Several weeks ago I was hospitalized for severe depression. I’d been dealing with a stressful project at work, my father’s terminal illness, and just getting over a painful breakup. For weeks it felt like I was drowning in my own head. I constantly felt exhausted. Simple tasks, like showering and getting something to eat, felt like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro without oxygen. Crying for no reason became the new norm. I went through my normal routine, numb and almost robot-like and could not find it within me to feel any pleasure in what I did. My range of emotion was limited to sad, hopeless, and angry. I’d suffered from depression and anxiety most of my adult life, but I realized how bad it was getting when I started to have recurring suicidal ideations.
These ideations were what scared me the most. I had no control over my mind. It didn’t matter what I was doing, thoughts of ending my life became persistent. In a sick way, the thought of dying provided comfort in finally putting an end to my misery.
One morning, I had an extremely difficult time getting out of bed. I slowly showered, dressed for work, drove to the office, and told my boss that I was afraid I was going hurt myself. He knew about my struggle with depression and I explained my life was so unbearable that I wanted to end it. I cannot remember much, but I do know I was brought to the psych unit of the ER. I cried hysterically several times, begging the hospital staff not to admit me to the psych ward.
I was admitted to another hospital for short-term hospitalization where I was stabilized with medication and group therapy. I am currently in outpatient therapy to learn coping skills, stress management, and recognize behaviors that I need to work on.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a chronic brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
I am Bipolar II which means I have patterns of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes, which involve elevated, high-energy moods. When I am hypomanic, I feel extremely energetic, talkative, and overly confident. For example, I’ll take on dozens of tasks at work and insist I do them on my own. Most of the time, I’m unable to complete the unrealistic goal I’d set for myself.
My psychiatrist said I am a high functioning bipolar. I’d been misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder all these years. Everyone that knows me thinks I’m a workaholic overachiever with a sweet, bubbly, outgoing personality. They think I have this tank of never-ending energy when I am up until 3:00 a.m. baking batches upon batches of cookies for no reason. Or when I can take care of a sick family member at the hospital all day and then answer work emails until 4:00 a.m. night after night for a week and not feel exhausted. I learned that this was also my hypomania.
No one ever saw the depression because I have mastered the art of hiding it from everyone, including most of my family and exes (even the last guy, who also had bipolar). When I am agitated or what I now know is an unstable mood, I always make a deliberate effort to be kind to those I interact with because I’m a firm believer that you never know what kind of day they’re having. It was only when I was alone that I allowed the dark depression to devour me and keeping up this act of normalcy took its toll.
MANAGING MY DISORDER IS MY RESPONSIBILITY.
The key to leading a happy, functional life is managing my disorder to the best of my abilities. Thanks to my ex boyfriend (also bipolar), I have a huge head start in educating myself about the disorder. I am fortunate to have a strong support system to help me cope and finally adjust to my new reality.
I am doggedly determined to maintain my stability and health not just for myself, but the people in my life. I am working out a plan with my doctor and therapist to make sure I stay on track. I am learning to manage my stress and look out for triggers. And most of all, I am holding myself accountable for how I manage my disorder moving forward.
I’ve seen so many negative things in the media about people struggling with bipolar. Not one bipolar person is the same -and to negatively label all of us is ignorant and requires more education about the disorder. We, with bipolar, also ask for empathy and understanding. I know good people who struggle with this disorder; who work incredibly hard every day to maintain their stability for themselves and their families.
I did not choose to be bipolar. No one with this disorder did.
[Editor’s Note: This post is a personal account of one of our contributors who asked their name be kept private. If you or someone you know is suffering with depression and feels unsafe, please go to your nearest emergency room or call 9-1-1.]
Did you know teens read nonfiction too? And, no, we don’t just mean Wikipedia or sources for research papers. A lot of questions come up during adolescence, and sometimes when you’re a teen, you want to find a reliable answer without having to consult another person (or swim in the sea of too many conflicting answers known as the Internet). This little video highlights some of the Teen Nonfiction Collection at HCLS.
Summer is not half way done and many of us are involved in the back to school process. Educators, parents and students will all experience that half-excitement, half-dread, pit-of-the-stomach feeling that unfamiliar experiences and change generate. And of course, there is a picture book for that. Lots of them. Reminding us that we can do this.
A little girl in a humongous blue-striped helmet chooses a bike, practices a lot, and (aided by a patient guy in a green tie) learns to ride. The gentle text offers pithy encouragement. “Let’s go! . . . Watch everyone ride . . . They all learned how . . . Come on, let’s give it a try . . . Training wheels are helpful . . . They keep you from tipping over.” Raschka’s well-chosen words, spread over several pages, admonish: “Find the courage to try it again, again, and again until… by luck, grace, and determination you are riding a bicycle!” Raschka deconstructs what’s needed to acquire this skill (which may be unique for its lessons on the physics of motion and the rewards of self-reliance), but also suggests the complexity of achieving balance and independence in any of life’s transitions.
From those wobbly first steps to those wobbly last steps, it’s all about the balance. And if you have a cheerleader and someone to catch you that’s an extra bonus.
Kevin Henkes’ wonderfully appealing child-mouse has a stubborn habit: worrying. Wemberly, a shy white mouse with gray spots, always feels nervous. “At the playground, Wemberly worried about/ the chains on the swings,/ and the bolts on the slide,/ and the bars on the jungle gym.” She tells her father, “Too rusty. Too loose. Too high,” while sitting on a park bench watching the other mice play. Her security, a rabbit doll named Petal (rarely leaves her grip. Henkes lists Wemberly’s worries, “Big things” heads the list, paired with a vignette of the heroine checking on her parents in the middle of the night with a flashlight, “I wanted to make sure you were still here.” He shows how Wemberly’s anxieties peak at the start of nursery school with huge text that dwarfs illustrations. At school Wemberly meets another girl mouse, Jewel, who turns out to be a kindred spirit (she even carries her own worn doll). Henkes offers no solutions, handling the subject with realistic gentleness; while playing with Jewel, “Wemberly worried. But no more than usual. And sometimes even less.”
Sometimes you just want to know that you are not the only one. A perfect book for those with anxiety and for those who ‘don’t understand what all the fuss is about’.
Sometimes you need to be your own cheerleader and this girl has it covered. No matter what she does, wherever she goes, or what others think of her, she likes herself because, as she says, “I’m ME!”. Evoking Dr. Seuss’s work with quirky absurdity, she is so full of joy that readers will love her. Even with “-stinky toes/or horns protruding from my nose”. The rhymes are goofy, the illustrations are zany (for the “I like me on the inside” verse, he shows the narrator and her horrified dog in X-ray mode).
Whatever new experiences await you, you can do this! And we have a book, DVD, or e-resource that might help. See you at the library.
Have you ever experienced an emotion that you could not explain or describe? If you have, you can attest to this unexplained emotion leading to even more indescribable emotions. Before you know it, you are left feeling like you don’t understand yourself.
I have had experiences where loved ones have told me to “be happier” or “calm down” after I try to explain what I’m feeling. These dismissive responses have caused me to repress my emotions at times; as if they didn’t exist. You can’t just “be happy” because someone told you that you should be. In fact, you shouldn’t tell someone how and when to feel a certain way. Instead, be respectful of their feelings and find ways to help them.
Many people living with depression and/or anxiety can’t always put their feelings into words. Much less, explain why it’s happening, just that it is. The society we live in is very good at prescribing solutions to fix, assist, or aid in one’s physical health. If we tell a friend we’ve broken our arm, the solution is a cast. If we have any kind of physical illness or disease we have everything from physical therapy to surgery to address these ailments. Unfortunately, when it comes to emotional health (and intelligence) our friends and family aren’t always able to come up with tangible solutions. In fact, mental wellness is often seen as a more abstract concept and, sadly, isn’t always taken seriously.
Working to recognize your emotions (and the emotions of others) and the ability to distinguish between different feelings is key. Once you’re able to identify your emotions and the feelings that come with them, you can use that information to guide your thinking and behavior. Having a plan and taking action to healthfully address your state of mind is an essential step in managing your wellness. A few examples include: examining your diet and exercise regimen, trying meditation, exploring a new hobby, exploring the outdoors, making time for yourself, talking with a close friend or therapist, and coloring. These are just a few ways you can find positive behaviors that can make you both happier and healthier.
Each person experiences life, and the world around them, in a different way. So, the answers to their emotional needs will be just as diverse. Let’s find more ways to be more understanding and practice compassion when the people around us are comfortable sharing their feelings. Besides, we’re on this planet to help each other.
Modern life is riddled with many problems and situations involving SWAT. This is a constant, perennial, and vexing by-product of our current lifestyles. As such, SWAT, in one form or another, follows us like a shadow, everywhere. They rob us of the sense of freedom and enjoyment we should experience from living our everyday lives.
Stress is caused by feelings of anxiety, tension, and worry about situations (or unpleasant experiences) that are happening to us. They cause a great deal of psychological and emotional distress and pain. Often, this manifests itself in the form of a sense of helplessness and lack of control. Their effects are pernicious on both body and mind: constant irritability, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, inability to concentrate and to deal with the various tasks at hand that need our attention. Consequently, time, energy, and money are often wasted in unproductive ways to combat SWAT. Some seek quick relief for their distress, in remedies such as: drugs, alcohol, smoking, binge eating, and compulsive shopping—all of which only compounds the problem, without solving the underlying root causes.
Of course, there are other cheaper and more sensible short-term remedies:
(1) Take a walk; (2) Listen to music; (3) Enjoy nature (smell the flowers); (4) Try to feel grateful for what you have; (5) Read a good book such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.
Ask yourself, “Is the SWAT caused by some self-imposed, misguided values and beliefs which trip you into doing things and engage in activities causing more harm than good?”
Common SWAT Situations:
1. I have no time! Many Time-starved modern families find themselves too busy, trying to do too many tasks, which cannot all be completed within a certain time period– (day, week, or month). Are all of them really necessary? Do they all make sense? Will these activities/choices help to improve your ultimate Quality of Life? If the answers to these questions are mostly negative, then, you should Prioritize these tasks. Give up what is really not important for your long-term wellbeing. Concentrate on a few, and let the others go. “Don’t bite more than you can chew”. Or, as Thoreau advised: “Simplify, Simplify”.
2. I don’t have the money. Are you spending too much? Are you unable to meet your multiple financial obligations? Finding too many bills in the mailbox? Then, look for possible solutions such as: (a) Cut your spending as much as possible immediately; (b) Sell some assets (stuff) and pay off your debts carrying high interest rates; (c) Increase your income temporarily by working overtime/2nd job; (d) Try to re-arrange (stretch) your monthly payments by investigating cheaper, more affordable loans (refinancing); (e) Find out if someone (friends/family/employer) can help you out a bit; (f) Downsize your dwelling/car/association memberships/subscriptions/gifts/donations, etc. (f) Look for other ‘creative’ solutions to increase cash ‘inflows’ and reduce ‘outflows’—depending on your situation.
3. I can’t let go. Don’t try to win every game, all the time. Remember: “It is the journey that is important; not the destination– (or winning)”. Sticking to this wise counsel can save your sanity, and free yourself from many unhappy, hopeless situations/goals, such as—climbing the proverbial “Corporate ladder”, trying to win every argument; getting ahead of others in sports/competitions, building wealth, and various aspects of getting ahead “in the game of life”.
4. I can’t deal. Bend, not break- trying to change others—their habits, values, political and religious beliefs, attitudes and expectations—generally don’t work. Other people are just as fastidious as you are. It is far more sensible and productive to change yourself, before trying to change others. This is within your control, and therefore, doable. It is up to you to try.
5. I’m not happy. Contentment. Enjoy what you have, right now; and don’t fret over the future too much. Have realistic goals. Keep striving, while practicing self-control, with discipline and determination. This will improve your physical and mental health.
6. I have nothing to offer. Finally, try generosity. Share, care and help those who are less fortunate. Provide physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual comfort, to ease their burdens, in whatever way you can. This can be a great ‘stress reliever’, helping you, while helping others as well.
There are myriad classes and activities for the young on everything you can imagine. It is easy to find a children’s soccer, tumbling, ballet, art, gaming, or music class, and the list goes on. It is much more difficult for adults to explore an interest or talent. If you are still in the workplace, there are opportunities for training and social interaction, but those opportunities may not always tap your creative potential.
Now is the time to liberate your creativity even if you think you’re not one of those people. Engaging in arts and crafts and other creative projects can have a positive impact on your health. Dr. Gene Cohen was a pioneer and one of the world’s experts in gerontology. In studies of aging people and in Dr. Cohen’s own work, four aspects of creativity stood out: Creative activity strengthens our morale later in life, contributes to physical health as we age, enriches relationships, and is our greatest legacy. You can read more about Dr. Cohen’s work here.
Creative potential is there and alive in all of us. Your creativity is only limited by your own imagination. You can paint, draw, sing, write or do whatever sparks your interest. It does not matter if your project comes out less than perfect. Enjoy it, be creative and have fun. Collaborative creativity allows you to share your ideas and experience in a social setting.
Howard County Library System (HCLS) offers a variety of classes to spark your creativity potential, including Pins and Needles, Crafty Readers, Writer’s Group, and Hands-On, Off Camera Flash Photography workshop. No prior artistic experience is required. One of the classes offered by the library at the Miller Branch on the second Monday of every month is Calming Crafts. Lynn, one of the class’s instructors, said one of the reasons she started the class was because “doing simple crafts can help keep you in “the moment” and some your worries dissipate.” Ann, the other instructor, is the library’s Enchanted Garden Coordinator, so when weather permits, the class is held in the garden. Past projects have included finger knitting, pinch pots, leaf rubbings, card making, and rock painting. During the last two weeks in July some of the class projects will be on display at Miller Branch.
Whatever your age, circumstances, talents or skills, it is never too late to try something new. American folk artist, Grandma Moses, did not launch her painting career until she was 78! Playwright George Bernard Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925, at the age of sixty-nine. Shaw was still working on a comedy when he died at the age of ninety-four! What will you do?