If I Made You a HOPEful Sign, What Would It Say?

Some days are a struggle. And even on those days that aren’t a particular struggle, we can all use a little encouragement, a little inspiration, a little Hope. And while it won’t solve the world’s issues or cure our illnesses or anything like that, sometimes, it really helps to hear or, in this case, see someone say “You are worthy. You are strong. You are courageous. You are beautiful. You are enough.” Sometimes, we need to be reminded “There is hope” or “You’ve been here before, and you got through it, you’ll get through this too.”  So we’re going to be making signs. And we have some plans for these signs, but for now we want to cultivate all you’re awesome sign ideas along with our own, and create.

We want to hear from you. What would your sign read? We could all use inspiration from time to time, so we’re asking for you for your ideas – after all, these signs would (will…. stay tuned) be for you!  Here are some examples.  Choose from these examples, or give us your own!

Sometimes, we just need to be reminded that we are already amazing.  Just by being ourselves.
You are enough.  Exactly as you are. We use this reminder often here at Spread Hope Project!
Maybe your sign reminds you that everything you experience is valid – from your struggles to your dreams. 
Or perhaps, you simply need the reminder that there is hope. 

So what would your message of HOPE say? You can give us as many as you’d like (there’s always room for extra Hope!). Let us know in our comments,  send us an email, or share it on social media with the tag #SpreadHopeProject.

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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).

 

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

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!

 

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.