Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I Stayed Up All Night For Suicide Prevention

As you undoubtedly know by now, this past weekend I did the Out of Darkness Overnight Walk for suicide prevention. I had been gearing up for this event for, oh, six months or so, doing training walks and fundraising and social media'ing the heck out of the cause and the organization. Before I go any further, I'll be honest: I walked fast and I wasn't quite up all night. I was up until about 1:30 AM. But the title of this post is what's written on the "victory shirts" we got upon completing the walk, and it sounded like a good one.

The event is always an emotional one, as one would expect. As I've said before, it's different from any other fundraising walks I've done, in that suicide has no survivors. And while there are a few people there who are walking just to support the cause, perhaps those who work with the mental health community such as social workers or therapists, for the most part almost everyone participating has lost someone to suicide or has struggled themselves.  The stories told at the opening ceremony are not stories of beating the odds, as they may be with walks for cancer or other illness. They are stories of loss, of those who lost their battle, and of those who are here grieving them. I can virtually guarantee that every single person that attends the opening ceremony of an Overnight Walk ends up in tears at some point. It is incredibly sad and incredibly moving.

Honor beads: each stand for a reason I'm walking
Names of those I'm walking for

For me, the emotion is multi-fold. Several years back, I lost a cousin (technically, a second-cousin) to suicide. I didn't know him well, to be honest, as he was a generation older and the families had somewhat gotten out of contact in recent years. However, he'd been quite close to many other family members, as they'd grown up together. And despite the distance, I feel his loss. He is, after all, family. Knowing now how he must have felt, what he must have been going through, I wish I had known him better. I wish I could have talked to him, listened, shared my story and my struggles, told him that he wasn't alone. Because I can say first hand that the loneliness and isolation one feels with mental health conditions, even those who have plenty of support, can be terrifying, and can destroy hope.

I walked for those I know who live with mental health conditions, who have struggled with depression and mood cycling disorders. Some have dealt with suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide. Others could be at risk, and the more care and support we have for mental health, the more we able to prevent them from reaching that point.

I walked for myself. I have been there. I have had moments, days, even weeks in which I went through the motion of life without caring what was actually happening. I've had times where I've cried until I felt out of tears, begging something, someone, anything to end the pain somehow, despite often not being able to identify what the pain actually was. I am lucky, I suppose, that I am rapid cycling. These depressive episodes rarely last for more than a week, two tops, and often it's just a day or less. I cannot imagine the pain of months, even years, of depression that others who do not cycle as rapidly, or who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, go through. To them I say, "You are incredibly brave and strong individuals. Please, please keep fighting. You are not alone, I promise."

This past weekend, the conditions for a 17 mile overnight walk were not ideal. The temperature dropped to a low in the 50s, which is not horrible, but is about 30 degrees cooler than most of us have experienced lately. The forecast showed rain - lots, and lots of rain - and heavy winds with possible thunderstorms. In fact, the forecast was so rough that they actually shortened the course by about two miles for our safety. To my knowledge, this hasn't been done before, at least not recently. And as luck would have it, this was the one time that the weather forecasters were actually spot on. We got about an hour and a half under our belts before rain started. It wasn't too bad at first. The type that looks worse when you examine it in the street lights than it actually feels. Annoying, but not awful.  Then around mile 12, it started to pick up substantially. By mile 13, it was pouring, blowing sideways, with the heavy winds that were predicted. I finished at approximately 12:20 AM. The course was open until 4 AM. There were walkers who, when I finished, probably had another 2.5 to 3 hours to go. They, I'm sure, got the brunt of the storm.

Despite the weather, many people I spoke with were disappointed that they'd shortened the route. They'd pledged to do 16-18 miles in support of suicide prevention, and they wanted to do the entire route (we were told it was 14.2 miles or so after the adjustment, but GPS trackers told us about 15.3). People spoke of walking back from the end site to the hotel just to get in the extra mile or so that they'd planned to do. It wasn't for fitness sake. It was because they wanted to walk at least 16 miles to support suicide prevention as they'd pledged they would, weather be damned. I saw a woman pushing another person in a wheel chair the entire way. I walked part of the time with a military veteran who wore his full uniform, backpack (I know that's not the technical term) and boots included. When we asked him he said, "it's not too bad, though the boots are a little rough." But he trucked along without complaint. I walked with one woman who, every time we were asked why we were walking, she said in a loud, proud voice, "suicide prevention!".  There was no reservation. There was no fear of stigma or judgement. We walked and talked and waved to the people standing on the route to cheer us. People made jokes about the weather and how ridiculous we looked and felt walking in it. And we kept going.

Now, I won't lie - I saw a few people take a "short cut" when we passed by our hotel for the second or third time. I can't blame them. This isn't an athlete's walk. People aren't walking for the workout, they're walking for the cause, and some weren't physically able to do it, no matter how good their intentions. And there were a few grumpy walkers to whom I wanted to say, "think about why you're walking this; think about the pain your loved one faced. This is nothing compared to that." I held my tongue, for once. Maybe I was too cold and wet and tired to be sassy at the moment. But these grumpy ones were far in the minority, I'm proud to say.

I have already signed up for next year's New York walk on June 4, 2016 (the west coast walk is in San Francisco, for those to whom that's more convenient). I am hoping to get together a team of walkers, crew members, and general event supporters. And if you're able to do none of the above but are really great at organizing fundraising and/or getting people to donate, well, that is certainly a big help too! If you're interested in somehow being involved in the walk, please feel free to reach out to me by whatever method you know/choose. I realize that $1000 sounds like a large sum of money to raise in order to walk. But if you start soon, you have almost a year to do so. With a team, there are more ways to get creative with raising funds cooperatively. And if you think about the cause, your reason for wanting to participate, the person or people you'd be walking in honor or in memory of, it is so, so much bigger than $1000.

Luminaria, which is lit at the end to shine a light of hope. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

You Can Watch Me Walk If You Want To

First off, a big plus to anyone that gets the song reference (I'm looking at you, country music fans). Secondly, I know I've been posting about my Overnight Walk a lot lately, but let's face it, it's a pretty big deal.

So, this Saturday night - sundown until whenever I finish which is hopefully well before sun-up - is THE night. I don't know the exact mileage or route, but the teasers for the "sites you'll pass" look pretty promising for at making the walk interesting.

This year, I'm walking in honor of my (second) cousin, who tragically took his life a few years back, as well as several friends and loved ones of my friends. Their names are already sharpied onto my shirt, which I will be wearing for the walk. Truly, I walk in honor of all of those who have suffered a loss from suicide, those who have themselves grappled with thoughts of suicide, and those who suffer mental health conditions and may always be at risk. I walk for myself, both as a mood cycler and a mental health activist, who has seen the awful effects that depression can have wonderful people who deserve so much more than to battle this lifelong illness.

I'll keep this blog short and sweet, for once (Woo hoo, you say!).  I'd love for you to follow my journey this weekend, to share, Retweet, and help me spread the word, not just of my walk, but of The Overnight, AFSP, and the messages of awareness, education, and hope that this event, and the Foundation, wish to accomplish.  Please feel free to follow me on Twitter @mayanorthen  - no second "r" in the last name - and/or on instagram at myohmy23. And please feel free to say "hi" if you do.

I look forward to sharing my experience with you all! Have a wonderful weekend! 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Let's Talk About Suicide

Wow, you're still reading. Thank you! Seriously. For the two percent who didn't run in the other direction when you saw the title of this post, I truly appreciate you. Because this is probably the most important topic I've ever written about. I mean, we're talking about people's lives. What could be more important than that?

One week from today, or less by the time this is published, I'll be participating in the Out of Darkness Overnight Walk.  It'll be the second year I'm walking it, and this year I'm heading to Boston to do so. Literally, we walk overnight, or as long overnight as it takes us to complete the 16-18 miles (the exact course is a surprise), starting at sundown-ish. The walk supports the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP.

When I tell people I'm doing this walk, their response generally falls into one of three categories. 1.) They address the walk itself but not the cause. Something like "wow 16 miles that's a lot".  2.) They directly address the cause, thanking me for doing the walk, ask about donating, etc. FYI, you people in category 2, you rock!  3.) They awkwardly think of a reason to leave the conversation.

The last of these three is way more common that it should be. It's not that people are insensitive. It's that they don't know what to say.  The topic of suicide makes people squirm.  So, for that matter, does the topic of mental health in general. Because if someone is doing a cancer or heart disease walk, people have no problem asking if they know someone affected. Or maybe they have been themselves and share a story. If they're walking for suicide prevention, nobody feels OK saying "oh, have you been suicidal? Do you know someone who killed themselves?". This just doesn't happen. At least not outside of the mental health community. In fairness, it is difficult to find a tactful, sensitive way to address this. Still, to me it means all the more reason to address it. Particularly, I wanted to share some rather vital information on what to do if you think, or know, someone you care about may be suicidal. I'd like to note, as always: this is my position as someone with a mental health condition, not a mental health professional.

1. DO NOT threaten them in any way. This may sound obvious, but it's not, apparently. Example: do not react by threatening to call the hospital, or the police for that matter.  Do you know what this does? This moves them closer to suicide.  You've just told them that they're options are death, the "mental hospital" (possibly with little or no control over their release), or the police station/possibly jail if the police decide the person is "dangerous". Sadly, the latter happens all too often, because the media has made those with mental health conditions an easy, yet inaccurate, scapegoat. If someone is suicidal and given the three options above, death may well look like the best one.

2. Take them seriously. This might seem contradictory to the above. Certainly, if you're taking them seriously, you'd get them help, correct? Correct. But they do not view you giving them up to someone who will hall them off to some sort of system or another, with results beyond their control, as help.  Instead, talk to them. Ask them what you can do, what they need? Do not ostracize them. Trust me, if they're planning to take their own life, or even thinking about it, they're feeling ostracized enough. Make them feel loved, valued, needed. Show them they can trust you, and that there's a reason to live. And if you earn that trust, do not disappoint them - not now, not later.

3. Do not throw religion at them. Telling someone they'll burn in hell if they take their life will not help. If they're truly religious, they'll feel like either it's hell on earth, or hell in death, so what's the difference. If they're not religious, quite honestly they could care less where you think they'll end up, and this will just look like you not supporting them.

4.  Likewise, don't use the refusal of a proper burial or something similar against them (Catholicism traditionally says that those who take their life should not have a Christian burial. Other religions may as well, I just am not as familiar with the teachings). This feels to them like not only have you given up on them in life, but you're giving up on them in death.

5. Don't mock or goad them. This is a no-brainer, right? Sadly not. Suicide is not weak. It is not selfish. It is NOT THEM TRYING TO GET ATTENTION OR PITY. Yet those who are suicidal or have ever thought about it are constantly accused of all three of these. To the person thinking of suicide, they are desperately searching for a way to finally escape the pain of life. Your doing any of the above will only prove to them why they need to escape.

6. Just because someone has said previously that they're thinking of suicide, and has not attempted (to your knowledge),  does not mean they won't in the future. Thinking so could be a critical mistake on your part.

7. Do not use the word "successful" to refer to a suicide. There is nothing successful about someone losing their life.

8. Do not refer to an attempt that does not result in the end of a life as a "failed attempt." This person already feels like a failure in life. Now they'll feel like a failure in attempting to end it. They'll feel like they "can't even kill themselves correctly".  It'll only serve to further their feeling of worthlessness. Next time, they may well ensure they do not "fail."

9. Do not give them an ultimatum. You'll be giving them a choice between a life they don't want and a death they do. Guess which one they'll chose?

10. Do not believe that someone who suddenly seems "recovered" is actually OK. Growing up, I had an old neighbor who had outlived his wife, both kids, and most of his grandkids by many years. One day, he fell off the porch and intentionally didn't call for help. He laid there for two days, not making a sound, hoping to die, because this life held nothing for him any longer (he was found, finally, but passed a few days later). When someone's finally made the decision that they want to die, they see the end of the pain, and they may feel at peace. They may appear suddenly, almost miraculously, improved, because to them, the struggle is almost over. Watch them carefully. *Note: Those with cycling disorders, especially rapid cycling, may in fact swing from one extreme to the other quickly as part of their condition. This makes it additionally tricky to know if they're feeling "better" (i.e. have gone from depressed to (hypo)mania), or have taken a sudden down turn and are suicidal. Watch them extra carefully. 

11. Some people who are suicidal show absolutely no "signs". They may never be diagnosed with a mental health condition.  Even if they are, they may never talk about suicide. They may, in fact, put on a particularly happy facade in order not to alert anyone. Or they may not want to "burden" or worry anyone so they keep it to themselves. This doesn't mean they are in any less danger.

12. Suicide does not discriminate. There is no age, ethnicity, gender, social status, level of "success" that buffers against suicide. Do not assume that someone is immune because of any of these factors.

13. If someone asks to talk about how they're feeling/their condition/their suicidal thoughts, by all means, please, for the love of everything, talk with them!  And even if they don't ask, if you notice something may be wrong, reach out. I watched a documentary about a gentleman who said that he got on a bus, headed towards a bridge, prepared to jump and end his life. He said he'd decided that if one person showed concern, he'd feel like his life mattered, and he would not jump. He rode several buses, and walked miles of city streets, clearly crying and distressed. Not one person stopped him or asked if he was OK. Someone even stopped him and asked him to take a picture of them on the bridge as he was preparing to jump. They took no notice of his condition and walked happily away, their picture taken. He jumped. He lived. This happened not once, but twice. The only reason he's alive today is because he happened not to die either time he jumped, and took it as a sign that his life should go on. But had just one person, even a complete stranger, stopped him, asked if he was OK, listened to him, offered to help, he wouldn't have felt he had to jump at all.

I know this isn't a cheery topic. For that reason it's an incredibly imperative one to discuss. For all who have supported and donated to my walk, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You truly have made a difference. On Saturday, I'll be walking for all of those who no longer can. With your support, I know I will not be doing it alone.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Little Blogger Quiz

As personal as my blog is, it tends to be deeply personal. I touch on the depths of my brain and my heart and my soul. But I often don't touch on the fun things about myself, the that are less intense, and I think every blogger needs to be well-rounded. Instead of writing an "about me" post per se - there's a tab on my blog home page for that- I thought I'd do a fun little quiz to see how much you all know about me. I'd love to see your answers in the comments section below!

1. Let's start with something ridiculously easy and obvious.  My favorite animal is a/an __________________. (This is a gimme, guys!). 

2. Another pretty simple one. My dog's name is ___________________________. 

3. I'm not really bilingual, but I speak rudimentary _________________________.

4. When I was little, I wanted to be a __________________ when I grew up. (I'll take one of two answers). 

5.  I have a tattoo of a _______________ on my _____________. (Appropriate answers, please!). 

6. I have an odd fear of getting locked in a ____________________.  

7.  If I were a mythical/magical/fantastical being, I'd want to be a ______________? (Two possible answers). 

8. My first concert ever was ___________________.  

9. I once had this song dedicated to me at a wedding in front of 100+ people _________________. 

10. My lucky number is ______________. 

11. In college, I studied abroad in  ___________________ (country name).  

12. I was a gymnast from age 6 through 20. My best event (apparatus) was ________________.  

13.  A few years ago, I did an elephant back safari in this country ______________________. 

14. I think men look super cute when they wear __________________. (Tip: the answer is not "birthday suit"). 

15. I'm a vegetarian, but I despise eating  _________________. (It's a vegetable). 

16. I'm moderately afraid of heights, but I once did this on a dare because someone I particularly didn't like bet me I wouldn't do it. _________________. 

Enjoy! Please put your comments below. I'd love to see how everyone does. Even if you have no idea, just guess - sometimes the wrong answers are way more fun than the right ones. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

10 Signs You're Getting "Old" (Even If You Aren't)

Lately, I've been feeling my age. All almost 36 years of it. But seriously, I've been feeling old. Partly, it's because I am old... compared to a good number of my friends who are just entering their 30s this year. Partly, it's because I've been married, divorced, engaged, unengaged, owned a house, sold the house to my now ex-husband, been diagnosed with a chronic lifelong illness, and spent the last five years trying to find the best combination of meds and therapy for said illness. Partly, it's because I know that I've now reached the age of "high risk" for pregnancy and in four years time will have to start thinking about things like mammograms for no reason other than my age.

But, I think most of us, even if they're not in the impending mammogram age bracket, can equate with feeling older than your years in at least some respects. Since a few of my posts have been quite serious lately (I blog about mental health, after all), I thought for Friday, I'd do something a bit lighter: 10 signs that you're getting "old", even if you aren't.

1. The time that you used to be leaving the house to go out for the night has now become the time by which you hope you're home, and possibly in bed.

2. You find yourself unnaturally excited about subject lines such as "Your Keurig order has shipped!" or "Your Costco coupons are on their way!".

3. "I can't go because I'm washing my hair" has now become a completely legitimate reason, instead of a petty excuse. Seriously, work/home life has been so busy that this is the first time you've had to wash you're hair all week, and dammit, you won't give up this precious opportunity.

4. Casual Friday is a misnomer: Jeans are not casual. Pajamas are.

5. "I can't go, I have to work in the morning" has become an excellent way to get out of social gatherings you'd rather avoid, as opposed to an unfortunate reason for not being able to join the fun.

6. You find yourself using the word "kids" to describe people who are actually old enough to have graduated college.

7. The word "club" is generally preceded by words like "book" or "knitting".

8. You've find yourself frequently shaking your head in disbelief and uttering phrases like "back when I was growing up...".

9. "Going for a drink" more often than not means grabbing coffee. And if it is alcohol, you only drink the "good stuff". If it's not hand crafted or aged a certain number of years, it's not for you.

10.  You occassionally slip up and say words like "walkman" or "VCR" and have to endure strange looks from those for whom these are foreign. You try to save yourself by explaining the beauty of making a mixed tape for someone you love. This digs you into a deeper hole.

Feeling old yet? Feel free to add your "this made me feel old" stories in the comments below! Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What Is Love?

It's ok if you just did the Night at the Roxbury head bob. Because so did I. Every time I thought about the title of this blog. And I liked it, so I kept it. But, moving on...

Love. The biggest and most significant four letter word in the language, at least to me. And trust me, I say a lot of four letter words. People throw it around. I love pizza, I love my new iphone, I love this band. But what does love really mean? According to Merriam Webster:

A feeling of strong or constant affection for a person. 

First, I feel this is downplaying it. I feel a constant affection for a lot of people.  Some of my long time friends, for example. But I wouldn't say that I love them all. My best, closest friends that I've been through hell and high water with, yes, we have a (platonic) love.  But not everyone. And yet it fits this definition. In addition, I feel this doesn't nearly capture the full effect of love. I've been in relationships in which I had a strong affection for the person, but didn't love them. Not in the "three little words" sense. Not the type that suddenly somehow magically moves the relationship into another unspoken category. 

So what is love? What does it look like? 

To me, love is... 
  • Them being the first person you want to tell when something great, difficult, curious, etc happens, because you want to share it together. 
  • Wanting them to be the last person you talk to and see before you fall asleep and the first person you talk to and see in the morning. And, wanting to fall asleep next to them even if it's just falling asleep (get my drift here, gentleman?).  *Exception: one of you has a communicable illness that the other can catch by being close in proximity. If I have a contagious stomach flu, I get if you want to not cuddle up until it passes. 
  • We do things that aren't necessarily right up our ally (assuming no moral, ethical, or legal objection) because the other person enjoys it. And we do it willingly, without them having to beg and plead, not as some big sacrifice that we complain about later or make problematic throughout. 
  • If it's not something we can necessarily do together, we express an interest in their doing it. For instance, if you're writing your dissertation, I probably won't be of much help with the actual task at hand, but I can still ask how it's going and be proud of you when you successfully defend it. 
  • We TRUST each other. And we don't give each other a legitimate reason not to do so. That word is capitalized for a reason. It's critical. It's also a choice. We choose to trust others, and we choose to act in a way that draws trust. 
  • We're open with each other. This goes with the point above. Easiest way to get me to mistrust you? Act all sneaky. Overtly hide texts, calls, emails, your whereabouts, your company during such whereabouts. Be open with me, and I'll trust you much more. 
  • We're vulnerable with each other. People don't love robots (movie Her might be an exception here). We love people. With real emotions, feelings, fears, hopes, dreams. Share them. 
  • We respect each other. This doesn't mean we agree on everything. But it means that when we don't, we agree to disagree, while not thinking less of the each other (again assuming no moral, legal, ethical concerns involved).  And when possible, we try to see things from the other person's point of view instead of standing our ground for the sake of it or because "we know we're right". 
  •  We know how to love each other best and work to do so (this is family friendly, folks, keep reading this one). Ever heard of the five love languages? Each person has their own language - i.e. how they best feel loved. Ours might be very different, but it's important to try to speak each other's language, as opposed to trying to impose your own. If your language is Quality Time, and I never have quality time for you but try to show you love by buying you expensive presents (Gift Giving is another), you'll probably feel unloved. And I'll feel unappreciated for all the "love" I show you. 
  • We communicate effectively, and as kindly as possible, with the common goal of furthering our relationship in a positive manner. Which means that even when we have a disagreement, we talk through things (or text, or write, or however we best communicate) to come to a positive conclusion, as opposed to trying to win, or get the person to see it our way, or, worst of all, make the other person feel bad about themselves so that we feel triumphant. 
  • We say "I love you" with words and actions. I know actions speak louder than words. But not always. Actions can be mis-interpreted. "Oh that person must love because they did xyz..." But maybe they're just like that. Maybe they do that kind of thing all the time. So TELL them. Literally. Say those words. At the same time, we can say it all you want, and if we don't act it, the other person won't believe you. Personally, I believe in "I love you" before you go to sleep each night, before you leave the house for the day, before you leave on a trip, especially if you're flying (this is actually an unspoken rule in my family). 
  • We do things for each other (things we know they'll appreciate, not just things we personally would) for no reason other than to make the each other happy. It's not because it "gets us points", or because we can say "but look what I did", or because we expect anything (other than hopefully an expression of gratitude) in return. Not because we messed up or we hope to butter them up to get something we want or because it's a special occasion (or because we forgot it was a special occasion). Just because we love them and it makes us happy to see them happy. 
  • We want to scream to the world that you love this person.  I'm not afraid to show my friends and family how I feel about a person (this does not require making out in public, but some appropriate affection is nice); they're in my profile picture, they're my relationship status, I post about them not just as it relates to me, but because I'm happy for them or proud of them. I talk about them. Probably even brag about them. Not just on social media but in person. This makes you annoyed?  Too bad. Because I believe in yelling your love from the rooftops. I know this isn't everyone's thing. But to me, it's incredibly important. It's also how I feel loved (see above with the "do things they'll appreciate even if it's not your thing). 
  • Our lives is better because the other person is in it. And at the end of the day, this is the person we want by our side. 
So, what does love look like to you? 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tell Me Your Sad Story

"I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living." ~Anias Nin

I am a vulnerable person. I crave depths. Empty smiles and cliche platitudes make me cringe, even as I'm saying them, as we all sometimes have to. I'm not sure if it's my cyclothymia (us mood cyclers are pretty good at extreme emotions) or just my general personality that makes me this way, but it's me nonetheless. Sure, I get to know someone by sharing a cup of coffee or a drink and a laugh, having high level conversations about interests and hobbies and jobs. But if that's where it stops, it'll quickly fade for me. Those are items that people put on a resume or a social media profile. I need substance. And to me, substance means that I, and the people in my life, need to be open with, and vulnerable to, one another.

What makes someone vulnerable? For one, not being perfect. Because nobody is. Nobody. When I ask an open, vulnerable person, "how are you?", they don't smile and say fine when they're feeling awful inside because the love of their life just left them or their closest relative is gravely ill, or they're so stressed about a deadline that they can barely see straight. They say something like "honestly, not so great" or "eh, I've been better." And if we are anywhere near close, they actually tell me some of what's going on, when they're feeling up to talking about it. Life is not full of only great moments and good news. If that's all I know about you, or you know about me (unlikely, I'm a pretty open book with little filter), we have a superficial relationship.

There are a time and place for superficial relationships. It's likely, for instance, that you won't know all of the deep, dark secrets of  every one (or any) of your coworkers or clients or the UPS delivery person. So I want to be clear that in this case, I don't mean superficial as a negative. I mean it as "not so deep". In the instances above, that type of interaction is totally appropriate. But for those that I have an interpersonal relationship with - close family, friends, significant others - vulnerability is a must. Think if all you knew of your best friends or significant other was what they put on their Facebook page. Would you really feel like you knew them? Or would you feel like all you knew was the face they wanted to put out to the world, the person they wanted to be? What's more, don't you want to know more about your best friend or mate than that person they barely remember from middle school but connected with anyways? Without vulnerability, this is exactly what our relationships are like.

So if you want me to know you, and you want to get to know me, tell me something that's making you sad, or frustrated, or hurt, or angry (hopefully not at me). Give me an emotion that you are afraid to give others but trust me with. Open up to me, and let me see the real you, even if it's just glimpses at first, a few moments here are there. Let the facade crumble, just for a little while. Because if we "put on a happy face", only tell each other the highlights, then how can we possibly be close? We ALL have faults, and weaknesses, and sad stories, and without them, we aren't a complete person. We are plastic, one dimensional. And when it comes to people I chose to be close to, I don't have plastic, one dimensional relationships.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Doubting Happiness

This morning I feel great. It may be partly due to the fact that I was scheduled to be in work at 6:30 AM, but when I woke up I saw a text from my manager saying not to come in until 7:30 AM, and then proceeded to get some extra sleep. It may also be due to the 20z salted caramel coffee I got on the way into work. Perhaps it's because it's Wednesday and I have yoga this afternoon, which is one of the best parts of my week. Or the fact that I look super cute in this dress that I forgot was in my closet until this week.

But in reality, I know it may be none of these. It may well be the start of a hypomanic cycle. My cycling, see, doesn't charge at me. I don't suddenly turn anxious or giddy or bounce off the walls. I've used the coffee analogy before, about how a cup or two is fine, but as you continue drink the whole pot you realize that the positive effects you were feeling are slowly taking a turn for the worse. And so it goes with hypomania. Sometimes, I can tell immediately. My brain races. I can't concentrate. I want to duck tape my mouth because I want to stop talking but can't manage to do so. And I'm not feeling any of those... yet.

With mood cycling, there's always a "yet". This depression phase isn't too bad... yet. I'm not feeling hypomanic... yet. I haven't had a meds reaction... yet. I haven't freaked out or burst into tears or done something else that will surely embarrass me... yet. This gets frustrating, as you may imagine, because it becomes tough to trust yourself. Most people, when they feel happy or sad or scared or anxious or afraid have a reason for it that they can count on. If they're afraid, it's because of xyz and when xyz is over, they won't be afraid anymore. There's a cause and effect. With mood cyclers, the cycling IS the cause, and the effect.

I've had people ask me time and again why I'm sad or crying or exhausted. My answer is virtually always one of two things: Depression, or I don't know. Because in actuality, they mean the same thing. I'm feeling (fill in the blank) because of depression, which messes with my emotions regardless of any external or otherwise identifiable reason. It's the same with hypomania. If I'm happy, I'd like to be able to just enjoy feeling good. But I can't, because it could go south very quickly. I'm rapid cycling, which means that I could start out feeling great, by noon could feel agitated and jumpy or overly excitable and talkative, and by nightfall be feeling someway entirely different.

So how do you trust your emotions, and yourself, in this situation? The sad truth is, you can't. But you can enjoy them. Just don't over-exert yourself. If it were a physical illness, say, cancer, and you felt better one day, it still probably wouldn't be advisable to suddenly go for a ten mile run. The same is true with mood cycling. It's tempting, when feeling great, to start making tons of plans, start lots of new projects, do all of these things you had not had the energy or will to do during the depressive cycle. But reign it in, no matter how tempting it may be. Try to be realistic, as best as possible. Leave room for flexibility in plans. Because, as is the nature of cycling, you will not feel this good forever. It's unfortunate, but it's true.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lessons I Learned On Vacation That I Should Have Learned At Home

Last night I came back from a quick three night vacation in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. First, let me say that for the "Cancun Area", it's a surprisingly peaceful island, devoid of wet t-shirt contests, drunken fraternity-like parties, and everything else that can get annoying about the Cancun region  Which I was quite glad to discover, because I absolutely love the Mexico and Cancun's party image gives the country a bad name.

In addition from gaining a bit of a tan and local culture (and a few pounds!), I came away from vacation with a few insights - things I needed to cross the border into another country to be reminded of. Insights that I should have been able to learn right here at home if I'd opened my eyes to them. 

1. Taking a break from technology is cleansing. No matter how much you think you "need" to be on Facebook all day every day, you do not. In fact, after the initial OMG I feel naked without my apps dissipates, it's quite freeing. 

2. It's ok to occassionally be lazy. In fact, it can be downright good for you once in a while. There's a reason other countries have far lower risks of cancer and heart disease and a multitude of other illnesses than we do here in the US. They know how to relax and create work-life balace. Here, if someone wants to actually relax on their day off, we call them lazy. Wow. 

3. You do not need to be in paradise to create happiness. I met some truly inspiring couples (one in particular) who seemed to defy all the odds and stereotypes. I think they could have been happy living in a cardboard box together. They were glad to just be alive, to have the chance to seize the opportunity of every day, and to have found each other. The island getaway was a bonus. 

4. Paradise is only such if you make it that. People who are jerks at home will be jerks in the most beautiful place on earth. The guests are our resort were wonderful, but some day trippers came over from Cancun who fit the typical "American tourist" stereotype, being loud, obnoxious drunks who didn't even attempt to speak a word of Spanish to resort employees (if you can't manage a butchered "ola" and "gracias", that's pretty rough). They were obnoxious and ignorant and I'm willing to bet exactly the same way back home.

5. We choose our reality, or at least part of it. Sitting at breakfast at the resort I thought, wow, how peaceful, we can sit outside and each breakfast and enjoy listening to the birds and the feeling the warm breeze, I wish I could do this at home! And then I remembered that the house we rent has a good size deck that overlooks the lawn and the trees behind, that gets the perfect amount of morning sun, and that when you go out there you can hear the birds and, when the breeze blows, the wind chimes. I just never choose to eat breakfast out there on the weekends because... I have no idea why. I completely could.

Travel is amazing. It brings us experiences and cultures and people and food that we may never find in our own back yard (I may be able to enjoy breakfast on the patio, but I can't rent a golf cart and drive around my town - to my knowledge at least, nor would I want to). But if we stop and listen, much of what we love about vacation can actually be found at home, within our lives, and sometimes, within ourselves, if we pay close enough attention. We just have to know where to look.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Everything's "OK"

Snark/Rant Warning: This post has probably been a long time coming because it's one of my bigges pet peeves, and since I've been thinking a ton about communication lately, it felt now is the time. I'm probably going to get some backlash, but eh, that's pretty much life as a blogger.

I'm a big texter and electronic communicator in general. On a recent survey that asked "Is email an appropriate way to follow up after you've met someone at a networking event?" My response was "Please don't call me." Electronic communication is just how I roll. But I do have a one giant pet peeve, and it applies to texting in particular: the word "OK". Or any form of it. Just "K"? Have you virtually lost all use of your hands and manage to only squeak out one letter? Then it's acceptable. Or are you just so lazy, or care so little about my communication, that it's not worth typing the letter O? Then it's not acceptable. And "KK"? Maybe it's the grammar snob in me, but if you're going to write both letters, why don't you form an actual word? This one I truly don't understand. Also, know that when you do this, I'm picturing Alicia Silverstone in Clueless on the other end of the phone.

Why do I hate OK? Let's picture this as a live (in person) conversation:

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

Do you see where I'm going with this? If this was a face-to-face conversation, I'd probably check to confirm that the person still had a pulse. But for some reason, this seems totally acceptable in text. And my guess is, they won't remember any of it. Because "OK" (or K, or KK) here tells me that they couldn't possibly have read anything other than maybe the "How's your day?", and even that, I doubt it - nobody's day is simply "ok", with no possible adjective to describe it, all day, every day. Also, I still have absolutely no idea if we are going to the beach on Saturday, which means I have to somehow manage to have this whole ridiculous conversation again. What's worse to me is when someone replies hours or even days later and still simply writes "OK." That means they've actually waited until they had enough time to reply - so this wasn't the result of a rush job that they figured they'd circle back to. This is literally all they are willing to type to you.

Let me clarify that I get there are times that OK is appropriate, and there are certainly times I've felt it appropriate to write myself.  If it's not a habit, and happens sporadically, I'm generally fine with it. It's when a good number of the person's replies are in this fashion. Here are my personal exceptions:
  • You're in a situation where you need to reply something to let the person know you received the text but aren't really in the position to do so verbosely (i.e. driving, in the middle of an important call/project at work, running a marathon, in the hospital).
  • Someone's telling a multi-text story and you want them to know you're listening but don't want to interrupt - just as you would nod or say ok in person. 
  • It's an instructional/strictly informational text that they don't expect a full reply to. I.e.. "I'm on my way but going to grab coffee at wawa first. Be there in 10 minutes". Unless you're going to ask them to get you one too, there's not much else to say. Again, it just shows they received it (though I prefer some other options, below). 
  • You're suddenly being pulled away from the communication. "Oh crap, have a phone call, brb". "OK". This happens more in google/Facebook chat then text, but is acceptable in text too, because by making them read something longer, you'd actually be delaying them. Also, this falls under the informational category above. 
  • I also, personally, use only OK when I'm pissed off at you and want you to know it. Because there's far more danger in my silent, or virtually silent, treatment than my getting loud and yelling. 
I want to also be clear, I understand that some of us are verbose while others not. I get that some people aren't big texters, just like I'm not a big phone talker, and they're trying to meet me in the middle. I don't think you need to write a novel over text. But let the recipient know that you've read it, and it's made some sort of impact on you. Anything, even the slightest thing that shows some emotion, will go along way. For example:

  • If I really need to say OK, I usually say "oky doky". It sounds more conversational, friendly somehow. If nothing else, it requires me typing seven letters instead of one or two. Still, it more or less just applies to the exceptions above. 
  • Add an emoji. If you put an appropriate emoji, it shows you've at least read the text and not just writing OK by rote. 
  • A quick phrase that shows how you're feeling about what they wrote. For instance, if I say I'm on my way over, a "yay!" or "see you soon!" works. If it's that they're having a bad day, an "I'm sorry" or "Anything I can do?" (only if you mean it) helps. 
The theme here is, it's acceptable, generally speaking, if you can't reply to something right away. Instead, as long as it's appropriate given the circumstance, wait until you have the time to type out a thoughtful response. Communication in which you're not both invested in the conversation isn't communication at all. It's a soliloquy for the person actually making an effort, and it makes them feel unimportant. And if you doubt this, just turn the conversation around. You've had a busy day or an exciting piece of news or something sad happen and you really want to tell someone about it, and when you reach out to them, they reply, perhaps hours later, with "OK". That is not, in fact, OK at all. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Top 10 Signs That You're A Chronic Illness Advocate (Even If You Don't Know It)

I read a lot of "top 10 signs that" lists. Mostly because I'm bored and/or am curious to see where I fall in the category. Today's was "50 signs you're a modern day hippie." I got to number 10, realized I'd answered yes to every one of them, and figured I didn't need to read further. And then I thought, hmm. I should do one of these about mental health/chronic illness.

Obviously, we all know if we live with chronic illness, so I couldn't do a "top 10 signs that you live with chronic illness".  Nor did I want anyone that doesn't know that they live with chronic illness to diagnose themselves based on my post. So I figured I'd give it a more positive spin - top 10 signs that you're a chronic illness advocate (possibly without even realizing it).

1. You understand the spoon theory and use it to explain your illness to friends and family frequently.

2. Hearing "you don't look sick" (or any form of it) makes you want to throw something at the person's head.

3. You aren't afraid to bust out your meds/other easily portable treatment in the middle of ... anything, because health must be a priority, no matter who you're with or what you're doing.

4. You know which color represents your illness and proudly wear it (and post it!) on National fill in the name of your illness Day. Or randomly. Because why not? (Serendipitously, as I wrote this I looked down and realized I was wearing green - the color for mental health - today.)

5. You actively support other chronic illness causes with donations, attending walks/events, wearing their colors, etc, because you know that living with any chronic illness freaking sucks.

6. You know that no matter how ill, exhausted, ragged, down, frustrated others living with chronic illness are at times, that they're strong as shit. You remind them regularly of how amazing they are.

7. When someone starts to speak negatively about your illness or someone with it, you stand up ready to take them out as if they'd insulted your child/beloved pet.

8. You have no qualms talking about your illness because awareness must be raised and people must be educated about it. If it makes someone else uncomfortable, good riddance to them.

9. Other spoonies are kindred spirits.

10. You're the first person who's likely to poke fun at yourself, because sometimes the option is to laugh or cry, and crying isn't nearly as enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Bunch Of Thanks (And Good News)

Last week I steered away from my usual topic of mental health awareness and wrote a more personal story, about my dog, Cinn. First of all, thank you, thank you for all of the thoughts, messages, texts, and such wishing Cinn well and sending positive vibes. Secondly, I have good news! Cinn's platelet levels have tripled this week! Woo hoo!

The next course of action is to continue her medication treatment and to go back in a couple of weeks to check her levels. But this hopefully means that it is some sort of bacteria that they didn't detect in a test and that's easily treatable with antibiotics. It could also be autoimmune, which is not quite as great because it could mean a longer, or possibly permanent, course of treatment with medication. But it would mean she can live with it. That's a huge, huge positive.

Cinn seems no worse for the wear for her ordeal. She's even lost a couple of pounds, though nothing that seems alarming to me (though I'll certainly watch it "just in case"). We are not in the clear yet, her platelet levels still have about 50,000 more to go, but it's a massive improvement.

One way I've gotten through the last 35 years is by trying to take a lesson from the difficult or challenging situations that arise in life. This was no exception. The support that I got from everyone was incredible. I sometimes (read: often) feel like I'm alone. Not because I don't have support, but because even those who would willingly throw themselves in front of a speeding truck for me can't understand my mental health struggles, and feeling like nobody can truly understand you no matter how much they wish they could gets lonely. But in this, I wasn't alone. The outpouring of concern for Cinn and myself has been amazing. I received texts, calls, and personal check-ins from family, friends, coworkers, and people who I don't know but who read my blog.

Mostly, I credit the support to the fact that Cinn is the cutest dog ever in the whole world. But actually, I think that pet-love transcends most other personal agendas. Virtually every pet lover has at some point lost a pet, or has one that they don't want to imagine losing. And when they think you're in danger of this, they want to do whatever they can to make it better. It makes my soul smile, because it tells me that, deep down, there are a lot of good-hearted people, at least in my world, and possibly the world at large.  At least that's the outlook I chose to take.

So thank you, not only for your thoughts, and well-wishes and good vibes, and everything else, but for making my pup and I a priority for a couple of minutes of your day. It's very much appreciated, from the bottom of our hearts (and paws)!