Author Archives: Jenna Kahn

Dear Self: How to Improve Your Morning

Totoro struggles on Mondays…

Did you have a rough start to your day? Monday mornings seem to rarely treat us kindly. I’ve tried going to bed earlier, picking my outfit the night before, and making sure my bag is already packed, but my mornings still don’t go smoothly.

Part of the problem is that I wake up with Sunday night’s anxiety weighing over me. I’m worried about how my week will start and whether or not everything will be checked off of my to do list. It’s terrible to wake up and immediately feel overwhelmed.

It’s important to start each day fresh and appreciate the morning for what it is: an opportunity. Yes, there are obligations to fulfill and duties to be performed, but we can address them in a way that reinforces self love and acceptance.

Over my winter break, I experimented a few times with writing letters to myself that I would read first thing in the morning – before my feet even touched the floor. The purpose was to remind me to take care of myself. Here is an example letter:

Good morning, Jenna!

I hope you had a good sleep. There are lots of important things to do today. Start by taking care of yourself – get squeaky clean! Then set up your room to look just how you want it. Make sure you take care of the pups, too! Work on your blog, take some pictures, read, write those emails. You can do it!

Don’t forget to eat something yummy. You need to be full when you work on calculus in the afternoon.

It’s okay if you have bad thoughts: try to relax, take your PRN if you need to, and remember to breathe.

Today is going to be a good day. You are going to work hard and have fun. You are wonderful. You deserve to be alive. You will have happy moments. 

🙂

P.S. It is okay to take ONE nap if you need it.


It’s not a miracle cure for morning agitation, but it is certainly helpful! Writing to myself felt awkward at first. Over time, it got easier. I allowed myself to say cheesy thing like “You deserve to be alive” because I need to hear that sometimes!

I would encourage you all to try to write a note to yourself tonight. It doesn’t have to be an epistle of Biblical proportions; a Post-It note may suffice. Be kind to yourself and see what happens!

Suffering

One of the concepts we have been discussing in my Leading a Life That Matters course as we read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is human suffering. As a class, we have determined that virtually every human being suffers. There is no weakness in that assessment; suffering is an unavoidable fact of life. 
While Frankl wrote about his suffering in Nazi concentration camps, the concepts are applicable to all kinds of suffering: divorce, loss of a pet, mental illness. Just like other sufferers, we do not choose to suffer. However, by being human and having agency, we can choose how to react. We can find meaning in our suffering.
Do not waste your time comparing your suffering to another’s. This only increases unnecessary pain. When I was first diagnosed, I was so absorbed in my own suffering that I could not empathize with others. I was frustrated by the “trivial suffering”of my high school classmates. This was wrong of me. Their suffering was very real to them, and it mattered just as much as mine did. Similarly, it is not helpful to belittle your own suffering. Pain is real, and it does not make sense to deny it simply because there are others experiencing more. Your pain matters.
Once we accept our suffering, we are able to make it meaningful. I have chosen to derive meaning from my diagnosis by writing a blog. Spreading awareness and acting as an advocate allows me to find purpose. For me, this means that the tears, the episodes, and the fights were not in vain. I assign them meaning: they were my journey. Those events, that suffering, helped me become the writer I am now. I don’t know what the meaning of life is, but I know that it is possible to find meaning in our lives. Despite our struggles, we can live lives of purpose. We can make a difference. We can create change.
How have you found meaning in your suffering? How do your struggles give your life purpose?
Do  you have a mental or physical health issue and are interested in being an advocate? Look out for my new blogging series, where I’ll be teaching you how to start a blog, write content, and find an audience. 

Stability

This week marks one month of stability for me. Four weeks without serious mood swings. I’m using periods because, if I ended my sentences with the number of exclamation points I would like, I’m sure I would appear manic. For example:
GUYZ!!! I HAVE BEEN FREAKING STABLE FOR FOUR WHOLE WEEKS AND IT FEELS SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111!!!
It seems that Latuda might be my miracle drug – or at least the right addition to the cocktail I’m currently on. I’ve been taking this dose for about six weeks, and I can feel the difference. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I am still experiencing a full range of emotions, but I am getting a break from the roller-coaster.
Of course, more than Latuda has helped me get to this point. I am working very hard at therapy to change the way I think. I am dealing with my deep-seated issues that affect the severity of my episodes. I am learning to relax and calm myself down. It truly is work
I also owe a lot to the living environment Kathleen and I have created at Towson. Kathleen is very supportive of my study and sleep routine. She encourages me to go to the gym, but doesn’t put pressure on me when I’d rather stay at our room. We both eat pretty well for college students. Overall, I’m very comfortable with my living situation, and I think that has had a positive effect on my mood.
Last night I thought I felt a depressive episode beginning. I tried not to panic. I took stock of my symptoms: tiredness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed. I did what I could to calm myself by taking a shower and listening to my favorite music. I did homework to distract myself, but I ended up putting everything away for the night and going to bed early. I gave myself permission to feel bad, to explore how I was feeling without plunging myself in deeper than I needed to. I eventually fell asleep, and I woke up feeling much better.
What if I had woken up this morning feeling awful? What if my bad feelings turned into a full blown episode? Would this month of stability matter?
Absolutely. Now, I know that stability is possible. I know that my life will not be a permanent state of vacillation. There will be more episodes in my future, but they will always end. Bipolar will not consume my life.

How We Can Improve Hospitalizations


I’ve been hospitalized twice. I’m not an expert, but I’ve been in inpatient care two more times than most politicians and healthcare providers. My experiences have given me insight as to how we might improve the stays of patients. Here are five of my suggestions:

Exercise. At both hospitals I’ve been to, there has been nowhere for us to exercise. I’ve gotten in trouble for pacing the hallways as I tried to keep myself active. It is scientifically proven that exercise has a positive effect on mental health. Why aren’t we providing patients with a space to work up a bit of a sweat?

More materials. Outdated ratty magazines, half-filled-in crossword puzzles, dried out markers. There was nothing stimulating in either psych ward. We were told to either watch TV, draw, or sit quietly. Most people went back to their rooms to sleep. There were hours where we were supposed to occupy ourselves with nothing.
Weekend releases. During my first hospital stay, I was not quite ready to go home on a Friday. But because the doctor doesn’t come in on weekends, I had to wait until Monday for discharge. This cost my family, my insurance, and the hospital more money. Patients should only stay in the hospital as long as necessary. That weekend was long and painful. All I could think about was going home for Christmas.
Personal therapy. I expected that while I was in the hospital I would get the opportunity to talk with a therapist. I did – for ten minutes on my first day. Group is valuable, but it’s impossible to get individual help when everyone is competing for attention. This is a tricky issue, but I think that some sort of compromise can be reached.
Easier billing. My mom is still being billed for my hospitalization in September. I understand that the process of billing and insurance is complicated, but this is ridiculous.
Some of my requests are lofty, and I know it. There is a lot wrong with American healthcare in general. Problems like billing are pervasive; solutions won’t be found overnight. As an insider, these were things I noticed that I would like to see changed. 
When I described my ideal hospitalization, my fellow NAMI panelist suggested I try a spa. It seems unfortunate that celebrities get to heal at beautiful, relaxing rehab facilities while I shuffle around in recycled socks. Like most things, I suppose it all comes down to money.
What are your thoughts? How would you improve inpatient hospitalization?

photo credit: via photopin edited by The Awkward Indie Girl

3 Tips for Getting Along with Your Roommate

One of the best aspects of college life is living with my roommate, Kathleen. We had a lot of fun this weekend, so I thought I’d put together a list of three ways to help you and your roommate get along!
Go on adventures together. This picture was taken on a snow day. Instead of staying in bed, we decided to venture through the flurries to see the sun rise. We didn’t end up seeing anything, but it was a fun bonding experience. We’ve just started going to the gym together, and we often grab meals (pizza bagels!) side by side. It’s much more fun to have a partner in crime, even if you’re doing something as simple as going to the dining hall or taking a walk around campus.
Prank each other. This little imp was a gift from when I served on the NAMI Panel. Kathleen and I can’t get over how demonic he is. We take turns hiding him around the room and scaring each other. I was falling asleep one night and I reached under my pillow to find HIM. He is currently nameless, so feel free to leave suggestions in the comments. This freak needs a baptism stat.
Talk about mental health. Kathleen knows about my diagnosis, and she knows about most of my symptoms. Transparency is so much easier than attempting to hide it from her! Living with another person also serves as great motivation to get up in the morning. On days when I’m feeling depressed and would rather stay in bed, seeing Kathleen getting ready for the day motivates me to do the same. We also talk about pretty much everything: how we’re feeling, things that stress us out, weird things we see on tumblr… I’m ecstatic to live with someone who is a mental health advocate like I am. We have big plans for the world!
There was a time when I wanted to go to college and live in a single dorm. I’m glad I didn’t make that choice. I may be an introvert, but I do not enjoy being alone all the time! Even now, Kathleen and I are both working independently on our laptops. We’re not interacting, but I treasure her company. Being able to turn to her at any time to share something funny I’ve found, ask a question, or make plans has turned out to be a major part of my freshman experience. My final word of advice to future college students: don’t rule out a roommate. You just might end up with an awesome friend.

Fame

My early modeling career

I’m currently in an honors seminar called, “Leading a Life That Matters.” Despite meeting only twice, the course is already changing the way I think. On Thursday, we began to discuss what makes a life meaningful. We touched on how it seems that many people do not feel that their life is meaningful unless they are famous. This thought resonated with me.

I can’t remember the first time I wanted to be famous; it’s always been that way. Watching shows like American Idol reaffirmed my belief that it was possible for normal people to be “discovered.” There was tension between my parents and me; I begged them to take me to America so that I could audition to be an actress or model. I was infuriated by their unwillingness to help me rise to fame.

The search for fame infiltrated my bipolar disorder. I remember one manic episode when I thought I was on the verge of being discovered. As my family walked around the mall, I tried to do my best “model walk” and showed off my smile. Anyone could be the undercover modeling agent!  I had another manic episode years later when I thought I actually was famous. I was up at four in the morning writing responses to my “fan mail” and trying to organize my next great project. Thank goodness that episode didn’t last long.

When I am stable, I still think about fame. I want my message of mental health to have maximum exposure. Does this mean being famous? Maybe. I would love to have the opportunity to talk about mental illness on television with someone like Ellen Degeneres. Stories like mine need to be heard in order to eradicate stigma.

But right now, my story is being heard. I receive emails and comments from friends, family, and strangers who have been affected by my writing. I don’t need an arena full of people, a cable network of viewers, or red carpet to make a difference. My life is meaningful because I choose to be content with the influence I have right now.

I don’t know what the future holds for The Awkward Indie Girl. I’ll take whatever comes to me, but if this is as far as I can ever go, I’ll keep blogging. I don’t need fame for meaning; I’ve already found it.

Intention

In yoga, we often set an intention for our practice. Sometimes part of that intention is a dedication. Dedicating our practice to someone or something can provide us with focus and strength. 
Tonight is the eve of beginning of spring semester. I am back in my dorm with Kathleen, and I am settled. I’ve already napped in my bed and cleaned myself in our shower. I am back home.
This semester is very different from the last. I have a new roommate, a new major, and a new outlook on life. The past couple of days have challenged me, but I am still secure in my stability. I am learning that I can be sad without slipping into depression, that I can be joyful without soaring into mania. My pills do not numb me to the world of emotion; they only make the journey less extreme.
I would like to take this opportunity to set an intention for the upcoming semester. I will study and explore my interests. I dedicate my practice to myself, not in an act of selfish, but as a way to affirm my worth. This semester, I will live and learn for myself.
I invite you to also set an intention for whatever you are currently experiencing. Feel free to dedicate your practice to yourself, to a friend or family member who has provided you with strength and comfort, to someone in need.
Namaste.

Wolf Girl

(Wolf Photo: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc)
I’ve been trying to fall asleep for too many hours. My heart is racing, I’m perspiring. The house is silent. I’m fighting the twitches in muscles to spring from my bed and run outside. I don’t need a coat, gloves, boots, or a scarf. I’m only wearing my pajama shorts and a tank top; I am barefoot.
I want to run. I want to feel the cold air penetrate my skin. I want the darkness to envelop me. I want to hide in the bushes, skip through the trees, and curl up in a pile of snow.
Instead, I lie in bed, silently protesting against my body. I am battling mania. 
This is what mania is for me. At night, I get the urge to explode with energy. I’ve found exercising right before bed helps me. Thirty minutes of riding the bike (indoors!) tires me out and calms me for a night of rest. Most people can’t exercise before bed; they get too wound up. For me, it’s the perfect solution. It’s also much safer than going for a midnight jog.
My ability to forget about my safety and wellbeing are part of the perils of mania. I’m not thinking about myself or anyone else; I’m completely focused on these primal feelings. When talking to my therapist, I didn’t know how to put this nighttime obsession into words. When I was younger, I called it Wolf Girl.
I can be manic without being Wolf Girl, but Wolf Girl always means mania.
What do your manic symptoms look like?

Also, thanks to everyone who helped me think of solutions for my nausea problem! I bought a bunch of things to try, and I’m working on a vlog about the whole experience.

Check out the new Free Stuff! page for a new printable I created. More downloads will be available shortly.

Time for an Update?

I think it’s time for an update. This month I’ve already surpassed my previous blog traffic goals, and it looks like I’m going to hit 5,000 hits this month (currently at 4,575)! For some perspective, my previous record was from May 2013 with 3,601 hits.
I’ve been spending a significant amount time on my blog: writing new content, adding pages, making things look better. I still have many things I’d like to change or improve, but I’ve gotten a good start on my “To Do” list over the past couple of weeks.
I now have pages for About Me, Medications, Blogroll, and Friends. For those of you who don’t know, a blogroll is a list of favorite blogs. My Friends page is a place for me to share the brands I love to work with. Take a peek!
I’ve also started using social media more effectively. You can follow me on different websites by clicking the icons below the picture of me on your right. The links are for (from left to right): The Awkward Indie Girl Blog Facebook page, my Twitter, my Pinterest, Bloglovin’ (an awesome RSS feed reader), my Instagram, and my YouTube channel. Below the icons, you can sign up to get email updates from my blog. Let’s be friends all over the Internet!
As if there wasn’t enough going on, I’ve decided to try monetizing my blog. See those ads? I’m not sure how I feel about them. They’re distracting from the content, and I’m not making that much money. Ideally I would prefer to show ads for blogs and brands that I believe in, but I have not formed those relationships yet.
So that concludes the main changes around here. Poke around and see if you like it. Would you like to be included on my blogroll or on my Friends page? Let me know! I’m always available at 
or by tweet. I’m off to plan some brand new VIDEO CONTENT for you all!
P.S. You may notice that all of my non-mental health posts are now missing. After careful consideration, I decided to mark these old posts as private. The fashion posts do not reflect my brand, and I don’t feel that they serve any purpose on this site. I will, however, keep the pictures up on my Facebook page for now. I can’t bring myself to destroy all of the evidence…

Family Therapy

On Monday, we packed into the car and headed to Towson for a family therapy session. This was the first time all four of us were in the same room with a therapist. Here’s what everyone thought of it:
Dad’s Perspective:
I enjoyed the family therapy session and was very relieved to see that Jenna’s therapist is a no-nonsense woman who is not afraid to be very direct. The main take-away for me was coming to peace with the fact that Jenna’s illnesses are hers to deal with. That’s not to say that the rest of us can’t be helpful and supportive, but it’s Jenna who needs to manage her own affairs. As much as we would like to remind her that she should put away her laundry/clean her room/study/get out of bed/wash some dishes, we can’t continue to do that. She’s an adult. She knows these things and must learn to summon the strength and resolve to just do them. Our interactions with Jenna should be positive — they should be on an adult level — and they should be enjoyable. We are here to help when she asks for help, but the rest is up to her.
Mom’s Perspective:
I looked forward to our session as a family, and I was not disappointed. Having met Jenna’s therapist the week before (for a full briefing), I knew she would not let this meeting turn into something useless or way too emotional. I had hope we would have a positive experience together that would shed some light on how to help Jenna and help ourselves deal with Jenna. We were entertained by the therapist’s perception that children should start doing their own laundry when they can reach the knobs of the washing machine and dryer. I say ‘entertained’ because it made us all laugh. However, I think both kids got the message. I was encouraged by the message that it’s time for Jenna’s dad and me to enjoy ourselves a little bit after spending so much time and effort teaching life lessons. Most of all, I learned something for myself–I want to use better language to reflect what I WANT out of life. I have what I NEED. It sounds like a little thing, but I think it’s going to be one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments when I look back on learning this lesson. 
Ben’s Perspective:
Family therapy, for me, did not do much. Having said that, I don’t think it was a waste of time. Jenna’s therapist was very funny and personable, but she gave you the facts as they were, without any emotional cushion. The session was mainly between my parents and Jenna. I just sat awkwardly between Jenna and my mom, only speaking when prompted. I think it was a good experience for the three of them but a little unnecessary for me.
My Perspective:
Before that session, my family and my therapist existed in two separate worlds. My therapist knows only what I’ve told her. She sees “Towson Jenna,” the college student trying to make her way as a writer while managing bipolar. To her, I must seem charming albeit troubled. I purposely arrange it that way. She does not know that after I make pasta I leave the pot in the sink, that I stay in bed all day too often, and that I can be generally unhelpful at home. Within the first five minutes, my dad made sure to shatter that illusion. My therapist now knows that I can be messy and selfish at home. Although this almost had me in tears, it felt good to know she was finally seeing the whole picture. It reminded me of my time going to church and being told how kind, sweet, and angelic I was. Then I would go home, scream at my parents, fight with my brother, and refuse to do my chores. I always felt like I was tricking my friends at church. It bred more shame and angst. Now that my therapist knows the whole story, I feel more accountable. Hearing how important it was to my parents that I help out at home finally resonated with me. Making messes and being unhelpful is disrespectful. I need to change my behavior to create a healthier home environment for all of us. This is not a bipolar issue, this is general human decency issue. I am not five years old anymore. I know how to do my chores, and I should be doing them without being told. I found this therapy experience to be valuable. I hope we can do it again sometime.
So that sums up our family therapy experience! Have you ever had family therapy? How did it go?