Friday, May 31, 2013

Journeys



Mental Health Month took me places with the Awkward Indie Girl that I thought I would never go.

I initially started this blog as a fashion blog. My early posts were all about my latest outfits, my stylish friends, and fashion inspiration. It began to progress into something more when I started my Body Talk posts and opened up about my eating disorder. I realized that even though I can be shy in person, I am not afraid to share personal details online. It was easier for me to carefully choose and edit my words behind a computer, and I could write and comment from the comfort and safety of my own home. Through the Awkward Indie Girl, I found courage.

After a prolonged absence from the blogosphere, I reasserted myself as queen of this domain with a post about my mental illness. It was scary, but I found more support than I could have hoped for after that barrier-breaking blog post. I finally felt proud of my content. That's not to say that beauty and fashion bloggers don't produce meaningful content. I don't mean that at all. I think they provide a valid service that is helpful and a fun escape for many men and women. But my true desire was never to be a fashionista. My goal was to become a writer and to find a unique style while doing so.

I noticed that when I transitioned to a mental health/lifestyle blogger instead of a wannabe fashion blogger, my parents and friends began to share my blog with others. They were proud of me and my writing. My readership grew, and I began to have meaningful conversations with my readers. I started to take myself seriously as a writer, and I could imagine myself doing this as a future career.

Mental Health Month accelerated those feelings to the nth degree. I found a new sense of purpose in my blogging. Advocacy strengthened me. I felt like less of a victim of my bipolar, and more like a warrior princess. Yes, it was weird knowing that people at school, my dad's colleagues, extended family members, and complete strangers knew about the most intimate details of my life. But it was also freeing. The more people that found out, the more supporters I gained. There was less pretending that everything was darn tootin' fine and dandy. I could relax and hang up the mask that I had been wearing for several years.

Because of all this, I have decided to permanently transition this blog into a mental health and lifestyle blog. Through my words and images, I want to help end stigma and show what life can be like with mental illness. I want to make friends and spread hope. I want to be an advocate for people like me.

There still is a side of me that enjoys scoring a great deal at a thrift store and acting like a complete and utter goof. That part of me will be represented on the Internet, but not on this blog. I will be starting a new YouTube channel next week, with all the thrifty awkwardness you can possibly handle :)

So, to everyone who has been with me since the beginning, I am thankful for your support and patience. If this blog no longer fits your needs or interests, I understand your departure, and I respect it. To everyone that would like to be a part of this new journey with me, welcome.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Questions and Answers - Mental Health Edition





In this post I'll be answering questions that were sent in to me about my mental health. I 


Q: I view that there is a logical part of your brain and an emotional part. At your lowest points does the logical part of your brain ever completely shut down? In other words do you ever fully believe what the emotional part of your brain is telling you – that things are hopeless - or, do you still have functioning logic that tells you that your brain is sick and that at some point you will feel normal again?
A: I completely agree with you. When I'm depressed, I lose my capability to reason. I have had people tell me (quite forcefully) that things are going to get better, but I continued to believe that they were only tricking me into staying alive. In the past I have been so overwhelmed by bad feelings that I lose my ability to process time. I'll explain: I feel like each minute lasts forever and that there is no foreseeable end. I can't be rational about the possibility of getting better or feeling normal again.

Q: Do your mood/mental cycles follow any pattern in time or are they random?   Do you track your moods/mental condition?
A: I've kept a detailed mood chart the last several months and there doesn't seem to be a clear pattern. Every day I rate my mood from -10 to +10, mark if I have had anxiety or mixed moods that day (feelings of depression and mania simultaneously), note my bedtime, wake-up time, and naps, and then mark whether I had work, saw friends, or went to therapy.

The one TMI thing is that I tend to have suicidal thoughts around my period. I know that sounds gross, but I think reproductive health plays a significant role in emotional health. According to the DSM , 80% of women deal with some kind of PMS, but a much smaller percentage deal with such extreme feelings. I'm on a special birth control pill to help me deal with this. 

Q: Is there a correlation between your “real” situation and your mental state?  If things are going really good for you does it lessen the chance that you will go into a deep depression? If things are going bad in your life can it trigger you into a downward spiral?
A: The line is blurry, but overall I can say that bad things bring me down. If things are going well, my mood can still be negative. If things are going poorly, however, it is very rare that I am still in a good mood. At this point in time, I am still learning how to deal with stress in a healthy, effective way. So when things get stressful, I sometimes have meltdowns. On the bright side, I am recovering much more quickly than I used to. My bad moods aren't lasting as long and they aren't as severe as they used to be.

Q: Can you quantify in any way how much yoga helps you?   Do the effects last longer than the yoga session?
A: Yoga provides me with 75 to 90 minutes during which I am free from my labels and responsibilities. Being active helps me feel more positive when I leave the studio, and I feel like I have accomplished something. The effects last generally through the rest of the day, unless I went to yoga to avoid homework that will still be waiting for me when I get home. Additionally, the breathing techniques I learned at yoga help me to be mindful and to control my anxiety.

Q: Does food affect you in any way? Seasons? Weather?  Exercise (besides yoga)?
A: I haven't noticed a substantial effect from food, but caffeine is a different story. I try to avoid it as much as I can, because I already have a fairly delicate sleep cycle. Caffeine just messes me up! For seasons, I notice that I feel worse in the spring, but that is because in my past I have struggled with my eating disorder in the springtime (panicking about bathing suits and shorts). Spring also seems to be the busiest season, and with the busyness comes stress. Additionally, holidays are very stressful for me and I tend to have more bad moods/feelings of emptiness. I don't notice much of an effect from weather, and at this point, I am not exercising besides yoga. Exercise has been a trigger for me, because I get obsessive, but I hope to play club volleyball in college.

Q: What do the drugs you take do for you?   Do they remove the highs and lows? Do they just reduce the depth of the lows?
A: I am on several medications that do a variety of great things. I am on Lexapro, an antidepressant, to control the lows, Risperdal, a mood-stabilizer, to limit the depth of the highs and lows (but particularly the lows for me), and Lithium, another mood stabilizer, to limit the highs and prevent mania. As I mentioned before, the birth control pill I am on also helps me by allowing me to have fewer periods that aren't as "intense."
Fun fact about Lithium: Unlike many other mood medications that require you to wait and see (6-8 weeks!) if you are at an appropriate dosage, Lithium can be monitored through blood tests after only being in your system for three days. I love this! It makes finding the balance so much easier.

Q: Do you have days where you are really happy all day or for several days in a row? If so, how often does this occur and how long does it last?
A: This is a new thing for me! In April I experienced my five consecutive days of elevated mood that were not mania in a long time. It happened again this month, so that means I'm on the right track! 

Q: In hind sight how far back do you trace your mental illness?   How old were you?
A: My eating disorder "appeared" when I was thirteen and in the 8th grade, and my depression became severe when I was 15 and starting 10th grade. I didn't think I could be bipolar until the summer before I turned 16. I often wonder if some of the memories from my childhood were warning signs. I have a distinct memory of getting so hyper while playing dolls with my best friend Claudia that I thought I was going to be physically sick. I remember her getting upset with me because I just could not calm down. She even told me I was scaring her. Was this a sign of future mania? I don't know. I also have a memory in fourth grade of getting home from school, going to my room, turning off all the lights, and lying in my bed because it "was time for me to die." Warning sign of future depression? Maybe.

Q: Given the magnitude of the problems that you have to deal with do you have trouble relating to the typical problems of your peers?
A: This one is tricky. I had these problems long before I was bipolar, and it's part of the reason I chose not to take part in prom or graduation. Most of my friends are in their twenties, and I am very comfortable with them. That is not to say I don't have friends my age or younger that I treasure; my comfort level is just different. I am much more concerned about being judged for my problems by my friends my age. I hope this answers the question.

Q: If you had a friend or acquaintance that felt they were sinking into depression what advice would you give them in 5 bullet points or less?
A: 
1) Tell someone. Your mom, dad, grandmother, friend, teacher, doctor. It's better that they know when it's just starting than to be ambushed when it's a full-blown problem and you need to go to the hospital. 
2) Keep track of your moods or feelings. It can be an Excel spreadsheet, a journal, or a stack of Post-It notes.
3) Don't be afraid to get professional help. Therapy and medication are not enemies, just small things that can help you be the best person you can be.

Okay, these are my answers. I hope they are satisfactory! If you ever have any other questions, feel free to contact me.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Being Your Own Superhero, featuring My Neighbor Totoro


Today's post has been rolling around in my head for days. It's no secret that I've been dealing with feelings of misery and self-pity. I have been having many "If Only" thoughts. Feelings that someone else could fix my situation and make me happy. That other people are depriving me or my happiness.

It's about time that this princess woke the heck up, huh? Talk about high-maintenance. 

Instead of waiting for a superhero to save me, maybe I should be my own superhero. After all, it only takes two steps to become one:

1. Believe that you are super.
2. Believe you are worth saving.

You don't even have to get off of the couch for those first two steps!


It can be frustrating and difficult to take responsibility for your own happiness, and for that reason, it's okay to get some help from cuddly friends like Totoro. There is, however, a fine line between receiving some assistance with an imaginary Japanese pep talk and relying on someone else completely.

I am guilty of putting too much pressure on other people to help me overcome bad feelings. I'll admit that sometimes my depression can make me feel extremely hopeless. In those times, it's okay to lean on the ones you love and allow them to help you care for yourself. It's the in-between times that are trickier. The times when you are the only one who can push yourself to get out of bed, take your medication, and start your day. Sometimes there is no choice when it comes to moods, but other times, there are small actions we can take to push ourselves into a better mood or limit the effects of negative thoughts.

For example, I was in bed the other day and I just kept thinking about how much everyone hates me and would be happier if I weren't around. I just lay there for twenty-something minutes feeling bad for myself and making myself cry. Way to go, team!

I finally realized that although my mood might be depressed, I was choosing to entertain these thoughts. To reduce them, all I would have to do was get out of bed and distract myself. So I watched Freaks and Geeks with my mom. No, I'm not getting a Nobel Prize this year, but I was able to ameliorate my situation slightly. That's what a superhero does.


Today, I am renewing my promise to myself to be my own superhero. To look out for myself, have healthy self-worth, and fight against bad moods. I know that while I am not perfect, there are some pretty super things about me. I am smart, fun to be around, and a loyal friend. I am worth saving because I am going to accomplish great things. I am going to write books and teach children.

Don't underestimate your own abilities and your own potential. I used to be the kid who couldn't come up with something to say to compliment myself. I always settled on "nice" because it didn't seem too intense. Forget that! You can be an amazing person and know it! I mean, you're a superhero, aren't you?

***

I just read this on Tumblr and couldn't keep it to myself:

You occupy space and have mass.
Therefore, you matter.


Just a reminder and a thank you about my Q&A session:

Thank you to everyone that has already sent in questions! 
I will be posting them all with answers on Thursday.

If you have a mental health-related question (or two!) that you would like me to answer, send me an email at:


Thank you for reading today!
Jenna

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ugly Blogging and Q&A Announcement


I'm sorry for my absence on this blog the past few days. I'm very thankful for the reception of my last post about being in the hospital.

It's a combination of final exams, a changing relationship, disruption of normal routine, and the reality of being a bipolar teenage girl that has thrown me off course. I considered not even blogging today because I still feel like an incoherent mess. But then I thought of the emails I get. The ones that praise me for being strong and compliment my ability to work through tough times gracefully. 

I feel the need to show that things are not always beautiful and easy. I need to explain that I'm not a success story. Right now, I feel more like a failure.

I've cried three times today. I've been in and out of bed multiple times, falling asleep all over the house because I have no desire to be awake. I'm irritable and moody and mean to everyone who tries to help. Quite the little cupcake.

I'm not telling you this so that you feel bad for me. My purpose is for you to have a clearer picture of my situation. I mentioned not being a success story before, and I think that is important. Right now, I'm just a work in progress. Yes, I'm taking the right steps and helping myself (and accepting help) the best I can. Setbacks like the ones I'm experiencing now are normal and part of life. As weird as it sounds, it's okay to feel like a failure sometimes. 


Awkward PhotoBooth picture. Tears, breakouts, and all. Whatcha gonna do.

The moral of this story is that I'm trying to grow from the experiences I'm having right now, however negative they may be. My hope is that you can do the same. Remember that the people on the Internet have ugly days, too. That they're not only the carefully selected tweets, blog posts, and Instagram pictures. They have scars and freak outs and bad days. So be gentle with yourself.

I toast my water bottle to you, Internet friends. May we have bad days as well as good, weak moments as well as strong, and tears as well as smiles.

(PS I'm sorry if this post is more poorly written than my usual stuff)


So! About this Q&A Announcement!

Starting now, I will be accepting questions for a Mental Health Q&A post on my blog. Any question you've been wanting to ask about bipolar, depression, anxiety, paranoia, medication, mania, hospitalization, therapy, etc will be answered!

 (Obviously I'll only be able to answer based on my personal experiences.)

To have your question answered, leave it in the comments (even anonymously) or send an email to:


All honest questions will be answered. Pinky promise.

***

Thank you for your kindness, acceptance, and understanding today.
I offer it to you in return.
xoxo
Jenna

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hospital Lessons



When I returned to school after being in the hospital for seven days, I didn't want to tell anyone where I had been. Unfortunately, I am not a gifted liar. Given my past of living overseas, I probably could have gotten away with saying something along the lines of "trip to Europe" or even just muttering a  convincing multisyllabic German word. Most people didn't know I was struggling with bipolar to begin with.

I think it would have been easier if I had been at the hospital to have my appendix removed. Being there for psychiatric care is an entirely different beast. The greatest difference is the people. It would be easy to dehumanize them and write them off as a bunch of "loonies." Yes, there was a woman who played Monopoly with herself each day at lunch and lost. There was a man who told us about the aliens that stole the bodies of government workers and listened to our phone conversations. There was a guy with the same birthday as my mom and no teeth who promised to take me out for crabs in his taxi cab if I gave him my number. But I was in that section of the hospital, too. So what did that make me?

I think I've managed to figure it out (for the most part). 

The hospital serves its purpose for being a safe place for you to stay while everything your medications are adjusted. For me, that was the most crucial part. The second most important part, surprisingly, was the people. Not the occupational therapy, not the movies on drug abuse, but getting to know the people I shared those days with.

At first I was very scared of the people in the ward. I was the youngest one, at eighteen. The way that some of the older men talked to me made me uncomfortable. I just wanted to be left alone to do my crossword piles and fantasize about killing myself. But a young grandmother with depression reached out to me. She began to save me a seat at meals and group therapy, and she explained the rules to me. Her diagnosis wasn't so foreign to me; I've struggled with depression as well. With her encouragement, I reached out to the some of other women in the ward: a young woman attending the college I will attend in the fall, my roommate who was a mother struggling with bipolar disorder, and a woman with severe anxiety who liked to play cards and talk.

We played a secret version of hangman on the white board because we weren't allowed to actually draw a "hang man." We watched Duck Dynasty together. We talked about our families, about how our lives have been changed because of our illnesses, about life outside of the hospital. Slowly, I felt more comfortable around the men of the ward. Yes, there was still one guy that creeped me out, but once I realized that he couldn't really do anything besides tell bad jokes, he lost his power over me. We became awkward "hospital friends." One of the nurses brought Wii games in, and the whole ward "bowled" and played "tennis." No one could beat me at Jeopardy!, and my new friends cheered me on. I tried to get the quieter patients involved by doing puzzles. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

I became much more comfortable at group therapy. I wasn't afraid to talk about my own life or ask the nurses questions. I became determined to get as much as I possibly could out of the hospital experience. 

When I left the hospital, everyone hugged me (even though that wasn't allowed). They all wished me the best, and I wished them the best. I was one of the lucky ones that got to go home for Christmas. Thinking about my stay there makes me sad now. Statistically I know that some of those people have had to return to the hospital, I know that some still have their lives claimed by illegal drugs or refuse to take their medicine. These "repeat offenders" are called "frequent fliers." The nurses know their names and their lunch choices from memory.

One rule they are very strict about (unlike the no hugging policy) is no contact after release. It's frustrating to not know how people that shared such a critical time in your life are doing, but I choose to believe that it's for the best. After all, the hospital is a strange equalizing property. And, to answer my initial question, I did belong there. Everyone in that ward is equal. You don't have your fancy clothes, your job, your jewelry, or your status to hide behind. At the hospital, you are just a person fighting for a better future. Fighting to survive. Everyone has the same mission: to get better. It's like a bizarre party with bad food. All you have to do to get invited is to want to be there, to value your own life, and to push yourself towards a brighter tomorrow.

 I was talking to a young man there about friends, and I said "You were probably much cooler in high school than I am" and he laughed. He responded "But we're both here, aren't we?"

***

If you are interested in reading more about my hospital experience, including some of the funnier moments, please let me know in the comments. Writing was such a freeing experience for me today!

As always, thank you for reading.
Jenna

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Post of Thanks


This morning, the four of us made our way into Baltimore for the NAMI walk. (NAMI stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness). We walked with many others around the Inner Harbor to support mental health.

While I was walking, I first thought that maybe it would have been nicer if we had gotten a group to walk with us. Many walkers had t-shirts that affiliated them with their respective family, group, or county.

Then the nostalgia bug bit me. Well, perhaps not the nostalgia bug. But the bug that makes you feel so good that you're not even tempted to shove your brother into the harbor to swim with the ducks. Even though everyone was walking to support mental health in the state of Maryland, my family was walking to support me. Let the record show that teenagers can be humbled.

My family has been through a lot in the past few years. A hospitalization and a half, crippling depression, frustrating mania, waiting for medication to work, changing medications, and much more.

My mental illness has pushed my parents and my brother to become people they might not have otherwise been. They had to learn about my condition and the coping mechanism to deal with their newfound understanding. When I heard my mom say the word "cutting" out loud for the first time, I was struck with such a feeling of guilt and embarrassment. My sweet, loving mom should not even know that that kind of behavior exists. But she learned about it, and she hid things when she had to, and she made our home safe for me.

I am thankful for my family, and I am thankful for the support they continue to give even when I am too unwell to understand or appreciate it.


I am also thankful for my extended family. My Nanna, aunts, uncles, and cousins who read my blog and talk to me about what I'm going through. Uncle Tim, thank you for the happy texts. They pick me up throughout my day. Nanna, thank you for giving me strength. Becky, thank you for being my optimistic little cousin who understands my mood swings as best you can. Danielle and Sierra, thank you for giving your dorky younger cousin some of your time.

*

Then there's a completely separate category for my boyfriend, Chris. When I needed him, he assumed the role of additional caregiver. He did more than I ever could have asked of him. I am fairly certain that things can only get better from here, as my mood stability improves each day. Chris, thank you for sharing this very scary adventure with me. I love you.

*

To my second family, the Dessanti family: grazie. Vi amo. I have enjoyed your international support for many years. Thank you for always providing unconditional friendship and advice.

My local friends. This is tricky because sometimes (read: often) I feel like I don't have many friends. But I want to recognize you as good, strong people that are capable of lifting my spirits. If you still talk to me since I started my different school schedule, there is a 100% chance that you are a wonderful person and that I'm thankful for your influence in my life. Norah, I couldn't get through FOT without you. Eric, your political texts are perfect. Jon, thank you for catching up with me when you get the chance. Olivia, thank you for keeping me sane at Kumon, French class, the bus, and prom night. Especially prom night. Dillon, Danny, Evan, Keith: you guys are great for games, laughs, and even serious time. :)


(Wow, I have enough friends. Sometimes I should just shut up and enjoy the people who are in my life)


To my friends located elsewhere, the distance does not weaken my appreciation of your support. Barbara Franklin, I love you so much, and I always notice your support of my blog! You were an excellent Girl Scout leader, and now you are an excellent friend. Malia, I still get sentimental thinking about our KingKong email. I love you, and I'm glad we still keep in touch. Zach, I'm sad we've grown apart over the years. I know it's mostly my fault. I miss you.

To all of the readers of my blog: sometimes just seeing that dumb hit counter go up keeps me going. Thank you for commenting, emailing me, or even just reading.

I know this was kind of a selfish blog post. Regular content will resume tomorrow, but today, I'm just feeling thankful.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Living with Mental Illness: A Sister's Perspective

This post is written by my soul sister's mom.

I'm very grateful for her influence in my life.

She has been giving me advice for more than ten years, and she has helped me through countless struggles. Claudia and I would sit at the kitchen table with her, and she would talk to us about our lives while we ate Nutella sandwiches without the crust. She treated us with respect and honored our problems. She never made me feel limited by my age.

She truly is my second mother.

This is her story.

***

When I was born, my sister was getting ill with schizophrenia, she was 20 years old and I never got to know how she was before the illness. When I was growing up, for some reason I relied on her for my emotional growth. She became my role model. I looked up at her for many reasons and none of them had anything to do with her illness. I am talking about her strong personality and intelligence, a sense of justice without fear to make the difficult choice, her integrity.

I had fun with her. She was interested in talking about almost anything and loved to elaborate, we talked for hours and that was pure delight. At times we fought, as sisters usually do, and often it ended up with her chasing me down the stairs, that also was a lot of fun. To this day I can’t believe the stroke of luck I had to have her as a sister, the best part of me comes from knowing her.

Yes, there were her symptoms and I would lose her to them for periods of times and I had to be patient and wait for her to get back to me.

When I met her friends, they never failed to ask me about her and let me know what an extraordinary person she was before she got sick. They felt like that person they knew was not there anymore. I was lucky I never felt that, never had to compare the before and after of my sister. And I get them, I know it must be scary to see your daughter or friend get a mental illness, you don’t know what to do or what to say. It’s like if, after a diagnosis, mental illness takes centre stage and gets all the lights.

Well, my experience is that my sister was still there for me to be with and enjoy. That’s why, when dealing with somebody that has a mental illness, to me the goal is to look for the person behind.


Thank you, Teresa.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Happy Music

Sometimes the key to a great mood lies within the right song. Conversely, the wrong song can make a bad mood even worse. I remember sitting on my bed in the dark, blasting the Fray, after I moved away from my best friend. Just hearing their songs makes me sad now. I also remember playing Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" on repeat after my sixth grade boyfriend gave our three day relationship the axe. Cringe worthy moment?

Music is powerful. We evolved to enjoy music, and there are enough types for everyone to find something. It doesn't matter whether it's pop, rock, dubstep, metal, reggae, or classical. As long as it makes you feel good, it's the right music for you.

Today on my blog, I'd like to share some happy music with you. I can't guarantee that you'll like it all, but I can hope that you find one song that brightens up your day.

(Also, if you know your mood but can't find the perfect song, my friend Simon recommends Stereomood!)

***

My awesome friend Dillon, king of music, put together a 14 song sampler of happy tunes.


***

My Current Happy Playlist:


***
My brother made this playlist:

Enjoy, and please leave your contributions in the comments!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tattoos and Mental Health, Continued

I was so happy to see that one of my other cousins, Sierra, responded to my cousin Danielle's post on my blog about her tattoos. I spent a lot more time with Sierra growing up, because she lived much closer to my Grandma. I remember having sleeping overs with her, and we would stay up ridiculously late. On one occasion, we watched TV, played with Barbies, and curled our hair until 4 in the morning. I'll cherish those memories forever.

Thanks, Sierra!

Now, her own words...

***

I saw your blog post about tattoos and overcoming depression, and could instantly relate. After Grandma died I was deeply saddened,  I had already been suffering from depression for about 7 years and was on a lot of meds because of it. When she passed I didn't really know what to do and I was terrified of going deeper into my depression.  While preparing for her funeral, I came to a revelation.  Grandma was such a kind and uplifting person, always pushing for us to grow and just be happy in whatever you do; I just couldn't be sad, she wouldn't have wanted me to. Although Grandma might not have loved tattoos, I decided to get one for her. I decided on a Marigold,  because she always had them planted on her porch out front. I remember spending a lot of time out tending the garden with her; it made her very happy. Today this tattoo makes me feel her love and warmth whenever I see it. Im not sure if the tattoo may have anything to do with my health, but after I got the tattoo I made a choice to go off my antidepressants that I had been on for 7 years. I am proud to say today that it has been an entire year since I have been on any meds for my mental health. And everyday I can look down at my Marigold and thank Grandma.


DISCLAIMER: I am very thankful for the words that Sierra shared. However, I would just like to point out that whenever you make changes to your medication routine, you should consult your doctor. While some people, like Sierra, can go off their medication, others, like me, cannot. The truth is, everyone has a different situation, and mine requires me to take medication for the rest of my life. 



Please be aware of your own situation and take care of yourself!




***




It just struck me how interesting it is that my older cousins have gone through some things very similar to what I am going through. It makes me feel closer to them, and I appreciate them in a new way. If there's any message in this, it would be that opening up can allow you to find support and assurance in unexpected places.




As always, your stories are welcome on my blog. Feel free to contact me through email, Facebook, or Twitter. Just click the Contact Me link at the top of the page.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Road and Your Tour Bus

Congratulations, you've been diagnosed with one or a combination of mental health issues!

Don't look so downhearted. There are perks, I promise!

Like this tour bus - it's bedecked and bedazzled with bling, and we won't make you ride alone. Here's a psychiatrist and a therapist to ride along with you. It's up to you to persuade your family and friends to climb aboard.

This crappy image belongs to me.

Initially you keep your giant tour bus a secret. You take side streets and cover it with several tarps sewn together to avoid the eyes of curious neighbors. You cautiously allow a few friends to join you, and your parents take front seats. The ride is bumpy, but having everyone together makes the journey much easier. 

You find a special person who is willing to ride in your big, goofy tour bus full of doctors and family members. Maybe this tour bus isn't such a bad perk.

Then you start hitting toll booths. The first booth isn't so bad. There's no EasyPass, but between the whole group you're able to scrunch up the cash for the toll. Then you hit another. And another. And another. Money doesn't make it to the front window so easily, and it takes longer and longer to count up the coins. 

People are getting sick of riding this damn tour bus. They're tired, hungry, and out of quarters. Everyone is irritable, and someone clogged the toilet. Your friend explains that they've had enough. Not of your diagnosis, but of this experience. "It's too overwhelming." 

Once, you try to get off to the tour bus, too. You put on parka and try to slip out with the rest of the group. Not so fast. This is your bus, and you can't just get off your bus.

***

After a while, you notice that there are some people on your tour bus that you just don't want there anymore. So you kindly express your desire that they scooch their derriere off your bus. Some take the hint, others require a gentle shove, and still others need to be thrown off while the bus in motion.

In an angry fit, you jettison more than half of the cast of your bus. For a while you drive on, feeling the high of a crazed dictator. But a tour bus is not intended for a few. So you end up driving in reverse, apologizing, and picking a few back up. You leave the meanies though. They can get picked off by zombies for all you care.

While talking to your therapist one day, you ask what the final destination is. "There is no destination. Only a journey." You contemplate punching everyone, but that seems impractical. After a lot of thought and plenty of tears, you come to terms with this arrangement. You do get to ride around with a group of amazing people and see some beautiful sights. It's not ideal, but it's not a death sentence either. It's a different way of living.

By the way, you're all invited on my tour bus.
Thank you for reading my blog and supporting me.
Love,
Jenna

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Living with Mental Illness - A Mother's Perspective


In honor of Mother's Day, a post written by my mother.



Mental illness was always very far away—the homeless men and women on the streets of New York City, the movie stars who surprised us on E! (Kristy McNichol, Carrie Fisher, Margot Kidder), and the characters of plays and novels (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Beautiful Mind, and Girl, Interrupted). While growing up, I was never aware of being around anyone with mental illness. 

Today, mental illness has come closer. It is in my home. I’m not exactly sure how it got here, and it really doesn’t matter how, it’s here. It is here with me every day. Severe depression stole my daughter away from me almost four years ago. After a scary time in December last year, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder II.

The diagnosis was difficult to hear. It’s crushing to hear a respected doctor say your child has a mental illness. What you hear is, “Your child is sick with a permanent, challenging condition which you must learn to accept and deal with on a daily basis for the rest of your lives.” And then deep down, you hope you have many, many days to deal with this.

Denial came and went for me fairly quickly.  Learning about the situation became my mission. Acceptance has taken time. I have found it difficult to say, “My daughter has bipolar disorder.” We do not have a home of despair or abuse—and I’m afraid people will assume we do. Or they will just wonder what is wrong with us. 

It stung when mental illness came into my house uninvited and took my daughter. I had absolutely NO CONTROL over it. I continue to try to do the right thing in every day life, and that is all I can do. I try to be supportive. I’ve seen glimpses of the old Jenna—the one with the sparkle in her eye as she tells a joke. She’s a beautiful, loving, wonderful young woman, and she’s still there. I just have to work harder to see her sometimes. I’m so glad I’m her mother. Mental illness can’t take that away.

***

If you are interested, the post on my brother's perspective is located here.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Importance of Dreaming


Some days just suck. 

You make up feeling irritable, and from then on nothing seems to go right. You might be depressed or anxious, you might feel out of control or overwhelmed. 

Waking up depressed too many days in a row takes a toll. As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, the time frame your brain can manage steadily shrinks until you are living moment to moment. Stringing along these moments to create minutes, and then hours, and then maybe a day or two. When there are too many moments you seek refuge in your bed where you can sleep hundreds of moments away and ignore the world under your duvet. 

The land of Under Covers is not foreign to me. Today was a relatively good day, but I still hid for about an hour after school. I pulled myself into a hole too deep to make it to yoga. The place that makes me feel the safest also makes me the most vulnerable. When I'm at my worst, I beg my parents to just let me go to bed. Sleep provides the comfort of not being. 

Now I'm getting to the point where I am comfortable being most of the time. I've had a full week of good moods 5 and above on a scale from -10 to 10. 

The first sign that I was feeling better was my ability to think about the future. I wasn't debilitated thinking about going to college, and I'm even turning into a bit of an optimist. I'm getting excited about life.

When I was depressed to the point of wanting to end my life, my therapist helped me make a list of things I liked and that I was looking forward to. Things that made life worth living. Things that I'm curious about. Things that can push me to see one more day.

The things we look forward to, the things that push us on, don't have to be legendary or epic. They can be simple, like a puppy's wet nose or a strawberry milkshake. I would encourage you to make a list of things that make your life worth living and things that you are looking forward to.

Here's an excerpt from my list:

- Mânnlein and Sisi (our dogs) getting excited when we come home
- Becoming a teacher
- Going to the zoo
- Crepes with Nutella
- Becoming a blogging sensation (haha)
- Maybe having a baby someday
- Monarch butterflies
- Getting married
- Designing and organizing my own living space
- Learning how to bake/cook
- Reading
- Cuddles
- Studying in Paris

I can't stress enough the importance of dreaming. Our dreams can be as large or as small as we need them to be. When our current moment is too dark, a dream can transport us to a place that is lighter, where it is easier to breathe, and that gives us the energy we need to move forward. Dreams are like promises we make ourselves without consequences. If circumstances change, or if we change, our dreams can transform just as fluidly. A misconception of dreams is that they have an expiration date. Dreams are ageless.

"Dream your dreams with your eyes closed, but live your dreams with your eyes open."

- Eric Collier