April Linkup Party

Happy April! It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve had a lot going on, both in illness and in life – in fact I still do – and I’ve been needing to recenter and refocus a bit. However, I saw the April Linkup Party Prompts from A Chronic Voice, and these always inspire me to post. This month’s prompts are:

I love each and every one of these, so I’ve decided to write on all five.

Tiring

Right now, a lot of things seem tiring. My schedule has been intense for the past few months, as it’s been unusually busy at work and yoga teacher training is coming down to the wire (spoiler alert – see educating for more on this). The lack of down time/free time has been tiring. Not in a bad way, per se, as it’s all towards a greater goal, but still, tiring. More so, my brain has been tiring. Because I live with a rapid mood cycling disorder, my brain is all over the place. It spent all of January and February berating me, telling me I’d never succeed, picking at every tiny vulnerability. I was a giant weeping mess for the first two months of the year. Enter March, and things started to feel better. Not sure why, but they did. I’d been doing a lot of work on myself, and though I know my condition won’t ever go away, I thought at least I was pulling through the darkest pieces, and that my intense work on myself was paying off. And then, April hit. Hit me like an emotional ton of bricks, that is. I’m back to gooey, weepy mess, low self-worth and self-esteem, struggling to see light at the end of the tunnel. And this back and forth, this two steps forward one step back, this constant internal struggle and emotional roller coaster, is incredibly emotionally and mentally tiring.

Educating

As mentioned above, I’ve been participating in 200-hour yoga teacher training since the end of September. I am due to teach my “first class” (basically practicum part of our final) on April 26th, and I have my written final exam April 28th. The past few months have been tons of learning and educating, in everything from philosophy to the physical movements of yoga and everything in between. I’ve been learning how to put yoga flows together, how to choose the right music, the business and ethics end of being a yoga instructor. We were educated on trauma informed yoga (the basics, it’s something I want to pursue further once I graduate). I’ve been steeped in education.

I’ve also been doing a lot of educating myself on myself – everything from working on my courage and learning how I self-sabotage out of fear, to recognizing my codependent tendencies, to learning how to rediscover myself (if you have any tips for this, I’ll take them, this is still a work in progress), to so much more. It’s been super eye opening, helpful, frustrating, and just about every other emotion possible.

Receiving

I’m working on learning how to receive compliments/praise/acknowledgement/basically anything positive, either from others or myself. Low self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence make me generally sure that everyone’s “just being nice”, and that I’m not worthy of anything positive actually said about or done for me.

I’m also working on not receiving other people’s negative energy, painful words and actions, judgements, lack of belief in me, or anything else that falls into this realm. To clarify, I’m realistic and value honesty. I don’t want everyone to walk on eggshells or be all fluffy kittens and rainbows with me. But I have often defined myself by other people’s opinions/thoughts/words/actions. They thought the way I did something was wrong? I must be wrong. They didn’t believe in me or doubted me? I stopped believing in or started doubting myself (note: I already do this enough on my own, I don’t need others’ help to do so). This is all part of the codependent tendencies mentioned earlier. It’s still a big issue for me. I”m working on separating my belief in myself and my self-worth, from the negative I receive from others, while still being open to genuine constructive suggestions, alternative ways of doing/seeing things, etc.

Giving

I’m a giver by nature. I give time, I give understanding, I give empathy, I give forgiveness, I lend an ear, I help if someone needs help. Sometimes, in fact, I’m too giving. I try to be everything to everyone, except for to myself. So right now, what I’m working on is more focused giving, both internally and externally. For instance, instead of offering to be everything to everyone, I’m working on specifically reaching out to individual people, checking on on them, saying hi, etc. Not like a quick Facebook comment or like, but sending a persona text or message, really reaching out. I’m working on cultivating close relationships, instead of trying to be everything to everyone. It doesn’t mean that I am not there for others. But I am protecting my own energy a little more. I’m also working on giving to myself. Giving myself the kind words, the encouragement, the belief in self that has often been missing. I’ll get a bit more into this in “Quieting”, below.

Quieting

I’ve been doing a lot of self-work, as I mentioned. Much of this has to do with quieting the negative thought patterns in my mind, as well as reigning my mind in when it tries to run amuck (often). I’ve also been working on spending more time in meditating, yoga of course, prayer, reflection, and body access exercises/body scanning, which all help me with quieting my external environment (I tend to do each of these best in a quieter setting), but also my internal one.

Thanks, as always, for these prompts! It’s good to be back to blogging here again. Don’t forget to go to Linkup Party link in the first paragraph to check out others’ posts for these prompts!

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Staying Warm, & Hopeful

If you live in the U.S, at least the continental U.S., you probably experienced at least some of the polar vortex situation that happened this week. You may well still be experiencing it. I consider myself lucky, since the worst we got here in the Philadelphia were wind chills in the low negatives (I think we had something like a wind chill of -7 Fahrenheit). As I was hearing of wind chills around -40 in other parts of the country, complete with feet of snow and ice and all kinds of wintery mess, I can’t really complain about -7. I also consider myself lucky that I have a home with good heating (albeit drafty windows, but still, good heating) and a roof over my head. I have a very furry doggie that likes to snuggle up with us to keep us warm, so all in all, I am fortunate when it comes to polar vortex-ness.

That being said, cold, dark days where it physically hurts to go outside – because negative windchill is still negative windchill regardless of how cold other places are – often doesn’t feel very hopeful. Unless you’re my dog, who freakin’ loves this weather and must have been a musher dog in a former life or something. The point is, for many of us, especially those who already struggle with depression, hope might have been a little bit tougher this week. I know for me, the fresh air, the sunlight, the warmth all can positively contribute to my mood cycles, and when those basically aren’t an option, it can have the opposite effect. So this week, I had to turn a bit more inward for my daily hope posts.

Colorful pens and field notebook set for journaling, reflection, and brainstorming!


Hope Is colorful pens for journaling (one of my favorite modes of self-care) and little notebooks to keep on me for when I need to jot down thoughts, inspiration, brainstorms, or anything else. As a writer and creative, I get super excited about things like pens and notebooks, at all the possibilities they hold. These pens could write the first lines that inspire me to start another novel. These notebooks could one day have drafts of ideas for #SpreadHopeProject or other advocacy efforts that I one day look back at and say, “that’s where it started!” So much possibility. And color. And elephants (for those who don’t know, I LOVE elephants. Which is why my personal blog is named Lilies and Elephants).

You Be You sign from Spread Hope Sign-Making Party!

Hope Is friends who encourage you to be authentic self. I love this sign from our sign-making party. Be beautiful, amazing you. We all have something wonderful to offer, even when we can’t see it ourselves. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you need to be anyone else.

Me being me, as suggested by the sign above!

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s been a rough road with depression lately. This past Monday morning though, I woke up feeling a bit better. No rhyme nor reason to it, it just happened. Not super happy per se but more like myself. I felt more solid, physically too – I don’t know how else to explain it. Like I physically felt more at home in my skin, felt more grounded than I’ve been feeling. I felt more secure in myself (as in not questioning my every move or thought) than I have been in ages. I have no idea why, but I did. I realized that it’s literally been years – like close to 20- since I truly felt fully comfortable with myself, since I felt like I was on the right path, like I wasn’t floundering. Since I felt like I was fully worthy, fully enough. Since I was totally OK just being me.

And I’m not there yet because that kind of change doesn’t happen overnight. At least not for me. Some things tripped me up later in the week that brought back into the forefront a lot of self-doubt and lack of self-love that I’ve been working through. But for the first time in almost two decades, this past Monday morning I thought, “I wonder if this is how people who have good self esteem and self worth feel ALL the time?! (Generally, at least because nobody feels great all the time). It was incredible to feel. It was amazing to think “Hey, I actually don’t dislike myself today.” Which is huge! I wasn’t in a hypomanic cycle, so I didn’t have any of that jittery, anxious “i just drank ten cups of coffee “ feeling, which is always a relief. I was just …me. It felt so freeing.

You are enough.

Hope Is a reminder that you are enough. This sign that my friends made at our sign-making is my mantra many days.
So often with depression and anxiety it can feel as if you aren’t enough. But you are. And so am I. We all are. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.

Note I left for my husband when I headed to work one morning this week.

Hope Is little notes. I wrote this note to my hubs bc I was leaving super early (for 6AM yoga) before my husband was up. I like trying to connect through notes when schedules don’t coordinate in the morning. Sometimes, it’s just nice to know someone is thinking about you when they’re going about their busy day. And it also feels really good to write these!

Morning coffee and flower… and they match!

Hope Is simple pleasures like coffee on a cold morning, and my favorite spring mug and flower to cheer me up. Thursday morning was rough. Some things happened Wednesday night that made me question myself, and made me question others’ belief in me (others close to me not random people). It hurt. Bad. Not going to lie. What hurt worse was that depression likes to cling to those things said by others and convince me they’re true. It also hurt because I’d had three good days in a row. I felt like I was finally starting to believe in myself again, for the first time in probably ten years, and this happened, and the hurt it caused made me realize I still am so far from that point. Others’ beliefs still affect me so, so harshly and get me to question myself. And I felt so disappointed in…everything.

So Thursday morning I sat there journaling and letting tears fall and sipping my coffee, because I just needed to let the hurt, the emotion out. But then I looked up at my mug and my orchid from my parents (who support and believe in me unfailingly) and noticed they kind of matched. It made me smile and the fact that, despite the hurt and pain and tears I was experiencing, I was able to still smile at something so small like, this gave me hope. I can get through this, like I have so many other hurts and disappointments, and hopefully I’ll learn something from it as well. I have to look at it as an opportunity to grow, to examine why it hurts so badly and how I can work on that, to work on getting myself to where I want to be.

Happy February! Happy Wear Red Day!

Hope Is days of awareness for illnesses so that we can help educate and inform, and bring awareness to the illness. (And of course the advocates that share their stories every day!) Today is Wear Red Day for women’s heart disease. While it’s not an illness I live with, heart conditions do run in my family (almost all males, however) and I have close friends that live with heart disease. Plus, I just think it’s important to bring awareness to as many chronic illnesses as I can, and if I can do a little by wearing a color and posting, why wouldn’t I? Happy Friday, everyone!

Also, I’m always updating my content calendar so if an illness you advocate for has a “wear x color for this illness” day, let me know! I’ll do my best to dress accordingly and post on that day!

This week was a lot of ups and downs, as life with a mood cycling illness tends to be. Perhaps it was a bit more than most, because of internal factors and external factors. What I held on to, when it got tough, was the work I’ve been doing on self-love and self-heeling. If you too, have had a week like this, please remember you’re not alone. And also remember, as I said in my post yesterday, I believe in you!

With Hope,

Maya

Finding Hope In a Difficult Week: Weekly Roundup

As a spreader of hope, I generally try to be… well…. hopeful. But I also try to be super real, because to me, that’s what sharing our story is all about. Yes, I want to offer hope to people, but I also want them to know that I get it, that I understand depression and anxiety and mood cycling (and IBS, and migraines, and other health issues). I want others to know that they’re not alone. That even though I focus on hope, I know that hope isn’t always easy to find. In fact, sometimes, it feels downright impossible. This week was one of those weeks.

It started off well – I was featured on the Voices for Change 2.0 Podcast, which aired Saturday morning. I did well on my first quiz for yoga teacher training. I had a post about my advocacy journey and starting Spread Hope Project featured on What’s The Fix (#WTFix). Several friends and I did our first ever Spread Hope Project Sign-Making Party, and it was a blast – plus, we made something like 26 hopeful signs, which I’ll be sharing more about in a future post. But, cyclothymia is an illness. And it doesn’t care if you did well on your yoga quiz or had your work published or were featured on a podcast any more than, say, cancer would. My depression doesn’t happen because of something. It happens because I have a genetic mental illness that involves depression. Of course, certain things can urge it along, and others can help me feel better at times, but when it hits, it hits. And this week, it hit. Hard.

I share all this because this week really forced me to focus on the tiny moments. I had to dig deep, to look hard to find my daily #HopeIs pictures. I had to look at the mundane that I often ignore. I had to string together small moments to find hope among the clouds of depression and anxiety, of feelings of worthlessness and not being enough. And that’s where a lot of these photos come from. So if you’re struggling this week as well, please know that you’re not alone. And I hope that perhaps these photos will help you find the tiny moments of hope, even if they’re fleeting. Because those tiny moments add up, and they can help us get through those days when the biggest thing we’re going to accomplish is getting through that day.

“More than ever, let’s be together.”

Hope Is being together (as in support, not always physically together, fellow introverts!). Saw this shirt at Grooveground Coffee in Collingswood, NJ, where I am doing my yoga teacher training. I go to Grooveground to get coffee (and on days where I’m feeling like treating myself, a scone) after 6AM yoga at least once or twice a week. And I love this message. It can mean so many things. But to me, the key is “together”. There’s so many things that seem to divide us these days, but supporting each other and being there for each other can be so crucial. So where we can, let’s support each other, let’s be there for each other, let’s be together. The idea of support and togetherness, the knowledge that I’m part of a community, gives me hope, especially on days I’m feeling alone or badly about myself because of my illness.

Snowy Sunday morning in the courtyard at my condo.

Hope Is the calm, purity of a snowy morning before the world disturbs it. I love watching the snow gently fall. At almost 40, I’m still reminded of the excitement of potential snow days as kids- the happiness and carefree nature of a day full of play, of sledding and making snow angels, of coming inside and warming up with hot chocolate. As an adult of course it means shoveling and traffic and all that, not to mention creaky joints and sinus pressure and all that, but early in the morning, undisturbed like this, I can still appreciate all the fun and anticipation snow can bring, and it makes me smile.

Mural on my commute to work.

Hope Is using ordinary spaces to create extraordinary things. Philly is known for its murals. It’s not uncommon to see incredible artwork beautifying and bringing a vibrancy to what was an ordinary train trestle, wall, building, etc. I love the idea that we can truly make any space a place for hope- weather its through a message written, a story told through images, or just bringing color to a place that might seem to need some vibrancy.

I feel this way about life as well. Sometimes it’s in the most ordinary moments that we find the most extraordinary. It may be having a good where we feel a little better after so many difficult ones. Or a surprise message of courage and support in an unexpected place or from an unexpected person. It may be finally being able to smile, if even for a moment or two, after being in a really dark place with depression. And it may all happen on a cold, dreary Monday when you least expect it.

(Note: The pics of this mural look way more vibrant on our Instagram, so check it out).

A bench in Collingswood, NJ.

Hope Is this colorful bench full of creativity and thoughtful words in the midst of the cold and the snow. “In a dream I saw the new city of friend’s robust love- it led to the rest.” I’ve admired this bench for a while, and with the contrast between the vibrant colors and the white snow covering, it was too good not to snap a picture and share!

A sneak preview of some of the signs from the Spread Hope Project Sign Making Party!


Hope Is friends who (drive through yucky weather) to come help you make HOPEful signs of encouragement, and who make you laugh and smile while doing so. As I mentioned a while back, I’d reached out to friends and fellow advocates asking “If I made you a hopeful sign what would it say?”. They replied with some awesome answers, and then my friends and I got crafty (OK they got crafty, I got an A for effort!) making the signs. I’ll have more up close pics of signs coming soon, and I’ll tag those that offered the inspiration accordingly. This is the first of many sign pics.


A super sleepy me after depression-fueled tears at about 6AM one morning this week.

Hope Is getting through the day even when it feels impossible. On especially tough days, I focus on the fact that when you struggle with illness, even the seemingly basic things are big accomplishments. I’m getting through this day, little by little, hour by hour, and today, that’s huge. So if that’s you too, know that you’re not alone. Much love and hope to you.

Appreciating my warm cup of coffee (and heated seats!) on a snowy commute to work.

Hope Is all the little moments that make up my day, that I can rely on to get me through when depression and anxiety are kicking my rear. Like a warm cup of coffee on a cold, snowy morning. Or the 6AM yoga practice I did this morning. Or the warm car that gets my door to door nice and dry even in the snow. When I’m having a rough time, I try to live from one of these moments to the next. It helps me feel less overwhelmed and makes the days more manageable.

If you’re struggling this week too, please know that I get it, I understand, and I’m here if you need. I hope that you are able to find some tiny moments to string together to offer hope each day, even if just to get you through. Happy Friday to you all!

With Hope,

Maya

Twas the Week Before Christmas – Some Holiday Inspired Hope Photos

It’s week two of my #HopeIs Campaign on Instagram, and as mentioned last week, I’ll be doing a weekly roundup each Friday of that week’s posts. This week’s photos go Saturday to Friday because I’m weird and that’s how I roll. Without further adieu, here are this weeks’ photos. Several are holiday inspired because… tis the season!

Hope is a reminder to appreciate and honor yourself, exactly as you are. (Inspiration source: bag of yogi tea).

Hope is a quiet morning of writing and coffee at a favorite coffee shop.

Hope is starting the week with grounding early morning (6AM) yoga at a place that always makes you feel at peace at home. These are my people, and finding your people can make all the difference.

Hope is a quiet, clear late fall morning, the light from sunrise letting you appreciate how much you love your neighborhood, a day ahead to full of possibilities. Sometimes, this simple image can help me refresh the clutter in my brain.

Hope is sending messages of love, hope, & peace for the holidays – each one is hand written with and actual message. When I am feeling depressed or anxious, that personal connection, even by being the one writing the card, is huge.

Hope is communicating love. Simple as that. More yogi tea inspiration (I don’t work for them, I promise!).

Hope is a handwritten thank you note for bringing someone joy. In this case, from our neighbor, for brightening up our shared courtyard with Christmas lights on our deck. So kind of them to write.

I hope you all had a wonderful week! Happy Winter Solstice. May your days get brighter as the days get brighter. I hope you’re all having a wonderful holiday season!

With Hope,

Maya

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.

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.