Friday, January 31, 2014


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


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.


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 

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?

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Culture of Codependency

Some life lessons are learned all at once, but more often they are learned over time. For example, I was told during my hospitalization at the beginning of the school year that I had a codependency problem, but it wasn't until the end of December that I truly grasped how pervasive the problem was. Through therapy, I've been able to start correcting my thought patterns and behaviors. Part of correcting these thought patterns is increasing my awareness. I think I've stumbled upon a culture of codependency.

The media glamorizes codependency. From a young age, we hear phrases such as "your better half," "he completes me," "I need you." These are not healthy messages! I know I'm biased, but I think my parents did an excellent job raising me. However, I still felt less valuable when I was the girl without a boyfriend. I thought having someone to kiss you and text you goodnight meant that somehow you were worth more.

I believe relationships have their place in the happiness equation, but relationships do not equal happiness. Truthfully, I was too sick and unreliable for all of my past relationships. I do not regret them, but I know that things would have been better if I hadn't been dependent on my significant other for happiness. I remember scaring the crap out of my sophomore boyfriend by telling him he was "my everything" when he kissed me goodbye one day. That's a lot of pressure for a teenage boy! That's too much pressure for anyone, really. Now there are knights in shining armor who claim they can handle it, but this creates a broken cycle of codependency.

Let me demonstrate with a metaphor my therapist at the hospital used:

When two healthy people are in a relationship, each person has their own friends, interests, and hobbies. One plus one equals two.

When two people are depending on each other for happiness, they are broken. They are halves. A half plus a half equals one. Not two.

I have been half a Milkbone for too long. After the hospitalization, I broke up with Chris so that I could repair myself and become whole. But I didn't do that. I sought out other relationships because I was terrified of being alone. I didn't value myself. I thought that I was only worth what a boyfriend would appreciate.

This year, I am fully committed to taking care of myself and developing healthy self-esteem. Right now, a boyfriend does not fit into that picture. My values are changing, and I no longer see having a significant other as being of the utmost importance. I know multiple powerful women who are successful, funny, and happy - without being in a relationship!

I hope that eventually our culture reflects the need for healthy relationship role models. I hope that relationships are seen as the synergy of two exciting individuals, not the fusion of two sick people that are grasping for meaning in each other. We need to spread messages of strength, self-worth, and independence to young people. I believe that by doing so, we will be promoting mental health and wellness. And in my book, that's always a worthy cause.

Sisi, thanks for contributing the treats for this post.
This post is dedicated to my friend, Magalie. She was a powerful voice of reason this semester when I was going through boy troubles. I admire her honesty and appreciate her friendship.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


When I'm anxious, I scratch my face. It's one of my compulsions. Thank you, OCD!

Is that person staring at me? Scratch. Did I remember to print out my essay? Scratch scratch. I have a test after lunch. Scratch scratch scratch.

Normal break-outs look worse and last longer because of my scratching. I've made myself bleed in class, and I have some scarring. It's not even a conscious decision to scratch. Sometimes I'd be writing, and I would realize that my left hand had done a number on my face.

I got the idea to start using a Tangle from beckie0 of YouTube. Beckie has trichotillomania, which means she compulsively pulls out her hair. In her videos, she often shows herself using a Tangle. When she gets the urge to pull, she plays with the Tangle to occupy her hands. She has many different Tangles of all colors and sizes.

I ordered this Tangle from Amazon. Actually, it's my second Tangle, because the first one fell out of my backpack on the way to class the day it arrived in the mail. Each one costs less than ten dollars (but I still felt awful about wasting the first one). I would really recommend it to anyone struggling with picking/scratching issues.

I can squeeze it, spin it, twist it, and roll it without any damage to my face. Sometimes even just holding it is enough to keep my hand occupied. It has these cool little bumps that I can pick at or rub to replace the scratching sensation. I try to be discrete with it, and none of my teachers have said anything. The key is really remembering to take it with me.

I'm sorry today's topic isn't very pleasant. I know that scratching is pretty gross and unhygienic, and it's probably my compulsion that most disgusts me. Are there any other scratchers out there? How do you cope?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Let Me Use Humor

I've always been a bit of a ham.

Smiling may be Buddy the Elf's favorite, but laughing is mine. I enjoy watching shows like 30 Rock, The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Portlandia, South Park, Family Guy, and Modern Family. I live for parody and satire, but I can also appreciate a solid fart joke. I come from a family of funny people who appreciate laughter - it's the only thing I love about my extended family.

In high school, I was known for my participation at improv. When I was on stage, I wasn't worried about looking cute or pretty; I did whatever the scene called for. I loved that I could make people laugh. I tried stand-up comedy a few times my junior year of high school, but I failed. Besides the fact that I stood still like a choir girl and refused to move around the stage, my material was my biggest problem. It wasn't until my last performance that I really stumbled upon something funny, something worth laughing about.

It was mental health.

When I told jokes about my anxiety, about being in therapy, about depression, that's when people laughed. I have a feeling that they weren't laughing out of some sick, schadenfreude-fueled inner cruelty. They were laughing because they could relate. After all, one in four people deal with mental illness, and we have all witnessed it. Since mental health is something so relatable, shouldn't I be allowed to joke about it?

At that time, I lacked the confidence to pull off a whole set about mental illness. I think I could do it now, but I'm not sure. I don't want to be seen as abusing the knowledge I have acquired and the relationships that have formed during my journey. I don't want to be seen as laughing at people with mental illness. I am not an enemy of those who fight mental illness on a daily basis. I am their ally. But I would like the opportunity to spread the message of what we go through with humor.

As we work to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness, we have several tools. We have legislation, literature, and laughter. I don't think we should forget about the third simply because it's less poetic than the other two.

Joking about mental illness can be uncomfortable; I've noticed this first-hand at home. My dad will laugh at almost anything, but when I crack a joke about one of my symptoms, he is solemn. Now, this might be because my joke sucks, but I think I also make him a bit uncomfortable. I think as a society we're not used to seeing people make fun of their own disabilities. I appreciate my roommate, Kathleen, because she lets me make jokes about feeding my leftover meds to the Towson University squirrels to see if they gain weight as rapidly as I did. She even laughs sometimes. 

When I tell jokes about my mental health experience, I would be lying if I said I did it only to start a conversation. It also makes me feel better. Let me use humor to describe what is happening to my mind and my body. Let me take a break from feeling ashamed and angry. Let me try to make you laugh when I'm hurting inside.

Bottom line: Mental illness does not respect barriers such as culture or country. Everyone is susceptible. Let's use our shared language, laughter, to help fight the disease and its stigma.

Friday, January 3, 2014

30 Minutes

I exercised today. For thirty minutes, I rode the stationary bike and watched American Pickers.

Sometimes I forget that I'm recovering from an eating disorder until I'm able to do things like this. It may seem like a stupid accomplishment, but for me, it signified a mini-victory. I didn't ride until I threw up, I didn't hurt myself, and I didn't push too far. I didn't picture Victoria's Secret models and curse my body as I worked up a healthy sweat.

It's too early to blare the sirens of success. I haven't established a pattern; this is only my first time. But the inkling of hope will cheer me on as I attempt to ride again tomorrow.

Now I am not exercising for a smaller jean size or a slimmer waist. I am not trying to disappear.

I want to strengthen my muscles. Watch me light a fire within my body and lift my wings towards the sky.

2014 just might be the year of the woman.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mirror Girl

Today I am broken. I don't know who I am.

I am held together by a mess of side-effects and prescription drugs. I don't know where I stop and the disorder begins.

I reflect on this past year and there are so many actions I can't explain, choices I don't remember making. A blur of calendar days.

Why do they call it your hometown if it's not your home? I am a stranger here myself. Even my bed feels foreign.

I return to men's shirts and leggings, back to handmade blankets, but I am too tired to escape to the lands of my books. I attempt to paint happiness across my face with powders and pencils, but this disorder has made me ugly beyond recognition. Or maybe this is how I looked to begin with?

The novelty of sickness has worn off. There is nothing unique or special about this brand across my skin. I ache for its removal. I'm ready to be normal now, I plead.