The Allure of Awareness Months – May was Mental Health (sorry, it’s June now)

I feel silly admitting this, but a couple days ago, right after the month of May ended and the month of June began, I actually thought to myself “Geez, Jessie, you didn’t write about mental health OR lupus in May!”.  How arbitrary is that thought???  Just because the internet and some national associations decided that certain “causes” should be brought to the public attention as a reminder in assigned months each year, I somehow felt limited by that. . .

I understand that these months create an opportunity to start conversations and they perhaps do give sometimes under-recognized issues some space in the public forums, but maybe. . . just maybe. . . by giving them that finite space of time each year, we’re actually limiting them.

I think mental health should be a topic every damn day.  When I ask a friend how they’re doing, I want to know how their mental health is doing, their physical health, and their general life happenings.  I’ll often ask friends a few times in conversation how they are – because the first response is usually what everyone gives – the knee-jerk “I’m good” so that the conversation can stay at the surface level.  Eff that jazz.  I would absolutely love to see a world where people really spoke to each other about more than just the surface, step outside of our weird habits of isolation and self-inflicted loneliness and talk about mental health.  Open up about the highs and the lows.  My friend recently sent an email to a group of our close friends because she recently moved far away and she’s having a rough time and just needed to get it out.  This friend is tough as nails and stubborn to no end, I know how much it took her to write this email.  The thing is, her and I talk semi-regularly on the phone and via text and I would ask how things are – but this never came up.  Perhaps it’s guarding oneself, not wanting to be vulnerable, or the weird difference between how discussing physical health vs. mental health is perceived.

Why is it so uncomfortable for me to say that I’ve been hospitalized for attempted suicide?  But had I been hospitalized for pneumonia I wouldn’t think twice about saying that out loud?  Why are we more comfortable posting on Facebook asking for recommendations of dentists than we are for therapists?  Why is it gossiped about if a coworker goes off to substance abuse rehab, then the same gossipers treat that coworker differently when they return as if that coworker is somehow defective?

Receiving treatment for mental health – therapy, rehab, medication, alternative options (I don’t really know these options but I imagine there are some) – is the important part here.  Just like diabetics, no one shames them.  They have a condition that affects their health and so they treat it.  They know that if they don’t pay attention to their body there can be deadly consequences.  Same with anyone who has to monitor their mental health.  I know that if I don’t take my 6 pills a day (3 different Rxs) regularly, avoid drinking for the most part, and get out in the world, I can very easily fall into my cycle of depression and hypomania.  So. . . that’s why I DO take my medication!

It’s so upsetting to think that there are millions of people not talking about their mental health.  People with anxiety, loneliness, mania, psychosis, depression, eating disorders, fear of rejection, you name it – anything that has to do with our emotions – and they’re just not talking about it.  I never really had an emotionally supportive family growing up – we just sort of ignored that part of ourselves (which definitely contributed to the suicide attempt, not a blaming thing, just a statement).  I wasn’t abused and I knew I was loved, I felt safe.  But I didn’t ever feel like I could openly address my feelings.  I imagine this is how a lot of adults feel without significant others or close friends who they can share their deeper (not surface level) thoughts with.  Fortunately for me, I “came of age” in the time of live journal and myspace and oh man, I typed the sh*t outta my feelings!  I wrote (I don’t think there was the term “blog” yet) all of my angst out at my computer and it was the most cathartic thing any middle class teenager who didn’t drink or do drugs could experience.  I miss those days, when only your good friends cared enough to look at what you wrote (when you actually made it public) and employers had no idea what myspace was to do a pre-employment screen.  It now takes restraint to not turn this blog into a mere online diary (I feel as though this post borders on that line, though my goal is to help others more than get any chips off of my shoulders).

What avenues do we have now to address our mental health?  I’m incredibly fortunate to have awesome health benefits through my job.  I’ve got to get my act together and find a new therapist, but I do have a psychiatrist I like so I’m good there.  But for people without health insurance. .  I’ve been to free/low cost clinics and they can be depressing/scary places.  The good therapists cost money.  And most people don’t know that a lot of therapists offer their rates on a sliding scale for cash patients – I had no idea until I interned at counseling office in college.  Of course a therapist isn’t going to go shouting that out to everyone, “Hey!  If you ask, I’ll talk to you about a lower rate!” but it’s an option few people know of.  For people with substance abuse issues, there’s the AA/NA programs, I can’t speak from experience with those but I’ve heard good things.  The part that I like most about those (that I know of) is the sponsor – you have someone, SOMEONE, to talk to – someone who is in the same boat and can relate on a very human level.  There are other support groups as well however that’s intimidating as well.  Admitting you have a problem to a close friend is tough, but a group of strangers??  Or that may be more your comfort level – whatever works for you.  There are even online support groups these days!  Though I would be wary of online trolls. . .

Admitting the problem to others can be even more difficult if you’re one of those people who avoids recognizing that they themselves have a problem.  I just got out of a relationship where I recognized all the signs of mental health issues in my partner so I tried to help, I tried so incredibly hard.  This person even came around to recognize their mental health issue and admit that they wanted help.  However, it took months of instability to finally recognize, then several months more to decide they wanted to get help, and then many months more of continuing to say they were going to get help until finally that never happened and neither of us were going to be happy in the dynamic.  I can completely 100% relate though so although I’m hurt and not happy with them, I’ve been through it and I know it takes time.  I’ve been bipolar for something like 19 years, I didn’t actually get diagnosed until about 8 years ago, I didn’t start taking medication until about 5 years ago, and I haven’t perfected that “cocktail” of pills until about a year and a half ago.  It takes time.  The first step is recognizing there’s something that’s not working right.

I clearly remember when I told my good friend and college roommate that I was diagnosed bipolar some years after we had graduated and settled into adulthood.  I was sitting on her porch and this was something I felt I had to “admit”.  I said, “Hey, umm. . . so I’m bipolar.” and she said “Well yeah, I could have told you that.”  I just stared at her for a minute, she’s always been super blunt and just says whatever is in her mouth at the moment so I was hoping for some sort of follow up.  She explained that when we lived together it would make sense for me to be bipolar because I would spend a couple months napping every minute between classes and forced social activities then every so often there would be a couple weeks of intense activity and poor decision making.  I looked at her in silence for a minute longer then rather loudly said “WELL WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY ANYTHING?????”  If she saw it, and I didn’t, why the hell didn’t she just say something like “Hey, Jess, I think you should see the school psychologist.  You know, just to talk.”  It could have saved me years of anguish.  But, that’s our society.  There’s stigma around mental health.  We can easily say “Hey, your cough doesn’t sound so good, you should get it checked.” but heaven forbid we tell a friend “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve been really avoiding everything for a few months now, is everything ok? Can we talk about anything?  I’m here for you and will always listen.”  That’s nuts.

So though it’s June, I wanted to take a minute to address mental health, a few dates late of its assigned month.  If you haven’t checked in with yourself, take a few minutes to take stock of where your mental hygiene is.  Could you use some freshening up in the mental health department?  Maybe you could reach out to a friend and have a real conversation. Or check out one of those online support groups for whatever has you concerned.  Do you have a friend that you may be worried about?  Check in with them!  Let them know there’s no stigma with mental health for you and that you’re there to listen.  If we all start talking about mental health it won’t be so shrouded in secrets.

 

Contemplating the Chemicals of the Brain

The thing about neurodiversity is that sometimes, in treating it you lose a part of yourself. With regulation comes a certain quiet that you’re not used to, having struggled for so long to create stability then finding yourself in this serene existence you can forget who you are. Your chemicals become so regulated that somewhere on the trail of finding the perfect concoction, you forget that you’re alive. You forget how it feels to feel.  You become a machine performing your daily tasks and somehow you’re grateful because you’re not on the floor crying or yelling at your partner for no reason so that’s an improvement, right?

But is it? Bipolar disorder can be life-threatening and it has been for me. It has also ruined relationships, caused me to lose a job, contributed to bad choices, caused weight fluctuations throughout my life, and made me question who I was and why I existed in a way that no one should ever experience in their life. It’s a very serious chemical imbalance that can be treated.

I’ve had several fellow creative bipolar friends who choose not to medicate because the mania of bipolar can lend itself to creative bursts (as well as very negative things like insomnia, poor decision making abilities, and suicide) and they believe medication will dampen their creativity. I’ve been regularly medicated for the past 3 years now and just in the past few months have I realized that my creativity, as it once flourished, has disappeared. The creative energy that used to so readily flow through me has been absent, save for a few occurrences here and there.  I didn’t notice this until I decided that I want to start up my Etsy shop again and live my life creatively because I quickly came to the scary conclusion that I may not have that creative ability any more (or at least the access to it).

I considered my options and decided that I could try going off of my medication when my three month supply got to the end (in a month and a half) because I figured I’d be going to the gym regularly at that point so that should stave off potential depression. I think this sent the signal to my subconscious that taking my medications wasn’t that important because I forgot to take them more often than usual. I have three different pills I take twice a day and I would forget an AM or PM dosage of some combo of them. That brought upon a meltdown that came out of nowhere and for no reason – it felt so uncomfortably like “the old days”, before medication. I was back where I had taken 3 years to crawl away from. I DETESTED it. The boo was kind and patient even though he had no idea what was going on and eventually it passed but holy hot damn, it sucked. If there is one feeling in the world I think every human can agree is one of the worst, it’s not feeling in control – especially of YOURSELF.

So, I will not be going off of my medications any time soon. I miss my creativity dearly, I do not miss my instability and depression – if one wins here it’s the feeling of control unfortunately. I’ll be looking for a new doctor closer to my new place and maybe they can help me find a different mix of medication that doesn’t make me feel quite as serene, because you know, I like a little quiet disruption every once in a while.

FWB – Oops. . . I did it again. But this time, I learned something!

(This post is from another Jessie blog, Fourth Wave Business, and is republished here for your enjoyment!)

Holy geez I did exactly what I promised myself I wouldn’t do.  I disappeared for far too long and got lost in the game of trying to maintain my mental normalcy while balancing all the life stuff.

A lot has happened in the time I’ve been gone.  I started lithium with AMAZING results!  Holy crap!  Is this how it feels to feel normal?  Where’s the lengthy depression, agitation, and pointless sadness?  Gone?  Alright, cool!  I feel 100% myself for the first time in a while – and thanks to the balance of medications I know it’s not just a manic swing disguised as happy times.  This is genuine happiness.  I still feel stress and anxiety and some restlessness, but none of that can stop me like it used to.  I simply pause to reflect on the feeling then move on.  I can’t tell you how great that feels.

I have a lot to write about but in order to prevent any readers out there from losing interest in this post I will say the one point that has me on my laptop instead of playing solitaire as per my usual weeknight tendencies (what?  solitaire is awesome!).

Ladies and gentleman. . . I have. . . a direction!  Now, I say “a” direction because I’ve never been at a lack for direction – quite the opposite – I’ve had a million directions all at once pulling me every which way and thus resulting in getting very little done toward any one single direction I wish to go.  But now!  Now there’s focus and clarity and I feel this urge deep within me to get this one thing started.

So I’m gonna do it!  I’ll be blogging regularly again (like, actually writing it in my planner!) (PS – have you seen this thing??  I’m totally getting one!  www.passionplanner.com) and I will be working on my upcoming website – www.fourthwavebiz.com – a place for girls, teens, young women, and women to find resources for deciding and navigating their own career paths.  I can’t tell you how excited I am about this.

Definitely stay tuned!  I hope to be sharing with you all along the way and maybe asking for you to contribute your own advice – because it’s incredibly valuable, believe it or not!

See you soon!  (No, seriously.   SOON!)

FWB – Medication Roller Coasters

(This post is from another Jessie blog, Fourth Wave Business, and is republished here for your enjoyment!)

Holy geez it’s been a while.  Sorry for the interruption of your regularly scheduled blog posts – I went on a bit of a depression hiatus.

Due to my inability to see my old psychiatrist (he’s back where I used to live – an hour away) and a really long wait to get in with my new psychiatrist, I had a week’s lapse of taking my mood stabilizing medication.  Unfortunately, said medication can cause severe rash in a minority of patients so as a precaution most psych doctors will prescribe a titration up to the full dose starting with a tiny dose.  Because I missed a week the titration had to start all over again.  When I usually take 200mg I was starting back at 25mg which caused one hell of a depressive swing.  (Yes, yes, I know I broke the ultimate rule of staying on my medication. . . trust me, it will NEVER happen again.)

Because of this, the past few months have been a roller coaster of emotions, mostly hovering over the lowest point.  Yes, I made it to work and got out of bed and ate food regularly (maybe too much?) but everything was a grey haze and I enjoyed very little.  I neglected this blog because I had nothing good to say – it would have been an awful negative mess of discouragement and nobody wants that!

But here I am, back on 200mg for the past couple of weeks and feeling so much better.  This whole bipolar thing is a lot of work and can cause a lot of grief when not properly cared for (yes, I know it’s my own damn fault).  Luckily my boo is an awesome support system and I have some great understanding friends.

Onward with the news updates!

I passed my two Masters of Entrepreneurship classes!  An A in Strategic Entrepreneurship and a B in New Venture Formation – pretty good for my first ever semester of a Masters program!  I plan on getting a blog post together summarizing what I learned – the juicy bits at least.  Strategic Entrepreneurship was painful.  A good chunk of my grade was based on this online simulation that was just awful and taught me very little.  New Venture Formation was great – the professor was blunt in his honesty of just how hard it is to start a business.  We had some great speakers and did some fun group activities that better explained and encouraged the creative process.

I was elected president for my chapter of ABWA (the American Business Women’s Association) for the 2014-2015 year.  Pretty exciting!  My group joined the local Chamber of Commerce as a recruiting tool which should be a lot of fun.  I’ve already attended one event – just to scope it out.  It’s going to be a challenge for me to reach out to strangers and actually talk to them. . . about adulty business things. . . without saying things like ‘adulty’. . .

I play recreational roller derby but had to miss it during the semester since my class fell on the same date as practice.  This weekend AND last weekend I skated 14 miles with the boo at a really great local park/trail.  I’m trying to get fit and lose the ‘depression/lack of derby’ weight that I seem to have accumulated.  Hopefully this will also help with keeping me motivated in other areas (*cough cough blog and Etsy!*).

Anyway. . . on to helping YOU, the reader. . .

I’ve got a lot of resources to comb through and pick out the best to share with you!  Now that I’m back up and running at an optimal level this shouldn’t take too long.  Stay tuned!

Also keep an eye out for my course synopses!

Hope you all have been productive in your own business adventures while I was gone!

FWB – The Business of Bipolar Disorder

(This post is from another Jessie blog, Fourth Wave Business, and is republished here for your enjoyment!)

Hi, my name is Jessie and I’m bipolar.

True story.  I’m Type II with rapid cycling and hypomania.  I’ve been medicated for a little over a year now and let me tell you, medication and health insurance have saved my life.  I’ve spent the majority of my life in some depressive state.  I’ve avoided making friends, dealt with a rather extensive list of insecurities (beyond the ‘normal’ amount), ruined relationships, missed countless opportunities, and just existed for so long it’s an amazing change to be balanced out now.  I finally love life and appreciate the majority of my days (no one is perfect).  I still struggle with depression from time to time – even all the medication in the world can’t fix everything.  

Bipolar, in my own little explanation, is an instability in moods.  I can’t control my ups and downs which range from feeling on top of the world to contemplating what life would be like without me in it.  It’s serious business and not a fun thing to struggle with on a daily basis.  I firmly believe in chemical imbalances – I think that I was wired this way and I thank the heavens for medication that can help alleviate my most interruptive (I made up that word) symptoms.  I go through cycles of a couple months of normalcy, a couple weeks of hypomania (less intensive mania), and a couple weeks of depression – all interspersed at random intervals and timing.  Truly it’s really annoying and I feel like it hinders my success to a degree.

So what has this meant for my various business ventures?  I haven’t functioned steadily – with predictable moods – in quite some time.  I love the customer service aspect of my job most days; making people happy makes me happy in turn.  However, when I’m in a depressive mood it’s a huge burden to get up the strength (yes, it takes strength) to get my tone to the level that it is when I’m doing fine.  I turn into Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh – it’s just ridiculous.  Most of the time I’m super upbeat and positive almost to the point of annoying my friends but as soon as the depression kicks in I withdraw from everything I love and cower in my bed for a couple weeks.  I can’t concentrate at work, I’m nervous about everything, I doubt myself, I don’t see a point in doing anything and human interaction becomes a huge stressor.  When I’m in a hypomanic phase I’m writing and completing to-do lists, I’m emailing like a machine, I’m confident, I plan for a bright future and I’m overall a super happy person – it’s GREAT!  I wish I could be in that state all the time!  (Side note: full on mania is NOT a good thing, I’m not trying to make a case for it – I’m talking about my own personal version of hypomania.)  When I’m functioning normally it’s a nice balance of reality with a slightly elevated mood (I truly am a positive person at my core).

So there you have it.  It’s so weird to have something that you feel like you need to admit to other people.  I wish mental health issues didn’t have such a stigma to them in our society.  It’s like a diabetic dealing with their diabetes – I take care of myself, am knowledgeable about my condition, and I take my medication.  I don’t feel that I should be judged any differently from someone with a balanced brain chemistry – we’re all the same when it comes down to who we are as humans.

And that, my friends, is my personal explanation for the day.  I hope you can appreciate my openness and maybe go forward with a little more knowledge than before – the more you know and such.