Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bipolar is the new black.

Yes, I actually just wrote that. One would think that the sentiment is absurd because, well…it is, but that seems to be the case these days…according to our ever responsible and trusted media (if you haven’t already, please insert heavy sarcasm here). As I am sure you have heard, in the last 2 weeks Catherine Zeta Jones and Demi Lovato have revealed that they are bipolar. OMG, que the herds of frenzied entertainment talk show hosts (ahem, Seacrest) and “news reporters” (ahem, CNN) clamoring to interview Catherine’s manicurist or Demis’s dog walker in search of the exclusive behind the scenes deets. OMG.OMG. OMG. Tune in at 7pm or be the least cool person at the next dinner party.

I am the first to applaud the fact that they have come out publicly, for whatever reason. It is no secret that there is a stigma in this country about mental illness and sadly no one seems to pay attention to anything unless it involves a celeb, so I appreciate the use of their influence in this circumstance. It makes people listen and hopefully will start a productive dialogue that can begin to lead to change. I am quite dedicated to do my part in helping that change, which is why I am here. (Side note: shout out to this week’s way too long episode of Glee for starting to address this issue!!) The last thing that this much needed public conversation needs is an overly spray tanned talking head on Access Hollywood asking the cast of Dancing with the Stars what they think of these starlets and their bipolar (actually happened). And just when you think it has hit a new low, it gets worse…

In an ABC online news article entitled “Bipolar Bandwagon” (Barf), the author opens with the brilliant line “Addiction is for amateurs. The truly trendy are Bipolar.” (DOUBLE Barf). This wordsmith of a 'reporter' goes on to say, “one could be forgiven for thinking that the disease wandered onto spring's list of must-haves along with maxi skirts, bell-bottoms and the iPad 2.” Well then, my spring shopping list just got a whole lot easier – all I need to pick up is some hippie clothes and an iPad 2. Easy breezy! Clearly I have not lost my knack for being ahead of the trends. You might recall that in the mid 90s, I totally went into treatment for an eating disorder even before Candice Cameron and Tracy Gold did and I even embraced the come back of the ankle bootie before most. I know, its hard being so ‘right here right now’, but some one has to do it. I will rest easier tonight knowing that I have once again joined the elite, for I am truly trendy.

Cheers and snaps for my new truly trendy friends. Welcome to the road of manic highs that almost always end it horribly self-destructive behavior that will likely severely damage if not ruin many of your relationships. Welcome to depressions that are so bad that you would prefer to not be alive but you are so deep in it that you cannot even muster up the energy that it would take to act on that feeling (silver lining). Welcome to a lifetime of medication and it’s ‘possible side affects’. Welcome to a lifetime of walking the line between the ups and downs of real life and the possibility that you could be teetering on the edge of loosing it.

Suddenly that maxi skirt is looking a lot less unflattering…

The good news is that once you have gone through all of the above (including the purchasing of a maxi skirt) you can choose to embrace your limitations. You can create a treatment plan that allows you to be stable. You can surround yourself with people who are loving and supportive and who will help you though the hard times. You can take this thing and help it make you a better person. You can help others. You can claim your crazy as a superpower and use it for good, rather than evil. It is a very, very hard road, but you can choose all of these things…I promise.

Let me just say that while I refer to myself as crazy and use humor to discuss my experiences, I am certainly not trying to glamorize my situation. I am not encouraging anyone to ‘hope’ they could one day you can become ‘truly trendy’ like me. I am honest and open, so that the whole thing might seem a little less scary to someone who struggles with a similar circumstances…you are not alone. I choose humor so that it is a little less uncomfortable for someone who might have preconceived notions about what it means to have mental disorder. 

I claim crazy as my superpower because I know that being bipolar and all the experiences that have come along with it make me who I am today. This process has made me stronger, more compassionate, open and aware. I am thankful for that. Rather than reducing having a mental disorder to a passing trend, lets have a real conversation. Lets educate ourselves so we can know what others face. Lets be compassionate. Lets not be ashamed. Lets speak out for others and ourselves. How about putting these things on our ‘must have’ lists. Because that, my friends, will never go out of style.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Seasons of change.

Yesterday I went for my quarterly appointment with my ‘crazy doctor’. I used to see her weekly, but once my meds were stable, I ‘graduated’ to every 3 months. At these meetings we discuss how the previous 3 months have been – it is important to help me keep my ups and downs in check. In fact the last 2 time changes are the first in 6 years that I have not had a significant swing up or down because we were able to be proactive based on my past cycles. So these check-ins are important.

As I walked into her office she had a concerned look on her face. I sat down.

Crazy Docter: “Did you get the letter?”
JLa: “What letter? I did not get any letter, what address was it sent it to?”
CD: “Londonderry View Drive.”
JLa: “Nope, those were my WEHO days with the gay boys. I’ve moved on to being ‘urban’ with the homeless people in downtown. What did the letter say?”
CD: “I have to relocate.”
JLa: “No problem, I already drive to Tustin from downtown to see you…where are you relocating to?”
CD: “Florida.”
JLa: “Oh…well that is just a touch further than Tustin. So that means…you’re leaving?”

At this point many things cross my mind. It is natural to be a bit taken back. After all I have seen her for 6 years now – she walked me through some of the most challenging times in my life. She has been a constant – just a phone call (or a hour and a half commute) away. If I had questions or was becoming a little Penelope-ish or sliding down the slope of depression, she was there with a plan in place. Not to mention she is very forward thinking and laughs at my jokes and tells me that I am doing extraordinarily well and that I should be proud of that.

Then I started thinking about the process of finding someone new. The good news is that I can find someone that is a bit closer. But then there is the unknown that is a bit daunting: Getting the recommendations, the interview process (because lets be honest, it is a process), bringing someone new up to speed as to how I have gotten to where I am (insert ‘Turns out I have a blog…these 3 key posts really summarize it well. You’re welcome.’) and then after all of that deciding of this person is a fit. It is so very important to me to have a doctor that is not super conservative in their approach. Someone who is willing to hear about the new thing I have been researching and incorporating holistic options where they make sense. I am not into “Here are some more pills, take them because I say so. See you in 3 months.” Not to mention finding someone who will laugh at my madness and embrace the fact that crazy is indeed my superpower.

After our conversation I left feeling uncertain, but also fine. I get to see her again in 2 months before she leaves, which gives me enough time to find someone new that can talk to her as part of my transition and come up with a meaningful parting gift for her (Ideas are welcome). As I got on the 5 freeway at 8:30 am to go back to LA, I had [lots] of time to reflect on this news. I found myself saying out loud over and over: “Change is good.” (Side note: yes, sometimes I talk to myself, out loud in my car. At least since the invention of Bluetooth in cars other people do not look at me and wonder if the weird girl in the car next to them has lost her mind and reverted to talking to herself. Thank you inventors of blue tooth.) “Change is good” “Change is good.”

And then I thought of something that I saw this past weekend at the MOCA ‘Art in the Streets’ exhibit. Tucked away in an installation by Os Gemeos (amazing BTW) was the quote “In order to open a new door, you have to close the old one.” DUH. This is my new door. There is something waiting for me ahead and this is the opportunity to go find it. This is not a scary awful thing. I can embrace this change.

I am a firm believer in timing and being ready to hear/accept/take things in. This morning I woke up with this new change on my mind again and as I sat with my breakfast reading a few blogs, I read a post on ‘turning corners’ written by one of my very dearest friends. Just what I needed to hear. I am ready for this change. I am ready to turn this corner. And I look forward to what awaits me.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A fancy phone call & some photos!

Yesterday I got a personal phone call from Lucille Roybal-Allard, who represents the 34th Congressional District -- she is the congressperson who puts on the student art competition that I was the chair of this year (as described here). She was unable to attend the event this year because she was in DC dealing with the budget hullabaloo (technical term) and yesterday she took time out of her very busy and important day to call and thank me for my work as the chair. It made me feel quite fancy. She is truly a remarkable woman and it goes to show that no matter how busy you are, there is always time for a quick phone call or note. It made my day!!!

I also received some of the photos from the event (taken by the lovely and talented Ashely Andrea Beliveau):

I became aware of this competition because my amazing mother (pictured with me here) has been a part of it for 8 years, she and her incredible employee have been co-chairs of the event before and asked me to do it this year.

These are the student finalists. Before the program starts we all get to take pictures together and they have to wait and be all nervous because they do not know who has won. Each student has to write a few paragraphs describing their work and the meaning behind it. I was quite struck by how insightful their perspectives were -- gives this crazy girl some hope for the future (seriously, I sound like I am 100 when I say that, but it's true).

This is the winner of the competition next to the poster that was made with her artwork. Her piece is called Autism Speaks (done with spray paint on puzzle board, which is significant because the logo for the organization Autism Speaks is a puzzle piece). She made the piece because 2 of her cousins are Autistic and she felt it was important to raise awareness especially in the younger generation. When her name was called as the winner she was beside herself...her art teacher was on stage with her and her family in the front row was BEAMING. It was a really special day and I am thrilled to be the chair again next year (assuming that they will have me)!!

One final photo of me and adorable Ashley (who was the photographer at the event, she also happens to be an intern where I work).

Happy Friday friends!!! Hope you have spectacular weekend!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We are not jam jars.

One of my most fabulous facebook friends posted this and I think it is quite extraordinary! It makes me think about the labels that I give myself and others and challenges me to question whether or not they are limiting or destructive. No one should be invisible, including yourself. This is exactly what I needed to hear today. Truly inspiring.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Channeling my teen angst.

For the last several years I have been involved with the 34th District Congressional Student Art Competition. This year I was the Chair of the event that took place this last Saturday. What is such a thing, you wonder? Well it is a little known fact that each congressperson can select a piece of art created by a high school student in their district to be displayed for a year in DC. The selection process can be as simple or elaborate as each congressperson decides. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who represents the 34th district, chooses to really engage the students and holds a fantastic competition that results in a month long gallery show, celebration event, scholarships for the finalists and a trip to DC for the winner and their art teacher. It is really an incredible thing that she does for the community. The kids are so excited when they walk into the gallery and get to see their artwork framed and up on the wall. It is a very cool thing to witness.

This year there were 250 entries (which is more than they have ever had) and it was really amazing to see how bold some of these kids were with the messages in their art. There was some global warming, war, angst ridden self portraits (one was entitled ‘Despair’), the obesity epidemic, portraits of family members, autism, violence, the desire to break free from oppression, there was even an ode to Biggie (a personal favorite). No matter what the story was, each one had a tinge of teen angst that only a high school art student can convey. As the chair of the competition, my job was to help plan the event, judge the entries and write a letter for the printed program (upon reading the end product I realized that I got a tad excited with the exclamation points!!!!! Clearly, I was excited and I wanted everyone to know about it). The day of the event it was my job to smile a lot, be in a million photos and address the kids, their families and teachers at the awards presentation. There were about 400 people there and it had been a long time since I have dusted off the handy dandy speech skills…so I was a bit nervous.

How do I talk to high schoolers and not sound like I am an old lady who is trying to “relate”? As I sat down to write my remarks I started to think about me when I was 17 and how I was all angst ridden and feeling like the only people who understood my pain were Alanis Morissette, Jewel and the chick from the Cranberries. I immediately thought of my very own self-portrait that I did in 1997, entitled ‘All Alone on a Saturday Night’ (oh yes, I was deep). I actually remember that night quite clearly. I remember sitting alone (obvs), painting and listening to my Alanis/Jewel/Cranberries mixed tape. That night of tears and heart ache resulted in the creation of a self-portrait that hangs on my wall to this day:

I know, brilliant, right?? (Someone got a contemporary art book for Christmas.) Clearly, it is no secret why I did not become a painter, but I keep this on my wall because it reminds me of so many things. Things that I hold dear to my heart, lessons learned, the abundant emotion that 17 year-old me felt and the artistic spirit that has followed me for all these years. It occurred to me at that moment that I knew exactly what to share in my remarks: That art played a big role in my life when I was in high school and that it helped me get through some hard times. That it is so important to hold on to that creative spirit and passion, no matter where life takes you because it will always be useful.

Thankfully, the message was well received and I managed to bust a speech out just like the old days. It was a really inspiring morning. Many of the kids asked to take a picture with them next to their art...I was totally the cool kid in school! I giggled as I watched all these awkward kids with their piercings and their black nail polish and their crazy pants hair (seriously I saw more than one rat-tail. Dear hipster high school kids: please do not bring the rat-tail back. It is not ok. Trust me, it’s a bad idea. You will regret it. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.) and watching them with their families who were so very proud really warmed my heart. I left feeling really grateful for the angst ridden moments of my teen years, because they shaped me into who I am today and set the stage for me to make some pretty rockin art. You…You…You oughta know…

Friday, April 8, 2011

Taken back.

Hello friends!! Happy Friday! Over the last week I have gotten SO many emails and messages about this post and this post! In a perfect world, I would be able to hand write each of you a thank you card, but instead this super-duper-incredibly-fabulous pink typewriter will have to do.

Thank you for your kind words.
Thank you for sharing yourselves.
Thank you for taking it the way I mean it.
Thank you for laughing at my jokes.
Thank you for coming on my crazy journey.

Because of you, my heart is full of thanks today.
Have the happiest weekend.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Lately I have been struggling with some issues that have been long standing in my world. It is frustrating. I feel stuck and I find myself falling back on excuses/mantras/thoughts that apply to the JLa (roll with me here, it was a name invented in college and it stuck) of 10, even 15 years ago (Yes I am that old, I know it is shocking to me too). The two biggest areas that I struggle with over and over again are diet/exercise and finances… how can this be, you say? Well, lets break it down shall we?

Diet and Exercise: To put it kindly, I have gained some weight over the last several months. Now before you think, "don't even start, you look fine", let me remind you that it is all relative and for me it is enough to notice. Enough for my clothes to not fit - which is the WORST, seriously my co-workers must think that I own 7 outfits all of which include leggings and long sleeve tent dresses. Needless to say, I have found it IMPOSSIBLE to get motivated to do something about it. There are always excuses: I just started a new job and that is stressful or I no longer can afford my trainer so I won’t go to the gym or I have no time or I’ll start Monday (I don’t know what ‘Monday’ I am ever referring to because it never comes) or I can’t go on a ‘diet’ because I will get crazy like in my eating disorder days. While all of these are true at one time or another, it is last one is curious to me because thankfully I have not struggled with ‘eating disorder tenancies’ in years, like more than 10 years. Yet every time I consider cutting things out of my diet or limiting my daily intake of baked goods it’s as if I left camp (read: treatment) yesterday. Like I am teetering on the edge of working out all night and living off of apples and diet coke (not a good idea, BTW). Well turns out this is totally not the case, I am just fine. So I need to suck it up like every other person on the planet who needs to work it out for bikini season. I am not going to become the tortured JLa of the past. Honestly I could not even if I tried.

Finances: This is a big one. One that that makes me cling to a lot of shame and embarrassment. Mostly because I am clearly old enough to have it together in the finances department, yet I do not. For serious, it should be together. But time and time again I find myself in the same place and I just can’t get out of it, at least that is what I tell myself. A big part of my manic days was shopping, drinking, no sleep, shopping, drinking some more and then more shopping! I had no concept of what my monthly expenses were – it was more like ‘if I have money in my bank account, then it is ready for me to spend…on Gucci shoes’. And then there was the fact that I did not open my mail, like ever (rather it sat in ‘organized’ piles in the aforementioned Gucci shoe boxes) and therefore did not pay my bills on time. And therefore now have embarrassingly bad credit. It goes on and on. This loop plays over and over for me. It keeps me in that bad place. I stress over it as if I am still 25 year-old crazy JLa who was totally out of control. News Flash: I am not that person any more. In fact I have fought really hard not to be that person and I have won that battle. So why do I keep talking to myself as if I am still on that downward spiral?

How often do we limit ourselves by behaving as if we have not grown up and learned from the past, even just a little? Those kinds of thoughts are paralyzing, they keep you in that ugly place, not matter what the issue is – at least for me they do. When I think about it objectively, the truth is that I have become someone that I can trust. The JLa of the past was not trustworthy. But the NOW JLa has earned that trust and its time to start acting accordingly.

So over the last week I have started a detox (not a crazy pants all I drink is lemon water, there is food involved) and am back on a workout plan. So far so good, no all night candle light step aerobics (yes that really did happen in 1996). And I have also made some proactive decisions about my finances (none of which involve the shoe department). I have started a cash envelope budget in style (clearly plain envelopes were no fun, so I got these). And while it has only been a short time, I can already see a difference in my thoughts and my anxiety level about all of it. I am far from perfect and I am sure I will stumble, but I can say that I have come a long way since the JLa of yesteryear and for that I am very grateful.

How about you? What are the things that you keep holding on to that do not apply to who you are today? How can you make a change your thoughts and empower yourself to move forward? The NOW JLa is here to cheer you on!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Frivolity

Well friends, it has been a long week and I am REALLY excited for the weekend! Mine is going to be filled with a whole lot of nothing, a little bit of spring cleaning and then book club...perfect if you ask me! I have been so busy the past few months that I am starting to really cherish the weekends that I have just to be at the house and hang out with my love and our silly pets!

But before I shimmy into zone-out land, I wanted to pop in and share some fun! It will not be a surprise that I have quite the obsession with Etsy (who doesn't) and I often find myself scrolling through pages and pages of fantastical treats! Lately I have been drawn to prints and thought I would share some that are not only the cutest ever, but also pack a feel good punch!

How great is this?! Certainly something to often do we limit ourselves by the things we are not? I know I do it more than I would like. You can find it here at Original Art by Valentina. I just adore her stuff! I could order one of each! Another one of my favorites is this:

Not only are the sayings wonderful things to remind yourself of, the detail in her drawings is so delicate and lovely. You can find this gem here. J'adore Valentina!! One of my favorite blogs is sfgirlbybay, aka Victoria Smith. Not only is her blog filled with the chicest things and the most inspired design, she is sassy and she has an Etsy shop! I am drooling over this print, you can find it here:

Isn't this so very true??? Every day I come home and my doggies (and kitty, but more so the doggies) are so very happy to see me, as if it has been ages and I am the greatest thing ever. They snuggle and adore and I love every minute of it!! I can only hope that I am that great in real life!!

Happy Friday friends! What are your favorite Etsy stores? I need some new spots to scour as I zone out on the couch this weekend. I hope to see you (LOTS) next week!