Thursday, March 26, 2015

Finding Beauty

This morning a coworker asked me how I was doing. I jokingly used the old refrain "same sh*t, different day," and we both nodded and laughed. But then I corrected myself and said that actually, every day of my life is surprising. My coworker replied, "that's beautiful." I laughed and said that I guess it depended on the surprise, but it got me thinking on the topic.

I work in travel and events. By nature, they are full of surprises. A new client traveling to a new destination; a unique type of event; a flight delay; a client completely changing their itinerary and my having to start the planning over; a snow storm delaying event attendees and pushing the day off schedule. The list of surprises, both desired and not, goes on and on. But it's not just about work.

I have rapid cycling cyclothymia. As I've mentioned before, I can wake up depressed, be hypomanic by lunch, and depressed again by dinner. It doesn't happen often - my depressive cycles are less frequent and tend to last a few days to a week - but it can happen that quickly. I literally go to bed not knowing if I'm going to wake up in one extreme or the other, or be, hopefully, somewhere in between. I have to plan for all of these scenarios. I can plan to work out, but if I'm particularly hypomanic, cardio is out of the question - it can make my hypomania worse. I can plan to go to a social gathering, but I may be too depressed, anxious, and physically exhausted to go, so I'm leery. Grocery shopping and cooking dinner - if I have the energy, but the food will have to be flexible, because dairy can make my depression worse (this, for the record, seems specific to me), and I might not have the energy to do any of it. The only things I can count on for sure are: no matter how bad I feel, I must force my ass to get out of bed and go to work; less sleep makes me cycle worse; yoga helps all states of mood; I absolutely need to have enough food and drink with me at all times to be able to take my med doses throughout the day.  Oh, and without coffee, even hypomanic me will not be happy.

Yet it's not all bad. I started my novel because I woke up one day with the opening scene in my head. Just like that. I had been thinking for years that I wasn't creative enough to write a novel. Then one day,it was there. I eagerly wrote it down in my morning pages, and I haven't looked back. Some days, my imagination and creativity stretch to depths I didn't think possible. Ideas come to me from out of nowhere as sureties, as if I'd known them all along. It's how I started my online mood disorder support group. In fact, it's how I started this blog. It's how the goal of a mental health focused non-profit first formed in my head (though admittedly I have a long way to go on this one). Nothing, and then poof!, everything.

So while I was joking with my coworker, and poking a bit of fun at myself and my brain (because sometimes, honestly, you just have to laugh so that you don't cry), perhaps he's right. Perhaps there is some sort of beauty in the fact that each day holds a surprise for me. Certainly, nobody would say that my life is boring, so if nothing else, I have that going for me. But even more than that, I get those many moments of unexpected inspiration. I get an energy and zest for life that others have told me they wish they had. Granted, sometimes it's only quick glimpses before the gremlin in my head takes over, but I have them. And the price I pay is having to deal with the depressive episodes. I wouldn't say "it's worth it", because seriously, depression, and the less desirable bits of hypomania freakin' SUCK. But I would say, nobody's life is perfect, and if I'm going to have all the rough times that come with the cyclothymia, then I might as well enjoy these glimpses of positivity and inspiration. My life might be a mess, but at least it's a beautiful mess. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Seven Deadly Sins - Sloth and Gluttony

I promised to write on each and every deadly sin, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel, and I'm down to the last two: sloth and gluttony. I joked with a friend recently that when nachos were in front of me, gluttony was certainly my most deadly sin. But in all seriousness, these are probably two of the sins I experience least in their traditional forms. As I started thinking a bit deeper, though,  I realized that in fact, my cyclothymia may actually be a unique sort of sloth and an even more unique sort of gluttony cycling on rapid repeat. Let me explain.

I googled sloth. My options from the drop down menu, for the record, were "sloth animal", "sloth sin" and "sloth goonies". While I was quite tempted to choose the goonies option, I'm pretty sure it wasn't going to get me the information I was looking for. Sloth is defined as:

spiritual or emotional apathy, neglecting what God has spoken, and being physically and emotionally inactive.

Let me tell you, this "sloth" (leaving God out of it once again, for reasons previously explained), sounds not like a sin at all, but instead, a lot like my depressive cycles. When I'm depressed, I can't muster emotion, and every movement takes massive effort. It would be less scary if I felt hurt or sad or even angry. Instead, I just don't care. I force myself to go through the motions because I have to. I know, deep down somewhere, that it will pass and I'll be glad I did. Glad I didn't just give up on everything, including myself. But in the middle of it, I am numb. 

Gluttony, nachos aside, I can honestly say I've probably never experienced in its true form. I have a bad stomach condition (somewhere under the umbrella of "severe IBS/pre-crohns/should be getting regular checkups) and there have been times where even drinking water has caused me pain. While I've been better the last few years, gluttony, as related to food, is not in my veins... or stomach, as it were. But there are times, many times, when I feel gluttonous for life. Indeed, my personality is often a bit larger than life (to the annoyance of some around me) and I have an appetite for living that even I have trouble keeping up with. I want to feel every second of life, to create and experience as much as I possibly can. I have goals and dreams that feel so wonderfully boundless and yet almost in my grasp. I attack life the way I attack that plate of nachos, and if you've ever seen me eat nachos, you know that's serious business. I have to be this way. I have no choice. I have to take in every every single opportunity to make up for the time I was in the numb cocoon of depression, not able to feel or truly live, but merely exist. After a depressive episode, it feels like a new lease on life and I inhale it all. Until I can't. All this energy, all of this living, all of this feeling takes its toll. It can't be sustained, and the depressive cycle seeps back in. I become sloth-like once again. 

These cycles pervade my life. Sometimes numerous times a week. Sometimes within the same day. But these aren't sins. My "sloth" isn't made of laziness, and my "gluttony" isn't made of desire to devour more than my share and starve others. They are my body and brain's reaction to something going on down deep in my nerve cells and my sodium receptors and undoubtedly some other parts that I don't have the medical background to explain fully. These aren't cycles that I enjoy, and certainly not that I choose. 

As I round up my seven deadly sins, my point on gluttony and sloth, as it has been with every other, is this: sometimes, our "sins" are not what they seem. What may look like laziness, or sloth, to someone on the outside, may be depression, or anxiety, or masked panic or fear. What may seem like overindulgence  may be mania or hypomania. What may seem like too much pride or greed or envy may be someone who's battled self esteem issues their whole life and is just trying to feel a tug of confidence, who just wants to go through life without battling themselves and their brain or body every day. I've enjoyed examining these "deadly sins". I can see why in a vacuum, these sins could be considered deadly, and certainly, they have their moments. But it's also been fun to flip them around, It's been interesting to discover how, taken in a more modern context, and applied to the topic of mental health, they can have very different meanings and, sometimes, not appear to be sins at all. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Eavesdropping on Inspiration

Yesterday while sitting at one of my favorite cafes doing client work, I overheard the two women next to me talking about (presumably) one of their sons who (it seemed) had been auditioning for a role in a theater production. The one woman said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "he told me 'if I don't get it, that's ok.  I'll know I'm just not the person they wanted. I left it all on the floor back there, so I know it's not that I can't do it. It's just that I'm not the person they want."  He knew he had the talent in him, but he also knew that it was possible that for this particular role, he just wasn't the right fit.  If that was the case, he was ok with it because it wasn't going to cause him to doubt himself and his abilities. He gave it his all and he knew that's all he could do. I thought, what a great attitude! Wouldn't it be great if more people could approach life that way? Wouldn't it be great if I could?

It's so easy for us to define ourselves by what others think. Let's face it, in certain ways, we do have to care what others think, at least as it applies to a particular circumstance. If someone can't get a job because nobody thinks they're the right person, and as a result they are having trouble paying bills and putting food on the table, then it's probably natural to start caring that someone, sooner or later, does think they're the right person. And it would be natural for this person, especially if they're person who already suffers from depression or anxiety, start to feel increasingly depressed or anxious. It's also natural that they'd start to doubt themselves. But I think the key is to be able to separate, as this gentleman in the above conversation appeared to, the difference between what others think of you in that circumstance, and what it means about you as a person. You might be a wonderful person and a great candidate for the job, except that you don't have one very particular skill they're looking for, or the number of years of experience, or the specific degree they require, even though you know you could do just as good of a job without that degree because you do have the experience. Which means that you not getting that job is nothing about who you are. It doesn't make you any less of a person, even if it feels like it. It's about that particular circumstances, and their specific requirements only.

I'm using jobs and roles as an example here, but the same goes for relationships. I've been in relationships in which we were both great people, but we just weren't right for each other. We may even be good friends now, and as friends, we are "right for each other", but as a couple we were not and never would be. If I was the one "dumped", at the time it might have felt like a blow to myself esteem (read: surely felt like a blow to my self esteem). I know now that it wasn't. Simply, it wasn't the right fit, and honestly it's better that we found out then than later. And if someone treats you like you are less of a person? That you aren't good enough? Let me tell you something: the one that isn't good enough, that is less of a person, is them. Not you. How someone treats you says everything about them, and nothing about you. It's that simple. Sure, our behaviors and words can inflict pain and sadness (which often comes out as anger) just as much as they can inspire someone to feel love towards us. But each and every one of us is responsible for our own actions, and another's actions in no way define who we are as a person, unless we let them. This is true not only for "romantic" relationships, but everyone in your life - a boss, a colleague, a friend, a family member, or anyone else.

I want to say a thank you to the women and the (presumably) young man who inspired this post. I'll probably never see you again, and undoubtedly I'll never meet the young man, unless we all happen to once again be in the same local coffee shop at the same time - which wold be quite serendipitous and probably equally as unlikely. But your conversation gave me something to think about, and indeed something to write about, and for that, I am grateful. Whoever you are, thank you. And for his great attitude alone, I hope your son gets the part. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Seven Deadly Sins - Pride

Pride is historically considered to be the worst of the deadly sins. Held to its original meaning, it is defined as:

Believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).

For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to take God out of it. I'm a kind-of-Buddhist, and religion is something I tend not to touch on here. There are numerous reasons why, but the biggest one being that I get sick and tired of the "just pray about it" or "you're where you're supposed to be" response to my illness. Because honestly, when I'm feeling horrible, wondering how I'll take the next step, the last thing I want to hear is "you're supposed to be suffering, this was the plan for you all along." That does NOT make me feel less depressed. But I digress. Back to the topic at hand, Pride. 

In a bubble, I can see why pride is the catalyst for all other sins, and I think we can all see why, when defined as above, it can be quite "deadly." But if you've read my past "deadly sin blogs", you know I've been relating them to mental health, and often flipping them around. The deadly sins have been around for ages, and  I don't think many of us would have any argument with how they can be harmful. Therefore, I like to look at the reverse. 

Those of us with mental health conditions often have entirely too little pride. People with depression, for instance, or in the depressive phase of mood cycling, tend to feel worthless. We at times think so little of ourselves that we see no value, no positives. We are not proud of who we are, or what we have done in our lives. We will downplay our best traits and highest accomplishments. This may, admittedly, lead to envy of those who we feel do have the traits we desire, and the accomplishments we see as deserving of praise - even if we in fact have these ourselves but are unable to recognize them.   I understand that here, I'm merging pride closely with self esteem and self confidence, but I think there is sometimes a fine line. If we have no confidence, if we have low self esteem, we are unable to be proud of who we are and what we have done because we can't see it. 

I think there are levels of pride. There is pride which is just enough to help us acknowledge ourselves and our accomplishments. There is the kind of pride that parents take in their children, that happens naturally - they may see them in a slightly better light than the rest of the world does, but it's not hurting anyone as long as it's not taken to the extreme and used to negatively impact others. In fact, I think many of us would feel a parent cold if they didn't take a little extra pride in their child. There's the type of pride that may lean a bit towards conceit, but it often tends to get people ahead in life - they're better at convincing others of their value than those who keep their head down, unable to even convince themselves. This almost-conceited pride is obnoxious perhaps, but again, as long as it's not used negatively against others, it's an annoyance more than anything. Then there's the type of pride that borders on narcissism, where people truly are so proud that they don't think they could possible be wrong, or anyone could possibly be more important than themselves. This, I think, is where pride starts to get into "deadly sin" territory. (Caveat: narcissism, and narcissistic personality disorder, are two different things - the latter being an actual, diagnosed condition). 

So go ahead and be proud of who you are, and happily acknowledge your accomplishments. For some of us, we desperately need a little more pride in ourselves. Just keep it in check. When your pride starts to tell you not only that you're good, but that you're accomplishments make you better than everyone else, that's when you're on that slippery slope downward. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Seven Deadly Sins - Greed

A selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed. It's the definition of greed. While this highlights money as the object of desire, I think it can be said of many things - position or power, for instance. But I'd like to switch it around a bit. Instead of more tangible items, such as wealth or job status, I'd like to look at "greediness" in terms of personal and emotional needs. 

I am, admittedly, an emotionally needy person. I've discussed this before. I desire a lot of attention, quality time, and love, and I need them in the way that I need them - which is often not the way in which people are prepared to provide them. I'm picky, I know.  I need to surround myself with people who will be there to support me when I'm down, take care of me in my worst times, and value not only the positives, but truly see and appreciate all of me. I'd venture to say that my emotional needs, by virtue of the nature of my condition, are more than the average persons. There have certainly been people who have felt my desire for personal closeness and love a bit extravagant.

Before I come across as a dependent spoiled brat, let me explain. Cyclothymia brings with it overly intense emotions, both high and low. While I dislike these feelings on one hand, I'd feel hollow without them. I crave emotion. Without it, I am numb, void, and everything feels pointless. Contentment is difficult for me, because the emotion of contentment often isn't strong enough. When things are "ok" or even decent, I feel like something is missing. Is my need for emotion selfish and excessive? Perhaps, at times. I often need, or at least feel that I need, more than others can give. It can be draining to them, and in that regard, maybe it is greedy. On the other hand, I feel everything 150 percent, and therefore am able to give out emotions at the intensity and frequency that I request. From that perspective, I'm not asking for anything more than I'd expect of myself, which doesn't sound very greedy at all. 

Can greed be applied to things such as attention, quality time, and love - things that, traditionally, we look at as positive? Does make me greedy for emotions the way others are greedy for money, position, and power? I'm not convinced, but as someone who likes to look at both sides of things, I can, at least occasionally, see the argument. Either way, it is an interesting way to look at this deadly sin.