Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Completely Imperfect

I'm not perfect. Which is no surprise, since nobody is. Nor are most people anywhere near close. But I may have a few more obvious "differences" than most. Perhaps they're more obvious because I am intentionally open about them.  While other people's might simmer under the surface, slowly revealing themselves little by little, mine say "look, here I am, in all my glory." A friend once told me I'm the emotional equivalent of streaking across a baseball field. I'd say that's pretty accurate.

If it's not completely clear where I feel my "issues" lie (though I can't imagine that it's not), here are a few of the most notable. For one, I'm diagnosed with a mood cycling disorder. While I feel it's an unfair reaction, that diagnosis alone can be enough to concern people, even if they've not seen any outward manifestation of it. I'm a fiery person, prone to emotional displays, both positive and not-so-positive. I have strong opinions, and I'm not afraid to share them - many times after which I wish I had bitten my tongue. My lovely genetics make it so that my moods can cycle even within a day, so, surprise, I can be moody. I don't give up. I can be as stubborn as a mule when I want to be. Well, perhaps persistent and determined is a better way to put it - I go after what I want, I don't give up until I get it, and I don't like to give in if I feel I'm in the right. Though I'm also the first to apologize when I'm not. There are times when my head is in the clouds or left field or who knows where and I'm not thinking perfectly clear - but how can you when you have100 thoughts racing around in your head at any given time. Ok maybe not 100, but definitely at least 20 to 30. I have a lot of trigger words, phrases, and situations that make me want to spit nails. Never tell me to calm down or shut up (or any version of these), never call me irrational or hypocritical. Don't turn your back on me when I'm talking to you, or walk away from me when I'm upset, or give me the silent treatment. Don't ever question my ability to succeed. In fact, don't ever tell me I can't do anything. I'll prove you wrong or die trying. It's one thing if I question myself; it's another thing entirely if you do. I need people to believe in me even when I don't believe in myself. Because I do the same for them.

Now before I continue, let me dispel some myths. These above items don't occur on a daily basis. I go through probably one terrible cycle a year. These cycles might get better or worse over the course of a week or two, but it's not as if every day I'm going to wake up and throw all of these things at people at once. The rest of my cycles aren't too rough, and often I'm the only one who knows about them. Even if you've seen me cycle, here's the thing - I cycle multiple times most days. So, chances are, you've really not picked up on most of them at all. Which is exactly how I want it.

Secondly, these faults are not my preference. I'd rather not act like the spawn of satan at times, but it happens and I do my best to deal with it and to shield those around me from the effects. I'll admit, I wish I was successful in this more often, but I do try. A for effort anyone? But regardless, everyone does and says things they wish they didn't. I'm no different. That's just life. Additionally, and this is probably the stigma that upsets me the most, I do not - let me repeat do not - use my condition as an excuse. I'm not just acting out and blaming cyclothymia because I can. It is not a crutch. It's a condition that I battle every day. Some days it's a real bitch. I hate those days, not only because they're miserable for me, but because they can negatively impact those around me. I work very hard at improving myself and dealing with my condition on a continued basis. And, quite frankly, all of this stuff above, these faults and differences and triggers and the like ... they're worth it. Let me relate back to the "issues" in the first paragraph to explain why.

Let's start with the fact that I'm a fiery person. It means I'm easily excitable. I make people smile and laugh, and create energy wherever I go. I've been told I can lift people's mood just be being in their presence. Who doesn't like a smile and a good laugh and someone breaking out some random dance in the middle of the room just because they feel like it?  And those strong opinions that get me in trouble so often? They're because I'm passionate about life and everything it encompasses. That includes the people I hold close. I'd use my strong opinions and my lack of shame at expressing them to defend you to the death - mine, not yours, to be clear. I've often gotten myself in trouble with "authority" while speaking up for someone who's too afraid to defend themselves. It's just how I am. I won't let someone I care about be trodden all over. Especially not in front of others. So that big mouth that people wish I'd keep quiet sometimes... it just might come in handy for them some day.

Now lets move on to the actual mood cycles themselves. Dealing with them day in and day out means I'm good at dealing with extremes. It means that in someone else's crisis, I can remain much calmer than one would expect. I'm surprisingly a "rock" for people. While we're talking moods, I'd like to make it clear - my ups are way more frequent than my downs, so the tiniest thing can make me happy, and often does.  If I'm down, I usually bounce back quickly.

I mentioned above that I'm stubborn a.k.a persistent. I won't give up on things that are important to me. This makes me an incredibly forgiving and loyal person. I've forgiven things I probably never should have, but that's just me. Always the benefit of the doubt and another chance. It's also helped me stay on my feet or stand back up when I've been dealt the strongest of blows. I don't believe in failing. It's really that simple.

Finally, there's that "rational" thing... everyone else's favorite word it seems, and one of my least favorite. Yes, there are times I am not thinking 100 percent clearly, and yes I have a decent amount of trigger words that make me seem unreasonably upset... and due to this, I understand when these happen to others. Or at least I try my damnedest to. Because really, doesn't everyone have something (or things) that hit a nerve and make them angrier or more upset than outsiders think it should? And at that moment, do they always see everything perfectly clear? I'd venture to say they don't. Luckily, I totally get that. Because I'm fully willing to admit, as I have here, that this happens to me too. This relates back to forgiveness. I'm much tougher on myself than I am on others 99 percent of the time. It doesn't mean I don't get upset ever. I'm only human. It means I don't hold it against them, and generally, a genuine, heartfelt apology is all that's needed.

So no, I'm not perfect. In fact, I'm completely imperfect. But I think most anyone would agree that while you can sit there and dwell on faults, it's healthier to focus on how those same characteristics can manifest in a positive manner. And though I don't wish a mood cycling condition on anyone, including myself, it's made me the person I am, just as your "faults" have made you the person that you are. So don't be so hard on yourselves, or on each other. We can't ignore those imperfect traits, but we can certainly look at both sides of the coin. Perhaps in doing so, we will come to understand that without all of those "negatives", what we'd really be missing out on most is all of the positives.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why I Named My Gremlin Anne Boelyn

As I've written about before, I sometimes like to refer to my condition as the gremlin inside my head. You can read more about it here, but basically, it personifies my brain in the times that it decides to take control against all common sense, logic, or emotional intelligence.

I've suggested in previous posts that it helps to name your gremlin, because it allows you to separate it out. It also allows you to take the voice less seriously. I am known to emotionally beat myself up for things I've done or said when the gremlin takes the reigns. There are times that I've loathed the gremlin, and in turn, felt terrible about myself because I had trouble separating it out from me as a person. So I decided to take my own advice an name my gremlin. This way, I can yell at it and reprimand it all I wanted without berating myself for things resulting from a condition that I never, ever asked to have.

I decided to name my gremlin Anne Boleyn. I love Tudor history. I particularly am enthralled with the story of Henry VIII's wives. Of them, Anne Boleyn is the most intriguing to me. She is also generally the most detested of all of his wives. At the time, some people claimed she was a witch. They said that she enchanted people, cast spells on them to do things against their will. While I tend to disagree with that theory, it reminds me a of my gremlin..... it too seems to steer my brain in a direction which I never would choose to go willingly.  Anne was a bit of a mystery. Often, the same things about her that tended to pull people in were those that later turned them against her.  I feel the same about my brain. There are moments when I love the creativity and depth of thought and emotion that I am capable of because my brain pushes boundaries. There are other times that this same depth of emotion can cripple me and I turn on my gremlin, wishing it cast out, never to come back.

Ultimately, Anne Boleyn was never fully understood, and I suspect she wanted it that way - though not to the degree that it cost her her life. Depending on who you ask, she was intelligent, learned, beautiful, and beheaded despite her innocence. According to others, she was an unnatural monster who was out only for herself and deserved every punishment she got, including losing her head. Either way, she most certainly took secrets to her grave. And ultimately, I feel the same about my condition aka gremlin.  It's something I feel I will never fully understand. On one hand, it makes me who I am, and I'm quite happy with who that person is overall. I feel it's helped me understand my true purpose, and in that sense, there's beauty to it. In a way, I suppose it's intelligent in that it helps me be more empathetic to and understanding of others who deal with similar things. It's guided me towards some amazing people I would never have met otherwise. On the other hand, it's workings will always remain a mystery to me. Why it l turns on me when I least expect it, I struggle to understand. It leads me to hurt (emotionally) and upset those around me, and in that sense, it's ugly and deserves to die a miserable death. It's powerful, in some ways fascinating, yet terrifying in others.

So Anne and I will go through life together, battling each other some days and working together on others, sometimes understanding each other, and sometimes despising each other. But at least I can now say I hang out with Anne Boleyn on a daily basis, and that sometimes I even manage to out-smart her. For a Tudor fanatic like myself, that's often enough to make me chuckle and smile.

Friday, July 26, 2013

No Saying No

The other day, a random challenge popped into my head. I wondered if I could eliminate the word "no" - and any form of it - from my vocabulary. This included words such as not, nobody, nothing, as well as contractions like don't, can't, shouldn't, couldn't, didn't, and won't. I figured while I was at it, I'd throw the ominous "never" into the pot. Because if there's anything worse than thinking that you can't do something, it's that you'll never be able to. I'm going to add one small exception to this challenge, and that is, commands to my dog. Not that I want to throw negative vibes at her, but simply, she knows the word "no" and tends to follow it, and if she's about to do something dangerous like run into the street, I'd rather break my vow of eliminating "no" than put her life in danger. I'm going to work on more positive cues for her, but as she's unaware of the self-created challenge, it may be a slower process. Additionally, for the purposes of this blog, I will be using these words intentionally simply to highlight points.

I started this challenge yesterday and I have to say, it's tougher than I imagined. The "no" itself is probably the easiest to eliminate, oddly enough. It's the "don't" and "can't" and the like that are a bit tougher. I notice it particularly when I write. It's amazing how negative our vocabulary is - or at least mine. I wonder if that was always the case, or if we have gotten more negative over the years. Were our conversations always filled with doubt and dismissal? Or have we been taught that to be positive, to believe heartily in situations, other people, and ourselves, is unrealistic, and that we'll only be disappointed? I'm inclined to think the latter, though I'd be curious to hear from those who have lived longer than myself and perhaps watched more of a transition.

For those of us with mental health conditions, I believe this negativity can have an even more drastic effect. If we are already dealing with anxiety, depression, or panic, for instance, the focus on "no" and "can't" and "shouldn't" can only exacerbate these. For instance, if I have come out of a depressive cycle, and I'm feeling positive about life (I don't tend to have the "delusions of grandeur" that is suggested in cycling systems, I just feel positive and energetic), and I'm constantly hearing how I can't or shouldn't do something, that an idea that's exciting to me is not a good one, it squelches me. Even in my most positive state, I start to feel worthless, like I have my head in the clouds and the success I hoped to have is a delusion after all. I'm sure this is the same for others. And even for those without a condition...who wants to have their ideas put down, and their dreams admonished?

I truly feel that focusing on the negative brings it to us. If, for example, all I keep thinking is "I hope I don't mess this up", I'm so fixated on the "messing up", that my brain tends to ignore the "don't" portion. It seems that inevitably, the negative thing I'm so focused on occurs. So if, instead, I think, "I hope I (or I'm going to or I plan to) do a great job with this", my brain hones in on the "great job", and I'm more likely to accomplish whatever it is - because that's where my energy is being placed. Obviously, there are possible exceptions. Natural disasters, freak accidents, and this kind of thing. Overall though, I've found that the more positive energy I place into my thought, the more positive the outcome, and the better my overall mood. So, I'm excited about this challenge, and I feel I'm up to it. I'd welcome anyone who wants to take it with me.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Unintentional Goal Setting

For the past eight years or so, I've been heavily involved with the Philadelphia Area Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (aka PAMPI). Every summer, MPI - the international organization of which PAMPI is a chapter - holds a World Education Congress (WEC), hosted in a different city each year. WEC presents a fantastic opportunity for networking with suppliers and other planners, educational seminars, and some down right fun social events. I was able to go last year, as I received a scholarship from my chapter that covered my registration and the majority of my airfare and hotel costs. This year, unfortunately, as much as I want to go, it wasn't in my budget.

Last week at a PAMPI event, I was speaking with friends and fellow members about this year's WEC. I explained that I wasn't able to go this year, but I hoped to go next year, when it will be hosted in Minneapolis. Before I realized the implications, I further mentioned that by that time next year, I hoped to be more involved in creating and organizing events in the "mental health world", and that WEC would offer a great opportunity for me to meet suppliers and other planners who I may want to work with on these new ventures.

It occurred to me shortly after the conversation that not only had I just verbalized my goals and plans, but I had put a bit of a timeline on them. If I'm to be networking at a major international event at this time next year, I'd better well have something in place to network about! Furthermore, I'd not only given myself this timeline, but I'd discussed it with others in the industry whose opinion I greatly respect. They could actually hold me accountable for it! I mean that in the best possible way. At least for me, when I discuss plans with someone I trust, I generally enjoy it when they followup and help to keep me on track. Not that I'm putting that pressure on these particular friends and mentors, but I feel like the *could* ask me about it, and that makes me want to have some progress to report. It also motivates me to set a timeline and budget that includes being prepared to attend WEC next year. How easily and unintentionally this motivation was put in place was an eye opener for me.

My advice is this: accountability is key. If you have a goal or a dream that you want to put into action, but are afraid or unsure how to do so, tell someone. Tell someone who you trust and respect. Whose opinion you can ask, and who could help keep you on track if you request, but will be supportive and positive. Set a timeline that revolves around something definitive, that's not within your control to move. In my case, WEC is going to happen on the dates that MPI sets, regardless of if I'm ready or not. You could use something personal, like the end of the year or your birthday, but be careful with this as it's easy enough to just say "well, maybe by the end of January instead of New Year." If there's a professional event that you can choose as a marker (if it's a professional goal/dream), that's a help. Not only is it static and not within your control, but it gives you a reason to meet your goal - you want to be ready to share your progress with colleagues and peers by that date.

And now, without further adieu, it is time to start creating a timeline for these projects that I hope to be ready to network about next July. Even though it's a year away, I'm sure it will be here before I know it. I look forward to sharing my progress with you all, and because I love to give back and inspire others, I'd be happy to help you keep on track with any ventures you are undertaking - all you have to do is ask! 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Creating A Little Direction

Today I had to write a bio for a guest post I'm submitting to another blog. It occurred to me that when it comes to the mental health world, I really don't have a title. When introducing myself in conjunction with what I do, I say that I own and operate a travel company, and also do some "mental health work on the side". This, however, is not much of a way to make a name for oneself in any field. Saying that I do something on the side makes it sound like it's a nice hobby, like knitting or taking a Zumba class. Not that there's anything wrong with these activities, but the average person doesn't do these because they feel it's their purpose.

I toyed with how to describe myself for bio purposes. I thought of using the word volunteer, but whenever I do, people ask me what organization I volunteer for. In reality, I've created my own "volunteer work", by way of this blog, the support group I oversee on Facebook, and the fundraising hike I've helped to create and organize. So volunteer doesn't seem to work either. I thought about the word activist, but that can tend to put a bad taste in many mouths. Plus, it's a little too intense of a word for my current efforts. I'm not marching on Washington or anything (yet). That's still a little too high stress for me at the moment, not to mention the fact that I have zero connections to do so even if I wanted to.

I finally settled on the phrase "mental health awareness enthusiast". I'm not 100 percent thrilled with it, but when I added in details about the various work that I do, as described above, I was relatively satisfied. I further added in my hope/plan to work with youth and teens who deal with mental health conditions. The description gives a decent idea of my current activities and allows room for growth. The struggle in coming up with a title for myself brought to mind, once again, a question that I've been debating ....  Should I create an official organization under which I can align all of my various mental health efforts? It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Do I get good footing with the projects first, and then once I know they're a go, or at least progressing, create the organization? Or do I create it first to give me confidence and structure for the projects, and perhaps make them more "official"?

In writing this just now, II realized that I've never laid out, to the public, the various undertakings that I have in mind. I think I'm a bit afraid people will look at me sideways, thinking that I have my head in the clouds. I've been given the 'you see the world differently' speech before, and it nags at me at times. On the other hand, there could be someone reading this that may be the perfect person to help, or may know somebody who is. So, after weighing the potential outcomes, I thought I'd share my plans. I'd greatly appreciate any support, thoughts, or hands raised if someone thinks they could help in any way. There's not a timeline yet, though I have somewhat of an order in mind (not particularly represented here).
  • Hold an annual hike/fundraiser for mental health research and treatment. That's on it's way to fruition, as we are holding the first hike this September. I hope to make it a successful, yearly event. 
  • Host writing classes as a sort of "writing therapy" for people dealing with mental health conditions ... the "therapy" term being my generic term that will have to be worded differently, as I'm not a licensed therapist, but someone who believes in and has experienced growth through writing. 
  • Offer private writing sessions to work one-on-one with people. 
  • Create a mentor program for youth and teens dealing with mental health conditions, where they can get to know to an adult who has dealt with similar issues. I picture it somewhat like a "Big Brothers Big Sisters", but with a mental health demographic. 
  • Create a mental health focused journal/magazine, probably online, specifically for youth and teens. This literally just dawned on me the other day, and now I'm so excited to figure it out. 
I also want to organize some retreats. I'm currently working with a friend on trying to organize a destination writing retreat, and while it's not "mental health focused", I love the idea of writing retreats to help people grow and expand their horizons in general. 

So far, I'm just at the beginning stages for most of these, if that far. However, I'd love to find the right people to help me in these journeys, as certainly it would be a lot to take on single handedly. I'd be to hear your thoughts, and to talk to anyone that might be interested or know someone who may be.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Little "About Your Blogger"

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, or really at all, you've probably gotten a pretty good sense of who I am in relationship to the major things going on in my life, the journey I'm taking, and the like. But it was suggested by a fellow blogger to do  a "fun facts" blog, to let readers know learn a some random information about myself. I'm a huge fan of fun facts, and I thought I'd grab ahold of this idea. So, without further adieu, in no particular order, here you go.

  • My favorite color is orange. Because it's vibrant and a bit quirky, like myself.
  • My favorite quote: "Be yourself. No one can say you're doing it wrong." ~Charles M. Schultz
  • My favorite cartoon as a kid was Thundercats. Scooby Doo was a household favorite too. 
  • If I could meet anyone it be the Dalai Lama.
  • My favorite destinations are currently Botswana, Jordan, and New Zealand (it's a three-way tie).
  • A fun/embarrassing memory: I once had the song Baby Got Back dedicated to me at a wedding in front of over 100 people. For the record, I thought it was hysterical. 
  • If I could go back in time, I'd go to the roaring 20s or Tudor England.  Everyone tells me I'd fit well in the 20s. I think it's my haircut, personally. And I have a slight (read: major) fascination with the Tudors, especially the wives of Henry VIII and Lady Jane Grey.
  • My guilty pleasure is "going back" to my childhood by doing fun kid-like things...playing games, building forts, stomping through puddles, staying up to watch a storm, camping out in the living room, doing scavenger hunts, etc.  I feel it's so good for the soul.
  • In sixth grade, we had "invention fair" for science. My friend and I won first prize creating a "dish dryer" made out of plexiglass and a hair dryer. This was (I believe) before dishwashers had the auto dry feature. Also, my family didn't hav a dishwasher so I thought the dish dryer was pretty ingenious.
  • Someone asked me my favorite fictional character (besides the Thundercats). Basically every character from every Jane Austin novel came to mind. I especially like Emma - not because she's overly like-able, but because she wants to find love for everyone else, neglecting herself in this pursuit, only to realize in the end that she needed it all along, probably most of everyone.

Want to know more interesting trivia ? Just ask me - I'm happy to answer! And now, a few completely random pictures of me, just for fun.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Would You Tell Yourself...?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about helping youth and teens and the ways in which I can do so. Naturally, this has lead me to reflect a bit on my own younger years, and the trials and tribulations of them. I thought about what I would tell myself, looking back from the vantage point I have now. I was a pretty good and successful kid overall, but I still think I'd have a lot to say.

First off, I'd tell myself that I'll be all grown up soon enough, so don't be in such a hurry. I'll have rent/mortgage payments, health insurance bills, a full time job with no three-month summer vacation, and plenty of other responsibilities for the majority of my life..... so enjoy the freedom from these while I can.

I'd applaud myself for doing my own thing and not caring what was trendy and cool, or who was more popular, or how everyone else looked. It's remained a valuable character trait as an adult, and my uniqueness is one of those things I like most about myself.

I'd explain to myself that undesired test scores or not executing a beam routine flawlessly is not, in fact, the end of the world even though it might feel like it at the moment. Because eventually, those things won't matter. Twenty years later, nobody cares about the bad grade I got on that one math test or that I  missed qualifying for an important competition by half a point.

I would tell myself to talk to someone about the anxiety, depression, overall "not feeling like myself", and low self-esteem that plagued me. In fact, I'd probably straight out tell myself that I have a condition, that I have had it from birth, and that I would have it for the rest of my life. I think that catching and treating it at an earlier age would have saved me a lot of mental and emotional frustration in my younger years (and I imagine those around me would be grateful as well). I would let myself know that everything would, down the road, be ok - that I would be happy, and to just hang on to that knowledge in the worst of times.

Finally, I'd tell myself to go after everything I could. To not be afraid, to take chances, to reach after every opportunity, and to never lose that attitude. There was a big gap between my early teen years and the current day where I seemed to lose this, and where my confidence plummeted further, and it is just finally starting to rebuild again. I would make sure that I knew then just how able I was and could continue to be.

We can't change our past, but we can use these lessons to influence our present and our future. I often think we have so much advice to give to younger people, but often don't tend to take that advice ourselves. Looking at the list above, I could benefit from the information just as much now as I could have then. After all, we're only as old as we feel, right? And a lot of me still feels like a kid at heart.