Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Facts of Life

I sometimes worry at times that people think I'm putting on a facade - that I appear to be handling everything well and able to help other because of how well I'm coping, when really I'm one big giant mess. I want to assure people that this is not the case - the facade, that is. The big giant mess part is up for interpretation, I suppose. Therefore, I thought I would muster up every single bit of courage I have, and write a dead-honest blog about myself, including the worst bits of me, without ignoring the positives completely. I never want to be accused of putting on a show, or of people not knowing who I really am. Of course, my view of myself is just that - my view. But I'm going to try to incorporate those things others have observed to me as well, to try to be as completely, brutally honest as I can.

I am not crazy. Sometimes, though, I act crazy. Observers, or even those close to me, might want to label me as such. My condition makes me particularly emotional, meaning small things seem bigger, and meaning that I can spiral out of control. Not like "running down the street in my underwear wielding a machete" out of control. More like 'this should not be a big deal but for me it feels like it's crushing' out of control. I have been known to fall to pieces crying in the corner, to get so angry I punch a pillow (an action advised by therapists for getting anger and hypomanic energy out that in no way indicates violent tendencies in a person), to yell or scream just to feel some sort of release from internal turmoil, to be such a bundle of nerves that I can't think that my situation will get better, to say things in an overly emotional moment that I barely realize I'm saying and later regret, to beg and plead for the forgiveness of all of the above. I often can't let things go and step away, feeling absolutely desperate to resolve things right that minute, despite knowing that just shutting up and walking away is logically best.

In general, I often talk to loud and too much - though this might just be me naturally, and not my condition - and because of this, have be accused of trying to focus attention on myself. In reality, I absolutely hate attention, especially in groups, and have trouble even looking people in the eye if I don't know them really well.

I have depressed days -  days where I don't want to move, where I feel like I'll never amount to anything and that nobody actually loves or likes me other than my closest family. I have, lately, a ton of social anxiety, constantly feeling like people don't actually want me around, are talking about me behind my back, or otherwise wish I wasn't in their company. I often have to emotionally prepare myself well in advance for even the most basic social gathering.

Where relationships are concerned, well...  I'm divorced and un-engaged (two different scenarios). I have, in the past, been abused in numerous ways, and in this respect am quite "damaged", for lack of a better word. I'm not saying this for sympathy, but rather to say, as I phrased it in the beginning, "I can be a big giant mess". I have trust issues, and confidence issues. Major, major confidence issues, as well as self esteem issues. I feel I've often brought out the worst in people, and I feel awful in doing so, but don't know how not to do it. I can be emotionally demanding because, let's face it, people with depression, hypomania, general and social anxiety need a lot of emotional support at times.

I'm not cool. I've written a whole blog about my lack of coolness, in fact. I'm not chill or overly laid back, though I'm not as high strung as I often appear - the fact that I talk loudly, fast, and frequently often makes me appeared worried/anxious/stressed about something when really, I just like to converse. I often do my best thinking out loud, and while I probably sound and look a bit like a Hollywood's version of 'crazy', I'm not talking to any imaginary friends or voices, I'm just sorting out my thoughts. Often, I'm actually reciting parts of my novel to see if they sound as good as I think they do when I write them.  I'll admit, however, that this is unfortunate for others who might be in the room at the time.

I'm not ashamed that I have a condition, because it is a medical condition that I was born with, just like others have heart conditions or respiratory disorders. But I do, at times, do and say plenty that I'm ashamed of when I am no longer hypomanic.

I am, however, not void of virtues and positive attributes. When it comes to loved ones, I'm fiercely loyal. I would literally throw myself in front of a speeding truck in order to save someone I love. I would also defend someone I love to the death, even if I don't necessarily agree with their specific action.  I have a big heart. I focus so much on love, desire and need it so much, that I think I tend to be led by it, and to it, at all costs. I would rather live in a cardboard box with someone I love than a mansion by myself. I admit it makes me emotionally high maintenance, but it's nothing that I'm not ready to give back. I don't think anyone could accuse me of being a materialist person (those five star hotels once in a while don't really count, right? We all have our vices).

I love to laugh. I have a somewhat dry sense of humor, and friendly banter is one of my favorite forms of communication. I can be silly, though I usually have to know you well to feel comfortable doing so. I have trucker's mouth, but it's all in good fun - I'm not so rough around the edges as I might sound when I'm frustrated or just can't find another word to say. I love to sing and dance, and if anyone ever secretly filmed me, they'd probably catch me embarrassingly singing to my dog and substituting words to make the song appropriate to her.

I am, at the core, a good person. I do not believe, even at my lowest, when I am in a horrible depression with no confidence at all, that anyone could truly convince me otherwise. I'm in no way perfect, not at all. But in my heart, I am a good person. It is the thing I hold onto most when I feel I have nothing else.

So there you have it. This is me, the best way I can describe myself honestly. I'm not trying to be negative, nor am I trying to say "yes, there's bad, but look how much more good." I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything.  I'm simply trying to say that I know who I am, for better or worse, and I never want to be accused otherwise. I've pretty much been the same for the past thirty five years, and probably be the same for the next thirty five. I don't hide who I am behind some facade or fake persona. This is me. I'm not an easy person, and some people might think I'm worth the effort, while others may not. Such is life, and I cannot deny it. If you are one of those people who does feel I'm worth it then, well, I think you're worth it too. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Things You Want To Know About Mental Health But Are Afraid To Ask

When I tell people that I have cyclothymia and/or that I write a blog that focuses on mental health, I get a wide variety of reactions. Many people tell me that I'm courageous for being open and honest about my condition. Others just kind of nod and make some comment about how their best friend's cousin had depression, or how they tried to write a blog about xyz but couldn't get into it. A few awkwardly look at me and are probably calculating whether or not they think I'm "crazy" (society's term, not mine).  For the record, I'm not. Overall, though, I think there are a lot of questions that people have about mental health but are afraid to ask. Whether they are dealing with a condition themselves, or think they may be, or they have a friend or loved one that's been diagnosed, or they're just downright curious, mental health can be a daunting subject to many. I totally understand. It's been too taboo of a subject for entirely too long, and it's tough to get away from that, even with the best of intentions. So I thought I'd write a blog of things that people may want to know but are afraid to ask. As usual, these are in no order, other than the ones which they came into my brain.

1. Do you ever feel "crazy"?/Do you ever feel "normal"? Yes, to both. Well, let me rephrase. I don't really know what either feels like per se, because really both terms are in the eye of the beholder. But do I ever feel like I want to make my brain work one way but have a hard time doing so, even with meds? Yes, I do. It sucks. It sucks even more because I'm aware of it when it's happening, but feel helpless. Do I ever not feel cyclothymic (i.e. depressed or hypomanic)? Yes, surprisingly more than one might think. I'm not always up or down. I'm often somewhere in the middle. I guess you'd call that normal.

2. How did you feel when you were diagnosed? Relieved, scared, worried, sad, curious, slightly peaceful and hopeful. It was a complete mix of just about every emotion one can feel at once. A lot of people think being diagnosed is awful. In reality, it allows you to finally focus on what's going on, create a treatment plan, and get to it. It's way better than doctors randomly throwing inappropriate meds your way and having uninformed people tell you that if you just smile and have a positive attitude, you'll feel better.

3. Is having cyclothymia (insert condition) tough? Can you still live a normal life? I'm not going to lie, it's rough. Some days, it's downright awful. But please, stop using the word "normal". It's a setting on the dryer, nothing else. We are all unique creatures. My unique makeup happens to include this condition. I've had it since birth. I managed to get through college and grad school with 3.8+ GPAs; I run my own company and work a part time job at a conference center; I am a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor; I have a good group of friends and a close family; I'm a published author and now working on my first novel. If you call that normal, then I suppose that answer is yes.

4. Can mental health conditions be cured? There's debate on this, both among mental health professionals and those diagnosed. In my opinion and my experience, no. Conditions can be better or worse; they can be managed successfully and you can live a successful, fulfilling life, but it doesn't go away. It might go into remission, but it doesn't disappear forever. That said, I'm not a mental health professional and I suggest everyone ask their treating professionals about their own condition. But personally, I was born with my condition and will die with it, and that's that. It's tough to come to terms with, but once you do, the pressure of "curing yourself" is off, and honestly, that's kind of a relief.

5. Does mental health impact your relationships?  Absolutely. I relate to the world differently. I often don't understand others and they don't understand me. They don't know what it feels like, and I can't put it into words at times. It's frustrating as hell, both to me, and to them. I honestly think anyone who said that it doesn't affect their relationships in some way or another would be lying. But it's completely possible to have a successful and happy relationship with someone with a mental health condition. Anyone who said that it's not would also be lying.

6. Does mental health affect the.... "romantic"... part of your relationships? (Earmuffs/blindfolds, family/colleagues/anyone who doesn't want to read the answer to this). Personally, no. Generally, it could. First off, depression makes you not interested in anything. Anything. That includes whatever goes on behind closed doors. It makes you want to lie in bed, and only lie in bed, until it passes. Also, certain meds can "decrease libido," to use the official phrase. Not all meds, just some. This is very personal to each individual, and if you ask ten people you'll probably get ten different answers. If it's a concern (and I'm guessing it probably is to most people), talk to your prescribing doctor about choosing meds without this side effect, or at least combating it. It may not be possible, but it's worth a try.

7. Do meds make you gain weight? Again, they can, but don't necessarily. If you are concerned about this, let your doctor know. I told my doctor I didn't want a med that caused weight gain and we worked around it. Hopefully, it's possible for you to do also.

8. Do you ever do things when in a rough state that you are later embarrassed/ashamed/frustrated with/mad at yourself about? If I got a nickel every time this happened, I could retire tomorrow (and I'm 35). Just remember, everyone does this from time to time. People do things when they're mad, tired, drunk, had a bad day at work, etc. Nobody's perfect. You are not your condition. You have a condition. Expect to have  "oh crap why did I say/do that" episodes, and possibly more than those without conditions, but don't let others make you a scapegoat for everything, and don't take all the blame. I find it helpful to give people a heads up that I'm having a "rough day". This tends to soften anything you might say/do that you later wish you hadn't, both to others and to yourself. When it does happen, acknowledge it, apologize if necessary, and move on.

9. Do you ever want to give up? Yes, but don't do it. It's as simple, and as complicated, as that. Take it hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, if you have to. But please, don't give up. People think mental health can't be fatal. They're wrong. Some days, every second is an internal struggle. Keep plugging along.

Have other questions? Feel free to ask me personally, if you don't want to ask them in the comments. Of course, comments are always welcome too.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rhythm of the Rain

Wow, it's really been several weeks since I've written. I was on such a roll, but maybe I expended all of my blog writing energy in the end of September. Actually, I've been ridiculously busy with work - both my company and at the museum - which I say in the best possible way. I am one of those people who loves to be busy, and it makes my down time feel that much sweeter.

It's Saturday morning and I'm enjoying one of those much relished down times. Everyone else in the house is asleep, and I'm sitting at the dining room table writing and listening to the rain. It's incredibly peaceful, and it in fact is what inspired me to write.

I'm traditionally a sun worshipper. I love all things warm and sunny, and particularly dislike cold, dreary days. I assume I'm not alone in this. However, as I've gotten older, and perhaps as cyclothymia has played more of a role in my every day life, I have noticed a few shifts in myself. I certainly still mind the rain if it's going to ruin outdoor plans (or my daily commute), or if it continues for days on end and I start getting cabin fever, get the urge to build an arc, etc. But on most other occasions, I've lately enjoyed the rain. There's something melodic about hearing it beat on the windows and the roof. It draws me in, as if it's a meditation metronome, forcing me to just focus on the sound and quiet my brain. Maybe it's relaxing in that it provides the perfect excuse for not doing much. If it's warm and sunny, I feel lazy if I sit around in my pajamas writing, reading and drinking coffee. If it's raining and dreary, it seems perfectly ok to say "well, what else could I do really? Guess I'll just relax". Why work on the computer isn't possible in the rain, I don't know, but somehow, it seems an excuse for pushing even that aside.

Perhaps some of it is nostalgia. Rain in the car, especially at night (and especially when I'm not the one driving) reminds me of childhood trips to Buffalo to see my grandmother. We always left after work and drove through the night, arriving around 2 AM. It seemed no trip was complete without hearing rain on car windows and the sound of the tires rolling through water left on the roads.  I have a flashback to those trips, us pulling off at some local exit, probably in Cortland, Binghamton, Syracuse, to grab fast food at 11 PM because it was the only thing open. Riding in the car in the rain at night immediately makes me want to curl up in the back seat with my blanket and pillow and play the license plate game until I fall asleep. I usually don't do this at the request of my fellow travel companion(s), and these days I get queasy in the back seat, but if I could, I probably would.

I've noticed this same shift lately in my appreciation of the countryside and nature in general. Lately, I've longed to be outside hiking, or kayaking, or just listening to the sounds of the birds and the crickets (but not the bears). I've loved being away from technology, in places where I can't even get a phone signal - albeit for a limited time of a day or two. Don't get me wrong, I still love the hustle and bustle of the city. But escaping to places where you feel like you can't help but unwind, put down your electronics, and actually relax and communicate with each other in person, is something I've been enjoying more and more.

I wonder if much of this shift has to do with all of the nonsense that goes on in my brain daily. And by nonsense, I mean cycling. Perhaps the inability to escape constant stimulation internally makes me desire it that much more externally. My brain actually feels quieter when I'm sitting here writing with the rain rapping on the windows, or when I'm hiking with only the sounds of nature and the voices of the people I'm with. Maybe it's simply age that helps me appreciate the ability to slow down. Whatever it is, I need to follow it. It makes me calmer, more peaceful, and miraculously almost makes me feel like a normal human being. If you've ever felt hypomanic, you know how amazing it feels not to be - and not only to eliminate hypomania for a few moments, but to do so by being peaceful, rather than by being depressed.

So I think I'll sign off and enjoy this rainy contemplation while I can. I'm looking forward to plans with friends a little later, but for now, I'll let myself sip coffee in my pajamas and detach.