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?"