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

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

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

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

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

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Depression, Anxiety, and Trusting Yourself

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

 

trust yourself

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

And remember….
You Are Amazing

Self-Care Isn’t Silly, But I Am

Did you know that we’re swiftly approaching National Self-Care month? That’s right – it’s September (which is also Suicide Prevention Month, more on that in another post). Self-care is incredibly important when you have a chronic illness or mental health condition, and I love that there’s a month to specifically hone in on it.

 

National Self-Care Month

 

To honor this, I’m going to be doing a #30DaysofSelfCare campaign throughout the month of September. Each day, I’ll be IGing, tweeting, posting, otherwise sharing a different form of self-care. My goals of this campaign are three-fold:

1.  Illustrate the importance of self-care, and that it’s perfectly OK, even vital at times, to take a little time self-care every day.

2.  Offer ideas, and get suggestions, for ways that you can self care – both conventional and less so. I am hoping that my “less traditional” methods may help to show that self-care doesn’t have to be daunting – you don’t need to meditate for an hour or run 5 miles. It can be quick, simple, and even goofy/fun (more on that in a minute).

3. Kick my own butt (figuratively) into gear, and make sure I hold myself accountable for my own self care. I know this is something that I need to focus on more, and this is a perfect opportunity.

So what do I mean by self-care can be silly or goofy? First off, I let me state that I don’t mean the idea of self-care. I mean the actual actions. Sometimes, especially if we’ve been feeling particularly depressed or anxious, a good laugh, getting in touch with our inner child can greatly help. Often, it helps to take a break from focusing on “real life” concerns for a minute – like work/career, school, household chores/tasks, finances, etc – and bring ourselves back to a time when we didn’t have to worry about those issues as much. Or maybe it helps us to take a break from all the bings and beeps and stimulation of our electronics, and get outside, or in nature, or spend time “playing” (I mean this in a PC way, for the record – like actually playing games or building pillow forts or whatever silly, fun thing you want to do). Perhaps it’s putting our most ridiculously comfy, oversized PJs and snuggling up, when we don’t have the energy to do anything else.

I find that, for as much as I worry about… everything… I’m really a kid at heart. I love returning to my inner child, and to just letting go and being innately me. Depression and anxiety make me often feel so old , so to speak – it can be tough to have fun when you’re constantly anxious and fearful, or when your brain is continually telling you how awful you are. So I intend to take full advantage of self care month, and of my #30daysofselfcare campaign, to encourage my natural (when depression and anxiety aren’t forefront) youthful curiosity and free-spiritedness.

 

30daysofselfcare

 

What about you? What fun, silly things do you do for self-care? I’m always looking for more ideas, so I’d love to hear yours (warning: I might use these ideas in my campaign, and I’m happy to give you credit if I can tag you!) And of course, you’re all invited to take part in the #30DaysofSelfCare challenge! I’ll be posting updates on this blog, but to follow along or join in the challenge, follow Spread Hope Project on Instagram.

 

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.

 

Tiny Hopes Every Day

I’ve not blogged in awhile. I’ve been going through a particularly rough patch, and quite frankly, been struggling with my own hope. It happens to all of us, it seems. So I’ve been focusing on trying to get myself healthy and hopeful, because if I’m not, I’m unable to truly help others.

Sometimes, in the bleakest moments, hope seems dim indeed. In these moments, I’m forced to look for hopes in the tiniest things. The way my dog greets me when I arrive home. Every day. Like it’s the best moment she’s ever experienced.  She has infallible hope, and I think, “Man, I wish I could be like her. She’s literally always convinced something great is about to happen.  I can’t unfortunately. I say can’t, because I really mean I can’t. I battle depression, and when it flares badly, I physically, mentally cannot think life is roses, no matter how badly I want to.

So lately, I’ve had to get back to basics. I’ve had to focus on those tiny moments in life that bring some brightness – the smell of rain, a colorful sunrise, a much needed hug, an unexpected moment of laughter, spending time in the fresh air. These brief moments of brightness tell me that I can, after all, be hopeful. It might not be earth shattering hope, but there is a brightness. The world, and I, am not full of darkness.

So I resolve to live these moments more completely. To enjoy the fresh air more. To see more sunrises (morning insomnia makes this pretty easy). To hug more, when my physical closeness meters allow it. To spend more time, in person or virtually, with people who make me laugh. To focus more on living, and less on the “have to”s. And somewhere in there, I aim to offer hope, to myself and to others. Because sometimes, it’s in offering to others that we find the greatest hope in ourselves.

 

gracie-e1509537822349.jpg

My dog Grace finding complete delight in a paper towel roll.

How to Stay Hopeful and Realistic

Lately, I tend to have two moods: “I’m going to bring about world peace!” and “I can’t get out of bed.”  This isn’t overly surprising, given that I have a mood cycling disorder, which flips me from hypomania to depression sometimes numerous times a day (thank you, rapid cycling). This can make hope tricky at times. When I’m in a depressive cycle, it’s hard to find any hope at all. When I’m hypomanic, my brain runs a mile a minute, full of plans and ideas, and I whole-heartedly feel every one of them is possible. To be clear, they aren’t “unrealistic” per se – I’m not actually trying to bring about world peace single-handedly. They’re career goals, life goals. They’re dreams. They’re possible, but not easy (because what is?), not nearly as close as they feel in those moments. Still, I plan and plan and plan.

The problem comes in the execution of these plans. I start out all gung ho, all excited. I have my brainstorming pages and my sticky notes of ideas and my notebook full of thoughts about this new opportunity. And then, at the tiniest falter, I crash. One thing doesn’t go exactly as I planned in my “take on the world” state, and it brings me back to a harsh reality, at times even cycling me back into depression.

So how do we stay hopeful, but also keep ourselves a bit realistic, to try to avoid this crash? Now, a note: I’m not saying not to be optimistic. Optimism is great. But how can we be optimistic without setting ourselves up for massive disappointment? I don’t have all of the answers, but here are a few things I learned.

  1. Don’t discourage the initial rush of ideas, dreams, “I can do this!” feelings. Write your notes, brainstorm, whatever you need to do.
  2. Then leave it, at least for the night. Sleep on it, and look at it again in the morning. See how it looks. Adjust as needed. Continue to do this periodically throughout the process. If anything gives you pause, sleep on it before changing it.
  3. Pick out the pieces that seem the most do-able to start with. For instance, when I was starting Spread Hope Project, the first thing I did was start a specific Instagram account just for the project (shameless plug!). That was doable. I know Instagram, I already have other accounts (let’s ignore the fact that one of those is for my dog), and all I needed was my cell phone. It didn’t mean I had to get a ton of followers right away, I just had to start it. That was a completely doable first step, and it helped me keep my momentum going.
  4. Flesh out some details – which actions can you take now, which can you do soon, which require other pieces (i.e. funding, the success of the first steps, help from others, etc) in order to happen. Organize them, including making note of any help you’ll need in order to make certain pieces work.
  5. Know that everything won’t go exactly as you hoped. Have a backup plan, or several. Creating these helps you to be realistic about glitches that will inevitably occur, and also helps to keep you from feeling defeated if you need to change course a bit.
  6. When in doubt, be optimistic, but don’t bet the farm. Focus on the little successes that move you forward, instead of only seeing the end goal. It helps keep you working on the day to day tasks that will get you there, and setbacks will be less crushing.

World Bipolar Day

Today, March 30, 2017, is World Bipolar Day. For those who battle bipolar disorder, this is, of course, every day. But for those who do not, it’s a great day to be reminded of the importance of education and support.  Mental health, to the general public, often flies under the radar – at least until the media decides to target it.  But in everyday life, it tends not to be addressed frequently. It’s not openly visible, so it’s easy for those not close to it to ignore.  And due to stigma, mental health tends to be a topic shied away from by many.  It takes a lot of courage to stand up and be open about your mental health, and there’s still much concern about repercussion.  So we need days like World Bipolar Day to bring legitimate (not media sensationalized) attention to mental health, both as a whole, and as individual conditions.

I do not personally battle Bipolar Disorder, and so it would be unfair of me to discuss the intrinsic details of this condition specifically. But as someone who battles mental health and mood cycling disorders, I can speak to those topics. And as someone who has to contend with these conditions every day, I’d like to try to keep this message positive, and to offer some suggestions. Suggestions of what you can do to help offer support, and to learn more about mental health.

  • Reach out. This is, to me, the absolute most important step. Whether a friend or loved one, or someone you just know is struggling, let them know (or remind them) that you are there for them. Often times, I find support comes from the most unexpected places, and I’m always incredibly grateful.
  • When you reach out, give it time. Mental health is intensely personal, and it’s possible we’ve been “burned” in the past by opening up to someone who stigmatized or judged us, or downright used what we told them in confidence against us.  So don’t give up after the first reach out. You may just get a thank you or an “I’m OK” the first time (even if we aren’t). But keep trying, without being pushy.  If and when we are ready to talk, and we know that you earnestly want to listen and help, we will probably come around.
  • Educate yourself.  Make sure that you are learning from respected, legitimate sources that aren’t biased against mental health. If you’re unsure, ask questions.  Do what you need to in order to make sure that you’re getting accurate and up to date information.
  • If you hear someone stigmatizing mental health, gently and nicely say something. You don’t need to preach, but there are ways to nicely say “Actually I have a friend that battles xyz and that’s not quite the case” or “That might be true sometimes, but we shouldn’t generalize”, or something of this nature. Try to educate instead of chastise, because education is key – people can’t know what they don’t know.
  • Volunteer with/participate in organizations that support mental health and/or specific conditions. Whether you find a local chapter and offer ways to help, or participate in a benefit walk/run/event, this is a great way to not only support, but to meet others who also support the cause. Of course, we encourage you to participate in the Spread Hope Project’s efforts, and are happy to answer any questions about how you can do so!
  • Be careful with language. Language may sound unobtrusive, but it can both hurt people directly and perpetuate stigma.  A general rule that I offer people is this: “If you replace mental health/the name of the condition with that of a ‘physical’ condition (say heart disease, diabetes, asthma) and what you’re saying sounds inappropriate or insensitive, then the same is true when it’s said about mental health.”  If you’re unsure of the best way to word something, ask – we’d love to help you!

To all of those people that battle Bipolar Disorder, we’d like to share with you this:  You are courageous and strong, even when you do not feel so. Please, continue to fight each day, even when it seems impossible, because your life matters so much. Despite how you may often feel, you are not alone – there are so many others out there that understand and support you, and we are just a message or an email or a text or a call away.