Mental Illness Has Value In The Workplace (And Why We Need To Stop Diagnosing Donald Trump)

12 Jan

I’ll never be a fighter pilot. And I’m okay with that.

I have bipolar disorder and the United States Air Force does not grant flight status to pilots with certain diagnosed mental illnesses. And that makes perfect sense. It didn’t make sense to my 12-year-old self who secretly thought it would be kick-ass to be a pilot like my great-grandfather, but it makes sense to me now. I don’t like to drive a car when I’m having a bad mental health day, let alone pilot a military aircraft on a mission with lives at stake.

The issue of mental fitness has been in the news quite a lot recently regarding another intense, high-risk, responsibility-laden job: the presidency of the United States.

Michael Wolff’s explosive new book about the inner workings of Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency featuring on- and off-the-record interviews from current and former members of the administration has thrust into the spotlight a question that many have been quietly (or not so quietly) voicing for a long time: Is Donald Trump mentally fit to be the President of the United States? Wolff’s book has opened the floodgates for frank, public discussions about Trump’s mental health on cable news, in the print media, and around the water cooler at work.

The accuracy of Wolff’s reporting has been disputed, but the behavioral patterns and incidents he describes are in keeping with extensive, well-sourced stories about Donald Trump published by every major news outlet since the beginning of the campaign: poor impulse control, short attention span, difficulty sorting fact from fiction, pathological lying, and uncontrollable rages, to name a few. This insider reporting, as well as the way Trump comports himself in public and on Twitter has led many to the conclusion that Donald Trump is dangerously unfit to be the Commander in Chief.

But there is a trend in the way this issue is being reported and discussed that troubles me, and that is the simple conclusion that mental illness makes a person unfit for the workplace.

I want to give reporters and anchors the benefit of the doubt here. 21st Century consumers of media are looking for quick hits to get their news: a 90-second segment on cable television, a 500-word piece on an e-zine, so I understand the desire to make a point quickly, but this has led some down the road, however unintentionally, of simply stating that mental illness precludes a person from being a qualified employee. This is incorrect.

Before I go any further I’ll just say that I’m among the 54% of Americans who did not vote for someone named Donald Trump in 2016. And after I cast my votes on election day 2017, an exit pollster asked me if I approve of the president’s job performance and I shouted my response perhaps more loudly than was appropriate. So this is not a defense of Trump’s suitability to hold the highest office in this country. I believe he has many qualities unrelated to mental illness that support this opinion on their own. Rather, this is an argument that the math problem that some are using to determine Donald Trump’s fitness for office is far too simple: Any sign of mental illness = Unfit to be POTUS.

It needs to be a more complicated formula, taking into account the specific symptoms, their severity, the frequency of the displays of mental instability, and the degree to which these symptoms affect cognitive functioning.

It’s actually been scientifically reported that about half of former presidents displayed signs of various mental illnesses. I firmly believe that this should not automatically disqualify an individual from consideration for the top job. Few would say that Thomas Jefferson’s anxiety and Abraham Lincoln’s depression prevented them from being effective leaders. Mental illness exists on a giant spectrum. However, serious diseases, like the ones of which Donald Trump is reported to display symptoms, require great scrutiny. Experts agree that a president with dementia or a personality disorder is a far greater risk than one with an anxiety disorder.

Furthermore, we need to dispense with the notion that anyone other than trained psychologists are qualified to diagnose the president with a mental illness. Certainly the pundits on MSNBC and Fox News are not. Sure, this parlor game of speculation makes for good viewing and reading content and entertaining conversation, but it perpetuates common misunderstandings about mental illness when non-professionals toss about diagnoses based on light research and general public knowledge, instead of years of study, experience, and in-person access to the person in question.

Make no mistake: this story is definitely worth reporting. It’s a matter of national concern if the president’s declining mental state puts the country at risk. But let’s stop stating anything about Trump’s mental health with absolute certainty and confidence. It does a disservice to those of us with mental illness who are great at our jobs, no matter our diagnoses. We are constantly fighting against the stigmatic assumption that we are somehow less than and hiring us should be avoided at all costs. We are not less than.

I genuinely believe my bipolar is an asset in the workplace. My illness makes me extremely empathetic, open-minded, and strong-willed. I’ve also lived a lot of life in a short amount of time, which has made me worldly and mature for my age. These qualities served me really well in school and have continued to help in my professional life in theatre, teaching, advocacy, and public speaking.

I’ve talked to so many people with mental illnesses and everyone agrees: our mental illnesses have fundamentally informed the way we live our lives, and not just in negative ways. Our brains work differently, so we bring different ways of thinking and perspectives into the workplace and this diversity benefits everyone. So it’s important to check the automatic assumption that mental illness is a handicap and will negatively impact the workplace.

Should concerns about someone’s mental health be addressed in the workplace? Of course. But take it case by case. Consider the job. Consult the professionals. Check your bias.

We may never be fighter pilots, but we have value, worth, and potential. We are not less than  


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Mood Sponge On Social Media

14 Nov

You can now find Mood Sponge all across social media! Follow @moodsponge everywhere for updates about new posts and peeks inside the process of creating Mood Sponge. You can also see updates from all our accounts on the sidebar to the right 

Our social media round-up:

twitter logo Twitter: @moodsponge

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Coming soon: the Mood Sponge YouTube channel! Stay tuned!

Top 5 Ways I Cope With My Depression

13 Nov

This time of year is always difficult for my depression. The changing seasons, lessening daylight hours, and chilly weather all contribute to my gloomy moods. Many people experience seasonal depression to varying degrees. Those without a diagnosed illness or predisposition to depression may feel more tired, less motivated, and have more prevalent pessimism. For people like me with bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder, the winter months exacerbate our already existing depression.

Over the years, I’ve developed coping skills to handle my depression so that my day-to-day life isn’t drastically altered when the winter months hit. So here are the top 5 ways I cope with depression:

1. Continue to Say Yes

I’m a naturally extroverted and adventurous person. Being around other people energizes me, and I love to hang out with friends, go to shows, and partake in general goofiness and excitement. In short, I say yes to most social events. But when I start to feel depressed, my motivation to leave my apartment and be around others dramatically lessens. I want to stay in bed, watch Netflix, and not have to interact with many people. However, I’ve learned recently that continuing to say yes in the face of my depression actually helps a great deal. Getting out, even just for a walk or a chill dinner, takes my mind off the negative thoughts that swim around in my depression brain, and I usually end up enjoying myself more than I thought I would.

When a social event comes my way, I have a conversation with myself about why I don’t want to go – and if the only reason to say no is that I’m feeling a bit down and out that day, I challenge myself to see beyond my depression and consider the alternative. I’m definitely much more selective about the people I choose to see and the places I go, but when I say yes, I rarely regret it.

2. My Happy Light

One of the causes of seasonal depression is the shorter days. Lack of sunlight causes lower serotonin levels and higher production of melatonin, which both contribute to exhaustion and pessimism. To combat this, I use a light therapy lamp that I call my Happy Light. A therapy lamp simulates sunlight, so your body responds to it in the same way as when you’re exposed to natural sunlight. Therapy lamps are most effective when used in the morning, so I usually have mine on in my bedroom while I’m getting ready for the day. If I’m home during the day, I’ll use it in the afternoon for an extra kick of energy, while I’m, say, writing a blog post…

This is the lamp I have. It’s called the Day-Light Sky.

DayLight2

 

3. Exercise

Of all the coping skills I have to treat my depression, exercise is the hardest one to muster the willpower for. The idea of putting on gym clothes and exerting a ton of energy never appeals to me when all my brain and body want is to stay in my PJs or crash as soon as I get home from work. That said, once I get a workout in, I never regret it. The post-workout high and feeling of accomplishment do wonders for my mood. I usually try to go for a run outside to get fresh air and be around other people, but sometimes I’ll go to the free yoga studio in my neighborhood or fire up a workout video at home. Even if I just do a quick burst of cardio to get my heart rate up and endorphins flowing, a workout always lifts my spirits.

4. Downsize the To-Do List

One of the symptoms of my seasonal depression is lack of motivation and distractedness. I have a hard time conjuring the brainpower to start something productive, and once I’ve gotten myself ready to work, I have difficulty staying focused. When I’m at my best, I can be highly productive and efficient, so I can fit a lot into one day. If I try to maintain this fast-paced lifestyle while I’m depressed, I end up not achieving goals or getting certain tasks done as quickly as I would like, which causes self-doubt and anger at myself and my illness. I’ve gotten good at forgiving myself for this, but to eliminate the need to compensate for this frustration, I simplify the daily game plan.

So perhaps instead of going for a morning run, doing laundry, writing a blog post, meal prepping for the week, doing nice hair and make-up for work, running a show, and watching Stranger Things before bed… I simply go for a run, do a single load of laundry, do minimal make-up for work, run the show, and watch one episode before bed. Giving myself more time to achieve fewer things, allows me to stay productive without overloading my day.

5. End The Day Well

This is a new coping skill I’ve developed recently, and it’s really been working well for me. Sleep is incredibly important to combating my depression, but too much sleep actually makes me more tired. So rather than sleep a lot longer than normal, I try to optimize my sleeping hours so I get more out of them. I do most of these things no matter what my depression levels are, but I’m doubly sure to do all of them every night that I’m depressed.

First, I turn off my screens at least half an hour before bed – usually I try for 45-60 minutes before. Staring at a bright screen activates the brain’s electrical activity, which speeds up thought processes and suppresses melatonin, so staring at a screen right before bed does the exact opposite of what your brain needs for a restful, uninterrupted sleep. An easy way for me to keep track of this is that I turn off my screens when I take my nighttime medication because my meds make me sleepy approximately 20-30 minutes after I take them.

Next, my list of gratitudes. I have a notebook next to my bed and every night I write down 5 things I’m grateful for. Sometimes they’re serious, sometimes they’re silly. Recent ones include: Muppets on talkshows, standing ovations at the theatre, and friends who understand my mental health journey. This just allows me to meditate on the positive things in my life, rather than falling asleep with a brain filled with negativity.

Then I read my book (with real pages! no screens!) for a bit with some chill instrumental music playing. My go-to playlist is the Album Leaf station on Pandora.

And then I fall asleep with some background noise. Sometimes I’ll play the audio to an episode of Planet Earth and let David Attenborough’s deep narration send me to sleep. But usually I listen to a Harry Potter audiobook. Because Harry is the greatest 


Do you have any coping skills to share? Comment below, tweet @MoodSponge, or shoot me an email at moodsponge@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

Must-Read Article: “You Probably Don’t Have Bipolar Disorder”

30 Oct

To kick off Mood Sponge’s new series of must-read mental health articles, I’m starting with the piece I have shared the most with people in my life. In the three years since I read it for the first time, I have sent it to dozens and dozens of friends, family, and acquaintances who could use a little enlightenment.

The piece, published on the Huffington Post, is titled “You Probably Don’t Have Bipolar Disorder (Or One of These 7 Other Conditions)” It was written in response to a tweet from Kylie Jenner (the youngest of the Kardashian/Jenner reality TV dynasty). Jenner tweeted to her 23 million followers a glam selfie with the caption: “I miss my black hair I’m so bipolar 😦 ”

Kylie Jenner bipolar tweet

Egregious grammar aside, this tweet received instant backlash from the mental health community. It is all too common for people to throw around the term bipolar as an adjective to describe anything involving opposites. The one I hear the most is along the lines of “Ugh, why won’t the sun stay out? This weather is so bipolar.” In high school I had a teacher whose teaching style frequently oscillated between easy-going and intense, and it became common for students to refer to her as bipolar. Things like this make me so angry. The Huff Post describes my feelings well:

“We were glad to see that Twitter users criticized her [Jenner’s] blasé misappropriation of such a serious mental illness. Bipolar disorder is all too commonly used in this way (read: not medically diagnosed), which not only minimizes the severity of actual symptoms, but also belittles the people who live with bipolar disorder every day.”

The article then goes on to list 8 mental and physical disorders that are too often misappropriated: bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, ADHD, migraines, celiac disease, the autism spectrum, depression, and anxiety.

For each disorder, it explains the actual diagnosed symptoms and the ways in which people misuse the term. I like that the tone of the piece is not meant to attack and shame those who use these terms without thinking, but rather to encourage a second thought before describing a Type A personality as OCD or a bad headache as a migraine. It’s a quick, insightful read that really gets to the heart of a serious issue we face when it comes to removing the mental illness stigma 

“You Probably Don’t Have Bipolar Disorder (Or One of These 7 Other Conditions”

Give it a read and let me know what you think in the comments!


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My First Panic Attack

23 Oct

I’m 5 years old. The school day is just beginning and I’m sitting on the reading rug in my kindergarten classroom surrounded by my whole class. Mrs. D, the world’s greatest kindergarten teacher, is absent and we have a substitute teacher. As I look at this unknown woman I am overcome with utter fear and anxiety. My heart starts racing, I’m having trouble breathing, and I start crying – not just crying, but wailing. The only words I can say are “I want to go home! I want my mom!” over and over. I bring the entire classroom to a standstill. The substitute tries to calm me down and allay my anxiety, but nothing works. Eventually she has to call the principle, a nun who I remember being 9 feet tall, to arrange to have my mom come and pick me up. As I wait for my mom in the principle’ s office, my tears stop and my breathing returns to normal. Superhero Mommy arrives and takes me home.

I remember this panic attack as if it happened yesterday, not 20 years ago. I remember sitting on the reading rug. I can’t remember the substitute’s face but I remember her bewildered, anxious expression. I remember the terror at being in the presence of a stranger. I remember the 9-foot nun calling my mom.

The intensity of this memory is how I know this episode was a panic attack and not just a toddler temper tantrum. I’m sure I had many, many tantrums as a child and I don’t remember them at all. This is one of those incidents that I can clearly look back on as an early indication of my mental illness, but I’m sure all the adults took it as a regular old tantrum. I asked my mom recently if she remembers this panic attack and she has no memory of it whatsoever. But it’s stuck with me for the last 20 years.

What exactly is a panic attack?

The National Institute of Mental Health describes panic attacks this way:

People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes or longer…Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. A person may also have a strong physical reaction during a panic attack. It may feel like having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder worry about and dread the possibility of having another attack.

The physical symptoms that accompany panic attacks are biological and even somewhat primal. When the brain interprets a dangerous situation, whether it’s rational or irrational, the body goes into fight or flight mode. It’s the body’s way of preparing to encounter the danger. Think about what happens to your body during moments of actual intensity or danger, like being in a haunted house or narrowly avoiding a car accident. The physical symptoms are exactly the same.

Most people who experience panic attacks are also diagnosed with other mental illnesses, like general anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder. In my case, I’m not actually diagnosed with a panic disorder. My bipolar causes me to have heightened anxiety, and my panic attacks are a result. I usually get panic attacks when I’m already in a period of depression or mania.

Panic disorders usually start in adolescence or teenage years, but can also appear in young children. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry [AACAP] describes childhood panic attacks this way: “Children and adolescents with panic disorder have unexpected and repeated periods of intense fear or discomfort, along with other symptoms such as a racing heartbeat or feeling short of breath.”

AACAP also provides insight into the causes of childhood panic attacks: “Youngsters may show intense distress (anxiety) at times of separation from their parents or other persons with whom they are close. Young children may have short-lived fears, such as fear of the dark, storms, animals, or a fear of strangers.”

This separation anxiety and fear of strangers is what brought on my panic attack that day in kindergarten. To this day, I still believe Mrs. D is the best kindergarten teacher that has ever existed. She was kind, loving, fun, and really felt like a second mom. Looking back as an adult, I realize how much I owe to her. I loved going to kindergarten every day, and to walk into the classroom excited for another day with Mrs. D only to find a strange woman sent me off a cliff into a pit of anxiety and fear.

Now of course the substitute teacher was safe, kind, and qualified to be teaching a kindergarten class for a day, but my 5-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend this. I had no idea what was happening to me and I had zero coping mechanisms to fight off the panic and calm myself. These days, when I feel a panic attack coming on, I can identify its presence and employ some coping skills to lessen the symptoms or even stave it off entirely.

How To Be An Ally

Psychology Today states that about 3 million, or 1 in 75, Americans per year experience at least one panic attack, so odds are you’ve met someone inflicted with this disorder. If you’ve ever been present for someone else’s panic attack, you know it’s hard to know what to do. You feel a bit useless, and it’s hard to see someone you care about in such intense distress.

So if you ever find yourself in this position, I can offer some advice, as well as further readings that might be useful. The number one thing you do not want to say is “Calm down.” It’s easy to go straight for that because it’s what you and the person both want to happen, but that’s along the same lines as telling a depressed person to cheer up. Additionally, you do not want to touch the person unless they consent. Unwanted contact is a big trigger for a lot of people (including myself) so even a well-meaning hug or pat on the back can escalate the attack.

The best possible thing you can do is to ask, “What can I do to help you?” And then respect their answer. That’s so important. DIY mental healthcare during a panic attack is not typically helpful because the goal is to help stabilize the person’s mind and body, so if you toss suggestions and questions at them, it adds to the chaos. So sometimes they will ask for water, medication, or to go somewhere less crowded. Listen openly and act kindly.

Having a great ally with you during a panic attack is so valuable. I recently had a panic attack in Times Square when I got caught in a giant crowd and the person I was with knew exactly what to do and went full-on defensive linebacker/Secret Service agent and quickly guided me out of the crowd and onto a side street. I didn’t need to be the one asking people to move while I was panicking. Instead, I was able to just tuck my arms in close to my body, breathe deeply, and trust that my friend was leading me to safety 


To learn more about how to be an ally to someone with an anxiety disorder, this Medium article is a great, comprehensive list of Do’s and Don’ts.

“How To Handle Someone Else’s Anxiety or Panic Attacks” by George Tinari

View story at Medium.com

The medical sources I’ve quoted in this post:

National Institute of Mental Health “Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms”

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry “Panic Disorder in Children and Adolescents”

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry “The Anxious Child”

Psychology Today “Stats on Panic Disorder”


Do you have personal experiences with panic attacks? Your journeys have value and I love to hear from my readers, so post a comment, share this post on Facebook, or shoot me an email at moodsponge@gmail.com.

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Life With Bipolar Disorder

16 Oct

Today, as promised, I’m going to write about my life with bipolar disorder. It’s long and complicated, but I’ll do my best to lay it all out for you. If you’ve never read a personal account of living with a serious mental illness, I’m happy to be your first and I hope I won’t be your last.

So, let’s start at the beginning: April 2005. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in April 2005 at the age of 13. I was hospitalized because I was displaying signs of severe mental illness: extreme depression including suicidal tendencies, and manic, violent behavior. My parents, acting on the advice of doctors, hospitalized me because I was a danger to myself and others.

What exactly is bipolar disorder? When I was younger this is how I would explain it to my friends: “Bi” means “two” and “polar” means “opposite.” Someone with bipolar disorder experiences a combination of two opposing states of mind: depression and mania. It’s sometimes referred to as manic-depressive disorder, though not very much anymore because it’s much more of a spectrum rather than the binary states that “manic-depressive” implies.

Like most mental illnesses, bipolar is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Typically, when someone with bipolar is in a depressive state, he or she experiences: extreme sadness, exhaustion, feelings of hopelessness and loneliness, and suicidal thoughts or actions. When in a manic state, he or she experiences: extreme anger, violent behavior, racing thoughts, over-excitement, and uncontrollable actions. (There is another degree of mania called “hypomania,” a euphoric state in which a person is often happy and highly productive.) A spell of depression or mania can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, even months sometimes. 

Now, I say that the beginning was April 2005, but in hindsight we realized that I had been displaying signs of bipolar much, much earlier. Like that time in kindergarten when we had a substitute teacher and I screamed and cried for hours for no apparent reason until the bewildered teacher called the principle and my mother. Or the time when I was 8 or 9 when I was so mad that I ran away from home down a busy, dangerous street in Brooklyn.

For years my parents and I could not figure out what was wrong with me. Why was I so sad and tired all the time? Why did I lose control so violently? Certainly a 12-year-old shouldn’t be capable of hurting herself and others to this extent. But I was capable of it. As I got older these episodes of depression and mania became more and more frequent. I landed in the ER a few times before I was actually committed. I spent about two weeks at MetroWest Medical Center in Natick, MA in the children’s psychiatric unit where I was observed, diagnosed, and treated.

That first hospitalization is mostly a blur to me now. I remember some things like the terrible food that was delivered on yellow plastic trays; the tiny schoolroom where we were supposed to do our homework that was sent over from our real schools; the small courtyard where we were taken for a designated hour of fresh air; chipper staff members who weren’t allowed to touch us; and the saddest looking room I have ever slept in. However, the most important moment of those two weeks is something that I have no memory of whatsoever: my diagnosis. I don’t remember anyone telling me that I was bipolar. I’m sure that someone did at some point, but I can’t remember it. Or maybe no one told me because I was too young to understand. It seems like it’s a fact that just came into being somehow: I have bipolar disorder. We finally had a name for this insanity.

Two weeks later I returned to seventh grade with a new medication regimen, weekly therapy appointments, and an official title for the moods and episodes that had plagued me for my whole life. The next six years that followed were the hardest years of my life. I was hospitalized twice more in March 2008 and February 2011. I just barely graduated middle school and headed to a local private school for high school. There was no way I would have survived going to the regional public high school that has over 2000 students.

These years were a mess of doctors’ appointments, extended absences from school, and more medication than you can imagine. I was experiencing crippling depression that caused me to cry nonstop for hours and to sleep for up to 18 hours in a row. I also went through manic stages where I literally could not control how my body acted, often with extremely dangerous consequences.

The worst part was probably the struggle to find an effective combination of medication. Bipolar disorder is a hard disease to treat because you have to treat both the depression and the mania. Any time we found a med that helped my depression it inevitably clashed with the med that was supposed to level my mania. Also, for some awful reason, I happen to be extremely susceptible to medication side effects. Have you ever seen a commercial for a medication where the first half explains the benefits and the second half explains the side effects? I experienced almost every side effect imaginable: rapid weight gain, fuzzy thoughts, dizziness, inability to focus, exhaustion, increased appetite, trembling hands, stuttering speech. The list goes on and on. At one point I was taking medications that were intended to treat the side effects of other medications. I felt like my brain didn’t belong to me anymore.

My life was consumed by my bipolar, leaving little room for anything else. Halfway through tenth grade, when I was committed for the second time, I dropped out of high school. Finally, in 2011, after I was released from my third hospitalization, things began to calm down.

Kids with mental illness usually experience the worst stage of their disease during puberty. Once the brain’s development begins to slow down, the symptoms tend to improve, which is exactly what happened to me. Medications became more effective, my mood was much more stable, and I was able to live a somewhat normal life. I went back to high school, got involved in after school activities, made some friends, and was soon accepted to college.

My four years in college were rocky at times, but mostly they were some of the best years of my young life. I discovered my passion for theatre and public speaking, studied abroad on my own, ran a marathon, had a boyfriend or two, and met my very best friends. Four years later I graduated 4th in my class, top of my major, and was the student orator at graduation. I’m now living in New York City and working in the theatre industry.

I hope every single day that I have made it through the worst part of my battle with bipolar. I’m always scared that something might change and I’ll go downhill again. Every day I get further away from the last time I was in the hospital, but it’s always a lingering fear for me. I take each day as it comes and remind myself that I’m lucky to have an amazing support network of family, friends, and doctors.

My struggles with and triumphs over my bipolar turned me into the person I am now. If I hadn’t been in therapy for most of my life I wouldn’t know myself as well as I do now. If I hadn’t been suicidal I wouldn’t have the desire to live as fully as I do now. If I my parents hadn’t saved me time and time again I wouldn’t have the same strong, beautiful relationship I have with them now. (Thanks, Mommy and Daddy ♥) If I hadn’t lived these tough experiences I wouldn’t have the intense will to thrive that I have now. 

I now proudly let the word bipolar describe me, but I don’t let it define me.

Welcome to Mood Sponge!

11 Oct

Welcome to Mood Sponge: a new blog about the ins, outs, ups, and downs of living with mental illness in the world today.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kelly, I am 25 years old, and I, like millions of people around the world, am living with mental illness, specifically Bipolar Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). This is just my welcome post, so I won’t go into great detail about my own mental health history, but trust me, you’ll be reading a lot about it in the many posts to come.

I have started Mood Sponge in an attempt to create a forum where we can talk truthfully and openly about mental illness. I think it is so important to talk about it publicly. In today’s society, there is such a stigma surrounding mental illness that people are afraid to talk about it, and often try not to even think about it. It makes them uncomfortable. But every movement that has significantly changed the way society views a marginalized group or stigmatized subject has been intended to cause discomfort – by forcing the conversation we make people face and reexamine their prejudices. Well, folks, I’m here to make you uncomfortable. And hopefully enlighten and entertain you too.

Mental illness is a set of diseases like any other, with the exception that it doesn’t manifest itself physically. (Hence the “mental.”) If this is so, why is it more socially acceptable to talk about cancer and diabetes than it is to talk about depression and anxiety? Why is it okay to tell your boss you have to miss work because you have the flu, but you can’t tell him you’ll be out because you’re experiencing a bout of depression? It is essential to talk about mental illness frankly and in broad daylight, so we can begin to remove the stigma and start on a path towards acceptance and understanding.

Another reason I decided to start a blog about mental illness is that I don’t think there are enough people writing about the topic. Every so often an article or video goes viral, which I find thrilling and inspiring, but I want more. You can find many scholarly articles filled with medical jargon written by doctors. You can also find a number of blogs written by mothers of children with mental illness. Recently, there has been an increase in writings by 20-somethings like me, which is a sign that the conversation is expanding, and I’d like to be a part of it.

I want to use this blog to share my story. I think I’m something of a mental health success story. After a long, intense struggle that started during childhood and persisted through high school and college, I am now a college graduate with a steady job in my field, living in my dream city. This is thanks to the combination of doctors, medication, family support, and extremely hard work I’ve put in over the last 14 years. I am by no means cured of my disease—it is a daily struggle—but for the most part I have been happy and stable for about 5 years. I’m all about using my experiences to help people, so I hope that my story will benefit and inspire others fighting similar battles.

And Mood Sponge is not going to be solely written by me. I am an expert on my own story, but I am by no means an expert on all things related to mental illness, so I’m going to be posting articles and essays written by all sorts of people: family members who can talk about living with someone with a mental illness, friends who have their own stories to share, and many others. I will also be linking to other sites and articles I want to share with my readers. I’ll be looking for all types of authors and correspondents, so feel free to email me if you want to write for Mood Sponge.

To close out this welcome post I’ll leave you with an explanation of the title of this blog. I am approaching almost 14 years of having been in therapy and in all those years my favorite term I have ever heard is “mood sponge.” A past therapist of mine used the term to describe someone who absorbs the surrounding mood or feeling of a particular environment or situation. I am a total mood sponge. Almost without fail I absorb nearby moods. If a person near me is stressed out about something, I get equally stressed out. If my friends are happy, I get just as happy. When a character in a movie cries, I cry. I think most people on some level are mood sponges, but I am an extreme case. Being a mood sponge is a gift and a curse, but mostly I just think it’s a quirky, unique phrase and I thought it would be a great blog title.

Please, please, please share Mood Sponge with everyone you know! I’m going to try to educate, entertain, and excite you with interesting stories, essays, and articles. Help me get the word out there about mental illness and I will do my best to never let my readers down. Thank you!!

 

Twitter: @MoodSponge

Email: moodsponge@gmail.com

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