I Believe In You

I believe in you. Whoever you are. Whatever your dreams. I’m serious. I might not even know you personally. I might not know your plans or goals or dreams. But I believe in the human potential. In every human. It doesn’t mean they always live up to it (I can think of plenty of examples in which people took their potential and used it in really harmful ways, or squandered it all together). But the potential is there.

Why am I telling you, potentially a total stranger, that I believe in you? Because from time to time, we all need to hear it. We especially need to hear it if you, like me, have ever shared your dreams with someone or someones, and been told that you aren’t capable, you’re unrealistic, you don’t have the education or training or qualifications, that you’ll never make it happen.  Or put another way, that they didn’t believe in you. And if like me, you’ve ever struggled with self-confidence or self-esteem or self-worth or feeling like you’re not enough, if like me you’ve ever battled depression and anxiety that magnifies these feelings, you know that this can feel like someone physically tearing you apart. It can feel like they reached into your chest cavity, grabbed ahold of your heart, and ripped it out. Maybe for you it wasn’t that extreme. For me it is. Because to me, one of the most amazing things you can have in this world, in the darkest moments, the moments when you struggle so hard to believe things will work out, is hope. And telling you that you can’t accomplish your dreams can tear this hope, potentially the only thing keeping you going at times, to shreds.  And yes, when this happens to me, is it on me a bit that I rely so heavily on others’ opinions? Absolutely. I’m working on that daily. I’m putting huge effort towards self-love and appreciation, self-worth and self-esteem. But when you already feel like you’re not good enough, and others basically tell you you’re right, it’s pretty natural that it’ll affect you seriously, at least temporarily, perhaps longer.

Now naturally, there are going to be things we’re not qualified to do. I’m not qualified to perform surgery because I haven’t gone to medical school. So if I were to say, “I think I’m going to get a job as a surgeon”, the response of “you don’t have the education and qualification for that” is legit. But if I said, “I think I want to go to medical school because my dream has always been to become a surgeon” and someone replies “At you’re age? Come on, that’s so unrealistic. You’ll never make that happen!” that’s where the dream killing happens. And the thing is, they may be right. I am 39 years old. If my dream was to go to medical school, I’d probably be in my 50s when I finished (I’m eyeballing this, not calculating the actual years so excuse any innaccuracies), and it’s probably pretty tricky to get accepted to medical school at 39, then interneship, residency, get hired for the first time as a surgeon in ones 50s. But telling me right off the bat I’ll never be able to do it? It might be unlikely. It might be improbable. But I likely already know this, so shutting down my dreams  in one stroke and saying you don’t believe in me literally serves no purpose. there are ways to voice the struggles, to help someone be realistic, without telling them you can’t. For instance, “This could be really tricky. It could be tough to get into medical school at that age, and it’ll be a long road, but if you really want this, let’s talk about what the next steps could be.” Or maybe you help them “troubleshoot”: “Well, you’d need this qualification to get into school, so maybe start by taking pre-requesites somewhere local. Also, it’s going to cost a lot, so let’s talk about how you’re going to be able to support yourself while doing this.” There are numerous other ways to approach it. But flat out: you can’t make that happen is just a hurtful one. And if you’re anything like me, it’s probably one you’re already telling yourself. So what does someone telling you this actually accomplish, besides making you feel worse about yourself?

So I’m here to tell you I believe in you. I don’t care how silly or weird or out there your dream ism how unlikely it is or how much effort it’ll take, because if you really want it that badly, you’ll put in the effort. (Caveat: I can’t support you in something I think is illegal/unethical/immoral because that would be going against my core values, and we should never ask someone to compromise their core beliefs and values.  But I’m going to assume here you aren’t asking me to support you doing something immoral, so with that exception, I believe in you.) If your dream is to dress up in a chicken costume and dance around and make viral videos and get sponsors to make money, go for it. Hell, that sounds fun and I might even join you.  If your dream is to travel the world, to restart your career, to start your own business. If your dream is invent something new, to run away to the mountains and build a retreat, to go back to school and get a new degree/desertification/training. I believe in you. If your dream is to find a way quit your 9-5 so you can stay at home with your kids, I believe in you. If your dream is to write a book, I believe in you.

And if you ever need someone to bounce idea off, or someone just to listen, or someone just to remind you that someone believes in you, I’m here. Because there way too many people in this world that’ll tell us we can’t do something. So I’m here to tell you that you can. 

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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).

 

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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

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!

 

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.

 

Here’s My Story. What’s Yours?

When I was two years old, I began having “episodes”. I’m quite sure now they were hypomanic episodes, but that wasn’t really talked about as much back then. And it especially wasn’t diagnosed in two year olds living on dirt roads in rural Georgia in the early 1980s. I was told I was allergic to red food dye and that it made me hyper. I am not sure why they thought this, other than I’d had some cereal with marshmallows that were red as a treat (a rare occurrence, my parents made a lot of our food from scratch), shortly before the symptoms began.

 

Throughout my youth, I experienced what my gymnastics team affectionately called “Maya Moments” – situations in which I’d get so upset, anxious, worked up that I’d have to leave practice (or whatever situation I was in). It wasn’t a tantrum, or simply being frustrated, it was a feeling that welled up deep inside of me, making me feel like I was about to emotionally burst. Letting it out was the only way to quel that. But there was no explanation. Since there was no red food dye consumed at gymnastics practice, I had to assume it was “just me.” That I was just temperamental and got upset easily, that I was “dramatic” and over-reacted. A lot.

 

Beginning my freshman year of college, other feelings crept in. Self-criticism and doubt, lack of confidence, feelings of being extremely low or anxious. I tried to control these by controlling my food intake. It seemed one of the only things in my life  I felt total control over. It resulted, eventually, in disordered eating. By my sophomore year of college, I began seeing a counselor. She was a grad student in Psychology, and she helped. I wasn’t diagnosed, but I felt comfortable with her, and it offered me an outlet to discuss feelings I couldn’t understand.

 

By the time I was 29, I had been to at least four or five counselors. During my first marriage, there were points at which I used to actually instruct my then-husband to pick me up from behind and hold me up so that I could punch and kick my arms in the air (away from him, to clarify), to release the overwhelming anxious energy that felt like it was going to explode from me if I didn’t get it out. Despite this, I was given every “reason” for the way I was feeling, except for a diagnosis. I was told it was pre-wedding jitters, then “newlywed jitters”, then stress from then my mother-in-law and I not being best friends. I was given the old Freudian “mommy and daddy issues” routine, despite my clearly explaining over and over that I had a happy childhood, and that my family was where I felt happiest and safest. No matter how often I insisted it was something inside of me, I got push back.

 

Finally, just before my 30th birthday, I went to the ER with what I thought were non-stop panic attacks. Long story short, but I ended up being voluntarily committed for several days. To clarify, it wasn’t really voluntary. I was in the ER and they asked me, in the middle of horrendous attack,  if I wanted to stay overnight. I said yes. They did not mention that overnight meant being transferred to a psychiatric inpatient hospital, where I wasn’t allowed to leave for 48 hours, couldn’t have my phone or my purse with me, and that my loved ones would only be able to see me at visiting hours. When I objected, they told me I could go back to the ER and have an assessment, but then I chanced getting committed involuntarily, in which I would have no say over when I left.  I chose not to risk it, which was the right decision. I found out later that I had been labeled a suicide risk because of how I answered a particular question. I was not suicidal, but their assumption that I was would surely have resulted in an involuntary commital.

 

Because I had been labeled as such, they insisted on increasing the mild dose of antidepressants that my primary care had put me on a couple of months back. I insisted that this was a bad idea. I felt the opposite of depressed – anxious, jittery, brain running a mile a minute. I felt worse with the increase. I told them so. I wasn’t listened to.

 

I’d like to add an insert here: I don’t want to discourage people from getting help. I was at a not ideal hospital and did not really understand what was going on.  As I was admitted at 11PM, I clearly got the short-staffed overnight team. I learned a lot at the hospital. Almost everyone there was “just like me”. I.E. they were functioning adults with jobs and families and talents, who held interesting conversations and seemed to be genuinely nice people. It wasn’t the “mental hospital’ image shown in Hollywood.  It was a place for healing and understanding, not a place people were filed away. We did group work, which I felt beneficial. I met a nurse who was wonderful and helpful and truly cared about the people there. It was the process I did not like, and some of the individuals I dealt with. But ultimately, it led to me getting the help I needed (read on).

 

I called the therapist that I’d seen after my divorce, and during some other relationship issues. I explained my situation. She told me to hold tight, get through the two days after which they had to let me leave, and then come make an appointment with her. I followed her instructions. That appointment with her proved to literally be a lifesaver. She diagnosed me with rapid cycling cyclothymia, a mood disorder similar to, but not as “intense” as, bipolar disorder. She explained that the panic attacks were actually hypomania, and that the antidepressants had made it worse. She weaned me down off of them and started me on a mood stabilizer, which made me horrendously ill (physically), until it didn’t, and I started to finally feel ok again, mentally and physically. We started discussing my treatment plan. I began to learn as much as I could about my illness. I felt that finally someone was listening to me. I had been telling doctors and therapists for years that something was happening inside of my head, that I wasn’t just down or stressed, but that something was really going on. I was finally being heard.

 

Eventually, I decided that I had to make the best of the diagnosis. I started blogging, openly, about mental health and my experiences. I started a closed Facebook group for people with mood disorders. I began actively advocating via other social media outlets. I learned I was very far from alone. While cyclothymia is rare, there are so many others who struggle with mental health. I learned that just by sharing my stories, I could help others. I could show them that they, too, are not alone. I could help inspire people to speak up about their illnesses, whether in the form of social media or a blog, or simply to talk to me about it if they needed.

 

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to take my efforts to the next level. I started Spread Hope Project, to attempt to formalize what I do. I am still weeding through it. I haven’t quite pinpointed the exact trajectory of what I plan to do, but I’m working on it. Hope can still be difficult some days. My illness is still, as one would imagine, full of ups and downs, and therefore so is my life. But I know at my core that I can make a difference. More than my blogging and social media, but on a larger level. I have the passion for it, the personal experience, the longing to do so. I just need to figure out how.

 

This is my story of mental illness. My story of how it has changed my life, and how I got to the point where I am today. I hope that in it, you can find some hope, or at least some solace in knowing that you are far from alone.

 

What’s your story?

May Is Mental Health Month

Happy May! It’s sunny and getting warmer here in Philly, which is amazing. It’s incredible how much difference a little sun and warmth make, at least to me. While I can certainly battle depression on the brightest, warmest days (because it’s an illness, which doesn’t care about the weather forecast), I usually feel significantly worse in the short, cold days of winter when it’s difficult to even go outside for fresh air. So I’m super excited for the weather to finally be turning.

I haven’t blogged in a little while. I’ve been trying to get my sh*t together, reorganize my thoughts, plus I’ve been traveling in Greece. Side note: if you ever get the chance to go to Greece, go. It’s a gorgeous place, the people are the friendliest, the food is the freshest, and …. just everything about it. You can check out pics on our Instagram.

But I digress. May is Mental Health Month. A cause near and dear to my heart, as most of you know.  Every day my brain wages a battle against me, and every day I win, even if sometimes just barely. I am the one in five adults in the US that has a mental illness. Specifically, I am one of the 0.4-1% of the US population with cyclothymia. There is little known about written disorder, and it’s difficult to find others who have it. It also tends to be pushed aside as “not as big a deal”, which anyone who’s dealt with the rapid cycling nature of the mood cycles knows is inaccurate. The lack of information and difficulty finding others who have it has driven me to do two things – 1.) start my personal  blog over at Lilies and Elephants. 2.) Help others whose causes and/or organizations need exposure. Because nobody should feel like what they’re going through or fighting for is “not a big deal”.

This month, I’ll be focusing on mental health causes and organizations, as well as those causes that can be associated. Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • Local organizations or projects raising funds or awareness for mental health.
  • Local business partnering with an organization to raise funds or awareness
  • Local, orgs, businesses, or even individual advocates looking to be more involved in mental health and related causes

We want to know about you, and help others to know about you! Zero cost, I promise. It’s just what we do here at SHP.

Questions you may have:

  • Does local mean Philly area where SHP is based? Nope. Just means not a big global or national  company. In other words, we’re a small org helping other small orgs/businesses.
  • Does it really cost nothing? Yep. Our thing is promoting your thing. Or you. Or your cause. That’s how we spread hope. Or at least one of the ways.
  • My cause/project could be related, but I’m not sure. How do I know if my cause/organization/business qualifies? Ask us! You can hit us up on email, Instagram, FB (we’re less frequent on there), or my personal account on twitter.
  • How can you help my cause/project/etc? We can help you tweet, post, and share. We also can add you under our Projects tab on the website, and if you’re interested, we can “interview” you for a blog post. We can also help you with additional ideas specific to your cause/project/event.
  • I know I/my company/my organization want to do something, but I’m not sure what. Can you help? We can. Or at least we can try. Reach out to us at the above.

Mental Health is important. It affects 20 percent of the US adult population, so the chances are, we all know someone affected – even if we don’t know it.  Let’s help erase the stigma and raise awareness together.

 

Self-Care Sunday

I’m going to be honest – I thought I published this post a week and a half ago. But… brain fog. So, this is about two weekends ago. My apologies. Anyway…

As someone who wants to spread hope and to help others, I often find I’m pushing myself. I’m pushing myself physically, but also emotionally and mentally. I’m constantly trying to figure out the next step, continually brainstorming and tossing ideas around in my head of what other programs and projects I could run, or how I could better spread my message. And I love this piece of myself. My imagination, my creative brain gets me through some super dark times. But it can also drain me. When I’m working extra hard on these things, focusing more than usual, I find myself physically and mentally tired. Add that to severe congestion and a cold that’s gone into my chest, which make it difficult to breathe, plus jet lag, anxiety, depression, and the usual exhaustion, and I needed some self-care.

So Sunday, I did just that. I spent the first part of the morning journaling and drinking  coffee. I had been excited about revamping my travel blog, so I worked on that, but casually. No expectations, just seeing where it took me. One might think of this as work, and technically it is, but I was excited about it, so felt more like a fun experiment than something I had to do. Then I relaxed and watched some football and saw my Buffalo Bills get an OT win in a foot of snow, which was pretty amazing.  I reheated some pizza (not the most healthy lunch option, but it didn’t require much effort, which helped conserved energy). I played a few games on my phone – I love word games, and they help keep me feeling sharp while actually enjoying what I’m doing. I ate a dinner (part of which involved more pizza … I clearly need to grocery shop) while intermittently blogging and watching more football on the couch. I did all of this in leggings and an oversized shirt that could possibly be mistaken for pajamas.

What didn’t I do? Answer work emails. Blow dry my hair. Put on makeup. Run any errands/go anywhere. Try to solve any major issues/questions/concerns in my life. Anything I didn’t want to.

I relaxed, I did things I enjoyed, I did minimal beauty regimen shenanigans (with the exception of showering, though half the reason for doing so was the hope the hot shower unstuffed my nose).

Sometimes, even the most hopeful of us need to replenish our stores.  That’s completely ok. We need to take care of ourselves in order to help others. And sometimes, taking a break from trying to figure everything out – whatever that everything entails – can actually be the the respite our mind needs to help us do just that.

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