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.

Monday, February 26, 2018

New Adventures Part 2

It's been a while. I've been busy, ironically. But, I have some exiting news to share: I got a new job. It kind of fell in my lap, an offer via a friend. It's both my comfort zone, but not. It's admin work (in zone), related to the government (out of zone). I'm working as an assistant to a Borough Manager in a nearby borough. I am currently completing my second week there - waited a bit to announce because... Murphy's Law.

I'm learning a ton, just in the two weeks I've been here. Like everything that has to go on behind the scenes for even the seemingly smallest tasks. I'm learning (this) borough administration's connection to the fire and police departments, all of (read some, with many to learn) the abbreviations for every little thing that happens in the town, and the team effort each new project or program takes. What I I'm enjoying most about it about is the variety and, above all, the opportunity to provide truly interesting and exciting programs to the borough.

On top of this all, I have a regular schedule, Monday through Friday 8:30-4:30. High five sleep schedule. The only "downside"?  I'm learning the struggle that is trying to make appointments and complete tasks with companies open M-F, 9-5. No more  2PM on a weekday haircuts or vet appointments. But it's a "sacrifice" I'm willing to make. Also, my husband is awesome and takes care of as much as he can if things must be done during the day (sadly, he cannot get a haircut for me. And I'll leave a pause here for those who know/have seen my husband to make the joke...).

I'm also using this opportunity to revamp my routines/schedule a bit. Working in travel and event-based environments, the routine has been... non-existent, more  or less. And for a mood cycler, this can be dangerous. Things that are incredibly important to keeping cycles down include: sleep, structure, and not having your outside world as topsy turvey as your inside world. Now, I can get up at the same time every day and work out before work. I am done at the same time each day, so I can pick an evening or two ahead of time that I want to go to yoga. I can get into a regular bedtime routine (other than the nights like last night when we're up late playing Zelda, but I digress).  I'm able to plan, and organize, and that's huge for me. I even had extra energy this weekend to do a lot of cooking for the week ahead. It felt amazing. I felt accomplished, and it was a huge boost to my confidence, which I'm always grateful for.

We never know what life will hold. My goal right now is to try as best I can to take the opportunities that life presents to me, to see where they lead.  

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

New Adventures, Old Anxieties

It's been a while since I've posted. I've been emotionally topsy turvey lately. I've made some big decisions. I feel good about them, mostly, but of course nervous and anxious, as is my nature. I've held back on sharing until now, because I wanted to sort out both the decisions and my feelings about them properly. So here we go:

I've quit my jobby job. It sounds way less scary when I call it a jobby job right? So I do. What I mean is, my part time but almost full time day job that helps pay the bills when my travel business does not. I have my reasons but let's suffice it to say "it was time." My last day is Thursday.

At the same time, I've decided to sign up for yoga teacher training. I have been practicing yoga for about 12 years now, and I think I'm finally ready. It's a big time (and financial) commitment, but it should be - you're dealing with people's bodies and minds, after all. It doesn't start until the fall, which is a good thing. Change and I aren't always fast friends, and too much of once would probably not be good for my mental health. But I put in the application on the day that I saw teacher training posted on the website, to hold myself accountable. I've started the process. It makes it a lot tougher to bow out or make excuses.

So my emotions over the past couple of weeks have run the gambit of "this is an exciting adventure!" to "holy crap how will I pay the bills?" and everything in between.  But I've been here before, more or less. With help and support and therapy and meds, I made it through, sometimes significantly more gracefully than others. Still, at the time I was 26 and full of big dreams about how I was going to be a big success. Now I'm 38 and more along the lines of "someday I'll get my shit together, I'm sure". But my parents and husband and friends support my decision, which helps - especially since, obviously, any monetary decision also affects my household aka my husband (and our dog I suppose, but she hasn't given the paws up or paws down on this decision so far).

In the end, the person that most has to believe in me is myself. Which sounds all Hallmark cardy, but is honestly an age-old battle I have with myself. I am, most of the time, my own worst critic. I take failures personally. I could have done better, I should have done this, I shouldn't have done that. I analyze over and over where I went wrong. I blame myself for.... just about everything. If someone doesn't hire me, I'm not good enough. If someone doesn't support my cause, I'm doing something wrong. If something isn't downright perfect, it's all my fault. I'm not trying hard enough, I'm not good enough, I'm a failure, I'm lazy, and everything else in between. In fact, not a single one of these is true, but I just can't let myself off the hook. It feels irresponsible to place blame elsewhere, or nowhere at all. It feels like taking the easy way out, like being in denial, conceited, even narcissistic at times. I'm the common denominator after all. And yet, thinking it's all my fault is also not right. Because quite honestly, everything isn't about me. A lot isn't, in fact. It's maybe about someone else, or nobody at all. There should be a middle ground.

My grandma used to have a saying that's been coming back to me often these last couple of weeks.  "Pray to God and Work like the Devil." While I'm not particularly religious, I think the saying has merit, regardless of your religious affiliation or lack thereof. Basically, all you can do is work your butt off and hope for the best. And it's what I plan to do going forward. There may be times when giving it my all still isn't quite enough. But at least I'll know I did everything I could do. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Mental Health Trivia

Did you know it's National Trivia Day? Well, it is. And I love Trivia. So I thought I'd do a little mental health and suicide prevention trivia quiz. Because this information is really important to understand, so that we can help break the stigma and debunk the mental health myths. Without Googling (or searching in any other way), how well do you do on this quiz?

1. One in every _____ adults in the US has a mental health condition.

2. Depression is the _____ (ie 10th, 3rd, etc) cause of disability worldwide.

3. One half (50%) of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of ____.
3b. Three quarters (75%) begins by the age of ____.

4. Suicide is the ____ (4th, 12th, etc) leading cause of death of death in the U.S.

4b. It's the ___ leading cause of death for people aged 10-14, and ____ leading cause for those        between the ages of 15-24.

5. Approximately ___% of American Adults live with an anxiety disorder.

6. There are approximately ____ suicides per day in the US.
6b. Of this daily number approximately ____ (number) are veterans.

7. People with mental health conditions are ____(number) times more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators.

8. Approximately ____ million American adults live with Bipolar Disorder.

9. 1 out of every ____ adults lives with Schizophrenia.

10. Can you identify these mental health condition acronyms?

  • GAD
  • SAD
  • MDD
  • PTSD
  • BDP
  • OCD
  • ADD
  • BP
  • ADHD