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! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Self Honesty

Self honesty can be, at least for me, one of the most difficult parts of the self-discovery process.  Of course, some honesty about yourself and your situation has to be present to start the process - otherwise why would you begin the journey in the first place? However, I believe there are levels to self honesty, which delve deeper and deeper as you continue. It's these most internal levels that can be especially difficult. Often, they require assistance from an outside source.

I feel I'm pretty good at knowing myself. I'm particularly good at knowing my faults - I tend to blame myself for things that I shouldn't, apologize when I haven't done anything wrong, and I'm notoriously tough on myself. So often times I actually try to work on not being so self-criticizing. Recently, though, I've been having difficulty with a particular situation in my life, and despite numerous efforts, I couldn't figure out me why. I tried to, ad nauseum. I analyzed, probably entirely too much, I tried different tactics to figure it out, but it just wasn't moving in the direction that I hoped.

Finally, the other day, I had a very brutally honest discussion with a close friend of mine about the situation. This friend is probably the only person in my life who can be as blunt as they are, and instead of being fuming mad, I listen. Ok, I might be fuming mad at first, but I still listen. I won't say I wasn't shocked, hurt, frustrated, and a bit angry at the whole situation, including some anger and frustration directed at myself. But I listened. I took to heart what they said. Turns out, when I look at it from an outside perspective, I was doing a lot of things - albeit unknowingly in many cases - that were making the situation worse instead of better.

Sometimes, it takes brutal honesty and a real look into yourself and at your actions from someone else's perspective. Pick the person to share this with you wisely. It needs to be someone who knows you well, and who is truly trying to help you - give you a wake up call, if you will - as opposed to someone who just wants to tell you all of your faults. The latter will be very emotionally detrimental, because the "faults" might not be accurate at all. Those people just want to knock you down to make themselves feel better. They're taking their own struggles and frustrations out on you. But when you choose someone who's genuinely trying to help you, and who you can take such honesty from, it can be very revealing. I'll warn you - it's painful. You'll be licking your wounds at first, but don't let that deter you.

 Once you have this conversation, it will be a bit of a long process. Change takes time. But work at it, a little every day. Pick one thing you're going to do differently each day, even one seemingly insignificant thing. Over time, these will add up, and you'll feel more comfortable with the changes you've made.

As with anything, make sure that any changes you make are truly best for you, or for the particular situation. Don't just change because others tell you that you should. You might find some things the person said really make sense, while others may not seem right - just because someone knows you doesn't mean they understand every detail about you, so their opinion is guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate. Honor your values and those things that make you, you. The bottom line is this: always be honest with yourself. It just may be that the times that it's most painful to do so are the times you need it the most.