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.
Sharpen those colored pencils, clear some space at your desk, and begin your creation meditation. The adult coloring craze is well underway and there are designs for everyone. Many of the bestselling books on Amazon are adult coloring books and an abundance of beautiful designs are available free on the web. Even Crayola now has a product line for adults. You may experience many added social and emotional benefits if you start coloring.
Popular designs include mandalas, landscapes, plants, flowers, animals, and patterns. The mandala is a circular pattern with recurrent kaleidoscopic shapes. A Sanskrit term for circle, mandala has importance in both the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. The patterns may be interpreted as views of the universe and visual aids in meditation. The act of creating a mandala in sand symbolizes the life cycle in that there is birth, brief enjoyment of the image and then death. An episode of the television series House of Cards included a group of Tibetan monks painstakingly creating a large vibrantly-colored sand mandala. It took many days to create and then was swept away in a ritual ceremony. The fictional White House staff and visitors were reminded to appreciate the beauty and the value of the act of creation. We can be so busy that we forget to enjoy the people, work and art surrounding us.
Spending time coloring forces us to slow down and redirect our attention. We have to be creative and select the colors we will use to fill in the image. Let us practice true focus, ignore distractions, and enjoy the coloring motion. We must put aside competing tasks in order to complete the picture.
The repetitive motion of coloring is relaxing. Selecting the colors gives a sense of freedom without imposing the stress of making potentially risky decisions. The focus of filling in the coloring sheet promotes mindfulness and can help alleviate anxiety. Solo coloring may be the downtime an introvert craves, while group coloring might be an extrovert’s preference. Psychologists and neurologists have noted that tasks with predictable results are calming. Concentrating on positive tasks has the potential to dislodge negative thoughts and disrupt unhealthy emotional patterns. True art therapy usually includes the guidance of a mental health professional, but it’s clear coloring (itself) can be therapeutic. Artistic pursuits can to improve mood, focus, and attention. Concentrating on coloring can decrease feelings of fear and worry.
On it’s most basic level, coloring is fun, so if you’re a fan, it will brighten your day. If you’re interested in going beyond coloring in the lines, HCLS has wonderful instructional books on drawing, painting and crafts for children, teens and adults. The HCLS Lynda courses database offers free classes in software such as CorelDRAW and Photoshop. Simply go to hclibrary.org, click on HCLS Now and select LEARN Online Classes.
Summer is all about having fun in the sun. We’ve all made plans to enjoy the beach, lake, and/or pool. Many of my friends are planning to lay on the beach and even out their tans for that perfect summer-kissed glow (due to all the up-coming weddings they are attending). Seems like no big deal, right? Well, it’s NBD until you have few moles removed from your back and your doctor is telling you that a sunburn you got 10-15 years ago is probably what made those moles a problem today. Listen, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and accounts for about half of all cancers diagnosed. According to the American Academy of Dermatology nearly 145,000 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of melanoma this year. Moreover, 75% of skin cancer deaths are due to melanoma. It is a big deal.
My fiance just had a mole removed from his back two weeks ago. Today, he goes in to have the stitches removed. The doctor explained to us that on a scale of 1 – 5, where “1 is normal” and “5 is cancer” the previous biopsy of the mole was a “3” and that’s why the mole and the area around it needed to be excised. As a cancer survivor and liver transplant recipient, I understand the importance of protecting my skin because I am “100 times more likely than the general public to develop squamous cell carcinoma.” Despite the cautionary tales I’d shared and the “wear sunscreen” speech I’ve relayed from my doctors, friends, and fellow cancer survivors- it wasn’t until this happened to him that it “clicked.”
I don’t want you to have to end up with a cancer diagnosis to realize and practice the simple steps you can take to avoid getting sunburned. Sunburns today could be skin cancer in a year or 10 years. Trust me. Cancer is expensive and interrupts your life significantly. Below are some questions and answers to help make the case for protecting your skin this summer.
Q: If the sun is so scary, are you expecting me to stay inside all summer?
A: Please don’t hide in your closet all summer. Go outside, be active! It’s essential to your health in countless ways. I’m just asking that you be smart about it. Avoid going outside during the hottest part of the day when the sun is at its highest peak. If you can’t avoid being outside during that time, limit your time in the sun, find shade, wear broad spectrum protective clothing, hats, sunglasses, etc. Think about it this way, one hour of sun at 9 A.M. is nearly equivalent to 15 minutes of sun at 1 P.M. Your goal is to stay safe in the sun. As my fiance says regularly, “Fun ends when safety ends.”
Q: So, how much sunscreen do you really need?
A: You need to apply at least one oz. of sunscreen every two hours in order for it to really be effective. Truly! If you’ve spent 4-5 hours at the beach and a quarter of your 8 0z. tube of sunscreen isn’t gone, you didn’t use enough. If you went with a group and you still have any sunscreen left- clearly, you all didn’t use enough. Rule of thumb: apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to being out in the sun and reapply often. Even if your sunscreen is labeled as “water-resistant” or “water-proof” you still need to reapply. Efficacy of these kinds of sunscreens means about 40-80 minutes of SPF coverage when wet.
Q: Fine! I’ll wear sunscreen. What SPF (Sunburn Protection Factor) should I use?
A: There is some debate over this. Many believe that the higher the SPF number is, the greater it is at protecting you from UVA/UVB rays. Actually, it’s pretty negligible; but for someone who has a history of or susceptibility for skin cancer, the marketing of SPF numbers could mean peace of mind. Truth is, no matter the SPF you put on, it’s ineffective after a couple hours. Which means, it’s not necessarily the SPF number that counts, it’s how often you reapply. Effectively, you should reapply after you do anything that could make the sunscreen slough off. Be sure to purchase a quality sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection. An everyday SPF of 15 (blocks 93% of harmful rays) for your daily commute through life, in and out of buildings, etc. should be sufficient (reapply religiously). Thankfully, many lotions and make up products include SPF 15 already. However, if you’re playing in a sporting event, or near water (which is reflective) in directly sunlight, etc. you’re probably better off with a thicker, higher SPF of 30+ (blocks 97%+ harmful rays) which is the recommendation found on hopkinsmedicine.org.
Q: Sunscreen is gross. Couldn’t I just use a tanning bed?
A: If you want to jump from the frying pan and into the fire, that’s your decision as an adult. However, there’s a reason why Howard County, Maryland does not allow tanning for minors. If you read the report and its findings, I expect that you’ll see how important your skin is too. Perhaps you’ll decide tanning beds aren’t for you and that wearing sunscreen isn’t such a bad idea after all.
Clearly, I’m not a doctor or medical professional. Please consult with your primary care physician or your dermatologist for your skin health needs. Take these questions and answers as what they are: another way to hear the “wear sunscreen” speech.
Remember: use high quality, broad spectrum sunscreen, and reapply religiously!
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.
I rejoice when the weather is warm enough to swim! Swimming is one of the most healthful ways to exercise, and is broadly enjoyed by people of all ages, from babies to the aged. People can get into the pool and enjoy themselves so much that they don’t even know how much beneficial aerobic (heart-pumping) exercise they’re getting.
Aerobic exercise itself has important health benefits: it reduces harmful inflammation linked to many diseases; lowers stress; lowers blood pressure; strengthens muscles (including the heart), and can even help smokers to quit. In fact, swimming is one of the most highly-recommended types of aerobic exercises, according to Johns Hopkins exercise physiologist Kerry J. Stewart, Ed. D. In addition, it’s one of the best exercises for older adults, as it’s easy on the joints.
Most swimmers in Howard County don’t have access to natural bodies of water, such as lakes or the ocean, so we swim in the neighborhood pool, kindly supplied by Columbia Association, one of the neighborhoods in other towns, or by a private owner. The water in these pools needs to be carefully maintained for cleanliness, because the people splashing around bring bacteria into the standing water of the pool. The operators of these pools add chemicals to the water. Without chlorination, health risks would prevent our swimming in a pool.
Most pool operators maintain water cleanliness with chlorine-based chemicals, then test the water for the correct balance of pH (acid-alkaline balance) and chemicals several times throughout the day. Although several alternatives to chlorine exist, each has a disadvantage, including a substantial differential in price. So additions of chlorine seem to be the default choice for water cleanliness.
But chlorine use has its side affects: it’s drying to skin and hair, and may make swimmers’ eyes redden and burn. Some some people are undeniably allergic to chlorine; some people suspect chlorine of causing serious diseases of the respiratory tract or even cancer; but research on these serious side effects is not conclusive.
But (sniff) what’s that sharp smell? Smells like too much chlorine!
Actually, that smell is the result of inadequate amounts of chlorine. Here’s the science: molecules of chlorine combines with molecules of nitrogen or ammonia being thrown off our bodies (organic matter). This is what smells bad. Whenthere is more chlorine in the water, the chlorine can do its job and the odor should be minimal. It’s inadequately-chlorinated water that is most irritating to the skin and eyes, and may be implicated in swimmer’s ear, a common ear infection due to constantly-wet ear canals and bacteria in the water.
And why is the water so cloudy? It’s due to any combination of these events: particles forced out of the water by imbalanced water, poor filtration or sanitation, or heat. Hot days can contribute to cloudy water.
Unless there are other health-related risks, the health benefits, fun, and social value of swimming far outweighs the disadvantages posed by chlorine. One of the rites of summer is swimming, especially out of doors on a hot Maryland day.
The Center for Disease Control’s Triple A’s of Healthy Swimming go into depth on ways to keep everyone healthy when in the water. The most important and easiest of these include:
- Staying out of the water if you are ill, especially illness of your digestive tract. Also stay out of the water if you have a cut or other break in your skin. Being aware of potential water-borne problems.
- Showering before you swim to rinse off the organic materials on your skin. This way, you won’t be contributing to what the chlorine as to break down.
- Regular bathroom breaks for children and adults are crucial. Urine, after all, in another organic material.
- Protecting yourself with eye goggles, an after-swim shower, shampoo, and body moisturizer.
- Questions to ask the pool operator: “Are chemical levels checked at least twice per day, or more often when the pool is heavily used?”, “What is the latest pool inspection score?”, and “Has the pool operator completed specialized training in pool operation?”Have a great swim!