on (Latuda and Lithium) respond better to exercise, so I'll have an easier time losing weight.

I'm hoping to lose another 14 to 19 pounds. So my new ideal weight is 135 to 140. I don't know if I'll ever see 128 again. My primary care doctor told me that I was too thin before. But it's the only weight I've known. I'm naturally thin. I didn't hit 125 until my mid-20s; I'm only 30 now. And I'd like to fit into my old clothes. I can't fit about 75% of my wardrobe. And I love clothes!

I hope I lose another five pounds this summer. I joined the YMCA for the summer. My goal is to take three fitness classes per week for the summer: spinning, cardio, yoga, water aerobics, and zumba. During the school year my job subsidizes a personal trainer to work out with the faculty and staff. We only have to pay $5 per class! (Side note: I teach at a great school.)

What are your fitness goals? What do you do to stay motivated? Do you have any tips or suggestions for me to lose the last 14 to 19 pounds? Thanks in advance!

Lee Thompson Young

Actor Lee Thompson Young committed suicide last year. He was just 29 years old. He suffered from Bipolar Disorder too. He is best known for the Disney series The Famous Jett Jackson and the TNT series Rizzoli and Isles.

His family has broken their silence and are talking about his death. Read about it here. His family has started a foundation in honor of Young called the Lee Thompson Young Foundation. According to the website, the foundation's mission is to "promote mental health literacy through the Foundation's mission and vision. We envision a world in which mental illness is recognized by all as a treatable, biological disorder and the stigma associated with it no longer exists; a world that supports and encourages wholeness and wellbeing at every stage of life."

What a great mission and vision! I hope that my blog is reaching the same goals. I am not stigmatized by my disorder and have no problem sharing my story. I hope that by reading my blog it demystifies mental illness for you. I hope that by reading my blog you become more empathetic. I hope that by reading my blog you are able to look out for your friends and loved ones who might be battling their own mental illnesses.

Thank you for reading :)

Mental Illness on TV

There are three TV shows (that I know of) dealing with mental illness: United States of Tara deals with multiple personality disorder and Black Box and Homeland both deal with bipolar disorder. I've watched all three.

United States of Tara is a great show. Toni Collette does a great job transitioning between her "alters." She is a wild child teenage girl, a redneck man, and a peppy housewife.

Black Box is a new series. I watched the first three episodes. But I've since stopped watching. I thought the show did a good job of showing what mania looks like: the noncompliance with taking medicine, the rush, the energy, the creativity, the intelligence.

And Homeland stars Claire Danes. This show is fantastic! Danes works as a CIA analyst who is great at her job but doesn't always know how to manage her disorder.

You should check out the shows!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Insensitive Comments

The first time I was hospitalized in 2007 a friend had heard about it. But he didn't know the reason I was in the hospital. When I told him, he said, "at least it's not cancer." I didn't say anything to him. But later I would become very upset about his comment. Mental illness is just as serious as physical illnesses. You can die from mental illness just like you can die from a physical ailment. I never did say anything to my friend. Fast forward six years. When I was hospitalized for the second time in 2013 I finally said something. I even told him about suicide and lack of impulse control. He apologized. And of course he didn't remember saying this to me. I'm glad that I finally said something.

Around 2007/2008, I went to Washington, DC to visit a few friends from college who were in law school. One of my friends was telling us about one of her classmates who had a nervous breakdown. She ended the story by saying, "well, not everyone can cut it." I was highly offended by her statement. But this friend did not know about my own struggles with bipolar disorder. And again, I did not speak up. I regret this to this day. I have never called her out on this.

When I was depressed in 2006, my mom snapped her fingers in my face and said "snap out of it." If only depression worked that way. I knew I was being irrational; I knew I was harboring negative thoughts. But I was powerless to do anything about it. Especially since I didn't receive treatment (therapy or medicine) for the depression.

I give you these three examples to caution you against making insensitive comments. You never know what another person is going through. But try to treat people kindly. "Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

A Letter to My Younger Self

I bought this book, but haven't read it yet. The concept is that you write a letter to your younger self, giving the advice you wish you would've received at the time. Here's my letter. I've chosen to write to myself after my first hospitalization when I was working at the Newark charter school.

Dear Krystal circa 2008 (age 25),

Life is not over. You just hit a bump in the road. No one plans on getting sick. You cannot account for how an illness might derail your life.

I know you write your life in pen. You are a planner. You're meticulous that way. I get it. It's one of the things I love about you. But you have to learn that you cannot plan every minute of every day. Learn to become flexible. Trust me. You'll thank me later.

I know you are disappointed that you did not graduate from Rutgers on time. I know it is hard to see all your Duke friends living fabulous lives. To see them in medical school or law school. To see them on track with their goals. You'll get there one day. I promise.

Do not lose sight of your own goals. Yes, you went to graduate school to become a teacher. But working as a teacher's assistant and substitute teacher is not the end of the world. Observe. Hone your craft. You can learn a lot by watching others teach. I know you will view the two years you spent at the Newark charter school as a waste. But don't. You learned a lot about yourself. You learned that even though you had your heart and mind set on teaching in Newark, urban education is not for you. This does not mean that you are not "down for the cause." There are other ways to give back. The cause is not more important than your sanity. You can't make a difference if you are depressed.

Be kind to yourself. Don't beat yourself up over the $10,000 in credit card debt. In a few years your credit will recover.

It will take you two years to finish four papers. It is hard to do school work when your job is so toxic and you are depressed. But push through. Finish the degree. As your therapist says, you don't have to become a teacher, just finish the degree. I know the real reason you are not working on your degree: you fear that teaching will cause you to become depressed again. In your mind you have connected your depression in 2006 with your student-teaching. The two are not connected. Yes, the student-teaching was a trigger. But you can learn to manage your triggers. You will learn bipolar disorder inside and out. You will become attuned to how you act when a manic episode is looming. You will learn how to manage. I promise.

I just wanted to say that I love you. So very much.

Love,
Krystal
June 2014 (age 30)

How I Manage My Disorder

I went six years between my first (2007) and second (2013) hospitalizations. I pride myself on that. Through my three hospitalizations and three IOP's I've met people on their 10th or 15th hospitalization. Some people are chronically unemployed or on disability. They've let their illness dictate the course for their life.

It doesn't have to be this way.

To make sure I stay stable and highly functioning, I do a number of things:

  1. For the past 7 years, I've seen my therapist every 3 weeks and my psychiatrist every 3 months.
  2. I'm a compliant patient; I take my medicine faithfully, go to all follow up appointments.
  3. I make time for leisure (reading, hanging out with friends, going out to eat, getting massages, shopping, watching TV, etc)
  4. For the past year I've been getting acupuncture regularly. I'm trying to balance out my reliance on Western medicine with more holistic practices.
  5. I'm protective of my sleep. Not getting enough sleep can trigger depression or mania.
  6. I exercise two to four days per week. There are numerous health benefits gained from exercise.
  7. I try to eat healthy. I can definitely do a better job at this. I'll be going to see a nutritionist next week.
  8. I try to minimize my stress triggers. Grading my students' essays normally stresses me out. So I try to manage my procrastination. I don't always succeed at this. But I'm trying.

Suicide

I thank God that I've never been suicidal. And that I don't self-medicate with drugs or alcohol like many people with mental health issues.

It makes me sad to see all the suicides that have taken place lately. If you are having suicidal ideation please seek help. Do not use a permanent solution for a temporary problem.

I generally love IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy). However, it is really hard to be the only manic person around a bunch of depressed people. I'm too exhausting for them and they get irritated with me. It works both ways. I don't like listening to people discuss their suicide attempts. Life is too precious. The first time I did IOP, during one such discussion of suicide, one man spoke up. He said how could you attempt to take your life when life is beautiful and sacred. I agreed with him. And was glad that he spoke up.

For more information on famous suicides click here and here.

For help contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can call them at 1-800-273-8255.




Friday, June 20, 2014

Social Justice; New Senior Elective

I teach two senior electives.

Identity & Graphic Novels is a course I created and proposed. The course is all graphic novels (aka comic books). I was inspired by my love of The Walking Dead TV series and graphic novels. But they are too violent to teach so I had to find alternatives. I taught the course for the first time last year. The syllabus includes Understanding Comics A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight, Incognegro, Richard Wright's "Between the World and Me," Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," and Maus.


The graphic novels for my elective. 

 Incognegro

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge


Judging by the student feedback on the end of the trimester course evaluations, they enjoyed the class. The one piece of constructive feedback I really liked were that there were no female protagonists. So I've submitted the following changes for the next time I teach the course: replace Incognegro with Persepolis (the author and protagonist is a woman), and I'm hoping to replace Batman with Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (this author and protagonist is also a woman) and the Up/Down Bipolar Documentary. I really liked Incognegro, but it went out of print and copies now cost upwards of $50 whereas last year it cost $14! (The students purchase their own books like they're in college, so I want to keep the prices reasonable). My Department Chair is going to buy me a class set of Incognegro so I'll still be able to use it in the future. I hated Batman and do not want to teach it again; it was weird and very dark.

I also teach a senior elective on creative writing it is called Advanced Fiction Writing. The only books the students read are: Love that Dog and Nothing But the Truth, two children's books that we draw inspiration from for their own writing. And we also use Gotham Writer's Workshop Writing Fiction: A Practical Guide, a how-to manual for fiction writing. This course is for writers only because by the end they have to craft a 20 to 35 page book, whether it's one continuous story, a collection of short stories, poems, collection of poems and short stories, or a play. At the end of the class we take a field trip to the Primary School (private school talk for elementary school) so the students can laminate their book covers and bind the books on the binding machine. It's a nice keepsake of all their hard work.

I actually took a memoir writing workshop through Gotham last summer in Manhattan. They offer classes online and on site. It was very worthwhile. I did a 1-day workshop; this summer I'll be taking the intensive 10-week memoir writing workshop. It meets once per week from 10am to 1pm. I'll also be taking a class on how to get published.


I share with them a book I wrote in 3rd grade (yes, I still have it!). We spent a few months on this assignment. We'd go down to the computer room to work on our books. The 8th graders were our editors. Once we finished our books we had a book sale and signing and invited all of our parents. This is my favorite elementary school memory!

Here's my book from 3rd grade. Complete with a title page and a meet the author page and photo. I still look the same now as I did at 8 years old.

Last summer I did a National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) summer institute at Duke University (my alma mater!) on African American Literature and Social History. We read Black Artemis' Picture Me Rollin'. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although I have to admit at first I was very resistant to reading it. It reminded me of the hood books I read as a teen; a genre which I have not read in over a decade. However, I had to check my elitist attitude and examine why I thought this book had no literary merit. I also read the book with a question in mind: why would the Duke professors assign this book? What educational value is there? And my conclusion is that there is tons. I couldn't include this book in the curriculum for my 11th grade American Literature class, because it needs a context. I also don't know how the student population at my job would receive the book (I teach at a PWI - predominantly white institution; I'm one of two black faculty in the upper school (private school speak for high school)). 


At the Duke NEH summer institute. That's the Duke Chapel in the background.

Inspired by the NEH workshop, I've proposed a new senior elective on incarceration and autodidacts. The syllabus would include the following biographies/autobiographies: Assata Shakur (if I ever have a daughter, her name will be Assata Niara. Both are Swahili. It means "she who struggles for a purpose"), Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Piri Thomas (Down These Mean Streets), Claude McKay (Manchild in the Promised Land). In addition to Picture Me Rollin', I'd also use excerpts from bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Tupac, Tim Wise and Peggy McIntosh (all alluded to in Picture Me Rollin'), in addition to Jackson Katz. I would also like to view episodes of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.

What do you think of my courses?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Acupuncture and Deep Breathing


I started doing acupuncture last year when I got out of the hospital in April 2013. So it's been over a year. I must say I really love it. I was looking to balance out my use of Western psychiatric medication with more holistic practices. My acupuncturist has treated my mania, depression, allergies, headache, and weight loss. I've actually found the acupuncture to be way more effective than the mood stabilizers I'm on. But the catch is that the results don't last as long.

I've tried to get into yoga, because I know that also would be good for health and wellness. But it hasn't stuck yet. I did have one yoga instructor I loved when I was in the hospital last year. But I haven't found another teacher that I've "clicked" with.

In addition to the acupuncture, my acupuncturist has suggested I do yoga poses and deep breathing. She's told me that if I can get my breath down to my gut than my mania isn't that high.

Here are some yoga poses that she said are good for me:

Child's pose.

Bull's pose.

Yoga Mudra pose.

Notes from my acupuncturist on how to breathe deeply.

Mental Health Memoirs


I already owned these books (Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic; Kay Redfield Jamison An Unquiet Mind), but I packed them away with the rest of my books and belongings and put them in storage. So I bought them again. I've assigned myself homework: 1) read these bipolar memoirs and 2) research bipolar disorder. All in preparation for the bipolar memoir I want to write. I think my memoir will offer something that's not on the market. I haven't seen any mental health memoirs by people of color. I'm not claiming that I'll be writing the first, but I haven't seen any others. If you know of any, please add them to the Comments section below.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fear of Pregnancy

Bipolar women used to be encouraged not to have children. In fact, I didn't think I wanted children. I was afraid. Bipolar women have a greater chance of developing postpartum depression. And I didn't know if some imaginary kid that I wasn't sure I wanted was worth my sanity.

But I'll be 31 in August. My cut-off age for children is between 36 and 38. So I only have a few more years. I don't want to be 70 with a kindergartner! 

I always thought I'd have children early. My mom had her three children before 24. Most of the women in my family had teenage pregnancies. In fact, my freshman year of college, my boyfriend and I wanted kids then. Although in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't get pregnant.

I have a cousin who's a psychiatrist. I asked her about a possible pregnancy. This is what she had to say:

"You will have to come off the Lithium and the Temazepam to have a baby; they are both Category D drugs which means unsafe in pregnancy. Latuda is Category B so it supposed to be safe in pregnancy. If you could be stabilized on that throughout the pregnancy, you would be ok. There is a significant risk for postpartum relapse in bipolar disorder, also a risk for postpartum psychosis. If you choose to become pregnant, your psychiatrist should see you more often during the pregnancy to watch for symptoms and do medicine adjustments."

If you're interested in learning more about maternal mental health check out these links: Bipolar Disorder in Pregnancy and these two from The New York Times (they're both really interesting and really sad): Thinking of Ways to Harm Her and After Baby, An Unraveling.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Black Folk Don't Do Therapy"

Interesting video interviewing different black people about perceptions of therapy in the black community. Some of it echoes my own thoughts about mental health in the black community


Signs to Look Out For

In grad school, I told my friends and family that I hadn't been sleeping. I wore sunglasses in my classes. I was talking a mile a minute. I was shopping like crazy.

When I was depressed, I withdrew from my life, stopped talking to family and friends, lost weight, didn't sleep or eat, didn't shower or get my hair done.

Be on the lookout for sudden changes in behavior or mood. And say something if you notice something. Tell their spouse, their parents, your other friends. The sooner you intervene, the sooner the person you're worried about can get help.

And don't insensitively say, "Get over it." If it were cancer, instead of a mental illness, no one would dare utter such words. Be patient with them, too. They are not at their best. Be a good friend.

Words to Live By...

Words to live by...



Monday, June 16, 2014

Leisure Activities


I recently went to Walmart and bought some leisure items. I picked up a coloring book, crayons, a scarf loom, and yarn.

In the hospital I started making a hat on the loom, but I didn't finish it.

Hopefully the scarf comes out nicely. I'll post a picture of it when I'm done. Probably at the end of the summer.


Last year I took a drawing class through the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School. We had to draw with our non-dominant hand. It was a great class. I'd like to do more drawing in the future.



Last summer I made a glass paperweight at Newark's Glassroots. It was a lot of fun! It was very hot though. We were encouraged to drink a lot of water.

Sleep

"Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.
The way you feel while you're awake depends in part on what happens while you're sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development. The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others" (NIH).

For the past year I've had chronic sleep problems. At first I thought it was a withdrawal symptom of coming off of the Seroquel. Seroquel is highly sedating and I was on it for six years. If I missed a dose, I couldn't sleep. In June 2013 I started not being able to sleep. So my personal psychiatrist increased my Seroquel dose from 600mg to 800mg (the highest dose possible). This is why I gained so much weight. I was tapered off the Seroquel in November 2013 because of the 52 pounds I gained. My psychiatrist replaced it with 5mg of Saphris, a relatively new medicine.

I was still having sleep issues. I had trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep and I woke up early. I was so tired at work. I would lay down during free periods. I even got special permission from my principal to come in late. For the last few months of the 2013-2014 school year I came in late one, two or three times per week if I didn't have a first period class. I would fall asleep during our every-other-Thursday 7:45am faculty meetings. It was so embarrassing. I would be doing the "crackhead nod" -- you know what I'm talking about: your eyes can't stay open, your head falls to the side, you jolt awake and catch yourself, repeat.

I told my psychiatrist and he prescribed Xanax. It didn't help. He then prescribed Trazadone; that didn't help either. I even saw a sleep specialist in January. He prescribed Lunesta, a sleeping aid. It worked 66%: I could fall asleep and I could stay asleep, but I still woke up early. I became resigned, figuring that this was my new sleep pattern. It really sucked.

When I was hospitalized this month I told the psychiatrist about my sleep issues. He said that according to old research it was thought that sleep issues caused mood disorders. Turns out mood disorders can cause sleep troubles. The classic chicken or egg situation. The reason I wasn't sleeping was because I was depressed. And the medicines I was on wasn't working on the depression. Once the depression ended I became manic. Once the mania was treated with Lithium and Latuda my sleep issues went away. The hospital psychiatrist prescribed Temazapem for sleep, but I no longer take it since I don't have sleep issues anymore. And more importantly, I'm no longer groggy during the day. I don't do the "crackhead nod" anymore. And I've only had one cup of coffee in the past two weeks! (I only started drinking coffee seven years ago when I was first medicated; my meds made me so groggy).

A number of my family and friends have commented that I post to my blog at all hours of the night. Thanks for your concern! But I wake daily between 3am and 4am. I guess I'll always be an early morning riser now.

Kay Redfield Jamison

Kay Redfield Jamison is a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She also has bipolar disorder. She has written a number of books, among them is her memoir, An Unquiet Mind. Here is a great profile on her on Bipolar Magazine. Check it out!

I Love Reading

A picture of my bookcases

I love to read. But you could probably tell that by my summer reading list. I just regret that I don't get to read during the school year. Between reading/re-reading the texts I teach and grading essays I don't have the time. Although I have two colleagues who read every evening. I'm so envious. I teach at a private school so we get two weeks at winter break and two weeks at summer break. I usually read one or two books on these breaks.

(excuse the language)

Pardon Our Planet Comic


This comic strip hangs on my bulletin board in my classroom. Sometimes I worry that we coddle the students too much and that we're not building resilient people. Coping skills are life skills. It's incredibly important learning how to bounce back from setbacks and disappointments.

Any Suggestions?

Is there anything you'd like to see me address on my blog? Any questions you have about bipolar disorder in general or my experiences specifically, please ask in the Comments section below...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Shopping and Spending

When your manic, you have absolutely no impulse control. You make poor decisions. People have been known to have affairs, quit their jobs, spend a lot of money, and engage in risky and dangerous behaviors.

My vices are sex and shopping. I charged $10,000 in two or three months in 2007. I didn't spend any money in 2013. And in 2014 I charged $3,000. $3,000 is a lot more manageable than $10,000.

My mother helped me pay off my credit card debt in 2007. I was making around $25,000 per year as an instructional assistant/substitute teacher at the Newark charter school. I was paying a few hundred per month to student loans and to credit card debt. The debt depressed me. I had gone from zero to 60 in such a short amount of time. To go from zero credit card debt to $10,000 was debilitating. And I wasn't making much money at the time.

Despite going into such a deep financial hole seven years ago, my credit now is excellent. I still have credit card debt, which is why I moved back home with my mom. But I've created a budget; the debt will be gone in a year. Then I can afford to move back out on my own.

I know my credit is excellent because I checked my credit on AnnualCreditReport.com. (You get three free credit reports every year; when's the last time you checked your credit?) Also, one of my credit card carriers increased my credit limit to $15,500 from $13,000. I'm glad they did. It lowers my debt-to-credit ratio.

I've learned my lesson and have learned how to manage the mania much better now than I did in 2007. I've learned not to beat myself up about my debt. It's a part of life. However, once my credit card debt is gone at the end of next summer, I'm going to try my hardest not to amass any more credit card debt.

I've also been aggressively paying off my student loan debt. Between my two degrees I had $46,000 in student loan debt. Over the past two years I've paid off two of my three loans. I'm now down to $17,000. I'll be done paying off my last loan in four more years. (I cut my Sallie Mae consolidated loan repayment period down to 10 years from 20 years, saving over $30,000 in interest!) Just around the time I'll be graduating with my social work degree. And thankfully my job does 50% tuition remission. That's free money. So my first two degrees student loan debt won't overlap with the student loans from my third degree. I've planned this out very well. Remember, I'm a planner.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Spa Day

Yesterday was my last day of work. So now I'm on summer vacation until August 24th. To kick things off right, I made a full spa day appointment at Bodies and Faces. I bought the following package: massage, facial, manicure, pedicure, dry sauna, steam sauna and lunch. But since I recently got a manicure and pedicure I'm going to substitute a Brazilian wax. Let the self-care commence!

Mental Health in the Black Community

Thank you all for the overwhelming response to my thoughts, my experience and my blog! I've gotten text messages, phone calls, Facebook inbox messages, Facebook wall posts, and comments on Instagram.

In the midst of all the feedback my next blog post came to me: mental health in the black community. There is stigma in every racial and ethnic community around mental health. But especially so in the black community. There is the myth of the black superwoman, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments of the 1930s, those who believe in the power of prayer over medicine, and a distrust of doctors. For numerous reasons, black people do not seek medical help. Especially psychiatric help.

There is nothing more important than self-care. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. We were not meant to soldier on alone. We are part of communities for a reason.

My advice:

  1. Seek help. See a therapist. Not everyone is willing to take medicine, the side effects alone can be a deterrent. But talk therapy is cathartic.
  2. Use your support network of family and friends. If they aren't willing to help you in your time of need, maybe they aren't real friends anyway?
  3. Seek out support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), and National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). Each group holds local meetings in a town near you.
  4. If you need medicine, take it.
  5. Build a life that supports your wellness: minimize your stress (I'll write a blog about stress later), get your finances in order, make time for leisure, eat healthy, remove toxic people from your life.
  6. If you are spiritual, pray. Seek out your minister, pastor, rabbi, imam or other religious leader. 
  7. Exercise. There is lots of proven scientific research about the mental health benefits of exercise. Also, try to maintain a healthy weight. This can be hard on psychiatric medicines, but try.
  8. Keep regular appointments with your primary care doctor. Some psychiatric drugs require monitoring through blood work.
  9. If you don't have health insurance, seek out charity care. Hospitalizations, psychiatric drugs, therapy appointments are all very expensive. But don't let the cost deter you from getting the help you need.
  10. Get adequate amounts of sleep. You can trigger an episode if you are not.

Food

I love to eat. I love going out to eat. I meet up with two college friends once per month and we try a different brunch spot in Brooklyn or Manhattan.

Chicken and waffles from Pies N' Thighs

Fried catfish, potato salad, and macaroni and cheese from Dinosaur BBQ

Meals in Spain. Summer 2013. I went for my 30th birthday. 

Breakfast in San Diego. Summer 2012. 

Dinner in San Diego. Summer 2012. 

Chicken, collard greens, and potato salad from Dinosaur BBQ.

Brunch at Bare Burger

Breakfast at Grid Iron Waffle Shop.

Sweet potato pancakes (they were so good!), chicken and red velvet waffles, and shrimp and grits at Soco.

Marbles: A Graphic Memoir

I read Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michaleangelo, and Me in December 2012. I remember thinking  that the images were arresting and intense. Forney definitely presents an interesting examination of one woman's experience with bipolar disorder from diagnosis to treatment to making sense of what the label/treatment mean for her creativity. I appreciated how she explored the link between mental illness and creativity via various deceased poets, writers, artists who are thought to have suffered from unipolar depression or bipolar disorder.

I've asked to teach this graphic memoir in my graphic novel elective (comic books). I'm not sure if it'll get approved by my principal since it's such a sensitive topic. Here's hoping!

I'm in the process of re-reading the memoir. And coming off of a manic high, I recognize a lot of myself in Forney's words. It's eery how the disorder manifests in the same way in different people.

Here's her blog. And here are some of the arresting images from her book. If you want an illustrated glimpse into bipolar disorder, I highly recommend this book.






If I do get to teach this text, I crafted a trigger warning disclaimer to read before we begin:

“This is a sensitive topic and it affects our community. Other than Health and Wellness, mental health is not addressed in our school community. Maintaining confidentiality is important. I’m not asking anyone to self-disclose if they suffer from any disorders. But full disclosure: I have bipolar disorder. Be respectful and mindful about the comments you make. I’ve had it since graduate school and have been hospitalized three times for manic episodes. I’m not ashamed to have this diagnosis. I also don’t want to make this about me. So we’re going to watch a documentary where you’ll get to hear multiple voices talk about their experiences. The one drawback to the documentary is that there are no people of color represented. They are affected too. There also is a failure to discuss challenges for lower income communities and folks with limited access to affordable health care to find proper care for mental afflictions. If the next few weeks raise any triggers for you, I encourage you to speak to one of the nurses or social workers. Remember: smart women use their resources.”

Friday, June 13, 2014

There's More Than One Way to be Black/ More Than One Way to Give Back

So. Thursday (May 2009), at the reception for my graduation, a young, black psychology professor joined my table. He congratulated me and then proceeded to ask me about my plans. I informed him I'd be teaching high school English at an all-girls, private school in a wealthy, overwhelmingly white district. However, the school is more diverse than the town, as the students come from various communities. Anyhoo, he made "that face" when I said the town and school. That disapproving face. That face that questions your commitment to "racial uplift." That face that I wanted to slap...

For the past two years I've been working in a charter school in the heart of Newark. Let me be clear: I HATE IT! The leadership is lacking, to say the least; the students are difficult, disrespectful, and ignorant to their own ignorance; the morale of the staff is non-existent; and the physical environment is not safe (my first year there were about four shootings nearby). I have very strong ideas about the problems of urban/low-income education. Poor students do not need to be educated "differently." What Newark needs: a strong, firm leadership supporting quality teachers teaching a quality curriculum holding high expectations for the students' academic, social, and behavioral abilities. I honestly cannot speak for all of Newark, but I am so saddened by what is/has transpired at my school. 

Newark, obviously, it is a Title I district. In this era of accountability frenzy (which is not a bad thing), some districts have taken to "teaching to the test" in a way that narrows the curricular focus. One result is that the students are shortchanged on an education. The content is lacking. Students at my school thought the Earth was the center of the universe :( Students at my school could not tell me who Hitler was or about the Holocaust :( The only black activists they know are MLK and Harriet Tubman :(

I shared this with the black professor and he, playing the devil's advocate, tried to guilt me into re-evaluating my choice. He said who but you then can/will address these issues? Newark is inundated with the least prepared teachers, the teachers no other district will take, why would you leave? I told him I, an eternal optimist, am jaded and cynical now. And for my sanity I cannot be swallowed by the cause. Its hard work when all around you the weight of the lack of support and services and technology and morale make you exhausted. 

There are black students in the private school. Having been in a PWI-environment (predominantly white institution, Duke) myself I feel equally situated to contribute to the black students in the suburbs as I do with my Newark heritage and feeling obligated to give to Newark. I have matured and my thinking has evolved. I don't HAVE to be in the thick of the ghetto to make my mark. But in order to make ANY mark I have to feel supported and happy and optimistic.

Invictus

I used this poem in my demonstration lesson for my current job. I had the students imagine they were therapists, then they had to write about how they would use this poem in a therapy session with a client who was going through a divorce, unemployed, and about to lose their house,


May this poem inspire you...


Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.