Monday, September 21, 2015

Welcoming Year 36 With Open Arms

Last year I blogged extensively about my birthday.  I love birthdays, which anyone who's spent any time around me, or reading my blog, must know by now. I think the ability to dedicate a day to yourself and your part in the world is simply fabulous. It's a day to celebrate your you-ness. And we all know how I feel about shining bright in our you-ness.

Last year, I was dreading my birthday. Dreading. And this is unusual for me, but I had my reasons. This year, on the other hand, the impending birthday cannot come quickly enough. Yes, I realize it moves me one step closer to 40. Yes, it means that I'll annoyingly have to check off the "36-44" age bracket on forms that require your age. Yes, I realize that being a year older but not a year closer to some of my goals in life doesn't bode very well.  But 35, or at least the end of it, was a humdinger. I lost my beloved Cinn after a several month battle with illness. I had numerous other changes in my life that didn't exactly align with my goals. I screwed up my knee/hip/IT band (again!) while training for what was to be my first half marathon which I was very excited about and now feel there's pretty much no chance of even limping my way through. And several other smaller things that threw me for mini-loops.

In fairness, not all of year 35 was bad, and as my goal for my incoming year is to focus more on the positive, I'd be amiss if I didn't mention a few things that kept me pulling through. I took several international trips, including Paris, Morocco, Portugal, and Mexico.  I got a promotion at work. I made some new friends and reconnected with old ones. I finished the very very rough draft of my novel. I completed my second Overnight Walk and became involved with the local chapters.

And so, as the last days of this year wind down for me and I say good riddance to 35 and welcome 36 with open arms, I try to remember that every single thing that happened to me this year - happy, sad, painful, what have you - must serve as a stepping stone to the upcoming year. I would not be who I am today, at this moment, without each and every one of them. Some of them no doubt will linger into the upcoming year. I don't think there will be a day of my life, ever, when I don't think of Cinn and wish she was here with me still. But they are opportunities to grow and learn and adjust my sails, so to speak, and I take what I can from this past year, while hoping that not quite so much pain and heartache and frustration awaits me in the coming one.

Friday, September 11, 2015

I Am A Woman, And I AM Beautiful

I am a woman. I am not a girl, or a chick, or a broad.  I'm certainly not a bitch, or any other derogatory word that has somehow become a common place nickname for a women. I'm certainly not a dude. Have you ever (as a woman) had someone say to you, "Dude you looked hot in that dress"? And I'm most definitely not your bro. I don't even like the term bro used for men, though at least they've gotten the gender right.  But seriously, if you're interested in a woman, getting her gender wrong and then insinuating that she's related to you, isn't exactly the way to go.

Why is this a big deal? Because I, like other females of my age, are women. We stopped being girls more or less when puberty hit, and most certainly when we entered the adult working world. Calling us such girls now makes us sound inferior. We are not. We are equal. We are to be listened to and respected, not to be ordered around and taken with a grain of salt. Now, I make a small exception if you're using it as a shortened form of the world girlfriend. Because while it still involves the word "girl", it's become a colloquialism, and "woman-friend" just sounds kind of odd. While I prefer the term partner - not only does it neutralize gender and orientation but also indicates equality - I realize that not everyone uses this and I've gotten accustomed to it. But used in cases like "oh bring that to the girl that works in the mail room", unless she's actually under the age of 18, is demeaning. Period. As for "chick" or "broad", it makes you sound Fonzy (regardless of your gender), and generally indicates a flippancy. A characteristic I don't want present in describing me, or any other woman.  I think "bitch" is self-explanatory, and Dude and Bro, well, I've discussed above.

So now, Beautiful. Yes, I am beautiful. Regardless of what you think of my external appearance I am beautiful. I am not cute or hot or tight or any other slang. If you're commenting strictly on my looks, something that indicates maturity and femininity, like gorgeous, is just fine. I'm on the fence about sexy, because it makes me feel like an object to be used instead of a person, but maybe this is because I'm an old boxers and tank type kind of woman, not a lingerie kind of woman. I understand that some people feel that sexy is a compliment. But it shouldn't be the only compliment you are given. You are still beautiful.  Beautiful refers to a whole person. Or it should. Their mind, their body, their soul. As well as their appearance - however they look.

A beautiful person doesn't have to look like they'll grace the cover of the next fashion magazine or Victoria's Secret runway show. There are plenty of people who may never look like super models, but everything else about them makes them beautiful. Their heart and soul and goodness shine through. So even if at first glance you don't think they're beautiful, or even mildly attractive, you do once you get to know them. Likewise, there are plenty of people who may turn heads when first encountered, but their lack of heart and goodness also shines through, and they no longer appear beautiful.

So go ahead - tell your wife or partner or friend or whoever else you'd like that they're beautiful.  But make sure to tell her why. Not because you like her stomach or the shape of her butt or her toned arms.  Not even because of what she can do. Tell her about the beauty you see in her heart and her soul - those things that truly make her who she is. Because she, like me, is a beautiful woman. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

World Suicide Prevention Day: Truths To Know About Those Who Battle

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It's a cause that has become one of my biggest focuses in the last year. A few years ago I lost a cousin to suicide, I have friends who have contemplated and attempted suicide, and I have battled the demons myself. Suicide  feels like a scary topic. For those who deal with it first hand, and those who are too frightened to deal with it and turn away. And I think, for a lot of people who watch loved ones with depression, it feels scary because they feel helpless. I understand that. From the point of those who battle it, so do we.

Perhaps learning more about who we are, and what you can do, would help.  So here are a few things you should know about us.

  • We are strong. So strong. Look how much we've gotten through every day, all day, while battling depression. 
  • We are working as hard as we can. When we aren't able to do something, we physically aren't able to do it. It's not a matter of being lazy or not wanting to or having "messed up priorities". We are unable. The same way that someone with cancer, or diabetes, or heart disease may be unable. 
  • We want to be able to see you, to do things with you, to get out from under the covers. We want to fee safe "out there." We long for that day. So don't give up. Don't stop inviting us or trying to help us.  The 10th, 100th, 1000th time you ask might be the one that saves us when we're ready to lose our battle all together, when we feel like everyone's given up on us. 
  • We feel alone. Constantly. We feel more alone in a room full of people who don't understand us (which is quite possibly everyone) than we do when we're actually alone. 
  • We know we're not like you. Which is exactly why we always feel alone. Please don't continue to point it out, unless you're doing so in a way that is entirely, and genuinely, positive (i.e. we have some creative skill you wish you possessed, for instance).  
  • We're not stuck up or judgemental.  We aren't looking down on you or too good to join in your fun.  We just can't enjoy the things you do, even if we want to. It feels unauthentic to pretend, and often, downright anxiety or panic producing. 
  • The one thing that feels real is clinging on to who we are. Regardless of how little we think of ourselves, please, don't make us give up the few bits of our identity we may believe in and hold on to. Don't make us change for you. It will verify our thought that we're nothing, unworthy, unloveable as our true selves. 
  • Sometimes the smallest things seem like the biggest victories. Don't downplay them.  But also don't exaggerate them like we're a little child. We can spot inauthentic from a mile away, and the last thing we want is to feel like people are walking on eggshells, playing a part, or putting on a show for us. Again, it will only verify how much trouble we feel we cause everyone else, and add one more thing to our list of why we're nothing. 
  • We don't understand our depression, or our tears, much better than you do, other than knowing it's part of our life and our brain. If I don't know why I'm crying, or why I'm feeling so bad, the answer is simply depression. 
  • For many of us, depression is a lifelong illness. We may get better or worse, but it doesn't get cured. This is particularly the case with someone who battles mood cycling. Our (hypo)manic stages may suggest we're better, full of life.  But that also suggests eventually, we'll crash back down eventually.  If you have someone in your life who suffers from depression, know that they may always do so. Don't like us or love us for who we are when we're "better" or "normal".   Like us or love us just for who we are. All of us. 
  • We are not looking for attention. Most likely it's the last thing we want. We feel bad enough about ourselves. We don't want the spotlight on our lives and our illnesses, unless perhaps in situations like advocacy work where we'e sharing our stories to help others. But please, depression, or thoughts of suicide, are not attention-seeking. 
  • However, if we reach out, if we say we are depressed, or don't want to live, or anything else that suggests suicidal thoughts or behavior, please, don't dismiss it. It could be our attempts to reach out for help. And your support, and care, and concern, could be what pulls us through when we otherwise may not. 
I hope that his helps. Suicide, and mental health all together, is an elusive topic. It's been taboo. People don't want to talk about it, and others don't want to hear about it. I am not one of those people. And so, if you want to share your story, or have questions, I am all ears. Please, always feel free to reach out. As awful as mental health conditions are, it has helped me to discover one "gift" of sorts:  the ability to help others who struggle. And I strive to use that insight to the fullest. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Inside the Hyper-Stimulated Mind

I was recently at a conference in which the speaker, stating that he'd been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) as a child, offered an alternative definition of sorts. He said that in fact, he didn't have a deficit of attention at all - it was quite the opposite. To him, everything gained his attention. He explained how, looking out into the audience, everyone's outfits - including the multitude of colors - every light fixture or decorative column, the colors and shapes on the carpets, the shine of of everyone's jewelry, all called out for his attention. At once.

Now, I realize that, most likely, the term "deficit" is used in conjunction with focusing on a single item, task, or situation. But I thought he brought up a fantastic point. The general public seems to have adopted the phrase "ADD" (like they have the names of other mental health conditions) as a way of describing the very generic inability to focus or pay attention to or even remember things.  In reality it's much deeper than that. I'm sure someone diagnosed with ADD could do much more justice here, but hopefully I'm getting my point across at least slightly.

So, why write about this if I do not have ADD, you ask? Because what the speaker said resonated with me in describing my anxiety and panic. And I thought that perhaps a further description may help those who do not truly understand (even if you genuinely try to), what it's like when I experience an episode of any of these three.

Imagine you're standing in a room, doing a common, every day task - ordering a coffee at a coffee shop, talking to a friend, you name it. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that should make you run for the hills, or hide in the corner praying it ends soon, right? Then, suddenly, everyone surrounds you and starts talking right in your ear and in your face. Some quietly but still as persistent, some almost screaming.  You can't decipher what they're all saying, but there must be 20 to 30 people talking right there in your headspace.  Then, people start throwing things at you from all angles. You are trying to figure out where it's coming from, what's going on, how to avoid it, but there's so much talking right in your most private circle of space that you can't concentrate. All you see are images moving about. Then, flashing lights, all different colors, and blaring noises - say something like a siren or a smoke detector or fire alarm.  Then, despite it not seeming possible, all of these people, flashing lights, sirens, projectiles get closer, so that you literally can't move without hearing, seeing, feeling them all.  And through all of this, you're still trying to order your coffee, or talk to your friend - the one person talking to you at a normal distance and volume about something that you actually want to focus on - and pretend none of the rest of it is going on because somehow, miraculously, they're completely unfazed by it.  It's like they don't even notice.

You try all of the tricks you know - deep breaths, closing your eyes for a moment, focusing on the face of the person you mean to speak to - all without trying to draw attention, and nothing works. At this point, you know you cannot stop it, nor can you take it any more.  You have two options: 1.) You can either explode and break down. You can scream "everybody shut the hell up" at the top of your lungs and beg, hope, and pray that even the sirens and flashing lights somehow understand this command to stop, or 2.) You can shut down. This means literally turn away from it all, including the one friend or barista that you actually were trying to converse with. And in order to do this, you literally have to extract yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. You can try to, as inconspicuously as possible which usually isn't very, stop whatever you're doing and let your mind and senses glaze over until you've shut down every sensory option as completely as you can (you probably have a look on your face that's somewhat akin to the ghost-like look just before someone passes out), or you can up and leave the place all together, which is equally as difficult and conspicuous if you're in mid-conversation.

I realize that everyone with panic, or severe anxiety, experiences this differently. But this is how I experience it, and I promise you, it's not fun. It's not fun knowing you basically have to make some sort of a scene, have some sort of an episode, or end up in the ER, and having to make that choice.  It's not fun knowing people worry that you're going to "freak out" and don't want to invite you to things, or get nervous when they do. It's not fun wondering "How did I handle that? Was I ok? Is anyone embarrassed by me? Ashamed to be there with me?" "How will people treat me the next time they see me/I go back to that place?" And most importantly, it's not something we choose.  Not really at least. Well, I guess technically I have the choice to explode, implode, or get hospitalized, or to avoid social situations all together out of fear of one of these happening. But that's not much of a choice, is it?

So please, if you know someone who has a diagnosed condition, instead of joking around about their condition, or using it as some common place term and furthering the stigma, instead of being ashamed or embarrassed or angry by someone who's struggling, offer help - true help. As in, don't help now and hold it against them later.  And if someone has a problem with them, or with you for helping them, give them your favorite hand gesture, or call them an ignorant jerk, or possibly even try to educate them if they seem like a reasonable person. Whatever you think might make them take pause. But however you do it, stand up for us, and for yourself for helping us and being a decent, caring human being, and work to change the stigma. Because if in that moment we can't, and you don't, who's going to?