Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Crumbling and Disappearing

I haven't written in a while. I've been going through a lot. January and February were horrible brain wise. My illness grabbed hold, and tossed me, flung me, emotionally beat me until I was literally praying for some, any, reprieve from it. Then March hit, and the horrible emotional grip started to ease. The majority of my March was amazing. I felt positive, energized, I had hope. Most of all, I began to feel like I was reclaiming a bit of the me that I've lost for years now. I was finally, finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In March, I began working on my personal branding website for all of my various services and skills, to be premiered once I (fingers crossed) graduate from yoga teacher training. The editing on my book was finished, and I started moving into the next stages. I was working on more travel clients than I have in a while. I actually felt like I was capable in building what I want to build. Like I might really regain autonomy over my day to day again. I began to feel more independent again. I actually found myself occasionally making decisions and suggestions instead of just going with "whatever everyone else thinks" for fear of causing an issue. I found myself standing up for what I need, what I know is best for me, what I believe in for my life, even if I was only defending my cause to myself most of the time. I started making small changes each and every day. I also worked on reconnecting with my faith, which has been a lifelong process in which I've generally failed miserably, and I felt like I was getting somewhere. In addition to yoga and meditation and writing and my other self-work, this was helping me get through things when I did feel alone and hopeless at times.

And then, March started coming to a close. And the proverbial ceiling caved in. My emotional life came crashing down on me. I woke up one morning and all of that calm and piece and quiet self-worth I'd finally thought I was finding was gone. I don't know why, but it was. In it's place was sadness deeper than I've ever known, hurt, emotional pain, hopelessness, and yes, I'll admit it - anger, resentment, and bitterness, driven by the aforementioned. I say that because a note here: actual anger as a reaction doesn't last long at all naturally. I forget the stat, but it's something like after two minutes, if you're still angry, it's because it's masking another emotion like fear, pain, hurt, sadness, etc. Few people will admit this because it's easier to point fingers than take a deep dive into our own pain, but I'm a master at deep diving into my pain, so I'll own my anger. I woke up feeling like I was again a rat in a maze that didn't actually have an exit. Like a puppet in a show, being yanked around. Hope was gone, which is particularly devastating for someone who runs the Spread Hope Project. All the things I thought I could do, they felt like silly dreams. Like a little kid dreaming of being an astronaut, like a girl dressing up in her mom's heels and makeup and pretending to be an adult, instead of a grown adult who believes in themselves and dreams that they can actually accomplish.

I don't know what happened. Not entirely at least. I know, of course, that I have a mood cycling disorder that involves depression and anxiety, and that it can hit without a moment's notice. But I also know that it doesn't usually cycle in months. It's normally hours, days, a week at the most. I also know that part of what hit me is that you can't single-handedly change situations in your life that involve others, and that my trying to do so finally crashed in on me, and it felt like I'd been beating my head against a wall. If this doesn't make sense, here's an example: Say you work in a place where negativity and gossip is rampant, and you easily pick up on other people's energy. You can go in and be positive and cheerful all you want. But if you have to interact with other people who are negative and gossping all the time, and they don't change, you still work in a toxic environment. And yes, people will say "well you could change that by getting a new job." But sometimes it's not that easy. and besides, the job is just a random example that I chose. Sometimes, it's not a situation you can just change like you can a job. Sometimes, it's a whole bunch of things at once. You can't suddenly just be out of debt (unless you win the lottery), or make people believe in you and support you (emotionally not financially). You can't make friends suddenly have tons of time for you. You can't suddenly get tons of clients and build your own business so it's super profitable (no matter what those courses they sell try to tell you.. it doens't turn around like that). You can work your ass off every damn day, you can be the best person you can be, you can be willing to throw yourself in front of a speeding truck for people, and you still can't affect what anyone or anything else in the situation does. Sometimes there are pieces of life you cannot control, and when you're trying to change your life and things just. won't budge it's physically, mentally, and emotionally painful and exhausted.

Lately, I feel like I'm mentally, emotionally, and physically crumbling. It feels like each time I move pieces of me fall off. There are physical effects. I've had headaches and been nauseous a ton. I've oddly been losing sensation in my extremities frequently, and I'm not sure if it's related but that's super annoying/scary. I'm exhausted all the time. I am in constant physical pain. I don't even mention my physical pain really because I don't recall what it's like to not be in physical pain. And every single morning that I wake up it feels like there's a ton of bricks sitting on my heart. I spend probably at least an hour a day crying, often more. I'm getting to the point where I struggle to hide it. I know I am not living the life for me, and yet I feel like I'm tangled up in it, unable to make any changes. I feel so frozen in my life that I literally am afraid to do the tiniest things - like cook a meal or choose something to eat.

I feel like I just want to fade away, like some special effects in a movie where I become more and more transparent until eventually I'm just not there. Sometimes, I feel like disappearing quickly. Most days I feel like making drastic, massive changes in my life because I can't stand the  crushing ache of pain every day anymore. But any way I slice it, this version of me, this crumbling, hurt, scared, frozen version of me that feels like a caged animal is not sustainable.

That's where I am right now. I know it's not super uplifting, but I wanted to give a life update. If you want to support me, please reach out. In person, not on a Facebook comment. Not with a "virtual hug" (please, please no virtual hugs, I can't explain but I'm practically begging you not to say this). But actually reach out. And please no cliches please. I can't handle it. It won't end well. I'm broken. You wouldn't give someone with a heart attack a cliche, so don't give me one either. Just be there to listen. Not one and done, not a perfunctory check in, but actually be there for me.  As much as I need, as long as I need. I have a lifelong illness. I need people in my life who are prepared to be there for me through life as well.

Thank you for listening.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

I Believe In You

I believe in you. Whoever you are. Whatever your dreams. I'm serious. I might not even know you personally. I might not know your plans or goals or dreams. But I believe in the human potential. In every human. It doesn't mean they always live up to it (I can think of plenty of examples in which people took their potential and used it in really harmful ways, or squandered it all together). But the potential is there.

Why am I telling you, potentially a total stranger, that I believe in you? Because from time to time, we all need to hear it. We especially need to hear it if you, like me, have ever shared your dreams with someone or someones, and been told that you aren't capable, you're unrealistic, you don't have the education or training or qualifications, that you'll never make it happen.  Or put another way, that they didn't believe in you. And if like me, you've ever struggled with self-confidence or self-esteem or self-worth or feeling like you're not enough, if like me you've ever battled depression and anxiety that magnifies these feelings, you know that this can feel like someone physically tearing you apart. It can feel like they reached into your chest cavity, grabbed ahold of your heart, and ripped it out. Maybe for you it wasn't that extreme. For me it is. Because to me, one of the most amazing things you can have in this world, in the darkest moments, the moments when you struggle so hard to believe things will work out, is hope. And telling you that you can't accomplish your dreams can tear this hope, potentially the only thing keeping you going at times, to shreds.  And yes, when this happens to me, is it on me a bit that I rely so heavily on others' opinions? Absolutely. I'm working on that daily. I'm putting huge effort towards self-love and appreciation, self-worth and self-esteem. But when you already feel like you're not good enough, and others basically tell you you're right, it's pretty natural that it'll affect you seriously, at least temporarily, perhaps longer.

Now naturally, there are going to be things we're not qualified to do. I'm not qualified to perform surgery because I haven't gone to medical school. So if I were to say, "I think I'm going to get a job as a surgeon", the response of "you don't have the education and qualification for that" is legit. But if I said, "I think I want to go to medical school because my dream has always been to become a surgeon" and someone replies "At you're age? Come on, that's so unrealistic. You'll never make that happen!" that's where the dream killing happens. And the thing is, they may be right. I am 39 years old. If my dream was to go to medical school, I'd probably be in my 50s when I finished (I'm eyeballing this, not calculating the actual years so excuse any innaccuracies), and it's probably pretty tricky to get accepted to medical school at 39, then interneship, residency, get hired for the first time as a surgeon in ones 50s. But telling me right off the bat I'll never be able to do it? It might be unlikely. It might be improbable. But I likely already know this, so shutting down my dreams  in one stroke and saying you don't believe in me literally serves no purpose. there are ways to voice the struggles, to help someone be realistic, without telling them you can't. For instance, "This could be really tricky. It could be tough to get into medical school at that age, and it'll be a long road, but if you really want this, let's talk about what the next steps could be." Or maybe you help them "troubleshoot": "Well, you'd need this qualification to get into school, so maybe start by taking pre-requesites somewhere local. Also, it's going to cost a lot, so let's talk about how you're going to be able to support yourself while doing this." There are numerous other ways to approach it. But flat out: you can't make that happen is just a hurtful one. And if you're anything like me, it's probably one you're already telling yourself. So what does someone telling you this actually accomplish, besides making you feel worse about yourself?

So I'm here to tell you I believe in you. I don't care how silly or weird or out there your dream ism how unlikely it is or how much effort it'll take, because if you really want it that badly, you'll put in the effort. (Caveat: I can't support you in something I think is illegal/unethical/immoral because that would be going against my core values, and we should never ask someone to compromise their core beliefs and values.  But I'm going to assume here you aren't asking me to support you doing something immoral, so with that exception, I believe in you.) If your dream is to dress up in a chicken costume and dance around and make viral videos and get sponsors to make money, go for it. Hell, that sounds fun and I might even join you.  If your dream is to travel the world, to restart your career, to start your own business. If your dream is invent something new, to run away to the mountains and build a retreat, to go back to school and get a new degree/desertification/training. I believe in you. If your dream is to find a way quit your 9-5 so you can stay at home with your kids, I believe in you. If your dream is to write a book, I believe in you.

And if you ever need someone to bounce idea off, or someone just to listen, or someone just to remind you that someone believes in you, I'm here. Because there way too many people in this world that'll tell us we can't do something. So I'm here to tell you that you can. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Simplifying, Letting Go, & Spreading Hope in 2019

I don't set new year's resolutions. I've written about why before, but basically, resolutions tend to be all or nothing. "I'm going to lose 10 lbs". What if you lose 9.5? Technically, you've failed in your resolution. But you've lost 9.5 lbs through hard work and dedication - no failure about that. See where I'm going? Instead, I set goals and focuses. Yes, there are concrete items I'd like to accomplish in there that I create plans for  (resolutions don't generally involve plans, which is another reason I don't set them). But my real point is, I am more focused on patterns, on ways of being, and changes I'd like to make in those ways of being to improve overall quality of life.

For 2019, I'm focusing on Simplifying, Letting go, and Spreading Hope. If you'll notice, two of the three are related (I'd argue that all are, but two are more obvious) - they're about less. Getting rid of or shedding. And to me, if I'm able to do that, I'm more able to focus on the third, which if you've known me for any length of time and have paid any attention to what I've been doing over the past two years, should ring a bell.

Why have I chosen these? Well, life in general and my brain, are messy. With a rapid cycling mood disorder, there's literally no telling what's going on in there at times. I could have had the best day of my life, go to bed, and wake up in horrible depression. Then, I could rapidly cycle into hypomania by the end of the day. I'll be anxious through the entirety of it because everything seems unstable and uncertain, and I do about as well with uncertainty as I would handle being chased by a rabid dinosaur.  Note: I have had people tell me, when I say this about uncertainty, that I should never have kids. I'd like to point out that 1.) That's a shitty thing to tell someone 2.) I have, in my past, had a young child in my life, and done just fine. 3.) If you repeat this "wisdom", YOU will fare about as well as if you were chased by a rabid dinosaur. Just putting that out there. But I digress.

My point is there are certain types of uncertainty that I'd like to pare down in my life, in order to improve my mental and physical health, and to get me on the path to where I'm quite sure I need to be going. Furthermore, I have a habit of throwing myself into everything 1000%, trying to be everything to everyone, even when time and again, it feels incredibly one-sided or I feel that my efforts aren't respected/valued the way they should be (i.e. the number of times I've been passed over for things I worked my ass of for and feel I deserved is rather alarming). I've cluttered my life, hanging onto each and everyone of these situations, often for years. I've also hung on to all of the ideas, all of the ways of doing things, all of the criticisms and "ways I should improve myself", impressed upon me by other people over the years. All the ways I "should" live. All the views I "should" have. All the ways I should be more like everyone else says I should be, and deny who I am. I have hung onto all this stuff. And it's suffocating me, and it's time to get out from under it.

So, Simplifying:
  • I'm simplifying my things. I don't need fancy stuff. I don't need that necklace I haven't worn in two years because part of it broke off and I keep saying I'll somehow figure out how to put it back together, or that purse with three zippers missing that I'm so sure I'll somehow find a use for anyway. I don't need those jeans from five years ago that I haven't been able to fit in for the last two. I don't need that book that was required reading for a CEC course five years ago that I  haven't looked at since. I do not need them Sam I Am. So, I'm simplifying my things. Ill donate what I can.
  •  Simplifying my routines and habits. This involves things like making a budget and sticking to it. Meal planning and prepping and sticking to it (also helps budget, so bonus). Making plans and sticking to them as best as possible (i.e. no constant last minute decisions/changes/etc). I need to try to eat around the same time, go to bed and wake up around the same time. My therapist has consistently told me my life needs routines and plans I can rely on, and that the lack of this is detrimental to my mental health.  The more I can rely on in my outer world, the easier it is to handle when my inner world changes unexpectedly, which is often.
  • Simplifying my space. I've read time and again that your physical outer space is a representation of your inner mental space. This makes sense. When your thoughts and emotions and brain feel all jumbled, it can be tough to keep a nice orderly home/desk/office/closet/etc. Similarly, when your house looks like a mad scientist is using it as their lab, it can be really tough to organize your thoughts, and it often feels like the walls, or your things, are closing in on you, and that's anxiety inducing. 


Letting Go:
  • I need to let go of pieces of my life I've held on to for too long. Whether it's organizations that I was involved in that no longer serve me, or friendships that now feel totally one-sided, or anything else that used to maybe be a big piece of my life that no longer is (like the fact that I had to sell my storefront building four or so years ago). This doesn't mean big friend breakups or loudly denouncing organizations for which I previously gave so much, or anything like that. But I can't spend my life chasing ghosts.
  • I need work on letting go of all of the stories I've told myself about how I'm not worthy, I'm not enough, I'm a failure. Depression and anxiety are assholes that lie to me daily, so I know that sometimes, I'm going to feel this way and there's not a ton to do about it but whether the storm. But not letting it be my defining story any longer is key.
  • I need to let go of all the untrue stories I've been told by other people. Those stories that tell me I'm wrong, I'm inferior, I'm lazy, I'm selfish, my ways are wrong, my views are wrong, I'm not capable, that my illness is attention-seeking. To those stories that others have told me that degrade me, berate me, make me feel bad about myself, that aim to make me feel ashamed or guilty for who I am or how I'm made, that tell me I'll be good enough if only I'd change like this or that. Every one of those stories needs to go, because these do nothing but reinforce the untrue stories I already tell myself, which only depletes my self worth and self confidence further, and that massively affects my mental health. This doesn't mean I can't learn and grow, because as humans, we're almost all continually doing so. I love learning new things and having new experiences. I'm an open person, and I love expanding my horizons. But negative words and name calling that offer no actual helpful insight, no solution, no new opportunities or experiences simply don't serve me. They serve one purpose and one purpose only - to put the other person down. And I'm good enough at doing that to myself.
  • I need to let go of everyone else's idea of success. I heard something on a podcast the other day that I've heard in numerous forms before, but the way it was put succinctly drives home the point: "The richest wo/man in the graveyard is still dead." Success doesn't have to mean having a 9-5 that makes x amount of money (hell, it doesn't mean having a 9-5 at all). It doesn't mean having x car in the driveway or y size house. It doesn't mean having fancy china or designer clothes. It doesn't mean having abc qualifications or xyz degrees or titles. The person running around like a chicken with their head cut off isn't any more successful simply because they're "too busy".  For too long, I've let other people's opinions of success make me feel unsuccessful. To long I've let them hold me back. It's fine for them if those are other people's measurements of their own success. But they are not mine. 




  • Letting go of grudges and wrongs.  One of my favorite quotes of  all time comes from the Dalai Lama, "Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else. You're the one that gets burned."  Note: Letting go of grudging and forgiveness doesn't mean the person's actions were acceptable. It doesn't always mean reconciliation. Nor does it mean they've apologized and asked for forgiveness. They never may, but waiting for that gives them control over you, and I refuse to allow that. Forgiveness is something you do for you, so that you can stop feeling burned and move forward. You stop holding that hot coal that hurts you more than anyone else. That's what I'm aiming to do.
  • Letting go of how things should be. I'm going to write more on this later, but I, like many people, tend to have strong ideals of how things should be. I have visions/ideals in my head how things are going to go, and I get super disappointed when things don't turn out like those visions. I'm working on tempering that. Note: this does NOT mean that I just do whatever everyone else wants and abandon my own hopes/goals/dreams/ways of life. But it does mean I'm open to new experiences that don't require me to give up me totally but maybe bring in new opportunities as well.

Spreading Hope 
  • If you're unfamiliar, I founded the Spread Hope Project. My goal in 2019 is to bring the theme of hope into even the tiniest pieces of my life. Hope doesn't mean kittens with rainbows coming out of their butts - or at least it doesn't have to. Hope means that despite everything we have to go through daily, we still see that all is not lost. We see that there is a way out, a way forward, a way through, even if we don't see exactly what that way is. We see that there's the chance of things getting better. I recently talked to someone very wise (who happens to be related to me) who said that when you have a word that means so much to you, like hope does to me, it informs everything you do - from the way you run your business/org, to the way you cook, dress, communicate. This has honestly opened my eyes so much. I love personal challenges, and this challenge to basically bring hope into every aspect of my life is one that I am wholeheartedly embracing. It's given me a lot of clarity.
  • You can learn more about Spread Hope Project on the website (linked above), Instagram, or Facebook.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My Experience of Attempting To Not Complain

As part of my yoga teacher training, we had an assignment to practice Ahimsa. If you're unfamiliar with ahimsa, more or less, it's non-harming or non-violence. Now if you know anything about me, the vegetarian who literally can't harm a fly, balls my eyes out at SPCA commercials (damn you Sarah McLaughlin and your perfectly depressing songs), and who apologizes to inanimate objects for bumping into them, you're probably thinking, "Yeah violence isn't really your strong suit, so I think you're good." But something I'm becoming increasingly aware of is this: harming comes in many forms, and it doesn't always hit you over the head - literally or figuratively.

For this Ahimsa practice, the general idea was that we had to pick an action, or more likely pattern of behavior, that could be harmful to others, and to work on addressing this. Partly because I'm quite excellent at finding fault with myself, and partly because I'm a human being and most of us are far from perfect, I actually had a good number of these to choose from. Ultimately, what I chose was to (attempt to) stop complaining to other people. (Notable exception: I didn't count my therapist ... maybe I should have, not really sure on that one. I feel like that's a fine line.)
 

The reason I chose this challenge? Complaining is one of those things that seems to sneak into our repertoire, often under the radar.  Unless we're actively going to lodge a complaint (calling a company about bad customer service, speaking to HR at work about an issue), we generally don't go around in our daily lives with the purpose of complaining. And because we don't go around intentionally complaining, because it slowly slips its way into our actions, we often don't realize we're doing it. But those around us do. And it can be super draining on them. If you've ever had a friend or family member who, every single time you ask how their day was, launches into a list of why it was so stressful or boring or frustrating, you probably know what I'm talking about. After a while, you don't see the point in even asking. We all have enough stressors going on in our life, in the world, and especially when it's the same thing day after day, we don't need the added negativity. And unfortunately, I realized I was becoming (or some might argue already being) that person. And I don't like that. Not at all. So this, I decided, would be my challenge.

Admittedly this doesn't seem like it should be all that tough. Just. don't. complain. Right? It isn't as easy as it sounds, and it's actually been  a pretty enlightening experience thus far (enlightening in the lay person sense, not in the yogic 'enlightenment' sense.) I actually have been learning quite a bit throughout this practice, and I thought some of it worth sharing.

1. I learned that I complain a lot. A lot more than I even thought I did. It's amazing, when you start to pay attention, when you start to be more present to your words and actions, what you discover about yourself.

2. When you are opting to pay more attention to complaining, it means you're paying more attention to complaining... all of it. Including that of others.Which means that you may increasingly notice how much others complain, and that could have an impact on you.

3. My complaining isn't always intentional. This isn't an excuse, just an observation. It's so easy to get caught up in the, "This traffic sucks. It's so cold out. Work was so (insert adjective) today...". It's especially difficult when part of a group. (See point 4)

4. As a socially anxious introvert, I dislike small talk. But unfortunately, it tends to be a part of almost daily life. It's often tough for me to (not super awkwardly) join in conversations. So I realized sometimes, I was participating in complaining just to be part of the conversation. Because sadly, I've learned that when everyone is hell bent on complaining about something (the weather, traffic, whatever) and you smile and pipe in with a positive comment instead, you've somehow committed a greater social faux pas than if you'd walked into the room, farted loudly, and left.

5.  Not every negative statement is a complaint. There's a thin line, at times, between complaining, discussing, and confiding. This was a really tough one for me. I'm not good with gray areas or blurry lines, so I tend to categorize things in absolutes - right/wrong, good/bad, positive/negative.  I noticed when I actively started  trying not to complain, that I was basically putting a nice "I'm fine" gloss on everything. But this isn't ideal, because sometimes things aren't fine, and they need to be discussed. Whether it's because you're legitimately not feeling well and need to let someone know, or an issue that comes up between people, sometimes, difficult/not overly positive conversations need to be had. That's different than complaining. It serves a specific purpose.


I have found that when the above question is murky, journaling/writing down my thoughts helps. If writing about the issue "gets it out of my system", then it was probably just complaining - i.e. I needed to vent about something, I did so to my journal, and now I'm good. But if I notice that it's a consistent pattern, there may be more to it. And to clarify, by consistent pattern, I don't mean "Every day the traffic on 95 at rush hour is terrible" kind of a pattern. I mean that if you notice that you're repeatedly writing that a specific friend is saying things that hurt you, or day after day you're feeling depressed or anxious about a specific situation, then it's probably something that needs to be addressed or discussed.

I have also found that turning the complaint inward - i.e. running it over and over in your head just so you don't have to say it out loud to someone and "be complaining" - doesn't help. It might help the other person in the short term, but eventually, it's going to build up for you. It'll weigh heavily on you, and in the long run, it'll probably affect them too (because none of us live in a bubble, and peole can often tell when something's wrong even if we aren't saying it). So by all means, write it down, discuss it with your therapist (as applicable), do what you have to do to vent it out. But then, if it's not something that really warrants further addressing, let it go. Because I do get that sometimes, complaining feels good. But in all honesty, I've found that letting shit go feels a lot better. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

If You Need Some Gentle Reminders on Your Own Self Worth

I haven't written in a while. In truth, I've been both super busy, and also struggling. Today, I'm especially struggling. And in case you are too, I wanted to send along a few reminders. I know these things are easy to forget, or convince yourself of, in tough times. So if you need them today like I do, I hope they offer some solace.

1. You are not your thoughts. Depression and anxiety can be a$$holes, and they like to lie to us a lot. "You're not good enough. Your lazy. Your selfish. You're a failure. You'll get rejected. You're stupid...." and the list goes on and on. But just like a bully that's trying to lie to make you doubt yourself, just because someone (including your own brain) says it, doesn't mean it's true. I know not believing these lies are easier said than done.

2. To build on this, don't ever let anyone tell you you're not enough. Including yourself. You are enough. Period. Remember that "enough" is subjective. It's an opinion. And by definition, that means it can't be a fact.

3. A bad hour doesn't make a bad day. A bad day doesn't make a bad week. A bad week doesn't make a bad month. I once told my therapist that a day was ruined because of something (not overly consequential) that took up less than an hour. She reminded me I still had 23 more hours to make it a good day. And if you can't, you can get up again and try again tomorrow.

4. On that note, sometimes the biggest accomplishment you may have in a day is getting through it.  If this seems like a small achievement, remember that you've done battle with one of the biggest, most cunning, most ruthless opponents in existence, and you've come out on the other side. That's huge.

5. Being vulnerable is not a weakness. Opening about the way you feel takes so much strength and courage. Even if the only person you're opening up to is yourself.

6.  It is not your job to change other people's opinions of you. Because you cannot control other people's thoughts, even when you want to. Hell, half the time it feels tough enough to control my own (high five, anxiety). Do the best you can. Be the best version of you that you can be.

7. Remember that different isn't better or worse, it's different. Just because you may not see or feel or experience things the way others do doesn't mean you're views or ways or feelings or thoughts are wrong. They're different. Again, opinions are not facts. Even when others, or your own brain, try to convince you that they are.

8. If you're looking at others feeling like they have their shit together and you're floundering, remember that someone is looking at you feeling that exact same way in the reverse.

9. When you feel alone in your depression or anxiety, remember that 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health condition. It may often feel it, but you are far from alone. 



Thursday, October 18, 2018

Some Halloween Reminders

I love Halloween. More specifically, I love costumes and any excuse to dress up. I love seeing how creative people can get with costumes. Kids dressed up in their cute costumes are adorable. Dogs dressed up in costumes are possibly more adorable. But there are some things about Halloween that can be incredibly difficult for those with chronic and mental illness, as well as those who have experienced trauma in the past. It's super important to be mindful of this. I'm not trying to crush everyone's good time, but we have to consider that not everyone is up for the same celebrations as us. Here are a few thoughts.

Scary Attractions:
  • Many, many Halloween attractions involve people jumping out and scaring participants. This may even include touching/grabbing participants, or getting super close to them. This could be a massive trigger for a  someone who has suffered an assault or an attack. And while I can't personally speak to someone having been in combat, I'd imagine that people jumping out and grabbing them/surprising them could also have negative effects. 
  • Loud noises can be triggering. Those with PTSD, those with anxiety, those with sensory issues can be especially affected.
  •  Crowds/groups in tight quarters. I can tell you as an anxious person with claustrophobia and heightened sensory perception, dark spaces packed with people (especially dark spaces packed with people where things are going to jump out and try to make me shit my pants scare me) are NOT places I want to be. 
  • Not everyone loves surprises. Again, for those of us with anxiety and numerous other conditions, these can be traumatic. It doesn't have to be a tourist attraction. Don't hide in a dark corner dressed up like Freddy Kruger and jump out at me at home either. This isn't limited to "jumping out" surprises. I often post around April Fool's Day, explaining that those of us with anxiety can really be affected by "negative" surprises. If the idea is to frighten, scare, alarm someone, and their brain does this naturally without any outside input, it's probably best not to do it. 

To clarify, I'm not saying that these things shouldn't exist. I'm not saying you shouldn't go to "haunted" house/attractions (exception: keep reading). I'm not even saying not to invite us - after all, everyone's different, and just because someone has anxiety, it doesn't mean it'll be a trigger for them. But it could, so be mindful. Don't force someone to go or make them feel bad for not going. Remember, they don't owe the world, or anyone, an explanation. If someone says "I'd rather not go, that's not really my thing", that needs to be enough. Bugging them until they reveal that it will trigger a past trauma, and only then letting up on them going, isn't OK.


Parties/food/drink: 
While we're at it, a few other reminders of things that aren't your/anyone else's business:
  •  Why someone isn't drinking at a party/gathering/etc
  • Why someone isn't eating all the candy (or anything else)
There are many reasons why people don't drink or eat certain things. It could be illness, an allergy, or it could be a whole host of other things including..... maybe they just don't feel like it! Please don't judge someone based on their lack of alcohol consumption or their dietary habits. Peer pressure wasn't cool in middle school and it's not cool now either.


Costumes:
I really feel this can be summed up in three words: have some tact. Mental illnesses, chronic illnesses, and disabilities are real, every day struggles that people go through. Not costumes. And yes, I've seen costumes for all of the above being sold online. It's disgusting to me. And yes, I get that any costume could probably offend anyone, but putting on my mom's old bell bottoms and a headband and going as a hippie isn't quite the same as dressing up as someone with a serious, even potentially fatal, illness.


Asylum Attractions: 
I can't speak for the community at large here, but I can speak for myself and my opinion on this topic is very strong. Do me a favor - before you go to one of the "asylum" attractions, read up on the history of "insane asylums". Read about how people were treated - by which I mean often abused, tortured, and in some cases even killed or left for dead. Read about how people were experimented on without their consent or at times without their knowledge. If you're cool with all of that, then sure, go ahead and give these attractions your money. Also know when you do this, every time you support something that makes a caricature out of mental illness, you're actively supporting stigma.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Mental Illnesses Are Not Adjectives (And What To Say Instead)

Whether you have a mental illness or not, you've almost certainly heard one of the following (or something similar):

"She can't make up her mind. It's like she's Bipolar".

"I'm so ADD today".

"I'm a little OCD about xyz (insert task/organizational strategy here)".

If you do have a mental illness, hearing someone throwing around your illness, that you struggle with daily, as a colloquialism, and then them laughing about it, can be frustrating to say the least. Not to mention, these are the types of actions that continue to spread stigma about mental illness. The thing is, if we inserted physical illnesses in here, people would probably be pretty taken aback. For instance:

"She can't do xyz, it's like she's asthmatic!"

"I'm so cancerous today". 

"I'm a little diabetic about xyz"

The thing is, it's not cool. And people seem to know not to do this, because they get that making a joke out of cancer is pretty inconsiderate - especially around anyone with cancer (but really, just in general).

Unfortunately, using mental illness as a phrase that can be tossed around to (inaccurately) describe someone's behavior has become so common that I don't honestly think (some) people realize they what they're doing. They don't think about the fact that they may be sitting next to someone  whose ADD is really causing them trouble today, or speaking to someone that does have bipolar disorder. They don't realize they're furthering the stigma by doing so. So I thought it might be helpful to offer some alternatives, the next time you catch someone saying something along these lines.


What people say:  "I'm so depressed because I have nothing to wear to my friend's wedding this weekend" (specific example, but the point is, people say "I'm so depressed" when they really mean "this is a bummer/this is kind of an annoyance")
 
Alternative: "I'm frustrated (bummed/annoyed also works depending on context), I have nothing to wear to my friend's wedding this weekend."

Why:  Depression is a serious illness, not a minor inconvenience. It can often make people feel hopeless, worthless, empty, and even question the point of their lives. Comparing this to not having the perfect outfit (or some other day to day issue that's not actually related to one's serious health) minimizes what we go through, and it gives heed to the myth that it's not a serious illness. (i.e. furthers stigma). Using the word "depressed" when you really mean a more minor feeling, like bummed or annoyed, furthers the idea that really, someone with depression could just look at the positive side of things (insert annoying and inaccurate cliche here) and be all better. Because surely, if all it takes is having the right outfit, depression couldn't be that serious, right?

*Note: As someone who's struggled with body image issues and disordered eating alongside depression, there could be situations, if someone struggled with these, that this type of statement is legitimate.  Maybe trying to find something nice for a wedding triggers their body images issues and eating struggles, which can in turn affect their depression.  But if that's the case, it's probably not said as an off-handed comment while discussing outfits.


What people say: "She can't make up her mind, it's like she's bipolar".

Alternative: "She can't make up her mind", "She keeps changing her mind". Just end the statement there. It's just that. It's not like anything.

Why:  There are so many reasons I really can't list them all. But I'll try.
  • Bipolar has nothing to do with not being able to make up ones mind. Depression and mania aren't decisions. They're parts of a mood cycle, not intentional changes in action, thought, or words.
  • Nobody changes their mind (or anything else) mid-sentence because they're bipolar and have suddenly cycled. It doesn't work like that, even for the most rapid cycling mood disorders. 
  • People with bipolar disorder struggle with symptoms that can be debilitating, and life-altering at times. Simplifying it to not being able to make up their mind completely dismisses how serious and difficult this illness can be.

  • Nobody "is bipolar". They have bipolar disorder. This could be said of any mental illness - or any illness in general. It's not a personality trait, it's an illness.


 What people say: I'm so ADD today.

Alternative: I'm having difficulty focusing/concentrating today. I'm easily distracted today. (These are the ways in which it's most commonly said).

Why: The symptoms and challenges of ADD involve more than being easily distracted. Sure, to the general population, being distracted often may be slightly annoying, but ADD involves a multitude of symptoms that can often make school and work tasks particularly challenging. There are a lot of things that can add to our inability to focus these days - like having 100 different pop up notifications for 10 different social media apps on three different devices coming at you all the time. That's a product of our society in the 21st century, not having a medical condition. It's minimizing what someone with ADD goes through to interchange the two.



What people say: I'm a little OCD about xyz.

Alternative: I'm a little particular about xyz (this is what people usually mean).

Why: OCD can be debilitating. There are people who struggle with OCD who have difficulty even leaving the house, or who have to take hours extra in order to do so.  It can also be a disorder that causes social isolation, both because of how the person feels in social situations, and because of how others react to their disorder.  When people use this as a throw away phrase, they generally mean they're super particular about something. They also may mean that they're extra-organized. But I honestly can't think of a time that being extra-organized caused someone to feel unable to leave their house, or to feel socially isolated. (Note: info given here comes from those I know who do have OCD and have explained it this way). 


What people say:   "My ex-girlfriend was a schizo!"
Alternative: There's not one really. Just stop bashing your ex because it didn't work out.  Also, name calling should be left on the playground. Honestly, it doesn't even belong there.  
Why:  Schizophrenia might be one of the most misunderstood illnesses in terms of mental health. When used in a derogatory way (above), it is used often as a catch-all to describe behaviors that people just don't get, or to describe people they don't like.  I've never actually heard someone use this in describing a behavior even remotely related to actual symptoms of schizophrenia.  I suspect if you ask the general population what someone with schizophrenia experiences, they'd have very little (accurate) idea. And yet they throw it around as an insult. More than any other, this tends to be used as a general bash at someone (much like the word crazy). Which is just mean, whether you're using the name of an illness or not. Let's stop nastily bashing people shall we? Just in general. But also, by using people's serious illnesses as insults.

If you really aren't sure what to say, just stick to this rule: when in doubt, avoid using any medical term/illness to describe someone's behavior.

Finally, a PSA as we close in on Halloween: I cannot believe I have to say this, but mental illnesses, illnesses in general, and disabilities, are NOT Halloween costumes. I'm all for dressing up, but think it through, please, before you decide what to wear.