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I’m excited to announce that we are relaunching our blog on HakeemRahim.com! For the past five years I have been speaking openly about my journey with bipolar disorder. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to speak in 15 states and in Jamaica, to law enforcement officials, individuals with mental illness and their family members, and to over 50,000 college, high school and middle school students.

I’m so grateful that I have been able to use my deepest pain to create the platform for the highest purpose – empowering others.

I always share these 3 messages: 

  • it is okay to talk about what you’re going through
  • that there’s no shame in seeking help
  • that if you are diagnosed with a mental health challenge, there is hope

I’m so grateful that I have been able to use my deepest pain to create the platform for the highest purpose – empowering others. Now, I am are committed to building platforms for others to share and to spread the values that we promote and embrace: Community, Wellness, Acceptance and Joy.  We encourage you to read the blog, share what you love on social media and even contribute.

Now more than ever, we need to move from isolation and disconnection to community, acceptance, wellness and joy. Our blog is a space for sharing those values.

Welcome, and thank you for joining us!

Yours in wellness and acceptance,

Hakeem Rahim

If you would like to write a blog post, please email editorhrblog@gmail.com with the subject line Request to Contribute.

alps

Five years old. My favorite thing to do in the winter was to climb the banks of snow that the plow had created along the quiet streets of my suburban neighborhood.

There was something inherently special to me about reaching the top of the pile and feeling a sense of accomplishment. Although the mountains of snow may have seemed small to others, they appeared enormous to my kindergarten self. The perspective of others did not matter to me; when I reached the summit, I was on top of the world.

Recovery is a process, but small triumphs should never be discounted.

Fifteen years old. The moment in school that I looked forward to every day was lunch. Lunch period was the time where I gave myself permission to slow down, if only for that restricted block of time. It was the few minutes when I allowed my mind to peel back from the constant worrying; the worrying about my body, about my grades, about my relationships, about the small tear in my stockings that I was sure made me look like an idiot. But at lunch, I could try to separate from all that, as I ate my carefully calorie-portioned meal, everyday – each and…everyday – It was an everyday task for her to…

But today my perfect little meal was disrupted by something. A thick piece of marble cake. The cake stood in stark contrast to the otherwise perfectly-portioned diet cheese, diet crackers, and grapes. Nothing about this cake was “diet”, not in the slightest.

The week before, we had gone to the doctor. Anxiety had taken over my life and transformed all aspects of me. It had transformed my body. My heart rate was weak, my menstrual cycle had stopped, my hair was brittle. The doctor told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I did not start eating well, more drastic action would need to be taken.

There were many steps to my recovery – therapists, medication, familial support – but one of the day-to-day actions we had decided to implement was to add treats, extra calories, to every meal. Discord was being introduced to meals that had been so carefully planned before this moment. Including that piece of marble cake.

For a few weeks, I would share my marble cake with my friends, eating only a small bit myself. I told my mother, who packed my lunches, that I had eaten the whole thing. She knew I hadn’t. But she was giving me time.

One day, as I was about to split the cake again, something inside stopped me from tearing apart that rich, chocolate and vanilla bread into five or six pieces. I just bit into it. Then I did it again, and again.

I did not know how many calories were in this cake, but for at least for this moment, I was pushing my desire to calculate them out of the way. Within a few minutes, the cake was gone.

Twenty-three years old. I still struggle some days with the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and concerns about my body. But I have learned to recall those two little girls: one with a snow pile, one with a marble cake. I focus on my small victories, and use the pride in those accomplishments to propel me further.

Like little five-year-old me climbing a two-foot tall snow bank, eating a piece of marble cake might  not seem like something to warrant a sense of accomplishment. But from my perspective, it was scaling Mt. Everest.

As a psychology doctoral student and a mental health advocate, I feel that this is the most important message to spread to those with mental illness, their families, and their communities. Focus on achieving small, personal victories. Recovery is a process, but small triumphs should never be discounted. Even climbing the real Mt. Everest is done in a series of tiny steps.

state-hospital-sign

“When you are out there tell them we are just like everyone else.” – Napa State Hospital patient.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at Napa State Hospital. Napa State Hospital is a forensic institution that treats patients who have been tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity.

I will share that where we are is not who we are; I will share that we are more than our labels; and I will share that mental illness does not define us.

I was buzzed in, patted down and escorted to the auditorium. “Mr. Rahim, thank you for being here, the patients are very excited to be with you,” one of the staff member stated appreciatively. The patients filed in, some shuffled with their heads down, others were wide eyed, excited and gave me thumbs up.

When I saw the patients, I remembered. I remembered my time on a psychiatric ward 16 years ago. When stood there, I recalled when I was prisoner to delusions of grandeur, walking up and down the streets of Hempstead, my hometown, in a manic haze. I recalled and realized that in my psychosis, if just one thing happened differently, I could be in a different space, a different place, maybe there; just as easily, I am sure in some cases, it could be the other way around.

I spoke for 40 min, sharing my journey, poetry and insights from living with mental illness – equipped with my “PhD. in bipolar disorder,” as was my response to a patient who asked how I gained my insights into living with mental illness. The patients shared ways they make it over and through, “I try to be around people that are positive and make you feel good,” one older black man stated.

I stood in front of 200 men and women, grateful, connected and glad to be able to share; men and women who share diagnoses similar to mine and who like me walk through the shame. For them there is the added stigma, burden and consequences of their actions, actions which have altered the lives of many people in tragic ways. However yesterday I was able to speak, share, inspire and be inspired.

So yes, on my journeys to colleges and keynotes, to stages and classes, I will share that between the bars, scars and convictions, there men and women who too have goals, gifts, skills and dreams. I will share that where we are is not who we are; I will share that we are more than our labels; and I will share that mental illness does not define us. Lives have been deeply altered and transformed by their actions, but also their lives can be transformed by their intent and actions. I will share what I heard because he asked me to. I will share what I heard it because it is true.

christmas-decoration
(Names have been changed to respect privacy)

The holiday season is seen as light, fun-filled and festive. For some, it’s Christmas morning gifts with family, seasonal songs, or holiday parties with friends and co-workers. For others, this season can be filled with a mix of highs and lows. 

Whether dealing with loss, mental illness or caring for a loved one, there are healthy habits and helpful perspectives anyone can adopt to manage and enjoy the holidays.

What should be a happy holiday season can feel isolating and lonely.  This can be especially true and very painful for those with emotional struggles and those dealing with the loss of a family member or a loved one with mental illness. The happy highs of the holidays can be contrasted with feelings of isolation, loneliness, and grief.

Below are stories of individuals who have learned lessons from their toughest times; a teen who lost his sister but did not lose hope, a caregiver who embraces her well-being and a man who uses gratitude to thrive during the season.

The Hard Side of the Season – A Need For Hope During the Holidays

Caleb, a 17 year old high school senior from Long Island, experienced the loss of his sister who died by suicide  4 years ago.  Caleb says he remembers a time when his favorite part of the holidays was waking up Christmas morning to  be with his family sitting around the tree, “my sister and I would always be the first ones up.” Now, that his sister was no longer with them, “the elephant in the room was that we were missing one family member. There is one stocking we didn’t fill…”

“the elephant in the room was that we were missing one family member. There is one stocking we didn’t fill…”  ~Caleb, 17

Tyler, a 33 year old animal therapist from Georgia, says, “ the contrast between tv ads featuring family gatherings and my feelings of disconnectedness are what actually makes me feel alone.”  For him, the holidays depend on, “where I am with sickness and recovery.  The holidays can either be a joy to see family and friends or super stressful when I deal with depression.” In fact the holidays can be a trigger for him.  The abundance of alcohol, late night parties and intimate settings with family members, can bring up anxiety which could  bring him to, “ the verge of tears.”

Barbara, a 65 year old mother from Brooklyn, NY, generally sees the holidays as a quiet time and appreciates the rest. Yet, when her loved one first began to experience depression, the holidays were “a pretty grim and dismal time.”  She felt like there was nothing she could do to make the situation better.  Her loved one struggled with bipolar depression, and “it was like  walking on eggshells being around him.” This time of the year really impacted him, the shorter days, colder weather, and staying inside more often were debilitating. Although she and her loved one did not have distinct holiday traditions, the quiet of the season was disturbed.

Create the Holiday Memories You Want to Remember

Barbara says she deals with the holidays by acknowledging what she needs for her wellness. “For the holidays, go out when people invite you, force yourself to socialize.” She encourages us to “not feel guilty for taking time for yourself.” She realized that “as a caregiver, you have to be well…you cannot function without being well.”

“As a caregiver, you have to be well…you cannot function without being well.” ~Barbara, 65

Tyler, says he now feels gratitude during the holidays.  His sense of gratitude comes from knowing his boundaries and what works for him, “ I feel grateful for how far I’ve come, I know how partying affects me, and I know the importance of self-care.” Since setting these boundaries, Tyler is now able to enjoy family and friends in a positive and healthy way.

Psychiatrist, Dr. Tolu Olupona, says that people who are dealing with loss, struggling with mental illness or caring for a loved one with mental illness have to be, “particularly vigilant around the holidays” as the activities of the holidays can be triggers.  She also points out, however, that the biggest part of this season is being mindful, but not dwelling on the negative.  Dr. Olupona acknowledges that if we are intentional and are aware of what we need, we can “navigate the ups and downs of the season and enjoy the festivities.”

Caleb says he and his family began to tackle the feelings of loss by lighting a candle for his sister during the first night of Hanukkah.  He says, “we did not quite know what to say, we were all quiet and it was hard to talk” however, they were still proactive. Caleb’s mom says they knew they were going to celebrate those first holidays because they had no other choice than to move forward and not to dwell on what happened.

Dr. Olupona states that it is important to acknowledge your feelings – guilt, sadness, bitterness- and not  be in denial.  “Sharing feelings openly,” she says, “along with letting family members know that it’s okay to say nothing, is also very therapeutic.”  And like Caleb and his family did, acknowledging your loved one by creating traditions is very powerful as well.

“Sharing feelings openly along with letting family members know that it’s okay to say nothing, is also very therapeutic.” ~Psychiatrist, Dr. Olupona

Strategies and Tips for Holiday Healing

Whether dealing with loss, mental illness or caring for a loved one, there are healthy habits and helpful perspectives anyone can adopt to manage and enjoy the holidays:

Losing a loved one is painful, but there is space for acceptance.  Here are some ways to start healing around the holidays:

  • Acknowledge loss and know it’s okay to feel a mix of emotions
  • Affirm feelings and let loved ones know it is okay to feel sad
  • Create spaces to openly share feelings
  • Create new traditions to remember your loved one

As a family member of a loved one with mental illness, it is important to never forget that you are important too! During the holiday season:

  • Take time specifically for your well-being – sleep, exercise, etc.
  • Know it is okay to celebrate with friends and family, if you are invited out, yes, you can go!
  • Continue traditions that are important to you on a scale you can manage – instead of “The Super Tree” get a smaller Christmas tree

Whatever stage you are at in your journey with mental illness, you can:

  • Be mindful of your triggers and be proactive in looking out for them
  • Remember to practice self-care
  • Be consistent with your treatment, medication, therapy
  • Be open to gratitude

It is possible to find ways to make the holidays a time to enjoy. Remember, where we are is not always where we will be.  We can learn and proactively put healthy strategies in place. Through setting intentions and being mindful, we can create the kind of holiday memories we want to have. Happy Healthy Holidays!

#iamacceptance #letscontinuetheconversation #happyhealthyholidays

 

With the whir of marketing and messaging swirling around us every day, it’s easy to lose some of your focus and can make it hard to keep your momentum going. Because I know you work hard every day to promote mental health awareness in your classroom and at your school, I wanted to help you by giving you three clear points to focus on.

Click here to read the full article on the NAMI blog, or click the image below.

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 8.17.29 PM

 

 

In July, I have the honor of presenting at the 2015 NAMI National Convention. If you’re going to be there or are following the events, connect with me on Twitter @HakeemRahim to continue the conversation and share your point of view!

Greetings Fellow Mental Health Advocates!

 Here you will find helpful information about mental health topics, important points of discussion and how to book Hakeem to inspire your audience.
Read on and share!

How to Start A Mental Health Club
In Your School
Do you have students that are interested in mental health
and they would like to form a club?

As a health teacher, administrator or social worker what do you do? Where do you start? Learn about where to begin, current clubs out there, and how you can showcase your club’s achievements.

Quick Logistics

The first and probably obvious logistical part is finding out what is your school’s policy on forming a club? After checking your school’s rules and criteria, you’ll have your outline for forming a mental health club. Let’s dive in.

Continue reading on LinkedIn.

Bipolar Disorder Unmasked –
Candid Conversations about Mental Illness

To successfully live with mental illness, it is important to accept that the potential for relapse is a part of our reality. At the same time, accepting the potential for relapse does not mean you should focus on “not relapsing.”  Instead, it is important to have a recovery focus.

Developing a recovery focus has two components. The first is to understand wellness is an process and not a destination; we must arrive over and over again. The second is to live in a constant state of recovery.  A constant state of recovery means being intentional about self-care.

In this video, I talk about these two different components.

And in this video, I talk about the perspective I have taken when it comes to relapse.
How do you understand relapse? Share these videos and get other perspectives.

As always, if you need immediate help call you doctor or 911. Some resources arenami.org and dbsalliance.org.  I am sharing my thoughts from my lived experience and I am not a medical professional.

However I am yours in wellness,

Hakeem

Take a look at my new intro video! This video highlights my congressional testimony, my poem Its Not Those Days and several quotes of support.

Book Hakeem to speak for your next event!
As the opening keynote speaker for NAMI Minnesota State Conference, Hakeem received a overwhelming positive response and was described by many of the 350 attendees as: “motivating, powerful, excellent, dynamic, relatable, thought provoking and amazing.”

If you have any inquiries please contact Hakeem athakeem@livebreathellc.com.

Here is Hakeem’s March calendar:

3/11 – Brooklyn, NY – Frederick Douglass HS – Student Assembly
3/17 – Smithtown, NY – Suffolk County Legislature – Presentation
3/18 – Brooklyn, NY – George W. Carver HS – Student Assembly
3/19 – Carle Place, NY – Carle Place MS – Student Assembly
3/23 – Franklin Square, NY – F. Carey HS – Student Assembly
3/31 – Great Neck, NY – Great Neck South MS – Student Assembly
3/31 – Great Neck, NY – Great Neck North MS – Student Assembly
3/31 – Great Neck, NY – PTA Meeting – Presentation

Here you will find helpful information about mental health topics, poetry and words of inspiration and information about Hakeem.

Read on and share!

 

Do you know how to address mental illness stigma in your classroom?

You probably have heard about stigma or mental illness, but may not know how to define them.  You may feel uncomfortable asking about mental illness.You are not alone.  

There are many myths about mental illness, such as children are just moody and do not experience mental health problems, or people with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable. However, to shift from these ideas we have to know the facts. As a teacher, here’s what you should know about mental illness stigma.

Continue reading on LinkedIn

Bipolar Disorder Unmasked –
Candid Conversations about Mental Illness

You are not your illness nor your label.  You are your experiences.

As a man living with a diagnosed mental illness for over 15 years, I acknowledge my condition.  My mental and physical health are priority – I take medication, I see my doctors, I follow a health diet and exercise regimen.   I also know if I get too little sleep or am in unusually stressful situations for extended time I face the prospect of sinking into a depression or face bouts of anxiety.

At the same time – I am not “bipolar.”

 I have a condition, but I am not my condition. This is an important distinction to make. You can be diagnosed with, but not defined by a label.
Watch this video here where I explore the distinction of Who you are vs. What happened to you.
What do you think about this idea of accepting your diagnosis and illness, but not “being defined” by it?

As always, if you need immediate help call you doctor or 911. Some resources are nami.org and dbsalliance.org.  I am sharing my thoughts from my lived experience and this is not medical advice.

Sincerely Yours in Wellness,

Hakeem

In December I published my first book – Magenta Your Conscience, Inspirational Poems & Quotes. In honor of Valentines Day here is an excerpt from my book, a love poem entitled Imprints.  I hope you enjoy! If you are interested in purchasing a copy of my book, please see here.

Imprints

Woman you…

Woman you have touched my soul

And have imprinted your imprints

On my spirit.

I sincerely hope that I can

Wade in your waters

And wonder through your forests.

I sincerely hope I can blow warm winds

Into the sails of your possibility.

For you,

I would seize the salt in the sea

And mix the extracts in the river

To confuse mother-nature

And make her wonder,

“What has gripped that boy’s heart so

To make him do such mind boggling things.”

For you,

I would teach time

To double-dutch backwards

And then hop-scotch forward,

So he’ll be prancing in circles

And we’ll be able to mingle

In this beautiful moment forever.

For you,

I tell clouds of cumulous nimbus’

To form in the formation of school buses

And carry your precipitation away,

For some how,

When I’m with you,

The sun always seems shine,

You are divine,

Heavenly,

Cherubim angels

Pluck peaceful chords

On harpsichords whose notes

Were fashioned by you.

Alpha frequencies forget their phases

And form beta waves

When they bounce off your heartbeats,

Shattering amplitudes

And breaking confused attitudes,

Unknowingly,

We are one.

Unknowingly

I did not know,

That until yesterday,

Woman you have touch my soul

Here is my upcoming calendar:

2/21 – New Haven, CT  –  Yale Black Solidarity Conference – Plenary Workshop

2/24 – Garden City, NY –  Adelphi Psychology Day – Keynote

2/25 – Floral Park, NY   –  Floral Park High School – Student Assembly

2/25 – Old Westbury, NY – Seldom Said Radio Show

2/26 – Garden City, NY – Garden City High School – Student Assembly

3/3 –   Great Neck South High School – Student Assembly

3/3 –   Great Neck North High School – Student Assembly

3/4 –   Elmont Memorial High School – Student Assembly

3/10 – High School of Sports Management – Student Assembly

3/11 – Frederick Douglass Academy – Student Assembly

3/18 –  George Washington Carver HS for Sciences – Student Assembly

3/18 – Queens Community Board 12 – Presentation

3/25 – Manhasset High School – Student Assembly