Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's The End of The Month As We Know It

It’s the last day of HAWMC! Congratulations, you completed 30 days of writing! Take this last post to reflect on your health advocacy journey and set a goal for the next year. Perhaps you want to try a new platform for your activism, attend a patient summit, or start a podcast. Remember, “Set your goals high, and don't stop till you get there.”

Guys, I did it! I completed HAWMC! I did skip 3 days, but those were intentional, as they felt like things I'd just recently written about, or that didn't particularly apply to me at the moment. Or, in the case of yesterday's, I've just not had a ton of chance to read others' post enough to pick one (sorry, that makes me a bad HA I know). But considering that this month held more work hours than normal, the Thanksgiving holiday, and stomach-virus-ageddon, I'm pretty proud of myself. 

My goals for next year? Well, I do want to attend a patient summit and/or conference for HAs. That's pretty high on my list. I also want to make sure to raise the necessary funds and complete my fourth Overnight Walk next June.  

My biggest goal, however, is a project that I've just recently begun promoting called the Spread Hope Project (link to initial Instagram post here). The project idea bloomed from a shirt I own that says the word "Hope" across the front, which I bought at an  event but have seen nowhere else on the organization's website or elsewhere. I loved the message of hope and thought, "How great would it be to get a picture with a shirt that says 'HOPE' in as many different locations and with as many different people as possible." Literally, spreading Hope to as many places and people as I can. I broadcasted this on social media, and people started volunteering themselves or their locations/cities/etc for pictures. A friend then suggested making my own "hope" type shirts (not the same, but with the same message) and donating the money to mental health and suicide prevention charities. This idea merged with a similar one that had already been brewing in my head, and the Spread Hope Project was born. I have more ideas, longer range goals down the road, but for now, I'm focusing on getting out there and getting pictures with people and places, and eventually developing Spread Hope shirts (not the same as the original, but with my own logo) so that others can Spread Hope as well.  (CYA: I know there are trademark/etc processes involved in creating my own design here and I'm on it). 

And so, my call to action is this: If you are interested in being in a Spread Hope picture, or think that your location would make a great backdrop, let me know! Additionally, if you are a business or organization, especially in the Philly/South Jersey area, and would like a picture in your location and a tag on social media, reach out! As the rest of the plan becomes more concrete, I'll undoubtedly be posting more on this. But for now, you can follow along on my personal Instagram and twitter, as well as with the hashtags #spreadhope #spreadhopeproject #spreadhopestopstigma and #spreadhopesavelives. Let's get those pictures rolling!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Challenges and Little Victories

HAWMC Day 28: 5 Challenges & 5 Small Victories. Make a list of the 5 most difficult parts of your health focus. Make another top 5 list for the little, good things (small victories) that keep you going.

Challenges and small victories are what being an HA is all about. The challenges force me to look at my advocacy work, my condition, and myself in a new light, and the victories, well they're part of what gets me out of bed in the morning. So here we go. 

  • The stigma.  This, to me, is both the biggest challenge, and one of the most important reasons I advocate. Over time, I've developed more of "deal with it or don't be around me" attitude towards the stigma, but it's still always there. Naturally, I care less about what people I don't know think of me, and I feel that my friends aren't real friends if they stigmatize me because of my illness. But it's those in positions of "power" that have caused concerns at times - those at work, in professional organizations (I've sat on several boards), clients, potential clients. I say "power" because if they decide to stigmatize, it could really cause a problem in my career. It's much more difficult to say "well I'm better off without them" if it's someone who can directly affect your livelihood. 
  • Offering insight into my cycles without completely confusing or concerning my reader. I often write best when I'm battling anxiety, depression, or hypomania. It helps me give a "first hand" account of what it's like, in the moment. But I also have to balance that with not writing when I'm all over the place, can't focus, can't think clearly, or when I'm so low that things I say could concern my reader. 
  • Not blogging/tweeting/posting every thought that ever comes into my head. Writing is my escape, especially in the midst of a tough mood cycle. It helps me get my thoughts out of my muddled head, which helps to ease the constant tug of war in my brain. But I have to force myself to pause and take some time before hitting publish. Because I try to understand that even if it seems urgent to me in this moment, that may not be the case, and it may do best to let it sit, re-read, revise as necessary. Especially when angry. 
  • The constant advice. I know many people have the best of intentions. But I'm battling a serious medical condition, and it can't be "fixed" by taking deep breaths, meditating, praying, focusing on the positive, etc. Can those things help? Possibly. (Though, I'll step out on the praying bit personally, as my status with religion is shaky at best). But they aren't going to cure me. Thinking positively isn't going to make my depression go away, just like it wouldn't make someone's cancer or heart disease go away.  Because trust me, if it could, I would have done these long ago. 
  • The topic of medication.  This is a bit tied to the above. People often think I can just will myself better. Let me tell you something: I cannot.  Period. Trust me, I've tried. I've tried everything I can that didn't involve medications. And I was no better. My medication is live saving.  Yet so often I have to battle the "You're a pawn of the pharma industry. Your Dr. isn't helping you they just want you to need them more" people. And maybe they've managed to help their condition without meds. I'm super happy for them, seriously. Because meds suck. But the don't suck more than they help. They are not me, and therefore they don't know what's best for me. These people anger me SO much. I don't do well with people who think they know my body and my brain better than me. The stigma of medication is a whole other animal from the stigma of the disorder itself. 
Little Victories:
  • Every person who comments, messages me, or contacts me in some other way to let me know that my efforts have helped them. 
  • My spoonie community. You guys are my life line at times. Literally. 
  • Completing the Overnight Walk three years and counting. These are some of the most amazing experiences of my life. Hearing people's stories, meeting others who have battled themselves or who have lost loved ones to suicide makes me fight that much harder to help those who need it. 
  • Getting nominated for a WEGO Health Activist Award. Thanks, guys! I didn't win, but hey, there's always other years. The nomination itself means so much. 
  • Opportunities to guest blog, host twitter chats, and share my experiences in other ways on other platforms than my own blog. Working together is key to me, and the opportunity to do so with fellow HAs is awesome! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hey, Healthcare Industry!

HAWMC DAy 25:  As health activists, we are on a mission to innovate healthcare. If you could change one thing in the healthcare landscape right now, what would it be?

Just one? Pretty please, can I pick at least... oh... 10? Or at least 3?

If I had to pick just one thing, it would be the lack of patient input. Not the most technical term, I know, but I'm battling flareups of both CFS and IBS, as well as a depression cycle this morning, and I'm lacking for one right now.  But more or less, patients needs and wishes - from the patients themselves, not assumed by or guessed at by bigger companies, organizations, etc - should be sought and incorporated more. Period. If they are not, how can you truly have the patients' best interests at heart? And after all, the healthcare industry should be about just that - patients and their health.

The thing is, unless you've experienced an illness, you can't 100 percent understand the needs of each of those illnesses? Unless you've battled chronic illness, day in and day out, over weeks, months, years, how do you know what would best benefit those who do? Not to mention that needs aren't the same across the board. What someone with depression requires probably isn't the same as what someone with a heart condition or an autoimmune disease requires. Without input from patients battling wide range of illness, it's virtually impossible to make sure that each of their needs are met.

How can this be accomplished? I'm not sure. But it's crucial for those of us for whom monthly, or even weekly, or sometimes daily doctors visits and healthcare visits and treatments are a reality. When it comes to the chronic illness, I consider myself lucky to only have to see my healthcare professional every few weeks, to only need blood work every six weeks, to have found a therapist (my main treating healthcare professional) who I trust, even if she can't take insurance. But I still don't have the access I should. I shouldn't have to pay $6000 out of pocket before insurance kicks in. I shouldn't have to pay ridiculous amounts for necessary blood work, to ensure that my life-saving medications aren't damaging my organs. I still shouldn't have to choose a bottom of the barrel insurance plan for over $400 a month because it's all I can afford - though trust me, I'm glad I at least have to be guaranteed insurance (for the time being at least). I shouldn't have to accept what I can get when it comes to my health, my life. But I do, like so many others. Because we don't get input, not enough at least, into our healthcare system. We just have to be the recipients of what everyone else decides. 

Pictures Worth 1000 Words

HAWMC Day 24:  Choose 3 images that represent your health focus.  Share the images in a post and explain why you chose each of them.

Each of these beads represent one of the reasons I walk the Overnight Walk every year. 
Blue:  Support suicide prevention
Teal:  Friend or relative who struggles or has attempted
Purple:  Lost friend or relative to suicide
Green: Personal struggle or attempt

Each of these people has been in some way affected by mental health and suicide. Each of them are impact enough to walk 16 to 18 miles, overnight, for the cause.

Each one of these luminaries represents someone who has died by suicide. 

This is why I do what I do. Each and every one of these people and their loved who struggle or have lost their lives to suicide are why I advocate, and will continue to do so. 

Say What?

HAWMC Day 23:  Say WHAT?! What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard about health or your condition. Was there any context? What did you think at the time you heard it – and what do you think of it now?

Honestly, most of what people say about my condition is ridiculous. At least those who don't understand it. But I think the most ridiculous thing I routinely hear about mood cycling is when people thing we go Jeckyll and Hyde mid-sentence. When they say things like, "She was being all nice and then just flipped. It's like she's bipolar."  Yes, I'm rapid cycling. But I can at least finish a conversation before I cycle. I cycle in a matter of hours or days, not seconds.

This type of thinking perpetuate stigma. It makes people view us as volatile, unpredictable. So when the media tries to pinpoint as dangerous, people nod and say "yes, I can see that," despite statistics quite to the opposite. This perpetuates the cycle, and round and round we go. Not one person stopping to actually learn about the disorder and how it manifests itself.

What did I think about it when I heard it vs now? The same. I still think it's ridiculous to think someone could literally just cycles mid conversation, without any "warning", for lack of a better term. And I still think it's just as stigmatizing, ignorant and closed-minded to think this way. Here's a tip: if someone switches on you like this, I'm willing to be everything I own that they aren't cycling in that very moment. Perhaps they're having a bad day. Or perhaps you're just being a jerk and they've finally reached their boiling point. Because sometimes it's not us, it's you. 

Health Blogging Tip Tuesday!

Tip Tuesday! Have you mastered the hashtag?  Figured out the Instagram algorithm? Or maybe you have a few tips to increase your blog followers.  Whatever it is, share your expertise with your fellow HA’s- it’ll only make our community stronger!

I feel like a broken record on some of these prompts, saying I haven't mastered anything. But that's the case. But I don't like the terms "mastered" or "expert" or, oh god, "guru" - please don't ever call me a guru. What I have is my own life experience to share, a lot of empathy for others going through similar things, and the ability to try not to judge but instead listen openly (unless you're stigmatizing, or judging others, then I'll have something to say about it).  My strategy is to  not stick to one thing too stringently, because I like to reach different people in different ways and having just one prescribed formula for everything I have to say as an HA doesn't seem to work, for me at least. But here are a few things I do try to do consistently. 

  • Hashtags. I tend to use the following (when they fit and are applicable to said post/share/tweet/etc)
    • #mentalhealth 
    • #chroniclife 
    • #cyclothymia
    • #spoonie 
    • #moodcycling
    • #stopsuicide
    • #anxiety
    • #depression
    • #20x2025 (this is used by AFSP for posts related to suicide prevention. I use it less, but when I'm referring to my suicide prevention efforts specifically I do). 
    • When it relates to being an introvert with anxiety, social anxiety, I also use the following:  #introvert, #INFJ, #socialanxiety
    • I've recently been using hashtags for my new Spread Hope project, but that's more in an effort to get it out there, not because I think tons of people follow them. Those are (as of now, this is brand new): #SpreadHope #SpreadHopeProject #SpreadHopeSaveLives #SpreadHopeStopStigma. 
  • Twitter chats. I try to participate in a variety of twitter chats on chronic illness, mental health, and HA topics. These include chats such as HAChat, MHChat, SpoonieChat, PatientPrefChat. There are others that I hope to/plan to/would like to participate in but haven't gotten to. And if you have suggestions for chats, I'm all ears! 
  • Varying my social media modes and times. The bottom line is, there are HAs, and people looking to interact with them, all over the world. And they probably don't all love the exact same types of social media or get online at the same time. If I simply used a set schedule, I wouldn't be interacting with half the people that I do. While I use some (twitter) more than others, I am working on branching out and finding ways to best use a variety of medium. 
  • I combine personal "me" stuff with HA stuff. There are pictures/posts about my dog, my family, my travels, as well as my advocacy efforts. I find people like dealing with people, flaws, daily life, and all. Plus, maybe what catches someone's attention is a picture of my dog, and then they'll from my other posts that I, too, battle depression like they do, and we'll connect over both our love of dogs and our health battles. Which we may never have done if I hadn't posted a picture of my dog, with the hashtag #dogmom, which they happened to search that day.
  • I try to interact almost as much as I post. Whether it's a like or a favorite/like, a reply, a retweet, a share, etc, I feel that, especially when it comes to interacting about such a personal topic, you get what you give. I can't expect everyone to care about what I'm saying/posting/gramming/etc if I don't care about theirs. The social part of social media is key. 
That's what I have, folks. Nothing profound, I know. But it's what (works kind of) for me, and what keeps me advocating on social media. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

What is Your Life Motto?

Monday Motivation: What's your life slogan?  Explain what words or mantra that keep you going and why.

I feel like in many ways, this post is similar to week one's Quote Inspiration post.  I don't have just one life motto, because as a mood cycler, often the message I need to send myself is not the same from day to day. When I'm in a hypomanic cycle, I might need to remind myself to reign it in, slow down, focus on smaller things. In a depressed cycle, I might need to motivate myself by reminding myself that I'm worth it, that my efforts help people, that I'm not hopeless. But here are a few thoughts/sayings/quotes that keep me going. As mentioned, I've already written about my favorite from Charles M.  Schultz as part of this challenge, so I'll leave that one out here. As always, these are in particular order. 

The first two are from my Grandma Ventura, that have become somewhat iconic in my family. 
  •  When asked how to get through to get through a difficult time, my grandma used to say "You put one foot in front of the other." It reminds me that you don't have to always get through something perfectly or gracefully. You just have to get through it. I picture someone walking through some sort of murk or mist, not being able to see anything but their feet moving beneath them. They don't even realize the progress they're making, but they are making it, by putting one foot in front of the other. 
  • The second one is less poignant. "If it ain't your ass, it's your elbow." Basically, it's always going to be something. Which reminds me not to wait until everything's perfect. It's never going to be. If it's not one thing, it'll be another. Try not to let it stop you. 
My grandma also used to say "Cream and bastards rise to the top", but I'm not really sure I apply that to daily life, other than to hope that when I do "rise", it's because I'm the former. 

The other things that get me through life regularly are oddly morose. Which is particularly strange, to me at least, for someone who blogs on mental health and suicide prevention.  But possibly because of that, because I often am addressing the topic of life and death head on in my efforts, it makes me think about it beyond just causes for which I advocate. I try to live my life according to the following: 
  • What will the person giving my eulogy one day say? To clarify, this is not something I think about because of suicidal thoughts. It's oddly, something I think about when I'm focused on life and the future, focused on living.  It reminds me to live in a manner that I would be proud for people to speak about one day.  
  • What will my legacy be? I think about when each of my grandmothers passed away. I think of the stories we told about them. I think about how we talked about their best qualities, how we laughed at the funny things they did and said. I think about how no matter what might have happened in the past, the whole extended family came together to share in their legacy, even if just for a little while. I think about what they've left of themselves (in "spirit", which I'm using in a non-religious way here) to pass down among the generations.  What do I want people to be passing down about me?  What will I have to show for my life at the end of it - whether it be something I've done, who I am as a person, or some combination of that? Am I truly, deep down, proud of what that would be? 
  • If something happened to me tomorrow, will I be proud of how I spent my last days? Did I spend it focusing mostly on "to do" lists, tasks, chores, work, etc? Or did I spend it focusing on what I love most - my friends, my families, my causes for helping others? What where my priorities? Should they have been, if I were to look back, knowing they were the last things I'd say and do? 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Highlight of My Health Activist Journey

HAWMC Day 20:  What has been the highlight of your health activist journey? We want to hear all about it, perhaps a conference, a podcast or meeting a fellow HA.  What made this experience so special?

Well, guys, I haven't exactly made the big time. One day, but not yet. I DO want to meet my other HAs! That's is a major goal of mine. Another major goal is to start attending conferences (suggestions for your favorites, anyone?), and one day to maybe even speak (on a panel to a small group?) at one. But right now, I don't have one single experience that I could call a top highlight. What I do have, is a bunch of small, collective experiences. Those experiences happen each time someone messages me or comments or somehow directly contacts me and tells me how I've helped them. They happen when someone I've known for years that I never knew struggled tells me their story, and says how I've helped them. When someone I've never met emails me or friends me on Facebook with a private message about how they've read my blog and they struggle too and would like to connect. Obviously, this is not a highlight because they struggle. It's a highlight because my efforts - my blogs, posts, tweets, events I'm involved in - make them feel comfortable enough to share with me what they've silently been battling. So often I hear from them that they felt so alone, and that reading my posts reminds them that they are not. 

Through my efforts, and through these people who reach out, I've been able to build up a strong mental health community, including my closed Facebook Mood Disorder Support group. These people who are courageous enough to reach out and share their stories and help others are incredible. The fact that my blogging and sharing and starting the group opened the door to this makes me feel like the efforts are all worth it.  Those are the moments that all add up, making the highlight of my mental health journey, one person at a time, one connection at a time, one story at a time. And to me, that's what it's really all about. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How Do You Pull Through A Tough Mental Health Day?

HAWMC Day 19:  Everyone has tough days, but how do you pull yourself out of the rut? Maybe you blog, repeat affirmations or listen to a favorite playlist. Write about what tools, tips or practices you use to lift your spirits after a rough patch.

As a mood cycler, this answer varies. It depends on if my tough day is primarily due to depression, hypomania, anxiety, or a combination of these.  As one might imagine, the best thing for me in a depression isn't often the best thing for me in a hypomanic or anxious phase. However, I'll try to provide some overall tips, with any exceptions listed for different states. As always, these work for me personally, at least some of the time, and certainly aren't an across the board "fix."

  • Assess what's happening. For me, it's important to understand what my body and brain are doing in that moment. Am I battling a depressive cycle, a hypomanic cycle, anxiety? Is there an external trigger, or is this simply my brain doing what it does best (worst)? 
  • If there is an external trigger, can I isolate it? i.e. Can I remove myself from the trigger? Is it short-lived (i.e. I'm sitting in a traffic jam and running late and it's raising my anxiety), or is it something more sustained?  These first two steps are important in helping me assess my next moves. 
  • Find a safe place, and stay there as often as I can. This means a non-threatening place. A place that isn't going to trigger me into a worse cycle. A calming, comfortable, familiar place. Usually, this is home, but it can vary depending on the situation. It is almost always a place where I'm alone or with very trusted loved ones. 
  • Say no. This is so difficult to learn. But understand a few things: 1.) the most important thing is your health. You may have to turn down plans, or cancel a meeting, or whatever it is. But if you aren't healthy, you cannot be of help to anyone. So you need to focus on your health. 2.) It's nobody's damn business what's wrong. You're not feeling well. Bottom line. Or if that doesn't do it, you're downright ill. That's all they need to know. You can tell them more of course, but you don't need to. 
  • Cry. Crying is not only 1000 percent OK, but it can be incredibly healing. Sometimes we don't realize how much we're bottling up inside until we let it go. I cry a lot. By which I mean really, really a lot.  
  • Write. I write in my notebook or I blog or I write a random musing in my folder for random musings on Google Drive (I actually have that). It can be how I'm feeling, it can be a story, it can be whatever I feel like. It's like it lifts something that's weighing me down, transferring into the paper or the screen. Sometimes I don't even know what I'm writing. My fingers seem to move automatically. 
  • Yoga and meditation. Ideally, guided. It's easy to lose motivation when you're depressed or anxious. For me, the guided option helps me focus. It helps me regulate my breathing, shift my focus. Ironically it adds in the work of my body, in the case of yoga, so that all of the burden isn't solely held by my mind. *This is extra hard when hypomanic or battling bad anxiety. I try to tailor the yoga to what might suit me best. If I'm in an irritable hypomanic or anxious state, a moderate class involving a decent, but not intense, amount of flow usually helps. It allows me to focus on physical movement without ramping up the adrenaline further than it already feels. If I'm really depressed, yin or restorative is best for me. It seems counter-intuitive, as you'd think I'd want something that might get me moving more. But remember the feelings of absolutely worthlessness and hopelessnes and exhaustion that accompany depression. The action must feel feasible, not too intimidating. An easy, restful yoga. A short, guided meditation. Where I don't have to do overly much physically and am given step by step guidance along the way. 
  • I watch cheesy Hallmark Channel movies. I'm not kidding, you guys. When everything is just too much, unbearable, I need something happy and easy and predictable. And Hallmark movies  offer just that. Light, don't take tons of brain power to follow, and always a happy ending. It occupies my brain without me really having to think, which is ideal. 
  • Nothing. There are times when I literally just need to lie in bed. I try to set an alarm, so that I don't lie in bed too long. But depression, hypomania, anxiety physically exhaust me. They require more sleep than an average day. And so I give myself that. This is primarily when I'm depressed or so anxious that I'm overwhelmed and feel I can't function. As I've described before, trying to do "nothing" in a bad hypomanic state is like drinking a pot or two of coffee and trying to do nothing. 
  • Hypomanic only:  If I'm in a "better" hypomanic state - i.e. not to the point of extreme agitation but just feeling a bit more energy - I try to accomplish things I may not have the courage/motivation to otherwise. These days don't happen often, and they usually mean my hypomania isn't in full swing yet, but when it's preventing me from sleep and restfulness, I try to use it to the best of my advantage. Why is this listed under "tough day" you might ask? Because any cycle of my illness is tough. A "better" hypomanic day isn't "feeling euphoric" for me. It means I'm not depressed or severely anxious, and don't yet feel like I've drunk that pot of coffee and am trying to concentrate. Better is simply compared to a worse episode - not to general daily life without a cycle. 
As always, these work for me. They might not be for everyone. If you have any questions about these, or anything else that you've tried or are thinking about trying, feel free to ask. I'm no expert of course, but I'm happy to share my experiences as they are. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

My Biggest Mental Health Cliche Pet Peeve

HAWMC Day 18:  What’s a health cliché that really bugs you? What are you tired of people asking you or saying to you again and again? Write it down. Then reclaim it!  Take it back and turn it around so you make it something you could be comfortable hearing.

Oh man, just one? Really? Are you sure? There are so many to choose from! There's people using mental health terms like bipolar, ADD, OCD as colloquialisms. There's the "aren't you better yet?". There's terms crazy, insane, mental, and so many others. And of course, there's "calm down, relax" and "Just try thinking more positively".  Grrrrr. *%&$%&!

But I think that if I had to choose the worst of the worst, it would be, "Why are you depressed? You have a good life." There are several versions of this - telling me how much worse off others are, for example. Telling me why I'm so lucky and shouldn't be depressed. But the theme that runs through all of these, even though people don't tend to voice it out loud, is that I'm not depressed, I'm ungrateful and spoiled. I'm privileged and don't even appreciate it. That's what this indicates. When someone tells you how depressed they are, and you reply with a list of people who have it worse, or a litany of all the reasons they're so lucky and "shouldn't" be depressed, you're saying you believe it's a choice. That they could not be depressed, but they're choosing to be. They're ungrateful for what they have and don't know what a tough life really is. They just need a dose of perspective.  They just need to stop being a spoiled brat. That's what you're saying to them, in case you don't exactly realize it.

Guess what:  this makes the depression worse. Because now, not only are we feeling depressed and hopeless and worthless, but because we feel so down about ourselves, you've now managed to make us feel guilty about our illness too. I know there's no "reason" I "should" be depressed. But that's like telling someone there's no reason they should have cancer. They do. Can you imagine saying, "Well, you eat well and exercise and you have a good life. Why do you have cancer?" They'd probably say something like "I don't f-ing know, because it's cancer. Why does anyone have cancer?"  Ok maybe not the expletives, but you get my point. Depression is an illness. Saying or doing anything that indicates that someone "shouldn't" have it tells us that you feel it's not an illness, but a choice. Like we need an attitude adjustment or just aren't trying hard enough.

How could someone turn this around? Well, first of all, don't say it. But if you still want to ask why someone's feeling depressed, there are a few ways to do so. For instance, you can ask if something specific triggered it recently. The word trigger is key here, because it shows that you realize there's an underlying cause (i.e. the illness), but that external things can affect it. It's a way to figure out more details about this specific bout of depression, or even anxiety, without sounding insensitive and insinuating that you don't think it's "legitimate". Or them to tell you specifically how they're feeling. It allows them to talk about it, and you to understand better, without sounding accusatory.  Ask what could make them feel better. It may be nothing. It may be simply curling up in a corner and crying. Or sitting next to you and crying, so they don't feel so alone. This is a way to offer something "positive" (in the way that it helps them) without telling them to look on the bright side, or comparing their life to others.

If you're ever unsure of how to ask someone about their mental health, or talk to them about it, ask yourself this: Would I sound like an insensitive ass if I said/asked this to someone with cancer or heart disease? If the answer is yes, you'll sound like an insensitive ass saying it to someone with a mental health condition too. If you use that barometer, you'll probably be just fine. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

TBT: A Favorite Previous Blog (About Dogs)

HAWMC Day 17:  Throwback Thursday! Grab a post from your  archives and repost it! Add a few sentences at the  beginning to frame it. Why you chose it. Why you liked it. And why it should be shared again.

I decided to repost this for several reasons. First, tomorrow would have been Cinn's 12th birthday. I lost her on August 18, 2015 after several months of her battling a mysterious illness. Coincidentally, today is my current dog Grace's first day of doggy daycare/dog school. So between these two, I naturally decided to post about dogs. Plus, as I reflect back on Cinn's simple pleasures, and watched Grace literally jump for joy just at being in a room that other dogs would be in when they arrived (she was the first one there, intentionally), I realize how sometimes, they really have it right. 

Originally posted August 22, 2012 and titled A Dog's Life. 

Ever looked at your pet and thought: man, they have it made! It's kind of true - minus the fact that every meal is a form of lamb an rice kibbel (and celery and carrots if you're on a diet like Cinn), and that someone else dictates when you're allowed to go to the bathroom without getting in trouble, a dog's life in a lovig home isn't too bad.

While humans are the more "evolved" species (I'm using this as a general term, not as in getting into the big bang/evolution debate here!), dogs enjoy the simple pleasures in life while we're severely anxious over something that may or may not happen, which may or may not result in something that would upsets us. For dogs, a toy, a treat, a walk outside to the park, or a ride in the car with their ears flapping in the breeze can make their afternoon.  I mean, I do like sticking my head out the window an feeling the breeze, but I can't say that it's usually such a joy that, when someone mentions a car ride, I jump up and down like I've won the lottery.

Enjoying the car ride back from Cape Cod!

Pets are able to enjoy life as much as they do because they (presumably - I'm not an expert on animal thinking) lack much of the anticipatory impulse that we have. Cinn hates her bath, and yet she literally does not start getting worried until we've not only gotten to PetSmart, but we've gone inside and closed the door behind us in the grooming department. She's not worried for days beforehand, thinking "oh man I hate this bath, this is going to be awful. I hope I don't get so scared that I poop on the grooming table again, that was so embarrassing!" Nope, she's completely unaware until we get right into the offending room.  On the other, we sometimes worry for days about an unpleasant situation coming up. So much so that often the anticipation is worse than the actual event.

Cinn post bath with bows in her hair. 

What dogs really want, in the end, is to be loved and taken care of (and occasional snacks). Cinn's never happier than when she's laying by me, being petted or just close. When she's scared, she becomes my shadow. I comfort her even more than food, and that's saying something because, if you didn't know, my dog is apparently obese. I think many humans also have this ultimate goal of love over everything else, but we're so wrapped up in the day to day worries that we forget to enjoy the small moments - a hug, a walk outdoors, a nice meal or snack, quality time with those we love. So next time you're stressed out, having a tough day, or feeling bad about life, take a glimpse at your pet and maybe try to take a lesson from them. Unless they're scared and pooping on the table.

Cinn's report card after rolling in crap and going for an "emergency" bath.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Interested In Becoming a Health Activist? Some Tips to Get You Started

Wisdom Wednesday: What advice do you have for health activists just starting out? Share your words of wisdom for all the health activist rookies out there!

Let me first start off by saying I wouldn't call what I have to offer wisdom. I'd call it tips that have worked for me, or things that I struggled with that I'm now figuring out, that I hope help anyone interested in becoming a health activist. 
  • Start as small as you'd like. You don't have to be marching on Washington to debate legislation or writing a blog with off the charts viewership overnight. Of course, if you'd like your first bit of activism to be marching on Washington, then go for it. But don't feel it has to be. If the only person that reads your first five posts is your best friend, that's OK. You've gotten yourself started. 
  • Choose the type of activism that's right for you. This may take some trial and error. Some people love blogging. Some would prefer to tweet. Others would rather start a Facebook page or group. Still others shine with Instagram photos. Or maybe it's not social media based. Maybe you write letters to your local legislator, or you organize fundraising events, or get involved with a local non-profit chapter that benefits your cause. There are so many opportunities. You may love one or some or all of them. And it may take a while to find your niche. Pick not only what you feel good at, but what you love. Because the heart of activism is passion. Period.  
  • Be yourself. I can't stress this enough. People aren't looking for perfect. They're not looking for cliches or all-smiles-all-the-time cheer leading. Nobody's perfect and so we can't relate to perfect. Be you, flaws and all. People would rather know if you're still struggling but managing to stay afloat. It gives them hope that even in their worst struggles, they too can stay afloat. It makes them feel like they could reach out if they needed and you'd understand. Like they can connect with you.
  • Be approachable. Activism is, ultimately, about helping people. Yes, it can be about changing legislation and erasing stigma and educating people. But ultimately the reason behind all of that is to help people. People like you. People who can understand why you got involved in activism, because they go through it too. Hollywood has enough untouchable celebrities. Those struggling need someone that they feel they could reach out to and say "Thank you for sharing that. Can I ask you a question? Can I share something with you." It makes them feel not so alone. Which, to me at least, is one of the ultimate goals of what I do.   
  • Don't judge. You have your opinion and experiences. But it's just that - your opinion, your experiences. Those of us with illness feel judged and stigmatized enough. To have an advocate do this, someone they felt they could relate to or even look up to, is awful.  The number one place I see this is in relation to medication, but I've seen it on the topic of having children vs not (i.e if  you have a genetic disease), of techniques to use when struggling, and more. You can have your opinion, and you're welcome to share your opinion. But remember that ultimately, what you're an expert in is you, and your experience - just as everyone else is the most knowledgeable about themselves and their experiences. 
  • Keep plugging along. I know what it feels like to write or tweet or post your heart out, to share deep, dark, gut-wrenching information about yourself, only to have zero people comment and only your blood relatives read it.  But I'll share something with you that I wish I would remind myself more - they're not the only ones reading your posts, and they're not the only people that you're helping. Many people, I think especially when it comes to mental health, aren't as  comfortable talking about their condition and struggles as you might be. It doesn't meant they aren't listening (reading). It just means they're not ready to tell you that they are. Because they feel that bursts wide open a secret that they've been keeping. And whatever their reason, they may not be ready to fully acknowledge that, even to themselves. But keep going. I'm amazed at the people who have contacted me - people I'd NEVER have expected - who tell me they read my posts and find it so helpful because they go through the same thing. They may never comment or share or retweet or publicly acknowledge it, but it's helping them. And that makes all the difference. 
  • Ask for help. There's no shame in reaching out to other activists to ask how they got things going, or how they accomplished a goal that you're hoping to. There's also no shame in reaching out to friends and family and saying, "I'm starting this blog/page/twitter handle/etc, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd sign up/like/follow." We don't magically get started and have a massive following (I still don't, after years!). We too most likely begun with the only five followers, all being relatives or good friends. We may well have asked them to sign up/follow/like." That's 100 percent OK. A starting point is a starting point. You have to start somewhere! 
I hope these help a little. I am always, always happy to answer questions for anyone interested in becoming a health activist, whether for mental health or another illness. So please, feel free to reach out. And best of luck with you work. Thank you so very much for what you're doing. It means more to people than you may ever realize. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Shout Out of Thanks

HAWMC Day 15: Time to spread the love. Shout out all your favorite  HA’s! Make sure to share a few sentences explaining just how grateful you are for them.

Once again, I'm going to break the rules a little. I feel like we just did this with the social media lists. So instead, I'm going to do a thank you to HAs, as well as those who read and support my advocacy work, and me. So without further adieu, here we go. A huge thank you to: 

  • All of the other health advocates there, mental health and otherwise, who have made me feel like a welcome part of the community. It's so wonderful to have others who are as passionate about getting our message to others and eliminating stigma. 
  • Those friends I've made through my advocacy work, whether advocates themselves or who battle similar conditions and have reached out. I now forget that so many of us have never even met in person, we've become that close. You are amazing people. 
  • Those who have read my posts, tweets, statuses about mental health and replied/reached out/commened or contacted me privately to let me know that they too struggle with the things I'm sharing. This keeps me going with my efforts when I sometimes get discouraged. 
  • Anyone who has ever reached out to encourage me, to tell me that I've helped them even in the smallest way, to tell me to keep doing what I'm doing. Whether they themselves battle or are just offering me encouragement and thanks for what I do, they too keep me going. 
  • Everyone in the Mood Support Facebook group that I started. You are all so amazing. So often when I don't know where to turn, I turn to you all. You help me, and so many others, on a regular, even daily basis. And a special shout out to my co-admin of the group, who I'm not naming as I've not had the change to ask her permission, but she knows who she is! 
  • Everyone who has donated to or in other ways supported my Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention each year. Because of your generosity and support, I'm able to participate in this amazing event to help stop suicide. 
  • All of the friends and family (and pets!) who have supported me throughout my journey. I truly wouldn't be here without you. 
Thank you all. You help me every single day. Please keep it up. You mean the world to me, and to others struggling with mental health and chronic illness who are hoping to make a difference or just need to hear that they're not alone. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Case of the Mondays

HAWMC Day 14:  Case of the Mondays. Write about something that gets you down, burns you out, or makes you sad.  Purge it in a blog post. Turn it around at the end and tell Tuesday why you’re ready for it.

I feel like this is kind of a trick question for mood cyclers. Because naturally, the answer is depression. The definition of the condition is pretty much that it makes you feel all of these things, just on a much, much larger scale. And quite frankly, I'm never really ready for it. But that would be kind of a cop out, and the shortest post ever. So I'll make my answer a little more robust. 

What gets me really burns me out is the wide gap because my goals and dreams, and feeling unable to get there because of depression and anxiety. For someone who battles these, I'm a dreamer. I get all of these ideas about how I want to shape my career, my life, my advocacy work. I create plans (albeit not always full, in depth business plan type of plans, but still plans). I brain storm and make lists, actions items. I recently bought a Freedom Journal to help me move towards my dreams step by step - to make it feel more manageable. And I was super gung ho on it, doing really well. Until I had a couple of bad days. Then, I not only fell off the wagon, but I landed in a different county. 

Because my depression and anxiety seriously f-'s up my confidence and self esteem, one small snag in the plan totally destroys it, and me. If I try to take the steps I have outlined and get no traction, I go into full "I can't ever do this" mode, time and again. Part of it, I think, is that I'm honest with myself in knowing my weaknesses, and when I'm faced with a task that involves these, one disappointment is enough to derail me. Like I'll create a fundraising event, or I'll reach out about an idea that I want to move forward, and I ask my friends to participate. And I get one or two half-hearted maybes. The rest either "like" it and never take action, or don't even acknowledge it (friends "liking" and moving right along, by the way - HUGE pet peeve. That could be a whole 'what burns you out' post in and of itself). This happens, and I give up. 

If I'm honest, though, I think it stems from a bigger issue, that gets me down even more. That issue is figuring out exactly what the hell I want to do with my life. I have a general gist, but my brain likes to tell me I can't do that, or it won't work out, or for some reason it's not acceptable/feasible/etc. So I try to move towards ideas that touch on that concept, but seem more acceptable/feasible/etc. But my heart isn't fully in them. Or maybe it could be eventually, but right now, it's not my passion. And I'm a person that needs to be 150% all in or out. I don't do well with doing things that aren't my passion (not counting "life things" like chores and grocery shopping, though I'm not good at those either). So I guess, what's really getting me down is not knowing exactly what I want to do with my life, and feeling alone in both that decision and in making it happen when I do decide. I am an introvert that likes my alone time, and I definitely like to do things my way (i.e. Maya and being told what to do/being controlled by other circumstances or people don't mix well), but I also don't love doing it all on my own. I know the pieces that are toughest for me, and I would like help with those. Or just someone to have my back, to help when I'm burnt out or my conditions make me not unable to move or whatever it is. Or another brain to give ideas when I get stuck and unmotivated. Not just to tell me what to do or give me tips (or cliches, god no cliches), but to actually participate. Just knowing I don't have to do it ALL alone would be so helpful. 

And so I've rambled. But we all know not to tell someone with thought patterns that look like a bowl of spaghetti to purge if you mind them rambling. I do feel a little better putting it out there, though. So thank you for listening. Until tomorrow, HAWMCers. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

What's The Best Thing That's Happened To You This Week?

HAWMC Day 13:  What's the best thing that happened to you this week? Maybe you got great news or maybe ice cream was on sale- write about it and relive it!

Wow. I don't get very political on this blog, but what a doozy of a week to have this prompt. Regardless of political affiliation, this was a seriously emotional week for probably just about everyone in the US. Election results weren't final until 2:30 AM EST, or something like that, which means the majority of America got very little sleep Tuesday night. As someone for whom illness is massively affected by lack of sleep, this is not ideal. Not to mention the ups and downs of the intensive last couple of days of the campaign, and the edge of the seat feeling as the results came in which, regardless of your political choice, can be anxiety inducing.  

The best thing that happened to me this week? Solidarity and perspective. So I lied a little. This is about politics. But I will not get into my specific beliefs, nor will I soap box or anything of the like here. (You are welcome to see my twitter feed for that!). First, solidarity. Regardless of your choice for president, this was a tight, down to the wire race, as evidenced by the results not being finalized until the early hours of the morning. Which is to say that whoever you voted for (assuming it was someone on the ballot and you didn't write in your great grandmother), you probably found a good number of others who felt the same. There are A LOT of incredibly strong feelings about this election, and while it's sadly pulling many people apart, it's also pulling many people together.  This past week, I've had an extraordinary number of deep, in depth, supportive conversations with people who feel the same way as I do, but whom I don't normally have this level of conversation with.  There was a bonding experience over something bigger than us - namely, the direction of our country. This election did accomplish one thing for sure - people are standing up for what they believe in, finding others who feel the same way, and deciding to take some action. How you feel about each of these actions depends on your point of view, of course. But for this socially anxious/awkward introvert who often steals away and enjoys the company of a cup of coffee and a good book, finding solidarity with others while still being able to participate in my own anxious/awkward/introvert way when needed was unexpected and encouraging, especially with all of the emotions and nervous energy that led up to this election, on all sides.

The second is perspective. I have been under a lot of stress lately. Personal stuff, chronic stuff, and deadlines for my condo remodel have been making me really anxious. But this week, as I listened to stories from everyone about what this election meant to them, about the hopes they had for their candidate, about what they'd gone through and hoped this election would do for them, I realized that things like picking out which bathtub I should get for my home remodel just isn't that big of a deal. While that certainly doesn't eliminate my anxiety (because it is a physical condition in my brain that can't be changed by an "attitude adjustment"), it does make me re-focus at times, and that's a good thing. 

So, despite this incredibly emotional, sleep deprived week, I've managed to gain a few important takeaways. Oh, and also, no more political TV adds every thirty seconds. And I'd venture to say that, whatever your thoughts on the election outcome, we're probably all glad about that! 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Time To Get Real: A Letter to a Mental Health Professional

HAWMC Day 12:  Time to get real.Write a letter to the best or worst healthcare professional you’ve seen. Don't hold back.

I was really torn on this one. There are some health professionals I'd really like to let have it - like the therapist years ago who insisted I wasn't ill, my only issue was something deep seeded in my upbringing, trying to blame my parents and everyone else close to me, despite the fact that this was pretty much the only part of my life that did NOT cause me stress. How Freudian of her. That therapist didn't last too long. There were others as well who refused to believe I had a diagnosis, despite my insisting this wasn't just "life stressors".  I've written about them in previous blog posts. But instead, I decided to combat the negative energy I've been feeling lately and write a positive letter to my current therapist. Because finding the right mental health professional can literally be a lifesaver, and those people deserve credit. I'm not using her name for confidentiality reasons (i.e. I didn't ask her if I could), so I'll use her first letter only.

Dear D, 

For over a decade I openly struggled with my mental health. I went to therapist after therapist, doctor after doctor. Virtually every one of them decided that I was not ill, I simply was battling situational struggles, or worse, blamed the people in my life and my family when they've been nothing but wonderful. When I first came to you after my divorce, while battling some body image issues, you listened. You let me talk as I needed. You didn't pressure me or jump in with this theory or that without hearing me out and considering everything I had to say.  You took my concerns and my issues seriously.  When I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life and slacked off of therapy, you didn't judge me. A year later when I called you out of the blue, due to some very difficult personal circumstances, you got me an appointment the following day, staying late on a Friday night to make sure I could see you. 

A couple of months later when I was hospitalized against my will by some less than caring hospital staff, you talked me and my family through it, helping to keep me as calm as possible. You again gave me an immediate appointment when my hospital stay was over. In that follow up appointment, you were the first therapist, first health professional of any means, to provide me with what nobody else would: a diagnosis. You talked me through it step by step, discussing treatment options, life changes needed, and everything in between. With your help, I finally began to understand myself and my life, as I never could before. 

One of the things I value most (even if it doesn't seem like it at the time) is your sometimes difficult to swallow, but fair, honesty. You support me, but are not afraid to tell me when part of the problem is me. You call me out, in a gentle manner, on those habits, thought patterns, and life patterns that I need to work on, that are holding me back. And even when I don't want to hear it at first, I know deep down you're right, and I come around. sometimes I take the incredibly scenic route, but you consistently make sure I get there eventually. That helps me more than you know. You consider me, as a person, an individual, as who I am specifically, through every aspect of our work together - from medication monitoring to the "homework" you provide to the insight that you offer. It's not blanketed, out of some book or theory, tossed at me the same as everyone else. 

In your office I have cried rivers, despaired regularly, celebrated breakthroughs, punched your couch (sorry about that one, I will refrain from that again). It is my safe place to be me, whatever me that is in the moment. It helps me immensely, and gives me hope that I can continue to improve my life and myself. 

So thank you for all that you do. So many people struggle to find the right therapist, as I did for so long. Finding one who is as caring and invested in helping me as you are is invaluable. 


Friday, November 11, 2016

My Chronic Illness Community

HAWMC Day 11:  Friday follow! Create a must follow list for your community:
• Top 10 Tweeters
• Top 10 blogs
• Top 10 Facebook pages

I have to be honest. I'm going to suck at this post. I'm super twitter heavy, with a decent of Instagram mixed in recently, so I can't really speak to all mediums. Nor do I have a Top 10 in the traditional sense, because I hate ranking people. Being a mental health advocate, I hate to do anything that could make any advocates feel "not quite as good as the others", when they're trying so hard. Every advocate's posts/tweets/shares/etc are valued.  So instead, I'll share some that I interact with regularly, that I find valuable as a community and as advocates. Plus it helps diversity our lists. If every list had the same people, we'd be doing each other a disservice, based on the number of advocates out there. These are only in the order of my messy brain, as are most things. Which is to say, not much of one.

  • @Marlajan 
  • @JessicaGimeno 
  • @melissavhr 
  • @SMHoenig
  • @DawnMGibson
  • @BekaLombardo 
  • @BipolarHotMess
  • @IngredientsWeCh
  • @SamosaManiac
  • @BreatheMia
  • @TheSarahFader
  • @JediMaster941
  • @IAmTakingCharge
  • @StigmaFighters
  • @SereneButterfly
  • @SurvingMyPast
There are so many others. I know that's more than 10, but since I don't have much for the other platforms, I figured that's ok. Plus I'm not much of a rule follower. I honestly can't give enough credit to all of the advocates out there. If we don't connect often, please, reach out! I'm always interested in meeting new advocates, or reconnecting with people I haven't "talked" to in a while. 

As for sitesblogs, I primarily blogs of my twitter friends above, such as Luck Fupus (@marlajan's site), Fashionably Ill (@jessicagimeno's site), and Stigma Fighters (@thesarahfader's site). If you have a blog I haven't listed, or a Facebook page, by all means, share! I need to get better at blog and Facebook following. 

Finally, while this isn't one of the mediums requested above, I follow Introvert Doodles on Isntagram. While not advocacy related per se, if you are an introvert with anxiety (especially social anxiety), you'll understand why I follow this. Being an introvert in an extrovert world is always a bit tricky. Being an introvert with chronic illness, such as anxiety, is a double wammy when it comes to interacting with the way the world expects us to. I find it completely relatable, and often quite funny. 

Sorry this is such a messy list. That's how my brain works, folks. 

Happy Friday! 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Yahoo Answers Day

HAWMC Day 11:  Yahoo Answers Post – Pretend you are writing a question about your condition – it can be as silly or humorous as you want. Now answer it.  (Remember: Your answer can be just as silly)

Question: Can someone with cyclothymia be normal?

Answer: The definition of normal is as follows: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. Wow, that sounds pretty freakin' boring. Typical? Expected? It sounds like it's describing a bodily function not a human being and their life. I mean, I do things that other people do - work, hang out with friends and family, read, write, grab coffee at a coffee shop, etc. I feel fine some days. There are days I'm not depressed or hypomanic, where my anxiety isn't to bad. I'm in a relationship. I interact with people when I need to. I can take care of myself. Is that what you mean by normal? If so, then sure. Happens all the time. But frankly that's life, and it's different for everyone. There's not really a standard. Geez that would be terrible, if you had to fit one giant mold that was "out there', defined as standard. Bleh. No thanks. I did see a "normal" setting on my dryer the other day when doing laundry. But that, my friend, is probably the only "normal" we should look for. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Would Your Ideal Day Look Like?

HAWMC Day 9:  Happy Hump Day! No denying life can get hectic, but let’s take a mid-week break to fantasize our ideal day! Would you go somewhere? Who would you spend it with? Have you had this day? If not – how could you make it happen?

There are so many places this could go. But I'm going to assume some ground rules. Like you can't bring someone or something (ahem, Cinn the cutest dog ever in the whole world) back to life. I also presume I can't eliminate my illnesses, even in this perfect day, or have a spouse and children that aren't even in the works. I'm assuming I have to, instead, work with what I have. I'm not trying to dampen but mood, but based on "have you had this day", I'm going to assume resurrecting beings and creating children out of thin air isn't what this is going for. 

It's tough to think of a "perfect day", because what would be a perfect day depends on my mood. Some days a perfect day is being left alone and hanging out with my dog Grace, reading and drinking red wine (me, not the dog - though I guess on a perfect day why not. Maybe she likes red wine and historical fiction in utopia too). But if I had to choose one thing, here it is. I'd be in Europe, probably Paris, with loved ones, family. I'd be sitting in the sun on a perfectly warm but not overly hot day, eating a fresh baguette and cheese and drinking wine (there's still wine involved either way) and watching people in the Tuilleries or Luxembourg Gardens. I'd be with those I love who love me, and I'd be happy. Since I'm not allowing myself to erase my illnesses, I'll at least say that since it's my ideal day, none of them acting up. No mood cycling, no anxiety or panic, no exhaustion from CFS, no running to the bathroom every 10 minutes with IBS, no migraines or vertigo. Just happy, able to enjoy the day in as healthy a fashion as one can with several chronic illnesses. 

Also, I'd be surrounded by friendly, happy dogs that let me pet them, which would be ok because it'd be perfectly safe.  Because I love dogs and this is my perfect day so it makes sense, even if it doesn't really. Let's just pretend somehow my dog is there too, since there are already dogs and I can't leave her out. And while we're at it, she's really well behaved and listens to every command and doesn't look like she's experiencing an exorcism because she can't contain her excitement every time she seems another dog. This is probably the biggest stretch of this entire reverie but hey you never know. 

There'd probably be some writing in this day. And several cups of coffee or cappucino or whatever coffee-esque beverage I felt like. Probably some music too - maybe a street band, like I've seen several other times there. Nothing too intense, just enjoyable, upbeat music that I can relax and listen to while eating my baguette and cheese, drinking my wine, and petting dogs with my family in the garden. 

Have I had this day? No, not entirely. I have been in Paris with different family members several times. But not all of my family members that I'm close to at once. I have sat at the Tuilleries and Luxembourg Gardens and watch life happened. I've eaten fresh baguettes and cheese, though not in the gardens. I've drank plenty of wine. I've never been to Paris with my dog, which I think is needless to say but since the question asks, I'll answer. I've never been surrounded by friendly french dogs letting me pet them in the gardens, but I have hung out with a "house dog" at a hotel named Cannelle, which is particularly ironic because Canelle means Cinnamon, the name of my beloved dog that I lost last year. (CYA I might be spelling Canelle wrong. I was told the meaning by the dog's owner).  So I've kind of had this day, in bits and pieces. I can't remember how I was feeling. But I was in Paris eating baguettes and cheese and drinking wine and petting a dog named Cinnamon, so probably better than I would be on the average day here, even if I felt like absolute crap there. Because it's Paris and I'm traveling with loved ones. 

What do I have to do to make this happen? High tale it back to Paris with my loved ones.... and my dog, which won't actually happen. But I can get close enough I suppose. I should do so, and soon. It's been two years since I've been to Paris, and that's two years too long. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I Think I Can

HAWMC Day 8:  Little Engine Post. Write a list post with 10-15 lines that start each with “I think I can...” Write 5 lines at the end that start with “I know I can.” They can be big goals or something that’s been on your to-do list for the last few weeks- it’s all up to you.

  • I think I can write a post for all 30 HAWMC prompts. 
  • I think I can make inroads with my Spread Hope Project. 
  • I think I can slowly increase my confidence and self-esteem. 
  • I think I can learn to be better at change while not compromising myself. 
  • I think I can get through these times as I have before and come out stronger for them. 
  • I think I can become more mindful. 
  • I think I can let go. 
  • I think I can be happy one day. 
  • I think I can grow my name as a mental health activist. 
  • I think I can make the best of what life has to offer me. 
  • I know I can use my work to let someone know they are not alone. 
  • I know I can make it through another day. 
  • I know I can figure out a better direction for my future. 
  • I know I can make my mental health a priority in my life. 
  • I know I can fear less and take more action. 

"You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, & smarter than you think." ~Winne the Pooh

Monday, November 7, 2016

Starting My Advocacy Journey

HAWMC Day 7:  Was starting your advocacy journey a hard decision? Were you anxious and hesitant or were you excited and ready to share your story? Tell us how you chose to start advocating for your condition.

I started my advocacy journey gradually at first. I'd already established my blog, or at least already started blogging - I'm not sure it was really "established" - so I slowly started weaving in bits and pieces about my condition. I would discuss some of the symptoms and how they affected my life. My blog didn't really have much of a purpose at first, it was simply an outlet for me to get some thoughts out in a different format (than journaling or social media) and I figured I'd see where it went. As I started to talk about my condition, I got feedback from others who appreciated my openness and honesty about what I went through. Not a lot of comments, mind you, but at least a few from people that weren't related to me by blood. 

I'd like to say the day I decided to share my journey 100 percent sticks out in my mind as some momentous occasion. After all, it's a big decision, and having the good memory that I do, you'd think it might. But it doesn't. I don't remember the date or what I was doing or what I was wearing or who I was with when I made that decision. What I do remember is that it gave me a purpose. I'd done a decent amount of "why me, I don't understand, it's not fair" upon being diagnosed, and finally one day it clicked. If I had to battle this condition, I might as well use it for some good. If even one other person could relate, and it helped them feel less alone, offered them an outlet for support or motivation or even inspiration -  which I've been told, though I don't see myself as inspiring really - then it was worth it. And I wanted to battle stigma. I realized how much there was, in so many ways. I realized people stigmatized without even knowing they did (i.e. people saying things like "Oh my ADD/OCD is acting up today haha," when they're not diagnosed and using it as a descriptive term they think they understand). So on some day that I don't remember, at some time that I don't remember, I decided to jump in feet first and become an advocate. In a way, advocacy found me, and not the other way around. 

Ironically, one of the few things that doesn't make me anxious is sharing my story. There were pieces of my journey that I was hesitant to share at first. My hospitalization, for one. Regardless of whether I like it or not, stigma is still out there, and many of my friends didn't even know I'd been hospitalized. And yet in some odd way, sharing it on my blog was easier than telling my close friends. While I hoped my friends would understand, you never know. I didn't want to lose them, or to have to be the one to walk away when they refused to understand. Sharing with total strangers "out there on the internet" was less scary. I approve comments first, and therefore don't have to do so with cruel, stigmatizing ones. Nor did I care nearly as much what ignorant strangers thought as I did how my friends felt. I was lucky in one respect - when I started blogging, I worked completely for myself. I didn't have to worry about a manager or boss or even coworker judging me based on my condition and experiences. Now, I've been blogging long enough that the information is "out there". If someone Googles me, or look at any of my social media outlets, I assume they'll see it from the start. I don't have to hold my breath wondering if someone will see it and care. I almost like it being out there. First line of defense - you have a problem with it, then I guess we aren't meant to interact. 

There are two areas that I am still leery to discuss. One I've gotten better with. The other, I still keep private, but not solely for my own purposes. For ages, I did not discuss my thoughts about having children. To be clear, I mean me personally having children, not anyone else. It was a battle I've waged back and forth in my brain. For a long time, I'd decided it was best for myself, and for any child I had, to not have children. But I then changed my mind, after having the opportunity to be in a parent-like role, and realizing that I would make a good one. I realized that my condition did not prevent me from that. And I also realized that saying a child shouldn't be born if it's likely they'll get my condition would be to discount my own life. And so I changed my mind. Because it's such a personal, individual topic, I still don't discuss it much. I do only to say that it's each person's decision based on their own situation, and nobody's business other than them and their partners whether they decide to have children or not. 

The other topic I rarely discuss is my relationships - past and present. I'll discuss the topic of relationships, but not specifically mine. Not in depth at least. Quite frankly, I've gone through a lot in the relationship department. My experiences have wounded me often. But I have also learned a lot about myself, about other people (in general), and about love. And I don't wish anyone from my past ill will. Not at all. In fact, I wish them well. It did not work between us for whatever reason. That doesn't mean it shouldn't work for us individually, with others. Because of this, I do not feel it fair to share the deep, sometimes dark, details of my relationships. What goes on behind closed doors is behind closed doors for a reason. I try to keep it there, at least with respect to my blog. There are things that I do not forget (I rarely forget anything, to be honest).  Pain and hurt and all sorts of things that came from both sides - it takes two, after all. But I forgave these things a while ago. And because of that, I keep them in the past, where they should be. I am fine airing my own "dirty laundry", but I don't feel it my place to air anyone else's. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

If You Had One Super Power What Would It Be?

HAWMC Day 6:  Superpower Sunday! If you had one super power - what would it be? How would you use it? 

This is an easy one. Teleportation. Why? Well, personally, I love to travel. But I don't love planes, I get sea sick, and I can get motion sick on a train or car if the conditions are right (wrong). Nor do I love the price of many of these modes of travel. And teleportation, assuming it was free since it was a power I had, would solve this. I could see more places in less time and not have to pay for the travel to and from. Perfection! 

Speaking from the health advocate end, there would be several advantages. I've made a lot friends through my advocacy work and my blog that live all over the country and the world. Many of them I talk to daily or weekly and yet we've never met. We've become friends, not only in the health advocacy world but in life. I often forget how we got to know each other and that we've never actually met in person.  How amazing would it be to be able to be able to visit all of them? 

Similarly, because of my blogging and the mood disorders Facebook group that I run, I have a lot of people reaching out to me privately about things that they're going through. So often they feel alone, and just need someone there who understands and empathizes with what they're going through, so they don't have to feel so isolated. There are so many times that it would be great to say "let's go grab a coffee or a tea and talk." But I can't, because logistically we're no where near each other. 

I'm a wandering soul and a restless spirit. I don't do well held down, confined by budget and time constraints and all of that. I need to be able to explore.  Teleportation would give me that. But I want the straight teleport from here to there kind, not the Harry Potter kind where you have to fly through a chimney or whatever - I'm way too claustrophobic for that. My anxiety would never allow it. 

Getting My Voice Heard (Via Social Media)

HAWMC Day 5:  Are you all about 180 characters or less? Do you enjoy shooting the perfect photo? Or perhaps love sharing posts on Facebook.What’s your favorite platform to get your voice heard and why?

This is a complicated one. Twitter, overall, is my favorite. I like being able to say snippets of things, randomly, as they come to me, and not (because I try not to tweet 20 things all at once) clog up anyones feed. Whereas with Facebook, posting three times a day is considered excessive. And because my brain works in such a random fashion, the ability to quickly write a short post of whatever I'm thinking or feeling in the moment is ideal. Plus I'm verbose and it makes me cut to the chase once in a while. Which is actually refreshing. Similarly, I'm able to read others posts quickly and not get too bogged down. I've also connected with a lot of great people via twitter chats. I try to participate in as many chats for chronic illness, mental health, and health advocacy as I can, and it's a fantastic way to share ideas and inspiration and to find others who have similar health battles, even if your conditions aren't the same. And finally, the fact that I can't see tweets from people I don't follow unless they're retweeted (or ads) is fantastic. So, unlike Facebook, I can't see someone I don't even know ranting on someone else's post, which brings too much negative energy, which makes me anxious. I actually have had to take a break from personal (i.e. my page) Facebook the past month or so, because the negative energy on Facebook feels like it's suffocating me. That said, twitter has one big con: auto DMs.  If you auto DM me, unless I really, really want to follow you or I know you personally, I'll unfollow. I'm all about personal connection and interaction. Not automated.

The one area of Facebook I do love is private groups. I started a private group for mood disorder and mental health support and the people I've met (or "met") through there and the support I've found from others who struggle with mental health is amazing. It's one of the few places I feel I can go and find true empathy, as others in the group have been through what I am experiencing. It provides a great way to privately build a community of those looking for mental health support.

As for Instagram, I've grown to like it more and more. I particularly like using it to share pictures from charity events (i.e. when I participate in the Overnight Walk), and I've recently - as in this week - started a project called the Spread Hope Project, in which I'm going to take pictures wearing my "hope" shirt in as many different locations and with as many different people as I can, in an effort to spread the message of hope, and let people know they aren't struggling alone. While I'll be sharing in different mediums, this is obviously easiest in picture based mediums such as Instagram.

I guess overall, if I had to chose only one medium, it would be twitter. It offers the opportunity to interact with word, pictures, private (but not automated!) messages, and chats, all quickly and easily without having to get bogged down in too much nonsense. But Facebook and Instagram, and even mediums like Pinterest and Snap Chat (stories) have their place. I think to me, it's really finding what I like about each and utilizing those features to the best that I can. 

A Letter To Myself On the Day I Was Diagnosed

HAMC Day 4:  Do you remember the day you were diagnosed?  Perhaps you were scared, felt alone and surely you had tons of questions. Write a letter to yourself for the day you were diagnosed, knowing all you do now.

Dear Maya, 

I know this day is a mixture of virtually every possible emotion. I know that right now you are both relieved that you finally can put a name to what's been happening, and scared of what that means for your future. I know you aren't completely surprised by your diagnosis, and at the same time frustrated as hell that every other health professional you've seen for the past eleven years ignored you when you told them that you were battling more than just situational stress. 

I know you have a lot of questions. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but those questions don't end. Every time one is answered, another is presented. Each time it seems like you understand your diagnosis and how it affects your brain, your emotions, and your body, it'll throw you a curve ball.  I'm sad to say that I don't have all the answers. I'm still figuring them out myself. As you'll come to understand, maybe already have begun to from experience, mood cycling by nature is unpredictable. Depression might present itself one way one month, and a completely different way the next. Hypomania may mean being extra productive one week and completely distracted to the point of utter frustration the next. Some cycles will last a two weeks and some will last two hours. They say the only thing constant is change. Whoever "they" are, boy are they right. 

Be prepared for the meds. They're doozies. The dizziness, the nausea, the disorientation, the numb lips and tongue. But it gets better. You get to used to them. Of course, each time you do, the dose increases until you reach your proper daily does, but eventually, I promise it doesn't feel so crappy. Most days, you'll take your meds as nonchalantly as you brush your teeth. Trust me on this one and stick them out. Therapy too. Keep going. It'll be well worth your while (and money - by the way, start saving up for those costs now). 

There's good news too. Life will settle down. You'll always cycle, but you'll learn to live with this illness. You'll learn to use it as an opportunity to help others. You'll discover pieces of yourself that you never knew - creative, artistic pieces that help you express your emotions when it seems you can do so no other way. And believe it or not, this illness will help you learn who to keep in your life, and who to separate yourself from. Not everyone will accept your diagnosis easily, but more people than you think will understand. In fact, you'll find understanding and empathy in people you never imagined went through similar struggles. 

You have a long road ahead. I know it's confusing. There are so many facets to consider now that you have a starting point in knowing your diagnosis. Take them one at a time. Focus on the most crucial first. Learn everything you can. Arm yourself with information from trusted and unbiased sources. Ask questions. Build a support network. Create a plan of action and go from there. You will battle this for the rest of your life. Some days will be worse or better than others, but it will always be there, lurking in the background, even when you can't feel it directly in the moment.  And some days, weeks, months even will really suck. But you will get through it. When you're not sure how you can possibly keep going, just remember to put one foot in front of the other. You'll be ok. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Be Yourself

HAWMC Day 3:  Quotation Inspiration. Find a quote that inspires you (either positively or negatively) and free write  about it for 15 minutes.

I love quotes. Inspiring ones, silly ones, smartassy ones. But if I had to pick just one, it would be this incredibly simple one by Charles M Schultz.

"Be Yourself. No one can say you're doing it wrong." 

Why? Well, quite frankly, I'm different. I always have been. I grew up knowing I was different, though not knowing how. Occasionally it bothered me. Most of the time I didn't think much of it. But as I got older, I thought more and more of it. I realized how different I was in so many ways. And the more I noticed it, the more it bothered me. I asked myself why I was so different. For all that I knew it, I couldn't really place my finger on it. The more this eluded me, the more angst it caused me. It was a self-perpetuating cycle. One that threw me occasionally into pretty dark places. 

As my condition started to become more evident to those around me (it was always evident on some level to me), they noticed it to. I faced a lot of "Why can't you just be normal" comments. A lot of, "Normal people aren't like that. Normal people don't think that way or feel that way or act that way. You're (crazy/delusional/irrational/pick you're stigmatizing descriptive). For a long time, even after I was diagnosed, I tried to defend myself, telling they were wrong, I was normal, even with this illness. I tried to explain my words, feelings, actions and why people should find them acceptable.  I tried and tried to justify them to people who didn't want to hear it. People who'd already passed judgement on me for one reason or another. I watched it in numerous aspects of my life and I rallied against it time and again. And then finally, I stopped. 

I'm not sure exactly when or how it happened. But one day, I realized I was able to take a less negatively biased look at myself and my life. I thought about the people who told me that my blogging and advocacy inspired them and made them feel supported. I thought about the friends who laughed at my quirky humor and awkward but apparently endearing antics. I replayed all the conversations I'd had with others close to me in which we could completely relate to each other, in which I realized what they liked about my was my differences. And I stopped caring so much. The veneer of needing to fit into a mold began to crack.

I won't be so brave as to say I never care. I won't claim that I absolutely love having a mental health condition and I'd never, ever hope to be "normal." Because quite honestly that's BS. At least as it relates to me. There are times that I wish I reacted to individual situations more normally. Like not feeling like I'm going to piss my pants out of fear every time I have to interact in a group setting. Or not breaking down crying out of nowhere in the middle of walking my dog or watching tv or cooking dinner. Or not having an anxiety attack while parallel parking, as I posted about the other day. There are times that it is still maddeningly frustrating when a way of looking at something is so obvious to me, and yet the person I'm talking to can't possibly see it. It's like me pointing at the sky and saying "It's blue," and them saying "No it's bright green. Why can't you see that?" Because life does feel that way sometimes. 

But I've learned to embrace my differences more fully. I've learned that I'm a creative person, and that I often express myself best through writing or vision boarding or dance or even just doodling (because what I do could not possibly be considered drawing or art - not even modern art).  I've learned that I see life in pictures, in snapshots instead of in a step by step manner. I can now explain this to people who don't see how I'm approaching a situation. It doesn't always work, but at least I can offer an explanation to bridge some of the gap. I've learned that in the right company, I can share my completely random thoughts and they'll be appreciated (like the recent time I told my boyfriend out of the blue that if our dog had a creative art it would be interpretive dance).  And so I now surround myself with only the right company (when I have any control of the company, that is). 

In the end of the day, I may not have a lot of talents or enviable skill sets. But I've become significantly more comfortable with being myself. And in fact, I've decided that's a pretty valuable skill to have. Because after all, it's one of the very few things in life that you can't do wrong. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I Write My Best Blogs in the Shower

Day 2 of HAWMC.  Today's prompt:

Every great writer has their own process! What's the blogging process look like for you? Do you set aside time each week to write or do you wait until the inspiration hits? Do you finish a post in one night or use the week to perfect it? Do you edit your blogs or just hit publish? Whatever it is you do, it’s unique to you and we want to learn about it.

Usually, my posts come to me at some incredibly inopportune time - middle of the night, in the shower, while driving, in the middle of a meeting. If I force myself to sit down and write without any type of prompt or motivation, it ends up the blog equivalent of a bad stick figure drawing (if you've ever seen me draw a stick figure you understand how just bad that is). So when inspiration strikes, I write it down, anywhere and anyhow I can. I have sticky notes by my bed for ideas that come to me in the middle of the night (though admittedly those notes are sometimes illegible in the morning). I have a list of potential blog topics on Evernote. I have notepads on my desk, in my laptop bag. If I'm traveling, I often carry a mini notepad in my purse, to jot down ideas on the road. If my laptop is handy when an idea comes to me and I have only a few minutes, I'll open up my blog and jot down just a few lines to start a post, knowing I'll have to come back to it later but wanting to get the ball rolling.

"Action shot" of me writing (future blog) at 5:30 AM last Saturday

In cases such as HAWMC, where I have prompts, it's a bit easier. I don't have to "come up with content out of thin air", so to speak. But because my blog is so emotionally fueled and focused, and because my emotions can be so unreliable, I can't just force myself to write at a set time on a set day without fail.  (Disclaimer: sometimes I write several of these challenge posts at once when I'm feeling motivated. I call that "finding creative solutions.")  I do try to set aside times to write each week, but those are pretty flexible and vary from week to week. They have to be, because I might literally not be in the mood to write at the set time. 

On the flip side, there are times that I could write for hours, particularly during intense emotional cycles. I occasionally try to share what it's like in the middle of a hypomanic episode or bad bout of depression, because I feel it's the closest way for people to actually understand what I'm battling. They may not have experienced it themselves, but me writing when I'm in the throws of it, it's kind of the writer's equivalent to Facebook live or Periscope or whatever your preferred "live" medium may be.  The nature of my cycling is such that, once I cycle out, it almost feels like it happened ages ago, and I find it significantly more difficult to describe in depth. It feels like I'm telling a story, instead of a personal account. If I write during, I'm much better able to explain in detail, in a way people can visualize, even possibly feel. That said, if I know I'm in a really, really bad state, I try to give it a day or so before I post. I don't want to raise any cause for alarm, if none is actually needed. 

Despite my lack of any real plan, there are few rules that I try to set for myself: 
  • Proofread. I sometimes type (and talk) faster than my brain fully computes. If I don't proofread, there could be a lot of jumbled up mess in my posts. Or rather, more than there already is. 
  • Don't post ragingly angry. Post kind of angry, but not ragingly so, especially if the anger is primarily directed at one person or situation. Anger is an important part of mental health and not one a lot of people like to talk about. So I think it's important to post from that viewpoint so that, as described above, people get a "real time" insight. I also know, though, that my anger can be fueled by anxiety, panic, and hypomania, and that this multiplies it, making me significantly more upset about things than I otherwise would be. I don't want to emotionally hurt anyone by letting this take over in a blog post, so even if I write, I try to hold off and see if I still feel that way a little while later, or if I've "simmered down" a bit. I've written a lot of drafts that, if posted, would have resulted in some serious foot-in-mouth syndrome later on.  And if I am angry, I never, ever mention personal names (assuming it's someone in my personal life I'm angry at). Ever. 
  • Don't overthink it. I proofread, and I make sure any facts that I've stated as facts are as accurate and updated as possible, but I try not to re-read sentences for hours, wondering if it sounds ok, if it makes perfect sense, what everyone will think of it, etc. As long as it's somewhat sensical, and it's not going to lose me friends or my job, it doesn't have to sound perfect. My brain is a beautifully, weirdly, messy place. My blog reflects that. Intentionally. 
  • I post for me, but I hope that it helps others. Writing in general, and therefore blogging, is therapeutic to me. I was always a writer. As a child, adolescent, teen, young adult, I journaled. I still do (on pen and paper, in addition to my blog). So sometimes, I write just to "get things out". Sometimes, I end up not posting those pieces. Just writing it has done it's job, and I realize I don't want to, for whatever reason, post those. But when I feel that others may go through the same thing, that it could help them or inspire them in some way or simply let them know that they're not alone, I post. So I write for me, but I do so in hopes that it will also help others. 
These are by no means a "recipe" for writing a mental health or chronic illness or any blog. In fact, I pretty much spent the last x number of paragraphs saying, "I really don't have a process, I just throw spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks." But I guess that's kind of the point. I have my ways that work for me, but they're fluid. And you may have a great process that works for you. But if you don't, that's ok too. If you want to write, write. There's no perfect formula. That's the beauty of a personal blog - it's as unique as of each us, our conditions, and our journeys. My stickies in the middle of the night and mentally writing blogs in the shower is what works for me - and I'm completely ok with that. And when you find what works for you, run with it, even if it's equally as weird a process.