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)