Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review

If I had to describe 2012 in one word, it would be awakening. Not in the new-agey or born-again kind of way, but more like I'd spent the the last few years walking around half asleep and finally started getting enough sleep that little by little I was able to function more clearly, until one day I finally felt well-rested. 

The year got off to a very rough start. My grandma Northen, my last living grandparent, passed away on December 28, 2011. She was a remarkable woman who, despite her age and increasing physical struggles, seemed timeless. She'd been through so much and always made it through with such spirit, humor, and strength that you just kind of thought that somehow she'd live forever. Then, on the day before New Years Eve, something happened in a personal situation that was incredibly painful for me. Incredibly painful can't actually even begin to describe it. It pulled apart every bit of self confidence and courage I'd manage to build up through my struggles that year, ripped to shreds my belief in people, and left me a crumbled mess on the floor, despite the attempts from good and caring friends to lift my spirits. Thus I entered 2012. 

To ensure that I'm not being overly dramatic or solely negative, there were some good points to the start of my new year (in addition to the help of my friend and family in the above mentioned situation). Though going to ones grandmother's funeral is never a joyful occasion, it brought together practically the entire family on my dad's side. His five living siblings, virtually all of their kids -  plus some of their kids' kids - and family members we hadn't seen in years (like 20+) gathered together in California. We celebrated my grandma's life and legacy exactly as she would have wanted it - reminiscing, laughing, hugging, taking family photos. It was hopeful.  This beautiful family gathering came out of a sad event, and the torch was officially past to us "kids" as the generation of adults who would keep the family glue holding in years to come. A new beginning, so to speak. Which was just what I needed. 

My winter and spring were difficult, partly due to bad decision making on my part to not, in fact, subscribe to the old adage (and White Snake song!) once bitten twice shy. Sometimes I'm a tough lesson-learner, especially when it comes to people in my life. On the up side, I took an amazing trip to Peru in March, for which I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity. The roller coaster ride continued.

In late March, the awakening started. I decided to open my mouth - go figure! But this time, I was opening my mouth about something that has, over the past year, become a very deep passion of mine. I have never wanted to feel like a victim at the hands of my condition, or of anything or anyone for that matter, and I could feel myself falling slowly down that slippery slope. I started to blog about the journey of my life, and in partiular, my life with cyclothymia. I became determined to help people understand, not only for my own sake, but for the sake of others who have this and similar conditions. I feel that mental health is one of the most misunderstood parts of life, and I could no longer sit by and let people be unaware, uneducated, and unsupportive without attempting to do anything about it, even if on a small scale.  Through my blog posts over the year, I have opened up about practically everything, letting readers see the worst and the best. I want people to know that it's ok to talk about it. I'm sick of the taboo. I also started a Facebook group called Mood Disorders Support System, where members with mood and anxiety conditions or concerns (depression, mood disorders, PSTD, mood cycling, panic, etc) could talk, vent, ask questions, be inspired, and really just support and be supported. The decision to take on this cause was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

The rest of the year has had its ups and downs. But I'm learning, and I'm growing. Boy am I growing. This year has had me examining paths in my life. My spirituality has developed in a way that makes me happy. I've found, thanks to a friend, a local Buddhist meditation center that I've begun going to, though not as often as I'd like. I hope to change that in 2013. I've made some amazing new friends, and had to say goodbye to a few as well (to be clear, by choice, not because they passed away, thank goodness). I am in a good place. I am happy. Not because the pieces of my life are where I feel they all belong. Indeed, I don't think that's ever the case. I think we're always growing and learning, or at least I hope so. But becuase mentally, emotionally, spiritually, I've learned so much about myself, and for possibly the first time in my life, I've taken responsibility for my own happiness instead of letting someone else control it. The people in my life are still insanely important to me, don't get me wrong. But I know longer rest my sole happiness with them, or at least I do my best not to.

I have no idea what 2013 holds. I'm slightly superstitious, so I would like to believe that since my lucky number/birthday, the year, and my age all end in the number 3, that it has to be some sort of serendipity and a good sign. Who knows. But I do know that there are things that I can control (myself and my actions/thoughts/beliefs/behaviors) and things that I can't control (everything else) and that I'm going to focus my energies on those that I can. In fact, I'm actually going to work on trying to control less all together. For I've learned that sometimes when you just let life happen, it takes you on a route you may never have thought to look for otherwise, and you find open doors that you hadn't even considered.

To my readers who have made this first (official) year of my personal blog feel successful and fulfiling, I cannot thank you enough! Happy New Year! Let's make 2013 amazing, whatever it holds!

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's The End of the World As We Know It...

I'm sitting at my desk at Indy Hall writing this, so I, along with the rest of planet earth, am still here. But, the Mayan's didn't predict when specifically on the 21st the world would end, so I suppose there's still time. All kidding aside, though, the concept of the world ending got me thinking a bit. More specifically, it got me looking at my actions, and the actions of others. This happens to also coincide with the end of the year, when I tend to look back at the past twelve months and think about what went well, what challenges I faced, what lessons I learned, and what adjustments and goals I want to make for next year.

So, with the very hypothetical "end of the world" concept in my head, in conjunction with the start of a new year coming up, I started examining my life a bit, and asking myself a few questions. Am I proud of myself, my actions, and the way I treat others? Are there any hurts or wrongs that, if I really was going to go out in a ball of flame, I would want to apologize for and right before that happened? Are there people or things that I'm taking for granted? Am I taking enough risk for the sake of my dreams, or do I too often play it safe worrying about the "what ifs"? Do I laugh often enough, share my happiness and energy enough with others as much as I can, show the people I love that I love them? I know, I know, sappy stuff. But, apocalypse aside, when I think about all of the crazy things that can happen to us and change our lives drastically in a split second, I sometimes wish I examined more carefully.

There's a song by Tim McGraw, written for his father (Tug McGraw, famous Phillies player) when his father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The title of the song is Live Like You Were Dying, and it's basically asking "what would you do if you knew you were dying? How would you live your life".  It's a morbid, yet pretty interesting question, and it always gets me pondering.

So as 2012 comes to a close and we look ahead to 2013, I wonder what it would be like if I decided to go all in, truly make every minute count, because really, you never know when it's all going to change. I think I like that idea a lot. Worry about the little things less, focus on those top priorities more. Those things that I want to be remembered by and leave as my legacy. When you look back on life, doesn't it seem so short? Where did the last year go? The last 5? The last 10? If it's going to pass so quickly, I personally think it's worth making my time count as much as possible. What do you think?

I hope you all have or had a wonderful holiday, and a very happy new year! Thank you all for being part of the inaugural year of Lilies and Elephants. See you on the flip side of the calendar!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Anger, Part 2

I'm taking a break on the letter writing blogs until after the holiday. They require a bit more time from the reader (being a task, as opposed to just reading the blog) and shouldn't be rushed. So, I thought I'd address one of my favorite topics again - anger.

It might sound weird that anger is one of my favorite themes to write on. I like doing so because others seem to find it so taboo, and yet there are probably very few of us who aren't angry about something. It might not be an apparent anger. It might be something that sits below the surface but with the "right" trigger bubbles up.  This time of the year, as loving as it aims to be, is especially prime for anger. Family disputes about hosting the holidays, work stress due to deadlines, memories of frustrations from previous years, and the like. So I figured, what better time to address it, and get it all out before the holidays. Start the new year fresh.

I was thinking about anger yesterday because there are a few situations and people in my life right now that I will openly admit are making me angry. In most cases, it's because I believe I'm being treated unfairly. Whether it's the feeling that I'm being judged by a past situation and not by my current self, or the opinion that I'm not being given a chance on something I downright am positive I deserve and have earned, or that I'm just very frustrated by someone's actions and they way they are treating me, I have some anger. I'm not ashamed of it. Anger is a natural emotion. It's a passion. Would it be better to feel so little emotion that we never get angry?

Anger in itself is not bad. It can be a catalyst for positive change. If I'm angry about something, I could take a stand. If angers me when I hear stigmas about certain conditions, it motivates me to work even harder to build awareness and educate people. If it's a less broad, more personal anger, I could address the person or situation I'm angry at. Or, I could change my view on and interaction with the person or situation. Before choosing an action, though, here are a few key points about anger to consider:

  • Anger almost always comes from hurt, at the most basic level. A hurt of a betrayal, of rejection, of working really hard at something and feeling unappreciated, of loneliness, of having a stigma thrown at you, of not being understood, of having promises broken, and the list goes on and on. But anger makes us feel powerful and hurt makes us feel vulnerable. And most people don't like to feel or appear vulnerable, so anger manifests itself more easily. 
  • Initial anger is a reactionary emotion - like a fight or flight. Fear would be the flight, anger is the fight. But once that initial response is over (probably a couple of minutes at most), it is 100 percent our choice to be angry or not. We could choose to acknowledge the truth and feel hurt instead of anger, we could to be motivated to make a positive change, or we could decide it's not a big deal and move on. Often we decide to prolonge it and keep feeling angry instead. 
  • Examine the anger carefully. Before taking any action, ask yourself "why am I angry?" The real answer isn't "because Bob Smith called me a jerk"; it's something more like "because Bob Smith doesn't like me and that feeds into my fear of rejection." In truth, there's nothing you can do about Bob Smith if he really wants to keep calling you a jerk, except choose not to interact with him. But when you find the root of the problem, you can address it at a personal level within yourself. 
  • Before taking any action, look at all of your options. Then look at the potential consequences from each action. Which will most likely get to the heart of the issue and turn out best in the long run. 
For me, anger is often a catalyst for change. It's the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" mentality, but in a positive way. First off, there are patterns. It's the same situations and people, over and over again, and they're hitting at the same trigger points. Most often, it's my fear of rejection. I have to keep in mind that you can't change anyone, you can only change yourself. So first, I look at what I can change within myself. Am I being too sensitive? Am I expecting to much? Is there something in my actions that's unintentionally aiding and abetting the situation? Then I look at what I can change with each situation. In some situations, it means walking away. In others, it might mean talking about it with the person(s) and seeing what can be done to improve things. Anger is incredibly personal, and incredibly individual, and I have to treat it that way. 

2013 is going to bring some big changes to my life in many areas. I've decided, as a Christmas present to myself, that I'm going to start those changes early. I've begun with the complete opposite of anger. I'm spending much of this week writing, doing creativity exercises, contemplating, meditating, and feeling the incredible energy that seems to be flowing around me - for what I do not yet know.

How will you address your anger and clear out your heart and mind to start the new year? 

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Self Forgiveness Lesson

Last week, I wrote a post containing my second letter-writing exercise: a letter of forgiveness to yourself. I promised a followup with the insights and challenges that I learned from my own letter, and I believe in keeping promises, so here you go!

First, I'll start with the challenges, because I suspect that others may recognize similar ones in their own letters. Most notably, I noticed my tendency to dig deep back and try to think of everything I could possibly forgive myself for. In theory, this isn't a bad thing, because it forced me to look at what may be some underlying causes of frustration, sadness, or confusion. However, as someone who's already an over-apologizer, I have the bad habit of taking the blame for everything, feeling guilty about things that I shouldn't, and hence having to forgive myself for all of the above. So my first challenge came in determining what items really required forgiveness. I noticed that there were patterns - everything had to do with my interactions with others. I had no concerns that I've been ungrateful, haven't worked hard enough, or anything that's completely self-contained. It always involved others, and most of the time, my past romantic relationships. (For the record I really dislike that phrase because it sounds like something my great aunt would use, but can't think of another to differentiate this type of relationship). And therein lay the other challenge - forgiving myself was only half the battle. The other half is forgiving the other person, because we all know it takes two to tango. Luckily, that letter is coming up in the next couple of weeks.

As for the insights, in addition to realizing which patterns tended to need the most forgiving, I realized that I was indeed ready to forgive myself. Which was incredibly refreshing to discover. I'm generally quite tough on myself, and the fact that I was able to say "yes, it's time; I deserve to be forgiven" was a nice change. It helped thinking about it in terms of others - if they were trying to forgive me for the same thing, would I accept it. Undoubtedly, I would. If they were genuine about it, it wouldn't be fair not to, and there would really be no way to move forward unless I accepted it.

I'm curious to learn of your experiences. What overall effect did this letter have? Did you find it easy or difficult to genuinely forgive yourself? Do you feel that you can move forward, and not regress into self-blame for those actions again? As always, I'd love to hear from you! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Starting With You

Last week I started a series of blog posts about letter writing, aimed at helping people work through emotions and the personal journeys they've undertaken, whatever thy may be. I'm starting off with letters to ourselves, as I feel that they are quite possibly the most important, and also, they can be written without fear of judgement from others.  Plus, starting with you helps address any internal struggles you might be facing, which is crucial before working on interpersonal situations.

For letter writing exercise number two, it's all about self-forgiveness. We probably all have at least one thing that we (figuratively) beat ourselves up over. It may be something obvious, or it may be something that seems like no big deal to the outside world, but is matters to us. It's said that often times the concerns or struggles we have with others reflect our internal concerns - for instance, the traits and behaviors that bother us in others reflect traits and behaviors that we don't like in ourselves, and things of that nature. So, it seems natural that we need to work on that internal relationship and self-forgiveness first, right?

When preparing for this letter, take a minute to examine what blame or grudge you are holding onto within yourself. The "I should have", "I shouldn't have", "if only I", etc. Look not only at what these mean on the surface, but what underlying behavior, pattern, or struggle they might point to. Are there other related blames that you hold with yourself? You may discover a pattern. If so, consider incorporating these into your letter as well.

Once you have narrowed this down, you're simply going to write a letter to yourself (no, you don't have to mail it) forgiving yourself for this blame or grudge that you hold against you. Let it all out - the reason you feel this blame, how it affects you, and why you hold onto it. Don't judge whatever comes out on the paper, just write it. You can address related behaviors, but don't go on a blaming binge with yourself - it will probably do more harm than good. Be earnest about it the forgiveness. It's important to note that you're not saying "none of this was my fault." Rather, you can fully admit your mistakes, and then say "that's ok, it's forgiven." Think about what lessons you can learn from the behavior or situation, and how letting go of the blame could positively affect your life. How might it affect your relationships with others, your behaviors, even your goals? And then let it go. If you have trouble with this last part, think about it this way - if you wrote this honest and sincere letter to a friend or loved one, wouldn't you hope that all would be forgiven and the relationship could positively move forward? You wouldn't want them clinging to this grudge and holding it over your head indefinitely. Then why should you do that to yourself yourself?

I'm planning on a follow up blog later in the week to discuss insights I glimpsed, challenges I faced, and the positive outcomes from my own personal letter (though as with the last, I will spare the readers the specifics of the letter itself). I'd love to hear your thoughts, and while, as always, I'd never pry into the personal details, any overall insights gained from your letter writing would be happily welcomed! Until later this week, happy writing! 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Letter Writing - Looking Back

I strongly believe in the healing power of writing. While I love to blog for others to read, I feel writing can be just as cathartic, and sometimes even more so, when you're writing for no one to read. Why? You don't have to judge it. You don't have to worry about how someone will react. You don't even have to worry if it's any good. You just have to write.

I've decided that in addition to sharing my thoughts through my own writing, I'd like to help others help themselves develop/heal/progress on their own journey through writing as well. I'm creating a series of blogs about writing (the irony doesn't escape me here), most notably in the form of letters either to oneself or to someone else - the latter to a recipient who will, quite possibly, never read it. The first exercise, I'm 100 percent, "stealing" from The Artist's Way book, on which I've been basing my creativity project for the last month and a half or so. I have added some of my own touches and suggestions from my own experience with it, though the basis for it is from the book. Despite not being a personal original, it impacted me so profoundly that I had to share it. That being said, I can't fully disclose how it impacted me so strongly at this time, but I suspect you'll find out eventually.

That leads me to this: you probably, at least at first, don't want to share your letters with others.  Perhaps if they're the subjects of it and you think they really need to read the contents, but even with this I'd at least give it a re-read to make sure you truly want to share it, and can deal with whatever results come from sharing it - remember, it may not be as you think. Why do I suggest not sharing? Because you may come through the exercise with some sort of a breakthrough, great idea, or energy. And you may be excited, ready to take action, but what if you tell someone and they shoot it down or are skeptical? It could completely undo those positives that came from the letter. I'm not saying that you can never share it, but I would wait until you know you're confident enough in your decisions not to let others discourage you if they're not completely gung ho.

And now, with the "formalities" out of the way, on to the first writing exercise. This is the letter that made me realize just how powerful of a tool it is.

Imagine yourself as an 80 year old . Yes, you're alive, you're not writing from the grave. This is an imaginative exercise, but not quite that imaginative. Write a letter back to your current self (I changed the age here, that's the only difference from book exercise). Describe what your life is like at 80, and what's occurred between your age/state of life now and your 80 year old self. If you need inspiration, some things you could include, but aren't obligated to, are:
  • Which friends are still in your life? What are they up to? What is your friendship like at 80?
  • What has your career path looked like over the years? 
  • How are you spending retirement (if in fact you are retired)?
  • What about your romantic relationships over the years? (this particularly is effective if you're unmarried/not in a serious relationship, but can be helpful to address either way.)
  • What chances have you taken/adventures have you had?
  • What questions/decisions are you facing in your current life that you can speak to from your 80 year old self? What actions/paths would you encourage your present self to pursue?
There's no template for this. It's important that you write stream of consciousness, and don't judge your work. That's where your intuition and gut reactions play a part. If you see something down on the page that you weren't expecting or don't like, don't cross it out and try to rewrite it to something that pleases you. There's a reason it came out that way, even if you don't yet know what that is. If you haven't listed someone still being in your life that you thought would be, don't include them just because you feel bad. We can't possibly remember to include everyone, and truly, they won't ever know. 

You don't have to over-analyze your letter, but take a look and give it some thought. Why did certain aspects of your life come up, and why did others not? While I don't suggest ending a friendship because they didn't come up in your letter, I do suggest that if you wrote about an unexpected career change, relocation, path in life, you may want to consider why that came up, especially if it's something you've been struggling with or even something that might have been in the back of your mind but you hadn't wanted to say out loud. Your letter doesn't have to be all positive motivations, rainbows, and sunshine. Allow it to flow as it does. Life has disappointments, and they might come out here. They may also bring to the forefront situations that you're thinking about but have been pushing to the back of your mind. It's amazing what truths may appear when we can express ourselves with no judgement from either ourselves or others. 

One final thing to consider - the letter doesn't have to be all serious, and it doesn't have to be all-knowing. If it comes naturally, and that's the key here, have fun with it; feel free use some humor, and it's okay to acknowledge that you can't disclose everything - you don't want to make something up and put it in there just to have it in there. 

I'm so curious to hear how you feel about this exercise after trying it. I would never expect anyone to share the secrets of their letter unless they felt truly necessary. However, I'd love to hear if you came up with anything that genuinely surprised you or opened your eyes. Until next time, happy writing! 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giving Thanks

Those who know me well, and probably those who don't but read this blog and are getting to know me well, realize that I'm all about appreciation. I say thank you as often as I can, and I mean it. To the point that it possibly makes people uncomfortable because honestly, I think displaying true appreciation is not a common trait. If you've seen me interact with my dog Cinn, you may well have seen me lay on the floor hugging her and telling her how lucky I am to have her. Not that I do this with people - I can see why that indeed would make them uncomfortable! - but you get the point. Genuine appreciation is right up there with genuine apologies in my book, and we all know how I feel about that! 

So I thought that this weekend, being Thanksgiving in America, I'd use my blog to express my gratitude for those people and things I'm truly thankful for. And if you're reading this, I promise I'm thankful for your taking the time to do that! I'm sure I'll miss things in here, as this is an impromptu blog that I'm doing off the top of my head, so perhaps in the future I'll do another "thank you" themed blog, as I have in the past. But without further adieu....I'm so very thankful for: 
  • My family. I truly don't know where I'd be without them. I love them so much. 
  • My best friends, who have seen me through everything and love me not despite my weaknesses but because of them. 
  • My dog, Cinn. Make no mistake, she rescued me as much as I rescued her, if not moreso. 
  • My general health, despite my condition. I'm lucky to have the means to work through it with help, support, and treatment. 
  • The fact that I run my own business. That's pretty special. 
  • My discovery this year that my mission and the "purpose" of my disorder, if you will, is to raise awareness, education, and support for mood disorders. 
  • The support of my mood disorders support system group members. They're amazing. 
  • New friends I've made this year, both in person, and through social media communication. 
  • Friends who I have known for years, and friends I've reconnected with from the past. 
  • The ability to learn lessons and grow from troubles and struggles - of which there have been plenty this year. 
  • The courage, strength, perseverance, and determination by those who have gone through so much more than I, and set examples that continuously motivate and inspire me. 
  • The writings through which I have come to know and learn so much, which have truly helped change how I look at life, and perhaps my path. 
I'm sure there are so many more. I hope this is a good start. And I truly hope that you have as much to be thankful for as I do. Happy Thanksgiving/weekend! 

PS - Yes, for those who read the last post, the letter writing posts will be coming - probably next week as I'm away all this coming week. But I just had to squeeze this one in there, as it was so timely. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Letter Writing

One of the most powerful tools I've come across for getting out emotions, moving past blocks, and coming up with solutions, is letter writing. No, not email writing, actual letter writing with pen and paper (gasp!). Why? First off, it's something we (most likely) don't do very often. And when we shake things up a little bit, we tend to get different results. For some reason, the act of sitting down and composing a letter, where you have to actually spell things out, where autocorrect doesn't write half of your words for you, where you aren't supposed to make it as short and to the point as possible, tends to help get our brain moving. It can be tough to start, but once you get going, it's amazing to see what shows up on paper, sometimes almost without you realizing it.

Inspired by my creativity project through the book The Artist's Way, I've begun writing letters, both to myself and others. Now here's the thing - my letters to others haven't yet reached them. In fact, most of them probably never will. The reason for this is that when you realize someone else is going to read them, you start thinking about what they'll think, the effects that the letters will have, are they any good, do they make sense, etc. How many times have you gotten frustrated with someone and written an email, text, tweet, status message, and then realized what could happen if you actually sent it and deleted it? We want to get our feelings out, but we're afraid. Sometimes, this is ok. If we're reacting rashly to something because it's in the heat of the moment, or it hits a nerve, or maybe we're having a bad day, censoring ourself in our present state might prevent us from saying something we really don't mean long term that could have serious consequences, depending on the situation. Other times, though,  we've felt a certain way about a situation for quite a while - be it positive or negative - and we're still afraid of saying how we feel. It may be that we're just as afraid of admitting our feelings to ourselves as we are of telling others.

Keeping these feelings and emotions bottled up is, quite simply, blocking us and holding us back. Even if others never hear what we have to say, we need to say it. If nothing else, we need to admit it to ourselves. These aren't always negative emotions. It's possible that we're nervous about expressing a dream we have, or that someone's really touched us but we don't want to sound mushy or silly so we don't express gratitude. Yet that person may need to hear it as much as we need to say it.

Over the next few weeks (once the holiday has passed), I'm going to blog about the letters I've begun writing, and the effect they've had on me. I'm not going to give the personal details, for the reasons mentioned above. But I might give snippets here and there, and I hope that perhaps they inspire you to consider writing some letters of your own, if only to yourself.

Thinking to yourself: "but I failed writing in grammar school, I can't do this!"? Yes, you can. This isn't about creating a well-written letter. Remember, you're most likely the only one who's going to see this, and that's kind of besides the point anyway. Because really, this exercise is about getting out emotions, getting through blocks, and coming up with solutions. If you're thinking "I don't want to get out emotions!" then please grab a pen and paper, because I can practically promise that this exercise will help you more than anyone else.

In the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I truly thank you for reading my blog. To my US readers, have a wonderful holiday. To everyone else, may your week be wonderful, holiday or no! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Hardest Thing

I've been talking a lot lately about letting go and moving forward. It is simply an essential part of discovering oneself and creating a happy life.  It's also the step we resist the most. It is truly so hard to let go of things, people, even traits within ourselves. We're accustomed to the life and self we've come to know, and relinquishing pieces of that, even the negative pieces, can be incredibly difficult. I'll discuss saying goodbye to parts of ourselves in a future post. For this post, I'm going to focus on letting go of others.

Among the most dreaded actions, at least for me, is letting go of people in my life. My friends, family, and loved ones are my life-blood. Or so it often feels. I truly don't believe I would be making this journey without them. It is so helpful to have a strong support network while I transition my life. Sometimes though, we have to let people go, for one of two reasons: 1.) They are a constant negative influence in our lives, and far from being supportive, we realize they can be destructive or  2.) They've let go of us. This might be overt (like a breakup), or we might realize it as a result of their actions, or in some cases, lack thereof.

I'm honestly not sure which of the above instnaces makes the task more difficult. I'm sure in part it depends on the circumstances. Whichever the reason, this process is, without a doubt, painful. It also, once we conquer it, offers relief, and the opportunity to rid ourselves of the destructiveness that holding on to the person brings.

If the person hasn't intentionally done anything destructive or hurtful, talk to them first. They may not realize what they're doing, or how it's affecting you. Give them a chance or two to adjust. If you don't see them making an effort - and genuinely give them the opportunity to do so, it probably won't be an overnight fix - then it may be time to start pulling away. See how it feels, and how they feel, if you rely on them a little less, or have a little less contact with them. If they reach out or try to adjust their behavior, then perhaps they're getting the message. If not, then it's possibly time to let them go. But everyone deserves at least one chance to correct, so make sure they understand just how badly they're affecting you before you walk away. It's possible the person has some place in your life, it might just not be the place you thought. They might not be the close personal friend you'd hoped, but they may be ok in a group or on a limited basis. If they're intentionally being destructive, that's a whole other story. In that case, they've let you go, whether they intended to or not, and you need to treat them as such.

Letting go of someone who has let us go is more straightforward. You don't have to tread lightly - they haven't. That doesn't mean it's less difficult, it just means that it's more black and white. The one thing that I've learned, and it's been a very slowly-learned lesson, is that the quickest way to let someone go in this situation is to realize they are not the person who you thought they were. The reason it's so tough to let these people go is because we often have all these images, ideas, dreams (in the case of a personal relationship) of who we thought the person was and what we thought the relationship was (friendship, personal, even business). And maybe, at one time, they were and it was. But not anymore. They forfeited the right to be put on that pedestal when they chose to let us go. It doesn't mean they didn't have a legitimate reason, but they are no longer that idealized person - because at that moment they have chosen not to be, whether we like it or not.  Once you realize this and let it sink it in, truly believe it, you can more easily let them go. Because the person you're letting go doesn't really exist anymore. This isn't intended as a negative on the person per se. People change. I've walked away from situations and relationships because I changed, or because the situation itself changed, and I realized it wasn't fair to myself or the other person to stay. But I can honestly say, in those situations, the person I was walking out was not the same person who had walked in, for better or worse. And had the other person had every right to let me go just as I let them go.

Letting go isn't easy. But the more you focus on this minute on, moving forward, the less painful it becomes. It doesn't always mean letting go forever, but you have to accept that it might never be the same again. And when you stop making that a goal, when you stop hoping some day the situation will correct itself and you can go back to the "old way", then you truly will be able to start moving forward. Because at that point, you're not doing it for them - you're doing it for you.

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Ok to Give Up

I know that 99.9% of items you read on the topic of perseverance will tell you never to give up. And when it comes to things like not pushing yourself hard enough, walking away from a relationship because the going got a little tough, quitting a job on a whim after a tough day, that's probably sound advice. You have to look at the bigger picture. However, there are times that, when you look at the bigger picture, what you realize is that the only thing that keeps you hanging in is that you have been told time and time again not to give up. In these instances, "giving up" (note the quotations), or letting go, can be exactly what's needed. Here are a few examples:

1. You are in a job that was supposed to be a dream job but in fact you hate it, you make little, and your boss does nothing but yell at you. Do you want to stay and continue being abused, not growing in your career, and possibly suffering from its affects on your personal life?

2. The guy (or girl - I'll be fair) you were dating never initiates contact anymore, barely responds when you do, and claims to have no time for you, yet you hear stories from others about him (her) being out with his (her) friends. This actually doesn't even have to apply to just romantic relationships, but friendships as well. Do you want to keep waiting for the other person to return your text, ask to hang out, show more interest, or do you want to walk away and, though it may hurt, realize that you deserve better than that?

3. You are doing what you thought was a passion (job/interest/hobby/etc), but it turns out that you're not headed in the direction you'd thought, and really aren't enjoying it much any more. Or worse, you know you don't enjoy it but can't seem to let it go. You feel trapped because you feel like you "should" keep going but when you trust your intuition and gut, find yourself being pulled in another direction. Does it make sense to keep entrenching yourself in a situation that's so unrewarding?

Each of these is an instance in which, depending perhaps on some other personal factors, you may actually be better off "giving up". The reason for this is that you actually aren't giving up. Rather, you're realizing when a situation is bad for you or is no longer in line with your goals/dreams. In fact, these could be holding you back, not only having a negative effect on the day to day, but perhaps on your self-esteem and your belief in yourself. If you take a step back and analyze these situations at their core, it's possible that you're staying with them simply because you don't want to be a person who gives up. Sometimes, though, it's ok to give up. In fact, it can be healthy.

Obviously, you need to understand the consequences of your actions. If the giving up involves a person, you may have to give them up for good, or at least a decent amount of time. Not always, but perhaps. If it's a job, you may have to give up that experience as a reference, you may not be able to go back if things don't work out down the road. But sometimes, even these consequences are for the better. In "giving up" here, we're respecting ourselves enough to admit that we deserve better, and that we deserve happiness. Because in fact, we're not giving up at all - we're moving forward. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sometimes, It's About You

Today I was at one of my favorite cafes and. due to a lack of actual tables, was sitting on a couch there, eating my food off a low coffee table that required me to bend at about a 30 degree angle. While sitting there, a couple vacated their table, so I went over to grab it. As I put my things down at the new spot, I heard two older women say "oh, looks like we lost the table", meaning the one I'd just claimed. I nicely told them they could take it, and went back to the couch. Another couple soon vacated, and again a similar situation occurred. I went to take the table only to see a couple walking towards it. Though I would have gotten there first, I relinquished it. Finally, a third table opened up. A nice one, by a window, which is really where I wanted to be on a beautiful day. I walked over and plopped my things down on it.

At first, I felt bad sitting at the table for four or five with just myself and my laptop. But I really needed to charge my laptop and there are only a few tables strategically located by outlets, this being one of them. Still feeling not quite right about it, I plugged in my laptop and sipped my coffee. Then, I took a (figurative) step back from the self-imposed guilt trip. I had let two other couples take tables that I could easily have taken and had just as much right to. I had sat bending uncomfortably over my food for about 20 minutes prior to this seat opening up. There was no group of four or five people waiting to sit, it was all couples or singles. They could easily use any other table in the place.

It occurred to me that this is a pattern of mine. I chastise myself every time I am tempted to put myself first. "I really should make that drive to see that person today, even though I've had a sinus infection all week and feel awful; I really should reply to this completely non-emergent client email at 9 PM, even though I could do it during work hours tomorrow; so-and-so said that I wasn't as friendly as usual yesterday even though I was trying so hard, so I should really make more of an effort today." I blame myself for things that aren't my fault and then apologize because otherwise I feel guilty. It's the same pattern over and over.

The thing is, sometimes, it's ok for things to be about you. I'm not talking intentionally upsetting a friend or family member, or hurting a partner because you "need to put you first" (don't get me started on that kind of selfish!). But if you really want the last cookie and no one's going for it, take it. If you feel absolutely exhausted and truly don't feel up to going out, they hopefully will understand this one time. If you are sick of eating your lunch at a 30 degree angle and see a more convenient seat opening up, it's ok to sit down.

It's a balance of making sure others understand that you care, while not feeling like you can never consider yourself, especially over something small.  If you put others first all of the time, it will most likely end up in resentment. Why? Because others don't. Not to be negative, but there's a lot of selfishness in the world. And if you constantly put everyone else first even with the tiniest of things, only to have others also always put themselves first, it breeds frustration, and contempt. So the next time you feel guilty over something small that's really not going to hurt anyone else big time, allow yourself to put you first. You have every right to. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Anger - The Forgivable Emotion

Anger is one of the scariest emotions. The fact that it is indeed an emotion seems to often be forgotten because of the reactions it can cause. Unfortunately, to add to it's bad reputation, it is the emotion that seems harder to control than just about any other.

Now, I've had people tell me I'm using my condition as a crutch, or an excuse, and that I could control it if I wanted to but I'm not trying hard enough. I would like to politely say to those people: what great news! That means you must also be able to fully control your seizure, your asthma attack, your diabetic shock, your heart arrhythmia! That doesn't go over very well, as you might imagine. In all reality, you can take medications, go to doctors, and learn techniques to deal with the condition to the best of your ability, but when the body decides to disobey - and yes, the mind is an organ in the body - you're kind of in its hands, hoping it won't be too traumatic and doesn't last too long.

So with that said, back to the issue of anger and it's havoc. With mood cycling, as I suspect with anxiety disorders and other conditions, anger is unpredictable. In my case, more often than not,  it's a side effect of a hypomanic episode. Hypomania, as I've described previously, includes (but is not limited to) anxiety, irritability, jitteriness, panicky feelings, high amounts of energy, inability to focus, and plenty more. You can see how this is a pretty strong recipe for anger, especially bursts of it. The additional disadvantage of anger in a hypomanic episode, however, is that the anger doesn't particularly need an obvious trigger. Here are some of the characteristics I have felt:

  • You feel attacked 
  • People that you normally love irk/frustrate/annoy you
  • Your anger feels overwhelming; like it's going to consume you and you're going to explode
  • It scares you; you don't recognize yourself
  • In an attempt not to upset others, you withdraw into yourself; 
  • It makes you literally feel like you're losing your mind, because it's not you
  • You become depressed and anxious because you may have upset others 
  • It often carries with it other extreme emotions, such as sadness (uncontrolled crying is common)
  • You feel ashamed and embarrassed because you don't know what's happening to you
As is true with many hypomanic symptoms, the anger can go as quickly as it comes, though it may still linger in the background for a while. It's an incredibly painful experience for me. I am the type of person who can't stand to see a dog tied up outside of a coffee shop while it's owner runs in for two minutes because I'm afraid the dog is scared and lonely without its owner. I bend over backwards for people I care about, often at the expense of myself, and kindness is one of my most valued traits in myself. Yet when these bouts of anger get me, I feel like my brain has been usurped. 

Anger is an emotion people don't want to talk about. They feel it indicates a fault or a weakness. Oddball that I am, that made me want to write about it all the more. I have, in the past, been the victim of others' absolutely wretched anger - more than I've ever described on here and than most people know. I forgave them, easily. I understand how awful it can be. I understand that you often don't even remember much of the episode. I understand the inability to understand what's going on with your brain. I understand how truly grotesque a feeling it is for the person it overtakes. It doesn't mean it's simply "no big deal". It means that, to me, it's forgivable and that while I wouldn't wish its internal torture on anyone, I do wish that people would be a little quicker to try and understand, and a little less quick to judge. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Getting Past the Block

I've realized lately that I have a lot of blocks. Blocks that I didn't realize I had. Negative thoughts about what I couldn't do. Fears of moving on from where I've been. People who were hurting and upsetting me and, possibly even unbeknownst to them, holding me back. I've decided to tackle these.

The first step, determining what's holding you back, is the most crucial. Whenever you have block, discovering it and admitting it are the most difficult parts. Partly, this may be because we feel like we're admitting a weakness, or an issue. Partly it's because, as I mentioned in my last post, it takes away our excuses from not taking action and moving forward. Obviously, this isn't a quick fix type of thing, and it takes small, persistent steps. But, you have to start somewhere, and so I'm combining some of what I've learned, as well as my own thoughts and experiences, into a couple of blogs.

In the last blog, I listed the first two action items in this process (paraphrasing):
  • Write down everything that's holding you back, even if it seems silly. 
  • Look back at the list, pretend it's a that of a friend, and be brutally honest with "your friend". 
But how do we know what's holding us back? Sometimes it can be really shoved back in our brains and/or our hearts. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: 
  • If you could do anything for a career, regardless of money/talent/feasibility, what would you do? You can list numerous opportunities. Don't limit yourself to just one. They don't have to be far off from what you're doing, if you're working towards your goal. But they can be, too. 
  • Have you considered trying to move your career in that direction (or at least something similar)? If not, why? If so, what happened that stopped you?
  • Are you mad/upset/frustrated with anyone (especially longer term), or is there anyone that you avoid? Why? Critical note:  Even if the person is someone you love/care about, write them down. 
  • If you could leave one legacy, what would it be? (For the purposes of this exercise, let's choose something other than leaving your loved ones healthy and happy. I suspect for most that's high regardless of your career/life path and the two aren't mutually exclusive). 
  • Who are you envious/jealous of? Why? Try to think of people you know, as opposed to celebrities and such. Be honest here. We often like to pretend we aren't jealous/envious people, but I think anyone can have it in them at some level. If nothing else, you may be wistful for some trait that you'd like to have but feel you don't. So call yourself out. No one has to know. 
Now look at the list pretending it's that of a friend. If you're 100% honest with "your friend", are "they" trying to accomplish any of those dreams for life, career, legacy? If they're envious of someone, have they earnestly tried learning how to get there or have they assume they can't? If someone's upsetting/angering/frustrating them or if they are avoiding someone, have they tried to truly correct the situation, or considered that the person could be a long-term negative influence that is holding them back? 

You (back to first person) might notice a theme. You "could never" make that interest/passion into a real career; how could you forgive or walk away from that person that's affecting you; you'd never be able to build up that legacy to leave; you couldn't be as (insert positive term/adjective) as that person you envy. There's a common denominator: you blocking yourself. 

You don't have to have the all of the time, energy, money, willpower, self-esteem, or resources to get where you want to be right at this moment. You just have to have the desire and the willingness to take even the tiniest step toward it, and then the next, and the one after that. You also have to have the courage to persist, and to trust your intuition. Sometimes, our brain and logic get in the way, telling us we can't or we shouldn't. And therefore, we misguidedly never again entertain the possibility that, perhaps, we indeed can. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Moving Forward: How to Start

Have you ever noticed that it's much easier to hang on to a negative idea or a fear than it is to let go? It's not very difficult to sit in a stalemate with yourself, saying "I can't do this; I'll never succeed at that; I'd try it but..., I'm just not good at... it's just not me".   I've lately started to pay close attention to what I'm hanging on to. I have come to acknowledge, much to my chagrin, how much these feelings are holding me back. Alongside of this, I've noticed how scary it can be to let them go. If you're wondering how it can be scary to let go of an idea, consider this: when you let go of the belief that's holding you back - I can't do it, I'll be rejected, I don't have the time/money/etc - your safety net of staying where you are has been taken away. You have no excuse NOT to move forward. And having no excuses can be frightening! It makes you face those fears and anxieties head on. But here's the marvelous thing: it also lets you conquer them.

I have decided that little by little, that I have to let go of anything that's been holding me back. I've come a long way, and I certainly have been happy with myself and how much my life has improved in the last six months or so. And now it's time to move forward even further. It requires an action plan. In fact, it requires several layers of action plans. Below is the "top level" plan that I'm using for myself- the beginning phase. (Since it's a template I'd encourage anyone to try, I'm writing it in third person).
  • Write down those things that you think are holding you back. Anything that comes to mind, even if it feels odd to list it. If you're not sure, start a running list that you can add to.  Pay attention throughout your days to your internal emotions and physical feelings. Take note of when you're most irritable, anxious, frustrated, you feel a tightening in your chest or back, etc. When you find yourself starting to make an excuse, write it down. 
  • Look at the list again, pretending it's that of a close friend. Now be brutally honest with "your friend". Let's face it, it can be very difficult to admit when it's our own job, relationship, insecurities, past issues, fears holding us back. Yet we wouldn't BS our friend and let them work on changing the wrong things, right?
  • Put them in priority order. Here's a tip: if you want to save it until last, put it first. It's the one you're most frightened by. 
  • Start on the top priority immediately. It doesn't have to be a gigantic step, but it might feel like it. If you've always wanted to do xyz but have been afraid, do a Google search to get ideas of where to start. Reach out on social media. You will be surprised at the people you may never have expected are going through the same thing, or have a likeminded goal/dream. Finding "partners in crime" or a support system for that particular goal can be a wonderful inspiration, and you mind discover it where you least expect it. 
  • Create an action item from this first step, even just one action, and a deadline. Write it down. Tell someone. Accountability is a huge motivator. When you say it out loud, it makes it feel real. 
I have to make two important notes on the above list that are rather crucial, as it can be easy to get caught up and go a bit overboard (you know, the "you decided to clean out your closet and then realize you have to go into work naked tomorrow because you got in the zone and have thrown out all of your clothes" syndrome).

1. Not all "excuses" are bad. For instance, if you need time to yourself and someone asks you to do something, it's ok to be honest and tell them. Spending time with your thoughts is an important part of this process. While technically it's an "excuse", it's an honest and positive one. This is different than "I can't take this next step towards my goal", which really means "I'm scared to try."

2. Don't start picking things/people off like a sniper. Differentiate between "this person or thing upset me today but I can deal with it" and "out of my way, I'm clearing off everything in my path that could ever remotely be negative." Remember, we can learn from rejection, failures, and struggles as well. So, to be cliche but accurate, pick your battles and save your energy for those things that truly are holding you back long term.

I will end all of this scary and dramatic stuff on a positive note. Letting go doesn't have to mean letting go forever. You don't have to be rid of your fear of "I'll never make it/I'll get rejected". You just have to be able to move past it, and know it'll eventually turn out ok. You can be afraid of rejection but take the big step anyways.

I'm going to make this a multi-part blog, with more details on getting through the above steps. So stay tuned. In the meantime, perhaps it's time to start paying attention to your own body and mind, asking yourself, "is something holding me back, even if I've never considered it?" 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Eye of the Storm

In previous blogs, I've given a glimpse into what both my hypomanic and depressive episodes, more or less as they were actually happening. What I haven't yet been able to describe in "real time" is the actual cycling between the two. Primarily, that's because depressive cycles usually hit me in the middle of the night, and I simply wake up in them. They hang on for a couple days or even up to a couple weeks until I'm gradually back to status quo. It's very rare for me to actually experience rapidly moving into and out of a depressive episode. Yesterday, though, afforded me just such an "opportunity" and so I thought I'd share with my readers what it was like in the eye of the storm, so to speak. 

Yesterday morning started off wonderfully. Still feeling equally calm and quietly excited after my first visit to the Buddhist meditation center Wednesday (more on that later), my morning writing session was incredibly productive and creatively empowering. So the day certainly started off on the right foot. 

Mid morning, a few small instances occurred that frustrated me. With each one, I realized I was getting more and more peeved. In fact, I was feeling downright angry. While the situations were annoying in and of themselves, they shouldn't have particularly angered me, especially with such a promising day and a half behind me. But they did. Then, I began to grow more and more detached. I didn't want to talk to anyone, I didn't want to see anyone, I just wanted to remove myself from society for a while, to hide until the feeling passed. It took me a while to figure it out, but I finally understood that I was experiencing a hypomanic cycle drastically crashed into a depressive cycle.  The anger was the crescendo of the hypomanic episode. And in mood cycling, what goes up, must come down. So I  dramatically plummeted into a depressive episode. The anger and frustrations didn't cause the mood cycling, they were, in fact, the result of them. 

As the day wore on, I started feeling more myself - neither hypomanic nor depressive. I did, though, feel horribly drained emotionally and physically. Not only do I feel completely empty after a severe cycle (either hypomanic or depressed), but my body feels shaky, my legs hurt to walk on and sometimes feel like they'll collapse underneath me. I have no appetite - and when I don't want to eat, you know something's wrong! Think about when you have the flu for a week, and how it feels the first few times you try to move around once you finally start feeling somewhat human again. It's a lot like that. 

Every cycle is a little bit different. This one surprised me because it took the reverse tactic of a mid-day depressive episode, and one that only lasted a couple hours at that. I was caught completely unaware. However, regardless of the timing, the feelings in each cycle are the same, more or less. The complete exhaustion afterwards always exists. I hope, after such a violent and rapid cycle, I'm back to feeling myself for a while. The cycles, while not desirable, do always remind me of an extremely important point - to enjoy every good, non-cycling moment I have, because things could truly get much worse at any time, and I never want to look back and realize what I've missed because I wasn't paying attention. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Art of Apology

As you know by now, I have high standards for both myself and the people I choose to have in my life. Much more for myself even than others - I feel I can only have high expectations of others if clearly, I would fill the same.

One of the most important thing to me, is someone being able to admit when they're wrong, and truly, genuinely apologize. Sometimes, they may have to prove themselves, if it's a severe wrong-doing and I need to reestablish my belief and trust in them. Most of the time, an apology that's completely honest and heart-felt will do. Let me say this, though: I feel that to genuinely be sorry, you have to at least attempt not to repeat the offending action. I say attempt because, for someone say that suffers from a bad anxiety or mood disorder and I understand that they may try their hardest, but whatever they did that upset me may happen again. I'm not saying it's an excuse, but I'm saying I understand that sometimes it's the effort that counts. But if the action is one that someone has complete control over, it means simply "don't do it again."

I myself am an over-apologizer. It's a bad habit I've developed over the years and it's one I'm trying to break. Why? Because I apologize for things I shouldn't - things that aren't my fault, things that I can't control. I can't, for instance, promise I won't be in a depressive state and be not my usual self. I understand if someone doesn't want to be around me in that state and I usually try to keep to myself, but I won't apologize for it because I truly cannot control when it will hit.

Simply put, here's what I expect from others, and myself as well:

  • Apologize when you've upset, hurt, insulted, or angered me in a way that was unnecessary and that you could have controlled if you'd been more thoughtful. 
  • Apologize if you've been selfish. If not, we'll probably part ways. I can't understand or respect selfishness as an overall or recurring character trait. 
  • Be the one to reach out, and don't gloss it over. Inviting me to happy hour after you've upset me isn't an apology. It's pretending nothing happened, and ignoring the pain you've caused me. 
  • Understand if I'm not my usual self for a bit. Just because I accept your apology doesn't mean I'm not still upset/hurt/angry. After all, remember I have to believe you mean it. Actions speak louder than words. 
  • Don't act wonderful for a few days and then go back to the actions that upset me. Actions, long term, speak louder than words ever will. 
Furthermore, as much as I'm an over-apologizer, there are some things I won't apologize for, and neither should you. 
  • Who I am. I'm a wonderful person, even if one with "issues". I love myself. You don't have to, but then you don't have to be in my life either. 
  • Demanding respect and appreciation. Everyone should. I won't apologize for deserving these. 
  • My condition. That would be like me apologizing for being short. I was born this way and I do the best I can with what I was given. I might apologize for things I do that upset you when in a bad state, but I will never, ever apologize for having cyclothymia. I wouldn't expect someone to apologize for having Cancer, or Asthma!  
  • Something I'm not sorry for. You can rest assured that if I apologize, I mean it. 
  • Defending myself.  Someone has to. Who better than me! 
  • Defending someone I care about. I'm incredibly protective of my friends and loved ones. 
So, I thought that today would be the perfect day to do one of two things (or both if you see fit): if you've upset someone and you're sorry, apologize. If you don't owe someone an apology, reach out to those people who have been there for you when you needed it, who've had your back and defended you, even if it's against yourself in a bad time, and say thank you! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Right Now

I've mentioned in numerous posts about my struggle with living in the moment. By which I mean not letting my brain go in 20 different directions and worry about this, think about that, and completely miss what's going on right in front of my face. If you think you may have trouble with this too but aren't quite sure, here are two good exercises to help you decide.

1. Put on your favorite playlist, CD (yes some of us still use CDs), etc and when it gets to your favorite song, try to make it through the whole song without your mind wandering off.  If towards the end of the song you realize you don't even really remember hearing the song, you're mind isn't focusing on the present moment. If you make it through one, try two in a row. See how far you can get. You may have to do this a few times to get an accurate sample.

2. Count how many times a day you begin an email, a document, a Facebook post, a text, a blog, etc and an hour later realize you never finished it because your mind went elsewhere. If you'd been focusing right on the moment, nothing (minus perhaps a true emergency that it would be dangerous to ignore, like your apartment catching on fire), you really weren't too focused on the moment while writing.

Ironically, as I type this I'm doing laundry and eating lunch. Case in point, right?

Personally, my mind tends to wander into the "daydream" realm, as well as the "pre-planning" realm. In daydream mode, I have ideas coming in from all directions and I'm extrapolating them out into actual potential activities. This is great for creativity, imagination, seeing your true potential, getting past a rut. Not so good for getting through the inbox. In the "pre-planning" realm, while I'm doing something else - usually something innocuous like showering - I'm writing emails and articles in my head, playing out a conference call I have later, etc. The issue isn't so much that I'm not paying attention to the shower itself (because really who cares), but that I'm feeding that constant monster who refuses to focus on the present moment. More or less, I'm not enjoying the present time because I'm focusing elsewhere.

So the other day, rather randomly as it often is, an idea came to me, probably in the shower. What if I created a catch word? So I did. Whenever I notice my mind going off into the wild blue yonder, I say this word - out loud if I'm alone at home, in my head if not - and bring myself back to the present moment. It sounds rather simple and silly, but it's actually working.  It almost works like your kitchen timer would - "hey, foods burning over here, stop futzing around and start paying attention!". The more you use it, you'll probably notice the less you need to use it. Pick a word you wouldn't use much in every day conversation, but something basic enough that you'll remember it. I also suggest not choosing something associated with a hobby, a job, a pet, etc. It shouldn't really carry an alternative "meaning" to you.

A key to this, though, is to then set aside time that your mind can wander. You don't want to squelch your creativity, imagination, or dreams. You just don't need them to come in the middle of a board meeting. So set aside a few hours a week, or even a little time every day, to give your creative brain some "alone time."

Final tip - don't tell anyone your "secret word". Remember when we were little our parents created a secret word for us so that if someone came to pick us up after school (who wasn't them) they had to know the word or we didn't go with them? Maybe that was just us. Anyways, it's like that. It's for you, and you don't want anyone to use or abuse it. If you give it a try, let me know how it goes. I always love to hear what works for others. If you have another 'in the moment" trick, I'd love to hear that too!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Getting Creative

In a previous post, I mentioned a personal creativity project I was doing based on the book The Artist's Way. As part of this project, each week I have to do an "artist date" in which I spend some some time alone nurturing my creativity - doing something that inspires me, helps unblock my creativity, or just gets me out of a particular rut. Yes, it's a date with myself. But some days you have to take what you can get. Kidding. I actually love the idea, and it not only helps me unblock through doing the activity, but by coming up with creative things to do as well.

I'm trying to do something a bit different each week, at least so far since I'm only in week three. It feels pretty uncreative to do the same creative exercise each week, especially if you're only three weeks in and have already run out of ideas. That being said, I might stick my foot in my mouth on this statement in week four or five. This week, I decided to create a photography "scavenger hunt" for myself around my neighborhood in Philly. I use the term "scavenger hunt" loosely. It's the closest thing I can think of to what I actually did. I chose 12 topics, at random, to photograph. I started making a list and they just kind of came to me - again, helping with the creativity.  Some were more obvious - a specific item or category. Some were more open to interpretation - something that makes you feel xyz.

Here are the categories I chose:

1. A leaf
2.  Something red
3. An interesting person
4. A sign (I meant physical, I guess you could do metaphorical as well)
5. Food/drink
6. Something that intrigues me
7. Something that makes me smile
8. Quintessential Philly
9. A fond memory
10. Something hopeful (represents hope to me)
11. Something "magical"
12. An animal

I think this exercise could be done with any number of creative activities: drawing, painting, making a vision board or a scrap book. The idea behind it was to just "go out and see what I find".  It gave me enough direction so I wasn't aimlessly searching, but left plenty open to interpretation and individuality (the same thing isn't going to make everyone smile or intrigue everyone). If you're feeling blah, stuck, blocked, or just like you need to get out and do something different, I highly suggest this activity. Have fun and be creative with the developing the project as much as with the actual exercise. I'd love to hear what you come up with! Below are a couple of pictures I took. The full album can be seen on my Facebook page.

Something that made me smile. 

Interesting people - dancing on the street corner

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Be Yourself...

".... No one can say you're doing it wrong."  ~Charles Schulz.

"....Everyone else is taken."  ~Mike Robbins.

I love quotes. The above are two of my absolute favorites. I've had several conversations lately about genuineness. Interestingly, it seems that everyone values it, or at least claims to, yet so many say they feel it difficult to find in others. It seems an odd balance - if everyone values it, wouldn't they be genuine themselves, making it easy to find in others?

In my opinion, there are three possible reasons for this.*

1. There are those people who truly are acting. By this I mean that for some reason or another, they are purposely acting in a way that's not in alignement with who they really are. Perhaps they are trying to fit in, perhaps they like the "fake" person better than the person they feel they are, perhaps they think they'll get ahead by acting a certain way. Whatever it is, their actions are intentional. This isn't to judge it one way or another. They may have a very valid reason for doing so. It just means they know what they're doing.

2. There are those who aren't intentionally being disingenuous but aren't acting in accordance to who they are "deep down". Perhaps they're just confused about who they are or what they want. They're not trying to fool anyone, they're just having a bit of an identity crisis.

3. There are those who really aren't being disingenuous at all, but on the surface it appears that they are. These people may, in fact, be over-genuine. Instead of trying to keep things consistent by hiding, say an illness, a mood cycle, a depressive episode, etc, they're act according to how they feel at that moment - it just might not be how they were feeling yesterday. This is tough to understand unless you've been through it.

Regardless of which group someone falls into, being yourself means accepting who you are, being ok with it, and acting accordingly. That doesn't mean it's easy. It took, and still sometimes does take, a lot for me to open up about my condition and basically say, "this is who I am. I hope you like it.  If not, I understand but we'll part ways here." It has lost me a few people that have been very dear to me, but it's more important for me to surround myself with people who, even if they don't always understand me, care enough to stand by me.

There are a few tricks I've learned over this journey that keep me honest with myself, and therefore help keep my actions in line with who I am at the core, even in the midst of a bad mood cycle.
  • Trust your gut. If you're acting/saying/doing something and you feel a twinge in your gut that it doesn't feel right, it's probably not lining up with your values. Revisit it. 
  • Accept yourself. You're you, like it or not. If you don't like it, examine why. There may be an underlying reason, and that's a whole different issue. If I get angry about something and this bothers me, then I have to look at my anger and figure out how to deal with it. But I have to admit to myself that I'm angry - I won't get anywhere on changing it if I don't. 
  • Being genuine and trying to grow aren't mutually exclusive. If you're genuinely trying to change something, that's, well, genuine. So checking yourself if you start to act the "old" way, and making a quick adjustment isn't disingenuous. It's self awareness. 
  • Look at yourself through the eyes of a best friend/partner/sibling that knows you best. Would they say your actions align with the person they know you are, or with the adjustments you're trying to make? If you feel comfortable, ask them. Just be prepared that the answer might not be one you want to hear. If their answer is no, ask why not? 
  • Use common sense, and tact. Someone might say, "When I say how I really feel, people get upset so I have to pretend." Here's the thing: if you're friend asks you how an outfit looks and you don't like it, there's a big difference between saying, "That's awful, please take it off before the mirror breaks" and "Maybe you should try the blue dress. I think I like that one better." You can convey your thoughts without saying exactly what you're thinking, and still be genuine. 
  • Don't sell yourself short. People "not being themselves" isn't all about bravado. It's just as important to know your positive traits and be comfortable acknowledging them. Celebrating an accomplishment and being proud of who you are is perfectly acceptable and, in fact, healthy. Many times people feel bad saying, "I did a great job", "I'm accomplished at this", "I'm a nice/smart/interesting/talented person." You'd easily give your friend that credit - why can't you say it about yourself?
In the end of the day, it's about knowing yourself, accepting yourself, and being comfortable showing that self to the outside world. It can be a slow and sometimes scary process. I promise, though, once you go through it you'll feel like a weight is lifted off your shoulders. I can personally say that it's so freeing to feel that you can be yourself and not have to hide any part of who you are. There may be a few people that you have to step away from, but all in all, I suspect you'll be surprised at the positive reaction that follows. Not only will you feel happier with yourself, but you'll also be surrounding yourself with quality, supportive people, and most likely equally genuine people. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Rules to Live By

Living happily, healthily, and as a good person is incredibly important to me.  I would suspect (and hope) that the same can be said about a large number of people. Volumes of books could probably written on these topics, and in fact, I'm sure they have. But I thought I'd sum up a few of my top key "rules" for myself in a blog - thoughts I try to focus on in my day to day life, attitudes that I feel could improve my life if I fully adopt them, and tactics relate to my interactions with others. I wanted to share these with my readers, not to tell them they should utilize the same thoughts and ideals, but simply in hopes of possibly inspiring someone, or at least giving them food for though - perhaps motivation to create their own list.
  • Be grateful. I certainly have dealt with my share of difficulties, but I hope to focus increasingly on the positive aspects. I'm very lucky in many ways, and I need to make sure to acknowledge that. 
  • Lead with your heart, follow your gut, consult your head when needed. I realize not everyone believes in following their heart first. This is my personal choice. The few times I've tried to go against my better judgement and follow my head against my heart, the consequences have not been good. When my heart is happy, I am happy. That's what it boils down to. 
  • Keep close to your heart those who have stood by you even when they had every right not to. Those people will be the ones by your side at the end of your life, if you let them. Appreciate them and stick close to them - they're worth more than you may realize now. Make sure you let them know they're important to you, and often. 
  • Karma. Be mindful of it. It's incredibly powerful. You will get back what you give, good or bad,  I promise. 
  • Actions always speak louder than words. More importantly, the two should match if you want someone to trust and believe you. 
  • "Be the person your dog thinks you are." I saw this on a Facebook post from a page I follow (I can't remember which, sorry) and it is just so perfect. I had to include it. 
  • Worrying and complaining about something doesn't change the outcome. In fact, it can have a negative impact if anything. Don't we often get all worked up for nothing and upset others around us? 
  • Similarly, I recently read the statement in a book (The Artist's Way) that "right now, everything is always alright".  This was in a section of the book discussing paying attention to the current moment. The exception, I suppose, would be moments of extreme pain. Generally, though, it's the anticipation, the worry, the wondering, the extrapolating, the looking back that makes things difficult - not the actual moment. 
  • Treat people the way they want to be treated. Remember, this isn't always the same as the way you'd want to be treated. If you're not sure how they want to be treated, ask! 
  • You have one life. Live it! Don't let fear hold you back. 
There are plenty of other important beliefs in my life, but these are key. It doesn't mean I'm great at them, but it means I try. I am working on incorporating them all into my daily life. I'd love to hear what your rules to live by are for yourself, so please, feel free to share! 

A picture of my dog, Cinn, to remind me to be as wonderful a person as she thinks I am! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In Honor of World Mental Health Day

I actually had a few other posts in my head that I wanted to write today, but then I realized that today, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day. This is a blogging opportunity that I simply couldn't pass up. As my readers know, three years ago I was diagnosed with rapid-cycling cyclothymia, a mood cycling disorder that is characterized by bouts of hypomania and depression (with a lovely host of side effects like insomnia, anxiety, and more). For a better understanding of my condition and the process I went through to finally get diagnosed at the age of almost 30, you can read more here, and here (highly recommended/shameless plug).

Today's blog though, is not about me - or not about me specifically - but rather about mental health in general, and all of those that deal with these conditions. Mental health disorders are probably some of the most mis-understood and stigmatized conditions out there. For those who don't deal with them, they can be scary, and confusing.  As a general rule, people don't like things that are scary and confusing. While it's frustrating, it's understandable in a sense.  I'm not in any way, shape, or form condoning stigmatizing anyone. But I am saying that stepping away and looking at it objectively, I could understand shying away from something that scares and confuses me. The flip side of that is, I should probably learn more about it before I decide it's scary and confusing and back away (or turn and run full tilt in the other direction).

So I wanted to use this day to address some beliefs, misunderstandings, and just thoughts overall about mental health. While I will use my condition as a reference because that's what I know, I will try to keep it general enough that it can apply to others as well.

  • The brain is an organ, just like any other. We aren't generally scared or confused by people with kidney issues or gallstones or appendicitis or even cancer.  Cyclothymia and other mental health conditions are related to physical hormones and body parts just like numerous traditionally thought of physical conditions. 
  • We aren't our conditions. We have conditions. I'm not always up or down. I have plenty of "normal" days - the majority in fact. Ok, we all know I'm not normal (it's boring!) but you get the point. Similarly, people with anxiety disorders aren't always "on edge" and people with depression can be positive, enjoyable, funny people who you'd never suspect go through what they go through. 
  • It's not like the movies. We don't go from ecstatic to bitchy in mid-sentence. Even me with my rapid cycling doesn't cycle that fast. I might go from energetic to more passe between morning and afternoon, but that's about the fastest and most dramatic it will be. 
  • I find there are actually positive points to my condition: 
    • My brain works in ways that I think many others' might not. I have a crazily vivid imagination, which makes envisioning possibilities for business and life pretty amazing. 
    • I have such a wide range of emotions that I am the person my friends come to for support about basically anything and know that I'll be empathetic and understanding.
    • Because of my imagination and longing for creativity, my mind is very open - I'm a science geek, but I don't need things to be scientifically proven to believe or at least be open to them. I cherish this openness.
    • I think outside the box more than most people I know - because often, that's where my brain is in one of it's cycles. 
  • Mental health conditions are in no way a barrier from a successful career. In fact, often times our determination and persistence developed in our desire to overcome the difficulties from our conditions make us that much more successful. 
  • Mental health conditions are much more prevalent than you might think. As of 2009 (most recent data I could find, and the data is probably higher now), an estimated 26.2% of the US population suffers from a diagnosable mental health condition. If you include substance disorders (recognized by the DSM-IV as a disorder), that number rises to 32.4% - so basically 1 out of 3 Americans.  When you look at lifetime prevalence rates, that number is up to 54.7%. Which means 1 out of every 2 people. Wow. (source: Psych Central).
So in honor of World Mental Health Day, I ask you to reach out to someone who you know deals with a mental health disorder, and ask them to genuinely understand their condition. Listen, open your mind, and get to know them for who they really are, and their condition for what it really is. If you suffer with a condition, honor yourself. You've been through more than many people understand, and you're staying as strong as you possibly can. And if you think you may be dealing with something, or you know that are but are keeping it to yourself because of the stigma, today is a perfect day to reach out to someone in confidence and start to open up. I'm happy to be that person, if you need. So happy World Mental Health Day. May you celebrate and love yourself just as you truly are! 


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Creativity Project, Part 1

A month or so back, my sister recommended the book The Artist's Way to me during a conversation we had about unblocking creativity. Basically, I was feeling creatively stuck and she, who is certainly more creative than I have ever been, suggested reading this. Given the similarity of a lot of our interests and personality traits, I take recommendations from her - and from any of my siblings for that matter - highly. 

I'll say up front, the book has a spiritual component, by which I mean that the author has mention God a lot, and I'm only through the introduction and first chapter. She also says, though, that she refers to God because it is her belief, but that you could replace it with the word spirit or energy or numerous other non-visible forces that you feel could influenced by. So don't let that deter you from reading it if you're interested. The book is, to summarize very generally, an unblocking process for creativity. It's written in a way that she has usually conducted her actual classes - yes, she teaches courses on this, which I think is phenomenal and wish I could actually take. This means that each chapter is written as a week in her course, which is perfect for me because I tend to devour these types of books and wake up the next morning wanting to change my entire world, and then receive an immediate client need before I even finish my coffee and never get to step one in my life-changing revelation. This structure forces me to slow down, form habits that might actually stick, and hopefully really develop over the 12-week "course". 

There are two key constant pieces to this project. One is the morning pages. Every morning, before you start your day - or in my case after your workout because otherwise I know I won't work out - you write three pages of anything. You have to write three pages, interrupted, without judging it.  If you have to write "this is silly, I don't know what to write" for three pages, then you do it, until you do have something come to you. It's basically a brain dump to get things that might be milling around in your head out without judgement, so that you can see what they actually form. It also serves as a method for getting negative thoughts out of the way with before starting your day. Even if you keep a journal, you do the morning pages. I do both, and I find they really are two different concepts for me. 

The second component is an artist "date". Sadly for me, this doesn't mean an actual date with an artist (or anyone else for that matter), but instead it means taking yourself on a date to inspire your creativity. Which is ok too, because I find I'm a pretty good date, and so is my creative self. It may sound silly, but give it a try. You aren't allowed to take anyone else - I'm not sure if my dog counts, but I've played it safe and not taken her. 

Both exercises are created to help your creative self come to the surface free from judgement by anyone else or, ofter our toughest critic, ourselves. It's amazing to discover how self-critical and self-blocking you are. Ever feel like if you just say something aloud, even if only your dog is going to hear it, that somehow you're going to be judged for it? It's because you're judging yourself, without even realizing it. It's actually freeing to say "you know, I think really enjoy xyz activity/interest/hobby" or "I secretly want to wear this or that outfit" and not worry about what anyone, even yourself, thinks. Just because it's not something you expect of yourself, or others expect of you, doesn't mean it's "wrong". It helps get rid of the "shoulds" and the "should nots".  

All this said, I'm only in week one. For my artist date this week I took a trip to Michael's Arts and Crafts to wander around and see what struck my fancy - what creative projects I might be interested in. I found that the jewelry-making section really enthralled me. I'm going to research the process a bit more to see if I think it's something I'd be interested in trying, since it requires some tools and I have limited income. I bought a set of inexpensive colored pencils and cheap sketch pad. I'm a horrid drawer from all experiences, but I want to get some feelings out on paper this way, so I thought, why not?

I'm excited to start week two of the project today. I'll be including updates on my blog, hopefully on a weekly basis. If anyone is interested with doing this "course" along with me, I'd love to have a partner in crime!