Mental Health Advocates… We Must Unite!

As a professional peer specialist, I have had the opportunity to attend many professional events and conferences with other peers, both within the New York City community, and also beyond within New York State.  Always at these events, there are familiar faces to reunite with, and new people to meet and chat up.  All of us are passionate, in our own unique ways, about mental health advocacy, its political cause and the eradication of social stigma.


At these gatherings, many peers and allies facilitate workshops and lectures, and attendees can choose to attend those that pique interest.  I always learn something new, and I get the chance to network…


Network… I hate that word.


Let me just say instead: connect.  I connect with new people, because that’s what it feels really like!  Socializing at peer events is not merely about greasing the right wheels to find a higher-paying job at another agency (although certainly this happens).  No… there is much much more.  There is the social cause that we all fight for.  The desire to unite together, creating strength in numbers.


Being around these great people has inspired me to find my own voice as a mental health advocate too.  A year-and-a-half ago, I started a WordPress blog and opened a Twitter page.  To generate a following, I searched terms such as #schizophrenia and #mentalhealth to find users with my similar interest, and then followed them.  Many of these people followed me back.  Doing this alone allowed me to accumulate about 2000 followers in one full year.  It was a slow process, requiring a lot of consistent effort, not skipping a day.  Perseverance paid off.


I also had a vision for creating a “mental health discussion forum,” one which embraced the specific values of professional years.  So I started a Facebook group.  Again, it started small.  There were also conflicts between members and other distressing situations that jeopardized the group’s cohesiveness.  At times, I would spend hours trying to put out these fires, chatting one-on-one with members to hear them out, and also managing the page closely, making sure that posts remain supportive and non-antagonizing.


After about a full year, the group began to develop steadily on its own.  I suppose there is a bit of word-of-mouth going on, because we get one to three new member requests almost daily.  There are now about 620 members, and many people are regular posters and silent loiterers.  (I can confirm the latter, because several people have told me that they enjoy reading, although not inclined to post.)


I am happy that the group has allowed me to share my own approach to recovery with others.  For me, I attempt recovery by maintaining a curious attitude.  When I am distressed in a situation, whether it be anxiety or paranoia, I think of a friend that I admire, who maybe displays a sense of emotional mastery that I admire.  I ask questions:


I’m so nervous about this upcoming deadline… I see you and you seem so calm all the time, even though you’re working a stressful job.  How do remain calm?


I want to have more confidence with dating.  I see that you are friendly and assertive when approaching women you like.  How are you so confident in these situations?


I’m paranoid that this guy hates me.  What do you think?


I never run out of questions to ask.  Sometimes I think I’m a pestering parasite, but then I think again.  Some of my best friends are people who have stuck with me, patiently answering my questions for years.  6, 7, 8 years’ worth of online chatting.  My questions are creative and interesting, and as my friends answer, I think they get to thinking themselves.  It also helps them feel good, because my curiosity is rooted in a sense of admiration.  As years pass by, these friendships even out into a consistent, rock-solid dynamic.  This is how I really come to know people and their baseline.  If I am compatible with a person’s baseline, and they mine, then that friendship is unshakable.


This dynamic of curiosity, and the resultant bonding yielded from honest answers, is what I want to infuse into my Facebook group.  In the process of discussion of various concepts, questions and experiences, we go beyond talking about ourselves.  We go beyond sharing our stories.  Surely, we share in the process, but we also share our opinions with one another.  We also each introspectively brainstorm within, trying to formulate opinions on issues that we never before considered.  I believe that this process exercises the brain, allowing for a person to develop more confidence and resiliency within him/herself.  In turn, this can empower a person to better manage their mental struggles, in a way that is perfectly tailored to the individual.


In this process, members of my Facebook group start to forge genuine friendships with one another.  So often, we lament that it is impossible to make real friends online, because we are not face-to-face.  But it IS possible!  As I run the group, I try to model a type of messaging that encourages this type of interaction.  Principles I maintain:


  • Writing in complete sentences, maintaining correct spellings and grammar, aiming for eloquence.


  • In response to others’ postings, fully absorbing the content before responding.


  • Searching within myself to always have an attitude of gratitude towards all members, even in times of conflict and disrespect.


  • Smoothing over episodes of conflict and disrespect thoroughly, without stepping on toes if possible.


  • Using emojis and stickers to convey non-verbal communication that emotionally touches.


And perhaps a more strange strategy:


  • Writing in such a way, that the physical appearance of what I write is appealing to the eye.


I want to open people up to the idea that online communication can be as fruitful and fulfilling as face-to face contact.  Online communication is the future.  It is the present!  We must navigate it in such a way that it is emotionally satisfying.  We must learn how to “read between the lines,” to surmise a person’s intent strictly by what they write.  I believe this is possible.  If we develop this skill within ourselves, we can then feel more confident and fulfilled in our interactions.


I’ve now discovered, that my unique mental health advocacy voice is rooted in social media.  The maintenance of my Facebook group has taken priority over my writing of articles and blog entries.  I always wish I had more time to write, but then I step back and see the bigger picture.  Mental illness is an experience that can serve to isolate a person.  It is a condition that can impair a person socially.  And so, could not the resolution be social?


These ideas will develop further as the group continues to evolve.  Eventually, I want to put together a power point presentation of the Facebook group’s inspirations and concepts, and then present it at mental health events… worldwide!  Small steps, but big dreams.  For me, my guiding light through this whole process is the desire to connect people together.  So many of us mental health advocates are out there in little pockets and corners of the internet.  I want to find them, and bring us all together into the group.  We are strong together!


And… if you’re interested in joining my group, you should!  It is called:


“What is Wellness?  A Mental Health Discussion Group”


See you there!!

The Spiritual Undercurrent, Binding the “Mentally Ill” Together

[Originally posted on my Facebook group, “What is Wellness?  A Mental Health Discussion Group.”]

For many years, I have viewed my depression as evidence of spiritual deficiency. In 2006, I took up a meditation practice with a guru in India, with the hopes that I would become more Enlightened, and therefore less mentally ill. It backfired. The practice gave my subconscious extra food for thought, and I developed schizophrenia.

Regarding mental illness and spirituality, I notice that spirituality manifests in different ways. For some, spirituality helps. It provides a sense of balance, centering and empowerment. It helps to detach from the cruel world and find solace in that which is more organic and natural for the self.

But I don’t see it helping everyone it touches, necessarily. Yesterday, while waiting for the bus, I sat on a stone structure on a concrete park island. A woman dressed in green sat on a bench nearby me. She had a black cross drawn on her forehead, and she held up a green bible. She then threw a stuffed animal of a wolf in my direction on the concrete, which also had a green chain around its neck.

When I boarded the bus, she got on before me and sat in the back area. I myself also went back there, as there were some seats available. I passed her and sat across from her. She then talked to everyone on the bus, telling them that I brushed her with my bag and that I was an axis of evil. She said that I was plotting against her with my mind, and that I should be sent to hell. I was not inclined to move, nor was I offended by what she said. I work in mental health, and I’ve revitalized my own life. I guess others were amused, but no one said anything.

I remember myself having religious ideations. As I grew further and further from reality, I believed that this was justified because I was becoming closer to a spiritual sense. These spiraled so terribly into my head, that I eventually hit rock bottom: I believed I was the Antichrist. I was so afraid when I went to the ER. As I sat in the little room, waiting to be evaluated, I thought everything around me was a planned charade. That everyone knew who I was, and that the hospital too were devilish minions that were preparing me to deliver to Satan. When people spoke to me, I heard them speak in whispers. Incidentally, I had a bad case of eczema, which had completely covered the backs of my hands. I fancied that this was me shedding human skin, which would soon reveal reptilian skin underneath.

The creativity of the human mind is immense. Now that I am mentally well, I can use my creativity for a productive purpose, yielding positive results: connectivity to people, a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, and also movement in my life. Happiness, derived from growing and learning from the past.

Mental illness served to warp my creative senses. Instead of expressing them outward, they hit me internally. To the point that I was a walking method actor, 24/7 living the character of “the Antichrist.” It was dreadful. I thought that I was responsible for the suffering of every single thing that has ever lived. Sometimes, I still get fooled. I think, “Oh, I’m trying to help others with mental illness… but it’s all wrong.” When this happens, I’ll ask friends of mine if I’m evil, and they tell me not.

Perhaps it is something not much spoken of, but this whole “subliminal” world… it exists within the walls of psychiatric hospitals, as I have experienced it. People, coming in with spiritual notions, ideas that they wield spiritual “powers,” or are perhaps connected to deities, God, what have you… it is very real. People in hospitals, trying to play with magic and move energy around and try and escape, or comply… people who are convinced that it’s a conspiracy… this is the stuff of psychotic madness.

Once I thought I was the reincarnation of Beethoven, while hospitalized. During the morning, I sat adjacent to a young man, on the Schizophreniform spectrum, talking to his case worker. Suddenly, I heard in the corner of my ear,

“Beethoven’s here.”

And I freaked out. Now… whether he actually said it or not, I am not sure. Perhaps he did, perhaps I fancied it. But nevertheless, my imagination ran wild, and I became aware and frightened of an undercurrent that bound everyone in the unit together. This idea that, perhaps, we are all true in our delusions. That we are all who we say we are. That we are Gods, devils, reincarnated people, messengers, messiahs, saviors, or Satan himself.

I have many other examples I could describe of this “undercurrent”, but perhaps another time.

I’m glad now that I am well. I hope that what I write here is not… wrong, or taboo, or evil. I just know that I’m here. Alive. Breathing. And I’m away from that. Instead, I can play my viola now. Instead of having the viola speak gibberish to me, I now can just focus on the music. I can watch performers happily, enjoying their strains. I never could do that before. Always, the envy and hate and psychosis and depression shielded from music’s goodness.

So sinister the situation felt, that I had been afflicted since childhood. So sinister, that it felt as if the illness was inflicted not by brain chemistry, but by a personality, determined to stifle and suffocate my very life.

This is what I faced. I hope that I am only alone in this experience, but perhaps mental illness affects in this same way. I hope not. I hope what I write here is irrelevant.

I am also afraid of even writing this. Maybe I am evil. Maybe I am what that woman on the bus said. Maybe my mind should be put to death.

Music Education Manifesto (In Devopment), Part 1: My Past Griefs as a Classical Musician

For a long time, I have contemplated the nature of classical music instruction.  The general known format of it at present is basic.  A student studies individually with a teacher, during which s/he learns the physical technique of playing, while also learning repertoire.

Musicians also accumulate experience while playing with other musicians, whether it be via a beginner’s Suzuki group class, a string quartet or a full symphonic orchestra.  And then there is the aspect of performance.  To prepare and practice a piece to performance level, one must be diligent and steadfast in the practice room.
During my childhood and college years, I was passionate about classical music myself.  I started as a violin student, and then switched to the viola as a tween.  I continued through high school, during which I enjoyed being a part of the Long Island and NYC communities of young musicians.  It was a lovely group of people, and I ranked highly among them in my abilities.  I felt proud and confident in myself.
I continued on at the college level by attending conservatory for college.  This provided me the chance of playing with top musicians, admittedly far more skilled than I.  Participants and winners of international competitions, elitely groomed since childhood.  Doctorate students, preparing for professorships.  People who traveled often, summoned by Europe for performance opportunities.  None of this was within my grasp, and so I was saddened.  Impossible to make up for lost years indeed.
But I made the best of it.  I took violin pedagogy classes with a renowned pedagogue who directed an incredible pre-college string academy.  I also studied with her privately for three summers.  Working with her really opened my eyes.  First off, I realized that performance music education requires a particular type of mental focus.  The most skilled of musicians have practiced with this mindset since early childhood, mostly because their parents were actively involved in their child’s practicing.  Young children cannot be expected to prepare efficiently, so their parents act as teachers at home.  Every day, the parent reinforces the teacher’s commentary and assignments.
I had none of this as a child.  No one was ever intensely involved in my practicing.  And even as a teen and young adult, I still struggled.  Despite my motivation, I rarely was able to get myself to practice, even when I wanted to.
This was because of my mental illness.
Around the age of ten, I started experiencing depression.  It haunted me terribly when I practiced.  Sitting alone in a room, cruel thoughts of self-depreciation plagued me.
You suck.  You will never be good.

Perhaps standard for a musician, to be hyper-critical.  But the thought was so relentless and persistent, that I would be driven to the point of tears.  Certainly, sadness was unpleasant, so I avoided practicing as much as I could.


This did not bode well in college.  To keep up with my colleagues, I had to practice at least three hours a day.  But I could barely manage an hour.  Again, the tears flowed, and the internal voice of self-criticism only grew louder and more desperate.  Desperate, because the stakes were higher.  I saw my classmates progressing beyond me, and I viewed the whole affair as a huge competition.  I needed to “beat” my classmates in proficiency, and yet I was the one getting “beaten.”

No one knew the scope of my emotional turmoil.  No one.  There was no way that I could have described the experience to anyone.  Even if I did, I feared that I would just be outed as a “lazy musician,” too undisciplined to practice.  I also did not have the perspective that I have now.  I didn’t think it was mental illness.  Again, I thought it was laziness.
Indeed, I started to get fed up with the whole classical education style.  The whole one-on-one instruction approach.  I found that many professors seemed to have their “favorite” students, whom they would treat with greater kindness and regard than others.  Some naturally favored students who were more proficient than others, but others would favor students who shone no brighter than his/her peers.  Very often, favoritism would be determined by personality.  Professors, having chummier rapport with some students than others.
It appalled me.  As a silent observer, I noticed that the preferred students generally were offered more opportunities.  Perhaps being selected to play in a masterclass with a visiting, renowned musician.  Being placed in a higher chair in an orchestra.  (Note: orchestral auditions were not held at my school for the first half of my degree.)  And besides opportunities, there was just… positive regard. Teachers truly believing in their students, instead of just paying lip for a tenured paycheck.  Favored students would progress through repertoire more quickly.  Teachers would push them harder, give them riskier assignments and advocate for them more strongly during juries and auditions.
It made me sad, because I didn’t feel favored in this way.  I started feeling desperate, and schemed ways to become a “favorite.”  I learned that, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years at college, my professor was to take up a ten-day residency at a masterclass event in the south of France.  I instantly wanted to go.  I thought that if I went, I would then become a “favored” student.  Even though my mother absolutely did not have finances to send me on a $2000+ trip, I begged.  We sold most of our paltry collection of gold to pay for it.
And so I went to France.  I spent the ten days with a frown on my face, trying to focus and “earn my favor.”  I failed to realize that the trip was intended to be more of a vacation than a grueling process.  The grounds were an old farm, converted into an artists’ space.  I lodged in a villa, and would walk among the reeds and trees to the main courtyard during the day.  Meals were served in a rustic, wooded dining area where French cheeses, meats and wines were served.  The relaxed attitude of it all disgusted me, and in rebellion I decided to become a vegetarian halfway through the trip.
Lessons occurred daily.  During one, my teacher gave me the constructive feedback:
“Your playing is inconsistent.”
The comment addressed my performance ability.  When playing a piece, I would make technical (physical) errors, and upon repeated trials, my errors would occur in different places.  It was a frustrating comment, because I saw no way to solve the problem.  I still could not practice focusedly for more than a half-hour, before the tears hit.  And no matter how much I repeated a passage, trying to perfect it, the mistakes would not go away.  In retrospect, I realize that my mental depression even affected my physical capacities for the instrument.  It made my arms and fingers sluggish and spastic.
As I saw it, there was no way I could cure my inconsistency.  I also took the comment personally.  I believed that I was labeled as inconsistent as a person.  That there was some flaw in my character that made me an inferior musician.
Perhaps so.  Mental illness does afflict one’s manifestation of character, sadly.
The trip ended, and I returned home.  While I did not turn into more of a virtuoso overnight as I had hoped, I did notice a more positive favor towards me for the next school year.  I felt more optimistic about my future as a musician, and practiced more enthusiastically.
And then I began to discover a new joy in playing from another source.  I took a body kinesthetics/awareness class, and this allowed me to understand physical technique on a new level.  I started to reteach myself how to play the instrument, and I began to find more joy in physical posture than in the music itself.  With posture, it was an experimental, tangible process.  Music was too amorphous.  Too subjective…
Because honestly, I had no idea what made one musician better than the other.  Indeed, if two people play with the same technical accuracy as one another, it would make sense that they would have the same career prospects and outlook as one another too.  But it didn’t seem such.  My own preferences for who I liked also seemed not to jive with the popular opinion.  At times, I’d see an excellent musician perform, yet I didn’t like what I heard because I felt a revulsion towards their stage presence.  Dare I say personality.  Many musicians seemed indeed not to be personable nor entertaining people.
But my judgment was colored too.  Already, I was suffering from depression and acute envy.  I hated everyone around me, because they seemed to excel without being impeded by the sadness that I faced.  It felt unfair.  But also, during my senior year of college, I began to develop schizophrenia.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the symptoms crept up on me, first episode-style.  I started to believe that excellence in music was due to a magical, spiritual property that the elite possessed, which I lacked.
I frantically tried to figure out how I could cultivate this property within myself.  I joined a meditation group on the college campus affiliated with a guru in India.  I meditated morning and night in their way, traveled an hour-and-a-half by car on Sundays to meditate with a group and went on weekend retreats every few months.  This culminated into a trip to India, where I meditated in the presence of the guru himself with 50,000 other abhyasis.
After returning home from the retreat, I struck gold, so I thought.  I started feeling “energy” in my body, which I could move around my person… up and down my spine, through my extremeties.  I thought that if I channeled this into the instrument, and the music, I would be a godly musician.  I also able to “sense” this energy everywhere I looked.  Subliminal messages were everywhere, and I became consumed with the concept every waking moment.
I maintained my face for a semester, but eventually had a psychotic breakdown.  I was hospitalized, newly diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder.  After discharge, I finished out the year in a daze before quitting my masters degree halfway through.
Much of my musical grief was caused by mental illness.  Paranoia, envy, depression, fear, self-deprecation, magical thinking… it all attacked me in the practice room.  In retrospect, I wonder what could have been different.  What could have eased my pain?  I’ve contemplated this question for nine years, and now I finally have an inkling of an answer…
Stay tuned for the second installment of this entry.

I’m an Inconsistent Musician… oh Joy!

In the past, I found myself in many a situation where I was criticized.  It hurt when I was a child especially, on the playground with teasers and taunters galore, throwing names and jeers at me.  I was not resilient, but instead took it personally.  When dwelling on those petty words, I found my spirits diminished.

And then I studied the violin and viola.  Always at lessons, teachers would offer constructive criticism, intended to improve my playing abilities.  But again, I took it personally, and it was too much to bear.  I became sad, and avoided the instrument as much as I could.  I hated the viola, yet I enjoyed the opportunities and life it provided me.  For college, I attended a prestigious conservatory, where I played in orchestras and ensembles with top musicians.  I studied with renowned professors, and myself fell in love especially with baroque performance practice and violin pedagogy.  My academic education in lecture halls was excellent also.
Since I was in conservatory, the stakes were higher with constructive criticism, and so I felt even more depressed.  It was hard for me to detach music-making from my personhood.  Perhaps I was studying music for the wrong reasons.  When I went to lessons, I was not looking for musical guidance as much as talk therapy, if you will.  I wanted someone to care about me.  Some brilliant professor who would care about me and my potential from a sincere place, instead of someone just paying lip.  I noticed that the more “favored” students matured into better musicians, so it seemed.  As for who they selected to favor?  It seemed arbitrary and unfair.
Somehow, I had to make sense of this nonsense.  That’s just how I am, I guess.  So I coped by reasoning to myself that these professors were akin to gods.  Masters of music, paragons of spiritual enlightenment, and eternally justified in their arbitrary favoritisms.  And so every word they uttered in lessons was the bread of my life.  I contemplated on their “wisdoms.”  I aspired to be a musical master myself, so that I could join the ranks of these deities.  So that I could wield the superhuman power of musical expression and flawless physical technique.
Naturally, I was sorely disappointed in this quest.  Not to mention, my spiritual musical aspirations steered me in a direction that would not lead to gainful employment.  As I neared the end of my degree, this reality hit me.  There was no job waiting for me.  Instead, there was only the open world of networking and freelancing, and I didn’t have the energy for this.  I was too depressed and lethargic.  And for me, music wasn’t about the music.  It was merely a way for me to develop my character.

The greatest criticism I perceived was delivered unto me in July of 2006, while I was attending a ten-day masterclass in the south of France.  To explain the circumstances:  My viola professor at the time was instructing violists there, and several of my college colleagues also made the trek to the place.  Amidst the pastoral environment of the French countryside, we enjoyed leisurely music-making, excellent food and performances in a couple of medieval-aged churches.

But I was unable to enjoy any of this as a vacation.  Instead, I attempted stern discipline within myself.  My reason for attending this masterclass, was because I wanted my professor to favor me. I thought that I’d be a better musician if he favored me, in the way I had described above.
In one of my daily lessons, he delivered the bomb.
“You’re inconsistent.”   A piece of constructive criticism, yet not elaborated on further.
The most frustrating aspect of the musician personality, as I have perceived, is the lack of verbal eloquence.  A frustrating trait for me to deal with especially, because verbal eloquence is the greatest joy for me.  Of course, my professor meant well.  But his comment was like a dagger in my gut.  Here I was, playing my best, and now this criticism.  The reason why it perturbed me so, was that no solution was offered.  How could I have “fixed” this inconsistency?
And so I absorbed it to be that I, as a person, was inconsistent.  My character.  My spirit.  My mind.  My right to be alive.  I thought I was such because I lacked musical talent.  And because of lack of talent, I would never reach musical enlightenment.  The comment made me feel utterly doomed.
In retrospect, I can attribute my “inconsistency” to a couple of factors.  I was dealing with difficult, relentless mental chattering, which completely obscured my ability to practice effectively.  A year after this particular episode in France, my condition worsened, and I experienced my first psychotic break.  My mental chatter and depressions turned into schizophrenia.
But my musical woes root from another cause as well.  I now know that I have Hyperacusis, a hearing disorder.  When I listen to music loudly, as I do when playing the viola under my jaw, I become disoriented within a half hour. I feel dizzy, I get cold sweats, with anxiety and delusional thoughts galore.  Listening to music with earbuds also procures this same effect for me.  I am not sure how I developed Hyperacusis, but I know this much:  I have tiny ear canals, and I have had many many ear infections as a child.  I even venture to say that the way I hear music and sound in general is perhaps different from the norm.  The grandest frustration I still experience is when I record myself making music.  Violin, viola, singing with guitar, what have you.  What I hear in my ear is not what I hear on the tape recorder.  No matter how much I try to revise my playing, it still fails to improve.
Sometimes, I wonder if it was music that made me crazy.  I think it contributed.  Whatever physical torment it was that music inflicted upon me, was small in comparison to the emotional backup I developed in reaction to my father’s sadistic tirades.  Dare I say such.  From him, I learned that I should remain quiet and compliant.  Counter-intuitive for a musician.
As for solving my musical inconsistencies, I don’t much care now.  There is no need for me to have to “prove” or “defend” myself against a criticism hurled at me ten years ago.  It was my own overreaction that caused thatwound in the first place.
I look forward to better days now.  I look forward to the day that I am no longer afraid of the violin.  I don’t have to practice “the right way” in order to prove myself to pedagogues I used to know.  They are no longer deities to me .  Really… whose lives are they changing?  Who is changed by their art?  Sure, I can get box seats to a MET Opera performance of Mozart’s Zauberflöte, enjoy the tunes… but what else?  Have I gleaned anything profound from the musicians themselves?  Their little fingers pressing against strings, faces blowing into conical bores… The most I would gain is simply the mind of Mozart himself, for it is HIS composition!
I ramble now. I only wish to impart here… Inconsistency has become a proud badge I wear.  I’ve had a varied life due to bipolar impulsiveness and schizophrenic delusions.  Traumatic to experience, but humorous to recall.  Ha!  I had a British accent for a month!  Ha!  I maxed out a credit card to travel to Denmark for an orchestra audition, only to learn that the orchestra didn’t exist!  Mental illness is silly indeed.
Maybe it is such that I needed these failures in order to get my head out of the clouds.  Because now as a writer I am very consistent… so it seems.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Time Slips Away. I Want to Manage It As Best As I Can.

Again, it’s been a while since I wrote.  Life happens, days pass and time slips away.  Even though every single day is chock full of stimulation and memories, there is also that which remains neglected.  For me at times, it is writing.  Which is very unfortunate.

Sleep takes a lot of my time.  I take Clozapine, which is a very sedating drug.  As a result, I sleep at minimum 9 hours a day, if not more.  It has improved since before, ever since my psychiatrist suggested I take 3 Clozapine pills at night and 1 in the morning.  But now I feel more tired throughout the day.  For Labor Day weekend, namely Saturday and Sunday, I took big naps.  I never take naps.  While I enjoyed the luxurious rest, I also felt angry.  I could be writing instead!

But really… if you want the bed and breakfast experience, all you have to do is take a nap.  Much cheaper.  Maybe I should change my sheets to some yellow shade with little flowers on it, if I really want to go B&B style. That actually might help me feel more rested.  I’ve found that the little things we do for ourself, when accumulated, have the ability to make us happier.  And also feel more control in our lives.  I would decide to change my sheets.  I decide what I choose to put on my walls.  I decide to allow myself to take that nap.  When I allow myself to make decisions like this, I grow more confident.

Wow, this is all over the place.  Let’s return to the main point of this post:  Not enough time in life.

For me, there has been another major change in my life.  About 2 months ago, I joined a bootcamp gym in my neighborhood.  It’s pretty expensive, but there is no comparison between this place and a regular gym.  At this place, there are hour-long bootcamp classes where you get your butt handed to you.  Finally, I feel like I have found my fitness home.  I feel that this gym has the ability to bring me to my full athletic potential.  There is always room to push harder in the workouts.

And yet that takes up a lot of time.  Precious time that I’m not sure I have.  I do the workouts, and then I have to go home.  I don’t have a car either.  Waiting for public transit, riding public transit… I wouldn’t say it’s stressful unless I’m stuck standing, although this doesn’t happen often.  But still… when I get home, I’m not in the mood to write.  I mean, sure I’ll write in my journal, pen against paper.  But this is more akin to self-care and personal introspection.  It has no professional bent to it.

I think that somehow, I have to trick my mind into thinking that work-related writing is recreational and relaxing to me.  Then again, rest is so important.  It can never be neglected.  Because when I am a workaholic, it prevents me from enjoying the little things in life.  Like enjoying the trees.  Marveling at pigeons pecking at the sidewalk.  Seeing the people around me, engaged in their work, walking down the street, going to their destinations.

A few months ago, Huffington Post allowed me to have a blog on their site, so that I can instantaneously post articles.  I am happy that I have this opportunity, and yet I’m not writing as much as I’d like.  Again… I’m tired.  I’m also working on an article about NYC Crisis Respite Centers.  I have to say, that journalistic articles are more difficult and time-consuming to write.  I learn as I go, given that I don’t specifically have a bachelors in English or Journalism or whatnot.  But I’m learning fast, nevertheless.

The problem with lack of sleep and overall fatigue of this sort, is that it serves to erase the mind of thought.  Or at least it slows thoughts down.  It also causes drowsiness, which is difficult to push through.  Pushing through can even make it worse, I fear.  It can cause headaches for me in my sinuses.

And then there is a third new component I’ve added into my life: Spirituality.  After years and years of being burned by several religious practices, ranging from conservative Christianity to meditation under a guru in India, to spending thousands of dollars on bogus psychic services, it was apparent that I was seeking.  Yet I was too mentally unwell to differentiate between the “spiritual ream” versus “reality.”  I do really believe that some of those who experience profound mental illness attribute their symptoms to be a spiritual gift that connects them with a higher world.  For me, I once was completely lost in this “realm,” to the point that I recognized everything happening to me to be “divine occurrences,” “meant to happen.”  Everything had a subliminal messages, specifically for me and no one else.

Over the years, there has been only one spiritual healer who has helped me without hurting me in any way.  He is a Reiki healer I’ve worked with since 2010.  Recently, he has been involved in this new meditation practice, and so I feel that it is safe for me to do also.  When I have setbacks, worries or fears, I talk to him about these and he helps me to become more grounded.

As drowsy as I am right now, I don’t want to give up these aspects of my life.  I’m not giving up writing.  I’m not giving up fitness.  I’m not giving up spirituality.  And it’s not the best idea for me to go off of my medications.  But how do I manage?  How do I keep going forward, without burning out?

Perhaps the pinnacle of tiredness is that which accompanies parenting.  And I am not a parent, nor will I ever be.  Taking this into consideration, “tired” is likely a natural part of life in the 21st century.  Which still is not good, but alas, Reality.  I hope I can pull through.  Faith is all I have to keep me going.  That, and friendship.

C’est la vie.

I Write To Fight Stigma

All of a sudden, I’m nervous that I’m “talking about myself too much.”  I share my story, I offer my opinions, I write about how I’m optimistic about my future… So am I being selfish here?  I hope not.  I guess I just share myself because I want to make a positive difference in this world.  I want to uplift the people I encounter, and help there to be perhaps one more little ray of sunshine out there.  Earth needs them.

With that being said, I’ll share my musings for the day.


I like the prospect of earning supplemental income as a freelance writer, but it’s also a lot of hustle.  And hustle is tiring!  I’m realizing over the months, that I like writing because it is a way for me to express my inner musings.  A way for me to share my personal self with the world.  And as people read what I write, they get to know me.  People who like what I write then come into my life, and I find that they are the best of friends, more compatible with me than those I even meet in real life!

For the moment, I’ve veered away from freelance writing for pay.  I currently want to focus more on discovering my personal voice through writing.  While this does not put bread on my plate, it will help me become a better writer.  Writing from the heart is what motivates me to keep going on, even when I think my writing “sucks.”  To be honest, I was getting discouraged with trying to send pitches to places for income, because I felt that my writing was not genuine.

I see that many websites have a particular political slant or cultural emphasis, and they pick submissions that go along with their overall “vibe.”  The problem I have is, I question EVERYTHING.  I not only question the status quo, but I question the people (etc.) who question the status quo!  This is hard, because it somehow causes me to disagree with everyone I meet on some level.  But at the same time, this mentality has allowed for me to find compassion for even the most cantankerous of people.  I am no saint, but I attempt to live with love and happiness in my heart.

The only internet community that I seem to “fit in” with is the mental health awareness/advocacy/stigma fighting community.  When I write here from the heart, people read me how I want to be read.  I’ve also befriended some pen pals online from Germany, but again, my enthusiasm for the German language and culture is a fierce passion of mine.  I find that when I follow my passions, I find the most of fulfillment.

Fortunately, there are unpaid sites that publish my essays.  I’m glad to get my voice out there, and I’m glad to have my opinions heard.  I also have this little blog🙂  This blog is a wonderful, personal space that I have created for myself… If I am frustrated with the online cultures of big-name paid sites, then I have my own site here where I call the shots!

Although, I’m the only writer here.  No matter.  The world still turns.  Stigma must be fought.  Voices need to be heard.  Fighting for freedom needs to happen now.  And so I try.

Being a Tall Woman… Trials and Tribulations

I’ve always been tall.  From toddlerhood to adulthood, this has been my reality.  And while I have never been ashamed or regretful about my height, there are societal complications that have affected my experience of life overall.

From kindergarten through fifth grade, I was always the tallest kid in the class, and possibly even the entire grade.  My height was especially punctuated because I lived in an East Asian neighborhood, and so there were a lot of short people around me.  (Forgive the stereotype, but this was the reality I faced.)  I was a sensitive person, so these taunts really hurt my feelings.  And as much as I tried, I just got down over it.  This was how the depression first started creeping up on me.
It also did not help that my family dressed me in unisex clothing.  My hair too was unfashionably styled.  Having the potential for luscious locks of curly black hair, my hair was instead cut just at the perfect length to create a large poofy ‘fro.  All of this together, combined with my height, spelled social disaster.  The girls would not talk to me.  I suppose the were both afraid of me, and disdainful.  It is a painful reality that children are some of the most judgmental people on the planet.

Nevertheless, I coped.  At lunch every day, I sat at the boys’ table.  They’d make jokes and blow bubbles in their milk… Far more interesting than the girls table, where they would silently munch on their sandwiches, legs dangling as they sit on the too-high benches at the table.

Yet it was hard.  “You look like a boy.”  “Why do you look like a boy?”  Painful to hear, because inside I felt very feminine.  And when I went to the bathroom?
“Ew!  There’s a boy in the girls’ bathroom!”
As I entered junior high school, the children around me started to display romantic notions towards one another.  Yet I felt completely excluded from this affair.  No guy would ever look on me, and I was also hesitant.  When I asked my mother “why do no boys like me,” she’d give the response:
“They’re probably intimidated by you.  You’re tall, and you’re not smiley or flirty.”

Indeed I wasn’t.  I frowned at times, frequently deep in thought.  Also, I was heavily engaged in taking violin and viola lessons.  Classical music was more important to me than childhood romance.  I disliked school culture overall, so I hated being there… Oh, did I mention that I was now in therapy for clinical depression?

I don’t think my height is correlated to my depression.  Yet I sometimes realize I am plagued by the trivial curse of being tall.  When I go to the boot camp gym for a class, I am a head taller than about half of the women there.  I sweat a lot and make faces because I am very intense with the exercise.  (Don’t worry, I don’t make any grunting sounds.)  Maybe I’m paranoid, but I have seen a couple of scared faces in my direction, as well as a ring of space around me.  I know that I don’t smell because I check myself.  Also, my curly hair is now long and frizzy, so perhaps I have a wild look as well.
After gym class, I don’t socialize with the other women there.  Sometimes I feel lonely, but also… I just had the realization… I miss out on a lot of conversations because they happen below my level of height.  I am not a giant at all, standing at a mere 5′ 10″.  But I see women talking and I don’t care enough to slouch down and listen to them.
I suppose all is well now.  I have matured into an adult who cares less about the opinions of others.  I am satisfied with my appearance, and have no frets or fears.
This blog post is a bit all over the place, I’ll admit.  I’m trying to brainstorm ideas that can be marketable for websites that pay their writers.  This article was a failed attempt towards that.  It’s reassuring to know that I have my own blog where my “trash” can go.
But I exaggerate.  This essay is not trash.  That’s because it came from meeeeee.

The Importance of Artistic Inspiration

The source of inspiration has always intrigued me.  Where does creativity come from?  When someone creates a song that hits the heart, or when someone dances with inimitable grace upon the stage… we wonder where indeed, did that expertise come from?  Can it be credited to the person performing the miracles, or is it the hint of perhaps something greater than us?  Deity?  A life force?  What indeed is it?


This concept of mystery has been one I have pondered and appreciated for many years.  It began when I was a toddler.  My mother is gifted as a visual artist, and various drawings hanging on our walls were of her conception.  It was mysterious to me, seeing her works… They hearkened unto times before my birth, and served as miniscule hints into the past.  Was my mother a different person before my arrival?


Inspiration affected me firsthand when I realized that Christmas came with carols.  Which I sang heartily then all year.  The melodies and words were divinely inspired, in both the religious and secular way, and so I appreciated them.  I began to develop a pleasant singing voice then, and music became my ally.  At the dawn of first grade, I started playing the violin.  And that is when the inspiration truly began.


Hearing classical music, specifically from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, has entranced me always.  It is a style of music that is primarily driven by a melody, which is then accompanied and supported by other complex activities, including the lowest of bass rumblings and everything in between.  The whole package together is held by the chords created to suggest a certain key signature.  “Concerto for Violin in E Major, BWV 1042.”  That one’s by Johann Sebastian Bach.  “Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24.”  Beethoven’s famed Spring Sonata.  Each piece is comprehensive, finished and complete, akin to a painting with every stroke placed perfectly.


Or perhaps like Renaissance sculptures of the physical form.  I wonder with Michelangelo… where does it end where the artist sculpts… and the piece of art sculpts itself?  Indeed, if he “tried too hard” to make David “perfect,” he could have nicked too much marble off here or there… of course he was an “expert” and would have “never” done that… Perhaps I don’t understand such genius enough.


I suppose for myself, I am gifted at music, though I don’t find much enjoyment in it.  It seems a blasphemous statement, for me to say that I don’t enjoy a gift I have, but so it is.  I find it too simplistic in some ways.  I write a melody with my guitar, as well as accompanying lyrics.  The words come to me easily, as do the rhymes (with the glad assistance of a rhyming dictionary), as does the music.  I am no canonical composer, but I have an elementary understanding of how to create a musical work that has all of its loose ends tied.  My songs tell stories.  They evoke images that are complete.  My songs are strung together with form in the traditional sense, and are not at all abstract.


But music seems so boring, precisely because it comes from somewhere that is NOT ME.  There is some sort of strange disconnect.  Of course, the songs I create are very personal to me, and accurately paint my life.  But I feel as if the songs I write are so transparent, that it is as if I simply shot a photograph of myself in the mirror.  And as fond as I am of selfies, I find them to be only tools for self-reflection, intended for myself.  It’s even uncanny.  Songs I have written several years before seem to predict events in my future.  They also develop greater meaning as I age, because they describe feelings and emotions that I did not have when I wrote them, yet I then acquire them in the future.


It’s an absolute eerie experience, and so I prefer to refrain from music.  I honestly have no desire to be a mystic or occultist, because honestly such work is exhausting.  And it also serves no purpose.  What benefit is there, to know my future?  I’ve consulted charlatans, evangelicals and honest spiritualists alike over the years, and their counsel only served to pack my subconscious with a rich pallet of insane colors, all thrown into my face like the abstract art of Millie Brown.  She is noted for creating works of art painted with her own vomit.  I must say, that vomit is my greatest fear on earth.


I much prefer writing.  In general, I have a lot of questions and thoughts and ideas.  Music is too slow of a medium to express this.  You can only utter so many words at once, and the music serves to influence the words likewise.  Music alone can influence one’s mood, and I find this too be too much.  I like the silence of words.  I like how words are more personal.  The emotions evoked within the person are noiseless.


Regardless of what talent I dedicate myself to, I know in my bones that I will be successful… as long as I stay true to my heart, and true to the people I care about.  The challenges that I face in pursuit of this goal, lies in developing compassion for every living creature I encounter and know about.  If I care about everyone alive, I will be able to make the deepest and most positive impact on this world, that I am capable of.


Yet I am only one person.  That is why I care about people.  One person cannot move a mountain.


Artistic inspiration perhaps comes from a place unknown to common sense or science.  It may lie latent in the brain, or perhaps it is from elsewhere outside the human form.  I think it is a popular statement these days, to say that “accessing this inspiration can cause healing for the brain.”  Healing, in the mental health aspect and holistically likewise.  Yet I find it opposite.  I was unable to become intuitive and artistic, until my brain was healed with medication.


It is a very complicated topic.  But I will say this: The experience of accessing your intuition, whether via an artistic discipline or perhaps even through the athletic practice of developing one’s level of fitness… Accessing your intuition is an ability that you have within you.   And you have every right of experiencing this phenomenon.


It is a sad state of affairs, that we are inundated with instant entertainment, from computer games to television to Top 40 songs.  We are so entertained, that we neglect to find our own latent intuition within ourselves… that once served to entertain us!  Perhaps that is why there is so much mental grief these days… We are being robbed of the opportunity to develop our imaginations due to being fed entertainment.


It’s a complicated matter, and I’m tired for now.  I could ponder it further in my sleep, and continue from there.  Indeed, the best of intuitions follow periods of rest.


Good night!

Clozapine, and My Battle With Oversleeping

So frustrated.

My medication is incredibly sedating.  I have been struggling with oversleeping since I started Clozapine over three years ago, but this difficulty didn’t become marked until I started working full-time.

But all of a sudden now, it seems to have gotten worse.  I seriously am sleeping 11, 11.5 hours a day.  Last night, I went to bed at 9:30 PM, and ripped myself from bed at 8:30 AM.  I work full-time!  I don’t have a car, but instead take public transit.  2 gyms near me went out of business recently, so now I’m going to another one further from me that has only classes.  Translation: I get there whenever I do (via public transit), and then I have to wait ’til the hour to start working out.  I also am trying to keep a steady pace as a writer of essays and poetry, aiming for regular publications.
I was thinking of also getting back into playing the violin, given that the voices aren’t bothering me anymore when I play.  But alas… no time.

Fortunately, I work at an awesome agency.  And since I’m a peer specialist, my mental illness is out in the open and accepted.  There have been times when my job performance was not at its best, due to my struggling with relapse.  My bosses and coworkers showed incredible concern, and with their support was I able to pull through.

Today again, I called my boss.  I asked to do a half-day of work today, and he said that would be ok.  Thank goodness.  As soon as I could, I left home… at 9 AM.  (I usually start work at 9 AM.)  Then I went to the blood drawing center and got my blood taken.  I have to get my blood done every 4 weeks because of the Clozapine I take.  While it is a miraculous drug for me, it also can cause many complicated side effects.  It must therefore be monitored very carefully.

I’m seeing my psychiatrist next week.  I know it probably won’t do much good, but I’m going to ask her if I can lower my dose of Clozapine by a single, tiny increment.  I take 400 mg right now, and I want to try and lower it to 375 mg.  I think I can handle it.

Or maybe I should give up.  Throw in the towel.  Accept that I’ll never be fully “normal.”  I should just “learn to live with sedation without questioning it.”  Just “shut up and suck it up.”

When I attended the peer specialist training at Howie the Harp Advocacy Center, I learned that the voice of the patient actually matters.  I learned about the recovery model, which is the idea that recovery and wellness goes way beyond mere compliance with medications and a treatment plan.  It is not about “settling” for half a life.  True wellness is about living a life that is fulfilling and satisfying.  

And so now… I demand wellness.  And sleeping 11 hours a day is not my idea of wellness.
I know that my psychiatrist likely will not let me change the dose.  If this doesn’t happen, I’m not sure what to do.  She’s incredibly competent, so I am not keen on throwing her to the curb.  Many private psychiatrists will not accept me because I take Clozapine.  I’d say that most people who take this drug are profoundly disabled, so they get their psychiatric services from hospitals.  They typically don’t work full-time, so they have more time to devote to commuting via bus, more free time for appointments, etc.  

(I say this not to make assumptions about those who are disabled.  But I myself was in this position for several years, and so lived this way.  Thus, I speak from personal experience.)

I too was a patient at a specific hospital’s Clozapine clinic for 3 solid years, but I decided to leave once… things got bad.  See, my psychiatrist was always a resident.  I’d have the newbie doctor for 12 months and then, *poof!*  The doctor was gone, replaced by another doctor with again no experienced.  When I was assigned my fourth doctor, I realized… Something’s gotta change.  Especially since my circumstances had drastically changed within those 3 years.  When starting, I was unemployed and in psychiatric rehab programs.  3 years later, I was working full time.

Now I see a private psychiatrist.  It’s a miracle she puts up with me.  The Clozapine is very difficult to coordinate with the pharmacy.  See, first I have to get the blood work.  Then the results have to be faxed over to my psychiatrist.  If the levels are good, she writes me a prescription, and also fills out an extra sheet for me to give to the pharmacy.  It is illegal for me to get the Clozapine without this extra sheet.  Also, if my blood work is bad, then I have to get tested again.

It took a few months for me to adjust to this procedure.  I ran out of medication a couple of times, and had to go to the ER.  Also, I procrastinated the blood work, and so had to make some emergency appointments with my psychiatrist.  She’s truly a saint.  Most doctors would have abandoned me.

I write here now, so as to share with you the process I go through to simply remain mentally well.  I am at times envious, of those who have no need to jump through any of these hoops in order to live normal, satisfying lives.  Whereas I have suffered to get to this point.  Granted, I’m happy I’m well, but it took me a long time to get here.  I started taking medications when I was 14.  I was not stabilized on the “perfect” combination of drugs until I was 27.  And then I spent time in rehab, simply getting back on my feet.

I hope this process of figuring medications will take less time for people in the future.  So many years of my life were wasted, sitting in offices of psychiatrists who felt no guilt in offering me subpar treatment.  Watching me gain ninety pounds steadily.  Turning a deaf ear when I lamented that I wanted to work, but was too depressed to look for work.

This has to stop.  Psychiatrists need to hold a higher standard for themselves.  Because it’s not about sedating the patient into compliance.  It’s about improving the quality of life for a person.

I have faith that my future will be brighter than my days today.  And my days are already bright!  I hope that the sleep issue will be resolved soon, and that I can continue my merry way towards success and wellness.  As should everyone, for that matter.

Enter, the Music…

As much as I have written about mental health, and the necessity of its acceptance in the part of society, these writings only represent a small portion of who I am, and where I came from.

I was once a musician.  Skilled in my trade, and one of professional promise.

Training towards this career began at age five, when I started violin lessons at a local Suzuki school.  Of high caliber, to my benefit.  I had a private, one-on-one lesson once a week, and a few classes on Saturday mornings.  The latter was when I met the other students of my year.  Most were Chinese and Korean, and two years younger than me.  But it made no difference.  I loved music, and that was all there was to it.

Mental illness started to interrupt my studies though.  When I became depressed, I was too depressed to practice.  When I started experiencing voices in college, so too did the instrument start speaking to me.  The only way I could escape these disastrous situations, was to avoid music altogether.  A tragic compromise.

Indeed, for when I have tried to play even recently, my frame would shake, my brow developed an electrical sweat and my nerves, rattled.  An abstract experience to describe, but such is the irrationality of mental affliction.

But a miraculous turn has occurred.  I am now able to take up the instrument suddenly.  It has been twenty years, this former grief!

What happens to make this change?  Perhaps my reliance on the drug Clozapine, which never eases to do wonders for me.  The longer I am on it, the better it works.  I also have changed my attitude about music.  I first figured that I suffer from a phobia of the violin.  I then read that mental health professionals tackle phobias via Exposure Therapy.  Each time, one becomes gradually exposed to that which is feared, with more and more intensity, for lack of a better term.

And so… I and music.  Such is now my approach.  Such is now my cure.

I hope to get better on the instrument than ever before.  I hope to play it with the expertise of the best of professionals.

And still, my spirit of advocacy can stretch into my music making as well.  Because ever since childhood… I’ve despised pop music, and all the other genres one would hear on the radio.  As a five year old, I found tunes from the radio to be akin to baby music.  And while the masses may be entertained by it, it horrifies me that many simple tunes are more popular than that which requires more skill to create.

To create an analogy: I might enjoy a cardboard baby book as an infant, but I’m not going to read such books as an adult.

This is how I view popular music, in comparison to classical, as well as other forms that require earnest study.  Traditional musicks from cultures around the world fall into this respectable category, as does jazz.

But I think the fight against Top 40 is a battle long dead.  The war is over.  Classical music is merely something kept alive by elitists and specialist musicians.

Or is it?

I honestly think that rock music is bad for you.  See here: we always talk about organic food and being all natural with the crystals and the essential oils and the purified ionic water and crap… But what about organic sound?   Don’t you think it’s bad for the body, mind and soul to be pledging allegiance to electronic sounds, unnaturally vibrating within your head at 120 decibels?  And earbuds?  You think that’s natural?

I didn’t think so.  But I’m sure you’ll defend the honor of your favorite band, because they’re all rad and they said stuff no one else ever said before, blah blah.

See… This is why I’m not a professional musician.  The musical world today is so broken.  I am it strong enough to fix it.  Nor are there enough people in the world who want to fix it in the same way I want to.

Writing about this only makes me angry.  But maybe… maybe I developed mental illness because I, a very musical person, was surrounded by inorganic sounds?  By the age of five, I physically cringed with discomfort whenever I heard “radio music,” and was convinced that it was utterly evil.  CONVINCED.

Maybe this is another reason why people develop mental illness: inorganic sound.  What do you think?