Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year in Review



This year I...

confessed that I had bipolar disorder.

started yoga.

found my voice as a mental health advocate during Mental Health Month in May.

had my first psychotic episode.

was "upgraded" from Bipolar II to Bipolar I. (I'm allowed to joke about it, ok?)

finished high school.

skipped prom and graduation.

organized and photographed the "What Does Mental Illness Look Like?" photo shoot with a group of beautiful friends.


moved in at Towson.

started college as an unhappy Chemistry major and finished my first semester as an excited English major.

experienced real heartbreak.

had a manic episode that resulted in hospitalization.

learned some powerful life lessons (and a few academic ones too).

was a mental health panelist at a NAMI event. 

Pardon the shadows. I was taking pictures very late at night in my bedroom.

So what's going to happen next year? I have quite a few ideas!

I am participating in a 365 day photo project. You can stay updated by following or bookmarking my new tumblr. I'll be documenting my days as well as experimenting/doing whatever I feel like doing. That will all be happening here: http://theawkwardindiegirl365.tumblr.com/

I will be launching a BRAND NEW website that is currently untitled. It will be a place to share the faces and stories of individuals affected by mental illness, including survivors, family members, friends, significant others, etc. I will not be launching the website for a while, but I have already started compiling content. It's going to be rad.

I will be focusing a lot of my efforts on collaboration. There are so many talented and unique individuals that are a part of my community, online and real world. I want to connect with these powerful people and make a difference.

At some point I also have to fit in the 18 credits' worth of classes I'm taking, Active Minds, and finishing my book.

Oh wait - I didn't tell you? I'm also writing a book.

2014 is going to be jam-packed full of awesome.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Tribe of the Warriors


Two published writers, a runner, Miss Baltimore, and me. What do we have in common?

We're all mental health advocates, and on December 5th, we were panelists at The Mental Health Discussion hosted by Towson's NAMI. All of us deal with mental illness in our daily lives, and we were selected to share our stories with a room full of curious strangers.

I was the only non-trained speaker. I was also the only student. I didn't prepare any notes; every time I tried, I ended up only wrestling with my pen in frustration. As I sat in front of the packed room, I listened to my fellow panelists tell stories that were familiar to me. Stories of confusion, stories searching for a diagnosis, stories of both love and rejection, stories of wrestling with a new identity. Four of the five of us have bipolar disorder, but that was not the root of the similarities. All mental illnesses share a common core: a fight to survive, a fight to thrive despite unfortunate brain chemistry.

It became obvious to me that my story was not the most severe. My parents still love and support me, my episodes of psychosis were of no serious consequence, my hospitalizations were short.  But that did not make my story any less important. My struggles are valid. We are all beautiful warriors, even though the stones that make up our necklaces come from different lands and create different patterns against our skin.

When it was my turn to speak, I was ready. I gained comfort and strength from seeing the audience's reaction. Their nods of understanding and their warm smiles prodded me onwards. The universal elements of my story resonated with the group, just as those of theirs resonated with me. We are our own tribe.

The members of my tribe may have ugly scars, but we decorate each other in vibrant paint. We paint the colors of love and acceptance across our bodies. We ruffle each others' hair in adoration as we tell our stories around a campfire. The light catches the decorative stones of necklaces and sprinkles us with light like stardust.

What I took away from the panel experience is how passionate and creative these individuals are, not just in spite of, but because of the adversity they have faced. I know that despite the trials I have had to overcome, I am in good company. I am proud of my tribe.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Life Lessons

This last week, I have learned more life lessons than I have learned during the rest of my semester at college. These lessons cemented my future as a mental health advocate, but they did not come without pain. Throughout the entire experience, I drew strength from knowing that I eventually would be able to share this story with the hope of helping others going through similar ordeals.

Ryan and I met online, and we had an instant connection (no more cheesy puns, I promise). We had a lot in common, but I was hesitant to meet in person. I avoided a "real life" meeting for over a month, but over Thanksgiving break, we met at a coffee shop in my hometown in Maryland. We talked for hours. That same day, he met my dad and brother and we watched Clue together. We didn't want to say goodbye, so we ended up going out for pizza and talking at the restaurant until it was closing.

We texted over the rest of break. We even arranged to go on more dates when I got back from Pittsburgh. We quickly decided that we wanted an exclusive relationship, and our feelings progressed rapidly. He was so funny and being around him made me feel happy.

I should probably mention that before meeting, I had confided in him about my bipolar disorder, and he confided in me that he had struggled with anxiety and depression in the past. 

Last Sunday, we went to a Ravens game with his parents. The game was exciting to say the least, and his parents were very kind. But that evening, I noticed a change in Ryan's mood. Things were rough. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that I was concerned.

The next evening after work, he told me he was having some troubling thoughts about ending his life and was experiencing some impulsive behavior. We made a plan that he would eat, try to get some rest, and we would discuss possibly going to the hospital in the morning.

The morning came, and I was more concerned. Our telephone conversations were brief and upsetting, and I went to the Residence Life Coordinator of our building and explained that I was scared for Ryan's life. With guidance, I made the decision to call 911 even though Ryan had explicitly told me not to do so.

LIFE LESSON ONE: It is better to be hated by someone and for that person to be safe than for the alternative.

LIFE LESSON TWO: Police officers are trained professionals when it comes to these situations. I am a nineteen year old college student. 

I met Ryan at the emergency room, and I helped him fill out paperwork. Waiting for hours to meet with a psychiatrist, I tried my best to comfort him. He had a previous negative experience at the hospital, and I knew he was afraid this would be a repeat. After meeting with the psychiatrist, I saw him struggle to make a decision. I did my best to encourage him to opt for inpatient treatment. Once the decision was made, I helped him get ready to go to the psych ward. I was so proud of him.

LIFE LESSON THREE: Admitting that you cannot care for someone is not defeat. It is allowing professionals to do their jobs.

While I waited for visiting hours to start, I called his mom and his work. It became clear that his family would not be a part of his treatment plan and that I would need to step in. I was his emergency contact. Remember, at this point we had been dating less than two weeks.

LIFE LESSON FOUR: We cannot get upset with adults who do not understand mental illness. Although it is frustrating, most people are doing the best that they can do. 

Over the next couple days, I visited Ryan during visiting hours, got in touch with his teachers, got in touch with his work again, brought him books and clothing, and tried my best to be strong for him. I could see and hear him improving. He was smiling and funny again. It was hilarious to see him joking with the nurses and other patients. I was reminded of the Ryan I met at the coffee shop. Sometimes we would get frustrated with each other, but overall we remained supportive.

LIFE LESSON FIVE: It is important to learn how to differentiate between the person you care about and the mental illness. The mental illness can warp their words and actions beyond recognition, and it is critical that you try not to take it personally.

Yesterday, Ryan was released. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I had cried so many tears. I didn't study for my finals. One day all I ate was Gatorade and some cookies. I couldn't sleep well. I forgot one of the most important lessons of all.

LIFE LESSON SIX: Take care of yourself first.

I still care about Ryan, and I want him to continue his path towards wellness. However, we are no longer together. I'm going to take the time now to care for myself, to heal. Even though this was a very difficult experience, I'm thankful for it. I have learned even more lessons than I have enumerated in this post. This chapter of my life may be over, but that does not dilute its significance.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Sound of Settling


Settling sounds like stacks of lab reports, an Erlenmeyer flask, and a five milliliter sample of hydrochloric acid. 

Prior to my senior year, I had expressed minimal interest in science. I was an "English person." In Honors Chemistry junior year, I always ignored my teacher's announcements about science scholarships, internships, and summer camps. I earned an A in the class, but I was never passionate about what I was learning.

As I began the college search, I decided that I could not be an English major. I needed something with a little more STEM, a few more job offers after graduation, and the potential for a higher salary. I remembered my somewhat enjoyable experience with chemistry (and the joys of stoichiometry), and I marketed myself appropriately. I was admitted to Towson as a Chemistry major with a concentration in Secondary Education. 

Settling sounds like denying the prickles of discomfort that will eventually worsen into an aching pain.

I started college in the fall, and I began expressing doubts about my choice shortly thereafter. My green eyes stung with jealousy as I watched my classmates pursue majors they truly loved. My nights frequently ended in tears as I wrestled with calculus and standard enthalpy of formation.

I tried to rationalize my decision for studying chemistry. I need a guaranteed job so that I can have good health insurance to pay for my medications and therapy. Writing is just a hobby. I'll be much more successful as a chemistry teacher than as a writer.

Settling sounds like fear.

What I failed to take into account was my skill, my dedication, and my willingness to work hard and make connections. The potential to be hired and successful lies within me, not a chemistry textbook. I am a strong writer, and I will only get stronger as I educate myself and practice.

This weekend, I officially changed my major to English with a concentration in Writing, and I added a minor in Psychology. I have already found relief in my decision. I am not settling. I am striving.


Starting this Wednesday, I will be discontinuing the Uplifting Links posts on the blog. I will, however, be sending out a weekly email newsletter of links for your enjoyment. If you're interested in receiving some joy in your inbox every Wednesday, email me at theawkwardindiegirl@gmail.com with the subject "SUBSCRIBE"

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bravery, Strength, and Intelligence

For maximum effect, please read this post while listening to Coldplay's "The Scientist."


"To my lovelies:
If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together...
there is something you must always remember.
You are braver than you believe,
stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think.
But the most important thing is even if we're apart...
I'll always be with you."

My Nanna, my mom and I all having these matching bracelets. On the surface, they express some pleasant thoughts, but as with most Winnie the Pooh quotes, they reveal profound truths in their simplicity.

While curled up in bed evening, I looked over at my bedside table and saw this bracelet. It would be easy to dismiss its words. I don't feel particularly brave, strong, or smart right now. I feel awful. But maybe that is the bipolar talking. Maybe I need to readjust my perspective and think about the mental illness context of these words.

For me, bravery is not fighting a lion or starting a revolution. Bravery is fighting to end my cycle of codependency, trying to make new friends, and going to class even when I feel like hiding in my bed.

For me, strength is not running a marathon or lifting great weights. Strength is taking my medicine even when it makes me feel a little sick, getting rid of items I used to hurt myself, and writing instead of cutting.

For me, intelligence is not acing every test or always having the right answer. Intelligence is communicating my strengths and weaknesses with others, sharing my feelings, and adjusting my study schedule to accommodate my mood swings.

I am braver than I believe, stronger than I seem, and smarter than I think.

You are, too.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Manifesto


I believe...
there should be a global conversation about mental health.
everyone should have access to quality psychiatric care.
there is no weakness in asking for and accepting help.
a person is more than his or her diagnosis.
no symptoms and feelings are taboo.
sharing my story will empower others to share their own.

There is much talk about "finding yourself" in college. What transformation takes place in the dorms, classrooms, and dining halls? I've been here less than two months, and I can already sense the beginnings of change. I feel myself becoming more passionate as I increase my involvement on campus, more understanding as I meet different individuals, more of a global thinker as I read and participate in conversations. Some of my beliefs have grown stronger, rooting deeper in my heart, while others have grown weak and fallen away, leaving fresh soil behind. Now I attempt to sow new seeds. Some have been rejected, while others thrive as small seedlings.

The beliefs that I post here are some of the strongest convictions I hold. I allow them to guide me as I explore this vast world and the even vaster Internet. These will be the guiding principles of The Awkward Indie Girl. As I expand my brand, I will remain connected to its purpose through these points. They will be trail of breadcrumbs, lingering behind me as a map to my small beginnings as a socially awkward fashion blogger turned socially awkward mental health advocate. It's been a long, weird road, but I believe that I'm supposed to be here.


***I officially have a blog with the Towerlight, my school's newspaper! If you want to read my first post, click here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Introspection


My blog has been silent this week as I pondered away from my computer. I have been thinking about who am I as a person, who I would like to be, and the path that will lead me through that transformation.

On Monday night, I had a life-changing experience. I stood up in front of a room of strangers, and I delivered a TED-style talk on mental health. First, I shared statistics, the numbers that rule the mental health world. Second, I shared a brief synopsis of my mental health history, and third, I asked my audience to consider sharing their own stories with friends, family, and the public through social media. The reaction I got was so intense that I thought I was having a hypomanic episode. A few listeners came up afterwards and told me their stories and thanked me for sharing mine. One upperclassman asked me if I spoke publicly regularly. This shocked me, because I had been ridiculously nervous. What shocked me most, however, was how receptive people were to the message of fighting stigma. I felt the tea light within me blaze into a torch, the flames licking my heart and providing me with a penetrating warmth.

I can say with a high degree of certainty that I have found a mission. I had stumbled upon it earlier, through my blog, but now my sense of purpose has been renewed and invigorated. I want to do everything possible to share the message that mental health issues truly affect every one of us. My first step is creating a video version of the talk I delivered so that it can be shared online. I am in the preliminary stages of developing a podcast that will allow others to share their experiences with mental illness. The ideas are spinning through my mind faster than I can capture them on paper. I am excited to wake up each morning and continue this effort.

The only troubling part about this discovery of passion is how it fits into my academic life. I am currently a chemistry education major, but I want to focus more on psychology and media. I'm not sure how this will work out. I'm going to avoid making any decisions just yet as I continue to develop my cause as a hobby.

After such a long time of shiftlessness and murky dissatisfaction, a feeling of usefulness is a welcome change. Despite the rain pouring outside my window, I have a sunny disposition. Bring on the rainbows.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Grounded

Image from Philadelphia's China Town, taken last Saturday during my manic episode.

After a couple of nights away in an uncomfortable hospital bed, I returned to my dorm Wednesday. Tomorrow I go home to be with my family for a night.

Prior to my hospitalization, my mind had been running a marathon - an entire weekend of aggressive obsessions, frustration, and self harm. I wasn't sleeping enough, wasn't eating enough. I took unnecessary risks and tried to give all my money away.

Finally, my energy dwindled enough for me to fall apart. After the Breaking Bad finale, I crouched on the carpet and cried. I cried because I knew that if these thoughts didn't stop, I was going to die. My body couldn't outrun my mind.

Chris stayed with me through the night. He stayed with me on the way to the counseling center in the morning, and he stayed with me in the police car on the way to the hospital. He held my hand and hugged me close while I panicked in the emergency room. Finally, he had to leave me. I walked to the Psych Ward with the company of an anonymous nurse.

The morning after I was admitted, I could already feel different. Even though my meds were changed, not enough time had passed for the changes to be effective. I developed an appetite, I slept deeply, I felt stable. My thoughts no longer spun, and my manic episode was ending.

I was released to my mother on Wednesday afternoon. I don't know how to keep my mind at a jogger's pace, how to maintain equilibrium and avoid episodes. The fact that I can do my best and still end up in in the Emergency Room terrifies me.

I want to be happy. I want to wake up and feel in control. I want to be normal. I want to share all I have to offer the world sans bipolar addendum. I want to be a positive force. I want to be grounded.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Paralysis


I've barely left my bed in the last 24 hours. I only get up to go to the bathroom. This morning, I tricked myself into getting dressed: a bra, clean underwear, pants, a shirt. I hoped fresh clothes would catalyze the reaction. The activation energy is still too high for my meager supply.

The noise outside my window irks me like everything else does. I don't shut the window because I want to stay connected with the universe that expands outside my dorm room. Or I'm too lazy. Comfort in discomfort.

I know there is work to be done, reports to be written, bibliographies to be assembled. My sheets cradle me like a spider's web. The threat lies in how benign it seems. Inaction siphons away my blood.

I don't want food or water, gifts or pleasant words. I want company. I want someone to crawl into bed beside me and to stroke my hair until this mood passes. I want someone to trace pictures on my back to remind me that I exist. I want this lonely paralysis to end.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Excuse Me, Is My Bipolar Showing?


Is there lettuce in my teeth? Can you see my patterned underwear through my leggings? Is my bipolar showing?

Each day I try to avoid showing my symptoms to others. I'm always monitoring my interactions: am I talking too fast, getting overexcited, or making bizarre, childish comments? Am I looking sad, acting bored, or avoiding people? I worry that people will think that I'm bipolar. I'm almost constantly concerned their perception of who I am will be tainted by the diagnosis that is printed in black pen on my insurance claims. 

Knowing I'm bipolar because I personally told them or because they read my blog is completely different. When I tell someone that I'm bipolar, I'm relieved when they tell me that they never would have no. To me, that means I'm not claimed by symptoms. It means that I am Jenna first and bipolar a distant second, third, or even tenth. 

I try to present myself to the world as a BIC - bipolar in control. I get out of bed every day, shower, and take my medicine. I have friends. I function. Episodes are unwanted threats to this carefully constructed label. They jeopardize the most critical component - control. When I succumb to mania or depression, I feel so weak. I feel like my brain chemistry has overcome my personality and my will to live normally. 

My dream is to be an intelligent, well-adjusted teen with nice teeth and shampoo commercial hair, and bipolar doesn't really fit into that equation. It's like having a handmade jigsaw puzzle, and all of the pieces fit except for one grotesque piece that refuses to work anywhere. Does this one piece ruin the whole puzzle? Of course, the answer is no. Roses are beautiful with their thorns, dalmatians are cute with their spots, and many men and women function with their bipolar. 

Everyone has minute insecurities that can translate into worry or panic. But for people with mental illness, there's an additional issue that occupies mental realty. I think this is because we perceive mental illness with so much stigma - we think that we could be doing more to control ourselves and our symptoms. When someone has lettuce in our teeth, we don't change the way we think about that person. We usually just tell them and continue our conversation. We probably don't even remember the next hour, let alone day. With mental illness, the way we feel about the person exhibiting symptoms may change. We get frustrated or angry with them, almost as frustrated and angry as they are with themselves. These thought processes help no one.

I believe that it will be easier for individuals with mental illness to accept themselves and their symptoms if others can accept them, too. Everyone needs to start seeing the illness separately from the individual - myself included.

So yes, there will be days when my bipolar shows, just like there are days that you can see the pink polka dots of my underwear through my leggings. There will be days when everyone can tell that I am manic or depressed or numb or angry, and that's okay. Because that's the funky little puzzle piece I carry in my pocket. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Uplifting Links: September 18th


Today, I cried. I'm frustrated about my major, sick of not being thin, and a little homesick. I needed to make an Uplifting Links post to try to remove the "suck" from my life. Prepare to insert happy, people!





The truth about babies (I met the husband-wife duo behind this book on Saturday)




Happy habits (via Jeff)


It's okay to have a bad day, and it's perfectly acceptable to boost yourself up with the help of the Internet. The Internet is nothing but a massive collection of resources - resources that can be accessed for all occasions. The goal of Uplifting Links is to do some of the searching so that you don't have to. It's my way of sending a virtual, biweekly hug to you.

Enjoy, and feel free to send your contributions to theawkwardindiegirl@gmail.com

My cousin sent in some great YouTube recommendations for the next post!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Meds


I wake up every morning at six to take a pill.
Every night before bed, I take nine more.

Sometimes I feel like my life is contained in these plastic bottles with child-proof caps. I know that without them, I couldn't function. I can't imagine my life without these tablets and capsules.

When the doctor saw the desperate scratches on my left arm, he prescribed me Prozac. He said it would make life a little easier, and I didn't think twice about incorporating this new pill into my routine. But instead of relief, I found terror. I couldn't stop thinking about ending my life, and I began cutting more regularly. I stopped going to school. I refused to see my friends. I was drowning in fire.

The first thing my new doctor did when I can to America was take me off of the Prozac and put me on Zoloft. I tolerated the Zoloft for a long time, but eventually it just stopped working. When I went to the emergency room with suicidal thoughts, the pediatrician told me that I was experiencing "Zoloft poop-out." After a while, he explained, sometimes your body starts to tolerate the medicine, making it ineffective. We set up an appointment with my psychiatrist to discuss options.

My then-psychiatrist, who I affectionally call Dr. Ass-hat, still did not believe that I was bipolar. His reasoning? I had straight As. "You'd be struggling in school if you were bipolar." I considered ripping his diplomas off the wall and smashing his desk to demonstrate my case, but I decided against it. He put me on a very weak dose of Topamax, an anti-seizure medication that has an iffy track record for helping people with bipolar. I think he was just trying to get me to shut up.

After this, I confided in my therapist that I needed to get Dr. Ass-hat out of my life. I got an appointment with my current doctor, Dr. Awesome. She got me off the Topamax and got me started on Lexapro, an anti-depressant. For a mood stabilizer, we added Risperdal.

Some of my problems were solved, but I was still having manic episodes. After a long discussion, we decided to add Lithium to my little medicinal cocktail. Honestly, I was scared to take Lithium. I thought taking it would mean that I was officially crazy. But I was willing to try anything to get some relief. 

I should mention that I was taking a relatively high dose of Lexapro, and that that is probably why I ended up in the hospital. People with bipolar have to be careful when taking antidepressants, and my Lithium levels weren't high enough to prevent my manic episodes yet. In the hospital, they took me off the Lexapro and I felt great! For almost a month, I had no mood swings. 

Then the depression hit. With the Lexapro was completely out of my system, I crashed. Sure, I wasn't experiencing mania, but the depression was debilitating. We decided to put me on a low dose of Lexapro, but it was going to take 4 to 6 weeks to get me at a therapeutic level.

Fast-forward to now, when now it's the Lithium that is no longer working effectively. We've added Lamictal to the mix, and we're waiting to get that up to a therapeutic level. Everything is a waiting game. Six week here, a month there, more blood tests, more side effects.

There are times when I wonder if I'm masking "the real me" by taking medicine. Sometimes I get frustrated that my body was made in a way that it can't properly function without outside intervention. I wonder if I would be more creative, more intelligent, more me if I didn't have to swallow ten pills a day. But I eventually come to the same conclusion every time:

My pills let me be me. My pills let me get out of bed and explore the world. They let me write blog posts, go to class, and make friends. They also keep me safe. The chemicals I consume free me from depression and mania (or at least they will when we get the dosages right).

I embrace modern medicine, and I choose a higher quality of life through chemistry. Even though sometimes I feel limited by my medications, I know that ultimately they help me. I don't just take my medicine for myself; I take it for my family, my boyfriend, and my friends. 

These little pills help all of us.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Introducing the Bipolar Book Club

I have an announcement...



Get the book here:

Responses will be accepted until October 13, 2013 at 11:59 PM

Video responses can be posted directly to the video above, and all other entries can emailed to theawkwardindiegirl@gmail.com

You can also email me questions or suggestions for next month's book.


Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Uplifting Links: September 4th

A new feature is coming to the Awkward Indie Girl Blog!

Introducing...



Every Wednesday, I'll help you get through the "middle-of-the-week-blahs" with a few links. I'll direct you to some of my favorite places around the Internet. Some sites will be funny, some will be interesting, and some will be sweet, but they will always be positive!

***

(via Joanna Goddard of Cup of Jo)

(via Eric)



(via Mom)

(via Dad)

***

If you have any links you want me to share next week, send me an email at theawkwardindiegirl@gmail.com.

***

Oh! And now for my uplifting news of the week: I'm going to be the mental health blogger for my college's newspaper! I'm honored and excited to hold this position. I'll be posting everything I write for the college on this blog as well, so you won't be missing anything :)

Monday, September 2, 2013

20 Before 20


Yesterday I turned 19, which marks the beginning of my final year as a teenager! I spent the day with friends and ended the night by watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad. What more could a birthday girl ask for?

I started my 19th year in such a positive way that I want to keep the momentum going. I want to live this year. To keep myself inspired and accountable, I'm going to copy many other bloggers by creating my own "20 Before 20" bucket list. I've come up with twenty experiences that I want to have before I turn 20 on September 1, 2014.

***

1. Do a handstand
This means I have to practice yoga every day!

2. Be part of a meaningful service project
I want to serve others with a project I believe in.

3. Try acupuncture
I'm curious if it will work for me.

4. Start "The Bipolar Book Club"
More information coming soon!

5. Get my driver's license

6. Read 20 books

7. Watch 20 movies

8. Join a club on campus
So far I'm thinking about Active Minds and Best Buddies.

9. Try 5 new fruits
If you know how much I hate fruit, this makes sense.

10. Perfect pad thai
I'd love to be able to make my favorite food well!

11. Write at least 52 blog posts

12. Have my first classroom teaching experience
This should happen in my STEM teaching class this semester.

13. Write to a pen-pal.
If you're interested, let me know!

14. Do 5 craft projects from Pinterest

15. Unplug for 24 hours

16. Attend a sporting event
I'll even attempt to be peppy!

17. Write a book

18. Go to California again

19. Give a meaningful gift

20. Eat a vegan diet for one month
I've tried this before, but I didn't stick with it.

***

I'll be documenting my attempt to conquer this list throughout the year in monthly updates. You're welcome to join me! It doesn't have to be your birthday for you to commit to new and exciting goals :)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Diversity & Civility



Over the past few days, I have gone through Towson orientation. I've found out where my classes are, participated in convocation, discovered where to eat on campus, and met with my academic advisor. But the most important lesson I learned was in diversity and civility.

300 of us sat in plastic chairs, chatting to avoid betraying our nervousness. We knew the names of a few people, but we were still uncomfortable. We obsessed over our insecurities and secrets. We lacked perspective.

Perspective came to us in the form of a minimalistic powerpoint. The presentation was a silent game. A question would appear on the screen that took the form of, "Who in the room ...?" If the question applied to you, you stood up. We began with, "Who in the room was born and raised in Maryland?" Next came, "Who in the room was born and raised on the East Coast?", "Who in the room was born and raised on the West Coast?", and "Who in the room was born and raised outside of the United States?"

I saw other students with international backgrounds like me stand, and even though we were a minority, I felt comforted. To at least one other person in the room, America also seemed a little foreign. 

Next came questions of race and income level. We stood up to show our gender, sexual orientation, whether or not we had experienced violence, alcoholism, and drug abuse in our homes, whether or not we had a disability, and many other parts of our lives that have profoundly affected who we are, but that might not often be shared.

As we were led through the slides, I noticed people I knew from my graduating class back home stand up, revealing parts of their lives I didn't know. One of the people who stood up was a person I had  judged back in high school. A wave of humility washed over me, soaking me from head to foot. This was a person I had made assumptions about, when truly I knew nothing.

At the conclusion of the exercise, we were told to discuss for a minute how we felt with the person sitting next to us. I felt myself choke up. How could I explain the mixture of comfort, shame, relief, and community that I was experiencing in only 60 seconds?

That's why I decided to blog about this topic today. I need more than 60 seconds.

I need to highlight the importance of this lesson, especially for those of us who live with disabilities such as mental illness. From the outside, no one can tell what we've been through. No one knows about the sleepless nights, the pills, and the heartbreak. No one, that is, unless you let them.

I would encourage you to share your experiences with others. There are others who understand what you've experienced, and there are even more who want to understand. You don't have to share more than you feel comfortable with, but let me emphasize how good it feels to release your secret. Sharing with others helps them feel comfortable sharing with you. Be a listener, not a judger. When we share our secrets, they shed their status and become simply "truths." They are stated plainly instead of whispered. The community is enriched. Everyone is welcomed to an environment where they can thrive.

Diversity consists of the qualities that separate us from some and unite us with others, and civility is accepting these qualities and using them to make positive change. This how I learned to incorporate both into my life. I hope you do, too!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

I Moved In!

Hey everyone! Today's post is not mental health related, but I wanted to share something exciting from my life. 

I moved in at college today!

My mom and dad drove me up to Towson this morning. Ben stayed home with his ankle propped up and watched the dogs. What a convenient time for a twisted ankle! Just kidding :) I checked in and met my roommate right away, then we moved all my stuff into the dorm. Luckily our room is very spacious and comfortable. All of my things are put away, but not everything is organized yet.

I thought I'd give you a peek into my new space!


Totoro's already hooked up to the wifi and surfin' the intertubes. He likes that I took his color palette into consideration for my decorating.


Here's a view of the top of my dresser. My cousin, Becky, made me these awesome letters with pictures of my favorite things on them. They're hands down the best decoration I have in my dorm.


I hung up almost all of my clothing, so I had two extra drawers to fill with goodies. This is my fitness and games drawer. Yes, that's 7 Wonders peeking out under the Cosmogirl! book. 


My bottom drawer is filled with my books, crayons, and paper. Shout out to Isabel for giving me The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I can't wait to read it! (Also, 120 crayons are completely necessary).


Here's my desk. It's the least organized part of my room. Do you think I have enough water bottles?

Thanks for going on my little room tour with me! I'm so excited to start this new journey. I'm also kind of on a mission to prove that people with bipolar can go to college and be successful! Wish me luck :)

Friday, August 23, 2013

In Ben's Words: Chris

The following post is a guest post written by my younger brother, Ben.
To see another post he wrote, click here.

My sister is a very interesting woman. She has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and incessant need to be the best, or so it seems. These traits are what I think led her to a long, ongoing relationship with Chris. Honestly, I didn't care for Chris at first. I had seen him only once prior to actually meeting him, and it was in a short video where he portrayed an LDS missionary. I wasn't sure what to make of him; he was very sarcastic, straightforward, and didn't care what people seemed to think about him. He also wasn't very polite to my parents which bothered me a little (he has changed since then). I was also protective of my sister, which doesn't show very often, so I already had predetermined animosity towards any man in my sister's life. As time went on, I noticed how relaxed my sister became around him. It was nice to see that after all those years of seeing her trying to impress her 'friends'. 

When Jenna hit her emotional equivalent of rock bottom, Chris stuck by her as supportive as ever. I think he was probably her biggest source of strength. Because of this experience, I will always have the utmost respect for him. I don't know many guys, especially my age, who would stick by their emotionally unstable girlfriend once they even find out that they've cut themselves in the past. Chris stuck through everything. He was here for her literally every single day and then went to the hospital to see her when she was at her lowest.

 Not to get too mushy, but Chris is honestly a very inspirational figure in my life. I now believe that if a significant other in my life was experiencing mental instability on an intense level, I could be there for them through it all. I think Chris has been a positive influence on my family. He gave me insight into a world that I knew very little about: the world of science. Through that world, I've become a a happier, and I believe, more intelligent and aware person. Chris has helped both Jenna and me, though perhaps the latter being inadvertent. Although he and I occasionally squabble, I hope he remains an important addition to our family.

***

Now here's a creepy picture I photoshopped (poorly) of Ben and Chris because I don't have one of the two of them.

I'm considering having Ben write regularly (weekly or bi-weekly) for The Awkward Indie Girl. Even though we'll no longer be living in the same house, he has almost sixteen years' worth of memories to draw from. Would you be interested in reading?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Bad Mood Box


Lately, my therapist and I have been discussing tools that will help me be successful in college. One of the things we did was come up with a list of activities for me to do when my moods feel too extreme or if I have upsetting thoughts. We came up with a detailed list, but when the bad moods struck, I wasn't able to assemble the things I needed for the activity. Instead, I stayed in bed and felt worse.
Tonight I decided to gather the necessary items for my "Bad Mood Box." I actually call it my "Bipolar Box," but I think it can help anyone who's having a rough time. All of the items are inexpensive, and you probably have many lying around your house. All you need is a shoe box to get started! I recommend a larger box, like one for work boots, but you can tailor the size of your box to fit your needs. Feel free to decorate your box with contact paper or pictures that make you happy. Then, keep it somewhere that it can be easily accessed so that you're more likely to use it when things get tough!

Here's what's in my Bad Mood Box:


a) Something visually stimulating. This can be a picture book, a magazine, a map, or graphic novel/comic book. I chose The Art of My Neighbor Totoro because the pictures keep me engrossed for long periods of time.
b) Notebook or journal, lined or unlined. Mine is unlined because I like to doodle while I write.
c) Inspiration. I have an entire book of ideas, but you can just google "writing prompts" and print off a page or two.
d) A stress ball. Mine is actually a little brain from Marbles.
e) Movies. I recommend having at least five. I have eight different Studio Ghibli movies in my box! Watch movies that make you smile, even if you've seen them a hundred times.
f) Cuddly friend. Pooh to the rescue!
g) Playdoh or putty. If you're short on space, you can settle on a tub or two, but I had the extra room so I took all four. It's great to play with when you're feeling frustrated.
h) Something special from a collection. I collect acorns, and my friend Addie bought me this wooden acorn at the Renaissance Festival. Looking at it simply makes me happy.
i) Calming scent. This scent is called Bliss, and it is made from lavender, lemon, and patchouli. I like to spray it a couple of times before I lie down.
j) Another calming scent. For times when I don't want to bother my roommate with my spray, I have this little bag of lavender. Smelling it is relaxing, and it makes the box smell great!
k) Coloring book and crayons. You are never too old to color! My therapist recommended that I try coloring to curb my mood swings, and I've found it very helpful. They sell a variety of coloring books at the dollar store, or you can find some more upscale versions at your local craft store.
l) Puzzle books. Chris bought me these while I was in the hospital, and they helped me pass the time. They can be the perfect distraction! The key is to move on to another puzzle if you find yourself getting frustrated.
m) Pencils. These pencils say "I'm the best," "I love me," "I'm awesome," "I'm good looking,""I'm perfect," and "I smell good." You can get your own set here.
n) Photos. A couple of photos can remind you of happier times. I'll probably put a few more in here.

***

I hope this was a helpful tutorial!
What would you keep in your Bad Mood Box?
Let me know in the comments :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What Does Mental Illness Look Like?


Mental illness, like friendship, trust, and love, is an abstract concept. There is no mark that identifies a person as having mental illness, no secret freckle or mysterious blemish. But what if there was?

That was the inspiration behind this photo shoot. I teamed up with my new friend, Megan Bishop, to photograph some wonderful models. Each girl chose a mental illness/disorder, and Megan helped them translate their choice into makeup. 

Here are the results:
Carly - Eating Disorder

Megan - Schizophrenia

Sydney - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Norah - Bipolar Disorder

Jenna - Anxiety

***

For every person, mental illness looks a little bit different. Our idea of what it looks like is shaped by our own experiences; maybe this images will resonate with you, maybe they won't. Maybe they will help you shape your own concepts of what mental illness looks like.

My hope is that we will look at these pictures and realize that a face clear of vibrant colors and patterns is not a sign of a clear life. When we look at other human beings, we can't see their struggles and their pain. It's imperative that we go through life treating others with respect and understanding. We don't know their circumstances.

***

Thank you again, Megan, for agreeing to collaborate!
(Click her name to check out her page)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I'm Back



I've been gone a long time. It's been a dark, unpleasant time, but I'm ready to let the light in again. Today the renewal began with a shower. Suffice it to say that I hadn't showered for too many days - it's one of my signs of inner deterioration. For some reason I like to look as miserable as I feel. I decided I was ready for a shower because I'm sick of being sick.

I'm tired of being tired. I've spent too much of this last month in bed, and trigger after trigger has rerouted me to Square One. I'm heavier, I've been skipping yoga, and sometimes I get so angry that I scare myself.

We found out this week that my thyroid isn't functioning properly because of my lithium. I might (read: probably) have hypothyroidism, which will require another medication. Unfortunately, I can't be on the medication long-term. This means I'll have to eventually go off my lithium and find a substitute. While I'm thankful that I don't have to make that transition now, when I'm getting ready to move to college, it's frustrating and upsetting knowing that the change is coming.

I've also really struggled with body image recently. When I was younger, I was naturally slim. I could eat pretty much what I wanted, and I didn't exercise. I was lucky. Now, I'm watching what I eat, I'm exercising, and I'm gaining weight. Some of that is probably because of puberty, but most of it is probably due to medication. I recently donated several boxes of my clothes to Goodwill because the items can't fit my post-medication body. Some days I don't want to get out of bed because I don't want to get dressed. My mom and I are trying to fix that - we're going to get a few new pieces for my college wardrobe that will fit this body.

The thyroid problem explains some of my depression, the weight-gain, and the fatigue. In the past month, my schedule seems to revolve around naps. I wake up after ten hours of sleep exhausted and sluggish. I barely function. I exist.


Here's a disturbing image for you: Like a woman in labor that has lasted for 15 hours too many, I'm ready to push. I'm ready to push myself out of this funk. I think it's time for a rebirth.

I want to fill my life with creativity and friendship again. I want to work on my projects and prepare for my new, exciting life at college. I want to spend time with people whose company I enjoy. I want to wake up feeling refreshed instead of drained.

I know these are lofty aspirations, but I think they are worthy. I'm going to do my best to work with my support system to achieve these goals. This blog will serve as documentation of the process, so stay tuned!


P.S. Thank you to all of the people who have reached out or thought of me during this difficulty time. I'm sorry I haven't been quite myself, but thank you for your patience. Sending lots of love your way!

P.P.S. Welcome to all my new followers! I promise things won't be quite as dull over here.