Mental Health Awareness

Because of the autobiographical nature of my poetry, I often take times in this blog to bring awareness to issues I might address within those poems, whether it’s abuse, mental health, addiction, or a host of other topics.

I have both Bipolar II and C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic-stress disorder), and I am very open about both of these because I feel as though mental health issues often face a certain stigma. I think by discussing these topics, it can spotlight them and reduce the shadowy reputation of them.

As a result, recently, one of my readers and friends recently asked me how I knew I had bipolar. Considering that a majority of my Stargazers in my Facebook group were interested in me opening up about my own personal stories, I figured sharing the story of my mental health struggles and eventual diagnoses would be interesting to some.

Symptoms of Bipolar II Disorder from BetterHelp & the Mayo Clinic

  • Hypomania: a type of “up” or euphoric mood swing, which can still be perceived as “normal” behavior by some. As described by the Mayo Clinic, hypomania might have the following symptoms:
    • Abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired
    • Increased activity, energy or agitation
    • Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria)
    • Decreased need for sleep
    • Unusual talkativeness
    • Racing thoughts
    • Distractibility
    • Poor decision-making — for example, going on buying sprees, taking sexual risks or making foolish investments
  • Depression: a type of “down” or descending mood. The Mayo Clinic suggests the following as symptoms of depression:
    • Feeling sad, empty, hopeless or tearful (in children and teens, depressed mood can appear as irritability)
    • Marked loss of interest or feeling no pleasure in all — or almost all — activities
    • Significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
    • Either insomnia or sleeping too much
    • Either restlessness or slowed behavior
    • Fatigue or loss of energy
    • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
    • Decreased ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
    • Thinking about, planning or attempting suicide

Trigger Warning: Because this post talks about the volatile nature of my bipolar, there are many potentially triggering subjects in this post – abuse, minors using recreational drugs and alcohol, rape, and a suicide attempt.

I have always been an emotional person; as a child, I often had temper tantrums and fits. I would fly into a rage into seemingly minor issues or break down crying in the middle of a shopping mall. I remember when I was three, I had just finished having a meltdown in my parents’ bathroom and my mom turned to me and called me manic-depressive [an outdated term for bipolar disorder].

As I grew older, my moods became more volatile. I would bounce from extreme euphoria to devastation within the span of a few days. Often, I would lie in bed, unable to sleep because of my racing thoughts. I found a journal I kept when I was nine. There were entries written at three a.m. “when the rest of the world was sleeping”, but I’d be lying in bed, struggling to quiet my mind. The next day, I’d go to school with three hours of sleep and perform as though I’d had a full night’s sleep.

When I was around nine or ten, my grandpa passed away. He was very important to me as he was one of the few adults in my life that demonstrated unconditional love. He called me his princess, and he knew how to stop whatever he was doing and make me feel special. I have been seeking that kind of undivided attention ever since. When he passed away, there was very clearly a “before” and “after” period of my life.

For a long time after his death, I grieved. The adults in my life did not know how to explain this loss to a child, so I fumbled around in a dark haze for a long time. My diary entries went from simple posts about what I had for lunch and who I played with at recess to wondering about the meaning of love and writing, asking if God made mistakes.

Often, my best friend and I would have adventures that I chalked up to a child’s imagination but perhaps, they were manic episodes. Honestly, I was always considered odd, but for me, looking back on it, it’s hard to distinguish whether I was dealing with the mood swings associated with bipolar disorder or if I was simply a temperamental child.

I remember one night when I was about twelve or thirteen, I went to my best friend’s swim meet and we went out for celebratory sundaes afterward. I ate my hot fudge sundae, and the sugar from the hot fudge made me act as though I was out of control. This same friend and I often had sleepovers where I would stay awake all night, listening to the squirrels in her attic.

Around thirteen, my parents took me to my first psychologist appointment. The teachers had worried about me because of confiscating dark poems I had written at the time, referencing death and self-harm. At the appointment, the psychologist asked me questions, which I answered truthfully, and I was diagnosed with depression.

I went to see a psychiatrist – a man who wore black tennis shoes too big for his feet and had the features of a puppet carved out of wood.

Woman with smeared eyes in studio

By the time I was fourteen or so, I had alienated most of my friends because of my extreme changes in mood. As those high school years wore on, my moods changing, I became increasingly harder to deal with. The darknesses were bleaker, and the highs were even more extreme. I struggled to relate to my peers, and finally, when I was eighteen, my parents and I agreed that medication would probably help manage the dark spells.

I went to see a psychiatrist – a man who wore black tennis shoes that were too big for his feet and had the features of a puppet carved out of wood. He sat and asked me questions, the same questions the psychologist had asked me when I was thirteen, but now, more invasive, more personal.

He asked about my sex life and jotted notes down as I answered. I remember feeling very uncomfortable around him but as though I had to answer his questions. He prescribed medication for depression, but without a mood stabilizer, I immediately went into a prolonged manic state, making poor decisions that culminated in my leaving home with my boyfriend when I was grounded and staying with him for a few days.

For those few days, I did whatever I wanted with no restrictions (smoked marijuana, drank, and had sex with my boyfriend) and felt free, but, of course, it had to come to an end. When it did, everything, and I mean everything crashed to a halt. My parents seriously began to consider whether they trusted me to go away to college.

Woman in Black Tank Top Lying on Bed

When I did finally convince them that I was stable enough to go to college, my freshman year, I became a statistic. I was unmedicated and alone in a different city. I was raped by an older student who I considered a friend at the time.

A year later, I dropped out of school because I saw my rapist on my dorm floor most nights, and it triggered me. Without having anyone to talk to, I moved out to Pennsylvania to live with one of my best friends who had also experienced sexual assault.

My parents read the email I sent them about going my own way – despite not mentioning the rape – and assumed it was another one of my “crazy attempts at running away”.

When I moved back home over a year-and-a-half later, one of the requirements enforced by my parents was that I go to therapy and see a psychiatrist. This time, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II once the psychiatrist recognized my extreme highs and extreme lows.

And that’s the condensed version of how I received my bipolar diagnosis. In my chapbook, I have many of these stories and more (in poetry form, obviously), so if any of this interests you, you might be interested in reading my chapbook.

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Today would have been Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 172nd birthday if she was still alive. Granted, she passed away almost a hundred years ago (1924), but I still thought it’d be nice to post an homage to an author who I didn’t mention on my Influences entry.

She wrote the books The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, books I loved as a little girl. I had the imagination equivalent to the main character in her book A Little Princess, Sara Crewe. I loved how Sara was kind to everyone she came across, regardless of their social standing.

To me, Sara was a role model in some ways; she kept her kindness and charitable nature intact throughout the novel. Even when she stood up to the antagonist, she was still respectful. During her hardships, she remained hopeful. That theme of hope has remained me with me, even as an adult. I faced abuse as a child and a young adult until my mid-20s, and hope kept me alive sometimes. People often called me resilient, but I simply chalk it up to never losing hope.

I have several favorite quotes from the book, but the one that provided me with light on my darkest days was from after Sara loses her riches.

“Whatever comes,” she said, “cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.”

A Little Princess, Frances Burnett

I remember reading how Sara, even when she was punished in the attic, maintained a positive personality. She uses her imagination to get through the worst of her experiences, pretending to be in the Bastille, and I attempted to bravely face my darkest hours by using my imagination to survive.

So, in a way, though this book didn’t influence my writing style, it did influence me as a person.

Burnett began writing to earn money for her family when she was only 19. She struggled with depression especially after her son died. Yet her characters all seem to find a way of making it through difficult circumstances, which was enough to inspire me, even as a child.

She described herself as a “story maniac”, something I could – and still do – relate to. She began writing when her imagination took her places and invented characters as she looked out onto a garden. She passed away in 1924.

If you want to read her, I’d suggest A Little Princess or The Secret Garden.

Poetry Writing

Olivia Rodrigo in an article by Ben Henry, BuzzFeed News.

I read this quote from Rodrigo defending her use of describing a “blonde girl” (when really, the girl in question, was a brunette) in her song, and immediately, her words resonated with me.

As a poet, I tend to get specific. I say an ex-lover’s eyes sparkled like jade with the rings of Saturn orbiting her pupil. I describe the way he smelled like piney marijuana and patchouli when he danced with me. I might say another’s name tasted like taking a bite of a red apple in autumn but later, all I could taste was the scorch of burnt ash.

So I understand the need to get descriptive, but as a fiction author, I also know it is frowned on to give a laundry list of description: “He was 5’7″ with a close-cropped beard and eyes that glimmered like blue topaz whenever he saw her. He had a freckle underneath his eye that lined up with a freckle she had underneath her eye, so when they kissed, their freckles exchanged intimate greetings as well. He wore oversized dress shirts with the cuffs hanging over his small hands. His hands were stained with tobacco and always moving with a nervous, frenetic energy. When he smiled, she could see his imperfect teeth, but it was a genuine smile. He weighed around one-hundred-and-sixty pounds and was self-conscious of the hair on his stomach.”

…did you enjoy reading all of that?

I tried my best to make it interesting, but let’s be honest – that’s a lot of detail.

So, an author might pick and choose so her audience doesn’t feel alienated from her. While a fiction author has the luxury of using more words, it doesn’t mean a pile-up of details forced down her readers’ throats.

That being said, a poet wants to create a specific person but still leave the details a bit hazy, so when you’ve finished reading, you can tell yourself that the poem was about you or your ex-girlfriend or your fiancé or your next door neighbor or your grandpa who died eleven-and-a-half years ago.

Also, like Rodrigo touched on, the drama can take away the song or poem’s impact because everyone is analyzing it, waiting for reactions, and caught up in the scandal. I prefer amalgamations of people or details that aren’t really details like some of what I’ve written above.

Just my thoughts.