Thursday, December 31, 2015

Closing the Curtain on 2015

2015 was one of the most volatile years of my life, and with me, that's a difficult feat to pull off.  I realize volatile has a negative connotation, and yet I don't entirely mean it that way. Not entirely. There were a multitude of moments over the past 364 days that encouraged me to throw my hands up in the air and say F$%^ this S^&*, and there were times when that's exactly what I did, at least momentarily.

This past year, I lost my dog Cinn, my best friend and companion of 10 years, to a mystery illness that took her life rather suddenly but as peacefully as possible. Heartbroken doesn't come close to describing how I felt, and still feel, over the passing of my precious baby girl.  My personal and living situation changed drastically, which is as much as needs to be said on that topic, since those who need to know the actual details know them.  One of my closest friends died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 38. So if you asked me a couple of months ago how I'd summarize 2015, I probably would have said simply said "good riddance" and walked away. Because while I don't want to dwell on the difficult times, I certainly don't want to relive them.



But about two months ago, life started to shift for me. First and foremost was the conscious change I made in my overall view of life and of myself. Now let me clarify a crucial point: my mood cycling is an illness, NOT a product of a bad attitude. Nor is anyone else's mental health condition a product of theirs. So for those who think "hey, all she needed to do was look at the glass half full", well.... I'd cover your ass if you don't want my foot up it. I still cycle. Plenty. Maybe not as I have in the worst of times, but I do. The difference is that I've started valuing myself a great deal more, and in doing so am taking better care of myself emotionally, mentally, and physically. I'm going to bed earlier; I'm working out more often; I'm trying to eat healthier, albeit not as healthy as I would if it weren't holiday season; I'm doing yoga and meditation consistently (or more consistently). This doesn't by any means prevent cycling fully, but it helps to not encourage my brain to cycle even further. As my brain has cleared a bit, I've been able to see the beauty in my quirks, my differences, and I've begun to love that part of myself more. I've never hoped to be normal or cool (quite frankly those I'd be bored to tears), but there have been times in the past  where I've been persuaded into thinking that those traits that make me unique should be quelled and hidden away. I am no longer allowing that to happen, and as such am, for the first time in ages, comfortable and confident with who I am as a person, faults and all.

Coincidentally, or not, as I've stopped worrying so profusely that my condition is a liability to me and those close to me, my life has taken some positive turns. First, I adopted a new dog, a two year old long-haired brindle mutt named Grace. I thought I'd need just about forever after losing my Cinn, but I realized that she wouldn't want that. She'd want me to give another homeless dog a loving and caring forever home, and when I saw Grace's picture and read her story, I knew she was for me. Not to mention the fact that I happened to learn of a dog named Grace in need of a help on the weekend that the Pope was visiting my city. If I believed in signs, that's as sure of one as I've ever seen. Secondly, we know by now that I don't talk about relationships on here, particularly not current ones, but let's just say that are of my life is one of those positively shifting situations. I feel so incredibly lucky in this particular turn of events. Relationships have historically been quite... um... rough for me. For possibly the first time, I'm not trying to change myself for somebody else. If you've ever attempted to change greatly for someone, you know it's a recipe for disaster in so many ways, and it's incredibly refreshing to just be me. (Clarification here: this is not to blame anyone from my past, it's that I'm glad that I have the confidence to not feel the need to be anyone but myself). Moving along, I'm under contract to buy a condo in the city. After 8 years of renting, I decided to finally take the plunge back into home ownership. I haven't said much on this as there are still some things to iron out, but I'm crossing my fingers that if everything goes well, I'll be closing at the end of February.

So my summary of 2015: It took me on quite a ride both literally (I traveled to Morocco, Portugal, and Mexico this year), and figuratively. I would not want to relive the downs, most notably because of how painful they were to others involved, and because they included the passing of loved ones - who'd want to relive that? And I can't even say that the ups balanced the downs, because as amazing as the positives are, that feels like putting a price on someone or something's life which, needless to say, I could never do. What I can say is that I am excited to ring in 2016, and I look forward to the possibilities that it holds. I am sure that, like every other year, it will includes ups and downs - that's my condition, and quite simply, that's life. I certainly hope the downs of the upcoming year aren't as severe as those of the outgoing year. For my part, the best I can do is continue to value and take care of myself and those who love and support me, and to use continue to work to help others, paying it back or paying it forward, as so many have done for me over the years when I needed it most.

Happy New Year, all! See you in 2016! 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Helpful" Things People Say That Only Make It Worse

I'm going to preface this with saying that I understand that these words and phrases are almost always said in an attempt to be helpful. I get that people utter these when they want to say something, but really have no idea what they should be saying or doing. Which can happen for a number of reasons - they've never felt the way you do so they can't empathize; they're bad at expressing their emotions; they really don't have time to talk but want to say something "consoling". These are just a few of the potential scenarios. And truly, we appreciate the effort. But because this post is written in an effort to educate and to help people better understand,  I'm attempting to clarify what these actually sound like to those of us suffering. When you say these things, we may shut down, and you don't understand why because you're doing all you can think of. That, in turn, might hurt you. That's the last thing we want.  I'm sure there are plenty more examples. I'll provide my top. And please, don't feel bad if you've said these to me, or anyone else. Virtually everyone has.

  • Bummer. Bummer is for "I've stubbed my toe and it wore of my fresh coat of toenail polish." Bummer is not for "I'm in a terrible depressive episode and don't want to move from the bed." It minimalizes and trivializes what we're battling, however unintentionally. 
  • "Sorry, girl". (Assuming you're an adult female. The equivalent would be dude or bro for a man, I suppose.).  I don't know why this drives me up the freakin' wall, and I feel bad that it does, but it does. Partly, we know how I feel about the use of girl for women. It makes it sound like it's a little kid's problem. Partly, it just sounds cliche. If you can replace what you've just said with an emoji, it probably doesn't help a ton when we're having a terrible time. If you truly feel bad, say something to the effect of "I'm really sorry to hear that you're going through this." 
  • "If I was there I would .. hang out/come over/participate in/etc..." . I understand that it's supposed to be the thought that counts. And most of the time it is. But when I have spent a week curled up in the house with depression, desperately need to get out, feel like nobody wants to/can see me, and am one step shy of  begging someone to hang out, I need an affirmative reply only. Anything that points out that you cannot spend time with me, no matter how much you'd like to in theory, only points out further that I'm still alone.  Here's one more person that I can't spend time with. When we see that little "so and so commented on your post" notification, you've given us false hope. I know it's done with the best of intentions, but honestly, it hurts more than it helps most times. It might sound silly, and maybe it is, but it's true none the less. 
  • "Ugh", as the sole response. I've just bared my soul and you've said "ugh." We're emotional and we are hoping for something like "what a jerk I hope he dies a fiery death," (insert scolding/abhorrence as relates to topic). I'll admit, I'm occassionally I'm guilty of this when driving or when someone continually texts me even when I've said I am unable to talk. And again, this is acceptable for "I stubbed my toe", but not when we desperately need to talk. If you're driving, or can't reply right now, we understand, assuming it's not life-threatening. But we want a real connection, whenever you have a chance to reply. Not something that looked like your cat texted. (See post Everything's OK for a longer rant.. err... explanation on this subject). 
  • "Smile, relax, take a deep breath, calm down." You say this and I say "I hope you don't value your head because it's about to roll."  I spend several hundreds of dollars on therapy and medication each month, and probably will for the rest of my life. I have to beg out of social situations, spend days curled up in the chair with my book (at best), because I'm too depressed to face people. I get so agitated with hypomania that I can't stand myself at times. If I could smile or take a deep breath and fix it, I would. It'd save a lot of time and money and angst both for me and those around me. So clearly, that's not an option. Also, I KNOW I'm not calm or relaxed or smiling. That's why I'm talking to you about my struggles in the first place. And once again, this dumbs it down, like it's a choice, and I'm choosing to battle a mental illness. 
Again, we know that when you say these things you mean no harm. In fact, you're probably trying to help. But if you truly want to help, make it personal. Reply in a manner that's directly related to what we've said, that shows that even if you don't fully understand what we're going through, you're there and you want to make it better, even though that's probably not within your power (since it's not even within our power). I wrote this post a while back on how to help someone battling depression, and gives more specifics on ways to react.  But when in doubt, telling someone you love them (assuming it's appropriate), you care, you're there for them, and asking what you can do to help, usually does the trick. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Nothing is Ever One Sided

I'll totally admit that I'm pissy as I write this. I'm pissy because I'm sick of myself, and others with mental health conditions, being scapegoats. It's easy for everything to be "our fault." After all, we're the crazy ones, right? We're the ones who over-react, freak out, The irrational ones that blow things out of proportion, misinterpret, over-analyze. And maybe, maybe, we sometimes are (except the crazy, that's just bullshit). But not all the time. Nobody is right or wrong 100 percent of the time. Nobody. Barring physical abuse (I'd safely say we can put that in the "always wrong" category), can you think of a single situation in which you can say it's always, without one possible exception right or wron?. Not almost always or virtually never or mostly always or "I could make a good case for this", but literally always or never? I cannot. And I'd challenge you to do so and find others who agree.

Right and wrong is opinion, subjective. Not fact. By definition, that means that there are two sides, or can be. Let me give you an example. Person A comes home from work. Person B says something not overly positive, but basically benign to me. Person A flips. Completely flips. They start yelling at Person B. Person B throws their hands up and calls them a crazy asshole and claims they did nothing. Anyone from the outside looking in, with no background might say, "Geez, all they did was ask if they could wash the dishes when they got a chance!" But maybe every single day, when Person A comes in the door, before they can even put their bags down after a long day, before Person B even asks how their day went, they ask them to do some chore or task. And they expect the person to happily do it, to agree without . If  Person A so much as hesitates before agreeing with a smile on their face, Person B gets upset. If Person A says they've had a long day or they're tired or has some other reason they don't want to/can't agree to the task right now, Person B tells them that they're lazy and never do anything to help and starts demeaning them. But to hear Person B tell it, they just asked nicely if Person A would mind doing the dishes and got reamed.

And maybe, to give Person B the benefit of the doubt, they've done nothing. And maybe they didn't deserve to get yelled at. But maybe Person A just found out that their company is downsizing and they may get laid off, and the same day found out that their favorite aunt has terminal cancer, and that their car needs $8000 worth of repair for something that's not covered by their warranty, which is especially stressful now that they may get laid off.  Perhaps, the last thing they needed when they got home was to be asked to do a chore around the house. All they wanted to do was have a glass a wine, get a hug and a "we'll get through this together" from their partner, and get to bed early because they're too anxious to do anything else. And instead of a hug and a "we'll get through this," they got "can you do the dishes". Did they over-react to that particular request? Yes. I'd probably say they did. But given the circumstances, is it a bit understandable? Again, I'd say yes. Had Person B asked how their day was going first, they'd probably have done the dishes themselves. And if they did, and their response was still to expect Person A to drop everything and go do the dishes, they may have gotten what they deserved.

Those of us with mental health conditions are easy targets. Because of our panic, anxiety, (hypo)mania, and depression, people are more willing to believe that we're at fault. Of course we are, we're the one with the problem. And because, when we're provoked we get more panicky, anxious, depressed, or (hypo)manic, we do react, it becomes increasingly easier to blame us. It's the old back a frightened animal into a corner while jabbing at it with a stick, and then blame it when it bites trick. Eventually, the animal becomes so nervous around you that it may lunge out even in when unprovoked. Sure, the animal is nervous, and this nervousness plays a part. Yes, it technically went after you, and that's not a good thing. It did have a role in the scenario. But it had its reasons, whether you care to understand them and work with them or not. And those on the outside who are less insightful will fall for it. They'll believe you were innocently standing there, attacked needlessly by a wild animal. Those of us dealing with the condition may even believe it ourselves at times, at our lowest points where we lack belief in ourselves, when we're easily molded and preyed upon. Until eventually, we regain our strength and see the truth for what it is. We'll acknowledge our part, but we won't take the whole blame. We, the "crazy" ones, understand there are two sides.

If someone's stories or account continually involve them always being right and the another person always being wrong, if they're constantly making themselves to be the "good guy (woman)" and the other person to be the "bad guy (woman), be wary. Because basically, they're full of it. Or they have such a lack of awareness that they truly always think they're right. People that see the world this way have a narrow lens, and don't want to see it through any view point but their own. They don't want to say "what can I do to help" or "what could I have done differently" or "perhaps there are two sides to this." They want things to all come together to support their view, whatever that is. And if their view changes, so do the "facts" that support it. A person who's telling the full truth may get exacerbated with others. But they'll eventually give them some sort of credit. They won't portray them as crazy monsters. They'll be able to understand their own part in things. They may speak of others' faults, but they'll also acknowledge their own. And those are the people who you want in your life. Because right now, you may be "right" because you agree with the only version of the story the person is willing to tell you. But give it long enough, and you'll be the one who's "always wrong." Because nobody's perfect, and when Person A is out of the picture, Person B will need someone else to blame when something goes wrong.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Mental Health Advocate's Gratitude List

Lists of gratitude are almost obligatory at this time of year. And naturally, I am thankful for family, friends, pets, roof over my head, my job, and all these standard things like the majority of the population. But as a mental health advocate, I have a few "gratitude items" that may be a bit unconventional, and I'm guessing a good number of chronic/invisible illness advocates can relate.

I am thankful for...

  • Supportive friends and family, who have not given up on me, even in those moments when I want to give up on myself. 
  • Grace, and Cinn, despite the fact that Cinn's no longer with me in body. Pets are some of the best (and most cuddly) form of therapy. Truly. They listen non-judgementally and love unconditionally and sometimes, that's exactly what I need. 
  • Meds. These are lifesavers, literally. They have their downsides, but man am I grateful to found ones that work for me. 
  • My therapist. She's priceless (not really she charges $175 per session, but it feels like she's priceless because she's worth every penny). 
  • The spoonie community. You rock. You are the strongest bunch of badasses I have ever met, personally or virtually, in my life. Each and every one of you. Whether it's mental health or another chronic illness, I'm inspired to know you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for wecloming me into your community. (If unfamiliar with the term spoonie...).
  • My mood disorders support group on FB: I can often talk to you when I can talk to nobody else. You show me that I am not "crazy", as I sometimes feel, that I am human, and lovable, and worth it. 
  • AFSP: Not only have I been able to participate in the Out Of Darkness Overnight Walk the past two years, but it has given me the opportunity to become involved in the local chapter, and to meet some amazing people in the region who are also dedicated AFSP and their mission of suicide prevention. It has, on my toughest days, reminded me why I persevere and keep going. 
  • Life and hope: Every 12.8 minutes someone in the U.S. dies from suicide. So many people have lost their battle with mental health, and anyone who says depression or mood cycling is not fatal could not be more wrong. No matter how awful a time I might be going through, I am alive. 
To all of you who get me through the days, weeks, months, years, who stand by me in the worst of times, and celebrate with me in the best of times, I am so thankful for you all! Keep doing what you're doing. You are truly amazing. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hell Yes I Changed My Profile Picture To Paris

I never write about anything remotely political or religious, especially if it doesn't directly mental health. But I'm fed up with people. Fed. Up. And let me clarify that before I go any further, that the "you" here is generic, not at any specific person, and the "I" is representing myself, but also those who are kind of in the same boat.

Here's the thing: what happened in Paris is awful. What happened in Lebanon is awful. What's happening in Syria is awful. What's happening in Burma awful (I'm not calling it this for political reasons, FYI, it's just early and the morning and it's easier to spell). The too many genocides to name in Africa that have happened are awful. What's been happening in Israel/Palestine is awful - and yes I'm intentionally leaving that vague because where I personally stand isn't the point. I'm sure I forgot some because the world is mighty fucked up right now, and I can't possibly name them all - it's not a political statement, so don't get your panties in a knot, please.

But let me explain: I was just in Paris last year - literally a year ago last week. I stood where those people are standing, I have pictures of them, pictures of me standing there. I got to know a few people over there. I fell in love with the city years ago and it was only confirmed when I visited last year. I always said I'd move there if I could. I have a trip to Belgium this spring in which I was toying with dipping into Paris just for a day, because not going would pretty much like seeing the love of your life standing a few blocks away and not walking the two blocks to see him/her when it might be the last opportunity for a long time.

So guess what? Hell yes I changed my Facebook profile picture to Paris. Does that mean I'm anti-muslim?  Let me put it this way. Last year, I was in Morocco. Two years ago, I spent two weeks in Dubai, Jordan, and Turkey. They're some of my favorite places in the world. I have a recording of the call to prayer in Turkey on my phone because of how beautiful it sounded. I tell everyone they should visit these places. So, um, no, it does not. Does it mean I don't care what's going on in Syria, Burma, Lebanon, the rest of the world? Absolutely not. But here's the thing - I've never been to Syria, or Burma, or Lebanon, or many of these other places. SO I CAN'T CHANGE MY PROFILE PICTURE TO THEM! Nor can I reminisce about all the great times I've had there. BECAUSE I'VE NEVER BEEN THERE!

When my dog died, she was my profile picture. When my friend passed away last month, a picture of her was my profile picture. When my Great Aunt Lucy passed away last year, she was NOT my profile picture.  Because I don't have a picture (that I can find at least) of my me and my Great Aunt Lucy. This doesn't mean that I hated my aunt. I didn't at all. I loved her. But she was 80 and living in a nursing facility in Buffalo and I hadn't seen her in a few years.  I don't have the same recent memories to reminisce about on my social media. I don't have a picture of us from... ever, I don't think. But I mourned her. I was saddened. I wished I'd gone up to visit her more recently. I told close friends about it. I may have put it on social media but I can't recall. It wasn't a statement of who I love more or not. It was simply because of the pictures and memories I had. Simple. As. That.

My Facebook feed is filled with political and religion-related posts one way or another due to the upcoming elections and recent events around the world. Do I sit there make negative comments all over the posts I don't agree with? I do not. Maybe silently, in my head. But I don't spew hatred at them because if we've not realized it yet, hatred and not understanding people who are different from us is pretty much the world's number one problem. If it gets too offensive, I might mute their feed for a bit so that I am not tempted to go off on them when I'm having a particularly bad day (feisty Sicilian over here, it takes a lot to keep my opinions to myself but I'm proud of myself up until this point). But I let people have their opinions, because who am I to say that I'm right and everyone else is wrong. Isn't that exactly what we're fighting against with terrorism, and basically every genocide in history - one person/group/etc believing that everyone should be like them and eliminating those who aren't? And now, seriously, you're upset because I changed my Facebook picture to Paris.  You think it means I don't care about the rest of the world? Well let me tell you something - you probably shouldn't be my Facebook friend after all. Because clearly, if you're going to judge me on that one thing, you don't know me at all. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fighting Depression: It's Not About Perspective

We all know how it goes. Someone's having a bad day and you say something like "well, there are starving children in Africa". Ok maybe not that extreme, but I've learned that people tend to reply one of two ways. They may try one-up you by sharing something that they're going through that's even worse, with obnoxious sayings like, "welcome to my world" (this works well if you want me to slap you) or "I'll trade with you" (sure, you have no idea what you have coming).  Or they might attempt to make you feel better by giving you perspective - perspective that we know we are supposed to have and try, as we might, cannot manage.  Quite honestly, when you're dealing with depression, both of these responses are infuriating, because they diminish what you're going through. To be fair, the road to diminishing is often paved with good intentions. People think that if they share with you that you're not alone, that others have it worse, that you'll feel better.  But it often has the reverse effect, in which our depression is not lessened at all, and now we feel guilty about it.

Depression carries a ridiculous amount of unnecessary and inaccurate stigma. Among this is that we're drama kings/queens, we blow everything out of proportion, we can't handle anything, etc etc. We KNOW what you think of us. We knew it before you pointed it out because guess what - sometimes we feel the same way about ourselves and desperately try to stop it. We feel like shit about it. We feel like shit about ourselves, which only further adds to the depression.  We do not want to be this way - we didn't choose it, it "chose" us. We KNOW we "aren't supposed to feel this way". We know it's "not that big of a deal", that others have it worse - perhaps even you. We also know we shouldn't complain about it. It only perpetuates the "glass half empty, no perspective" stigma. But to us, the options are the following: 1.) let it sit inside of us until it slowly rots away and eats us from the inside out. 2.) get it out of our system so that it doesn't do that. And yes, we try to write or talk to a therapist, or join a support group. But when we need to do something right then, because it feels overwhelming, we're panicking, our anxiety and depression feels like it has reached maximum capacity, we may not be able to whip out our journal or get our therapist on the phone. So we do the only think we think will save us: we talk about it, we freak out, we ball ourselves up in a corner and hope not too many people notice. We know what the end result is likely to be when the storm passes. We know we're going to feel upset, embarrassed, ashamed, possibly a combination of all three of these. And yet we still feel like we have no other option.

The best way I can explain to those who don't experience it is this: Say a friend and I are running a race. To me, because I'm always cold, the temperature is fine. I finish the race, I drink some water, no problem. To my friend, it's horribly hot. She is flushed and feeling dizzy and nauseous and like she's suffering from heat exhaustion even though it's only 70 degrees. Just because nobody else thinks it's too hot does not mean my friend isn't legitimately ill, or at least doesn't feel that way. For whatever reason, to her body this feels extreme, regardless of anyone else's opinion. Are there precautions she can take before, during, after the race? Sure. Are they foolproof? Of course not. Nothing is. Even if she does everything everyone's telling her, her body might still react this way. And her options are to sit there and suffer internally because she feels like she "shouldn't be so hot" and risk getting sicker or let others see her symptoms and hope they understand.

I know this isn't the best example, but it's the best I can think of. With depression, it's not that we don't want to prioritize, that we don't want perspective. It's that our brain alters how things feel to us, so that sometimes we can't, at least not in that initial few moments. I know this sounds like an excuse. I realize that. And the fact that others can't understand it unless they've gone through it - which I wouldn't wish on anyone - only makes us feel worse. We already feel terrible about "how we are".  Now we feel like we're not trying hard enough to change. One more thing we aren't doing right. One more fault of ours. One more reason we're isolated and feel alone no matter how many people tell us we aren't. Because our brain distorts that too.

I don't expect it to be ok. I don't expect everyone to put up with it. But I would ask, not just for myself, but for everyone battling with this:  please, stop blaming us. It makes nothing better. Not for us and in the long run, not for you. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

If You Want Me To Love You

Love is a funny thing. We chase it. We run from it. We find it only to then be afraid to love too much for fear of being hurt. We think it will make everything better. We don't let it make everything better. We sabotage it out of fear at times. If you don't care enough, you can't get hurt. They say it's better to have loved and lost, but then, when we find love or it finds us, do we really open up with all of our heart? Love is eye opening, but confusing. To be honest, I think we often don't know what to when we truly find love. I can't speak for anyone else, but I can for myself.  Perhaps it'll help others to open up about what they need, what they want. Perhaps it'll help others understand hearts and minds that it's sometimes tough to grasp. Or perhaps it will do nothing, but at least I've put it out there, which I believe is all you can do with love - lay all your cards on the table, go for broke, and love with all you have. Because everything else in life is just frosting. 

If you want me to love you....
I want to be your first good morning and your last goodnight
I want to be your I Miss You's and I Love You's at any time, for no reason, except that you feel it
I want to be the first person you think of when you wake, the last person you think of before sleeping 
I want to be a random delivery of flowers to work, just because you love me
I want to be the first person you want to tell everything to - everything
I want complete honesty and openness, instead of the cliff notes version
I want to be the one you can't wait to come home to
I want to be the phone call every night because you hate being away
I want to be the person you initiate plans with, instead of waiting for me to
I want to be the person you want to show off to everyone because you are so proud of me
I want to be the first person you want to invite
I want to be the person that, even after a fight, you want to wrap your arms around
I want to be your confidant, your best friend, your partner
I want to be the person worth giving 101 chances to, even when you've already given 100
I want to be the person who is worth all the bad times, because the good are amazing
I want to be the person who you forgive because you can't stand to see upset
I want to be the person you ask for forgiveness from because you can't stand for me to be mad
I want to be the person you cry for when I cry, because it hurts you to see me in pain
I want to be the person who you understand will not always be ok, and you love even in those times
I want to be the person that you share your joy, sadness, fears, and dreams with
I want to be un-perfect, messy, weird, and for you to love me even more for all of it

I do not want you to be perfect. Because you would be inhuman, and humanness is what I love most. I am far from perfect. But if you want me to love you, you will love that about me. You will know that the 1000 bads are worth the 100 goods. If you want me to love you, you will love me. Without reservation, without limitation, without walls, without letting fear stop you. And I will do the same. And I promise you, that it will be worth whatever we have to go through. Together. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I Think We Need To Have A Talk

As a society, we need to talk more. With our mouths, not our text messages, our computers, our Facebook pages, our twitter accounts. We need face to face, or at least phone to ear conversations. We need to hear each others' voices, see each others reactions, understand each others' happiness or sadness conveyed by their eyes, their body language. Quite simply, emojis and LOLs don't always cut it. It's easy to miss humor and emotion, and just as easy to hide passive-agressiveness and anger, when you're communicating behind a device. I've been in all too many disagreements in which I text or message something smiling, knowing it's a joke, only to get an angry response from the person on the other end who understandable has no way to tell if I'm teasing good naturedly or making a smart remark. And don't get me started on the trouble caused by good old autocorrect....

Most people know that, in my adult life at least, I've never been a fan of talking on the phone. Partly, it's because I'm afraid to call people and interrupt their dinner/quiet time/whatever they're doing that's not talking to me.  Partly it's because I'm an awkward phone talker and I hate sitting around having to verbally um and uh when there's a pause in the conversation because I'm afraid they don't want to talk to me for some reason, nor do I really enjoy obvious small talk when one or the other of you feels the need to fill the dead space on the line.  In addition, my social anxiety makes even texting people who aren't my best friends nerve wracking - do they really want to hear from me; am I texting too much and annoying them; do I look lonely and desperate just because I like to communicate frequently? You can only imagine how it goes as I hear the phone ringing, wondering what's going through the head of the person on the other end who may or may not actually answer. The funny thing is, I don't remember having this as a kid or teenager or even young adult. It makes me wonder, if we talked with each other on the phone more often, if it was still the norm, would I still have such phone anxiety?

The thing is, I do enjoy chatting with friends, catching up on their lives, catching them up on mine. I also enjoy when both parties involved in the conversation are actually giving their full attention to... the conversation.  And considering I've seen people driving, putting on makeup, drinking a coffee, and texting, simultaneously, I'm pretty sure that if I'm texting you there's at least an 80 percent chance that I'm not always receiving your full attention every time. Nor, in fairness, does it require me to give mine.

A while ago, I wrote a post called "Everything's OK", in which I explained my extreme dislike of the work "OK" as a response to texts. I'd like to reiterate a piece of that post that I think nicely applies to this one.  As I asked my readers to do in that post, I'd like you to imagine this conversation taking place either on the phone, or particularly, in person:

You: How's your day?
Them: OK
You: So I was thinking this weekend maybe we could go to the beach (go to dinner, a movie, take belly dancing lessons, whatever you want)?
Them: K
You: Saturday would probably be better than Sunday for me because Sunday morning I'm learning how to tango dance with an elephant and then Sunday afternoon, I'm getting my appendix removed. In fact I'm doing it myself because my doctor isn't covered by my insurance anymore.
Them: KK

I realize this is an extreme example, but I've had some conversations via text that aren't all that far off. I actually sometimes reply with things like, "so I'm going to run away and join the circus", just to see if they're actually paying attention. If they reply OK, they clearly aren't.  It happens all too often. Yet if this conversation were in person, or even on the phone, I have to imagine that at some point, it might occur to them that they're not actually paying attention, or that I've fully lost my marbles. In either case, they may want to listen up and provide some type of appropriate response. 

More and more these days, I miss the excitement of getting a phone call from someone other than a telemarketer.  You know, someone who can actually pronounce my name on the first try.  It's amazing how, in the last 15 years or so, we've gone from "oh that must be a friend!" when the phone rings, to "Must be a telemarketer, my friends don't call me, better not answer."   I miss hearing friends' voices.  After hours of staring at a screen of one form or another, we now have to do it all evening if we want to communicate with anyone that's not in the same room.  I miss the idea that, if we weren't home, we weren't home. People didn't expect a turn around time of 30 seconds.  If they couldn't get ahold of you, they figured you were out, hopefully having fun, they left a message, and you called when you got home. Nor were you getting five people reaching out at the same time, trying to juggle them all, hoping you didn't type the response that was suppose to go to your mom to your client or your doctor instead.  Sure, three way calling was exciting as a teenager, but unless we intentionally choreographed that, we talked to one person at a time, when we actually had the time. That allowed us to give our full attention to both the things we were doing when not on the phone, and the conversations when we were. And because we weren't inundated with texts and emails and push notifications, we actually seemed more willing, and interested in, receiving and returning those communications. 

And when we really wanted to talk to people, at least those that lived nearby, we made plans.
People lived out there in the world, not in our phones. And, when we were out making those plans, we didn't constantly stop participating in that to answer three texts, four tweets, two Facebook comments and several emails. Getting together for coffee wasn't an opportunity to check in and post pictures of your latte on instagram. It was an opportunity to actually get away from day to day business and spend time with someone you wanted to visit with. 

Now don't get me wrong, I love social media for connecting. I truly do. Hell, I'm blogging this online right now! And for those friends and family who live far away, across the country or the world, it's made connecting a thousand times easier and cheaper.  I'm not suggesting we eliminate it.  But I think we need more balance. If someone is local, instead of exchanging 50 texts, find a time to meet up. It doesn't have to be a big deal, but do something. Meet for coffee for 20 minutes. Something. Before technology we didn't lose touch for weeks or months. We made time for calls and getting together. Because it was the only way to keep up with friends and loved ones.  As it's gotten easier to connect online, we've made less time to connect in person.  And it makes me sad. And I miss my friends.  

So with the month of Thanksgiving coming up, I've decided that I'm going to focus on people in 3D as much as I can. After all, the people in my life are what I'm most thankful for. I promise I won't start calling you at all random hours like Jake from State Farm. But let's start making plans. And if we can't, let's chat. I don't care if it's a phone chat or a Facetime or Google Hangout or whatever, but let's litreally listen to each other.  Let's get back to truly getting to know each other, to seeing each other, to actively participating in our conversations. Let's stop missing each other, and start connecting again. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Until We Meet Again, Dear Friend

Just over a week ago, I lost one of my closest friends, and the world lost a wonderful woman all too early in life. At first, I wasn't going to write a post about this. After all, her passing is about her, and her family, especially her husband and children. Not about me. But earlier today, I remember something she told me the last time I saw her two weeks ago. She told me that she loves reading my blog, that she was my "silent follower". Then we laughed together at how potentially creepy that sounded. Still, I knew what she meant. She didn't always comment on my posts, or even mention them when she saw me, but she'd often "coincidentally" send me a thinking of you text right after I'd published a blog about a difficult time or tough bout with my depression.  She mentioned at this last visit that she particularly loved the tribute I'd written to my dog Cinn when she'd passed away two months ago, how she'd read it over and over. She said to me, "you could be a famous writer," and, while I'm not sure I feel quite as confident about my writing ability, I know she meant it wholeheartedly. That's just the type of person she was. So it occurred to me that she wouldn't see my writing about her, what she meant to me, and what her loss has meant to so many people, as a selfish act at all. She'd see it as a way to honor her, all that she was during her life, and all that she'll continue to be to us here. And so Lizzard, this post is for you.

I met Lizz when we were 19 on an impromptu and, at the time, uncharacteristic visit to a spa to get my hair cut. Lizz was a relatively new stylist, and I think I petrified her by confidently asking her to chop off virtually all of my elbow length hair. I remember her cutting it inch by inch, asking after each cut if I was sure I wanted to continue. (For the record, she did indeed end up cutting about 10 inches off my hair and, thanks to her styling prowess, it looked amazing).

Over the years we became close, and I trusted her not only as my hair stylist, but as a valued friend. We "double dated" with our boyfriends, and then our husbands when they became such.  We went to each others' weddings, and I attended her baby showers. We had lunch dates and girls nights out. When things got rough in my marriage, she was one of our only "couple" friends to stay tried and true during my divorce. We shared jokes, stories, triumphs, fears, worries. We were each others' confidants, understanding what each other went through when others couldn't.

Lizz, you were so many things to so many people, and we will miss you more than we can say. We will miss your laugh, your smile, your care and concern. We'll miss the way you made us feel beautiful inside and out. We'll miss the way you would text just to say that you were thinking of us and that you valued our friendship. I think you may be my only friend that routine did that. I'll miss laughing with you about Theodore Pickles. Or the time you blanked on my ex-husband's name and called him, "what's his name,". Years later, we still laughed about that Or you singing "Ain't Nothin' Gonna Break My Stride" and dancing along as we walked the 3 Day for the Cure; us sprinting the last hundred meters on Day 1 as a storm suddenly hit, getting absolutely soaked in the process. Or that picture from after we crossed the finish line on Day 3, where upon further scrutinzation, we realized you were accidentally giving everyone the finger. We laughed forever at that.  I'll miss how you'd see that I was happy about something and say that it made your day. I remember the last time I saw you, you told me how it had made your week that I had adopted a new dog and looked happy with her.  I'll remember that when I needed to tell someone something - good, sad, exciting, worrisome, funny - that you were always there. There are so many things this past week that I've thought: You know who I should talk to about this about this... and then realized that I can't.

I know that you are not really gone. Not for good. You will be here guiding your children every step of the way as they grow, even though they cannot see you. You will be a support to friends, who always turned to you, and will still ask your advice. You will be right next to each of us as we move through life, flashing into our minds when we least expect it, with your brilliant smile and laugh and the joy you brought to everyone. And I know that's a lot to do. But I also know you like to keep busy and that it's in your nature to care for everyone, and so I'll ask you one favor from down here. Watch over my Cinny for me, will you? She takes very little work and she's a great companion, but despite all the fun I'm sure she's having with her doggy friends over there, she probably misses her mama. So if you could just keep an eye on her that would mean so much. Until we are all together again and I can hug you both once more.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

When You Say 'Be Yourself', I Take You Literally

If it's not abundantly evident by the contents of this blog. I'm a pretty open book. Despite my numerous insecurities over the years, some of which I still struggle with, I'm relatively comfortable discussing who I truly am, faults and insecurities and "issues" and all. In fact, it's when I am able to have these conversations, to broach these deeper internal subjects with others, that I feel most comfortable. I'm pretty awful at small talk. I don't have anything against it in theory, I just am really awkward at it.  And while I'm relatively used to feeling awkward by now and joke about it plenty, it's not my favorite feeling, as you might imagine. I've simply come to grips with reality.

The point of all of this is to say, I'm OK with being myself. My awkward, depressed, anxious, introverted, mood cycling, geeky, dorky, tomboy-ish, uncoordinated, deep thinking, vastly lost in the imaginative world, self. I often quote Charles M. Schultz in saying, "Be Yourself. No one can say you're doing it wrong." And I live it every day, at times to my detriment.  So when someone says something to me like, "You'll be fine, just be yourself", I take them literally. In doing so, I know one of two things is likely to happen:  either this person genuinely likes me for my real self and means it, or it's going to be a disaster.

The problem with "be yourself", as it's ubiquitously used these days, is that it's become cliche. People say it without thinking about all of your "you" characteristics and how they may fit into the specific situaiton. Additionally, they think that when they say "be yourself", that you automatically understand that there are certain parts of "yourself" that are acceptable in this situation and others that are not, and that you can and will easily hide those parts that are not. Basically, they expect you to telepathically intuit the version of yourself that they expect you to be in the given situation. Now, in some cases, this is probably rather common sense. For instance, just because you enjoy stand up comedy does not mean you stand up and tell jokes in the middle of grandma's funeral. But in other cases, what they assume and expect may not be as easily discerned, or as simple for you to do.

Let me give you an example: I'm invited to a party where there are going to be a ton of people, none whom I know apart from the party thrower.  There will be loud music and lots of alcohol, which comes with the expectation that everyone will be getting drunk. Meanwhile, I'm an introvert with social anxiety and say, for example's sake, I'm in the middle of a rough depressive cycle. I get overwhelmed with large crowds and excessive noise, and drink much these days for health reasons. Let's add in that I have to drive home, so even if I wanted to "let my hair down", I really couldn't, at least not when it comes to joining in the drunkenness. But my guess is, that when the party thrower says "be yourself", they assume I'm going to be at ease and participate in the party as they would - because naturally, having fun and drinking and talking to lots of people in a large crowd with loud music is what everyone does at a party, right? And if not, it's what they should be doing. It's the social norm, after all. But in actuality, if I'm myself, I'll stand quietly in the corner, sipping a soda, nervous to talk to anyone and desperately hoping there's a dog I can play with so that I can avoid interaction by pretending I feel sorry for the dog who's not getting enough attention.

What's worse is that the party host, who knows me well and who extended the invitation telling me to  be myself, is both surprised and upset by my level of participation (or lack thereof) in the traditional party festivities. They somehow expected me to turn into an extrovert who loves crowds, gets crazy at parties, and fits right in, despite the fact that my natural self, which they told me to be, indicates everything to the contrary. They then say things like "why can't you just relax and have fun?" And I have to explain to them that big parties with lots of noise and strangers and alcohol that I'm expected to, yet for numerous reasons can't. consume, are neither relaxing or fun to me. They don't understand, because these things are fun to them and others and therefore I should be able to have fun doing these also.  I get more frustrated with them for imposing their standards on me. And the cycle goes round and round.

Introverts and extroverts can get along. Socially anxious and socially comfortable people can get along. Those with depression and cycling and those without can get along. But  to do so we must understand that what's fun and relaxing to one group may well not be to another. We can't make book club any more exciting for you, so why is it fair to expect us to have a great time at a party that makes us anxious? Instead, perhaps see if you can appreciate that we've tried. That you were important enough to us that we put ourselves in an uncomfortable and anxiety producing situation because you said you really wanted us there. In fact, you said you wanted us there and to be ourselves. So we went. And we were ourselves. We did exactly what you asked. We just didn't enjoy it. Nor was that ever part of the deal, at least not to us. To you, it was implicitly understood.

The bottom line is, if you want us to be ourselves, then by all means tell us. But if you want us to be something else, let us know what exactly that is. This doesn't mean we will, or we can, but perhaps we can come to a compromise. Perhaps we can say, "I'll come to the party. I'll try my best to meet strangers. I can't promise I won't be awkward, but I'll not hide in the corner petting the dog all night (ok I'll probably pet the dog but not in the corner and not all night)." And you can say, "I'd really appreciate that. It means a lot to me that you're even there and trying because I know how difficult it is for you. I don't expect you to be the life of the party, I understand if you can't drink, and if you only stay for a little while. I'm just glad to have you there at all." And maybe we're not all 100 percent happy. But at least we're not both 100 percent miserable. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Please Don't Stop Inviting Me Even Though I Turn You Down

When you battle anxiety - social or generalized, depression, mood cycling, or any other number of mental health conditions, socializing can be a challenge. In fact, being out in public can be downright scary at times.  That's because both of these are double edged swords and with time, become a viscous cycle. 

We go out. We have an anxiety attack or our depression worsens or we slip into a hypomanic episode. We either get really quiet, or we freak out in some way. We're embarrassed, frustrated, upset. So is anyone that noticed (and sometimes it's impossible not for everyone to notice). We hybernate, either by choice or because people stop inviting us for a while. Eventually, we decide to come out of our cocoon. But we're so afraid that it's going to happen again, that we're anxious and worried the whole time. People tell us to just relax and be ourselves. But this is impossible - ourselves aren't relaxed. The more pressure we feel to relax, to not have an episode of sorts, the more anxious we get, and guess what - the more likely we are for it to actually happen. It's virtually a self fulfilling prophecy. We hybernate more. You see where this is going. 

So I understand the tendency for people to not invite me. They think I'm not interested because I've turned them down or left early or cancelled at the last minute or quite simply have been what they consider no fun at times. 

Please understand:
  • My condition is unpredictable. I may agree to plans that sound good when I'm feeling better, and wake up that morning so depressed it physically hurts to move. I don't want to put either of us through that, so I cancel. 
  • I may feel like I'm about to cycle and need to make a game time decision, because I know that being in a certain state of mind while participating in whatever is planned would turn out poorly for everyone involved. 
  • Alcohol can make me severely depressed. If the focus of your evening is alcohol and I know my options are to 1.) drink and wake up severely depressed or 2.) be the only sober person who stands there feeling like a boret while you're all getting wildly drunk and saying things like "come on, just have a drink",  I may not want to go at times.  It's not personal.
  • Lack of sleep makes me cycle. It might seem to you like I can do a late night out here or there, but I know my body and my brain, and I know it's generally not a great idea. Hypomania makes it impossible to sleep in. So staying out late doesn't mean I'll just adjust my sleep schedule, it means I'll not sleep. And I'll cycle. So again, I may decline. It's not you, it's me. 
  • Lots of noise and commotion and crowded spaces often overwhelms my brain. Imagine a train coming at you full speed ahead blaring it's whistle furiously but being told you must calmly stand there on the tracks and solve a complicated math problem. And enjoy it. This is what it's like for me when my anxiety or hypomania are bad. So if that's my mood cycle, I may avoid it. 
  • Having to interact and have small talk with people I don't know, especially when they all know each other, is akin to that dream you have where you show up on the first day of school naked and everyone's staring at you and you have to pretend nothing's amiss. Social anxiety makes it feel like the walls are closing in, slowly crushing you, and you can't breathe. But in small groups with real conversation, I can be really social. It's not all or nothing. 
  • I may be so afraid that I will somehow ruin your time that I decline the invitation. Especially if I've had an episode in a similar situation before, or you've told me that you're worried about me doing so (this is one of the most hurtful thing someone can say, for the record). 
  • I may feel so pressured to "just relax and have fun", when for me trying to relax like everyone else thinks I should is sometimes more of a struggle than my actual anxiety. My brain doesn't "relax". My body tries to, and my brain has this constant whisper, "am I relaxed enough? Do they think I'm relaxed? Am I doing this right?". 
The bottom line is, I do not want to feel like I have to be someone else, or some other version of myself that doesn't come naturally, in order for you to want to be around me and/or invite me out. When you say "just relax be yourself," I need you to understand that those two things don't happen concurrently. And that myself in that current state of mind may not be what you actually want. What you want is a "myself" that you have in your head, that maybe you've seen here or there, when I was really able to pull off trying to be like everyone else. Or when I was having a really "normal" day. 

But none of this means I don't want to be invited. Do you know what makes me want to go into my cocoon and never ever ever come out, more than anything?  When people stop inviting me. It's not because I'm being a baby (I've been accused of this and told to "grow up" on numerous occasions). It's because it feels like when I need you most, when I'm ready to give up on me and fighting not to, that you've already done so. It feels like you're embarrassed or ashamed by me. That you're not willing to take the chance on all of my good qualities in case it's a bad illness day. That those good qualities aren't worth it. It feels like I have to always be ready to go and do whatever you want however you want it, or I'll never be invited. Because of that time or two I turned down plans because I was ill, you've stopped including me all together. It feels like you're saying to me: you'll never get better. I have no faith in you. And you saying "oh I figured you'd not enjoy it" is, quite honestly, a cop out. Who are you to decide if I'd enjoy it on any given day or not? I'm mood cycling. What I enjoy (for the most part, assuming it's not a moral dilemma) depends on my mood. It would be like saying "if you don't to eat french fries every day of your life, I'm going to assume you don't like them and never offer you one again." If you'd truly like me there, what's the harm in saying, "I know it's not really your thing (or you've not been feeling great) but if you're up to it, I'd love to have you there. No pressure though"? Because I, and only I, should be allowed to decide if my body and brain are up to it on that particular day. And because it tells me you still believe in me, still trust me, haven't given up on me. And that I'm worth it. 

Please, don't stop inviting me, or anyone else that is dealing with these types of struggles. We feel bad enough about our conditions. We already feel so different, misunderstood, ostracized because of the stigma, because of the gremlin in our head that tells us we're no good, that nobody wants us around. Don't tell us it's true. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

How to Help Someone Who Is Battling Depression

I've written a lot about what not to do when someone is depressed, dealing with a difficult mood cycling flareup, or, worse, feeling suicidal.  And these are incredibly important. I can't stress enough how doing the wrong thing could urge them from a bad place to a place of total despair. But it also helps to know what you can do, because people may act a certain way not out of malice, but out of feeling helpless - they perhaps know they've been told not to do or say something, but aren't sure what else to do.  If they feel it's a critical situation, they may start to panic, and we know all too well that people don't always make the best choices in the midst of panic. So here are some suggestions:
  • Ask them how they would like you to help. Just because, if the tables were turned, you might want to go for a drink or get boosted up by some positive cheer-leading or be told "it's all going to be ok", doesn't mean it's what is best for them. Don't treat others how you want to be treated. Treat them how they want to be treated. We're all unique individuals, and only we know what best serves each of us in any given situation. Expecting someone to accept the way you help or nothing at all is short sighted, self-centered, and quite simply, not helpful. 
  • When you do the above, ask 'How can I help?". That "how" is important. It's not an "if you need anything", which requires them to be the one to follow up and reach out (often we're afraid of feeling needy and/or bringing others down so don't do so), nor is it a question of if you will help or not. Again, that's saying "I could if you reach out/ask/make that effort that maybe you can't right now."  You want to tell them, "I will be helping. I will be here for you. You're too important to me not to. So, tell me what would best support you." 
  • Keep trying. Some days, we may need to be alone. Others, we may need company, or at least someone to talk to. Please know that if we want to be alone, it's not personal. Many conditions involve social anxiety, especially if we feel like we might stick out, or be a burden to others, and on days when that gets particularly troubling, we may not want to see anyone, let alone be out and about. It doesn't mean we don't care about you. Nor does it mean we want to be all alone, 24/7/365, for the rest of our lives. 
  • Per the above, if we do seem receptive to seeing people, suggest things that may be easy on our depression and anxiety. Just because we might be feeling slightly better than yesterday doesn't mean that 1.) we're 100 percent or 2.) we want to be out and about with tons of people. And even if we are up for venturing out, we probably don't want to be the life the party (read: we probably NEVER want to be the life of the party, even on our best days). So suggest one on one time that is more low key. For me, anything that involves being out in nature, a casual brunch or catching up over coffee works well, for instance.
  • Understand our limitations, and if we're willing to meet you half way, that that this is a huge step, and it would be very much appreciated if you did the same. In fact, it's really, really nice if you suggest this instead of us having to ask you to accommodate us. It makes us feel like less of a drain and less needy. (There's a pattern here: we don't want to feel like we're troubling you just by being ourselves). 
  • Understand that we do, and will, relapse, for lack of a better word. Depression, diagnosed anxiety, and mood cycling are chronic conditions. They flare up, they get better. Despite the fact that I feel like this is blatantly obvious in a condition that's mood cycling, it's amazing how people forget. We may be fine today and bed ridden tomorrow, or vice versa. Allow us to be day to day. If you expect anything else, you'll be disappointed and hurt, and when it comes out on us in the form of lack of support, so will we. 
  • Give us, point blank, the support we need. Things like "I'm here for you, whatever you need, always." "I want to help you." "I care about you/love you" are not things we want to guess at or assume. We need to hear verbatim.  And then we need to see it backed it up with action.  In our worst states, if there's a possible way for our brain to find a negative, it will. We're not being "glass half empty". To our brain, the glass looks completely empty, there's no potential water source, and we're painfully dehydrated. We don't want to have to squint at the glass and think "well, maybe, if I could turn it this way and that and stand on my head and wait 10 minutes one drop may come out." We want someone to tell us they'll bring us a pitcher of water, and if they can't, they'll at least sit with us until one comes so we aren't going through this all alone.
The bottom line is, our conditions are real, genetic, physical illnesses that we often feel little control over and certainly never asked for. They are not choices or attitude problems. We do not want to feel like we have to cover them up or change who we are as a person in order to be more accepted and loved. We also do not want to feel like a burden or drain to others. We already feel different and isolated. We simply want to be understood, supported, and to not constantly be waiting for the bottom to inevitably drop out. Our brain already does that to us enough. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Moving Forward, Not On

I've had a lot of changes in my life recently. A lot. One of the most profound being that my dog of 10.5 years, my constant companion best friend, Cinn, passed away close to two months ago. I was heartbroken. I still am. I talk to her every day. I have a picture of her and her paw print sitting on one dresser, and her ashes (in an engraved box) on another. I thought It would be ages before I would get another dog. It felt unfair to Cinn to have another.

But slowly, I started looking at adoptable dogs. There are so many dogs that have been displaced, been in awful situations, sitting in a shelter or foster care which, while much nicer than most shelters in general, isn't a permanent home. And I realized that, by helping another dog, I wouldn't be dishonoring Cinn, but doing the exact opposite. It would be a testament to how wonderful she was to want to help another dog in need.

This past week, I met a dog named Grace. Grace is a two year female shepherd mix, which is exactly what I was looking for. She lost her home when her family got evicted and could no longer feed their kids, let alone their dog, and decided the best thing to do for her was to bring her to a foster organization where she mind find a loving home. She's certainly seems a bit more playful than Cinn, though that's not too difficult, because Cinn wasn't a particularly active dog. Plus, it wouldn't be a bad thing for me to get a few more walks in each day (watch out, Fitbit Contest friends!), and perhaps her youthfulness will help keep me feeling young as well.

After giving it some thought, I decided to move to the next stage with Grace, which is a "trial week." Basically, they want to make sure you feel the dog is a good fit for you - and vice versa - before completing the adoption. Not every dog is for every person, and they like to make sure you're both happy. My trial week started this past Sunday, and Grace is doing remarkably well. She has already attached herself to me as her "mom", and follows me everywhere. Everywhere. She's playful and youthful, which actually helps me keep up my energy after long work days. It puts a smile on my fact to see her endlessly interested in her toys, racing around when I get home because she's so excited to see me. I'd had an "older" (or older acting) dog for so long, I'd forgotten about the puppy stage, especially as Cinn wasn't even particularly active as a puppy. I still have a few days left in the "trial" but I'm pretty sure that Grace is here to stay.

The night before Grace arrived, I told Cinn all about her. I cried when I did so. I still miss my Cinn, my sweet baby girl, every single day. She will always be my best friend and soul mate, my cutest dog ever in the whole world.  Cinn will never be replaced.  But when changes happen in life, eventually, we must move forward.  If not, we spend our life in unhappiness, living in the past and letting the present pass us by, never seeing the opportunities for happiness that surround us. I know Cinn would never want that. All she ever wanted was for me to be happy (and occassionally a walk or a treat). So I'm not moving on. Moving on, at least to me, sounds like what you had wasn't good and you've tossed it aside to find something better. I don't believe in moving by this definition, because it discredits all that you had. But I do believe in moving forward. I believe in saying, "I have gone through the stages of loss, of grief. I've been sad and heartbroken. I've dealt with the disbelief. Perhaps, in certain circumstances (though not this one), I may be angry. And after a while of this, our minds and our hearts and our souls tell us that we've had enough of that. That the sadness will always be there in the background, especially when we think of the situation. But that there will also come a time when we can think of it and remember the positives, instead of just what we no longer have. And when this happens, whether we realize it or not, we begin moving forward.

I look forward to welcoming Grace into the family. I hope that this trial week continues to work out, and that she becomes a permanent member. However it goes, I know that it won't be just me learning to accept and love Grace. Cinn will be right there by my side in spirit. She will let me know if Grace is the right one. And she will help me learn to love her, to guide me in all that I do with her. Because that is how Cinn and I work. It's how we always have, and it's how we always will.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Welcoming Year 36 With Open Arms

Last year I blogged extensively about my birthday.  I love birthdays, which anyone who's spent any time around me, or reading my blog, must know by now. I think the ability to dedicate a day to yourself and your part in the world is simply fabulous. It's a day to celebrate your you-ness. And we all know how I feel about shining bright in our you-ness.

Last year, I was dreading my birthday. Dreading. And this is unusual for me, but I had my reasons. This year, on the other hand, the impending birthday cannot come quickly enough. Yes, I realize it moves me one step closer to 40. Yes, it means that I'll annoyingly have to check off the "36-44" age bracket on forms that require your age. Yes, I realize that being a year older but not a year closer to some of my goals in life doesn't bode very well.  But 35, or at least the end of it, was a humdinger. I lost my beloved Cinn after a several month battle with illness. I had numerous other changes in my life that didn't exactly align with my goals. I screwed up my knee/hip/IT band (again!) while training for what was to be my first half marathon which I was very excited about and now feel there's pretty much no chance of even limping my way through. And several other smaller things that threw me for mini-loops.

In fairness, not all of year 35 was bad, and as my goal for my incoming year is to focus more on the positive, I'd be amiss if I didn't mention a few things that kept me pulling through. I took several international trips, including Paris, Morocco, Portugal, and Mexico.  I got a promotion at work. I made some new friends and reconnected with old ones. I finished the very very rough draft of my novel. I completed my second Overnight Walk and became involved with the local chapters.

And so, as the last days of this year wind down for me and I say good riddance to 35 and welcome 36 with open arms, I try to remember that every single thing that happened to me this year - happy, sad, painful, what have you - must serve as a stepping stone to the upcoming year. I would not be who I am today, at this moment, without each and every one of them. Some of them no doubt will linger into the upcoming year. I don't think there will be a day of my life, ever, when I don't think of Cinn and wish she was here with me still. But they are opportunities to grow and learn and adjust my sails, so to speak, and I take what I can from this past year, while hoping that not quite so much pain and heartache and frustration awaits me in the coming one.

Friday, September 11, 2015

I Am A Woman, And I AM Beautiful

I am a woman. I am not a girl, or a chick, or a broad.  I'm certainly not a bitch, or any other derogatory word that has somehow become a common place nickname for a women. I'm certainly not a dude. Have you ever (as a woman) had someone say to you, "Dude you looked hot in that dress"? And I'm most definitely not your bro. I don't even like the term bro used for men, though at least they've gotten the gender right.  But seriously, if you're interested in a woman, getting her gender wrong and then insinuating that she's related to you, isn't exactly the way to go.

Why is this a big deal? Because I, like other females of my age, are women. We stopped being girls more or less when puberty hit, and most certainly when we entered the adult working world. Calling us such girls now makes us sound inferior. We are not. We are equal. We are to be listened to and respected, not to be ordered around and taken with a grain of salt. Now, I make a small exception if you're using it as a shortened form of the world girlfriend. Because while it still involves the word "girl", it's become a colloquialism, and "woman-friend" just sounds kind of odd. While I prefer the term partner - not only does it neutralize gender and orientation but also indicates equality - I realize that not everyone uses this and I've gotten accustomed to it. But used in cases like "oh bring that to the girl that works in the mail room", unless she's actually under the age of 18, is demeaning. Period. As for "chick" or "broad", it makes you sound Fonzy (regardless of your gender), and generally indicates a flippancy. A characteristic I don't want present in describing me, or any other woman.  I think "bitch" is self-explanatory, and Dude and Bro, well, I've discussed above.

So now, Beautiful. Yes, I am beautiful. Regardless of what you think of my external appearance I am beautiful. I am not cute or hot or tight or any other slang. If you're commenting strictly on my looks, something that indicates maturity and femininity, like gorgeous, is just fine. I'm on the fence about sexy, because it makes me feel like an object to be used instead of a person, but maybe this is because I'm an old boxers and tank type kind of woman, not a lingerie kind of woman. I understand that some people feel that sexy is a compliment. But it shouldn't be the only compliment you are given. You are still beautiful.  Beautiful refers to a whole person. Or it should. Their mind, their body, their soul. As well as their appearance - however they look.

A beautiful person doesn't have to look like they'll grace the cover of the next fashion magazine or Victoria's Secret runway show. There are plenty of people who may never look like super models, but everything else about them makes them beautiful. Their heart and soul and goodness shine through. So even if at first glance you don't think they're beautiful, or even mildly attractive, you do once you get to know them. Likewise, there are plenty of people who may turn heads when first encountered, but their lack of heart and goodness also shines through, and they no longer appear beautiful.

So go ahead - tell your wife or partner or friend or whoever else you'd like that they're beautiful.  But make sure to tell her why. Not because you like her stomach or the shape of her butt or her toned arms.  Not even because of what she can do. Tell her about the beauty you see in her heart and her soul - those things that truly make her who she is. Because she, like me, is a beautiful woman. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

World Suicide Prevention Day: Truths To Know About Those Who Battle

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It's a cause that has become one of my biggest focuses in the last year. A few years ago I lost a cousin to suicide, I have friends who have contemplated and attempted suicide, and I have battled the demons myself. Suicide  feels like a scary topic. For those who deal with it first hand, and those who are too frightened to deal with it and turn away. And I think, for a lot of people who watch loved ones with depression, it feels scary because they feel helpless. I understand that. From the point of those who battle it, so do we.

Perhaps learning more about who we are, and what you can do, would help.  So here are a few things you should know about us.

  • We are strong. So strong. Look how much we've gotten through every day, all day, while battling depression. 
  • We are working as hard as we can. When we aren't able to do something, we physically aren't able to do it. It's not a matter of being lazy or not wanting to or having "messed up priorities". We are unable. The same way that someone with cancer, or diabetes, or heart disease may be unable. 
  • We want to be able to see you, to do things with you, to get out from under the covers. We want to fee safe "out there." We long for that day. So don't give up. Don't stop inviting us or trying to help us.  The 10th, 100th, 1000th time you ask might be the one that saves us when we're ready to lose our battle all together, when we feel like everyone's given up on us. 
  • We feel alone. Constantly. We feel more alone in a room full of people who don't understand us (which is quite possibly everyone) than we do when we're actually alone. 
  • We know we're not like you. Which is exactly why we always feel alone. Please don't continue to point it out, unless you're doing so in a way that is entirely, and genuinely, positive (i.e. we have some creative skill you wish you possessed, for instance).  
  • We're not stuck up or judgemental.  We aren't looking down on you or too good to join in your fun.  We just can't enjoy the things you do, even if we want to. It feels unauthentic to pretend, and often, downright anxiety or panic producing. 
  • The one thing that feels real is clinging on to who we are. Regardless of how little we think of ourselves, please, don't make us give up the few bits of our identity we may believe in and hold on to. Don't make us change for you. It will verify our thought that we're nothing, unworthy, unloveable as our true selves. 
  • Sometimes the smallest things seem like the biggest victories. Don't downplay them.  But also don't exaggerate them like we're a little child. We can spot inauthentic from a mile away, and the last thing we want is to feel like people are walking on eggshells, playing a part, or putting on a show for us. Again, it will only verify how much trouble we feel we cause everyone else, and add one more thing to our list of why we're nothing. 
  • We don't understand our depression, or our tears, much better than you do, other than knowing it's part of our life and our brain. If I don't know why I'm crying, or why I'm feeling so bad, the answer is simply depression. 
  • For many of us, depression is a lifelong illness. We may get better or worse, but it doesn't get cured. This is particularly the case with someone who battles mood cycling. Our (hypo)manic stages may suggest we're better, full of life.  But that also suggests eventually, we'll crash back down eventually.  If you have someone in your life who suffers from depression, know that they may always do so. Don't like us or love us for who we are when we're "better" or "normal".   Like us or love us just for who we are. All of us. 
  • We are not looking for attention. Most likely it's the last thing we want. We feel bad enough about ourselves. We don't want the spotlight on our lives and our illnesses, unless perhaps in situations like advocacy work where we'e sharing our stories to help others. But please, depression, or thoughts of suicide, are not attention-seeking. 
  • However, if we reach out, if we say we are depressed, or don't want to live, or anything else that suggests suicidal thoughts or behavior, please, don't dismiss it. It could be our attempts to reach out for help. And your support, and care, and concern, could be what pulls us through when we otherwise may not. 
I hope that his helps. Suicide, and mental health all together, is an elusive topic. It's been taboo. People don't want to talk about it, and others don't want to hear about it. I am not one of those people. And so, if you want to share your story, or have questions, I am all ears. Please, always feel free to reach out. As awful as mental health conditions are, it has helped me to discover one "gift" of sorts:  the ability to help others who struggle. And I strive to use that insight to the fullest. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Inside the Hyper-Stimulated Mind

I was recently at a conference in which the speaker, stating that he'd been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) as a child, offered an alternative definition of sorts. He said that in fact, he didn't have a deficit of attention at all - it was quite the opposite. To him, everything gained his attention. He explained how, looking out into the audience, everyone's outfits - including the multitude of colors - every light fixture or decorative column, the colors and shapes on the carpets, the shine of of everyone's jewelry, all called out for his attention. At once.

Now, I realize that, most likely, the term "deficit" is used in conjunction with focusing on a single item, task, or situation. But I thought he brought up a fantastic point. The general public seems to have adopted the phrase "ADD" (like they have the names of other mental health conditions) as a way of describing the very generic inability to focus or pay attention to or even remember things.  In reality it's much deeper than that. I'm sure someone diagnosed with ADD could do much more justice here, but hopefully I'm getting my point across at least slightly.

So, why write about this if I do not have ADD, you ask? Because what the speaker said resonated with me in describing my anxiety and panic. And I thought that perhaps a further description may help those who do not truly understand (even if you genuinely try to), what it's like when I experience an episode of any of these three.

Imagine you're standing in a room, doing a common, every day task - ordering a coffee at a coffee shop, talking to a friend, you name it. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that should make you run for the hills, or hide in the corner praying it ends soon, right? Then, suddenly, everyone surrounds you and starts talking right in your ear and in your face. Some quietly but still as persistent, some almost screaming.  You can't decipher what they're all saying, but there must be 20 to 30 people talking right there in your headspace.  Then, people start throwing things at you from all angles. You are trying to figure out where it's coming from, what's going on, how to avoid it, but there's so much talking right in your most private circle of space that you can't concentrate. All you see are images moving about. Then, flashing lights, all different colors, and blaring noises - say something like a siren or a smoke detector or fire alarm.  Then, despite it not seeming possible, all of these people, flashing lights, sirens, projectiles get closer, so that you literally can't move without hearing, seeing, feeling them all.  And through all of this, you're still trying to order your coffee, or talk to your friend - the one person talking to you at a normal distance and volume about something that you actually want to focus on - and pretend none of the rest of it is going on because somehow, miraculously, they're completely unfazed by it.  It's like they don't even notice.

You try all of the tricks you know - deep breaths, closing your eyes for a moment, focusing on the face of the person you mean to speak to - all without trying to draw attention, and nothing works. At this point, you know you cannot stop it, nor can you take it any more.  You have two options: 1.) You can either explode and break down. You can scream "everybody shut the hell up" at the top of your lungs and beg, hope, and pray that even the sirens and flashing lights somehow understand this command to stop, or 2.) You can shut down. This means literally turn away from it all, including the one friend or barista that you actually were trying to converse with. And in order to do this, you literally have to extract yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. You can try to, as inconspicuously as possible which usually isn't very, stop whatever you're doing and let your mind and senses glaze over until you've shut down every sensory option as completely as you can (you probably have a look on your face that's somewhat akin to the ghost-like look just before someone passes out), or you can up and leave the place all together, which is equally as difficult and conspicuous if you're in mid-conversation.

I realize that everyone with panic, or severe anxiety, experiences this differently. But this is how I experience it, and I promise you, it's not fun. It's not fun knowing you basically have to make some sort of a scene, have some sort of an episode, or end up in the ER, and having to make that choice.  It's not fun knowing people worry that you're going to "freak out" and don't want to invite you to things, or get nervous when they do. It's not fun wondering "How did I handle that? Was I ok? Is anyone embarrassed by me? Ashamed to be there with me?" "How will people treat me the next time they see me/I go back to that place?" And most importantly, it's not something we choose.  Not really at least. Well, I guess technically I have the choice to explode, implode, or get hospitalized, or to avoid social situations all together out of fear of one of these happening. But that's not much of a choice, is it?

So please, if you know someone who has a diagnosed condition, instead of joking around about their condition, or using it as some common place term and furthering the stigma, instead of being ashamed or embarrassed or angry by someone who's struggling, offer help - true help. As in, don't help now and hold it against them later.  And if someone has a problem with them, or with you for helping them, give them your favorite hand gesture, or call them an ignorant jerk, or possibly even try to educate them if they seem like a reasonable person. Whatever you think might make them take pause. But however you do it, stand up for us, and for yourself for helping us and being a decent, caring human being, and work to change the stigma. Because if in that moment we can't, and you don't, who's going to? 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Mental Health Condition Will Never Be Trendy

Heads up: Rant warning! But an important one. 

I have recently seen several articles/blogs/etc that discussed whether or not mental health disorders, and particularly Bipolar Disorder, are becoming trendy. Now, let me clarify. My rant is not against the authors. They were tackling the subject just as I am here, and every one that I've read thus far completely disagreed with the "trendy" hypothesis. But, the fact that the possibility even requires myth busting, to me, is absolutely absurd.

As someone who's had a mood cycling condition since birth, let me share some insight. When I was as young as two years old, I used to have "episodes", which I now understand were hypomania, and beg my parents "make it stop, make it stop", unable to express more than that - because I was TWO. And on the off chance that you've never, ever met a two year old, I assure you, they're completely unaware of whether or not they're hip.

It took me 28 years to be diagnosed, including numerous therapists - and therapist bills - broken relationships and friendships, a divorce, and a brief hospitalization thanks to the sneaky staff at the ER who made me sign forms during a manic episode, whose implications they never explained to me (i.e. I was committing myself "voluntarily", which is a pretty impressive feat when you're not told what the forms actually mean and are too sick to read the 10 pages worth of them). The hospital doctors insisted on misdiagnosing me and giving me the wrong meds which only made me sicker.

When I came out of the hospital after much convincing of the staff,  I was finally diagnosed correctly by my therapist. I was put on the correct medication and for weeks was sicker than sick, not able to leave the couch because of constant vertigo and nausea which I now know as side effects of my meds. I have to take these meds three times a day, quite possibly for the rest of my life. I have to have blood tests every six weeks to make sure I'm not poisoning myself by way of medication that's supposed to help and to make sure I'm not at risk of having seizures from the drop in sodium that they cause.

Every single day, I wake up not knowing if I'll be hypomanic, painfully depressed and hopeless, or "normal" for lack of a better (and less hated) word. I have developed social anxiety because of my condition. It has at times made me so withdrawn that I don't want to leave my house, for fear of an episode hitting suddenly. I have trouble planning weekly activities because I don't know if I'm going to be too agitated in hypomania, or too depressed, to follow through with them on any given day.

And finally, the stigma. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone referred to as crazy or mental or delusional or "like they're bipolar", I'd be rich.  I have to weigh every single person who comes into my life to determine if, when, and how I should tell them about my condition.  I go through so many days feeling isolated and alone because I don't understand others and they don't understand me. I have to deal with the media circus and the ignorant people who think we should all be locked up with the key thrown away. And now, now I have to deal with people saying that we want to have mental illness? Are you f*&$ing kidding me? Who would put themselves through this, all day, every day for the rest of their lives?  And what, possibly, could be "cool" about this? Because they think those of us with mental health conditions are artsy and creative? Well, maybe some of us have that. But maybe it's also an outlet we've developed - a way we can get out our emotion and feelings and frustration and hurt so we don't turn it on ourselves. It's not cool. It's life-saving.

I used to think that the worst thing that someone could say about my condition is that it was crazy. But I have been proven wrong, in fact. The worst thing someone could say about my condition is that it's trendy. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sadness Vs. Depression

One week ago today, as my readers undoubtedly know, I lost my dog of 10.5 years, my best friend, my Cinn. I have been incredibly sad, as is to be expected. I miss her almost more than I can put into words. I miss her nosing through the back door when I get home from work. I miss hearing her nails on the steps coming upstairs, cheering her on, because stairs had become a challenge for her. I miss her staring longingly at the treat drawer. I miss her falling asleep in my room. I miss mom-dog cuddle time. I get sad just writing this.  But this morning, I noticed I also was slipping into depression. Today, I am sad and depressed. The "and" is the key there. If you haven't experienced depression, you may think of it as a prolonged sadness. If you have, you understand that it is not. And it got me thinking that perhaps, a post on the difference between the two was warranted.

Granted, depression involves sadness, at least to describe it generally. I certainly feel what others would call sadness when I'm in a depressive cycle. But to those who have experienced it, it's very distinctly "depressed", as opposed to "sad." A lot of the "symptoms" are the same. With both sadness and depression, I am bound to break into crying bouts randomly. I feel "down", for lack of a more descriptive word. The air feels thicker. And certainly, I'm lacking energy in both states. However, depression manifests itself in ways sadness does not.

When you're strictly sad, there's a reason. My dog passed away and I'm sad. I miss someone, I'm sad. And maybe I mope, or cry.  The sadness is in the forefront of my brain.  With depression, I feel an overwhelming weight pulling me downward. I cry. Often uncontrollably, out of nowhere. I feel a loss of hope. And sometimes, of worth. It effects me physically. Exhaustion takes over. My body hurts. My stomach feels nervous and sometimes painful. And the worst part of it is, I can't discover the reason. Or rather, the reason is simply depression, looming over me, all around me, instead of right in the center of my thoughts. Depression is an emersion.

When I'm depressed, people will ask me what's wrong (if I'm lucky). My answer is: I'm depressed. They'll ask why I'm crying. My answer:  I'm depressed. They'll ask what I could do to make it better. My answer: Not be depressed.  When I'm sad, the comfort of others often helps. When I'm depressed, I want the world to vanish until I cycle back around. I have an overwhelming need to be alone, while still wanting others to care enough not to give up on me.

Of course, you can be depressed and sad at the same time, and sadness, especially after a difficult life event, can spiral into depression. The two are not mutually exclusive, nor one in the same. The biggest difference is simply this: sadness is a natural part of being human. Depression is a diagnosed medial condition. Virtually everyone experiences sadness throughout their lives. They do not all experience depression.  For which I'm glad. I wouldn't wish depression on my worst enemy.

So please, if you know someone with depression, take care when telling them you understand because you were "depressed" when xyz. While there can technically be episodes of depression after a traumatic experience, most likely if it was an acute feeling that went away and didn't come back, it was sadness. And this is not to take away from sadness - it's a terrible feeling. But it isn't depression. And this misconception that it is tends to lead to so many infuriating suggestions such as: you need to just snap out of it, or maybe if you smiled more it'd help, or just look on the bright side.  Trust me, if we could, we would.