#BellLetsTalk – January 28

So today’s the day that the Bell Let’s Talk initiative is running on Twitter. I wanted to support it by using the hashtag, but it’s hard to really say anything significant about mental health in 140 characters.

For those of you who read my blog, you’ll know that I talk about my experiences with mental health pretty frequently. You might be surprised to know that I very rarely bring it up in my day to day life. Most people who know I have a disorder learned that when the CBC article came out. The most frequent response I get when telling someone I have schizophrenia is, “Wow. You would never know!”

The truth is, being schizophrenic doesn’t hold me back from doing much. I’m an A-level student (when I put the effort in), I have passions and hobbies, and if I’m comfortable with you I can carry on a conversation for hours. The biggest aspect of my mental illness that affects me is my anxiety. Anxiety over being judged. Anxiety over being rejected. And okay, sometimes anxiety that I’ll randomly get hit by a car on my way home from a comedy show. The point is, I’m just like everyone else. Because when I’m on my meds and not experiencing psychotic symptoms, then I’m considered by doctors to be healthy. Not mentally ill.

This might tick “normal” people off, but I actually have more opportunities available to me because of my illness. The reason for that is because I have “lived experience”. I have a first hand knowledge of what it’s like to be psychotic, manic, depressed, and suicidal. Better yet, I know how to get past all of those challenges because I’ve done it myself. It’s not just in my personal life where this experience comes in handy. I’ve gotten paying work simply because of the way my brain is wired. Having schizophrenia isn’t always a bad thing.

Here’s what I’ll say about stigma. For a long time I lived in denial of my condition. I didn’t understand how I – an intelligent, reasonable person – could be crazy. It was only after I educated myself about what schizophrenia is that I realized it’s nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. The people who knew me understood that better than I did. Once I accepted myself and my disorder, then it became a lot easier to talk about it with other people.

So #BellLetsTalk .

January 20 – March Looms Closer

Well we’re almost in February. It’s about forty odd days until my birthday. I’m not very excited. I’ve spent two birthdays in my hospital celebrating jointly a new year and a new psychotic episode. And really I’m only twenty two, so the ratio of birthdays spent psychotic to not isn’t what I’d like it to be.

It starts in the winter when the days get short and the nights are cold. I get gloomy and I stop going out. Then around the New Year I get anxious. And then right around my birthday it hits me. Well, it’s happened twice. I don’t think it will happen again this year, but I’m not expecting it to be a great time either. I’m turning twenty three. Time flies on.

My first episode took place in 2011, late February. I went in a week before my nineteenth birthday and stayed there a week past. It was by far the most confusing, exhausting experience in my short life. The second episode took place last year, early March. Just a few days after my twenty second birthday. And it lasted more than a month. Despite the coverage that episode got, it was the less painful of the two. I more or less enjoyed my time in the hospital, when I wasn’t hysterical.

This year I’ve been staying active and going for walks every day. I’m writing and attending class, keeping on top of assignments. So I’m pretty secure. My doctor is impressed with how I’m doing. It probably won’t happen this year.

My ultimate birthday wish? Oh, of course it would have to be to get a letter from Conan. I’m too shy for a hug. I would hug Andy though.

Well, that’s what I’ll be thinking about until I’m out of what I call the “red zone.” It covers January 1 to March 10.  When I emerge on the other side of this, I’ll be twenty three and hopefully a free, sane woman. :)

January 13 – Trucking’ On

So I’m one week into second semester here at Mac. Liking all my classes so far. In particular, my Moral Issues class. Philosophy can be very interesting. I’m one of those keeners who sit in the front row and ask a lot of questions, to the point where the prof starts ignoring them (as he did to me today). It’s frustrating because I had a great question to ask, holding on to it for twenty minutes, then some other kid asks that question. My question. …I would have asked it better…

The 9:30am class times are hard to pull off, but I’m doing it. Coffee helps. Also, it gives me plenty of time to work on my story. Speaking of my story, I’ve updated the page Peach in Time. Chapters 1-8 are now available. If you haven’t read anything about this story yet, then I’ll just quickly sum it up as a queercentric, female heavy time travel adventure aimed at young adults. It’s a fun read. I’m having a great time writing it. If you want to know more about what inspired it or where it’s headed, then I’ll talk your ear off. Just buy me a coffee. :)

I’m also being very social. Getting out more, meeting new people. I’ve decided to put off having a serious relationship until I’m ready to have one, which might be a few years down the road. Right now I want to focus on finishing college, publishing a book and being sane for more than a year. So anyway, last night I went to a comedy show for the first time in months. Ceilidh House on Monday night, always a good time. I saw all my favourite comics whom I love and adore. Matt, Moses, Jordan, Gavin, Manolis, Anthony, Isi, Nick. And some I didn’t know. A few of the regulars were missing, yes, but I’ll just have to go to another show soon.

The last update I have is just to say, I’m keeping up with my exercise regimen: 10 minute walks, 3x a day. It’s not hard and I’ll occasionally step it up with a 30 or 40 minute walk. Sometime if I feel peppy or it’s cold outside, then I’ll jog the last part of my walk. I’m hoping that in a month or so, I can add in the escarpment stairs once a week.

Looking forward to reading week. Talk to you later!

January 8 – Maintaining Writing, Studying and Exercise Goals

Well, usually by this point my new year’s resolutions have worn off. But lucky this year, I didn’t make any. Instead, I just started developing the habit of going for walks, attending class, and writing every day. On my free days, I like to paint. Things are going well.

Exercise: My doctor agrees that it’s better to go for a 10 minute walk 3x a day, rather than go for a 30 minute walk 1x day. So, even though I’ve been freezing my butt off, I’ve been out for a walk morning, noon, and evening. I can’t say if it’s made any difference yet, but my jacket is fitting better. I can also wear a layer of tights under my jeans, so that’s a bonus. Especially since it’s supposed to feel like -30 with windchill.

Writing: Right now I’m devoting most of my creative attention to working on a queer time travel novel called Peach in Time. I’m posting it chapter by chapter on this blog. Just go to the menu and click on “Peach in Time”. The chapters are posted as pdfs on that page.

Class: I have three classes right now. I’m handling them well. I only have one tutorial, which is ballin’ because I don’t like tutorials. My teachers all seem to be relatively intelligent, engaging and friendly. One female (who has taught me before) and two males. The classes are Media Organizations, Communication Past and Present, and Moral Issues. Should be a fun semester, despite having a three hour evening class on Mondays. On Mondays, I’m on campus from 9:30am to 10:00pm. The key is coffee.

Art: My living room is hosting my current artwork, though I plan to move it up to my bedroom tonight. I just finished a large painting that I’ll be posting on here once I’ve worked with it digitally.

That’s all for now. Feel free to read my story!

January 5 – The Start of 2015

It’s a new year and new beginnings. New classes and new art supplies, and a soon-to-be-clean bedroom. I needed a fresh start. I’ve done away with my counting system, and am just going to keep track of the dates I blog instead.

The year was off to a good start because the CBC mentioned me in an article called “Five Remarkable Women We Met in 2014″. I thought that was nice. I felt somewhat self conscious being up there with those other women, who seemed much more remarkable than me. All I did was have a meltdown, really.

My boyfriend says that incident I had last year shows that I am an adventurer. He likes that; if he wants an adventure he has someone ready to go. I’m impressed my him. I would think that most men would be intimidated by someone with issues of emotional instability, but that’s not what Murray sees. We’ve been dating off and on for about three years. This year we spent Boxing Day and New Years Eve together. It was nice.

I’m back at school. In fact, I’m writing this from the library. I’m fighting a cold and a cough, still, but it’s not slowing me down. I made my 9:30 am class, even if it was extremely hard to get out of bed. So far it’s the only one I’ve been to. Media Organizations, taught my Dr. Faiza Hirji. She was my professor in first year, and I’m looking forward to having her again.

My exercise is ramping up. I’ve figured out that I’ve been going on two ten minute walks a day, making for a total of 20 minutes a day, or 140 minutes a week. I think I’m supposed to aim for 160, so maybe I’ll take longer walks on the weekends. I really need to cancel my gym membership, though, because I haven’t been in a long time. Walks are just easier.

All in all, 2015 is off to a good start.

Day 254

My social life has taken a turn for the better lately. I’ve been able to go out and meet with friends, hang out in public places, meet new people, and go out for dinner. In fact, I’ve been so active that I haven’t been keeping track of my bank balance. One of the most embarrassing things that has happened to me in a while, was having my debit card declined because of insufficient funds and having my mother come and pay for my meal. I’ve never really been good with money.

However, I was able to foresee my funds running out eventually – considering I don’t have any sources on income right now. So before this all happened I was able to score a temporary gig as someone’s live in pet sitter. I’ll be looking after two dogs for about five weeks while their owner is away. That should be fun, and will solve my bank balance problem, too. I’m not allowed visitors and I can’t leave the dogs alone for long, so it might be a bit isolating. But maybe that will encourage me to study!

But I get impatient when I’m low on funds. Even if there’s nothing I want to buy, I feel trapped. I live with my parents and I don’t have any expenses right now, but there’s something about not being able to afford a bus ticket outta here that makes me nervous. And when I get nervous, or feel any emotion to excess, I paint.

I really like painting. I paint mostly modern, abstract art. Not because it’s popular, because trust me it’s not, but because that’s what I find relaxing. I put up my paintings on a new page in hopes of encouraging people to buy some but don’t worry – there’s no delusions of grandeur here. The last painting I sold – the only painting I sold – went for one dollar.

Money issues aside, my psychosis symptoms are pretty much gone. I’m understanding myself again. We’re still experimenting with the right medication plan but everything seems to be going smoothly. It’s only a little over a hundred days until I hit the one year mark.

Day 235

It’s hard to believe, but I’m actually sitting in a library writing a paper that is NOT due tomorrow. I’m finding that taking three courses really helps me manage the work load. And I’ve discovered the cure to boredom here on campus: get a coffee and go the second floor of Mills library and write. Even if there isn’t anything due, there’s always blog posts and e-mails and articles to catch up on.

I’ve even taken to reading scholarly articles on JSTOR, an online academic journal. I figure they can give me ideas about future projects and areas of study. My psychiatrist made a good point that if I try to make every assignment seem applicable to real world problems that I actually care about – the work will seem less dry.

She also told me that I need to get out more. It’s true, I’ve been so focused on ‘getting better’ and getting past my episode that I’ve been building myself into a socially isolated cave. I forgot that wellness is best achieved holistically. And, maybe my anxiety was holding me back a little. I’m anxious about doing anything that isn’t hiding under a blanket so that makes ‘getting out’ kind of difficult.

For the longest time I was nervous about seeing people in person since I had my episode and started blogging. I thought coming out of the psychiatric closet would be easy – no big deal. And when I did it, I was so concerned about being in a satanic cult that I didn’t really care about what people thought of me. But now that I’m getting better, and the fog is clearing, I’m left feeling exposed and aware of how exposed I am. It’s hard to own it. Now I understand what people meant when they said I was brave. Turns out I wasn’t that brave, just a bit delusional.

But, I can’t trade the experience of my episode and all the things that came along with it. So instead of back peddling back into the closet (or under the blanket), I’m gonna go forward. Slowly. And maybe something new will happen, once I let it.

Day 226

Sitting in a bustling library with a coffee and a laptop, writing an essay. Student life isn’t so bad.

I’ve finally started to settle into a rhythm with my classes and exercise. It’s been difficult, because I often feel anxious around people (who are EVERYWHERE) but I’m working through that. I find the key is to put myself in a good mood – even if it’s unnatural. As my high school gym teacher told me: fake it til you make it.

I’m in the two hundreds as far as these posts go. Not two hundred posts, but two hundred or so days since I started blogging. 226 to be more accurate. It really does take a long time to see change. But I’ve forced myself to keep moving and now my life is relatively on track. But I’ve still got a long way to go til I’m back to my old self. To be fair, at my best times I’ve performed improv and stand up comedy, exercised for two hours every night, and been an A+ student. I’m keeping the bar set high.

As far as my symptoms go, the worst I’ll get is a bit of anxiety or low mood. There’s not much I can do about that except ride it out. It’d be worse if I were growing delusional or paranoid, which I’m not. I don’t think I am at least…

Anyway, I have an essay to finish. Have a good day!

Day 170

School starts soon. I got my schedule and it looks pretty manageable. I’m nervous about taking the two research courses I’m taking, because I’m actually retaking them. Last time I had to drop them because I was ill. But I’m excited for the Islam in North America elective I’m taking. I bought a book on the history of the middle east but it’s a bit too dry to get into.

My new aspiration is a career in law enforcement. I’m not sure in what capacity yet, but the thought of it excites me and gives me reasons to stick to my health routine.

Speaking of which, this week I’ve cycled, ran on the treadmill, swam and done pushups and sit ups. I’ve also eaten a lot better. For lunch today I had a spinach and avocado salad. I also started logging my food and exercise on Lose It. My goal is to get down to whatever percentage of body fat I’m allowed to apply to be an officer, which means this will probably take a while.

I’ve developed a three year plan filled with attainable goals to get me to where I want to go. I’m also learning French!

Day 153

I’ve made it pretty far into this thing. I’m focused more now on healthy living and less on reflecting about my illness.

I have been trying to write a memoir, because I don’t think I can really move on from this until I’ve got a neat look book to hold in my hand. I think a polished version of my memories could do some good for others, too.

But the thing is…it’s harder to relive those memories than it was to experience them in the first place. Reading through my blog posts makes me cry. Thinking back on what happened in the hospital makes me curl up under a blanket. But when it was all happening, I didn’t have the option of pausing things and taking a break. I was psychotic until whatever point the meds kicked in and I started seeing things clearly.

So I know I can do this. Which is why I refuse to stop trying.

As a side note, to keep everyone and myself up to date on my progress: I’ve recently completed an internship as a production assistant for a film camp, I joined a gym, started eating healthier, started dating again, and am headed for school come September.