Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Thin Line Between Excitement and Anxiety

I'm back! Been a couple of weeks. December has been a busy and eventful month.  I'm sure I'll have more on that in the new year.  For now, though, I want to write about a more immediate issue I've been having:  sleep.  Or the lack thereof.  Lately, I've been waking up at 4AM or earlier on my days off.  They key part of that being that I'm not falling back to sleep. I usually lie there for an hour, hour and a half, two hours. Finally, usually some time by 6 or 6:30AM I give in and get up.

Some mornings, other than the fact that I know I'll be exhausted and that it's bad for my mood cycles, it's not unpleasant. I'll lie there in that half-wake-have-sleep state, and my brain fuzzily focuses on some sort of story that it's creating without my intending to. These mornings I'm sleepy enough, yet not feeling sleep deprived, and simply knowing I'm warm and cozy in bed and don't have to get up to go to work is all I need. Other mornings, though, that is far from the case. These mornings I'm jittery, can't sleep, mind racing. These mornings my brain is in full gear, making lists, coming up with ideas, creating tasks and asking questions. It's not because I'm wide awake per se, but simply because my brain is awake enough to do this. Many times this is stress. I'm upset or worried or hurt or even angry about something, and my brain won't let me forget it. Lately, though, it's been the opposite. I've had a lot of positive going on, and my brain just can't let go of those vibes. I wake up excited with ideas and plans, wanting to write and research and create. But still, I'm jittery, unable to fall asleep, not even feeling tired enough to, yet knowing that I am. These are the days I give in and get up extra early (note, this doesn't mean 6 or 6:30, it means 5 or 5:30).

It seems there's a thin line between anxiety and excitement. Often, this line blurs completely. I'll be so excited about something that I get anxious about not working on it or getting it done.  So my mind starts racing and I start getting restless, unable to fall back asleep. When this happens with numerous trains of thoughts all at once, I end up completely anxious. Sometimes in a full blown anxiety attack. And the thing is, at no time in either case am I actually trying to think about any of this. It's just coming up in my brain. I can literally feel it seeping through my body, slowly spreading like some sort of electric current through my arms and legs, hands and feet. And when this happens, I know there's no hope of getting any more rest. The only thing I can do is get it out of my system, and that means getting up and taking action in the form of getting things done.

For those who don't battle anxiety and the resulting insomnia, it may be easy to think, "Well just stop thinking about it so hard and let yourself fall back to sleep. What can you get done at 4AM on Saturday anyways?  But to the anxious brain, there's always something that you can do. And if not, by default that "something" is worrying.

The only technique I have found that works for me is simply to just go with it. Let my body and brain guide me. If I try to fight it, I end up worrying about getting anxious. I lie there thinking, "I'm not going to get back to sleep and then I'm going to be exhausted later and then I'm going to cycle more, and then and then....". I literally will get anxious about being anxious, or excited as the case may be. So if my brain and body say, "no ma'am, you're done sleeping for the night," I decide what time I'll lie in bed until, and when that time hits, I get up.  That way, I am not lying there thinking how I'll be doing so for hours when it's a more "appropriate time to get up", or when my partner wakes up. I've gotten used to being up when it's dark out, to putting on a pot of coffee, sitting down at my desk with my notebook, and getting my day started by writing. And if I am in one of those more pleasant half-sleep-half-awake states, when the excitement is just kind of there in the background but not overpowering, then I just let myself be content with that. I'm content that I can just lie there, without the electric current feeling that I experience so often. These days, I can allow myself to lie there longer. And if I feel the feeling start to shift from content to jittery, I know it's almost time to get up. I don't let it get to full blown anxiety if I can help it.

I should note here that I do take melatonin, and my evening medications usually knock me out. It's the staying asleep past 4AM on non-work days that's the issue. (Oddly on work days, my brain is happy to sleep).  I'm very open to any tips that you may have discovered! 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mental Health Pet Peeves

In the mental health community, we face a lot of stigma. Some of it is overt. People calling us crazy or mental or insane. People saying we're dangerous, violent. These people, while they frustrate the hell out of me, are sometimes easier for me to deal with. I pull out statistics about how those with mental health conditions are ten times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than perpetrators. I tell people how I run a business and work a part time job, have recently written a novel in my "spare time", and have served on numerous boards of directors, to name a few accomplishments. This tends to make people realize perhaps I'm not as "crazy" as they would like to think. Or they do, and I tell them where to shove and move along because they've decided to be closed minded and nothing I can say will change that, so they aren't worth my time. But the people that don't get what they're doing are the ones who really get to me. Because that is how stigma and ignorance disguises itself in a pretty little helpful bow, and continues to be perpetuated. Here are a few of my top mental health pet peeves.
  •  "Just pray about it." Ok, first off, I've been black listed by the Catholic church for living in sin for the last umteen years (divorced, not annulled,etc etc) and quite frankly it pisses me off that I'm counted as much of a sinner as a murderer or a rapist simply because I left an unhealthy relationship. But all of this is besides the point BECAUSE MY ILLNESS IS NOT A SIN OR A PENANCE! I jokingly call it the gremlin in my head, but that's a joke. Because it's so ridiculous that a separate being would be actually possessing my brain that I can joke about it. Praying, if I were religious, might calm me. It might give me some sort of comfort. If I were religious. Which I am not. Now, to be clear, if you are religious and want to pray that I'm feeling better, by all means, go ahead. It's how you feel you can help, and I truly appreciate that you want to help in some way. I'm not telling you not to pray or believe, and I appreciate you doing what you can to help. Who knows, maybe it'll work and I'll become a believer again.  But please, don't tell me the only thing that I can do to help is pray. I respect that it's your thing, but it's not my thing. And I'm not looking for a miracle. 
  • You're a pawn of the pharmaceutical/doctor industry. They're making you sicker so you buy the drugs and they get rich.  Ok first of all, did you witness the first 30 years of my life? Did you watch me at 2 years old in hypomanic episodes begging my parents "make it stop, make it stop." But I'm just fine off my meds?  How exactly do you, who is not in my head or my body, know that?  Let me set you straight: my meds, and the meds of so many others, are life-saving. When you have a potentially fatal cancer and choose not to take medication, please, come to me and show me how you've magically healed on your own. Then we can talk. 
  • Oh I don't need medication, I've cured myself with these herbal supplements and exercise. Well hoody hoo for you. You are not me. You're not inside my brain. I have a bachelors in kineseology, worked in corporate fitness for five years, and am a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. If exercise could cure me, I think I'd be fine and dandy by now. I'm honestly glad that works for you. You're lucky. Me, not so much. It does help me at times, but it doesn't cure me. Nothing does. I have a chronic illness that currently has no cure. 
  • Just relax/chill out/calm down (during anxiety/hypomania). *%&$&*$%&#$%*$% You. If I could, I would. And here's a tip: never, in the history of telling people to calm down, has telling someone to calm down actually made them do so. In fact, it does the reverse. 
  • Just focus on the positive more. Be more grateful.  I'm not ungrateful. I know I have "no reason" (as you put it) to feel so awful, worthless, terrible, hopeless. I know there are starving children in Africa and that so many people are more sick, or have it worse. But I do, actually, have a reason. It's called a medical illness that screws with my brain. And now, thanks to you, I simply feel guilty about having this illness, and more like a giant piece of shit than I already felt. 
  • Why are you depressed? You have a good life. If I asked you why you couldn't just stop having cancer because you have a good life and *should* be healthy, I'd look like the biggest asshat on the planet. When you ask this, so do you. 
  • I  avoid people who are emotional/dramatic. Every time I see this in anyone's status/profile/etc I run like the wind. Because this makes me feel like I can't be myself if I'm having an overly emotional day, and like it's my fault if I am. Like it's not an illness that makes me this emotional but a choice. It makes me feel like a burden. And I don't want to be a burden to anyone. I'd rather be alone. 
  • Happiness is a choice. Ah, well, no shit?! If only I'd known! All this time, I've been suffering from a lifelong illness when I could have just decided not to be depressed! I hope you can sense the sarcasm. If happiness was a choice, approximately 16 million Americans would not be living with Major Depressive Disorder (source here). Trust me, we don't want to be depressed, and we certainly never chose this on purpose. 
  • You can't control what happens to you but you can control your reactions to it. Clarification: in a perfect world, I agree. But in a perfect world, 16 million Americans would battle major depression either. By nature of my disorder, my brain makes it increasingly difficult to control my reactions, and sometimes nearly impossible. If it helps make this a bit more clear, my meds are actually used primarily for seizures. Basically, I'm having a seizure- like reaction in my brain that manifests itself emotionally/mentally instead of physically. And if you've ever witnessed someone having a seizure, you understand the lack of control. If I could not have an anxiety attack or panic attack in public, I would.  Because nobody likes being stared at and steered clear of in public. Nobody likes collapsing in a pile of tears in the middle of a crowd. And if I could not sink into a depression, I would. Trust me, even through a depression, I'm trying to keep to react as best as possible. I'm trying not to let it drag me under into an abyss of nothingness. I don't always win. Please believe me, if I can't control it, I really can't.
Fellow mental health battlers, have more? I'm sure there are plenty. I try to laugh at them, to brush these things off. It helps keep me from isolating myself, feeling like nobody understands me. So I joke and use colorful language to make them lighter. But honestly, these things aren't funny. They're annoying at best, and ignorant and stigmatizing at worst. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Today, I Realized I Was Living in the Past

Today, an interesting thing happened. I realized I've been living in the recent past. To clarify, I don't mean specifically that I can't let go of my past or anything like that. Those actively in my past have moved forward, as have I. I'm happy for them. I don't burn bridges nor do I hold grudges.

What I mean, however, is that I have been looking at people and situations that I still consider part of my life, in some cases a big part of my life, as they used to be instead of as they currently are.  For instance, I have a friends that I used to see all the time.  I'm talking like at least once a week, for months or years.  But now, I haven't seen them in months or years.  I often don't even talk to them for months, not counting a Facebook comment here or there.  And yet, I'm still sitting here saying, "I can't believe s/he didn't donate to my Overnight Walk! I can't believe they didn't even acknowledge the email! We're such good friends, I've tried to help her/him so much over the years, donated to their causes, been there to do stuff with them... etc".   But then I sit back and realize I can't remember the last time that person reached out first, other than maybe a happy birthday a few months ago and the aforementioned Facebook or Instagram comment here or there (which I don't really count as reaching out unless it's really personalized).  I realize the last few times we talked (texted), we said "We *have* to get together soon! I miss you!" I realize that I said, "OK I'm free this day and that day and xyz.  Do you want to do this? Or how about that? Let me know." And they never did. They never reached back out, took the initiative, made the plans. And this has happened numerous times over the course or months or even years. It has been all me for a while now. And that's when it hit me:  we were good friends.  Maybe for quite some time. And maybe one day we will be again. But right now, we aren't. Yet I'm holding them to the standard of someone who is. Of someone they used to be, or maybe even who I thought they were. Of the relationship we used to have, not the one we have now. Not who they are to me, or more important, who I am to them, now. And that's not fair, to them or to myself, and I need to let it go.

This happens all the time. I've experienced in reverse. Because of my illness, my health has to take precedent. Which often means I can't be out late, or at all. It means I need my down time, my quiet time, my recoup time, and even when I'm out, I'd often rather do weekend brunch than a night out on the town (read: would always rather). So friends that I spent time with when I made an exception and went out for a couple of people's birthdays don't understand why I'm suddenly so boring, why I never want to go out. And I have to say, "listen, it was fun going out a few times" but I really can't do this constantly.  It's not really me. Or friends who always want to do things in big groups, who think the more the merrier, and I have to say, "listen, big groups give me an anxiety attack, I need one on one time, so I don't think I'll make it."  I'm may feel like rejection to them. To them, our dynamics have to change. They may feel I have changed.

So I sat back and thought further, and I realized that there are a good number situations in my life right now - in my business, in friendships, in personal situations - where I've been holding onto the past. I've been looking at my business as I did as a 26 year old just starting out (12 years ago). I've been looking at friendships I had when each of wanted different things or our life situations were different. I've been looking at personal situations that I thought of one way, based on impressions formed months or longer ago, and have never adjusted. Maybe I changed, maybe the situation changed, maybe someone else involved changed. Maybe my impression was wrong all together, just as the above friends though I liked nights out and big groups based on their initial impressions.  But the bottom line is, it's not the same anymore. And I need to let go of those former beliefs. I can't live in the past. In fact, I get frustrated (SO frustrated) at people who do - people who make the past more of a priority than the future, more of a priority than working with the present to create that future.  But I've been doing that, just in a different form. I've been holding on to who people were when I first met them, or when one or both of our situations were different, who I thought they were. I've been holding onto things that have morphed and changed over the months or years, and am still trying to hold those people or situations to the same standards, expect everything to be the same. And in doing so, I've been hurt. Badly at times.

So I can't do that any longer. I have to stop, take stock of the people and situations in my life, and decide how I'm going to move my life forward from here, with people and situations as they are now - not as they were then, whenever then was. That doesn't mean ditching friends, un-friending them, or whatever. It means realizing they don't play the role they once did, and not expecting them to. It means not holding them to the standards that I do for my current closest friends. I can't get mad at them for not donating or supporting something. I can be slightly disappointed and maybe even a little discouraged and hurt at times, but I can't be mad.  It's not fair to them and it just hurts me over and over. I need to move forward, controlling those things in my life that I can, focusing on those in the here and now - as they actually are, not as they used to be - and creating my future based on these. It sadly may mean that some people or situations I formerly focused on, held in certain positions of esteem in my life, are not looked at the same. But life is constantly changing, and maybe they'll get there again. Or maybe they've played their key role in my life and I in theirs when we both needed it, and now that fades a bit. And while this is sad, because it feels like a bit of a silent goodbye to what once was, it also is a bit freeing. For so long, I was holding in priority people and situations that were based on the past.  And now, I have been freed of that. Now, I can look to the future, basing it on the present and the opportunities it holds now. To those of you who played such an important role when I needed it, thank you. We may not be the same anymore, our dynamic may have shifted, but I wouldn't be the same without you having been a part of my life.