Social Media Entrepreneur and Advocate Hannah Blum Publishes New Book

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UPDATE: I interviewed Hannah Blum for this blog in 2018. I’m delighted to say her new book The Truth about Broken: the Unfixed Version of Self-Love is for sale on Amazon. A combination of memoir and the quotes and poetry that went viral on her Instagram account, Blum’s writing is raw and beautiful. She does not flinch when describing the pain and the beauty of life, of her experience with bipolar disorder 2. Her short essays are insightful and wise portraying a young woman who is light years ahead of her generation yet at the same time so in touch with them. Blum is a social media expert and is always engaging on new platforms to help spread the word about mental health and “slay stigma” as she calls it.

On the dark days she screamed.
On her bright days, she laughed.
There was no in between,
but every day she felt

This line is an example of her writing style. Blum is a Creative Director in Los Angeles, California. You can purchase her new book at http://halfway2hannah.com.

Bipolar Me: From Blog to Book A Guest Blog from Author Janet Coburn

 

Written by Janet Coburn

I just had a book, Bipolar Me, published. I never meant to write a book. Wait, let’s back that up a bit. All my life I wanted to write a book, but when I started my Bipolar Me blog, I had no idea it would turn into a book.

I figured that if I started a blog, I would have to write about something. And given that the universal advice given to writers is, “Write what you know,” my topic was clearly going to be bipolar disorder. Eventually, that blog formed the basis for my book. A friend suggested that I think about it. Then I attended a session at a writer’s workshop, “From Blog to Book,” led by the marvelous Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess.

How did I get from blog to book? I looked through my archive of blog posts and tried to group them in logical categories that would make sense to readers. I blog about whatever topics I think of every week (on Sundays) in no particular order. I may write about something that happened to me that week, or something that I remember happening in the past, or something based on headlines and stories I see in the news or appearing in my Facebook timeline.

But for the book, I felt it was necessary to impose some structure. The chapters I came up with were: Brain Games; Symptoms Galore; The Med-Go-Round; Family Matters; Heavy Weather; Swings Go Both Ways; On the Upside; The Social Whirl; Issues: My Take; and Society, Sickness, and Sanity. Within those categories, I discussed matters such as depression and hypomania, drugs and other treatments, self-care and caregiving, and even humor.

One thing I’ve learned as the process went on is not to discuss my own medications or other treatments or to recommend them to anyone else. I had seen too many requests in online support groups that said, “I just started taking drug X. What experiences have you had with it?” or “I have these symptoms. What would be the best medications for me?”

I maintain that this is not useful information to share, so I try not to be specific in the book. We may all have bipolar disorder, but the experience is personal to each of us. I have had very low depressive episodes and my hypomania comes out sideways most of the time as anxiety. You may have different symptoms. The cocktail of medications that my psychiatrist landed on after a long, long process of trying nearly everything in the book works for me but may have different effects on you. The side effects I can tolerate may not be the same ones you get or may seem more tolerable to me than they do to you. Our symptoms, our life courses, even our brains are different from one another. We share a disorder, but medication is individual.

Another pet peeve of mine, which shows up in the book, is scientific reporting. Too often I see headlines in the news that claim a new discovery or treatment may explain bipolar disorder or alleviate symptoms or point the way to a cure. I see a couple of problems with such writing. Too many times the headline writers get carried away with the “May Offer Hope” stance when the article says something closer to “may or may not.” Studies on mice are a long way from saying anything useful to the bipolar-on-the street too. In my opinion, too many of these stories offer false hope.

Of course, hope is a good thing. But I don’t write merely to be hopeful or inspiring. If a reader finds those things in my book, that’s good. But I set out with the intent of sharing stories of my personal struggles and occasional victories. I explore my own experience of bipolar 2. As I noted, your experience is likely to be different from mine in many respects. But if there is something in my writing and my experience that resonates with a reader, helps them in some way, or even just makes them nod, then I have done my job.

My job, it seems to me, also includes introducing bipolar disorder to people who don’t know much about it. Many of the essays in the book can help friends and family understand bipolar disorder better and may help them understand what a loved one with bipolar is going through. I’ve worked in educational publishing through a large part of my life, so I guess that seeps into the book. When I shared the book with my mother-in-law, for example, she said it was “thought-provoking.” That’s as good a review as I can hope to get.

Some people may be surprised that I included a chapter of more humorous pieces in Bipolar Me – “Cookie Theory,” “The Depression Diet,” and essays about bipolar disorder and science fiction, DisneyWorld, cats, and armadillos, for example. When I’m suffering with bipolar, my sense of humor is one of the things I miss the most, so when I’m able to lighten up a bit, I do. Besides, look at my influences – Jenny Lawson is one of my personal heroes and her books are hysterically funny, even when they deal with deadly serious mental health topics.

Finding a publisher for this admittedly niche work was not easy. I had sent it around to a lot of mainstream agents and publishers before I stumbled across Eliezer Tristan Publishing, a company that specializes in books about mental health, recovery, and emotional struggles. We were a perfect fit. My second book, Bipolar Us, is currently in production with them. A companion piece to Bipolar Me, it addresses more societal aspects of mental illness such as stigma, education, gun violence, sex, and support systems – and yes, humor again. It will be published later this year. I hope readers find something in both my books that will inform or touch them, or provoke some other reaction. That’s my job as a bipolar writer.

You can purchase Janet’s book Bipolar Me on Amazon and read her blog at http://bipolarme.blog.

Profile in Brave: Carrie Cantwell, writer, designer for the movies, and bipolar 2

 

Photos courtesy of Carrie Cantwell

The four year anniversary of Carrie Cantwell’s dad’s suicide hit her hard. That day, she fell into a deep depression, went on disability from work and stayed with her mother. Her mom—a psychotherapist—took her to a psychiatrist because of her genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder, because her dad had bipolar disorder too. At age 28, Cantwell was diagnosed with bipolar II. Cantwell had always been hypomanic, but she never considered it a problem because she felt great. In college, she was quite hypersexual, sleeping with strange men and women she barely knew, all without thinking about the consequences. She also shoplifted once just for the high of it.

Now, 44, Cantwell, of Atlanta, has a handle on her triggers and symptoms. She writes about bipolar disorder in her blog darknessandlight.org. She finds blogs written by others with bipolar inspiring such as the ones on BPhope.com. She has gone to Depression Bipolar Support Alliance DBSA meetings, and has written for their newsletter.

“When I’m manic, I sleep four hours a night and spend a lot of money, even though most of the time I am frugal.” Cantwell said she could spend 6 hours at a thrift store and walk out of the store with $100 worth of stuff when she is manic. Online shopping has been a problem for her too.

During her depressive episodes, anxiety is paralyzing. “If I see a glass of water on the table, I am afraid of spilling it and if it spills it will be the end of the world.” She also cries more and feels lethargic. “Moving feels like walking in molasses,” she said.
In 2012, a suicide attempt culminating from a mixed episode almost ended her life. A mixed episode is mania combined with the hopelessness of depression. They can be particularly dangerous because the charge and racing thoughts of the mania can give one the energy to try suicidal behavior.

“My diagnosis helped me understand my dad. My mother told me when I was eight that my dad had manic depression. I understood that as he would spend lots of money and blow up at me for no reason. One day he was nice and the next day he was scaring me. It wasn’t until my first depressive episode in 2002 that I was diagnosed, because I was triggered by his death.”

Growing up an only child, she realized that this is a mental illness which affects personality and behavior. Her diagnosis and suicide attempt—in the end—helped her understand both her and her dad.

Cantwell is currently editing her memoir Daddy Issues: A Memoir about growing up with a bipolar father and receiving the diagnosis herself, which she’ll shop to agents in January. “This book is me coming out of the bipolar closet,” she said.

Her mother and her boyfriend are her biggest supporters in life. She’s known her boyfriend for 22 years and told him on the first date about her bipolar diagnosis, but he already knew and was cool.
“Sometimes he says calm down, turbo, in a gentle way, when I’m getting worked up,” said Cantwell.
Her best friend of roughly 30 years, who has anxiety issues, is supportive as well.

Cantwell loves knitting and crocheting mice for the kitties at the Humane Society, she’s vegan and loves vegan cooking, she does yoga, plays trivia at bars, and loves watching movies. Her favorite movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

“My dad showed me that movie when I was a kid, and that movie inspired me to get into the film business,” she said.

For work, Cantwell uses her graphic design skills to create fake worlds for movie sets. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design, a BA in English, and a Master’s Certification in Project Management.

Cantwell works remotely, which she says is a healthy balance of not always being on a movie set. She makes worlds look real by designing fake products and signs.
She’s only told a select few colleagues about her bipolar diagnosis, but she doesn’t plan to hide it after her memoir is published. Her blog is also in her real name.

After all she knows that she is reliable. “I am reliable and I never quit a job.”
She is always hustling for work in this business, and she likes it. It keeps her on her toes.

“Working in my career for 13 years, I’m established enough now to pick each job I take,” she said.

Her bipolar gets triggered by the traffic in Atlanta. To avoid road rage she tries to avoid driving at high traffic times like rush hour. Daylight savings time can also be a trigger so she has to make sure sleep is priority. She has an eye mask and a white noise machine, and a portable white noise machine for when she travels.

You can read her blog Darkness and Light and find out more about Carrie Cantwell by going to http://darknessandlight.org.

Stigma Fighters Founder and CEO Sarah Fader Starts Publishing Company

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Sarah Fader grew up in the 90s when mental illness was heavily stigmatized. At 15, she began having panic attacks. She remembers that the Books of Magic comic book series gave her a fear of death. She wrote it off by saying it was existential dread. At her performing arts high school in New York, she felt different from everybody else, and hid her secret well. Her mom finally sent her to a therapist.

“I told the therapist I wish there was a magic pill to make everything go away,” Fader said. The therapist told her that it doesn’t work like that.

In her senior year of high school, she found herself throwing up each morning due to anxiety.

“My mom introduced me to mindfulness meditation with John Cabot-Zinn. I was able to be calm and eat afterward,” she said.

At 18, her mom let her see a psychiatrist and she started Prozac with a diagnosis of anxiety and depression.

“I remember walking down the street and my mind would be clear,” she said.

When Fader transfered to NYU, she received a refund check for her student loan for $4,000 which she spent in three days. When she told her psychiatrist of her dissociative spending, he put her on Zyprexa with the Prozac. She eventually saw a new psychiatrist who gave her Seroquel.

At 24, she had focussing problems and test anxiety. She was diagnosed with ADHD. Fourteen years later, she tried medication for this but this was after jobs would fire her for her lack of a concept of time.

After she met her then husband, she went off meds for ten years and had her son.

“It was hard but I used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to get by,” she said.

While she was nursing her son, her depression came back and she went back on them. She had a daughter by this time and she had a post-partum psychosis. She didn’t sleep and hallucinated that she saw a floating face. After a few rounds with condescending doctors, she was given medication for her symptoms.

She had been blogging for ten years by this time. She had come out about her panic disorder on the Huffington Post.

“I saw all the other mental health blogs and it was safe for me,” she said. “I don’t want to live with the shame and I want my children to live unashamed.”

“The first time I wrote on a blog I have panic disorder, it was freeing,” she said.

She looked around the internet and their was no place for people to share stories of mental illness back then so she decided to start one. Stigma Fighters was born. She found a friend and business partner Ali Burke, who has schizophrenia, to make the site a non-profit. Since then, they published three anthologies for it.

“I don’t care if people remember me as long as they remember Stigma Fighters,” Fader said.

She realized that her mental illness isn’t her identity, her doctor changed her diagnosis to bipolar 2, ADHD, OCD, and anxiety.

“Your diagnosis doesn’t matter. What matters is the treatment plan,” she said.

Fader also  podcasts the show This is What Anxiety  Feels  Like on her site www.sarahfader.com. She coined the hashtag #thisiswhatanxietyfeelslike which has been mentioned in the New York Times.

After losing a child, she founded the Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company. She wanted people to share their stories of resilence. In addition to looking for completed manuscripts and book proposals, she does book coaching. Topics they look for are Near Death Experiences, mental health, anthologies, and poetry.

***
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company, where she is dedicated to sharing the words of authors who endure and survive trauma and mental illness. She is also the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.

Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with Bipolar type II, OCD, ADHD, and PTSD. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time. Her personal web site is www.sarahfader.com.

Profile in Brave: Hannah Blum, Vlogger and Mental Health Influencer, living with bipolar 2

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The night of prom, after being nominated prom queen, Hannah Blum had a breakdown and never made it to the dance.

“I looked in the mirror and couldn’t connect what was going on inside,” said Blum.

As a junior in high school, she became withdrawn from herself and was self-harming. She had always been overly empathetic and highly sensitive. However, it took a major breakdown in college at age 20 where she had to be hospitalized, to get diagnosed with bipolar 2. Blum also struggles with an eating disorder as well as ADHD.

At North Carolina State University, Blum studied media communication and social media and learned about its impact on society.

“I saw a gap in mental health not utilizing these platforms,” she said.

So she decided to go public with her own story to spread awareness about living with bipolar 2 through the use of a blog, a Youtube channel, a web site and Instagram.

I found Blum via her Instagram which is inspiring but often times raw and real. Blum started her blog in 2016 and she’s populated it with interviews and videos and has won awards. She takes a non nonsense approach to bipolar 2 and takes her mental wellness seriously.

“I refused to believe I could just be mediocre on meds,” she said. “I fought for the routine I do today so I am able to be productive because I am a hard worker.”

Hannah focuses her attention on Instagram. “I truly believe Instagram is the platform to talk about mental health.”

She added that Instagram changed its algorithim in order to prevent trnedy people from promoting themselves. It is a platform that is authentic, honest, and connects with people. One of the CEOs of Instagram wanted mental health to be a big thing.

“Mental health has a huge presence on Instagram,” she said. “It opened the gates for people to speak their truth.”

Blum vlogs for HealthyPlace, which offers a mental health community as well as other health conditions. She has produced a plethora of videos of her giving commonsense advice about life with bipolar 2.

“My aim is to give an authentic, raw and real perspective coming from a young adult living with bipolar 2 in order to help others not to feel alone,” said Blum. “My biggest thing is to empower people who live with a mental health condition by speaking my truth.”

Blum wants to empower people to take their lives into their own hands. “People who know all about mental health are not the people who live with a mental health condition. If you don’t live with it, it’s inpossible to understand.”

I asked Blum what was wrong with the mental health conversation in the media today.

“They [the media] use the term mental health to describe anything they want…one day its used to describe the president…the next it is used to describe a mass shooter. They don’t bring anyone on to talk about living with a mental health condition. Mental health is 100 percent used as the scapegoat,” she said. “People with mental health conditions don’t have a voice [in the mainstream media].”

Blum wrote her college thesis about the history of stigma since the beginning of time.

“It’s been ingrained in society since day one,” she said.

When the first mental hospitals in Pennsylvania were opened, Ben Franklin wrote in the newspaper that they were there to house the delusional and deranged.

In addition to being a mental health influencer on social media, Blum has plans to be an entrepreneur and write a forthcoming novel coming out in 2019, a children’s book, and a series of books for teens on self-esteem. Blum was recently featured in Teen Vogue 2017 on bipolar disorder dating tips. You can read it on her web site below. Her favorite inspirational book is You are a Badass by Jen Sincero.

You can find out more about Hannah or watch her Youtube channel at www.halfway2hannah.com. Catch up with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @halfway2hannah.

A Humorous Interview with David Leite, author of Notes on a Banana, a memoir

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David Leite describes himself in a Youtube video as “Crazy, Gay and Happily Portuguese.”

“Humor is the missing prescription in mental health,” said Leite.

My interview with David Leite, author of Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression, was laugh out loud funny as we discussed writing, food, love, and Leite’s bipolar disorder.

AZ: What does your morning ritual look like?

DL: I dont have a morning ritual perse because I go back anf forth between Connecticut and NYC, especially now when there is interviews and book related stuff. My writing ritual is I wake up and I’ll eat some breakfast and tea. Then, I’ll check my email and social media. Once, I get that out of the way, I’ll start to write. I will write until late afternoon early evening.

AZ: Tell me a little how your relationship with food developed.

DL: When I was very young and talking as early as I can remember five until 12, I didn’t love Portuguese food and tried to stay away from it. I didn’t want to be Portuguese. I wanted to be blonde, blue-eyed and the adopted son on Bewitched. Those people weren’t eating salted cod or purple octopus stew. As I got older, I was eating more American food.

My relationship with food as with what I do happened with my partner Alan…I was young thin and beautiful at 34 years old. He said ‘I’m going to bake a cake.’ I said, ‘Knock yourself out.’ He asked me if I wanted to lick the bowl. And I said, ‘Sure fine’, because I was studying for school. And I licked the bowl and just the smell and the flavor brought me back to my childhood. I had completely blocked it out that my grandmother had baked. It was that taste of that cake batter and the smell and even the texture of how it dripped down into exclamation points of batter. This started me taking cooking classes and cooking and starting to write about food. That’s really how my adult relationship with food developed. I started Leite’s Culinaria in 1999.

AZ: What is your favorite dinner party dish?

DL: My favorite dish to make for dinner company: no restrictions Porco Alentejana from the Alantejo region of Portugal. My family is from the Azures. It is pork marinated wine, garlic, herbs spices, sauteed, simmered tender clams and added, cubed roasted potatoes served in two woks hinged together.

AZ: What is your favorite rainy day dish?

DL: Spaghetti carbonara

AZ: Tell me about why you sectioned the book the way you did.

DL: I wrote the book almost the way you would write a mystery, clues dropped and I am not picking them up. It divided up life how I saw it. I like the term manic depression better. Early-onset was myself starting to see manesfestations of my illness when I was a child and it ends right after House of Wax chapter. Rapid-cycling mid section longest section ups and downs of life, of coming out, and trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I knew there was something definately wrong with me psychologically. I put a lot of humor in book to help augment those highs. The reader goes from one dark passage to another but to have the humor in there is a way of mimicking what I go through for the reader.

A lot of people aren’t catching on that the book is actually very funny.

AZ: Does your writing style stem for your acting training?

DL: My acting training helped my writing…play analysis…idea of story and arc of story inciting incident thingI learned in drama….In the book, House of Wax is the incident. It launches me on search what’s going on. I got the story elements got from studing acting.

AZ: Where did you learn how to write scenes like you do?

DL: I haven’t studied writing a lot. I’ve taken avocational classes that lasted six weeks. Something I always had. I started writing in thirties when got advertising job. Always kept journals. Love rich full characters and I love storytelling I just think my love of character and storytelling came together. Also my use of language which I think is an absolute outgrowth of my manic depression. When I saw psychologist as a child, use phrases like I’m looking at world through wrong end of a telescope. I feel hot molten lead being poured in my body. I had to describe what was going on with me physically. And I thought if I did that enough in different ways someone would say what was wrong with me. Because I had bipolar I think that’s what fostered this love of language because I tried desperately hard to explain myself.

AZ: How did your illness amp things up for you concerning your sexuality?

DL: I think what anxiety and bipolar illness did was amped up the volume of all of this. Searching desperately for what was wrong with me and I lay the blame on maybe it’s because I’m from a Portuguese family, maybe it’s because I’m gay oh maybe it’s because I’m over-weight. I kept trying to find the answer of what was wrong with me. I think what manic depression amped up tension and stress and energy around my sexuality. The issue of the sexuality became bigger becauase I was dealing with so much anxiety and bipolar disorder.

AZ: How does your partner, Alan, live with a writer?

DL: He has more of an issue when I use the fact that I’m an writer against the relationship. We’ll have an argument and I’ll say that I have an artistic temeperament. That’s when he gets really angry. He’s quite proud that I am a writer, he loves the book and is quite proud of the book. He has more of issue how I might carry on with something.

AZ: Has bipolar been an issue in your relationship?

DL: Absolutely. We almost broke up. It was ripping our relationship apart. He’s a very patient man, and very loving and kind. It was wearing him to the nub. We had a big argument about money becuase as a writer I wasn’t making a lot of money at that time. I smashed the marble counter with a frying pan. I hit it three times and there two huge dents. That was sort of a clairon call for us. That came from stress of being bipolar and not making a lot of money at that point. Constant things since being diagnosed like my temper getting out of hand, or becoming obsessed with something or depressed, getting manic about something leaving him in dust. We are constantly monitoring it. It’s a third entity in our relationship. We have to acknowlege it daily, not getting too angry, lonely and tired.

AZ: How do you balance your moods with the creative process?

DL: I’m lucky able to make my own schedules now. In advertising, my creative process was on the clock. Because I work for myself, I’m able to work around my moods. When something bubbling creatively I go for it, then if mood gets in way I back off. Later, I’ll pick it up again. It’s very fluid. My mood can sometimes dictate the creative process; the creative process can sometimes dictate the mood.

AZ: You’ve been an actor, waitor, a copywriter, studied psychology. How has your life come full-circle into what you do now?

DL: I think everything I’ve done…waitor, actor, copywriter, photographer all those things I use in my daily work…actor when i do reading, give performance almost. As a matter of fact, I’m looking into taking some of the book and writing a one-hour one-man show. Psychology …thirst and drive understand what I was about. Because of study of psychology and being very introspective, is how I can create such vivid characters. I understand motivation with characters. All the things I did when I thought I was wasting my life, they have all come together and held hands. I pull on each one of those in different ways.

AZ: In what ways have you learned to take care of yourself?

DL: I have five that are instrumental to self-care.

Sleep: going to bed at a certain time. Sleep is the great reset button for me and many others who suffer from manic depression. If not enough sleep, the mania ramp up.

Diet: I have a terrible time with this one being a food writer. Cutting out sugar, carbs, not having that carbonara, having healthy proteins and vegetables, greens, fruits. Sugar and simple carbs really destaiblize moods.

Exercise: I walk every day 2 and 5 miles a day

Talk therapy: aim of therapy started changing into how we going to improve your life

Humor: a great sense of humor being around people see the light side of things is how I coped for 25 years as I was looking for an answer for what was wrong with me.

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author and psychologist, blurbed the book and thought it was funny, it will appear on the second printing. “Humor is a great way to keep civilians interested in our stories. If we caral them in with humor, more people who will listen,“ said Leite.

***

Leite gave two readings of his book. The first one the audience was afraid to laugh. So the next night he said, “Feel free to laugh. You will be doing what I hope you would do.”
People began laughing with his stories. At the end of the reading people shared stories of mental illness and bought lots of books. “A conversation had started all because I gave them permission to laugh.”

You can find David at http://leitesculinaria.com.