It’s Okay

It’s okay to have a mental illness…

…to need medication, even more than one, to manage it.

….to see a therapist for it.

…..to feel weak for having such shitty brain chemistry.

….to hate it for the impact it has on you, your relationships, your quality of life, your self-esteem, your perception of yourself and your worth.

….to be grateful for it for what it has taught you about yourself, your limits, your capabilities, your strengths…and for how it’s changed you.

…..to be scared because you have it, and to worry about everything that comes with it from the stigma it carries to the side effects of the medications you take.

….to be a parent with one. To want to have children, and have one, or many, despite living with one.

…..to take the safest medications possible for it during pregnancy and breastfeeding if that’s a choice you and your psychiatrist make.

….to be jealous of those who don’t have one, of their “normal” states.

…..to be resentful of your spouse because they don’t understand what it’s like for you to live with it daily.

…..to hurt for your spouse or loved one because you know what it’s like to live with it daily and you wish you could shield them from that part of you, spare them from seeing how deep your darkness can go or how high your brain can fly, and spare them the hurt the difficulty and weight of how heavy and distressing it can be to witness.

…..to love your spouse or loved one for standing by you as you manage the ups and downs, the nuances, the cracks and crevices of it.

….to be honest with your kids about it.

….to be yourself, to live your life fully, to create the life you want to live despite having it.

……to not let it define you.

……to embrace the parts of it that can help you grow, and learn, and empathize.

…….to feel strong because of it.

……to love yourself in spite of it.

It’s okay to have a mental illness. Don’t let anyone shame you for it. Don’t let stigma keep you silent and held hostage by it. It’s okay. As hard as it is, as dark as it can get, it doesn’t diminish who you are or what you’re capable of. It’s okay. It’s not your fault. Ever.

So take a deep, full breath, and say it out loud: “It’s okay.”

 

I Actually Wrote This with a Pen…In a Journal.

This year I said I would get back to journaling, art journaling like I used to when I was 19…20…21…22…before I became a terrified single mom whose only existence revolved around one word: SURVIVE. So….I signed up for Chookooloonks “create.2013″ e-course and have been doing the prompts delivered to my inbox every morning, in addition to writing two pages of whatever’s sitting around in my brain. This is what I wrote last night after word vomiting my mania on Twitter. 

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Moving…everything is hurried, frenzied, congested like commuters getting off the subway train in a rush to make it to some meeting at some corporate job they hate feeling so restricted in. By everything I mean my thoughts, my words, emotions in conflict with each other; they slam into one another pressing themselves against the walls of my mind and against my tongue. The pressure that comes with attempting restraint always proves to be a force I can’t reckon with, and they come spilling out, tumbling over each other and onto the people I interact with daily:

My fiance

My friends

My Twitter feed

I would say the “friends” on Facebook too, but I officially broke it off with my dealer Zuckerberg a few weeks ago in attempt to kick my 4 1/2 year habit; a habit that went from being a job requirement to becoming my sounding board and my lifeline. It became the what I barely had in my “real” life-support, understanding, acceptance, help, community. But after 4 years and it’s no longer a lifeline and I need to extricate myself from it. Social media addiction is a real disease…or at least that’s what WebMd told me. It also told me this zit on my face is really a rare disease not even that House guy on TV has heard of and I’m going to die within a week. Thank God it’s not a real doctor…

The only people who aren’t affected are my kids. Sometimes they see Mommie less patient with a sharper tongue and a low tolerance, but what parent doesn’t have these moments, right? When it comes to restraining the symptoms of my illness I do my best to stuff them WAY. DOWN. into the deeper parts of me and quickly sit on top of them as you would a trunk or luggage case overpacked and bulging against its zippers. I try to take the less destructive parts of it and use them to my-our-advantage. I allow it to explode just enough so it amplifies the best parts of me that enable me to love and nurture my boys to my fullest capacity, doing things that my very BOY boys like to do:

Yell…

Run around the house giggling and laughing until I’m begging air to please come back into my lungs…

Jump on the couch…

Watch cartoons….

Eat peanut butter and jelly and PopTarts and have breakfast for dinner…

Trains….

Lego Star Wars and Kung Fu Panda on Xbox….

Shooting my imaginary hot pink laser gun at the red berries on the trees we pass by every day on our walk back from school…

Singing and dancing on the sidewalk caring less about the cars driving past us and more about taking the time to create a memory I hope they hold on to when life doesn’t treat them so nice and they need to be reminded that they are loved beyond measure and matter to someone….to ME.

Was that a run on sentence? Not sure because grammar rules go out the window when your thoughts spill out of you faster than you can type, leaving you with no choice but to chase after them….panting….yelling “WAIT-slow down, you’re going too fast, I can’t maintain this speed.”

Do they listen? No….never. Not in this state. Even if I manage to keep it together on the outside so no one can see the chaos dancing gleefully behind my eyes, my thoughts always find a way to betray me and find their voice in the words I speak….

I don’t know what the point of all this is, my writing it down. What I do know is that it’s jumbled and erratic, nonsensical even. Hello, welcome to a mind hijacked by mania. I guess I should be technical and say “hypomania” but if you ask me, mania is mania and when you’re experiencing it, you don’t feel a textbook distinction. You feel your grasp on your mind and energy weakening and your willpower caving to mania’s seductive allure. You can’t see that it’s deceiving. You don’t realize it distorts your vision and perception of yourself and the world around you. It’s “fun” I guess at first, but always leads to agitation, uneasiness, restlessness, and paranoia eventually…at least for me. In the midst of its chaos I can always hear a small part of me whispering “this is temporary-it will end, so prepare yourself.” It does, it does indeed end, but not until you’ve (I’ve?) lost control of your (my?) mind and it’s racing at a dangerous speed the human brain isn’t designed to handle and it sends you (me, definitely)flying off a cliff…..soaring…then free falling to the ground below, a ground that is unforgiving and jars you (again, ME) back to reality. It’s painful really, like smacking your (my) face into asphalt.

Ok, maybe that was a dramatic description but I don’t find it to be an exaggeration….

Do any of the metaphors I used in an attempt to paint a picture of my manic thoughts make sense? I’m guessing not…I’m not as good at describing and tying thoughts together in a cohesive way like I used to be….you know when I prided myself on proper grammar and “technical” writing. But this isn’t a research paper I’m turning in for a grade, so it doesn’t really matter does it? So go f—yourself grammar police. Go nitpick someone else’s sentence structure.

I can’t sleep. I need to, but of course my inability to control my compulsions during these episodes has me checking Twitter on my phone every 45 seconds and letting my crazy come out in 140 character sprints. I always regret this later, feeling ashamed of letting people see this side of me. I’ve tried staying away, but you know, OCD goes hand in hand with my mania and I suck at saying no. At restraint. Obviously. I try to use Twitter as a means to distract me from what I’m experiencing…but I always end of being swept away in the excitement and euphoria, especially when something great happens (like getting my engagement ring and wedding band! Yep, that happened tonight. The sales lady cried when he put it on my finger. So did we in the van later on the way home.), and I let them speak for me. Then I come down from the high just enough to realize I was Socialite Sally-you know the person at the party who’s had too much to drink and can’t shut up?-and I feel foolish for making an ass out of myself.  When I go back to college I’m going to ditch social work and just major in being bipolar and minor in embarrassment.

Do I have anything else to say? My hand hurts. I should really scrawl my words more on paper than across a computer screen. I’ve missed this, the feel of paper, the smell of ink as it emanates from its tip, forever encapsulating my words on the page in front of me. I guess posting my words digitally is permanent too, but it doesn’t feel the same, it’s not as….personal? Is that the word? Not sure, but  that’s as close as I’m going to get at this point.

My heart feels like it’s about to burst. This clonazepam hasn’t kicked in yet. It usually does. Maybe I’m building a tolerance to it. Which sucks because that means eventually, maybe next week, maybe 10 years from now I’ll have to be on a bigger dose and it’ll stop working.

I should post this, even though I said I’m going to take a break from the blog. I still intend to….I just keep finding things I want to share. I have to force myself to wait and just write them down elsewhere because I do indeed need a break to focus on other things….like actually writing on paper.

I’m going to post this…because I feel obligated to, that whole transparency thing. People should know this is what it’s like, at least what it’s like for me, being bipolar, being manic. More importantly if I share it there then maybe someone who needs to remember that they aren’t alone will come across it, find themselves in my words, and be able to feel less hopeless…because they aren’t alone…

So that’s it then. That’s all I’ve got. 5 pages of erratic nonsense.

I’ll take it…it’s my life after all.

My Initial Response to The NRA’s “Database for the Mentally Ill” Request

“How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark,” LaPierre said. “A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?”-Wayne LaPierre, NRA lobbyist

The NRA sickens me. Truly. They just gave a completely tone-deaf and disrespectful response to what occurred a week ago today. They believe arming school officials and having armed guards at school will prevent such tragedies. I don’t agree with this perspective at all for varying reasons, but I know there are those of you who do. I don’t want to debate that with you today. I simply want to address the question asked at the end of the above statement.

I’m a mother of two boys.

I’m a USAF disabled veteran and former police officer.

I’ve survived Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

I currently live with mental illnesses called rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder type II and OCD.

 I take medication for these illness. 4 of them. Every day. Every.Single.Day.

I go to therapy. I see a psychiatrist.

There are days I struggle to keep it all together and not let the fact that I have some chemical imbalances stop me from living life.

There are days when I want to give up.

I have been hospitalized-not because I was a threat to those around me but because I was a threat to myself.

I am not a violent person, although I have been traumatized by and have experienced violence first hand.

I am not a threat to society.

I have no desire to own a weapon, and never have despite my knowledge of how to use, clean, and take them apart, and being properly trained and qualified on several of them-ranging from the M9 pistol I carried on my hip every shift to the M203 grenade launchers, M249’s, and M4’s I was trained to use in combat during deployments.

I do not belong in a database because I have a mental illness.

My mental illness does not mean I am a violent person.

I am a compliant, law-abiding citizen who still manages to function just like everyone else despite the effects my illness has on me.

My friends who also have mental illnesses? They don’t belong in a database either.

They are just like me: men and women, mothers and fathers living with a painful “invisible” illness but still living their lives, working, raising their children, loving, helping others, and being productive members of society.

If our mental health records should be put into a database, then every person who applies for a weapons permit or who purchases a weapon, should submit to a comprehensive mental health evaluation, comprehensive background check similar to what’s required to obtain a security clearance, and a weapons safety course. You can’t say I should be registered in a mental illness database but not even mention that a more rigorous and comprehensive screening of those applying for weapons permits and buying guns is needs to be monitored as well.

It shouldn’t take less than 20 minutes to walk in to WalMart and walk out with a gun, I don’t care what you’re using it for.

Also? No one should be allowed to own or put together an assault rifle or semiautomatic weapon. I don’t understand why such a deadly weapon should be in the hands of the man who lives next door to me.

Yes, you have the right to bear arms, but maybe the kind of arms you’re entitled to bear should be re-evaluated. Yes, you have the right to protect yourself in case of a threat or danger…but we all saw how that played out with the Trayvon Martin incident, didn’t we? Maybe we start redefining what a threat is and what self-defense actually looks like. Maybe we start asking ourselves some hard questions and making some compromises. Not saying I’m right. Not saying the solutions or answers to this are simple. Just thinking out loud here.

You have the right to bear arms, but guess what? I have rights too. I have the right to have access to mental health services and resources that aren’t underfunded and understaffed; services and resources that have qualified professionals working for them who treat us with the respect and dignity we deserve just as much as “normal” people.

You have your rights. What about mine? And the other 1 in 5 people who live with some form of mental illness in this country? You have a right to arm yourself…we have our rights to privacy…and to the same life you do.

Those who live with mental illness are not all dangerous. We don’t all need to be tagged and stored in some database. If you REALLY think we do, then I say you should be too. Because while you may not have a mental illness you could be just as capable of violence. ANYONE with access to a gun can quickly and easily become a criminal-yes, even “responsible good guy gun owners.”

I am mentally ill. I am not violent. I don’t belong in your database. Stop stigmatizing me and those just like me. Stop using us to redirect criticism and calls to action by saying we are the problem. We are not your scapegoat.

I guess the old cliché is true: “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” No you can’t. Not when their greed disguised as advocating for”rights” is stronger than their desire to admit they could stand to learn a few things.

Go fuck yourself, NRA and hold another press conference when you have something more substantial to say.

Wednesday Can Suck It & My Bipolar Life v.5

Afro Barbie

Today has been a struggle, the hardest I’ve had since leaving the hospital. My mind is loud and overcrowded again. Paranoia is creeping in again whispering it’s lies. I’m trying to ignore the urge to disconnect from everything. The depression … Continue reading

Mixed

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“I could be daydreaming but for a moment
And somehow they’re creeping back in
I could be sleeping awakened the torrent
Somehow I get caught in their grips again

And here I am in my shame spiral
I’m sucked in to it again
And I reach out for your benevolent opinion
You bring the light back in

Don’t leave me here with all these critical voices
Cause they do their best to bring me down
When I’m alone with all these negative voices
I will need your help to turn them down…” Spiral/Havoc and Bright Lights/Alanis Morrisette

no one loves you.
you’re so weak.
first name incapable, last name burden-that’s you.

the Voice. it mercilessly plays it’s record of shame endlessly on my inner loudspeaker, stirring up my irrational insecurities into a paranoid frenzy.

no one loves you.
you’re so weak.
first name incapable, last name burden, that’s you.

tiny arms reach up & around my neck, pulling me in close as if to say “You’re mine, I won’t let It take you.”

boyish grins light up their faces as giggles escape from their little bodies as if to say “you make us so happy.”

little legs struggle to climb into my lap, seeking solace & comfort as if to say “I need you…we’re safe here, together.”

his voice travels confidently through the phone, reminding me once again that I haven’t been abandoned to wander Illness’ deadly streets on my own. “you’re not alone, you have me, I’m here, I came back, I’m not going anywhere. I love you, we’ll get through this together,” he says.

I am loved, they love me.
I’m strongest when I’m weak because I don’t give up.
first name Addy, last name capable, that’s me.

I am loved. I am needed. I am strong. I am capable….no matter how mixed & chaotic this illness makes me.

*I’ve been in a hypomanic/mixed mood since we left. It’s been hard, but thanks to my meds & my family I’ve been managing ok….until this past week. I’ve upped my meds again & am trying to wait patiently for the Austin VA to place me in their system and assign me a psychiatrist….I was told today it’s going to take 3-4 weeks. I’ll be fighting like hell to keep the heaviness & chaos from weighing me down…and praying my mind doesn’t get any worse. In my next post I swear I’ll finally tell you about the awesomeness that has become our lives in Austin…and those fears I mentioned last post-have to share those too. In the meantime, enjoy your Labor Day weekend lovelies.*

Then & Now

Over the weekend I started my new dose of Lamictal…another 50mgs to try and put the brakes on my latest (and longest) high.

Last week I was reeling from it…dizzy from the frenzy.

This week I feel my mind turning around & going in the opposite direction…everything is slowing down.

My thoughts are still all over the place, but instead of shouting & screaming to be heard they mumble as they mill about…whispering their requests & anxieties from dark, shadowy corners they’ve been banished to.

Somewhere between the ups & downs of this disorder, there lies a middle ground called stability…a place where medication keeps everything from getting out of control. A place where the highs don’t send me skyrocketing into the stratosphere and the lows don’t entrench & isolate me in the darkness of depression.

I know recovery ( i.e. stability) is not a myth, some city of gold that’s only been talked about but never actually seen or experienced. It’s real. I’ve talked to people who live there, who have managed to build a healthy & stable life within the valleys of mental illness.

I hope I’m closer to residing there than I was a year ago. Last July I walked into the VA hospital crying and begging the social worker & intake psych to help me as Alex slept in my arms. Last July I wanted to die and knew I would if I didn’t get help that day. I was willing to take anything, do anything, just to make the chaos stop for 10 seconds. That’s all I wanted. A 10 second reprieve from a mind that was too scary and confusing. I just wanted to be able to breathe without feeling like I was suffocating. This July I no longer want to die and I can breathe at least 10 seconds longer, taking in bigger gulps of air & of life in the process. A year later I still have highs and lows but they cycle at a much slower pace than they used to. I no longer wonder how I’m going to feel from hour to hour. My focus is now on managing how I feel from day to day.

I know I still have a ways to go before I get there, to stability. But where I had no hope of it a year ago, I feel it now. I know it now. I can see it on the horizon, off in the distance, welcoming me like an old friend…waiting for me to come and make myself at home.

There are upcoming changes & transitions I’m worried about that may threaten my progress…and lots of good, exciting new things I’m looking forward to….so that’s why I’m more concerned about this impending low than I’d like to admit. I hate putting pressure on myself but I can’t help but feel as though everything over the next 4 weeks depends on how well I ride out this about face in mood.

I’m not really sure of where this post is going, and I feel like I’ve spewed enough disjointed thoughts so I’ll end it here with this:

I painted today….something I wasn’t doing a year ago. Crazy how much you change in a year, eh?

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Falling Off The Edge of My Sanity

“You’re going to die.”

Hands began to close around my neck.

My heart was racing.

Panic welled up at the back of my throat, my breaths coming faster and shorter as fear consumed me.

I could feel them. On my neck. The hands. Closing off my air supply.

“You’re going to die.”

Black. Everything was black.

Just as I opened my mouth to scream, I heard his voice next to me.

“So you want me to heat this up in the pot, here on the stove?”

I stared at him, my panic subsiding as I realized where I was.

“Um, well I burned some of the rice yesterday, so some of it is stuck to the bottom. You might just want to scoop some out-”

“And nuke it? Ok.”

I quickly turned my back to him hoping he wouldn’t be able to see the terror in my eyes.

There were no hands choking me. I was standing at the stove sautéing a pan of penne pasta, vegetables & sausage.

I was in my house. With my kids. With Bertski. Safe. The evening sun eased its way through the kitchen windows, reassuring me that nightfall was still a few hours away. It was light where I was…not dark.

As I gripped the countertop my mind swirled with too many thoughts and questions about what had just happened.

Did I black out? Was I hallucinating? Delusional? Am I insane?

I turned off the stove, mumbled something about needing to sit down and sank into the sofa, my face buried hands as tears stung my eyes and flowed down my cheeks.

“I’m not going to die,” I heard a tiny thought whisper.

Instead of hands closing themselves around my neck, I felt arms, strong and comforting pull me in close as he sat next to me, holding me, rubbing my back slowly.

No words. Just silence punctuated by stifled sobs.

I’ve been hypomanic for 8 days. It’s the longest episode of mania I’ve ever experienced. I usually cycle through it pretty quickly with it only lasting 2-3 days tops.

The first two days are full of euphoria, restless energy, impulsive compulsions, and racing thoughts. The third day tends to be where the racing thoughts become frantic, and I’m on edge; agitated and irritable. I lack patience and the slightest thing can send my anxiety through the roof.

But this time, it’s lasted longer. I’ve been turned all the way up and moving faster than normal the past 7 days. Searching for a place to live and preparing to move cross country has had my mind and body on fast forward, propelling me each day toward the edge. I’ve had fun. I’ve enjoyed my family. Was spoiled rotten for our anniversary and I soaked up every drop of love being poured over me.

But today. Today it was too much. Too fast. Too loud. I was on sensory overload. I couldn’t keep up. My mind moved at such a dizzying pace concentration and focus were foreign to me…so much so that trying to focus on things like changing diapers and being peppered with questions about the Bubble Guppies overwhelmed me.

My thoughts were erratic. Chaotic. Running together, and bleeding into one another. All over the place.

I felt like I was spinning. Out of control. Twinges of panic gripped me all day and I felt nauseated.

I reached out for support. I text Bertski. Called my psych. Took my meds. Got the boys down for a nap.

I even painted.

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But it wasn’t enough. By the time he got home, I could feel fear grabbing ahold of me but I had no idea why. There was nothing to be afraid of. I was safe. In my house. With my kids.

But as I stood at the stove finishing dinner, my mind slipped off the edge, time stopped, and I felt the flames of madness hot on my face.

On the outside I appeared to be functioning normally but on the inside I was being deconstructed, my
mind completely unhinged for a few brief terrifying seconds.

I’m so glad his voice, his touch, his strength, his presence brought me back before I fell too deep.

He took care of the boys and dinner while I laid on the couch, crying and desperately trying to grasp reality, trying to comprehend what had just taken place.

“I just want to be better,” I told him.

“You’re getting there baby. You’ve been doing really well the past month. It’s okay. I think the move triggered you. It’s okay. You have support. We’re right here.”

I’m safe. In my house. With my kids. With my future husband and best friend.

It was just a moment of madness. Terrifyingly real and something I hope to never experience ever again.

But I’m scared it will. What if it does? What will happen to me?

No Shame Day: My Thoughts on Stigma, My Story

When I jumped on the Twitter this morning, I saw a tweet with a link to a blog  on Huffington Post titled, “No Shame Day: Working to Eradicate Mental Illness Stigma in the Black Community.”

After reading it, I clicked on the #NoShame hashtag and saw tweet after tweet from African-Americans detailing their struggles with mental illness and sharing how the stigma within the Black community regarding mental illness has had an impact on them.

I went to The Siwe Project website and cried reading story after story of other Black men & women who have had to suffer in silence because of how crippling and degrading the stigma is. Suffering from and living with a mental illness is difficult enough-having to battle and fight against stigma in addition to it makes it excruciating. It chokes out hope, leaving a person feeling alone, isolated, and unable to use their voice to advocate for themselves or their mental & emotional well-being.

I cried. A lot. I’m still crying as I type this. I wish I could put into words how encouraging and empowering it is to see other minorities living with depression, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder. Seeing a photo of an African-American woman in a t-shirt that says “Bipolar II” makes me cry with relief because I recognize that I’m not a freak. I’m not weird. I don’t have a “that’s for white people” disease.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again:

Black People Don’t Talk About Their Mental Health

 We don’t believe in the science that says our minds are malfunctioning due to imbalances in brain chemistry. We don’t believe in the science that shows that stress, trauma and other environmental factors can alter a person’s brain chemistry and thus lay the foundation for a mental illness or mood disorder to build itself upon.

We don’t believe in anxiety because the Black Church tells us that we are “too blessed to be stressed.”

We don’t believe in depression because really, we survived slavery, what in the world could we have to be depressed about? If our ancestors could survive oppression and if our grandparents could endure the cruelties of racism and Jim Crow, then we can get through anything. Without complaining about it.

To be diagnosed with something other than a physical illness just means that you have “issues” , and are “crazy.” And if you are “crazy” you and your family don’t talk about it. You don’t get help for it. You are shamed into silence, an embarrassment to your family.

That’s why seeing photos and reading tweets & stories of others boldly declaring their diagnosis’ has me in tears. I’m both humbled and emboldened by their courage to speak out loud because I know how difficult it is culturally for them to do so.

Finally. Black people are finally starting to talk about their mental health. Their struggles, their diagnosis’, the treatment they are getting.

Finally. I’m meeting other African-Americans who are “like” me. I’m not alone.

So I’m writing this post today to lend my voice to the movement that is saying enough is enough, let’s silence the voice of stigma by raising our own.

Many of you already know my story because you’ve been reading it here, for the past year and a half. But for those who don’t here it is:

My name is A’Driane. I have been struggling with mental illness since I was 16. In my early 20’s I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety (GAD) & Depression. After the birth of my second son I suffered from GAD and Postpartum Depression. Although I was in treatment for both, my shifts in mood and symptoms became much worse.

I was diagnosed a year ago this month (OMG it’s been a year already?!) with rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder II in addition to my GAD. I take 3 medications daily to manage my symptoms and have an excellent psychiatrist. Being in treatment for the past year and becoming educated on what Bipolar Disorder is has helped me recognize that I first started having manic and depressive episodes in my early 20’s.

My psychiatrist believes that there are several things that have contributed my developing this illness. Family history (my grandfather is schizophrenic), environment & trauma (I was abused in my childhood & teen years) and the changes in hormones after the birth of my children all created what she calls my “bipolar biology.”

My treatment plan involves medication, therapy, yoga, dancing, writing, and painting. I’ve also found a few fantastic online support groups on Facebook, and read books, blog posts, and articles to help me understand everything I can about my disorder.

Compliance and the road to stability has not been easy and there are days when the weight of it all overwhelms me and I want to give up. There are days when no matter what I do, my illness still gets the better of me and I want to give in and give up hope.

But I don’t because I want to make it. I want to live. For myself, for my boys, and so others can know that it’s possible to live a healthy life.

My hope is that days like today, and having a month like July deemed, “National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month“, will help de-stigmatize mental illness in our community and culture.

African-Americans don’t seek treatment for mental illness because they don’t understand what it is and what it is not, so I’m hoping No Shame Day and increased awareness educates our community and encourages those who are suffering to seek treatment.

We CAN eradicate stigma in our various communities, regardless of race. But it’s going to take more open dialogue, more people choosing to own & tell their stories, and most importantly, being educated.

Dedicating days to doing all of these things are crucial to helping change the conversation around mental illness. I’m proud to be doing my part.

For more No Shame Day stories, you can click here, and you can also read a piece from Ebony Magazine by writer Mychal Denzel Smith here

Dear Insomnia, I Hate You.

Dear Insomnia,

This is the 5th (6th?) night in a row we’ve hung out.

You dropped by completely unannounced expecting me to party these nights away with you…

Maybe you were really looking for Snooki and got lost on a detour that ended at my crib, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I like to swathe myself in my cozy comforter, a cumulus nimbus cloud of pillows and snore my way through dreams that star Will Ferrel and the cast of The Big Bang Theory.

And be jarred awake as my cheek starts to swim in the cold drool that’s formed the Great Lakes on my pillow.

I like to sleep. Soundly. Undisturbed.

In fact the only people allowed to disturb my slumber are my children…and that’s only because well…they’re my children. Someone has to feed them and change pee soaked diapers at o dark thirty in the morning…if I’m not awake to do that, they might wind up eating bath salts and start eating people while they throw feces all over my walls. We just cant have that.

I need to sleep so I can have energy when they come barreling full force into my room, so full of combustible energy they’re practically nuclear.

That’s why I need my sleep, Insomnia. Because I have nuclear missiles to raise. You can’t do that ish half-asleep-someone could get an eye poked out or start Armageddon….

And while I love Jesus, I gotta be honest and say I’m not ready to meet Him yet, not at 29. 79? Maybe. 109? Definitely.

But I digress….

Sleep. I need it because without it, I go skyrocketing off to another galaxy…one full of euphoric gas, rainbows, talking unicorns, million dollar gift cards to Target, and other glorious things one feels as they begin to tango with hypomania.

Without sleep, this over wired brain begins to short circuit….synapses, axons, dendrites, and other things I should’ve paid more attention to when my processor lectured on them in my Human Development class start to….misfire…yea I think that’s the term she used.

Anyway the point is without sleep my brain’s homeostasis is thrown outta wack and my bipolar comes out to play. Which is what you wanted in the first place and absolutely love because you two like to party together. Problem is after a few days of getting high, the twins Anxiety and Agitation show up to crash the party, bringing Depression and her dark, brooding thoughts with her.

As fun as the initial moments of hypomania are, I really prefer to be on the level side of things, so I’d really like you to leave. You’re dangerous…like playing with firecrackers dangerous, and I’d like to keep my body parts intact and spare my family a spin on the bipolar merry go round.

I’m sorry but staring off into the darkness while everyone else is knee deep in REM cycles isn’t my idea of fun. And again, neither is the crash that comes after the high.

You’re just too much of a trigger. I can’t have you around. You’ve gotta go.

So please free the Sandman from wherever you’re holding him hostage and hit the road. Bother someone who can actually make you work for them and not against ‘em.

Consider this a warning. If you fail to heed this warning, expect Ambien & Trazadone to pay you a visit. They’re like the Chuck Norris’ of sleep meds.

I’m not afraid to use them.

Signed,

Me

I Couldn’t Write But Was Feeling Restless So Instead I Painted

My laptop crapped out on me today. I was planning on spending 45-50 minutes journaling and writing some posts, but when the screen on my craptop went black for the fifth time, I gave up on that idea and wondered what to do with all the restless creative energy I was feeling.

The last couple of days I’ve been feeling restless, wanting to get lost in being creative. Colors are dancing before my eyes-I envision their placement on giant stretches of canvas when I sleep at night. My mind is busy writing my life experiences into chapters for my memoir (more on that later), and it seems even the simple and smallest details of my daily life are the perfect fodder for blog posts. ( Don’t worry, I’ll spare you from having to read 95% of them. That’s what the draft folder is for.) When I hear music, my body wants to get lost in movement, and my desire to take a dance class reminds me to put it on the “Things I must do once we’re settled in Austin,” list. (Again-more on this later)

Paint. Write. Dance. I’m craving creativity & expression in these areas. While I’m putting concentrating on dance until after we move, I plan on directing my creative energy into writing and painting this summer…. I want to spend at least 30-60 minutes a day exercising my creative muscle….I’m intrigued and excited to see what I come up with, especially as I continue to explore the world of paint, which is a new one for me. (And yet again, more on this later. I owe you at least 3 posts-remind me)

That’s why when my laptop gave up, I figured the next best thing to do was grab a piece of canvas, my brushes & paints, settle into a corner of the living room and just…paint. I did this last night as well.

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The pieces I did last night and this afternoon kind of caught me off guard. I did some experimenting with thinning out my buttery acrylics with water, and here’s what emerged…

This one describes how my thoughts and thought processes are when I’m hypomanic. Everything is colorful, vibrant, I feel alive, full of energy…some of it is anxious, agitated, restless energy, some of it is productive and punctuated with lots of laughter & creative projects that range from painting to cooking. Things are fantastical, special…My thoughts run & bleed into each other blending reality with the fantasies my mind conjures up. This of course makes my concentration and focus blurry at times. I haven’t settled on a name for this one yet, but it will probably be “Manic Thoughts” or something along those lines.

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This one is called “Distortion” or “A Distorted Perception of Self,” I haven’t decided yet which sounds better. It started off colorful and very bold, but halfway through turned into a mishmash of colors than blended together to create a muted look in terms of color. I spent about 10 minutes just throwing water at it, watching the paint leave trails on the canvas. It’s ugly, it’s messy, distorted, and a little chaotic…but to me, it’s how I see myself sometimes through the dirty lens of mental illness.

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So, I didn’t get to write today like I wanted but I guess it’s just as well. I did something I enjoyed, and that has me feeling pretty grounded….even though hypomania is trying to lift my feet off the ground. I’m trying to stay level. We’ll see how it goes.