Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Seven Deadly Sins - Lust

I have to say, this was the sin I have dreading writing about most. I don't know why, other than the fact that my family reads this blog, and also my coworkers, and it's just kind of an awkward topic in that regard. But it's also an interesting one to write about, because it's one of the few of the sins that  people don't particularly dislike feeling, the way they would, say, envy or wrath. It's possibly the only one of the seven that people don't want to actually avoid per se, even though they know it can lead to trouble.

Like most of the sins, it isn't always bad. Lust, or at least the potential for it (aka attraction) is what initially introduces a lot of people who then go on to fall in love. If we're honest about it, it's often physical attraction that initially stirs our interest in people. It's rare, though I'm sure there are exceptions, that someone thinks, "I bet that horrendously unattractive person over there is really interesting, I think I'll go introduce myself."  This doesn't make us shallow. It makes us human. We are naturally wired this way and attraction isn't a choice, it's a feeling. I would, in fact, venture to say that virtually all love once started as lust. Indeed, this might be slightly less true in the days of online dating, where you may get to know the person and form an emotional and intellectual connection before you spend time in their physical presence. But even then, I think that the attraction is more or less what eventually differentiates a romantic partner from a very good friend.

I think we all know where lust goes wrong, and therefore, I'm not going to devote a lot of time to it. Anyone that's ever been cheated on or cheated themselves understand the damage it can do, and even if you haven't been on either side of the equation, I'm sure you can imagine.

Instead, I think I'll devote some time to how lust is misunderstood as it relates to mental health. After all, that's the theme of this blog. Most traditional descriptions and portrayals of cycling disorders, such as bipolar disorder, will include signs such as promiscuity. Movies portray women dressing in less than appropriate clothing with excessive makeup during manias or hypomanias. As a result, it sounds like those of us who cycle go running around scantily clad, lusting after everyone and anyone, and just generally causing trouble. Let me say, I know a lot of people with cycling disorders, and I've never noticed a change in their clothing or makeup, other than perhaps them not wanting to get out of their pajamas when depressed. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, as I'm sure there are reasons for these "signs" to have been listed, but I can say that it doesn't seem to be the norm. If I'm wearing less clothing or more makeup, it's because it's too warm, or because I'm going out for a fancy event and I'm actually trying to look presentable. Here's the thing: depression makes us exhausted; meds make us dizzy, nauseous, and disoriented, hypomania increases energy, but after it subsides, it completely drains us. If we're lusting after anything, it's probably a good night's sleep, and we're probably wearing oversized pajama pants and diving for our pillows.

I realize this is probably the most un-exciting post you've ever read on lust. No fifty shades here. But it's important, and as my purpose on this blog is to dispel myths and eliminate stigmas, well, I think it does it's job. I'm proud of myself that I wrote this post at all, for all that it made me uncomfortable. Three sins down, four to go.

Friday, February 13, 2015

13 Fun Facts About Friday the 13th

I did a post on Valentines Day, and since I still see so many Valentine's Day haters out there, I figured I'd appeal to those who would rather celebrate Friday the 13th.... however one does that (hopefully not movie-style). Some of these are interesting, some are just random ones that I thought I'd throw in. I'll totally admit, I had to google 80 percent of these.

1. Fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. Yes, that's a different font because I copied and pasted it. 

2. Friday the 13th is mentioned as unlucky even as far back as the 1700s.

3. The myth of 13 dinner guests being unlucky (that one person will supposedly die within a year) has been traced to the Last Supper. Jesus dined with 12 apostles. He was betrayed by Judas, and then crucified on .... da da da... a Friday (though not the 13th).

4. Space 13 is my parking space at work. I know you all wanted to know this.

5. In 1881, The Thirteen Club was established in order to improve the number's "image". Members walked under ladders and threw salt over their shoulders at the first meeting.

6. Most hotels do not have a floor 13.

7. If you want to get a better seat on a flight, look at row 13. The seats are almost always empty, and one of the few rows you almost never have to pay extra for to improve your seat. People would apparently rather sit in the middle seat near the bathroom than row 13.

8. There have been actual scientific studies done in an attempt to prove if Friday the 13th is a myth/superstition, or if there's anything "real" behind it.

9. This past June (2014), Friday the 13th fell on the same day as a full moon. That won't happen again until 2049.

10. There are three Friday the 13ths in 2015. They say bad luck comes in threes. I guess we'll see.

11. A little history about a few back luck superstitions:

  • Black cats: In the middle-ages, alley cats were often seen being fed by old ladies, many of whom were suspected of being witches/practicing black magic. Hence, bad luck. 
  • Walking under ladders: in medieval times, ladders symbolized the gallows. When someone walked under it, they believed he would face his death by hanging. 
  • Throwing salt over your shoulder/spilling salt: this is unclear. One explanation is that Judas spilled salt at the last supper (supposedly). Another is that the devil is always standing over your left shoulder, so by throwing salt in that direction, you blind him. Either way, it seems to stem from religious origins. 
12. One explanation for 13 seeming unlucky is that 12 is considered the last "complete number" by numerologists. 13 is a prime number, and many things seem to end at 12. 12 months of the year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 apostles, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel. Even number charts in school end at 12. 13 seems forgotten, or avoided, depending on how you look at it. 

13. I forgot my hat today, and it's 12 degrees (Fahrenheit). I also forgot to bring my work shoes and therefore must wear my snow boots all day. An auspicious start to Friday the 13th? Who knows! 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In Defense of Valentine's Day

The irony has not escaped me that my last post was on wrath, and this post is on love. As we almost all undoubtedly know, because the media and consumerism in general would never let us forget, this coming Saturday is Valentine's Day. I've been thinking about love a lot lately, and it therefore felt like I should do a post about this that seems so ironically hated when it's supposed to represent love. One thing we all can agree on, I think, is that like St. Patrick's Day, we've come (or perhaps fallen) a long way from the initial intention of St. Valentines Day - a day of commemoration for a man, later named a saint, who was beheaded on February 14 hundreds of years ago. Although in fairness, he was beheaded for secretly marrying couples when marriage and engagements had been outlawed, whereas St. Patrick, to the best of my knowledge, didn't go around wearing beads and drinking green beer, so at least we've kept something of the point of St. Valentine's Day.

When I was growing up, it was sweet to pass out Valentines, and exciting to receive one. It was consider romantic to ask a girl for a Valentine's day date or buy her flowers. And it wasn't just for lovers. Friends got each other valentines, cards, and gifts. My parents got me Valentine's gifts until I was probably, oh, married and had someone else responsible for getting them for me (more on this in a minute). 

These days, it's notoriously called a Hallmark holiday, and people actually make a point of refusing to celebrate it. They also seem to make a point of telling loudly everyone that will listen how they refuse to celebrate it because they know the person they're with loves them and don't need a special day to celebrate it. Or, if they're single, that they think it's stupid. (Hint: those of us who are intuitive enough don't buy it. We know the more loudly you go yelling about some belief, the less secure you are about it and you're really trying to convince yourself, not others). It's not cool to wish you had a Valentine. It's not cool to want to do something special for it. For a while, I admit, I was one of these people. My ex-husband proposed on Valentine's day. I was actually mad at him. Well, annoyed is perhaps is a better word.  I'd had one specific instruction for our imminent engagement: DO NOT PROPOSE ON VALENTINE'S DAY. I thought it was a sellout, cheesy. I thought he should be more creative (I was vastly over-estimating my ex here). 

You'd think, following my divorce to said ex-husband, that I'd now dislike Valentine's Day even more. But that's not the case. Nor do I like it because of any nostalgic ties to my ex. But I do have a different perspective these days. Quite simply, I love love. I think it's everything, and the rest is just frosting. I think any excuse to tell someone you love them. I feel the same way about birthdays, Christmas, and any other occasion that offers a built in opportunity to treat someone extra special. Of course, as someone who loves love, I don't think we should ignore people 364 days and then be Captain Romance on February 14th. And yes, I know it's a "hallmark holiday" and consumerism surrounding this day has gotten out of control. But you don't need to buy expensive jewelry or go to a fancy dinner to show someone you love them. If your "thing" with your significant other, or your friends, or your family, or your dog, is to sit in your PJs, play board games, and eat ice cream, then why not carve out time on this day to do it. Yes, we should always tell our loved ones how much we appreciate and value and love them. So why not use EVERY excuse to do this? Valentine's Day is one of those opportunities. Let's face it, Christmas has gotten commercialized too, but would you tell your kids "sorry, I don't give in to consumerism, no Christmas this year!"? I would venture not. 

I'm not saying everyone must run out and make plans for Valentine's Day. If it truly is a day you and your significant other dislike, then by all means, don't celebrate (I'd check with your significant other before making this decision for the both of you). But don't hate on the people who like it. I get sick of the posturing. I'm a strong woman, and a not particularly girly one - recent Facebook tests tell me "I think 100% like a man, and the "what type of woman are you" quiz told me I'm a tomboy - but I like to give love and feel loved. And to me, that means taking every opportunity and excuse to express it. It's the same reason I think it's cute when I see people update their status to "in a relationship with so-and-so." I'm the type that wants to shout their love from the rooftops. So if you don't want to celebrate it, don't. But don't hate on us who do, like you're better, or stronger, or more loved, for not needing or wanting it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Seven Deadly Sins - Wrath

Envy was an easy one. It's one I think we all naturally experience from time to time, perhaps without even noticing. Choosing a second is harder, as I experience the rest less frequently to rarely at all (I may have experienced "sloth" when I had a bad bout of Epstein Barre in 5th grade and it may have been the one and only time).

For this second blog, I've chosen wrath. Because I wanted to distinguish wrath from just every day anger, I looked up the definition.

Wrath: strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire

Basically, wrath is anger with a few shots of Red Bull. Now that I know the definition, I realized I was wrong. I do experience wrath, more than I thought. I experience wrath when I hear ignorant stigma against mental health. I experience wrath when someone uses my condition as a scapegoat (You're the crazy one, it must be your fault, why should I listen to you?). I experience wrath when people call me lazy because I can't move in a depressed state, or a baby because I'm crying over an emotional pain that they can't possibly understand because they aren't depressed. I experience wrath when people tell me I just need to "look on the bright side" or "adjust my attitude". I experience wrath at myself, when the fog clears after a particularly hypomanic state and I see the way I've acted. I experience wrath at myself for not controlling it, despite knowing that there's a good chance I can't. 

Wrath is dangerous. It's one of the most dangerous of the deadly sins, in my opinion. I've seen and experienced people act ways in a wrathful state that they'd never act otherwise. I've watched it transform good, loving, caring people into monsters. They key, I believe, to controlling wrath, other than just not letting it occur, is to recognize it. Understand that it is a normal emotion, anger, taken to the next level, and that in order to contain it, it must be brought down to that normal emotion again. Studies have show that anger is an automatic emotion for the first 90 seconds, and after that, it becomes a choice. We choose to drop it (or at least to start to let it recede), or to escalate it. At some point, it once again seems to go out of our control again - it takes on a mind of it's own, and I think it's at this point that it turns into wrath. 

When we feel this, we need to talk our selves down from the ledge. Back away, instead of act on it. Stop, breath, take a walk, get out of the situation that's making us angry. If you know you tend toward this type of feeling, choose someone trusted, who won't abuse the power, to let you know when they think you're in danger. Have them suggest stepping away, or doing something else until you feel better. Have them remind you, or remind yourself, that this type of anger never leads to something good. If you need to get the built up energy out, go somewhere soundproof and scream, hit a heavy bag or a pillow (these are therapy-approved tactics, by the way). Do whatever you need to do to release the energy in a way that's not harmful to yourself or others. 

Things such as normal sleeping, eating, and exercise habits can help us to keep from getting angry unnecessarily, and therefore can ultimately help control wrath. Tactics like meditation and mindfulness can help us to react more calmly when and curb that anger after the initial involuntary 90 seconds. While anger can be used as a motivator, nothing good happens when it gets to the wrath stage. At best, we work ourselves up and hurt someone's feelings. At worst, we hurt someone else or ourselves. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

How To Love A Person with Mood Cycling

I promised I would write on the seven deadly sins, and I will. One down, six to go. But at the moment, I got the inkling to write something else. I've read a lot of posts on "how to love a fill in the blank". The subjects have ranged from introverts to entrepreneurs/independents (in the business sense, not politically, though there's probably one for that too) to cross-fitters. I have seen various posts on what to say, or not to say, to someone with a mental health condition, and I've written versions of this myself. However, I haven't yet read - though I'm sure it's out there - one on how to love a person with mood cycling. Since I am a believer that love is everything and the rest is just frosting, I almost couldn't believe that I myself haven't written this before. Of course, every person is an individual, and this certainly won't apply to everyone. I've based it on my condition and things I've heard from others, which tend to be strikingly similar to my feelings.

1. Educate yourself on their condition, and do so properly. Finding a few random articles that support your already-held beliefs does nothing. Ask them how you can learn, where you can find information. When you find it, ask them how it relates to their experience and condition. Just as no two cancers are the same, neither are two mental health conditions.

2. Talk to them with the intent of listening and learning, not the intent of proving yourself right or them wrong. Don't assume you understand their condition, how they feel, the reasons behind their actions or words. Nobody knows what their condition feels like except for them. You may be sympathetic, and if you've gone through something similar you may be empathetic. But you don't know how they feel or think because you aren't them.  

3. Ask if they'd like you to attend a therapy session with them to learn more about their condition. The key here is to learn. The point of the session is for you to truly understand, to hear about their condition from a professional standpoint. It's not to talk about the things they do that affect you, nor to talk about your own issues.  It's for your education and understanding. Not everyone will want this - don't push it if they don't. But to someone that does, going to their therapy session may well be the ultimate expression of love.

4. Love ALL of them. This doesn't mean put up with the cycling because you like "the rest of them". It means appreciate and value them as a person, and this includes their condition. It doesn't mean that you like when they feel this way, nor should you - they're in pain! Nor does it mean you like when it quite possibly gets taken it out on you. It means that you understand that without the emotions such as depression and frustration and irritability and anxiety, there wouldn't be the emotions like deep caring, concern, empathy, and love. If we don't have downs, we don't have the ups and vice versa. Without them, we're numb. I once read a quote that said (paraphrasing): Don't worry when I fight with you,worry when I stop.  It means there's nothing left to fight for.  Cyclers not displaying emotion, any emotion, is not a good sign. It means they have stopped feeling. It's a dangerous place. It may not just apply to their relationships. It may apply to their will to live.

5. We see the world differently. See the beauty in this. I'm much more likely to notice the beauty of a spring day, the wonder of sipping my coffee on my deck and watching my dogs play in the yard in the sun, than I am the laundry that needs to get folded. Logically, I know it needs doing. Emotionally, I can't pull myself away from the dogs and the spring day. This can, I'm sure, be frustrating a task-and-logic-oriented person who wants to get things done and feels like they're picking up the slack. Please understand that, as much as you physically and logically need us to do these things, we emotionally need you to stand there and enjoy the beauty of the sunny day with us. They're not right or wrong.  They're just different. Perhaps work on reaching a compromise, or a way of understanding each other. Maybe, you could even learn from each other.

6. Love us the way WE need to be loved, not the way you do. This goes along with the point above. Not everyone feels, or expresses, love the same way. Expensive things do nothing for me. Emotional support does wonders. So while someone else might feel loved by receiving expensive gifts, I feel loved by having someone hold me when I cry and being sad that I hurt. It takes work, and effective communication, to learn how each other best feels loved.

7. Don't see the things you do for us as sacrificing. See them as loving. It's that simple. If you love someone, you want them to be able to be their true self (assuming it's not illegal or immoral), without feeling guilty or inferior. Of course, love is full of hard work and some compromise, because there are no two people who see every single thing eye to eye. But nobody wants to be a burden to the one they love. Don't make us feel that way.

8. Sometimes, you may just have to let go. I HATE to write this. I hate to say "maybe you should just leave a suffering person with a mood cycling disorder because you can't deal with it". But we all deserve someone who loves us for exactly who we are, not despite it. We all want happiness. And if you truly feel the two of you will just never be compatible, then perhaps, it's best to calmly, civilly part ways. No big fight and storm out, yelling how they're impossible and crazy. But truly, not everyone is right for each other. It's not fair to them, or you, to try to drag it on if you're not. It's only hurting you both, and the end result will be pain and resentment. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Seven Deadly Sins - Envy

I got the idea to blog on the seven deadly sins. While it's not directly related to mental health, it is. There are a lot of these sins attributed, in some way or another, to those of us who cycle. After all, we tend to be extremists and many of the deadly sins consist of normal feelings or actions taken to the extreme. I thought I'd address each of them as they often pertain to mental health, along with the misconceptions and the ways to deal with them.

Envy. People often get it confused with jealousy. It is not. Envy concerns something, or a particular characteristic of someone,  that you wish you had. For instance, a higher salary or bigger house or apparent happiness. It can also involve lack of something - I wish I didn't have this debt, this illness, this challenge. Jealousy, on the other hand, involves a third party - i.e. you're spouse is animatedly talking with an attractive person of the opposite sex instead of you, and you feel jealous. That attractive person is the third party. Jealousy is often based on the fear of something undesirable happening. People feel jealous when they feel threatened. Envy does not involve this.

If you ask someone with a mental health condition if they're envious of people who don't have to deal with it, I'd venture to guess that most, if they're being honest, would say yes. The exception, perhaps, might be a highly religious person who thinks they were given their illness for a reason and they're "right where they're supposed to be" (ah, how I hate this phrase). Even those of us who use our conditions for good - to advocate for awareness, to help support others - probably, at least on days of bad cycling, wish we didn't have to deal with our illnesses. In that sense, we envy the "normal" people. Just as a severely diabetic person with a massive sweet tooth probably envies those who can eat their favorite dessert while they can't.  If you think you're immune to this, next time you have the stomach flu, see how well you do not envying the people who aren't hugging the toilet for hours at a time.  It's natural to want to feel well, and frustrating to be ill and not be able to fix it.

Envy isn't all bad. It can drive us to work hard towards our goals. If you're envious of someone's job or position in life, it can help you to look at them as an example and find ways that you can get there. Maybe it's possible, and maybe it's not, but it can motivate. And perhaps you don't achieve what the other person has, but find something else along the way. In terms of mental health, envy of those who feel better can help us continue treatment even when it's difficult, even when the meds make us sick and we feel too depressed to get out of bed and go to therapy.

Where envy is destructive is when it takes us away from our true selves. I have been guilty of being envious of people who, by lack of condition and general genetics, have a relaxed, laid back personality, who are more spontaneous, who can continually be light hearted. I have, at times, tried unsuccessfully to achieve this, and gotten mad and frustrated at myself for not being able to. The reason is simple: I'm not made that way. Between birth-given personality and my cyclothymia, I cannot be as chilled and relaxed as the majority of people. I mean, I have to set alarms numerous times a day to stop and take medication. Nothing says fun and spontaneous by having a calendar alert and a days of the week pill box, right? I am naturally created to swing between hypomania and depression, sometimes several times a day. Inherently, this eliminates chill mode.

And so, in the end, the envy of something I can never be can eat me alive. Or I can accept it. I can use it to set goals, to push me forward, but not to try to change my personality, or my brain chemicals. Perhaps I'll always be a bit envious of those who don't have to deal with this. But I also know that we all fight our own battles, and perhaps they are equally envious of some trait of mine that they wish they had. I guess I'll never know.