Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Some Things In Life...

I think there are some things in life that aren't necessarily meant to be understood. Like why terrible things happen to great people, or great things happen to not so great people. Or like why some people are intentionally mean, or why some completely random act occurs that can change someone's life forever. Of course, different people, depending on their beliefs, have different explanations. You may consider it a grand plan, or karma from a pervious life time, or just that "shit happens".  You may be able to look back later in life and realize "why" something happened, or that if it hadn't, you wouldn't be in the (better) place you are currently. But does that mean we really understand it?

I think this is especially true of the people in our lives. People come into your life every day. Some for a minute, some for an day, some for a year, and some, perhaps, for a lifetime, or at least close to it. People also leave your life every day, in the same pattern. I think the key thing to remember is, you never know who will follow which pattern. I've met some awesome friends in the following situations: waiting to board a flight at LAX, standing outside a hostel (way back when I did that hostel thing!) waiting for my tour to depart, sitting at the bar next door because I just felt like getting out of the house but had no other plans. Lets ignore that this last one may make it sound like I need to drink more non-alcoholic beverages. The point is, I could just as easily not have struck up a conversation with these people who are now a regular part of my life. Or they could have ignored me. I didn't talk to them to make new friends specifically, I talked to them and happened to make new friends.  Similarly, I've watched people I thought I'd lie on my death bed with walk out of my life. In other instances, I've walked out of theirs.

You never know who will enter your life, in what capacity, or for how long. Sometimes, you never understand why they exit your life, and you have to accept that you probably never will.  Sure, you can ask them. They may or may not answer, and that answer may or may not be legitimate and satisfactory to you. You can try to work on troubled relationships or friendship, and it may or may not work. You can attempt to keep in touch in hopes that it's just a rough spot, and it may or may not be. But in the end, things happen that we won't ever understand. Period. And we have to let them go. We have to stop trying to understand them. We may be able to summarize it as "that's part of the plan" or "karma will work its magic." Or maybe we'll look back on it one day and think, "ahhh that taught me such a valuable lesson".  But that's about as much explanation as we'll often be able to conjure up.

One thing's for sure though - the more you struggle to understand it, the more frustrated you'll become. The "needing to know why" may consume you more than the effects of the actual situation.   Sometimes, you just have to say "it is what it is".  People tease me now, because this is my response to so much in life that I previously tried desperately to control, and have now realized I can't. It doesn't make it hurt less, but it can helps me move on and get through it. You can't control life, or other people. You can't necessarily even control who you love or like, or who you dislike for that matter. So don't let that person or that situation, that you have no control over, have control over you. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Gremlin Voice

I swear that I have a gremlin that lives inside of my head. Just when everything seems to be going well, he says or does something that totally railroads me. And when something potentially negative happens, forget it. He goes into high gear, creating every potential "glass half empty" scenario possible.  When I don't hear from someone as often as I usually do, the gremlin tells me that surely I've made a catastrophic error and they're mad at me or are slowly ditching me all together. When a business opportunity doesn't go through as planned, he tells me how unsuccessful I am, despite any evidence to the contrary. When I over-indulge one night on food, he tells me I'd better go shopping for new pants tomorrow because clearly my a$$ will not fit in my pants tomorrow.

That's the thing about the gremlin - he only looks at the most negative, and most immediate evidence. He doesn't weigh everything out. For instance, when I haven't talked to someone in a few days, he doesn't look at the fact that last week that person reached out multiple times. Instead, he racks my brain for all of the potentially awful things I must of done or said and beats me up about it. The business scenario? Forget all of the satisfied clients, the leadership offices I hold in numerous organizations, or the fact that I've been asked to speak on numerous panels over the last couple of years. None of that matters? And obviously all of that exercise this morning doesn't stand a chance against the pieces of pizza I will eat this evening (ok this last one may have some merritt if it becomes a habit, but not on a single occasion). 

The thing is, I know the gremlin's secret. It feeds on my history of self-doubt. My fears of rejection and failure are just the source of energy it needs to thrive.  The more I feed the gremlin, the more he grows and the stronger he gets. Cognitively, intellectually, I understand this. Emotionally, not so much. I have, though, learned a few tricks to help tame this ugly creature. First off, I find something to distract myself, and therefore throw him off balance. Writing is huge for me. Today, for example, when he was getting a little to "high on his horse", as the saying goes, I decided to write this blog. Other times, I spend time out with friends. Partly as a distraction, but also, it helps to prove him wrong. It says "I'm not unsuccessful, or unpopular, or rejected. Look, I have friends. And they want to hang out with me, and they enjoy my company." It doesn't shut the gremlin up entirely, but it helps. It helps me to not dwell, which is one of the most important steps in the process of battling him. 

Now you may be asking: how do you know your gremlin is a "he"? That's a very good question. In fact, while I'd love to think of the nasty voice as a he - blame it on the stress a lot of men have caused me over the years, I suppose - the truth is, it's really not. It's 100 percent female. It's my own voice. It's the distorted, pessimistic voice that feeds off past hurts and is always waiting for other shoe to drop when something is going right. It's the part of my voice that's inaudible to others, because it's too ugly to show itself in public. I read once, and I can't remember where unfortunately, that in this moment, everything is ok. It's not the situations or specific instances that cause us stress or hurt or anything else negative, but they way we view them, and project them into the future. 

I realize that this is so much easier said than done. Which is why I am writing this blog right now. If I'd tamed the voice completely, I wouldn't need to.  But I have made strides, at least most days. Here are a few questions that I ask myself to at least try to make some progress: 

1. Is it possible I'm over-reacting/reacting in too negative a light?
2. What are three positive/alternative things that have happened that could counteract this thinking. (ie if you're thinking "I have no friends", who are the last three personal contacts who reached out?). 
3. Even if I'm not over-reacting, how could this be a lesson or stepping stone? This might be a tricky one, but try to come up with at least something. 
4. How can you act on #3? 
5. If all else fails, how can I distract myself until the acute phase passes? You could just be having a bad day, or be in a frustrated mood that makes the gremlin scream louder. 

Finally, a silly but helpful trick I learned (again I don't know where, sadly): name your gremlin. I realize this sounds like creating an imaginary friend, but It also makes it more human and less all-knowing. Importantly, name it something really silly or embarrassing or just plain weird.  If you give your gremlin a ridiculous name it's tougher to listen to.  Seriously, think about it.  Think of the dumbest name you can come up with, and how attentive you'd be if that was your boss or another authority figure. Wouldn't it be difficult to take them seriously every time they acted all important and authoritative? If you need help with your embarrassing name, just google "embarrassing names". I promise you'll have your pick of ridiculousness. If you'd like, share your gremlin's name in the comments below. It might  inspire others fight their own gremlin voices. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Orchid

There are three flowers that mean a lot to me. So much, in fact, that I plan to have them intertwined in a tattoo up my back once I have the money to pay my friend who's an artist to design it and the tattoo artist to implement it. One of these flowers, of course, is the lily. I love the lily for its openness. While all flowers obviously open, when the lily blooms it looks like it has finally broken out of the constraints holding it in and presented itself to the world. At least that's how it appears to me. The second flower is the lotus, because of its ties to both Buddhism and yoga. It seems to be a base, or a root. In the tattoo image in my mind, the lotus sits at the bottom, anchoring in the other flowers, letting them bloom above it. Finally, there's the orchid.

The orchid has symbolized love in my life. Not necessarily just romantic love, but overall love - family, friends, personal relationships. A few years back, my boyfriend at the time and I got in a horrific fight. So awful that I thought surely it was the end of our relationship. When Valentines Day rolled around, he made reservations at my favorite restaurant, and he brought me two beautiful potted flowers. One was an orchid. I loved both, but for some reason, the orchid stood out - I think I was already partial to them - and from that point on, it has symbolized love for me. (For the record, it worked. We were together for quite a while after that).

I have taken to keeping an orchid in a pot by the window of my apartment. It almost serves as a measuring stick of sorts. My orchid will be flourishing, and then a relationship or a friendship goes south, and incredulously the flower keels over the next day, with no rhyme nor reason. Or the plant will be doing just fine, and suddenly start dying a slow and painful death, and I'll realize that a relationship in my life is doing the same. It's kind of creepy in how accurate it is.

When I went to the Middle East in April, I was sure it was a death sentence for my pretty new orchid. Two weeks with nobody to water it, and to add insult to injury, the temperatures sky rocketed to unseasonably high levels. I was sure I'd return to a stem of a plant only. Yet when I got back, not only had it not died (though admittedly there were a few older flowers that had dropped off), but it was thriving. Miraculous! I didn't know what it meant, but it had to be good.

As I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, I had to more or less say goodbye to someone in my life who no longer belonged in that role. It was heartbreaking, but necessary. At the same time, there have been some positive, rather unexpected changes in my personal life as well. Today, I noticed that all of the old flowers from the orchid were lying at its base. For a moment, I was sad - this never pairs with anything positive. But then I realized four new very strong-looking buds had formed on the stem. Much more ideal.

Maybe my orchid is once again spot on. Perhaps at times we need to shed all of the old, dying pieces in our life. Let them drop away, like the orchid flowers whose time on the plant is over, and allow for the new buds to form. If it's any symbolism of my life, this is promising. The buds could be anything - new adventures, new friendships, new experiences. Or, perhaps I just need to get more consistent with watering my orchid, so that it thrives consistently instead of it continuously dying, only to be reborn when I remember to treat it with the kindness it deserves. But then again, there's a lesson in that too. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Few Of My Favorite Things

I love writing about my journey, my condition, my thoughts on mental health, and health in general. But I also utilize a lot of resources, which deserve credit. So today, I thought I'd write about a few of my favorite resources, namely, blogs, and organizations. The format of this blog will be a bit different, but I really hope that it gives my readers some options that they find helpful as well. Without further adieu, here are a few of my favorite things:


  • Cooking For Change: This blog is written by my friend Ashley, who I originally met through twitter. It focuses on, in her own words, "demolishing illness with a gluten free diet". Ashley's blog shares recipes, along with the reason behind why she cooks what she does, as it relates to health. The "about me" section on her blog provides information about Ashley and the blog overall - the story behind her illness and how she came to write about Cooking for Change. What's especially awesome about Ashley's blog is that she uses recipes with actual, normal ingredients, that we'd have in our fridge or pantry, not things that you have to pay $20 for in a specialty store that you can't ever imagine using again. So they're recipes you actually want to, and can, use on a regular basis. And, they're good for helping with illness. That's pretty tough to be, even for a very amateur cook like myself. 
  • Luck Fupus: As you may have guessed, this blog addresses the topic of Lupus. It's written by my friend Marla, who I've known since I was about seven years old or so. Marla has been diagnosed with Lupus, along with several other illnesses, which she discusses in her blogs. Lupus, like mental health conditions, is (often) an "invisible illness", in that it causes uninformed people say silly things like "you're not sick, you look fine" and other such ridiculousness. Marla writes about a wide variety of topics related to illness and just life in general, much of the time using humor, which is so refreshing for people like me who often try to find something to laugh about in otherwise sh*ty situations.... such as having a life long condition that there's not a cure for. Marla is honestly one of the most awesome people I've ever met, and just for that, check out her blog! 
And I promise, I'm not just promoting these blogs because they happen to be written by friends - in fact I didn't even know Ashley until we connected because of our mutual involvement in mental health awareness. I just have pretty amazing friends who inspire me on a regular basis and I want to share their inspiring work with my readers.

  • Mental Health America:  This site centers around advocacy and education. They provide ways in which people can take action, as well as information about what is going on in legislation as it pertains to mental health. 
  • NAMI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a wide range of information on mental health, including advocacy information, education, and a peer support center. There are local chapters around the country, and these are a great way to get involved, as well as resources for local events and programs.
  • DBSA: Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is a chapter-based, peer support organization. It also offers training opportunities for those wanting to become peer counselors, as well as wellness tools, information on mental health conditions, research study results, and advocacy.  
  • Partners for Mental Health:  This Canadian organization is possibly the best I've found for mental health advocacy and awareness. They run numerous campaigns, often organized by volunteers, to teach communities about mental health, and work on erasing the stigma that so often accompanies it. Furthermore, they make their messages fresh, and even fun - something that's tough to come by in the mental health world. Their current campaign is "Not Myself Today", which is centered on mental health in the work place. I actually had the opportunity to do a guest blog for this, which in a great example of synchronicity, is featured on Ashley's blog (discussed above). 
This will most likely be a "Part 1" blog, as there are so many other resources I'd like to share - apps, for instance. I'm sure I'll come up with other websites, and blogs, and organizations, and have to revisit this topic. For now, I hope you'll take a look at these sites and that they are able to help you. Happy browsing! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I'm guessing you looked at this title and thought, "what the hell is a PANK?". If you work in the travel world, you may recognize it as an acronym for Professional Aunt No Kids. In the industry, it's been used to describe a new target market of travelers, those women (married or single I presume) who have no kids of their own, and therefore choose to take their nieces and nephews on vacation.  I suspect when my nieces and nephews are old enough, I'll fit right into this target audience.

This blog, however, is not my travel blog, and so I'm using the term here for an entirely different reason. For the first time in my, albeit relatively short, blogging history, I'm going to touch on a topic I've avoided almost as much as my relationships..... children. It's a topic that's been the subject of many conversations lately among my group of friends. I have a surprisingly large number of friends who suffer from lifelong illnesses (of all different sizes, shapes, and varieties). Some already have children, and may have had them before they were diagnosed/were ill. Some would love to, and were even planning on it, but have now found out that pregnancy would put their life, and potentially the child, in danger. Others have always known that because of their conditions, they probably cannot or would not have children. Then there's me.

When I got married, I thought I'd have children. 2.5 to be exact, and a dog, and a picket fence. (I managed the dogs and a not-quite-picket-but-close-enough fence). Then my condition started worsening, and although I wasn't diagnosed at the time and didn't know precisely what it was, something told me to hold off on starting a family. Shortly after, I got divorced - sometimes gut instinct works in mysterious ways. Finally, I was diagnosed, and I was told that particularly because of the rapid cycling nature of my condition, it was genetic, and that I have had it since birth - which made much of my childhood make more sense. I was told that even though we didn't know who, someone in my family basically had to have a mood cycling condition, because it's not something that just pops up at birth. It's passed down and there's probably a long line of it hidden in my family somewhere, obviously undiagnosed, or if it was, I'd never been told. I was further told that if I ever wanted to get pregnant, I'd have to work very closely with numerous doctors, because I could not be on medication while pregnant (at least not the meds I'm on) and this would be dangerous for me, particularly with all of the hormones going through ones body during pregnancy. It was at this point that I decided I would not have children.

 Let me say, despite not appearing overly maternal, and not having grown up playing with dolls imagining that one day they'd be real children, that's a tough leap to take. Even though it's a decision I made a few years ago, it was tough to write just now. But I pictured my future child going through the things I've gone through.  I'm lucky that my condition is mild, but there's no guarantee that a child would get that fortunate - I could pass along a much more severe form. And that was the topper, the decision maker.  As I take four or five different pills each evening before bed, I picture a little five year old doing that every night (plus the two doses during the day), for their entire life, just so they can feel "normal". I picture them dealing with the same reactions I do at times, the meds themselves making them so sick they can't stand up straight; them having to get blood drawn every few weeks to make sure that the meds aren't doing more harm than good to their body.   Worst of all, I picture them, as I did at two and three years old, getting so confused and scared by what I now know was a hypomanic cycle, begging, "mommy make it stop, make it stop!".  Quite simply, it's too much to take. I know there are many experiences I will miss out on that my friends with children will have. It's very difficult and don't think it doesn't affect me, because it does.

I'm sure there are people who think I'm selfish. There was recently an article written and shared - hence the discussions amongst my friends - about how "couples without kids need to get out of the suburbs" because they're spoiled and selfish for not having children. For the record I live in the city and this still made me more than furious. So furious, that it caused me to open my mouth about one of the few topics I'm actually usually quite private about.

If people want to consider my not wanting to go off meds and become hospitalized while pregnant as being selfish, then that's their prerogative.  But even for those who do, I can say with very strong conviction that not wanting to pass down a condition that has made almost every day of my life a struggle, because I don't want a child to have to go through the same, is not selfish. I understand that there are plenty of people who have a similar condition and have chosen to have children. I don't believe they're selfish at all. I want to be very clear on that. This is in no way a slam against anyone who has chosen to have children with a condition, be it mine or another. Even with the same condition, everyone is affected differently, and each person knows their own body and experiences better than anyone else.  They also know the nature of their condition - not everybody's is genetic. Mine personally is. Maybe I'm scared, and others are brave, and if you want to call me scared, go right ahead. But I'd like to point out that I would consider adoption, if I were married/with someone for the long haul and therefore felt in a situation to take care of a child.  There are plenty of children already born who need loving homes and parents. If this decision was strictly about me, I wouldn't even consider this as an option.

I love my nieces and nephews more than life itself, and I would throw myself in front of a speeding truck for any of them. It's not that I don't like children or I don't want to give up the comforts of my lifestyle, as the article claimed. I have considered the options, and I have made my choice. I fully respect yours, as I ask you to respect mine. And besides, since I have no kids of my own, maybe I can treat yours to a vacation. :-)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Letting the Magic Happen

This morning has been a difficult morning. I blogged earlier this week about how I let go of someone I thought I thought would be one of my closest friends for life. (You can read about that here if you wish). I'm feeling a bit jilted by a couple of others who I thought perhaps had more of a place for me in their life than it turns out they do. Or if they do, they sure have a funny way of showing it.

Relationships of all types - friends, family, interpersonal - are both a strong suit and a weakness for me. Strong because I the people in my life are the most important part of it. Without them, what's the point? I truly do not feel it's possible for me to live a happy life without people I love and care about in it. It may be for some people, but not me. Not only is this because I want to be loved and feel important to people, though I will admit that I do and I don't think this is a bad thing per se, but because I am a giver, and a caring person, and I like to have people in my life that I care for. I don't just want to to have people there for me, but to have people to be there for.

I realize, through a lot of talk therapy both with professionals and friends, that the key is to love oneself first and foremost. Not in a "taking pictures in the bathroom mirror to show how good I look" way, but to truly think you are a great person, to be proud of yourself, to say "I'm happy with who I am", and to do all of this without feeling the need to be perfect. And supposedly then the rest will follow. This all makes sense to the head, but not so much to the heart. Especially on my rough days, I struggle with the "rest will follow" bit.  I am not a fatalist and I have a bit of trouble with the divine plan notion.  I fully respect people who believe this way, and I often wish I were one of them because it would probably make things easier - I could just know that it will all work out and that all of the hurt I've felt at the hands of people in my life would be worth it in the long run. But I'm not necessarily one of those people. I consider it, but it's tough for me to fully comprehend. As a Buddhist, even the things you started life with were based on previous actions of your soul, so you (or your soul) has control, time after time. Add this to my already "control freak" personality, and it's very tough to just sit back and let the universe work it's magic. That said, I'm considering giving it a go. Hell, my plan so far hasn't exactly been the recipe for success in the interpersonal department, so who am I to argue!

I tried this before for a couple of weeks, and it seemed like things were falling into place. But then some things happened that made me say "what the &!$%" and I reverted to my natural "how do I fix this and make it better" mode. As someone with a mood cycling condition, I'm use to so much feeling out of control (my emotion, my attention span, my energy level, etc) that when I think I may be able to control something, anything, I feel the need to sieze the opportunity and hang on for dear life. But in the end, I do, at least logically  understand that I only have control of one thing, and that's how I choose to act and react, at least to the best of my ability - when you have rapid mood cycles even that's not always guaranteed.

So I'm going to start with a few physical things, because that seems a safe distance away from trying to control my emotions and my heart, and may be a good stepping stone. I'm going to start a "30-day ab challenge", thanks to a friend who brought it to my attention. I've also agreed with another friend to attempt to get back into running, in spite of an IT band issue, and do a 5K running program as soon as I get new running shoes (mine are two years old and definitely not healthy for the IT band issue). Finally, I told a third friend I may do the City to Shore bike ride with her this fall. To sum it up, my fitness level should be improving pretty drastically over the summer, thanks to the help of my friends.

So this is my attempt to focus on me, starting with a few things I should have some control over, at least in my attempt to do them. You can't control injuries and such,though you can try your best to avoid them. I'll see what else starts falling into place. I need to take the attitude that you may be trying to open a door and be shown a window instead, but at least you have some direction.

I'm open to any tips and tricks, though despite the totally cliche ending to the last paragraph, I am kind of over the "you'll meet the right person eventually" and "it'll all work out as it's supposed to" lines, especially from those blissful happily-coupled people. I understand those people are trying to be helpful, but it feels a bit like the super skinny girl whose never had to diet a day in her life telling the obese girl who struggles with weight loss that all that counts is a great personality. But back to the tips and tricks, I'm especially open to any challenges, physical or otherwise. I like partner/group motivation and I like helping motivate and inspire others, so those are usually a win-win.

Now, like anyone about to start a health regimen tomorrow, I'm off to indulge in Cinco de Mayo treats and drinks today! Have a great day!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Trouble With Holding On

I almost never write about my personal relationships. I'm completely ok with bringing out the majority of my own skeletons but I don't necessarily think it's fair to bring out others', especially those from the past. But today I'm making a brief exception. Not details, but I need to set up the background of the situation so that the rest of the blog makes sense.

A while back I dated a guy who was, at the time, a very good friend. I fell head over heels and it was blissful. And then it was heart wrenching. And then it was heart wrenching. And then it was more heart wrenching. Did I say it was heart wrenching? You get the point. But we had agreed that whatever happened in the relationship, we'd remain closest of friends. The relationship didn't work out, and I was heartbroken, but I was comforted by the fact that I'd still have one of my closest friends. Except that as the weeks, and then months, moved on I realized that I didn't. I was making all of the effort. When I did get a reply it was a very generic one - something you'd send to a business colleague that you don't really know, a "hope all is going well with you" type of thing. To me, a generic reply once a month if that does not constitute friendship. Especially not the kind we'd always have. But I don't break promises, and I was bound and determined to keep my end, and for us to remain close friends. I tried and tried for over a year. If you hadn't guessed, it was heart wrenching.

I hate losing friendships. I've only ever permanently walked away from one friendship in my life, and that's because she did something beyond unimaginable to me and refused to apologize. So here I was, holding on to a friendship that I thought was forever, assuming at some point he'd come around. And suddenly one day, I stopped. I'm sure he has his reasons. I don't necessarily understand or believe them, but in the end, I don't have to. I just have to know what I deserve, and what I don't.

For anyone with depression, anxiety, mood cycling, and the like, the feeling of lack of control can be horrendous in every day life. Give us a situation in which we truly do not have any control (ie someone else's emotions), and it can be down right terrifying. Therefore, at least for me, the tendency to hold on, is almost second nature. It's that one illusion of control in a situation in which you otherwise feel completely helpless.

But trouble with holding on is not that you're giving someone the benefit of the doubt, or even that you're holding out hope. The trouble is this: you imagine yourself dangling from a rope over the edge of a horribly rocky cliff with an abyss of who knows what below. You think that the rope is keeping you alive. The effort to hang on is awful, but surely letting go is worse. Except that as you struggle about, trying to maneuver around and do everything just right so that you can continue to hang on and save yourself, you don't realize that you're slowly, unintentionally, wrapping the rope around your own neck and it's strangling you. Soon, you aren't able to utilize your full strength to cling to the rope, nor can you creatively figure out an actual solution because it's cutting off your oxygen supply and making it tough to think.

When you get to this point you have only one option. One that seems completely counterintuitive. You make one last great maneuver to unwrap the rope from around your neck so that you do not, in fact, strangle yourself in the process. You'll have to move in the exact oposite direction than you've been going to undue the damage. Then, you let go.  And when you do, guess what you find out - you weren't hanging over a horrible abyss. You were maybe five feet off the ground the whole time. You were just so scared you never bothered to actually look down.  It might not be a pleasant landing, and you'll be sore if you land badly, but you'll live. Because in reality, the trouble with holding on is that it is, in fact, the holding on that's slowing tearing you up, not the letting go.