Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Of Christmases Long, Long Ago

I'm not going to lie, I completely stole the idea for this post  from my dad (we're a blogging family!). He wrote a post about Christmas memories, mostly from when he was a kid, but also a few traditions as a young adult with kids of his own. Christmas is my absolutely favorite holiday... I'm literally like a little kid on the days leading up to it, and especially on, Christmas morning. These days it's really about the family, and the traditions - both renewing old ones and starting new ones, and while it's tough not to enjoy the gifts aspect, it's as much, and probably more, about the giving than it is about the receiving now. Quite simply, I just truly love Christmas in so many ways. So I thought I'd share a little list of Christmas memories of my own. Some (a lot) might be a bit quirky, but to me, that makes them all the more special.

  • When my brother and I were kids, we really wanted a Teddy Ruxpin, like every other kid our age. Instead, on Christmas morning we each got a "regular" stuffed bear, with a note attached to it saying that so many kids wanted Teddy Ruxpin that these poor bears had nowhere to go, and Santa knew that we'd make a good home for them so sent them to us. We were either really sweet, or complete suckers, and we loved our bears more than we would have any Teddy Ruxpin. My parents continued this tradition for years, well past the point that we realized the story was a bit... embellished. Different stuffed animals, usually some form of bear, arrived on December 25th every year with a fun (and slightly less tragic than the original) note. I think it stopped when we were about 20. 
  • Every Christmas morning, without fail, we had to sign happy birthday to the baby Jesus in the manger before we could open gifts. This also stopped when I was about 22, when we realized weren't a religious family. 
  • One year my Grandma came to visit, and we didn't have the heart to tell her we had stopped going to mass years before. So we went... and got lost and drove around for 25 minutes, making up stories for Grandma about why we couldn't figure out what should have been a two minute drive to the church we supposedly went to every Sunday. 

  • We were cooking making (and eating) machines: Spritz, cutouts, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Thumbprints, the chocolate PB ones with a hershey kiss. At grandma's, it was Cuccidatis, Sfingis, and Rock Cookies - which were fruit cake disguised as cookies, we later found out. 

  • I have always had trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve. We used to have warm milk before going to bed, to help us sleep, but it usually didn't work. One year when I was about four my mom said she tiptoed into my room every hour, and each time she'd hear me quietly singing Christmas carols. She said it went on all night long.
  • My brother and I woke up so early on Christmas that my parents actually had to make a rule that we couldn't get up before 6 AM. Every year, whoever woke up first - almost always me - would knock on the other's door early in the morning and we'd sit together in one of our rooms counting the minutes until 6 AM. I remember one year, when I was about 19, I had just come back from overseas and had massive jet lag and actually "slept in" a bit on Christmas. Around 7:00 AM, I heard a knock on my door and a whispered "are you awake". I guess some habits are just not meant to be broken. 
Over the years traditions have changed. We've grown up. Most of my siblings have kids now, we all have our own households, and we're spread out throughout the country. These days, it's undoubtedly my young nieces and nephews who whisper (or loudly proclaim) "are you awake" in the wee hours of the morning on Christmas. Me.... I still have trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve for all my love of the holiday. Sometimes, I still even sing Christmas carols... though for the sake of others in the house, I now try to keep them in my head.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Most Frustrating Things People Say To Someone With a Mood Disorder

It's no secret that there's a huge stigma surrounding mental health. I've blogged before about the myths of mood cycling conditions, and even some of the positives I've gleaned from mine, but I thought I'd address some of the other statements and negativity we get dealt with on a regular basis, just for being ourselves.
  • "You're way too emotional. "  I've actually been admonished for "being a baby" for tears that people didn't understand. Yes, I'm probably more emotional than a lot of people. But I'm not a baby. I'm not weak. I'm not spoiled. I have a big heart. I feel things greatly, deeply. It means if you were in trouble, I'd feel it so greatly I'd move mountains to help you.  It means I also feel joy and excitement greatly too.  Is that such a bad thing? 
  • "You're unrealistic/delusional." Mood cyclers have expansive brains. They stretch to extremes. They're often incredibly creative, imaginative, visionary. Did you know that Beethoven, Van Gogh, and Picasso are all said to have had (or were actually diagnosed with) Bipolar Disorder? Just because our dreams and brains stretch a bit further into areas some can't understand, just because our paths aren't always the same as yours, doesn't make us unrealistic or delusional. It may well mean we reach heights or discover paths others don't think to go.  
  • "You can't change. It's just how you are." Yes, there are parts of the condition that may always be there. We may always be a little bit more emotional, a bit more imaginative. But we are humans. And humans have the ability to adjust. Even if a trait or characteristic I have is influenced by my condition, it doesn't mean I can't take note and make an effort to change it. It may be harder for me than others, but nothing is set in stone. With science these days, we can transplant entire missing organs. Don't tell me it's impossible to adjust small personality characteristics.  
  • "You'll only get worse. You'll never get better."  It's a physical condition. It can be helped by medication like any other. Furthermore, I know people who managed to come off medication for good. I know people who have had years without cycling. If I had diabetes, and I took the appropriate medication and kept the appropriate diet, I doubt you'd blame all of my issues on diabetes and be positive that I'd never "be normal". It's the same with my condition. My brain is just another organ. 
  • "You have nothing to be depressed/anxious about. Your life is good." Ahh this makes me want to scream (and sometimes I do). I'm not depressed about anything. I know people who've had lung cancer and not smoked a day in their life. They aren't cancerous about something. They didn't choose it, or even do something that made it a more likely possibility. It just happened. Perhaps, like my condition, it was genetic and they couldn't have prevented it if they tried. And besides, just because my life may look good or easy or happy, I have this damn gremlin inside my head that f*cks around with my brain on a regular basis, often when I'm least expecting it. That, I assure you, is not easy, no matter how great my life may look to you. 
  • "I have to walk on eggshells because of your condition." Absolutely not! I don't want to be treated like a pariah or a child. I don't want to be simply "tolerated" or "dealt with". If you talk to me, truly listen to me, learn about my condition, really understand who I am, then you'll learn how to communicate with me, just as I learn how to communicate with you. We all, as human beings, condition or not, have those things that are easy or tough, exciting or painful, pet peeves and idiosyncrasies, and we learn how to interact and work with each other taking these all into consideration. 
Stigma happens because of these types of stereotypes. People with mental health conditions - at least one out of every four people in the United States - have to worry about their employers, colleagues, dates, even friends and family knowing about their condition for fear that they won't look at them the same, that they'll distance themselves or treat them differently. They often feel ashamed, isolated, alone. So instead of spreading that stigma with statements like the ones above, really talk to us about our conditions with an open mind  (if the person is ok with doing so). I promise you, we aren't creatures from the black lagoon. We are human beings, who happen to have a condition, would be thrilled to eliminate the ignorance that creates the stigma, through education and communication. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Don't Feed Yourself A Whole Lot Of BS

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post from a very raw, emotional standpoint. It's the second I've written in a couple of months. Unlike the first, however, I didn't publish it. There was no deep, philosophical reason for not doing so. I simply had somewhere to be and didn't have the chance to double check it before I left. I'm glad, however, that my plans got in the way of actually putting the blog out into the world.

It's not that I didn't mean what I wrote at the time, or that I'm ashamed of people knowing how I was feeling or anything like that. In fact, while I usually try to take a deep breath of calm before posting anything overly emotional, I think it's important at times for my readers to see the "not so put together" me, to prove that I do experience those things I write about first hand, and that I truly understand how they feel.

Looking back at the post, however, I realize that I was buried in a bit of self-pity when I wrote it - something that I honestly do not experience all that often. Now contrary to the common belief, I don't have anything against self-pity... once in a while. I think it's perfectly ok to say "this sucks. I wish I didn't have to deal with this. It's not fair. I'm unhappy and I'm totally allowed to be for the moment." As long as it doesn't go on and on, I'm fine with it. But what I realized as I crawled out of this dark place inspiring self-pity as well as self-loathing, was that it I had it all completely wrong. I'd been mistakenly taking others' values for my own. I was filled with anger and resentment because of this. I thought it was directed at others for their imposed beliefs and impressions that weren't accurate of the real me. I discovered, though, that I was mad at and resentful of myself.

Don't get me wrong. I don't subscribe 100 percent to "nobody else can make you feel bad about yourself".  While technically true - they're not physically inside your brain tinkering with it - the bottom line is if you hear enough negativity, especially about something you're already sensitive about, it's going to affect you, and to me, that's perfectly normal. I realized, though, that I'd basically let the outside take over my brain. When I think about it, without any beliefs tainted by external stimuli, I'm ok with where I am. I like who I am. Sure, I have faults and weaknesses I'd like to change. I'd like to make more money (who wouldn't?). There are things in my life that I wish for that I'll probably never have or be - and I mean this literally, because it's not physically possible or at best highly not feasible. But overall, I am happy with who I am deep down. In fact, I love who I am deep down. I'm ok with the fact that my life is taking a little more trial and error than others'.  It's not ideal, perhaps, but it's not the end of the world, and I'll surely grow from it. I don't mind being overly emotional - it means I have a big, caring heart, not just for myself, but for others in my life. I'm truly able to deal with all of these things about me,  and yet I've been feeding myself a ton of BS that none of them are ok, because the outside world says they're not.

So when I looked at this draft of the blog I wrote the other day, and I dissected it a bit, I realized that the honest reply to most of the things that I felt so awful about was, "So what?" In some cases, it was "I'm proud of that. I'm happy with that." Or "I'm working on that. I am getting there, even if slowly." It brought me to the realization that (actions that hurt others not-withstanding) what truly matters is what I think of me, my life, my goals, my dreams, and my path. It's not to discount what others think. It's not that I don't take their thoughts into consideration, because they might be very helpful indeed. In the end, though, my values and my opinion of me have to come from within me. It's this that will allow me to truly be myself in my most honest form - something that I feel I've been missing a lot lately.

To start out, I might have to remind myself of this on a daily, or even more frequent, basis. But I have the knowledge, and that is a huge piece of the puzzle. I'm excited to see where it takes me. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Youth and Teens - It's Not Just Hormones

An issue very near and dear to my heart is mental health in teens and youth. It's important to me for several reasons - first, I believe it's when my condition first started to show symptoms of creeping out, and yet I more or less ignored them for the next 15 years or so, which I feel was a great disservice to myself. Secondly, these demographics are often ignored when it comes to mental health, and their issues chalked up to hormones and a phase they're going through. Their actions and personalities are thought to be moody, defiant, frustrating, and independent. They're not usually considered to be symptoms of very real, medical conditions that aren't phases at all.

I thought I'd write about the signs and symptoms youth and teens might exhibit, to provide some insight that may traditionally be thought to be "normal" of their age groups. I thought this might prove helpful not only for families, but for youth and teens themselves who are going through something like this, and are feeling confused and frustrated. It's important to note, I'm not a licensed mental health professional. This list below from my first hand experience, and those of others I know who have battled mental health conditions in their youth and teen years.

  • They completely withdraw, not only from the family, but from their friends and social activities as well. While this could be just "teen years", it may not be. Teen years are usually a time of trying to cultivate friendships, find your niche in life, be part of a group. Pulling away from these mirrors how depression often appears in adults. 
  • There's drastic change in eating or sleeping habits that persists over a long period of time. This can be a symptom of multiple conditions, such as depression, anxiety, mood, or eating disorders. 
  • Their friends notice a major change in personality or attitude. We have to be careful with this, because it could indeed just be the ups and downs of young friendships. But it could be something more. Sometimes those who know us best can see the signs before we ourselves can. 
  • They exhibit or feel pronounced mood swings, which don't appear to be linked to specific situations. Often these will last for a few days to a week, but they may last longer, or they may be more rapid. 
  • They complain of being constantly anxious, jittery, irritated, and/or jumpy without a particular reason. This can be a symptom of hypomania or mania in someone with mood cycling. 
  • They have extreme trouble concentrating or focusing on tasks or ideas, even those that are really important to them - ie it's not because they're bored or uninterested. 
  • They talk about feeling worthless or hopeless, particularly without a triggering event that might make them feel this way. 
Of course, virtually everyone experiences these types of feelings from time to time. It's the pattern of these over time, and often the presence of numerous symptoms, that can be cause for concern. It doesn't necessarily mean that they have a condition, but it may be worth consulting a doctor or mental health professional. 

Being diagnosed with a mental health condition can be difficult for anyone, at any time in their life - not only does it mean a medical condition that you may have to deal with for the rest of your life, but there is a lot of stigma about mental health. For youth and teens, who are also dealing with major changes in their lives and their bodies, who are trying to find their way, their social groups, their interests, and their direction in life, it can be even more difficult to have to also battle the stigma and the realization of a condition. It's therefore incredibly important to be supportive and understanding, and if they are diagnosed, to show interest in learning about their condition in an effort to understand and help, instead of either denying it, pushing them away, or making them feel "abnormal". 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mission Impossible

As part of an exercise I've been doing for a coaching plan, I wrote an impossible list. If it's not particularly clear by the title, it's a list of everything that seems impossible for me to accomplish (that I'd want to accomplish in the first place). I didn't understand the point of the exercise at first. Writing a list of all the things you can't do when you're feeling pretty bad about yourself doesn't particularly sound like a good idea.

As I tried to create my list, being the honest person that I am and taking the word impossible at its true definition, I found I was having a tough time creating my list at all. Sure, there were things on there that I didn't feel confident that I'd accomplish. There were items that seemed highly unlikely. Then there were those items that I thought, "I really just don't have enough faith in my ability to do this". Now mind you, I kept all of these items on there because they'd come to mind, and because at the moment that they popped in my head, they seemed impossible.  When I really studied the list, though, I had to admit, most of them weren't actually impossible. Impossible would be a goal that for whatever reason required me to be six feet tall, because I'm 34 years old and presumably never going to grow past my current height of five feet. Luckily none of my goals have a height requirement, so I'm safe there. With this as a contrast, I realized that we often use the word and mindset of impossible a little too carelessly and willingly.   

I'm not sure if this reverse psychology was what the exercise intended. Perhaps it was truly to weed out the unrealistic goals and standards we focus on in order to put more energy and effort into those that we can accomplish. My guess is, though, that this is exactly why the creator of this plan had in mind. It was a pretty good reminder of all of the little lies I tell myself about the things I can't do and the abilities I don't have. This certainly doesn't mean that I will accomplish all of the goals and dreams I have. What it means is, I have been giving myself less credit than I should.  I've been using absolute words like never and always (as in "I'll always be bad at xyz), when I could use slightly gentler, more pliable, more flexible words.

I suppose that in the end, very little is impossible. At least very little that we want to accomplish in the day to day of our lives. It might be weighty or difficult or take learning a new skill or tweaking things in our life. It might even mean big sacrifices or changes or adjustments in attitude. Those, though, are more manageable than impossible, because it puts the control and the power back in our hands. Which exactly where we need it to be to make things happen.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Would You Like to Write in Costa Rica?

It's no secret that I love to write. At times, I feel it's almost as essential as food or oxygen.  It's healing to the soul. It's not just the act of writing itself, but the opportunity for expression. What others explore through painting or pottery or music I find in the written word.

So a few months ago, while letting my mind wander between writing and travel, my other love, an idea suddenly sparked. As I do with many of my spontaneous ideas, I turned to social media and  tweeted that I would love to organize a destination writing retreat. It was an impromptu gesture that I figured most people wouldn't see and would garner little reaction. Within minutes, a friend of mine, poet Hila Ratzabi, replied "I'll teach poetry!" In that simple exchange, a collaboration began, and a few conversations later, the Eco Poetry Retreat was born.

After several months of research and planning, we decided upon our ideal location - a quiet guest house compound in Norosa, along the western coast of Costa Rica. Norosa is known for its biodiversity, white sand beaches, spectacular surfing waves, and natural beauty. It seems the perfect place for nature-fed inspiration.

I feel that Hila, as an accomplished poet and the instructor at our retreat, gives a much better description of the workshop itself than I can probably offer, so I'll quote her here:

"In this generative poetry workshop, geared toward all levels of poets from beginner and on, Hila will provide readings and exercises that explore the ways in which poetry arises out of our relationship to the Earth."

In addition to the poetry workshop itself, participants will get to enjoy all that Costa Rica, and the Norosa area in particular, has to offer. The retreat will offer opportunities to participate in guided jungle and river tours, horseback riding, snorkeling, and more.

For more information on the retreat, please visit the Red Sofa Salon retreat page here. Of course, you are welcome to ask me any questions you have as well. Oh, and we're offering a little discount:  register by December 15, and receive $100 off! 

I'm incredibly excited about this venture, and the opportunity to share it with others.  As always, please feel free to pass along this retreat information to anyone you feel may be interested!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Ideal Typical Day

I mentioned before that I'm doing an in-app coaching plan. The most recent task in this plan was to write 500 words about your ideal typical day. I thought that this went well with my happiness exercises, and so I decided to share my own. I took some liberties here, because this particular coaching plan is about achieving your goals, and assumed that the ideal typical day was a weekday, aka a work day, and that I wasn't a rockstar millionaire or something like that, but actually living out the day to day in a career that I enjoyed but that was something I reasonably aspire to. (If you have the capabilities of being a rockstar, then perhaps that would be reasonable. For me, it's far outside of my talent zone).  

As I've discussed previously my ideas for creating a nonprofit in the mental health field, I hope that my readers can get the general idea that I used in creating this ideal typical day. Of course there are some personal details in here too, because I certainly don't aspire to be a working robot. I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments if there are any gaps that you'd like to know more about. So without further adieu.... my ideal typical day. 

I get up early - as the sun is coming up if not before. I get to the gym for a workout for about an hour. When I get home, I write my three pages, like I do every morning. My thoughts, musings, concerns, questions I have for the universe. Today, the three pages ends too quickly - I have so many thoughts and creative ideas, but I can use some brainstorming time for that later. I eat breakfast with the family before settling into the work day.

I’m starting the work day off with an all-team meeting. They’re fun and informative, and I like to have them once a month just to catch each team up with where the others are. The Family Fun Day planning is coming along nicely - the goal for this year is to get 150 people. Then we have the Mentor Meet Up event, in which mentors and mentees are going to meet in person for a community fun day. It’s the first time we’re doing this, but so far it’s looking popular with both groups. The magazine is going well, up to bi-monthly now, and with plenty of fresh writers of all ages. For the finance team, I just need to check in on the sponsorships to make sure we’re on track as we have been. And finally, we have the writing classes. I’ve been getting more and more requests for private lessons, which I love. It’s so wonderful to see the kids develop as they become more comfortable and confident in their writing and in themselves. The classes are booming too. In fact, I’ve set aside time later this week to finalize plans for the upcoming class.

After the staff meeting, I’m sitting in on a meeting of our community events team. I absolutely love having the kids help to develop the fundraising events - they come up with such creative ideas, and the enjoyment they get out of helping to develop these events is so rewarding. We try to do one every quarter to keep them engaged and keep our name “out there” with the public. And of course it helps raise additional funds for the charities and our organization.

I’m done meetings for the morning, and now I’m off to help with Suspended Coffee day. This isn’t a program that makes any money for me whatsoever, but I just love it. We work with a different local coffee shop each time, though some rotate in rather regularly. I dont have to do anything special here per se, but I like to be there to see how it’s going, offer suggestions if a new employee gets stuck with something, and just enjoy the positive atmosphere.

After a quick lunch at the coffee shop, the last official order of business is a private writing lesson with one of my favorite students. She’s come such a long way, and I feel like more of a mentor to her in a way. We write, but we also just talk about life, and I’ve seen her blossom emotionally before my eyes.

I’ll end the work day with some writing of my own. A post on my personal blog and draft for the magazine, Expressive Minds, though that will definitely need some editing later.

To wind down the day, I do some yin yoga. It’s the short class, but it’s something, and it’s the perfect relaxation after a busy yet enjoyable day. I head home to help with dinner. It’s taco night - my personal favorite. 

It’s taken a lot of hard work, but I can definitely say I love what I do and I have the best team of people. I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.

I can honestly say that writing this ideal typical day not only energized me, but it made it seem possible somehow. How, I've yet to fully determine. But the idea of looking at your typical day, of breaking it down into the day to day so that it seems like just your normal day, is very motivating inspiring.

What would your ideal typical day look like? Could you write it down? It doesn't have to be 500 words (or it could be more). It just helps to give it some thought. But don't think too hard - what comes to us naturally tends to be the most authentic, the most intuitive into our hearts and souls. I'd love to hear what you come up with, even if you just want to share a few lines!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cool Girl

I'm writing this post from a pretty raw, emotional position. It's not something I usually do, because I realize that sometimes I don't make a ton of sense when I'm in such a state. But right now I'm not angry or pissed off or even hurt. I'm just sad and emotional because of a realization that I finally stated (ok wept) out loud to myself today. It's something that I've touched on before, but have done so in a humorous manner, when I'm feeling good about myself and enjoying my quirks and the like. Today, that is not particularly the case, and therefore the cold hard truth is exactly that. The realization is this: I will never be cool girl.

Cool girl is calm and collected. She's relaxed and things don't frazzle her. She's happy and positive but not overly so. Not excessively talking about anything she can think of because there's some internal feeling of urgency to get it all out, like I do in a hypomanic state. No, her thoughts and words are always interesting, fascinating. People hang on them.  Cool girl doesn't have to make notes and alarms about every tiny thing for fear she won't remember, and the worry of not remembering will eat away at her. Her world doesn't revolve around calendar alerts and sticky notes. And if it does, they're notes for important meetings at her important job. Not "make sure to pack your chapstick when you go to the gym because you know you get super frustrated when you're working out and your lips dry out."

Speaking of jobs, cool girl has an important, well-respected job. She's not trying start a non-profit to help kids with mental health conditions, because cool girl doesn't have a mental health condition, and that kind of stuff probably doesn't make a lot of money. And cool girl is too logical to hope for a career and life path that doesn't make a decent amount of money just because it's where her heart lies. So she has a position that people are proud to talk about. Something people don't say "oh that's interesting, good for you"  but don't really have an interest in.

Cool girl participates in all of those sports that it's cool for girls to do like surfing and snowboarding. Because cool girl doesn't have an irrational fear of drowning or death via crashing into a tree. She probably drives a cool car. Maybe she rides a motorcycle or does something equally as daring that everyone thinks is cool. She's in great shape and of course attractive. She can be one of the guys but is feminine enough to clearly be one of the girls too.

Cool girl has a lot of friends. Because cool girl isn't always having anxiety attacks or feeling depressed or lonely; she isn't always worried about this or that; she doesn't think these worries aloud, annoying people around her with her constant worry. Cool girl was born with tons of confidence and self-esteem. It draws everyone to her but she doesn't need it to because she's perfectly happy with who she is with or without them. But she'll never have to test that theory because she'll never be alone. Unless she wants to, in which case it will suddenly be cool somehow to be alone because it's her choice. Cool girl is never jealous or envious because her confidence prevents her being doing so. And because of this, she probably doesn't have much to be jealous or envious of anyways. Unlike uncool girl over here, who is envious of the fact that people can even have that kind of confidence and feeling of self-worth, because I seem to have been born without that particular trait and have never gained it no matter how hard I try.

I'm not saying cool girl's perfect. I realize that nobody's perfect and I wouldn't aspire to that because I do, even in my most emotional state, I think perfect would be incredibly boring, and I'd rather be uncool then boring. So cool girl might not be quite as smart as me, or as creative. Her heart might not be as big as mine. But she can hold her own in a conversation and her conversations are interesting enough. Because her conversations aren't fraught with worry or filled with her overly loud voice, or excessive talking to the point where even she's embarrassed of herself. They're not deep conversations pondering life questions. They're fun, happy conversations about things that other people actually like to talk about.

The realization that I never will, and never could, be cool girl made me sad. Not because I want per se to be cool. I've never been cool and never particularly cared. I have generally liked my quirks and thought they made me unique. And I thought that this made people want to be around me, because people aways say they like someone who's not like everyone else. But because in the end, I realize that most people want to be around cool girl. Even if they say they don't. Most people don't like weird. They don't understand drastically different perspectives on life. They want people who they are proud to associate with, and no body is proud to hear "oh you hang around with her? She's weird".

To be clear, this post isn't directed at, or about, anyone in particular.  It's not based on a particular incident, or situation. It's just a realization that I came to when really thinking about myself and who I am... and by virtue of that, who I am not.  I also not aiming to hurt anyone's feelings. If share similar traits to the ones I've described in myself, I'm certainly not calling you uncool. It's the combination of all of these traits in me, plus my condition and my general personality, that makes me such. I have also realized that, as sad as it makes me to know that I won't ever be this cool person, there's some relief too. I can stop trying. I can stop attempting to attain the unattainable. It might be for others. It is not for me. I am me - for better and for worse. I do have some traits that I'm very proud of. I don't want to come off all woah is me. They're just not traits others particularly jump up and down about. But I have to accept that, and stop trying to hope they will. There is some inner peace in that.

I'm sure some people are going to "yell" at me, disagree with me and say I'm generalizing about society, that they don't want to be cool girl or to be around cool girl and all of that. And maybe they don't. And maybe I am generalizing. But I'm speaking with my personal experience and perspective here. It's how I feel, and feelings, by virtue of the fact that they are every person's own emotions about life, can't be wrong. They can be different than others', but they can't be wrong. I'm also not writing this for anyone's sympathy. Trust me, even eternally uncool girl knows that's not cool. I'm writing it because it's how I feel, and because I suspect there are others out there who have felt the same way and perhaps it's nice for them to know they aren't alone.

Finally, I want to say that I do have people in my life that are amazing, and I do feel so lucky to have them. It's because of them that I can manage through a lifetime of uncool. I love them from the bottom of my heart.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Giving Yourself A Little Credit

It's blog number two of positivity exercises! In the last exercise we looked at those people and things in our lives that we are most grateful for. While it's possible that there were some internal gratitudes in there, for instance being thankful for possessing a particular personality trait, when asked to give thanks we generally look at those people and situations around us. If you did focus a bit internally, congratulations! You're a step ahead on this next exercise. It means that you recognize your own value and fabulous qualities, which is pretty amazing.

I believe there are two sides to adopting, and maintaining, a positive mindset. The first is to be able to show love to others. Not love in the traditional romantic sense, but an overall kind of human love. The love that says "I appreciate you. I know how you've helped me and/or others. I value who you are as a person. I know you're doing the best you can, even if you falter." While there are numerous ways to extend this love, offering up thanks, as we did in the previous exercise, is a good start. The second side is extending that love to yourself. Appreciating and valuing who you are, flaws and all. It doesn't mean ignoring those flaws, but simply understanding that they exist, and being able to continue to value yourself just the same. Sometimes it might even be figuring out how to look at those flaws in a more positive light (an exercise we'll do later on). So in this second exercise, we're going to give ourselves a little credit because, quite frankly, we deserve it.

Here, I ask you to list ten (or more!) things that you appreciate and value about yourself. It can be something small and simple, or something deep and particularly meaningful to you. We're commonly our own worst critics, so this is an opportunity to convince yourself of those attributes others already see in you, perhaps without your even knowing. Use these points to describe yourself as if you were describing your best friends or closest family members. It may feel like bragging a little, but that's ok - often we're so unused to giving ourselves credit that the slightest compliment or acknowledgement of our values feels over-indulgent. And remember, it doesn't matter what others think of these traits, it's how you feel about them. If something comes to mind, don't fight it, jot it down. Sometimes it's those things that float into our heads that we're least expecting that make the most impact. Here's my list:
  • My big heart
  • My sense of humor
  • My smile
  • My loyalty 
  • My love of helping others
  • My energy 
  • My quirkiness
  • My creativity and imagination
  • My belief in following dreams
  • My openness
Was it easy or difficult for you to make this list? Could you have come up with more than 10? Did anything pop into your head when you were creating your list that surprised you? If you'd like to share your favorite attributes, go right ahead! I'd love to hear. It might inspire others too! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Most Obvious Reminder In The World

I have a new favorite iphone app. It's called Lift, and it truly helps me every day. And.... it's FREE! To sum very generally, it allows you to set goals that you would like to achieve, in a wide range of categories, that ideally you'd like to work towards on a daily basis. You can choose from goals that others have already created, or you can make your own. There are also "coaching" plans, which span a certain period of time and set a series of preset goals along the way. To give you an idea of the options, some of my goals (both self-creative and "stolen" off of others) include:
  • Strength training
  • Cut down on caffeine
  • Focus on one project at a time (by far the hardest)
  • Yoga or Stretching
  • Achieve your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) coahcing plan
  • Wake up by 6:30 AM
  • Be grateful for something or someone
There are more, but I think that gives you an idea. One of the cool features of the app is that you can set alarms for those goals that you particularly want to be reminded of, and these alarms can be set daily or for certain days of the week. This is where the most obvious reminder in the world comes in. 

One of the goals I have set up, and to me the most important one, is "stop and enjoy life" (it was pre-created, so I can't take credit there).  It's so important that I set a reminder for every day of the week. What really struck me is that when the alarm goes off each day, I actually have to stop and think, "oh I have to do that today." Oddly, I remember "strength trainin" and "cut down on caffeine" most days. Even "wake up by 6:30" much of the time. And the kicker is, I don't have alarms set for those. Well, technically I have my alarm clock set for 6:30, but I do so without an additional reminder the night before. Yet not only did I have to set a reminder to stop and enjoy life, but when it goes off it takes me by surprise and I try to find a time to fit it in. 

It's ironic to me that this most important goal, and this one in particular, is the one that I can't remember to do without that alert. Luckily, after a couple weeks of using this app, I'm starting to put "stop and enjoy life" time into my calendar more often. I wish that I didn't have to schedule it in. I wish it was my main priority, to enjoy and appreciate life, and that the rest was just frosting. But it seems that's not our human, or our human-influenced-by-society, nature. So I encourage you, if you're like me and could use this reminder, to check out Lift or any other similar app.  Hopefully, eventually, it can be a regular part of life without a daily alert to instruct us to do so.

PS: I have no affiliation with the app for which I'd need to write this... I just really like it and it's made a big impact in my day to day life. :-) 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

9 Things I've Learned About My Mood Disorder

A mood cycling disorder is, by nature, a roller coaster. You never quite know how you're going to feel when you wake up... or eat lunch... or get ready for bed.  Because of the cyclical pattern, you can't be sure exactly what's going to affect you and how. Should I work out this morning, or is that going to completely mess me up? Can I have that second cup of coffee, or is that a terrible idea? Do I want to go out with friends, or should I really just be alone tonight? Life is, for the most part, a continual question mark.

I have, however, learned a few things about my condition and it's affect on me over the years that help make the day to day a little smoother. Nobody's perfect, and so despite these insights, I don't always take my own advice, but I have realized the that the closer I stick to these "rules", the better I feel.  I thought I'd share them for others who may perhaps be struggling with a mood cycling disorder or who feel they might be. I also thought that it might help our friends and loved ones, to perhaps explain a bit of why those of us that battle these conditions have the patterns and behaviors that we do.

1. I must get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Any less, and I'm not only exhausted, but my moods are much more likely to cycle. Sleep is a huge contributor to mood instability in humans in general, but especially to those with mood cycling. Oddly, I find if I get much more than this (unless I'm really making up for lost time), the effect isn't great either, though better than a sufficient deficit.

2. I need routine. This doesn't mean I can't be spontaneous, but it means that my general patterns need to be relatively stable. It's ideal for me to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day. If I work out (which I try to), I try to keep it at a consistent time of day. Ideally, meals are around the same time. Because so many things can affect my cycling, the more consistency the better. Otherwise, things get thrown off balance, and off balance for someone with a mood disorder is never a positive. My brain is already all over the place. If my outside world is as well, my brain really has no stable point of reference.

3. Too much caffeine makes me hypomanic. Two to three caffeinated drinks is generally the max. It's slightly different if I'm getting water-downed refills of diet soda at a restaurant, but I can't do nonstop Venti coffees all day. Perhaps it's ok when I'm especially exhausted or in a depressive episode, but I generally avoid too much.

4. Anxiety/stress/fear makes me cycle badly. It's not so much of a "physical" fear /anxiety that affects me (ie I'm afraid of public speaking) but an emotional stress that gets me. For instance, if I get in a fight with someone I'm close to, feel like I've disappointed someone etc, I get beside myself, and I cycle, usually quite rapidly. I'm not sure why it speeds up the frequency of cycling, but it seems to.

5.  I need to eat healthy, and certain foods do affect my moods. Too much dairy, sweets, or fatty foods can help put me into a depressive cycle. I have no scientific evidence of this, and I didn't set out to prove any theories about it, it's just a pattern I've noticed for myself.

6.  I need time alone with my brain, heart, and soul. I love my friends, and I'm very social person, but there are times when being social seems like too much pressure. I need to reflect, relax, or even just zone out and do as little as possible. Perhaps engross myself in a good book so that my brain doesn't have to focus so hard on the stressors in my life. So please, don't be hurt if I turn down an invitation. Trust me, it'd be worse if I was there and started to cycle. I'm slowly learning my limits and when to say no.

7. I need to feed my creative and imaginative side, and I need to do so often. This is the part of my cyclothymic brain that actually thrives! It is when I truly feel most "at home" within myself. If I don't have this opportunity, I start feeling stuck, to the point where I feel I'm losing my sense of self. It feels like there's something welled up inside of me, sitting there, waiting to burst out. The more I feed it, the more relaxed I feel, and relaxation seems to lead to less cycling.

8. I need to be true to myself. Yes, I'm emotional and sensitive, and I get stressed out more easily, and wish I had more self confidence and could be that "cool girl" who is laid back and just goes with the flow. But I'm not. Well at least not all of the time.  I've accepted it.  I do not do well trying to be like others and fit in with their rules and ways. It stresses me out and I cycle.

9. I need to take every single dose of my meds, every day, at the right time. This is the most important of all. Yes, I can miss a dose and not immediately cycle. But meds build up in your system, and if you miss a dose this day, and that day, and next week, eventually, you have a lower amount of meds in your system than you should. My meds are a life-saver. Do I like pulling out a bunch of pill bottles in public like someone's great-grandma? No. But the alternative is much less desirable. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Starting With Some Thanks

I recently made a vow to myself - and on my blog here - to become more positive. I'd been dealing with a lot of negativity, both in my own brain and from some people in my life, and, as the popular internet meme goes, "ain't nobody got time for that!".

With November being the month of thanks, I thought it was the perfect time to not only start working on my own positivity, but helping others looking to be more positive as well. I was inspired by a new app I'm using called Lift, in which you can sign up for "coaching" for various goals - which basically means each day they send you a new step to help you reach that larger goal. I realized that, while I have been letting things get me down the past couple of months, I'm a pretty positive personal naturally, and I really enjoy encouraging others. So I thought I'd start a series of positivity exercises via my blog.  I hate to use the word coaching, as I feel it's become a bit over-used and therefore diluted, but my blogs aim to be along those lines. A series of suggestions and exercises, relatively quick and hopefully pretty painless, that people can do to start to influence a more positive outlook.

Since it was the month of Thanksgiving that inspired me in the first place, I decided to start with giving some thanks. Exercise 1: write down 10 people/things in your life that you are grateful for. If you so feel the urge, perhaps reach out to the people on your list and tell them - it just might make their day more positive as well. Without further adieu, here is my list:

1. My family
2. My boyfriend
3. My tried and true friends
4. My dogs
5. My health
6. My mood disorders support group - they are truly amazing people!
7. The life and circumstances into which I was born
8. My meds and my therapist (I combined as one, since they both work with my condition)
9. Love - it truly is what makes my world go round.
10. Laughter  - it can get you through so much

I could probably go on and on here. These were ten that jumped immediately to my mind. The last two are more "abstract", but they are so much higher up on my list than my possessions and such so I wanted to add them.

I'd love to hear some of yours in the comments (or in a private message if they're more personal than you'd like to share with everyone). I hope you enjoy the part of my positivity exercises! Stay tuned for the next one soon! 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Beauty In Playing Dress Up

Happy Halloween!

When I was a kid, halloween symbolized three things: dressing up (in the best hand-made costumes that won every costume contest, courtesy of my mom), getting out early from school, and candy. I've never been a big candy or sweets person, but somehow it seemed more desirable on October 31st. In honesty, I think it was partly the unspoken contest that the neighborhood kids had to see who could collect the most.

As I got older, Halloween became child's play. In high school and college, and even early 20s, it was a holiday for youngsters. No self-respecting 18 year old would be caught trick or treating unless it was clear that they were solely doing it for the candy or to escort a younger sibling. It was just one of those things you got too "cool" for at a certain age (or as cool as I got, anyways, which wasn't very much but I had some dignity).

Now, as a 30-something, the holiday has once again become acceptable for several reasons. First of all, I have nieces and nephews of trick or treating age and I just love watching the costumes they come up with (or in the case of the younger ones, simply how cute they look dressed up). Secondly, there's apparently an age at which it once again becomes "cool" to revert back to ones youth and enjoy things like costumes and halloween parties all over again, though the closest we probably get to collecting candy is drinking some sort of chocolate-infused martini or something... almost the same thing.

But there's yet another reason that I now see the beauty in halloween. For one night of the year, we truly get to be anyone or anything we want to be. Not in the figurative sense of reaching for your dreams and making things happen, but in the very literal sense. Now I'll admit, my costume for this year's early halloween celebration was something that I happened to have been loaned from a family member and I picked it because it was both cute and convenient. But if I had the time, energy, and fashion skills, I could have chosen a costume that really spoke about me. I could have chosen something shocking, or sexy, or geeky, or avant garde, or reflective of pop culture, or simply funny... whatever self I wanted to show to the world.

Looking back at my costumes as a kid, my favorite was the year I went as gypsy. Not only was it a beautifully made costume, but I think it was the one that most spoke to me.  I'm a wandering spirit at heart. I'm not satisfied with the normal, the status quo. I never have been, and though I never say never, I doubt I ever will be. I'm constantly on a journey in life - sometimes emotionally and spiritually, and sometimes physically. It's not that I aspire to be a traveling gypsy, but I recognize in me a gypsy soul of sorts, and the costume captured it perfectly.

So I'm curious... if for one day, you could be anything, or anyone, what would you choose?

Me as a gypsy on halloween, circa 1989

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

They Love Me, They Love Me Not

One of the "symptoms" of cyclothymia that I experience often is the fear that people don't like me, or don't like me as much as others. I have a fear of being excluded - either intentionally or no, not being part of the group, or worse, being part of the group but still somehow being an outsider. I say that it's a "symptom" because I believe it is a product of my low confidence, and that my low confidence is fueled, at least in part, by my cyclothymia. While it's not a symptom used from diagnostic standpoint, I certainly find that it affects a lot of people with this, and similar, mental health conditions.

Despite that the role my confidence plays, I don't believe these fears aren't completely unfounded. I've had friends turn on me, both in small ways that I was able to let go of and (perhaps after a time) forgive, and, at least in one instance, in major ways that I know I will truly never be fully able to forgive. At least not enough to let the person back into my life. I've had people talk about me behind my back because they wanted another group - of whom I wasn't "cool enough" to be part of - to accept them. In college I had the "leader" of a group of friends turn on me out of jealousy, though jealousy of what I'm still not quite sure, and in doing so managed to poison the rest of the group against me and I basically lost my entire social group. I've had friends try to sabotage things for me, big and small. So there is some rational basis for being a bit on guard with people when it comes to rejection.

In addition to these specific instances, I've always just been different. I think part of it is my condition, and part of it just my generally personality, though it can be tough at times to decipher the two, particularly from the outside looking in. With the exception of my friends from gymnastics, I've never really fit into any group. I'm was never smart enough to be part of the "nerdy" group. I wasn't geeky enough to be part of the, well, geeks. I wasn't cool enough, nor am I now, to be part of the popular group. I am a complete mix of logic and creativity, social and extroverted yet in love with being inside my brain and heart.  I'm good at service types of tasks yet my mind constantly explores. Pretty much, I can't be categorized in the least bit. Other than perhaps in the "weird/quirky" group. Which I must say, I don't particularly mind, though at times one can feel a bit lost when they realize that they don't have a particular group, they just bounce along, peeking into this one, being part of that one for a day or a week and then, not feeling at home, ultimately back on their own mish-moshed path.

I offer up this information as a background to why I have this fear of rejection and why I may pick up nuances in people's words and actions, sometimes to a fault, that others may not. At times, this fear of rejection makes me want to hide aspects of myself. My love of vision, imagination, enchantment, mystery - they don't make me seem very normal and acceptable, at least not by the general public. But they inspire me. They are my motivation, my muses, and my passion and have kept me headed, at times without my knowledge, toward this path that I'm now on, helping others and hopefully one day building something big enough that I can truly make a difference in society. I couldn't be more grateful for these peculiar loves of mine.

So I have learned that I have to embrace my fear instead of shy away from it. I have learned to relish in my differences, at least much of the time. Instead of being afraid to explore my head, to share its contents, I need to write it out, and I seek out others who understand, and who can help me with this new venture, even if just by believing in me and sharing my passion in this journey.

I'm the first person to say, even thinking that you might be rejected sucks. But I must accept that everyone truly is a lesson. If nothing else, they teach you who to focus on, who to keep close, and who to let loose. I've also learned that everyone has a different role in my life. They may flow out, but always somehow come back in just at the perfect time. They may be there when I just really need a solid chat over coffee, but not be in my life day to day. They may be fun to grab a beer with but not to confide in. But most of all, I've learned to be true to myself. When I'm true to my natural self, I draw people into my life who appreciate that, who understand me, or who value me specifically for the fact that I'm different, even if they don't completely understand me. Truly, it's the only way for me to be happy. And as I slowly grow to understand this, it's become my mission to help others, specifically those with mental health conditions, to deal with and overcome these fears as well.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Poison of Negativity

I have always been an incredibly upbeat and energetic person, at least outwardly. Friends jokingly nicknamed me the energizer bunny.  I often call it hypomania, but energizer bunny perhaps has a nicer ring to it, especially in professional industry circles. Lately, though, I have been experiencing something completely foreign - unexplained negativity.

Let me clarify. I've always suffered from low confidence and self esteem, as I've mentioned many times, so negativity about myself is nothing new at all. It's quite common for me to not believe I'm capable of something, to feel inferior, to stress out so much about messing something up that I lose that positive self and therefore create a self-fulfilling prophecy. These are practically par for the course at times, unfortunately. But I've never been negative towards others. I've never negatively talked about others, openly criticized people, said mean things in general. In fact, I can't watch most reality TV because it makes me uncomfortable to watch people get torn apart by judges and gossiped about by other contestants. I've always been praised for my huge heart and very caring nature. I'm a fixer and a nurturer who always wants everyone to be happy and everything to be perfect (hence the stress of messing up and self-fulfilling prophecy). And yet suddenly, out of nowhere, I'm finding this negativity has crept in.

I first became aware of it because someone outright pointed it out. It wasn't terrible things. I wasn't starting nasty rumors that would appear on tabloid covers. It was little things - "wow did you see that guy's shirt; Ugh so-and-so is annoying me today; that girl's skirt looks kind of slutty."  At first, I was defensive. I'm not negative! I only want everyone to be happy! Everyone says how positive I am (this last one actually being true). Then, I started to notice that they were right. I was saying these things and there was really no reason to. So my I don't do that! changed to well, everyone does that at times, it's just people watching and observation really. I suppose moving from complete denial to admittance with attempted validation is perhaps a tiny step in the right direction, but not much. I know now that both actions are a self-preservation method. I don't want to be that mean person that talks about others, no matter how trivial. I want to live a life of love and service, and I seem to be moving in the right direction overall .... except for these inexplicable thoughts and comments that seem to come out of nowhere and fly out of my mouth without any ability to stop them.

If I look deep down, I can probably accurately attribute this negativity to three things. The first gets back to the self esteem and confidence (or lack thereof). Previously, I only directed the ill-effects inward. It seems that perhaps my interior has overflowed. It's as if I have filled myself to the brim with self-inflicted negativity - and that of others directed at me - and it now has nowhere to go but out.  The second is my complete and utter inability to disentangle thoughts and spoken word. I honestly think out loud almost without realizing it. I want to be able to process things before I say them, to filter out those that are socially unacceptable or might upset someone, and yet it seems virtually an impossible task, despite the fact that I know it must somehow be possible. Sometimes, it's not even that I mean to be mean, but the way something comes out sounds completely different than the thought process that created it.  The third is the effect of other negative people on me. There are several people in my life who are generally quite negative. I love them dearly, and I'll be honest that we do get a good laugh at times form being snarky. But it seems I'm letting this influence the rest of my interactions. Perhaps these people don't mind the negativity (assuming it's not directed at them) but it's a slippery slope. It's very tough for a bad habit to sometimes be ok.

Let me assure you, I'm not justifying my actions.  I'm simply trying to assess where they come from so that I can fix them.  After some thought, I have determined that I can't have negative conversations just because the person I'm talking to doesn't mind. First of all, some day they might mind. Second of all, I'm not good at the gray areas. I know this. I have an addictive personality, and when I form a habit, it's very tough to break. Instead, I have the choice to redirect the conversation, not reply, or simply not talk to these people (that last seems very unlikely).  I've also had to admit to myself, as much as it saddens me and makes me angry at myself, that while this is not part of my natural personality, it's a habit that I've formed. Finally, I've decided that for the time being at least, I need to follow the old adage "if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all." I say for the time being because hopefully I'll be able to find a balance here. When someone asks me how I'm feeling, I'd like to be able to say "eh not so great" when fighting a cold, without slipping back into this bad habit of unnecessary negativity and judgmental comments. For now, though, I know I must try to eliminate negativity from as many angles as possible. I also realize it's not something I can fix overnight. While my instinct is to feel the need to do so, I know that expecting this will only result in failure, making me all the more stressed out about it. I will try, though, and I would love the positive support from my friends and loved ones, just as they'd give someone trying to kick any other bad habit. I'd also love their understanding, and allowance that while I'm trying very hard, nobody's perfect. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stepping Out Of The Garden

About a week ago, I wrote a post about my trip to Seattle and the discoveries I was able to make about myself, and life, as I had a chance to step out of my day to day routine. I explained how I spent my early mornings writing in the kitchen nook at my sister's house, surrounded by what felt like my own secret garden, and the calmness and peace that enveloped me while I did so.

I have now been back for about seven days and have returned, at least on the surface, to my traditional daily life - running my company, booking clients, building up my future mental health organization, and working on some collaborative projects. It's not been all daily grind. I enjoyed a mini road trip and have gotten to spend time with loved ones, both of which made jumping back into "real" life much more inviting. Still, the abrupt change from my pensive days of writing and just letting life happen, to email, social media, and yearly financial planning can make it difficult to maintain the inner peace and the personal reflections that I discovered in Seattle.

I've taken it on as a personal challenge, this mixing of my selves - the busy business owner who is always on the go (and actually enjoys it) with the me that enjoys reflection and just letting life soak in. I can tell you, it's not easy. But it's also not as hard as I thought it might have been. I think that during those days in Seattle, a change came over me. Somehow, in my realizations, my confidence lifted a bit. It's by no means super high - I'm not sure if it ever will be, though I'd like for it to at least be average one day. But it's a start.

The first step was realizing that I need to focus my life on love and service to others. In doing so, I somehow began to push away the thoughts of the naysayers. I realized the path I need to take, and I have begun to understand that I can listen to those who see things differently and choose which of their goals align with mine, and which might be fine for them, but not for me.  This said, I also have found an openness I hadn't experienced before. Certainly I'm a very open person in that I share personal details about my life and condition that others might not. But I also have a lot of walls up. A lot. I'm afraid of rejection, and being wrong, and failure, and a whole lot of similar things, so I tend to hold tight to my ideas and guard them with my life. Yet I'm starting to see that some things - I could even say many things - only sound like rejection or criticism or failure because I'm not open to them. For instance, if someone tells me something that I do that bothers them, or something I could change with my business, I can either see it as a criticism or I can be grateful that they care enough to try to point things out that I might not see yet want to adjust when I do. I can choose to see them as rejecting me or helping me.  Now, sometimes it really is just plain out, unfair criticism. Often though, it's something much less severe. Ironically, in listening more intently to critique and criticism, I'm feeling less rejected and more confident.

I have a long way to go, and yet I'm feeling better every day. It does help that I have received a few potential opportunities for both work and help with my mental health projects. That keeps my confidence higher even on the rougher days. Still, I may not have pursued these opportunities further if I still had as many walls up and was still letting my life be guided by values that didn't coincide with mine. I plan to continue to blog about this portion of my life, this change I've discovered, in hopes that it will help or even inspire others. In the mean time, I suggest taking a few minutes every day to just be, and see what happens. Place no expectations on this experience - you can't try to feel "in the moment", or you're not. Just allow life to happen around you and to you, and see if you discover something you may not have otherwise.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Secret Garden

I am sitting at a table in a kitchen nook at my sister's house. In front of me is a vase of beautiful pink flowers. Out the window ahead of me I see the greenery of their yard, and beyond that the trees that line the street. If I look at the right angle (or through the right window) I can see the houses of their Ballard neighborhood in Seattle. There's a common feel, yet each house has its own unique style. Somehow that is comforting. I can't see it from here, but I know that at the end of the block there's a park with views of Puget Sound. Except for the occasional car quietly rolling past, I hear no other sounds than my computer gently humming as I type. I feel at peace.

I have spent most mornings the past week in a similar way. I wake up sometime between 6 and 7 AM. I write, in pen and paper, three pages, like I do every morning. I make coffee. Sometimes not in that order.  When I'm done, I open my computer, starting with email and planning out the day. Today is Sunday, so other than the quick "wipe out the spam" check, I'm not focused on email this morning. Sunday also means I'm the first one up. Well, perhaps besides Kitty, their cat, but she's relaxing soundlessly in a living room chair out of site. I've always been an early riser. There's something almost magical about watching the world wake up. You get to see it yawn and stretch, fumble in the dark a little before it gets off to a proper start. One by one its sounds start to appear. The birds, the few lone cars, the people off to work as the sun rises. For a while, it feels like it's all yours - a remarkable feeling in a world of billions of people. I am by nature a social person, yet this feeling of aloneness that contains no isolation is so surreal, it's impossible not to relish in it a bit. With the greenery surrounding me just outside the window, I feel like I'm sitting in my own secret garden.

 I came out to visit my sister this past Tuesday and will be staying until this coming one. It's not a vacation per se - I've come out to help with some things for our family, and I'm working while here, though family of course always takes priority when prioritization is needed.  When I headed out this way I was feeling quite lost.  I can't especially explain why. Nothing particular changed, at least not in an obvious fashion. In fact, I'd had some quite positive experiences before I left. I'd spoken with a friend about a potential part time job for extra income; I'd made a new contact in the mental health field who is very supportive of my new ventures; I'd had some great brainstorming sessions with friends about the next potential fundraising event I'd like to host. Truly, life seemed to be coming together. And yet, it didn't. It felt like I had all of the materials needed to build a house, but the foundation was missing. Without that foundation, the rest are just piles of materials that some day will go well on a house. This analogy doesn't do it justice, but it's the closest I can come.

The problem was, to use the above analogy again, I didn't realize it was the foundation that was missing. It was like getting to the construction site and thinking "hmmm I know something's not right here, but I can't quite put my finger on it," despite how obvious it may seem. This last week, I've had a lot of time to think. And not even to think actively, but to just let thoughts come to me. I've focused on family, and work, and spent the rest of the time just living. I've written, read books, walked around the neighborhood, enjoyed the neighborhood coffee shop a few blocks up. And somehow, in not trying so hard to figure out what was missing, in just letting myself exist, I became internally peaceful for the first time in quite a while. My brain quieted some. I didn't have the constant nagging. I allowed myself to be open to whatever came to me, to learn even without realizing it.

I still don't have all of the answers. Not by a long shot. But I've discovered a few things. First, I'd lost myself. I think I knew this, but I didn't realize the degree of it. Along the way to trying to please everyone else, the "real me" had been pushed back into almost non-existence. The irony of this is that generally, if people didn't like the real you, they wouldn't be around you to try to impress in the first place. Yet I'd tried so hard that people thought the me under all of this stress was in fact real, and the that the real me was a distant, fleeting memory. I've vowed to bring out the real me. It's in there, and I'm grasping it more and more every day. When I grab hold of it, even momentarily, the difference is so startling I can't help but smile.

I discovered that if you focus on love, you become happy. This doesn't mean focus on meeting, winning, keeping the love of your life, but rather love in the more general sense. In the past, my lack of confidence and self-esteem have brought about some characteristics and actions I am not proud of.  I see now that if, instead of feeling threatened by others, I can learn lessons from them, I'm able to love not only others (in a general, worldly kind of way) but also love myself.

Finally, I realized that being of service makes me happy. I feel positive about myself. I realize my purpose and its impact. By service, I mean helping others in whatever way I can. It may be physically helping them. It may be supporting or motivating them. It may be inspiring or helping them learn. It takes away ones self-centeredness to help others truly for the sake of helping others. We move our focus away from us. Often we don't even realize we've been focusing on ourselves to begin with. Helping others brings this out and allows us to work on it. This doesn't mean not ever taking care of oneself. It means that when your first thought is not always of how things affect you and your world, but of others, things come back to you without you having to ask. What you put out into the world is what you get back. Not always even from the same source. You must not give with the expectation of getting back immediately. It's not an eye for an eye. It's karma. It comes to you, perhaps from the most unlikely source at the most unlikely time.

These were not new notions to me in and of themselves. They were new internal knowledge. I'm not sure how I didn't truly understand them before, and yet I didn't. The understanding isn't a direct result of something that specifically happened. It's knowledge that came to me when I least expected it - when I stopped trying so hard to figure out what was missing, I found it. I don't know all of the answers, but I know where to start. Life is a step by step process, and all you need to know to keep moving forward is where to take the next step each time. I believe I've finally realized that next step.

8 Things That Go Through My Head On A Daily Basis

I've done previous blogs attempting to allow the reader inside my brain, in an effort to understand my condition, and really, myself. I've described the emotions I feel when I'm "up" and the lack thereof when I'm down. I've attempted to share how various life situations affect me by the thoughts and emotions they excite. Now, I thought I'd visit the day to day, and the things that run through my head regularly, just as you might think, 'I'm craving french fries' (for the record, I think that a lot, too).
  • Ahhhh that wasn't supposed to come out of my mouth. That thought wasn't fully formed yet (or some form of this statement). This happens all day long. I tend to think out loud, often very unformed thoughts or in a step by step manner. It makes others think I'm super stressed or uptight about something because I keep talking about it, while actually it's mere thoughts fleeting though my head and unfortunately, out of my mouth before they should be. Sometimes it feels like I can't fully understand a thought unless I hear it out loud. 
  • I wish I wasn't this way. I could very easily offer up a list of my weaknesses and faults.  It frustrates me when one's getting the better of me, especially if it affects someone I care about. Sometimes this thought simply refers to my condition, which my be particularly bothering me at the moment, and I wish I didn't have to deal with it. It's not a "poor me" thought, but rather a "man this is really frustrating" thought. 
  • I wish people could see the real me.  This one is the biggest frustration. I often feel I'm one of the few positive thinkers left on the planet (other than when I have the above thoughts).  It seems most people tend to focus on the worst. When I'm cycling and in panic mode, they think that is "me". Yet I know it's far from my natural self. It's me in an extreme state - often one of hurt or sadness or frustration - just as someone else might experience if they were in extreme physical pain. I want people to see and know the me that only I know. I struggle with how to make this happen. 
  • I'm proud of my quirks. While I might wish away my faults and the negative thoughts of others, I am proud of my funny quirks and uniqueness, even if others can't see them. I smile to myself knowing who I really am and hope one day others will too. 
  • It's not my condition, you're just being a jerk. People love to blame my condition for everything. It's an easy out. It's like blaming the out-of-shape kid for losing the relay, even when your star runner tripped and botched the whole thing. Sometimes, even often times, it's not my condition. I'm having a normal frustrated or pissed off reaction to something like anyone else would. I'll admit this isn't a daily thought, but it happens a lot. 
  • I'm almost there and I can't quite grasp it.  I am 100 percent convinced - not through delusion or irrationality but through logic and intuition -  that I'm almost where I want to be, but there's something elusive I don't quite have a hold on yet. It's that final piece of the puzzle, but I am not sure quite what it is, how to figure it out, or even how to get it when I do. 
  • You know what would be really cool...?  One of my absolute favorite things to do, and actually one of my strong points as well, is to come up with ideas. It could be a potential piece of a new business, or a gift for someone, or a day trip idea, or something I want to do when I retire. But I love to ponder and discover and write it down "just in case I can use it." 
  • I need to make this happen now. Patience is a virtue... that I do not posses. I think it's due to my anxiety and my constant need to make things right. If I want something to happen, or especially if I want to fix something (I've fought with a friend, or I've upset someone, say) I can't stand to have to let time work its healing powers. I want it to all be done, forgotten, clean slate, everything's fine. Same goes for things I really want to achieve. I need to know how to get there now and take the first steps. This particular thought makes things worse more often than better much of the time. 
So there you have it. A little insight into my daily brain. I hope it helps people understand my actions and reactions a bit more, and the reason I "am how I am", so to speak.  I feel I can't be the only person on the planet that thinks these things, either. So if anyone else has similar thoughts, know that you're not alone. I'm here, thinking the same things, and always happy to lend an ear if you need to get those thoughts out of your head but aren't sure how. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Being Kind Is More Important Than Being Right

It's a pretty famous quote, and I thought an obvious one that I fulfilled. I realized recently that I sometimes do not.  I've always thought of myself as a kind person, and I do try to do caring things for others, take care of others, be there for others. In fact, others always talk about what a good heart I have. That much is true. But I'm also a very black and white person. Things are right or wrong, good or bad. And I have a tough time with anything I label wrong or bad. Of course this is additionally skewed because it's my own label, and there are two sides to every story.

I realized that given my penchant for this all or nothing type of thinking, I also tend to have very little filter. Which isn't necessarily a terrible thing all of the time, but it can be. It can grate on people. Nobody always wants to be wrong or the bad guy or even to hear your opinion of everything. Additionally, I don't have a ton of finesse in saying things. So I tend to just be right out there with it. And while most people don't like a bullshitter, there is a lot to be said for the way you say something being almost as important as what you actually say.

Through a very painful lesson, I learned that I have often put being right before being kind. It seems I'd rather tell someone that what they did was wrong/bothered me/pissed me off, than let it go (assuming it wasn't something earth shattering) and be kinder to the person. It also seems that when I do try to let it go, it tends to come out later anyway. I'm not good at holding stuff in. I believe some people would call that a gross understatement. I'm not an intentionally mean person at all. Sometimes I'm actually trying to give someone a compliment and it comes out sounding like an insult. It truly is that I often don't know how to phrase things to make them sound acceptable.

It hurts me to realize that this trait.  They say every experience in life, even those that make you feel horrible, is a lesson. I hope so.  So this is me saying on the record that I know I need to make some changes. I'm starting right now. For the people I have hurt, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I'd give anything to take back hurtful things I've said and focus more on being kind than right.  For the people who I haven't pushed away, I ask you to please be patient with me and have faith in me. Change takes time. It's baby steps. It's moment by moment. I'm going to do the best that I absolutely can. I truly hope that's enough. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sometimes You've Just Got To

I'm not going to lie. So far, 34 isn't my favorite year, and I've only been at it for a few days. I've not been myself. Not my real self. Not the happy, positive, fun-loving, outgoing person that I know and love. Instead, I've been impostor self. You know, the fake self that likes to make an appearance and make people think I'm the spawn of satan, just for shits and giggles I suppose. It brings along it's good friends  anxiety, panic, depression, anger, frustration, lack of trust, self-esteem that's lower than low. That fake-self. The self people like to attribute to my cyclothymia and really I have no idea why it occurs at all - I honestly think it stems from my underlying self esteem and confidence levels, or lack thereof. But that's a whole other blog post. So for now, let's say I've not been myself and I hope that year 34 has gotten it out of its system, because this is just not going to fly anymore with the real me.

When your brain and body play nasty tricks on you like mine's been doing, sometimes you've just got to dig way down deep, and think of some positives. I thought that in a celebration of my birth week, I'd find some things I've been successful with over the year. Because, quite frankly, I'm having trouble finding much right now, and yet I need to.

  • I completed a combined eight years in chapter leadership of two different industry organization chapters. There were certainly ups and downs, but I'm proud of myself for stepping up into these positions, doing the best I could, and knowing that if I so chose, I could take any position in chapter leadership and be successful. And I truly mean any. I've become a leader among leaders - not an easy feat for someone who hasn't ever liked the spotlight. I know it, and I'm proud of it. 
  • In partnership with a friend and industry colleague, I helped create an annual charity fundraiser for Brain and Behavior Research. We raised over $1000 (combined) for the cause. We're already starting to think about next year. 
  • This Lilies and Elephants blog came up on the front page of google several times when searching for particular mental health topics. I mean the front page! That's huge for me. 
  • Numerous people, some who I've never met or even had any connection with at all, have contact me saying they've read my blog, that it's helped them a lot, and have ask me for help and suggestions with similar issues to my own. That's incredible. I mean, I'm becoming someone to reach out to about mental health, which is exactly the point of my efforts.  
So maybe I don't have the most highfalutin job or the most expensive car. Maybe I'm not the most composed person or the coolest or most popular.  I'm not the easiest person.  I'm certainly not the most perfect person. In fact, I'm not anywhere near it. But I have made some strides in life this year. They might just be baby strides, but they're strides none-the-less, and I need to make sure to remind myself of them and be proud when impostor self shows up and tries to take me down. And if none of that is impressive... well,  I just used the word "highfalutin" in a serious blog post. That has to count for something. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Don't Blink, Cause Just Like That...

"You're six years old and you take a nap, wake up and you're 25"..... or 34, whichever.

If you've managed to somehow miss the news, it's my birthday today. I LOVE birthdays. I mean I love them. Mine, your's, my dog's, your dog's. I think that having a special day just to celebrate one's life is absolutely fantastic. Because quite simply life, and you, should be celebrated.

It's not surprising, though, that birthdays also often come with a bit of reflection. It's not unusual to look at one's life and think: am I where I thought I'd be at this age? Could I use a swift kick in the rear? Is my life just completely somewhere I never thought it could be and I'm amazed?

When I turned 21, I was in my senior year of college, studying Exercise Science. My plan was to go directly into grad school, get my Master's in physical therapy and then, not surprisingly, work as a physical therapist. And despite the fact that I was never one of those girls who started imagining my wedding dress at the age of five, I somehow just "knew" I'd be married by the age of 24 and would have my first child (of two, a boy and a girl naturally) at 27.

When I turned 24, I was indeed planning my wedding. Not to the person I'd planned for it to be at 21, but I still seemed to be right about the whole 24-wedding thing. I was not in grad school full time for physical therapy. Instead, I was working in corporate fitness full time and my Master's in International Marketing part time. A slight departure, but so far so good.

When I turned 27, I was the farthest thing from having my first child. I was, in fact, petrified of the idea and had decided I never wanted children. I was also, sadly, on my way to a divorce. On the bright side, I was running my own travel planning company and was serving on a board of directors for an industry organization - two things I never could have imagined I was capable of doing. I was emerging as a leader in my (new) career field.

When I turned 30, I was recently engaged, and had just attended my sister's wedding. I had also just had one of (what I now know as) the worst hypomanic cycle's I've ever had. Two weeks or so after my birthday I was diagnosed with cyclothymia and put on medication quite possibly for life. I was told that if I ever wanted a family it would be very difficult because of my medications and that my condition was almost 100 percent genetic. I'd been back on the fence about having children until that point. This just made it seem too risky. (I wrote about that here). But despite the diagnosis and the finality of childlessness, I was generally happy. I was getting married in five months! Two times a charm, right?

When I turned 33, I was completely single. I celebrated my birthday with dinner and a show in New York City with my parents. I pretty much swore I was going to become a nun. Well, except for that bit about my lack of organized religion, but I'd work that out somehow.

Today, I turned 34. I am still running my travel company. I recently organized a mental health charity hike with a friend of mine, and together we raised over $1000 for brain and behavior research. I'm working on forming my own non-profit organization for mental health support and awareness. I'm (hopefully) revitalizing my side job of personal training. In fact I spent, time this morning training a friend of mine. I have held steadfast on my decision not to have children. It breaks my heart, but I am firm in my belief that it's the right thing. I have seven amazing nieces and nephews. I have a wonderful little two year old in my life who I adore, and who I'm lucky enough to have adore me. I have the love of an amazing man (I'm glad I side-barred that whole nun thing). I have wonderful family and friends.

I have no idea what the future holds. I can say, with certainty, that I'm not where I thought I'd be 10 years ago. Not in career or marital status or family status or housing situation or location or any number of other things. But I firmly believe that sometimes that which is best for us, that which will make us happiest, is quite different from the path we'd have taken if everything had gone according to our plan. I don't believe in a blue print or that "everything happens for a reason". I do feel, though, that when you are truly in the situation that makes you happiest, that's best for you, that no matter how life shakes you, you will make it work. You don't give up on that career path, that relationship, that friendship, that dream. And that's where I am. I am finally ok with not being where I'd planned to be, and I'm excited to see where my dreams take me.

Since I started with a country song lyric, it seems only appropriate that I end with one as well. So, in the words of Darius Rucker, "thank god for all I missed.... cause it led me here to this."

To all of you other fall-equinoxish-first-day-of-libra-ers... Happy Birthday!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How You Feel...

.... Is never somebody else's fault. To be clear, I'm talking about how you feel emotionally, mentally. Physically is different. If someone hauls off and slugs you, obviously the resulting pain is their fault. When it comes to emotions, however, it's a different story.

I know, it sounds cliche. I always felt that way too. It took me a long time to actually understand this concept. I was having a great chat with one of my closest friends the other day and it suddenly it clicked. I will say I'm by no means perfect at this (who is) but when I think about my emotions and reactions in these terms, it makes a big difference. Let me explain a bit further. 

I went through a bit of a rough patch for about a month and a half this summer. I was been, for whatever reason, dealing with a lot of anxieties from some situations in my past. At first, I was very discouraged because I just thought it was my mood cycles rearing their ugly head and that there was nothing I could do about it. But then, in giving it some thought, I recognized that this interpretation wasn't entirely accurate. In fact, there is plenty that I could do about it, if I can just remind myself what's actually occurring when I feel this way.

It goes like this: something triggers a negative emotion - it could be anxiety, panic, fear, anger. That initial reaction is almost instinctual. You go into fight of flight mode and feel the need to instantaneously act on your emotion. But after this initial reaction  - it's documented that initial anger lasts 90 seconds, for instance - you have a choice. Yes, initially there is a physical reaction. It's not that your brain is just playing tricks on you. The chemistry in your brain, and therefore your body, temporarily adjusts. However, it's not a permanent adjustment. It's not even a long term yet temporary adjustment. It's a momentary one. After this point, it's up to your own internal interpretation.

Let me give a real life example. Someone from my past used to constantly put me down, telling me I'd never be successful, that I saw the world differently, and that I didn't have "what it takes". Which is, looking back, a rather ridiculous statement  - the blanket insult "you'll never be successful" is a little too broad to actually be accurate. But at the time, it was horribly painful. My self-esteem and confidence were at rock bottom, it was the peak of the economic crisis and business wasn't ideal, and I basically believed this person. I let it get to me, and it stayed with me for quite a while. Fast forward a few years. The other day, someone asked me a question about my business strategy. They were just asking a question, trying to learn about my business and wanted to see if they had any helpful insights, simply to be nice. But my brain went straight back to "you'll never be successful". I immediately felt like I was being questioned and attacked, like this person too felt I'd never succeed, and I went on the defensive.

Now that I realize what happened, I can look at it from a more objective point of view. I had this initial "oh no, not again" gut reaction. But instead of assuming the helpful person meant me degradation and (emotional) harm, I could have recognized it for what it was - an instinctive feeling that was caused by myself, and not by the person asking. Even if they had been questioning me, it's my choice to believe them, to take it to heart, to let it eat away at my self esteem. In this case, the damage was double because not only did I unnecessarily upset myself, I upset someone else who was trying to be helpful.

This all said, it's not easy. Instinct is incredibly powerful, especially when it's based on real life experiences. Plus, there's a fine line between not learning from your mistakes and not taking the past out on the present and the future. If I always thought "oh that person doesn't really mean xyz, it's just my interpretation," I could not only miss some important lessons, but I could end up getting hurt (emotionally or physically) by being too naive. It's a delicate balance. I think it comes down to looking internally, knowing your sensitive points, and being aware that those are your own insecurities. When you become aware of these, you can more easily pause a moment when they ignite and ask yourself, "why am I feeling this way?". Another good trick is to objectively reverse the situation. "If I said xyz to so-and-so, and he/she reacted this way, would I think it a reasonable reaction?". Don't allow your sensitivities to play a part in your answer. If that's too difficult, pretend you're not in the situation at all... "If Bob said that to Mary, and she reacted this way...".

I've learned, and am still learning, this lesson the hard way. I've actually asked very trusted people to call me out on it, albeit nicely. I've told them that I'm trying to let go of past hurts, and that when I start to bring those into the present to gently tell me "you're doing that again". If I catch it in the moment and am able to reverse course, I believe eventually I'll be able to stop it from taking place in the first place - or at least I hope so.