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


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


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


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:


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.