Jan Lauren Greenfield

@jan-lauren-greenfield | contributor
Jan Lauren Greenfield is an artist, writer & yoga Teacher. Her work explores the crossroads of spirituality, mental health and pop culture. She has worked with the UN, has been featured in Vogue Italia and currently lives in NYC. She is author of My Beautiful Bipolar Mind: Fire on the Mountain available at Amazon. More of her work can be viewed at www.yogionlithium.com Instagram: @lovejanlauren Twitter: @Jan_Lauren

How I Learned to be OK With My Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

Any day I can get out of bed and make more than a single phone call, I am doing great. I have lived through intense highs and deep lows that together were a personal hell. Such is my experience of bipolar disorder. I lived through it, I live with it and I grow from it. Mettle has been tested and I am f*cking titanium. How come I, like an alchemist, transform this potential fatal poison into an elixir that makes me stronger? I believe it can be broken down into three parts. For a while, after being in the psych hospital, I was in denial about my illness. I was released under the promise of enrolling in mandatory outpatient care three times a week and under the supervision of a psycho-pharmacologist. There was a moment after being in the hospital that I knew I had to choose. I was sitting in the muted brown and rust colored room of my doctor. I was staring at the acrylic painting of the New Mexico desert with a cactus in bloom. It was there I knew I had to make a choice. That’s the first part: choice. I decided to do whatever I had to do to be healthy in mind, body and spirit. I didn’t chose a brain disorder but I could chose my life, my habits, my nutrition, to take control of my medication and doctors. I chose it all. Whatever I needed to do to be healthy I was going to do it . This also required a new understanding of health, but I didn’t know that at the time. The second piece to being “OK” has two parts. It’s luck and support. I am lucky to have an amazing support system — and to afford it. I have family, friends and doctors whom I trust and who work with me. If I tell them some medication needs adjusting, they respond. If they see some indicator in my behavior that raises a flag for them, we discuss it. There are no forced medication or treatments. If I didn’t have them, all the choices in the world would do nothing. I mean that. If you don’t have doctors you can trust, find new ones. It can be work and it is frustrating, but this is your one and only life and your health. Some things over these years have really sucked. I am angry I had to go to the hospital, angry I am “sick” and that there’s stigma about my brain, heartbroken about all the time wasted on doctors and blood tests and getting medications correct. There is deep grief about the course I felt my life was going to take, but instead I got the “life interrupted” version. I wish I could say I have found the golden key to make it all better. What I can offer you is my honesty and experience and willingness to share the journey. This helps. It’s hasn’t always been pretty or easy but I can offer to you with my whole heart and a deep wish that it will be useful to you and your loved ones. I know what it feels like to have your freedom taken away. To wake up when they tell you to wakeup. To swallow what they tell you to swallow. To stare out of one little window for hours. To feel as though you are declared less than human. To be declared incompetent, crazy. I also know what it is to fight for your life. However small it may seem. I know what it is to be a survivor — to find strength in the darkest days when the best thing you can hope for is to make it out of your bed long enough to go to the bathroom and maybe to the kitchen. I know what it is to feel like there is something inside you that has something to offer this world and that it worth fighting for, that you are worth fighting for. And I finally know what it is to own my own power and be what could only be described as resilient. And when I truly allow myself to feel the grief, shame and the anger and let the tears come, one thing is always there beneath it all. In the still and silence of myself, there is grace. This is the third piece. Grace is beyond luck, and more encompassing than support and choice. Even with the best of friends and family and doctors, there are things I have to face alone in my mind and heart no one will ever know. No matter how transparent I am, some things are sacred and private and mine alone. I have learned a kind of surrender and acceptance, and it’s what I move towards every day .

Bipolar Disorder: When You're Afraid Medication Isn't 'Pure'

I was living in Nepal and had just turned 19 when I had my first manic episode. It wouldn’t be for another five years, when I was 24 and admitted to a psychiatric hospital, that I was diagnosed with bipolar and finally understood what happened half way around the world years earlier. What I know now about the “right to refuse” medication and the psychiatric medical process puts my mind at ease, but at the time it was a terrifying whirlwind with the panic of a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” nightmare. The scariest part of the hospital was the time between being in triage and being sent behind the locked door to the ward on the eighth floor. That was when the terror of Nurse Ratchet and forced ECT took hold of me. Once I was on the ward, I wasn’t free, but I was fine. Nurse Ratchett was nowhere to be found, nor any straitjackets. In fact, the nurses often let me into the fully padded “time-out” rooms to meditate. Once I was discharged, stable and slowly weaned off some of the stronger anti-psychotics, I began to feel my body again. I had to make a choice. I made two actually. Choice 1: I made a choice to be healthy. Choice 2: I was going to get off the meds as fast as possible. They were not “pure” and I thought to myself, “ I’m a yogi, I’m pure. ” Getting healthy immediately after being in a psych hospital looked like sleeping — a lot of sleeping. There were daily visits to an outpatient clinic, and biweekly visits with a psycho-pharmacologist, but mostly sleeping and definitely no yoga. I gained about 45 pounds but I don’t really know how because with all my sleeping (14 to 16 hours a day as a result of the medication and the crash) I don’t remember eating much. I got through it though. After 18 months under the watchful eye of psycho-pharmacologists, therapists, parents and blood tests, I switched to about 20 B vitamin supplements a day. The theory, untested scientifically, was that bipolar is the result of a vitamin B deficiency. (It is one of many alternatives I have explored over my 10-year period.) I knew the seasons that made me antsy, the cities that made me feel edgy. I guarded my sleep like a dragon with its treasure. During the “extra-sensitive” times, I would walk around the city, subways and streets with my headphones on at all times. After three months of  “extra sensitive” time, no matter how hard I willed these supplements to work — they weren’t. I could feel my mind racing and my sleep dwindling. I had to make another choice — one I didn’t want to make. Taking prescription medication was not easy. I had a hard time putting anything but natural products on or in my body. I wasn’t always like this, in high school I was taking other “supplements” but my partying days long behind me. I traded in ecstasy for the ecstatic chant. I liken bipolar disorder to an addiction — you have a genetic vulnerability and can be in recovery for years but the potential of a relapse may always exist. As time passes the anxiety of a relapse lessens, but the potential is always present. Often times people stop taking their medicine when they feel better for just that reason — because they feel better. But this isn’t an option, the medicine isn’t a cure — it’s just a stabilizer. The idea I was facing “life without parole” with Lithium didn’t make me feel healthy. In fact it made me feel sick. But I chose to take the medication. I came to understand Lithium is an element, one you can find on the periodic table. It comes from the Earth. One time, when I was driving across the country, I stopped at these hot springs in Colorado that are famous for their healing waters. Their secret healing property — lithium is in the water. Every choice has an effect. There are side effects to my choice. What makes it hardest to practice yoga is the vertigo. It’s a scary feeling making twists, inversions and even simple backbends feel impossible. Sometimes I don’t want to face myself in comparison to what I was able to do only a few years ago. That’s when it is time to take a pause, a breath and feel what the moment is — vulnerable and present. Brene Brown states in her book “Daring Greatly,” “Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame it begins to wither.” That’s another side effect, learning to confront shame fearlessly. The lessons I have learned from yoga, like the form of my practice and my health, is that they look nothing like I thought they would. They are both a dialogue. When I began my yoga practice I had a very clear idea of what a “yoga practice” looked like. It involved a mat, a teacher, a studio and $20 per class fee. 15 years later my practice resembles more of what I saw in Nepal than what I ever saw in New York. My practice looks like meditation, lots of it, gentle poses often in my home and lots of prayer. I look back now when I thought I had full moving joints. I had total “choice” but really I didn’t even begin to know what that was until I actually had to choose. A version of this piece was published on Elephant Journal.