All Articles Tagged "mental health"

When Depression Reinforces The Belief That You’re Unlovable

July 29th, 2015 - By Tracey Lloyd
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Image Source: Shutterstock

Image Source: Shutterstock

We’ve all been in a bad relationship. Despite our best efforts, we found ourselves mixed up with someone who didn’t have our best interest at heart or was just a bad match in general. I, of course, have been there a few times. When I’m feeling well and generally in my right mind, I can end a bad relationship as soon as I identify the signs of it. But when I’m feeling depressed or on the verge of a mental illness relapse, my judgment goes out the window, and I end up sticking around in an undesirable situation longer than I should.

I was friends with my last boyfriend — henceforth to be known as “Ronald” so as to protect the guilty — for many years before we became a couple. More accurately, we were friends for a while, then friends with benefits for a while and then, I would say five years later, we started dating. Everything was great between Ronald and I. We talked several times a day, had lunches and dinners every week, and the sex was terrific. Eventually, we had sleepovers, spending several hours in bed talking, reading, and making love. That’s right, I said hours. He said, “I love you” first, and I responded in kind. I was happy.

Anyone who has ever started a relationship with a friend knows the comfortable sense of intimacy you feel when you know someone well on many levels. Being with Ronald made me feel comfortable. Despite knowing each other for quite some time, we still laughed at each other’s jokes, remembered details about each other’s families and finished each other’s sentences. For me, the most satisfying thing about being with Ronald was that he knew about my bipolar disorder, and it didn’t change his opinion of me. He still thought of me as smart, successful and beautiful in spite of my disease, and even brave for being honest about my condition and fighting for normalcy. Being accepted with bipolar is a big thing for me, given the stigma that many people place on those with mental illness. We are thought of as universally broken, crazy, incompetent and any number of qualities that would be undesirable in a relationship. So being with someone who didn’t think those things of me, and who treated me like the person I am was perfect, most of the time.

Things with Ronald moved into bad relationship territory after about a year, when he started to become less communicative. Instead of him immediately returning my texts and phone calls, he’d go a day or two without contacting me. We’d see each other for lunches, but our dinners and weekend sleepovers turned into Ronald leaving my house after sex and requisite cuddling. I tried not to think anything of it, attributing the change in his behavior to the natural ebb and flow of a relationship. I thought about asking him what was up, but I was afraid to bring up the topic. Like a lot of women, I suppose I didn’t want to confront Ronald about the changes because I was afraid of what I might learn. Instead of talking about it, I ruminated and became depressed.

In the midst of depression, I did things that I would not have ordinarily done. I ignored my instinct to bring up my concerns to Ronald, preferring instead to wonder what I’d done wrong to change his behavior. I told myself that as long as I never said anything, I was in a relationship and having someone was better than being alone. I told myself that I’d never find anyone else who cared about me as much as Ronald did because of our history together. And I lied to myself, believing that I’d never find another man who’d accept me with my bipolar disorder and that I needed to hang on to Ronald as long as possible, no matter what. After all, he wasn’t exactly treating me badly, and he still told me that he loved me, so there was probably no reason to worry. He was probably just stressed out at work or something like that, and since men can’t multitask, everything would eventually return to normal.

As often happens in these cases, my relationship with Ronald never returned to its initial, happier tenor. We still talked and texted frequently, but we saw each other less and less. For months, I still held on to the belief that Ronald was my boyfriend, even though we were more like friends who had sex every time we hung out. I realized that while he’d frequently come to my apartment, I’d only once seen where he lived. And I noticed that he’d become increasingly vague about his whereabouts, particularly when rejecting my invitations to get together. I suspected that he’d begun seeing another woman and still I didn’t confront him because I thought it meant losing the only person who really accepted and understood me. I remained depressed, trapped in a series of negative thoughts about my self-worth and my relationship prospects as someone living with mental illness.

Of course, Ronald eventually confessed that he’d begun pursuing another woman, even while maintaining a romantic relationship with me. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to tell him never to contact me again since I don’t do liars and cheats. I know for sure that I never confronted Ronald because I was too depressed to think highly enough of myself to do so. I’ve been in other relationships in which I’ve felt good enough to end things when they went south, so I know that I can be honest with men about my needs. It was my mood that enhanced my feelings of self-doubt and the belief that I was unlovable, and those feelings made me stay in a bad relationship.

“Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.

Harlem Principal Jumps In Front Of A Train Amidst Test Scandal

July 28th, 2015 - By Veronica Wells
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Harlem Principal

Source: NY Post

If you know anything the school system in New York City, you’ve heard about the all important Common Core exam.

The standardized state test, like many across the country, serves not only as a [problematic]  way to measure student learning, it also determines a school’s success rate and ultimately determines how much funding that school will receive from the state.

There is a lot of weight placed on this exam.

Sadly, it might have proved to be too much for one West Harlem principal to bear.

On April 17, the day after her students took the Common Core exam, Principal Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, jumped in front of a B train at the 135th street station on St. Nicholas Ave at 9:20 a.m.

According to the New York Post, Worrell-Breeden, a 49-year-old woman who served as principal at the Teachers College Community School, was pulled out from under the train and taken to Harlem Hospital where she died eight days later. The city Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a suicide.

Worrell-Breeden took her life after the school’s third graders took the English portion of the exam for the first time in the budding school’s history.

It was also the same day someone reported cheating at the school to the Department of Education.

Initially, students were not made aware of the circumstances surrounding her passing. In fact, many thought she had died in a car crash.

Later, in June parents learned the truth about the cheating scandal and were told that their students’ exams had all been “red-flagged’ and “invalidated.”

Superintendent Gale Reeves said during a meeting, “The children didn’t do anything wrong, and the teachers didn’t do anything wrong.” She refused to provide additional details.

For months, the DOE refused to provide clarification about what happened with the tests. Finally, this week, the acknowledged Worrell-Breeden’s role in the matter.

A spokeswoman for the department said, “Principal Worrell-Breeden was the subject of allegations of testing improprieties. An investigation substantiated these allegations and we closed the investigation following her tragic passing.”

The DOE still would not explain exactly what she had done to tamper with the results. And officials would not say whether or not Worrell-Breeden had been made aware of the investigation before she took her life.

Though all 47 third grade English exam scores were invalidated, they took the math exam later on April 22-24. Those scores will be released later this summer and the superintendent assured parents that all the children would graduate to the fourth grade.

The Post reports that the Common Core exams have caused anxiety for several educators with on 34.5 percent of city student passing the math tests and 29.4 percent passing the English tests in 2014.

One educator said, “A lot of people are getting sick and leaving the system because of the pressure the high-stakes tests are putting on them.”

But one parent, Diane Tinsley told The Post that Worrell-Breeden seemed to be confident and relaxed about the exams.

“She was reassuring us parents. Her whole attitude was that they’re going to breeze through this test, and that she had prepared them to ace any test.”

During the three day testing period, Worrell-Breeden served the students breakfasts and even held a pep rally.

“She had them run around the gym cheering to get rid of their nervousness.”

And while she was projecting one image to the school community, a family friend said Worrell-Breeden’s personal life was more bleak.

The unnamed friend said, “Her grandmother died last year. Her husband moved out last year. He had a child with another woman. She was under a lot of pressure at home.”

“The was the first principal at that school so she was trying to make…a good impression. Maybe all that pressure, added to what was going on at home, got to her.”

Teachers College Community School was opened in 2011 in partnership with Columbia University’s Teachers College. It boasted student access to Columbia facilities, student interns and researchers. The school, planning to grow, only served students from pre-K to third grade last school year.

I don’t know Ms. Worrell-Breeden’s character or intentions for that school, but this story seems to highlight two crucial, yet often overlooked issues, in our society.

One, the issue of mental health in the Black community. Every week, there seems to be another Black woman who is either coming forward opening up, discussing her life with this particular disease or, in the more tragic instances, we hear the story of a woman who died shockingly and unexpectedly, taking her life. We have to get to the place in our community where conversations about mental illness are so commonplace and normalized that people who are actually suffering with these type of diseases feel comfortable telling their Black friends, family members, teachers, preachers and licensed professionals that they are suffering and need help.

Secondly, this story tragically highlights the flaws in the American educational system. It seems very clear to me that standardized tests are a way to capitalize the school system. For some it might be a way to measure comprehension and achievement, but the fact that there is money tied to it, means that someone stands to gain from these exams. Furthermore, there have been countless studies have shown that the tests include racial bias that affect minority students.

At the end of the day, our country has to find a way to stop teaching for the test and start teaching for retention, however that may look for each individual student.

What’s At Stake When We Ignore Mental Health?

July 24th, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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Sandra Bland

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If anything, the Sandra Bland case speaks to two particular problems we have here in America: First, there is the criminalization and mass incarceration of the Black community; and secondly, the need for more mental health treatment, as well as awareness.

Just as it is possible that Bland was murdered, it is also possible that she was also severely stressed, if not depressed. Let’s look at the facts: she was looking for work, sad about the world (particularly racism, police brutality, and violence) and had previous bouts of depression. It is true that she had finally found a job and appeared to be in good spirits. At the same time, just as those dominoes were starting to line up for her, here comes the criminal justice system to knock them all down. That is systematic racism for you…

I can’t speak for anybody else (or even Bland because we just don’t know what happened in that jail cell). But if I were in a depressive state, I could see my wrongful arrest being the final straw on the back of an already mentally burdened camel. And yet, it seems that even acknowledging the possibility that Bland might have been triggered by her wrongful detainment to take her life is both offensive and shameful to some folks. “Suicide is for the weak.” “Mental Illness does not exist, at least not in our community.” I’ve seen sentiments like this written online and said out of the mouths of other Black people. We have people who use the defense that “black women would never” and the strong black woman narrative as a way to deny the alternative view of this case.

While it is true that regardless of her fate, Bland had no business in jail in the first place, our denial of her mental state and how it played into her demise is an example of how our continued neglect of mental health in our community contributes to the criminalization, and even deaths, of people just like Bland.

I am reminded again about how deep our reluctance to talk about mental illness runs when I seen the reaction to a video of a Memphis woman having a psychotic break, abusing a 19-day-old baby. The video is heartbreaking, and I advise you to not watch it. With that said, the video went viral over the weekend, which means a lot of you have probably already seen it. And a lot of folks have been asking for this woman to be buried under the jail. To summarize, the 13-minute video features Faith Moore speaking religious gibberish while repeatedly tossing her newborn across the room. An older child is also seen in the video, sitting on the mother’s lap, crying and trying her best to keep her mom from attacking the baby again.

According to WHBQ My Fox Memphis, the video was recorded by Christian Banks, the father of the newborn, who told the news reporter that he filmed the episode because he needed “evidence.” He also said that the reason why he had not intervened and tried to save the baby from the abuse, but instead goaded the mother on by telling her to “go head” was because he was scared. Thankfully, the children are safe and in the custody of another family member.

As Moore’s mom told the local Fox affiliate, Moore had been off of her medication since finding out she was pregnant and giving birth. The woman’s mother says that she was concerned about what the medication would do to the baby. Moore is now receiving help. Meanwhile, a warrant has been issued for Banks for aggravated child abuse. He had been arrested twice for domestic violence previously, including an incident in which he hit Moore so hard with a telephone, it left a bruise.

In this instance, the authorities stepped in and did the right thing. Not only were the children placed into safer spaces, but Moore was given the treatment she desperately needed. But that is just one case. And the reality is that our criminal justice system, and prisons, in particular, are filled with people with mental health issues. Many do not deserve to be there and are not receiving the help they need so that they can function better in society.

Unfortunately, the bias we show to people with mental health issues, including our inability to acknowledge the fact that someone might actually be mentally ill, helps the system to further alienate, if not do more harm, to these people. I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve read from folks who, in spite of her mental illness, thought that Moore should be locked away or worse.

Whether the mentally ill person is a victim of the system, or of their own delusion, jail is not the place for them. Sandra Bland was likely hurting from within and needed help. Instead, what she found was her life – as well as her mental state – compounded even more by the system. And ultimately that complication cost Bland her life. The question is: Where would Moore and her children be if authorities would have merely locked her up?

I Use My Relationships To Judge My Mental Illness Recovery

July 15th, 2015 - By Tracey Lloyd
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Image Source: Shutterstock

Image Source: Shutterstock

Most of us can probably look through our romantic past and formulate some kind of opinion about ourselves based on the people we’ve dated. You might say, “Ooh, that was my blue collar period” or “I was really into locs then.” It is probably natural to classify dates and relationships into periods corresponding to one’s preferences or frame of mind at a particular time. But I look back on my relationships, whether in the recent or distant past, to help gauge my mental health and mental illness recovery.

This year, I went out on a few dates with Matt, a guy I knew from high school. I had been several months into mental illness recovery and thought that I was ready for romantic endeavors when we started dating. We initially connected via text and had great conversations about our shared past. Our exchanges became sexual in nature, and I learned that he was into polyamory — having simultaneous, committed relationships with multiple people. He asked me if I was cool with that, and I said that I was. I guess I was caught up in having someone interested in me after a long dry spell. But even though I agreed to go along with Matt’s way of doing things, I had a bit of trepidation about seeing a man who I knew was involved with other women. Would I be the primary person? Was I allowed to get jealous even though I’d agreed to be part of Matt’s erstwhile harem? I squashed my doubts with the hopes of having regular sex and dinner dates again.

As weeks went on, I spent days agonizing over my “relationship” with Matt. I wondered who he spent his nights with when he wasn’t with me. I questioned what I said to him and whether it was better conversation than that of his other dates. This continual torturing of myself wasn’t necessarily due to Matt, though. It was because I’d agreed to something that I didn’t want or need to do. I agreed to relationship terms that were both undesirable and bad for me. Not only did I not want to share a man with anyone, but I also didn’t want to have to convince myself that it was a good idea. For me, acquiescing to an undesirable situation — and one that made me anxious and over reflective — was a sign that I hadn’t fully recovered from my last bipolar episode. I’d willingly put myself in a place where I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied, where I’d beat myself up for my choices and make myself even more depressed. When Matt ended the relationship I was initially distraught, but soon realized that being out of the relationship was the best thing for me and my mental illness recovery.

Right now I’m seeing Roger, someone who doesn’t push my buttons, nor does the situation we’re in make me feel stressed or depressed. While it is true that Roger is a different person than Matt, and I know him better, I can see that my behavior is different with him. It’s better. In the time between dating these men, my mood has improved, and I feel more confident stating my desires. Instead of settling for an arrangement that was damaging to my mental health, I’ve been proactive with Roger about what I want and need from our coupling. I’m also very clear with myself about what I want from a relationship at this point in my life and feel like I can walk away from something that isn’t healthy for me. In this frame of mind, the thoughts that I have about Roger aren’t ruminating about what’s wrong with our relationship, but rather, they are the positive thoughts of new beginnings with an interesting person.

It has been a small amount of time since I stopped seeing Matt, but I can see big differences in the way I see myself in relation to the men in my life. I’m not sure if I’m 100 percent recovered from my last bout with bipolar depression. However, I do know that I’m moving in the right direction with respect to my moods and my choices in romantic partners. And those two factors alone will make it easier for me to get to the healthiest place for me.

“Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.

Being Bipolar Improved My Sex Life

July 8th, 2015 - By Tracey Lloyd
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Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard someone say that bipolar disorder improved their sex life. You mostly hear about side effects from medications that make you impotent or a cold fish. While I’ve experienced some of that, having bipolar has actually improved my sex life. Really. Not by virtue of having the disease, but because of some experiences I’ve had as a result of my illness.

Before I ever learned of my bipolar diagnosis, I had a hypomanic episode. It’s not the mania where you think you’re a superhero and try to lift up a car or stop criminals. Hypomania is slightly less extreme than full-on mania, giving you all of the euphoria with less danger. So imagine having a project at work where you think of solutions faster than you can write them down. Or getting all your laundry and housecleaning done in one day because you only need two hours of sleep. Or seeing all your friends and family in one week because you feel just that social and energetic. All of that was me, and I was having a great time.

At the time of my mania, I’d had two short relationships that ended oddly and I was feeling a little rejected. In my hypomanic state, I resolved that monogamous relationships were not for me and that I was going to pursue sex-only liaisons. My commitment began with visiting a sex club with a coworker who’d already spent some time exploring that lifestyle. She and I went to a non-member event for her sex club so that I could learn the ropes. To say that I saw some things would be an understatement! There was three-way kissing, married couples and a puppet that I never want to see again in this life. But the goal of the visit was to see if I could handle the swinging sex scene, which I decided I could as long as that puppet, and her owner, wouldn’t be there.

To find a partner for my entrée into sex soirées, I went to Craigslist – where many people before me and many since have gone for non-committed, semi-anonymous erotic adventures. Under the glow of hypomania, I had a lot of fun taking sexy photos and traveling the city just to get down. After all, I had plenty of time at night because I didn’t need to sleep. I met men in bar bathrooms and dark entryways. I learned that I didn’t like to do it standing up but perched on a sink was just fine. I learned new positions at my house and at random apartments. I completed my Men of the Armed Forces collection with a former Marine and someone from the Coast Guard. Sex in public? I liked it! My-wife-doesn’t-know-I’m-here sex? I could do without it. Sex where you can’t find a clean place to lean? Never again.

When it came time for me to attend another actual sex party, I chose a man who was on a swim team and had, shall we say, a prodigious appendage. Extra-large penises were on my list, so Swimmer Man and I went to a club and descended to the basement for the festivities. My coworker had brought her regular sex party date. There were couples in various states of engagement, though actual intercourse was verboten. Men and women in leather danced on a stage and on platforms. I was disappointed that there weren’t more people, but I did get to touch a glittery fake breast. That’s about it.

Perhaps the hypomanic glow was fading, or perhaps this scene was never really interesting to me.

When my date and I were scolded for showing too much skin in a corner, we adjourned to a hotel room that I procured for the evening. Though I would never see Swimmer Man again, I will say that he was useful. He taught me some things that wouldn’t have been possible had his, um, member not been quite so large. He also taught me my limits, which were either closer than I’d initially thought, or not meant to be tested with a one-time paramour. And even though I descended into depression shortly after that, my foray into my erstwhile sexual underworld gave me a lot of information. Information about me and what I like, and information about how to do to other people what they may like. From that standpoint, having bipolar disorder definitely improved my sex life.

“Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.

Hiding My Mental Illness From My Boyfriend

June 17th, 2015 - By Tracey Lloyd
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It goes without saying that communication between both partners is an important part of a successful relationship. Why, then, did I end up hiding my mental illness from my boyfriend? The answer to that question is complicated.

If memory serves me, I met Bill (not his real name) on Yahoo personals. He was a tall, smart Internet entrepreneur who got my sense of humor and whose stories held up to a Google search. We had the same taste in music, and he likened writing HTML code to composing music. I’m a nerd, so basically I was in love.

I didn’t plan on hiding my mental illness from Bill when I started dating him. I thought about how the conversation would take place, what I would say, but I never said anything. There never seemed to be a good time to bring up my major depression diagnosis. Not that there is ever a good time to bring up a potentially debilitating disease. I thought there would be a neat segue, like watching TV together when a Prozac ad aired: “Say, Bill? You know, most of my friends were on Prozac in college. Speaking of psychotropic drugs…” But nothing like that ever happened, so I remained mute about my illness.

I didn’t start actively hiding my mental illness from Bill until I started spending multiple nights a week at his house. By then, we’d been dating for a while, and though we spent a lot of time together, the relationship wasn’t what you would call “serious.” I started to believe that I’d tell him if we ever talked about a future together. So I took my medication at his house, but I never took it when he was in the room, waiting to down my antidepressant until he went to the bathroom. In all those months, he must have noticed me and my pills, but he never asked about anything, so I figured he didn’t suspect anything or he didn’t care. I also never mentioned going to therapy, as I was afraid of mentioning it even in passing.  I had no reason to think that Bill would break up with me if he found out about my depression. Still, I remained quiet on the subject. Soon it became easy to forget that I was hiding something from Bill. I had no symptoms, and I felt pretty good, so there was no way to tell that I had a mental illness. Bill and I saw movies, had dinners and continued like a “normal” couple.

A problem arose for me when my mood started to decline about six months into the relationship. I’d lost my job, and it made me feel disproportionately sad and hopeless. Bill was sympathetic to my moods, assuming that they were about my employment situation. I withdrew a little, but not so much that he’d noticed; he was working day and night on a new program and barely came up for air. I was secretly relieved that Bill worked so much since it meant that I didn’t have to worry about him seeing me in by depressed state. But when we went out on a Saturday night, we saw a movie that had a poignant ending. It reduced me to sobs that continued into the credits. Bill said nothing about my emotional outburst, he just handed me a napkin and kept talking about the movie’s casting.

I collected myself by the time we got to Bill’s apartment, where I’d planned to spend the night. When he initiated sex, I thought that I wanted to go along with things. However, once we were well into the act, I started to cry. I felt horrible, and I felt like I had to hide my outburst from Bill, which I did by resting my chin on his shoulder so he couldn’t see my face. I thought he would certainly feel my tears or hear my hitched breathing, but they were probably mistaken for the effects of our lovemaking. At that moment — or shortly thereafter — I realized that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to tell Bill about my mental illness; I didn’t want to share anything emotional with him. If he didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to even inquire when I cried at the movies, how could I entrust him with the most sensitive aspect of my life?

Bill and I broke up a few months later. Though I still liked and respected him, I needed to be with someone emotionally competent enough to handle my outbursts, my feelings, the complicated dance that is my mental illness. Who I decide to tell about my disease isn’t about subterfuge on my part, or about a person’s role in my life. It’s about identifying the right kind of individuals to understand and support me through my daily life, or through a depressive episode.

 

“I Didn’t Want To Believe I Had Mental Health Issues” Lisa Nicole Carson Opens Up About Her Bipolar Disorder

June 10th, 2015 - By Veronica Wells
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lisa nicole carson

Source: WENN

We all remember Lisa Nicole Carson from our favorite ’90’s movies. Whether it was Jason’s Lyric, Love Jones or Devil In a Blue Dress, the girl showed us her talent time and time again. And then she seemed to disappear from the entertainment scene. Years later, we would learn that Carson was living with a bipolar disorder. But that was the all the information we received.

Now, in a recent interview with Essence Magazine, Carson is opening up about her brand of bipolar, how it affected her career and how she manages it today.

See what she had to say in the excerpts below.

How she learned she was living with bipolar disorder 

I was the belle of the ball in the late nineties, with roles on Ally McBeal and ER and in Love Jones. I’ve always been full of energy and would often be twirling around on sets. But my high-spirited moments looked like something else to one of the producers on ER. He had a family history of bipolar disorder and thought I might be exhibiting some of the symptoms. I didn’t know what he was talking about or how it could apply to me, so I just continued with my life. A year later I was in New York City catching up with loved ones when I unexpectedly had a fit in my hotel—yelling, throwing things, crying and raising enough hell that the staff called an ambulance. I ended up being hospitalized for a few weeks, and a psychiatrist gave a diagnosis: bipolar disorder. I was stunned and clueless, and so was my family. I didn’t want to believe I had any mental health issues and went into denial. I was supposed to take medicine, and I didn’t. I’m animated and exuberant, and this made it difficult to determine what was my normal and what was actually odd behavior.

How it affected her career

During my stay in the hospital, I was given medicine to stabilize my moods, and I spoke with a therapist. Upon being discharged, I returned to Los Angeles and went back to work on Ally McBeal feeling more in control. Everybody on the show was wonderful to me, but my contract wasn’t renewed for the final season. Nobody gave me an explanation, but I assumed it had to do with what had happened. I was devastated.

Once my episode became public, I was torn apart in the press, which really hurt.

What she did after “Ally McBeal”

But even if you have “It,” you can falter. Ally McBeal was my last Hollywood gig. After that I moved back to my hometown of New York City and stayed there for more than a decade. During that time I worked with many doctors to get as much control of my life as I could and experimented with various treatments including mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications. I’ve learned to look for the symptoms in myself: getting too euphoric or overstimulated. My bipolar disorder is usually exhibited on the high-energy and manic end. Some people who have the illness are more on the depressive side.

Love 

Before my mind and moods came under scrutiny, my body and I had already gone through a journey. I was a tomboy growing up. Then puberty hit, and seemingly overnight I had a 38DD bra size. I constantly wore sweatshirts and was mad at my body. Then I fell in love as I neared my twenties. When I realized my body could turn a man to mush, it became empowering. I was often the curvy one on set, and I felt beautiful no matter my size. I still enjoy the company of men, although dating has been interesting with my mental health condition. When I was hospitalized, I was in a relationship, and he was terrific about it. We stayed together for a while afterward. I’m not dating anyone seriously now and don’t feel pressured to do so, but I hope The One comes along.

Finding Peace 

The best thing about taking a step back was spending time with my mother. She passed in 2011. What brought me through has been medicine, prayer, music and my dog, Josephine. I see a psychiatrist and a psychologist regularly and now just take anti-anxiety medication. I’ve returned to L.A. to give my career another try. I’m going on auditions and handling rejection better than I did in the past. We recently had an Ally McBeal reunion for the TV Land Awards. It was wonderful getting dressed up and seeing everyone.

I’m tackling the myth that African-American women have to be pillars of strength. We have the right to fall. We have the right not to always have our sh– together. We just have to take our mental health as seriously as we do the physical. Do not be afraid to go to a therapist or a doctor to make sure everything is fine. I am excited for my new chapter. I now am stronger and ready for what’s next, while taking care of my emotional health.

You can read the rest of Carson’s story here.

How I Turn Antidepressant Side Effects Into Positives For My Sex Life

June 10th, 2015 - By Tracey Lloyd
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Antidepressant Side Effects

Source: Shutterstock

Pharmaceutical companies publicize the side effects of antidepressants that may affect a patient’s sex life. Most of their information focuses on how a loss of libido from certain antidepressants impacts sex and sexuality. But we all know that sex occurs in the brain and other body parts as much as it does our genitals. So before beginning a regimen it’s important to consider all the sex side effects of these drugs.

Some Antidepressant Side Effects Can Be Good For Your Sex Life

The classes of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are known to cause the greatest loss of libido for users. Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical in the brain that makes us happy, and it can be crucial for people suffering from depression or even for people in a general bad mood. The bad news is that those antidepressant side effects range from lower sex drive to complete loss of interest for many people. For women, this sexual side effect can translate into decreased feelings of arousal and decreased natural lubrication. Men experience low libido as lack of arousal and erectile dysfunction.

The good news, however, is that while SSRIs and SNRIs don’t play nice with our genitals, our brains may still be down for sex.  After all, the best antidepressant side effect is boosted mood, and your mood is a part of sex. For both men and women, this can present itself as wanting to give a partner oral stimulation and engaging in other sex acts that require a mental, if not a physical, willingness. While my particular antidepressants have never had an impact on my sex drive — other than making me want to have sex because I was happy — I have been with a man whose drugs prevented him from getting an erection. He also didn’t care for oral sex. Let’s just say that I left that encounter feeling rather unsatisfied.

Antidepressants Left A Bad Taste In My Mouth, Literally

Dry mouth is a known side effect of SSRIs, SNRIs and other newer classes of antidepressants, and dry mouth can cause bad breath. I’ve always drunk a lot of water with my pills, and I walk around with a bottle of water at all times.  I chew gum, and I carry mints. I never want to be faced with a potential sexual partner if I know I have dragon breath. My voluminous water intake means that I pretty much have to go to the bathroom all the time, including during sex, which can be something of a buzz kill, but I’ve never had any complaints. The positive side effects of drinking tons of water are clear skin, properly functioning organs, and healthy, lubricated vaginal tissue.

Lack of saliva can have an impact on kissing and other oral activities as well. A completely dry kiss is the opposite of a turn-on, and concerning oral sex, the only word I can think of is “drag,” both figuratively and literally. You may not associate sexual accessories and antidepressants, but several well-known bedroom enhancements, like ice cubes, mints, and flavored lubricants can add excitement to foreplay while stimulating saliva production. Personally, I like a sweet flavored lubricant. My flavor of choice is cinnamon. You can thank me later.

Shakes, Tremors, And Antidepressants

Some antidepressants and other classes of psychotropic drugs cause tremors, tics, and other muscular maladies. It actually sounds worse than it is. Most of these side effects are temporary, so they should disappear within weeks or months of use. But until that happens, a facial tic or hand tremor might make for an awkward interaction with a suitor.

Right now, I take a medication that causes muscle spasms that started in my face and moved to my hands and arms. The good news is that the facial spasm felt bigger than it looked, so I could get away with it. The hand and arm movements are a little bit harder to conceal. I’m single now, but I can just picture caressing a partner–and then my arm starts flailing around. Or I’m performing manual stimulation, and I can’t control my movements, so my partner loses interest. Those thoughts are unnecessarily negative though because there’s always a solution to every problem. I could use the tremors to my advantage and create a signature move when giving a hand job. Or the tremors could go away before any of this becomes an issue. Most likely, I’ll just focus on the positive aspects of my antidepressants and deal with the rest as it comes.

Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.

Is Your Job Affecting Your Mental Health?

June 4th, 2015 - By Deja Jones
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Now and then we reach a plateau in our work lives, mainly at a particular job. We start to become unhappy and are plagued with feelings of being stuck. We just want more, or in some cases, something entirely different. You feel that there is no room for workplace development and dealing with a menacing supervisor leaves you feeling drained. You find yourself sitting at a desk miserable, praying to get fired so at least you’ll be guaranteed unemployment benefits. But you have a hard time leaving because you’ve created a bond with co-workers and the organization as a whole. Plus, in this job market you’ll be lucky to find anything else that will help you pay bills quick, fast and in a hurry.

Research published in the journal Human Relations found that employees who stayed with their organizations out of obligation or lack of other options were more likely to experience physical health problems such as exhaustion, stress, and burnout.

Sure, we all get the Monday blues and can’t wait for Hump Day, or even better, Happy Hour to roll around at the local bar. However, if you feel that you are employed in an unhealthy workplace, it could be causing great harm to your mental health. When you find yourself dealing with a case of the Monday blues every day, that’s something you shouldn’t ignore.

If you find yourself exhausted even by the simplest of tasks you could be reaching your burnout point. When getting up to go to work becomes more of a task than the actual work, it’s time to re-evaluate where your energy is being spent. Exhaustion doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be mental as well as emotional. Could a long-term project be mentally taxing to the point where you just want to drop everything and be done with it? Do you find yourself on the verge of tears being called into another meeting or after being given another stack of work to complete? You are clearly exhausted.

But there are many other signs of exhaustion and burnout: When you don’t get as enthusiastic as you used to or no longer have the drive to do anything; When it takes longer than usual to get to work in the mornings to the point where you’re praying for traffic on the way there; When you’re angry for no reason and everything seems to get on your last nerve; When a coworker you don’t particularly care for says “Hello!” and it ruins your entire day; When you’re frustrated by every little nuisance, even things that probably shouldn’t be making you very upset; When you begin to slowly isolate yourself from staff because you’re trying to hold on to the last little bit of peace you do have.

If you find yourself battling any or all of this, it could be time for a change of scenery. You may have outgrown your career and may need something a little more challenging or something you can feel more passionate about. Even though the wise thing to do would be to begin exploring other careers, if you have a little bit of fight left in you, there are ways to cope with these feelings to create a better balance in your overall health.

First, when you’re off the clock, be off the clock. Work and all of its stresses should not come home with you. Turn off work emails and don’t answer work calls. Set an out-of-office message for any incoming emails. Once 5 p.m. rolls around and you punch out, the next time you should be in work mode is when you clock in the next day.

Secondly, use your off-the-clock time to indulge in things you’re passionate about. Enroll in a night or weekend cooking course. Try that free gym trial. Spend more time with friends. Do things that make you happy, which is a natural stress reliever. Embracing hobbies is also an excellent way to see what other fields you can explore for job options.

Meditation as a way of relaxation helps to get rid of those work pains as well. If you are lucky to have personal days, take one and make a lazy day out of it. Or, you could take a mall trip, sightsee and get into some fun activities. If you choose not to, and you find yourself at work and under pressure, at least take a 15-minute break and do some steady breathing activities in a quiet place.

Also, if work is piling up, try different organization techniques. Write down all of your tasks on sticky notes and place them somewhere in clear view. Utilize your mobile calendar and set alarms for the different things you have to complete in order of importance. Organizing your tasks helps you feel less overwhelmed.

Most importantly, learn the triggers of what’s causing you to be frequently burned out or what’s draining you mentally. When you know what’s triggering you, there’s a better chance that you will also know how to navigate it and work around the situation.

When Breakup Depression Is Clinical

June 3rd, 2015 - By Tracey Lloyd
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Breakup Depression

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Breakup depression often feels like the end of the world. Your sweetie tells you goodbye, and you head for the tissues and your copy of Love Jones. But can you imagine going through your worst breakup depression when you’re already struggling with clinical depression? Adding the emotional turmoil of a breakup to an already fragile state of depression causes some deep pits of unhappiness. And while clinical depression and breakup depression manifest in similar ways, you want to be able to distinguish between typical post-breakup sadness and something more. Something serious.

Sad Thoughts Versus a Negative State of Being

Three years ago, the love of my life broke up with me; apparently he was seeing someone else while we were together. I was heartbroken, even though I’d suspected him of cheating but never asked. I was also going through a depressive episode before the breakup, so my existing state of depression increased exponentially. I took to my bed, the one we’d shared so many times, in tears. I watched Seinfeld, our favorite TV show, in tears. I walked around the apartment feeling emotionally devastated and empty, like a worthless dishrag. In truth, I’d been struggling with all of those feelings during my depression; the breakup only intensified my current state.

When you go through a breakup, you can question yourself, how attractive you are, and your behavior. Those aspects of your being are also challenged within a depressive episode.  Instead of thinking, “Why didn’t he love me?” my depressed brain upped the ante to, “Nobody will ever love me again!” “I must have done something wrong to make him leave me” became “I always do the wrong thing!” During my breakup depression, my clinical depression made the typical thoughts more negative and, thus, more damaging.

Apathy Versus Lethargy

When my relationship ended, I spent a fair amount of time in front of the TV with a carton of ice cream. I know, I was enacting the stereotypical behavior of a woman who has just been dumped. But ice cream is soothing, and it doesn’t require much energy to eat, so that is the reason that was my go-to comfort food during my depression and after my breakup. But eating isn’t the only depressive symptom I felt. My energy and motivation became abysmal. I didn’t change out of my night clothes. I slept all of the time and didn’t want to leave the house. I’d experienced those symptoms when my clinical depression was most severe, and the breakup restarted my lethargic behaviors.

Physical pain is another symptom I experienced after my breakup. Not just the tightness in my chest accompanying my heartbreak, but also muscle aches, pains, and headaches. Sometimes these pains were caused by staying in bed, but other times they appeared without reason. Body pains are a well-known symptom of clinical depression and, like the emotional symptoms, they were brought about by my breakup.

Choosing My Mood

After the requisite few weeks of crying at love songs and eating ice cream out of the container, I came out of the physical manifestations of my breakup.  However, the negative thoughts about the breakup remained, along with the others I grappled with in my long-term depression. To reprogram the negative thoughts into positive ones and lift my mood, I worked to put more rational thoughts in their place. If I worried about never finding love again, I started thinking, “I am loveable. I have people in my life who love me.” Or better yet, “My ex is only one person; there are so many men I’ve never met who could love me.” Putting a more rational spin on my negative thoughts helped reduce their frequency and their impact on my mood.

Shaking off my breakup depression also helped me do other things to abate my clinical depression. Once my mood improved through positive thinking, I started taking better care of myself. Instead of depression junk food I ate fruits and vegetables. I felt good enough to put on clothes instead of wearing my pajamas and bathrobe all day. My tears didn’t disappear, but they lessened since I no longer spent my days laying in bed, caught up in a negative train of thought about my ex-boyfriend. Simply put, I had to choose to think differently about my romantic future in order to start taking steps toward manifesting it.

Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.