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JEANNINE, PT. 2: Sharing A Story Of Mental Illness

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In today’s post, we continue with part 2 of Jeannine’s story of living with mental illness. Jeannine recently disclosed her diagnosis with bipolar 2 disorder, and today we’ll get a bit deeper into her story. If you missed part 1, check it out here!

Mental Illness Misconceptions

The biggest misconception people have about mental illness is that we are ‘crazy’ and dangerous. I hate when people talk about how they met someone who was just so rude and angry about something that she/he “must be bipolar.” That is a huge pet peeve of mine because everyone gets angry and that certainly does not define the disorder. Or when I tell people about my disorder they try to comfort me by telling me about the one time they were “depressed” over a breakup or something similar. I am always like OMGosh that is sadness, not depression. There is a lot of ignorance surrounding the disorder because of the images that are portrayed of people with mental illness. You rarely hear the good. It is often that they killed someone or did a mass murder or were gunned down by police. It frustrates me because there are so many people who have a mental illness or bipolar who are managing and living their lives without any violence. There are good aspects to my illness during hypomania. I become very creative and productive. I can complete a weeks’ worth of tasks in a day. I need little sleep and feel super refreshed and energized. I love being hypomanic because of my ability to just be on the ball and stress free.  A lot of people are unaware of the hypomanic or manic aspects of bipolar disorder.

Coping Strategies

I am registered for a Dialectical Behavioural Therapy or DBT program and have been on the waitlist for over a year now. My treatment is still a work in progress and I really wish I had more information or a better plan here, but the truth is I really don’t. I take it one day at a time and try really hard to monitor my moods, symptoms and their manifestations. I also have limits on my bank accounts, no credit cards, and live directly on cash. It helps to avoid overspending, which is a symptom of hypomania. My diagnosis is still new to me and I am working on developing better treatment plans for myself. I self medicate a lot and that is something I really want to work on.

About Jeannine’s Support System

My support system consists of my dog, a few friends, my ex, and my counsellors.

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My biggest savior in my whole treatment is my dog Misty. She is my saving grace and I say it all the time, she saves my life every single day. My dog keeps me grounded and reminds me to enjoy the little things in life. I go for walks and get to be in nature, which helps me so much. I can relieve stress by just petting her and hugging her. I cry to her and confide in her. I know it sounds strange because she is only a dog, but the love we have for each other and our connection is what I need on a daily basis. She is the best part of my life and I want to take this opportunity to say that emotional support animals (ESA) should be recognized in Canada and not just the US. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have her.

[My friends] show more understanding and tolerance than before because of [bipolar 2 disorder] and they allow me to express myself more.  I have very few friends, one in particular, who I feel completely comfortable talking to about my illness because she doesn’t judge.  She knows how to listen and understands how difficult it is for me to talk about it. She has the necessary empathy to give me her undivided attention and I love her so much for that.  Thanks baby girl – you know who you are! My family doesn’t really know enough about it to say anything. It is definitely not something that we talk about — at all!

I wish I had a better support system, but you can’t force someone to support you.  I do wish that I had a place to talk openly about what I feel and what I go through daily. It would be nice to know other people who struggle the way I do, but are successful in their management of their illness.

When Well-Meaning Words Hurt

I don’t like when people say that they know someone who has this disorder and tell me about a bunch of horrible things the person has done, only to say “Are you sure you have bipolar?” as if the disorder is only associated with bad things. There are times when I am hypomanic and I wish I would stay up there. Since I have become a little more open I have heard a plethora of advice, such as “Maybe if you didn’t give in to your disorder…” or “Just tell yourself to get up!” Oh, and my favourite is “I think you use your disorder as an excuse, and maybe if you didn’t label yourself then you wouldn’t feel the way you do.” The worst thing I think I have ever heard and still hear a lot is to keep my disorder a secret because I will be labeled. I absolutely despise when people say that. I feel like there is truth to what they are saying and that is all the more reason to talk about it and let people know. If we don’t start the conversation, how can we ever expect things to change?

Jeannine’s Inspirations

There are a few people who inspire me. Jenifer Lewis, the actor, because she is amazing at her craft. I had no idea she was bipolar and when I found out it just amazed me because of the numerous roles she has been in. She is an amazingly versatile actor. My biggest inspiration though is Melody Moezzi, she is the author of Bipolar Life. I love her book because I found it so funny and real. Melody is a Middle Eastern American who is an attorney, author, public speaker, and advocate for bipolar sufferers. I love how she has battled and overcome so much. She had a lot of adversity because like the Black community, the Middle Eastern community does not really acknowledge mental illness. There is a very dismissive attitude amongst both cultures. Her fearlessness inspires me often. She gives me a lot of hope and is a constant reminder that I can heal from this.

What Jeannine Has Learned About Herself

I have learned that I am a tough woman and can overcome anything. I have been through a lot and am still here telling my story.

Final Question: For people you know who may be finding out about your mental illness for the first time via this blog post, what do you most want them to understand?

That I am still Jeannine, the same person that they have always known.

I’m so honoured to be the conduit for Jeannine’s story, and can’t tell her enough how proud of her I am. If you’d like to reach out to her, please shoot me an email and I will forward to her. 

Continuing the conversation, I’ll be hosting an important event on February 7th at The Royal Cinema: the premiere of The Blind Stigma, a documentary focusing on mental illness in the Black community. Please check out the documentary trailer, an interview with the filmmaker Stacy-Ann Buchanan, and grab your tickets here! Let’s keep this going and keep lifting each other up in love and support. 

JEANNINE, PT. 1: Sharing A Story Of Mental Illness

It’s kind of serendipitous how things work out sometimes.

Today marks Bell Let’s Talk Day – a day spearheaded by Bell Canada to shine a light on the discussion of mental illness in our society. I didn’t plan for this post to be published today, but it makes all the sense in the world that it is.

Today’s post features part 1 of the story of Jeannine, a university friend of mine who reached out recently with an unexpected request. It’s my honour to fulfill that request and to give her the space to share something she’s kept hidden for too long. So, without further ado, meet Jeannine.

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3 Things About Jeannine

I used to take skiing lessons and still can’t ski. I do mixed martial arts and box. I have 13 nieces and nephews for a total of 21 members of what I consider to be my ‘immediate’ family.

The Big Reveal

I have bipolar 2 disorder and a hint of borderline personality disorder (BPD).  I was formally diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder in November 2011 and have not yet had a formal diagnosis for BPD. If I could sum up my mental illness in one word it would be ‘sucky/crappy’. It is definitely the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life and it consumes a huge part of my life.

What Bipolar 2 Disorder Looks & Feels Like For Jeannine

Bipolar 2 disorder looks like chaos to me and feels lonely. I often refer to my illness as my shame because for me it still is shameful. It’s as if I judge and stigmatize myself. Anyway, it is very hard for me to make decisions – especially those that affect my entire life – such as career choice or relationships. Even [deciding] what I want to eat becomes difficult. My thoughts race a lot making it difficult to form a clear thought process. When I am depressed this is especially prominent. My mind can go off on a tangent of insults, put downs, a synopsis of all my disappointments, and remind me of every bad thing anyone has ever said to me. I was once told by a counselor that I have a negative box. I open it up when I am depressed and go through all of the problems I have ever encountered in life. A counselor told me this prior to my diagnosis and I have never forgot because that is exactly what it feels like. In those moments I hate myself and think that no one in the world cares about me or will notice if I am gone. I am in a dark place and for some reason I feel horribly safe there.

It doesn’t make sense, but in those moments I want to remain in my depression alone because letting anyone in is dangerous. I become full of shame and embarrassment with an overwhelming warmth of loneliness.  I use the word ‘warmth’ because it is warm and comfy being alone in those terrible moments. To let someone I know see me like that would change everything they know about me and how they perceive me. I never let anyone see me there – no one. I have been told by my closest friends that I hide my illness very well and I think I do. Actually, I know I do. I have worked very hard to hide my shame, but it doesn’t take long for a roommate or someone who lives with me to notice that something is wrong or that I am “different”. I’ve had a roommate diagnose me with bipolar before I really knew what it was, let alone been diagnosed. This disorder affects my judgement, decision making, my relationships, my mood, concentration, and sometimes my social interactions. It is a hard thing to deal with and I often question my mental state when doing anything, especially with people that I know.

Jeannine’s Journey To Diagnosis

I knew that something was different about me and that is why I started to see my doctor and counselors. I wanted to be “fixed” and expected it to happen. I thought that I would go to the counselor and they would be able to connect the dots, unleash my demons, and send me on my way – boy, was I wrong. I had always been a bright student and did well in school, but when I got to high school I just stopped caring. I stopped trying and going to class and was completely withdrawn. By the time I got to Western (the University of Western Ontario) I had enough with this disengagement and started to see a counselor. I kept going back to these counselors and was so hungry for an answer and didn’t stop until I found one. I went to many doctors and services in hopes to get some help and support in my search for an answer. I was also aware that I had mental illness in my family and knew that there was a possibility that I had one. I had always been a sensitive person, but it got so extreme that I needed help. I thought that everyone hated and judged me, especially when I arrived at Western. I felt like a fish out of water and needed to get grounded, so when I found about the free service I took advantage of it.

All About Treatment

Treatment is still very much a work in progress. I have a hard time coming up with a concrete plan that works, but have been doing a lot of trial and error. Right now, treatment looks like medications, which are Wellbutrin and Abilify. I also see a couple counselors and have a psychiatrist. I have learned some coping skills, such as grounding exercises, breathing techniques, and medication. I am also aware of regular sleep, a good diet, and exercise, but do not follow these guidelines the way I should.

I struggle with every aspect of my treatment. I never used to take my medication because I thought it was a band-aid solution. I wanted to be cured and not treated – that was my goal. Last year I was receiving no treatment except for counselling and got a huge wake up call. I learned where my illness can take me and I don’t want to ever go back there, so I started taking my medication regularly.

Jeannine’s story continues in tomorrow’s post – learn more about her treatment plan, the most important person in her support circle, her inspirations, and more. Also, you’ll learn more about The Blind Stigma, a documentary discussing mental illness in the Black Canadian community. Today, follow the #BellLetsTalk hashtag on Facebook and Twitter to support the initiative.

NATURAL HAIR DIVERSITY: Rita’s Story of BlackWomanAwesomeness [Guest Post]

Allowing guest posts on ’83 To Infinity was always something that made me very hesitant. Shaping this site to be a place that authentically represents my voice has been a continuous journey over the past 2.5 years, and introducing new voices to the mix gave me pause. However, I’ve been thinking of some awesome ideas that require the help of others. I’m ready to challenge myself by entrusting this precious space to likeminded individuals who fit my vision while bringing something fresh and new.

Highlighting the diversity of natural hair has been a focus of mine this year. Aside from my own hair documentations, I recently shared Rowena’s story of cutting her locks, and today will share Rita’s story – in her words – about her own hair journey. Rita is a brilliant university friend of mine who embodies diversity in natural hair. Sit back and take in part one – her guest post – and stay tuned for part two, a Q&A, to come tomorrow.

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Take it away, Rita!

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In February 2008, I decided to do something that I had always dreamed of as a kid – and I did it with the womon I considered my first love: my big sister, Brago. This was the womon that taught me everything she knew about blackwomanawesomeness. She was strong and independent, and my surrogate mother at times growing up. Brago is five years older than me, but we have always been close. I wanted to be everything like her when I was younger. I would steal her clothes when she left for school, and rush home before her, to put it back in its rightful place (gross!). She taught me how to dance (which, growing up in Rexdale, Toronto in the 1990s was a huge deal –or rather, a huge deal for black girls who had no rhythm). We did everything together. We shared a room for most of the nineties. I saw her go through various hair stages. I remember how much of a big deal it was when she decided to go natural.

None of the womyn in my immediate family had been natural as far as I had been alive, so for Brago to step out on her own to cut the perm off was so eye-opening for me. I did not entirely understand what she was doing, but I trusted her enough to know that she knew what she was doing. It had to be something cool if my big sis was doing it. She inspired most of my musical choices growing up, too: from Brandy and Monica to Jill Scott to Erykah Badu to Nas; I soaked in all of my sister’s musical tastes with the quickness. The one artist that we both admired, (and listened to her LP back to back everyday for like a year straight) was Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I wanted so desperately to have locs after Lauryn Hill came out. I remember telling a boy in my 7th  grade class that I was gonna start locs soon, and I kept saying I would get them, but never did. To me, Lauryn Hill’s locs became representative of natural black womyn’s beauty. I was in awe of her ability to carry her rasta with such rebellion. I wanted that. I wanted to love who I was rebelliously. I wanted black people to believe that we could be beautiful in our natural state. My hair was deeply political.

Not until winter of 2008, after I returned from a visit to St. Kitts and Nevis, however, did I finally make the decision to start the locking journey. Both Brago and I were ready to start the process. At the time I had had an afro, which I loved. I just knew that locking was always the “end goal”; the ultimate way to solidify my contribution to the black love/blackisbeautiful movement.

It was also quite symbolic that I would be starting my loc journey with my big sister, the womon who was responsible for igniting my radicalblackwomonpolitics. Together, we journeyed to Nanni’s Hair Salon in the west-end of Toronto, where we were embraced by an awesome group of womyn, all at different stages of their loc journey. As we entered the space, it was like I could feel all the strength/power that existed in these womyn pouring from their locs: their stories, their triumphs, their resilience, their love. It was all there for me. There wasn’t much conversation happening; (any conversation that might have happened would have been drowned out by) womyn under dryers, womyn under wash, womyn with hands in their hair, carefully re-twisting each loc. Not much conversation at all –which was atypical for black womyn’s hair salons. But it was clear to me then that this wasn’t just about a basic hair routine, this was blackwomonritual. Not much needed to be said because the conversation was in the ritual. I relished the opportunity to be a part of this new community.

But I have to admit the first time I left Nanni’s with my freshly palm-rolled baby locs, I was disappointed. My locs looked nothing like Lauryn’s. I know I said I was ready to be all black-womon-roaring, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this! For at least the next two years, it was a constant struggle to see myself as beautiful while adorning my baby locs. (This was pre-the first wave of natural hair bloggers, by the way.) Don’t get me wrong, most days, I loved the challenge (and sometimes, threat) that my natural coils posed to my African community; a community as brainwashed by colonialism as any other; a community that starts perming at age 6; a community that would sometimes stare at my sister and I in everything from wonderment and admiration to concern or disdain when we walked into a room. I loved that womyn and girls in our community would ask us questions about the maintenance of our naps. I appreciated the respect and adoration I received from men in my community, as well (albeit, mixed with a bit of the exoticism of Black dreadloc’d female bodies).

But, there were days (usually between washes) that I wanted to give up. On those days, I sometimes felt guilty for being so vain. While my bad hair days helped me discover the wonderful world of head wraps (shouts out to my girl, pieces2peaces), I wondered if I was just faking the funk on this radical black hair politics shit. I mean, after all, weren’t my locs supposed to be a big “Fuck you” to the Black and White Beauty Myth? Why was I still so obsessed with looking pretty? And yet, why did being pretty make me (feel like) a bad feminist?

Through all of that, I kept my locs for almost five (5) years.

Until the Summer of 2012.

I was simply just tired of maintaining it and decided that I needed a change. In the end, it wasn’t about what my family or society thought, or about feeling “too black”, or about what employers would think: I simply could not bear the thought of washing and re-twisting my locs one more time. I couldn’t bear the thought of combing any hair at that. I don’t regret the journey at all –I might even do it again in the future, but for now, I am enjoying my short do –which has brought a whole new set of body image issues that I will continue to work through. And in the end, black hair is still deeply political for me.

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we got egos like hairdos

they’re different every day

depending on how we slept the night before

depending on the demons that are at our door

-Ani DiFranco, Egos Like Hairdos*

*This was written in Summer 2012 –before all of that weird racist shit went down.

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Stay tuned for my Q&A (with more photos!) with Rita tomorrow!

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