October LinkUp Party: Resetting My Focus

As you may have read in my past blogs, Sheryl over at A Chronic Voice does these awesome blog linkup parties, writing prompts and all – especially helpful if you’ve been dealing with some minor writer’s block like I’ve been.  October’s prompts are:

 

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Technically we have to only write on three of the five prompts, but I love each of them, and also, writing is a bit of an …. ahem… escape for me, so I’m going to do all five.

Budgeting:

I’m looking at budgeting literally here, because it’s a big stressor for me.  Let’s just say that earlier today, a financial wellness company sent me an (unsolicited) email entitled “Are you saving too much?” and I laughed out loud. It’s not that I’m a bad budgeter or big spender. It’s that you can’t get blood from a stone, as they say. Or in this case, you can’t get money from a bank account if it’s not in there in the first place. I’m in a bit of credit card debt – not the worst anyone’s been in, but I hate owing anyone anything, especially money, and it really stresses me out.  I’ve started taking a closer look at my bill and spending to see where I can cut things down slightly.

I’m also working on ways that I can begin to make more passive income, as well as paid patient advocate opportunities.  I’d love to make patient-advocacy my full time thing but…. bills.

 

Speeding:

I definitely have a bit of work to do in the “a little less talk, a lot more action” department. I am ideas person by nature. I’m great at the big picture, the brainstorming, coming up with the “Ooh maybe we could do this! And what about that?!” I’m a list-maker and a mind-mapper and every other ideas-related graphic one could create.  It’s the transition from idea to making it happen that trips me up. For instance, I finished writing a novel over a year ago. I still have made no efforts to get it published or even edited. Also: my dad is an editor, so I have literally zero excuses on the editing front. I did have the first chapter of it published online in Wordgathering, which my dad edits and publishes, so that was a big first step – even though it was my dad publishing it, putting it “out there” for general public consumption took a lot of courage on my end.  My goal for the “speeding” part of this is to stop getting stuck in the ideas phase, and to start moving into the action phase – not only with my novel, but with my advocacy as well.  The stagnancy definitely stems that internal voice that tells me it/I won’t ever be good enough, capable, successful. I just have to get better at telling that voice to sit down and be quiet more frequently.

 

Slowing:

My mind races a mile a minute. Anxiety, hypomania, and temporarily being off meds for these because we are family planning and my meds are contraindicated with pregnancy, all tend to wreck havoc on my brain. Things like yoga, meditation, going for a run, being out in nature help, but obviously, these aren’t always accessible and they don’t eliminate it all together. But in the past month, I started yoga teacher training, which means that I’m spending 2-3 weekends a month in yoga teacher “workshops”, for lack of a better word (i.e. we aren’t doing yoga all weekend, we’re studying it), plus taking at least two classes a week, per the teacher training requirements. I’ve spent a lot more time lately slowing down my breath and focusing on things outside of my day to day life, and it’s helping me refocus.  Of course yoga isn’t a cure for my anxiety or any mental illness, but the continual practice and study is helping to get me slow down my racing thoughts more.

 

Evaluating:

If it wasn’t apparent from the “slowing” section, I have a very evaluative brain. I can evaluate just about everything and anything. And I do. My latest struggle emotionally has been a bit of an identity crisis. I’m struggling with where I am (in life, not in Philadelphia), and who I am, and what it all means. I’ve also been turning over a lot of would’ve, could’ve, should’ve in my mind, and particularly, a lot of guilt over the past. To be honest, it almost feels like when I turned 39 last month, and my brain decided that I had reset and restart before the big 4-0, almost like some sort of emotional cleanse. It feels somewhere in between a break through and a break down, and I’m never quite sure which way it is going to go. It’s unsettling, but it also feels like I’m on the verge of something big, if that makes sense.

As I mentioned, I’ve been in-trenched in yoga teacher training, and I’ve also started to be more active in church. To clarify, by “more active”, I mean, I emerged from my 15 year hiatus, and began going to my husband’s church (different style/denomination), and actually paying attention. And interestingly, on Sundays as I go to church followed by yoga teacher training, the messages are eerily similar  – the idea of being part of something bigger, being connected to others, and not having to control it all.  Whether you’re religious or spiritual or not, the reminder of being connected to others in this world through… whatever it is you believe in, even if it’s simply being connected through humanity, and that I don’t have to control every minute of every day for things to turn out OK, is a bit of a comfort. This resonates with me as I’ve been feeling disconnected from everything and everyone, including myself, lately, trying to be so in control of everything.  So I’m trying to shift my focus more to working on connection, instead of working on control. This may sound counter-intuitive to the ‘more action’ statement above, but often, it’s this need for constant control that holds me back from going for things.

 

Escaping

I’d love to escape off to Europe somewhere this fall, but I’ve done that twice already this year, so it’s not really in the cards. So in terms of escaping, I’m actually working on a more personal escape – escaping my strongly held negative beliefs about myself, and some of the patterns of dismissing myself and self-sabotage that I get myself stuck in. Also, as mentioned above, I’m trying to escape some of that nonstop mental chatter, and focus on connecting – with myself at the core (not with the unhelpful stories I tell myself about who I am), with loved ones and friends, with the yogic/spiritual side of me, with nature, whatever serves me. I know this might not be the take on escaping that was intended, but for me, this is the focus right now. Unless I have the chance (read: spontaneous time off and money) to escape to Europe again soon. Then sign me up!

 

Thanks for reading! Make to check out the other participants’ October Linkup posts here!

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What Are Your Dreams?

What are your dreams? Seriously. I’m asking. Not “what are the dreams that will sound safe and acceptable to my friends/spouse/family.” Not “what are the dreams that I dare to have without really putting myself out there because I’m afraid of failure.” Not “what the dreams that I can have within the confines of logical/rational/paths we’ve been told we must follow.” Not “what are the dreams I can have while still managing to clean the tub and the floors this weekend.” What. Are. YOUR. Dreams?

Here’s the thing. We rarely really offer up the full extent of our dreams up. We’re afraid someone will object, point out that we can’t do it/aren’t qualified, suggest a safer/more secure (financially) option. We’re afraid people will placate us and say “aww that’s nice” but when we want to go for it we’ll get, “OK, realistically…”. Maybe we’re afraid they’ll get thrown in our face. Held against us. “You’re so unrealistic….” and that kind of thing. (Been there? Yeah, me too.).

 

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But you know what? That’s BS.

To step back and clarify for a moment, I absolutely get that because of illness or disability, there are certain things some of us can’t do. And this is not a “you can be anything you want to be” speech, because I get that in some cases, we just cannot. Or maybe it’s not medically safe for us to do so even if we can. My point is that often, we are afraid to speak our dreams because we think others will object, degrade or belittle them, or make us feel badly about them/incapable/etc. 

Now obviously, there are certain things that regulations require we can and cannot do. I cannot perform surgery because I’m not a surgeon.  If a job requires me to be 6’0, unless I’m allowed to do the job on stilts and am comfortable doing so, I’m never going to do it because I’m 5’0 on a good day.  But regulations and legal requirements aside, I’m tired of people putting down our dreams. Yes, we have to feed our families and pay our mortgage/rent/bills. Yes, there are tasks that need to be done like getting groceries and cleaning the house.  But there can be some sort of happy medium between your wildest dreams and feeling like you don’t fit in your life because you feel so stifled into logic and tasks that you are put down for dreaming.

So here are my dreams, in no particular order:

  • Grow Spread Hope Foundation into a viable organization that I can run and grow into my life’s work. I have a lot of love and empathy to give, I have a lot to offer others, and a passion for doing so. I’m particularly passionate about helping support other advocates, and this is becoming an increasingly significant part of SHP.
  • Incorporate my travel experience, knowledge, business into that. (The how is TBD, but hey, these are dreams).
  • To not feel alone in doing all this, but to have a “partner in crime” (not real crime guys, don’t worry), or teams to do this with.  Because I don’t think this can be done alone, nor should it have to be.
  • To have farm land and  gardens and goats and a Scottish highland cow. And to be able to cook meals from those gardens (not the goats! The plants!) and to be significantly more sustainable.
  • To have a family and to celebrate large family holidays and gatherings together, all sides of the family. I want to have gifts under the tree and play games together and have our own traditions that we as our own little family start and share with all who celebrate with us.
  • To adopt a lot of dogs. Shelter dogs of course. To rescue them and have them live long happy lives. And of course be part of our family. (This is long term, since current pup must be the queen bee of dogs).
  • To publish a book. Hopefully my novel (more on this coming up!).
  • To be completely loved and supported and accepted for being me. Not me with improvements and changes and this and that. Me. Who I am. It’s not that I won’t grow and learn and change a bit. But I don’t want to ever have to in order to be enough. We all deserve love for who we are, not who people want us to be.

So what are your dreams?

I’m Going Live!

Hi friends! So, if you know me at all, you may know I tend to be more a behind the scenes (or behind the screen)  person. But, I was recently given the the opportunity to be featured on Crazy Talk, hosted by the amazing Lee Thomas. Crazy Talk is a podcast that’s broadcast live on Facebook that features open conversation about mental health.  I rarely pass up an opportunity to talk honestly about mental health and my life with rapid cycling cylclothymia, so I’m foraying into the realm of podcast participation!   I’ll be sharing my story/experiences/whatever else we decide to talk about – you’ll have to tune in I guess!

I’m being featured TONIGHT, Wednesday, Oct 10th, at 8PM EST, 6PM Mountain Time. The face that it’s World Mental Health Day makes participating today of all days feel that much more special. So  if you have the chance, tune in – and while you’re at it, give Lee’s page a like!

 

When You’re Tempted To…

When you’re tempted to start talking negatively about someone/thing you don’t like, instead say something nice to/about someone you do.

When you’re tempted to get frustrated with someone for something they did, ask yourself what their struggle might be that lead them to do that.

When you’re tempted to think you aren’t enough, think of something you do well, or something positive you offer. If you struggle to, ask someone you trust.

When you’re tempted to put yourself down, pretend you’re talking about your best friend and see if it changes the narrative.

When you’re tempted to keep falsely smiling and saying “everything’s fine” when it’s not, think about how someone else might benefit from hearing your story.

When you’re tempted to focus on those you think don’t care, instead, make a list of people who do – even if they’re not people you know in real life (spoonie online family totally counts!).

When you’re tempted to feel guilty because of your symptoms or illness limitations, gently remind yourself (and anyone else who may need reminding) that you did not choose to have this illness, and you’re doing the best you can with what you have.

When you’re tempted to think you don’t matter, list three (or more!) nice things you’ve done for someone recently (even if they’re tiny things). Those things made a difference to someone – often we don’t realize how big of a difference the smallest kind actions can make.

When you’re tempted to think there’s no hope, remember that you’ve been here, or somewhere similar, before, and you got through it.

When you’re tempted to compare yourself to others and feel less significant, remember, someone else is looking at you and thinking they wish they were as strong and motivating and inspiring as you.

And finally, when you’re tempted to give up on your dreams….

 

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As I Close In On The Last Days of My 38th Year

This was originally posted on my personal blog, Lilies and Elephants. But it seemed relevant here, so wanted to share!

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). 

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I hope I enjoy my birthday as much as Grace when she realized 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).

 

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Overlooking Keuka Lake 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).

 

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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.

 

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Hiking in Ronda, Spain

 

 

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From the house we rented in Catalonia. So ridiculously peaceful.

 

  • Signed up and been accepted to Yoga Teacher Training (I start Sept 28th!).
  • Celebrated my first Wedding Anniversary.

 

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Actually got cappuccino on our anniversary by chance.

  • 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….).

 

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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.

 

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Finish of the 2018 Overnight Walk in Philadelphia.

 

  • Had my advocacy work published on numerous sites, including The Mighty, where I officially became a contributor – a huge goal of mine.
  • 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!

Philadelphia: Living With Chronic Illness (Invisible Cities LinkUp)

I recently participated in my first LinkUp for A Chronic Voice, and I loved the writing prompts and getting to meet fellow advocates through it. I also love talking about my home city of Philadelphia, so when she posted an Invisible Cities Linkup, focusing on what it’s like to have Chronic Illness in our home cities, I couldn’t resist. Without further adieu…

Best thing about your city for living with chronic illness?

Philly is a pretty tight-knit city – we like to say it’s the biggest small town in the country – and we are a pretty passionate, socially active, and entrepreneurial bunch. Which means that people are not shy about advocating what they stand for, and it’s pretty likely that you’ll be able to find a group that focuses on supporting your illness. And if you cannot, it’s pretty likely that you’d be able to start something and find others who are interested. We love entrepreneurs in Philly, so we’re big on supporting people’s causes, organizations, startups, and the like. For someone looking for resources, support, and/or opportunities to make their voice heard, Philly is a pretty good place to do that.

 

Worst thing about your city for living with chronic illness?

It’s a big, old city, which means crowds, close quarters, smog/pollution, and noise, none of which are far away because of the narrowness of the streets. So if you have sensory issues, like myself, respiratory issues, or crowds make it difficult for you, these could cause you some difficulty. Also, see number three!

 

How accessible do you think your city is in general?

I’ll be honest:  because we were built in the days of horse and carriage transportation, many of our streets are narrow and we have a lot of cobblestoned streets/areas. Also, because we’re so old, we have a lot of historic buildings that are “grandfathered in” when it comes to accessibility guidelines.  So if a building is “historic enough” and elevators weren’t around or prevalent when it was built, it may not be required to add one, even if it technically meets the requirements for having to do so. In other cases, certain doorways may not be large enough for larger wheelchairs or accessibility devices, because quite frankly these things weren’t considered when the buildings were built. These are just a few basic examples, but I’d say that Philly has a ways to go in terms of accessibility across the board. I think we like the idea of being more accessible, we want to be, we just aren’t really sure how to go about it, especially in terms of the historic guidelines.

 

How educated is the public on chronic illnesses there?

I can’t speak for all illnesses certainly, but I can speak from my point of view as someone with a mental health condition. Because of our hospital and university system, there is a lot of public outreach about health and chronic illness, and several of our area universities have student networks that are particularly active in chronic illness and mental health awareness.  Being a large city, a lot of major illness-focused organizations have local chapters in the area, and just about every weekend I see numerous walks, awareness events, and the like for all types of chronic illness.  So I think this helps with the education, or at least the awareness aspect.

From the mental health standpoint, the local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is very active – we’ve hosted the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk here in Philly twice in the last five years (it’s only held in two cities across the country each year, so hosting it is a pretty big deal). The local chapter also hosts events throughout the year, and they even helped paint a large mural related to suicide prevention in the city  (murals are a HUGE thing in Philly).  NAMI also has numerous chapters in the area, and their chapters frequently are involved in outreach and awareness campaigns, plus they offer a wide variety of resources.  In addition, having a large number of universities in the area, we there’s a large student voice, and I’ve noticed an increasing number of university-related/student group programs, awareness campaigns, events, and so forth.  So I think the public is becoming more educated, and I think people are wanting to be more involved and active in these causes, or at least more knowledgeable about them.  That said, there’s going to be ignorance about chronic and mental illness anywhere, but at least from my own point of view, I usually find that more on an individual level (i.e. a person here or there) as opposed to a pervasive attitude in the city.

 

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Mile 9 of this past year’s Overnight Walk.

 

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The finish of this year’s Overnight Walk in Philadelphia, on the steps of our Art Museum.

If you could pass one new law in your country, what would that be?

Not sure about a law, but I would certainly make affordable, quality healthcare and medication more accessible. Nobody should have to choose between going un/under-treated and going into debt.

 

Which is your favourite city or country (other than your own) and why?

For Chronic Illness, or in general? I haven’t lived outside of the US since being diagnosed (I studied in Australia in college and wasn’t diagnosed until age 29), so I can’t speak to it from a chronic illness standpoint. But my favorite city to visit is Paris. I just love everything about it. That said, it’s tough to find a major European city I don’t love!

 

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On top of Montnarpasse Tower in Paris

 

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I mean, how can you argue with that? The owners also eat here!

 

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Paris street.

 

Where in the world would you visit, if disability, illness or level of fitness weren’t an issue?

I’m kind of cheating on this one because in addition to advocacy, I run a travel planning company, so I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over, and I actually often feel more at home when traveling than in daily life – I’m an incredibly restless spirit and a wandering soul. My absolute favorite places to visit have been in Southern and Eastern Africa (Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania), with the caveat that we went the very luxurious route. So probably, I’d go back there, on a similar type of trip. The advantage of my travel there was that all of my travel was private (i.e. no big groups for social anxiety), there were more animals than people (basically my dream environment as a socially anxious introvert), everything felt incredibly open and spacious (physical openness and space helps me feel more mentally/emotionally open and free), and I had everything pre-arranged, so it took the “thinking” out of it once there, so to speak.  I didn’t have to come up with plans for each day, worry how to get from here to there, etc. It was all done in advance, and I had local experts to help us navigate. That was a huge mental freedom for me.

 

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You can see we really roughed it at the Sarova Mara Camp in the Masai Mara… 🙂

What sort of alternative treatments or therapies wouldn’t raise any eyebrows there? (Perhaps it’s ingrained in the culture, totally legal, etc).

Nothing outside of the norm that I can think of, but we are a pretty culturally diverse city, so I’d say that probably, you’re less likely to encounter raised eyebrows here than some places.

 

Which are the most and least affordable therapies there? How much do they cost in general?

In terms of alternative therapies, I’m not really sure. But I will say that we have a lot of studios that are starting to combine various mind/body activities and treatments – i.e. yoga studios with flotation therapy, access to massages, tissue work, and the like. Often, these studios/companies offer discounts for people who are new, package deals, and other discounts that help the cost.

 

How expensive is it to live with a chronic illness there? Any stats you’d like to share to give a clearer picture?

I’d say that like anywhere in the U.S, it’s expensive to live with a chronic illness, and it all depends on your insurance. I’m lucky that my husband works in healthcare and has fantastic insurance, but before we were married, I paid about $440 a month for basic insurance, and that covered very little, so I ended up paying out of pocket for a ton. I also could only be on generics, because otherwise I’d pay 50% of all medication costs, which would have probably been about $1000 a month. I have no issue with generics, but thre were times I had to not take a medication because it was only name brand and I could no longer afford it. And honestly, none of this considered particularly expensive or unusual for the self-insured around here. I know people paying a lot more. I think this is a U.S. issue in general.

 

What are the hospitals like in terms of service, quality of care, emergency room protocols, etc?

We’re lucky here in Philly, as we have some of the best hospitals in the country. Plus because many of them are connected to Universities, there’s a big focus on research, which also means we tend to be in the forefront with new trials, treatments, procedures, etc.   Honestly, if I had to move away from the Philly area, losing the hospital system would be a huge negative. It’s one of the city’s biggest benefits, in my opinion, for those living with chronic illness.

 

What should foreigners be aware of in regards to healthcare, if they want to visit or work in your city?

I think that for anyone coming from a country where healthcare is free/universal, there would be  a good amount of “sticker shock” in the U.S.  On two occasions, I’ve had to take relatives to the emergency room (albeit for accidents/incidents, not illness) while on vacation in another country, and we’ve paid less for the whole ER visit than I would for a nice dinner out in Philadelphia. Here in the U.S., bills could easily add up to thousands. That said, I’m not sure how this works in terms of those who are visiting and not part of the healthcare system here, but I’d imagine it could be even worse. To me, one of the most startling aspects is that they often can’t tell you even remotely how much your hospital visit/test/procedure/specialist/etc is going to cost. You go in and pay your copay, and then sometimes, often months later, you get a bill for whatever your insurance didn’t cover. This could be $100, $5000, or anything in between, and you often have no idea until you get the bill.

 

Where are you from? What is living with Chronic Illness like in your city? I’d love to hear!

 

A Note to Those Experiencing Thoughts of Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.  Suicide Prevention is a cause near and dear to my heart. A family member (my mom’s cousin, who was my second cousin) died by suicide approximately eight years ago. I have friends who have struggled with suicidal thoughts and have attempted. A family friend died by suicide this past year. I have struggled with suicidal thoughts myself, and have battled a rapid mood cycling disorder my entire life. Being a suicide prevention and mental health advocate is, for me, one of the absolute most important task I have undertaken in my life.  It can literally save lives.

I’ve previously addressed the myths about mental illness suicide, the ones that create such a stigma and make the topic still so taboo to many. And addressing those myths is extremely important. But today, I would like to “speak’ directly to those who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, or bad depression, or are struggling in some other way.  Here’s what I want to say:

I know you feel alone. Having a mental health condition can feel incredibly isolating.  Depression often makes it feel like nobody will ever understand you. I know it’s dark. That right now, it’s impossible to see any light, any hope. I know you may even at times blame yourself for how you feel.  Feeling guilty about your illness, the way it affects your life, and others in it. I’ve been there. Being ill, and then taking the burden of that illness on yourself, blaming yourself, can make the pain feel inescapable. I’ve felt that. I know.

But I am here to tell you that it is not your fault. You have an illness, and  you are not alone. One in five people in the U.S. has a mental health condition. Twenty percent of our population is with you. Not perhaps experiencing exactly what you’re experiencing – we are all unique, as are our situations and illnesses. But we, too, struggle. We too, know the lies that depression can tell us, and how convincing those lies can be. We too know what it’s like to feel utterly alone in this world. To feel like you don’t matter, to feel like you aren’t enough.

And I bet you could look at so many of us and think, “Look, they still manage to ‘have it together’. They aren’t alone. They matter.” Or maybe you look at us and think, “They don’t have it all together, but they’re still doing so much better than I am. They’re strong, and capable and getting through this.”  Well I’ll tell you something:  we’re looking at you and thinking the same thing. We’re thinking how strong you must be to go through everything you do.  We’re thinking how much you inspire us, motivate us, experiencing all you do and still fighting each and every day.  Because you’ve made it through every day so far, and that’s incredible. Or maybe we’re looking at you and thinking how much you matter. How “enough” you are.

So please, if you are this person, sitting there in the dark, not feeling like there’s anyone who understands, who you can reach out to, reach out to me. Because I’ve sat there in the dark feeling that same way, possibly by your side, in reality or virtually, near you and so many others, but feeling so hopeless and isolated.  And I’m here for you. Because you do matter. You are enough. And you are not alone. 

 

You are not alone.

 

It’s My First LinkUP Party! Thanks to A Chronic Voice

ReconnectingConfessing RelaxingRomanticizingSharing

Happy September, slightly belated! Recently, I learned of something pretty cool – LinkUp Parties hosted by A Chronic Voice (shameless plug, go check out her site and learn more about these!). The idea is, she posts writing prompts, we write about them, we share our posts, and we read and comment on others’ (there are more specific guidelines, this is generalizing it). I love writing, prompts, sharing, and connecting, so it seemed like a must do. This is the first time I’m participating in this LinkUp Party, and the writer-geek in me is pretty excited. The prompts for this month are:

  • Reconnecting
  • Confessing
  • Relaxing
  • Romanticizing
  • Sharing

I’ve decided to write a little on all five of the prompts because… well, why not!

Reconnecting

This one is super timely for me. This past weekend, my family suffered a tragedy.  It’s not my place to give details, as it wasn’t directly related to me, but my family members are dealing with an unfathomable loss. As tragedy tends to, it’s drawn us together, which has in turn made me realize how unconnected I’ve been to much of my extended family. I have cousins that I used to spend every holiday with that I haven’t seen in years. If it weren’t for social media, I am not sure I’d know what to half of my family is up to these days. I used to send birthday cards to even the most widely extended family members, and yet this past couple of years I’ve become increasingly bad at doing this. And so I’m actively working on reconnecting with family. Friends too, as I’ve been a bit of a social hermit lately, but family especially. Even if it’s a card, or a text, or a quick email to say hi or check in – we all live scattered throughout the country, many with families of their own, so in-person visits aren’t always feasible logistically. But even in this, I want to improve. I like road trips, I have airline miles. I should take the time and make the effort to see family more – time is our most valuable asset. It’s the one thing we can’t ever get back, and I need to be more cognizant of this and use more of my time reconnecting.

Confessing

Confession: I’ve been big time procrastinating and unintentionally self-sabotaging. Not in an obvious sort of way. Not the “oh yeah I’ll do the laundry tomorrow” and end up with no clean clothes type of thing. Instead, I’ve been procrastinating by continually brainstorming – subconsciously up until this point at least, but now that I’ve realized it the gig’s up. The thing is (confession part 2): I have a pretty serious fear of failure and rejection. Depression makes me convinced that I’m basically always going to fail and be rejected. And this fear often stops me in my tracks. So instead of actually writing pieces to be submitted, or starting on an advocacy project, I brainstorm about them… continually. I make lists. Lists of lists. I do everything but actually get started.  Now don’t get me wrong, brainstorming and list making can be incredibly useful and important tools… when they’re actually needed. But I’m realizing that I’m basically repeating lists and brainstorms over and over again in slightly different ways. I’m getting nothing new out of them. They’re just stalling me from actually beginning. But I just can’t make myself start. It’s like I sit down, ready to go, and poof, there goes every thought I ever had, gone from my brain, and I literally sit there staring. I know that deep down somewhere, it’s fear. And so, I’m trying to work through that. Even if at first I keep most of my articles or posts or projects or whatever it is to myself, I’m trying to get started on them. Even if what I end up with is a bunch of super rough drafts that I’d be embarrassed to show anyone in their current state, at least that gives me a starting point. Because true, the more I do, and the more I eventually, hopefully, put “out there” for others to see, the more chances I have of being rejected, or of failing. But also, the more chances I have of being successful as well.  And I also know that a sure fire way for me to stay afraid of something is to continually avoid it – because often, at least in my anxious brain, the anticipation is way more frightening than the actual situation itself. So I’m working on getting past that.

 

Relaxing

I am decent at relaxing physically, but relaxing my brain is a whole other story. Most frequently, I get engrossed in books, as a way of kind of “tuning out” the difficult thoughts and worries and fears in my head. But I also realize that relying solely on others’ worlds (via books) to escape doesn’t necessarily help me when I need my brain to relax and cannot simply pick up a book and read for an hour(s). So I’ve been making a conscious effort to meditate on a regular basis. While “the spirit is willing”, my physical commitment to doing this ebbs and flows – I’ll go a week meditating every night, and then miss several before I get back in the swing of it again. I’m working on making it more of a daily habit. I’m hoping that the more I meditate, that it’ll become easier for me to use my meditation techniques throughout the day, without having to stop, get out my meditation cushion, and do a full on guided meditation.

 

dog meditation

Sometimes my dog, Grace, “helps” me meditate.

Romanticizing

In my daydreams, my life has endless possibilities. I romanticize about how I’m going to grow my Spread Hope Project into an important organization and one day I’m going to run this successful nonprofit. I daydream about how I’m going to live on a farm and be more sustainable and have goats and a scottish highland cow (legit dream of mine!) despite the fact that I’ve never farmed anything in my life, am currently struggling to save my houseplants, and don’t know the slightest about raising farm animals. I daydream about traveling around the world – hiking in every country in Europe (not across Europe mind you, but some place in every country).  In the daydreams in my head, my life potential is pretty incredible. And in reality, I’m doing little things to help this along. But I also realize that reality probably lies somewhere between these ideal daydreams and the rut I’m stuck in now, feeling lost and like I’ll never get anywhere. Hence, my confession above, and my effort to actually take action, instead of just thinking and writing about them.

 

Mcow

Cow selfie in the Catskills

Sharing

I’m actually really good at sharing my thoughts, my emotions, what I’m going through. Becoming a mental health and chronic illness advocate and blogger has helped me tremendously in this regard. But what I’m not great with is sharing my time, or those I’m close to. Despite being an introvert that loves having a decent amount of alone time, when I want to spend time with people, I want to spend time with them. I’m not good at sharing in that regard. If I want to hang out or do something with you, I want to hang out or do something with you. Not you and your other friend and her cousin and her cousin’s sister. Just you. Despite my not having been great at connecting with people lately, once I’ve decided that I want to spend that time, I know that I’m demanding in it. Someone wanting to spend quality time with me is, above all else, how I feel cared for and valued and loved. I need to find a better balance in this for several reasons. First, not everyone is as quality time focused as I am,, and I have to respect that. We all feel cared for in different ways, and I need to be amenable to theirs like I ask them to be amenable to my need for time. Secondly, as an introvert with social anxiety, it’s rather unfair to say “much of the time I want to do my own thing and not be social, but when I want to be, you better be available and want to spend time together” So I’m working on trying to strike a more healthy balance, trying to share my time, and to share my loved ones.

So there you have it – my five prompts and my first Linkup Party! Definitely check out the other submissions for this month’s post over on A Chronic Voice!

Self-Care Isn’t Silly, But I Am

Did you know that we’re swiftly approaching National Self-Care month? That’s right – it’s September (which is also Suicide Prevention Month, more on that in another post). Self-care is incredibly important when you have a chronic illness or mental health condition, and I love that there’s a month to specifically hone in on it.

 

National Self-Care Month

 

To honor this, I’m going to be doing a #30DaysofSelfCare campaign throughout the month of September. Each day, I’ll be IGing, tweeting, posting, otherwise sharing a different form of self-care. My goals of this campaign are three-fold:

1.  Illustrate the importance of self-care, and that it’s perfectly OK, even vital at times, to take a little time self-care every day.

2.  Offer ideas, and get suggestions, for ways that you can self care – both conventional and less so. I am hoping that my “less traditional” methods may help to show that self-care doesn’t have to be daunting – you don’t need to meditate for an hour or run 5 miles. It can be quick, simple, and even goofy/fun (more on that in a minute).

3. Kick my own butt (figuratively) into gear, and make sure I hold myself accountable for my own self care. I know this is something that I need to focus on more, and this is a perfect opportunity.

So what do I mean by self-care can be silly or goofy? First off, I let me state that I don’t mean the idea of self-care. I mean the actual actions. Sometimes, especially if we’ve been feeling particularly depressed or anxious, a good laugh, getting in touch with our inner child can greatly help. Often, it helps to take a break from focusing on “real life” concerns for a minute – like work/career, school, household chores/tasks, finances, etc – and bring ourselves back to a time when we didn’t have to worry about those issues as much. Or maybe it helps us to take a break from all the bings and beeps and stimulation of our electronics, and get outside, or in nature, or spend time “playing” (I mean this in a PC way, for the record – like actually playing games or building pillow forts or whatever silly, fun thing you want to do). Perhaps it’s putting our most ridiculously comfy, oversized PJs and snuggling up, when we don’t have the energy to do anything else.

I find that, for as much as I worry about… everything… I’m really a kid at heart. I love returning to my inner child, and to just letting go and being innately me. Depression and anxiety make me often feel so old , so to speak – it can be tough to have fun when you’re constantly anxious and fearful, or when your brain is continually telling you how awful you are. So I intend to take full advantage of self care month, and of my #30daysofselfcare campaign, to encourage my natural (when depression and anxiety aren’t forefront) youthful curiosity and free-spiritedness.

 

30daysofselfcare

 

What about you? What fun, silly things do you do for self-care? I’m always looking for more ideas, so I’d love to hear yours (warning: I might use these ideas in my campaign, and I’m happy to give you credit if I can tag you!) And of course, you’re all invited to take part in the #30DaysofSelfCare challenge! I’ll be posting updates on this blog, but to follow along or join in the challenge, follow Spread Hope Project on Instagram.

 

A Few Reminders For When You’re Not Feeling “OK”

You've been here before, and you made it through. You can do this. We are here to help.

 

It so often seems we won’t be able to get through it. We doubt our strength, our ability, ourselves. But I like to sometimes play a little “game” with myself, and remind myself how much has changed in the last month, six months, year. Not to dwell on the negatives, but to remind myself that the current state won’t last forever. For example: This time last year, I wasn’t married, I had a different car, a different job, I hadn’t been to Greece. All of those pretty big things changed in less than a year. So when you feel like you can’t get through it, remember, you’ve been here before, and you got through. Even though it may not feel like it, things will change.

 

You are not your thoughts. Depression lies.

 

Depression lies. It tells us that we are incapable, unlovable, unworthy. It tells us that we’re a failure. It tells us that every negative thing that we’ve ever thought about ourselves or someone has said about us is true. And it is an extremely convincing liar. And it isn’t just as simple as choosing to not believe them, no matter what anyone says. Perhaps keep a compliments notebook (if you’re unfamiliar, it’s a notebook where you write the positives people say about depression makes you forget). Or write bright neon stickies that say “depression lies” and put them someplace you’re likely to seem them when needed. Whatever works for you.

 

One bad hour does not make a bad day. There are 23 more hours when your can day improve.

 

I once remember telling my therapist that I ruined another day by doing … something, I don’t remember what. She looked at me and, basically, asked “Why?”.  She further clarified, “Why does something that took up less than one hour make it a bad day.?  You have 23 other hours to make it a good day.”  And it’s so true. Barring traumatic events, of course, one bad hour is simply that – a bad hour. So instead of blaming yourself and turning a bad hour into two, three, etc, allow it to be what it was, and work on improving the next 23.

It’s Ok to not feel OK. And it’s Ok to admit it. Nobody should have to wear a mask throughout life, simply for having an illness they would never have chosen to have (because who would choose to have an illness?). So on the days that you don’t feel Ok, I hope these thoughts help a little. I know that they have for me. And don’t forget to take extra good care of yourself on these days. You deserve it.