Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Fear Perspective

I recently began reading a fantastic book entitled "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway" (by Susan Jeffers). It was recommended to me by a friend, and I can't thank her enough. Before I started the book, I knew I had some fears, but they were mostly tangible or predictable - bees (I'm allergic), heights to an extent, closed in spaces and the like. I also suspected I had some other fears lurking in my subconscious that I wasn't quite aware of or ready to admit but, as the nature of the subconscious goes, I couldn't quite identify them.

Almost immediately upon starting the book, a huge realization hit me - I have a ton of fears! Practically with each page - and I'm not exaggerating, I've dog-eared and underlined the parts I feel most important and there are a ton of them - I learned a bit more about myself and my misinterpreted fears. One of the biggest eye openers was my growing ability to see that fear was the stimulus behind so many actions or inactions in my life. From things as simple as my inability to look some people in the eye (out of being self-conscious, not out of being untruthful) to rather important decisions about my business, fear was inhibiting me probably daily. Furthermore, I could pinpoint a few reoccurring themes. I created a list of those that were becoming most obvious and prevalent.

The list includes:

  • Fear of rejection 
  • Fear of failure - by my standards or those of others
  • Fear of not knowing how to handle a situation (such as the outcome of a decision if it doesn't work out as I'd hoped).*
  • Fear of fear/anxiety itself - yes, that's right, I realized that sometimes I actually stop myself from doing things because I am afraid "what if I put myself in this situation and then I'm afraid or anxious." This is tied to the fear of not handling a situation. 
  • Fear of embarrassment - I assume is tied to the fear of failure and rejection. This sounds silly, but it's a big one for me. 
I'm sure there are others here. I haven't included those more tangible ones mentioned in the first paragraph. In my opinion, if I can conquer the fears of failure and rejection, overcoming my fear of bees should hopefully be a piece of cake. 

Once I was able to start recognizing these fears, I was able to begin pinpointing some actions that I was, or was not, making as a result of them. In the last week, I've begun examining my decisions much more. When I turn down the opportunity to do something, when I put off a business decision, when I want to start a conversation with someone and find myself shying away I ask myself - what am I afraid of? Almost always, the answer lies somewhere in the fears above. I then have to consciously ask myself if 1.) it's a legitimate fear and 2.) what's the worst that will happen? Since doing this, I've noticed a remarkable difference - not only am I pursuing things that I normally would not, I'm also feeling a tremendous relief when I do. I feel stronger and more able, not only to take action, but to handle the results of those actions. 

I "starred" (*) bullet point three above because Jeffers points out that this fear is, more or less, the driving force behind all other fears (please note, I'm paraphrasing here - there is a lot more detail in the book on this topic). If you know you can handle a situation, regardless of the outcome, then other fears dissipate. So what if I embarrass myself - will it really be a big deal to others and if it is, do I really want to hang around those people? If I make this business decision and it doesn't go the way I planned, I will handle it - if nothing else, I'll learn from the experience and be able to make better decisions in the future. Additionally, sometimes getting the "wrong" outcome can be the best thing that happens. A decision might not take you down the path you planned, but sometimes it opens you up to a new opportunity that you wouldn't have thought about otherwise. (Note:  I'm not a particularly religious person, and I'm in not stating that "everything happens out for a reason" or "there's a higher plan". I have no issue with these suggestions, I'm just not putting them forth here. I'm simply suggesting that you sometimes don't see all of the options when you hold back because of fear, and that even when things don't go as planned, you have the opportunity to create another path for yourself.)

In the book, Jeffers challenges the reader to do one thing every day that they are afraid of. Most days, this will be something small - someone must live an extraordinary life to be able to conquer monumental fears every day. Some days, this might simply be something that makes you a bit nervous or anxious, rather than something you can identify as an obvious fear. Take my "looking people in the eyes" example - I don't necessarily know why I'm afraid of it, it just is difficult for me and makes me uncomfortable. For many people, this seems like nothing at all. For me, who is otherwise in no way a shy person, this can be very difficult at times. So I'm making a concerted effort to look people in the eyes and initiate a "hi", and I'm focusing on those people that, for whatever reason, I normally have a hard time doing this with. The more I work at this, the more it will become second nature.

I'll round out this very long blog by extending that challenge. I've already done so in my Mood Disorders Support System group on Facebook and I'll do so further in this blog. Join me in tackling one fear a day, every day. If you have a specific fear you want to overcome, feel free to share it - often other readers have experienced something similar, and they may be a great source of suggestions and advice from personal experience.  If it's a larger fear, break it up into smaller actions or decisions and work on one of those each day. Just as you wouldn't start your running regime by signing up for a half marathon, I don't suggest working on your fears by taking on a monster of a fear first - start small and build up your courage. 

Finally, my personal disclaimer - I'm not telling anyone to do anything overtly dangerous or life threatening. If your fear is base jumping, I'm not telling you to run out and do that. I'm focused more on those day to day fears that hold you back, that you may not even realize before you start this exercise. We are also sharing these challenges in the Facebook group on a regular basis, so feel free to join - it's a wonderfully supportive group and the more, the merrier!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Defying "Normal"

I've been blog slacking - again. I'll be better, I promise. It's been a few really hectic weeks. But, I don't believe in the "I don't have time" excuse, so here we go! This blog is a bit off of my usual topics, but it fits in it's own sort of way.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned before, but I keep pieces of paper by my desk where I write down various musings, song lyrics that I love, funny or poignant pieces of conversations with friends, thoughts that pop into my head, etc. Partly, this helps to get a bunch of the random stuff that normally floats around in my brain out. Partly, it gives me something to look at when I need inspiration, motivation, or just a laugh. I've filled multiple pieces of paper with these notes (all still on my desk) and I've noticed a theme. At least once on each piece of paper, there's something akin to "normal is boring."

The fact that this sentiment is all over my notes tells me something - I really, truly believe that normal is, in fact, boring. Now, one could argue that nobody's normal - that everyone is their own unique person - and they'd probably be correct, scientifically and even psychologically speaking. By normal, I guess I'm referring to the status quo, the traditional way of living and thinking, the fear of being off-beat. Clearly, by now, anyone that reads even one of my blogs can see that I have no fear of being different or off-beat. In fact, I kind of enjoy it. Don't get me wrong, I do not enjoy that I have cyclothymia - but I have, through coming to terms with it, realized that I'm perfectly ok with not being like everyone else.  I've never really had a "traditional" kind of job, and my chosen career certainly isn't run of the mill, so I guess I always realized that I wasn't like everyone else in some ways. Recently, my decision to tell my story to the world (aka my subscribers and anyone else who randomly reads my blog),  I've not only started to become happier with my life in respects to my condition, but it seems to have opened the flood gates, so to speak, to discovering the more cafe-free, silly, unabashed side of me that I always knew was there but could never quite bring to the surface. I think that by trying to constantly hide my condition, I was forming a blockade to other parts of my personality. I would guess that probably this isn't uncommon for people who are trying to "hold it together", keep things private for fear of others' judgement, etc.

I'm loving this new internal freedom. I am ridiculously lucky that the people I surround myself with support me in my new-found discovery. They understand it's part of the true me, and they can either laugh along with me when I walk down the hotel hallway dancing to a song that I'm singing in my head, or they can stare at me like I'm crazy. Generally, they choose the former. Sometimes, they even join in. I love them for it. (For the record, I actually do this, sometimes not even realizing it until someone points it out).

So for anyone that gets frustrated with not being different, that doesn't understand why they don't think or act the way others do, or that's just afraid to let their truest selves show through - don't be. Obviously, there's a time and place for everything (I try not to do the singing/dancing bit in board of directors meetings), but honestly, assuming it's appropriate, just be you. It's an incredible feeling. Start with something small and silly. It'll take some courage, but once you start it gets increasingly easier. And to all of my friends and family who embrace my slight craziness and my love of the not-normal, thank you. You're wonderful people and I couldn't be making this progress without you. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Little Help From My Friends

Every now and then you just have a really crap day. You know the kind that nothing seems to go right? I think that we've all been there. Yesterday was kind of one of those days.

I woke up in what I think was a mixed mood cycle, meaning I was somehow experiencing both a hypomanic and a depressed cycle at the same time. I had read about this but never fully understood how it was possible until yesterday morning. In addition, without going into much detail as I'm not trying to point fingers, this was followed up by an incident which left me feeling rather rejected/excluded/pushed aside by a group of people I generally consider to be friends. Let me also mention that I'm the only female among this group,  which I'm normally perfectly fine with, but in situations like this it doesn't help in the "feeling like an outsider" department.  Partly through my steller day, I accidentally took the wrong dose of meds. I took the dose that I normally take right before bed, which happens to be three times the strength of my mid-day dose. I really can't function once I've taken it given all the side effects and had to take a two hour nap to recover, and even afterwards still felt woozy.

Being the social (media) butterfly that I am, I griped about my woes on twitter and FB, complained probably too loudly to the people nearby that would listen, and then had the wherewithal to actually reach out to a couple of my closest girl friends. Thank goodness for that. They calmly told me that my group of friends was not intentionally ostracizing me - or at least they doubted this, they let me complain about my contradicting mood swings, and they helped me discuss some legitimate concerns I had about a few things in my life that had been boiling up and seemed to be finally spilling over. One of them took time out of her work breaks and lunch, and another spent her train ride discussing with me, while I'm sure both of them could have been relaxing or focusing on more positive parts of their day. I probably went back and forth with each of them for a good couple of hours when all was said and done. I also posted in my Mood Disorders Support System Group and got some helpful advice and support from fellow members.

I hate to be a drain on my friends. I have never, despite my condition, been an overly negative person - in fact, people always comment on the fact that I'm constantly smiling and how much energy I have (I'm often told I'm like the energizer bunny). Still, there are times that you need to just vent, complain, cry, and be somewhat unreasonable because it feels reasonable in the moment. Those times when you're not yourself, when everything has come crashing down, or so it seems, and you feel unable to stand on your own two legs.

It plain out sucks having a day like this, but as I spoke to my friends, it did serve to remind me of a couple of important lessons that are often easy to forget in all the hullabaloo of a bad episode or experience.

1. Sometimes I'm not my own best judge. In times when my condition acts up badly, I need to turn to my closest friends. They'll be supportive, but they'll also be honest. They'll tell me when I'm not seeing things accurately or when someone I'm worrying about really just isn't worth my worry. But in the end, they'll still support me, regardless if I understand their point or not.

2. I need to avoid rash decisions or actions. Things might look better or at least different when the immediate situation passes. I was ready to write off a group of my friends. I may need to re-examine them, but I'm glad I haven't walked away just yet. I still might eventually, but I didn't burn bridges in an emotional moment.

3. Sometimes I'm barking up the wrong tree. I'm looking at one thing to make me happy, when that's not the direction I should be looking. I had a great talk with a friend about why certain things seem so important to me, and the fact that maybe they shouldn't be. Perhaps those things aren't what I should be focusing on at all.

4. I'm not alone. Others, even if they don't suffer from the exact same conditions, have similar days. I'm so thankful for my Mood Disorders Support System group. They understand, they've been there, and while I'm sad that they've gone through these feelings, I'm so appreciative that they're willing to share and listen.

5. Everyone has off days.  No matter how much progress I make, I'm never going to be cured. I'm going to have a bad day here and there. The sky isn't falling, no matter how much it feels like it. Nobody's perfect, and if I expect myself to progress every single day without exception, I'm going to be disappointed.

I think I'm coming out of my fog, both physically and mentally. I don't enjoy mixed-cycle states at all, but they're apparently part of my condition. I'm sure others feel the same way about their symptoms. Sometimes, when it gets that bad, all you can do is hold on and wait for the storm to pass. Don't be afraid, though, to reach out for someone to hold on to during that storm. They're there, and they understand. A little help from your friends goes a long way. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Life in the Fast Lane

It's been a while since I blogged. Between my travels I buckled down to my travel business work and didn't take the time that I hoped to blog here. I should have a longer stint home soon, though, and hope to do some catching up.

As you know if you've read my blog for a while, I made a list of commitments that I was absolutely going to keep every day. They were very basic and things I really should be able to stick to. I had a physical list that I checked off daily and I did wonderfully with them! A few weeks ago, I'd been doing so well that I decided I now had formed the habits (it takes 6 weeks, right?) and didn't need to actually check off  the list - I'd keep with these items because they were now part of my daily routine. Well, we all know which road is paved with good intentions....

I could use the excuse that I've been traveling for work a ton lately on quite a rigorous schedule. In between times, I've wanted to spend time out with friends because I haven't seen them as often. These factors also account a bit for the fact that my healthy eating habits and workout schedule have not made an appearance too recently either (these aren't on my commitments list but they were goals I was striving for). It's tough to complain about travel to places like Hawaii and Las Vegas with a busy social schedule in between time. However, since my commitments and healthy habits have slacked, I've noticed some changes I don't particularly like.

When I was meditating and writing daily, I noticed I was calmer. Things that traditionally upset me seemed easier to handle. I felt more at ease, happier, like I was in a good place with myself and with my life. Don't get me wrong, everything wasn't perfect, but I seemed different, in a positive way. Perhaps I'd just unconsciously learned to take a deep breath before reacting. Maybe I felt more in control because I was taking the time out to do these things daily, to get into patterns, which is so crucial for mood cyclers. It's possible that just doing these few things for me and no one else was having a positive effect on my day to day life. In the last few weeks, though, I've found myself bringing up old demons - getting angry and/or sad about situations I had been dealing with well before, becoming jumpy and anxious, battling more negative self talk about myself and my life, not sleeping well.

Physically, I just haven't felt healthy. I've been exhausted, constantly seem to be battling some type of cold, dealt with a persistent pain in my abdomen for several weeks (gone now, thankfully), my skin is breaking out, the list goes on. In fact, I'm writing this instead of being able to attend a closing event at a conference because I feel chills and a potential fever coming on (perhaps it's not best to write with a fever, but I'm antsy and words are coming to me). I realize I'm not painting a pretty picture here. I suspect that much of this physical reaction is due to a less than healthy diet, lower activity level and higher stress level.

As much fun as I have had traveling around and spending most of my free time going out with friends, I realize that I need to slow down. I absolutely love to travel, and I'll obviously continue to do so - it's part of my business! But even when traveling, I need to be kinder to myself. I need to get back to my commitments and some sense of routine. I must sleep more, with fewer stress interruptions. Clearly, life in the fast lane doesn't work for me. At least not for extended periods of time. One of the things my therapist has stressed most with me is that mood cyclers need routine. We need our habits, our sleep, our reliable patterns because there is so much change going on in our brains one a regular basis that throwing in a bunch of external curve balls is only going to make it worse. I plan to start printing out my commitments list again and checking if off daily. I want to cook at home more and be more active. I look forward to settling back down into my home life. I love adventure, but my brain does not always feel the same way about it. I'm learning that the best way to handle these conflicting needs is to compromise. This time, at least for a little while, my brain wins. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Monsters Under the Bed

The other day, one of the pages that I follow on Facebook posted some insights about fear.  Without repeating them verbatim (because I don’t have the copyright/trademark rights to do so) they basically pointed out that we’re not afraid of specific scenarios or actions, but rather of the results if something within those scenarios or actions were to go wrong. I entitled this blog "Monsters Under the Bed" as an example. Kids aren't afraid of the monsters themselves, they're afraid, presumably, of being attacked by the monsters. (I say presumably because I oddly never had this fear as a child). The same goes for more adult fears - it's the potential result, not the thing itself, that we fear. 

Fear is a touchy subject. People are ok with saying “I’m afraid of heights or spiders or flying”.  They’re not as ok with saying “I’m afraid of being hurt or rejected or losing control of a situation” (these latter are not related to the heights or spiders or closed in spaces, for the record).  It seems the more personal a fear is, the less inclined people are to disclose it. Perhaps it’s that we don’t fully understand our fears – we might not understand why we’re afraid of a situation, or that it involves a fear at all.  If someone doesn’t like big crowds, they may just think it’s “not their thing” and not realize there’s an underlying fear that goes along with this aversion. This lack of awareness makes it difficult for them to acknowledge the fear, let alone tackle it.

When I first began this journey of self-discovery, fear was a major factor. I had no idea how people would react to my openness, to finding out about my condition, to learning what I go through. It could go one of two ways: being praised for my courage and supported through this journey, or having most people I know run for the hills. In all likelihood, it would be a combination. While most people have had the ware withal not to run away yelling loudly about it, I’m sure there are people who might be a bit more leery of getting close to me after knowing about my condition and the bit of emotional flip-flopping it can cause. A majority of people have been supportive, however, including many of whom I didn’t expect to react one way or the other (i.e. I didn’t even expect them to read my blogs).

For me, much of dealing with my fears is about acceptance – of myself and of the particulars of my life.  This doesn’t apply so much to fears of physical things (I’m petrified of bees, because I’m allergic), but to situations. In the theme of openness, I thought I’d express some fears that I’ve dealt with throughout my life, and in some instances, still do. With these, I’ll share the way I’ve begun to logically try to think about each fear, which I do best when not right in the moment. In sharing, I hope this helps others to start thinking through their own fears, and how they can view them differently. These are in no particular order than the one in which they came to me when compiling this list.

1. People will think I’m crazy, walk away from me, or react in some other way negatively.

My logical reaction: They might. And if they do, are those people I want in my life? Not particularly. Besides, everyone has their own demons. Mine just come with a name and DSMIV listing, and I’m just more open about mine than a lot of people.

2.  I’m going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life.
My logical reaction: This is true. And I’m really lucky for the medication and for the support that helps me. There’s no “curing” my condition, so I might as well learn how to live with it and be happy overall.  I have also realized that I want to use my condition for good – to help others through support, awareness and education.

3. I’m going to end up alone.

My response: I’m quite sure there’s no condition required to have this fear. In fact, I’d bet at least 50 percent of people that have gone through a bad breakup or divorce has had this thought at least once. In reality, I probably won’t be. It might take a while, but I have time.

4.  People won’t understand.
My response: They don’t have to understand exactly how it feels. I don’t (thankfully) understand how many conditions feel. But I can listen when someone tries to explain, I can empathize and I can support them in the way that they need. Sometimes, I just have to say “I’m having a bad cyclothymia day” or “my (hymponaic or depressed) cycles are bad today” and that has to be enough. Basically, some days, I’m not on my A game. No one is “on” all of the time. If I can educate those close to me about what I need from them during those times – even if it’s to be left alone – then they know better what to expect from me, and I from them. Communication is key.

Do you have fears you’re working through or need help understanding? I realize some people might not feel comfortable sharing these yet. They can be deep and personal. If you do, though, either in a group or privately, I’m happy to listen.  I feel that understanding, and ultimately conquering ones fears, is one of the most important steps in being happy with and loving oneself and one’s life.