January 28, 2010

My story

We (the momma and I) have decided to make February a month of sharing stories to fight stigma. So, along with our newly posted video on YouTube we are going to start sharing our stories and learnings on our blogs, starting conversations about it on our Facebook and Myspace sites, and commenting on it on our Twitter page. So, visit us, chat with us, and learn with us. And without further adieu, here is my story...

There was a moment in my life when I almost drowned.
Living in the largest dorm in the country with three best friends, experiencing my first serious college boyfriend, living the perfect life of a well-off artsy college kid, I couldn’t have dreamt of anything better. That is, until I turned my back to the ocean and was swiftly and dramatically pulled in by the undertow.
One moment I was there and one moment I wasn’t. It was as if I had suddenly had my brain replaced by someone weaker, angrier, sadder. I didn’t know where I was or what I had set out to do anymore. I couldn’t understand what went wrong. I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly seeing pools of blood every time I closed my eyes.
It was a dramatic and intense case of depression. I stopped eating. I broke up with the man who was, at that time, the love of my life. I stopped leaving my room. I stopped all contact with the world, and whether I pretended I was there or not, my eyes were empty.
This went on for several weeks. Floating around Chicago, the city that I had worked so hard to get to. To me this went on for a lifetime. I floated out to sea.
Then my boyfriend, who was now just a friend-friend, called my parents. He called, and just as swiftly as I was pulled under, I was pulled out.
My dad arrived from Seattle no less then ten hours after he was called. My life, my room, and my thoughts were packed up and shipped out. Flown back to Seattle and, in my mind, never to return.
Nothing could have been more painful. Nothing could have been more dramatic to me at that point and place in my life. Nineteen years old and suddenly I was forced to leave my friends, my life, my freedom and everything that I had built within the last two years of hard-earned independence.
I arrived home tired, cold, and wet, water still in my lungs.
The next couple of years moved from an undertow to a tsunami. My mind moved quickly from a simple depression to a devastating suicidal obsession. Looking back I am amazed I am even here to tell my story.
In the next year and a half I spent time in hospitals for suicide prevention and for overdose recovery. I spent time in apartments, manic and drugged and depressed and dangerous. I spent so many hours feeling completely out of control of my mind and so many hours trying to fight against it with every form of self-medication and self-harm I could find that I am amazed I have the ability to form thoughts or press my fingers to these keys.
It took me a long time to come to terms with what was happening. After having a “wait and see” diagnosis of bipolar disorder II at nineteen I spent many, many months fighting the label and implications before I finally received my final, “for sure” diagnosis of plain old bipolar I. My months and years of fighting only made things worse and it took me a long time before I realized that if I was good to myself and my body, my bipolar would be good to me. Who knew stimulants could make you manic or alcohol could make you devastatingly depressed!
Once I finally gave in and decided to change my life things began to turn around again. Though it took lots of self-care and finding the right doctors, counselors, and meds, my stability allowed me to live the life I had always dreamed of living. My stability was more then just taking care of myself and finding the right help however, it was also my amazing luck to have the opportunities and support network I do. It was this fact that inspired me to begin to make a difference in the mental health world.
Having spent time in the worst psych units with the saddest cases I realized that things must change. I realized that people need to talk about these things. People needed to be able to talk about their thoughts, lives, and feelings. We need to be able to share our stories.
So…here I am today, graduating, speaking at conferences, in classrooms and auditoriums, writing and collaborating with mental health and education professionals, working with amazing mental health organizations, writing a book. Through my experiences I have realized that I needed to make a difference, and through my opportunities I have hopefully begun to do so. I am so excited and pleased that I have the opportunity to make the differences that I am seeing.
Today I have found my way back to dry land where I can finally stand on firm ground, and it is here that I will help others do the same.
(This picture was taken when I was 20. I look a little different now that I finally take showers and have let my natural hair color grow back.)

January 26, 2010

In memoriam

Unfortunately I am going to be sharing a somewhat depressing and sad blog, and though I feel that most of my blogs try to end with an uplifting note, this one must just be said.

Yesterday the father of one of my best friends passed away. It is one of those things that was possible but completely unexpected. I had planned to spend the evening with my friend, and when I finally got the call that I thought would tell me what movie we we're going to see I was simply told, "he died". It was like all air had been let out of the room.

Brian was the father of my biggest crush/ bestest friend in high school. I think deep down, at 16, I had decided that one day he might even be my father-in-law. But as his son and I aged our love grew into a very beautiful non-romantic love. It's now kind of weird to even think back. Anyways, Brian and his family are some of the most amazingly caring, open, and fun families you will ever meet. I have loved them from the days of homecoming and I have loved them since Brian converted his Cougar son's van into a Husky-mobile (Washington State rivalries). I have loved them throughout my life as I have changed from an awkward teenager to the awkward woman I am today.

Now, I have been part of a very, extremely lucky majority of the world who has not yet had to experience a lot of death. The only people I remember dying are great grandparents and pets, so this one is a little strange to me. I find myself swiftly moving between numbness and sobbing and I can't quite seem to grasp what has really happened. I find myself feeling bad for feeling so bad because it wasn't even my dad, and then I cry even harder for his family. I guess the weird thing for me is, my friends parents aren't supposed to die yet. They are not even close to old at sixty. They are supposed to be healthy and hilarious and caring until I'm at least fifty. I just don't understand. I suppose once I am able to think things through more clearly I can write about the idea of death and life, but I think the only reason I am writing this now is to say,

I love you Brian. You were an amazing dad, husband, and pet owner. You were an amazing Husky and Totem's fan. You were an amazing man, and you never made a girl feel intimidated or embarrassed for chasing after your son. You will be greatly greatly missed, but you raised an amazingly strong family who are already grieving gracefully and bravely. Thank you for everything you have given us. We love you.

January 18, 2010

love and conversation

I believe that I have already spoken about the difficulty and fear that can encompass romantic relationships when someone sees themselves as unstable, depressed, or "mentally ill", so I won't try to go too far into that direction. (If I have not gone enough into it please let me know in a comment so that I can be sure to write my next blog on the topic.) What I think is important to talk about is my current relationship and the interaction it has with my current diagnosis.

I am dating and living with an amazing boy, I mean man, who I have been with for quite a while now. I feel we have an amazingly healthy relationship and that is why I feel comfortable sharing this for the blogosphere and for readers hoping to learn or hear more about how to make a relationship work when someone is feeling unstable, etc. My boy, J, is an amazingly stabilizing force. One that I often find myself feeling I couldn't live without. And it is exactly this worry that I think it is important to be aware of. Whenever I have this specific worry I always find it is my own fear of my diagnosis, my being bipolar, that leads me to feeling I can't do without him. I find myself thinking I can't do without someone that I could see being a care taker. It is when I get to these points however, that, though I would not want to be without him, I must always remind myself that I would do fine without him. (But that is once again going back to relationships, mental health conditions, and autonomy.)

I have been thinking a lot about the equality of our relationship. Something that I feel is crucial for all my relationships, romantic or otherwise. I have been thinking a lot about how amazing he is at taking care of me. He does the dishes when I am overly busy with school/conferences/etc. He reminds me to pay the bills when I am too focused on my travels to realize the date. "Oh yeah, it is a new month, maybe I should pay rent..." He seems so often to be the stabilizing force in my own life and in our relationship.

Lately, however he has been extremely busy with his own crazy schedule and has been working hard simply to keep his own head above water. This has led me to make the decision that while he has helped me hold things together when my life lost control, I should help him when he is trying to keep his together. So last night we had a wonderful conversation. I asked him, "what can I do for you?", knowing that he is the very opposite of me in his busy and emotional states--while I can become clingy and needy, he tends to want more of his own space.

The question led us into a wonderful conversation about our own needs, once again helping me realize the importance of being two independent beings within an equal relationship. Though he may hold me up at times when I am feeling unstable and needy, I know that I can do the same for him when things change. I also know that when I am feeling too depressed to help him and he is feeling too busy to help me that we will both chip in to help each other, even if it just means leaning on one another without doing anything else. I know that I can do my best to support him in these busy times, but I also know that he would completely understand if I was to say I can't based on my own emotional struggles. The importance and strength of our relationship all lies in an honest conversation.

For now, thanks to our conversation, my path is relatively easy. When asked what I can do to help he simply said, "keep your stuff picked up, do the dishes, and rub my back". That should be easy enough to handle, and if its not, I know he'll understand simply because we were open enough to talk about it.

The picture was a gift from J for my birthday. Visit his blog here.

January 15, 2010


Found a beautiful poem by Tino Villanueva in the wonderful poetry book, Living in Storms: contemporary poetry and the moods of manic-depression edited by Thom Schramm. This book was suggested to me by my amazing and lovely poetry teacher Sam Green. (Everyone should check out his poems as well). But for now, read this and feel revived:


So I depend again upon myself.
I've taught this part of me
to go unruined
through all enormous lessons
on defeat.
I've taught this part of me
to thrive among despair,
to be imperative
among chaotic numbers.
Though I may fall away from time to time
like draggled weeds in winter,
breathing thick stern air
in some back shadows of the walk,
I spring again from me,
from the dead quiet of my roots--
listen to me move.

By dawn
I am presence fixed
in the eyes of men.

January 12, 2010

Focusing on the big picture...

I have an exciting "informational interview" tomorrow with someone I look up to, someone who I would happily follow in their footsteps if it was only that easy. But when I think about this interview tomorrow, or the fact that I am in the midst of trying to figure out life after college, the only thing I can think of to say is this:

"Hello, I'm Linea. I am twenty-four years old and in the middle of a transition crisis. I have been in school for six years now with almost two full majors, only one of which will be claimed at my graduation ceremony. I have no idea what to do with my life or where to go from here. Sometimes I think I would just like to disappear into my bedroom with a couple of DVDs and some candy and never leave..."

And when I try to think about what to say, whether it is to the person I am interviewing tomorrow or the random stranger that asks "what are you going to do now that you're graduating from college?" I simply feel like a failure. Which is funny. On many levels.

The first reason it is funny is the fact that I believe almost every person feels this confusion when they graduate, and I'm sure that more then half of the twenty-four year olds in America probably feel like failures anyways. The other thing that is funny (and a little sad) is the fact that most people would never call me a failure. At the age of nineteen I was hospitalized and completely psychotic, but by the time I was twenty-two I had written a book and traveled to international conferences sharing my story. I just can't seem to see that myself, and therefore continue to only see myself as a failure.

I don't know what makes me feel like more of a failure, the fact that my diagnosis interrupted crucial points in my development, leading me to still remain, (and I am so ashamed to admit it) still very much financially dependent upon my parents, or the fact that my episodes interrupted my college path leading me (the extreme perfectionist) to graduate two years later then my original plan. Either way, I find that my diagnosis and the accompanying episodes have left me feeling far behind the rest of my peers.

And this is what I find important to discuss, my mental health condition has left me feeling utterly behind the rest of the pack. I feel that the herd of mid-twenty somethings have all run off ahead of me finding jobs, furthering their education with bigger and grander degrees, or building families. Not that I want to be like all of them, (especially not want to be the family builders), but I feel like I should be doing more. That is until I really stop myself, look in the mirror and realize, you are doing more. You have much to offer.

I think that it is hard for anyone who has had to follow a different path due to a health condition. It is frustrating to me that I could not simply follow the path I planned out when I was five. I may be slightly financially behind my peers, or in some ways independently behind my peers, but I have in many ways reached much further ahead. I have confronted the hard stuff in life, and there will be more, but I have faced it head on and grown wiser from it. I have gotten to a point that I feel many of my peers, or even heroes may not have reached. I have confronted myself in its darkest, scariest sense and have lived to tell the tale. I have spent the time exploring and fighting and soothing the many selves within me. It is through my battle with a mental health condition that I have in many ways reached far ahead of that self I always planned on being at my age. And it is because of this that I realize that I am worth something and am not in any way a failure.

It is only when I realize the things I have accomplished, whether they seem small or irrelevant, that I realize my life was not ruined by the fact that I have bipolar disorder. It has effected my life greatly, yes, and while it may have held me back in some ways it has pushed me forward in just as many. It is during these moments, the ones that leave me devastated and fearful for my future, that I realize that I need to step back and look at the big picture. Only through looking at this big picture can I finally realize that an unconventional path holds equally impressive results.

January 05, 2010

decided to give myself a break

now the next question is, what should I do first?
a bath? a book? yoga? meditation?
what about yoga, bath/book, meditation.
sometimes its good to let yourself just be...

January 04, 2010

Grieving the diagnosis

(I have no idea who did this art, but if anyone knows please let me know so I can give them the credit they deserve for such an awesome piece of work!)

My it has been a long time since I wrote a post. With school ending, the holidays, and a trip to Chicago I've been a little distracted as of late. However, its back to work, ultimately leading me back to blogland.

As I have somewhat discussed in previous posts, the last few months have been rather difficult for me. As my psychiatrist explained, I am a rather "hard patient" because my "life isn't all that stable" at the moment. But I wonder, now that I have what I believe to be a rather stable life, how is my life not stable? Now, I understand that I am in a strange sort of limbo being a new college grad without a job, (or at least a job that makes enough money to live an "adult life"), and I know that I do a ton of traveling doing speaking engagements, (and as many people explain, jet-lag is hard if you're bipolar), but I feel that I manage my "unstable life" rather well. Or at least most of the time. Until I hit three solid months of depression, having been completely emotionally stable prior to my normal yearly late October relapse, (this yearly relapse is due to a mix between solemn and painful mental health related anniversaries and changes in weather), but this year it just kept going due to a few major added stressors (such as impending graduation and the fear of finding health insurance).

But all of this I believe has been addressed in past postings, so what I really wanted to talk about is grief. In these past four months I have been trying my damnedest to be healthy and stay well. I made sure that I was not only continuing to take my meds, but I was also maintaining healthy habits such as exercising (yoga and running), meditating, and additional stress relieving activities like my new found hobby: knitting. I have tried to be patient and kind to myself and have worked with my psychiatrist to increase and adjust medications to help me get over this bump. But as I found myself continuing to move deeper or simply stay in the "pits of despair" I found myself moving into the same mind-frame that I experienced when I was first diagnosed with bipolar. I found myself feeling, to put it simply, angsty. I found that I was reverting to the teenage-angst felt when life just doesn't seem fair. When you realize, why me? And why now? I found myself getting angry at whoever or whatever has done this to me. And though I continually feel that my bipolar is part of me, though not all of me, and that I wouldn't want to get rid of it, I simply wanted it to go away, if not for even a little while.

So I suppose my question to the world is, and specifically to anyone suffering from a chronic condition or disease (and I don't really consider bipolar a disease), do you ever get over this grief completely? Do you ever just cope and come to terms with the fact that you may continually have dips in your health, even if they continue to become increasingly easier?

I know that for me they have become easier, this is by far better than my initial diagnosis, but it is still terribly frustrating sometimes to know that I may have this occur again and again. All I know is that I will get through this and it will continue to get better, but somedays, on my most 13-year old angst ridden days, I can only continue to say, this sucks.

recycling for recovery

This Christmas I decided to use all recycled paper and ribbons from last year (or different things I found laying around the house) and I found the attention to details, the reminder of the things I can use as creative means, and the love and care I put into the packages allowed me to find a soothing and almost meditative calmer for the hectic holidays. (The flower on top of the glittery packages I also knitted for my sister, one more meditative and peaceful project for the year).

for my sister (unfortunately the picture is rather blurry)
for my brother in law

for my two year old nephew

and for queen-mother