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 and Impulsivity: A Dangerous Symptom No one likes to Talk about

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In college, I once sent an inappropriate and scary chain letter email to my ex-roommate, a girl who had gotten Residence Life to give her a restraining order against me. I also used to blurt out hurtful things to other students, spend too much money on things I didn’t need, and drink too much.

Later in life, in my thirties, I sent an accusatory email to a local meteorologist whom I thought my husband was having an affair with. This was completely based on my own paranoia. Now, in my forties, impulsivity has been a cardinal symptom of my bipolar disorder type 1.

It’s more than medication.

I have found psychotherapy to help me increase my self-awareness whether I am in an episode or stable. It focuses on what triggers the impulsive behavior and when I’m about to launch into one.

Studies say there’s a link between explosive anger and impulse control. I have found when I am most rageful I tend to do impulsive things, especially when someone cuts me off behind the wheel.

BPhope.com suggests three things to do to check impulsiveness: Find a lifeguard; Find your weak points; and install braking systems. A lifeguard is someone like a therapist who will work with you to identify your triggers and establish a plan of action in staying stable. Your weak points are those that you find hard to resist. Braking systems are the techniques you use to check the impulsive idea or behavior from wreaking havoc in your life.

A technique one might use to put the brakes on impulsivity a therapist once told me would be to ask oneself Is this need to be said?, Do I really want this or the consequences that this behavior will carry? Make a pros and cons list of the action. Sometimes seeing the pros and cons it will deter you from the action.

My Depression & My Mania, poems I wrote

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My Depression is a tsunami triggered by my mania sweeping away positive people, opportunities, hope, my self-worth, self-love, every shred of self-esteem. It is a cliche and an original, a tornado funnel cloud showering voices, hallucinations, self-doubt; anxiety is like a shaking earthquake.

My Depression thrives on hospitals, pills, electroshock. Suicide attempts feed its overwhelming desires. It feeds on nothing, triggered by moments of joy, stealing all feelings, robbing me of experiences of love, tears tell my story.
My Mania. Sex with strange men in phone booths, six-foot high grandiose dreams erupting into a skyscraper of desires; Ideas float in the air and come rapid-fire until there are too many to do in a day, a week, a year. Words spill from my tongue, words brilliant words, and ones I’m ashamed of now, ones that came so fast leaving me breathless and senseless. Scribbling becomes my true handwriting down every idea shooting from my brain. My Mania leaves me stymied; my behavior leaves my life in ruins. It’s seeing George Bush Sr.’s A Thousand Points of Light all connected; everything’s connected. Spending a lot of money on things I don’t need in thrift shops, Target, at the mall, or online. All things I need to accomplish lofty goals that I will forget about as I rise to the next one.

 

Happy Holidays! to you all however you choose to celebrate or not celebrate. May 2019 bring what you need it to bring you. I will be taking a short break this week and be back in January of 2019.

Is it Bipolar Or Is it Me? A Guest Blog from Carrie Cantwell

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photos courtesy of Carrie Cantwell

Be yourself. That’s a pretty universal piece of advice. Whether you’re applying for a job or going on a first date, it’s something we’ve all heard at one time or another. When everyone can see the real you, the relationships you build are authentic. But because I have bipolar disorder, I have a hard time even knowing who “the real me” is. Am I the bubbly, energetic go-getter who’s the life of the party? Am I the sensitive, introspective person who sometimes cries too often? Or are those behaviors expressions of my bipolar disorder?

Bipolar is a mood disorder. People struggling with this illness may just seem like they’re in a good or bad mood. They may look like naturally sociable, sad or angry people to everyone around them. However, in people with bipolar, what appears to be their disposition is often a brain chemical imbalance lurking underneath. Because the symptoms can masquerade as personality traits, it’s often difficult for people with the illness, and their loved ones, to discern whether someone has bipolar disorder or if they’re just naturally “that way.”

I’ve always been outgoing. My first word wasn’t “Mama” or “Dada”—it was “hi.” As soon as I could talk, I said “hi” to everyone I met. I was full of hyperactive energy and had a hard time sitting still. My elementary school teachers often sent me to the principal’s office because I talked too much in class. In high school, I filled my schedule with extra-curricular activities and social events, with barely enough time to do homework. College was no different. Not only did I have a full load of classes and a job, I also threw myself into activist groups and went to parties every night of the week. I was constantly making new friends, and I slept with too many people to count. Always on-the-go, I’d jump from one activity to the next with no downtime to reflect or relax.

All this may sound like I’m just a naturally gregarious person. But it also describes someone who’s hypomanic. In my twenties, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Was this bipolar or was this me? For those of us with this illness, second-guessing your true nature comes with the territory. I don’t always recognize the person staring back at me when I look in the mirror. When I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator at twenty-three, I came out on the extreme end of ENFJ, with an emphasis on the big “E” for extrovert. Does the big “E” mean I’m really an extrovert, or is that hypomania? Hypomania can be subtle. It can look like I’m just someone with a lot of friends who loves to participate in social activities. But that’s also what an extrovert is. Sometimes it’s difficult to detangle my true self from all these labels.

I love the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The message I took away from the movie is this: if you’re given the chance to remove painful memories, it’s better to keep them, because they determine your identity. Someone once asked me if I could get rid of my bipolar disorder, would I? My answer was no. No matter how I’ve gotten to where I am now—whether it’s a result of my bipolar or my personality—it’s my past that’s made me who I’m proud to be today. Does that mean I ignore my illness and don’t take care of myself? Of course not. I recognize that I have a lifelong mood disorder that needs ongoing care, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. I take my medication; visit the doctor regularly; get enough sleep, food and exercise; and try to keep things in perspective. I surround myself with a strong support network of friends and family who can tell me if they see me start to go off the rails. I try not to focus on labels or worry about which aspects of my behavior are my personality or the illness. Whatever the parts are that make up the whole of who I am, I like myself, and that’s what really matters.

Carrie Cantwell blogs about bipolar at darknessandlight.org. She is currently writing and editing a memoir titled Daddy Issues: A Memoir.

If you have a story and want to guest blog for me, please contact me through my contact page on this blog.

New Book about Dual-Diagnosis Rocking Shelves Next Year by Music and Pop Culture Journalist

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From Chicago native Conor Bezane’s Instagram page, one can see the mark of an experienced music and pop culture journalist. I found Bezane through his writing on the International Bipolar Foundation’s blog and was impressed by the breadth and depth of what he’s covered not only in pop culture but on other subjects including mental health.

Bezane authored the book The Bipolar Addict: Drinks, Drugs, Delirium, and why Sober is the New Cool which will be out in January or February of 2019 in places like Barnes and Noble and Amazon. The book is part memoir and part a collection of interviews of five other bipolar addicts and surely will add something to a genre sorely missing books on dual-diagnosis.

Bezane got the idea in rehab at Hazelden Chicago. “It was not difficult to find people to interview for the book,” he said. They’re everywhere in the rooms of AA.”

A Little Bit about His Story with Mental Illness

In 2007, Bezane lived in New York City and was working for MTV News. He had a panic attack before a live TV show and knew something was wrong. After the show was done, he saw a psychiatrist who gave him Prozac. This made him manic.

“I would stay up all night drinking and smoking pot, writing and posting on Facebook every five minutes. I would post weird stuff on people’s facebook walls,” he said.

He traveled to Philadelphia with other media and said he was manic the entire weekend. He indulged in a $1900 shopping spree.

He came back to New York manic.

“New York City is the craziest place to be manic. I would skip out of work and walk around the city, go shopping and listen to people talking on the street,” Bezane said. “I thought people were talking about me which was fun but then it got scary.”

His then boyfriend took him to see his psychiatrist out of concern for his escalating behavior. The doctor gave him a new diagnosis of Bipolar 1.

A few days later, he crashed. “It was like a heavy boulder weighing on me,” he said.

He couldn’t stop crying. He went to work and slammed the door to his office and lost it. He went on medical leave for a month.

Finding the Right Med

“It took a really long time to find the right med cocktail,” he said. “Lithium instantaneously made me feel normal.”

While at MTV News, he worked on a segment on informing people on the crisis in Darfur and a segment on Columbine 5 Years Later.

Then, the crash of 2008 happened and MTV laid Bezane off. On top of this, his boyfriend broke up with him. He moved into a one bedroom in Brooklyn and began drinking every night. He eventually ran out of money and moved back to Chicago where he grew up. Midwestern raised, he attended Iowa State where he found a love in journalism across many mediums. He worked for the campus daily, the campus radio station and the student magazine where he covered rave culture. He received an internship in New York at Rolling Stone magazine. There, he got the city bug and moved to New York after college.

It was in Chicago that Bezane’s family had an intervention for his drinking. Little did they know, Bezane had been smoking crack in back-alleys with homeless people in addition to getting obliterated on alcohol. At the end of rehab, Bezane wrote out his story and read it to the group. His addiction counselor encouraged him to write a book with interviews from other addicts.

Blogging for Mental Health and Addiction Awareness

When Bezane started his blog, he wanted to write the blog he wanted to read when he got sober.

“There are 5.7 million people in the United States who are bipolar. Sixty percent of them who are addicts,” he said.

Conor recently wrote a blog post for International Bipolar Foundation about bipolar celebrities and how this affects how people see the disease.

Today, Bezane 38, lives in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood and for self-care he listens to music as a meditation. He listens to it all classical, jazz, indie rock. “I focus on the music. I let it cascade over me,” he said.

Bezane’s web site and blog are at www.conorbezane.com.

Connecticut Mental Health Advocate Karen Kangas Shares Her Story to Help Others Seek Treatment

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Karen Kangas, director of recovery and family affairs at Hartford Healthcare, used to work as a principal of a school. That is before she was hospitalized for a manic episode and the doctor in the hospital said she would never work again. Her school superintendant came to see her and told her she would be fired. That was in Colorado before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed by Congress.

Flash forward years later and Kangas wins awards for her mental health advocacy and has worked at many organizations promoting mental health. It all started with a job ad she saw in the Hartford Courant looking for a person with mental illness experience encouraged to apply. She applied and they thought she was over-qualified because of her doctorate in education. However, she said she would take whatever it pays and she got the job. She started working for Fairfield Hills hospital and absolutely loved learning from people with lived experience. Now, at age 76, she’s been working full-time for over 30 years.

“I think the biggest tool people in recovery need is support,” Kangas said. She also trains people seeking employment as peer specialists at Advocacy Unlimited’s Recovery University. For Kangas, she received support first at a support group in Colorado.

“I don’t like to compare it to diabetes or cancer because it isn’t,” she said.

If one goes into the hospital for an illness like those, one gets visitors and perhaps flowers. Not in psychiatric. When Kangas was inpatient, she was lucky if she got visitors.

Kangas has traveled all around the country for SAMHSA, the Restraints Seclusion Taskforce and other organizations sharing her story. She has been the only one from Connecticut to win the Clifford Beers Award from Mental Health America and Advocacy Unlimited named an award after her.

Kangas wishes people were more visible. “There aren’t enough positive stories out there,” she said. She was on the cover of the Hartford Courant’s Northeast Magazine. She’s had reporters from the Courant follow her around for a month to do a story on her.

Kangas’ ideal mental health system would be where inpatient treatment would be a last resort. People in crisis would talk first to clinicians or even their peers. But she admitted, this is a long way off.

Kangas builds her self-care around talking with people over coffee about recovery, playing bridge, being with her friends and grandchildren, shopping and reading.

Fitness Builds Self-Confidence and Adds to Mental Health

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John Zvonek has been in mental health recovery for 12 years since he was age 25.

“I had to find healthy habits,” he said. “I had to take my recovery seriously that meant no drinking, drugs and be as healthy as I could possibly be.”

He gained 80 pounds in one month because of his psych meds and so he began a journey into fitness. His first goal was to lose weight but after awhile he began to love it, making it his career by becoming a certified personal trainer. He discovered ways to let negative energy out through workouts and now helps others learn this trick.

“Exercise became an outlet. I do it for sanity not the vanity,” he said. “My goal is not to have a beachbody, my goal is to be mentally well.”

“Getting strong physically builds your mental health and your confidence,” Zvonek said.

Zvonek who is involved in youth mental health first aid, a NAMI peer facilitator and recently spoke on a panel for the NAMI Connecticut statewide conference in 2017, is a trainer at Body Temple Fitness in Wallingford, Connecticut where he works to get at the underlying reason people are in poor health in addition to giving them new exercises to do. He also teaches a candlelit yoga class, which is a warm safe place where people can find peace.

Using exercise to combat fears is another thing that helps him stay well. He did an Ironman with running, biking and swimming to combat his fear of water that he had since he was a child. Zvonek was afraid to stay up overnight that the lack of sleep would trigger his mental health. So he decided to combat this by hiking 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail. At certain points in the hike, he stayed in touch with a family member by walkee talkee and completed the hike beating his fear.

“I stayed healthy through that. There is nothing I can’t do because of my mental health issue. I just have to find a way to do it safely,” he said. “Fitness builds my self-confidence. I don’t feel I have something wrong with me and I feel like a million bucks.”

Zvonek hopes to climb Mt. Washington in New Hampshire this winter and Mt. Rainier in Washington state by summer.

“I hike to inspire clients by being a power of example of a healthy active lifestyle,” he said.

At home, he has a wife and 2-year-old daughter, who encourage his fitness endeavors.

“I try different things with my clients like biking, tennis, boxing. The biggest thing is to make someone leave feeling better than they walked through the door,” he said.

Zvonek says there are bodyweight exercises that you can do from home if you don’t have access to a gym. Push-ups, sit-ups, squats and pull-ups are all good. Using a stepper or just marching in place while watching television is great too.

“I started my fitness journey walking 15 minutes on a break from work,” he said. Today, he runs, does tai chi and yoga, weight lifts three times a week, hikes, bikes in the summer, and attends an occaisional Zuumba class when his schedule allows.

Profile in Brave: Rudy Caseres, a passionate mental health advocate

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“I see mental health advocacy as a human rights issue,” said Rudy Caseres.

Rudy is most passionate about advocating against forced treatment. It says this in his bio on Facebook. Rudy is a social media entrepreneur hosting live chats on Facebook with inspiring advocates of mental health. He was a cast member in the 2017 This is My Brave Los Angeles performance where he shared his story. He was also selected as one of the Mighty’s mental health heroes of 2017. He hosts the Facebook live chats No Restraints with Rudy Caseres where he interviews people passionate about mental health. He also hosts Brave Chats as part of This is My Brave on fb live where he interviews past cast members. A poignant interviewer, Rudy is brave and strong and the future of mental health advocacy.

Rudy was a former a 35F Intel Analyst in the US Army and had this to say about changing the culture surrounding mental health in the military.

“Too many people don’t want to come out about their mental health because they are afraid they will be discharged, end up in a psych ward or be ostracized. Their military career will be over,” he said. “It’s gotton a little better recently but it needs to be easier for people to reach out to therapists and peer counselors.”

After the military, Rudy attended Santa Monica College to study theatre where he became involved in their Active Minds chapter. The chapter held a prize wheel in the quad and Rudy began to make presentations about mental health, learning this was a strength of his. Rudy, who has bipolar, was in the process of figuring out his illness, himself and his strengths.

“Active Minds helped me at that time because I was dropping out of classes left and right, seeing a therapist, feeling I will never make it through this,” said Rudy. “Active Minds got me through it.”

Rudy stepped away from college for awhile and began his career giving presentations to groups about mental health and using Facebook live to make others aware about what other mental health advocates were doing.

In 2017, he discovered the organization This is My Brave, which uses storytelling and other arts to break the stigma and discrimination out there surrounding mental health. He auditioned to be a cast member and starred in the 2017 Los Angeles show.

Rudy’s advocacy stems from his own experience of psych wards, restraints, and forced treatments. By doing this work, he feels he validates the pain and trauma of others. He practices self-care with long drives up the California coast, bike rides, hiking, and of course, mental health advocacy. Rudy loves to joke around, and humor sometimes can be the best medicine.

“I could do mental health advocacy every day,” he said. “I’m good at it and it gives me meaning.”

Rudy will be hosting a storytelling forum titled Heartbreak and Healing: Your Stories of Love, Loss, and Lunacy on Februaary 11 at 7PM at the Garden Free Church in San Pedro, CA. It is a free event and those on the west coast should feel free to attend.

You can find Rudy on social media at www.facebook.com/rudycaseres, twitter and instagram @rudycaseres, read his writings on themighty.com, or visit his web site to contact him at www.rudycaseres.com.

You can find out about This is My Brave shows and how to get involved by clicking here.