Friday, January 30, 2015

When Things Go Wrong As They Sometimes Will

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will ... It's a line from one of my favorite inspirational pieces, the poem Don't Quit. It felt appropriate for this post.

Eight years ago this week, the last week of January 2007, my marriage ended. Or rather, it officially, unofficially ended (we were officially divorced a year later). On January 26, 2007, I packed up my things in a rudimentary fashion - whatever I could fit into a suitcase for the time being - and I moved out of the house in Merchantville, New Jersey that I had shared with my husband for the past three and a half years.

There was no blow up fight, no storming out, no grand finale of sorts. The night before we'd had a serious, mature, important but friendly talk - one that we'd agreed earlier in the day was needed. It was no surprise for either of us. In fact, we'd taken a vacation to Brazil over Christmas and New Years just weeks before, and despite it being one of our best trips, we talked about how it may well be our last together. We were prepared, or as prepared as anyone can be for the end of their marriage. In retrospect, I think everyone's about as prepared for the end of their marriage as they were for the beginning of it, which is to say, not at all. We'd talked, I'd cried, despite being the one who wanted this ending more, he'd held me.  It was, ironically, the closest we'd felt to each other probably in a couple of years. We didn't hate each other. We didn't even dislike each other. We were friends even, at least for a while, though we have since lost touch. But we just didn't want to be married to each other. Or rather, I didn't want to be in the marriage and my misery made him understand that it was best for us not to be together. I had no doubt he would have stayed if I had. He loved me much more than I gave him credit for - I know that now, though I didn't see it then. As I gathered my things, for the first time ever, I saw him cry. He told me he felt like a piece of his soul was dying. My ex-husband may be many things, but poetic and outwardly emotional are not among them by any means. For that reason, that single sentence has stayed with me. While it has occasionally, over the years, made me feel guilty, I'm glad to remember it. It reminds that things weren't always bad with him which, after a divorce, even one as amicable as ours, can be tough to remember.

Life is queer with its twists and turns... Cinn (my dog) and I restarted our lives in a one-bedroom apartment. We adjusted nicely, and after a year and a half I met my now-ex fiance. I fell madly in love with someone who was in many ways so different from my ex-husband. He was my partner, my other half, and I thought I had found the rest of my life. In the end, we broke each others' hearts. Or rather, the situation did. I left my marriage because there wasn't enough love on my end. I believe, ultimately, my engagement ended because there was so much love that it became toxic.

As every one of us sometimes learns... Cinn and I restarted our lives again. I started casually dating a friend of mine. Like those before him, it was his differences that attracted me. He was my continually positive cheerleader and believed in me even when I didn't.  I ended up hurt and I blame myself for much of that - he'd warned me all along, and as usual, I thought I could make it right if I tried really, really hard. At heart, I'm a fixer. One would think that after a divorce and a broken engagement I would realize that I didn't have this power, but it appears I'm a slow learner. Or perhaps a hopeless romantic. Probably a little of both. Like the times before, there was no bad blood. We were friends, as we always had been.

I took a break from dating, and everyone that cared about me said "thank the dear lord". I spent time growing my circle of girl friends for pretty much the first time since middle school - I've always been one of the guys and had just a couple of close girl friends, but I actually managed a circle of girlfriends who didn't make me want to strangle them for being too girly.

After significant girl friends time, I decided I didn't think men were the devil incarnate and decided to date again. I met my current boyfriend. We clicked right away, and began spending a lot of time together. A couple months later I met his son. I fell in love with them both. Today, I find it ironic that the issue of children was one of the driving factors of my divorce, yet this little boy has now so stolen my heart and having him in my life seems so natural.

This past spring, as all things do, life came almost full circle. I moved from Philly back to Jersey into a house with my boyfriend, his son, and our two dogs. We had a real Christmas tree this past holiday and hosted Christmas morning, something I'd never done even when married. This past year I also started working part time for a conference center - still also doing my travel business - and once again work a job with coworkers, where I have to report at a certain time and have a manager, just like I had when I got married. I'm growing in this job and loving it more every day (I don't think my coworkers read this, so this isn't BS, I swear).

Life isn't perfect. It's never perfect. If it were, it wouldn't be life. We wouldn't be living and learning and growing. I wouldn't want a perfect life. I'd be constantly looking over my shoulder wondering when it was going to turn, and quite honestly, knowing me, I'd probably be bored. I wouldn't change the things that have happened in my life. And I say "have happened", but honestly, I was an active part of many of them them. I chose to be in each of the situations above, I chose my actions in them and my reactions to them. I didn't choose everything that happened in them, but I chose to learn from them. Now, eight years after I walked out of my house and my marriage, I'm finding myself once again. After years of feeling lost, I feel like I've come back. I hope, this time, I'm here to stay.

You never can tell how close you are
It may be near when it seems so far
So stick to your fight when you're hardest hit 
It's when things seem the worst that you must not quit. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Don't Tell Me I'm Not Resilient - A Response to an Infuriating Article

A friend recently brought to my attention an article about resilience, and the fact that it indicated that people were either depressed OR resilient, but seemingly impossible of being both. I'm always interested in mental health themed information, and aggravated about how the media butchers it, and so I read. I was immediately disturbed by the fact that it was an article on PBS/WHYY. This is channel/station that I've generally respected and enjoyed for being educational, and actually educational in the downfall of so many other channels that sensationalized and celebritized (is that a word?) "education" ... Ahem, I'm looking at you, A&E, and basically all publicly broadcasted News programs. But I digress. Back to the article itself.

Before I continue, let me say that the this article begins with a story about a local woman who survived a violent childhood and being kidnapped in Somalia as an adult. The fact that she is still alive, let alone sharing her story, is a most certainly a testament to her resilience, and anything I say here is in no way to take away from the horrific experiences she's had and her ability to pull through them. She is heroic and courageous and in fact, it's not she who says anything that upsets me in the least. She actually discusses the dark place she was in, and pulling out of it. She herself at no point that I see here uses the word resilient, nor furthers the stigma about depression. It is, rather, everyone else that seems to have a hand in this article that does that.

Basically, the theme of the article is that when going through something difficult/terrible/terrifying, you can either become depressed or resilient. Like it's choice. Like if you just had an attitude adjustment, you could be resilient instead of depressed. Statements like this one, describing a test in which people are looking at a computer and matching emotions to pictures of faces they're show, fill the article.

“The idea is, someone who is depressed is biased towards picking up negative emotion, and against positive emotion,” Elliot says. “We expect to see the opposite in people who are resilient.”

Depressed people pick negative. Resilient people pick the opposite. The fact that they use these two as counter-examples is enough in and of itself to state their point - depressed people and resilient people are not one in the same. They continue this type of talk, describing how people can go through terrible things and yet they're not depressed, while others are. Let me clue them in on some brain science: that's because depression is about chemistry and genetics, a**holes. It's not a choice, it's not an attitude, it's not smiling and looking on the sunny side vs "woah is me". 

I have one thing (in addition to the expletive above) to say to both the researchers that stated these "facts" and the people that chose to commit it to paper... er, screen... as if it were true: you clearly have no idea what depression actually is. So, let me tell you about depression and resilience. 

Every single day we go through the exact same world as you do - except with a genetic, medical, physical condition that makes it tough, sometimes excruciating, to get out of bed, get dressed, shower, eat, go to work, interact, feel any emotion, think straight, focus, and do everything else that's required. Some days everything we're doing feels meaningless, life feels pointless, and we feel worthless. BUT WE DO IT ANYWAYS. Every day.  And not just because we have to, but because we are pushing through, hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute or second by second. Just as Ms. Lindhout describes she did during her ordeal. She doesn't say "I jumped for joy each day; life seemed wonderful." She says: 

"And I never knew if I could make it through the day. So I would break it down and ask myself, ‘Can I get through the next minute?’ ”

In other words, she did exactly as I've described above. Exactly what people with depression, and other mental health conditions, do all the time. Break it down to the smallest possible piece you can and get through, because that's all you can do. Yet she's resilient, and we're not? Bullshit. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Help Me Embarrass Myself in the Name of Suicide Prevention

As I've mentioned previously, I've signed up for the Out of Darkness Overnight Walk for suicide prevention and awareness again this year. I've already written a blog asking for donations and explaining the cause. Asking for money is always tough for me - even for such a worthwhile, and literally life-saving cause. So, inspired a bit by the ALS ice bucket challenge (naysayers, please hold your tongues here, I've also written a blog asking people to stop being so negative about that), I thought it would be easier to ask for money if I created some sort of challenge myself.

I tried to come up with something creative, but it seems my creativity is limited to the written word, and perhaps things such as vision boards and photo books. However, I have a lot of creative friends and family, and also a lot of friends and family that would thoroughly enjoy watching me embarrass myself. So given that, I thought it would be me more fun if I let you guys come up with the challenges.

Here are the rules:

1. Create a challenge that you'd like to see me do, along with the dollar amount that you'll donate to my cause if I complete it.

2. If I choose to accept the challenge, I will attempt it, and video it as proof.

3. If I complete it, you then donate the money to my walk fund as promised.

4. If I attempt and am for some reason unable to complete it successfully, you can choose to still donate anyways (A for effort kind of thing) or create another challenge for me to attempt for the same amount.

5. I will post the videos of the challenges on social media, and if you'd like, your name as the challenger. You can choose if you'd like me to post your donated amount or not. I will only post information you'd like me to. If you'd prefer nothing be posted (including the video), I can send you the video via text or email to confirm that I completed the challenge.

Now, the rules for the actual challenge proposals:

1. It cannot be anything that could lose me my job/clients.

2. It cannot be illegal or immoral (this includes eating meat, people. Personally, for myself, I have a moral aversion to eating meat).

3. It doesn't have to be funny. It can be anything you choose. People just tend to like to see me embarrass myself, so I figure they'll trend in that direction.

4. It cannot negatively affect another human or living being.

5. I must be fully clothed, or at least clothed enough that rule numbers 1 and 2 are still applicable. (e.g. I'll not go streaking Old School style through the neighborhood.)

6. It should be something I at least have a chance of physically being able to do - I'm 5'0 in heels. I will never be able to slam dunk a basketball without some sort of assistance.

I will accept challenges via this blog, on Facebook, Twitter, email, or text (if I know you personally). If you are super nice, and don't want to see me embarrass myself, you are welcome to just donate, of course. Whether you request a challenge or not, here is the link for donation.

Thanks in advance, and I look forward (or not!) to seeing what you all come up with! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Things You Want to Know About Mental Health But Are Afraid to Ask - Part 2

A while back, I wrote the part one of this blog. I have found that not everyone who is uneducated about mental health wants to be so. There is a lot of information and propaganda out there (by "there", I mean the internet and media) and it can be hard to tell the accurate from the total crap. There's so much BS in the public eye about how those with mental illness are dangerous people who go on shooting sprees at schools, act like animals, and should be locked away (see NAMI's response to such comments from both Dr. Phil and NBC's Brian Williams), that it's easy for people to unintentionally start forming a negative opinion, a stigma.

Often, I find that it's not that people are intentionally ignorant, purposely and steadfastly believing these kinds of falsities, as it is that they're afraid to ask. It's been taboo. It's something people have so long swept under the rug, not discussed about themselves or others, that it's thought poor form to ask about - like asking one's weight or age. We can't clear up these stigmas unless we talk about them, and since people seem afraid to ask, I feel it's my role to go ahead and take the initiative. So, here you have part two of Things You Want to Know About Mental Health But Are Afraid to Ask.

  • Does your condition make you angry? Violent? Angry, yes. Violent, no. Not unless you count hitting a pillow in frustration, which, by the way, is a therapist approved technique for anger and energy release. It's NOT the same as hitting a person or an animal or any other living being. It's more like, say, going to a boxing class or hitting a heavy bag. People do this all the time, for fun, and we don't say "oh that person takes cardio kickboxing, they must be violent!" If you actually look at the facts, very few people with mental health conditions display the type of violence that the media likes to portray. And there are PLENTY of horrendously violent people who do not have a diagnosed mental health condition. What does the media have to say about them? 
  • What does depression feel like? Are you always really sad? No, actually. Or rather, not for me personally. Depression is like any other medical condition - it exhibits itself a bit differently in each person. For me, it's not sadness. It's nothingness. I simply don't care. I don't care what I look like or what I'm doing or what I'm eating. I don't feel happy, but I don't feel sad. I just don't feel. It's like something came in and sucked out my emotions, leaving a giant, empty void in its place. It's a thousand times more scary, and debilitating, than actual sadness. 
  • What's the worst thing about having a mental health condition? Ummm, everything, pretty much. But I would say the trouble that I have had finding myself at times, and the fact that I see the world so differently than so many people, is toughest to deal with. I've come to know the symptoms of my depression, hypomania, anxiety. With medication, therapy, writing, yoga, meditation, and a host of other factors (like a regular sleep, meal, and workout schedule), I can generally manage that. Generally. But feeling lost, at times like you don't know who you are, like you don't recognize yourself, like you have this "real" self that's buried so far down that people don't actually believe it's real, is very tough. Feeling like nobody sees the world the way you do, like you're alone in a crowd of thousands, is very lonely. 
  • How do you feel about medication? Yippee! Woo hoo! Seriously, medication has helped me tremendously. I resisted for a long time, determined to fix it on my own. Then I actually got diagnosed.When my condition was explained to me, I realized it was a medical condition, lifelong, and that I'd be dealing with it every single day. I accepted that, like with any other medical condition, sometimes you need medication.  I've never looked back. I'm thankful every single day that there are meds that help me. Some aren't so lucky. Some people never find a medication that works for them, or have side effects so bad that they'd rather deal with their cycling. I have been, knock on wood, very lucky thus far with my medications. 
  • What are the side effects of medication? As I said above, as far as mental health medications go, my side effects are pretty "minor". I put that in quotes because everything's relative. I get nauseous, dizzy, disoriented, continually exhausted. My tongue and lips and occasionally my hands and feet get that numb, pins and needles feeling after I take my meds. I sweat like hell when I sleep, which is an all-too-common side effect of these types of meds. I run the risk of hyponatremia, or low blood sodium which, at it's worse, can cause seizures and at it's best makes me feel nauseous, dizzy, and disoriented (on top of those same effects of the medication). There's also the very rare risk of developing Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a potentially fatal skin rash, though it's not a side effect that I've ever lost sleep over, the chance is so slim. Like I said, in the grand scheme, not so bad. Seriously. 
  • What's therapy like? Will you always have to go? It's amazing. It allows me to talk to someone, tell them anything and everything, without them judging or having any bias. Let's face it, most of our friends and family are biased in our direction, as they should be. In my therapist, I have an objective ally; we both want the same thing - for me to live a happy, healthy life - and she has the tools and training to tell me when I'm going astray of that goal, even if it's not what I want to hear. Will I always have to go? I don't know, maybe. But if I do, that's ok with me. 
Have a question? Feel free to ask. I'm not shy, and I am happy to answer questions as best as I can. As a necessary CYA disclaimer, I'm not a medical doctor nor am I a licensed psychologist/counselor. I speak strictly from my experience and the experience I have in helping oversee an online support group for mental health. So go ahead, throw 'em at me. If you'd like to ask incognito, feel free to email them to me or Facebook message my Lilies and Elephants page (you can also post as "anonymous"). 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Looking For the Silver Lining

I write often about the negatives of having a mental health condition. Because honestly, there are many negatives, and I think it's important to be open and honest about them - how else can we fight stigma. However, having cyclothymia has been a significant learning experience, and while I do not want to use the word positive in conjunction with having a chronic, lifelong medical condition, I have to say, I've made some strides personally that I'm not sure I would have if it wasn't for the every day battle of mood cycling.

  • I've learned to have a sense of humor about myself. How can you not? The options are to laugh at yourself first, or have other people do it for you. I've learned that when you call yourself out on all of your quirks, your behaviors, your symptoms, etc, it takes the power away from anyone who was planning to use it against you. And so, you laugh. 
  • I have learned not to take little things for granted. It's amazing to wake up and not feel depressed or hypomanic.  It's fantastic to go into a social setting and not feel like the walls are closing in. It feels wonderful to laugh, to cry happy tears instead of sad ones. I know people who have lost loved ones to the battle of depression and mood cycling. I am thankful every day that I am still alive. I have now made suicide awareness and prevention one of my greatest causes. 
  • I have learned to be myself. I don't see the world the way others do, and vice versa. I used to try. Now I just say &%*^ it, this is me. Like it or don't. It's a shame if you don't, but you know what? I can't change the way you think. I can only change my reaction to it. And my reaction these days is to say, "I'm sorry we can't see eye to eye on our opinions of me." 
  • I have made friends in the mental health community that I never would have been in touch with otherwise. We've bonded over tweets, texts, and online groups, often because we literally live thousands of miles apart. Many times, these are the only people who I can talk to when I have a bad cycle that will truly understand. They can empathize, instead of just sympathize. These wonderful people would never have come into my life but for my cyclothymia. 
  • I have learned that, as the saying goes, everyone is fighting their own battle. I've been judged and stigmatized for mine. I refuse to do that to others. Now, I'm much more able to say "I know that person was a jerk to me, but maybe he/she is going through something really rough. Maybe they have no confidence and therefore have to put me down to feel good. That's a shame. I feel sorry for him/her." I can distance myself from it more easily and look at the whole picture instead of casting blame. 
  • I have learned to express myself creatively. There are people who are against the "mood cyclers are more creative" thought, and I can understand that. People don't want to connect their disease to themselves intrinsically. But I personally feel that, if it isn't specifically linked to my creative genes, it's helped me to open them up. By accepting my condition, I've allowed my brain to expand in directions I hadn't before, and I've embraced it.  The directions in which my brain extends cause enough trouble - I might as well let it be advantageous where it can.
Do not think, for a second, that I enjoy having cyclothymia. It sucks, to be plain honest. I battle it every day of my life, and will continue to do so until the day I die. But when you are diagnosed with a condition such as this, you have two choices: you can throw a pity party, wish you were "normal", and constantly try to combat it, or you can embrace it, and get what good you can from it. To me, it's a clear choice... live my life feeling frustrated and inferior, or grow from it. I've chosen the latter.