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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December LinkUp Party – Holidays and Chronic Illness

It’s a new(ish) month, and that means it’s time for a new Linkup Party from A Chronic Voice.  This month’s linkup is all about the holidays and chronic illness, a topic near and dear to my heart. This month’s prompts are:          (Note: some of these are spelled the way that everyone but the U.S. spells them. I kept them that way – it’s how they were originally posted, and also it makes me feel fancy).

De-StressingD

Holiday stress is different for everyone. For some, it’s family dynamics.  For others, it’s the intense socializing and people-ing, which can be incredibly exhausting both mentally and physically, especially when you battle chronic illness. For others, it’s the expectation – it’s a season for joy and happiness and merriness, and those who are ill, especially those living with depression, often don’t feel this way. It can feel incredibly lonely and isolating, especially when you feel this way in a room full of people. For me, it’s a combination of all of these. 

This year, I’m lucky that because of some… ahem… simplifying in my life (at least in my external commitments), I have fewer networking events, party obligations, etc. That’s helping considerably. There’s significantly less “Go to this party/event and feel super socially anxious and awkward and alone and depressed but smile and pretend everything’s fine because who wants to be the downer at the holiday party.” Additionally, I’ve been spending a lot of my previously free time in yoga teacher training and yoga classes (as part of teacher training), so while my schedule isn’t really any less busy, it’s filled with activities that, while intense, focus a lot on mindfulness, reconnecting to oneself, focusing on the present, and lowering stress levels. It’s also letting me surround myself with others who want to focus on these things, which can be a huge help. I feel emotions – mine and others’ – strongly and tend to absorb a lot of what’s around me. I find more and more, the company I keep and the atmosphere I’m in greatly affects me, and I have to keep this in mind, especially during super stress-induced, emotionally charged times like the holidays.

Savouring

I’m somehow both an old soul, and a kid at heart, and the kid at heart comes out big time during the holidays. Christmas is literally my favorite day of the year. Growing up, holidays were a big deal in my family. We’d have Christmas morning at our house, but usually the next day or so we would drive up to my Grandma’s in Buffalo, NY and that entire side of the family would spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day together. Three generations of family, all celebrating, enjoying the same yearly traditions, laughing, and joking and singing (my grandma loved to sing), doing Chistmasy things, ringing in the New Year together.  I remember walking with my grandma to get hot chocolate on the main street that ran through town. I remember all of the Italian Christmas cookies (some that we later found out were fruit cake made to look like cookies.. that was disappointing!).  I remember making ridiculous family videos for New Year’s eve and doing family “talent shows” at the insistence of my Grandma. There was so much love and fun and silliness – LOTS of silliness – and togetherness. We didn’t have lots of money and it wasn’t some big formal affair. We just got together and enjoyed each other and the season. And even though my grandma passed away ten years ago, and only one great-aunt from that generation is still alive, and even though we haven’t gone up to Buffalo for the holiday in years, that all still stays with me. I savour all of those traditions. The cookie baking, the Christmas carols, the lights, the tree-decorating, the laughing, the singing, the togetherness.

Simplifying

Simplifying is a huge goal for me for 2019. A lot has changed for me in the past couple of years. I got married. I went from running a business full time to running it part time and working at a regular job part time, to running it on the side and working at a regular job full time. I increased my advocacy efforts and founded Spread Hope Project. I started yoga teacher training, which I’m still currently undertaking. I went back to church and am slowly beginning to understand my own spirituality more. A lot has been going on, and it’s left me feeling a little all over the place – like I’m constantly in numerous transitions and trying to navigate them all simultaneously.

So in terms of simplifying, I’m focusing on two aspects:

1.) Looking at what in my life still serves me, and what has run its course. Everything from clothes to organizations to that friend that you continually try desperately to hang on to only to realize that it’s been one-sided for a while, and really, they haven’t really been in your life for quite some time. (Note, I didn’t say that with anyone specific in mind, and I don’t plan on friend-dumping anyone, but I don’t need to chase ghosts either). It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the organizations or the clothes or the friend. But not everything that served you at one point will continue to for eternity. And when you try to make it so, you often get stuck.

2. I’m looking to simplify my inner life. Yoga teacher training and getting back in touch with my spirituality have been a big help. I’m focusing on trying to be more present, to focus on the small moments, to focus on joy and life and hope, and being a good, loving, giving, kind human being in the day to day, instead of feeling insignificant or inferior because the grand scheme of my life isn’t where I hoped it would be. This of course doesn’t eliminate my anxiety and depression because they’re illnesses with no cure, but it helps me feel less overwhelmed at times, and that’s a good start. 

Resting

Resting is huge for me. If I don’t get enough sleep and rest, my moods cycle more, and I become more ill. It affects my IBS and migraines as well.  I’ve been working on trying to schedule things more in advance if possible, so that I can also schedule rest time. Whether it’s getting to bed early or an afternoon/evening of walking Hallmark movies and letting my brain relax, I aim to actively plan rest time. And I try as much as I can to stick to these boundaries. I’m no good to anyone if I haven’t slept, am depressed and anxious, if I’m in pain from IBS and am having trouble seeing straight from a migraine.

Finalising

This prompt is an interesting one, because it’s one I’m actually backing off on a little bit. In part because some of my main focuses are not the type of things that are finalized in the calendar year. For example, my yoga teacher training continues right on through the spring. The end of the calendar year only means we get a couple of weekends off to celebrate the holidays. But apart from that, the training continues on just like it would when transitioning between any other months of the year. 

It doesn’t mean I don’t have goals for 2019, and I’m especially going to work on some goals for Spread Hope Project. I have ideas that I’d like to put into place, or at least work towards, and want to start to plan those steps out.  But mostly, what I’m trying to “finalize” is to get myself into a better place personally, meaning internally, to start the new year, and I’m doing so by focusing on the above – the simplifying, the resting, the savouring, the de-stressing. I’m trying to take some of the self-imposed pressure off of myself, reset a bit, and be ready to start with a bit of a fresh perspective in 2019.

As always, thanks to Sheryl of  A Chronic Voice for hosting the LinkUp Party! Check out her site, as well as the December posts for other chronic illness bloggers here!

Getting Away From All Or Nothing Thinking

Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought or said anything akin to the following:

My blog will never have thousands of followers, so why even keep it up?

This book I’m writing will never be a best seller, so why even try to publish it? (Insert creative outlet here – i.e. My art will never be displayed in a gallery so why bother; I’m never going to be a famous musician so I’m just wasting my time…)

Or on a smaller scale:

I’d like to try my hand at cooking/gardening/knitting/etc but I’ll never be as good as my mom/dad/best friend (insert family member/friend/whoever).

I just wanted this event/holiday/gathering to be perfect and it wasn’t. I’m such a failure.

If any of these sound familiar, you may dabble in all-or-nothing thinking. And in fairness, we probably all have this on some level. Rarely do people cheer because their football team almost won the game. If you’ve ever watched your team lose the super bowl on a game-ending field goal attempt that went wide and to the right, you know that it doesn’t matter how close they were to winning (go ahead and guess my football team now). But unless you’re kicking the potential game winner in the super bowl, rarely does something we aim for have to be categorized as either perfection or a devastating failure.

Often, though, this is where self-sabotage steps in. Many of our brains like to see things as all or nothing, good or bad, success or failure, perfection or devastation. Especially in the throes of depression, our brain is excellent at convincing us that if we can’t achieve our ultimate goal, there’s no sense in trying. Take, for instance, the book example above. In this all or nothing thinking, our brain refuses to see that there’s a whole range between “nobody ever sees this book I’ve drafted” and “I’m a best selling author”. It tells us that we’ll get rejected if we try to publish it. And if we do manage to get published, nobody will read it. And if they do, it’ll get panned – everyone will realize what a crap writer we are and that will be the end of our writing career. We’ll be a laughing stock. Because to our brain, there are only two options – complete success or complete failure. There’s nothing in between. When, in fact, there’s plenty in between:

  • I could self-publish our book (and in fact, I know people who have self-published the first, and it did so well a publisher signed on for their next).
  • The number of people who read my book could be somewhere in between zero and best-selling author status.
  • Some of those people could like the book, even if all of them don’t.
  • One person may give it one star while another gives it five.
  • I may sell a decent amount, even though we’re not a best seller
  • By getting my name “out there” with any type of publishing, I could make a connection I never foresaw, and that connection could help me in the future.

But for some of us, our good old friend fear steps in and gives us an ultimatum: This either has to be perfect, or it’s a failure. And especially when we’re battling depression or anxiety, when we’re feeling particularly vulnerable and hurt, when failure and rejection can do their worse, our brain tries to get us to avoid them at all costs. Thus, self-sabotage.

So what can we do if all-or-nothing thinking sabotages us? My suggestion is to break it down. Let’s look at our goals piece by piece, and that may help us to see where we can still succeed, even if it’s not the “all” of all or nothing. I do this with a series of questions, and it helps to get to the bottom of *why* we think this way.

  1. What do I want to achieve?  
  2. Why? This piece is critical to the process. List as many reasons as you have. Be honest. It’s completely cool to have a goal of, say,  “I could stand to make a little more money.” Not all of your goals have to be big dreamy creative goals. Paying the bills is key too. Or you may say “It makes me feel accomplished/good about myself.” Cool. You deserve that. It’s completely ok to have a you-centered goal (assuming it’s not depriving/hurting others big time).
  3. Is there any other way to accomplish these goals? Or, put another way, if this doesn’t go perfectly, are there ways you could supplement this, and reach that thing you want to achieve?
  4. If this doesn’t work as you planned, what can you still gain from it?
  5. If this particular situation doesn’t work out the way you planned, will this absolutely, without doubt, have to be the final end of this path for you? Note: I said the final end. As in, you can never, ever go down this path again in any way shape or form.
  6. If the answer above is “no” (hint: it’s almost always no), why not? Why/how might you be able to readjust and follow this path in the future?
  7. If this doesn’t work out as you hoped, could it lead to something else that does?

These questions, and the answers, help us to see what other possible paths or options might look like. And in doing so, we may come to see that it doesn’t, in fact, have to all go perfectly, exactly this one particular way. And in fact, we may realize that we don’t even know why we held on to some of these thoughts/beliefs/feelings so long, once we look more closely.

I once remember saying to my therapist that because I’d had one rough hour, that the day was ruined. She replied, “Why? You still have another 23 hours to make it a good day.” I try to come back to this now when I’m tempted to “go big or go home’. I would self-sabotage 23 hours of my day, based on the idea that it had to be perfect, instead of accept that one hour was not. I wouldn’t give myself credit for the other 23, no matter how good they were, despite the fact that clearly, they outnumbered the bad hour.  And it wasn’t until I started thinking of the bad hour as a chance to make the rest of the day better that my perspective changed. I still struggle with this sometimes, but it’s really helped to pull me away from that thought pattern. It’s the same with goals. It’s great if your goal or dream works out exactly as you hoped. But sometimes it doesn’t. And it helps to keep us moving forward if we plan for alternative options, if we try not to allow our accomplishment to be all or nothing. Because often, the fear that it won’t turn out perfectly stops us from going anywhere at all.

The Procrastination Cycle

In my last blog, I talked about self-sabotage, why we do it, named some of the most common methods of doing so. I also promised to dig a bit deeper into each of those methods throughout the week. As a self-saboteur, procrastination is one of my key tools. In fairness, it’s not an intentional tool. It’s a super convenient one, and I’d say that it’s probably one of the prime self-sabotage techniques for people in general, when it comes to avoiding our fears.

Why is procrastination so commonly used to self-sabotage?

1.  You can literally procrastinate by doing anything – scrolling social media, walking the dog, picking your nose, you name it.

2.   Most of the time (picking your nose perhaps notwithstanding, but who am I to judge), procrastination can seem convincingly justified. For instance, you may know that you have to start on that guest post you were asked to write, but wouldn’t it be so sweet if your spouse came home to a clean house and a special dinner? They’ve been working so hard, they deserve that, don’t they? And they may well deserve it. And you also have been working hard, and were finally asked to write a guest post and you deserve that too. But if you’re worried about your post not being good enough, getting negative feedback, repercussions of others reading it (i.e. if you’re talking about a personal topic like I do with mental health), it’s super easy to justify putting that off, especially when it’s to do something for someone else.

3.  It often helps us feel accomplished, even when we’ve avoided our main task. And sometimes, it really is getting things done. We manage to tick of smaller items, less scary items, all while skirting the one thing we really needed to do to reach our goal.

4.  Starting is often the hardest part. Think about a morning workout routine. I can say with full honesty that the toughest part of my morning workout is not the workout. It’s hearing the alarm, getting up in the dark, getting dressed, and getting set up for my workout/going outside for my run. Rarely do we jump out of bed at our alarm, eagerly get dressed, hurry to the gym/get outside for our run and then stand there and say “Nope, not doing it.” It’s that getting started. It’s that first initial push to move forward with the plan.  Especially because once we start, we’ve often forged some sort of internal commitment to ourselves to see it through. Which opens us up to things like failure, rejection, and all sorts of other things that make us feel vulnerable. But when we procrastinate, we don’t have to get to that stage.

5. It can be super tough to identify. Obviously, if you’ve chosen to pick your nose for hours instead of work on the guest post, it’s a bit more obvious. But if like me, you procrastinate with productive activities, maybe even activities related to the task at hand, it can be significantly more difficult to pinpoint. I, for example, am a procrastination brain-stormer/researcher/list maker (I’ll delve more into lists and self-sabotage later this week). I have more notebooks and documents and apps filled with varying versions of the same brainstorm for Spread Hope Project and advocacy work that I’ve lost count. I always tell myself I just need to think it through a little more, or make one more list of ideas, or read one more article about xyz to make sure I have all the possible ideas and information I need. When really what I need to do, after the umteenth list and brainstorm, is just get started. I’ve finally recognized this, because I have recognized that my strength is in the big vision and little details but the implementation (part where I get started) trips me up. But it’s taken me a long time to recognize that.  When your activities seem productive and goal-oriented, it’s a lot trickier to identify them as procrastination.

So what can we do about it?  

As a self-proclaimed procrastinator, I wish I had all the answers. But I do have some tricks that have helped me.

Identify the procrastination technique(s).

  • Record it old school. You can keep a bulleted list of what you’re accomplishing/doing. You could also use an old school planner, that breaks down the day in increments (usually by the hour). Traditionally, this is used for planning out your day, and you an use it that way. But you could also use it to write down how you spent your time throughout the hour. And don’t cheat either – if you spent 15 minutes scrolling through social media, include it. It doesn’t have to be exact, but if you notice that Facebook comes up in every hour (and your job doesn’t involve primarily social media), it can help indicate patterns.
  • Use a task  timer. I like the Task Timer app for iphone, but there are other (free) options I’m sure. This app uses the Pomodoro Technique, and allows you to assign different task categories. Each time you restart the timer, you can select the task category. Be honest about your tasks – if you plan to spend the next 25 minutes checking social or doing laundry or whatever it is, mark it as such. You can then go back and notice how much time you spent doing what.
  • If you’re primarily on the computer, look at the open tabs on your browsers. This often shows you what you were doing to distract yourself.
  • Have an accountability partner. This obviously takes someone who’s willing to participate, but it can be a big help. Set a frequency with with to regularly check in. This also means we’re more likely to keep track of what we’re accomplishing, which can help identify patterns. Often times, others are better at noticing our patterns than us.
  • Remove those things you think *may* be your procrastination culprits. Put your phone away. Log out of social media. Close all browser tabs/apps/etc except for the ones your specifically working in right now.  If cooking/doing laundry/etc is your distraction, close the door to those rooms or go in a room far away from the kitchen as make sense. If you start feeling “naked” without these outlets, you’ve probably hit on (at least some of) your procrastination techniques.

You’ve Identified the Techniques… Now What?

  • For starters, keep up with the bullet point above. Move away as many distractions as you can, if you know that they’re your procrastination techniques.
  • Schedule in time for your favorite procrastinations, and stick to it. If you use a timer or a planner, dedicate one or two of those time blocks to your favorite procrastination. This is especially helpful procrastination techniques that double as tasks that actually need to get done (eventually). If you do indeed need to do laundry, knowing that you’ve blocked that time to do it during the day can help that gnawing feeling of “What if I forget or get too busy, I better just go do it now…”.  Not all procrastination is intentional – sometimes we think “oh I’ll just pop a load of whites in the laundry before I get started on that blog post”, and two hours later we’ve washed and folded our entire wardrobe and organized every drawer by color.
  • Pare down your to do list to three items max. Fewer is better, but I get that we all have deadlines.The bigger ticket/scarier/more complicated the items are, the fewer you include. I’ll talk about this more in a dedicated post, but often procrastination comes from feeling overwhelmed – again, that whole “getting started” piece.
  • If you get stuck just do something, anything (related to the task). As I mentioned, fear often keeps us from getting started. It’ll tell us something like “You can’t write that article. You don’t even have a title. You can’t turn in an article without a title.” Our brains psyche us our and we’re frozen before we even get started. And the more this builds up in our head, the more that rides on this title, the more we tend to freeze. So if you have to, put in a placeholder. It can be “Insert title”. It can be a general topic of the article (Procrastination). If you get stuck on what to write in the article itself, just start write anything related that comes to mind. Go back and fix it later, but get something down.  I talk a lot about writing here, but this can be true for just about any task that we’re dreading.  We often procrastinate – and self-sabotage – when we put so much pressure on one decision (the title of the article), when really, if we just got started in some way, we’d figure it out as we went along.

I hope some of these help! In my next post, I’ll be talking about the Endless To Do List and procrastination.

Are You An Awesome Self-Sabotager Too?

Welcome to week three of the Spread Hope Project weekly themes. This week’s topic is one that I’m super excited to talk about: Self-Sabotage. Why, you might ask, am I super excited to talk about this topic? Because:

I am an awesome self-sabotager.

 

Self sabotage

(Grammar note: I realize the proper term may be “self-saboteur”, I like sabotager better). And by awesome, of course, I mean this is something I understand all too well, because, if I’m being totally honest (and why wouldn’t I be?) this is probably something that I do daily. In fact, it’s something many of us do regularly. Sometimes without even realizing it. The truth is, self-sabotage is way more common than you may think, and it often shows up in forms nobody expects – in fact, often, it shows up in forms that, on the surface, look quite positive and productive (more on this later).

Why do we self-sabotage? Well, we’re all unique people living unique lives, and so therefore I can’t speak for each and every one of us, but there’s one thread that tends to tie together a lot of self-sabotage efforts.  If you’ve been reading these weekly theme series, it’s one you might recognize from last week: fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of success (yep, this exists – if we’re successful, there’s pressure to continue to keep becoming more successful, and that’s freakin’ scary), fear of the unknown/uncertainty, imposter syndrome. I could go on and on. And underlying these fears may be feelings such as low self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it’s not uncommon. If we’re struggling with our self-confidence, it’s a lot easier to convince us (and for us to convince ourselves) that not only are we going to fail, but that the results of failing are going to be awful. For those of us who live with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, these feelings can be magnified further. And when these are magnified, so too may be the fears, and that can lead to even stronger self-sabotage.

Now let me stop for a moment to clarify something: the word sabotage sounds pretty awful. And when it’s done intentionally, maliciously, towards someone else, it is. If you intentionally sabotage someone’s relationship or big day or something like this, obviously that’s not OK. But when it comes to self-sabotage, I believe that often, it isn’t a conscious decision, and it’s certainly not intentionally malicious. Rather, I think we frequently do this as a form of self-protection, a sort of preservation of self. When you are struggling with depression and experiencing extremely low self-worth, for example, rejection or failure could be especially devastating, furthering the depression and feelings of worthlessness. So our brain, without our conscious input, says “Hey, that doesn’t sound good at all, so I’m going to do what I have to in order to not get rejected”. And one of the ways in which we can not get rejected, is to prevent ourselves from going after something fully in the first place. Thus, self-sabotage.

That said, just because it’s not a conscious decision to start with doesn’t mean we can’t bring consciousness to it. Which is to say that when we learn to recognize our patterns of self-sabotage, we can potentially spot when our brain starts veering that direction, and hopefully learn some ways to intervene.

 

how do you self-sabotage

 

As I said, I’m awesome at self-sabotage. Which isn’t awesome, but it does mean I’m pretty familiar with it. And while there are so many ways to self-sabotage, there are some methods that, from my observation and experience, seem to be particularly common.   I’ll be delving into some of these more thoroughly later in the week, but wanted to give an overview here.

  • Procrastination. This might be number one. Raise your hand if you, too, find just one more really interesting article to read or Facebook post you must comment on before starting that task that makes you nervous/concerned/etc. I’ll be delving into this a lot more later.
  • The endless to do list/always being too busy. If day after day, week after week, you’ve built up your schedule or to-do list to the point that there’s no humanly possible way you’re going to get through it all, you might want to take a closer look. If you’re one of those people who wears “too busy” like a badge of honor, please don’t hate me just yet. I’ll explain further when I do a deeper dive into this topic later this week.
  • All or nothing thinking. For those of you who, like me, struggle with gray areas, all or nothing thinking (“it’s not worth it unless I get this exact, specific result”) is a super easy way for our brain to freeze us where we stand, thus sabotaging our efforts to move forward.
  • Setting goals with unreasonable time frames, requirements, or that require all “outside influence” (i.e. where you have very little to no control). It’s OK to be optimistic and go outside your comfort zone. In fact, I encourage it. But have some smaller in between goals to build on too. If my only plan for paying off debt is winning the Powerball, I’m probably setting myself up for disappointment (aka sabotaging my efforts).
  • Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We’ve heard this before in slightly different context, right? Now, this doesn’t mean giving up after the first failure or rejection. Persistence is key in reaching goals.  But every disappointment, or at least most, provide a learning opportunity. If you learn/ change/tweak nothing, you’ll probably get the same result. Think Charlie Brown kicking the football here.
  • Not being true to ourselves. Have you ever tried to dedicate yourself to job or project or program that goes against everything that is you? I’m not just talking about “my job isn’t my dream career”, but something that really, authentically doesn’t feel like you. It might work for a while, but eventually, you burn out. Furthermore, resentment and bitterness often set in. It’s incredibly difficult to feel successful and fulfilled when you’re bored, burnt out, resentful, and bitter. Knowingly setting ourselves on this course, therefore, sabotages our efforts.

There are more, certainly. These are the ones that I see most commonly. I personally have done all of these at times in my life, and some are still tough habits to kick. Over the next week, I’ll be digging deeper into each of the above, offering ways to recognize them, and tools and tricks for dealing with them.

 

How Do You Work With Fear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Question number two:

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

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

Two clarifications here:

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

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

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

 

Question number three:

Are past failures or rejections actually what you think they are_

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

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

 

Question number four:

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

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

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

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

 
And finally, a tip/thought:

Practice doesn't make perfect, but it helps.

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

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

 

What Are You Really Afraid Of?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

It's perfectly OK to be afraid.

 

 

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!

 

When You’re Tempted To…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

pool noodle