Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Goodbye, The Awkward Indie Girl!

A lot has happened in the last month. My blog and I have gotten a lot of attention, and I have had some amazing opportunities to serve as an advocate for the mental health community - expect a blog post about this soon!

I think I have finally reached the point where I have outgrown The Awkward Indie Girl. I have migrated all of my posts to


and that is where I will be posting from now on. Instead of using a high school nickname, my own name will be my brand. I'm very excited to see what the future holds.

So be sure to update your bookmarks! I am still learning how to use Wordpress, so I appreciate your patience over the next few weeks. I think this change will benefit everyone involved.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sometimes I Am Disabled


Most people who know me know that I am bipolar. When it comes up in conversation, I don't mind sharing. I'm happy to answer questions, and I am always willing to be an advocate. Not much of my private life is actually private. On my blog I admit to having bipolar, OCD, and EDNOS. I confess to self-harm. My two in-patient hospitalizations are forever recorded on the Internet.

Despite this claim of transparency, I have a very difficult time showing that I actively struggle with these issues. I would like to present myself as a successful portrait of mental illness. The major mood swings, the cutting, the starving and purging - all elements of my past. I am "stable." Just look at me! I go to class, I have straight As, I am involved in activities. I exert a lot of effort trying to appear well-adjusted. I've been working towards being on the cover of Time, plastered on the front a box of cereal, and featured on 60 Minutes with the claim that I "conquered" mental illness.

Unfortunately, my type-A personality has set an impossible goal. I have a disability, and sometimes that means I am disabled. I am not stable right now. I have been struggling with my mood swings again. I have been having severe physical reactions to stress. But, I am learning, this does not detract from my message of advocacy. Part of representing the many individuals with mental illness is acknowledging the suffering, the heartbreak, and the difficulties that are a part of daily life.

Stability is not a magic status that occurs once you have logged a certain number of hours. Healing is a process. That process includes ups and downs. There was at least a solid month when I felt very good, but now I do not feel very good. In fact, I feel pretty bad. My blog is a place where I can acknowledge the good and the bad. It is not my job to always be a beacon of hope.

I am a human with unfortunate brain chemistry. I can live a meaningful life, I can be an advocate, and I can be a writer, but I will have days that will be lost to my illness. These lost days do not detract from my message; they are part of my message. Despite my struggles, aches, and losses, my net effect is positive. My failures amplify my triumphs, just as the rain makes the rainbow that much more beautiful. Bipolar has taught me that nothing is all good or all bad, but everything is temporary. Glean what you can from this moment, because you do not know what the next moment will bring.

So let's share these moments: the manic, the hypomanic, the stable, the depressed, the devastating, and all of the shades in between. Let's share the milestones and mistakes. We can celebrate and mourn simultaneously. It is most important that we create a community of acceptance for all states of our illness, including our wellness.

In the comments, I invite you to share one aspect of your life that is going well and one that is challenging you. For example, I am celebrating six months of being self-harm free, but I am struggling with exercising.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Drugged


I have been off Lexapro for a week now. It's my first time with 0mg since my first hospitalization in 2012. Late last year, I started taking Latuda, which is for bipolar depression. It seemed like a good time to try weaning myself off of the Lexapro.

I take a lot of meds. I used to be concerned about how the pills were "changing me," but I realized that all of the pills do is help balance me to a point where I can function normally. It seems to go against logic, but I am able to be more myself when I artificially add the chemicals that my brain lacks.

Recently I have become aware of a part of the mental health community that concerns me. Just thinking about it is making me cry right now. There are people who say that I use my pills as a "crutch." That instead of learning techniques to control my patterns of thinking and behaving, I pop pills.

I have been struggling as I have been decreasing my Lexapro. I notice that I'm having a tougher time dealing with stress, I have been more emotional, and I am having more thoughts about self harm. I don't know if this is because of the dosage change, stressful circumstances, or a combination of both.

I'm meeting with my psychiatrist on Monday, and we'll be discussing whether or not I should stay off of the Lexpro. Part of me wants to show that I can manage without it - that I can use the coping skills I've learned in therapy. I feel like if I can get through the months of April and May, I'll be fine. But the other part of me doesn't want to tempt a disaster. I can't afford to have a bad episode during these next couple months.

I honestly don't know what to do. It is entirely possible that I would be feeling this way even with the Lexapro; things are very stressful right now. I'm still functioning. I'm going to class, doing my work, and participating in activities.

For me, it's not a question of whether or not I will take medication. It's a question of how much. Without the Lexapro, I'm still taking seven pills a day. I don't think I will ever be completely drug-free, but part of me would like to embrace this chance to reduce the number of chalky tablets I put into my body.

Ultimately, I need to make this decision myself. That said, I am still interested in other opinions. It's important to note that saying no to Lexapro right now doesn't mean that I can never go back on it. I think that all of us have different ways of dealing with our conditions and that we shouldn't feel shame in taking medication or choosing not to take it anymore. I'm just trying to figure out which way is right for me.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

High School

I did NOT take this photo. This is from Rock n Roll Revival last year, but it captures the spirit of the show better than any other image I could create myself. It was taken by Connor Smith.

Last night, I attended Rock n Roll Revival XXV at my old high school. RnR is the glistening jewel of Severna Park, outshining all other local events. Forty songs are performed over the course of two acts, and the singers, dancers, and band members are all students - except for the one faculty number. The talent is incredible. Each year I've been overwhelmed by seeing what my musically-minded classmates are capable of.

Yesterday something else overwhelmed me, too. As I walked across the parking lot to our car, my ears still slightly ringing, I felt sadness. There was a lump in my throat. What can I say of my high school experience? I never auditioned for RnR - the closest I got was signing up for an audition slot and crossing my name off the day of because I was too afraid. I never tried out for any sports. I have very few friends from that time in my life. There were no crowning achievements, no ribbons or trophies, no scrapbooks full of happy memories.

When I was alone with my dad, I told him about my feelings. "You were sick," he explained. "It would be more unfortunate if high school was the high point of your life."

He has a point. It's hard to make friends, join clubs, or audition for roles when you can't even convince yourself of your own worth. How do you make yourself appealing to a potential friend when you are disgusted by yourself? I didn't go to prom or graduation because I didn't feel any sort of attachment to my peers. I had enclosed myself in a box. I had withdrawn from everyone. Some nights I would get very upset that no one wanted to be my friend, but when anyone tried to get close to me, I pushed them away. Depression has a way of isolating you when you most need friendship.

I cannot let myself think how different high school would have been for me if I had had my bipolar disorder under control. To me, those years are lost. There are a few glimmering moments of happiness, most of them involving academics or discussions with my teachers. Despite my efforts to limit my closeness with others, I have a couple of very good friends. Overall, however, those years are marred by depression and mania.

Even though seeing RnR saddened me, I'm thankful I had to the opportunity to attend. I felt rare pride for my community, a place that I normally see as obsessed with athletic competitions and standardized test scores. My hometown is full of very, very talented young men and women. The best part is, I don't think RnR will be the high point of their lives. There is so much more in store for people with that kind of pure talent coupled with motivation.

So whether you shined at high school or just survived, I firmly believe there is more. I am finding happiness at college, where stability has finally allowed me to pursue the activities I enjoy. Soon I'll be playing softball again with a team from my dorm. I get to write all of the time. I'm making a difference through Active Minds, a club I'm involved in that helps fight the stigmatizing of mental illness. 

Things are getting better. High school is not the end.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The "B" Word

At Towson University, I have seen several posters advocating for "Spread the Word to End the Word." There is an entire website campaign dedicated to purging the word "retarded" from casual use. At first I was skeptical. Does one word really matter? The more I thought about it, the clearer the answer became to me.

Our choice of vocabulary matters. Now, I try to make a conscious effort not to say "retarded." I am aware that the word is not meant to be used to describe a situation I think is annoying or stupid. It  belittles and demeans those with actual intellectual disabilities, and it creates a hostile work or learning environment. It's not good for anyone.

I want to take the movement farther. We should take a similar approach with mental health words. For example, when you use the word bipolar to describe anything but the mental illness, you are stealing my voice. You are diluting my message as a young woman who struggles daily with the disorder. When you perceive the weather to be rapidly changing, you are not witnessing a bipolar experience. I will gladly share my experience with you, but please do not make this comparison. I wish my mood swings were as simple as the weather.


It seems trivial. One word! But our choice of word shapes our attitudes. Let's challenge ourselves to find a more respectful, intelligent substitute. The English language has a plethora of words for us to choose from. Let's not take the easy way out and compromise our ability to empathize with our friends with mental illness.

I know this is a controversial blog post, so I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments. I'd like it if we could have a healthy conversation.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

STOP

Today I'm going to bring to light a secret I've been harboring. My therapist says, "You're only as sick as your secrets." I briefly mentioned this secret in the post I wrote about losing my religion, but I am ready to share a few more details.

When I was in tenth grade, I was sexually harassed by one of my classmates. It climaxed in an altercation that occurred after my first experience drinking alcohol unsupervised, and then persisted as a series of lesser incidents that involved inappropriate touching and what I have determined to be stalking.

Today I would like to focus on the lesser incidents. It started with an "innocent" hand on my knee, and progressed. I was told that this was happening because I was single and this was the best that I could get, that this is what I deserved. It happened on public transportation in front on many people, but I never had the courage to get up a move. I never made a scene. I sat in the same seat every day,   dreading what became the routine.

I was fourteen years old. I was very smart. My parents had talked to me about what to do if an older man tried to touch me inappropriately.

But I wasn't prepared when the person touching me was a classmate, my peer. I knew it was wrong, but I did not possess the proper context to handle my situation. I was timid. I didn't have the courage to make a scene.

So how do you confront someone who is in your class and you see every day? The same way you would confront a stranger who would treat you with such blatant disrespect. The following image that I have created applies to anyone who touches you when you don't want him or her to: friend, family member, classmate, or stranger.


Feel free to share this image on Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, etc. We need to teach people that they do not have to live in fear. It took years for me to "get over" what happened, and I still don't feel entirely comfortable sharing that part of my story. I think we're all ready for things to change.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Bipolar Interview


Hello everyone!

Today I'm over at Like a Bird with Kendra. She interviewed me about my experience with bipolar disorder as a part of a monthly series on mental illness. She is interviewing one woman a month with a different mental illness, and I'm so honored to have been a part of her inspiring project. To read the post, click on the picture above!

On a different note, I have been floored by the reaction my last blog post received. Wow. I've gotten comments, texts, emails, and Facebook messages. Some are more pleasant than others, but they have all reaffirmed my belief that it is important for us to honestly share our stories. I feared losing friends, but I have only made more. It's been my most popular blog post ever. Thank you to everyone who read, shared, or engaged with me. Interacting with readers is the most rewarding part of my blog. I always love to hear from you! You can leave a comment, email me, or send me a tweet.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Losing My Religion: Why I Am No Longer a Mormon


This is the story of how I lost my faith. It's not a beautiful story, nor will it be a popular one. I have struggled with writing it down for over a year. There are so many people I don't want to disappoint, so many people who touched my life, so many people who loved me and supported me on my journey. I have not attended church for four years, and I no longer consider myself to have faith. I feel that by not acknowledging my lack of faith, I am lying by omission. I have grieved for my loss, and now I am ready to share.

On April 26th 2009, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons. My conversion had been fast and magical. In a short period of time, being LDS became a critical part of my identity. I had immersed myself in Church life. I made wonderful new friends and found a community that loved and supported me. I embraced my newfound identity as a daughter of God. I did my best to live a virtuous life. I was astounded by the acceptance I found within the Mormon church. I was told that the Church had great plans for me; one member even told me I was an angel. I was overwhelmed with love, and I had a strong testimony of the Church's truth. If you are interested in reading my conversion story, it was published by New Era, the LDS magazine for youth, here.

But with my new life came moments of loneliness. My congregation served as a sort of surrogate family, and I felt distanced from my biological family. I was frustrated with their refusal to join the Church on a daily basis. I prayed each night for their conversions. At my new ministry in Berlin, I confessed my desire for an eternal family. I was advised to fast more frequently. As a struggling anorexic, I embraced this counsel. I do not hold this against those church members, but I wish they had seen the signs of my deteriorating mental health.

At my new congregation, several events occurred that led me to question the validity of the Church. Before, I assumed that the Church and all of its members were perfect. I understand that this was my own error. One issue was my rejection at my new ward. Part of this was the language barrier (services were conducted in German), but I never felt really welcome. No one offered to let me sit with them. I constantly felt awkward and out of place. I questioned why God wanted me to go somewhere for three hours each Sunday and countless hours during the week where I felt unwelcome. One time we were sewing dresses for an event and the Young Women and the leaders laughed that my dress required extra fabric because of my breast size. I cried on the bus ride home and decided not to attend any more activities. I am aware that this was a harmless joke and that it was only serious because I had an eating disorder. The deeper issue is that they didn't know me well enough to recognize that this comment would be so painful. The second event is far more serious than extra fabric. I was being constantly harassed by a boy at school to the point where I didn't feel comfortable going to school anymore. I explained what was happening to my bishop, and his first question was whether or not I was praying enough, and his second question was whether I was dressing appropriately. I trusted this man to be able to articulate the word of God. I am no longer angry at him. I understand that he is human, and he made a mistake. His questions prompted me to search for answers in my left arm. I felt abandoned by God.

My distance from God only increased as my mental health worsened. I didn't understand why God would deprive me of sanity. I prayed nightly, but I only found solace in cutting. I could, to some extent, convince myself that God was testing me, but as I continued to be harassed and bullied at school, I questioned His motives. Why was He torturing me? Did He want me to kill myself? I was conflicted. I knew that suicide was a sin, but I felt like God was driving me towards death. Emptiness overpowered my will to live.

I could rationalize physical disabilities, but I could not understand why God would curse me with foul brain chemistry. Why would He affect my ability to see the world with hope? Why would He steal my capacity to experience joy? At church I was taught that He was a loving, compassionate God who cared about my sorrows and wanted to help me overcome obstacles. Church was supposed to be a source of strength. In anger and confusion, I rejected God.

When my family moved to the States, I made the decision not to go to church. Missionaries came to the door, and I tearfully asked them to respect my decision. I promised that if I changed my mind, I would return. I continued to distance myself from organized religion, and I began to identify as an atheist. I have decided that in my life, there is no God. I do not wish to damage anyone's faith. I understand that faith, for some, is a sustaining force. I know it brings many people happiness and that religious people do a lot of good for this world. I respect their decision to worship, and I hope they respect my decision to abstain.

I write this post with eyes full of tears and a sore throat. Remembering my joyful times at church, the warmth in my heart - it pains me. I physically ache for that time. I know that by publishing this post I may lose friends, my Brothers and Sisters. I am changed by my time as Mormon. I became a more  loving person. I was introduced to a "peculiar people" who loved me and taught me valuable life lessons. They instilled in me values that will serve me the rest of my life. But now I must shed this label. I am no longer a Latter Day Saint. I am no longer a Christian. I cannot be. I do not believe in the most fundamental component of this religion: God. I feel the need to apologize to the members who treated me like a daughter and a sister. They opened their homes and their hearts to me, and I feel like I am hurting them with this post. I am so sorry.

I cannot guarantee that I will live a godless life forever. I never thought I would leave the Church, but I did. Right now I cannot see myself returning, but I do not know what the future holds. I will maintain an open mind. My current priorities do not include religion. I am focused on my health, my education, my family, and my friends. I am finding meaning in other areas of my life.

I hope that I have expressed myself clearly. If I must whittle my message down to a sentence, it is this: My experiences with mental illness and the failure of my religion to provide guidance or comfort has led me to live a secular life. There is no disrespect intended. This was a decision I needed to make for my own mental health. I request that you respect my choice.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fighting the Inertia of Depression

This past weekend, I had a minor depressed episode. I spent most of my two days off in bed. I'd eventually stumble out to get some food or go to the bathroom, but I spent too much time between my sheets. My energy was low. I had a hard time accomplishing anything. All I wanted to do was sleep. The inertia of depression is powerful! By Sunday afternoon, I had had enough. There was work to be done, and goals to be accomplished. Here's what I did:


Get some light. Turn on the lights, open the blinds, get that vitamin D. It is very hard to get out of bed when you're in the dark.

Just get out of bed. Easier said than done, I understand. But as soon as you get one foot on the floor, the other will follow.

Make the bed. You will be less likely to crawl back under the covers if the bed is made.

Clean up. Take a shower, wash your face, put on a little makeup if you want to. Get presentable, even if you're not going anywhere.

Get dressed. Again, even if you are staying home, put on some pants.

Eat. Fill up your belly with some protein, some carbs, and a little fat. If you need caffeine, get your fix.

Fight the urge. Look how far you've come! Don't you dare get back in that bed!

Accomplish whatever you can. So maybe you're not ready to conquer that huge essay, but can you do some other work? Are there simple tasks to be done? Can a big project be broken down into simple steps?

Reward yourself. I like to give myself fruit snacks when I do what I'm supposed to do. Find something small and sweet to keep you motivated. You can also give yourself five minutes of social media time, but make sure you stick to five minutes.

Exercise. Take a break to get your blood pumping. Take a 15-20 minute walk.

Get a pep talk. Call or text someone you care about.

Stay where you are. If you keep getting the urge to go back to bed, stay in your spot. Sit at your desk until the urge passes. Distract yourself by watching a quick YouTube video or reading a blog post. If you need to, get up and clean something. Do the dishes, put away your clothes, anything but get back in bed.

At the end of the day, reward yourself with a good night's sleep. You earned it! You will sleep better at night if you don't sleep all day, and you will wake up in the morning rested.

It's very difficult to fight the desire to stay in bed. Sometimes we need some extra time under the covers, but it's important to know when it's becoming excessive. When we stay in bed too long, we lose control of other areas of our life like school and work, which only makes things worse. When we get out of bed, we are saying yes to ourselves and yes to our priorities. We are fighting depression!

How do you fight the urge to stay in bed all day? I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Books


I am a steadfast supporter of escapism - particularly when said escapism is in the form of books. I believe there are very few situations that are so dire that a book cannot provide a convenient escape route. When fighting depression, books can allow you to distance yourself from your own life while exerting a minimal amount of energy.

I had the privilege of having some great friends while I was growing up. Some of my best friends came from books. Junie B. Jones, Harry Potter, Charlotte and Wilbur, Charlie and Willy Wonka, Peter Rabbit, Curious George, Laura and Mary Ingalls, all of the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Matilda, Milo and his tollbooth... The list has only grown the more I read. It's hard to be lonely when you're enjoying an adventure with a friend.

I found a quote while reading Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales this week for British Literature Before 1798 that resonated with me.

For him was levere have at his beddes heed
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophye,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrye.

I treasure my books. To me, they represent more than just journeys that don't involve my mental illness. They represent the chance to live another life for a few hours, to see the world (or another world, for that matter) through the eyes of someone else. Reading can make us aware of ways of life that are not normally ours.

When I chose to change my major to English, I said yes to more reading. Last semester, I barely read at all. During these last two weeks, I've read more than I read in the last year. I want to share my books with you, because I think they have healing powers. I think they are magical, and if I didn't worry about legal ramifications, I would promise you that they would change your life. 

So from now on, I'll be blogging about books every so often. Some books will be about mental illness, but some won't. The direction of these posts has yet to be completely decided, so if you have any ideas, feel free to leave a comment!

Who are some of your favorite friends from reading? What are your favorite books?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dear Self: How to Improve Your Morning

Totoro struggles on Mondays...

Did you have a rough start to your day? Monday mornings seem to rarely treat us kindly. I've tried going to bed earlier, picking my outfit the night before, and making sure my bag is already packed, but my mornings still don't go smoothly.

Part of the problem is that I wake up with Sunday night's anxiety weighing over me. I'm worried about how my week will start and whether or not everything will be checked off of my to do list. It's terrible to wake up and immediately feel overwhelmed.

It's important to start each day fresh and appreciate the morning for what it is: an opportunity. Yes, there are obligations to fulfill and duties to be performed, but we can address them in a way that reinforces self love and acceptance.

Over my winter break, I experimented a few times with writing letters to myself that I would read first thing in the morning - before my feet even touched the floor. The purpose was to remind me to take care of myself. Here is an example letter:

Good morning, Jenna!

I hope you had a good sleep. There are lots of important things to do today. Start by taking care of yourself - get squeaky clean! Then set up your room to look just how you want it. Make sure you take care of the pups, too! Work on your blog, take some pictures, read, write those emails. You can do it!

Don't forget to eat something yummy. You need to be full when you work on calculus in the afternoon.

It's okay if you have bad thoughts: try to relax, take your PRN if you need to, and remember to breathe.

Today is going to be a good day. You are going to work hard and have fun. You are wonderful. You deserve to be alive. You will have happy moments. 

:)

P.S. It is okay to take ONE nap if you need it.


It's not a miracle cure for morning agitation, but it is certainly helpful! Writing to myself felt awkward at first. Over time, it got easier. I allowed myself to say cheesy thing like "You deserve to be alive" because I need to hear that sometimes!

I would encourage you all to try to write a note to yourself tonight. It doesn't have to be an epistle of Biblical proportions; a Post-It note may suffice. Be kind to yourself and see what happens!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Suffering

One of the concepts we have been discussing in my Leading a Life That Matters course as we read Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is human suffering. As a class, we have determined that virtually every human being suffers. There is no weakness in that assessment; suffering is an unavoidable fact of life. 


While Frankl wrote about his suffering in Nazi concentration camps, the concepts are applicable to all kinds of suffering: divorce, loss of a pet, mental illness. Just like other sufferers, we do not choose to suffer. However, by being human and having agency, we can choose how to react. We can find meaning in our suffering.

Do not waste your time comparing your suffering to another's. This only increases unnecessary pain. When I was first diagnosed, I was so absorbed in my own suffering that I could not empathize with others. I was frustrated by the "trivial suffering"of my high school classmates. This was wrong of me. Their suffering was very real to them, and it mattered just as much as mine did. Similarly, it is not helpful to belittle your own suffering. Pain is real, and it does not make sense to deny it simply because there are others experiencing more. Your pain matters.

Once we accept our suffering, we are able to make it meaningful. I have chosen to derive meaning from my diagnosis by writing a blog. Spreading awareness and acting as an advocate allows me to find purpose. For me, this means that the tears, the episodes, and the fights were not in vain. I assign them meaning: they were my journey. Those events, that suffering, helped me become the writer I am now. I don't know what the meaning of life is, but I know that it is possible to find meaning in our lives. Despite our struggles, we can live lives of purpose. We can make a difference. We can create change.

How have you found meaning in your suffering? How do your struggles give your life purpose?

Do  you have a mental or physical health issue and are interested in being an advocate? Look out for my new blogging series, where I'll be teaching you how to start a blog, write content, and find an audience. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stability


This week marks one month of stability for me. Four weeks without serious mood swings. I'm using periods because, if I ended my sentences with the number of exclamation points I would like, I'm sure I would appear manic. For example:

GUYZ!!! I HAVE BEEN FREAKING STABLE FOR FOUR WHOLE WEEKS AND IT FEELS SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111!!!

It seems that Latuda might be my miracle drug - or at least the right addition to the cocktail I'm currently on. I've been taking this dose for about six weeks, and I can feel the difference. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I am still experiencing a full range of emotions, but I am getting a break from the roller-coaster.

Of course, more than Latuda has helped me get to this point. I am working very hard at therapy to change the way I think. I am dealing with my deep-seated issues that affect the severity of my episodes. I am learning to relax and calm myself down. It truly is work

I also owe a lot to the living environment Kathleen and I have created at Towson. Kathleen is very supportive of my study and sleep routine. She encourages me to go to the gym, but doesn't put pressure on me when I'd rather stay at our room. We both eat pretty well for college students. Overall, I'm very comfortable with my living situation, and I think that has had a positive effect on my mood.

Last night I thought I felt a depressive episode beginning. I tried not to panic. I took stock of my symptoms: tiredness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed. I did what I could to calm myself by taking a shower and listening to my favorite music. I did homework to distract myself, but I ended up putting everything away for the night and going to bed early. I gave myself permission to feel bad, to explore how I was feeling without plunging myself in deeper than I needed to. I eventually fell asleep, and I woke up feeling much better.

What if I had woken up this morning feeling awful? What if my bad feelings turned into a full blown episode? Would this month of stability matter?

Absolutely. Now, I know that stability is possible. I know that my life will not be a permanent state of vacillation. There will be more episodes in my future, but they will always end. Bipolar will not consume my life.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How We Can Improve Hospitalizations


I've been hospitalized twice. I'm not an expert, but I've been in inpatient care two more times than most politicians and healthcare providers. My experiences have given me insight as to how we might improve the stays of patients. Here are five of my suggestions:

Exercise. At both hospitals I've been to, there has been nowhere for us to exercise. I've gotten in trouble for pacing the hallways as I tried to keep myself active. It is scientifically proven that exercise has a positive effect on mental health. Why aren't we providing patients with a space to work up a bit of a sweat?

More materials. Outdated ratty magazines, half-filled-in crossword puzzles, dried out markers. There was nothing stimulating in either psych ward. We were told to either watch TV, draw, or sit quietly. Most people went back to their rooms to sleep. There were hours where we were supposed to occupy ourselves with nothing.

Weekend releases. During my first hospital stay, I was not quite ready to go home on a Friday. But because the doctor doesn't come in on weekends, I had to wait until Monday for discharge. This cost my family, my insurance, and the hospital more money. Patients should only stay in the hospital as long as necessary. That weekend was long and painful. All I could think about was going home for Christmas.

Personal therapy. I expected that while I was in the hospital I would get the opportunity to talk with a therapist. I did - for ten minutes on my first day. Group is valuable, but it's impossible to get individual help when everyone is competing for attention. This is a tricky issue, but I think that some sort of compromise can be reached.

Easier billing. My mom is still being billed for my hospitalization in September. I understand that the process of billing and insurance is complicated, but this is ridiculous.

Some of my requests are lofty, and I know it. There is a lot wrong with American healthcare in general. Problems like billing are pervasive; solutions won't be found overnight. As an insider, these were things I noticed that I would like to see changed. 

When I described my ideal hospitalization, my fellow NAMI panelist suggested I try a spa. It seems unfortunate that celebrities get to heal at beautiful, relaxing rehab facilities while I shuffle around in recycled socks. Like most things, I suppose it all comes down to money.

What are your thoughts? How would you improve inpatient hospitalization?

photo credit: via photopin edited by The Awkward Indie Girl

Sunday, February 2, 2014

3 Tips for Getting Along with Your Roommate


One of the best aspects of college life is living with my roommate, Kathleen. We had a lot of fun this weekend, so I thought I'd put together a list of three ways to help you and your roommate get along!



Go on adventures together. This picture was taken on a snow day. Instead of staying in bed, we decided to venture through the flurries to see the sun rise. We didn't end up seeing anything, but it was a fun bonding experience. We've just started going to the gym together, and we often grab meals (pizza bagels!) side by side. It's much more fun to have a partner in crime, even if you're doing something as simple as going to the dining hall or taking a walk around campus.


Prank each other. This little imp was a gift from when I served on the NAMI Panel. Kathleen and I can't get over how demonic he is. We take turns hiding him around the room and scaring each other. I was falling asleep one night and I reached under my pillow to find HIM. He is currently nameless, so feel free to leave suggestions in the comments. This freak needs a baptism stat.


Talk about mental health. Kathleen knows about my diagnosis, and she knows about most of my symptoms. Transparency is so much easier than attempting to hide it from her! Living with another person also serves as great motivation to get up in the morning. On days when I'm feeling depressed and would rather stay in bed, seeing Kathleen getting ready for the day motivates me to do the same. We also talk about pretty much everything: how we're feeling, things that stress us out, weird things we see on tumblr... I'm ecstatic to live with someone who is a mental health advocate like I am. We have big plans for the world!

There was a time when I wanted to go to college and live in a single dorm. I'm glad I didn't make that choice. I may be an introvert, but I do not enjoy being alone all the time! Even now, Kathleen and I are both working independently on our laptops. We're not interacting, but I treasure her company. Being able to turn to her at any time to share something funny I've found, ask a question, or make plans has turned out to be a major part of my freshman experience. My final word of advice to future college students: don't rule out a roommate. You just might end up with an awesome friend.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Fame

My early modeling career

I'm currently in an honors seminar called, "Leading a Life That Matters." Despite meeting only twice, the course is already changing the way I think. On Thursday, we began to discuss what makes a life meaningful. We touched on how it seems that many people do not feel that their life is meaningful unless they are famous. This thought resonated with me.

I can't remember the first time I wanted to be famous; it's always been that way. Watching shows like American Idol reaffirmed my belief that it was possible for normal people to be "discovered." There was tension between my parents and me; I begged them to take me to America so that I could audition to be an actress or model. I was infuriated by their unwillingness to help me rise to fame.

The search for fame infiltrated my bipolar disorder. I remember one manic episode when I thought I was on the verge of being discovered. As my family walked around the mall, I tried to do my best "model walk" and showed off my smile. Anyone could be the undercover modeling agent!  I had another manic episode years later when I thought I actually was famous. I was up at four in the morning writing responses to my "fan mail" and trying to organize my next great project. Thank goodness that episode didn't last long.

When I am stable, I still think about fame. I want my message of mental health to have maximum exposure. Does this mean being famous? Maybe. I would love to have the opportunity to talk about mental illness on television with someone like Ellen Degeneres. Stories like mine need to be heard in order to eradicate stigma.

But right now, my story is being heard. I receive emails and comments from friends, family, and strangers who have been affected by my writing. I don't need an arena full of people, a cable network of viewers, or red carpet to make a difference. My life is meaningful because I choose to be content with the influence I have right now.

I don't know what the future holds for The Awkward Indie Girl. I'll take whatever comes to me, but if this is as far as I can ever go, I'll keep blogging. I don't need fame for meaning; I've already found it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Intention


In yoga, we often set an intention for our practice. Sometimes part of that intention is a dedication. Dedicating our practice to someone or something can provide us with focus and strength. 

Tonight is the eve of beginning of spring semester. I am back in my dorm with Kathleen, and I am settled. I've already napped in my bed and cleaned myself in our shower. I am back home.

This semester is very different from the last. I have a new roommate, a new major, and a new outlook on life. The past couple of days have challenged me, but I am still secure in my stability. I am learning that I can be sad without slipping into depression, that I can be joyful without soaring into mania. My pills do not numb me to the world of emotion; they only make the journey less extreme.

I would like to take this opportunity to set an intention for the upcoming semester. I will study and explore my interests. I dedicate my practice to myself, not in an act of selfish, but as a way to affirm my worth. This semester, I will live and learn for myself.

I invite you to also set an intention for whatever you are currently experiencing. Feel free to dedicate your practice to yourself, to a friend or family member who has provided you with strength and comfort, to someone in need.

Namaste.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wolf Girl

(Wolf Photo: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc)

I've been trying to fall asleep for too many hours. My heart is racing, I'm perspiring. The house is silent. I'm fighting the twitches in muscles to spring from my bed and run outside. I don't need a coat, gloves, boots, or a scarf. I'm only wearing my pajama shorts and a tank top; I am barefoot.

I want to run. I want to feel the cold air penetrate my skin. I want the darkness to envelop me. I want to hide in the bushes, skip through the trees, and curl up in a pile of snow.

Instead, I lie in bed, silently protesting against my body. I am battling mania. 

This is what mania is for me. At night, I get the urge to explode with energy. I've found exercising right before bed helps me. Thirty minutes of riding the bike (indoors!) tires me out and calms me for a night of rest. Most people can't exercise before bed; they get too wound up. For me, it's the perfect solution. It's also much safer than going for a midnight jog.

My ability to forget about my safety and wellbeing are part of the perils of mania. I'm not thinking about myself or anyone else; I'm completely focused on these primal feelings. When talking to my therapist, I didn't know how to put this nighttime obsession into words. When I was younger, I called it Wolf Girl.

I can be manic without being Wolf Girl, but Wolf Girl always means mania.

What do your manic symptoms look like?

Also, thanks to everyone who helped me think of solutions for my nausea problem! I bought a bunch of things to try, and I'm working on a vlog about the whole experience.

Check out the new Free Stuff! page for a new printable I created. More downloads will be available shortly.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Time for an Update?


I think it's time for an update. This month I've already surpassed my previous blog traffic goals, and it looks like I'm going to hit 5,000 hits this month (currently at 4,575)! For some perspective, my previous record was from May 2013 with 3,601 hits.

I've been spending a significant amount time on my blog: writing new content, adding pages, making things look better. I still have many things I'd like to change or improve, but I've gotten a good start on my "To Do" list over the past couple of weeks.

I now have pages for About Me, Medications, Blogroll, and Friends. For those of you who don't know, a blogroll is a list of favorite blogs. My Friends page is a place for me to share the brands I love to work with. Take a peek!

I've also started using social media more effectively. You can follow me on different websites by clicking the icons below the picture of me on your right. The links are for (from left to right): The Awkward Indie Girl Blog Facebook page, my Twitter, my Pinterest, Bloglovin' (an awesome RSS feed reader), my Instagram, and my YouTube channel. Below the icons, you can sign up to get email updates from my blog. Let's be friends all over the Internet!

As if there wasn't enough going on, I've decided to try monetizing my blog. See those ads? I'm not sure how I feel about them. They're distracting from the content, and I'm not making that much money. Ideally I would prefer to show ads for blogs and brands that I believe in, but I have not formed those relationships yet.

So that concludes the main changes around here. Poke around and see if you like it. Would you like to be included on my blogroll or on my Friends page? Let me know! I'm always available at 

theawkwardindiegirl@gmail.com 

or by tweet. I'm off to plan some brand new VIDEO CONTENT for you all!

P.S. You may notice that all of my non-mental health posts are now missing. After careful consideration, I decided to mark these old posts as private. The fashion posts do not reflect my brand, and I don't feel that they serve any purpose on this site. I will, however, keep the pictures up on my Facebook page for now. I can't bring myself to destroy all of the evidence...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Family Therapy


On Monday, we packed into the car and headed to Towson for a family therapy session. This was the first time all four of us were in the same room with a therapist. Here's what everyone thought of it:

Dad's Perspective:
I enjoyed the family therapy session and was very relieved to see that Jenna's therapist is a no-nonsense woman who is not afraid to be very direct. The main take-away for me was coming to peace with the fact that Jenna's illnesses are hers to deal with. That's not to say that the rest of us can't be helpful and supportive, but it's Jenna who needs to manage her own affairs. As much as we would like to remind her that she should put away her laundry/clean her room/study/get out of bed/wash some dishes, we can't continue to do that. She's an adult. She knows these things and must learn to summon the strength and resolve to just do them. Our interactions with Jenna should be positive -- they should be on an adult level -- and they should be enjoyable. We are here to help when she asks for help, but the rest is up to her.

Mom's Perspective:
I looked forward to our session as a family, and I was not disappointed. Having met Jenna's therapist the week before (for a full briefing), I knew she would not let this meeting turn into something useless or way too emotional. I had hope we would have a positive experience together that would shed some light on how to help Jenna and help ourselves deal with Jenna. We were entertained by the therapist's perception that children should start doing their own laundry when they can reach the knobs of the washing machine and dryer. I say 'entertained' because it made us all laugh. However, I think both kids got the message. I was encouraged by the message that it's time for Jenna's dad and me to enjoy ourselves a little bit after spending so much time and effort teaching life lessons. Most of all, I learned something for myself--I want to use better language to reflect what I WANT out of life. I have what I NEED. It sounds like a little thing, but I think it's going to be one of those 'ah-ha' moments when I look back on learning this lesson. 

Ben's Perspective:
Family therapy, for me, did not do much. Having said that, I don't think it was a waste of time. Jenna's therapist was very funny and personable, but she gave you the facts as they were, without any emotional cushion. The session was mainly between my parents and Jenna. I just sat awkwardly between Jenna and my mom, only speaking when prompted. I think it was a good experience for the three of them but a little unnecessary for me.

My Perspective:
Before that session, my family and my therapist existed in two separate worlds. My therapist knows only what I've told her. She sees "Towson Jenna," the college student trying to make her way as a writer while managing bipolar. To her, I must seem charming albeit troubled. I purposely arrange it that way. She does not know that after I make pasta I leave the pot in the sink, that I stay in bed all day too often, and that I can be generally unhelpful at home. Within the first five minutes, my dad made sure to shatter that illusion. My therapist now knows that I can be messy and selfish at home. Although this almost had me in tears, it felt good to know she was finally seeing the whole picture. It reminded me of my time going to church and being told how kind, sweet, and angelic I was. Then I would go home, scream at my parents, fight with my brother, and refuse to do my chores. I always felt like I was tricking my friends at church. It bred more shame and angst. Now that my therapist knows the whole story, I feel more accountable. Hearing how important it was to my parents that I help out at home finally resonated with me. Making messes and being unhelpful is disrespectful. I need to change my behavior to create a healthier home environment for all of us. This is not a bipolar issue, this is general human decency issue. I am not five years old anymore. I know how to do my chores, and I should be doing them without being told. I found this therapy experience to be valuable. I hope we can do it again sometime.

So that sums up our family therapy experience! Have you ever had family therapy? How did it go?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Side Effect Help!


What do you do when the pill that is showing you a glimpse of stability is also impairing you with crippling nausea each night? What do you do when the doctor says it's your choice to stay on the medication or not?

It's getting close to midnight, and I'd much rather be in bed right now. Instead, I'm in the kitchen, trying to distract myself so that I don't get sick, cursing Latuda. I've put up with side effects before: tiredness from lithium, acne from Lamictal, weight gain from Risperdal. But this is the first time that I've questioned whether the negatives outweigh the positives. I've stayed in bed awake for hours, trying to think calm thoughts to soothe my stomach. I've also been on my knees in the bathroom, throwing up. Some nights I'm able to fall asleep before the nausea sets in, but usually I don't escape so easily. 

If this were any other medication, I would be off it by now. No question. The one reason I keep taking the little white pill each night? It's working. I haven't hit a lowest low since I've started taking it, and that is a huge improvement for me. I've been fairly stable for the past couple weeks. I'm not ready to give that up.

Do any of you have advice for dealing with nausea? I'm taking the pill with food (more than 300 calories as directed by my doctor) and plenty of water. My dad says I should try one of those bracelets. Do those actually work?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Risk: Coming Out


Just like a game of Risk, coming out about your mental illness takes courage and planning. You sometimes rely on the strength of your allies, calculate the effects of stigma, and develop a strategy. Who to tell, how much to tell, when to talk.

Since my diagnosis, I have decided to be very open about my disorder. I make a conscious effort to share my experiences with others in the hope that someone might be inspired to share his or her own story. I remember talking to my therapist about friends, family, strangers, and future employers finding my blog and learning that I have bipolar and OCD. I was concerned that people would reject me or avoid me based on what they found out on my blog. I feared judgment.

I have been "out" online for about a year now, and my fears have not materialized. I have not been judged, rejected, or hurt because of my honesty. On the contrary, I have been overwhelmed with support and love. There is much less stigma than I thought there would be. Yes, stigma exists, and when you hear that "people with bipolar are just moody and acting out for attention," it feels awful. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation.

When we make the decision to come out and share our stories, we are educating others. We are showing them what our lives look like. It is difficult and sometimes painful. There are aspects of my illness that I am not ready to share online. What is important is knowing that because it is your story, you are the editor. You share what you want to share. Just because you decided to share a part of your story does not make you obligated to share the entire thing.

If you have not yet dared to tell others about your mental health, I challenge you to reach out to one person this week. Tell them in your own way - in conversation, in writing, whatever makes the most sense to you. You don't have to go all out and start a blog, but if you want to, go for it!

Have you come out? How did you do it?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Review: Of Two Minds

Usually when I ride the stationary bike, I like to watch something fairly mindless. My brother and I have gotten into the habit of watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, which is definitely not mindless, but keeps me riding longer than American Pickers. The other night, my brother wasn't available to watch TV with me while I exercised, so my mom joined me. As I searched Netflix for something to watch Of Two Minds caught my eye. Of Two Minds is a documentary chronicling the stories of multiple individuals in the United States living with bipolar disorder.



What I love about this documentary is that it follows people of varying backgrounds and lifestyles who have dealt with the disorder in different ways. While they all share a diagnosis, ultimately the way it affects them is different depending on whether or not they take medication, whether or not they go to therapy, the quality of their support systems, etc. There are experiences that many of them have in common, such as hospitalizations, suicide attempts, and fractured romantic relationships.

Of Two Minds seems like it would be documenting tragedy, but I found it to have a resounding message of hope. There is no questioning that bipolar can be devastating, but this movie shows the resilience and power that people with a bipolar diagnosis also possess. Some interviewees go so far as to be thankful for the experience. (Personally, I'm not sure I'm quite there yet, but hopefully I'm on that track.)

Liz Spikol, a journalist who was interviewed for the film, left the biggest impression on me. She blogged about her illness for Philadelphia Weekly and became a major advocate through her writing and vlogs. She has inspired me to start using the RECORD button on my camera more to capture some of my thoughts. If I like how it turns out, you might be seeing a vlog on The Awkward Indie Girl every once in a while!

If you're interested, you can check out Of Two Minds on Netflix, you can buy it on Amazon, or you can buy or rent it on iTunes. I give it five stars!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Attack of the Carbs


Can you tell I'm still on yesterday's Star Wars theme?

Every elementary school student's favorite food is pizza. I have it on good authority that the ones who say something different are lying for attention. As you get older, you're supposed to find new, exotic foods to replace pizza as your favorite. This didn't happen to me. I have traveled to many different countries, sampled a bounty of foods, and I will still happily eat a piece of plain cheese pizza before anything else.

This favoritism is probably because carbs are my favorite food group. Pizza is king, followed by pasta, bread, cereal, rice, and mashed potatoes. These are my comfort foods, the snacks that take me to that happy place. This is especially true when I am depressed. Everything feels so bad that I just want food to taste good. I don't want to focus on what is healthier; I want to eat what I want to eat.

Making macaroni and cheese or Ramen is part of my routine when I don't feel good, but lately I'm increasingly bothered by the possibility that my food choices could be making me feel worse. My therapist wants me to reduce the number of carbohydrates I'm consuming and has even suggested that I try going gluten free. I've also noticed several studies online linking increased carbohydrate consumption with depression. I don't know how much validity these studies have, but I do know that I have to start eating better - especially when I'm depressed.

Feeling crummy is not an excuse to eat poorly. It's unfortunate, but sometimes we most need the foods that we don't want to eat at that moment. Taking a big salad to bed certainly doesn't sound as comforting as a bowl of cheesy macaroni, but I probably need what's in the salad more than I need what's in the pasta. Making these kinds of decisions isn't fun, but I think it's a necessary step for my overall wellness and especially for my mental health.

What comfort foods do you crave when you're feeling down? How do you keep a well-rounded diet when you're depressed?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Finding Endor


Today's post is written by my brother, Ben.

So when Jenna asked me to write a blog post for her, I was a little uncertain as to what I would write about. I'm not a psychiatrist, nor am I a doctor. I am by no means an expert on mental illness. I am, however, an expert on one topic: Star Wars. So, through Star Wars, I will attempt to explain my perspective on surviving bipolar disorder.

Like the Rebel Alliance, people with bipolar disorder face struggles every single day. Whether it's blowing up the Death Star or trying to get out of bed, the Rebel Alliance and people with bipolar disorder are always trying to overcome obstacles. Some days may seem like the battle of the ice planet Hoth; the Rebel Alliance is attacked by the Empire with enormous AT-ATs (all-terrain-assault-transports), and they have to hold out until they can escape the frozen planet. But just like the Rebels in The Empire Strikes Back, people with bipolar are courageous enough to face their challenges and push on. From what I've observed, through reality and science fiction, the key to pushing on is to survive to fight another day. People with bipolar have to emulate Han Salo and take every day as it comes. One day, if they're lucky, they'll find their Forest Moon of Endor.

In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and small strike force land on the Forest Moon of Endor to destroy the shield generator protecting the Second Death Star. Luke ends up with daddy problems, Han feels like he's losing touch with Leia, Chewbacca gets caught in a net, and Leia gets abducted by gerbils with spears (Ewoks). The odds seem to be completely stacked against them! That is, until Luke talks it out with this dad, Han gets to kiss Leia, R2 cuts Chewy out of the net, and Leia gets her hair braided by the Ewoks. In the end, the Rebel Alliance triumphs over the Empire by never giving up, and getting a little help from gerbils with spears.

Although you might not have help from Ewoks, you can still have your Forest Moon of Endor! You have to get up each day, take a shower (you smell worse than the inside of a tauntaun), and drink lots of water with your pills. That is your Forest Moon of Edor. Us non-bipolar people will never understand how difficult those tasks may be, but you still have to face your Empire each day. Discover your Forest Moon of Endor, and destroy the shield generator.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Club van Gogh


There's not much that's "cool" about mental illness. Most of the time, it ranges from an annoyance to a full-blown catastrophe. Whether it's side effects, medications, psych visits, or even hospitalizations, mental illness is time-consuming and rarely "awesome."

One positive I have found with mental illness is community. We may have our issues, but we are some of the most passionate, creative people out there. Ellen Forney's Marbles introduced me to the idea of "Club van Gogh". Van Gogh, who most likely had bipolar disorder, is our representative. Our group has no membership requirements, no fees, and sadly, no club house, but the spiritual connection that it provides has been very helpful to me.

I admit to having bipolar role models: Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry, Marya Hornbacher, Demi Lovato. I think it's healthy to look up to people who have my disorder (or forms of it) and have achieved success in their respective fields. I love it when someone I respect is an activist as well. I look to these individuals as proof that I can do it too. 

I have learned that diagnosis is not a death sentence. It's more like being sent on a very long detour in a car that leaks sometimes. I hold the same potential that I possessed at birth - maybe more now that I have experienced hardship and developed compassion. The club serves as a reminder of people who, like you, have achieved their potential in spite of and because of their diagnosis.

There will be suffering along the way - Club van Gogh has proven this as well. But there will also be greatness, boundless creativity, and joy. Maybe we won't be in Star Wars or be a host on X-Factor, but we can find opportunities to shine in our daily lives. We can be businesspeople, artists, mechanics, mathematicians, scientists, teachers, and advocates. There's room for everyone.


Monday, January 13, 2014

How to Be FIERCE


I've always loved the look of winged eyeliner, but I could never do it myself. I have tons of pictures saved in a folder on my computer that are waiting to be used as inspiration.

Last week, my friend, Megan, came over. She happens to be fantastic with makeup. In fact, she did the makeup for the photo series I did called, "What Does Mental Illness Look Like?"She advised me on which eyeliner to buy, and then she taught me how to use it.


I know that this is an intense, dramatic look, but I LOVE IT. At first I felt awkward saying it, but I really feel more like myself with these wings! Megan explained it best. She said that makeup can show the world how you feel about yourself inside. I have always been a dramatic person, and I love that my makeup can show that in a way that makes me feel attractive and fierce!

So maybe you don't like the way my makeup looks. That's fine; it's not for everyone. But I would encourage you to find some way to make yourself feel fierce. Maybe it's the color of your hair, a cool graphic tee, or a sexy new bra. It doesn't have to be as visible as mine. It can even be a little quote you keep in your wallet or picture that reminds you to feel awesome. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it makes you feel good.

And remember, h8rs gonna h8. Not everyone is going to like your choices. However, your opinion is the only one that matters when it comes to your appearance. It is your body. That means you get to do whatever you want with it. Enjoy, and remember to be fierce!


If you're wondering, I use Stila's Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner in Intense Black. I bought mine at ULTA for about $20.

You can check out Megan's makeup work here.

(Also, it looks like I've been wearing that Penn State sweatshirt too much. Those pictures were taken on three different days. Sheesh!)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Solitary Confinement


"Go away." I groan this phrase more often than any other when I'm having a depressed episode. I even close the curtains to shut out the sun. The only company I desire is that of one of my dogs. I don't answer my phone, I don't check Facebook except to angrily stalk those busy hanging out without me, I ignore everyone. It's a dangerous practice, and it's one I need to actively combat.

In the throes of depression, sometimes solace can only be found in blankets and solitude. But it's important to note that this solution is only temporary. Certainly some people do better being alone than others, but I think that depression should not be underestimated. It is a dangerous beast, one that can be thwarted more easily with a small army. When fighting depression, we need to be told that our thoughts are unrealistic, and we need to be reminded of our own strength. More often than not, there are others who want to help - or who are at least willing to watch TV with us for a little bit until we feel well enough to eat.

I can feel my mom tense up when I retreat to my room during a depressive episode. The words to call me back to the dinner table are caught in her throat. My therapist has told her to let me go, but I know it still hurts her to see me escape to dreams that offer a less painful reality. I know that when I pull the covers over my head and swaddle myself in quilts that I am not curing my depression. I know I am merely hiding. But I don't have the energy to fight, only to sleep.

This year, I don't have to work on fighting harder. I need to work on letting others help me fight. I recognize that there will still be times when the only useful course of action involves a short nap, but I need to reduce the amount of time I spend in insolation. There is a reason that solitary confinement is used as a punishment in prisons; it's detrimental to our psyches. Humans are naturally social creatures. Now I'm not suggesting that you throw a wild party when you are depressed, but I think that being in the presence of another person is enough. Instead of curling up with your laptop in your bedroom, try the kitchen or living room. Watching TV or playing a video game with a friend or sibling provides a great distraction. You don't have to be chatty or talk about your feelings. Just try to enjoy the company of those who care about you. If you try, I will too.

Do you get the urge to hide yourself from the world when you're depressed? How do you fight it?