Gap Year 5.5 Month Reflection

Hey guys! Hope you’re doing well. It’s 4:23pm right now. I’m sitting in a booth inside Molly Stones, which is located right next to the local dance studio. Just had two dance lessons, now am taking a break before the advanced Latin-ballroom group class at 8pm.

So, I think it’s high time for a reflective post, seeing as my gap year is almost halfway over. This post is difficult for me to write. Whenever I take a critical look within myself, I am oftentimes ashamed of what I see. Nowadays, even more so. I wish I could say that this gap year has been productive, enriching, and fun. I wish I could say that I’ve achieved all the goals I set out to do at the beginning of my gap year– write my book, dance and figure skate to my heart’s content, get a job and make good money (mostly to support my expensive hobbies).

Welp. I can’t really say any of those things. This gap year has been one of the most difficult times of my life. The transition out of college was hard for many different reasons. I missed college life. The freedom and independence. The intellectual and social stimulation. The personal growth. My community.

I think of college as a bubble protecting you from the real world. In this bubble, you have a built-in community of like-minded people. You have such ease of access to a myriad of resources and opportunities— professors, peers, career fairs, undergraduate research, informational events— all there to aid you in personal and professional development as you transition into adulthood. There’s never a shortage of clubs and organizations that pique your interest. It’s so easy to make friends in this manufactured community. It may take you a bit to find your groove as you navigate this newfound independence, but once you do, everything else kind of falls into place. You find your close group of friends. You develop interests both in and out of the classroom. You learn how to manage classes, extracurriculars, groceries, exercise, and nap time.

I made the decision to leave college a year early. Upon returning home, I quickly realized that my decision to leave UCLA was both impulsive, and possibly erroneous. You see, it took me a while to find my footing in college. Making friends was not a problem. My main issue was taking care of my physical and mental health whilst striving for excellence in both the classroom and extracurriculars. Believe me when I say that I was beaten and battered and bruised— mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and financially— time and time again. College is hard, that’s for sure. Especially when you’re dealing with a serious mental illness like bipolar. It wasn’t until the end of junior year that I started to feel more in control of my life. I was no longer spending money recklessly. I found a good balance between classes and extracurriculars. I had two jobs that I absolutely loved. Granted, my mental illness was still there, and it was still severely under-treated. But towards the end of my college career, I think I figured out a way to cope with bipolar as best as I could under my circumstances. Finally, FINALLY, I found my footing.

And just when everything seemed to be working out, the bubble burst. Graduating early was something I decided to do on my own accord. I concede that I was manic when I impulsively made this big life decision. After the graduation festivities ended, I was left with the decision to stay in LA or return home. After much parental pressure, I decided to return home to take care of my mental illness. Sounds great in theory, right?

The reality was much more bleak. Sure, I had better resources and access to mental health care back home in the Bay Area. I could finally focus solely on taking care of my mental illness. I had a psychiatrist, a therapist, and group therapy. A family friend of ours is an acupuncturist, and she’s been giving me free treatment for my bipolar twice a week. Swell, right?

Well… before I dive into the dark reality of my gap year, I will say this. Humans are complex. We have a series of needs that, when met, can help us live happy, healthy lives. Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy. At the bottom of the pyramid you have your instrumental needs— food, money, shelter. But meeting those needs are not enough. On top of that are more complex needs, like safety, belonging and love, and self-esteem. When I returned home, I had all of my instrumental needs met. Didn’t have to pay for rent, food, or transportation. For that, I am extremely grateful. But everything else— independence, social community, sense of purpose, self-esteem— fell out the window. Returning home to my parents’ nest made me feel like a child once more. I felt as if I lost my freedom and independence. I regressed into an infantile state, once more reliant on my parents, loving as they may be. I left behind my friends, most of whom were still in college. I missed my old jobs, which gave me a sense of purpose. My ex-boyfriend was still in Los Angeles, and I had to leave him behind as well.

Given everything, what happened next is no surprise. I fell into a deep depression, which landed me in the ER after persistent thoughts of suicide. I cut myself, mostly as a way to scream at my parents, “Look at what I’ve become. And it’s all YOUR fault.” Indeed, I blamed my parents for pressuring me to come home, which led me into my miserable existence of loneliness and self-pity. Of course, I was the one who ultimately made the decision to come home. No one held a gun to my head saying, “Belicia, you MUST come home or you will die.” Well, I think a part of me did in fact die, when I left LA. Not immediately, no. But as the days, weeks, and months went on, my reality grew dimmer and dimmer, like a tumor that wouldn’t stop growing. My intention with moving home was to improve my mental health. In reality, the very opposite happened. Without independence, social stimulation, self-esteem or purpose, it didn’t matter how much therapy or medications I was receiving. I was drowning.

Let’s get on to the chronology of my gap year. First month was the honeymoon phase. Believe it or not, sad as I was to leave LA, I was also excited, because for the first time in my life, I would not have to crumble under the pressure of school, and I could pursue my creative passions to my heart’s content. For the first month, both my parents were overseas, so I still had a semblance of independence.

Then, my parents returned home. Immediately, I lost my freedom and space. My mother was relentless. She would monitor my every move, shout up the stairwell every five minutes to tell me to do something, ask where I was going whenever I went out. The stark contrast between the freedom I had in college and the reality of living at home was tremendous. I was suffocating.

Then there was the FOMO I experienced. Social media was my new greatest enemy. As I watched what my friends were doing in college, I felt a deep sadness that I could not be with them, making new memories. I felt an invisible force tearing apart the friendships I had so tenderly grown during my three years at UCLA.

To add fuel to fire, I missed my boyfriend like crazy, and doing long-distance was difficult.

You guys get the picture, right? Mired in a deep depression, the last thing I could think about was personal growth and goals and achievement. Being at home was now a matter of survival.

The overarching theme of the past five months, then, was transitioning to a new chapter of my life and learning to make peace with an imperfect situation. The progress has been slow, but these days, I’m doing a lot better than I was in the beginning. The reality is, even if life throws you lemons, you can’t sit on your ass for months on end, moping about it and blaming others for what has happened. Some circumstances are beyond your control. But what you can control is your response and reaction. Sure, moving home sucked. For so many reasons. But what am I going to do? Lay in my bed all day, curtains drawn, shutting out the rest of the world? Obviously not. I needed time to grieve the loss of a past life and rebuild my life in the Bay Area. That kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight. It’s been five months, and I’d be lying if I said I’ve completely healed and moved on. But I’m getting better. My parents have learned to back off and give me my space. I’m getting back into competitive ballroom dance. Today, I had my first figure skating lesson in three months. I got a personal fitness trainer who is slowly getting me back into shape. I found a group of friends in San Francisco whom I go out with every other week. My friend from UCLA, Su, moved to the Bay for a job, so having her around has been super great as well. I started a job as an SAT English tutor. I’m teaching a stretching class at the dance studio. And of course, I am writing. A lot. I am in the very beginning stages of my first novel, what is to be a compilation of some of these blog posts. I’ve written consistently for the past five years on this blog. That’s enough for a couple novels!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since moving home, it’s to trust the process. When I was in my darkest hour, I had no idea what was going to happen, or if I was even going to make it out alive. It’s okay not to know. In the words of singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha, “Everything’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be a good, good life, that’s what my therapist say”. I believe that even if life sucks in the moment, everything will work itself out in the end. I am not completely out of the woods yet. But I’m doing better. A lot better. And for that, I am grateful.

The Dangers of Mental Health Labels

Hey guys. It’s 1:16am on this Thursday morning. I am manic. So manic. I have not been this manic in a while. Sleep is out of the question tonight. I must write, lest I wish for my brain to explode.

So what is the trigger for this particular manic episode, you may ask? Well, basically, I spoke to my psychiatrist on the phone today. She recently increased my medication dosage for both the mood stabilizer and anti-psychotic. I asked my psychiatrist if the increased dosage of the anti-psychotic would cause weight gain. She replied in the affirmative. I freaked out. How can I, a dancer, gain weight?! But it certainly explained a lot. I’ve been exercising regularly and eating healthily… but I am not seeing results. It’s that damned medication, I’m telling you. So anyway, after I heard about the weight gain side effect, my mind immediately jumped to the solution, which was to exercise more and eat less. I am actually training for a ballroom dance competition in three weeks, and I need to rapidly lose weight so I don’t embarrass myself on the floor (not that anyone but me really cares). I think the competition is definitely another trigger for me. In situations of stress and pressure, I tend to go to the extreme in the pursuit of excellence. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself to work hard, and going over the edge into manic territory. Clearly, I have gone past that line, as demonstrated by tonight. I was actually going to go on a midnight run on the levee in the freezing cold, but thankfully, my mother stopped me in my tracks and scared me into submission.

More manic behavior– I impulsively messaged my ex-boyfriend, bombarding him with messages that I deeply regret sending. I don’t know why I sent them. All I know is that I was out of control. Totally manic. I don’t want to be that person who blames EVERYTHING on her illness, because not all my actions are a result of bipolar. I need to own up to my actions. But I also need to acknowledge that bipolar can really affect one’s behavior in drastic ways. I need to figure out which actions are the “real” me talking, and which are manifestations of bipolar.

Okay, so onto the meat of today’s post. I recently got my old laptop fixed (I broke the screen two years ago and finally got it fixed today). I was digging into some of the old notes I had written on my computer and stumbled across a particular gem written on August 14, 2016. Now, keep in mind that I got diagnosed with bipolar in 2018. So during the time that note was written, I had no idea I had a mood disorder. Yet, a part of me sensed that something was amiss with my mind. Well, enough of the preamble. I’ll just show you guys an excerpt of what I wrote that day.

“The older I get, the less I trust myself.

I am impulsive. I am sporadic. My emotions run rampant… I can be on top of the world one day, and feel depressed the next. I don’t trust myself. I need to learn to control my emotions… I need to learn to keep my motivation steady… Not 200% one day, and 0% the next. I need to be steadier. Less whimsical.

What is the source of my emotional instability? It may be because I always push myself to the limit… I may think this is a good thing, but if I’m going at 300 mph perpetually, I will inevitably crash. These “crashes” must be the depressive states I go through… Although lately, I haven’t been pushing myself. Well, Belicia, you are on vacation… But even Chris is practicing piano! Austin is working out! What are you doing? Why aren’t you stretching or dancing or reading or studying chem? Why are you just listlessly letting the day float on by? Watching movies… surfing the net… you aren’t growing yourself in some way.

But, instead of beating yourself up about it, let’s see what went wrong and try to fix it.”

The way I described my moods is almost exactly the way one would describe someone with bipolar. It’s interesting though– back when I didn’t have the label of “bipolar” smacked onto my forehead, my self-perception was vastly different, which in turn affected my ability to handle my mood disorder. Firstly, in 2016, I never thought I had a mood disorder. I didn’t even know exactly what bipolar was. All I know is, back in 2014 when I saw a therapist for anxiety and depression, I was told by said therapist that I was “unusually motivated”. That might have been another way of describing my manic symptoms. At that point, my moods did not show much fluctuation– I was manic most of the time. But, I digress. Where was I? Ah. Labels and how they affect self-perception. So back in the good ol’ days of ignorance, I truly believed that my mood fluctuations were a direct result of my action/inaction. As you can see from my note written in 2016, I blamed myself for being motivated one second and completely despondent and depressed the next. On the one hand, the bipolar label helped me realize that a lot of these mood fluctuations were not in my conscious control. It’s simply a chemical imbalance in the brain. In that way, I was relieved of much of the pressure that came with trying to “will” myself to feel and act normally. However, if one relies too much on the label, one will fall into the trap of blaming ALL their actions (and inaction) on the illness. Do this, and you are essentially absolving yourself of all blame and responsibility for your actions, which is not a good thing to do.

I’ve been reflecting A LOT on my bipolar lately. As I learn more about the illness and how it manifests in my life, I am growing a lot more accepting of it. I am starting to treat myself with compassion, instead of hating myself for having this mental disorder. However, I sometimes catch myself falling into that deadly trap of blaming my actions on my illness. Oh, I spent my money recklessly that weekend in Los Angeles? That was the bipolar talking, sorry. Oh yeah, I bombarded my ex-boyfriend with a million hurtful messages? That was also the illness. Oops.

But there’s a fundamental flaw in that kind of thinking. I’m using my mental illness label as a crutch, a way to excuse bad behavior. So here’s the big question: How much of my actions are the “real” me talking, and how much of it is bipolar? I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Two-faced. Dr. Jekyll is the real me– cool, composed, normal. Then there’s Mr. Hyde, aka, the side of me that comes out when I’m either manic or depressed. I’m a two-faced being. And I struggle to distinguish between the two. Is my bipolar side a fundamental part of my being? Am I one and the same as my illness? All big questions that may take a while for me to answer.

Alrighty guys. I don’t know what to do now. I have exhausted most of what I wanted to say… my mind is a bit less restless, but I still have so much energy. I know I won’t be able to sleep. I just need to fill my time between now and 4:30am, when I will hit the gym. Got a long day tomorrow. Personal fitness training 11am-12pm, lunch with a mentor 12pm-1pm, and two dance lessons in San Jose 3:30pm-5pm. Fun fun. Not sure how I’ll operate on zero sleep, so maybe I should try to catch some shut-eye. Yeah, I’ll do that.

 

 

 

XOXO,

Belicia

 

My Bipolar Tendencies

Hey guys! Welcome to today’s post! It’s currently 9:38am on this rainy, gloomy Thursday morning. Have a pretty chill day ahead. I was supposed to tour Stanford University with my friend Matt, who is currently a Stanford student. Because of the inclement weather, however, our plans have been postponed to next week. I plan on working out later today, as well as get some dance practice in. I’m training for a competition in February, so I need to whip myself back in shape!

So, onto today’s post– My Bipolar Tendencies. Bipolar manifests itself differently in different people. Today I want to share with you guys some ways in which bipolar has presented itself in my life and how the illness has affected my past (and present) behavior. They say that self awareness is key to combating the illness, so here I am, reflecting away!

The following are a list of common symptoms associated with bipolar, with emphasis on the manic/hypomanic phase. Underneath each symptom is a list of past/present behaviors that exemplify such symptoms. While some of these behaviors may be hilarious, crazy, or outright terrifying, just keep in mind that in all these cases, I was not in a proper state of mind. I was mentally ill.

Rapid, Excitable, Intrusive Speech

  • The other day, I was at the psychiatrist’s office. She asked me how things were going with me, and immediately I started spewing out a million different things, to the point where she had to tell me to slow down with my talking and organize my thoughts.
  • For most of college– my sophomore year in particular– I completely lacked a mental filter when talking with other people. For instance, I thought it was perfectly normal to ask people how many times a week they had sex! Why Belicia? Just, why? Oh, I know. Because I was manic!

Fast Thinking, Moving Quickly from Topic to Topic 

  • When I am manic, I oftentimes am unable to concentrate on one task at a time. The other day, I was writing an article for my website when, ten minutes in, my mind jumped to emailing my doctor. After that was done, I returned to writing, only to remember that I was to take the GRE in March, so I abruptly transitioned to studying for the math portion of the GRE, abandoning my writing project altogether. Herein lies the overlap between bipolar mania and ADHD.

Inflated Self-Esteem and Social Confidence 

  • Freshman year of college, during one of my manic episodes, I had a “British accent” phase, where I’d speak in a British accent to anyone and everyone, including to my own mother. I went down in GE Cluster 80A history when, during one of the lectures, I decided it would be funny to raise my hand every 10 minutes and speak in a British accent in front of my professors and peers. We had a guest lecturer that day, and the poor lady had no idea what was going on and why people were snickering and laughing every time I spoke! I received texts from all my friends in the class, who asked me what the hell I thought I was doing. The next day in discussion, my TA informed me that I was now “famous” in the class amongst students and professors alike. Thankfully, I didn’t get suspended for my outrageous behavior.
  • One time, I was sitting in the Hedrick Study (a cafe near the dorms) with my then-best friend, when we got on the topic of asking guys out. I tried to get her out of her shell and dared her to ask out a cute guy standing in line for food. She didn’t want to do it, so I told her I’d do it instead. Except I didn’t find the guy attractive enough. So I decided to pick one of the best looking guys in the Study and ask him out instead. As my friend watched me in awe, I approached the guy and said, “Hi! I’m Belicia! I just wanted to say that you are really cute, and I was wondering if you’d want to go out with me sometime!” The guy replied that he was flattered, but he was actually gay. Lol. So I tried again with another guy, and it was successful! I ended up only going on one date with him, but no matter. The point is, I was so manic that day that I had the confidence to go up to a total stranger in public and ask him out. In retrospect, I am in awe of the person I was while manic, and I could never imagine doing such a thing in my present stable state. Oh, how I miss that crazy confidence…
  • Other situations that illustrate my marked increase in social confidence during my manic state: dancing in the middle of the gym, dancing in the middle of the dining hall, wearing outrageous clothing (a Cheetah print onesie) to lecture, etc.
  • One of the highlights of my freshman year was when I accosted a pediatric neurosurgeon on the middle of Bruin Walk. At that time, I was a hardcore pre-med student, and I had so many questions buzzing in my head about the field of medicine. One day, I was walking to my Chem 14A lecture, when I spotted an older man in a white suit walking the opposite direction. I faintly made out the words “Dr. Warwick Peacock, Neurosurgery” in blue print on the left upper corner of his coat. Upon seeing those words, my eyes lit up, and I turned on my heel, sped walked in the opposite direction and tapped on the man’s shoulder. He looked at me, startled. I introduced myself: “Hi, my name is Belicia! I am a first-year psychobiology student on the pre-med track, and forgive me for being so forward, but I noticed from your coat that you’re a neurosurgeon, and I was wondering if you could answer some of my questions about the field of medicine!” Thank honest to God that this man was as friendly as he was, because I could envision such an interaction being ill-received by many. He ended up answering a lot of my questions and sharing his story with me during that 10-minute walk up Bruin Walk. I even asked if I could shadow him in neurosurgery, and he said he would look into it. Later, in an email exchange, he told me that he would “never forget me”, and that I should write a book about my story. Low and behold, here I am, doing just that!
  • It’s interesting how I essentially transformed overnight into a “social butterfly”, upon coming to college (such big life transitions and environmental change can trigger mania). This is the same girl who, two years prior, had to go to therapy for intense social anxiety! Crazy, right?!

Grandiose Ambition 

  • When I first got to UCLA, I envisioned myself being a pre-med student who’d earn a 4.0 GPA, whilst continuing competitive ballroom dance, questing to become the next World Champion ballroom dancer. Realistic? I think not.
  • Speaking of world champion dancer… when I first started Latin ballroom dance, I truly, truly believed that I could becoming the next champion and go down in Dancesport history. I figured that with my gymnastics background and insane work ethic, I could in fact do it. And for a little while, I had the follow-through. I trained 6 hours a day, living and breathing dance during the latter half of high school. Little did I know that this behavior and goal was a reflection of not only my type A personality, but also the grandiose ambition that comes with bipolar.

Poor Judgment and Impulsive Behavior 

  • I’d oftentimes make a million different commitments (dance competitions, classes, extracurriculars) only to be unable to follow through when the depression hits
  • Impulsively getting tattoos– for my most recent tattoo, I decided to get it the DAY OF, without thinking it through at all. Thankfully, I grew to fall in love with the aesthetic of the tattoo. But imagine if I ended up hating it!
  • During my manic phases, I’d often find myself cutting my hair off, either at the hairdresser’s, or by myself at 4am inside the girl’s bathroom!
  • I was very sexually active during my time in college (don’t tell my parents, lol). In retrospect, I am very very grateful I did not get an STD during my sexual escapades. Hypersexuality, by the way, is in fact one symptom of bipolar mania.
  • I’ve never been great with money, but when manic, I’d completely spend away my parents’ money with reckless abandon. I remember dropping $2,000 for a Beverly Hills home, where I hosted my 21st birthday party. I told my dad I’d pay him back, but I don’t believe I ever did. Sorry, dad. I promise I will, when I become a famous sports psychologist!
  • Oh man. How could I forget that one night when, manic as I was, I ran across the street to In-N-Out Burger at 1am, screaming and laughing my head off to the amusement of my friends, only to be rejected at the door by the security guard. Looking back, things could have ended much, much worse. The security guard could have called the freaking police!
  • Towards the end of freshman year of college, I almost left UCLA to pursue a dance career. Manic decision.
  • Two weeks into spring quarter of junior year (my last quarter at UCLA), I decided to graduate from UCLA a year early. Tacked on two classes, made it happen. Another manic decision in the books.
  • I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve dropped or tacked on classes at the very last minute. It’s insane.
  • I oftentimes act on how I “feel” in the moment, rather than thinking logically and making reasonable decisions. For example…
  • During senior year of high school, we were receiving our college admissions’ decisions. A stressful time, indeed, which can trigger mania. I remember hearing back from UC San Diego– not even a UC I really wanted to go to. I was confident I would get in, but I really wanted to get in as a Regents’ Scholar, which is a scholarship awarded to the top 1% of California applicants. I DID get in as Regents’, but when I first opened my admissions decision email, I didn’t see anything that said I had been awarded the scholarship. I was distraught beyond belief. So much so, that I punished myself by jumping into the freezing cold local pool, in the pouring rain. If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is.
  • There were many times in my life when, inspired in the moment to get in shape, I’d go on runs in the pouring rain at 1am. I’d always end up catching a cold at the end of the day.

Ruined Personal and Professional Relationships 

  • I got into my first relationship this past August. The relationship, which lasted 5 months, was tumultuous, to say the least. And I gotta say, looking back, much of the tumult was my fault. He did something to betray my trust, which caused a lot of trust issues on my part. But the behavior that ensued was absolutely unfair to him. The number of break-ups then make-ups I brought upon our relationship was ridiculous. I’d act on impulse, not thinking of the implications of my actions and how they would affect someone I loved. One day I’d be feeling insecure, so I’d break up with him. A minute later, I’d feel lonely, which prompted the make-up. That happened at least 5 times in the span of 5 months. Totally unfair to him, and for that I apologize profusely.
  • During sophomore year of college, I got into a huge fight with my then-best friend. We were messaging each other, when suddenly, angry and fed up with the whole situation, I told her that I never wanted to speak to her again. I completely burned a bridge with someone I cared about, and in the process, I lost a dear friend.
  • This next one is kind of hilarious. So during the end of freshman year of college, I ran into the UCLA gymnastics coach in the dining hall. A huge fan, I introduced myself to her and told her that I was caught in a crossroads between pursuing a career in medicine, and becoming a professional dancer. A former dancer herself, she told me that I have to give dancing a shot, lest I wanted to live with regret. Anyway, I forged a bond with her, and during sophomore year, she even asked me to lead a Latin dance workshop for the UCLA gymnastics team! What a great experience that was! Well, after that, things kind of went south in our relationship. I repeatedly texted her, even messaging her on Valentine’s Day to express my gratitude towards our friendship. Eventually, it got to the point where, fed up with my constant texts, she ended up ghosting me. I’ll never forget how, because of my mania, I ended up annoying the hell out of someone who could have been a great mentor and friend.
  • A similar thing happened during fall quarter of junior year. It was 5am, the eve of my Psych 110 final exam. Manic as I was, I had spent the entire night studying. I remember being swept up by a sudden wave of inspiration, which prompted me to send a 1,248-word email to my professor expressing my gratitude towards him for such a wonderful quarter. Of course, he never replied.

Highly Productive Periods 

  • When I am manic, I can study and train for hours and hours with laser focus and determination. I can’t even describe it. It’s like an internal flame is powering me to do what the normal person cannot. My freshman year roommate commented on how “committed” I was to my studies– and she is an extremely accomplished person herself, what with getting into Yale and all.
  • When manic, I can take on 5 classes each quarter and take on a million different extracurriculars, and do extremely well in everything!
  • The other day, I was manic, which drove me to work out 3 times in one day. After the third workout, I threw up from sheer exhaustion.
  • My most creative periods happen when I am manic. During these phases, I can churn out a 3,000 word article in less than an hour. It’s an incredible feeling that again, I cannot possibly describe.
  • During my first quarter taking Chinese class, I was manic, which led me to become super inspired to learn the language. I went to every office hour and woke up at 5am every day to study for three hours before class. The following quarter, the depression hit me like a truck and I barely passed the class.

I call my manic phases periods of “inspiration”. Of course, these phases do not last forever, and I will inevitably come crashing down into the pits of depression. Such is the nature of bipolar disorder. I am by no means defined by my illness. But the illness definitely plays a major role in my life narrative. I’m happy to say that I am stable for the time being. As much as I miss my manias– the social confidence, the productivity, the creative energy– I think they are worth sacrificing if it means I can keep its evil twin, depression, at bay. I no longer long for mania. I long for stability. Here’s hoping that one day, I will be able to find my peace.

 

 

 

XOXO,

Belicia

 

 

Gone From This World

**warning: this post contains heavy,  potentially triggering topics such as mental illness and suicide. Continue reading at your own discretion.


The suicide rates for bipolar disorder are distinctly high. Researchers estimate that between 25% and 60% of bipolar patients attempt suicide at least once in their lives, and 4% to 19% will succeed.

In my head exists a delusion– or perhaps it is more of an omen, a prophecy. The narrative is as follows: Belicia, you will never live to experience old age. You will never live to see your children or grandchildren grow up. One of these days, you will end your own life. Maybe not today, tomorrow, or even years from now… but it will happen eventually. Because one day, the pain of living with bipolar will simply be too much to handle. That’s when you know it is time to end it. 

Dark, yes? But I just wanted to share with you guys the reality of living with bipolar. Sometimes, the perpetual ups and downs are just too much. Just when you feel that you’re doing better, the depression hits like a truck. It seems as if the universe is playing a cruel joke on you. I might just as well be dead, than experience these ups and downs any longer.

The following are a compilation of quotes from other people living with bipolar.

“The total body energy rushes, floating joy, brilliant confidence, sadistic sexual compulsions and delusions in euphoric mania… the total collapse/breakdown of mind and body in depression, when you feel like you’re dying, suddenly rocking, crying and shaking, muttering the same words over and over and over in a trance, begging God to kill you. This isn’t hyperbole, THIS is bipolar.”

Here’s a somewhat more optimistic description of the illness:

“I’m bipolar, and during my manic episodes I have gone more than 72 hours without sleep, my social skills are superior, I can solve complex tasks way faster, everything makes sense, information rearranges itself in your head and it’s there to serve you in the most precise useful way, creativity is unstoppable, I have ended up with ideas written all over my body from trying to stem that flow of ideas. During manic episode I can hit on any girl in the world, and I’m so confident that it works, every time, it’s like being on cocaine, you are sharp, enchanting, curious… it’s limitless. but depressive lows are so strong, and so hellish that it’s worth sacrificing the manic episodes in return of getting rid of the depressive lows through medication. It’s not an easy life to be bipolar, but it sure is a such more intense life. Because of this I sometimes consider my condition a blessing, I get to see a wider spectrum of life through a bipolar perception.”

Mania is not what it’s cut out to be:

“It’s a misconception that the high energy weeks are better than the depressive weeks. While you personally feel much better when you’re on highs, you can’t sleep and you’re so excited that your thoughts make your soul want to scream. I don’t know how to explain it other than that. It’s… interesting. But it’s a learning experience.”


So there’s a little insight into the sad reality of living with bipolar. I am in no ways posting this to elicit pity. I simply wish to educate others with hopes of destigmatizing this scary illness.

I wish I had the courage to live. I wish I had the mental strength to go on. I am in a happy place right now, but I do not know how long it will last. I know that, one of these days, I will fall back into the pits of depression. One day, I won’t be able to climb out of the trenches of hell. And that’s when things will end, and the sweet release of death will come.

Mental Health Update 1/13/20

Hi friends! It’s 12:03pm on this Monday afternoon. I’m sitting in the car, on my way to a buffet for lunch with my parents and grandmother. I just got back from the psychiatrist’s office and learned a lot about my bipolar disorder, so my mind is racing. Hence, I felt the need to write and share some of the things I’ve learned.

Well, the good news is, I do NOT have ADHD! The thing with ADHD and bipolar mania is that there’s much overlap in the presentation of both illnesses. The doctor explained it with a venn diagram. One circle represents ADHD, and the other bipolar mania/hypomania. In the middle is an overlap, where similar symptoms of both illnesses reside. The difference between ADHD and bipolar mania is that with ADHD, the restlessness and hyperactivity is persistent and long-term, not just a passing phase, like it is with bipolar mania.

So even though I’m currently experiencing symptoms that may present as ADHD, these symptoms are not something I’ve been experiencing long-term, and thus, are not representative of ADHD. Good. I was worried for a hot second that I’d have yet another mental illness to take care of. No need to take Adderall. The doctor simply increased my dosage of Lamictal (a mood stabilizer) as well as Abilify (an anti-psychotic). We’ll see how the updated regimen goes.

Some more good news—based on my global distress scores, I am doing a lot better than I was several months ago when I first moved back to the Bay Area. Not quite as manic, and certainly not as depressed. Lately, though, there has been a surge in my moods, which may be indicative of another hypomanic episode. Not sure what the cause of it is this time around, but basically, I have many goals on my plate: work as a behavior technician treating kids with autism; study for the GRE; train for a dance competition in February; continue working as an SAT English tutor, and possibly teach SAT math as well; write on my blog and website; network with sports psychologists; the list continues. The psychiatrist told me that even though I am a talented, ambitious, capable individual (aww, thanks, doc!), it’s important for me to not pile on too many goals, lest I wish to trigger another manic episode. She described mania as a positive feedback loop. When you’re manic, one of the symptoms is grandiosity and unrealistic ambition. You set way too many goals and function at 100 mph, getting by with little to no sleep. All this can exacerbate the mania, which in turn increases your symptoms, and the cycle continues.

I need to be very conscientious of my moods and know the difference between happiness and mania, sadness versus depression. It’s a very fine line, and many people take years before they can fully distinguish between normal fluctuations in moods and manic/depressive episodes. I have my work cut out for me, but as I always like to say, God gives us challenges that He knows we can handle. I can combat my bipolar. I can be successful and make a positive impact on this world, whilst managing bipolar. I can live a happy and healthy bipolar life.

The psychiatrist also recommended a book called “Touched With Fire”, written by American psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, who struggles with bipolar disorder herself. In the book, Jamison explores the potential correlation between artistic, creative minds and bipolar disorder, using case studies of famous figures in history who have suffered from bipolar (like Abraham Lincoln, for instance). Will definitely read the book and write a reflection once I finish it!

Speaking of bipolar in media and pop culture… there’s this new fictional Netflix show called “Spinning Out” that follows the life of a competitive figure skater. Funnily enough, this figure skater also struggles with bipolar disorder. Unlike her mother, who also suffers from the illness, the figure skater has been able to manage it. It is very interesting seeing the parallel lives of two closely-related people—one who is highly functional with bipolar, and the other who has let the illness consume her. It’s also interesting seeing the illness in the context of competitive sports. I can’t help but think this show was meant for me! So intrigued I am by it, I am taking close notes of dialogue that I find interesting, enlightening, or emotionally-striking. Will compile all of these quotations at the end and write a blog about it.

Alrighty, folks, time to go! Here’s to happiness, health, and in my case, stability.

 

 

 

XOXO,

Belicia

Discipline Will Set You Free

Controlled chaos. That was a term I coined in a previous blog post, used to describe the nature of bipolar disorder. It is a steady rhythm of ups and downs that beats to the heart of a touched spirit. But it is also a tempestuous, angry ocean with violent waves and a hair-trigger temper, its tides ready to strike at even the slightest shift of the moon.

But controlled chaos is not only a name for the condition– it is also the cure. Or rather, it is the key to keeping my mercurial moods from overtaking my life. What do I mean, then, by this funny, oxymoronic term?

My mind is at once my greatest super-power and worst enemy. It wields the strength to accomplish many great things. Left unchecked, however, my mind can turn on me. It can become a two-faced enemy, leaving me imprisoned and powerless. So how does one escape the shackles of bipolar and reap the gifts of this intoxicating, high-flying, yet crippling illness? How can one possibly live a happy and healthy bipolar life?

My solution: control the chaos. Innately, your mind cannot be trusted. It is a wild card, an unknown variable. How do you trick it into becoming your ally? 

Control the chaos. Whatever variable in your life there is that can be controlled, control it. Do what you can to keep the symptoms at bay. Know your triggers, and learn how to cope with them. Take your medications religiously. Surround yourself with a reliable support system. Never miss therapy appointments. Schedule every minute of every day to maintain the structure. Keep your room tidy. Live with order and discipline. For discipline is what will ultimately set your mind free from the chains of bipolar. Discipline will give you a semblance of control over your unpredictable moods. And once you’ve conquered your environment, so too, will you be able to conquer your mind.

To my dear friends who struggle with bipolar disorder: you are loved. You are worthy. You can absolutely live a happy, healthy, prosperous, successful life with bipolar. And no, that is not a paradox. The key is simply maintenance. Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. Do what you can to control the symptoms. This is an art form that takes many people a lifetime to master. Heck, my journey towards control has only just begun. But once you know yourself well enough to get stable– that’s when the true potential of your mind can be unleashed. That, my friends, is when you are truly set free.

 

 

 

Yet ANOTHER Mental Health Diagnosis?!

Hello, dear friends! Hope you are all doing well today. It’s currently 12:26pm on this Thursday afternoon. I am sitting in my room, both bored and antsy out of my mind… so I decided to write this post!

So. As you can tell by the title of today’s blog, it seems that I have been diagnosed, yet again, with ANOTHER mental health condition. Anxiety, depression, bipolar. What else can there possibly be? Well, let me give you a rundown of the symptoms I’ve been experiencing and see if you can guess which condition it is.

The past few weeks, I’ve been completely restless beyond belief. It’s different from acute or prolonged anxiety and worry precipitated by a big life event. It’s not mania, as my environment is the stablest its been in a while, and I’m taking my medications as prescribed.

It’s an inability to focus on even the simplest of daily tasks. My mind is going at 100 miles a minute, almost every second of the day. Tuesday morning is a case in point. I woke up at 5:00am, eager to get the day started. I drove to the nearest Starbucks to get some writing done for my website. 20 minutes into writing my article, my mind wanders elsewhere, to looking for jobs. I open another tab on my computer screen and start my Linkedin dive. Apply to one job. Decide that’s enough for a day. Jump back to my website and continue writing. Then, I remember that I plan on taking my GRE in March. Gotta start studying! So I whip out my GRE test prep book and begin reading the overview of the exam. Can barely get through the first chapter when my mind circles back to the article I was writing 30 minutes earlier. At the end of the day, despite my best efforts, my restless mind hinders me from getting work done. So many goals, but no longer do I have the follow-through, which is strange, considering how disciplined I’ve been my whole life.

At first, I thought this inability to focus was simply me slacking off. So I tried my best to gain back my discipline, scheduling each minute of the day with some task or another. Again, my efforts were futile. What worried me most, though, was when I couldn’t even sit down long enough to watch a 50-minute episode of the new Netflix series, “Spinning Out”. I am super intrigued by the series, which centers around the world of competitive figure skating. Despite my enthusiasm, I could barely bring myself to watch 10 minutes of the episode before getting distracted by something else.

I contacted my psychiatrist after the symptoms persisted for a couple weeks. She replied my message, saying that a pharmacist would reach out to me to discuss the possibility of putting me on Adderall. Today, I spoke on the phone with the pharmacist, who told me that my symptoms could be a sign of ADHD. However, I must meet with my psychiatrist before starting a new medication regimen, as she has the final say on mental health diagnoses.

So, friends… what is it, then? Anxiety, depression, bipolar I/II, or ADHD? Mental health is super tricky, as there’s so much gray area and overlap between different disorders. At this point, I’m not even surprised that I may potentially have ADHD. I’ve had some people in my life suspect that I have this condition, but have yet to have a mental health professional confirm it. I simply wonder how I got through K-12 and sped through college if I had such a condition. Anyway, I am looking forward to speaking with my psychiatrist about this topic. I’ll be seeing her next Monday morning, after which I’ll have more answers.

Stay tuned for more, dear readers!

 

 

Best,

Belicia