Mental health

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.  

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg

#WorldBipolarDay: I'm More Than a Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with "rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2" in July 2011.

Since then I've tried combinations of 7 different medications at varying doses in an attempt to find a medication regimen that's effective. Under the guidance of an experienced OBGYN and a psychiatrist with a background in pharmacology, I took 2 out of 3 of medications during my last pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Lamictal has always been the stabilizer that works the best and is my favorite. It's the only medication that's given me minimal side effects. Last year I ditched Prozac for Lithium, and while I still cycle between episodes of depression and hypomania, adding Lithium has 1) made them milder than what I'm used to and 2) given me longer periods of stability between each one. 

I've had 2 therapists and 3 psychiatrists. I was hospitalized in October 2012 for suicidal ideations.  

My greatest fear is that despite treatment, this illness wil still find a way to take me from this life before I'm ready.

HOWEVER.

I'm an artist. 

A mother.  

A wife.  

A USAF Veteran.  

A survivor.  

An advocate.  

A devoted Prince fan.  

I may grapple with the symptoms and reality of this illness, but I'm not ashamed of it. It defines parts of me but not others. It is a part of who I am but I am not it. I'm more than this diagnosis, and day in, and day out, I make a conscious choice to fight for my life and my health every day. 

So here's to 5 years since I walked into the VA mental health clinic in Philly with my baby strapped to my chest, sweating and anxious, ready to end my life, but walked out with answers and a treatment plan instead. 

Here's to those of you doing what you can to stay healthy and present in your lives every day as you manage this beast of an illness. We can do this. I believe in us.

image.jpg

*Last year I was privileged to share about my experiences living with bipolar disorder for a new website for patients and caregivers called  More Than My Diagnosis.  There you can find videos from actual people living with mental health conditions discussing topics such as self-care, treatment, managing day to day life + relationships + working, and what it's like to live with a chronic mental illness. It's an incredible resource-check it out and share it with someone you know who might benefit from it!* 

Smudging

I went into the studio this morning looking for bubble wrap. When I realized there was none to be found and I'd have to take an unplanned trip to Target I grunted something unintelligible out of frustration. On my way out I passed by this piece on paper I've been re-doing over the last week. Without thinking much of it, I started to gently smudge the lines of charcoal and pencil I'd made. It was quick, perhaps not even 5 minutes from start to finish...but it calmed my mind, released the tension I felt piling up in my shoulders, and released the pressure valve that always gets stuck on Monday mornings when I'm trying to B-E PRODUCTIVE and flailing haphazardly  in the process. 

I think I can say this piece is "done". I still haven't washed off the smudges.

image.jpg

Funk

Today was hard. I can't exactly identify why. It appeared out of nowhere-I definitely didn't feel like this yesterday. Or over the weekend. Today I felt heavy and the weight of it (whatever It is) overwhelmed me in waves of unease and discomfort thought the day. 

I couldn't shake it either. I tried. Tuesdays are studio days, so I spent time trying to evade what I was feeling by continuing to work on the sheets of canvas I started last night.  

image.jpg

I couldn't get any of the writing done that I had planned but I worked my way through these, hoping the agitation and heaviness would lift as I did. They were a helpful distraction but not the remedy I was hoping for. On his lunch break and after work, my husband kept asking if I was ok, so I know he could see it too. Sometimes I'm pretty adept at masking where I'm at or what I'm carrying (survival mechanism), but today he could see it. "You look like you've got something on your spirit. You ok?" I wanted to say yes with confidence and meet his eyes. Instead I just  mumbled something about being tired and having a lot on my mind and looked away. 

I don't know. It's hard. If I can't understand what's suddenly thrown my mind and mood off, how am I supposed to explain it to someone else? Things are just..."off" today and I don't have any explanation for it other than it's just the nature of my illness and sometimes that's just life. Both are inconsiderate assholes who do whatever they want regardless of what you're trying to maintain and accomplish day to day. Sometimes Life and Bipolar Disorder don't care that you're taking your meds, engaging in your creative outlets, and fighting to thrive. Some days they scream FUCK YOU like petulant toddlers and force you to just deal with their funk. 

So that's what I did today. I dealt with the funk. After following current events closely yesterday, I read nothing about them today. I didn't write but I painted. I'm going to go to bed early, remind myself this heaviness will pass, and strengthen my resolve to not give up. Tomorrow's a new day. Hopefully funk free. 

Always Gone Til November

I've been thinking a lot about the rhythms, patterns, and cycles that exist in my life lately, particularly those related to my mental health.  After years of living off and on with depression and anxiety, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 in July 2011. Looking back 4 years later, the significance of the timing of such a critical diagnosis isn't lost on me. Since I was 19 years old, July has consistently been a month of conflict or strife either in my relationships with others or my relationship with myself. It is also THE month where definitive moments or events take place that transform my life on some level. 

Some examples include...

  • July 2002: I enlisted in the United States Air Force at age 19 while being estranged from my family. 
  • July 2006: Found out I'd be raising my first, Brennan, on my own without his father. 
  • July 2009: Conceived Alex, shortly after beginning to date my husband. 
  • July 2014: Read my piece "America's Not Here For Us" as a VOTY honoree at BlogHer 14
  • July 2015: Took part in my first art exhibit + Moved to California

I don't really know why Life decides to show up exactly in the middle of the year and begin rearranging everything I've spent the first half of the year building...or sometimes just getting through. I don't understand why it feels the need to test the bonds and boundaries of my relationships with others either. Seems like kind of an asshole thing to do in my opinion, growth and forward movement notwithstanding. What I do know is that once August arrives, I'm reeling from the impact, my mind and mood thrown off kilter. What adds to this particular rhythm of mayhem and fuckery is my annual onset of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. I'm not really sure why my SAD symptoms get triggered as early as mid-August. I think some of if it is due to stress from whatever was kicked into motion in my life the month before, and I think it's just my body & brain chemistry's natural response to Fall's impending arrival. Whatever the case, it descends and stays, triggering the rapid cycling aspect of my illness until the end of October. I also notice a similar pattern with milder symptoms when Winter starts to near its end, and Spring begins to awaken. 

While medication has helped stem the frequency, some days the cycling between hypomania and depression still occurs hourly once Fall kicks into high gear. Others it's daily, but usually I just find myself in what they call a "mixed" state: hypomanic and depressed. Only my hypomania doesn't manifest as boundless stores of energy that send me skyrocketing through the stratosphere, and rarely does the depression have me sink so low into its gravity well that I become enveloped in a darkness I can't see my way out of. For me, a mixed state usually just results in my living in a daily state of agitation and unreconcilable tension. The weight of it rests in spread eagle fashion across my shoulders. The pressure causes migraines. Bearing it means I'm exhausted but sometimes unable to turn off my brain enough to sleep before midnight. Thoughts buzz incessantly and noisily around. My focus and concentration fragment into abstract bits and pieces, leaving me to sweat from anxiety while I stand in the bread aisle in the grocery store and try to remember why I'm there and who these kids are calling me "Mom". My productivity goes down, way down, throttling my creative practice and output. I become withdrawn, selectively social, unable to tolerate the noise of social media, and the desire to disappear from it rages strong. I want to accomplish all the things and then abandon them for someone else and some other life where I'm only responsible for myself. It's this constant see-saw action that I am the first to admit renders me a less than pleasant person to live with...but I fight to contain it. I spend so much of my time working to keep its grubby paws off my relationships with my husband and children, I have little energy to keep it from impacting the one I have with myself, and that's what always winds up suffering the most. 

Then as quickly as it shows up, it leaves, dissipating until the next shift in season, until the following July. Literally overnight. I awake on November 1st and feel the fog that was clouding my brain lifting. My body suddenly feels lighter. Simple bodily movements like lifting my arms, extending my legs, and turning my face toward the day are easy again. My mind is busy but calm, quiet but ALIVE with ideas, focus and concentration locked in on exactly how I should structure my day, my mothering, our living. My desire to create roars voraciously. Words return to dance impatiently upon the tip of my tongue waiting to be brought to life, and my eyes turn back to viewing my world through paint and color. I become introspective and hyper-focused on dreams and life goals, asking intuition to guide me on where to head next. I go back to being the more congealed, fuller and more embodied version of myself. The one I like and recognize when I look in the mirror. 

I went to bed Saturday night with a flailing, disjointed brain chemistry, and woke up on Sunday morning with it having fallen back in step with a much steadier rhythm, working more fluidly in conjunction with other components of my treatment plan. I woke up feeling alive and released from Fall's vice like grip. It hasn't been the worst Fall I've experienced, but it has still forced me to accept it's the one time of the year I'm the most vulnerable and susceptible to my illness, and that is why when I woke up on Sunday, I took full advantage. I threw myself into the tasks that in weeks prior triggered overwhelm: cleaning the house, meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, yard work, preparing us for the week ahead, cleaning up my workspace in the garage. 

 It was a relief to feel the desire to thrive coursing through my veins, pumping in rhythm with the hope beating wildly in my heart again. Hello, November. I've missed you. 


Mood: Above & Below (Current State of Heart & Mind)

Internally, it's been a hell of a week. Externally, I'm doing what I can to function as heart, mind, & body continue to process current events and change.  

Floating above Life's surface and sinking below it. Lately I've been experiencing both simultaneously. It's an odd, agitating state of existence.  

I'm not as graceful and composed about navigating this cyclical up and down movement between surviving and thriving as I'd like to be, but my gut urges me to keep pressing my way through irregardless of appearance and ability. I've learned from experience that forward movement helps me maintain resiliency and fight. It's a survival skill that undergirds me with hope and helps me employ self-care tools along the way when necessary. It keeps me striving to find the beauty in the mess, brokenness, and chaos that comes with living, motherhood, bipolar disorder, and being a person who loves words & imagery, sound & color. 

My goal as I do is to keep heart and mind intact, even when both are reeling and leaping between multiple thoughts and feelings. 

It's not always a pretty or fluid process, but I guess not much is in this life, right? 

image.jpg

Breathe In. Breathe Out.

image.jpg

I'm not used to living here yet. We've been here just over a month now. Friends and family ask how I like it so far and the only answer I have is this: the weather. There's something about the weather that's made me realize how much I need this kind of weather as much as I need therapy, medication, and my hands working paint on canvas. Especially in the evening after navigating life, motherhood, illness and all other intersecting points of my existence, the breeze is refreshing. It breathes into and restores. It fills and carries and quietly settles my soul. During the day it's deliciously warm without becoming stifling. (I didn't realize how stifling Austin was for me personally in some ways until coming here.) The constant infusion of Vitamin D during the day paired with cool breezes in the evenings has reset and centered my mind & mood in ways I didn't anticipate. I also didn't anticipate the tears that gather at the base of my eyes at random as I go about settling in here. There are moments when they gather slowly...others they come rushing, swelling, and crashing on top of me in a way that kicks my chest in. They come on inhales and break me open when the exhales shakily emerge free. I don't know what's been broken and set free, rebuilt and released within me but the tears have me mindful that something is taking place...

We leave our doors and windows open practically all day and my hands press the buttons to roll down the windows instead of reach for the AC when we climb into the car.  I can breathe fully here. Not sure why. I didn't realize I had stopped doing that in Austin until I took my first full breaths of evening air here. Interesting. I don't know what our lives will consist of here or what California will be/come to us. I don't know how I like it yet. I just know I'm breathing again. 

How I Get Through This Thing Called Our Life.

image.jpg

"How do you manage everything on your plate and stay sane?" she asked somewhat laughingly but her eyes were completely serious. They earnestly searched mine as she grabbed his hand to take him to the back, imploring me to answer honestly.

The grappling, pulling, juggling, managing, navigating and maneuvering, keeping track and keeping pace, doing it sometimes alone, the grind, keeping it straight, holding it altogether, the staying afloat and standing upright even when your knees are buckling, the work. This work of parenting, living, surviving and grinding to thrive internally and externally. Life.  

How do any of us do it?  

"Medication," I answered with a smile. "And color. Always color. The bolder and richer the better, honey."

She nodded. "Then I guess I should tell you that Orange is definitely your power color. Every time I see you wearing it, you emanate strength. I'm going to miss seeing your colorful self and the boys here every week. I know the others here will too-we love your family."  

I swallowed back a rising flood of tears and let out a shaky breath as I smiled back. 

 "NOPE. We can't do this yet. We have three more visits left before we can get emotional about saying bye. I can't really admit it's happening because I'm still just not ready for this change to occur, you know? I know it's going to be fine, but I'm just not ready."

We hug and she takes Alex into the gym, joking with him as he skips next to her laughing. N comes and scoops up Austin, sing song-ing her hello in an effort to quell his anxiety during the transition from the waiting room to the gym. He cries like usual but I wave and smile reassuringly to let him know it's going to be fine. They disappear behind the door and I turn to Brennan. He's already engrossed himself into Creative Mode on Minecraft, and when I reach out to give his shoulder a squeeze, he looks up and smiles, scooting closer to me on the seat. 

I exhale and allow it to quiet my mind as I insert my headphones, shuffle through my library and press Play. 

This is how I do it. The living and grinding. The managing and standing upright when my knees are buckling as I do the work to thrive. 

Medication, honesty, color, reaching out for support, loving gestures in moments and in ways I didn't experience as a child. That's how I do this thing called our Life.