Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Simplifying, Letting Go, & Spreading Hope in 2019

I don't set new year's resolutions. I've written about why before, but basically, resolutions tend to be all or nothing. "I'm going to lose 10 lbs". What if you lose 9.5? Technically, you've failed in your resolution. But you've lost 9.5 lbs through hard work and dedication - no failure about that. See where I'm going? Instead, I set goals and focuses. Yes, there are concrete items I'd like to accomplish in there that I create plans for  (resolutions don't generally involve plans, which is another reason I don't set them). But my real point is, I am more focused on patterns, on ways of being, and changes I'd like to make in those ways of being to improve overall quality of life.

For 2019, I'm focusing on Simplifying, Letting go, and Spreading Hope. If you'll notice, two of the three are related (I'd argue that all are, but two are more obvious) - they're about less. Getting rid of or shedding. And to me, if I'm able to do that, I'm more able to focus on the third, which if you've known me for any length of time and have paid any attention to what I've been doing over the past two years, should ring a bell.

Why have I chosen these? Well, life in general and my brain, are messy. With a rapid cycling mood disorder, there's literally no telling what's going on in there at times. I could have had the best day of my life, go to bed, and wake up in horrible depression. Then, I could rapidly cycle into hypomania by the end of the day. I'll be anxious through the entirety of it because everything seems unstable and uncertain, and I do about as well with uncertainty as I would handle being chased by a rabid dinosaur.  Note: I have had people tell me, when I say this about uncertainty, that I should never have kids. I'd like to point out that 1.) That's a shitty thing to tell someone 2.) I have, in my past, had a young child in my life, and done just fine. 3.) If you repeat this "wisdom", YOU will fare about as well as if you were chased by a rabid dinosaur. Just putting that out there. But I digress.

My point is there are certain types of uncertainty that I'd like to pare down in my life, in order to improve my mental and physical health, and to get me on the path to where I'm quite sure I need to be going. Furthermore, I have a habit of throwing myself into everything 1000%, trying to be everything to everyone, even when time and again, it feels incredibly one-sided or I feel that my efforts aren't respected/valued the way they should be (i.e. the number of times I've been passed over for things I worked my ass of for and feel I deserved is rather alarming). I've cluttered my life, hanging onto each and everyone of these situations, often for years. I've also hung on to all of the ideas, all of the ways of doing things, all of the criticisms and "ways I should improve myself", impressed upon me by other people over the years. All the ways I "should" live. All the views I "should" have. All the ways I should be more like everyone else says I should be, and deny who I am. I have hung onto all this stuff. And it's suffocating me, and it's time to get out from under it.

So, Simplifying:
  • I'm simplifying my things. I don't need fancy stuff. I don't need that necklace I haven't worn in two years because part of it broke off and I keep saying I'll somehow figure out how to put it back together, or that purse with three zippers missing that I'm so sure I'll somehow find a use for anyway. I don't need those jeans from five years ago that I haven't been able to fit in for the last two. I don't need that book that was required reading for a CEC course five years ago that I  haven't looked at since. I do not need them Sam I Am. So, I'm simplifying my things. Ill donate what I can.
  •  Simplifying my routines and habits. This involves things like making a budget and sticking to it. Meal planning and prepping and sticking to it (also helps budget, so bonus). Making plans and sticking to them as best as possible (i.e. no constant last minute decisions/changes/etc). I need to try to eat around the same time, go to bed and wake up around the same time. My therapist has consistently told me my life needs routines and plans I can rely on, and that the lack of this is detrimental to my mental health.  The more I can rely on in my outer world, the easier it is to handle when my inner world changes unexpectedly, which is often.
  • Simplifying my space. I've read time and again that your physical outer space is a representation of your inner mental space. This makes sense. When your thoughts and emotions and brain feel all jumbled, it can be tough to keep a nice orderly home/desk/office/closet/etc. Similarly, when your house looks like a mad scientist is using it as their lab, it can be really tough to organize your thoughts, and it often feels like the walls, or your things, are closing in on you, and that's anxiety inducing. 

Letting Go:
  • I need to let go of pieces of my life I've held on to for too long. Whether it's organizations that I was involved in that no longer serve me, or friendships that now feel totally one-sided, or anything else that used to maybe be a big piece of my life that no longer is (like the fact that I had to sell my storefront building four or so years ago). This doesn't mean big friend breakups or loudly denouncing organizations for which I previously gave so much, or anything like that. But I can't spend my life chasing ghosts.
  • I need work on letting go of all of the stories I've told myself about how I'm not worthy, I'm not enough, I'm a failure. Depression and anxiety are assholes that lie to me daily, so I know that sometimes, I'm going to feel this way and there's not a ton to do about it but whether the storm. But not letting it be my defining story any longer is key.
  • I need to let go of all the untrue stories I've been told by other people. Those stories that tell me I'm wrong, I'm inferior, I'm lazy, I'm selfish, my ways are wrong, my views are wrong, I'm not capable, that my illness is attention-seeking. To those stories that others have told me that degrade me, berate me, make me feel bad about myself, that aim to make me feel ashamed or guilty for who I am or how I'm made, that tell me I'll be good enough if only I'd change like this or that. Every one of those stories needs to go, because these do nothing but reinforce the untrue stories I already tell myself, which only depletes my self worth and self confidence further, and that massively affects my mental health. This doesn't mean I can't learn and grow, because as humans, we're almost all continually doing so. I love learning new things and having new experiences. I'm an open person, and I love expanding my horizons. But negative words and name calling that offer no actual helpful insight, no solution, no new opportunities or experiences simply don't serve me. They serve one purpose and one purpose only - to put the other person down. And I'm good enough at doing that to myself.
  • I need to let go of everyone else's idea of success. I heard something on a podcast the other day that I've heard in numerous forms before, but the way it was put succinctly drives home the point: "The richest wo/man in the graveyard is still dead." Success doesn't have to mean having a 9-5 that makes x amount of money (hell, it doesn't mean having a 9-5 at all). It doesn't mean having x car in the driveway or y size house. It doesn't mean having fancy china or designer clothes. It doesn't mean having abc qualifications or xyz degrees or titles. The person running around like a chicken with their head cut off isn't any more successful simply because they're "too busy".  For too long, I've let other people's opinions of success make me feel unsuccessful. To long I've let them hold me back. It's fine for them if those are other people's measurements of their own success. But they are not mine. 

  • Letting go of grudges and wrongs.  One of my favorite quotes of  all time comes from the Dalai Lama, "Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else. You're the one that gets burned."  Note: Letting go of grudging and forgiveness doesn't mean the person's actions were acceptable. It doesn't always mean reconciliation. Nor does it mean they've apologized and asked for forgiveness. They never may, but waiting for that gives them control over you, and I refuse to allow that. Forgiveness is something you do for you, so that you can stop feeling burned and move forward. You stop holding that hot coal that hurts you more than anyone else. That's what I'm aiming to do.
  • Letting go of how things should be. I'm going to write more on this later, but I, like many people, tend to have strong ideals of how things should be. I have visions/ideals in my head how things are going to go, and I get super disappointed when things don't turn out like those visions. I'm working on tempering that. Note: this does NOT mean that I just do whatever everyone else wants and abandon my own hopes/goals/dreams/ways of life. But it does mean I'm open to new experiences that don't require me to give up me totally but maybe bring in new opportunities as well.

Spreading Hope 
  • If you're unfamiliar, I founded the Spread Hope Project. My goal in 2019 is to bring the theme of hope into even the tiniest pieces of my life. Hope doesn't mean kittens with rainbows coming out of their butts - or at least it doesn't have to. Hope means that despite everything we have to go through daily, we still see that all is not lost. We see that there is a way out, a way forward, a way through, even if we don't see exactly what that way is. We see that there's the chance of things getting better. I recently talked to someone very wise (who happens to be related to me) who said that when you have a word that means so much to you, like hope does to me, it informs everything you do - from the way you run your business/org, to the way you cook, dress, communicate. This has honestly opened my eyes so much. I love personal challenges, and this challenge to basically bring hope into every aspect of my life is one that I am wholeheartedly embracing. It's given me a lot of clarity.
  • You can learn more about Spread Hope Project on the website (linked above), Instagram, or Facebook.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My Experience of Attempting To Not Complain

As part of my yoga teacher training, we had an assignment to practice Ahimsa. If you're unfamiliar with ahimsa, more or less, it's non-harming or non-violence. Now if you know anything about me, the vegetarian who literally can't harm a fly, balls my eyes out at SPCA commercials (damn you Sarah McLaughlin and your perfectly depressing songs), and who apologizes to inanimate objects for bumping into them, you're probably thinking, "Yeah violence isn't really your strong suit, so I think you're good." But something I'm becoming increasingly aware of is this: harming comes in many forms, and it doesn't always hit you over the head - literally or figuratively.

For this Ahimsa practice, the general idea was that we had to pick an action, or more likely pattern of behavior, that could be harmful to others, and to work on addressing this. Partly because I'm quite excellent at finding fault with myself, and partly because I'm a human being and most of us are far from perfect, I actually had a good number of these to choose from. Ultimately, what I chose was to (attempt to) stop complaining to other people. (Notable exception: I didn't count my therapist ... maybe I should have, not really sure on that one. I feel like that's a fine line.)

The reason I chose this challenge? Complaining is one of those things that seems to sneak into our repertoire, often under the radar.  Unless we're actively going to lodge a complaint (calling a company about bad customer service, speaking to HR at work about an issue), we generally don't go around in our daily lives with the purpose of complaining. And because we don't go around intentionally complaining, because it slowly slips its way into our actions, we often don't realize we're doing it. But those around us do. And it can be super draining on them. If you've ever had a friend or family member who, every single time you ask how their day was, launches into a list of why it was so stressful or boring or frustrating, you probably know what I'm talking about. After a while, you don't see the point in even asking. We all have enough stressors going on in our life, in the world, and especially when it's the same thing day after day, we don't need the added negativity. And unfortunately, I realized I was becoming (or some might argue already being) that person. And I don't like that. Not at all. So this, I decided, would be my challenge.

Admittedly this doesn't seem like it should be all that tough. Just. don't. complain. Right? It isn't as easy as it sounds, and it's actually been  a pretty enlightening experience thus far (enlightening in the lay person sense, not in the yogic 'enlightenment' sense.) I actually have been learning quite a bit throughout this practice, and I thought some of it worth sharing.

1. I learned that I complain a lot. A lot more than I even thought I did. It's amazing, when you start to pay attention, when you start to be more present to your words and actions, what you discover about yourself.

2. When you are opting to pay more attention to complaining, it means you're paying more attention to complaining... all of it. Including that of others.Which means that you may increasingly notice how much others complain, and that could have an impact on you.

3. My complaining isn't always intentional. This isn't an excuse, just an observation. It's so easy to get caught up in the, "This traffic sucks. It's so cold out. Work was so (insert adjective) today...". It's especially difficult when part of a group. (See point 4)

4. As a socially anxious introvert, I dislike small talk. But unfortunately, it tends to be a part of almost daily life. It's often tough for me to (not super awkwardly) join in conversations. So I realized sometimes, I was participating in complaining just to be part of the conversation. Because sadly, I've learned that when everyone is hell bent on complaining about something (the weather, traffic, whatever) and you smile and pipe in with a positive comment instead, you've somehow committed a greater social faux pas than if you'd walked into the room, farted loudly, and left.

5.  Not every negative statement is a complaint. There's a thin line, at times, between complaining, discussing, and confiding. This was a really tough one for me. I'm not good with gray areas or blurry lines, so I tend to categorize things in absolutes - right/wrong, good/bad, positive/negative.  I noticed when I actively started  trying not to complain, that I was basically putting a nice "I'm fine" gloss on everything. But this isn't ideal, because sometimes things aren't fine, and they need to be discussed. Whether it's because you're legitimately not feeling well and need to let someone know, or an issue that comes up between people, sometimes, difficult/not overly positive conversations need to be had. That's different than complaining. It serves a specific purpose.

I have found that when the above question is murky, journaling/writing down my thoughts helps. If writing about the issue "gets it out of my system", then it was probably just complaining - i.e. I needed to vent about something, I did so to my journal, and now I'm good. But if I notice that it's a consistent pattern, there may be more to it. And to clarify, by consistent pattern, I don't mean "Every day the traffic on 95 at rush hour is terrible" kind of a pattern. I mean that if you notice that you're repeatedly writing that a specific friend is saying things that hurt you, or day after day you're feeling depressed or anxious about a specific situation, then it's probably something that needs to be addressed or discussed.

I have also found that turning the complaint inward - i.e. running it over and over in your head just so you don't have to say it out loud to someone and "be complaining" - doesn't help. It might help the other person in the short term, but eventually, it's going to build up for you. It'll weigh heavily on you, and in the long run, it'll probably affect them too (because none of us live in a bubble, and peole can often tell when something's wrong even if we aren't saying it). So by all means, write it down, discuss it with your therapist (as applicable), do what you have to do to vent it out. But then, if it's not something that really warrants further addressing, let it go. Because I do get that sometimes, complaining feels good. But in all honesty, I've found that letting shit go feels a lot better. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

If You Need Some Gentle Reminders on Your Own Self Worth

I haven't written in a while. In truth, I've been both super busy, and also struggling. Today, I'm especially struggling. And in case you are too, I wanted to send along a few reminders. I know these things are easy to forget, or convince yourself of, in tough times. So if you need them today like I do, I hope they offer some solace.

1. You are not your thoughts. Depression and anxiety can be a$$holes, and they like to lie to us a lot. "You're not good enough. Your lazy. Your selfish. You're a failure. You'll get rejected. You're stupid...." and the list goes on and on. But just like a bully that's trying to lie to make you doubt yourself, just because someone (including your own brain) says it, doesn't mean it's true. I know not believing these lies are easier said than done.

2. To build on this, don't ever let anyone tell you you're not enough. Including yourself. You are enough. Period. Remember that "enough" is subjective. It's an opinion. And by definition, that means it can't be a fact.

3. A bad hour doesn't make a bad day. A bad day doesn't make a bad week. A bad week doesn't make a bad month. I once told my therapist that a day was ruined because of something (not overly consequential) that took up less than an hour. She reminded me I still had 23 more hours to make it a good day. And if you can't, you can get up again and try again tomorrow.

4. On that note, sometimes the biggest accomplishment you may have in a day is getting through it.  If this seems like a small achievement, remember that you've done battle with one of the biggest, most cunning, most ruthless opponents in existence, and you've come out on the other side. That's huge.

5. Being vulnerable is not a weakness. Opening about the way you feel takes so much strength and courage. Even if the only person you're opening up to is yourself.

6.  It is not your job to change other people's opinions of you. Because you cannot control other people's thoughts, even when you want to. Hell, half the time it feels tough enough to control my own (high five, anxiety). Do the best you can. Be the best version of you that you can be.

7. Remember that different isn't better or worse, it's different. Just because you may not see or feel or experience things the way others do doesn't mean you're views or ways or feelings or thoughts are wrong. They're different. Again, opinions are not facts. Even when others, or your own brain, try to convince you that they are.

8. If you're looking at others feeling like they have their shit together and you're floundering, remember that someone is looking at you feeling that exact same way in the reverse.

9. When you feel alone in your depression or anxiety, remember that 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health condition. It may often feel it, but you are far from alone. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Some Halloween Reminders

I love Halloween. More specifically, I love costumes and any excuse to dress up. I love seeing how creative people can get with costumes. Kids dressed up in their cute costumes are adorable. Dogs dressed up in costumes are possibly more adorable. But there are some things about Halloween that can be incredibly difficult for those with chronic and mental illness, as well as those who have experienced trauma in the past. It's super important to be mindful of this. I'm not trying to crush everyone's good time, but we have to consider that not everyone is up for the same celebrations as us. Here are a few thoughts.

Scary Attractions:
  • Many, many Halloween attractions involve people jumping out and scaring participants. This may even include touching/grabbing participants, or getting super close to them. This could be a massive trigger for a  someone who has suffered an assault or an attack. And while I can't personally speak to someone having been in combat, I'd imagine that people jumping out and grabbing them/surprising them could also have negative effects. 
  • Loud noises can be triggering. Those with PTSD, those with anxiety, those with sensory issues can be especially affected.
  •  Crowds/groups in tight quarters. I can tell you as an anxious person with claustrophobia and heightened sensory perception, dark spaces packed with people (especially dark spaces packed with people where things are going to jump out and try to make me shit my pants scare me) are NOT places I want to be. 
  • Not everyone loves surprises. Again, for those of us with anxiety and numerous other conditions, these can be traumatic. It doesn't have to be a tourist attraction. Don't hide in a dark corner dressed up like Freddy Kruger and jump out at me at home either. This isn't limited to "jumping out" surprises. I often post around April Fool's Day, explaining that those of us with anxiety can really be affected by "negative" surprises. If the idea is to frighten, scare, alarm someone, and their brain does this naturally without any outside input, it's probably best not to do it. 

To clarify, I'm not saying that these things shouldn't exist. I'm not saying you shouldn't go to "haunted" house/attractions (exception: keep reading). I'm not even saying not to invite us - after all, everyone's different, and just because someone has anxiety, it doesn't mean it'll be a trigger for them. But it could, so be mindful. Don't force someone to go or make them feel bad for not going. Remember, they don't owe the world, or anyone, an explanation. If someone says "I'd rather not go, that's not really my thing", that needs to be enough. Bugging them until they reveal that it will trigger a past trauma, and only then letting up on them going, isn't OK.

While we're at it, a few other reminders of things that aren't your/anyone else's business:
  •  Why someone isn't drinking at a party/gathering/etc
  • Why someone isn't eating all the candy (or anything else)
There are many reasons why people don't drink or eat certain things. It could be illness, an allergy, or it could be a whole host of other things including..... maybe they just don't feel like it! Please don't judge someone based on their lack of alcohol consumption or their dietary habits. Peer pressure wasn't cool in middle school and it's not cool now either.

I really feel this can be summed up in three words: have some tact. Mental illnesses, chronic illnesses, and disabilities are real, every day struggles that people go through. Not costumes. And yes, I've seen costumes for all of the above being sold online. It's disgusting to me. And yes, I get that any costume could probably offend anyone, but putting on my mom's old bell bottoms and a headband and going as a hippie isn't quite the same as dressing up as someone with a serious, even potentially fatal, illness.

Asylum Attractions: 
I can't speak for the community at large here, but I can speak for myself and my opinion on this topic is very strong. Do me a favor - before you go to one of the "asylum" attractions, read up on the history of "insane asylums". Read about how people were treated - by which I mean often abused, tortured, and in some cases even killed or left for dead. Read about how people were experimented on without their consent or at times without their knowledge. If you're cool with all of that, then sure, go ahead and give these attractions your money. Also know when you do this, every time you support something that makes a caricature out of mental illness, you're actively supporting stigma.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Mental Illnesses Are Not Adjectives (And What To Say Instead)

Whether you have a mental illness or not, you've almost certainly heard one of the following (or something similar):

"She can't make up her mind. It's like she's Bipolar".

"I'm so ADD today".

"I'm a little OCD about xyz (insert task/organizational strategy here)".

If you do have a mental illness, hearing someone throwing around your illness, that you struggle with daily, as a colloquialism, and then them laughing about it, can be frustrating to say the least. Not to mention, these are the types of actions that continue to spread stigma about mental illness. The thing is, if we inserted physical illnesses in here, people would probably be pretty taken aback. For instance:

"She can't do xyz, it's like she's asthmatic!"

"I'm so cancerous today". 

"I'm a little diabetic about xyz"

The thing is, it's not cool. And people seem to know not to do this, because they get that making a joke out of cancer is pretty inconsiderate - especially around anyone with cancer (but really, just in general).

Unfortunately, using mental illness as a phrase that can be tossed around to (inaccurately) describe someone's behavior has become so common that I don't honestly think (some) people realize they what they're doing. They don't think about the fact that they may be sitting next to someone  whose ADD is really causing them trouble today, or speaking to someone that does have bipolar disorder. They don't realize they're furthering the stigma by doing so. So I thought it might be helpful to offer some alternatives, the next time you catch someone saying something along these lines.

What people say:  "I'm so depressed because I have nothing to wear to my friend's wedding this weekend" (specific example, but the point is, people say "I'm so depressed" when they really mean "this is a bummer/this is kind of an annoyance")
Alternative: "I'm frustrated (bummed/annoyed also works depending on context), I have nothing to wear to my friend's wedding this weekend."

Why:  Depression is a serious illness, not a minor inconvenience. It can often make people feel hopeless, worthless, empty, and even question the point of their lives. Comparing this to not having the perfect outfit (or some other day to day issue that's not actually related to one's serious health) minimizes what we go through, and it gives heed to the myth that it's not a serious illness. (i.e. furthers stigma). Using the word "depressed" when you really mean a more minor feeling, like bummed or annoyed, furthers the idea that really, someone with depression could just look at the positive side of things (insert annoying and inaccurate cliche here) and be all better. Because surely, if all it takes is having the right outfit, depression couldn't be that serious, right?

*Note: As someone who's struggled with body image issues and disordered eating alongside depression, there could be situations, if someone struggled with these, that this type of statement is legitimate.  Maybe trying to find something nice for a wedding triggers their body images issues and eating struggles, which can in turn affect their depression.  But if that's the case, it's probably not said as an off-handed comment while discussing outfits.

What people say: "She can't make up her mind, it's like she's bipolar".

Alternative: "She can't make up her mind", "She keeps changing her mind". Just end the statement there. It's just that. It's not like anything.

Why:  There are so many reasons I really can't list them all. But I'll try.
  • Bipolar has nothing to do with not being able to make up ones mind. Depression and mania aren't decisions. They're parts of a mood cycle, not intentional changes in action, thought, or words.
  • Nobody changes their mind (or anything else) mid-sentence because they're bipolar and have suddenly cycled. It doesn't work like that, even for the most rapid cycling mood disorders. 
  • People with bipolar disorder struggle with symptoms that can be debilitating, and life-altering at times. Simplifying it to not being able to make up their mind completely dismisses how serious and difficult this illness can be.

  • Nobody "is bipolar". They have bipolar disorder. This could be said of any mental illness - or any illness in general. It's not a personality trait, it's an illness.

 What people say: I'm so ADD today.

Alternative: I'm having difficulty focusing/concentrating today. I'm easily distracted today. (These are the ways in which it's most commonly said).

Why: The symptoms and challenges of ADD involve more than being easily distracted. Sure, to the general population, being distracted often may be slightly annoying, but ADD involves a multitude of symptoms that can often make school and work tasks particularly challenging. There are a lot of things that can add to our inability to focus these days - like having 100 different pop up notifications for 10 different social media apps on three different devices coming at you all the time. That's a product of our society in the 21st century, not having a medical condition. It's minimizing what someone with ADD goes through to interchange the two.

What people say: I'm a little OCD about xyz.

Alternative: I'm a little particular about xyz (this is what people usually mean).

Why: OCD can be debilitating. There are people who struggle with OCD who have difficulty even leaving the house, or who have to take hours extra in order to do so.  It can also be a disorder that causes social isolation, both because of how the person feels in social situations, and because of how others react to their disorder.  When people use this as a throw away phrase, they generally mean they're super particular about something. They also may mean that they're extra-organized. But I honestly can't think of a time that being extra-organized caused someone to feel unable to leave their house, or to feel socially isolated. (Note: info given here comes from those I know who do have OCD and have explained it this way). 

What people say:   "My ex-girlfriend was a schizo!"
Alternative: There's not one really. Just stop bashing your ex because it didn't work out.  Also, name calling should be left on the playground. Honestly, it doesn't even belong there.  
Why:  Schizophrenia might be one of the most misunderstood illnesses in terms of mental health. When used in a derogatory way (above), it is used often as a catch-all to describe behaviors that people just don't get, or to describe people they don't like.  I've never actually heard someone use this in describing a behavior even remotely related to actual symptoms of schizophrenia.  I suspect if you ask the general population what someone with schizophrenia experiences, they'd have very little (accurate) idea. And yet they throw it around as an insult. More than any other, this tends to be used as a general bash at someone (much like the word crazy). Which is just mean, whether you're using the name of an illness or not. Let's stop nastily bashing people shall we? Just in general. But also, by using people's serious illnesses as insults.

If you really aren't sure what to say, just stick to this rule: when in doubt, avoid using any medical term/illness to describe someone's behavior.

Finally, a PSA as we close in on Halloween: I cannot believe I have to say this, but mental illnesses, illnesses in general, and disabilities, are NOT Halloween costumes. I'm all for dressing up, but think it through, please, before you decide what to wear.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

As I Close In On The Final Days Of My 38th Year

If you aren't aware, I love birthdays. My birthday, your birthday, my dog's birthday, your dog's birthday. If it's a birthday, I love it.  Why? Well first off, it celebrates life, and as someone that so passionately advocates for life in my suicide prevention efforts, I think making it through another trip around the sun and still being here, even with all you've had to endure, is a pretty damn good reason to celebrate. Also, here's the thing: unless you're a twin/triplet/other multiple birth, or share a birthday with someone you're likely to celebrate with, your birthday is the only day of the year that's ALL ABOUT YOU!! I mean granted, it's not only about you because somewhere in the world there are others who also have their birthday the same day (looking at you, Bruce Springsteen, who shares my birthday). But in your sphere,  your day is about you. It's not about your clients or your boss or your friend, or your dog or your cousin (OK my cousin and I have a birthday a day apart, so this is actually a bad example, but you get my point). It's about you.  And often, because you don't get to celebrate with everyone at once, you get to stretch it to a couple of days - birthday weekend, birthday week, etc. Hell, DSW sent me something in August that said "your birthday is almost here!" That's what I'm talking about! And the beauty of it being all about you is that if you want to spend your birthday/weekend/celebration time going to yoga or going out to dinner (if you can afford it) or gardening or sitting around picking your nose, that's totally your right. We spend so much of our time trying to accommodate everyone and everything, trying to meet those deadlines and get that work done and do those chores and tasks and do whatever else we have to do that we all deserve this time.You get to be Queen (or King) for a Day! (Fun fact: My Grandma Northen was actually on the show Queen for a Day years ago, which is what made me think of this phrase). 

I hope I enjoy my birthday as much as Grace when she learned there were fries in this bag.

But in addition to being a birthday celebration advocate, there's another purpose to this post. As I like to do each year, I wanted to take a look at my past 12 months.  Especially as we get older/have increased gravitational pull towards the earth especially in the curvy parts/forget why we just walked into the room or why we're not wearing pants add few more candles to the cake, I think it's easy to think of all the things we haven't yet accomplished, or where we hoped/thought we might be that we aren't yet. This can be especially true if chronic illness has prevented you from being and doing some of the things that you hoped to have been/done at this stage of life. But so much can change in a year,  that I think it sometimes helps to look at those things we did accomplish, or those positive changes that have happened in the last year, to give us a bit of hope that just because we haven't gotten there yet, doesn't mean we won't.

In this past year, I have: 
  • Gone on my honeymoon (it was a few weeks after our wedding, so technically, I was married in my last age year).  
Overlooking Lake Keuka in the Finger Lakes, where we honeymooned.

  • We've gotten three new cars (clarification: we got two new to us cars, one of which was totaled by someone who didn't stop behind me, and subsequently, I got an actual new car because it was actually cheaper with the Hyundai sale than getting a used one).
  • I left my part time job of four years, started with a new company, and then transferred sites with that same company. So my job has, essentially, changed twice in the last year. 

  • Traveled to Greece (Athens, Santorini, Crete)
My husband and I in Crete.
  •  Traveled twice to Spain - once with my cousin to Barcelona, Madrid, Cordoba, and Ronda; once with my parents, and all of us siblings and our families, to Catalonia.  
Hiking in Ronda, Spain

From the house we rented in Catalonia

  • Signed up and been accepted to Yoga Teacher Training (I start Sept 28th!).
  • Celebrated my first Wedding Anniversary.  
Cappuccino I got on our anniversary.
  • Had to titrate completely off all medications temporarily for private, personal reasons. And you might say "this is something to celebrate?" No, but the fact that I'm still here while being off all meds is. Honestly, other than celebrating my wedding anniversary, of all of my accomplishments this year, this was the biggest. It was by far the most difficult (I mean, traveling through Greece and Spain in luxury was tough, but....).

Actual photo of me off meds.

 In the Health Advocacy/Writing world, I:
  • Completed my fifth Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention. 
Finish of this year's Overnight Walk in Philly, at the Art Museum Steps.
  • Had my advocacy work published on numerous sites, including The Mighty, where I officially became a contributor - a huge goal of mine.
  •  Became a Pioneer Member of the Savvy Coop, and was chosen to do an Instagram takeover for them. 
  • Completed No Stigmas Ally Training, and submitted work to be published there.
  • Had the first chapter of my novel (or one day novel) published in Wordgathering Magazine.  Putting my novel out there for everyone (or the 10 people obligated by blood relation, whatever) to see was super nerve wracking, as I never show anyone my fiction work. 
  • Been steadily working on getting over my fear of rejection and failure in submitting work and participating in advocacy projects.  But for the Overnight Walk, as I've done that before and it's not a "work to be judged" so to speak, every one of the above took huge amounts of courage to pursue. My goal in the past few months has been "go for it". I've had to tell myself, "The worst thing they do is say no." I've made an increased effort to 'raise my hand' when people ask for submissions, participants, and the like. This is huge for me, and something I am hoping to continue to become better at with time.

There were so many literal ups and downs this year - I have a rapid cycling mood disorder, and had to come off meds, after all. But I made it through, and I accomplished quite a bit. And building on that momentum, I have some pretty big hopes and goals for next year, which I'll be sharing in an upcoming post.

Thanks for all of the memories, 38! Looking forward to seeing what 39 has in store!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

How Often Do You Ask For Permission?

Have you ever asked a question of someone - significant other, friend, coworker, parent, kid, pet, etc - and immediately afterward caught yourself asking, "Why on earth did I need to ask them that?". I do it, all the time. And to clarify, not any question. I'm not talking philosophical discussions or quizzo facts. I'm talking about asking permission for silly things that absolutely don't require it. Here are a few examples:

"Do you mind if I use the bathroom before I start on xyz?" Yes, I've asked probably every person regularly in my life, at one point or another, if they mind if I do essential things like use the bathroom.

"Is it OK if I wear this?" Not to anything specific that would impact the person/people, to clarify. Just to make sure they're OK with it, I guess. Because I'm always afraid I've chosen wrong somehow.

If I'm not asking people's permission, I'm asking their opinion, in almost a permission-y way. I'll be sending an email about something and read it out loud to them to make sure... that I know how to write an email? I don't even know why. I was the VP of communications for a big organization. I have a Master's in Marketing. I am a published writer. I know how to write and communicate. There's zero point in my painstakingly seeking approval from others for a basic email. But I'm so sure I somehow got it wrong that I ask, "just in case". 

I ask people's opinions on how to cook something as I'm staring at a recipe because I don't trust myself to even find a good recipe. I ask how to wash something as I'm staring at the laundry label, because I doubt myself. You get the picture. I'm always certain someone else knows better than me, in everything.

I'm a chronic permission asker. When you battle with depression, your brain often lies to you. It tells you that you're not good enough, that you don't know anything, that you're not capable. It tells you that if someone claims to know better, you should just believe them because really, what do you know? After all, your brain makes you feel anxious or depressed "for no reason."  (Note: this isn't true, the reason is an illness, but it's how depression makes you feel.) You've been convinced not to trust your views, your thought process. Because you often see things differently, more emotionally, it's easy for depression to convince you that you aren't logical and therefore can't possibly come to the right conclusion. Because of these lies, and the chronic low self-esteem and self-worth that often result, its easier to fall into permission and opinion asking as a default, instead of trusting ourselves.

Let me step back and take a moment to further clarify, I'm not asking about permission to do something that actually affects someone else. Of course, I'm not going to spend tons of money out of our joint banking account without asking my husband. I'm not going to make plans that include a friend without checking with them, or make plans on a Tuesday that don't include my friend, if we have a standing Tuesday friend-date together. I'm not saying we should live our lives in a bubble, thinking only of ourselves. Far from it. Considering others when it could/does affect them is just common courtesy.  I'm talking about things that, in all reality, don't affect another person's time, money, plans, efforts, etc. I'm talking about things that don't take anything away from anyone else. Most of the time, when I ask permission, it's not something that I'm asking out of consideration. I'm simply asking because it's become automatic - I never want to upset anyone or do the "wrong" thing, so I'm overly cautious about making sure everyone is OK with everything. And I don't trust my brain to make this type of decision.

The problem with being a chronic permission asker is that it further feeds the cycle of low self-esteem and self worth. The more you ask permission and opinion for these tiny mundane things, the tougher it is to do anything without others' approval. And if you do, and there's any disagreement/criticism/critique/it doesn't go right, it makes you feel like you should have just asked and listened to them in the first place. It becomes increasingly difficult to trust yourself, your thoughts, your opinions. Eventually, you become afraid to think for yourself, because surely, you'll be wrong. Might as well just by-step the "middleman" and go straight to the source - someone else. One day, you wake up and realize that you don't recognize your own thoughts or ideas. You don't recognize yourself. You're now this being made up of everyone else's thoughts and opinions. You're literally afraid to do basic, every day things, make simple decisions - even ones that you previously would have been confident in - without someone else's approval and permission, because your brain is so sure you'll do it wrong.

So stop. Stop asking permission for the things that don't matter. Nobody's worse off if you wear one shirt over another (assuming it's not their shirt you're choosing to wear). If you use the bathroom now or in 10 minutes. If you feed the dog or do the laundry or some other basic task now or in a half hour. Nobody's worse off if your wording in that email isn't exactly as they would have worded it (assuming you aren't strewing in profanities or inappropriateness or speaking on behalf of someone else without their consent... you get the point). If follow a recipe and it's not perfect ... well, it's not perfect. I'll eat something imperfect or order a pizza. It's just not that big of a deal, and it's not worth lowering your already low self-esteem by feeling like you can't trust yourself on these tiniest decisions and processes.

In constantly allowing others' permission or approval to determine your actions, thoughts, words, you're giving them control. And I don't mean control we all deserve - i.e. having a say in something that directly will impact us - but control they have no business having. As an adult human being, nobody but you should have control over your bathroom usage or which pair of jeans you wear or how you style your hair or anything else. It becomes a slippery slope - one that's dangerous for your self-esteem and self-worth. So give yourself permission. I know this isn't easy. Depression and anxiety don't want to let you do this. But it's so important. Listen to yourself. After all, you know you better than anyone else. And you're way more capable and able than your illness wants you to believe.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Life Coming Full Circle

It might not surprise you that I'm a full believer in serendipity. To be clear, I'm not a fatalist. Far from it. I'm actually pretty much of a control freak, and while I'm working on my woosah, I have a ways to go before generally just trusting life 100 percent. I blame it on not being able to always trust my brain. When you never know if you're going to wake up depressed, hypomanic, anxious, panicked, or feeling totally fine, it's kind of tough to trust the "out there"... whatever that "out there" is to me/you/anyone (not going to get into a spiritual/religious debate here so please don't go there). My point is, I don't believe I have no control over my life, but I do believe that sometimes, you can look at life and say, "Well, isn't it funny how that all worked out after all?"

To explain where I'm going with this, a little background. When I was 27, my now-ex-husband and I separated. I had just started my travel business less than a year before, gotten a storefront, and quit my jobby job. Our plan was to rely on his salary, some savings, and whatever small amount I made at first, until I got off the ground. Within a year, I was going through a divorce, living in my own apartment, and with a fledgling business that often required at least 50 hours in my office and plenty more at home. I was teaching group fitness and personal training for extra money. Granted, I was 50% of the decision that got me there (possibly more, in all honesty), but still... that's a lot going on. I was relatively happy, but also disjointed.

Around this time, I noticed that a new yoga studio was opening up almost literally across the street from my storefront. I had, gasp, never done yoga!  I was a group fitness instructor and personal trainer who had worked in the health and fitness industry for five years and had never taken a yoga class. Not one. Not because I didn't want to. I'm honestly not sure why. I think that, in fitness, as generally is true of me in life, I was scared of things I couldn't purely muscle through (once a gymnast, always a gymnast). And you cannot pure muscle your way through yoga (this is a lesson I'm still working on). Also, this was before I was diagnosed and medicated, but I knew something was going on with me.  Quite frankly, anything that calmed down the outside chatter had the serious potential to ramp up the inside chatter in my brain, and that was sometimes a scary place. So I had yet to set foot into a yoga class.

But, I vowed I was going to. I emailed the owners and mentioned that I worked across the street, found out when they would be opening, chatted back and forth. Still, once the studio opened, it probably took me a good six months to go over. I'm sure I made excuses, but I don't recall what they were. And then, once day, I ventured into a gentle yoga class. I was hooked. On the yoga, the studio, the fellow students (in a non-creepy way, I realize how that sounds. But I felt I'd found kindred spirits in class). I would take a long lunch hour and run across the street to the studio for lunch time yoga, staying late at my store to make up the time. A year or so later, a friend of mine in the class decided she was going to do the yoga teacher training. She asked if I wanted to as well. I didn't feel I had the money and time then. Or perhaps I just wasn't in a place that I was ready, and my brain substituted excuses. Still, I kept thinking "one day".

Eventually, life happened, I sold the storefront, and I moved (personally) across the bridge into Philly. I started a part time job, in addition to my business. I noticed that they offered yoga at my office. How nice, I thought! I should go - I've been missing being so regular in yoga. I figured it wouldn't be the same as "my" studio, but at least I'd have yoga nearby.

And lo and behold, one day I'm sitting there at the front desk, and who walks in but the owner of "my" studio in New Jersey. Surprised, we hug and she tells me that she teaches the yoga class at my office every week. Pretty incredible - I mean, the studios two places aren't even in the same state! I get back into taking yoga at work regularly and I'm hooked again.  Eventually, life happens (and this part is not my story to explain) and another instructor from the same studio begins teaching the classes at my office. I'm still hooked.

Inversions are my favorite.

Fast forward several years to this past February. I give my notice at my part-time-that-became-almost-full-time job. And within probably a week (guestimate, there was a lot going on at this time in my year), the application for the next yoga teacher training with "my" yoga studio went online. I applied the same day. I have a serious habit of talking myself out of things, mainly because I think I'll fail/be rejected/embarrass myself (OK I'm pretty used to the latter), and I find reasons not to do them. I didn't want to do that with this. It was finally time.

This past week, I was officially accepted to Yoga Teacher Training at The Grant Building (formerly Upcycle/Yogawood, formerly Yogawood - hence the website). Yesterday I got home to find an Amazon package with the assigned books for the training (I ordered them, to clarify - I don't have a secret yoga fairy godmother, though that would be awesome! It just made it more real).

I feel like life is coming full circle. I started yoga with this same studio (slightly different location) eleven years ago after my divorce. It helped me get through some pretty transitional times. Through ups and downs in life, location, career, I've stayed connected to this studio and its instructors. Last September, I got re-married.  And almost exactly a year later (a year and three weeks I believe), I'll be starting yoga teacher training at the studio where I uncertainly walked into my first ever yoga class eleven years ago, taking the next step in my yogic journey. Serendipitous.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

If You Wonder What It's Like To Have a Rapid Cycling Disorder, Watch the Whether

Not sure about where you live, but here in Philly, the whether has been fluctuating between drastically hot and sunny and Armageddon. This past week people were being rescued from roofs of their cars due to flooding on our major highways. Intense storms toppling trees, thunder pounding, lightening illuminating the sky.  And then twenty minutes later, I'd be putting on my sunglasses. Storms have been rolling through so quickly and tumultuously that streets are being flooded out in a matter of minutes when there were no clouds in sight just an hour before.

This, folks, is what its like to have a rapid cycling mood disorder. At least mine. Of course, I can't speak for everyone. Technically, rapid cycling is described as four or more mood cycles in a year. For me, it can be four or more cycles in a week, or even a day. Of course, this isn't always the case - and four cycles in a day is extreme even for me. But truly, I do go to bed every night having little inkling of how I'll feel in the morning. And even once I wake up, my mood often does not predict how I'll feel by lunch time, let alone the end of the day.

To clarify, it's not as drastic as they'd show in Hollywood, where I just completely do a 180 mid-sentence and you can't recognize me. In fact it's nothing like that at all.  I can feel the cycle coming on, when I'm awake at least. I'm especially on alert if I know there are contributing factors that tend to make me cycle - lack of sleep, for instance. Or too much external stimulus, a major change to my routine, not getting enough recoup time/self-care time. In these cases, much like watching the whether radar patterns, I can pretty well anticipate that I'm going to cycle.  But no matter how prepared you are, sometimes there's only so much you can do. You can try to time your day out perfectly, analyze all the weather forecasts, diligently study the radar, and still get caught outside when the skies decide to open up. Because sometimes, shit just doesn't go like you or anyone else thought it was going to.

So if the whether has left you frustrated these past couple of weeks, pouring down with little warning and turning sunny the minute you cancel all of your outdoor activities, know that I can empathize. This is my brain on any given day. And no matter how much you try to prepare, to do everything correctly, to take all the precautions, to carefully listen to all the storm warnings and predictions, sometimes you miss the mark, or the storm changes course swiftly and there's nothing you could do to change it.  And when that happens, you get to a safe space as quickly as you can and, as one apparently only does in big storms or serious flareups, hunker down until it lightens up.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Look Ma, No Meds

It's been a while since I've written. I've been going through some stuff, both enjoyable and .... less so. I was traveling to Spain, which was amazing. I was in a car accident that possibly totaled my car (I'm ok), which is not amazing. But mostly, I've been titrating down on my medication. I've been doing so since January, with my therapist/heath care team overseeing it every step of the way.

I'm decreasing my meds for personal reasons that I'm not ready to share yet, but I will say that it has nothing to do with my mental health. By which I mean, I'm not decreasing them because my health has gotten so much better that I don't think I need them. On the contrary, I have a lifelong condition and I know that one of the only reasons I feel relatively better regularly is my medication. Nor am I doing so because of anything wrong with my meds, or because I've become one of those people that thinks medication is evil and makes me a "pawn of the system".  Far from it.  Medication has most likely saved my life, and despite the nausea, dizziness, disorientation, numbness in my tongue and lips, and my personal favorite, the never-awkward intense night sweats, the side effects of my meds are not all that bad - especially not compared to I feel when not taking them. But I have my reasons, and they're good ones (at least I think so), and hopefully one day I'll be able to share them. Just not yet.

Still, I wanted to share my experience of decreasing meds, as well as some tips and some real talk, in case you find yourself in a position where you need come down off meds, either for prolonged time, or in order to switch to something else.

First a few (possibly obvious but important none the less) tips:
  • Work with your therapist, psychiatrist, anyone and everyone involved. Do not attempt to decrease your meds on your own without professional help (caveat: I'm saying this for maintenance meds, not things you take as needed for specific symptoms one-off style).  
  • In working with these professionals, set up a timeline from the beginning (obviously if you have to switch off for emergent reasons, this isn't always possible, but do your best).  Plan out the trajectory of your decrease before you even start, so that you know you're giving yourself enough time. Build in leeway in case you need to slow the decrease, or pause at any point.  
  • Set your boundaries ahead of time. If you have experienced things in the past that are giant red flags of your health decreasing, note them. If there are things you just flat out aren't willing to go through in order to decrease meds, be honest with yourself and your therapist (and anyone else affected) from the beginning. They can serve as your markers for "this is going too fast, I need to slow down/I need a different approach/I'm not ready to do this right now".
  • Document how you feel. Everything, even if you're not sure if it's related. If every time you downgrade a dose you notice xyz, make note of it. It may be a coincidence, but you never know. Share these with your health professionals. Look for patterns. Remember, you know yourself best. If something doens't feel right (besides the obvious fact that you're decreasing meds and may generally feel worse), then voice it.
  • Try to keep everything else as routine as you can. This way, the only thing massively changing is your meds. Try to get up and go to bed at the same time. You may need to adjust your sleep patterns slightly  - i.e. going to bed earlier if it takes you longer to fall asleep, giving yourself more time to get going in the morning etc. But do the best you can to keep things routine.  Make a note of any adjustments you have to make, so you can find the balance that feels best (and I use that term relatively) for you.
  • Have a support team, and build an emergency plan. Have "life lines" in place - loved ones that you can contact if you have suicidal thoughts, or are feeling extra ill and need immediate support. If you can, involve your loved ones, especially spouses/partner, in your overall plan. If they know what to expect (at least theoretically), and understand what you might be experiencing as you decrease, they can both be there to support as needed, and look for signs of particular concern.
Now, some less-pretty but solidly real pieces of info:

  • There are going to be days where you feel like absolute shit. I mean, if you felt completely fine without meds, you probably wouldn't be on them, right? So naturally, as meds go down, the feeling like crap factor goes up.  This is totally "normal", for lack of a better word. So don't be discouraged. I'd venture to say virtually person going off meds for a reason other than "they no longer need these meds" is going to feel some ill effects. This is even true if you're going off meds because they aren't working well. You're changing up what's going into your system - it's going to affect it, especially at first.
  • There isn't much pattern to the better versus worse days. Right after each decrease, especially if it affects your sleep, you may notice a significant change. But then you'll have a day where you actually feel pretty OK (at least speaking from my experience). Or two, three, five. And then bam - another feeling like shit day. That's the nature of the beast, especially if you're mood cycling.... because... it's cyclical. And that is going to become more pronounced as the meds decrease.
  • You may well experience hours/days/weeks/months where you think, "how the hell did I even exist before I was on medication". I certainly did. I wondered how I made it through growing up, college, grad school, and general adult hood without the meds. Because we can still have really rough days on them (they're a treatment, not a cure), it can become easier to forget how even more terrible it felt without them. You're going to feel like there's no way you can do this. That if this is how you feel with a small decrease, how can you possibly continue to decrease, let alone go off of them all together. Again, totally normal. (Note: Listen to your intuition on this. If it really feels that you cannot, that it's dangerous to you to keep decreasing, talk to your health professionals. Especially if you experience suicidal thoughts). 
  •  There may be days that you fail to recognize yourself. On these days, you're going to need extra self-love and self care. These are a crucial part of the process. You may need more time to get things done, or more frequent times to rest and take time for yourself. Coming off meds is seriously difficult, and takes a tremendous amount of strength. But as with anything that takes strength, it can be exhausting. It's extra important to take care of ourselves during this time. This is where involving loved ones in the process, to have them help you out with things around the house, errands, tasks, etc can be huge. If you build this into your plan, you allow yourself extra time and energy for self-care.
  • If you're a mood cycler, or struggle with anxiety, you'll likely experience too much energy. "Too much energy?" you might say if you've been in a depressive cycle that makes it tough to get out of bed. And I get it, it seems impossible. But yes, too much energy. Our meds can, at times, make us feel sleepy or sluggish. As you decrease, you may notice you have more energy, don't hit that 2PM slump during the day, need less sleep at night. But this can quickly slip into mania or hypomania (if you cycle). Or all that extra "energy" may be the nervous energy of anxiety. You can go from feeling "wow I don't actually need a to crawl under my desk and nap" to not being able to concentrate, feeling anxious, jittery, on edge, and worse pretty, quickly. Keep just as much of an eye out for this as you do for increased depression. 
  • There may be days where you actually feel pretty damn good. Not (hypo)manic good, but just good. Like a person without mental/chronic illness would feel on a daily basis.  And it's super tempting to think, "wow maybe I don't need meds anymore!" And if continues, by all means, revisit the issue with your therapist/psychiatrist/health professional. But more than likely, you're just having a good day(s). That's all part of mood cycling and mental illness. Even off meds, I'm not cycling up or down every moment of every day. I'm not anxious every breathing moment. My advice is, don't overthink it. Simply enjoy feeling better for the day or days or hours or whatever it is. 
Today is my first day without any meds at all. I took my last (extremely lowered) dose yesterday around 2PM. So as of this writing, it's been 24 hours. I'm actually not doing terrible. I have more energy, focus can be tricky, but I'm hanging in. On the plus side, I don't now have to pack extra snacks for random times so that I can take meds (I mean, I still do, I love to eat, but I don't *have* to). I also don't wake up in the middle of the night looking like I went for a swim in my sleep. So that's sexier less gross. But most importantly, I'm still here. I have even laughed and smiled today. I've texted with friends. I'm looking forward to spending time with my hubs and my dog this evening. I'm hanging in. I know there will be tough days, as there always have been, but I'm making it through.

If you are contemplating decreasing your meds, or have to decrease your meds, or are going through this right now and need to vent, please, reach out. I may not have your exact experience with your exact medication, but I have gone through it, and come out the other side. I'm here for a vent, to be a shoulder to lean or cry on, or to give advice where I can. So please, if you need, reach out. I'm always here to listen.

Monday, June 11, 2018

I'm Not Asking You To Understand My Reality

I have no idea what it feels like to have asthma. Or diabetes. Because I do not have these. So I don't know what it feels like to barely be able to breathe after walking a couple of flights of stairs. Even though I'm borderline hypoglycemic, I can't pretend to truly know what it's like to have sugar affect my body the way it does for someone with severe diabetes. I can read about these, talk to people with them, intellectually know what it means to have them. I can understand how these illnesses should, theoretically, affect a person. But I cannot understand what their reality is. Because maybe one day, they're taking all of their asthma medication like normal and they are feeling OK, and then something sends them into an asthma attack. Something that usually doesn't, something that technically, "shouldn't." And if this happens, I have no right to tell them they "shouldn't be having an asthma attack right now." I have no right to judge the fact that they are. I certainly have no right to judge them, as a person, based on how their asthma affects them. And if, despite doctors and treatment and doing everything they can to not have it flare up, they still have asthma attacks at times, I have no right to accuse them of not trying hard enough. I have no right to tell them it's their choice to have asthma. Nor to think any less of them because they have it. To think they're any less a valuable, contributing member of society. 

So how come, then, this is OK with mental illness? How come, if something really bothers my anxiety, I'm supposed to just "try harder"? How come I'm any less capable, competent, valuable, because I have this illness? How come, just because you don't understand why I'm depressed or anxious, it's "wrong" for me to feel so?  How come you wouldn't expect someone to learn how not to be asthmatic, but you expect me to "learn how not to have depression".  How come you view mine as a choice?  Like I want to feel this ill.  How come if someone with a physical illness needs to rest and take care of themselves, we tell them to take it easy and offer to help them, but when it's mental, we tell them they're lazy for taking a break?

I'm not asking anyone to understand what it feels like to have my illness. If they don't, I know they can't.  I am asking you to believe me when I tell you what it feels like for me. That's it. If I say I'm unwell and need some time for myself, don't call me lazy for resting. If I need to stay at home instead of go to ... whatever.. because of my anxiety, don't tell me I'm using my illness as an excuse. If I promise you that doing the best I can, and it still falls short, don't tell me I'm not trying. Believe me. Do you honestly think I want to feel this way? To feel like a failure, like a drain, like a burden? Do you think I want to feel mentally tortured? That I don't want to enjoy life like others? Would I honestly put myself through this if I had the option not to?

Here's the best way I can explain it in non-illness terms. Have you ever had something akin to the following conversation?

You after your computer does something you've never seen before, calling tech support: My computer did xyz. 

Tech support: Do abc, then you'll get so and so screen. 

You follow instructions, do not get that screen, and say inform them. 

Tech support: Well, it should work. 

You: Well it didn't. 

Them: Try it again. 

You (after same result): Still not working. 

Them: Well it should be.

And round and round...

Ever been there? They keep telling you that it should be working. When it doesn't work that way for you, they simply keep telling you it should. And nothing is accomplished except for you getting really frustrated and them probably thinking you can't even manage to do a few simple steps correctly on your computer. You're probably both annoyed and frustrated, and your computer still isn't working.

That's how it feels. It feels like people around me are trying to be tech support for my brain, telling me how it should work. Except, there's an added curve ball - they've all learned different operating systems, at least different versions, none of which are the one my brain is running. But they insist I should do things the way it's done in their specific version. And if I do things according to the way one version works, it upsets those trained in every other version because they insist it's wrong.  And no matter how much you sit there and say "none of that works on my version because I'm not running ANY of those over here," it doesn't matter.

I understand that to you, the way I view the world, the way I feel things so deeply, the things that seem urgent or important or anxiety producing, may never make sense.  I'm not asking them to. I'm not asking you to understand my reality. I'm asking you to simply understand that it is my reality. And that I'm doing the best I can with what I have.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

I Know I Have a Purpose, But....

I know I have a purpose. I just don't know what it is. I'm massively struggling with this right now. There are so many things I'm passionate about: mental health and chronic illness, animals (particularly animal rescue), travel, mindfulness/yoga, writing. And I know I can use these to make a difference. I simply have no idea how.

If you know my history, you know that I own Chimera travel. And while I love planning travel, it  currently hasn't panned out as a full time career. I still do it frequently part time, it's just... bills, mortgage, etc. Plus, I'd like to find my niche within this but not having the disposable income to travel continually to further my expertise in one particular area makes this difficult.

I also blog (obviously), have formed Spread Hope Project, and am an active mental health and chronic illness advocate on social media. But while some people I know have managed to make inroads with speaking gigs, paid patient advocacy opportunities, and the like, I have not (please tell me your secret). Also, chronic low self-esteem and confidence that's in the toilet, continual impostor syndrome, and massive fear of rejection which seems to freeze me in my tracks when I think about actually moving forward with something have me basically relegating myself to posting selfies in "Hope" shirts and blogging sporadically on Spread Hope Project which probably has about ten followers. I have this general idea of what I want to do, but the details become fuzzy when I try to explain them to anyone, and it comes out sounding like "I just want to make a living out of helping people" - which isn't far off, but I realize that's too generalized. Every time I try to narrow it down, I think "that won't work". I've attempted to reach out for help, but mostly it's pleading with people on social media and saying things like "if anyone's interested in helping....". Which tends to get zero replies at worst, and general "let me know if you need help", but no actual guidance or "hey yea let's  partner up on this - let's set up time to brainstorm". And I completely get it. People have lives and jobs and I don't really know anyone who is going to say "Yes! I've been waiting years for someone who wants to follow their dreams of helping people for a living! Let's team up, take the plunge and go for it!"  At best I get "why don't you try xyz". But again the no-self-esteem freeze. I think, "great idea...." and that's as far as I get. Maybe brainstorming. I physically, mentally, emotionally cannot get past that point. Hell, I can barely manage to raise the $1000 for my overnight walk each year - how am I going to start and run my own organization? Past failures gnaw at me too much.

In addition, I wrote a novel. Or at least a draft of one. That only my dad has seen. Which granted is advantageous except that I didn't actually ask him to edit it. I gave it to him as a "hey you're the only person I'll probably ever share this with since we're both writers and you're my dad"gift. I'm told I'm a good  writer but I'm so afraid of rejection from publishers and editors that aren't my dad that I can't bring myself to even seriously consider trying to get it published.

So I've been feeling horrendously lost lately. I'm trying to narrow things down, to find something that feels completely "right" and that I think I could do, reasonably. I have a husband, a dog, and a house. I can't just give up everything and decide to hike across the country for mental health, and honestly even if I could (i.e. if I was single, no house, no dog, disposable income), my self-confidence, or lack thereof, and experience tells me that about five people would care and they'd all be related to me, or as good as.

And I'm honestly kind of over the "rah rah you can do it" (by kind of I mean drastically over it, as in  please don't do this unless you have an actual suggestion and are interested in helping because it won't go over well). I'm over the "just let it happen, it takes time". I've been "letting it happen" (or waiting for it to) for about 18 years. I'm exhausted from feeling lost, from being in life limbo. It makes days feel hollow, empty. You begin to not even feel like yourself. It begins to feel pointless, because honestly what's the point of living a life that feels inauthentic, where you're leaving nothing, where you feel  hollow and empty. To clarify- you do not have to worry about me. I'm just struggling with who I am in this void of purpose. To the point where I cry daily about how lost I feel, how I struggle to recognize myself. I cannot believe that someone as passionate as me has the purpose of floundering throughout life never really feeling connected to it. I have tried meditating, clearing my mind, spending time in nature. Hell I've tried praying "just in case", and I'm Buddhist (please no religious lectures, that'll end as well as telling me to "calm down" does - I respect your right to have your own religious beliefs so please respect mine).

I'm just so lost. Writing this helps, if only to get it out of my head. And that's really the only point of it, other than to express how I'm feeling so that if you, too, struggle this way, you know that you are not alone.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

I Have An Illness

I am not "so dramatic", I have anxiety.

I am not always "looking at the glass half empty", I have depression.

I'm not running a mile a minute and talking nonstop because I think I'm so important, I have hypomania.

I'm don't just "cry about everything", my illness makes me feel lost.

I'm not "needy" and looking for validation, I'm asking for support during depression.

I'm not selfish or lazy, I'm hurting mentally, emotionally, physically.

I'm not weak, I'm sick.

I'm not "always complaining"; I'm sharing my deepest thoughts and struggles because I trust you.

I'm not "making mountains out of mole hills,"  my anxiety and hypomania won't let my brain rest until certain things are done. It feels like I'm being mentally eaten alive.

I don't need to be fixed or "taught the right way to think or act" or molded into pretending I'm the version of OK that society is comfortable with. I don't need to "just suck it up".  I don't need an attitude adjustment or to be more grateful. I don't need you to tell me that the way my brain works is wrong. I don't need to be made to feel bad or guilty or less for having a illness I never asked for and battle against every day of my life. It is not a choice. I have an illness.

Friday, May 4, 2018


I'm blogging from a not very good place today, but it needs to be done. I have had a lot of blogs in holding patterns that I need to put out (I know it's been a while), but I need to do this. For myself. No offense. I need to get it out before it eats me alive, as my emotions tend to do.

I'm so incredibly discouraged. About everything. I'm trying to raise money for my overnight walk for suicide prevention, and getting friends to donate even $1-5 (that's literally all I'm asking, there's no minimum) is like pulling teeth, but the minute someone mentions girl scout cookies, everyone tramples each other to get in line. This is nothing against girl scout cookies (I don't really like them but that's my own thing), or the girl scouts, but you're telling me people can't afford a box of thin mints AND a $1? Ever? No matter how much I'd be willing to do for them?

I'm trying to make a go of Spread Hope Project and feel like a complete failure. I watch the most mundane tweets, posts, Instagram pics get hundreds of likes and I try so hard with my efforts and get maybe a like if I'm lucky. And zero action beyond that. No comments, shares, etc. No growth. Nothing that I could actually turn into an organization like I want it to be. The fact that I have a  M.S. in Marketing and can't get this off the ground, the same way I feel like a failure at my travel business (more on that in a minute) makes me feel even more horrible *because this is one of the few things I actually think I'm somewhat good at.* For someone who has almost literally no self-esteem, being made to feel, or sometimes outright directly told, that one of the very few things, and I mean very few, that you feel like you are good at, could succeed at, you're not, is so discouraging that I can't describe it. It's beyond discouraging. It all but breaks you. Especially when you are already depressed.

Now, my travel business. I have close friends and family tell me all about the great trip they just went on... that they didn't once reach out to me about. I don't even mean "oh it was just a flight and you don't make money on that so I didn't bother you" but TRIPS EXACTLY LIKE THE KIND I BOOK AND WOULD HAVE GIVEN A BIG FRIENDS AND FAMILY DISCOUNT ON MY RATE FOR. I'm not even saying they asked my advice but couldn't afford my fee or got AMEX points, got a cheap flight deal they couldn't pass up. I'm saying I found out afterwards in a Facebook post or email that they even took a trip.

All the advice givers say "ask for help". So I do. Please help me brainstorm for Spread Hope. Please donate to my walk. Anyone want to partner on xyz? Please read my blog. People say, "follow your dreams," but if I tried to live on following my dreams I'd be homeless without my parents' support (thank goodness for my parents). When I try to follow my dreams I get told it's not realistic, that nobody has the time to help, that its' "not their thing" (neither is car repair mine, but if you wanted to open an auto body shop I'd still attempt to help you brainstorm even if my suggestions were ridiculous). I'm told it's not practical, not logical. I'm told to be confident but then when I stand up for myself and say what I want, I get all of the above.

There are exemptions to these, of course. I'm lucky to have a few people that are eternally supportive of me being me, whoever that is and whatever I choose to do. I'm not asking for cheer leading here (in fact, please don't). I'm not asking for critique - I get enough of that. I don't need to be told what I'm doing wrong because right now it feels like literally my entire existence is wrong. The world is made for extroverted task-master doers who follow logic, and I'm a introverted restless soul creative who believes in following dreams and not missing your life for tasks because you never know when you wont have the chance. The balance is probably somewhere in between but I've yet to find it.

So I get all that. I'm simply getting this out because it's tearing me up. And because maybe somewhere someone else feels this way too, and I want them to know they aren't alone. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Treatment Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

If you were to ask me what my treatment is for my mood disorder, I would tell you that I take medication and see a therapist. I would then tell you that, for me, activities like yoga, meditation, exercising, healthy eating, writing, reading all help supplement my treatment. As in, they aren't my primary source of treating my illness, but they are still important to maintaining my relative mental health.

If you asked me if, because I have found reasonable "success" with medication, do I think everyone should take it, I would tell you no.  Not because I don't think medication is helpful. I do. It's probably saved my life. And I'd certainly be happy to share my story to someone who is still on the brink, thinking medication might help but afraid because of potential side effects or the stigma (yes, there's actually stigma about taking meds for my illness, which I find...amazing). But I think my medication is helpful to me with my specific disorder and my brain.  That does not mean that it will work for you and condition and your brain. Or that another medication will. Or that any medication will. Or that, even if it does, you won't feel that the side effects are worth it.

Nor would I tell you that everyone with anxiety should do yoga or meditate - and this is coming from someone who just applied to yoga teacher training. If it works for you like it does for me, then sure! I highly recommend it. But as much as I love it, there are times when I just can't get into it (I realize the irony of this is that it probably means I don't meditate enough). Sometimes I sit on my meditation cushion thinking "when is this going to be over" - during a 5 minute session, no less.  Some people run 10 miles a day. I can't manage 10 miles a week right now because of chronic injuries (and also, I'm not dedicated enough to run in a nor'easter).

The point is, what works for me may not work for you. And what works for you may not work for me. Or, in the case of activities like yoga, meditation, running, etc it might work for me many days, but not all. Some days the best thing I can do is eat healthy. Other days, eating a big plate of nachos and not feeling bad about it is exactly what I need, because I'm being hard enough on myself as it is (my IBS might have something to say, but that's a different story).

I'm sick of people making others feel bad about treating their mental health with medication the way they would a physical illness. I'm equally sick of people pushing meds down people's throats (not physically, unless you're also doing that, and I feel there may be some legal ramifications there). I'm sick of people suggesting that positive thinking or prayer or herbal supplements will cure me when they wouldn't suggest that as the sole treatment to a cancer or heart heart disease patient. Also: there's no cure for my illness so the minute you say "cure" I stop listening.  Just like everything else in life, there's no one right way to treat illness. There's a way that works best for me, and you, and Joe schmo over there, and everyone else.

I remember at a former job, years ago, the company owners said they tried as hard as they could to select a uniform that looked good on everyone. The result, we all agreed, was that it looked good on nobody. Life is like that. Illness is like that. Treatment is like that. There's no one solution that works for everybody. We're all unique beings. Let's respect that. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sensory Triggers

I'm going to start this post by saying that I am not sure if this is experienced by the majority of people with mood disorders and/or anxiety, or by a few, or by just me. I also don't know if my being a quasi HSP and empath contributes to these, though I suspect so. I haven't written on this, ever I don't think, so it seemed time to do so.

As a socially anxious introvert, my natural tendency is already to keep myself surrounded by just a few individuals I'm close to, and to take stretches of time where I surround myself with nobody but perhaps my dog. It is no offense to anyone (trust me, you'll know if it is), it's simply that I need to restore myself.  At times when my sensory triggers are especially sensitive, this is even more crucial. It's difficult to explain what a sensory trigger feels like to me. The best I can do is explain what it might feel like to you.

Have you ever been on one of those rides that tries to make you feel like you're actually experiencing some event that you absolutely aren't? Perhaps they have you traveling to the moon on a space shuttle, and the room, or at least the seats in the room, are physically moving, jostling you back and forth. They have things "flying out of the screen" at you (or at least it appears), and you're sure they're going to careen into you any second. Bright lights are flashing, and you can feel the vibrations of the noise. It's like that. Except you're not in a theme park ride that's making you feel like you're headed to space. You're going through your daily routine. The "seats tilting wildly" are everyday movements. Sometimes, it's simply someone walking past you. The noises are people's voices, the TV, the blender or microwave running. The bright lights are the lights in your home or office or grocery store, the light coming off of the tv. The items careening off the screen at you is your coworker passing you in the hallway, or your spouse or family member walking around your home. They're other cars on your  drive to and from work.

That's what it feels like. Or, if you've spared yourself from these rides, think of it this way: you're going through your regular day, except that everyone around you has their TV or radio blaring to the point that you can feel the sound vibrations; everything you read is highlighted in bright neon, everything you look at is in 4-D. Everyone you come in contact with is standing so close you can literally feel them breathing on you. 

For me, the two senses that aren't assaulted are smell and taste, and my guess is that one is spared because of the other, though I'm not sure which way it works. However, I am significantly less hungry during these times. I eat because my low blood sugar and low sodium tell me I must, and because I have to take meds. At times I feel hungry, only to eat a little and feel  absolutely stuffed. So perhaps it's my gut taking the hit for my taste and smell.

And the thing is, it's nobody else's fault. People are not, in fact, blaring TVs or radios. They're not what's known, a la an episode of Seinfeld, as "close talkers". Nobody's doing anything outside of their normal routine. It just feels that way. I can physically feel sights, movements, sounds. In these times, it's even more essential than it normally is to focus on self-care. I need to maintain an existence that I can best describe as "soft", though that doesn't really make sense, I know.  I need to keep myself in only the closest of company, often my own, focusing on pursuits such as yoga, meditation, writing, reading and my new found refuge, intentions with my mala beads.  I need a lot of rest, and I need to make sure I nourish myself, despite not feeling hungry. Luckily, these times don't last super long, usually, though as my depressive spells lengthen, I worry that theses will too.

So if I seem scarce or quiet, it is not you. I am simply doing what I need to do, and what I all too often neglect, in order to keep forging ahead, even if slowly and more quietly than usual.