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.