Friday, August 30, 2013

10 Easy Ways To Brighten Someone's Day (And Hopefully Your Own)

Mostly my blog is about mental health, and often focuses on the trials and tribulations that those of us dealing with conditions go through. But today, I thought I'd focus on something very positive that can apply to anyone, condition or no, as we head into this weekend that marks the unofficial end of summer. I feel times of transition, like the seasons, are a great opportunity for positivity and renewal, and it was with these thoughts that I created this list of 10 easy ways to make someone's day.  As karma can be a beautiful thing, they just might brighten your own day in return.

1. Smile at them. Genuinely, not creepliy or forced.

2. Offer a genuine and unsolicited compliment.

3. Tell them they're important to you (in a way that won't sound weird based on the nature of the relationship).

4. Show them that they're important to you (same guidelines as above).

5. Thank them for something they do, or are. Make it meaningful.

6. Do something nice for them without expecting anything in return.

7. Write them a heart-felt note or a card. Not a status or a tweet. Good old pen and paper.

8. Praise/compliment them to someone else whose opinion you value. It feels good to hear someone compliment you to others, doesn't it?

9. Express genuine interest in learning about something that's important to them - a hobby, a job, a passion of theirs, etc.

10. Appreciate them for just being them. Express this to them however you can do so best.

Now go ahead - go brighten someone's day. See if it doesn't just make you feel better as well. And have a safe, happy, and beautiful weekend! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How To Be Friends With A Mood-Cycler

You've probably seen all those lists of "how to date an introvert/extrovert/cross-fit- fanatic/cyclist/couch potato/etc." These seem to be pretty popular these days, so I thought, why not make a list of my own? Except that I'm not addressing dating because to be totally honest, that's not the focus of my blog and we all know I rarely talk about relationships/dating on here anyways. Instead, I thought I'd focus on relationships in the general term. As adults, the basis of almost any personal relationship should really be a solid friendship, and I figured if I used that as the starting point, people could easily apply it to other areas of their personal life as well.

Now I hate to label anyone by an activity, personality trait, condition, but in this specific example, it flows smoother than a "a person with a mood cycling or similar mental health condition", so please excuse that faux pas.  That out of the way, in no particular order.... How To Be Friends With A Mood-Cycler (using myself as an example).
  • I like black and white. Gray areas concern/confuse/stress me out. 'Maybe we'll get together on Saturday night but I won't really know until Sat afternoon, can I let you know?" doesn't tend to go over well with me.  My brain can give me enough "all over the place." I don't need my friends to. Besides... I don't really want to be your plan B. 
  • Be sensitive about mental health topics and the terminology used. Calling someone "crazy" or "mental" because they don't act like you think they should is not cool unless you are clearly joking with me and know I am ok with you doing so.  Hint: when in doubt, avoid it. 
  • Avoid being a "sometimes friend". Be a true, honest, good friend. I deal with enough inconsistency in my body systems. Chasing after friends who reply 30 percent of the time or who are constantly inviting others out and not including me is not worth my time. Really this is just common sense in any friendship, in my opinion. 
  • Ups and downs are a part of my life.  I know the down won't go away if I put on a happy face, and people making fun of my energy level when I'm feeling really happy kind of sucks. Because, you know, I'm happy, and trying to express it. 
  • Don't assume that every time I'm upset that it's my condition. It's often not. Maybe someone, or you, did something inconsiderate or hurtful. Having a condition doesn't mean I'm automatically the bad guy. I don't use it as a crutch. Neither should you. 
  • Don't get going when the going gets tough. It's that simple. 
  • Genuinely learn about my condition. The more accurately informed you are, the more you'll understand my thoughts and actions, and that works out best for everyone. 
  • Make no assumptions about me. If you're not sure about something, ask. Even if you think you're sure, unless you've heard it from my mouth, you're not. My brain doesn't always work like yours. So how would you know what I'm thinking, or my intentions, or my thought pattern? 
  • Allow me emotions that might not make sense to you. Once again, my system is wired differently. Not worse, or better. Differently. 
  • Be glad I have that emotion - it also makes me incredibly caring, loving, giving, and forgiving.
  • Listen to me. Not hear me, listen to me. Enough people stigmatize, generalize, and write off people because of their condition. I feel unimportant often enough. I need to be genuinely listened to, even if it's about something silly. 
  • Let me know I'm important to you. Remember, I see black and white, I don't like to have to assume because that's a gray area. This actually applies in life, in my opinion. People shouldn't have to ascertain that you care. They should know because you tell them AND show them. 
Of course I can't say that this list is true for everyone with a mood cycling condition across the board. But I've spoken with and know enough people who have mood-cycling that I feel confident that using myself as an example (hence written in the first person), I can create this list. If anyone has anything to add, as always, I'd love to hear them! 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Strength is...

It's funny what different people consider "strong." I'm not talking about physically strong. I personally don't care who can bench press 300 pounds and who has trouble with 3 pounds. Though if you can do 300, I'll never challenge you to a bench press competition or a boxing match. I'm talking about personal, emotional, and mental strength. It's something that often seems questioned in mental health. People seem to think that if you can't just "pull yourself up and be happy" you're not strong enough. Or if you cry over something others wouldn't that you're weak.  I, quite frankly, disagree 100 percent.

Strength has nothing to do with diagnosis or lack there of. It has nothing to do with being more emotional or moody. It's not the ability to be the only person in the room not crying at that pathetic animal adoption commercial with the Sarah McLaughlin song. No, it's nothing like that at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
  • Strength is having been hurt in every single way possible and forgiving those who have done so because you understand that doing something bad doesn't make someone a bad person at the core.
  • Strength is knowing that you have a condition that others look down on, and fighting back when others label you because neither you nor anyone else deserves that stigma.  
  • Strength is standing up for who you are and what you believe, even if nobody else is standing with you. 
  • Strength is NOT hardening your heart and hiding emotion or walking away from things because it's easier. 
  • Strength IS allowing yourself to cry when you're hurt, and fighting like hell when you're upset, because you realize that something is so worth fighting for that you're willing to expose yourself raw in order to do so. 
  • Strength is asking for help, in whatever for you may need it, when you realize you can't go it alone. This isn't being needy or dependent or any other similar term someone may throw at it. It takes a lot of strength and courage to say "No person is an island. I need support. I can no longer do it on my own." 
  • Strength is admitting your fears, your anxieties, your troubles, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable in order to work through these. 
  • Strength is the ability to forgive someone who has wronged you and never asked for forgiveness, because you realize that holding onto anger will only ultimately hurt you. 
  • Strength is not quitting when the going gets tough. 
  • Strength is admitting when you're wrong, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. 
  • Strength is accepting another's apology, truly forgiving them, and letting go of the past hurt for good.
  • Strength is being yourself, and being proud of dong so. 

Lessons From Toddlers

This past week I've had the chance to spend more time than usual with several two year olds. My time with them, as well as a quote that a Facebook friend shared with me regarding the joy of children, inspired this blog post. I realized that children could teach us a lot of valuable things. So I thought I'd share this "wisdom" in the hopes of it inspiring others.
  • Almost anything can be solved with a genuine "I'm sorry" and a hug (the latter when appropriate). 
  • This above "I'm sorry" and hug are essential, and should be done as close in time to the offending incident as possible. 
  • This same apology and hug don't need to be debated for hours with he said/she said, analysis of fault, nasty digs, etc. They upset/hurt someone, they apologize, and they give a hug. 
  • Once that apology is given and accepted - and it is virtually always accepted (that's key too)- it's like it didn't happen. Toddlers don't hold long grudges. They don't turn around a week later and say "but you took my toy last Tuesday". 
  • Anything can be cause for celebration - a snack, a run in the sprinkler, seeing someone they love even if they just saw them an hour ago. 
  • They seem grateful for even the smallest thing you do for them. We teach kids to say please and thank you for virtually everything. Yet as adults, it can seem like pulling teeth to get someone to say thank you for something. For some reason, we feel entitled, that they should do it for us so why show appreciation?
  • Toddlers don't "what if". This doesn't mean nothing scares them, but they don't have a laundry list of "well if I do this then, and what about that, and I hope this doesn't".... at least not the way that many adults do. And these "what if"s cause adults a lot of stress. 
I'm sure there are exceptions to these above, as no two kids are alike. These are merely my observations from the interactions I've had with children. It is my full belief that if, as adults, we could hold on to these rather simple practices, we'd probably be a lot happier in general. Think about it - if everyone felt bad and apologized each time they upset you, if nobody held grudges, if the tiniest things could make you happy, if people expressed gratitude to you over little things you did for them, and if you didn't stress over all of the coulda/shoulda/woulda's, how awesome would that be? 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Call For Volunteers

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the new mental health organization I'm working on forming, and the different aspects/projects that I plan to incorporate. I have created a general timeline, starting this month (August 2013) through next July, 2014 for each project. These dates are very symbolic - an organization that I've been heavily involved in has it's annual meeting each July, and I wanted to attend next year with my new organization well in the works, so that I can get the most out of the networking and educational opportunities.

I have been checking the timeline diligently, and reaching out to friends for thoughts and suggestions on some of the basics. However, with the month of August officially half way over, I realized it's time to delve deeper into the tasks for this first month, and work on a more robust strategy. In thinking over all that I want to develop, I've come to a very profound yet probably obvious realization: there is absolutely no way I can do this entire thing alone. At least not with the timeline I have in place, and the details I want to include. Besides, even if I could, I wouldn't want to. First off, I still have my travel planning company which, at this moment, is my only source of income, and I need to dedicate a large amount of time to that. Secondly, I know myself, and I'll get simultaneously excited and overwhelmed by everything I want to do with this organization, and ultimately, I'll freeze up, unsure of what to do next, how to execute everything I hope to, the best way to handle obstacles, etc. And so, I'm unashamedly asking for assistance. 

Since I'm doing an open call for volunteers, I figured it would help if I let everyone know what I actually needed help with. As you may remember from my previous blog, it's come to my attention that my biggest strength is being a visionary, a person who sees the overall picture, who knows who to put in place to help in each area, and what I want to do in the grand scheme . I tend to be the 'jack of all trades, master of none' type. Which means I need people who excel in more of the "how" to help me develop this organization successfully. 

Here are the tasks at hand that I'm hoping I can get some help with, at least to start off. Some people have already mentioned that they'll assist, which I think is amazing, though I'm still including those items to give an overall idea of the tasks at hand. I will absolutely take all the volunteers I can get, as many of these tasks may be too much for just one person. As usual, the only order these are in are the order in which they come into my head. 
  • Help creating the step by step process for each project that I'm envisioning. This will undoubtedly require several people, each of whom feels most comfortable helping with one of the projects. For example, you may have experience organizing writing courses, but not feel comfortable with creating a mentorship program. Of course, if you feel confident in helping with multiple projects, you're certainly welcome to. 
  • Help naming each project and the organization as a whole. I've already had some great suggestions on this - just need to fine tune and finalize. 
  • Help promoting/marketing/getting the word out for each project during the development and once established. 
  • Help reaching out to potential mentors and men-tees for the mental health mentoring project (name TBD). 
  • Writers/editors for articles in the mental-health-focused youth magazine. 
  • Anyone with any ability to create websites, logos, online magazine template, that kind of thing. I realize that it takes a lot of time to create these, and I'd never ask someone to do it for free. More I just need suggestions and thoughts. 
  •  Help creating, editing, and scrutinizing the business plan. 
  • I already have an excellent partner for organizing fundraising/charity events, though I'm sure we'd love any extra volunteers we can get. 
  • I also have a friend who is wonderful at creating writing courses and events, who I'm excited to brainstorm with. I can always use additional help spreading the word with these as well!
I'm sure I'll think of more things, and if you foresee something that you could help with that I haven't thought of yet, I'm all ears. Currently, this is a personally funded project, which means I'm doing it as cost-affordable as possible. Which in turn means each of these would be volunteer "position". Once I get this organization off the ground, I'd love to hire people when feasible, even on a project-specific or as-needed basis. At the time being, though, it's out of the goodness of your heart (thank you!). You get the pleasure of knowing you're helping creating an organization for the amazing cause. And maybe some pizza and beer if you live locally. 

All suggestions and offers to volunteer are greatly appreciated! As always, thanks for reading and for your support and please feel free to pass this along. I've learned that "six degrees of separation" - or sometimes even two - can create some incredible contacts. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Face of "Mental Illness"

I recently read/saw that an anchor on a major new station referred to Ariel Castro - the man who kidnapped, held hostage, and tortured three women for years - as the "face of mental illness".  Now, I am not very fond of the term mental illness to begin with. It's so often used as a negative, as a disparaging term. It seems to be used as a generalization ... "this is what people with mental illness are like". And yet "mental illness", as defined by the new DSM V, covers everything from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to Major Depressive Disorder to Substance Use Disorder to Sleep-Wake Disorders. Given this, it's pretty tough (ie almost impossible) for one "face" to represent mental illness.

But let's leave aside for a moment my personal dis-taste for the use of the term based on the stigma it creates. Instead, let's use it in its literal sense - an illness that affects the brain/mind. That "housekeeping" out of the way, I'll get back to the primary concern of this post - "the face".  Ariel Castro may be the face of a kidnapper, the face of a torturer. Those things are literally defined by the actions he did. But let me tell you something. He's not the face of mental illness. He's no mascot, no representation of the mental health community. Want to know why? Because, this is the face of someone with a mental health condition:

For those who don't know me in person, that's me. All 5'0, 112 pounds of me who literally won't hurt a fly - if I see a bug inside I gently put it on a napkin and take it outside so that it has a chance of life. Not exactly similar to the "face of mental illness" as represented by the media. Bet yet, I do in fact have a mental health condition. It's called cyclothymia. I've apparently had it since birth and I was diagnosed at  age 29. At times, it makes me anxious and emotional and jittery and occasionally depressed. It may result in things flying out of my mouth before they've been filtered by my brain, which is quite regrettable. But it doesn't make me commit murder or kidnapping or petty theft for that matter.  I've never even skipped out on paying a parking ticket. I'm certainly not perfect. But that's human life. Nobody is. 

And let me tell you a few more things about this "face" with a mental health condition. It's a face of someone who has owned and run her own travel business for the last seven years; who has a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree (3.86 and 3.9 GPAs respectively, in case you were wondering). It's the face of someone who sat for six years on the chapter board of a very well-respected industry organization, and who was the chapter president of another well-respected industry organization - simultaneously. It's the face of someone who has a large, supportive, diverse group of people in her life, and many family and friends who consider her their "rock" when things get tough for them. Ironic that the one that society labels as having "problems" is the one everyone turns to for sound advice, is it not? That might give you some insight into the accuracy of people's labels. 

Now, I'm not saying this to toot my own horn. I may be a lot of things, but I've never been conceited in any way. I'm providing this information to show the type of person that represents the *real* "face of mental illness." I'm sure there are people with mental health conditions that do terrible things. There are also people with cancer, and COPD, and kidney disease, and heart conditions, and those with no diagnosed conditions at all that do terrible things. But I've yet to see the time when the media comes on and says "well, that murderer had asthma, what do you expect? Those asthmatics just can't be trusted. We have to learn to contain them." And I'm glad for that. Nobody should be discriminated against because of a condition affecting any of their organs or systems or joints or any other body part... including their brain. 

We have a long way to go until we get to that point of no discrimination. As positive as I'd like to be, I'm skeptical if we ever will. But for now, I'll try to do my part, pointing out and dispelling stigmas as best I can, and hoping that my readers will understand my message and pass it along as best as they can. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Five Love Languages

There's a book with the same title. You may have heard of it. You probably haven't. It sounds pretty cheesy I know, and there are indeed parts where it gets kind of iffy. The message overall, though, is really quite interesting. In summary, there are five main ways people like to be showed love. In my opinion, most of these can be extended past romantic love to friendships, families, and just caring in general.

The point of this book is that not everyone feels loved or cared about by the same things, and that the old "treat others the way you'd like to be treated" is a little off base. The more effective version is 'treat others the way they want to be treated." For instance, I am a person that is generally pretty huggy-kissy. My girlfriends and I hug and kiss on the cheek and call each other "love" and that kind of thing. I know people, though, who are physically standoffish, even with those closest to them. You go to hug them and they look at you as if you have the plague and are about to contaminate them. Therefore, I've had to learn that there are certainly ways to show these people I care, but hugging them is not it.

I'm not generally one to summarize books and such, but I feel that the points that form the basis of this one are incredibly important, and that we often miss the mark when it comes to our interactions with others. It seems that lately we've become such a "me" society, and we expect others to interact and react the way we do, or there's something "wrong" with them. Yet, there may be a very valid reason that they don't.  Every person is built differently, and I thought that a discussion of this book's content could perhaps shed some light on this, at least when it comes to the way we express caring.

According to the book, the five love languages are:

1. Quality time. This one is pretty straight forward. It means that you spend quality time with someone, by their definition of quality. "By their definition" is the critical point here. If your vision of quality time is watching reality TV and mine is going for a hike together, telling me that we're going to spend time together and turning on Big Brother does not make me feel loved. In fact, it probably makes me feel like you don't really know, or don't really care, what I want to do.

2. Words of affirmation. Basically, this is using (positive) words to let the person know how you feel about them. It can be a compliment on their appearance, or an appreciation for who they are or what they do, or a "great job on that promotion, I'm proud of you". It doesn't have to necessarily be spoken. You could write them a letter or a song or come to the door as a singing telegram. But it should be genuine and heartfelt. And it should be something you know is important to them. If they're feeling down about their appearance, or job, or whatever it is, and the best you can come up with is "you make a mean biscuits and gravy", they may not feel super cared about. Yes, you may really have loved last night's dinner, and that's nice of you to say it, but that's not how they want to be recognized.

3. Acts of service. The name is a bit tricky, and I'll admit that when I first read it, I thought this was a "barefoot on the kitchen and pregnant' kind of a thing. But basically, this means doing things for the person that are important to them. If they don't have time to make dinner because of their work schedule, and surprise them with a nice dinner, that's an act of service. So is cleaning the house when they hate to do it.  Or running errands or taking care of things they need to do but don't have time or don't want to do. It doesn't have to be an essential need. It can be knowing that they'd love to have a garden, and clearing a space for it in the yard and planting some bulbs. Again though, this has to be important to the person. If having the house spotless is your compulsion, but I could care less, saying spending hours cleaning may make you feel loved if the situation was reversed but isn't the way that they feel loved.

4. Gift giving. This can blend in with acts of service a bit, because it's an action of giving something to the other person. The difference, though, is that this is generally not an action, but something actually purchased or made/created that you give to the person, and it's generally something that's not a necessity. So if the vacuum broke and you pick up a new one because the house is dusty, that's probably closer to an act of service. If they've been dying for that new grill they saw on TV and you randomly come home with it one day, that's a gift. In a professional setting, it could be throwing an appreciation day for your employees or coworkers or something along this line. It's not a gift per se, but you're creating something nice and unexpected for them.

5. Physical touch. Ok so this is the one that probably shouldn't apply to a professional situation. But it doesn't have to be just romantic or intimate. It can be the hug example with family or friends that I described above, or just holding someone's hand. It's that extra personal touch that makes someone feel cared about, loved, needed. It says "you're special to me".

Do any of these jump out at you? Do you recognize yourself or your loved ones or others in your life in these? There are two keys to this book. The first is to discover how you best feel loved (it can be a combination), so that you can let others know - "hey, I don't need expensive gifts, but I'd love for you to hold my hand or put your arm around me once in a while". The other key is to figure out how the important people in your life feel cared about. You may have been bringing them expensive gifts because that would make you feel special, but all they want is for you to spend some quality time that doesn't involve the TV or Facebook.

I want to add a caveat here. These indicate the way that you (or others) most feel loved. I'd venture to guess that everyone likes a combination of these, but some are just more important than others. So it's not really an excuse to say "well gift giving came in last in that quiz, so I didn't get you anything for Christmas!" Or, well we spent time together, so I never have to do the dishes again! There are general things that everyone likes. These just help you see how you, and others, most feel appreciated, because we may well be focusing on those things least important to each other.

The book has a test in it, if you're curious. You can also probably find the book or test online. Can anyone guess what my results came in at? I'll give you a clue, I had a clear winner, and a two-way tie for second place. There were two that were definitely down at the bottom. I wasn't surprised by the outcome at all. Still, it's always nice to know that you know yourself well. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The "C" Word

If you have yet to guess by the general theme of my blog, the "c word' I'm talking about is the ever popular "crazy".  It's one of those words that has become common place and in some contexts, completely harmless. For instance: "How was that party last night?" "Oh it was crazy, there must have been 100 people there. I had a blast." In this case, clearly the person is using the word to mean busy, fun, popular, etc. I'll fully admit, I've used it in this sense as well, and when others do, it doesn't bother me at all. In fact, this gives it a rather positive emphasis.

However, I also hear it all too often in reference someone who isn't acting the way others believe they should. Probably against social convention and certainly not in the way the person speaking would act, or at least not the way they perceive themselves acting. For instance, I recently heard someone describing an ex-girlfriend as such:  "oh you and Mary (made up name) broke up?" "Yeah man she was crazy! I couldn't handle it." And I'm making this more appropriate for blog purposes than it actually was. I believe there were some choice words in the reply that I'd rather not add.  Now, there are three possibilities that I can envision here.

 1.) The guy just didn't think the way Mary was acting was "appropriate" and because it wasn't to his standards of "normal" behavior, he called her crazy. This is probably most likely.

2.) Mary actually had a mental health condition that the guy knew about, and he's using it as a slam against her. This is also possible but doesn't make the guy's response any more likable in my eyes because he's making a massive generalization about mental health and furthering the stigma.

3.) Mary actually was committed to a psychiatric hospital for life and he didn't know how else to describe it or doesn't want to admit this about his former girl, so just uses the term that he thinks is agreeable with his friend. This is clearly the least likely solution, and still not particularly ok. It's still putting a really negative connotation on mental health in general, and not a very nice thing to say at all about someone if they really are that ill.

Do you see a pattern? In none of these situations is "crazy" really acceptable. Now, if he'd said "that girl was crazy cool and I just wasn't worthy so she broke up with me",  perhaps I'd be ok with it. Again, it's a positive emphasis instead of negative. But clearly, that's not what he's saying here. Now, to be clear, I'm not picking on men. I was just relating an actual conversation I  heard. I had to bite my tongue not to say something smart-assy. He probably would have just called me crazy anyways, so it wouldn't have done any good.

Here's the thing about "crazy." Research shows that between 20 and 25 percent of the American population has a mental health condition. If you count disorders recently added to the new DSM V, such as addictive disorders, that number jumps up to almost one-third of the population, according to studies. That means one in three people in the US has a mental health condition. By "Bob Smith's" (made up name) likely definition of crazy above, one third of all Americans are crazy. To me, that's either highly unlikely, or means that there is clearly something wrong with life as we live it in the US. Because under no circumstances should one third of your country's residents be "crazy".

Yes, those of us with a mental health condition may act differently than the "average" person (who is that person anyway?). Yes, we may have mood swings or be more anxious or over-react at times. We may get depressed. We may approach life from a different perspective than the general population tells us we should. This doesn't make us crazy. It makes us unique. It allows us to see things from a different angle. Our brains may work in a spectrum that others have trouble reaching. Sure, that angle, that spectrum, might be more emotional at times. But does being more emotional or more anxious really hurt anybody? Is it crazy? In the past, I spent a lot of time around people in very "logical" fields of work, who seem to be so logical that they couldn't express emotion even in situations where it was warranted - like in their relationships and with their families. Yet nobody calls that crazy. Why is one "extreme" crazy and the other not?

So please, don't call me crazy. Or delusional. Or any other crazy-like term. Just because I don't think of things the way you do, it doesn't mean there's something "wrong' with me. Because, quite simply, there are no rules on how to think. Good and bad, right and wrong, they're judgements. They're opinions. They may be widely held opinions and judgements, but they still aren't facts. And if you think that society's opinion is an appropriate marker of judgement, just remember...  this is the same society whose most popular halloween costume a couple of years ago was that of Snooki. I may be off base here, but I'm not entirely sure our population has a great grasp on "normal".