… Yeah, But What I’m Feeling Really Sucks!

Welcome to the fourth and final part of this series! If you’re new, I’ve been giving a quick overview Emotion Regulation, which is one of the four “pillars” of DBT treatment. If you haven’t yet, or if you need a refresher (it’s been a minute since I last posted on Emotion Regulation, I know, more on that later), I strongly suggest you read part one: Emotion Regulation – What is That?!, part two: What Am I Feeling? (And Why It Matters?), and part three: OK, I Know What I’m Feeling… Now What? before continuing here. If you’re all up to date, then read on, Macduff*!

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Ahhhh… the return of the Rat’s Nest! It just wouldn’t seem right to finish this series up without it. Besides, untangling the Rat’s Nest happens to be the best way to tie up this topic! (See what I did there?) The final portion of Emotion Regulation is “Decreasing Emotional Intensity”. There are some specific tools and tricks to greatly reduce the negative feelings we don’t want and, in some cases, even get rid of them completely. As with everything else in DBT (and any therapy or healing work) there is no instant gratification, there is no “EASY button” (Am I dating myself? Yes, dear reader, if you are younger than twenty-five, you likely would consider me “old.” There. I said it so you don’t have to!) While there is no “quick fix”, there are some things we can each practice which, over time, will allow us to feel much more in control of our emotions. We can take the driver’s seat again and move from Emotion Mind to Wise Mind.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to run very briefly through the things we’ve already covered. I promise to be quick. We’ll just rip off the redundancy Band-Aid rather than pull out the sutures of “shit you’ve already read” one by one.

Remember how this series started? With the simple idea that emotions are neither good nor bad, they are simply information. The only time any emotion can get us into trouble is when we avoid it or deny it so long that we believe it is “unmanageable” and that we have no power over it. This is the case for most of us, at least at first. If you learned that anger is “bad”, you’re likely walking around with a lot of inhibited anger that is messing with your relationship to others as well as yourself. Eventually, that anger is going to boil over and you are either going to explode at someone else or take it out on yourself. If you’ve struggled with suicidality before, you may start to get nervous when you feel even a little sad or isolated; if you’ve experienced panic attacks from social anxiety, you probably tense up the minute you start to feel the slightest bit uncomfortable in a crowd. You tell yourself “I CAN’T FEEL THIS. THIS IS DANGEROUS.” over and over until you’re trying to avoid anything even remotely associated with that emotion at all costs. And every time that cycle repeats, those pesky, maladaptive shortcuts in your brain that tell you you must avoid those feelings are reinforced. We then find ourselves in a predictable and entirely unhelpful self-fulfilling prophecy. We believe that something is too much to handle, and thus it becomes too much to handle. We start to view our emotions as some massive, unstoppable force outside of us, when, really, no emotion is outside of our control. We just need to learn the tools to manage it.

This is the part of the post where I digress quickly to give the same disclaimer I’ve given in every post in this series: DBT is not about minimizing your struggles and it is not a suggestion that you can just wave your Positive Thoughts Wand through the air and let it shower you with the mystical power of the Sparkles of Optimism and be magically free of all of your struggles. This is work. It’s taking the time to learn the tools and practice using them until it’s easier for your brain to fire neurons that say “This sucks! Here’s a healthy coping skill!” than it is to fire the neurons that say, “Hey you. Yeah, you. This sucks. You know it sucks. There’s nothing you can do. Let’s make it suck more!” (Because, really, that’s what our negative coping skills do in the long run – they make our lives, both internal and external, worse.)

OK, so we’re using tools, not shooting Care-Bear Rainbows of happiness out of our… abdomens. Great! What kind of tools, you ask? Fantastic question! That brings me nicely to telling you what Tool Number One is! (See, I’m responsive!) Step one to Emotion Reg. is identifying emotions. Really taking the time to name, specifically, what we’re feeling. You may say, “I’m angry.” But “angry” is a really broad emotion – are you livid or are you irritated? Are you seething or are you peeved? See the difference there? It’s important to recognize, as much as we can, our specific emotion. Especially when it comes to healthy coping.

Think about it – if you are someone who has come to believe, through experience, that “anger is bad”, you’re going to have a visceral reaction to anything that feels even remotely like anger. But naming it, saying, “I’m irritated right now.” can make it feel much less threatening. Remember, “If you can name it, you can tame it.” You’ve got to separate the individual wires from the tangled Mess of Uselessness before you can figure out what’s what; which ones to keep and which ones to toss. Looking at the box, that original heaping mess of wires, controllers, headphones, yarn, speakers, screws, power chords, and component cables, was incredibly overwhelming at first.

When I started this series, I knew that the Rat’s Nest would be a really useful metaphor, but man did I put off this post! In part, because this post required the sorting and organization of all of the chaos that was in that little cardboard box. I don’t think I need to draw too bold a circle around how perfectly that avoidance also fits with this topic. But finally, despite not wanting to, I sat down and I did it. (For you, Reader – I did it for YOU!)

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As I sat on my living room floor slowly tracing wires through loops and freeing them one by one, I did so while watching what is probably my absolute favorite series of all time – The X Files. I can quote just about every  episode at this point, but I never get tired of watching it. Why do I mention this here? Because it was a healthy little dose of self-care. Which is essential in Emotion Regulation.

It’s hard work, and it can feel completely overwhelming, especially at first. If you are one of the 99.9999999999% of us who grew up being told, somewhere in your life, to stuff one emotion or another, actually digging into your feelings, being curious, sitting with them, and working through them is very difficult. Take care of yourselves! Do something you enjoy! Take breaks! Just don’t avoid the work all together, because, as I said, that’s where we all tend to get into trouble.

Over time, and with practice, identifying and acknowledging emotions gets easier. Then you can move into some of the skills for decreasing vulnerability to negative emotions and increasing positive emotions. That’s where we dump the whole box of wires out and look at it. We see how complex and tangled it is, but we can start making it neat and manageable, one wire at a time. In part three of this series, we checked out some specific skills to decrease that negative vulnerability and ways to increase positive experience. If you’re living with depression, or any mental health diagnosis, or you’re just here to learn how to better manage the emotional suckiness of any kind, it’s so important to remember that this is a process, not an event. You can’t snap your fingers and have the wires miraculously untangled. It’s not going to happen. If you go into the process thinking that it will, you’re going to get frustrated and give up before you even start.

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TA-DA! Separated and manageable! 

That photo is a portion of the Rat’s Nest, no longer tangled, with each item easily identifiable. For those wondering, this amazing feat took two and a half episodes of The X- Files to complete. I didn’t sit down expecting to be done before Scully introduced herself to “the FBI’s most unwanted.” I probably would have thrown the box and my computer had I expected that of myself. And then I would have spent hours telling myself how stupid and worthless I was for not accomplishing the impossible – because depression and anxiety are just neat like that. All that to say – have reasonable expectations of yourself and be gentle. I’ll say it one more time, because it really is that important: this is work. This is hard fucking work. But it’s worth it.

OK, we’re now in that dreamed of world. The wires are separated and organized! I’ve thrown the cardboard box into the recycling bin so that I may never lay eyes on it again! I know exactly what I have, and I know exactly what I don’t need!

Now that’s done, what next? What do I do with all the crap that I know I’ll never use again? What do I do with the broken chords? Say we’ve finally pulled apart and named our emotions, and the broken ones are the one’s that we really don’t want anymore – the ones that really suck? Because, let’s be honest, while anger and sadness and loneliness are, like all emotions, simply giving us information, they are uncomfortable to feel long-term. In life, we’re going to feel them from time to time. That’s a given. But a lot of us have felt them for so long with no tools to properly interact with them that they’ve become this constant thing. Those shortcuts in our brains are well-worn and comfortable. Emotion Reg. is about learning to pull a Robert Frost and cut through the underbrush to make a new, better path. Eventually, that path will be just as used as the old one, but at first, it takes commitment and dedication to our recovery process to blaze that trail. We’ve been stuck in a feedback loop of all that junk for way too long and the mass of negativity and pain needs to go!

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Remember in part two, when I was first talking about the Rat’s Nest and I said that for some godforsaken reason there was an actual spool of yarn tangled and mixed with all the wires? I wasn’t exaggerating. The only way to get it separate was to cut it.

So, what do we do with the emotional yarn? The stuff that’s just tangled up and preventing us from the untangling process? We flex those healthy coping muscles and we forge the tools we need to cut through it. As with anything in DBT, the number one approach is mindfulness. What does that look like? DBT is big on steps, so here is the step by step guide to mindfully managing negative emotions:

OBSERVE YOUR EMOTION

Note it’s presence: name it and acknowledge it.

Step Back. You know what it is, but you also know that it is within you, you are not within it.

Get unstuck from the emotion. Untangle it from the other wires. Hold it out and away.

EXPERIENCE YOUR EMOTION

This is where we have to sit with it for a bit. This is the uncomfortable part, but it’s worth it, I promise.

Think of it as a wave, it’s come, it’s washing over you, it will recede.

Try not to block or suppress the emotion. It’s not going to hurt you, even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s not a danger to you.

Don’t try to get rid of the emotion or push it away. Feel it.

BUT…

Don’t try to keep the emotion around, either.

Don’t hold onto it.

Don’t amplify it.

Do you ever find yourself “spinning”? You start to feel depressed and then you put on depressing music and focus on your depressing thoughts and just let them build? I know I have fallen into this trap more times than I can count. There is a difference between feeling and acknowledging a difficult emotion and torturing yourself with it. Don’t torture yourself.

REMEMBER: YOU ARE NOT YOUR EMOTION

You do not necessarily need to ACT on your emotion.

Remind yourself of times you have felt DIFFERENT.

When we’re in super emotion mind and engulfed in negative feelings, it can seem like we’ve never felt anything different and we never will. This is a lie we subconsciously tell ourselves. Actively remind yourself of a time when you were not angry or upset or lonely. This can help prevent that spinning.

PRACTICE LOVING YOUR EMOTION

Don’t judge your emotion (or yourself for having it).

Practice WILLINGNESS – don’t refuse to engage with your emotion.

Radically accept your emotion – “I’m really hurt that my friend cancelled our dinner plans. I’m disappointed and I feel rejected.” If you feel rejected, you may start to tell yourself some lies like, “My friend hates me.” “No one ever hangs out with me.” “I don’t have any friends because I’m a loser.” Remind yourself that just because you feel a certain way right now does not make it the Truth, and it does not mean that you will always feel that way. Remind yourself of times that your friends have not cancelled on you. Accept that you feel disappointed, and accept that that feeling does not need to consume you and send you spiraling.

Some automatic thoughts associated with emotions simply don’t serve you. They are junk and you don’t need to keep them around. You need to challenge them and then toss them.

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In the Rat’s Nest, I found a bag of screws and washers, specifically for some piece of furniture somewhere that I no longer own. I found phone jacks. I found a strand of USB Christmas Lights (that I used to love) with a cut wire, and I found headphones with only one ear bud.

While not actively screwing up my process of untangling (unlike the yarn), some of the things I found in the Rat’s Nest are simply not necessary for me to keep around. I don’t need to hold on to any of these things. I’m sure that we all have emotional stuff that we just don’t need anymore, even if it used to serve us (like those USB Christmas lights). This is where the really hard work comes in. And this is the section of Emotion Regulation that, if you practice it, will have the biggest impact in your life. You need all the other stuff we’ve talked about first, just like I needed to dig through the mess that was the Rat’s Nest first. But what do you do with the things that you know you don’t need, that you know are not serving, but that you feel attached to?

As backwards as it may seem to someone who hasn’t been living with challenges around managing emotions, our negative emotions can feel like a safety net. They are familiar. It’s easy to sink into them. Sure, now you can name them, you can be mindful of them, you can tolerate them, but how do you actually change negative emotions? 

You use the power tool of DBT. You Act Opposite. This is not easy and will make you incredibly uncomfortable at first. (At least, it did me.) What does “Acting the Opposite” mean? Exactly what it sounds like. Here’s another DBT list for you:

FEAR

Do what you are afraid of doing… OVER AND OVER AND OVER.

APPROACH events, places, tasks, activities, and people you are afraid of.

Do things to give yourself a sense of CONTROL and MASTERY.

When you are overwhelmed, make a list of SMALL STEPS you can do; then DO the first thing on that list.

GUILT OR SHAME (when these feelings are justified)

Repair the transgression: Say you’re sorry; make things better if possible.

Commit to avoiding that mistake in the future.

Accept the consequences.

Let it go.

GUILT OR SHAME (when these feelings are unjustified)

Do what makes you feel guilty or ashamed OVER AND OVER AND OVER.

Approach; don’t avoid.

SADNESS OR DEPRESSION

Get ACTIVE. Approach; don’t avoid.

Do things that make you feel COMPETENT and SELF-CONFIDENT.

ANGER

Gently AVOID the person you are angry with rather than attacking; avoid thinking about them. Don’t ruminate.

Do something NICE rather than mean, passive aggressive, or attacking.

Imagine sympathy and empathy for the person rather than blame.

 

THAT’S THE LIST I WAS GIVEN in Partial Hospitalization as examples of Acting Opposite. These are only examples, and they are only methods to prevent yourself from suffering too greatly with your emotions. Obviously, this is a simplified list. Fear is different than Phobia, for example. Working through a reduction in vulnerability to a Phobia is best done between you and your treatment professionals. For unjustified Guilt or Shame, this is only for activities. For example, you may feel unjustly guilty about taking an hour for yourself to read or watch TV. This is the situation in which you would approach until you no longer feel guilt or shame. This is not meant for trauma survivors (like myself and many of you wonderful readers) who may feel deep shame as a result of their trauma. Again. that is something that needs to be worked out with proper supports in place to prevent any re-traumatization. This is more of a springboard. A place to start.

And nothing needs to be set in stone. My ideas of Acting Opposite when I’m depressed, for example, change depending on circumstance and severity. If I’m moderately depressed and trying to summon the strength and motivation to go to work, I will drag my ass to work. That’s Acting Opposite. One really bad days, it means dragging myself out of bed and into the shower. Maybe forcing myself to wash a couple of dishes. Maybe it’s just making myself get off my bed for five minutes and walking around my apartment before crawling back into bed. You know you. Do what you know you can, then do just a *little* bit more. Overtime, you’ll thank yourself. Because the hold your negative emotions have on you will diminish.

Living with a mental health diagnosis (or diagnoses) means that many of these struggles will be present in our lives, in some form, for a long time. Possibly forever. But wouldn’t it be cool to be able to say “Yeah, I see you, but you’re not running the show!” Even if we could only say that 50% of the time, wouldn’t that be a hell of an improvement? I know it would for me. That’s why I work to apply the skills from this series to my life every single day. Sometimes I fail miserably – sometimes the wire I’m tugging is just too knotted and it’s time to take a break and try a new angle in the morning – but that’s OK, because everything is progress. Everything is a little step toward recovery.

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NOTE: I AM NOT A THERAPIST, PSYCHOLOGIST, PSYCHIATRIST, OR MEDICAL EXPERT, and this series is not intended to be used in place of professional treatment – I’m just sharing some tools and approaches I’ve found useful in my own recovery. If your current providers are not using DBT and you are interested in learning more, I highly suggest bringing it up to them. It’s well worth it. 

AS ALWAYS – I look forward to hearing your thoughts! Leave ’em in the comment section below, find me in the Twittosphere @paradichotomy, or pop in on Facebook! Peace and love, all. Sorry this post was such a long time coming!!

*RE: “Read on, Macduff” I’m aware that the actual quote is “Lay on, Macduff”, I’m playing off of our pop-culture misquotation, not the original Shakespeare. Also, this is not an invitation to kill me in battle. Please don’t do that.

Late (EARLY?) Stream of Consciousness

NOTE TO START: this is a stream of consciousness post written AFTER taking PM meds mostly on the topic of my experiences with mania and supports in my life. Not a standard post at all but definitely straight from the heart. Due to the timing of the writing being after my nighttime meds, I may clean it up a bit tomorrow. Wanted to get you guys an update though. 

Since my last post, my life has been all over the place. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the number one way to fight stigma is to share our stories and show that we all are indeed human, regardless of diagnosis (or diagnoses). I mentioned in my last post that I am finally employed again and, in that post, I was embracing quite the optimistic view of things. Now, I am still embracing optimism and looking to focus on the good, but a part of sharing stories is being transparent, and so this is my transparency post for the month, I suppose.

I am a firm believer that you can’t help other people with their mental health if you are neglecting your own. 

Now, I don’t meant that you need to be completely healthy or recovered to do good, I’m talking more along the lines of that age old saying that if your own glass is empty, you can’t really fill the cup of someone else. Some have suggested that perhaps I jumped into this “blogging thing” too soon. The point of this statement is not lost on me. I started this blog less than a month out of the hospital while still engaging in intensive stabilization treatment. I can see how some would consider that my own recovery may not quite be far enough along to be jumping in to help others. But I disagree.

I disagree because I am not trying to write this blog from the perspective of someone who is “better” or is an expert. I am writing this blog to share my recovery process, in all its messy glory. The successes as well as the setbacks, the victories as well as the defeats. And, I hope, to share some things that have helped me which may help someone else as well.

That said, due to the fact that my recovery is still young and I am still learning to navigate this new life of mine, the “ideal” version of this blog – developing and realizing the vision I have for this blog – has been a pretty painfully slow process. 

And I recognize that that can be frustrating to you, as a reader. I’m still in a rather persistent battle with the army of demons. Some days are better than others, some weeks are better than others, and some months are better than others. See, when I’m feeling pretty stable and good, I tend to get very “big picture” and excited about the things I want to accomplish in this space. And I remain excited about that vision on some level all the time, but if you’ve ever experienced depression or mania or PTSD symptoms on full blast, you know that these things can really get in the way of executing any excitement in a tangible way.

So, here’s the deal: I spent last night pacing my kitchen freaking out for about an hour before I finally reached out to a friend.

My thoughts were streaking through hyperspace and I couldn’t catch a single one of them. And I couldn’t sleep. And I wasn’t hungry. And I was irritable. And, worse of all, I was obsessing over the fact that I didn’t used to be like this. I never experienced manic symptoms this extreme until November, and back then, they didn’t have a name. And, in my little obnoxious, bipolar brain, I had myself pretty convinced that the fact that these symptoms only really picked up after I started the meds to treat the “lesser” bipolar symptoms (the severe depressive episodes and “milder” hypomanic episodes of Bipolar Type II) that maybe the meds were to blame and taking them would make it worse. Now, on one level, I knew that that was irrational – I knew that my brain is now accustomed to these meds and that even if there was some connection, I need to keep taking them until I talk to someone about getting off them. (Spoiler alert – I don’t really need to get off my meds. As sometimes happens with Bipolar that goes untreated for years, my symptoms worsened over time. The trigger of my husband leaving, which kicked my PTSD symptoms into full blast also kicked the Bipolar symptoms up a notch. Common triggers for mood episodes include stress, loss of a relationship, loss of a job, lack of sleep, and drinking or using drugs excessively. Between November and January literally ALL of these things were staples in my life, thus, Bipolar symptoms increased.)

Now, my manic symptoms tend to manifest as mixed. I am wired, but not “having the time of my life.” I live in full blown catastrophic and irrational thoughts. Here’s an accurate representation of my stream of thought last night before I called my friend. I’m going to become full blown manic. I’m not going to sleep for a week. I’m going to go back to the hospital. I’m going to lose my brand new job. I’m going to lose all the progress I’ve made over the past six months. I’m going to lose my friends because my “grace period” is completely worn out at this point. I mean, really, how many times can someone answer the phone and walk me through a freak out before they just don’t have it in them anymore. Before their own cup is empty and they have nothing left to give. Cause that shit happens, you know. And it’s not because they aren’t good friends, it’s because I’m a bad one and I just keep needing all the things and it’s been six freaking months so when is it exactly that I stop being “crazy” and start being “me” again? What the fuck do doctors know anyway? Maybe they did this to me with all this intensive treatment. Maybe I’m actually fine. Maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion. Maybe I’m minimizing. I don’t know. But I know a lot of shit and taking my meds might make this worse but not taking them might make them worse too. I’m completely fine. I’m going to be fine because I’m awesome. I can muscle through anything. I can’t actually do anything. What if I can never actually work a real job again? My god everyone must think I’m a complete nut job and I’m just embarrassing myself with being so open about it, no one actually sees me as “Sheila” anymore. But I’m doing amazing things by helping people. I’m rocking it. I just need to snap out of this because I know I can. I’ve white knuckled way worse. I should call someone. No, I can’t. If I call a crisis line they’re just going to show up and take my ass to a hospital because they all see me as insane anyway so why would they listen to me. Maybe I should call my friend. Its not that late in California. No. Text. I should text her. ETC. 

These are the kinds of thoughts that spin – and spin and spin and spin some more. And I obsess. Now, I’m not proud of this by any means, but that little stream of consciousness was mostly uttered aloud, in my kitchen, to myself, as I paced. Because nothing says “I’m alright” like talking to yourself in a dark kitchen in the middle of the night right? Thankfully, I DID end up reaching out to that friend and the phone call resulted in me taking my regular meds as well as my PRN sleep pills I’m meant to take when manic stuff is popping up. That combination of medicine got me a grand total of 3 hours of sleep last night. Which is another red flag. And I’ve taken it this evening as well – about two and a half hours ago. Now, this stuff usually KNOCKS ME OUT. I mean, I take it and if I’m not in bed within thirty minutes someone is going to have to help me get there. This has not been the case this evening or last evening. I am decidedly in the hypomanic range at the moment, and I’m very convinced that the only reason I’m hypo- instead of hyper-manic is my meds. And I’m honestly even concerned about writing this, or, rather, about having some of you read this, because I’m annoying myself. And I apologize if I’m annoying you, too. The thing is, recovery isn’t linear and there’s no magic button.

I’m not trying to make this post all about me complaining about where I’m at or anything like that. I’m taking all appropriate steps to minimize the impact of this current situation.

Today was a fantastic day. Truly. A very god friend of mine became a citizen of the United States and I was honored to attend the ceremony. This friend is a former coworker of mine from the group home, and so I got to see a lot of my former coworkers and even my old bosses. I was so happy to see everyone, but my anxiety and that stupid voice in my head that like to replay every single screw up I’ve ever made was putting me on constant blast. My PRN sleep med has a half life of thirty hours and I have mood stabilizers and anxiety meds I take throughout the day. The combination of these things had me pretty mellow today, if a little overwhelmed. And I felt a deep sense of loss being around my coworkers and boss and realizing that I’m now on the “outside” of that equation. It’s a very strange position when you’ve essentially spent five years spending more time with those people at work than with your own family. I’m not sure how to explain it. I did not act on this urge, but there were more than a few times that I wanted nothing more than to profusely apologize to my former colleagues and supervisors. Apologize for not being able to handle this on my own. Apologize for needing help. Apologize for not being able to work with them anymore. Apologize for the abruptness of my departure. Apologize for all of it.

The vast majority of that is internal stigma and anxiety lies, but there is something to be said for changing roles and the difficulties that poses on one’s sense of self. I was someone who viewed my work as a core component of my identity. If you asked me to briefly describe myself before having to leave work, the two answers I would consider most important would be: mother and residential instructor in a group home for dual-diagnosed young men working toward independence. (ok, that’s a mouthful, maybe not “brief” in the strictest sense of the word, but that would be my answer.) Is it healthy to have so much of your sense of self tied to your job? Probably not. I admit that. But nevertheless, it was. And it is a real loss to not do that work anymore. And, believe it or not, when you work so closely with the same people in a sometimes high-stress environment, there is a lot of guilt for leaving – at least there was for me.

So, while seeing all of these people who I truly love, and bearing witness to my friend’s naturalization ceremony was an incredible experience I will never forget, the combination of all those unresolved feelings around leaving work for mental health reasons and the simple amount of people at the courthouse, in the elevator, and at the reception afterward was incredibly overwhelming. I took some extra PRN anxiety meds, caught a short nap on the ride home, but came home wired, irritated, and anxious. I’ve heard from more than one person that nightfall can increase mood symptoms, and that has certainly been the case with me. So, once I got my daughter to bed, I again felt incredibly irritable with those same racing thoughts and obsession over whether or not I was overreacting or underreacting, increased rate of speech, and a general “intensity” that only seems to come with mania. Despite this, I DID take my meds – both normal and PRN – and I did attempt to sleep (no luck so far) and I did both without needing to use my phone a friend life line (did I date myself there?)

I’ve just been thinking a lot about what a contrast I’m feeling now compared to my last post. I said I wanted other people to take the kid gloves off, but I literally spent two hours on the phone with my friend trying to get level headed enough to take my meds and try to rest. My head is so all over the place, I don’t know if I need complete isolation from everyone trying to help me or frequent phone call check ins and reminders. And regardless of what I think I “need” now, it honestly seems for fluctuate – sometimes day by day. So, I can see how overwhelming that is for others – it’s definitely overwhelming for me. And, as is the theme of my life since December, I again find myself needing the reminder not to make sweeping generalizations of myself being “better” or “worse”. It’s an ebb and flow. One of these day, that will actually click.

So, again, I don’t want to be an obnoxious human and bother anyone, but I really want to share this with you guys and also to give myself some space to reflect. Maybe I can even take this in and show it to my therapist to give her the true inside scoop.

NOTE: MANIA IS NOT FUNNY OR QUIRKY, IT IS A SERIOUS MEDICAL CONDITION WHICH REQUIRES TREATMENT BY A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. DO NOT STOP OR START MEDICATIONS WITHOUT SPEAKING TO A DOCTOR FIRST AND RECEIVING AN RX. In addition to medication and friend support, I have a phone call in to my psychiatrist and therapist’s office to see if there are more things I can do to help manage my symptoms at the moment. I am a member of a peer support group as well. I don’t want you thinking that I’m flying solo and barreling toward the deep end. I’m managing and it will get progressively better as long as I stick to my treatment plan.

On Expectations

I hope you’ll indulge me in a bit of a personal update post. Emotion Regulation Part 4 is coming, I promise! It’s taking a bit longer to polish than its predecessors, but it’s almost complete. According to the schedule that I keep trying to implement, but almost never follow (please remember, I’m still quite new to this “blogging” thing and there’s a lot of stuff I’m still figuring out), Wednesday is meant to be some form of a personal post – usually one of my Scrawling Toward Sanity posts, or a tidbit from my personal life that has broader applications and relatability, such as When Someone You Love Dies by Suicide.

Tonight, though, I’d like to throw it back to the style of my older posts – like my very first post or On Shoveling, Fathers, and Forgiveness. Straight up reflection on something that’s been on my mind a lot lately in my own, personal life that I’d like to share with you. Maybe you’ll relate, maybe you won’t, but I really feel the need to give this line of thought some air time.

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Prior to January of this year, I was employed at a fantastic (if stressful) job: one with great pay, amazing benefits, and the absolute best co-workers a person could ever hope to have. It was meaningful work, too: supporting young men as they learned to regulate their emotions and grow life skills as they worked toward independence. I loved my job. Truly. I looked forward to every shift and left every single night immensely grateful to be where I was. On nights that featured violent escalations, I was grateful for my teammates and the support and skill we all shared in keeping the situation safe for ourselves as well as our clients. On nights that included long, thoughtful, impactful conversations with those clients, I left grateful for the opportunity to walk along side those young men in their journeys; I was grateful and humbled to have the chance to make some lasting impact in their lives, however small it may be. On nights that were not particularly eventful at all, I was grateful to work in a “home like” environment: to have a job that sometimes consisted of geeking out to a Star Wars movie or the staff and clients enjoying each others’ company over a friendly, for chips, game of poker. Regardless of the events of each shift, I was always thankful to work in such an amazing place. And I miss it every single day.

As you know if you’ve been following my blog, my life changed pretty drastically in January. A seven day stay at an inpatient psych unit, another month and some change of Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient, difficulties navigating the mental health system as a patient, and a general lack of direction have more or less consumed the past six months of my life. Finally, though, I am on all of the correct medications, I am in regular therapy, and, as of today, I am once again a member of the work force! The part time, minimum wage work force, maybe, but a member of the workforce nonetheless!

But here’s the thing: going through something like this, living in this state of limbo of med adjustments and intensive therapy; meeting with professionals of all different specialties and areas of treatment; telling my story over and over and over and over again: these things can really start to wear a person down. And the truth of the matter is this: once you’ve gotten “into the system” as “mentally ill”, people’s expectations of you change. In a really big way.

Treatment professionals, I’ve found, tend to have generally low expectations of someone “like me” – you know, bipolar, PTSD, hospital stay. These things, these labels, these events, sometimes seem to carry more weight than anything I do or say. Never mind the fact that prior to this very difficult chapter of my life, I was employed – full time. Often working much more than full time, honestly. I was a student at the University of Vermont, trying to finish my senior year and earn my Bachelor’s in Social Work (and I made straight A’s first semester despite being mid-breakdown). I was an active participant in my own life. I had a pretty vibrant social life, actually. I had a lot of things going for me. But all of that sort of fell through the cracks of crisis stabilization, psychiatrists, primary care visits, and counselors.

I get it. When one is in an acute mental health crisis, it’s not the time to push getting back to full time work and school and all of the responsibilities of life, at least not all at once. I understand that. But, looking back, I realize that somewhere in the crisis stabilization process, the expectations placed on me became less and less.

When I was in the hospital, the doctors said I would just need a few weeks to complete the PHP program and then I’d be back to my regularly scheduled life. At the PHP program, they suggested I hook up with Voc Rehab to get some support around finding a different, less stressful full time job. I was discharged from the IOP with a note saying that I could “maybe work” in a “part time, low stress environment.” When I started up with my new therapist, there was only talk of further therapy. She suggested I join the DBT group the agency runs. I LOVE DBT. If you’ve followed this blog, you know that. And I say this with absolutely no disrespect to the members of this particular DBT group or to the facilitators, but the fact of the matter is no one in that group was a “peer” to me. The pace of the group was far too slow. The facilitator would spend thirty minutes explaining a concept I understood after five. I don’t want to sound like a judgmental, arrogant jerk here, but sometimes groups are just not a good fit, you know? There was nothing wrong with any member of that group. Their lives are theirs; my life is mine. But it was very clear to me that this group would not challenge me at all, and that I would struggle even staying engaged in it. I would not be getting much from the sessions. But my therapist (who I really do like) thought it would be a good fit, and honestly, that stung a bit.

But why wouldn’t she? By the time I made it to her office, professional expectations of me were so low that no one even mentioned a job. Those of you who know me personally know that such a low bar would almost be laughable, were it not for the fact that something started to happen over these months of the medical professionals’ gradually lowered expectations of me: they became my own. The consistent explicit or implicit suggestions that I was incapable of achieving anything remotely close to the life I used to have burrowed into my subconscious and set up shop. And I sat in resigned acceptance. I thought “Maybe this is all life has for me from here on out. Maybe I am incapable.”

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And it wasn’t until I realized this, until I recognized what was happening in my own psyche, that I knew I had to put my foot down a bit and refuse to allow others’ perceptions of me to run my life. I’m taking my recovery process very seriously, and I fully intend to continue with the treatments my providers believe will be helpful, but I refuse to do it blindly anymore. I refuse to sit back and have my capabilities dictated to me. I realized that this is just an attitude that I need to adopt for my own well-being. A little self-advocacy can go a long way toward boosting self confidence, I think.

And so, I told my therapist that the DBT group was not a good fit for me. She was a little disappointed, but I think she understood. And I applied for a job. Not through Voc Rehab, not through my therapist, not through the state offices, but by myself. Because I needed to do that. I think I needed to prove to myself that I could. So, I did some good old fashion pavement pounding and filled out applications and handed them in. TJ Maxx is the only place that called me for an interview (I assume because the jump from residential instructor to unemployed for six months to looking at retail jobs is probably a little off-putting to some potential employers).

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When I was offered the job, I was understandably excited (because a part time job beats no job, and having something to get me out of the house on a regular basis is exciting, and the idea of being able to be a productive member of a team is motivating in and of itself.)

But again, those pesky expectations reared their somewhat ugly heads when I told loved ones and my therapist about it. More than one person responded with “Oh that’s awesome! You know, it’s really great that you have something to fill your days.” Other people said, “Oh, do you think you’re ready for that?” Some said, “That’s great! You know, some people make full careers out of retail.” My therapist asked, “So, what, you’ll working 4 hours a week?” Now, again, I appreciate the congratulations and I am excited about this job. Retail has always been fun to me, and I’m pretty excited about the discount, too! I enjoy helping customers and making upsales and all of that jazz – I have since I was a junior in college working at F.Y.E.

But do I see myself working part time retail for the rest of my life? HELL. NO. Could I consider making it a career if I got a managerial position? Maybe… but honestly, probably not. I enjoy retail, but I’m hard wired for a career that involves helping people beyond making sure they have a shirt in the right size and are signed up for a credit card to get savings. I’m still not sure what that looks like for me now. Will I ever work residential again? I don’t know, but I know I won’t be doing it in the foreseeable future. Right now, my job is about one thing above all else, and that’s money.

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The fact is, one cannot live in this society without cash flow. I’ve got bills. I have a lot of bills, actually, with all the doctors I’ve needed to see over the past six months. And I need to start making a dent in the stack of collections notices. I don’t meant to knock retail by any means. As I said, I enjoy retail. And I have a lot of friends who have careers in retail. But they don’t just enjoy it, they are passionate about it. And that’s the key, right? It’s building your career around your passion.

But passion can get snuffed out pretty quickly in the land of low expectations. If enough people don’t believe you’re capable of something, and they tell you so, you can start to doubt yourself pretty damn quickly, regardless of everything you thought you knew to be true.

So, that’s where I’m at. I’m setting my own expectations for myself. And I’ll be sharing them with anyone who will listen for as long as it takes until they hold those expectations of me as well. And you know what? If it turns out they are right and I am wrong, and for some reason, a sales associate job is too stressful for me at this specific time in my life, then I’ll find a job with a little less commotion and a little less social interaction. But I reserve the right to determine that for myself. And frankly, I need a couple of people in my life to take off the kids’ gloves. I need my treatment team to know that I am not satisfied being the “unemployed crazy person”, and that I am not going to be satisfied working a part time sales associate job for the long run, either. Or even a full time sales associate job. I need my treatment team to recognize that these are stepping stones right now. I need acknowledgement that, yes, I am still hiking that mountain, but there’s no way in hell I’m pitching a tent and living here.

This post is, of course, very specific to me. There are many people who are incapable of work due to their struggles. And it’s feasible that I will be in that situation again at some point in my life. I certainly was not capable of working in January or February of this year. This is in no way a “pull yourself up by your boot straps and stop making excuses” post. I hope it’s not interpreted that way. This is not meant to minimize the experiences of anyone living with a mental health diagnosis or diagnoses.

I just know that, for me, the lack of faith in me by others lead to a lack of faith in myself, which then lead to further depression. That, coupled with med adjustments, lead to me kind of dropping off the face of the earth for a few weeks there. But I’m back. And, honestly, I’m more motivated than I’ve been in the entirety of the last 6 months to continue to recover, to learn to live within and adapt to my limitations (because I do have limitations), and most importantly, to grant myself permission to have the dignity of risk and find those limits for myself, through experience, and not from some checklist on a therapist’s clip board.

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And that motivation is not limited to my employment status, either. It is for this blog; for the fight against stigma and against false assumptions and expectations around someone’s abilities; for the fight for support, understanding, and access to resources to those in our community who cannot work; for the dignity of risk for everyone who wants to give it a shot; and for a more comprehensive understanding of the ways that the same diagnosis can look very different for different people. I’m motivated to continue to educate and advocate, and to share my struggles and triumphs with anyone who’ll listen. Because that’s the single most effective method to attack stigma and misinformation.

Thanks for reading.

AS ALWAYS, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever been in a situation where others’ expectations of you dictated your own? When you were first diagnosed and receiving treatment did you feel helpless? Do you agree that finding and setting our own limitations is a good idea, or do you think it might be too risky? Whatever your thoughts, I’d love to engage in a deeper conversation in this topic! Leave your two cents in the comment section below, Tweet me @paradichotomy, or hit me up on the blog’s Facebook page

ALSO, in case you missed it, I had the opportunity to be on a podcast last week – check it out here! I’ll catch you all later!

 

Friday Finds Number Four!

Friday is a sacred day for many people and for many different reasons: end of the work week, 90s Night at your local club, date night with your love, quiet night at home with a book, the beginning of a weekend with your kiddos – Whatever the reason, most people seem to put “Friday” on a pedestal. And this blog is no different! On Fridays in THIS corner of the internet, I like to share the love and show you all some posts by other bloggers that I found interesting, informative, and awesome. There’s not typically a theme, but for whatever reason (time of year, my own general disposition this week, or some strange universal force guiding my mouse) most of the selections for this week are personal narratives of the struggles many people with mental health diagnoses face. I hope you enjoy the selections here and consider checking out the authors’ other posts as well!

First up on the list is this raw and honest description of depression by Amy Mcdowell Marlow, who runs the blog Blue Light Blue. This particular piece is an honest reflection of a time when Amy was struggling with deep depression, and I think it’s a brutally honest portrayal of what that can mean.

Next up is this post on what psychosis is like for one woman. Written by Meghan Shultz, who lives with Bipolar I, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder, this is a raw and honest picture of what psychosis looks like in her life. You can find more about Meghan on her site Always Unstable and you can check out her Always Unstable: Bipolar and Hospitalization: A Memoir on Amazon.

Then there’s this piece on the pain of surviving the loss of a loved one to suicide. I chose this piece because it shows that grief is not one size fits all. It varies from person to person. Rayne’s experience resonated on some levels with my own grief process. You can read more about her on her blog Journey Toward Healing.

This is a very interesting and personal post that speaks to a much larger issue: the pitfalls of getting pulled into social media debates. As advocates and people living with mental health diagnoses, seeing ignorant people post stupid stuff can get our blood boiling. If you’re like me, you’ll get roped in and start going back and forth with some ignorant fool who has no interest in learning or challenging his/her/their preconceived notions, regardless of new information provided.  I found Eddie’s take on this particular exchange to resonate with me and, I assume, many others. Eddie is a survivor of childhood sexual assault and an author. You can find more about his journey on his website here.

And finally, to end on a lighter note, there is this piece on Mindful Photography by Sarah Lou. If you’ve followed my blog, you know that photography is my absolute favorite form of mindfulness. I was really excited to stumble across this piece and realize I am not alone in that! Sarah is a fantastic blogger based in Australia. You can read more about her on her site Hello Sarah Lou.

That’s it for this week’s Finds. I hope you enjoy them! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave ’em in the comment section below, or feel free to Tweet me @paradichotomy. Much love to you! 

 

 

 

I Suck (And I’m Sorry) Here’s Another Podcast!

First of all, I sincerely apologize for the radio silence lately. Due to all of the difficulties I’ve had around consistent access to medication, the past month and some change has been the first consecutive six week period of being able to take all prescribed meds, at the correct dosage, consistently. This is a very good thing, but my little bipolar brain has been struggling with figuring out how to feel motivated and creative with all those mood stabilizing chemicals splashing around in there. I’m feeling confident and focused again now, finally! To kick-start my return to regular posting, I’d like to share a guest spot on a podcast I recorded this morning.

The Do Not Listen To This Podcast podcast is so far beyond awesome! My friend (and former boss) is a teacher at a local high school, and he’s been facilitating this project for the past several months. After overhearing three seniors at his school having a very thoughtful conversation, with a respectful exchanging of opinions even in disagreement, he had the idea to get those young adults together to have a podcast. He could have ignored the conversation and let the moment pass, but he recognized the value in supporting students to continue engaging in meaningful conversation with intense curiosity and respect. These awesome humans talk about a little bit of everything (really, from Naked Russians to The Evolution of Education). You can read more about the thought process behind the podcast here. It was a pleasure to sit down with my friend Harold, and students Zac, Tyler, and Olive this morning to discuss Mental Health.

Here’s the episode:

Of Mental Health and Wellness – Do Not Listen to This Podcast

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Bottom to Top: Zac, Olive, Tyler, and Harold

Now, we recorded this first thing this morning, and I went in without coffee (BIG mistake!) When I do a podcast, I like to listen to it afterward to figure out what worked and what I wish I’d done differently in hopes of improving for the next time. In listening to this particular podcast, I realize that, in some areas, my wandering mind took over and I feel that a few questions and topics in particular did not get the kind of answer they deserve, so I’d like to go elaborate on a few of those moments here and give answers that are a little more in depth and focused, if you’ll indulge me.

Olive asked a how one could identify a therapist with a stigma mindset. I sort of meandered through the answer and, in hindsight, I don’t think I did the question justice. At the root of that question, I think, is really the concern that maybe your therapist isn’t the right fit for you. When I was meeting with therapists that weren’t particularly helpful, there were several “red flags” that I just didn’t recognize at the time. The largest warning sign that your therapist might not be the best fit for you is if they don’t seem to listen or they make assumptions before you’re able to fully express yourself. I’ll give a concrete example from my personal life. I told a therapist that I left my marriage because my husband would occasionally get physical with me, and I specifically stated that he pushed me and slammed me against a wall. The therapist, before I could even get the sentence all the way out said, “And then you pushed back. You guys both went at it, right?” I sat there a little unsure of how to respond, beyond saying “No.” The therapist didn’t even acknowledge the massive assumption that had just been made, or the impact that such a statement may have on me. (When I hear that, I hear an underlying statement that it was somehow my fault or that I condoned that behavior by also engaging in it. In fact, I did not get physical in response to his actions.) Such a statement was very off-putting, for obvious reasons. Another red flag, I would say, would be a therapist diminishing what you’re saying. If something is bothering you enough to bring it up in session, it deserves all the air time you feel it needs. If something is really troubling you and your therapist isn’t willing to engage in that topic until you feel it’s been properly addressed, that’s a pretty big warning sign that you are not compatible. Finally, if you’re in session and your therapist is talking as much or more than you, especially if they are bringing in personal anecdotes or veering slightly off topic and taking up ten or more minutes of the time for which you are paying on a topic which does not pertain to you and your concerns, it’s probably time to find a new therapist. Bottom line, when you are in therapy, you are paying a professional for their services. You are essentially their boss for that forty-five minutes a week. You have a right to express yourself and have your needs and concerns fully addressed. That they are a professional does not mean that they are qualified to understand your struggles without allowing you to explain them. You are the expert on your own life. Don’t forget that.

When we talked about self care, I think we covered a lot, but I want to elaborate just a little on it. Self care is taking care of yourself. (I know that sounds redundant, but I also think that thinking about it in that light can really help you understand everything involved in the “hot button” phrase “self care”.) Self care is not all spa days and bonfires. Eating healthy meals and getting some sunshine is self care, exercise is self care, going to therapy is self care, taking your medications as prescribed is self care, and getting that higher level of care if it’s needed is self care. Going to the hospital was self care for me. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t glamorous. But it was necessary to take care of myself. So, I just wanted to emphasize that.

We briefly touched on 13 Reasons Why. I recognize that this is a polarizing topic. I’d just like to link a few articles that explain why it is not at all in line with best practices for suicide education and prevention. I haven’t watched it because it is said to be incredibly triggering to people who are struggling or may be coming out of a particularly challenging time. In the interest of taking care of myself and preventing any relapse in recovery, I have purposefully avoided watching it. If you’d like more understanding on why it’s triggering or what it got wrong, check out this article from Psychology Today; this piece specifically aimed toward educators by the National Association of School Psychologists; and this USA Today article on the reasons that 13 Reasons Why could inspire “copy-cat” suicides. These pieces go into much more detail than we were able to do on the show.

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THANKS FOR READING, ALL! And thank you for your understanding of my brief absence! I’m back now, and, again, I am truly sorry I peaced out for a minute there. 

You can follow the exploits of the Do Not Listen to This Podcast podcast on Facebook and Twitter, and you can find all the other episodes on their Buzzsprout page. It’s so encouraging to see young adults interested in honestly, intentionally, and compassionately engaging in such thoughtful conversation! I am truly thankful to have had the opportunity to participate and proud to have been a part of this process!

As always, please let me know what you think! Leave your thoughts, questions, constructive criticism, concerns, and opinions in the comment section below and hit me up on Facebook  and/or Twitter. I love talking to you guys! Coming up in the next few days: Friday Finds, Emotion Regulation Part 4, and another edition of the Scrawling Toward Sanity series! See you soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liebster Blog Award

OK, if you’ve been following me here, you know that I’m fairly new to this “blogging” thing, but I’ve been invited to participate in this really cool thing, and I am looking forward to spreading the love, too! I want to thank TheOriginalPhoenix for nominating me! I wish I could nominate HER blog – it’s fantastic and you should go read it!

HERE ARE THE RULES FOR THOSE OF YOU I NOMINATE:

  1. Acknowledge the blog who nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger gives you.
  3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 11 blogs.
  5. Notify those blogs of the nomination.
  6. Give them 11 questions to answer.

11 QUESTIONS FOR ME:

  1. What’s one of the biggest but hilarious mistakes you’ve made?

    When I’m speaking, fairly often I mix up words. It was worse when I was a kid, and mostly benign – I’d say things like “on” instead of “in”, for example. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like sometimes my brain just quick searches and stops on words that sound similar, but aren’t quite right. There were quite a few times it got a bit embarrassing. In particular, one time, during an oral report at school, I meant to say something was “exotic” and I accidentally said “erotic.” I’m much more comfortable writing.

  2. Why did you start blogging?

    A couple of very good friends of mine suggested it after my hospital stay, and I figured I’d give it a go in hopes of sharing bits of my story with friends and family in a way that would, hopefully, educate them a bit and do at least a little something to reduce stigma. I had no idea that I was stumbling into my passion. But man, am I thankful for those few who gave me a little shove in this direction!

  3. What would you do with a million dollars?

    Pay off my grandmother’s mortgage first and foremost. Take my daughter to Disney for the BEST week of her life. Pay off all my student loan debt, my car, my medical bills. I’d put $250,000 in a savings account with good interest for my daughter, buy a modest home (you can get nice ones where I live for around $175,000), put $200,000 in a savings account with good interest for me, and then use the remaining $200,000-ish to help out friends and probably go on two more epic vacations – one with my friends to somewhere tropical with impossibly blue water and one with my daughter, out of the country to explore and learn more about our world at large.

    ******** Almost all of this plan would be shot if I had an opportunity to see David Gilmour live for anything up to $500,000. Gram’s mortgage, Disney for my daughter, and her nest egg savings account are non-negotiable, but I’d toss everything else out the window to hear that Fender Strat over real speakers and see the man-god himself on stage (it’s been a dream since I was six years old, don’t knock me for being irresponsible with my imaginary money!)

  4. Where is your happy place? Why is it your happy place?

    Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. Ocean, waves, rocky outcrops with tide pools at low tide, the strip, and so many memories of being there when I was a kid with my Nana and Papa. Since they died and their house was sold, Nantasket is the place I can most easily go to recall tangible conversations, sand-castle and boogie-boarding adventures, jokes, sarcasm, penny candy, cotton candy, The Carousel, and so much love and happiness. Plus, the ocean & salty air is just so perfect. I don’t get there often, though, so my second happy place is probably on my couch, snuggling with my daughter.

  5. What’s your favorite literary genre? Why?

    I honestly don’t think I have a favorite genre. My favorite books are pretty diverse: Lord of the Rings, Angela’s Ashes & ‘Tis by Frank McCourt, The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. So… Fanta-mem-noir-goth-roman-tragedy?

  6. What’s one of the best gifts you’ve received?

    I assume this means tangible gifts. When I was in second grade at Christmas I got a digital watch from my mom. We didn’t have a lot of money at the time. I don’t remember if it was the only gift she was able to get me or not, but I remember opening it and being so excited and, honestly, completely blown away that she had gotten it for me. I wanted a digital watch more than anything and they were pretty expensive back in the day. And the old classical guitar my Papa gave me the summer between 6th and 7th grade. His neighbor was going to toss it, and Pap stopped him and said, “Well, Sheila might like that.” When I went down to Nana and Papa’s house for summer break that year, he took me upstairs and pulled it out of his closet and I was so far beyond stoked! I wish I still had it, but it was lost in a move, I think. I am by no means a talented guitarist, but getting that thing and learning even basic rhythm guitar was a pretty influential process in my life. Papa also bought me my first “regular” acoustic guitar when I was in 8th grade (I had to practice and use the classical for a full year and get straight A’s both semesters before he’d spring and spend actual money on one. It was a black composite-wood Fender starter guitar. The whole kit probably cost $125. But I had that thing until college, when it was stolen out of a car by some jerk. I stopped playing for a long time because I was too shy to play around people, so I wasn’t playing in my dorm room due to the roommate and, when I moved in with my ex, I was too shy to play around him, too. I just got back into it a few months ago with an acoustic I got along the line somewhere that was just collecting dust, and I’m freaking loving it! (even if I’m only playing the same five songs over and over.)

  7. How many stereotypes does your existence contradict? (Feel free to describe them.)

    Oh man. What a question. Well, I’d say I contradict just about every “woman” stereotype (but so do most women I know, because stereotypes are stupid and women are bad ass). I contradict stereotypes around what creates the trauma necessary to live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’d like to think I contradict the stereotypes and misconceptions around what it means to live with Bipolar. I think I contradict a lot of the stereotypes of young(ish) & single mothers. One area I’ve noticed I seem to actually fit a lot of the stereotypes around is Massachusetts/ New England native culture. That’s honestly probably the only stereotype I do fit, and that one’s not to a “T”, either. Because stereotypes are STUPID AND MOSTLY HARMFUL. And no one is a full embodiment of a stereotypical caricature.

  8. What are your favorite things about your life?

    Definitely my daughter, my amazing friends (truly amazing), my family, living in New England, and the fact that I am finally in a position to actually find out more answers to this question – to explore freely and without restraint what I do and do not enjoy about being on this beautiful, fragile, wonderful rock for however many years I’ve got left.

  9. What’s one of your hobbies besides blogging?

    Photography. I don’t have a camera right now beyond my phone, but I definitely have fun with that. One day, I’ll get my hands on a nice DSLR again, and a computer with Lightroom and then I’ll REALLY have some fun! 🙂

  10. Coffee or tea? What’s your favorite brew?

    Coffee, definitely. I do enjoy tea – particularly Tetley (as my Nana drank) and Chai – but if I had to choose one for the rest of my life, there would be no question. My blood is probably at least 50% coffee at this point – mostly Dunks. (See, New England stereotypes – I told ya!)

  11. Do you think the world is getting better or worse? Why?

    I’m not sure how to answer this. I think we’re in for great things if we can just ride out and contain the current badness. I see all of the conflict and scary things happening now, but I also see the activism, compassion, and openness of the younger generation. I choose to be optimistic and view everything happening now as the death throws of a dying, archaic, outdated, maladaptive, and harmful view of the world. Medical advances and other scientific endeavors promise a bright future, if we can hold on to them. I see the potential for a truly amazing future for our little human race, as long as we can play damage control until egotistical, raging, small men don’t have access to nuclear codes and we stop treating the earth as a profit generator.

11 RANDOM FACTS ABOUT ME:

  1. I’m currently working through listening to Pink Floyd’s entire studio album catalog in order (live will be next). I’m up to Wish You Were Here.
  2. I grew up in a house that was so far in the woods, it was a 25 minute drive just to go grocery shopping.
  3. I was born in Boston, Mass.
  4. I drive a 2015 Subaru Impreza.
  5. I’m in the process of quitting smoking. (2 days down!)
  6. My first concert was Backstreet Boys.
  7. I’m a sci-fi geek, currently re-watching all of Stargate SG-1.
  8. I’m terrified of earth worms. (I know, I know… laugh away, but it’s true.)
  9. I occasionally write poetry.
  10. My favorite Ninja Turtle is Donnie.
  11.  I kind of suck at coming up with lists like this.

THE 11 BLOGS I NOMINATE ARE:

  1. The endlessly talented James over at inshort:MentalHealth
  2. My dear blogger friend and kick-ass PTSD Mama Betty at Betty’s Battle Ground
  3. My friend over at Twisted Up Inside
  4. The amazing Morgan
  5. The lovely Natasha Tracy at BipolarBurble
  6. The awesome Kitt O’Malley
  7. The wonderful Emma over at Love Hope Peace Initiative
  8. Ramblings of a Discontent Millennial
  9. Sam over at Let’s Queer Things Up
  10. Rhythm of the Days, extra props for your versatility as a blogger!
  11. Chelsea over at Monsters Living in my Mind

11 QUESTIONS FOR THE NOMINEES:

  1. What is the single most important driving force behind your blog?
  2. What’s your best memory?
  3. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
  4. Do you have any other creative hobbies beyond writing? Feel free to share what they are!
  5. Favorite band?
  6. What’s your typical morning routine look like?
  7. What’s your favorite Self-Care technique?
  8. Dream vacation location and activities?
  9. What advice do you have for other bloggers?
  10. What’s the most useless superpower you can imagine?
  11. How’s your day going? 🙂

 

 

OK, I Know What I’m Feeling… Now What?

It’s the beginning of the week, and that means we’re jumping into another resource/skills-based post! If you’re new, I’m currently doing an introductory series to the Dialectical Behavior Therapy skill of Emotion Regulation. If you haven’t yet, please feel free to read part one and part two before continuing here.

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If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a fan of metaphor. You remember the Rat’s Nest? Let’s stick with that imagery. That huge mess pictured above is really absolutely no help to me whatsoever. Even if I know what chord I need, and I know for a fact that it’s in there. Yes, knowing the specific chord I’m digging around for is a starting point, but I’m still in for an incredibly frustrating time if I have to dig through that tangled mess every time I need a chord, right? The question is, how do I separate out what I need and prevent it from getting tangled again? (No, this blog is not going to suddenly become full of house organizing tips, I’m the last person you want telling you about that stuff!)

As you may imagine, separating and organizing all those chords is not a one step process. It takes time and a whole lotta work! Would you look at that box and expect me to “just organize it” in the space of a few minutes? Of course not! (Well… I hope not, anyway. You’d be out of luck, there. It’s physically impossible.) So why do we all seem to demand such a miraculous feat of ourselves when it comes to mental health recovery? Honestly, we go to a hospital for a few days, or we go to therapy once a week for a few months and we get frustrated that we’re not “finished” with all the untangling and differentiation yet, we berate ourselves for not being “better”. That is incredibly unfair. All we can do is take it one step at a time. So, what’s the next step? Now that we recognize that our emotional rat’s nest is a complete mess, what do we need to do? You may think “start untangling”, but that’s not it. (We’ll get there next week, I promise.)

First step is simply to make sure that we’re not tossing in more chords and speakers and yarn! To accomplish this, I took everything out of the Rat’s Nest. It was quite overwhelming:

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But, by taking it out and having it out in the open, I ensured two things: first, that I would not toss any more assorted electronic accessories into the snarls of rubber and wire already present; second, that the mess was undeniable now: in my hands, on my floor… there was simply no ignoring it or shoving it out of sight and out of mind anymore. I had to look at it, I had to feel it woven between my fingers. Yup, this is going to be a big job. 

Now, in Emotion Regulation terms, getting the mess out of the box and knowing that, in the future, only properly wrapped, zip-tied, easily identifiable chords will be placed back into that box represents increasing positive emotions. I feel good about that knowledge. Taking everything out of the box and knowing that never again will I toss a spool of yarn into a box or chords just to make my life more difficult represents decreasing vulnerability to negative emotions. If the junk that I don’t need is out on the floor for me to see, in the light of my stylish yet affordable floor lamp, it’s not going to blindside me next time I need to dig something out of there. And those two skills are the next step of Emotion Regulation!

Let’s start with Decreasing Vulnerability to Negative Emotions. After all, that’s probably the one that seems most difficult, right? (It definitely felt that way to me.) If you’ve ever been to any form of group therapy or a twelve-step program, you may be familiar with the term HALT – in other words, stop and think if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. For me, this has been a very helpful little prompt. I know that if I am any of those things, I am very likely in “Emotion Mind”, which places me at risk for using some maladaptive coping techniques. The idea with Emotion Regulation is to get out of Emotion Mind and into Wise Mind, which simultaneously honors and acknowledges what you’re feeling and uses Reason Mind to react in a balanced way. OK, I’m a little worried I’m venturing into text book territory here. This is not a class room, and I am not a teacher. I just had to give a little exposition to make sure we were all on the same wave length. There are quite a few DBT skills I could go into here for decreasing vulnerability to negative emotions, but the most popular skill is called “PLEASE MASTER.” It’s a decidedly lackluster acronym, in my opinion; and it’s one of those “way easier said than done” things. But it did help me shift my thinking, which is why I am sharing it with you. Initially designed and presented by Marsha Linehan, the creator of DBT, in her book Skills Training Manual for Treating Borederline Personality Disorder, here it is:

PLEASE MASTEr

Treat PhysicaIllness – Take care of your body. See a doctor when necessary. Take prescribed medication.

Balance Eating – Don’t eat too much or too little. Stay away from foods that make you feel overly emotional.

Avoid mood – Altering drugs – Stay off non-prescribed drugs, including alcohol.

Balance Sleep – Try to get the amount of sleep that helps you feel good. Keep to a sleep program if you are having difficulty sleeping.

Get Exercise – Do some sort of exercise every day; try to build up to 20 minutes of vigorous exercise.

Build MASTERy – Try to do one thing a day to make you feel competent and in control.

(Like I said, the acronym is not exactly what one would call “inspired”.)

But that’s neither here not there. If you’re anything like me, you look at that list and say, “Well yeah, if I could do that shit, I’d be way better off! But that’s where I struggle! I can’t just make myself do these things when I feel like crap!” I know. I get it. It sounds impossible. But, again, this is all about baby steps. If you’re not a fan of this technique, that’s totally cool. I’m just sharing it because it has truly been helpful to me in my own recovery. So, how did I start tackling this list? The same way I started tackling the Rat’s Nest. I pulled it out and put it in the open.

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Yup, really. Right on my bathroom wall. I see it every time I brush my teeth or wash my hands.

It’s my multiple-times-daily reminder to do healthy things that will benefit me in my recovery, or, if I’m not doing them (believe me, there are more days I “miss” applying some or all of this list than there are days I “hit” it, but I’m working on it!), at least I can check my mood against this list and see what may be contributing if I’m having a hard time. A group facilitator at the hospital told us all to “check our lens” every time we went to the bathroom. She chose the bathroom because, like it or not, it’s something we all have to do multiple times a day. “Checking your lens” is essentially what I’m describing. Checking my feelings against how I’m doing on wellness goals, reminding myself, even if my lens is “narrow” (i.e. tunnel vision, focused on the negative self talk and the lies my depression and anxiety like to throw at me), that it will pass. That there are environmental and physical factors at play that will not always be present. That I can ride it out. I chose to post this list in the bathroom as a sort of homage to that group facilitator. You can do whatever you’d like with it.

ALRIGHT, so that’s one way to REDUCE vulnerability to negative emotions. What about INCREASING positive emotions? That sounds more fun, right? It certainly did to me.

Here’s a funny thing about our brains. When something amazing happens, we remember it. When something terrible happens, we remember it. When something mildly annoying happens, we remember it. But when something mildly good happens? We tend to forget it. Here’s a little story to illustrate:

I wake up for work. My alarm goes off as scheduled. My coffee maker kicks on automatically and I have a cup on my way out the door. My car unlocks and starts without issue. As I’m driving to work, I hit a traffic jam. I realize I’m going to be late. My phone properly connects to BlueTooth, I call my coworkers to give them a heads up. They assure me it’s nothing to worry about, and they’ll see me when I get there. I get to work twenty minutes late because the traffic jam was truly terrible. I accomplish all of my work tasks. I drive home without incident. A family member asks me how my day was. I say, “It was terrible! I was 20 minutes late to work this morning!”

I carried the stress of being late to work with me all day, because I am not usually late to work. All of the things that went “right” in my day are so routine, I don’t even consider them positives. Can you relate to that?

Now, again, this isn’t a post on inspirational, magical thinking to use the power of positivity to poof your depression/anxiety out of existence. Just a reminder that our default setting is not to be mindful of positive events. But, we can nudge our minds a little in the direction of focusing on positive events when they happen. And that act, in and of itself, can increase our general happiness over time. If you live with anxiety and depression, though, you know that even when things are going well, it’s really easy to slip into worrying about when the positivity will end and things will go to hell again. (Hey PTSD friends, I’m looking at you, too!) When this happens, the principles of mindfulness also apply. Refocus on the moment. Try not to get caught up in the past or present. The flip side of that is to be UNMINDFUL or your worries. Distract yourself from thinking about when the positive experience will end; distract yourself from thinking about whether or not you deserve the positive experience.

YEAH, sure. OK. Noooooooo problem. All those deeply ingrained negative thoughts, I’m just gonna shove them away with positive mindfulness. Yup. I’ll buy that. Okey-Dokey. Absolutely. That makes perfect sense. 

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Seriously, though. That’s not what I’m saying. Remember everything in DBT, and in recovery in general, is a skill which needs to be used and used, frequently and often, before there will be any major change. It’s basically re-wiring our brains to diminish the maladaptive thoughts and negative coping skills that get us into trouble and then, over time, to increase our ability to form adaptive thoughts and positive coping skills. This takes work. This does not happen over night, or even in a few months. BUT, you can take the first few steps toward getting there any time.

The best way to start anything in life is to begin where you are. In the short term, what can you do to increase pleasure in your life? The goal here is to pick a few things that you truly enjoy and make time for them each day – even if it’s only ten minutes. I enjoy playing my guitar. I do it for a minimum of ten minutes a day. During those ten minutes, I am enjoying myself. I am experiencing positive emotions. What’s something you’re good at? What’s something you enjoy?

Ahh… but you’re depressed and you don’t enjoy anything at the moment. What then? Loss of joy is sort of a hallmark of depression, right? It can be overwhelming to even consider something that you might enjoy doing depending on how deep in the abyss you find yourself. This is a valid point. This is also the part of the post where I share yet another resource I’ve found helpful. Beautiful humansperson, I present to you the The Adult Pleasant Events Schedule. I know, it sounds corny (or maybe even slightly taboo), but it’s really just a list of prompts of things that adults find enjoyable – everything from needlework to sightseeing, watching sports to, yes, sex. I promise you you will find something on this list that is at least moderately fun. I found it very refreshing because it is a pretty comprehensive list. Most of my experience in therapy hasn’t really touched on the fact that adult people enjoy adult things. This list does not shy away from that fact; it embraces it outright. And I’d like to give you the same challenge that my DBT group facilitator gave me – pick seven things* from this list and commit to doing one a day for the next week. Like I said above, even if it’s just ten minutes a day. I did this exercise, and the impact on my over all emotional state was impressive.

*Some activities on this list (like gambling, spending money, drinking, and sexually-based activities) may be a specific “problem area” for you. DO NOT CHOSE AN ACTIVITY THAT WILL DECREASE YOUR OVER-ALL WELLNESS. That would defeat the point of the activity. I’d also like to reiterate that I am not a therapist, doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist. I am sharing techniques from my own, personal recovery process that I’ve found to be helpful, and that I hope you will find helpful as well. Beyond the disclaimers, go forth, dear reader! Have a fun week!

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As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, complaints, or tangential observations on this series or the blog in general! Please lemme know in the comment section below, and feel free to hit me up on Twitter and Facebook as well! If you decide to take on the seven day challenge, I’d be really interested to hear what activities you chose and how the experience was for you! please feel free to share that, too!

ALSO, I’m wicked excited to be able to share with you all that I am OFFICIALLY a contributor to The Mighty Site! Please feel free to check out my first Mighty article 5 Things I Learned Living with PTSD and Bipolar Disorder

8 Self-Care Techniques for an Impending Mixed Features Episode

OK, it’s transparency time. Transparency is essential to fighting stigma and helping those who may not live with a mental health diagnosis (or diagnoses) understand a little bit of what we face daily. The truth is, sometimes living with Bipolar Affective Disorder is absolutely no fun. This has been the case for me these past two weeks. See, I’m trying to get in a groove with the scheduling for posts on this blog. I’m on track to do that for next week, at least. I have caught an expanded vision for this blog that really excites me, and I’m so looking forward to putting it into action! But, I missed the mark this past week and the week before, and the depression that caused me to miss that mark also tells me what a failure I am and that I will never be able to make this space line up with my vision. Then, the more manic symptoms tell me that I don’t have to. Whatever I do, everyone will love it, and everything I touch will turn to gold because I’m freaking unstoppable. (One symptom of mania is grandiosity, and in me, it tends to take the form of making ridiculous plans and just assuming that everything will come together because, hey, how could it not with how amazing I am.) I’ll be honest, even typing that makes me feel like an arrogant jerk. I hope you’ll forgive me.

I assume if you’re reading this, you’re at least a little familiar with the basics of depression and a Manic episode (links provided in case you’re not). I’d like to briefly describe my experiences with each before getting into the meat of this post. Depression is an aching in my bones. It’s the searing knowledge that nothing has ever been right and nothing will ever be right, but the simultaneous numbing of all pain receptors. It’s feeling my whole body slowly petrify. It’s being unable to get out of bed some days and also being unable to even muster the energy to care. It’s running my fingers through my hair in exhaustion and realizing only then that I’m a greasy mess who hasn’t showered in days. Then, there’s (hypo)mania. When everything is perfect and I am amazing and I can do no wrong. It’s unrestrained energy and excitement. Now, that might sound fun, and it is – at first. I’m charismatic and I can probably get you just as excited as I am about [insert Amazing, World Changing, New Idea here]. But then, things get pretty overwhelming. The best analogy I can come up with is when you go on one of those super-fast, spinny rides at the fair. At first, it’s thrilling; then it starts to make you sick and you wonder when it’s going to stop. It’s being so energized you can’t sit still. It’s having so many ideas flying through your brain that you can’t grab just one. It’s jumping between ten tabs on your browser, all on different topics, and only being able to stick with any one long enough to read a sentence or two, but trying to make sense of what you’re reading anyway. Trying to blend the sentence fragments into a coherent reading experience, then getting frustrated that you can’t make it make sense.

Then, there is the dreaded Mixed State. And it truly is a beast. It’s hard to explain, really, even for me. The technical definition is that you have symptoms of Mania and Depression at the same time or in rapid succession. Try to imagine that for a minute. It’s being depressed but energized. It’s having fantastic ideas of things I want to accomplish all while depression screams in my face that I can never accomplish anything. It’s being hyper and hopeless at the same time. It’s wanting to do nothing but sleep all day, but being unable to sleep at all. It’s pacing the kitchen at 4 AM, crawling in my skin, with quick snapshots of everything I’ve ever done wrong in my life flickering before my eyes, and being simultaneously unable to break the train of thought and unable to focus on just one event or memory. It’s sensory overload on every level. It’s just a big collection of suck.

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Well, here we go! (Resigned to the coming battle)

Were it not for my meds, I have no doubt I would have been in a full-blown Manic with Mixed Features episode these past two weeks. Meds, thankfully, muted the effects a bit. But the basic symptoms were still present, if less severe than they have been in the past.

All of that to say, today is supposed to be a post about self-care. What steps can we take to practice self-care while in the midst of a Mixed Episode? That’s the question of the week!

The first, most important part of self-care with BPAD is pre-episode, daily management. Being aware of subtle changes in your mood, following a schedule, taking a PRN sleep aid the first night you can’t sleep, within the first two hours of trying to sleep and realizing you can’t. Eating well, even when you’re not hungry. Reaching out and connecting with people, even when you don’t feel like it. Taking all of your meds as scheduled. And so on. This is the “do as I say, not as I do” part of the post, I admit. I’m still working on getting a handle on the whole “schedule” thing, I hate my PRN sleep pill because it makes me groggy all of the next day, and I’m not even going to touch the eating thing. That said, I recognize that these things are important and I am working on it!

Alright, you say, preemptive management is good, but what do you do when you’re already barreling toward a Mixed State or in one that hasn’t reached red alert crisis levels yet? Agitated depression, paranoia, no sleep, racing thoughts are here or right around the corner… what can you do?

  • Stick with your meds even though you probably have no interest in taking them. I set alarms in my phone and I know, no matter what, I have to take them when the alarm goes off. This can help minimize the impact of your symptoms on your overall day to day life and prevent the need for a hospitalization or a full-blown crisis situation.
  • Reach out to a friend/family member/treatment team person. Maybe this feels absolutely impossible. But if you’re aware that your mood is spiraling, asking someone you trust to check in every day can be the difference between a rough few weeks and a very dangerous situation. I have a really good friend who calls me four to five times a week and helps me keep track of things. Remember other people have their own lives, though, and you can’t count on them for everything because they have their own stuff going on. But even a 10 minute phone call every other day can go a long way. IMG_20170429_030324_285.jpg

Yes, I’m using a picture from Disney Land. The sword is a metaphor, though. Sometimes we need help. Friends are great at helping. Let your friends help. ❤ 

  • Keep crisis lines saved in your phone. Really. If it’s 4 AM and you’re feeling unable to handle the chaos in your brain, having a support you can call no matter the time of day can be immensely helpful, if not life saving. Keep them in your contacts and use them.
  • Make sure your friends and family know what to look out for. This article may be helpful to share with your family/ friend support system. The fact is, once the episode becomes full blown (whether traditional mania or one with mixed features), we don’t really have the ability to realize what’s going on or what we’re doing or feeling. If you live with BPAD, you know that. That’s where an extra set of eyes (or two, or ten) can really come in handy. Someone outside of you who can help keep tabs and manage things is essential.
  • Avoid alcohol and mind-altering drugs. This is essential. I understand the temptation, that need to do something, anything, to stop feeling what you’re feeling. But it’s just going to make things worse and less manageable for you in the long run. If this is a big struggle for you, take care to avoid triggers during this time. Don’t hang out with friends you drink with. If it’s a REALLY big struggle, have a friend or family member go to the store with you if you need to go so that you don’t convince yourself that buying that bottle of wine on the shelf won’t hurt. Really, it will. I promise. Drinking is going to make things much worse for you. IMG_20170429_040108_636000.png
  • What’s in your Kit Bag? “Kit Bag” is a term I learned from a friend to refer to a sort of “emergency self-care kit”. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend making one now. It doesn’t have to be an actual bag of tangible things. It can just be a list. When you’re recognizing mixed features but they are not yet full blown, it’s time for self-care central. What people, places, and things make you feel most at peace and in control? Hot showers? Mindful cooking? A favorite movie? Calling a friend? Seeing your therapist? Come up with your list and use it! Some people also do have a tangible bag with things like a DVD of said favorite movie, a bottle of favorite bubble-bath, some beloved recipes, notes of encouragement and love from family and friends, etc. Find what works for you and do it.
  • Challenge you’re thinking. If you’ve ever done Cognitive Behavior Therapy, you know that negative self talk and distorted thinking can overtake us at any time. You also know that there are ways to challenge these thoughts. My favorite method is the one that feels the least threatening – I think of one fact that suggests that my negative thoughts are not 100% true, 100% of the time. I say “least threatening” because, as backward as it may sound, my negative self-talk and distorted thoughts are pretty thoroughly ingrained in my mind, and I’m so used to them that the idea of getting rid of them is sometimes more scary than the thought of continuing to live with them. So challenging them outright is always difficult and sometimes impossible. But, I’m also a very analytical person, so finding one fact, one event, one moment in time, that demonstrates that my negative thoughts are not 100% true feels pretty manageable to me. By doing this, over time, you do start to fight against the entire thought. But it’s all about baby steps.
  • Finally, if you are truly in crisis, get to a hospital. Have a safety plan in place with your supports. Set limits. If you cross the line on those limits, it’s time to go get the next level of help. Look, no one likes hospitals. Especially not psych units. I know. I get it. But I also promise you your future self will thank you for going.

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Literally me checking into the psych unit. Taking a selfie was maybe not rational, but, honestly, I was pretty thoroughly irrational at the time. Really, though, it’s OK to need help, and sometimes we do need that “higher level” of support. There’s no shame in that! 

So, that’s my little list. The fact of the matter is self-care while heading for a mood episode of any form is a tricky proposition, and preemptive planning with your support team is the best way to manage it. But if you, like me, are living with some of the symptoms, but they are muted enough to not require hospitalization, self-care can really help you ride it out. It’s going to suck, there’s no getting around that, but having good self-care techniques and good supports can be the difference between a crappy couple of weeks and a crisis requiring hospitalization. It does require a certain awareness of mood and an understanding of what is happening, though. Which is where the friends and family come in. In the week heading into this episode, on three of my phone calls with my friend, she noticed that I sounded “in a fog”. This was a big cue to me that things were not well and that I was heading for a bad time. So, self-care kicked into overdrive.

Self -care is going to look different for everyone, of course. And I feel obligated to mention that Mixed States are often the most dangerous types of mood episodes, because being depressed but energized tends to facilitate making and carrying out a suicide plan. So, please take care of yourselves. And, not to beat a dead horse, but IT’S OK TO NEED HELP at whatever level is necessary.

If you’d like some specific techniques for getting through a particularly difficult time, check out my list: Top 5 Ways to Get Through a Bad Situation (Without Making It Worse).

What are your go-to emergency self-care techniques? Do you agree with this list? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section of this post! You can also Tweet me and find me on Facebook. Thanks for reading!

 

Friday Finds Number Three!

So, I’m a slacker and I skipped last Friday’s post! I truly apologize for this! Truth be told, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. I’ve definitely been in a bit of a Mixed episode, thankfully muted by medication, but certainly still present. Ahh… the wonderful effects of Spring on the Bipolar mind.

For those of you who may be new here, Friday Finds is where I link to other amazing blog posts I’ve found throughout the week (or weeks, in this case). Spanning from engaging personal reflection to scientific research to resource links, I try to include a little bit of everything! Anyway, enough of my blabbering! Here are this weeks Friday Finds:

  • First up on the list this week is this piece written by an amazing young man named Sam on 6 things he’s learned in mental health recovery. It’s a great read and I found it very encouraging.
  • Then, there’s this post – amazing artistic renditions of the hallucinations one 18 year old living with Schizophrenia has experienced. She is incredibly talented and has an awareness that many of us are still struggling to gain well into adulthood. Check it out!
  • This post is a wonderful description of the way we need to re-learn to breathe with Anxiety. People without Anxiety struggles take breathing for granted. Those of us living with Anxiety know how hard it can be. Also, give the OP some love, they’re struggling a bit right now.
  • This post is a breakdown of passive v. active suicidal ideation, and the author’s experience with both. The post does not speak for all people, but it does grant a certain optimism that SI can be managed. As always, if you are struggling with any suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. Remember that passive suicidal ideation can jump to active before you really know what hit you. If you’re in the US, the quickest and most easily accessible resource is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which you can call at 1-800-273-8255. They also have a Crisis Chat for those of us that get nervous about making phone calls. Also, if you or someone you know feels that the danger is imminent, please call 911 or go to a hospital Emergency Room.
  • This article is on Persistent Depressive Disorder (previously known as dysthymia), which is a type of depression that many people never get diagnosed. Please give it a read.
  • This blog post is one person’s view of celebrities speaking out on mental health, and how that is simultaneously a good thing and quite frustrating for those of us who’ve been speaking out for a while and ignored or stigmatized.
  • For my #bipolarbuddies, this post is one person’s warning/ personal experience on the way mood episodes can blindside us and the importance of being mindful even for slight changes in our moods before they become full blown episodes.
  • This post on PTSD and people’s ignorance may be a little triggering as it includes an overheard conversation of two people discussing whether or not PTSD is even a real thing. But, it’s important that we know that there are people like this out there as we continue to educate and battle stigma.
  • Finally, to end on a positive note, here’s this optimistic poem about the future and integrating a traumatic past.

 

That’s it for this week, all! I hope you enjoy these posts! Despite the difficulties I’ve faced in the past few weeks, I’ve managed to accomplish some truly awesome things of which I am proud! If you missed it, I was a guest on The Sarah Fader Podcast! If you have time, I’d love for you to give it a listen and let me know what you think! Also, I’ve partnered with Schizophrenic NYC and Stigma Fighters to create a charity T-Shirt. There will be a larger post on this coming, but, this is the T-Shirt:

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It’s all about taking down stigma and owning our diagnosis! If you or someone you love is living with Bipolar Affective Disorder (of any form), please consider buying one of these shirts! All profits (any money that does not cover production, design, or time spent) will be donated to Stigma Fighters to help them continue to do the amazing work they are doing!

That’s about it from me! I hope you have an amazing weekend!