Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Beauty In Playing Dress Up

Happy Halloween!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me as a gypsy on halloween, circa 1989

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

They Love Me, They Love Me Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Poison of Negativity

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stepping Out Of The Garden

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Secret Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Things That Go Through My Head On A Daily Basis

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

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Being Kind Is More Important Than Being Right

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

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

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

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