World Mental Health Day Poem

 

Depression and mania, how do you do?

For a while, I was well acquainted with you

My mind it raced all night long

I stood on the deck and belted a song

I’ll write a movie, I’ll write a book

The consequences got but one look

I could do anything, or so it seemed

I’ll be on The Voice, so I dreamed

Family and friends expressed concern

Anger and confusion began to burn

I thought I was fine, I thought I was great

Yet little did I know, I wasn’t thinking straight

I traveled to places near and far

Going by plane, train, bus, or car

Sleeping little, sometimes not a wink

I gave no thought to what others would think

But then as if a switch was flipped

Lower and lower, my mood it dipped

I sat at home and ignored phone calls

Higher and higher I built my walls

Sadness and despair engulfed my being

I could not believe what I was seeing

I had no hope, my dreams were gone

Scarcely venturing past the front lawn

The spunk, the pep, it disappeared

What will become of me? To myself I feared

Yet the switch came on again with no warning

It was a welcomed change, I tackled every morning

The confidence, the travel, it all came back

Hope and ambition, no longer would I lack

I reached out to people like there was no tomorrow

Eager to share the departure of my sorrow

Instead of being happy for my new state

They began to worry and contemplate

How did this happen so rapid, so quick?

There was no sign, not even a lick

Dumbfounded again at their concern

I had bipolar, I soon would learn

At first with fright and hesitation

I was ready to take on the nation

I fought and fought with all my might

Slowly realizing they may be right

The chemical imbalance in my brain

Doesn’t mean I am insane

Soon I began to take medication

That didn’t come without complication

A new combination proved fruitful

On taking them each day, I remained dutiful

My life’s not perfect to this day

But if you struggle with mental illness, let me say

You’re not alone, not isolated

Many go through this fight

It need not be so complicated

If the treatment is just right

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Why Your Heart Isn’t Always Right

Oftentimes, you hear the phrase “Follow your heart and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” It’s something that has been embedded into our culture. You see it all over the media. It has become the cliché answer for many famous athletes, musicians, actors, etc. to give when asked about what advice they have to those who want to pursue their dreams. While it may be good advice in certain respects, it can also be dangerous. I believe there is a fine line between doing what you feel is right and listening to others. While my case may be more extreme or unique than some, it is still something to consider. 

In the most recent manic phase I had last year, I would tell you I was doing not just fine, but great, when asked. I had lost a lot of weight, I was feeling optimistic all the time, was on my way to grad school in California. What could possibly be wrong? So, when many family members and friends expressed concern, I was quite honestly baffled. I thought maybe some were just jealous at my amazing transformation. How I went from depressed to on top of the world so quickly. They don’t know every detail, they don’t see everything that is going on, I thought to myself. I became angry when anyone said anything to me that contrasted with my point of view.

In my mind, I was just following my heart. I was doing what I thought was right, and not giving a care what others thought. Where did that get me? Well, as I detailed before, it got me to the point where I was both physically and emotionally spent, exhausted from a lot of trips from here to there, usually not getting great quality sleep along the way.

Finally, I started to realize that maybe others were right. Maybe my “heart” was actually leading me astray. I had fallen into the trap set by the people I looked up to. Anyone who says they “made it” without the help of anyone, without listening to advice from others, is lying. Too often, it seems more dramatic and amazing if a musician, or athlete, or anyone, paints the picture that they made it to where they are by “silencing all the haters” and doing things their way. You see, the idea that your heart will never lead you the wrong way is, quite honestly, not true, especially for people with mental illnesses.

Perhaps I am, as I said, an extreme example of how taking this advice too far can be dangerous. However, I am not here to say that pursuing a passion is always a bad thing. I have a passion for writing, for example, and am following it by writing this blog. The difference between this and the other things I “pursued” is that I am not worrying others by doing it. Rather, I have received a great amount of support and am grateful for that.

Yes, you may have to make sacrifices to do things that you want to do, to make your goals a reality, yet the idea that “people who criticize you just don’t get you” is not really the best advice. If you are leaving friends and family in the dust because you are pursuing your dreams, following your heart to the promised land, maybe it is time to rethink things a little bit. Is it really worth it to turn yourself into an island? It is possible that all these “haters” really do have a point. Most of the time, people who speak out, especially those that know you, are speaking from a place of concern and care, not because they are jealous and are trying to bring you down.

I am all for going after things, for taking risks and shooting for the stars. With my life’s mission unclear at this point, I find myself trying to listen more to others. Trying to take advice from others more seriously. The main point I am trying to make here is that nobody can become anything alone. In my opinion, the notion of individuality, the idea that you need to be unique and make a name for yourself by yourself, is one that has been taken too far.

This brings me to the flip side of the advice of not listening to anyone else. Another cliché is that “nobody can do anything alone.” While this advice can be dangerous as well, as you don’t want to depend too much on others, it is probably closer to the truth than “follow your heart and disregard the opinions of others.”

As I said before in blogs, I did have an attitude that I was taking on the world by myself. Let me tell you, it can be quite exhausting. It drains all your energy to constantly feel like you are defending yourself, trying to explain why you’re right and they’re wrong. It makes it especially difficult if you are doing this with close family and friends.

I was thinking of how I was going to build a life for myself, trying to draw inspiration from musicians, athletes, anyone, who I felt had made a success story by themselves. However, I didn’t really consider that these musicians had teachers growing up, that they had family who believed in them, and ultimately a record label to sign them, fans to support them, and radios to play their songs. Athletes always had coaches and numerous family members/friends to help them along the way.

This last paragraph may seem silly to some. You may have read it and thought “Well, duh, isn’t it obvious that you need support of others to achieve your goals?” Yes, it is obvious to many. However, when you’re caught up in the moment, in the midst of the worst period of a mental illness, things like that aren’t really so obvious. What is obvious to you is your world, your reality. That reality, however, is skewed by your brain chemistry, something you can’t control.

I guess this whole experience has made me more sensitive to others with mental illnesses. I certainly see how you can be caught up in your own world. No matter how much people try to tell you otherwise, you feel you’re right and they’re wrong. When people laugh and call others “crazy”, I think of how they may be suffering from some type of mental illness that they can’t control without the help of professionals or maybe medication. The catch 22 and sad part of all this, and the challenge to getting people to take the medication or see a professional, is that oftentimes people can’t see what may be off, just as I couldn’t when I was caught up.

Now, that last paragraph could become a whole post on its own, but I think it’s time to wrap things up. Like I said in the beginning, my case may not be an ordinary one of how not listening to others can go awry. However, I think it can apply to anyone. It can be little things, like if people are always telling you to try doing a simple little thing differently. Or if your mom is always on you, telling you not to wait until the last minute to do your homework. You see, I think anyone can benefit from trying to listen to the advice of others more, rather than trying to tackle the world head on by themselves. It is possible, maybe even probable, that the world would be a better place that way.

On a side note: This ended up being the longest post I have made so far. Before writing it, I was struggling to even find the words to say anything. I didn’t have some big inspiration I may have had in other posts. So, if you want to do something, sometimes the biggest thing is just taking the first step and then letting the pieces fall as they may.

From Then to Now

Upon waking up, Facebook reminded me of a post I made a year ago. On this date, I announced my decision to leave Holyoke Medical Center after working there for almost two years. This caused me to start thinking about how my life is now compared to what it was then. Back then, my mind jumped rapidly from idea to idea, usually without any real reason. As I had explained in earlier posts, that could be called a manic phase. I was probably around the beginning, or maybe middle of it, but didn’t really know what was going on. I simply felt like I was doing really well considering I had been very depressed for the last few months.

The exact thought process is still somewhat hazy to me, as every decision happened so fast, but I remember at one point switching from planning on moving in with cousins in Springfield to deciding on a whim that I would go to grad school in California. Looking back, it is hard to see the logic in the decision. Possibly, I was thinking it was then or never to make a move for the future. I thought if I didn’t do something drastic right then and there, my life wouldn’t work out. Obviously, I didn’t decide to go to California for grad school. It definitely was the right decision, as I didn’t have the money for housing, nor was it planned out well at all.

A staple of the phase I was in last year was spur of the moment trips that were not planned out well at all. One of them included going to see the singer Melanie Martinez in DC and New York on back to back nights. Travelling by bus, I gave no real thought to the extra costs of food or the toll not having a real comfortable place to sleep would take on my body. Another spur of the moment trip was taken to Toronto to see the Blue Jays play the Orioles for the Wild Card game. Although a fun trip and great game, it was still a rather foolish decision to go there by myself and spend the money I did when you factor in the Air B n B, the food, the bus, and the ticket, among other things like a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The whole phase culminated in another spur of the moment decision to book a trip to California with no plans of where to stay really. I remember thinking I would visit the grad school, but one night ended up buying several tickets to concerts and a hockey game. I was luckily able to stay with a cousin who was kind enough to take me in, but the visit was cut short, as he could see I was very emotional. I was at a breaking point after all the crazy trips and travel. Again, I had no thought of the cost of getting around to all these concerts and events I had planned. I ended up selling all but one of the tickets. I remember breaking down right before the flight back home, as I had misplaced my wallet the night before in downtown LA. Thankfully, I was able to get it back eventually, as I left it at a convenience store, but again, that goes to show the state of mind I was in.

As the month has now turned to September this year, I am glad to have started a new position recently at a running store doing something I enjoy. After a couple of recent jobs didn’t work out, I am glad to find something more promising. Although still in training, I can see how gratifying it can be to fit someone with the right shoe. You have the opportunity to really help people out and possible change the quality of their life for the better.

I reread the article I shared last year to go with the post about leaving Holyoke Medical Center, which talked about the impact bias. The basic gist of it is that people overestimate their future happiness. Someone may think they will be so much better off when they get a new car, but the excitement soon wears off and they are back to living their normal life.

I fell into this trap somewhat when I started to take medications a little less than a year ago. I thought my life would take off and be perfect very quickly. Although it is definitely better, as I haven’t gone on any impulsive trips in the last year, it isn’t exactly how I imagined. For one, I thought I would have moved out of the house by now, but I am grateful to have a new job opportunity that will allow me to start saving at least some money. The whole point of the article was enjoying the now, the today. That is the real experience of your life, not some far-fetched future vision of what it may be and how happy you may be. As many have heard before, nothing is guaranteed but today. As cheesy as it may sound, it’s true. I shouldn’t be dreaming about how things will be if a certain event takes place. Rather, I should stay in the moment and try to enjoy what I have now.

If I had to describe my life now vs. a year ago, I would say it has seemed to slow down, but in a good way. I am no longer making rapid fire decisions for the most part. I am able to think about the whole picture of a choice and not put myself into those poorly planned situations. Jumping into something without a plan can be exciting and bold, but for the most part, it is more likely than not to lead to negative consequences. I’ve learned that it is OK to not have my whole future planned out, whereas at this time a year ago, I was in quite a rush to make things happen, with or without a solid plan.

At this point, I am trying to go with the flow more and trust things will work out how they are supposed to. I am probably more optimistic than I have been in a while at this moment. Unfortunately, I had a false or artificial sense of optimism this time last year due to my mind playing tricks on me. As tough as it was to finally realize that, I feel I am a better and stronger person now that I have been through it. The roller coaster ride of emotions I was on has now slowed down. As fun as roller coasters can be, I’d have to say I’m quite alright with hopping off the ride for now.

A Concert For Free With Timeflies and Bea

Last night, Hollister hosted a unique concert in Boston at Artists for Humanity with performances by Timeflies and Bea Miller. I found out about the event through Twitter and was able to snag a free ticket on the Hollister website the day before. There were many highlights of the day and event, with the most unexpected coming after the show.

I arrived to the city around 12 and headed to the Boston Common area. There, I passed by some locations that reminded me of key times in my journey of bipolar.

I saw the Wilbur Theatre, a place I had visited to see Melissa Etheridge with my dad and a cousin almost a year ago today. It was a show that for my dad was a real treat, as he was thrilled to see how close we were to the stage. However, I remember during that period being so bogged down by depression that I couldn’t fully appreciate the show. Looking back, it is cool I was able to see her. I’m sure it was meaningful for my dad also to have me there while he was seeing one of his favorite artists, whether I was depressed or not.

I also saw the Orpheum Theatre where I saw the singer Alessia Cara just a few short months later this past October. In a turn of events I described in an earlier post, I was now in a manic phase. I broke down crying at one point during the show, overwhelmed by emotions of missing my mom and feeling caught in the middle between growing up but in some ways wanting to hold onto the past. During that phase, my emotions were on overdrive, with everything seeming extremely emotional to me.

I didn’t think about these two places much more than when I passed them, but thinking about those phases more, I have an odd feeling. It’s not necessarily nostalgia or a longing to go back to them, but rather a feeling that they are part of who I am. Therefore, they do carry a special meaning to me, even if I wasn’t in the best state of mind at either point, if that makes any sense.

Back to the concert. I got there to wait in line around 4:15, with doors scheduled to open around 6. A relatively experienced concert waiter, I have the motto of better safe than sorry when it comes to shows.

Jumping forward, I was able to get into the show and get a great spot near the stage. Hollister went all out for the event, providing plenty of free food, drinks, and other gifts such as a t-shirt and drawstring bag.

One of the highlights for me was the performance of Bea Miller. A singer who is 18 and was on the X Factor at just 13, coming in ninth place, Bea is short but has a very powerful voice. She recently released her second of 3 “chapters” of 3 songs, and is certainly an artist worth checking out if you are into pop music.

Another highlight transpired when Cal of Timeflies ran down into the crowd, coming right up to me. I gave him a pat on the back as he was recording the crowd for a YouTube video, singing their well-known hit “I Choose U.”

To cap off the night, while riding back from the show on the T, I noticed a picture of Bea and Cal I posted on Twitter (the one featured here) was getting more traction than usual. At first not knowing what it was about, I hopped over to Bea Miller’s page to find she had retweeted it, the equivalent of sharing a photo on Facebook. The likes were coming in quite quickly, with Timeflies soon retweeting it as well about an hour later. The combination of retweets resulted in nearly 50,000 people seeing the picture so far. I didn’t want to make this the whole focus of the post, but it was pretty cool I was able to capture a picture they both recognized and shared.

In a new “Coming Soon” feature of this blog, I decided to give a sneak peek of the next post, which may come tomorrow or Saturday:

Coming Soon: The AL East is heating up, with new life being breathed into the Red Sox/ Yankees rivalry.

Mental Health Language

How many times have you heard some variation of the phrase “Looks like someone forgot to take their meds today” or even said it? I certainly know I have heard it plenty of times. Now, this is not meant to attack anyone or say you’re a horrible person if you ever have said something like that. Rather, it is just to get people thinking. Phrases like this, along with others like “I must be bipolar or something, my emotions are all over the place today” are used a little too freely in my opinion. Just as most people are probably aware of refraining from saying things like “that’s so gay” when describing something that makes them upset or frustrated or that they don’t like, they should be aware of the language they use when describing mental illnesses.

Oftentimes, people say things along the lines of what was described above without even thinking twice. I feel this in a way trivializes mental illnesses and people who do indeed take medications for them. As someone who takes medications and sometimes struggles with the thought of it, hearing a joke about someone who is acting silly or different than usual forgetting to take their meds does bother me a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dwell on it all the time, but I have thought about it enough to feel like I wanted to write a post about it.

Even in popular culture, there are references to mental illnesses that are not particularly considerate. In a song “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kingston that came out when I was in high school, he sings “They’ll have me suicidal, suicidal when they say it’s over.” Now, is he actually saying he will want to kill himself when a girl breaks up with him? Probably not. Personally, I think he is using that word in a way to try to convey just how heartbroken he would be, but that probably isn’t the best choice of words to describe his feelings. Someone who actually is suicidal probably wouldn’t appreciate hearing it in a somewhat glamorized fashion in song lyrics. The song got a lot of radio play and probably millions of people sang it without really thinking of the real connotation of those lyrics, showing how this type of language can spread quickly. This is just an example of something that came to my mind first when thinking about this whole topic.

Going back to when I described someone saying their emotions are all over the place and saying they are bipolar, the sentence is oftentimes accompanied by a laugh by them or others laughing with them. This is something I heard someone say at work just recently, and I know she is not aware I do have bipolar. Thus, the point is, you don’t know the story or situation of everyone around you. If you make some kind of joke like that, it may actually be upsetting to someone else who’s affected by bipolar or other disorders. It also shows there is a real misconception among many people about what bipolar actually is. A common perception is of Jekyll and Hyde, where someone who has bipolar is constantly  changing moods on a dime. However, in my case and probably in many other cases, that is not true. As I explained in an earlier post, I had phases of ups and downs. Yes, I do have some mood swings sometimes, maybe more than many people, but the majority of them when I was untreated came in cycles, not rapidly fluctuating throughout the day.

As I said before, this is not meant to criticize anyone who may read this. It is only to bring awareness to the topic. What is the real solution? Simply try to think about the phrasing you use in everyday conversations regarding mental illnesses, and to encourage others to do the same. You never really know how what you say could affect others due to conditions they struggle with. This is not to say that the whole field of mental health has not made great strides, especially recently. In general, it seems like people do accept the legitimacy of mental illnesses more than ever. With people speaking out about mental illnesses more and more and there being better quality care, I am very grateful and happy in general about the state of affairs. However, there still is some work to be done as far as realizing the need to be more sensitive in regards to language used around mental health disorders.