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.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Food, Part 2

My blog is about my life, living and thriving (not surviving) with bipolar disorder. I write about my diagnosis but I also write about my life outside of that. There are blog entries about my hobbies and interests, my work, my writing beyond this blog, and other stuff.

But do you know what the most popular/most viewed blog entry is? It's this one, called Food, which shows pictures of various dishes I've eaten over the last two years. As of today, September 26, 2015, this entry has 1,023 page views. The second most viewed entry only has 588 page views.

You know what this tells me? You all love food porn as much as I do :)

So here's some more recent food pictures from the past few months...

Chocolate mousse cake. I took my 13-year old cousin out for her birthday.
This is from Dinosaur BBQ.

I went out for NYC Restaurant Week with a friend. We tried an Italian restaurant, Abboccato.
This here was my appetizer, a Caprese salad. It was really good!

This is also from Abboccato. My dessert, a streusel. Also very good!
However, I wasn't too impressed with my entrée. I ordered steak.

Brunch! I had a date not too long ago with two girlfriends.
We went to brunch at Toast and visited the Montclair Art Museum.
On the table you see carrot cake pancakes, red velvet pancakes, scrambled eggs, and home fries.
All very delicious! I highly recommend this spot.

My boyfriend and I had a date at Rustico Cooking for a pasta cooking class.
I had my birthday party here a few years ago and we all had a blast, so I had to return.
This was my first time making fresh pasta and using a pasta machine (I have no idea what it's called).

Me using the machine to turn the pasta sheets into Tagliatelle pasta.

In March 2015, I attended the White Privilege Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.
It was my first time in KY and I loved it. This is from Bristol Bar & Grille in downtown Louisville.
I ate crab cakes for an appetizer and for the entrée I had Thai shrimp stir fry.

Lately, I've become obsessed with fresh fruit and veggie juices. This is from Rejuvenate.
I forget what fruits and veggies were in this one.

Here's another fruit/veggie juice and a yogurt granola parfait from Juice Caboose.
The juice is called Juice Appeal and is made of carrots, spinach, and apple.

My boyfriend has turned me on to Manna's, a soul food spot in Harlem.
Here's my favorite combo from there: jerk chicken, sweet corn, and rice & beans.
In the corner is a Jamaican-style ginger ale; this was my first time trying it, it was good.

My grandmother was a great soul food cook. But she died while I was a teen and not much interested in cooking. Not many in my family can cook like her. But my mom tries. Well, this meal really hit the spot! My mom made ham, collard greens with smoked turkey, baked macaroni & cheese, yams, and Red Lobster biscuits. I don't eat ham so she bought me chicken from KFC. I think of this as traditional Thanksgiving food, and I love it!

Here's another girls' lunch date. This time at Duke's Southern Table, a fairly new restaurant in downtown Newark, NJ. Starting in the upper left hand corner and going clockwise: jerk chicken lettuce wraps; macaroni & cheese, yams, collard greens, and garlic sautéed string beans; blackened whiting sandwich and fries; and smothered turkey wings.

 I am obsessed, obsessed I tell you, with the steel-cut oatmeal from Jamba Juice
I add in brown sugar, slivered almonds, and sliced bananas. 
I believe you can choose from about a dozen toppings. You get to choose two toppings,
and have to pay for any additional.

My mom and I went to NYC for a TriBeCa Film Festival showing of a documentary on Mary J. Blige followed by a concert by the artist. The show was phenomenal. Before the show though, my mom and I had Chipotle burrito bowls. I'm kinda really into the corn, so I always get extra. Bet you can tell which one is mine.

I like to eat, but I'm not that adventurous when it comes to trying new dishes. I stick to what I know. I had a lunch date with a friend at Summit Thai. I ordered the pineapple fried rice with chicken. My friend ordered a Thai tea. It sounded good, so I tried it too. It's really milky and sweet, but delicious. You should try it if you like either tea or milk.

 This is the Acai Berry Bowl from Jamba Juice. I wanted the oatmeal, but this particular location doesn't serve it, so I figured I'd try the bowl. In it is acai, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, soy milk, almonds, and honey. It was good. But it was a bit too cold. I think their refrigerator settings are too high, that, or they keep the ingredients in the freezer. One of the strawberries was frozen, so the freezer hypothesis is likely.

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.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Music Soothes Me: "Withholding Nothing"

So the blog post I published earlier today was the most vulnerable and honest I've been on my blog in awhile. I'm on watch to see if I'm headed for a manic episode. And I'm a bit emotional right now.

I'm currently at my boyfriend's house. And while he was going about his business, he was humming a gospel song, the song above, "Withholding Nothing" by William McDowell. I love this song! So I immediately went to YouTube to play it.

As I write this, I've played the song at least four times in the last hour.

While listening to the song the second time, I closed my eyes and quietly sang along, eyes closed, legs crossed. And tears streamed down my face. Not wanting to alarm my boyfriend, I said, "FYI: ignore the tears, I'm just extra emotional, but I'm okay." I then continued to sing along and cry.

After that cathartic cry, I felt so much freaking better. I had forgotten that music soothes me when the mania is coming or when I'm in a full-blown manic episode. During my first hospitalization, I listened to my iPod to calm myself down.

Watch the video and may you too be soothed.

SAD, Springtime, Mania, and Me

Most people have heard of SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some people get depressed during the winter months due to the shorter, darker days. I don’t tend to get depressed during the winter. Instead, all of my manias (and hospitalizations) have happened during the spring.

I’ve been depressed three times and manic three times. But I have only been hospitalized during the manias. I’ve had a 17-day stay, then a 10-day stay, followed by a 5-day stay. The three hospitalizations have been over the course of the last eight years. During my hospital stays, I've found that most people there are admitted for depression or age-related illnesses like dementia. I have been the only manic person each time.

For me, my manias have been a lot worse than my depressions. I have Bipolar Disorder Type I. What distinguishes type I from type II is the mania; hypomania, a lesser form of mania, defines type II, among other features. WebMD says:
People with bipolar I disorder experience full episodes of mania -- the often severe abnormally elevated mood and behavior described above. These manic symptoms can lead to serious disruptions in life (for example, spending the family fortune, or having an unintended pregnancy). 
In bipolar II disorder, the symptoms of elevated mood never reach full-blown mania. They often pass for extreme cheerfulness, even making someone a lot of fun to be around -- the "life of the party." Not so bad, you might think -- except bipolar II disorder usually involves extensive and disabling periods of  significant depression, which can often be harder to treat than if episodes of hypomania had never occurred.
When I am manic, I am super creative and productive. Ideas come to me easily and often. Ideas about career paths, writing topics, and projects. When I am manic, I spend uncontrollably, racking up thousands upon thousands of dollars on my credit cards. When I am manic, I sleep and eat less than normal. When I am manic, I lose weight. When I am manic, I talk extremely fast. In short, the mania is wholly disruptive to my normal routine.
Jessie, from Saved By the Bell, saying: "I'm so excited!"
My last manic episode occurred in June 2014, mere months ago. Since then, I've returned to "normal", but over the past month I’ve felt the stirrings of mania. I’ve been speaking quickly. I’ve been posting more to social media. I’ve been a bit grandiose. Thankfully, I have not spent any money. I’m still digging out of the tens of thousands of dollars I charged this past summer. But still my sleep has been off.
I’ve had sleep issues since the depression set in in June 2013 (the depression would last a year; insomnia is a common symptom) and it hasn’t reverted back to normal despite me being in a stable mood. I was on Lunesta, a prescription sleeping pill, for the past fourteen months. However, over the past two weeks I have stopped the Lunesta and am now taking Melatonin, an over-the-counter supplement recommended by my psychiatrist. The Lunesta caused intense grogginess. The morning after taking Lunesta I would lie in bed for too many hours of the day, halfway between sleep and wakefulness. I cannot be productive in a permanent state of grogginess and tiredness. The Melatonin has been working okay. But I still wake frequently during the night and I wake super early in the morning. I’m not sure if this sleep pattern is my new normal. Fortunately, my psychiatrist is aware of all of this and is keeping an eye on my mood.

 In short, I have to be careful with my sleep. Keeping consistent sleep hours and getting adequate amounts of sleep is crucial to stave off both depression and mania.

I was out of town at a conference this week. The entire week I was there I had anxiety around my sleep. Lying in bed, I would be thinking about the following: how long will it take me to fall asleep, will I fall asleep, will I be rested in the morning, and will I wake up (thoughts of mortality frighten me from time to time). Mid-panic attack, I called my boyfriend to process the experience. Trying to console me, he offered some suggestions. After hanging up, I did some deep breathing to calm myself down. I believe I fell asleep not too long after. However the next day, when my friends asked me how I was feeling, as I would be presenting a workshop later that day, I shared my anxiety around my sleep and started to cry. Heightened emotions are also a sign of mania for me. One of my friends present who was at the conference with me is also my acupuncturist. Thankfully she was around. She gave me a quick acupressure session and I did some deep breathing and all was right in my world again.
I’m not sure if I’m headed for a manic episode or not, but to be proactive I will be: increasing the frequency of my acupuncture appointments from once every three weeks to once per week for the next month or so and I have appointments with both my psychiatrist and therapist soon. I will also keep to my normal schedule and routine as much as possible.

I’ve written about how I generally love the mania, but I’m not sure that the mania loves me back. I mean, I’m super productive when manic. This summer alone: I started two blogs, wrote a proposal for a charter school, wrote a curriculum for a mental wellness presentation, applied to graduate school for social work, and started a memoir. Yup. I did all of that in three months. But the mania is very disruptive and expensive for me. Not to mention, exhausting -- as I’m sure you can imagine.
I would appreciate not being manic again for a long time to come.

Note: My title is an homage to Ellen Forney’s captivating graphic memoir (comic book memoir) about living and working with bipolar disorder. Check it out: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

People of Color + Mental Illness Photo Project

I befriended Dior Vargas in a secret Facebook support group for women of color dealing with mental illness. A self-proclaimed "Latina feminist mental health activist," she is doing such important work around people of color and mental illness. To say that I am a fan is an understatement: she is my mental health activist role model.

You should totally follow along with the amazing work she is doing; check out her Facebook page.

She wrote a much-needed article for the Huffington Post titled "People of Color Deal With Mental Illness, Too." It is well worth the read.

One of Dior's projects is a photo project highlighting people of color who are living with mental illness. I recently contributed my own photo to her project. To see all of the other brave folks sharing their diagnoses, click here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Three Life Lessons

A friend posted a question to Facebook this week. She'll be turning 30 soon and was asking for any advice or life lessons or tips as she heads toward this milestone birthday.
I'll be 32 in August. While not that much older than her, I've learned lots over the past few years. Two of my three hospitalizations happened within the last two years. There's nothing like a crisis to teach you some life lessons!
Here's what I told my friend, and now you:
  1. Trust your gut. Follow your instincts. This holds true for personal and professional plans. During my second hospitalization I decided that I wanted to become a therapist. I was in the hospital arguing with the doctors and nurses, telling them how to do their jobs, and advocating on behalf of the other patients. I realized I could "do this." I could become a social worker and advocate for consumers on a professional level. If all goes according to plan, I'll be in graduate school for my MSW in September.
  2. Make time for your loved ones. People are more important than things. Hands down. Don't make it a habit of cancelling plans or putting off spending quality time with your family and friends. Yes, it takes an effort, and we are all busy. But you won't regret it.
  3. Make self-care a priority. Whatever restores you and feeds your soul: do more of that. I've always been interested in self-care, but over the last two years I've realized how important it actually is for mental and overall wellbeing. Self-care is so important to avoiding the burn out that can happen from work or home life. Make you a priority in your own life.
I don't make any claims to being a life expert, so take my advice with a grain of salt. I won't be offended. I promise! But I have become an expert on me. And living with bipolar disorder for the past eight years has taught me a lot beyond the three lessons I share here. Additionally, I've also learned a lot from my non-consumer life: school, work, relationships, family, and friends.

Beyond what I've shared here, I implore you to listen to your own truths. If you pay attention, your own life has taught you many lessons too. In the words of one of my favorites, Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What Does Mania Look and Feel Like?

When I started this blog in June 2014, I was in the throes of a manic episode. For me, mania looks like super productivity, oversharing on social media, excessive shopping sprees, pressured speech, and hypersexuality. It's also hard to keep my attention honed in on one thing; I flit from activity to activity and idea to idea.

This past summer I started Manic Monique's Meanderings, writing 52 posts in the month of June alone (to give you some perspective, the mania ended in August, since September I have written 1 to 3 posts per month). I wrote a few Op-Eds on mental health and contacted about a dozen publications. I was published in The Root. I started blogging regularly for the Huffington Post. I was interviewed by two internet radio shows. I planned and organized a family cookout for about 40 or so family members. I took 5 vacations up and down the East Coast. I saw 5 Broadway plays. I wrote a curriculum for a mental health presentation for high schools and colleges. I created a proposal for an all-boys charter school I'd like to found. I met with a public policy professor to discuss said charter school proposal. I charged about $23,000 to my credit cards. I posted excessively to Facebook and Instagram, documenting my activities and thoughts. And I started dating again, having taken a year break during my depression.

Yup. I was quite busy.

In previous posts, I mentioned how much I love the mania. And I really do. As I've said previously, the mania has saved me from depression twice. But as I'm sure you can imagine, the mania is exhausting. Very exhausting. And it's expensive; I can't control my spending when I'm manic. During my first mania I charged $10,000. But during this last mania I doubled that amount.

The mania lasted three months. It's never lasted that long before. So when September came I was glad to see the mania go.

Between September and January I was pretty stable. I had a depressive dip for a few weeks, but nothing major; no where close to what the depression looked like in 2013-14. This month, February, I've been getting busy again. I'm looking for a new job, so I attended two job fairs. I've had three interviews so far. I took the Praxis teacher certification test for middle school English Language Arts. And this weekend I'll be attending a two-day conference in NYC on feminism and K-12 education. Next month, I'll be attending a three-day conference in Kentucky on white privilege. I'll even be presenting on social justice English curricula I created! I'm a tad nervous as it'll be the first time I'm presenting at a national conference. Also next month I'll be attending a one-day conference here in NJ on Ferguson and activism.

When I relayed my newfound busyness to a friend, he asked if I was manic again. Now normally, that question pisses me the fuck off. In the past, when I've exhibited "normal" displays of emotion, my friends and family have asked me if I was okay. It's annoying to have others constantly on watch for mood irregularities. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the concern, I really do. But at the same time, I feel like I can't express any emotions at all.

To this friend, I told him how my current behavior differs from my behavior this summer: I don't have pressured speech, I'm not spending money, I don't feel hypersexual. But I have been oversharing on social media.

This is what he text me:
From an outside perspective, I feel like over the summer you were focused on doing everything and now you're doing what you're focused on. That's probably unclear. You just seem more focused now. 
I actually appreciated his observation. I do feel incredibly focused now. I'm not being pulled in multiple directions the way I was this summer. I'm hyperfocused on a few actions instead. But I will take his observation under advisement and keep watch. As  much as I love the mania, I'm not ready for another episode so soon.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mania... Ain't That a Bitch.

I always profess my love for my manias. I wholeheartedly believe that my mania has saved me twice. It's saved me from depression in 2007 and again in 2014. I was depressed for about two or three months in 2006. The depression ended because I became manic. At that time, I was not receiving treatment for the depression, neither psychotherapy nor psychiatric medications. I was depressed again in 2013-2014, but instead of lasting two or three months, it lasted eleven to twelve months. Thank God I wasn't suicidal. But my life was no cakewalk either. I felt incredibly empty. I had insomnia. The Seroquel had made me gain 52 pounds, so my normally 125-128 pound frame was now carrying 171 pounds. The weight made me feel sluggish and unattractive. I had no sex drive. During this depression, I was receiving treatment, both psychotherapy and meds. But the meds weren't working. And the only reason the depression ended was that I became manic. 

I was ecstatic to be manic again. I felt alive for the first time in a year. I felt more like myself. I had energy again. I started blogging. I vacationed. I saw multiple Broadway plays. I started dating and having sex again. Life was beautiful.

But I also started spending. And spending a lot. The mania lasted three months. Longer than my previous two manias. In 2007, I charged $10,000 when I was manic. During the summer of 2014, I charged $23,000 to my credit cards. I didn't realize it was this bad until I checked my online accounts and totaled my debt. I was crestfallen. In November I checked my credit report and unsurprisingly my score was poor. When just months before I had excellent credit.

The panic didn't really set in until I thought about what a poor credit score might mean for my plan to go back to graduate school. With poor credit, I probably wouldn't qualify for private student loans. I would still receive federal student loans, as these loans aren't tied to your creditworthiness. But federal loans alone are not enough to cover the total cost of attending school.

The good news is that I've been accepted to two graduate programs, I'm waiting to hear from the third school. Should have a decision within the next four weeks. And I just filed my FAFSA, so I should be getting my financial aid packages soon. So I'll know within the next few weeks what type of aid I'll receive.

Further good news is that I have made a dent in the credit card debt since the mania ended. I've managed to pay almost $10,000 towards the debt. Which is huge. I'm hoping it's enough to improve my credit score and to qualify for private student loans.

So yes, I still love the mania. I'm just not sure that the mania loves me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who Cares for the Caregiver?

Below is my latest Huffington Post blog post. I thought the message was a good one (not to toot my own horn!), so I decided to share here too.


Mark Lukach's article My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward has been making the rounds on social media for the past few weeks. It is an honest and painful read. As the title implies, Lukach writes about his experiences with his wife's psychiatric problems. Her diagnosis: depression with psychotic features. Reading it, I was struck by the depths of his love and devotion to his wife. And I was also concerned for him and for all caregivers of the chronically ill.

Yes, psychiatric problems can be difficult for the mental health consumer, but the consumer does not experience their symptoms in a vacuum. Their loved ones, family (spouses, children, extended family) and friends, are also impacted. As a bipolar sufferer, I try to be cognizant of how my illness impacts my loved ones. I've also tried to think about what I would tell other consumers' loved ones as well as my own about self-care. 

So this article is for you, the caregiver.

Here are some tips to ensure that you effectively care for yourself while providing for your loved one:
  • Don't neglect your own needs: get adequate sleep, eat regularly, and keep up with your own health needs (such as doctor's appointments, taking any prescribed medicine, exercise, etc).
  • Invest in self-care. In other articles I've written about the importance of self-care for the consumer, but caregivers also need to make self-care a priority. Self-care is whatever you do that puts you first and soothes you: listen to music, make a spa appointment, go for a walk, read a book, eat your favorite meal, take a vacation. In short, do something you love.
  • Find your own therapist. I don't mean couple's therapy or family therapy. But a therapist all your own. Everyone can benefit from having an ear to vent to and problem solve with.
  • Spend time away from your loved one. Yes, you are entitled to take a break.
  • Learn your loved one's signals. They might not always know when they're headed for an episode, but if you've lived through a previous episode or hospitalization, you probably know what to look out for.
  • Be patient, understanding, and kind with your loved one. Everyone needs extra nurturing when not at their best. 
  • Be patient, understanding, and kind with yourself. You won't have all the answers. You won't always know what to say or do. You might get frustrated or overwhelmed. Don't beat yourself up.
  • Know your limits and enlist help when you need it. Help from family, friends, mental health doctors and providers. You don't have to think of yourself as a fixer.
  • Specifically for romantic partners: 
    • Depending on your loved one's diagnosis, he or she might have mood swings or easily get angry or irritable. Try not to take it personally. With your partner, create coping strategies to handle emotional outbursts.
    • Again, depending on the diagnosis or even as a side effect from certain medicines, your loved one's libido can be impacted. Both extremes are possible: too much of a sex drive (hypersexual) or too low of a sex drive. Be patient. If a low sex drive is a problem, find non-sexual ways to be intimate. 
    • Be sure to keep the lines of communication open and honest. Listen to your loved one's concerns about his or her care, but also make your concerns known too.
If your loved one hasn't told you lately: you are important, you are valued, you are making a difference. Being a caregiver is a tough role. So don't neglect your own needs and your own life in the process of providing love and care to others. I love the airplane analogy about responsibility and help: in emergencies, you are exhorted to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting those around you. Be sure to take care of you.