Thursday, December 31, 2015

Closing the Curtain on 2015

2015 was one of the most volatile years of my life, and with me, that's a difficult feat to pull off.  I realize volatile has a negative connotation, and yet I don't entirely mean it that way. Not entirely. There were a multitude of moments over the past 364 days that encouraged me to throw my hands up in the air and say F$%^ this S^&*, and there were times when that's exactly what I did, at least momentarily.

This past year, I lost my dog Cinn, my best friend and companion of 10 years, to a mystery illness that took her life rather suddenly but as peacefully as possible. Heartbroken doesn't come close to describing how I felt, and still feel, over the passing of my precious baby girl.  My personal and living situation changed drastically, which is as much as needs to be said on that topic, since those who need to know the actual details know them.  One of my closest friends died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 38. So if you asked me a couple of months ago how I'd summarize 2015, I probably would have said simply said "good riddance" and walked away. Because while I don't want to dwell on the difficult times, I certainly don't want to relive them.



But about two months ago, life started to shift for me. First and foremost was the conscious change I made in my overall view of life and of myself. Now let me clarify a crucial point: my mood cycling is an illness, NOT a product of a bad attitude. Nor is anyone else's mental health condition a product of theirs. So for those who think "hey, all she needed to do was look at the glass half full", well.... I'd cover your ass if you don't want my foot up it. I still cycle. Plenty. Maybe not as I have in the worst of times, but I do. The difference is that I've started valuing myself a great deal more, and in doing so am taking better care of myself emotionally, mentally, and physically. I'm going to bed earlier; I'm working out more often; I'm trying to eat healthier, albeit not as healthy as I would if it weren't holiday season; I'm doing yoga and meditation consistently (or more consistently). This doesn't by any means prevent cycling fully, but it helps to not encourage my brain to cycle even further. As my brain has cleared a bit, I've been able to see the beauty in my quirks, my differences, and I've begun to love that part of myself more. I've never hoped to be normal or cool (quite frankly those I'd be bored to tears), but there have been times in the past  where I've been persuaded into thinking that those traits that make me unique should be quelled and hidden away. I am no longer allowing that to happen, and as such am, for the first time in ages, comfortable and confident with who I am as a person, faults and all.

Coincidentally, or not, as I've stopped worrying so profusely that my condition is a liability to me and those close to me, my life has taken some positive turns. First, I adopted a new dog, a two year old long-haired brindle mutt named Grace. I thought I'd need just about forever after losing my Cinn, but I realized that she wouldn't want that. She'd want me to give another homeless dog a loving and caring forever home, and when I saw Grace's picture and read her story, I knew she was for me. Not to mention the fact that I happened to learn of a dog named Grace in need of a help on the weekend that the Pope was visiting my city. If I believed in signs, that's as sure of one as I've ever seen. Secondly, we know by now that I don't talk about relationships on here, particularly not current ones, but let's just say that are of my life is one of those positively shifting situations. I feel so incredibly lucky in this particular turn of events. Relationships have historically been quite... um... rough for me. For possibly the first time, I'm not trying to change myself for somebody else. If you've ever attempted to change greatly for someone, you know it's a recipe for disaster in so many ways, and it's incredibly refreshing to just be me. (Clarification here: this is not to blame anyone from my past, it's that I'm glad that I have the confidence to not feel the need to be anyone but myself). Moving along, I'm under contract to buy a condo in the city. After 8 years of renting, I decided to finally take the plunge back into home ownership. I haven't said much on this as there are still some things to iron out, but I'm crossing my fingers that if everything goes well, I'll be closing at the end of February.

So my summary of 2015: It took me on quite a ride both literally (I traveled to Morocco, Portugal, and Mexico this year), and figuratively. I would not want to relive the downs, most notably because of how painful they were to others involved, and because they included the passing of loved ones - who'd want to relive that? And I can't even say that the ups balanced the downs, because as amazing as the positives are, that feels like putting a price on someone or something's life which, needless to say, I could never do. What I can say is that I am excited to ring in 2016, and I look forward to the possibilities that it holds. I am sure that, like every other year, it will includes ups and downs - that's my condition, and quite simply, that's life. I certainly hope the downs of the upcoming year aren't as severe as those of the outgoing year. For my part, the best I can do is continue to value and take care of myself and those who love and support me, and to use continue to work to help others, paying it back or paying it forward, as so many have done for me over the years when I needed it most.

Happy New Year, all! See you in 2016! 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Helpful" Things People Say That Only Make It Worse

I'm going to preface this with saying that I understand that these words and phrases are almost always said in an attempt to be helpful. I get that people utter these when they want to say something, but really have no idea what they should be saying or doing. Which can happen for a number of reasons - they've never felt the way you do so they can't empathize; they're bad at expressing their emotions; they really don't have time to talk but want to say something "consoling". These are just a few of the potential scenarios. And truly, we appreciate the effort. But because this post is written in an effort to educate and to help people better understand,  I'm attempting to clarify what these actually sound like to those of us suffering. When you say these things, we may shut down, and you don't understand why because you're doing all you can think of. That, in turn, might hurt you. That's the last thing we want.  I'm sure there are plenty more examples. I'll provide my top. And please, don't feel bad if you've said these to me, or anyone else. Virtually everyone has.

  • Bummer. Bummer is for "I've stubbed my toe and it wore of my fresh coat of toenail polish." Bummer is not for "I'm in a terrible depressive episode and don't want to move from the bed." It minimalizes and trivializes what we're battling, however unintentionally. 
  • "Sorry, girl". (Assuming you're an adult female. The equivalent would be dude or bro for a man, I suppose.).  I don't know why this drives me up the freakin' wall, and I feel bad that it does, but it does. Partly, we know how I feel about the use of girl for women. It makes it sound like it's a little kid's problem. Partly, it just sounds cliche. If you can replace what you've just said with an emoji, it probably doesn't help a ton when we're having a terrible time. If you truly feel bad, say something to the effect of "I'm really sorry to hear that you're going through this." 
  • "If I was there I would .. hang out/come over/participate in/etc..." . I understand that it's supposed to be the thought that counts. And most of the time it is. But when I have spent a week curled up in the house with depression, desperately need to get out, feel like nobody wants to/can see me, and am one step shy of  begging someone to hang out, I need an affirmative reply only. Anything that points out that you cannot spend time with me, no matter how much you'd like to in theory, only points out further that I'm still alone.  Here's one more person that I can't spend time with. When we see that little "so and so commented on your post" notification, you've given us false hope. I know it's done with the best of intentions, but honestly, it hurts more than it helps most times. It might sound silly, and maybe it is, but it's true none the less. 
  • "Ugh", as the sole response. I've just bared my soul and you've said "ugh." We're emotional and we are hoping for something like "what a jerk I hope he dies a fiery death," (insert scolding/abhorrence as relates to topic). I'll admit, I'm occassionally I'm guilty of this when driving or when someone continually texts me even when I've said I am unable to talk. And again, this is acceptable for "I stubbed my toe", but not when we desperately need to talk. If you're driving, or can't reply right now, we understand, assuming it's not life-threatening. But we want a real connection, whenever you have a chance to reply. Not something that looked like your cat texted. (See post Everything's OK for a longer rant.. err... explanation on this subject). 
  • "Smile, relax, take a deep breath, calm down." You say this and I say "I hope you don't value your head because it's about to roll."  I spend several hundreds of dollars on therapy and medication each month, and probably will for the rest of my life. I have to beg out of social situations, spend days curled up in the chair with my book (at best), because I'm too depressed to face people. I get so agitated with hypomania that I can't stand myself at times. If I could smile or take a deep breath and fix it, I would. It'd save a lot of time and money and angst both for me and those around me. So clearly, that's not an option. Also, I KNOW I'm not calm or relaxed or smiling. That's why I'm talking to you about my struggles in the first place. And once again, this dumbs it down, like it's a choice, and I'm choosing to battle a mental illness. 
Again, we know that when you say these things you mean no harm. In fact, you're probably trying to help. But if you truly want to help, make it personal. Reply in a manner that's directly related to what we've said, that shows that even if you don't fully understand what we're going through, you're there and you want to make it better, even though that's probably not within your power (since it's not even within our power). I wrote this post a while back on how to help someone battling depression, and gives more specifics on ways to react.  But when in doubt, telling someone you love them (assuming it's appropriate), you care, you're there for them, and asking what you can do to help, usually does the trick. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Nothing is Ever One Sided

I'll totally admit that I'm pissy as I write this. I'm pissy because I'm sick of myself, and others with mental health conditions, being scapegoats. It's easy for everything to be "our fault." After all, we're the crazy ones, right? We're the ones who over-react, freak out, The irrational ones that blow things out of proportion, misinterpret, over-analyze. And maybe, maybe, we sometimes are (except the crazy, that's just bullshit). But not all the time. Nobody is right or wrong 100 percent of the time. Nobody. Barring physical abuse (I'd safely say we can put that in the "always wrong" category), can you think of a single situation in which you can say it's always, without one possible exception right or wron?. Not almost always or virtually never or mostly always or "I could make a good case for this", but literally always or never? I cannot. And I'd challenge you to do so and find others who agree.

Right and wrong is opinion, subjective. Not fact. By definition, that means that there are two sides, or can be. Let me give you an example. Person A comes home from work. Person B says something not overly positive, but basically benign to me. Person A flips. Completely flips. They start yelling at Person B. Person B throws their hands up and calls them a crazy asshole and claims they did nothing. Anyone from the outside looking in, with no background might say, "Geez, all they did was ask if they could wash the dishes when they got a chance!" But maybe every single day, when Person A comes in the door, before they can even put their bags down after a long day, before Person B even asks how their day went, they ask them to do some chore or task. And they expect the person to happily do it, to agree without . If  Person A so much as hesitates before agreeing with a smile on their face, Person B gets upset. If Person A says they've had a long day or they're tired or has some other reason they don't want to/can't agree to the task right now, Person B tells them that they're lazy and never do anything to help and starts demeaning them. But to hear Person B tell it, they just asked nicely if Person A would mind doing the dishes and got reamed.

And maybe, to give Person B the benefit of the doubt, they've done nothing. And maybe they didn't deserve to get yelled at. But maybe Person A just found out that their company is downsizing and they may get laid off, and the same day found out that their favorite aunt has terminal cancer, and that their car needs $8000 worth of repair for something that's not covered by their warranty, which is especially stressful now that they may get laid off.  Perhaps, the last thing they needed when they got home was to be asked to do a chore around the house. All they wanted to do was have a glass a wine, get a hug and a "we'll get through this together" from their partner, and get to bed early because they're too anxious to do anything else. And instead of a hug and a "we'll get through this," they got "can you do the dishes". Did they over-react to that particular request? Yes. I'd probably say they did. But given the circumstances, is it a bit understandable? Again, I'd say yes. Had Person B asked how their day was going first, they'd probably have done the dishes themselves. And if they did, and their response was still to expect Person A to drop everything and go do the dishes, they may have gotten what they deserved.

Those of us with mental health conditions are easy targets. Because of our panic, anxiety, (hypo)mania, and depression, people are more willing to believe that we're at fault. Of course we are, we're the one with the problem. And because, when we're provoked we get more panicky, anxious, depressed, or (hypo)manic, we do react, it becomes increasingly easier to blame us. It's the old back a frightened animal into a corner while jabbing at it with a stick, and then blame it when it bites trick. Eventually, the animal becomes so nervous around you that it may lunge out even in when unprovoked. Sure, the animal is nervous, and this nervousness plays a part. Yes, it technically went after you, and that's not a good thing. It did have a role in the scenario. But it had its reasons, whether you care to understand them and work with them or not. And those on the outside who are less insightful will fall for it. They'll believe you were innocently standing there, attacked needlessly by a wild animal. Those of us dealing with the condition may even believe it ourselves at times, at our lowest points where we lack belief in ourselves, when we're easily molded and preyed upon. Until eventually, we regain our strength and see the truth for what it is. We'll acknowledge our part, but we won't take the whole blame. We, the "crazy" ones, understand there are two sides.

If someone's stories or account continually involve them always being right and the another person always being wrong, if they're constantly making themselves to be the "good guy (woman)" and the other person to be the "bad guy (woman), be wary. Because basically, they're full of it. Or they have such a lack of awareness that they truly always think they're right. People that see the world this way have a narrow lens, and don't want to see it through any view point but their own. They don't want to say "what can I do to help" or "what could I have done differently" or "perhaps there are two sides to this." They want things to all come together to support their view, whatever that is. And if their view changes, so do the "facts" that support it. A person who's telling the full truth may get exacerbated with others. But they'll eventually give them some sort of credit. They won't portray them as crazy monsters. They'll be able to understand their own part in things. They may speak of others' faults, but they'll also acknowledge their own. And those are the people who you want in your life. Because right now, you may be "right" because you agree with the only version of the story the person is willing to tell you. But give it long enough, and you'll be the one who's "always wrong." Because nobody's perfect, and when Person A is out of the picture, Person B will need someone else to blame when something goes wrong.