Bipolar II disorder

Coping With Rejection and Mixed Episodes (Part One)

I've been pitching my words + art to various publications and places almost weekly since January. Some incredible opportunities have come my way over the last few months from simply sharing my work + process out there on Instagram, but I've yet to have a pitch accepted. Overall the rejections haven't impacted me too greatly. I've only had two really hit me in the gut and one of them came to my inbox yesterday. 5% of it what was mentioned about the paintings I submitted was constructive. 95% of it wasn't and that 95% crushed me unexpectedly when I read it. 

I'm also experiencing my first mixed episode in months. Cycling through slight hypomania (which for me usually manifests as agitation & anxiety) and depression simultaneously is unsettling. My thoughts form, splinter or fracture into bits, then fuse together repeatedly and trying to get anything substantial done is damn near futile. I always feel untethered and raw, like an exposed nerve ending when I experience these types of episodes. I'm assuming that's why yesterday's rejection landed like a sucker punch to my soul instead a slight but bearable sting like the others before it. 

To cope, I did two things: abandoned my To-Do list and allowed myself to get lost in painting without thinking. It got me through the day and served as my oxygen mask.

That's what painting has become for me...the oxygen I need to survive.  

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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

Manic Monday: From Diagnosis to Acceptance

Today I'm honored and excited to have my friend Kimberly from All Work & No Play here on 'Confessions! Raw, authentic, honest, sweet, and full of saucy humor, she easily became one of my favorite people when we "met" nearly a year ago.  Reading about her diagnosis and experience with bipolar disorder led me to seek more aggressive treatment which eventually led to my own diagnosis of BP.  Please give her a warm welcome as you read her beautiful words, y'all.

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The nurse directed me back to a small room in the ER where Dr. B, my psychiatrist, was waiting.

I flashed a nervous smile, pulled my sleeves over the self-inflicted cuts on my arm and said, “I’m not doing good.”

He motioned to the chair and I sat.

“I think we need to change our plans Kim. I’m going to put you on a mood stabilizer and an anti-psychotic, ones that we use to treat people with bipolar disorder.”

“What?”

“Kim, you are bipolar.”

The magnitude of the diagnosis forcefully shook the smooth path of life that I was desperately trying to get back on.

I watched as it bent and curved and crumbled.

It grew hills and jagged mountains.

The path, once full of promise, now looked vapid; felt hauntingly uninviting.

It was too loud and too quiet.

It was too bright and too dark.

It felt too euphoric and too depressed and too angry.

It was too peaceful and too whimsical.

All at the same time.

And that light I’d been trying to reach for with all of my being, the end of my battle against postpartum depression and anxiety, was thrown so far at the end of the confusion.

I let my hope drop over the ledge of the path.

*******

Bipolar 2 disorder was devastating diagnosis and at times, I refused to believe it.

I remember walking into Dr. B’s office numerous times and asking him if I was still bipolar.

Each time he nodded his head yes.

Each time I said “damn” under my breath.

For days and weeks I kept the diagnosis a secret.

I felt very ashamed of it. So much so that I dissociated myself from the people I needed most at the time.

Even my friends from a postpartum depression support group.

I felt that I just didn’t belong there.

I felt like a freak.

Through Dr. B, I’ve learned, and now believe, that there is nothing wrong about being bipolar.

There is nothing to be ashamed of.

You have cancer.

You have diabetes.

I have bipolar 2 disorder.

So what?

I’m not my illness.

My illness isn’t me.

My name is Kimberly.

I am somebody’s sister, aunt, daughter, and granddaughter.

I am a friend.

I am a Mother.

I am a wife.

I am a nurse.

I am creative.

I am sassy.

I am ridiculously funny.

I am smart.

I am compassionate.

I am in love with Chuck Norris.

I am me.

And that is beautiful.

Just like anyone with any type of medical condition, I still struggle with my illness.  I have bumps and bruises and scars from navigating this bipolar road to prove it.

But it gets better.

And I have hopes that I can live a normal life just like the rest of ‘em.

I know I can.

I just have to keep fighting every day to get there.

And I will.