The Day I Was Honest

I’ve held onto this post, mostly becuase I couldn’t give it all it deserved. I had to be in the right frame of mind. I’m not entirely sure it’s today, but I think I’ve got a good grip on what I want to say and I think it’s a lovely way to open the new calendar year.
Last semester (and thusly last year) I had a lot going on, as we’ve discussed. I had just transferred to the big city, made new friends, was working on establishing myself in the ways of the world. And I began to blog seriously. I watched this video today of an interview with Jada Pinkett Smith, which I absolutely loved and the idea came bubbling up in the back of my head. That’s why I’ve decided to blog on it today.

In the interview, she was talking about how to balance your life. That’s something I really struggle with. I live too much in the future and not enough in the now. I think about how to fix the problems I may encounter and not so much on how to prevent them. So when she said “focus on yourself. Do what makes you happy.”I really felt like we were approaching a revalation. Her argument was that if you do not find a way to keep yourself in balance, to take care of yourself, you will look to others to do so. You will blame them for sacrificing your entire life for them and not getting happiness out of it. And it blew my mind (metaphorically, of course). 

Now that you’ve had some background info, on to the actual point.

Last semester is by far and away not the first time I’ve had to take sick days. I’ve had bronchitis, strep, the stomach flu and a host of colds throughout my life. But I don’t skip irresponsibly. I take pride in my ability to attend school and work with punctuality and integrity. But last semester was the first time I was honest with myself. As I was crafting my email to my professors for the day, I began to reason out what my excuse for missing class was. Was I suffering from a 24 hour bug? Had I awoken with a flat tire or a low battery? Had I merely slept in? And I realized that I needed to stop kidding myself and respect myself as much as I respected the professors.

 

 

Good morning!

I will not be in class today. I need to take a mental health day and will return to class tomorrow. Thank you for your understanding.

Best,

Michelle BB.

For the first time in my entire life, I used that excuse. I’ve always been ashamed to, like it was some sort of cop-out excuse for being lazy. But it isn’t. And in fact, when I returned the next day, my professors went out of their way to make sure I was alright. Two of them even stopped by the office where I work and made it a point to see if I needed anything. They didn’t see me as a lazy, incompetent student. They saw me as an individual who responsibly needed a day to regroup.

  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at their reactions. Mental health has been quite a large topic lately, and I was taking a bunch of anthropology classes, so they all understand the value of psychobiological health. And as I said, I do not skip irresponsibly. There is always a reason-a real reason. But it got me thinking. How can I stand here (or sit) and tell you all that we need to take steps to mental health help and then be ashamed of the fact that I have to use that reason myself? Why was I ashamed in the first place?

Because it still carries the connotations. I don’t want anyone to see me as weak, unbalanced, incapable. I fight hard for people to see the bright, driven, passionate individual that I am. But I guess I got caught up in being a super heroine, without flaw or needs. And I viewed my own mental health as something along the lines of an excuse to be used as a cover up for the fact that I didn’t have the motivation to do something. That isn’t even the case. But I’m glad I learned that. Because mental health isn’t separate from physical health. It’s a facet of the same diamond. I was scared that my professors would use that against me in the future. But all that happened was me finally letting go of the fear and replacing it with the statement “I have to take care of myself-holistically.” And once I did that, I think I managed to do just that.

  So thank you, Jada Pinkett Smith, for reminding me that I do indeed need to find my balance and stop sacrificing myself away. No one else is responsible for my happiness and health.

Advertisements

Every Word’s The Same

I have to say

There seems to be a miscommunication

I thought secrets were for the living

But the only secrets are kept in death

If every second lasted just a second longer

Maybe the trust I thought I deserved 

Would shatter before my eyes

Instead of behind my back

My shoulder blades itch, 

Could you move the knife up and to the left?

Or should I just fall on my face

The beauty of the fall is my disgrace

Is that your heartbeat

Or is it just the echo of a chest that’s hollow

Because you’ve been a tin man your whole life

And I guess that makes me the one without courage.

It takes a tribe to raise a kid, but 

Maybe it was a village of idiots.

You thought you were so clever, so sweet

That I could save you from your own disasters 

You should have looked for a parachute

Because this plane’s about to go down.

I never thought it’d come down to this

A thief and a liar, oh but the twist,

We are the same, you and I

Connected by the handcuffed scars on our wrist.

  (Photo from Pinterest!) 

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

Years ago I had an art teacher tell me that I was no good at drawing, or coloring, or creativity. Those concepts carried into my time as a high schooler, making me avoid art class with a passion. I chose instead, to put all of my efforts into music-where I learned to play various instruments with adequate skill and sang my  heart out in groups and solo. It is the story of my music education that I will hold onto for another day. When I found myself in a visual art class one year, I went to the teacher and explained that “I sucked”. It wasn’t because I had been certified as an individual without artistic powers or that I wanted mercy in the expectations, but because someone had told the impressionable child-me that I was no good and I carried that with me as my own truth. My high school art teacher told me that I didn’t suck and kept after me to keep trying. When my first entry on a larger project was complimented by TWO art teachers, I was confused.

I thought I sucked.

And yet here I am, a number of years later still and I find both coloring and drawing to be comforting. My skills are unpolished and although I find it relaxing, I would not say I am an artist. If you ever wondered what a difference havig art in classrooms can make, please use this story. If you’ve ever wanted to know why I have the utmost respect for teachers with passion, use this story. And when you combine the two, you’ll understand why this is one of the life-defining moments in my life.

I struggle daily with how to define myself. The labels which have been handed to me do not present a complete picture, and there are not words for the other parts of me. As I explored this, I realized that I am in a transient state, changing, moving and shaping myself constantly. I have no labels, because I do not need them. I am an unfinished work of art, still being planned out by an artist who hasn’t decided where this project will go.

I look back on that moment in high school when I struggled with my identity. Perhaps it’s just high school, perhaps I was different. I didn’t know that by breaking down the walls of my childhood-the misconceptions that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t worth investing time in-I would be doing the best thing for myself.

It has been 8 years since I stepped foot inside the high school I would graduate from. I was a junior when I took the art class that convinced me I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful. 

I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful.

So here I am, almost a decade after I began my transformation into the adult I will become. I haven’t finished changing, and in fact, I imagine I will be someone new before I finish. But the thing is, those words stuck with me. The teacher I had in high school is both someone whom I admire deeply and a source of great inspiration to me. She pushes me still to see the world in a different way than may be easy, or colorless. And so one of the things I’ve been working on this semester is exploring that change. What I came up with I’ve been putting into writing, becoming more assertive in what I need to say. What I don’t show people often is that I also put my messages into drawings. Sometimes they are tattoo sketches far too big and detailed to be reasonably priced, sometimes they are metaphorical and drawn in an utmost surreal context. But then there’s this piece.

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

  I so named it that because I wanted to show how my change is both reflective of who I am now, and the product of who I was. I’d like to take a moment and explain what I feel the message is. You don’t have to like it, just consider it.

The basic content is: a waterfall, a phoenix and two sets of hands. That much, I gather you could figure out for yourself. The next layer are the words in the background: Transform, Brave, Love, Acceptance, Beautiful, Hope, Life, Forgiveness, Growth. There is the color scheme to consider, the level of detail (and shading) in the hands, the size of the hands and the “decoration” of the hands, as well as the way the background is set up. 

The nine words are the ones I had to learn the hard way. They are reflective of self, things that were not always easy for me to fully grasp.

The background grows darker, more assertive as it approaches the bigger hands, more concrete. The waterfall is closer to the small hands. The left side of the picture in general is lighter, less defined, more washed out. 

And the hands themselves. On the left, you have a child’s hands. They are reaching out for help, open and expressive. The nails are painted black, and the waterfall is suggestive of losing oneself, “going off the deep end” and trying to “keep my head above the water”. The hands themselves are lightly shaded, as though the owner is becoming invisible. And yet there are bright red marks on the arms-dashes, hope and love. I can promise you that this isn’t a shock-and awe piece, but a true to life representation of the way my arms looked spring of my freshman year. I don’t talk about it often, it isn’t a story too many people know, but now they will. Those two words were the things I wanted most out of life-hope of a better life and love that would heal all wounds. And yes, I really did cut them into my arms with diamond Os and the Es facing vein length. It is honest and brutal.

On the right, there is the me that I am now. older, stronger hands with imperfections (like crooked fingers) reaching out to the younger me, the me that is representative of the 2-3 million people who engage in self harm each year. The right side reaches out, without judgement, offering safety and hope and love to those without. The nails are blue and a silver wedding band is there. But if you look closely, the scars are still there, silent reminders that what was done cannot be undone, but can make you stronger. 

In the end, it was never about being right or being wrong. It was always about being the person who broke free from their shell to embrace something new. I may not be perfect, but I made something beautiful: a new life. And that is the true evolution. Like a phoenix, I took my failures and created brilliance. I cannot wait to see what comes next.

You Got Me There

image

Today is the day that I come out of my shell once more, and tell you all about a subject that I believe needs more sincere attention. It is National Bipolar Awareness Day. I have some helpful infographics here for you all, and I think that Ineed to be the change I want to see in the world, so I’m going to discuss why YOU and I and EVERYONE needs to start talking about mental health.

image

image

5.7 million Americans. “There are 321,271,372 people in the United States of America.” according to howmanyofme.com and that means that there are roughly 2% of Americans (1.77%) living with this disease. Comparatively, there are  10 times as many people who simply live with some mental illness diagnosis. Since this day is dedicated to Bipolar Disorder, I will focus thusly. (These numbers all change depending on where your sources are and who actually did the research, so keep that in mind. These are “low” estimates.)

image

So what IS Bipolar Disorder?

I can promise you that it is NOT a crutch. People who live with this disorder are not seeking attention because they have very little else to do-it is a chemical imbalance in the brain.

image

Sound like fun, right?

It isn’t. There are moments when you feel like you are invincible. You can go for days, live life freely. And then comes the crash-the moment when life isn’t your oyster, it’s your cage and you’re running out of oxygen. And there’s more than one kind. There are more than 2 kinds. But the 2 which everyone seems to be “familiar” with are:

image

So what can we do to help?

image

image

All in all, having a mental illness is not much different than having a physical one-because as a human, we are both the mental and the physical. You see, there are not too many people who would go to a cancer survivor and tell them to “get over themselves”, but there are plenty of people who passionately do that to someone with a mental illness. It’s time to change these stigmas and reclaim healthy lives.

image

A Rant, If You Will

I’m almost 23 years old. I work hard to be the best adult I can be. That means some very specific things to me. (This list is in no way complete. It’s just a snapshot.)

1. Paying bills before buying non-essentials

2. Putting others before myself, but never neglecting myself

3. Being responsible

It is this last one that I need to rant about currently.

  
If you say you are going to be somewhere or do something or behave in a certain manner, you had best do it. I know life comes up, but that is only an excuse once or twice. Any more than that and you are WELL aware that you are not capable. For example. I have a really large issue driving and being in a car in general. It’s PTSD from a bad crash a couple years ago. Therefore, I do not volunteer to drive places. And since I moved to the big city, I am forced to either push my comfort zone or be a shut in and ask my kind friends to come to me. I do not say “Oh yes! I would love to drive!” and then back out, because I am aware of my personal limitations. 

Moreover, I am bipolar. I know this, and now so do you. I don’t use it as an excuse, it is simply a part of me. I have periods of time where it is difficult for meto get out of bed, change into anything besides pajamas, or even brush my hair. I also have periods where I sleep half an hour a day and think that a 20 page paper is no sweat. But no matter which of those moments I am in, I force myself to keep up with my general way of life. Going to class, wearing day clothes, doing homework, doing house chores, answering my texts and phone calls. It is difficult, but I do it because I know that I can’t just let my life pass me by. I am the only one who can live it, and there are a great many things on my bucket list that need accomplishing. None of those things will ever be done if I don’t keep pushing myself.

Being responsible means being able to admit when you CANNOT do something just as often as when you CAN. And it bothers me that there are so many “adult aged” individuals that I come in contact with on a daily basis who cannot seem to understand that. I am blessed with the friends who understand what this word means, and for that I am forever thankful. I just wish there were more people who understood the gravity of their actions. I mean, being an adult is no walk in the park, but if you’re going to try walking with the “big boys and girls”, you had darn well have your walking shoes.

I Live Alone

Dawn breaks

And my heart with it.

I close the blinds

To keep harsh rays at bay.

Time passes

And yet my feelings remain.

The hands on my watch move

Without me.

I make a cup of tea,

But my tears leak into it

I can barely put it down

My hands shake so much.

My husband comes home

But I’m far away

He asks me what’s wrong

But there are too many right answers.

The sun sets

And my problems arise

Waiting for darkness

To persecute me.

I fall asleep

Wishing to be free

But the shell that is me

Keeps me caged and alone.

I’ll See You Tomorrow

It is this day.

Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day.

Before I get into what I have to say, I want to focus on you. You who are downtrodden, broken and hurting. You who have traveled and fought and muddled your way through the vast recesses of your mind only to find darkness, fear and loneliness.

You don’t have to be alone. You aren’t alone. And you don’t have to be afraid. We are here.Brain Hands

As I sat through class today (anthropological theory) we touched on Emile Durkheim. He was one of the first people to really study suicide and the reasons why someone would take that option. The professor looked around and asked “Is it today or tomorrow?” Knowing what she was referring to, I told her it was today, voice hushed and reverent. The words which came out of her mouth next will stick with me for the rest of my life. She said:

“I’m not going to tell you it will get better. That’s bullshit. What I will tell you is that you’re not alone. That’s the truth.”

Bipolar 2

I saw a tumblr blog (I believe) which said something like:

Today my anthro professor said something kind of really beautiful: “You all have a little bit of ‘I want to save the world in you’, that’s why you’re here, in college. I want you to know that it’s okay if you only save one person, and it’s okay if that person is you.” I feel like a few people I know could stand to read this.

bipolar_disorder_by_okbrightstar-d5nkjrr

Now, firstly, as an anthro student, I’m excited we all have professors who just “get it”.

Anyway. The people at TWLOHA (To Write Love On Her Arms) have a theme for today, which is conveniently located in my title. I want to tell you where that came from. This was taken from the email I received.

“Above all else, we choose to stay. We choose to fight the darkness and the sadness, to fight the questions and the lies and the myth of all that’s missing. We choose to stay, because we are stories still going. Because there is still some time for things to turn around, time for surprises and for change. We stay because no one else can play our part. Life is worth living. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

Bipolar 3

I know you are all carrying about your day and you’ve got a hundred thousand things on your mind. But remember this: At some point, your actions could have been the one thing making someone hold on when they felt like there was nothing left for them.

I was a freshman the first time I wanted to die. I was a little overweight, I felt the pressures of the expectations others had for me a little too greatly and I had excessive expectations for myself. But the thing is, no one told me that it was okay to be afraid and to let go of the things which were holding me back. No one told me that at the end of the day, it didn’t matter what society told me was needed from me. All I needed to hear was that I wasn’t alone: that I was loved and that there was hope. But then again, I’m not even sure I would have listened. Sometimes depression sucks that way.

Starry NIght

I carved the words “hope” and “love” on the insides of my forearms with razor blades. I had cut slices into my thighs. I had taken pills. The kind that when you take too many, bad things happen (like death). I took a LOT. I expected that in the end, someone would be glad that they didn’t have to clean up my blood, that they wouldn’t have to do much to make me look like I was sleeping. Inside, I was a scared little girl who had been pushed too far, had cried too much.

And then I threw up. I threw everything up and I kept on heaving. I tried and I tried to empty my stomach, empty my heart of feelings, empty myself until there was nothing left to hurt. And what I was left with was the quiet void of someone who felt a little too much and couldn’t go any further.

Into therapy I went, and if you look at the me who types here today, you can see that there are still some moments when the little empty shell pops out, waiting for a moment of your time. You can see the hurt and the pain which emptied me out all those years ago. But you can also see the me that faces my fears every single day. That pushes my boundaries and tries even when that little shell comes out. The little girl looks up at me with hope and love, kissing the scar tissue that remains on my skin.

IMG_1220

The thing is, no one gave me a reason to live, so I thought that that was a reason to die. But then I found out the most honest, sincere truth I’ve ever learned:

When I found no one to give me a reason, I gave myself the chance. I had to learn how to give myself love, how to open up a beacon of hope for myself.

IMG_1943

And here I sit, in my pajamas after a long day of class, drinking sweet tea and eating some zucchini thinking back on that dark time in my life, reflecting on the words of the two anthropology professors.

It isn’t that life stays bad forever. You just have to learn to see the good even when no one turns on the light.

So, my dear world, I would like to thank you all for existing. And I want you to know that I look forward to seeing each and every one of you tomorrow.

Third Quarter 2013 123