Monday, April 22, 2013

The Face of Mental Illness

Last week I had a more productive therapy session than usual, so I thought I might talk about it a little. Not that my therapy sessions aren't usually productive, it's just that I was more open about some of the thoughts that I've been having. It led to an interesting realization that I would like to share.


Somehow the conversation shifted to my eating disorder, which is something we usually don't talk about because bipolar and OCD tend to be more pressing. But it's springtime, and springtime tends to get my eating out of whack. Blame it on bathing suits, short shorts, and the aftermath of winter hibernation. 

I explained to my therapist that I'd been feeling a lot of the eating disorder in my head (self-consciousness, obsessive thoughts about food, comparing myself to others and the media), but  I felt like it's wrong because I don't look like I have an eating disorder anymore. I have full thighs and a little Buddha belly. I felt like I wasn't entitled to feel sick anymore. I thought, "I don't deserve relief from this become I've become too much of a pig. I've let my image of the perfect body deteriorate, and so now I have to suffer the consequences. If I feel fat and miserable, I shouldn't have to change my perception of myself, I should lose the weight." Sick thoughts.

My therapist let me talk, and then she asked me what a person with an eating disorder is supposed to look like. I intellectually know that the answer is anyone. But in my head, a person with an eating disorder is an anorexic teenage girl who is so thin that she doesn't get her period anymore. 

I know that boys can get eating disorders, I know that people with bulimia often lose less weight that people with anorexia, and I know that just because your body is healed, your mind can still be in recovery.

I think we all do this. There is this disconnect between what we know to be true, and how we feel.

We think schizophrenia looks like the homeless man in front of the supermarket.
We think that ADHD looks like the badly behaved kid next door.
We think that bipolar looks like our teacher that flips out at students.

We have ideas of what mental illness looks like, and it's often not until it personally affects us that we change. Should it have to take finding out that your mom has depression, that your best friend has ADD, or that your sibling has an eating disorder for you to make the effort? Please humanize these diagnoses. They aren't handed out of a hat on slips of papers. They aren't punishments for past or future failures. They are just illnesses. 

As a society, we still have a long way to go before we truly accept and embrace everyone and their illnesses, mental and physical alike. I'm proud to say that the people in my life have responded so positively to my diagnosis. I have felt so loved by family members, friends, teachers, and my school's guidance department. I wish everyone who is struggling could be in such an environment. If you are lacking support and need someone to talk to, just go to the "Contact" page above.

If you want to try to be more open, the first step is just getting used to the concept that mental illness can affect anyone. Try to think of any ideas already in your head that shape your definition of mental illness. Challenge those idea with counter-examples from your own life or even Hollywood. Then, with your new realization, continue to be your wonderful self. Treat others how you want to be treated and live compassionately.


If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


I mentioned in a previous post that I've taken up yoga, so I thought today might be a good time to talk about that a little more.


The course of a day, especially one that includes high school classes, can be transformative - and not in a good way. You might wake up optimistic, but you slowly become disheveled and frustrated. Yoga is like waking up again.

I tend to not think in the present, and I focus on the future or the past. My therapist can tell you all about it. Yoga forces you to focus on the present. You express each moment with the movement or stillness of you body. When the world outside of your mat tempts you, your breath calls you back. The dirga breath has three parts; you can feel the air inflate your belly, your ribs, and beneath your collarbones. 

Another thing I love about yoga is how it isn't competitive or similar to any other athletic activity. You may be surrounded by other people in the same pose, but your progress does not compare with theirs in any way. A pose may be impossible for you one week, and the next week you can stretch an inch further. Or maybe you can't. I got frustrated when I took an intermediate class and couldn't keep up. I didn't want to be a beginner anymore! My dad really put it in perspective for me when he said, "You have your whole life to make it to intermediate. You just started a month ago."

Sometimes in life I think we get used to working hard and getting results. Sometimes there are no immediate results, and sometimes the results we get aren't the ones we want or they're not drastic enough for our liking. It's like that with mental illness too (and yes, we talk about that in therapy). I wake up in the morning and I want me bipolar to have disappeared with the moon. I go to therapy, take my medicine, fill out my mood chart, and try to have a positive attitude. Despite all of these things, all of this effort, I have bad days. I have mood swings. I have paranoid thoughts. 

This is where the lesson part comes in. It's okay to have those bad days. In yoga, it's okay if today you can't hold the pose as long as you could yesterday. It's perfectly alright if you can't twist as far or bend as low. What matters is that you try to take the most you can out of each practice, savor each pose,  lift your heart to the sky, and push firmly into the ground.

While we're on the subject of yoga, lets talk about hot yoga.

I was a girly girl growing up. I didn't really play sports, and I hated to sweat. I always volunteered to be goalie just because I didn't want to run up and down the field. I also didn't mind getting hit in the face with a soccer ball, but that's another issue altogether. Little has changed since then, so it seems odd that I would decide to take a hot yoga class.

(It's not so odd when I explain that my favorite instructor was teaching the class. She is an amazing woman who I hope to emulate, and if she is teaching a beginner level class, I always take it. I love her funny analogies for different poses and the relaxed, low-pressure environment she creates.)

Hot yoga is great if you want to sweat out everything you had to drink in the last 48 hours. Reaching upwards in the hot room is like pushing your hand into an invisible cloud of heat. Sweat literally drips off of you, runs down your back, and soaks your clothing. DO NOT FORGET YOUR TOWEL. This is just a slight word of caution. While it's true that the heat loosens up your muscles and allows you to be more flexible, it also makes some of the most simple poses harder. The effort required to make it through a sun salutation is exponentially greater in the heat. You treasure the moment on the mat when you're in the lower, cooler air.

But don't let me deter you from the magical practice that is hot yoga. Yes, it's difficult. Yes, it's trying. But it is so rewarding. Afterwards, you feel like a wrung-out washcloth. Not a grimy washcloth that wiped up some day-old mac and cheese. A beautiful woven washcloth made of the finest golden fibers. You feel refreshed, invigorated, and renewed,

The only thing better than hot yoga is the cool shower that comes after it.


So I hope this tells you a little bit more about my yoga experience. If you know me in real life and need a buddy to go with you, let's go! I hope that regardless of your physical and mental health status, you go to yoga class and experience the bliss for yourself. Maybe you'll like it :)