Guess what? You don’t hate change.

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I can hear the cries of protest now. “I HATE CHANGE. I hate it with the fire of a thousand burning suns! How dare you tell me I don’t hate it.”

You don’t hate it. If you did, you’d be so paralyzed by indecision that you couldn’t function. Life *is* change and everything you do changes something about you and the world around you. We all know that, on some level.

What we hate is change we can’t control. We hate change we don’t approve of. We hate change that doesn’t benefit us. We *really* hate change that challenges our emotional safety net and makes us look inward to face things we’d really rather not admit about ourselves.

We’re fine with the changes we choose (or the ones that benefit us…tell me you wouldn’t be happy if you won a million dollars tomorrow). However, we would prefer to proceed through those changes in an environment of safety and comfort and predictability, at our own pace.

But the world doesn’t work that way. Unless we choose to go sit cross-legged on a mountaintop, living a life devoted to meditation, we have to deal with the changes we choose and the ones we don’t at the same time. Because the changes that are imposed on us from the outside don’t wait for the “right time” to happen. We don’t get to pick when a loved one gets sick or dies. We don’t decide when we get laid off. We don’t wake up in the morning and think, “You know, today would be a good day for the car to die because I’m mentally prepared!”

Given that the monkey of life isn’t going to stop and ask for your opinion before flinging poo at you, how do you deal?

  • Spend an appropriate amount of time grieving the change. People may try to push you into acceptance before you’re ready because as I implied, change is cascading. They want you to be OK again so they can be OK again. But your process is your process and you have to go through all the steps to get where you’re going.
  • Sit with it. Often, people feel compelled to deal with change by doing something to fix it, or make it go away. If it’s true that change is inevitable, it’s also true that what is different now will become routine in time. If meditation or prayer is your thing, it can come in handy at this juncture.
  • Look to your foundations. This step calls for a little belly-button examination because while change will inevitably alter some things, there are other things that remain the same. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find these things. When your life is a country song, your truck’s broke down, your dog died, and your girl left you all in the space of a week, it’s hard not to think that everything is falling apart. But if you look hard enough, you will find constancy. It might be in friendship, extended family, or in your own resilience. What is still unchanged in your life?
  • Have a mantra or a list of affirmations. This can be something as simple as “I will be OK.” “I can survive this.” “In time, this will be a memory.” Making a list of affirmations about the personal qualities you have that will help you through the change can help. “I am a resilient person.” “I am a strong person.” Etc. Put it on your computer screen, bathroom mirror, fridge, or wherever your eyes will fall on it during the day. Read the list out loud (trust me when I tell you this will feel foolish as hell, but it really does work…)
  • Keep your perspective. When you’re in the thick of it, even minor changes can seem huge. It’s important to step back and analyze how important the change really is in the grand scheme of your life.
  • Avoid confirmation bias. There’s something to be said for seeking out the company of others who are going through the same things you are. But at some point, group inertia can interfere with your personal growth and acceptance of change. Think of it as a cocktail hour with former co-workers who were all laid off from the same company. Are you exchanging leads and contacts and building each other up? Or are you bitching endlessly about the Unfairness of it All? If it’s the latter, you may need to avoid those people and conversations for a while.

I’ve had a lot of change happen during the last few months. Some small things, some that have rocked the foundations of my world. The above coping skills are some things I’ve learned along the way, and I hope they help you.

peace…

p.s. Do you have a coping strategy? Please share it in the comments.

 

Tough talk Tuesday: Maintaining your friendships through a depression

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“The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” ~Mark Twain

“Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” ~ Grandma Moses

Sense a theme?

I’m tackling a touchy subject today that lies at the intersection of what you do and need and what other people do and need. It’s at those intersections that the thorniest problems in our personal lives, and society writ large, arise. I’m going to talk about social life and how to make it work for us, particularly in the context of depression.

Have you ever had that moment when you feel like the unpopular kid? No one is calling you to make plans. Everyone is off doing fun things without you. Worse still, you’re hearing about it on social media? That moment sucks. I’ve experienced it and I’d call you a liar if you said you never had. It happens to everyone, but it feels particularly cruel when you’re struggling with depression.

That’s because depression lies to you. It tells you that the reason you’re not getting those calls and invites is because you are somehow flawed and unlikable. It tells you that your friends aren’t true friends because you’re not at the top of their agenda 24/7. Depression is an insidious creep because it never gives anyone the benefit of the doubt. It makes no allowances for any behavior that does not revolve around you. Busyness, forgetfulness, lack of mind-reading skills, none of that gets a pass from depression.

Worse still, depression turns you into a passive victim of circumstance. It strips you of your ability, and your responsibility, to manage your own social life. It feeds off the negative energy created by day after day of sitting around waiting for the phone to ring until you get stuck in an endless feedback loop.

How can you reclaim your social life from depression’s lies? Here are some ideas.

  • Be proactive. People are not clairvoyant. They don’t know when you’re having a good day, or a bad day. On your good days, or even your semi-good days, reach out to a trusted friend. Your friend may not be able to meet up with you on such short notice, but even having a brief chat on the phone can help you feel connected. Don’t rely on social media for this. What you’re after is connection, and you’re not going to get it on Facebook. Trust me.
  • Communicate. If you hear about a gathering involving your closest friends, and you didn’t get an invitation, call someone you trust and ask why. Most of the time, you’ll discover it was an oversight. Or perhaps, your friends assumed you weren’t feeling up to it. Or, honestly, people have invited you to so many things you didn’t attend that they gave up. Regardless, it’s on you to find out the truth and not allow depression to fill in your gaps in knowledge with lies.
  • Develop a thicker skin. Sometimes, you’re just not going to be invited. There are various reasons for this, but they mostly distill down into a simple truism. Not everyone wants to herd around in a big group all the time. Sometimes, it’s OK to get together with a few friends for TV or dinner or shopping and not include the whole world. It’s not because you’re not loved, or thought about. However, if you’re consistently not getting invited to things, see “Communicate” above.
  • Ask for what you need. Let your friends know the kinds of activities you feel up to doing. If you feel up to seeing a few friends, but don’t feel equal to coordinating a get-together, ask another friend to do it for you. Here’s a script: “Hey, I’ve been feeling really isolated lately. I’d like to see you and X and Y, but I don’t feel up to a big gathering. Can you arrange something?” If you need the visit to occur at your place, say so. Explain how long you would like the visit to be or any other limiting factors.
  • Be as reliable as you can. This one is hard, I know. When I’m in the middle of a depression, I can be a serial plan-breaker. It just seems like so much effort to get dressed some days, let alone leave the house. But the more you can make that effort, the more likely it is that people will continue to include you in social plans. If you are having an outrageously bad day, be honest and offer an alternative. “I’m really depressed today and I don’t feel up to going out. Instead of going out shopping, would you mind coming over for an hour or two and just hanging out with me?”
  • Be a good friend. Depression, sadly, can turn you into a taker if you let it and that wears people out. They start to feel like no matter what they do, or how much they do for you, it’s never enough. Once their emotional bank account is empty, if you don’t refill it, they’re going to quit on you. Ask me how I know. It’s old school advice that doing something nice for someone else can help alleviate depression, but it’s also a critical component of self-care to nurture your friends on your good days so that they can be there for you on the bad ones.

Bottom line, like Mark Twain and Grandma Moses said, no one owes you a social life. Your social life is what you make of it. It’s the product of the amount of effort and care you put into it. And you know what? You may not feel like putting much effort and care into it when you’re in a depression and that’s totally understandable. But part of living with depression is owning the fact that rebuilding your friendships and social world after a bout with depression is something you’re going to have to do. Repeatedly. It sucks and it’s not fair. But that’s the way it is. Cowboy up, cupcake.

peace…

Weekly Five – Mental Health News Roundup – October 4, 2014

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How teleconferencing could help urban schools solve a mental health crisis. (Citylab): This article uses the example of urban schools, but tele-mental health is a Thing. My own hospital system uses tele-mental health to connect with patients from the large, rural area they serve who might not be able to get into town.

Reporter feels full weight of mental illness. (Des Moines Register): This article makes me so proud I could spit. One of the biggest fears I have is facing employment discrimination because of my bipolar. Here’s a guy who’s right out there with it in the pages of his own employer’s paper. We need more people with Daniel Finney’s courage.

What happens to patients when mental health clinics close? (US News): From happy land to this-one-makes-my-blood-boil. Not only are mental health clinics being closed because “we can’t afford them,” we can’t even afford to study what happens to people when they do. Also, this article summarizes a lot of the obstacles people deal with even when there is a clinic available, and discusses the therapist-patient relationship and why yanking someone away from their therapist because of budget cuts is just a mean-ass thing to do.

OHL launches mental health program after Terry Trafford’s death. (Toronto Star): This one is close to my heart because it’s hockey! And mental health! Seriously, I’m glad to see the OHL taking this seriously. For my non-hockey addicted readers, the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) is a feeder league to the NHL, much like college football is to the NHL except the players in the OHL are even younger. Hockey players who hope to turn pro leave home at a very young age, sometimes as young as 15. They face unique social and mental challenges as well as the rigors of playing an intensely competitive sport. Good for the OHL for taking care of these kids.

Behavioral health deserves — and demands — its own Cabinet-level agency. (Boston Herald) I really don’t know how to feel about this letter to the editor. On the one hand, yes, more resources for mental health. On the other hand, no, no, no to any further separation of mental and physical health. The two are deeply intertwined. What do you all think? Let me know in the comments.

peace…

Why I’m going gray

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A couple weeks ago, I got all my hair cut off.

Before (clearly I was cranky about getting my hair cut):

before

 

The amount of hair we cut off:

hair

After (you can see the sides and back…not a cute photo…good lord…)

after side

After (with my glasses on and looking like my normal cute self)

after2

 

Notice a couple things. In the before picture, my hair is thin and limp. This is a side effect of Depakote. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of my hair fell out after I started taking it. So it was already looking pretty manky. Also, notice the snow white roots. I have decided to grow out my natural hair color which should be a mixture of the original dark blonde, white, silver, and gray (I don’t actually know since I’ve been coloring my hair since my mid-20s).

So I cut it all off and it will likely be grown all the way out to gray by Christmas.

I thought about it long and hard before I did it, believe me. For women, our hair has many layers of meaning and emotional baggage. See what I did there? Layers? Heehee… Long hair is deeply associated with femininity. I’ve never much bought into that one and my husband likes it short anyway, so losing the length wasn’t as deep an issue for me as it might be for some people. I’ve had it short before, although never quite this short.

Gray hair? That’s tougher. Especially for a woman. On a man, gray is often described as distinguished and lends a sort of unspoken authority. On a woman? Not so much. For a woman in this society, visible signs of aging are one of those things we’re constantly told are The Big Bad. Nothing is a more visible sign of aging than a head full of gray hair. But I believe that’s changing. Public figures like Dame Judy Dench, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Emmylou Harris have embraced their gray and still have thriving careers and seem happy in their own skins.

Ultimately though, what made the decision simple was my bipolar and how I deal with it. I’m loud and open about having bipolar. It’s part of who I am and by owning it and talking about it, I think I help fight the stigma and discrimination that mentally ill people face. I expect people to take me at face value and not pre-judge based on what they think they know about mental illness. And yet…there I was walking around with a head full of dyed hair because I didn’t want people to think I was “old.” That’s a dichotomy, if not an outright hypocrisy because if there’s nothing wrong with being bipolar, then what’s wrong with getting old?

No lie. It’s scary. Embracing my gray brings me face to face with my fear of getting older. But when I got diagnosed with bipolar I decided I was not going to let it be the boss of me. This gray hair? It won’t be, either. Neither will society’s assumptions about what getting old means. They can’t make me start wearing polyester pants and listening to Pat Boone. How I age is my choice. I fully intend to be buried in my Converse high-tops and nose ring because hair and wrinkles and bad knees and arthritic hips do not an old person make.

I’ll post updates whenever I get a haircut so you can all see how it’s progressing. I think it’s going to look smashing!

peace…

p.s. What do you think about letting your own hair go gray? Are you ready for that? Why or why not? Let’s talk in the comments!

Five bad reasons and one good reason to reject a mentally ill woman

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The crazy girlfriend.  We’ve all had one, been one, or know one. But when it comes to assessing whether a person with a self-disclosed mental illness would be a good partner there are five really dumb reasons to reject them, and one really good reason to do so.

Dumb Reason #1: You automatically assume that she will be unstable 24/7 because she has depression/bipolar/anxiety, etc. Many women with mental illnesses are stable for months or even years at a time. So if a woman actually self-discloses to you that she has a mental illness, and is seeking treatment for it, that’s a pretty good sign that she’s actually more self-aware and stable than a woman who is undiagnosed or, you know, just a jerk.

Dumb Reason #2: You think your future, imaginary, unborn children will be doomed to become mentally ill. Bzzt. Nope. The susceptibility, or risk, of developing a mental illness is inherited, the disease itself is not. Even genetic counselors are divided on the exact factors that lead to a person developing a mental illness, and they go through an extensive process to determine what the odds would be. Not to mention that *you*, Captain Perfect, could be carrying genes you don’t even know about that might make your special snowflake offspring the second coming of R. P. McMurphy.

Dumb Reason #3: You and your potential crazypants partner will get together, make babies, and then she will jump off a bridge leaving you to raise the poor orphans alone. Look. I’m not saying it *couldn’t* happen. And yes, the risk is higher. But having a partner pass away is a risk we all take when we decide to partner up. By the preceding logic, you should also select out anyone who drives to effing work. In fact, you Mr. Man, are three times more likely than your ladyfriend to take that dive.

Dumb Reason #4: You want to be a partner, not a “caretaker.” If you think being a caretaker isn’t part of being a partner, I wouldn’t want to date you either. This goes back to the assumption that mentally ill people are constantly in need of…something. If you need an example of the fact that they’re not, ask my friends and family. Yes, there are times when I’m more needy than others. But there are also times when I, myself, am the caretaker for my husband, our child, my friends, my parents, you get the drift.

Dumb Reason #5: You’re afraid of being stigmatized yourself. If you’re not strong enough to absorb the side-eye from your buddies about your “crazy girlfriend” she doesn’t need you. Feel free to move along to the next woman. Who, by the way, may or may not *tell you* that she has a mental illness or may not *know*. It’s crazy roulette my friend. Place your bets. If it was me, I’d far rather date a person who approached her challenges with honesty and candor, but I’m silly like that.

The Good Reason: You don’t want to. And you know what, that’s OK. If you’ve really thought about it, done a little research, talked to the potential partner who has self-disclosed to you, and you just don’t feel capable of going there that is totally and in all ways FINE. You should not feel guilty about that at all. Not everyone is cut out to be in a relationship with a mentally ill woman. Just understand that you need to make that decision based on who *you* are and who she really is, not on stereotypes of who you believe her to be.

peace…

p.s. Did you know that women are more likely to seek help and self-disclose mental illness than men, often leading to better treatment outcomes?

Weekly Five – Mental Health News Roundup – September 25, 2014

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Here are some headlines from the world of mental health, with commentary from me.

Let’s stop assuming people know what mental health is. (Huffington Post): Great article pointing out that the dialogue about mental health needs to go far beyond discussing specific illnesses or treatments for them. Mental health is something everyone needs to take care of, just like we take care of our bodies.

Fruit and veg consumption tied to mental health. (Medical News Today): I think it’s so cute how the Brits call vegetables “veg.” Anyway, this is one of those studies that makes me scratch my head and go, “They pay people to study these things?” It seems like a no-brainer to me that the better you take care of your physical body, the better your mental well-being will be. That’s just Maslow’s heirarchy.

As run-ins rise, police train to deal with those who have mental illnesses.(NPR): The critical sentence in this article is at the very bottom, in my opinion. The need for this type of training is greatest is underserved, rural areas. I know this first hand, from my own experience as well as that of friends and acquaintances. “Getting help” for a mental illness in this region is damned near impossible. So I’m quite sure that our police force runs into untreated, self-medicating people constantly and has nothing to offer them.

Clothes store Joy angers mental health campaigners with Twitter exchange on bipolar disorders. (The Independent): This British clothing store can go straight to hell.

Dems say global warming could cause mental health problems. (The Blaze): AHAHAHAHAHA! It certainly tweaks *my* anxiety on a regular basis. Do yourselves a favor and don’t read the comments on this one. Just. Don’t. And don’t ever tell me I only get my news from liberal sources. *cough*

Be good to yourselves this weekend.

Peace…

Magic Wands are for Sissies

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Yesterday, my mom told me she wished she could wave a magic wand and make my bipolar go away. She’s said this before and usually my answer is some variation of, “Yeah, that would be nice.”

But yesterday I got to thinking. Who would I be without type two bipolar? What lessons have I learned that I’d never have learned without it?

So, in no particular order, here is some stuff that I think I’d have missed out on if I were “normal.” (I might have learned these lessons in other ways, but somehow I bet not.)

  • Persistence. Historically, I am a giver-upper. If something doesn’t come easily, or if I’m not good at it immediately, it goes in the rubbish heap. I can’t do that with bipolar because giving up equals death. Not even kidding. The persistence I’ve learned that comes from just getting the hell out of bed every day, controlling my emotions, dealing with people who don’t understand, changing meds, etc. tends to leak over into other areas of my life. Now, when I’m confronted with an obstacle, I look under it, around it, above it, and sometimes just smash right through it if I have to.
  • Compassion. Dealing with a “hidden” disease has made me miles more compassionate towards other people. I know beyond a doubt that everyone has stuff they don’t talk about that informs the decisions they make, the things they do, and the way they interact with people. I tend to do more things for others that I want, myself. I take meals to people. I listen to them. I try (mostly) not to judge them. I’ve always been compassionate and empathetic (forget Hallmark…think crying at beer commercials. It’s that bad.), but this has made me exponentially more so. Sometimes too much.
  • Resilience and Strength. When you don’t know what “you” is going to show up on any given day, you learn to roll with that. You become one of those sandbag-bottomed punching clowns (am I dating myself? Are those still allowed?). Bipolar knocks you down, you get back up again. And again. And again. I’ve developed a tough-chick, FU, chip on my shoulder attitude towards bipolar. Because this disease will break you if you let it.
  • Creativity. There’s the creativity that comes during the “up” times. Those are the marathon cooking days, the short-story days, the thoughts that will save the world days. But there is also a lower-level constant need to solve problems that makes me necessarily more creative all the time. When your whole life is a damned challenge, you learn to get creative or you don’t make it.

It reminds me of the story of Jacob in the bible.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled an angel with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaks. And he said, I will not let you go, except you bless me.

Pretty often, you’ll hear the trope of mentally ill people “battling their demons” and ultimately losing. And I’m not going to lie, there are days when I do look at it that way because the demons are always there wanting to fight me. But I’m a pacifist and if I’m going to fight, it’s going to be for something positive, not against something negative. I figure we all have to do a little angel-wrestling. I just have to do more than most people to get those blessings.

peace…

p.s. I wonder if first-time readers will think this is a Christian blog? I don’t want to mislead anyone…remember, I’m a “Christ-centered agnostic with pagan leanings.” Just so we’re all on the same page…

p.s.s. I love you, Mom. I don’t say that often enough.