Thursday, March 22, 2018

Treatment Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

If you were to ask me what my treatment is for my mood disorder, I would tell you that I take medication and see a therapist. I would then tell you that, for me, activities like yoga, meditation, exercising, healthy eating, writing, reading all help supplement my treatment. As in, they aren't my primary source of treating my illness, but they are still important to maintaining my relative mental health.

If you asked me if, because I have found reasonable "success" with medication, do I think everyone should take it, I would tell you no.  Not because I don't think medication is helpful. I do. It's probably saved my life. And I'd certainly be happy to share my story to someone who is still on the brink, thinking medication might help but afraid because of potential side effects or the stigma (yes, there's actually stigma about taking meds for my illness, which I find...amazing). But I think my medication is helpful to me with my specific disorder and my brain.  That does not mean that it will work for you and condition and your brain. Or that another medication will. Or that any medication will. Or that, even if it does, you won't feel that the side effects are worth it.

Nor would I tell you that everyone with anxiety should do yoga or meditate - and this is coming from someone who just applied to yoga teacher training. If it works for you like it does for me, then sure! I highly recommend it. But as much as I love it, there are times when I just can't get into it (I realize the irony of this is that it probably means I don't meditate enough). Sometimes I sit on my meditation cushion thinking "when is this going to be over" - during a 5 minute session, no less.  Some people run 10 miles a day. I can't manage 10 miles a week right now because of chronic injuries (and also, I'm not dedicated enough to run in a nor'easter).

The point is, what works for me may not work for you. And what works for you may not work for me. Or, in the case of activities like yoga, meditation, running, etc it might work for me many days, but not all. Some days the best thing I can do is eat healthy. Other days, eating a big plate of nachos and not feeling bad about it is exactly what I need, because I'm being hard enough on myself as it is (my IBS might have something to say, but that's a different story).

I'm sick of people making others feel bad about treating their mental health with medication the way they would a physical illness. I'm equally sick of people pushing meds down people's throats (not physically, unless you're also doing that, and I feel there may be some legal ramifications there). I'm sick of people suggesting that positive thinking or prayer or herbal supplements will cure me when they wouldn't suggest that as the sole treatment to a cancer or heart heart disease patient. Also: there's no cure for my illness so the minute you say "cure" I stop listening.  Just like everything else in life, there's no one right way to treat illness. There's a way that works best for me, and you, and Joe schmo over there, and everyone else.

I remember at a former job, years ago, the company owners said they tried as hard as they could to select a uniform that looked good on everyone. The result, we all agreed, was that it looked good on nobody. Life is like that. Illness is like that. Treatment is like that. There's no one solution that works for everybody. We're all unique beings. Let's respect that. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sensory Triggers

I'm going to start this post by saying that I am not sure if this is experienced by the majority of people with mood disorders and/or anxiety, or by a few, or by just me. I also don't know if my being a quasi HSP and empath contributes to these, though I suspect so. I haven't written on this, ever I don't think, so it seemed time to do so.

As a socially anxious introvert, my natural tendency is already to keep myself surrounded by just a few individuals I'm close to, and to take stretches of time where I surround myself with nobody but perhaps my dog. It is no offense to anyone (trust me, you'll know if it is), it's simply that I need to restore myself.  At times when my sensory triggers are especially sensitive, this is even more crucial. It's difficult to explain what a sensory trigger feels like to me. The best I can do is explain what it might feel like to you.

Have you ever been on one of those rides that tries to make you feel like you're actually experiencing some event that you absolutely aren't? Perhaps they have you traveling to the moon on a space shuttle, and the room, or at least the seats in the room, are physically moving, jostling you back and forth. They have things "flying out of the screen" at you (or at least it appears), and you're sure they're going to careen into you any second. Bright lights are flashing, and you can feel the vibrations of the noise. It's like that. Except you're not in a theme park ride that's making you feel like you're headed to space. You're going through your daily routine. The "seats tilting wildly" are everyday movements. Sometimes, it's simply someone walking past you. The noises are people's voices, the TV, the blender or microwave running. The bright lights are the lights in your home or office or grocery store, the light coming off of the tv. The items careening off the screen at you is your coworker passing you in the hallway, or your spouse or family member walking around your home. They're other cars on your  drive to and from work.

That's what it feels like. Or, if you've spared yourself from these rides, think of it this way: you're going through your regular day, except that everyone around you has their TV or radio blaring to the point that you can feel the sound vibrations; everything you read is highlighted in bright neon, everything you look at is in 4-D. Everyone you come in contact with is standing so close you can literally feel them breathing on you. 

For me, the two senses that aren't assaulted are smell and taste, and my guess is that one is spared because of the other, though I'm not sure which way it works. However, I am significantly less hungry during these times. I eat because my low blood sugar and low sodium tell me I must, and because I have to take meds. At times I feel hungry, only to eat a little and feel  absolutely stuffed. So perhaps it's my gut taking the hit for my taste and smell.

And the thing is, it's nobody else's fault. People are not, in fact, blaring TVs or radios. They're not what's known, a la an episode of Seinfeld, as "close talkers". Nobody's doing anything outside of their normal routine. It just feels that way. I can physically feel sights, movements, sounds. In these times, it's even more essential than it normally is to focus on self-care. I need to maintain an existence that I can best describe as "soft", though that doesn't really make sense, I know.  I need to keep myself in only the closest of company, often my own, focusing on pursuits such as yoga, meditation, writing, reading and my new found refuge, intentions with my mala beads.  I need a lot of rest, and I need to make sure I nourish myself, despite not feeling hungry. Luckily, these times don't last super long, usually, though as my depressive spells lengthen, I worry that theses will too.

So if I seem scarce or quiet, it is not you. I am simply doing what I need to do, and what I all too often neglect, in order to keep forging ahead, even if slowly and more quietly than usual.

Monday, February 26, 2018

New Adventures Part 2

It's been a while. I've been busy, ironically. But, I have some exiting news to share: I got a new job. It kind of fell in my lap, an offer via a friend. It's both my comfort zone, but not. It's admin work (in zone), related to the government (out of zone). I'm working as an assistant to a Borough Manager in a nearby borough. I am currently completing my second week there - waited a bit to announce because... Murphy's Law.

I'm learning a ton, just in the two weeks I've been here. Like everything that has to go on behind the scenes for even the seemingly smallest tasks. I'm learning (this) borough administration's connection to the fire and police departments, all of (read some, with many to learn) the abbreviations for every little thing that happens in the town, and the team effort each new project or program takes. What I I'm enjoying most about it about is the variety and, above all, the opportunity to provide truly interesting and exciting programs to the borough.

On top of this all, I have a regular schedule, Monday through Friday 8:30-4:30. High five sleep schedule. The only "downside"?  I'm learning the struggle that is trying to make appointments and complete tasks with companies open M-F, 9-5. No more  2PM on a weekday haircuts or vet appointments. But it's a "sacrifice" I'm willing to make. Also, my husband is awesome and takes care of as much as he can if things must be done during the day (sadly, he cannot get a haircut for me. And I'll leave a pause here for those who know/have seen my husband to make the joke...).

I'm also using this opportunity to revamp my routines/schedule a bit. Working in travel and event-based environments, the routine has been... non-existent, more  or less. And for a mood cycler, this can be dangerous. Things that are incredibly important to keeping cycles down include: sleep, structure, and not having your outside world as topsy turvey as your inside world. Now, I can get up at the same time every day and work out before work. I am done at the same time each day, so I can pick an evening or two ahead of time that I want to go to yoga. I can get into a regular bedtime routine (other than the nights like last night when we're up late playing Zelda, but I digress).  I'm able to plan, and organize, and that's huge for me. I even had extra energy this weekend to do a lot of cooking for the week ahead. It felt amazing. I felt accomplished, and it was a huge boost to my confidence, which I'm always grateful for.

We never know what life will hold. My goal right now is to try as best I can to take the opportunities that life presents to me, to see where they lead.  

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

New Adventures, Old Anxieties

It's been a while since I've posted. I've been emotionally topsy turvey lately. I've made some big decisions. I feel good about them, mostly, but of course nervous and anxious, as is my nature. I've held back on sharing until now, because I wanted to sort out both the decisions and my feelings about them properly. So here we go:

I've quit my jobby job. It sounds way less scary when I call it a jobby job right? So I do. What I mean is, my part time but almost full time day job that helps pay the bills when my travel business does not. I have my reasons but let's suffice it to say "it was time." My last day is Thursday.

At the same time, I've decided to sign up for yoga teacher training. I have been practicing yoga for about 12 years now, and I think I'm finally ready. It's a big time (and financial) commitment, but it should be - you're dealing with people's bodies and minds, after all. It doesn't start until the fall, which is a good thing. Change and I aren't always fast friends, and too much of once would probably not be good for my mental health. But I put in the application on the day that I saw teacher training posted on the website, to hold myself accountable. I've started the process. It makes it a lot tougher to bow out or make excuses.

So my emotions over the past couple of weeks have run the gambit of "this is an exciting adventure!" to "holy crap how will I pay the bills?" and everything in between.  But I've been here before, more or less. With help and support and therapy and meds, I made it through, sometimes significantly more gracefully than others. Still, at the time I was 26 and full of big dreams about how I was going to be a big success. Now I'm 38 and more along the lines of "someday I'll get my shit together, I'm sure". But my parents and husband and friends support my decision, which helps - especially since, obviously, any monetary decision also affects my household aka my husband (and our dog I suppose, but she hasn't given the paws up or paws down on this decision so far).

In the end, the person that most has to believe in me is myself. Which sounds all Hallmark cardy, but is honestly an age-old battle I have with myself. I am, most of the time, my own worst critic. I take failures personally. I could have done better, I should have done this, I shouldn't have done that. I analyze over and over where I went wrong. I blame myself for.... just about everything. If someone doesn't hire me, I'm not good enough. If someone doesn't support my cause, I'm doing something wrong. If something isn't downright perfect, it's all my fault. I'm not trying hard enough, I'm not good enough, I'm a failure, I'm lazy, and everything else in between. In fact, not a single one of these is true, but I just can't let myself off the hook. It feels irresponsible to place blame elsewhere, or nowhere at all. It feels like taking the easy way out, like being in denial, conceited, even narcissistic at times. I'm the common denominator after all. And yet, thinking it's all my fault is also not right. Because quite honestly, everything isn't about me. A lot isn't, in fact. It's maybe about someone else, or nobody at all. There should be a middle ground.

My grandma used to have a saying that's been coming back to me often these last couple of weeks.  "Pray to God and Work like the Devil." While I'm not particularly religious, I think the saying has merit, regardless of your religious affiliation or lack thereof. Basically, all you can do is work your butt off and hope for the best. And it's what I plan to do going forward. There may be times when giving it my all still isn't quite enough. But at least I'll know I did everything I could do. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Mental Health Trivia

Did you know it's National Trivia Day? Well, it is. And I love Trivia. So I thought I'd do a little mental health and suicide prevention trivia quiz. Because this information is really important to understand, so that we can help break the stigma and debunk the mental health myths. Without Googling (or searching in any other way), how well do you do on this quiz?

1. One in every _____ adults in the US has a mental health condition.

2. Depression is the _____ (ie 10th, 3rd, etc) cause of disability worldwide.

3. One half (50%) of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of ____.
3b. Three quarters (75%) begins by the age of ____.

4. Suicide is the ____ (4th, 12th, etc) leading cause of death of death in the U.S.

4b. It's the ___ leading cause of death for people aged 10-14, and ____ leading cause for those        between the ages of 15-24.

5. Approximately ___% of American Adults live with an anxiety disorder.

6. There are approximately ____ suicides per day in the US.
6b. Of this daily number approximately ____ (number) are veterans.

7. People with mental health conditions are ____(number) times more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators.

8. Approximately ____ million American adults live with Bipolar Disorder.

9. 1 out of every ____ adults lives with Schizophrenia.

10. Can you identify these mental health condition acronyms?

  • GAD
  • SAD
  • MDD
  • PTSD
  • BDP
  • OCD
  • ADD
  • BP
  • ADHD

Friday, December 22, 2017

Nostalgia and Hope

Note:  I wrote this blog for my Spread Hope Project site, but it equally applies to this blog. So I'm sharing it. I wrote it yesterday, so the "yesterdays" mentioned in it are two days ago.  Also hence the mention of the shortest day of the year....

To preface this, I have to explain a bit about my background career wise for those who aren't familiar. For the first five years of my adult working life, I worked in corporate fitness (I have a B.S. in Kinesiology). After getting my Masters in International Marketing, I started my own travel planning company, Chimera Travel, that I ran full time for eight years (shameless plug, you can visit my newly brought back to life travel blog here). But life happens, and with changes in technology and the economy and numerous other factors, I needed some extra help financially. So I took a part time position at a front desk, which has grown into an almost full time position, while still running my travel business. In the midst of all this, I became a significantly more active mental health and chronic illness advocate which is currently out of the goodness of my heart - i.e. I make zero money and sometimes spend money doing this. And believe me, I don't do this for the (hypothetical) money but I can't do full time, or even significantly part time, and still have a roof over my head and eat. So, I have my numerous jobs/would be jobs.

Yesterday, between my job job and yoga, I sat and wrote/blogged and had coffee at my favorite cafe. When I previously lived in Old City Philadelphia, my apartment was literally around the corner from this cafe. I was there probably three times a week on average. I worked solely for myself at that time, and I'd meet friends there for coffee or breakfast, spend my days enjoying free refills and snacks while planning client trips, blogging, working on business marketing. I knew all of the staff, and many of the other frequent customers. I'd run into neighborhood friends there almost every time I went. It was like my Cheers, but with coffee (I also had my "Cheers" bar/restaurant, which was two doors down from my apartment, but that's a different story).

So yesterday, I sat down at the cafe, ordered a coffee, and took out my notebook and computer to start working. I had some blogging and journaling planned. And I found myself almost in tears with nostalgia. I can't really call them sad almost-tears, nor were they happy. They were nostalgic ones. I can't explain it any other way.  I sat there with my coffee, hoping my face didn't betray how I was feeling. And I began to understand that the way I remember feeling in those days was how I was meant to feel. I had felt a purpose. I felt motivated and inspired. I felt control over my life, at least pieces of it. No, I couldn't control when a client's flight was cancelled, or when someone had a last minute request on a day I'd planned to take as a wellness day. But there's always going to be something like that, in any job. Or volunteer opportunity. Or life. And if it's not your job or client or organization, it'll be your child waking up sick on a day that you planned to be out and about and getting things done. Or your car breaking down when you absolutely had to get to an important meeting. Or something else.

From my favorite cafe. Also: love their mugs

 My point is, there's always going to be something out of our control, as much as I dislike this (I need to work on my letting go). But those days in which I ran my own company fully, I had control over so many important factors: the company as a whole - the direction it went (or ideally went), the mission and vision, the goals, the values it all embodied. I had control of the marketing, both in print and online - not only the content, but what I chose to do/not. The target market. Not to mention that, client emergencies aside, I got to make the schedule. I chose when to start and end work. If I needed a personal or wellness or sick day, I took it. If I had to make it up later by working longer other days, I did. I made those decisions.  For someone with chronic illness, that's particularly important. And possibly, most importantly, I felt like I was working toward something and for something. I had goals for my company, and for my life involving it.  I felt like a made a difference - not necessarily in the world at large, but to my clients. I felt important to my little piece of life. Because without me, the business wouldn't run, and the clients wouldn't get their travel planned by my company.

So I sat there remembering this feeling. Being reminded of what it felt like to really feel connected to my purpose. I helped people experience the world. They explored new cultures and traditions. They had their first experience zip lining or swimming with dolphins or hiking a mountain they always hoped to hike.  They had exciting honeymoons and destination weddings. They had family reunion trips.  I had clients who came to me never having owned a passport and, after their first trip overseas, decided to take one every year.

And when I think about being able to help others, to Spread Hope to others, and to potentially be able to combine my love of helping people with my love of helping people travel (and naturally, traveling myself), I think about how amazing that would be.  To get back to that feeling of purpose, that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be. That ability to feel happiness at how I'm spending my days. To feel like I'm making a difference in my little corner of the world, both to others and to myself.  And thinking about it, while a bit sad at not being there, makes me hopeful. I begin gathering ideas, almost involuntarily (though certainly welcomed). I don't try to, they just fly into my head. I get inspired and motivated.

Now if I could only stop the doubt from creeping in. The doubt that says that, once again, this wouldn't work well enough. That something - the economy, life, etc - would throw me off and I wouldn't be able to push through it to ultimately be successful. The doubt that says it's too risky, that I'd be being rash and careless. The doubt that says others would be disappointed me, would doubt me themselves.

And if I could only get some help. Not financially, but in the form of support. If I had friends that would be willing to help me create and run projects for Spread Hope. Or who would help me by participating - whether it's hashtagging their Instagram photos for a photo campaign, or volunteering with a project I organize, or just sitting and helping me brainstorm ideas. And I know it's a big ask. I know everyone's time is so valuable. But we all need help sometimes, and I'm really terrible at asking for it. I'm strong and I want to be able to do it all on my own. And often I think it's too forward to say, "Hey I want to do xyz will you take time out of your already busy schedule to help?", despite the fact that if someone came to me and said something similar, I'd probably be super excited (assuming it wasn't some sort of selling). Or I always think, "nobody will say yes. Or they'll 'like' the status but not volunteer", so what's the point.

But I need to get over that fear. I need to reach out and ask for help. I may not get tons of help by doing so, but I certainly won't if I don't.  So I'm starting 2018 with some opportunities, and call outs, for help with Spread Hope Project... projects. So if you have the urge/want to be supportive, please give the Spread Hope Project page a follow at the link above so that you hear about these when I roll them out. You'll also find SHP social media links on there (hint). It would truly mean so much. And of course, if you're interested in helping, I'm all ears!

And on this shortest day of the year, I hope it helps to remember that it literally only gets brighter from here - and I'll do the same.

Happy Solstice, and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Most Important Thing I've Done Is Survived; and Sometimes, I Even Live

When you battle depression, you know that often the best you can do is just get through the day. You may not be breaking any records, or busting through your to do list, or even showering. Some days, getting through the day is what matters most. If you lay your head down at night in order to be here tomorrow, you've accomplished the most important thing you can - you've survived.

For those who don't battle depression or chronic illness, I think this is a difficult concept to truly understand. For them, surviving is second nature. They don't have to think about it, wonder if it'll happen again tomorrow.  They don't go to bed at night with the sole accomplishment of still being here. Instead, they look at the things they haven't accomplished: the house needs to be cleaned, they need groceries, they have to do this or that chore or task. And don't get me wrong, my anxiety rails through all of that too. Repeatedly. But the thing is, if I weren't here, if I hadn't made it, it wouldn't matter one bit how clean or not the house was or how full the fridge was.

And so, I admit, that sometimes my priorities seem a little "messed up" to the observer. The house desperately needs to be cleaned and I'm planning a hike or a day trip or a drive to the beach or something of a similar fashion. Or I'm relaxing, listening to the rain or enjoying the sunshine on my face. Sometimes, I go for a drive simply to enjoy the warmth of the sun (streaming through my new panoramic sunroof!!), the open air, and the musc. And understandably, people probably feel, If you're going to be out on a drive, could you maybe stop and pick up xyz while you're at it, because you're running out?! And yes, I probably should. I probably need bread or beans or a replacement light bulb or something from CVS or whatever it is. And I may stop and pick it up (ok, usually just the CVS, big stores give me anxiety). But you know what I really need? I need to have these happy, sun and fresh air filled moments  to pull me through when I cycle back down. If not, I'm spending all of the times I actually feel ok filling obligations, only to slip back into depression without being able to remember what in life there is to truly enjoy.

And so I perhaps do not make a very good adult. I do not see the point of spending the majority of my time doing the mundane things that will never be my legacy. I'm not saying I'll live in a pigsty or starve, but I just simply don't get the need to have this all perfectly done, all the time. And maybe there's a compromise. Maybe I can run into Whole Foods once a week, spend 30 minutes tops  (I can honestly get all my shopping done in this time), and have had healthy meals all week. And when I am running out of TP, I can stop at CVS for 10 minutes max. No need fora full day dedicated to these things.

I realize this is frustrating for people in my life. I wish I was content to do the everyday adult life things. I really do. It would be so much easier on those around me. Not to mention I'd have a full fridge on a regular basis, and a cleaner house. I know it seems irresponsible. And I'm trying to find a balance, I really am. I'm not sure where that lies.

Maybe it's just me. And maybe it's the fact that I feel my time to actually feel alive is limited, since illness hits me so often. But I just don't think I'm going to lie on my deathbed wishing I'd done more chores. I do think, though, that if I stick to those "have to"s, that one day I'll look back and think, What did I do with my life? And moments of life can be so precious, that I can't imagine why I'd want to live that way.

Me in Ronda, Spain, after a sunrise hike. The ultimate in enjoying a good day!