Experiencing Depression and Anxiety But Got Shit to Do? Try This.

I am no stranger to symptoms of mental illness coming at the most untimely of times. In college, I would have to wake up at five in the morning, do two hours of studying, work out, eat breakfast, two more hours of studying, attend three hours of class, more studying, track practice, go to work, and then more studying. That schedule doesn’t leave much space for laying in bed, as depressed as Eeyore. But ya’ know, I have Bipolar and, unfortunately, I get depressed whether it’s convenient or not. 

Painting from a tough depressive episode in college

I’ve spent five years learning how to best prepare myself for these inevitable slumps. Am I always successful at staying productive whilst depressed? Hell no, girl. Far from it. But, I am much better at kicking ass during these episodes than I was in high school and the beginning of college. In this post, I will share my top three tips for staying focused on your goals while coping with mental illness episodes.

1.) Get professional help.

This is #1 on the list for a damn good reason. Listen, mental illness is just that — an illness. It’s not laziness. It’s not being over dramatic. It’s not being a bad or selfish person. It’s as serious as any other physical illness. If you got a kidney stone, you would seek treatment, right? Right. So, why wouldn’t you seek treatment for this illness? 

Everyone needs a different treatment cocktail. There are many options: individual therapy (CBT, DBT, etc.), psychiatry (AKA medications), group therapy, and even treatment centers. Personally, I need once a week therapy, 0.5 mg of Abilify/day, and 600 mg of Trileptal/day. Sometimes I need more therapy. Sometimes I need to change my medication. But I try to always stay on top of it. Sometimes, I will trick myself into thinking that I don’t need medication because I feel fine. I go off the medicine, things are okay for a few weeks, and then the next thing I know I’m laying in a dark closet, unable to move. 

This girl once retorted, “But medication messes with my brain.” I mean, yeah… that’s the whole point. 

Also, I recognize that treatment can be very expensive. There are ways to get discounts on medicine and free support groups exist. Even still, it can be costly and I totally get why that would make someone pause about seeking professional help. Then again, what are you without your health? 

2.) Tell your social and professional networks what you need.

For the first half of college, I refused to tell anyone that I was feeling depressed. I would stay up until 5 a.m. journaling like a mad man, and then sleep in and miss all of my classes. Repeat hundreds of times. Of course, this severely damaged my GPA. It wasn’t until I returned to college after a two year medical leave that I decided to tell my Dean, my professors, and my friends that I have Bipolar. 

Not only did I tell them that I have a mental illness, but I told them what I need from them. This is paramount. 

It’s not enough to simply tell someone that you struggle with anxiety, depression, and/or a disorder because most people are not going to understand what that means. My friends were originally very uncomfortable with the news of my diagnosis. “Does that mean that we have to go console Maura for hours when she is down?” Of course not. They, too, have busy and stressful lives. They don’t always have the emotional capital to hear me vent for an hour. I get that. If I want to ramble on and cry for an hour, I go to my therapist. 

I told my friends that there are really only two small things that I need from them when I am down: a validating comment (“I’m sorry that you are feeling really sad. That must be really hard.”) and a reminder that the episode will pass. Everything else falls on the professional help that I pay for. This is how I maintain healthy relationships with my friends when I’m in the hole.

As for college faculty and staff, I relied heavily on my Dean. I used my Dean as my advocate for whenever I was going through an episode. If a professor was not being very understanding (though most profs were), he would reach out to them and encourage them to give me an extension. Last Fall, I had to go to the hospital for a week due to a severe manic-depressive episode and my dean was able to haggle a month extension for me on my thesis deadlines. That was a life saver for my grades. It gave me the time to fully recover so that I could produce the good quality work that I know I am capable of.

Now, your employer… to tell or not to tell? That is the (seriously hard) question. I cannot really give too much advice on this. I have almost always told my employers that I have Bipolar because I am an open person, but I completely understand why you wouldn’t tell your employer. I am applying to jobs right now. In all applications, there is a section that asks if you would like to declare a disability. Bipolar is listed as a disability, and I always hesitate to declare it. Legally, the employer isn’t supposed to discriminate but… do they really turn a blind eye to that?

Outside of the obvious risks of telling your employer, there are some pros. I told my last employer that sometimes I need to take ten minute walks when I am feeling symptomatic. Occasionally, I need to take an hour to attend a therapist appointment. Very rarely, I will need days off. I always produce A-quality work, and in order to do that, I need these little breaks sometimes. They were, fortunately, very understanding and accommodating. 

3.) Chart your emotions and behaviors.

I learned this from a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) group. Essentially, you make a chart of emotions and behaviors that either help or hurt your mental wellness. Below is an example chart from a few years back. My only emotion to track at the time was sadness. Today, I include “Joy” as one of the emotions. I was also concerned about my productivity, exercise, eating, and writing. I added a notes section so I can understand a little more about that day and it might shed a little meaning behind the scores. I applied yellow highlights for exceptionally positive results, such as have “0” sadness. Whenever my sadness hit the highest score, I highlighted the day in red. These highlights allowed me to see patterns and how they correlate to my activities and behaviors.


Being aware of my day-to-day emotions helps me understand what I can do the next day to improve. For example, seeing constant 5’s for sadness, even when my exercise and eating were on point, helped me realize that I needed to break up with my boyfriend at the time. Once I did that, I suddenly was seeing streaks of yellow highlights !

If anyone is interested in setting up their own wellness and empowerment chart, I would be happy to help you ! Just shoot me an email (located at the bottom of this page). 

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In conclusion, even though you can’t help experiencing depression and anxiety, you can prepare yourself to make those bad days go a little more smoothly. These three tips have helped me recover from those inevitable slumps much more quickly. Thus, I could get back to pursuing my ambitions!
Love and Strength,

Napo

Redefining Napo’s World. 

Good morning, friends!

I originally wanted this blog to be for the “young ambitious woman,” but I realized that I am not exactly full of wisdom on that subject. I am only at the beginning of pursuing my greatest ambitions, so I don’t have much to say.
I, however, am well-versed in mental health and wellness. In fact, it is because that I am an ambitious person that mental health is an extremely pertinent issue. If you have read my writing before, you know that I have Bipolar II. I often struggle with anxiety, mood swings, and the occasional manic-depressive episode. These symptoms have proved to be major road bumps in my journey toward “success.”
I have been hospitalized three times, taken medical leave from college twice, and admitted to a residential treatment center once. I have spent thousands of dollars in medications, therapists, and psychiatrists. I have lost relationships. I have contemplated suicide. I have hurt my GPA. I’ve done it all.
And yet, I have also accomplished a great deal. I graduated from a great college. I have worked on several campaigns. I am a strong and accomplished fundraiser. I ran an entire program as an intern at a nonprofit. I wrote a senior thesis. I hosted a deliberative forum.
What I am trying to say is that despite severe symptoms of mental illness, I have still experienced success and achievement. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of work. And it was done in the most ungraceful way possible. But it was still done. I will accomplish much greater than this, too.

If you are a person living with mental illness and you also have great ambition, then this blog is for you. Join me in my journey of self-love, self-care, and reaching for the stars. Because you deserve it.
I’ll try to write at least once a week. I really struggle with judging my own writing. As my friends and I used to grumble during the late nights of college: “Words on a page. Just get words on the page.” Not everything I’m going to write will be relevant for all people. Hell, it might only be relevant to one person. If it can help at least that one person feel less alone, then I’ve done my job.

Realist Woman of the Week: Annie Rogoff

Annie Rogoff, Paralegal, U.S. Department of Justice

Follow Annie on Instagram!

 

Annie Rogoff, 22, is our first Realist Woman of the Week! She graduated from Vanderbilt University with a political science bachelors degree. Annie currently lives in Washington D.C.

I visited Annie this weekend in D.C. and it was quite the blast to the past! The last time I saw Annie in person was ten years ago in an all-girls boarding school. While our experiences at boarding school were very negative, we bonded over the struggle together.

Why did I ask Annie to be the first RWoW? Well, despite experiencing some seriously rough times throughout her life, Annie has pushed the limit of “idealism” and has achieved some amazing, real things.

At Vanderbilt, Annie co-founded a nonprofit called “The Dara House.” This organization provides safe housing and treatment for women who have been sexually assaulted on college campuses. While she was a college student herself, she oversaw the daily operations of Dara House, as well as organized major fundraising events.

Annie has also worked a lot within law offices as a legal intern, paralegal specialist, and a legal assistant. Today she works for the United States Department of Justice!

Who is your role model? Why?

Annie immediately answered, “My grandparents, but particularly my grandfather.” She explained that her grandfather was a man of strong moral character. “He was a doctor and served the greater Plainfield NJ community.” He treated injured soldiers during the Korean War. Annie fondly remembered one story that highlighted the core values of her grandfather, “There were two patients. There was a higher ranked, white officer with a light cold. And there was a lower ranked, black soldier who was extremely sick. He was told to tend to the higher ranked officer first. My grandfather refused and tended to the lower ranked soldier, because he did not believe in racial hierarchies and he believed in tending to the sickest first. He was extremely humble.” She further explained that while her grandfather was extremely stoic and quiet, he had strong compassion for others.

Annie also strongly admires her grandmother. “She went to Northwestern University and Smith College to become a social worker. I never heard much about her accomplishments. She is very humble. She is someone who can walk into a room and make anyone feel better.”

Annie concluded, “Unfortunately, my grandfather passed, but my grandma is still alive. Through leading by example, both of them instilled within me the importance of helping others and being and being a kind and moral person.”

What is your biggest ambition/dream? How are you working toward it?

Annie has many goals. She asked me if I wanted her 30 year, 40 year, or 50 year goal. It old her to tell me whichever one is her most important.  “After law school I plan to work for the government. My goal at the end of the day, is to work as a constitutional law and civil rights attorney working on issues relating to mass incarceration, the war on drugs, equal rights, women’s rights, and civil rights law. I hope to do this building my legal resume enough to transfer to the ACLU or the Innocent Project. I even have hopes to run for office one day.” I asked her which office, and she said that she will run for U.S. Senator. My vote is with her!

What are you proud of about yourself?

For the first time, there was a moment of silent reflection. Soon enough, Annie continued, “I’m just proud that I’ve been able to grow as a person. I’m proud of the fact that I have been able to overcome painful experiences and use those experiences to train myself into becoming a victims advocate. This has allowed me to involve myself in issues such as violence against women, and establish a meaningful nonprofit.”

What are some things that you have been called an idealist for, and that you still did anyway?

Annie stated that a lot of people have told her that she cannot help everyone. “I’ve been called an idealist for working hard to help those going through trauma, relating to college campus sexual assault. I’ve been called an idealist for working hard to establish a nonprofit. ” I asked her if that ever stopped her. “Nuh-uh.”

Do you have any advice for other ambitious young women?

Annie had many tips:

“I think that you should not only follow your heart, but you should also follow your gut. Your heart tells you what you want and your tells you what’s right and what’s wrong.”

“Don’t hold yourself back based on an experience that you had that wasn’t positive. If you’re in an uncomfortable spot where you feel lost, that’s okay. Often times when you are in a spot that you feel lost in your career, that is the time to do some soul searching.”

She concluded her monologue with this:

“The best advice that I can give someone is to do each day 1% better than the last. If you have a goal, it’s definitely possible to achieve it as long as you know can do the hard work. There have been times in my life that I have been my biggest enemy.”

I really enjoyed spending this weekend with this Realist Woman! Thank you for all of the great words of wisdom, Annie!

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Annie and me!

 

 

 

On Starting a Blog

I have been trying to start this damn blog for weeks and weeks. I have upwards of twenty unfinished draft posts, and I am always way too afraid to post them. Why? Because I’m afraid of judgement! I am afraid that people will see the description of the blog and think, “What the hell does Maura know about ambition?”

But ya know what? Who fucking cares.

I mean, isn’t that the whole point of this blog? In today’s world- in all of history’s world- women are shamed for acting on their ambition and their dreams. There are countless times that I have pitched an idea, only to be told that I’m too “idealist.” Geez, I hate that condescending word.

But, I am going to stop the negativity there. I want my blog to be a positive space for young, ambitious women to visit when they are tired of the negativity they face on a day to day basis. This is a blog that will shamelessly celebrate and promote the major qualities of young ambitious women: strength, candor, grit, and creativity.

How will I do this?

Realist Woman of the Week


Every Monday, I will post a “Realist Woman of the Week” (RWoW). The RWoW is a woman who does things that she is surely called an idealist for. This could be someone who started her own company, to someone who traveled around the world in one year, to someone who is writing her own book. The point is to redefine what is considered “realistic.” These are women who are doing amazing, real things due to their amazing, real strengths.

Weekly Lessons


Every Friday, I will publish an essay about a lesson I learned that week. This could be about anything. For example, I will probably post a lot about lessons I have learned from job hunting– as that is something I am currently pursuing. Another example would be a lesson about organizing events or people. Pretty much anything that I have learned which has helped me advance my own ambitions.

Personal Essays


Outside of these strict post deadlines, I will occasionally post essays or articles about certain opinions or experiences that I have experienced which have transformed me into who I am today. I will also post submissions from other women writers!

Atlanta Snapshots


And finally, just for fun, I might occasionally post about cool things to do in Atlanta since this is an Atlanta-based blog. Probably full of instagram-worthy photos.

 

So, there you have it. This is the current game plan of my blog. I hope that the content is relevant to you and that you will contribute if you feel like you have something to say!

Cheers,

Napo

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