Friday, August 19, 2016

Why I Stopped Giving a Sh*t About What People Think

I want to clarify the title here. It's not that I don't give a shit what anybody thinks. I care very much what my loved ones and my close circle of friends think. Those people who I value, who I know value me - all of me. I also value my job and respect my boss and coworkers and therefore, I care that they feel I'm doing a good job, that I'm a good employee/coworker/etc. It's that I don't give a shit what everyone thinks. There's a distinct difference.

I used to. I have had continually low self-esteem and low self confidence from the age of about 13 on.  Depression makes me feel even worse about myself. Like I'm nothing, worthless, hopeless, a failure and always will be. Anxiety tells me that even those people I'm closest to don't really like me and are just putting up with me and being nice.  I border on being an HSP (highly sensitive person) and an empath, so I feel everything, including what others feel about me. In addition to my actual internal feelings, there's the mental health stigma. There are people who think I could be better if I tried harder, looked on the bright side. There are people who don't understand that my illness is a physical illness. There are people who think those with mental health conditions are crazy, violent, should be locked up. We and are illnesses are easy scapegoats when something goes wrong.  When something tragic happens in society, nobody says "Well, you know Bob over there has a heart condition, we'd better heavily investigate him." But if he had a mental health disorder,  you can bet your life savings that they would.   I've been categorized in numerous types of situations as a "trouble maker", denied things I worked hard for and deserved, for being open and honest, for not "fitting the mold", for being different than everyone else.  I've had so many people try to drag me down, blame me, make me feel awful about myself over the years.

I say all this not for any type of pity, from myself or my reader. What I'm trying to say is this: If I cared what everyone thought about me, my illness, what I said, my actions, I'd never come out of my bedroom. I'd lie in bed in despair, my depression, anxiety, low confidence and self esteem, every time I've been stigmatized or made to feel bad about myself, all feeding on each other until I truly don't feel I deserve even life, let alone happiness, success, or anything else. I have been in that place, caring what everyone else said, physically feeling what they feel about me, and letting it pull me into a deep black hole that was barely possible to climb out of.  It is not a good place to be at all.

So I stopped giving a sh*t about what the collective everyone said.  I focus on those who I love, those closest to me, and quite frankly those who keep clothes on my back and food in my kitchen.  And even within those people, I've learned to no longer blindly care what they think. I have found my voice, some strength, some confidence and self-esteem. Not as much as I'd like to, but enough to fight for myself. Enough to not simply say "I care about what they say at all costs, and I'll do whatever it takes to make them happy." I've learned to fight for me, who I am at the core, for my morals and values and beliefs. For my illness, and all that it encompasses. I've learned to keep my head up proudly as I defend myself.

I've also learned through this process that I do not want those in my life who want me to massively change. I'm happy to work on my faults - the faults that I see as my faults, not those that others pin on me because it takes blame and responsibility off of them, or simply because it happens to not be their preference - but I will not change me at the core. Nor do I want people around me who want me to. Because what those people are ultimately telling me is, "we almost like/love you just as you are, but not quite. We'd fully like/love you if you fit into this mold that we've created for you." And I refuse to do that any more. I tried for years. It landed me once in the hospital and many times almost back in the hospital. Not because I was truly sick enough of my own accord to go. Because trying so hard to be who people wanted, caring so much what they thought about me, caused me to lose myself. And that, losing myself, not recognizing who I was when I woke up, looked in the mirror, went about my day, and the confusion that it brought, the feeling of complete loss of identity, made me sick enough to be hospitalized. And I will not go through that again just to please someone else.

And perhaps people think me selfish, or harsh, or uncaring for this. But it helps me stay as mentally healthy as possible. And while I actually barely have a selfish bone in my body (that's always been one of my downfalls, giving of myself for others to the extreme), I cannot give away my mental health to make other people happy any longer. It is, for the first time in possibly my life, a decision I feel 100 percent confident is the right one, and I am proud to live by it. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

In the Year Since I Lost My Old Dog

A year ago today, I lost my best friend, my beloved dog Cinn, who'd I'd had since she was 12 weeks old. Cinn and I had grown up together, her literally, and me through life experiences. We went through my divorce together, my engagement and un-engagement, for two years we lived as part of a family of 5 (two adults, one pre-schooler and our other dog) with a yard and everything. We went through my starting my own business, my being diagnosed with cyclothymia. We moved to Philly and then back to NJ. And then, she fell ill for several months. And just as she seemed to be rallying, she was gone, physically at least, because I know she's still with me.

In the year since, my life has changed drastically. I bought a condo in Philly. I have a new dog, Gracie, who's adorable and smart and intelligent, and 100 percent her own dog. I would never expect her, or anyone, to replace Cinn. She's a completely different dog, and I like it that way. I have been in a serious relationship for the past eight plus months. In some ways, my life with Cinn seems lifetimes ago. In others, it hurts like a fresh wound. I won't lie, I cried all morning, played "our" song on the way to work. Yes, my dog and I had a song. It's "Leaving on a Jet Plane", which I used to sing to her before I traveled each time. It makes me ball like a baby every time. I'm not going to pretend to be strong and say "Well everything happens for a reason, I have a great life now." No, losing Cinn sucked. It will always suck, even though I know she couldn't live forever. August 18th will forever be tough. And that's ok. It's ok because she was wonderful and deserves to have her own special day (days, her birthday is Nov 18th) of memorium.

Cinn taught me so much about life. She taught me that you don't need a lot to have a good one. All she needed was love from me, food, water, and an occasional walk. She taught me what it's like to have someone (dogs count as a "someone", right) offer you unconditional, undivided love. I doubt I will ever experience that again. Gracie loves me, but she's a daddy's girl. She smiles and wags her tail when she sees me. She jumps around like she's just won the lottery of dog treats when she seems him, even if he's been gone for 10 minutes. Which is great - I'm just glad she feels doubly loved, because she's a wonderful dog. Cinn taught me that you often don't have as much time as you want or need together, and that you never know when you'll lose the opportunity for that time completely.

As humans, we so often divide our love an attention between a multitude of things. Our spouses/significant others and our kids of course, but also our work, our hobbies, our friends, the rest of our family (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc), our tasks and chores. How often have you spent a Monday through Friday buried by work and tasks, only to spend the weekend cleaning, running errands, and racing around? How often have you divided your attentions, your love, your efforts so thin, not realizing that the things that matter most, the people that matter most, are not getting the time and attention and effort that they deserve? How often do you assume you'll talk to or see someone later or another time, taking for granted that they'll be there?

I think this last point is the most critical. Now don't get me wrong - I know we need to work to pay bills, support our families, have fun experiences together, etc. I'm not saying we should all quit our jobs and devote ourselves 24/7 to our loved ones. Nor would I want a human that was 100 percent always focused on me and with me every minute. There are words for that kind of thing, like obsession and stalking. But I think we take people and our situations for granted. How often do we really go through our day thinking "What if this person isn't here tomorrow? What if something happens to them? What if they leave me?" (situation dependent, based on the relationship of course).

Perhaps having a chronic illness gives me a different perspective. I, along with others who struggle with chronic illness, have a lot of days with zero to few spoons. In other words, they're shitty days where we are in the worst of our illness and unable to live life as we want because we are incapacitated by our illness. So in those days where we have more spoons, when can enjoy life a bit normally, we don't want to waste them. We want to focus on our top priorities, the people we love, the things pieces of life most dear to us. We don't want to take them for granted because we know, unequivocally, that those days will not last. We know that we don't know when we'll feel this way again, and that it can change quickly, often without much warning.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. About what we would do if pieces of our life were really on the line, if we really had to actively work on creating our life and our future as we wanted it. Because after all, we do. I've been working on organizing my life and focusing on my future - what and where I want to be, and when. In doing so, I've learned how important it is to focus on your priorities, and do the best you can with your health. And most importantly never, ever, take life or anyone in it for granted.


Cinn and I, circa 2009.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What To Do If A Friend Posts Suicidal Thoughts

We've all seen it. Those of us who battle a mental health condition on a daily basis cringe at it.  The post or tweet or whatever it is these days that goes something like this: "Oh my god, so and so showed up to this party and was wearing the same dress. It was SO embarrassing.  I just wanted to die." Personally, I want to smack this person. Not because of the old stigmatization "people with mental illness are violent", because we aren't, but because this poster, probably without even thinking, trivializes what it feels like to truly want to die. Usually, we get annoyed or scroll past or in some way don't give it much merit because my guess is that this person does not genuinely want to die.  But there are people who do want their lives to end. Not over a slightly embarrassing moment at a party but because they suffer from depression or a mood cycling disorder or numerous other mental health conditions. They actually feel that they, or those in their life, would be better off if they were no longer alive. So what do you do if a friend posts something that indicates severe depression or thoughts of suicide? Of course, everyone is different, and what helps one person may not be best for another. But here are some general guidelines:
  • First and foremost, and I can't stress this enough, take it seriously and reach out. I often find a direct, personal reach out is best  - PM, direct reply, text, call.  A "like" or "favorite" doesn't count (even the new sad emoji on Facebook).  All it shows is that you saw it, but didn't care enough to actually contact them. That's honestly worse than no reply/interaction at all. 
  • Don't just take their word for it once and figure you've done your duty. If someone truly is suicidal, truly wants to die, they may well not tell you. Because if they do, you'll (presumably, I hope) try to stop them in some way. And in that moment, they may not want you to. 
  • That does not mean you shouldn't help them. You should always help them. Their life matters more than they realize in that moment, so you need to realize it for them. This doesn't mean push them. It means don't give up on them as a lost cause. 
  • Never, ever assume "they're just saying that" or "they'll get over it" or "it'll pass". You know the saying about assuming. But in this case, assuming could be even worse - it could cost someone their life. 
  • Do not figure someone else will handle it. I don't care if you met them yesterday. I don't care if they're a twitter follower who you've never met and never interacted with. If you were having a heart attack, would you want everyone to assume someone else would help you or would call 911? Depression can be just as deadly as a heart attack. 
  • When you reach out, do not, under any circumstances, bully them or make them feel bad about how they feel. This is a no-brainer, right? Your friend is contemplating ending their life. Don't make them feel worse about themselves. You'd be surprised. Don't get me wrong, I think people do it with the best of intentions - saying or doing anything that they think will make their friend reconsider. But often, it has the reverse effect, or no effect at all. Some examples: 
    • Do not use religion against them. Telling them that they'll go to hell does nothing but hurt them. If by any chance it stops them, they feel horrible about themselves; if it doesn't, now they have lost their lives feeling like they're soul won't be saved. Or they may not be religious, or hold your same religious beliefs, so the only effect it may have is them distancing themselves from you. 
    • Do not make them feel bad for YOU. This includes things like how lonely you'll be if they leave you, or how upset you are to see them like this.  Let's get one thing straight. This is NOT about you. It is all about THEM. Yes, it will be awful for you. Yes, you may never be the same again. But they will never BE again. Period. They are so depressed that they do not want to live. It is them and only them that need to be focused on, not you. Don't make them feel like they're failing you because of their illness, like even in death they will fail you. 
    • Don't threaten them. It's possible they may need to go to the hospital, or to get an emergency appointment with their therapist (if they have one). But don't use it as a threat. They're not a bunch of rowdy teenagers throwing a loud party who may quiet down if you say you're going to call the police. They are a severely depressed person whose life is at risk. Threatening them will push them further away, and they won't trust you. 
  • Do not tell them you know how they feel unless you do. If you have never been horrendously depressed, or had such severe anxiety you feel you cannot function, or cycled between depression and mania to the point of feeling defeat, or gone through one of the numerous other mental health struggles with such intensity that you feel you and your loved ones would be better off if you were dead, you do not know how they feel. So don't pretend you do. This only minimizes what they're going through. Tell them instead the truth - that you cannot imagine what it's like for them, but that you are there for whatever they need. And mean it. Back it up with actions. 
  • Follow up. Not for a day or two. Continue to. One post that says they're feeling better doesn't mean they're 'fine'. It means in that moment, maybe only in that moment, they aren't quite as despaired. And it may mean the opposite. Survivors of suicide often say their loved one seemed to be improving just before the suicide. They may have appeared better, but in no way were.
  • Never, ever, think that someone is sharing their depression, their illness, their thoughts of suicide for attention. They are not. It is true, they may be asking for help. But they are not asking for attention. There is a world of difference. To use the heart attack analogy again, because I feel that people seem to understand these concepts better with "physical" illnesses, if your friend, or anyone, posted that they were having severe chest pains and having trouble breathing, would you think they were just looking for attention? It is the same with mental health. 
As I mentioned in the beginning, everyone is different. No two people are going to need exactly the same thing. What's most important is that you take your friend's mental health seriously. Understand that you may never understand exactly what it's like, and that it's ok to admit that. Be there for them, as often and as long as they need. The recovery from severe depression or a suicide attempt is a long road with many ups and downs along the way. Those who suffer, who have have experienced suicidal thoughts, who have attempted, are always at risk because there is no cure for depression or mood cycling. Be prepared to support them and be there for them in the long haul. Never give up on them. It's when they are giving up on themselves that they need you most. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I'm Not Just Sad All The Time

When people find out I suffer from a mood cycling disorder, they're often surprised. Maybe not at the cycling part so much - I'm a very emotional and passionate person by nature, and people frequently experience my "ups and downs", but more so on the fact that I suffer from depression as part of this. I think people tend to think of me as just overall emotional, and that I'm often down based on a certain situation or circumstance, but I'll bounce back up quickly enough. This is image is aided by the fact that, unlike many mood cyclers, I have significantly more hypomanic episodes than depressive ones, and when depressed, I often feed into my introverted tendencies and make myself scarce.

By the nature of mood cycling, I'm not always exhibiting signs of depression - because I'm not always battling it at the moment. But even in depressive cycles, I'm not always exhibiting what those without mental health conditions would think of as depression. Depression is so many things, and I think the best way to explain it is to answer some of the most common questions I get about it.

So your depression comes and goes?
Well, yes and no. It comes and goes because I cycle. But even in a depressive cycle, it's sometimes more evident - to me and those around me - than others. Not all depressive cycles are alike.

So you're not just always sad? 
No, I'm always depressed when I'm in a depressive cycle, but I'm not always just sad.

What's the difference? 
Sometimes I actually feel sad, or I guess that's what you would call it. I cry a lot, I feel really, really, really down. It's an incredibly deep level of sad. But there are so many other feelings that accompany depression: hopelessness, worthlessness, lack of ability to focus or concentrate, mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, and the worst, nothingness.

Nothingness? 
Yes, the inability to actually feel anything. Like your emotions have been siphoned out of you,and you'll never feel anything ever again. You would even prefer to feel sad or hurt or angry or frustrated, anything, than nothingness. It feels subhuman.

So when you're sad, then you're just sad, right? 
Not really. It's like a sadness. But a sadness that doesn't need an additional cause. If you think about it in terms of other illnesses, it's easier to explain. When someone has asthma, it can be triggered by certain things (allergies, air quality, increased physical activity, etc), but sometimes the reason they have trouble breathing is simply because they have asthma. There's no other trigger. Depression is like that. Sometimes, a trigger can throw me into depression.  But often, I'm just depressed because I have depression as part of my cyclothymia.

So are you ever feeling normal? 
(After recovering from laughing at the thought that anyone could think I'd be normal even without illness). I hate the word normal. Nobody's normal. I sometimes don't feel ill. I sometimes am not depressed, or hypomanic, or anxious, or experiencing any other symptom or stages of my condition. But it's always there. Always. It's like walking around with someone holding a bucket of water over your head that could get dumped on you without much warning, at any time. So I do have times where I guess you'd say I feel "normal", but I always know a cycle is not too far off, and it's hard to feel "normal" with that knowledge, though I try the best I can. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On the Twelve Year Anniversary Of My Former Marraige

This time of year is always a little funny for me. Had I stayed married, Sunday would have been my 12 year wedding anniversary. When I think of that the first thing I think of is.... well the first thing I think of is, "Twelve years? Crap I'm old".  But after that initial shock, that somehow gets me every year despite the fact that it's just one year more than it was 12 months ago, the first thing I think of is how much my life, and I, have changed since I walked down the aisle that day.

I rarely think about my marriage. I know that sounds strange to say. How can you rarely think about what you thought was going to be the rest of your life, and the person who you thought you'd spend it with? The truth is, though, I don't. I don't have unresolved issues. I don't wonder what if.  I hold no delusions that it could have happily gone any other way, nor any grudges. My ex-husband wasn't - and presumably still isn't, though I haven't spoken to him in years - a bad man. He just wasn't the man for me, and I wasn't the woman for him. We had some good times. We had rough times. But overwhelmingly, the cause of my divorce wasn't those rough times. It was the whole bunch of average in between. My life with my ex husband was, for the most part, OK.  Not as in "everything's OK", but as in "the most emotional word I can think of to describe our marriage is simply 'OK'".  He loved me, in his very non-outwardly emotional way.  I cared about him as a human being. I have to assume that at one point I truly loved him, but I have only vague memories of that. Or more precisely, I don't ever remember being deeply in love with him. I'd like to think that I was, but when I think back on those years I can't much recall it. I can't separate my feelings for him, all those years ago, from the excitement that a 24 year old has about getting engaged, getting married, buying a house, the possibilities of a full life ahead as a couple and so on.  In the end, we both deserved more. He deserved someone who deeply loved him, who would continue to deeply love him over the years, for exactly who he was. I deserved someone with the same passion for..... anything, really.... as I have for life and love. We both deserved for the rest of our lives to be more than OK. I hope that, in some weird way, I did him justice in wanting the divorce, in wanting us to both have more. I hope that I gave that to him. 

Serendipitously, Sunday was also the seven month "anniversary" of when my current partner and I started dating. I could have used the word "ironically", but I don't believe that is the case.  I truly believe it's serendipitous. July 10th has always been a weird day for me. That date, and my dog Cinn, who my ex husband and I had gotten as a puppy, the dog that had always been mine even when we were married, were the only links left to my married life. This past August, almost a year ago now, Cinny passed away (talk about rough dates, August 18 is going to REALLY suck). That left July 10th as the only remaining link. There was nothing else on that date. No birthdays, no holidays, not even other people's anniversaries. There were some events that were close to that day, but nothing specifically on it.  July 10th was always that: the day that used to be my anniversary.  But now, I have this anniversary with the love of my life, my best friend, my partner.  And surely, while years from now, I won't still be celebrating the "xyz year and 7 month mark" (the way people say "my kid is 26 months and you want to scream "they're two, dammit, just two!"), it now, in this moment, serves as a link to the present, and it reminds me how far I've come. It has taken the sole ownership of July 10th from "this used to be my wedding anniversary" and changed it to "look how far we've come since that first date."

Twelve years later, I've been through a lot, and I've learned a lot. About love, life, and mostly, myself. I've learned that at 24, I wasn't ready for marriage. I don't think I would have been ready for marriage to anybody then, but especially the one I was in. I hadn't experienced enough of life yet. I didn't understand it, or my place in it. I wasn't diagnosed with my condition yet. I couldn't understand what was going on inside of my own brain, let alone the rest of the world and my marriage. I've learned that at 24 (or 25, or 26, or 27), I wouldn't have been ready to be a mother. Equally, I've learned in the years since that I do absolutely want to be a mother, and that in fact, I'll make a good one someday. I've learned that you need balance in a relationship. A balance of emotion and logic. A balance of exciting and calm.  Whether you both have this balance, or you balance each other out in different scenarios, it's essential. I've learned that communication, patience, and love are the keys to a successful relationship. I've learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is to agree to disagree, as long as you do so from a place of love and respect for each other. I've learned that compromise is vital, but only when it doesn't cause you to compromise your morals, values, or self at the core. I've learned how my condition affects me, and those close to me. I've learned how to work with it, as best as I can, and how to to help others understand it as much as possible.  I've learned that life is short, and you'd best be thinking about that when you make your choices, because you never know when you'll not have a chance to make them again.

I have learned that I am now ready. I still struggle with my condition. I always will. Just as if I had asthma or diabetes or a heart condition. There are some days my struggle overtakes me, as it would with those. But I've learned to separate that struggle from the rest of my world and from who I am as a person. I've learned to be better at determining when it's my condition, and when it's my circumstances causing the struggle. I've learned often, the two compound each other. I've learned that having a condition such as mine doesn't mean you can't be a good partner, spouse, parent. I've learned that I may pass on my condition. I've learned that I'm prepared for that, finally, when for years I wasn't.   For years I wasn't fully prepared for all of it, and I never quite understood why. For years, I was my own worst critic. I'd defend others to the death (not literally, though I would have). And yet I wouldn't defend myself -  not to the person who was hardest on me, myself. When I finally spoke to myself the way I would speak to a loved one, it made a world of difference. I no longer told myself I wasn't capable, I wasn't able, I wasn't worth it, I would fail. And that single act has allowed me to be ready, finally at 36, for the life I though I was so ready for, but clearly wasn't, at 24, all those years ago. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Traveling With Anxiety

I plan travel for a living. I've been to six continents and over 40 countries. I also suffer from anxiety. Often. Which is to say, I do a lot of traveling with anxiety. It can be tricky, especially if, like me, you are also an introvert and traveling with or to a large group (i.e. to a conference or event).  At times, it can be downright overwhelming to the point of causing anxiety attacks. While nothing is "foolproof", here are some tips that I use when traveling to help keep the anxiety as low as possible.

  • Put on your Out of Office voicemail and email replies. Remind them that you aren't checking these while away, or if you are, give a time frame for which you'll reply (err on the long side to give yourself leeway).  Provide the contact information of someone who can immediately assist in your absence, if you think it warranted (and there is such a person). If you feel someone may truly have an emergent need that only you can address, give them an alternative way to contact you. This helps to reign in the anxiety over potentially missing important/urgent communications. 
  •  Bring all necessary meds, in their original prescription bottles, in your carry on. This is a no-brainer, but with all we have to pack for travels sometimes it's easy to forget, especially for meds we may not take as frequently (i.e. those we have on an as-needed basis). 
  • Schedule in time for breaks. This can be tricky, but it's essential. I often joke that I need a vacation from my vacation. I have the tendency to want to do and see everything, but I've learned in the long run, that will take its toll. Excitement can quickly turn into anxiety if it becomes overwhelming. 
  • Give yourself space, and take "you time".   During these breaks, make sure you have some time to do something for yourself. If you're also an introvert like myself, it's particularly important to give yourself space to recharge. If you can't manage physical space (i.e. you're sharing a room), take some mental space. Put on some headphones and listen to a meditation, or your favorite music, or a podcast, or whatever you'd like. Read a book or journal. Do something that lets you mentally "zone out" from your trip, and everyone else, for a bit. 
  • Get your sleep. Your schedule may be slightly different than at home, but try to at least get your usual amount of sleep. Lack of sleep can increase anxiety. 
  • Let someone else do it. No, not get anxious, though wouldn't that be great once in a while (for us, not them I suppose!). Let them do something to help your anxiety. Can they check you in for your flight? Schedule the rental car or day tour? Call about the hotel wifi that's not working properly? Then let them. Even if you're traveling on your own, enlist the help of the hotel concierge services, a private driver or guide, whatever it is, so that you don't have to be a one-person show. 
  • Plan at least some things out in advance. If you battle anxiety, flying by the seat of your pants probably won't help. There are people who can just show up to a destination, hoping they'll find a good place to sleep and store bags, assuming they'll figure out how to get between cities with no problem, etc. But lack of clear cut plans can also be anxiety producing. Waiting until the last possible moment and assuming all will work out perfectly generally doesn't happen. We constantly worry what if, what if... You don't need everything planned down to the minute - in fact, allowing yourself down time, as I mentioned, is ideal. But have the major things, like accommodations, flights, transportation, so that you know you can at least get there and stay there. 
  • Give yourself a day or so on either side. Don't plan meetings until the minute before you have to leave for the airport. Don't take an red-eye home and have to go immediately into the office. Plan for the "just in case" - just in case your meeting runs over; just in case your flight home is delayed. 
  • Give yourself plenty of time at the airport. In case you haven't watched the news in the past few weeks, airport lines are at an all-time high, and security checks are more intense. Gone are the days of showing up 45 minutes before your flight, running to the gates, and getting on the plane just in time. It looks great in Hollywood, but remember that Hollywood still shows loved ones meeting you at the gate with open arms, not waiting for an hour in the arrivals hall while you deplane, possibly go through customs, and retrieve your luggage. 
If you're traveling for business, this might be trickier. Other people are setting the meetings, and may even be booking your travel arrangements for you, which gives you less control over the timing. But if you're traveling for leisure, especially, it shouldn't feel like a struggle. Traveling with bad anxiety isn't easy, but it's possible. You just need to know yourself, your triggers, and plan in such a way that you avoid them as much as possible. And don't be afraid to tell others you need time or space. In the long run, if it makes you a happier traveling companion, it'll benefit everyone. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Some Days It Would Be Easier If I Wasn't A Fighter

There's a saying from ... somewhere that goes (paraphrasing), "Don't worry when I fight with you. It means I still care. Worry when I stop. It means there's nothing left to fight for." 

I'm a fighter. I'm a scrappy, Sicilian women who likes whiskey and football better than drinking cosmos and getting a mani/pedi (no offense if this is your thing). I've always been a fighter. I've had to be. I've had to stand up for myself, a lot. Against others, against stigma, against my depressive brain that tells me I'm no good and should just give up. There are days I have to fight against myself, so that I don't lose the battle permanently. I fight tooth and nail. I'm determined and persistent. Ironically, I don't actually like conflict, and generally I'm good natured, caring, easy to compromise and understand. And I am absolutely open to learning, to hearing other perspectives, to apologizing (I'm an over-apologizer), and to saying I'm wrong, if I feel it's warranted. There are certainly times when it is. Or at least where a compromise and truce, even if it's with my own brain, is the best solution. But when I believe in something firmly, I fight for it. And I fight for it. And I fight for it. I don't quit. Until I exhaust myself to the point of being physically, emotionally, and mentally unable to. I've drained myself to the point of acquiescence, at least temporarily. The way my dog does when she is barking and barking at you to play with her for an hour and suddenly picks up her toy and walks off to her bed and plops down. She gives in to the inevitable, as do I. 

Some days, it would be easier if I wasn't a fighter. Life would be simpler if I was a placater. If I was more emotionally and mentally flexible. It would be easier if I could just accept the reality that is instead of what could or, in my mind, should be. Life would be a lot more pleasant (for me and probably those close to me) if I learned to be content enough with everything as it was. Maybe I'd be less anxious if I could just say, "Eh that's life. Sh*t happens." If I would just accept how life is, how society is, how people are, I wouldn't be frustrated with those who refuse to stop stigmatizing me, those who can't accept me because I'm not like everyone else. I would stop being angry that everyone goes with the status quo because "that's how it is" instead of making waves to change things that they don't like. I'd stop fighting with myself, my brain, my illness. I'd stop fighting with other people when I feel horribly hurt at the things they do or say (or sometimes don't do or say). Life would be calmer, and lord knows that with this brain of mine I could use some more calm in my life. 

And sometimes, this is almost enough to make me say f*&# it and stop fighting. Almost. But I'm not a person that swims in gray areas. I don't do, "Oh it'll change eventually. It'll get better someday." I don't do "just wait it out". I don't do those because I don't believe that's how life has to be, and we're on this earth way too short a time, even if we live a long life, to let life and circumstances control us instead of the other way around. Maybe some people are content with an OK life. Or a "not so bad' one. But I'm not. Because I fight every day to be still living this life and I'll be damned if it's going to be simply OK when it could be otherwise. I'll be damned if I fight tooth and nail with my brain to stay afloat so that I can just complacently accept everything else that happens as "that's how it is".

Despite this, there's that little part of me that says, that has always said, "maybe what you think is rubbish and everyone else has it right. Just listen to them. Maybe they have your best interests in mind. Sure, it benefits them, but maybe it is also for you."  And I try. Even if it doesn't look like I try. Because I promise for every time it looks like I've failed on the outside, I've tried 100 times on the inside. And my brain physically, emotionally, and mentally seems to refuse to be made like that. I know people think this is choice.  But it's like saying an asthmatic can work on breathing better. They can treat it, take medication, they can pay attention to the signs that they're starting to struggle and try to intervene. But they can't will their lungs to work a certain way. Nor can I will my brain to work a certain way.  Trust me, my life would be a hell of a lot easier if I could. Because that would mean I didn't have this shitty condition. But I do, so it doesn't happen. Here, instead, is what happens:  severe anxiety, panic attacks, hypomania, severe depression, exhaustion from all of the above. If I could not have these, I would. And the way I can not have these, besides a spontaneous cure, is to fight against the circumstances that result in them. And so I do. Because I don't expect anyone else to save me. I need to save myself. And besides, I don't want to stop fighting. It means there's nothing left to fight for.