Thursday, July 30, 2015

What Those With Mental Health Conditions Wish You Knew

Every time I decide to tell someone about my condition, I wonder what their reaction will be. With all due respect to humanity, I often hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  Not because I'm ashamed of my condition, or because there's any actual reason for someone to react negatively, but because, quite honestly - and unfortunately - we get used to it.  Bottom line: mental health gets a bad rap, and the media has done a great job of making us seem like a bunch of dangerous, delusional freakazoids who at best are going to ruin every fun time you ever planned with our "gloominess" and at worst are going to put on a mask and run into a building shooting innocent children. This is so ridiculously far from the truth, and yet people believe it and make decisions about you based on it.

In actuality, one in every four people has a diagnosed mental health condition. If you include addictive disorders, that number becomes a startling one in three. That is one quarter to one third of our population. If we were all dangerously violent individuals ready to commit mass murder on a whim, this country would be in the midst of one of the worst cases of genocide known to man. And yet, while the lack of this clearly speaks to the fact that we are not as the media portrays, people still don't know what to make of us. So here's what we'd like you to know.

  • There's nothing "wrong" with us. I don't run around being all squeamish about your diabetes or asthma or heart murmur. We're not Frankenstein. We're humans with a medical condition. 
  • The names of our conditions are simply that - names of our conditions. Not descriptions of who we are at the core, not titles, not adverbs or adjectives. You wouldn't be "acting all cancerous" so someone else isn't "acting all bipolar".  You wouldn't joke that you're "so asthmatic today" (assuming you weren't having an asthma attack) so you're not "so OCD/ADD". 
  • We would rather you broach the subject of our condition than avoid it like the plague. Obviously, like everyone else, we have good days and bad days, and on the bad ones, we may not feel like talking about it, or anything else. But in general, your interest in talking about it shows your openness and willingness to learn more so that you can be informed and supportive. You're avoidance shows ... the exact opposite. 
  • If you're unsure about something relating to us or our condition, ask. We loathe assumptions. They haven't done us much justice historically. If we aren't ready to talk about it, we'll politely tell you. But keep trying, please. 
  • We don't want to always have to be the one to start the conversation about it. Nobody wants to continuously have to say "So, let's talk about my health problems again!".  But we do want to feel like we can be "real" with you. 
  • When you say something to the effect of "Why would I treat you any different because of your condition?" it makes us want to hug you profusely. Don't worry, we won't without your permission. 
  • The little efforts you make mean so, so much. Whether it's genuinely asking how you can help (and following through if we answer honestly), learning about our condition, reading our blogs (if we blog), supporting mental health causes and organizations, or just being there to listen when we need, it goes a tremendously long way. 
  • Far from being violent and dangerous, we often have incredibly big hearts, and if you are one of those we let get close, we can be incredibly loving and caring. But due to all of the negativity we've experienced from society, you need to earn that trust. 
The bottom line is, mental health, and the conditions that fall under it, are not dirty words. They are not topics that need to be kept quiet, pushed under the carpet, and dealt with by avoidance and ignorance.  We aren't asking for accolades for battling what we do. We don't want special treatment, or to be tiptoed around. We just want want you to get to know us as a person, instead of a condition. Oh, and we don't want you to call us crazy. Only we're allowed to use that term. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Does Chronic Illness Make Us Less Concerned About Acute Sickness?

Yesterday I had a discussion with a friend about sickness and illness. Which, as a mental health and chronic illness advocate, is far from unusual. But this particular discussion was about acute illnesses - communicable sicknesses such as stomach viruses and flus - and avoiding them.  It occurred to me, and then was said out loud by me because my filtering mechanism is not strong, that compared to a lot of people these days, I appear rather unconcerned about this kind of thing.

Don't get me wrong, if I know you have a stomach virus, I'm not jumping up and down to share your drink or anything that may obviously make my chances of getting said virus greater.  I take appropriate precaution not to catch something if I know someone is sick or a virus is "going around". Nobody, including myself, wants the flu or a stomach virus or anything of the like.  I equally get all necessary prescriptions and vaccinations needed when traveling overseas - I don't want malaria or Typhoid fever any more than the next woman. But when everyone's seemingly un-contagious and I'm not in a third world country, I'm not a person who particularly worries about the "what if".  For instance, the gym is a pretty gross and sweaty place. Money is passed through who knows how many hands before it reaches you. You don't know who last sat on that seat at the restaurant. But I am generally not too phased by this. (Exception: rashes of any kind including poison ivy/oak/sumac, or even the slightest possibility of them, make me run screaming like a three-year old for some reason).

I got to thinking: why is this? I've had some pretty rough illnesses in my life including scarlet fever, shingles, German measles, mono, Epstein barre, and encephalitis that spawned from (apparently) a very basic cold or virus that worked itself into my brain. One would think I'd be overly cautious. But upon further reflection, I think I began to understand.

I've had cyclothymia since birth. I'll have it until the day I die. It is a genetic condition and nothing that I, or anyone else, could have done would have changed that.  It is obviously not communicable, aside from being genetically passed down, and I don't think that counts. And no matter what I do, or don't do, I will have this condition. Always. 'Til death do us part.  Furthermore, my cycles are rather haphazard (or so it appears to me). While mood cycling can be aggravated by things such as lack of sleep, too much caffeine or alcohol, or stressful situations, and it can be helped by medication and healthy lifestyle choices, I cannot prevent myself completely from cycling, nor control when it occurs or whether I'll be hypomanic or depressive when it does hit.

There are days when getting out of bed, getting showered and dressed takes everything I have physically, emotionally, mentally.  Then, I get to go about my day pretending nothing's wrong, when it feels like everything is. And so, on days when this isn't the case, when I'm not in the middle of a depressive episode, I quite simply don't want to think about being sick, or potentially being sick, or anything even remotely related to sick.  In fact, I want to scream from the rooftops, "Check me out, I'm still here! Take that, depression, you S.O.B, you didn't win that round!"  On the days when I feel well, I want to enjoy life with as little worry as possible, because soon enough, I won't be able to. Nothing I can do, no precaution I can take, can stop me from eventually cycling into depression again. As much as this sounds like it sucks - and believe me, it does - there's also a bit of a calm that comes when you realize that its reoccurrence is not your fault, and that more or less, spending all of your good days worrying about when the bad will take hold is a waste of the precious positive, happy energy you have on those days. And maybe I subconsciously apply that thought process to all illness. I've never particularly thought about it until now, but I guess with my mess of a brain it makes sense.

Perhaps this lack of concern over acute sickness is reckless. To clarify (as I'm a pretty big believer in karma and don't want to stick my foot in my mouth here) I'm by no means saying that the stomach flu or anything similar is "no big deal." Because I had a stomach virus this past winter and it &%*%ing sucked. I sat on the bathroom floor hugging the toilet "praying" in my Buddhist way for something, anything to make me feel better. So please, don't get the wrong impression. I completely understand why people are concerned about acute sickness and take all precautions they deem necessary.  More, I wondered why I didn't fall under this category, being so involved in the world of illness and all.

So I'm curious how others with chronic illness feel about the topic. Does having a chronic illness make you more concerned about acute sickness? Or do you fall more into the "I might as well enjoy it while I can, because I'll be sick again soon enough" category?  As always comments welcome below. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

No De-Feet

Upon the completion of my second Overnight Walk, I began looking for an opportunity to continue to help AFSP on a more regular basis. I love the Overnight, and will continue to participate, but I would love to be involved more than once a year, and to help here at the local level.  I reached out to some of the local chapters, and it just so happens that there are opportunities for helping with, and participating in, chapter events and activities.

This Sunday, August 2nd, I'll be participating in the Camden Country Walk around Cooper River in Pennsauken, NJ, to support the Central New Jersey chapter. (At this time, South Jersey is part of the Central Jersey chapter, but keep an eye out because I'm hoping to ramp up the involvement of the southern part of the state).  The goal of the walk is to raise funds and awareness for Suicide Prevention. There is no registration fee, and no minimum fundraising amount, so it truly is open to anyone who would like to sign up. The walk is approximately five miles - or at least officially, I know the park and think it's probably closer to four miles - and is by no means a race of any sorts. Even dogs are invited to attend!

I have formed a team of family, friends, and supporters named No De-Feet (thanks to a good friend for the clever name!), and would love to have you join us. Of course, you are welcome to walk on your own or form your own team as well - I just like extending the invite, because I know that AFSP Walks can be emotional events, and I never want anyone to feel like they're alone.

AFSP has declared a goal of dropping the rate of suicide by 20 percent by the year 2025. The more people who raise their voice and help to bring awareness to Suicide Prevention, the closer we get to attaining that goal. So to everyone walking this Saturday, thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. As a supporter with several very personal ties to the cause, your raising your voice for Suicide Prevention truly makes a difference.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Sigh Of Relief

I hate to depart from my usual blog theme for two days in a row, but I have GREAT news, and I promised an update. Cinn's ultrasound is clear! Which means they still don't know 100 percent what's going on with her, but they have concluded it is not cancer, which is definitely on my list of "top five best pieces of news I've ever gotten in my life". She looks a little goofy (ok, down right ridiculous) because they had to shave her sides for the ultrasound, but who the hell cares? Certainly not her, and it's a small price to pay for such a hopeful result.

Yesterday was an incredibly emotional day. I cried tears of worry, fear, relief, joy. I vacillated between trying to be hopeful, and not wanting to be overly optimistic, only to get blindsided by bad news.  Normally with these types of things, at least when it comes to myself, I have some sort of "premonition" feeling. I just know what the result will be. In the past few years, I've undergone several biopsies testing for cancer (melanoma and endometrial) as well as a brain scan for MS and TIAs. With each of these, I wasn't concerned. Not because I'm short-sighted, or think "that doesn't happen to me" (cancer has hit all to close to home in my family in the last few years and I don't think I'm immune by any means) but because I just knew (I was right, for the record, all were clean). With Cinn, I felt no premonition. I tried to prepare for the worst. I tried to be strong for her. But neither was fueled by the underlying feeling of certainty, just my trying to balance out my emotions - something we all know by now that I'm not a superstar at.

The feeling of relief, when it finally comes, is a strange one. I call it more a feeling than an emotion, because it's externally fueled. There's some circumstance that's causing you to feel upset/anxious/angry/fearful, and with a positive result comes relief. You don't just wake up one day feeling relieved out of nowhere (or at least I never have), the way you might feel sad or happy or even angry.  Relief makes you laugh, cry, feel giddy, feel light-hearted and light-headed. Other things that would normally bother or frustrate you seem tiny in comparison - who cares that some jerk just cut you off in traffic and flipped you off, your dog is healthy!

Eventually, relief fades, as all emotions do. But I think there's a lesson that we can take from the brief moments with have with it. Relief is a great perspective-maker. It's easy to get caught up in the day to day annoyances that, if you were to look back five years, or a year, or maybe even a few months from now, you wouldn't even remember. Yet during that time of relief, we're able to look at these frustrating or negative moments for what they really are - minutia, when compared to something that's really worth being upset over. Nobody wants to face a situation in which they have to hope for relief, but ultimately, we all do. So if we can learn a bit from it, well, that's just a bonus. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Getting Through An Anxiety Ridden Day (With My Dog)

I had another post planned for today, but I needed to change course. Writing helps me cope with fear and anxiety, and today, I need that.  So I apologize if straight up personal stories aren't your thing, but hey, the good thing about being the blogger is that I get to choose what to write about, and today, this is it. Plus, perhaps it may help you next time you have an overly fearful, anxiety filled day.

Today, my Cinn has her ultrasound. The good news is, her platelets have been up. She's on the high end of normal actually. The not as good news is multi-fold. She's been peeing in her sleep (hope you're not eating breakfast) and she's having trouble getting her legs under her. It's heart-breaking when I call her to go outside and I can hear her legs rummaging around on the floor trying to stand and unable to do so, or when she tries to come up the stairs at night for bed and falls down them and I find her lying on the bottom step looking scared and nervous. Also, the vets still have no idea what caused the platelet count, which means basically we're at a standstill, and can only guess on the best course of treatment at this point.

I love my Cinn more than I can possibly express in words. If this ultrasound comes back badly, I will surely fall apart, despite my trying to be strong for her. It would be easier on me to stay in the dark. I could treat the symptoms and say "oh look she had a good day, her platelets are up, she jogged in the back yard for a minute." And indeed, if it comes down to it, if that's the best decision, then I'll have to do that. But I can't do so without knowing what I'm dealing with, or trying my damndest to find out, and then making the best decision for her. Not for me, for her. I wouldn't tell a family member not to go get an ultrasound or a mammogram or a colonoscopy because I didn't want to find out bad news. It would be selfish, and ultimately, if there was something there, my not knowing wouldn't make it disappear. It wouldn't make them any less sick, or their prognoses any less serious. And Cinn is family. She's family who can't raise her voice or make her own decisions (in regards to things such as this), so it would be even less fair to her. A family member could say "screw you I'm getting this test anyways." Cinn would sit there, dealing with whatever she's dealing with, trusting that mommy's going to make everything ok, and being completely at my mercy. And so, at 3 PM today, for better or worse, she has the ultrasound.

This day is awfully, painfully sad for me. And slow. I'm trying to be positive, but I'm torn between trying to be optimistic, and trying not to be so hopeful that I convince myself she's fine and then get blindsided. I have to remember that all Cinn knows is that she didn't get breakfast this morning, which may have been more difficult for me than for her, to see her looking at me doing the "air chomp", tilting her head like, "mommy, you forgot me.  Please don't leave yet, I didn't get my breakfast." I've apologized to her for past 24 hours and told her that tonight she'll get a nice special dinner, but unfortunately all she got out of this was "dinner", which I use for every meal, and just got her excited, thinking she was being fed. This is all the more difficult because the steroids make her ravenous. She was allowed peanut butter to take her meds, so I uncharacteristically let her lick the spoon to get as much of it as she could (Cinn and I share a lot, but dining utensils aren't usually one of them).

I don't even know if I'll get answers today. I have no idea if the radiologist will tell me anything, or just send it to the vet who will call me as soon as they can.  In my mind I'm thinking, "This is my baby girl! How can you not tell me right now? How can the vet not pick up the phone the minute they get this and drop everything and call me?" But the vets and radiologists are spending their days dealing with everyone's "baby girls (and boys)." The last time I was at the vet I heard them call for triage over the loud speaker and watch techs run to the front. The time before that a family was waiting as their dog underwent surgery. A few times before that I watch someone tearfully picking up her pet's ashes (this might have been the worst thing I've seen, ever, period). So I have to practice patience, which is a virtue... that I do not possess much of... and know that they're doing the best they can. In the meantime, I'll hug Cinn and tell her I lover as much as possible. I'll take pictures and video of her, and selfies of us. When I lose it and drop to my knees in tears and hold in her what looks (and probably feels to her) like some poorly executed version of a half nelson, I'll give into it, and be grateful that my sweet, sweet Cinn lets me do so.

A few things are helping me get through the day: social support and numerous well wishes and expressions of love for Cinn, remembering that Cinn doesn't realize today's potential outcome and therefore is only worried about when she's getting fed, knowing that my being worrying and fearful all day won't change the outcome of the test, reminding myself that I'm doing this for her. My dad is coming with me today, in case of any bad news, for which I know I can't be on my own and I am endlessly grateful for this. I am so lucky to have the support system I do. I'll post an update when I have the results. In the mean time, hug your fur babies tight and tell them as often as you can that you love them. In their eyes, that's really the most important thing. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Truth About Missing My Meds Dose

It take meds three times a day.  I actually have a med scheduling/reminder app on my phone. My regimen goes as such:

8:30 AM: 300 mg oxcarbazepine; 150 mg oxcarbazepine; hydroxazine
2 PM: Same thing as the morning dose
Before bed: 600 mg oxcarbazepine, 300 mg oxcarbazapine, melatonin

I have to take my meds with food, which means I've actually had to insert an "afternoon snack" into my daily routine in order to take the middle dose. I'm diligent about this, and will stop mid activity or conversation to take meds if needed. But sometimes, shit happens, and I forget/can't take them as planned. So what happens if I miss a dose?

Hollywood would probably tell you that I'd flip out. Jump from manic to depressive suddenly and extremely.  Run around being promiscuous or raging on someone and ending myself in jail or the hospital or some other precarious situation. Those that don't understand my condition may well believe the same.

So let me tell you what actually happens to me (note: I can't speak for everyone, this is my personal experience). First off, my meds reminder will remind me three times to take it. So chances are, I won't forget. But sometimes I just not in a situation to take them. For instance, I'm somewhere that I physically can't take it, I haven't gotten enough food in my stomach, or don't have a drink with me at the moment, so I have to delay it. An hour or so after I forget, I can often feel my thoughts racing slightly. Not drastically, kind of like if you've had about half a cup of coffee too many. If I go another hour or two, I start to feel a little shaky and jumpy. At this point, I usually think, "crap, I never took my meds" and do so. If it goes much longer, the "drank too much coffee" feeling intensifies further. If it's at night, I generally have trouble falling asleep, I toss and turn and wonder what's wrong (besides my general ineptitude for sleep, which is rather standard), and it then occurs to me that I have not taken my meds. This is rare, as it's part of my bed time ritual - yes, I have a bed time ritual, like a five year old - and happens most frequently if I've been out for the evening and am particularly tired when going to bed, or am traveling and out of my usual routine. At this point, I take my evening dose, the strongest of the three, and generally fall asleep rather quickly (translation: my meds knock me the *%&^ out).

I might be more irritable and quicker to react if I've missed my meds dose. Perhaps slightly more jumpy and on edge. If I miss numerous doses, it has a snowball effect, and eventually, I'll swing into a hypomanic episode. But I have never, ever "gone crazy" because I've missed, or been late taking, a single dose of meds. Now, this doesn't mean it's good to miss meds, and I'm certainly not encouraging anyone to do so by any means. But it's not as drastic as those on the outside, those who haven't gone through it, would have you believe. So next time you see that show or movie that depicts someone spinning out of control after missing a dose, or even a day, of their meds, don't feed into the media hype. It's quite simply Hollywood, or the media, doing what they do best - distorting the truth to make it more exciting, even if it's at the expense of creating an unjust stigma. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What My Exes Taught Me About Love and Life

Eleven years ago this past Friday (July 10), I married my now ex-husband. It's odd to think that, had things worked out, I would have been married over a decade. Instead, I managed a good old 2.5 years. A for effort? Maybe?

It's a time of the year that always hits me as strange.  Not because I miss him, or am nostalgic for the past or anything like that - in fact I can say that in the five years we were together, the decision to get divorced was probably the best that we made as a couple - but because it does cause me to reflect.

I've written about my previous marriage before, albeit briefly, and have said more or less all I feel I need to say about it, at least for the time being. My ex husband and I parted as friends, sad for our loss but knowing it was the right decision, and over the years we've lost touch - which is weird to say of someone you were once married and planning the rest of your life with, but it's true.

Still, whenever my ex-anniversary comes up, it causes me to think. I learned a lot in those few years of marriage, in the divorce, and in my life since. And in hopes that somehow it may help someone else, I thought I'd share them.

  • Two rights can still make a wrong. By which I mean you can have two good people who are trying their hardest and that doesn't mean they're right for each other. Neither of you is at fault, and hopefully, you can come to this realization together and part amicably. 
  • Opposites can attract, but not always. It depends on what the differences are, and if you are willing to learn from each other and truly listen to the other person. If you aren't, forget it. 
  • Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. It's ok not to see eye to on everything, as long respect the other person's right to have an opinion that's not yours. It's not right or wrong, it's different. 
  • Genuinely good people can do bad things. There's a difference between doing a bad thing and being a bad person. One is the situation. The other is the person's heart and soul. Learn to recognize the difference. 
  • Forgive, learn from it, and move on in whichever direction you choose. Notice I didn't say forgive and forget. If you forget, neither of you will learn from the situation and it will almost certainly repeat itself. 
  • Barring actual amnesia, there's no such thing as a completely clean slate when you stay in the same situation. You can move forward, but you'll always be somehow shaped by the past. See the above point about learning from situations and moving forward. 
  • Love may be blind, but it is not all-powerful. It would be wonderful if loving someone enough made everything work, but it doesn't. Love can make you choose to stay together, even in a toxic situation. But it can't make you happy in that same situation. Sometimes, no matter how much you love someone, it's best for you both to walk away. 
  • Never, ever, ever lose your identity for someone else. Don't let them convince you you're someone you're not, or that you should be anyone besides yourself. People can be very persuasive, and so can love. It's great to have an open mind, but maintain your you-ness. Once lost, it becomes increasingly difficult to re-discover. 
  • Fight fair.  Anything that is said or done to get your agenda across, to win instead of the address the issue(s) at hand, is not doing so. 
  • Make sure you're actually fighting the same battle. Listen carefully to the underlying theme of their argument. Are they feeling hurt, sad, ignored, unimportant, under-valued? Perhaps that tiny thing that set them off isn't the issue, just the last straw. Pay attention. 
  • Never be dismissive of someone's feelings. When someone opens up to you, they're offering you a place in their inner lives that most people are excluded from. If someone spent time and effort picking out a gift for you, would you throw it back in their face? Hopefully not. And if you did, it's probably the last time they'd ever get you a gift, with good reason. 
  • Love, and life, are hard work. Anyone who wants either to be easy will be sorely disappointed. Love itself may come naturally, especially at first, but making it work through all of the stresses of daily life may not at times. Nothing great ever happens, or at least lasts, if you're unwilling to venture out of your comfort zone. That includes lasting relationships.  

Monday, July 6, 2015

What Sitting In Traffic Taught Me About Meditation

Before I even begin, let me make a CYA disclaimer: I do not meditate in traffic. Or in my car in general. Or on my bike or the treadmill or any other situation in which I could potentially hurt myself or others by not being fully aware of my surroundings. I realize this sounds like a no-brainer but... you never know.

I have been doing a lot of meditation at home. I started using Headspace, which I was leery of at first (mostly because I don't like to pay for apps because I'm thrifty), but I've grown to love it. Being guided and somewhat similar from one day to the next, it allows me to focus on the actual words and process, instead of sitting there thinking, "how much longer? My foot itches. What should I make for dinner?". If you're interested in getting into meditation, I highly suggest the free trial, and I swear they are not paying me or compensating me to write this in any way. I just have found it a very helpful method. 

As part of the meditation, the guide emphasizes not only what you can do during the meditation, but what you can do during daily life to help focus on the present moment. He reminds the listener that our brains are bound to wander, and that's OK, but then when we have a chance, to gently bring ourselves back to the present moment. In a later series (the one I'm currently doing) he brings in the idea of labeling a distraction from the present moment as a "thinking" or "feeling", and without judgement or thinking about it further. Just noticing what type of distraction it was, letting it go, and coming back to the present.

I've noticed that much of my anxiety is due to brain wanders. Others I know who suffer from anxiety have told me they feel similarly. The exception being bad physical pain that's happening in the moment  - i.e if you've just break your leg, the moment IS the problem - much of what makes us anxious is the "what if". What if I'm late to work and my boss gets upset or I miss that meeting..." "What if I do xyz and my significant other/friend gets angry and we get in a fight..." "What if I forget to pick up those groceries and I ruin dinner plans ..." The list goes on and on.

For those with (hypo)mania and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, these thoughts, and therefore anxiety, can spiral out of control. The more we focus on these thoughts, the more they start to become our reality - a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever been so nervous about doing something that you ended up doing the exact thing you'd repeatedly reminded yourself not to do? We've been focusing so much on on the action that the "don't" somehow goes out the window. It's  like the old "don't think of a pink elephant" trick - the more you're told not to, the less you can think of anything except a pink elephant. That's how anxiety works. It latches on, and then perpetuates itself. 

So as I sat in my car in traffic, half being mad at myself for not planning ahead for traffic, half frustrated that I was running late. It also gave my brain plenty of time to wander to other topics, many of which were worries or stressors. Then it occurred to me, what a perfect time to practice these techniques that the meditation was suggesting. Instead of letting my thoughts run away, I turned up the radio, flipped around until I found something fun and light-hearted, rolled down my windows, and sang along. While I'm not sure my traffic neighbors appreciated this, I did. And you know what? It worked. I stopped worrying so much about traffic. I became less anxious about the "what ifs" in my head, because I wasn't focusing on them. And I stopped being mad at myself for not planning ahead, because I was turning something frustrating into a positive opportunity to practice these techniques of being in the present.

I bet you think I'm going to say, "and you know, I wasn't late after all!". Nope, not the case. I was late to my networking group meetup. But nobody was upset. The "what ifs" of "I'm new to this group and I'm going to walk in and all the heads are going to turn and make me feel more awkward than I already do because I am socially awkward in groups" weren't true. Actually, so many people had cancelled that the organizer was glad I had made it. And even if all heads had awkwardly turned at me, would thinking about that scenario the entire time I sat in traffic make me any less awkward? No. It would have most likely made me feel moreso, because I'd not only been experiencing the awkwardness of the moment, but the awkwardness I'd built up in my head for the last half hour.

Now, I want to be clear. I'm not in any way, shape, or form suggesting that anxiety, hypomania, or other conditions are "all in our head" and if we just don't think about them they go away. I could still feel the anxiety under the surface. I could still feel thoughts floating around in my head from hypomania. Those I have no power (other than perhaps medication) against. But in trying not to focus on them, I didn't give them additional fuel to grow stronger. We may not be able to control when these conditions rear their ugly heads, but we can at least try to learn some techniques for trying not to make them worse than they already are. For me, this was it. If nothing else, it helps with those times that my anxiety and frustration are caused not by my condition, but just by every day life stressors - a long day at work, a traffic jam when I'm already running late, etc.  And if I can help to control those moments, then at least helps to give me more time in between the anxiety attacks and hypomanic episodes that I have less control over, where I can feel a bit more inner peace. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Deflection Through Humor

I recently posted a question on my Lilies and Elephants Facebook Page  asking people what topics they would like me to write about. Someone (ok, the only person that answered - come on, people!) suggested deflection through humor, and I LOVE this. First off, laughter, if not quite the best medicine for those of us who do in fact need medication, is a fantastic way to help take the focus off your depression or anxiety, even if just for a few minutes. Secondly, it's a technique that I use a lot.

I've mentioned before that those with chronic illness have some of the best senses of humor I've seen. We more or less have to. The option is often laugh at oneself or one's situation, or cry, and laughing often makes getting through it a lot easier. (I am a full proponent of a good cry, but that's another post entirely).

Why do we deflect through humor? It's simple. In addition to the above option of laughing instead of crying, it's often self preservation. If I make fun of myself first, joke about myself and my condition, it takes the power from others who were going to do so maliciously. I once had a friend tell me, "everyone used to call me a jerk (I changed the word here)," and I'd reply, "yep, you're right." And the name-caller didn't know what to say because their insult now held no weight. People say things because they expect it to hurt you. They want you to react, because that gives them the "power." They think if they make you feel bad, that you'll change, or that they'll feel superior and you'll view them as such. But if I start making fun of myself, this no longer works. It's no fun, nor is it effective, to tell someone something they already know, something they admit themselves - especially something they admit in a humorous manner. Picture it this way: you're at a holiday party, and  you have nothing nice to wear that's clean, so instead you purposely wear the ugliest, most god-awful sweater you can find. Someone comes up to you at the party and says, "wow, that outfit is atrocious!" Is it going to actually make you feel bad? No, because you owned up to the fact that you weren't going to look your best in at this particular party hours (or longer) ago.  

Humor helps keep conversations light. My conversational moods range drastically from super excited (and loud and energetic) to my resembling eeyore, and I realize that most people would prefer to be somewhere in between. So, when people ask how I'm doing, if I'm able to use a bit of humor in my honesty, it tempers the mood - one way or the other - while still not putting on a facade, which anyone who knows me knows I abhor.  It also serves to let my friends and family know that, while I'm very serious about my condition and it's NOT something to criticize of or stigmatize, I can have a sense of humor about it when appropriate, especially when I am joking about myself.  It lets them know that my condition isn't a taboo topic to tiptoe around, and that I'm well aware of how it can affect not myself, but those around me, but it does so in a more relaxed manner.

More than anything, though, humor can help us from taking ourselves, and life in general, too seriously.  With all the negativity in the world, and in the news, and in our own brains, especially for those of us with mental health conditions, this can be easy to do. But when you add in humor (where appropriate, I can't say that enough), it helps you to remember that smiles and laughs can still be present, and these tiny moments of peace can help to break that negativity up, give us a breather, let us feel some peace, if even for a moment. And that, to me, I think is the most valuable use of humor, not just for those of us with mental health conditions, but for humans in general.