How Do You Work With Fear?

It’s natural, as we grow older, to have a bit more fear (at least, I feel it is). As a child, we  didn’t know all the ramifications – we could fall and get hurt if we did this or that, we could get emotionally hurt from xyz, we could be rejected or fail if we went after such and such goal. As we get older, and we learn more about how things work, how life happens, as we experience more struggles and challenges, there’s more to fear. As a toddler, you didn’t (hopefully) have to fear that if you went after your career dreams and failed, you may not be able to pay your rent or mortgage, or feed your family. Fewer responsibilities often meant fewer fears of what would go wrong.

As adults, we’ve been through a lot of life experiences, ups and downs, successes and failures, achievements and disappointments. We know what can go well, but we also know what can go not so well. And often times, especially when you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, it’s that “what can go wrong” that gets magnified. And often, that can lead to fear. Furthermore, because depression and anxiety often like to lie to us, clinging on to those fears and reiterating that we’ll fail or be rejected or some other concerning outcome, that fear begins to sound a lot more like fact to our brain. It slowly morphs from “but what if I fail” to simply, “I fail”. To clarify, I’m not blaming us for this. It’s our illness, doing what it does so well, grabbing hold of the most vulnerable pieces, and clamping down on them, and makes it feel impossible to see any other outcome. Furthermore, it often feels impossible that if this “worst case scenario” happens – we fail, we get rejected, we mess something up big time – that (at least in time) it’ll be OK. That maybe, in even trying and failing, we’ll move closer to where we want to be.

This is a challenge I’m actively working on with myself right now.  While I am not trampling over my fears thoroughly, I am learning a few tricks along the way that I thought I’d share.  Sometimes, in these situations, it helps me to approach things a bit backwards – look at all the awesome possibilities first, and then bring it back down slowly to “ground level”, so that maybe I can begin to work on the fear of other, less awesome, outcomes. In order to do this, I’ve been asking myself a few key questions.

So here goes a big first question. I’ll share some of my own responses to it, in case that helps you to record your own.

What would you do or be if fear wasn't holding you back_

What would you do/be/go for if fear was not holding you back?

To clarify, this isn’t a “perfect world” scenario. It’s simply, “if you are who you are, where you are, with all that is you, but without xyz fear(s) holding you back.”  As promised, here are a few of mine – they range from the mundane to the big, because we (or at least I) have all kinds of fears, and big or small, they can hold us back.

  • I’d submit writing to more sites/sources
  • I’d cook/bake/try more culinary stuff without worry that they’d be awful (told you some were smaller than others)
  • I’d try my hand at growing my own herbs and veggies (I make half-hearted attempts, but I know I’m afraid I’ll fail, and haven’t pushed myself).
  • I’d work on publishing my novel
  • I’d work for myself again – I’d dig in, and figure out what I had to do to make it happen, instead of hemming & hawing & “I don’t know”ing.
  • I’d expand my advocacy to things like videos, or maybe podcasts.
  • I’d reach out and try to get more involved in advocacy panels or speaking or something along those lines.
  • I’d reach out to friends more, and try to get consistent get-togethers planned (like “we play board games every Tuesday” or whatever). Yes, this is a fear thing. Friend rejection is a serious issue for me me.
  • I’d learn how to do more around the house – fix more stuff, etc. My husband is awesome at this, but I’d like to learn too.

As you can see, there are some big items, and some seemingly silly items. “If you weren’t afraid, you’d cook?” you might ask. Yes.  I’m so afraid I’ll mess it up, do it “wrong”, embarrass myself (I don’t even know what this means in relation to cooking but it’s a fear), set off the smoke detectors because I’m burning something, etc. And it may not seem like something that’s holding me back, but I hate feeling like I can’t do simple things, and it wreaks havoc on my self-confidence and self-esteem. So whatever your list entails, don’t cross it off because it seems silly or unimportant or like it can’t possibly be holding you back. If it came to your mind, it’s important. Plus, these “silly” fears play an important role in getting us “over the fear hump”, which I’ll discuss later on.

 

Question number two:

If your fears came true, what's the worst that's likely to happen_

If you try and your fear comes true, what’s the worst that’s likely to happen?

Two clarifications here:

1.) I’m not talking about fears of serious life events – like fear of losing a loved one, or of serious illness or injury.  Obviously, when it comes to serious impacts on our lives and health like this, we have to consider these serious possibilities. I’m talking about “What if I do try to cook that dish or to grow those plants or to make those plans with friends, and it doesn’t work out as I hope – i.e. I fail, mess up, get rejected.”

2.) Note that I say “is likely to happen”. Yes, there’s always technically the chance of the absolute worst case scenario. I could try to cook something and end up burning down my kitchen. That does happen. But the worst that’s likely to happen is I burn it, have to throw it out, and order pizza for dinner. And in the process, I’ve perhaps learned what not to do when cooking that particular item, so I have more knowledge for next time I try.

So, what’s the worst that’s likely to happen? Of course, the bigger ticket items are more risky. If I try to work for myself and it fails, then that’s a bigger problem than if I try to garden and it fails. But knowing these, even the more serious concerns, is a first step, because it helps us get a plan in place.

 

Question number three:

Are past failures or rejections actually what you think they are_

If you’re basing your fear on past experience, is the past failure/rejection/etc actually what you think it is?

Confused? Let me explain. Real life example: The first time I cooked for my now-husband (then boyfriend) in our house, I decided to make breakfast for dinner. I knew I could make omelettes so I felt pretty solid, despite my cooking fears. And I burnt them. Horribly. Like, smoke detectors going off and scaring the dog, horribly. We had to dump them and order pizza. My brain, in those moments, turned on me faster than a sworn enemy would: See you can’t even cook the most basic things! You’re incapable. How can you be almost 40 years old and not even be able to make eggs? How pathetic!  Except what I never considered, and my (now) husband then pointed out, is that it was the first time we’d used the oven in the new house, it was a very old electric oven (I was used to gas ovens), the coils weren’t even so it wasn’t cooking proportionally, and it looked like it hadn’t been used in probably months, if not longer, so the oven itself was metaphorically rusty. In short, maybe the issue was the oven, and not me (at least here – admittedly, with some cooking, it is me). So, are the failures/rejections, mess ups, etc actually that? Or could there be another reason they’re occurring. Note: Answer this honestly. This isn’t to push away all responsibility. That’s the opposite end of the spectrum. But it could be that your fear is based off a failing or rejection or mess up that actually… isn’t. This can help dissect that.

 

Question number four:

What small steps can you take to build up to your bigger fears_

What are some small steps that you can take to work up to your bigger fears?

Another real life example: I’ve been wanting to attempt publishing my novel since I finished writing it over a year and a half ago. But I’m afraid of rejection, that it’s not good enough, and all these other things. So, this past September, my dad came up with an option: He produces Wordgathering Journal (an online journal), and suggested publishing a draft of the first chapter in the journal. Despite the fact that it’s my dad, and I trust his judgement on what’s good enough to go into the journal, it was nerve wracking – this was the first time any fiction work of mine was being put out for public consumption. But the fact that it was one chapter, and my dad was publishing it, made it less scary. Now, I’m looking into eventually self-publishing the full thing. That one small step gave me confidence to go further. It also gave me the insight to look at other options for getting my work out there – it didn’t have to be “big publisher or bust”.

So look at your fears, and see how you can break them down. It probably won’t dissipate the fears all together, but they may break down into manageable fears, as mine did above.

 
And finally, a tip/thought:

Practice doesn't make perfect, but it helps.

This is where to address those seemingly “silly” fears first. It’s way easier to think, “Tonight, I’m going to try to cook a simple dinner” than it is to say “I’m going to go for it and try to get my novel published”. These smaller things, when we start to move with the fear (note: not past it, but with it, meaning, we’re not unafraid, but we’re not frozen with fear), can help us build up to those bigger ticket items.

The bottom line is, the more we practice (thoughtfully) doing things we’re afraid of, the less frightening it becomes. I say thoughtfully here because I’m not saying “throw all caution to the wind and hope it all works out OK!” But the point is, often, one of the most frightening things is the unknown: What will happen? What if this? What if that? What if, what if, what if… But the more we practice moving forward with our fear, the more we get used to it. That’s not to say that we should just all be used to rejection and failure. Those hurt, sometimes terribly, and if we were all completely ok with every rejection we ever got, that might be just as concerning, especially when it’s on a personal level (friends, relationships).  But the more we work with our fear, the more we understand that sometimes, rejection and failure and messing up happen, and that when they do, we can get through it. And sometimes, they don’t happen. And that’s even better.

 

What Are You Really Afraid Of?

This week’s topic is fear – a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. To clarify, not because I love fear. Not by any means. But because I have fear, or should I say fears, and plenty of them.  While I do deal with some more external fears, like claustrophobia, heights, flying (ironic, for a travel planner I know), and a particularly strange fear of getting locked in a bathroom (there’s actually history to this one), my biggest fears are internal:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of loss of control (of life, of my mind, of anything)
  • Of never being truly happy
  • Of never finding my path in life

So if you, too, battle these, know that you’re not alone. Often, fear of failure and rejection, and even fear of loss of control, can show up as behaviors such as self-sabotage (whole week’s focus coming up on this), procrastination, talking ourselves out of going for something we really want, giving up on our dreams and goals even if they’re attainable or in reach. And frequently, because of these, our fears become a “self-fulling prophecy” and form a vicious loop.  If you struggle with depression or anxiety, this loop is often even trickier. To clarify, I am NOT saying that these things are our faults, that we’re to blame for feeling depressed or for having low self-esteem or confidence or self-worth. I’m not saying that at all. Here’s what I’m saying:

Depression and anxiety make it difficult for us to fully trust ourselves. They lie to us, telling us that we’re worthless, hopeless, not good enough. They tell us we’ll never be successful, or catalogue a list a mile long of all the things that will go wrong, to the point that we may be overcome with anxiety. When you’re consistently being told you’re worthless and hopeless and not enough, that you’ll never succeed, that nobody cares about what you do, or whatever other lies our illnesses tell us, the results are often low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and low self-worth. Afterall, being told this enough, even by ourselves, has a lasting impact. And if you’ve ever been told this by others too, that only compounds it further (note, we’ll go into stigma and dealing with other people’s B.S. later in this topics series). Speaking from personal experience, convincing yourself that you’re going to succeed, that you don’t need to be afraid of failure or rejection or anything like this,  can be incredibly difficult when you’re really struggling with feelings of worthlessness.

This is something I’m working with actively at this moment, and it’s something that I think a lot of us experience, at least on some level. Over this week, I’m hoping to offer some thoughts to help maybe break down the fears a bit, to make them seem more manageable, and also offer some tools to try to work through them.

To start with, here are a few questions to think on:

1. What do you truly fear? This could take a little digging, but it helps to get to the bottom of the fear. A few tools that might help dig deeper here.

  •  Note that the true fear may be hiding behind another fear. For example, you may be saying, “I want to start my own business, but I’m afraid I’ll make less money, and I won’t be able to pay my bills.” And maybe money is where the fear ends – maybe you are making six figures now and your business plan you’ve created for your own business doesn’t account for that kind of salary. But often, it’s not this cut and dry and we have to dig deeper and ask ourselves, “Is a this really what I’m afraid of?”  Or to put it another way, in this example, “If you started your own business and you were successful, would you have less money and not be able to pay your bills?”  See if this assumption of success changes the inner dialogue. If so, the real fear not be simply be the salary to bills ratio, but that you’ll fail in your business venture. When examining your fears, look for what’s being left unspoken, and that might help you get to the heart of the issue. Often our fears are layered, and we need to address each aspect of them to fully work with them.
  • Also note that sometimes, fear disguises itself as anger. For instance, say you’re a writer and have a dream of getting published. And someone says to you, “You’ll never be published. You’re not all that good. Why don’t you go after a more realistic dream?” Sure, most people would get hurt. Because it’s a hurtful statement. But if you get really angry, and (internally or actually) start screaming at them, “How dare you say that. You’re an a$$hole! You don’t know what you’re talking about. You wouldn’t know good writing if it hit you in the face!”, make note. Make further note if you’re still mumbling to yourself about how wrong they are days or weeks later. It is true that it’s a pretty rude (and unless they’re your editor, probably unnecessary) thing to say. But often, we get most angry at something because deep down, there’s a tiny voice that says, “what if they’re right?” It doesn’t mean it’s a justified voice, but it’s often there all the same. People putting a voice to our deepest fears can make us feel exposed and vulnerable, and that’s often not a comfortable place to be.Often, to protect ourselves (think fight or flight), our body goes into anger mode, to mask feeling exposed. So take note of those moments. They can often be the most telling.

2. Do you feel this fear is holding you back? I ask this because it’s not always the case. Three reasons: First, some fear can healthy. It can keep us from situations that are actually potentially dangerous. Second: Fear can make us think things through more. For instance, if you think starting your business will result in a lower salary, you probably should address the “how will I pay the bills” question, even if it’s not your deepest rooted fear.  Third, some people use fear as a motivator. They are determined to get past their fear, and it fuels them to push themselves when they otherwise might stop. Sometimes, pushing past the fear in itself is a goal, and it can be a good one. But if this does not sound like you (I know it often doesn’t sound like me), here are some ways to figure out if fear is holding you back.

  • Do you notice you often get stuck at the same point in tasks/projects/activities?  I, for instance, am gung-ho in the idea and brainstorming stage. I am great at the planning, I make content calendars and marketing plans, I have business plans bulleted down to the tiniest detail. And then, when it’s time for implementation, I freeze. Or I make one small effort, and if it doesn’t seem to immediately return a positive result, I get discouraged and often back off. It’s easier to find reasons why it’s a bad idea or it won’t work or I’m too busy, or I just can’t do it right, now than to face potential failure.
  • Do you procrastinate consistently when it comes to certain tasks or goals (by which I mean tasks or goals that you want to do, at least in theory – not like taking out the trash or cleaning the toilet)? To clarify, procrastinating doesn’t have to be scrolling through Facebook for hours (though it can be). But if you find that every time you have to do xyz, you suddenly realize that you’ve been meaning to organize your sock drawer, or rearrange the kitchen pots and pans, or clean the tub again, note it. Or, if like me, you constantly think you’ll just make one more list or read one more applicable article just to make sure every tiny detail is perfect, instead of actually starting on the next steps, you may well be procrastinating. Procrastination can be sneaky, so look for it in non-obvious places – like working around every other item that could possibly ever be on your to-do list, instead of starting on the one task you said you were going to do today.
  • Do you deal with all or nothing thinking when it comes to your goals? For instance, for the writer above that wants to be published, if they say something like, “It’s not like it’s going to be a best-seller, so what’s the point?”, fear is probably holding them back. This falls under the “I’ll never succeed so why try” category.  When you deal with a mental illness, gray areas can be especially tricky. Speaking from personal experience, when I struggle to trust my own brain, it can often feel like I need “solid” thoughts to hold onto – something is good/bad, right/wrong, this way/that way, success/failure. And having that anchor can be really important, because there are times that the whole world can feel gray, fuzzy, wobbly. But it can also feed fears of failure or rejection, because we may see the only possible outcomes as success or failure, not a sliding scale. This is something I am especially working on right now, and there will be a whole theme on “gray areas” later on.

If you’re working on determining your fears, I hope these help. My next post will be on what we can do once we have determined what are fears are, and how (if) they’re holding us back.

And to close, a final reminder: fear is a natural part of life. It’s ok to feel afraid. I’d venture to say nobody lives without some fear – even if it’s a small, less-obvious fear that they may not even be aware of. Having fear is part of the human experience.  We don’t have to be fearless. We just need to work on identifying those fears, and how we can best work with them to move towards our goals and dreams.

 

It's perfectly OK to be afraid.

 

 

Happy November

Happy 75 degree first day of November from here in Philadelphia! This isn’t part of my weekly theme, but it’s the start of a new month, and the start of something new always feels like a good time to pause, reflect back, look forward, and acknowledge where we are in the moment. And this being (for us Americans) the month of giving thanks, it seems especially right to start it off on a bit of a happy/fun/thoughtful note. I thought I’d give myself some of my own prompts, and others are welcome to join in and use them if you’d like.

What awesome things happened this past month?

Actually a lot of awesome things happened this past month.

1. I taught my first tiny bit of yoga as part of my yoga teacher training – albeit it was a 10 minute opener to other trainees, but still, it feels awesome to have gotten through this.

2. I also had tons of exciting things happen in the advocacy world.

 

 

Big thanks to my friend Jason over at Ain’t No Shame In Chronic Pain, who nominated me as a Webewarrior and Breakthroughcrew member! Go check out his work/site! 

 

3.  I began talking to someone about self-publishing my novel (you can read a draft of the first chapter in the September issue of Wordgathering). I realize saying I “began talking to someone else about self-publishing” sounds like  a weird accomplishment. But the person I’m speaking with works at a self-publishing company, and just reaching out and saying “Hey, I’m thinking of self-publishing my novel” was a huge step. I’m now in the process of having it edited by someone other than myself (bonus, my dad’s an editor), and thinking about publishing details. It might seem weird that I blog about things like my depression and anxiety, and am nervous about anyone seeing my fiction writing, but I am. The thing is, nobody can (accurately) tell me that my thoughts about my own experience with my illness are wrong. Because they’re my thoughts and experiences, as they pertain to me. Regardless of what anyone else might think, I’m confident that I’m well-versed on my personal experience with my illness. But my fiction could get rotten tomatoes thrown at it (I know that’s a movie thing  but all the same), and I’d have no real ground on which to stand and defend myself. And that’s scary.

 

What are you looking forward to in November?

1. My husband and I are flying out to a family wedding in Minneapolis this weekend. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen these family members, and I’ve never been to Minneapolis. So I’m really looking forward to that. It’ll be a bit of a whirlwind trip, but a quick trip is better than none!

2. Thanksgiving! I love thanksgiving. Family and food and football watching… what’s not to love?

3. Random midday yoga classes. One advantage of your jobby job being in a government building is that you have off for days like election day (PSA: Vote!) and Veteran’s Day. These give me the opportunity to go to yoga at times like 9:30AM, when I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. These classes tend to be less full, and being the socially anxious introvert that I am, this is ideal for me.

4. I now consider it completely acceptable to begin all things Christmas. I’m a huge Christmas dork – it’s my absolute favorite time of year.  I fully believe any time after Halloween is completely appropriate to start celebrating the Christmas season. And I fully intend to.

 

Being the month of Thanksgiving (in the US), what are you grateful for? 

So much. My husband, my family, my dog, my spoonie community, the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, my relative health (I know so many people going through SO much more than me), my home, the amazing people I’ve met throughout my life – even the ones that I’m not still in contact with, or don’t play a big part, because they’ve all helped me get to who I am right now.

 

Happy November!

Depression, Anxiety, and Trusting Yourself

When you live with mental illness, it can be difficult to trust yourself. Not in the “I don’t trust that I’m going to do the right thing” sense (though there’s plenty of that for me too!), but in the sense that often, it’s difficult to tell if you’re assessing a situation as it is, or as it is through the lens of our illness. Now of course, everyone looks at life with some sort of lens. None of us are completely objective about every single situation. But when you live with a condition like depression, anxiety, or a mood cycling disorder that includes mania or hypomania, it often feels (at least after the fact), like our brain might be lying to us. Depression, for example, often makes us feel that we’re hopeless, worthless, that our lives and what we do is pointless. It can make us feel unlikeable and unlovable. More than that, it can make us tell ourselves these things, repeatedly. When depression hits, a small setback may feel like a massive failure. It may throw us completely off course, not because “we’re over-reacting”, as we may be accused of, but because our brain actually sees it this way. Anxiety can act in a similar way, running away with worst case scenarios without our permission or cooperation – it isn’t conscious thought, it just happens. Mania, or hypomania, on the other hand, can make us overly energetic, sometimes to the point that the energy feels almost uncontrollable. On these days, distinguishing the (hypo)mania from just feeling really positive and good about ourselves and capable, can be tricky (at least for some).

 

trust yourself

 

All of this makes it difficult to trust yourself. Because when you have difficulty determining a good day from hypomania, and depressive lies from the realities about yourself or your situation, it makes it difficult to trust anything. This feels especially true these days, when we’re constantly reading phrases like, “You can’t control what happens in life, but you can control how you react to it.”  A nice sentiment in theory, but it can make you feel like you should be able to control every thought in your brain. You should be able to just tell yourself not to be so anxious, not to feel so hopeless or worthless. And when you can’t, it may feel like “If I can’t even trust my own brain, what can I trust? Certainly not myself.”

 

If you’ve been here, or you are here, know that you’re not alone. So many of us go through this feeling. And I wish I had all the answers, but quite simply, I don’t. But I’m hoping, through this series of weekly topics that I’m starting, we’ll cover topics that will help you (and me!) learn to trust ourselves more. By digging deep into some of our fears, patterns, and struggles, especially those that often make us feel stuck, that we can learn how to trust ourselves better. I do, though, have one piece of advice that I have to remind myself of time and again, and it’s this:

 

When in doubt, go back to your core values. When it’s all said and done, what really, really matters to you deep down at the core?  If you took away all the external factors, people’s thoughts and judgements, even some of those critical self-judgements and lies our brain tells us in a bad flare up, what would be most important to you?  If you aren’t sure how this ties back to trusting ourselves, think of it this way: Our core values, the ones we’ve held since we can remember, that are so near and dear to our heart, that make us feel like something’s off when we aren’t holding true to them, don’t tend to change drastically without some sort of major life change (i.e. having children may zoom “keeping my children safe” right to the top of your list, and alter your perspective on other, previously high ranking items). But for the most part, without major life changes, these stay consistent.  Therefore these core values be can generally be relied upon to guide us. For example, one of my core values is putting people first. My loved ones especially are the most treasured piece of my life. Money, on the other hand, is not (don’t get me wrong, I like money, but it’s not a “treasured piece of my life”). So no matter how stressed I get about money – and I get highly stressed about it at times – when it comes down to it, if I have to make a decision that puts the choice between my loved ones and money, I can always look back to my core values, and know that putting my loved ones first is the right decision. I can trust myself, when I look at my core values, to make the choice that I feel is best, even when I’m severely depressed.

 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about topics that I hope will help those who may struggle like me, especially during bouts of depression and anxiety, to trust ourselves. Often this requires us to dig deep, and examine those things that are really tough to examine. I’ll be doing this right along side my readers, so please know that you’re not alone in this.

 

And of course, thoughts and inspiration are always welcome, so if you have something that helps you trust yourself, even when you are struggling to trust your brain, I’d love to hear them!

And remember….
You Are Amazing

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:

 

oct linkup

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!

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!