Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Frustration of Mental Illness(es)

Every day, I deal with my mental illnesses, currently diagnosed as having schizoaffective, bipolar type and PTSD, Some days are brilliant. Others I just wish I could be free not to interact with anyone.

This past year, I was in the hospital 3 times. During the times when I was out, I was in treatment programs.

Among side effects of medications is movement disorders, dry mouth, blurred vision, acne, and most catastrophically, memory loss.

When I am off the meds, I have "limited" clear thinking and photographic, or eidetic, memory. That's how I did so well in school. However, I have to take the meds or else I end up back in the hospital., I have been known to decompensate in one day if I do not take the meds. When I decompensate, that means that I have full-blown paranoia and psychosis. I lose touch with all reality. As a PhD student, I ran around the hospital unit naked. My life feels like almost two different lives.

I want to focus on the life on meds, even though my creativity, artistic ablities and eidetic-like memory goes away with the meds. It's a loss worth taking, because I highly like being stable.

It sucks that I lose my memory because I cannot remember everything that I did in college and graduate school. I do not know if I am able to function with a 40-60 hour work week in the field of biomedical engineering., That is hard for me to comprehend but to be all-realisstic, I have to take my meds and my illnesses have gotten much worse over the years as the schizophrenia part of my brain has gone haywire,

As a highly functioning person who has schizophrenia, biipolar and PTSD as well as haivng studied neuroscience/neural engineering amd neurology, I find my life as being something very interesting.

I think I will always remember the moments in my life when I could function while being manic. Nowadays, my mania is maked with severe paranoia and psychosis. Terrifying psychosis. So, I continue to take my meds.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lessons I have learned in therapy

I have been in and out of therapy since the age of seven. It hasn't always been easy but I've learned a lot from my therapists and counselors. I have been in and out of hospitals 12 times in the past 10 years.  I have also been in 4 outpatient programs. The following is a list of things that I have learned in therapy.

1. I cannot be held responsible for any other people's behaviors except for my own. We can only control ourselves. This has been an important concept for me to understand because I tend to want to change others but the only person I can change is myself.

2. Breathing in and out and meditation work. I was reluctant to start doing it but it helps a lot. In the past two weeks I've been using meditation a lot more  and I've been more calm without taking anti anxiety medications. A therapist once told me the medications are only a small part of  what aleviates the illnesses I am dealing with. Recently I have been figuring out how to feel better. I tend to meditate multiple times a day, something that I never thought would happen.  The first time I ever tried meditating I thought it was a joke.  My mind would always wander. But now since I've been using it for years it is much easier to focus on one word or a number or anything pertaining to the medication. It's not a joke to me anymore. It is something that I use every day.

3. There are some good therapists and there are some bad therapists. Fortunately for me I had more good than bad. But I did have one therapist who basically charged me to hear her talk about her own issues. Needless to say she didn't help me a lot. So I changed therapists and forgot about her.

4. There are good people out there who really care about me. Not just about money. Or a paycheck. I have felt cared about by many therapists.

5. Getting better takes time and a lot of patience. I sure wish that I didn't have to go to therapist for the rest of my life but I have a feeling I will be in and out of therapy for the rest of my life. I wish I could feel better at a snap of a finger but life isn't like that. Being in therapy is not a weakness. This life is a journey. There are usually not easy simple solutions to mental illness. Take your time to feel better.

Monday, December 8, 2014

If at first you don't succeed,...

I woke up twice last night and I've been up since 5:30 AM. Among the things that I thought about this morning I looked up how many medications I have taken over the past 10 years. I realize that I've been on 20 psychiatric medications among other medications. I've racked up 12 hospitalizations in the past 10 years as well. I've been in four outpatient programs for mental health. And it gets frustrating after a while. It seems like things aren't working.

This weekend I talked to my doctor because the medications weren't working well. I was pacing, had high paranoia and anxiety. But that didn't stop me. Nothing can stop me when I am motivated to become a better person and a mentally well person. Even in the amount of time that I've taken out to become well, even though it's frustrating that it took longer than usual, I am glad that I have made it this far. I am glad God has saved my life literally on numerous occasions. I'm glad that I made it this far even with all of the challenges that have come my way. It's not easy but it's doable. This life is truly livable no matter what the circumstances.

Ever heard that saying "gotta go when you gotta go." Well that's how I think of it in terms of my mental health. When I need to go to the hospital it's not a bad thing necessarily.  It doesn't even have to be a setback. I was recently in the hospital for 3 weeks and I can honestly say it was a huge leap forward for me. It just means I need extra help but it's not a weakness. It means that I need to go somewhere safe and where people can help me 24 seven.

My main point for writing this blog post is that sometimes we give up too easily. Sometimes we don't give the day a chance. Sometimes we just sit or lay down all day wondering what we can do when we really know what we can do. We just don't want to. We choose not to. I could've given up on the second hospitalization. I could've wondered why I was still in there, why I had this illness that I have but I feel like one of the luckiest people on earth because it's not about what life you're given; it's the life that you make. It's about making the most out of the life you've been given the matter what comes your way.

So what do you do when you try at first and you don't succeed? You try try again. You keep going no matter what comes your way. You keep striving for the best even when it's the most difficult times in your life. You keep fighting for what's right and what's real. In my case you keep taking the medications even when they're not working because you know that you will find the right amount of medications that you should be on. Its about not giving up. All of life is about not giving up. It's about fighting, fighting for a better day.

So in conclusion I would like you to meditate on what I have said about not giving up and trying and trying and trying more and more and more even when things get frustrating because this life is much more than just the heartaches. My message to you today to those people on Facebook who don't know that I'm still writing my blog because I deactivated my Facebook a month ago ( yes I fell off the face of the planet) and those around the world reading my blog I like to say: never give up.

Peace and love.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hope is a winning battle

Over two years ago I began this blog project. It has been a space for me to reflect, encourage, persevere and fight for a better day.

Then comes the name of my blog. "Hope Rising." And even though I have been dealt many hard cards in my life, even more so recently, nothing seems to stop me from moving forward. What does hope mean? It is the desire to move forward despite any external difficult circumstances because you know in your deepest of depths within your heart, mind, body, soul and spirit that a better day will come. You do not know exactly when it will come but you just know. If you have hope, there is not anything that can stop you from achieving your dreams. The unremarkable becomes remarkable. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. 

For so many years, I hoped to be believed. I strived to be believed. Not that I wanted people to pity me. It's more that I hoped I would be heard. I hoped that someone would take me seriously and help me take the necessary steps to better my life. This came after not being believed by a pastor, who also thought my suicide attempt in high school was a play for attention. No comment. Now people are starting to take me seriously and believe me to the point that I am almost uncomfortable. I am safe yet I do not know what it feels like to be safe. Even more than that, I don't know what it's like to be heard, really heard.

My greatest hopes are being realized now and it is an incredible feeling. I never truly realized what "hope rises after the storm" means until now. But to me God has shed a whole new light on it in my life. I have gone through turmoil from the minute I was born until now and I am taking actions in my life to alleviate the turmoil. No life should be in constant fear. No life should be taken advantage of and blamed for things outside their control. Nobody should have to be used, mistreated or abused so for now, I am standing up for myself and rightfully so. No more sitting under the bleachers, being spat on or abused and yelled at when the home team loses. No, I am sitting on the bleachers, having fun and encouraging other people in their lives with God. No longer an outsider.

Community is what this life is about. Not all of it but in life, we need to listen to each other, not argue or fight. We need to believe each other and stand up for each other.

My hope for today is that we can all find hope, someway somehow. Hope is not a losing battle. It is a winning battle. Hope helps us to overcome our deepest fears and things we are dealt here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21, 2009: Five Years Later

Dear readers, friends, and family,

Some of you I have known my whole life, some I've known for a few weeks. Some of you I have never met. But each of you has played a special role in my life.

October 21, 2009 was like any other day. I went to college classes, had a meeting and then taught a class. But when everybody least expected it, it became what should have been my last day here on earth. According to me, not God. Trust me, He made it very clear.

I'd like to say that from that day on, life became easy, but it did not. The weeks following, I was put on medications, particularly one, that I would find out almost 5 years later became the initial cause of my misdiagnosis of schizophrenia and the reason I dealt with paranoia for 5 years (unnecessarily). I have been put on over 15 medications, of which I am allergic to about 80%.

In the past 5 years, I graduated at the top of my class in college with honors, won multiple awards and was set to get paid to get a PhD in Biomedical Engineering. But the symptoms of paranoia got worse in graduate school. However, I graduated with a Masters degree.

However hard life is, it is days like this, my 5 year anniversary of what definitely should have been my last day, that we take "inventory" of the blessings of God in our lives. Whether or not you believe in God, we are all blessed in this life. I know what some of you are thinking because I have thought it myself. "How can you say I'm blessed when I have nothing left, whether materialistically, emotionally, physically, etc? I am exhausted, worn out, etc."

I have been there, not just 5 years ago, but multiple times in my life.

As I write this, there are wartorn countries, countries in Africa that are burying at least 50 people a day, and people in financial crisis and dying from hunger or cancer, etc. The list goes on because this world is filled with both good and evil. But I will share something that has kept me going.


After my "fall" of 30-40 feet in 2009, I took a medical leave and went home. I found a group that helped me a lot and one of the women in the group gave me a necklace with a ring on it that said "HOPE" 3 times. The day I received it, I put it on and didn't take it off unless I was hospitalized. I have been hospitalized 8 times in the past 5 years. However, one of the hospital nurses last year took my hospital bracelet off (on which the ring was taped) and it was lost forever. At the time, I was catatonic due to the meds and could not talk. I couldn't tell her that the ring was on the bracelet she just cut off.

Oh well. Just because we lose a material thing(s) that means a lot to us does not mean we lose hope. Yes, the ring reminded me constantly of hope, but now it is so engrained in my mind and heart that I do not need a necklace.

Hope is what keeps me waking up every morning, no matter how difficult I think "tomorrow" will be. Faith is trusting that God will carry me through whatever is placed in front of me. Because I look at all He has carried me through and I say "Wow" in a deep, meaningful, humble way.

I woke up on the ground that night in 2009 and remember all the details. I remember being told that I fractured several vertebrae. I remember them asking me if I could feel my feet or any tingling anywhere in my legs. Vertebrae surround the spinal cord and my vertebrae in my thoracic and lumbar regions were basically shattered, and yet somehow, the shattering did nothing to my spinal cord. I saw the scans of my back and still have that image forever engrained in my mind.

That night will always be in my memory. In a way I am thankful for those memories, because as I train for my first Half Marathon next Spring, I don't take running for granted. I don't take walking for granted. And most importantly, I do not take life for granted. I feel blessed beyond belief. While I may not always be "happy" when I still deal with bipolar and severe PTSD, I do honestly feel content. Yeah, things are tough. But that's life. Contentedness comes not from everything being perfect (because it won't be here on earth), but from our attitudes towards life, God, our circumstances, etc. I may not always find joy in every moment of life, but when I do, I relish in it.

Because I should have died 5 years ago.

How do I know? The EMTs told my mom that I hit a tree and it saved my life.

How do I know that God cares deeply about me (and you)? Because He preserved my ability to run. Running has been so critical in my recovery from mental illness. It helps me feel free, strong, and reminds me of how capable I am of moving forward. I feel God when I run. It also is a physical representation of truly getting back up from a fall.

This life is a journey, with its ups and downs. But always, always, always hold on to hope and joy. Do not let the dark valleys and pits overtake you. For God is there with you, helping you up the ladder or motivating you to get "unstuck."

May the God of love, who is love, bring you all through whatever you are going through today, tomorrow and the days, months, and years to come. May we all remember to hold onto hope.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Spreading Love and Hope

"You have gone through more than anyone I have ever met."
"I have never heard of someone going through so much as you have."
The list goes on of similar things I have heard from people all throughout my life.

I am not out for pity. I am not quite sure if I am even out for empathy, but definitely not sympathy.

Yes, I have been through a lot in my 25 years. But more than that, I have been blessed 10 fold. It may not seem that way but nearly 5 years ago, I nearly took my last breath. The doctors said I hit a tree, which broke my fall. My back was broken and several of my vertebrae were shattered. They took multiple MRI scans to make sure I did not require surgery. I walked two days later, once they created my body cast that I would wear for the next 3 months. I was not supposed to walk or ever run again. And I will repeat, I was not even supposed to be alive.

But I am...

Getting up from that fall was difficult, but it was somewhat of a turning point in my life. I walked at my college graduation, with a GPA of 3.736, one of the highest, Magna Cum Laude in the Honors Program. I received numerous awards. I had a full ride, full salary position to get my PhD, straight from my Bachelors, which is somewhat unheard of.

But things in this life are not perfect. I received my Masters last December and am currently not working due to mental health issues. But that is absolutely no reason to pity me. Some days are hard, some days are easier. But who of us cannot say that about their own lives? So why would you pity me?

Instead I want to spread hope, hence the title of this blog, which I chose over a year ago. Hope is what carries us through whatever we are going through, whether it be a breakup, a hospitalization, a difficult professor, or even the loss of a loved one. To me, there are not levels of pain. We all experience pain and to compare is to try to minimize our own situation instead of allowing ourselves to feel what we need to feel and express what we need to express.

I understand that some people say "well, at least I'm not as bad off as them." "Them" may be people living in third world countries or wartorn countries. Whoever "them" is to you (if you do this), let me ask you a question. What are you grateful for? What brings you hope? And now an even deeper question which I have pondered many times... Instead of sitting around wondering about the people around the world who are "worse off" than you, what can you do for them? (And trust me, you can).

With the internet growing at nearly impossible speeds, we have access to change the world for the better, instead of getting stuck in our own little worlds (which I have done myself- I know the term "pity party"). Our society (primarily Western culture) is absorbed with immediate answers and pleasures (a.k.a. me, me, me all the time!).

And what I'm saying about changing the world does not even have to be limited to third world countries. Saying a kind word to a stranger or even a loved one can lift their spirits. Opening a non-automatic door for a woman pushing a stroller may make her day and make her feel cared for, even only for an instant. Calling an elderly woman or visiting a nursing home can help people feel loved and cared for.

I used to volunteer on a prayer line. I was so terrified my first time someone called me (in the comfort of my own home, no less). But I had prayed for the Holy Spirit to speak through me for 10 minutes prior. People cried and said what I prayed was beautiful but it was not me.

No matter what religion or non-religion you believe/non-believe, we are in this world to not just tolerate each other but to love each other. That is what all of the most well-known prophets throughout our history have taught. Love.

So what is my main point for this post? I started off with my own story of struggle to success (me, me, me) and then I expanded the idea that all of us go through times of struggle (none larger than the rest mentality) and ended with how we can be grateful for our lives and spread hope throughout every corner of this world. If you've turned on the news in the past few weeks, you know we need to do this more than ever.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Flame of Hope

Hi y'all! Yes, I still have somewhat of a "Southern drawl"  even after being back in the Northeast for 10 months after only being in the South for a year and a half. Or maybe I just like saying "y'all" instead of saying "you", which in the English language means both singular and plural. Well that is enough English lessons for today.
How have y'all been? Thanks to all of those who have reached out to me in the past few months that this blog has stayed dormant. My sincere apologies, but I have not been in a state to share what has happened and I still may not be but that is not what this post is about. This post is about more than that, something deeper.
I will quickly explain, though, what has happened over the last few months and years. The brief explanation is that I was put on medications that caused me to have every single possible symptom of schizophrenia. I was put on medication after medication since October 2009 and never seemed to get better. In fact, it got to the point that I could not even leave my house. I would sit on a chair in my room and stare into space for hours, only to look at the clock and realize it was time to go to bed. I was too scared to go outside. I hallucinated cop cars and I thought I heard people when there was nobody even close to me. I heard noises in my head like sirens. I remember all of it. And these are just the past few months. I dealt with extreme paraoia in graduate school, to the point that I almost did not graduate but I did.
So where am I at now? Am I angry? Absolutely. Is it bad to be angry if you are a Christian, as I am? No. Everybody pictures the scene when Jesus got angry at the temple. It is human to be angry. But it goes deeper than that. I feel that there is a deeper meaning to why I dealt with schizophrenia when I did not even have it. I understand what it is like to have it because I experienced it. I lived it. It's not just a term in my psychology textbook. It has given me an empathetic attitude towards those who are in that darkness, the terror, the voices, the hallucinations.
I believe the way we look at things is based on how we choose which lens we want to look through. I could spend the rest of my life being miserable, feeling angry at the endless doctors and hospitals. Or I can thank God that I "only" have to deal with bipolar and PTSD. I say "only" because I find that people minimize their situations if they hear someone else's story that they assume is worse than theirs. Whatever situation you are going through that makes you feel down, upset or is just plain difficult, you are entitled to feel those feelings and express them (positively). You are entitled to have a voice. This life ain't easy. If it was, then what would be the point? Why would people go to churches, temples, and mosques? Why would they try searching for deeper meaning, something larger than themselves?
Well, that is what brings me to my fingernails. Yes, change in subject but bear with me. Below is a picture of how my fingernails currently look. I painted them yesterday.
I have had a rough few weeks. More flashbacks than usual, more than in a long time. But something that has given me hope lately is that my fingernails are growing, almost signifying the growth within my soul. I have chewed my nails all my life until a few months ago. I had an idea to start to use them to express myself.
The anger and frustration I have been feeling lately wanted me to buy black nail color. But in the past three days, I have felt something tell me not to. Well, not exactly. A quote that has gone through my head a lot lately is "light in the darkness." So I was going to paint my nails black and then have a flame of yellow on top, to signify the light. Except ShopRite didn't carry yellow, only orange. Oh well.
I got home and painted my nails, as you can see above. The circles of orange did not come out exactly as I wanted them to. I was frustrated at first but I said to myself, sometimes the light is faint. Sometimes it is blurry. Sometimes it is unclear. But within each of us, there is a flame that keeps us going. Not a flame of anger. But a flame of hope.
Always hang on to that flame. Always hope.