Monthly Archives: July 2012

Hot Mess: Tyler Farr

I had to post this video with the “Hot Mess” post. Such an amazing song!

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Hot Mess

Today at work a colleague told me, “You should write a book titled ‘How to live your life with your head unhinged”.

Everyone I know would agree I’m the SME (Subject Matter Expert—little consultant talk there!) on this subject. Allow me to give you a few examples of why.

I lost my cell phone the other week—I spent most of the weekend looking for it but eventually gave up. So one day, while I was being a good wifey and making dinner…I took the watermelon bowl from the fridge, and to what did my wondering eyes appear?  My cell phone! Apparently it likes watermelon as much as I do. Unfortunately, it ate too much and no longer works. Shocking.

The next morning I left my bowl of breakfast on the top of my car! How did I find out? Well as I was driving to work, singing along to Hot Mess (by Tyler Farr, my personal theme song!), when all of a sudden a bowl started tumbling down my front window, spilling cheerios and milk along the way. Don’t worry, I just used my windshield wipers, rolled over the cup, and kept going.

Then that night, at a big work event I spilled my entire drink on the table. Later, a partner (the big shots in our company!) comes up to me and goes “So…I’m assuming you were the one who spilled the sangria?”

And—well, I managed it all in a 24 hour period. *bow*

But the thing is, I’ve learned to accept it. I recognize my limitations and have learned to not only live with them but find humor in them.  For example, we did not buy me a smart phone—I didn’t graduate to the big girl phone until I won it (and I hear there’s a pool going for how long I’ll be able to keep track of it—contact Sidney if you want in!). I store spare keys for my car in a variety of places. All my bills are auto pay (meaning, Sidney is in charge of it!). And I just accept that I’m going to end up spilling something all over myself by the end of the day (and if I’m being honest, at least twice).

So I’ve been thinking—why can’t I accept limitations related to my illness? It’s basically the same thing right?  I don’t judge myself for being a spaz, so why do I get down at myself when I push up on my mental illness walls?

Instead, I need to take some of the lessons I’ve learned about “living life with your head unhinged” and apply them to “living life with your neurotransmitters unhinged”. I think there’s two key lessons that can be learned and applied.

Lesson One: Live well with your limitations

Identify and accept your limitations. Then you can figure out how to live well with them. For example, keeping track of a purse at a bar—never going to happen. So now, I put my ID and money in a back pocket (or better yet, Sidney’s wallet).

So a mental illness limitation for me would be the intense anxiety I have after an extremely busy day—I know that. So instead of pushing myself to a breaking point, I need to schedule breaks throughout the day to revive myself.

Lesson Two: My limitations are not bad, in fact—they make me—well, me.

While at lunch the other day, I spilled some food on a friend’s book.  He just laughed and goes, “Look now it says ‘Nicole’s been here’—your lack of coordination makes me laugh every time”. My husband constantly cracks up at me and affectionately calls me his “hot mess”.

There’s parts of my mental illness that can be entertaining as well—I can come up with some crazy and fun ideas when I’m on the “hyper bus” (a symptom during a small manic swing).

I’m working to push these lessons into action. I think that’s maybe one goal of this blog—gives me a chance to identify some of those limitations and figure out how to live within them—

Oh! And a final thought: Are organized people just too lazy to look for things?

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One Wave at a Time

At a recent mental health conference they were passing out bracelets that said “One day at a time”.  I was feeling pretty good then so I slid it on and was like “what a good slogan/reminder. Everyone could benefit from that.”  That was about a month ago and I’ve been wearing it ever since.

But my anxiety the past few weeks has been off the charts.  As I’ve struggled to bring it back down, I’ve realized the bracelet was clearly designed by someone without a mental illness. During this bad spell, when I get out of bed—or really drag myself out after about 45 minutes of pep talking and failed attempts—the thought of facing the entire day is completely overwhelming. The task of just getting to work sends me into a slight panic. Picking out clothes has my head spinning and heart racing until I seriously consider going in my pajamas. In these moments it becomes one TASK at a time, one HOUR at a time, one MINUTE at a time.

My thought process starts to go something like this “Alright Nicole—you can do this. Just get into the bathroom and turn on the shower—ok good work.  Now, take off your clothes. Ok, let’s just start with your shirt. Ok, now bottoms—yeah step out of them. Left foot, ok now right foot. Oh–look at that—you’re naked.  Good work.  Oh, I really want to go back to bed—[action: walk towards door]—no you can’t. Turn around….the whole way, not just 15 degrees [action: sit on floor].  Alright there’s the next 15 degrees…” And on and on it goes for the rest of the day.  Even getting back into bed at the end of the day can be a chore—instead collapsing on the floor in your clothes sounds like the perfect idea. Especially if someone will bring the pillow to you.

On days like this what are you to do?

Well as a consumer—

  • Break your day down into whatever time portions you can handle.  Even if it really is just one minute at a time.
  • Take a hard look at what you have going on in your day and remove everything that doesn’t ABSOLUTELY need to be done.  It’s safe to say, when you have to convince yourself to even brush your teeth that you are going to be running behind a lot of the day. And—you’re probably going to be exhausted.

As a supporter—I find there are two things that are helpful to me.

  • Help out.  Even the smallest task can relieve enormous pressure.  On mornings like that, if my husband makes me breakfast (meaning hands me a banana and yogurt as I walk out of the house) he has just eliminated about 15 minutes of intense stress for me.  If he makes me bacon—well that’s almost as good as popping a few zyanx.
  • Two—be understanding and supportive.  Acknowledge and praise how hard I am working.  I find my husband is particularly supportive of me getting my clothes off and getting into the shower…he even seems to be quite helpful with those tasks….

Most importantly [shameless plug for one of my great ideas]: email me for one of my new bracelets that say “One Wave at a Time”.  I chose to use the word “wave” not only because it fits my awesome blog name (and “Brand” according to my husband), but because it can refer to any mood or task. Some days a wave can represent a minute while other days a wave can represent a whole day or *gasp* even a week! (Ok…let’s not get too ambitious here).

For me, on my bad days—it reminds me to stay focused on the present—on the current wave.  On my good days—it’s a show of support for my fellow consumers who are having a “One Minute at a Time” kind of day.

Wednesday Wishes: Number Eight

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Eight: I’m not being lazy when I relax more and do less when I’m depressed. I’m sick. In the same way that resting is important to recover from the flu or a bad cold, without rest my brain can sink lower into depression.

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

 

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Surfing without a Surfboard

So as noted in my last blog—I’ve had a rough couple of days.  I’m feeling so frustrated and just beat down by life right now. I’m doing everything (well ok, most things! I’m still drinking slushies….) right; but my brain is not cooperating with me!

After support group tonight, someone reminded me of something I had forgotten.  A gentleman I respect was joking that he didn’t know why this other girl was friends with him. I go, “I’d be friends with you. I think you’re funny.” And he replies, “Well I figure we’re all f***** miserable anyways, might as well laugh about it.”

Oh so true!  If I was only allowed to give one piece of advice about surviving mental illness it would probably be “have a sense of humor”. Bipolar is absolutely crazy—and things I do during mood swings and bad times are nuts. When I look back at them it’s either laugh or cry. And I choose cry plenty of times but I mostly try to laugh (crying just dehydrates me anyways!). I mean how can I not laugh when I think back to the tornado I created in my room a few weeks ago?

Living with bipolar without a sense of humor, is like trying to surf without a surfboard.

There’s all these long scientific explanations about why laughing is helpful, but we all know it just feels good. I know there are times when you’re so depressed that laughing is not an option—but I try to watch something funny (maybe even crack a smile!) or be around someone with a good sense of humor. I don’t pressure myself to laugh (sometimes I do fake it—-fake it to you make it right?!), but mostly I try to just enjoy something humorous.

You know they always say, “It takes 43 muscles to frown, but only 13 to smile…..

….but it only takes 4 to punch something.” 

Haha…yeah I know. I’m hilarious.

To conclude: Take 8 minutes to check out this video. It cracks me up—every time.  Jim Gaffigan is amazing…think I could write the price of tickets to see him as a medical expense?!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UahqgK60vuk

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How I like to spend my weekends: Part Four (aka: The END!)

I know I try to post Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday–but I had a bad two days so you’ll have to excuse me. I know everyone has been waiting to hear about the conclusion of the emotional meltdown I had a few weeks ago….

Well hold onto your paddles because here it is!

The events of last weekend reminded me that I often take my awesome support system for granted.  My sister is in medical school so she’s always there to remind me that my “neurotransmitters just don’t communicate the way other people’s do” (usually more technical than that) and my husband is so attractive that just looking at him can make me feel less depressed.  However, my mom is the one who knows how to handle me the best.  She knows how to handle me depressed, during a panic attack, anxious, manic, hormonal…you get the drift.  Her support seems so natural now that sometimes I forget how hard we had to work to get to that place.

At one point last weekend Sidney said “Nicole everything you’re saying is ridiculous!”.  Which my mind translated as “You are being an overly emotional female and I don’t care about your feelings” (few neurotransmitters remember?!).  So I yelled at him: “Don’t ever say that again…put that on your ‘no-no’ list.” Sidney mumbles: “…if only I had one of those”.

Now in the situation, I did not realize the genius of the “no-no list”, but the next morning I began thinking about it, bemoaning that he didn’t handle the situation as well as mom could have.  Poor poor me…and then in the middle of my pity party, I began to remember.  Mom did not come by that naturally.  In fact, it was a lot of hard work to get to a point where she can help me.  It involved a lot of trial and error, where she said something that made the situation worse, I yelled, we misunderstood, we argued, cried.  You know—tried to ride the waves together….

But one thing that we both strove to do was communicate on our feelings and what was going on in our heads.  To someone who never has had a mental illness it’s nearly impossible to understand the disjointed thinking that occurs during something like a panic attack.  That is where your openness with your support team comes in.

The next morning, when Sidney and I were both feeling better, we had what I like to call a “de-briefing” . I made him take me to IHOP for it as bacon makes everything better!  So over some yummy stuffed French Toast, I tried to explain as clearly and detailed as possible what I was feeling during that time and what was helpful/unhelpful.  I like using analogies and images that others will be able to relate to (I find animals quite useful — a woodpecker picking at your brain, a hamster spinning a wheel, a panther stalking a gazelle….).

My advice? Be patient. Lucky for your support team, they likely have never experienced what you’re going through…so hopefully during these “de-briefing” times you will be able to work with them to develop a “lessons learned” list. Keep in mind, our relationship with everyone is different and what works for one person will not always work for the others (for example: kissing me till I forget about it only applies to Sidney).  Keep your expectations realistic: they’re human too.  Remember, they do love you and they do want to help—so working with them will hopefully make it easier on everyone….

Lastly, remember a “de-brefing” is also a time for you partner to share with you what they were thinking/feeling/observing and for you to develop your own “no-no” list. Listen for that!

So funny quote to conclude–after that incident I related to this Text from last night (please tell me you know what that is!)
(406): Dude, so much s*** has happened to me, I had to make a list to take to therapy so I can remember it all

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Wednesday Wishes- Number Seven

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Seven: When I’m irrationally upset, or in the middle of a mood swing—do not TELL me that it’s related to my illness. Instead, ASK me.  “Could this be related to your depression?” “Is it possible you’re feeling this way because you are manic?”

Telling me what is wrong throws fuel on the fire—a well phrased question can remind me that I do have a level of control over my illness.

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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How I like to spend my weekends….Part Three

The overly used phrase “It takes two to tango”, is very applicable in most situations, and this one is no exception (maybe that’s why it’s so overused…). But the goal of this post is not to detail Sidney’s role in the conflict. While I get his approval and blessing on every blog related to him, he is not the one who chooses to reveal his personal life on the internet.  He’s just the lucky one to be married to me (oh and he’s the Corporate Director of Brand Strategy—it says so on his business cards. Or it will, when I -aka “he” – designs them).

Anyway, what I want to explore in this post is how his actions in the conflict affect my relationship with him. I am having two key struggles: How do I trust him again? And, how do I control my actions regardless of his response?

Question One: How do I trust him again?

I believe I was hurt more than Sidney in this particular conflict (he’d agree). Each person has vulnerable areas that hurt more than others when poked; my illness is mine (along with my funny bone…that hurts like **** when it gets poked). Some of Sidney’s actions that evening hurt me deeply, and put a crack in the trust I have in him. As a result, I question my commitment to allow Sidney to see and be a part of my illness.

Part of me is tempted to let him go to bed next time and then break down in the guest room and hide my pain from him. Besides there’s less clothes in the guest room for me to throw around and that would make clean-up easier. I want to handle the situations myself so he does not have the opportunity to hurt me. But the other part of me knows my husband loves me dearly, wants to help, and it takes time to work through the best ways to handle these situations.

God says there is no limit on forgiveness; but is there a limit on the number of times I open myself to hurt? And how do I determine what that limit is? After hours of thinking, reading, and discussions with my therapist I developed these guidelines:

  • Is there an underlying theme that causes their poor reaction? For example, are they close-minded, stubborn, or insensitive?
  • If yes, is this characteristic evident in other areas of your relationship? Watching for this charateristic in other situations can help you determine if it will continue to affect their reaction to your illness.
  • Is it simply a lack of understanding? If so, are they willing to listen and learn? Do they express a desire to do better in the future?
  • Most importantly, do they understand they hurt you and regret their actions?

Exploring these questions is tough, not a lot of fun, but important (say like eating your veggies or exercising)! But it can be useful in your relationships with your spouse and also others in your life.

Question Two: In a meltdown, how do I remain in control of my actions regardless of his?

When my therapist first asked me this question it felt like I was inviting Sidney to be a part of my illness, but expecting him to fail. Not a good attitude for any situation in marriage and I have more faith in Sidney than that. But after more talking I was able to identify a healthier view of the question.

Here’s an analogy of that view—Suppose I’m going on a road trip alone. It’d be important for me to know how to change a tire in case I got a flat along a deserted highway (and let’s pretend I had lost my cell phone so there was no way to call AAA—which is not that hard to pretend knowing my history!). So as I’m driving merrily along singing “Baby Baby Baby, oh Baby baby baby” (Justin Beiber—don’t pretend you don’t know that song) at the top of my lungs, I hit a broken beer bottle (I’m on a deserted highway after all!) and my tire goes flat. I pull off to the side of the road annoyed, but prepared. I know how to handle this problem by myself. But then, I turn around and riding in on a white horse (deserted highways in my fantasy world are the best!) is a ruggedly handsome cowboy. He swings off his horse in one fluid motion, removes his beat up Stetson and says “It’d be my pleasure to help ma’am?”. Of course my plan of doing it alone is abandoned and I let the cowboy help me out.

While a long-winded analogy—the short version is this. I have plans and tools to handle my mental illness alone. Yet, God blessed me with supportive family and friends who, during some of my more difficult moments, will ride in to assist me.

Final thoughts:

I’m pretty comfortable with my answer to the second question. I’ve started working on adjusting my mindset to including the possibility (but not guarantee) that assistance might be available. And while Sidney doesn’t have a white horse, he looks damn sexy stepping out of his sports car.

The first question I’m still working through.  I know my husband loves me (he married me after all!) and sincerely wants to help me so I’m not giving up yet.  It might take a while, but fortunately marriage means we have “till death do us part”. I personally think him purchasing a white Stetson would be a great start.

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How I like to spend my weekends….Part Two

Disclaimer: I do not pretend to speak to anyone else’s mental illness or situation. Each individual is different and I know there are many whose disease and struggles are much more severe than mine. As I am not a mental health professional, I do not claim to draw lines in the sand regarding personal responsibility and control in mental illness.  Now—that sounds the laundry list of side effects read on drug commercials as the patient skips happily through the meadow picking flowers with her dog–but in plain English I mean this.  Supporters—I do not know the consumer in your life and I speak only for my own condition. Do not make any assumptions or create expectations for your family/friend based on my ramblings.

Now, please take a moment to silence all cell phones and enjoy the show.

As much as I’d like to deny it, I played a role in the marital conflict that resulted from my meltdown. Looking back as a completely objective third party, there are a few small tiny things I could have done differently (haha ok…big things I needed to change!).

Turn on loud, obnoxious neon signs or red alerts!

Have you ever seen the app for guys that sends warning messages when the lady in their life is beginning their cycle? It sends messages like “red alert” and “bring home flowers”. While humorous, I think there value in the app. How much easier is it to handle things when you are expecting them? For example, I know to expect Sidney to be in a bad mood when Virginia Tech football loses a game. Therefore, he more likely to be irritable if I ask him to say—admire some new lip gloss, than he normally would be.

Sidney is working with me to learn the signs and trace the symptoms of upcoming panic attacks and melt downs. But, it’s still my body, I still hide things from him, and much to my frustration-he can’t read my mind (as he continues to remind me)!  I saw the signs of a meltdown coming and I should have pointed them out to him to prepare him for a possible incident.

The answer all guys love, more communication!

When I was spiraling into the depression during the evening, I should have communicated to Sidney what was happening. On some level I tried to, but I did not use our agreed upon “code words” to really clue him into seeing this was my mental illness. During the early stages I still realized what was going on around me and had enough control to communicate to him what was wrong. Not as concisely as I would be able to during our “debrief” (more on that later!), but more clearly than I did.  Code words make us sound like mental illness geniuses, but are less than helpful if I don’t use them!  (Oh BTW: our “code words” are certain words we use to describe emotions or events to distinguish “normal” from “mental illness” )

Affirmation, Affirmation, Affirmation

God said, “It is not good for man to be alone, so he created woman”.  I love reminding Sidney of that verse when he wants alone time and I want attention…but it might be a bit out of context then!

In a marriage, we are meant to walk together. We are meant to ride the waves of challenges, success, struggles, joys, and even VT football losses together.  God made me so Sidney wouldn’t have to be alone (pretty awesome for him!), but I left him alone. I retreated into my own mind and left him outside of the situation. In his aloneness he assumed I was mad at him, or blaming the situation on him. This misunderstanding resulted in challenges later in the night; challenges that might have been avoided if I had simply reminded him that I loved him and was not blaming him. Guess God knew what he was talking about when he said “it’s not good for man to be alone”…go figure right?!

Practically: I could have held his hand, faced toward him not away, or asked him to pray with me. I did not need to focus all my attention on him (I did need to focus on using my tools), but I could have included him more in the beginning stages.

Hindsight is 20/20?

There are all good lessons to learn, but a key question is—with my mental illness did I have the capacity to do these actions? A really hard question I struggle with during these moments is: “Where is my personal level of responsibility?”  I have an illness, my brain wiring got put together by an intern—and sometimes under the right amount of pressure, instead of turning into a diamond, it combusts. Somewhere in all of that, I have to take responsibility for my actions, but at when do I pass the point of my “control”?

For me, in this conflict—I had the cognitive capacity (maybe not 100% but still enough) to make healthy choices up to the point of getting out of the car and walking into our house. Now granted, the expectations were lower than when I am healthy—for example, giving Sidney a basic explanation of the situation but not all the details I gave him in the “debrief”. Or holding his hand to prevent aloneness, but not initiating in a long intimate conversation. But at the point of entering our apartment, I needed an external influence (ex: medication, time, Sidney’s help) to re-ground me in reality and pull me out of my head. I never want to be the victim, but I do believe when I began destroying my room I had lost a significant amount of cognitive capacity and needed help.

Now with more severe diseases like schizophrenia and psychosis it might be clearer when the illness takes over. But for me and my support team, the lines are fuzzy. When am I at full capacity and therefore, full responsibility? When am I slightly in control, with lower levels of responsibilities? And at what point do I cut myself some slack and understand that the bipolar had taken over my brain? I have not been able to generalize answers to these questions; instead it seems to be very situational. But I do think they are important questions to consider and discuss with my team.

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Wednesday Wishes: Number Six

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Six: Remind me taking medication for mental illness is no different than wearing glasses or using insulin. Remind me that taking medication is a sign of strength not weakness.

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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