Thursday, January 23, 2014

Two Depressions, Some Toddler Therapy, & A Few Extra Cups Of Coffee

2014 hasn't particularly started the way I was anticipating. At the end of 2013, I was feeling pretty good. I'd gone several weeks without a particularly bad episode of mood cycling and I thought that the frustrating episodes of the fall were neatly placed in the past. But as January unfolded, my moods got worse, and then even worse from there. I rarely suffer bouts of depression longer than a couple of days, so I generally feel unprepared when they arrive.... which they did, with a vengeance.

They started hitting me a couple of weeks ago out of the blue. The crying for no reason, feeling bad about myself and about my life, the lack of hope, and the crushing anxiety that tends to piggyback on the depression. If you've ever experienced it, you understand exactly what I'm talking about. If you've not, I am unsure if there's a way to truly do it justice, for lack of a better phrase. It's the kind of anxiety that makes you fearful, though you can't particularly say of what - it feels like you're simply afraid of everything, of life. In the end, I had two terrible depressive episodes back to back that made me feel like I was going to break completely. And then they opened my eyes.

I've spent the last couple of weeks doing a lot of thinking, and a lot of observing of my own brain and the way it works. I've learned a few things, and I thought I'd share them in case others go through something similar, whether diagnosed with mood cycling or not.

  • Not everything your brain tells you is true. It might feel like it, but it's not. Even those things you seem so sure of, that feel so concrete. If you want to test this, look at your thoughts about yourself like you would if they were about a loved one. Would you be so harsh, unloving, negative, or hopeless about them if they were in your shoes? Would things seem so black and white, right and wrong, good and bad? 
  • Fear is often my brain's defense mechanism. I've learned that often times the anxiety and fear subconsciously kicks and cocoons me so that I'm unable to move, unable to address something that feels threatening, that could cause major chaos in my life. To clarify here, I mean a serious personal matter, not a project for work or an errand or something of that nature. 
  • The cocoon my brain puts me in isn't always to hide me from the negatives. Sometimes, the chaos it's protecting me from is the cycling itself, the rapid ups and downs. There's so much constant change in the rapid cycling brain. I wonder if it gets so confused that it just tries to stay in one place, even if it's a severely depressed place. 
  • There's a very tricky line between believing in yourself and protecting yourself from the truth. There are things about myself that I've held close, defended, denied, and rallied against, that in the end I realize I need to stop fighting.  As cliche as it sounds, when you allow yourself to accept exactly who you are at this moment, it's like a weight being lifted off. And once you don't have to carry that weight, you can actually address the issues at hand. Note that I say at this moment. I say that because I truly believe people can change with enough hard work, and that accepting who you are doesn't mean that you're stuck in a glass box forever. In cycling, who you are in a depressive cycle may be very different from who you are in a manic cycle, literally right down to your thoughts, personality, and beliefs. I've had to accept, though, that both of these sides are part of me. They don't define me, but they are part of me. As an added bonus, when you've come to terms with these truths and stopped fighting yourself on them, it's much more difficult for anyone else to hurt you - intentionally or unintentionally - with them either.  
  • In the end, a lot of it is about weeding through the muck. There will be a lot of negative thoughts that aren't true, a lot of positive ones that you're unable to process right now, and a few of those described above, that aren't positive or negative but where you just might have to adjust your perspective on them. 
So where does the toddler therapy and the extra coffee come in? Well, time spent with family always cheers me up, and watching little kids live in the moment tends to pull me away from all the anxiety of past and future that's in my brain. And the coffee... it simply gets me through the day when my brain is going through a lot of shit and I can't really sleep! 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Don't Define Yourself By One Word (Or Three)

As we start the new year, there's a trend going around of choosing one word, or occasionally three to be your word(s) of the year. The idea is that you use this word or several to motivate you, inspire you, keep you on track. It's kind of your theme of the year, or perhaps your incredibly short mission statement. I'm sure every coach or leader asking people to do this has a slightly different take on it, but the word or words are to guide you through the year.

I like this exercise, as I am all about motivation and inspiration, and because I love the sound and feel of words in general. When asked to choose three, I chose courage, authenticity, and love. Always love.  I'm one of those people who thinks life is about love, in all forms, and the rest is just frosting. So that one was easy.  Courage was also an obvious choice for me. I have a lot of fears and worries, some obvious, some that even I have trouble deciphering. I want to look them in the eye and say, "You can't hold me back". Finally, I chose authenticity. By this, I mean authenticity to myself. I want to be the truest me I can be. I realize I've been holding back on this a lot... so much that sometimes I have to dig way down to actually find the real me. That must change. Quite simply, and completely cliche, I need to find myself and then be loyal to that self I find.

I chose authenticity for another reason too. As much as I like this exercise, I don't want to get bogged down in the words. We are all made up of lots of tiny pieces, yet it can be so easy to steer the focus to one aspect of ourselves or our lives. This is particularly true when it comes to our negative thoughts: I'm too short, I'm too tall, I'm too fat, I'm too skinny, I can't do this, I wish I didn't do that, I hate my job, I wish I'd meet someone, etc. So while it can be inspiring to choose some "words to live by", it can also be dangerous to hone in too much on a word or two. It can be easy to let these words come to define you. Even if they're positive, they can limit you. For instance, I know people who chose the word "money" because their goal is to increase their savings or improve their business' budget. But you don't want money to be so defining that you look past other values you hold. Similarly, I choose to focus on courage, but there are some areas in which you need to use the appropriate caution, and I don't want to overlook those because I'm trying to be a superhero of all things courageous. I chose authenticity to bring my back to my center of sorts. While it is a word, it encompasses a much bigger concept - make sure that whatever words or concepts I'm focusing on, that at the heart of it all, is being my true self.

We are so many moving parts, ever-changing, always evolving. So if you'd like to, choose that word or three. Let this word inspire you, motivate you, propel you. Just don't let it define you.  For if we keep our minds open, we often find inspiration and motivation in the most unsuspected places.