Monthly Archives: August 2012

Land on Your Toes

I’m not a huge fan of running…I used to have a rather intense hatred of it, but that lessened when I was training for a mini-marathon last year.  During the first couple weeks of training I was pretty convinced I would burn my running shoes after the event and refuse to ever run, or even speed-walk, again. My shins hurt, my ankles were swollen, my nose had frostbite (training started in winter), and my legs were getting bigger with new muscle.  A change in my body I was not happy about.

Doesn’t sound like my hatred was lessening does it?  Well about a month into training, we had a “technique” day. One of the IU running coaches worked with me to improve my form and gave me one main piece of advice: land on your toes. All of the sudden my running life changed. Not because my form was better (I doubt it was) but instead I had something positive to focus on when I was running. In place of hearing my shins whining, my knees crying , my lungs screaming, or my hands chattering…I heard “land on your toes”. (Which wasn’t weird to me, as I’m used to ‘hearing voices’ remember?)

This running lesson has helped in my mental illness adventure. I’ve felt like life has sucked recently. I’m tired of having a tension headache so bad I can’t see when I wake up. I’m tired of not remembering hours of my workday. I’m tired of desperately battling with my muscles to relax and my breath to deepen. Life has appeared to be too hard, fighting the anxiety has gotten too tiring, and I can’t find a reason to continue. When these emotions overwhelm me, it’s like the end of a long run. Every thought and every part of my body is saying “Why are you doing this?!” “Who thought this was a good idea?” and “If you stop now, what’s it going to matter?” All rational thought is lost.

So like running, I needed to find one idea or one belief to lock in on. During training it was “land on your toes”. Simple, clear, and no matter how tired I was, I knew it was true because an All -American runner told me it. The more I repeated it, the more it was engrained into my head.

So what’s my focus when the illness overtakes me? What is that phrase to can zero in on to answer the “Why” “Who” “What” questions above.

For me: “Louise wouldn’t be ok”

Louise is my sister.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my sister would never be the same if she lost me

Similar to “land on your toes”, I can repeat this simple statement over and over and over and over…

Sure, there’s other people (my husband, my parents, my friends), that would miss me. But in the worst of my moments, I can talk myself out of those. “Oh Sidney will remarry” “My parents have three other kids” “I’m no one’s best friend anyways”. But I’m her only sister, and I’m also one of her only girlfriends. She needs me—even messed up/crazy/anxious/bipolar Nicole is better than no Nicole in her life.

So what’s yours? For some people in my support group it was a pet. A child. A parent.

Or even a “Bucket list”. This was one of my favorite ideas. He had a list of things he wanted to do before he died, and there was never less than two on it. When he completed one, he added another. That way there was always something to hold on to.

Here are my qualifications for picking your “land on your toes”:

  1. Pick something you can physically touch or see: I have a photo of my family on my desk. I know I’m feeling bad if I look to it and see my sister immediately instead of thinking how kick ass my wedding dress was.
  2. Keep it clear and simple: It should be a simple phrase; no more than five or six words. I find that a name doesn’t work well—you also need the reminder of why they need you.
  3. Protect your focus: When you’re feeling good, repeat your mantra in your mind. Remind yourself of it. Drill it into the deep parts of your mind.
  4. Pick something you believe: This seems obvious, but what I mean is this: don’t pick something that you sometimes struggle to believe when you’re healthy. For example, I know that Sidney loves me. I do—but I’ve admitted to struggling with thinking it’s unfair to him that he has a bipolar wife. So in the worst moments—even those small tiny doubts can be magnified.

So what’s your Louise? What qualifications would you add to my list? Do you have any unique or unusual ideas (such as the bucket list) to add? I’d love to hear more about other people’s ideas/thoughts

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Wednesday Wishes: Number Thirteen

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 Thirteen: Sometimes I feel like my life is a continual pattern of “Friday the 13th”. Let me throw myself a pity party sometimes (you are of course invited–as long as you’re not cheerful).

(Yeah I’ve covered this idea before, but had to do something with “luck” for the 13th one!)

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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Bad thoughts be gone! Poof! *swing magic wand*

I’m sure you have noticed that I tend to keep my blog related to my personal experience and stories. What I don’t often show is my more academic side (I know…with my writing style you’d never know I had one!). I assumed that if people wanted to read more academic journals related to mental illness they would find it on their own.  However, I think I’ll start including a few here or there—I do A LOT (probably too much!) of reading related to mental illness, so this will be just the ones I find most intriguing.

This research discovery has me very excited. It’s a treatment for depression and suicidal ideation that can work in a matter of hours or days!  Typical medications take over three weeks to begin targeting depression, and for those with suicidal thought that can feel like years. While this is likely to be a groundbreaking drug for crisis situations, I look forward to the possibilities for those in “recovery” as well. About six months ago I was going through a depressive spell and when I woke up wanting to die, I remember thinking “gosh—I wish I had a xanax for this.”  See, with my anxiety I can take a very very low dose xanax and it is often takes off just enough of the edge that I can start practicing my tools. With depression there is currently nothing like that.  So when you’re severely depressed, there’s nothing to “jump start” your brain enough that you can start using the techniques you have learned.

But I’m also reminded of my recent post, “Long Black Train (8-9-12). In it I discussed holding on to hope that one day there will be a better cure for bipolar.  It’s exciting to see that possibility becoming a reality!

http://bbrfoundation.org/discoveries/ushering-in-a-new-era-in-depression-and-bipolar-disorder-medications

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Wednesday Wishes Number 12

Yes I realize—its Thursday. Almost Friday really. But I didn’t post this yesterday and I owed it to you. So it can still be a “Wednesday Wish”, because I  WISH I had gotten it to you on Wednesday. : )

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 Twelve: In the moment, I can’t see the ‘good intentions’ behind your words.  So right or wrong, finding the right words I can hear in a crisis is EXTREMELY important.

Advice from a handout by DBSA

What Hurts: What do you want me to do? I can’t change your situation.
What Helps: Tell me what I can do now to help you.

What Hurts: You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.
What Helps: You are not alone in this. I am here for you.

What Hurts: Here’s my advice….
What Helps: Talk to me. I’m listening.

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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Do I have fun writing this blog?!

Fun: [fuhn]
noun
1. Something that provides mirth or amusement: A picnic would be fun.
2. Enjoyment or playfulness: She’s full of fun.

I’ve been rolling the idea of “fun” around in my mind for the last few weeks. It started when someone at support group made a comment that “nothing is fun. Nothing is enjoyable”. Immediately, other’s joined in echoing her thoughts—including me. Normally when I say “that sounds fun” or “yeah we had fun this weekend” what I really mean is “that sounds less miserable than the other option” or “it could have made me feel worse”.

But this concept of fun is more complex than first glance (otherwise it’d make for a pretty boring post!). The mental illness of majority of the support group members set in during adulthood. Therefore, they have past experiences to compare the present too. Past experiences of “fun”.  I’m not in that situation. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. When I was in 8th grade my family was at a large event for Fourth of July or some other holiday. I was able to spend some time with my friends during it and if asked, I would have said that it was “fun”. However, the next day my mom talked to me and said that I needed to find friends I was comfortable with because I was giving everyone a “fake smile”. I probably was—after all, I was in a large group of people and it was raining—I was probably feeling pretty panicked.  But I wasn’t at home in my closet—so I was having fun right?!

Then how do I know what “fun” is? Well, I can think of some experiences where I was able to relax and truly enjoy something. I think I just experience them less often than most, and I can remember going months at a time never feeling like I had “fun”.

But the real twist is that most people consider me “fun”.  In the last 24 hours I’ve had three separate people make a comment about me making things more “fun”…and Sidney would tell you he married me partly because I’m “fun”.

So how do I reconcile these two facts? Apparently I can be “fun” without having “fun” myself. But does that mean I am just pretending? Does that make me fake?

The answer to these questions is complex and jumbled in my mind. I think the gut reaction answer is ‘yes, clearly you’re being fake’. But upon closer examination I don’t think so (and not just because I do not want to admit that I’m a fake!). If I have the energy to make jokes,  come up with crazy ideas, go along with other people’s crazy ideas—why shouldn’t I? I’d rather be pretending to have fun than admitting I’m miserable. Why make everyone around me suffer just because I am?

So I can make people around me have more fun, but not have fun myself.  It’s hard to wrap my mind around that concept. At first, it makes me annoyed!!  It seems unfair—why can’t I make things fun for myself?!

But upon further consideration—it gives me hope. Because it’s a sign that Nicole has a personality that is not ruled by her illness. Nicole has characteristics and personality traits that shine through despite her mental illness. It’s one more reminder that there is so much more to me then bipolar, anxiety, OCD, panic, etc…..

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Skin Deep Link

The link below is to an eating disorder blog–this particular post shares tattoos people who struggle with eating disorders have gotten either during recovery or after. I think having a physical reminder of where you came from and where you want to go is an awesome idea–and a tattoo can definitely be that. My personal favorite was the “breathe” tattoo on a girl’s hand. I bet seeing that every time I looked down could help remind me (or guilt me into) taking some breathing breaks during the day!

I desperately want a tattoo–but my skin freaks out if say–baby lotion touches it. Chicken pox? Yeah–ended up in the hospital with a second degree skin infection. Therefore, a tattoo is out of the question for me. : (  So–other ideas? What other things, either objects/actions/etc, could I use to serve the same purpose? To remind me of how far I’ve come, to breathe, the strength I have…etc.

Link to post:

http://arenomore.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/skin-deep/

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Wednesday Wishes – Number Eleven

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 Eleven: I promise we’ll thank you one day.

I’ve heard this from everyone I’ve talked to that is in recovery. Inevitably, at some point in our recovery and treatment, a supporter has pushed or forced us to do something we do not want to do. While we might hate you or resent you at the time, when we are healthy we’ll thank you for it.  One friend of mine says he owes his life to his parents for checking him in to a treatment facility—at the time he told them he’d never speak to them again. But today—he is eternally grateful.

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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Catching the most elusive feeling…

So I wrote this post Saturday evening—hoping that by the time Monday rolled around it would still be true.  Unfortunately it’s not…which actually makes me even happier that I wrote this post on Saturday…continue on to see why!

 

I have AMAZING news! Today my husband and I were outside, and I was just dancing and jamming to some music, when something hit me. I was HAPPY. Not just “not miserable” or “ok” or “manic happy”. But truly happy.

I looked up at my husband and in a hushed whisper (didn’t want to scare the feeling away!) said “I’m happy right now” and his smile just stretched from ear to ear. The last time I can honestly remember this feeling was the end of April during a trip my husband and I took to Napa (and that might have been the wine…). That’s a long time ago.

Now that’s not to say I haven’t had moments I’ve enjoyed since then, or done things I found fun. But in my life there tends to be an underlying sense of anxiety—which doesn’t generate a lot of “happy” feelings. So to feel peacefully happy—even if it was just for a day is amazing (heck, I’d take even half a day or an hour of feeling this way. Beggars can’t be choosy!). And for it to happen so close after a series of bad days made me appreciate it even more.

I’m sharing this for several reasons. First, you get to listen to me complain about bad days—you should get to hear me celebrate good days.

Second, if you’re a fellow consumer, I want you to know that there are good days. I remember one time at support group one guy said, “every so often, you get to get off the treadmill and feel like a normal human being–and it’s amazing”.  It’s so encouraging to hear things like that in the middle of a down turn—well usually it is. Sometimes it makes me just want to hit the person.

And third, it’s for me to remember. It’s so easy to focus on the 50 days that were bad, and forget about the one that was great. My mom often used to suggest I keep a prayer journal….that way I could see when God answered prayer and have a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness. I’ve taken this pattern into my mental health adventure as well. Sometimes I just need to look back and go “Remember that day. Remember how you felt. Wasn’t that amazing? Don’t worry—no matter how unlikely it looks now, you’ll get to feel that way again.”

It’s several hours later now—and I just spent 4 hours of a Saturday night working on my resume which is not that much fun. Unfortunately I will not be singing one of my favorite songs, “We went out last night” (by Kenny Chesney), tomorrow, but it doesn’t matter to me. I felt HAPPY. I felt CALM.

And the best part–I wasn’t even medicated!

 

You can see now why I’m happy I wrote that post Saturday.  Yesterday and today were rough days, and as I mentioned in reason #3—I need to be remember that good days do happen. Maybe (ok certainly!) not as often as I would like, and sometimes it seems a bit unfair that other people experience that feeling more than once every couple of months, but I do get to feel it.  And every couple of months is better than it was when I was younger before I started treatment…so now I’m working toward feeling that way once a month. Hopefully, if I live to be 100 and don’t die of a stress induced illness, I’ll have only one BAD day every couple of months.

Until then—stay tuned.

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Long black train

I had a pretty terrible day. I should clarify—my anxiety was probably only about a seven (ten being the worst!) but I’m just damn tired of it. I hate feeling like I’m only operating with half of my brain. To me, that’s what intense anxiety feels like. The back half of my brain is this constant train of thoughts speeding by–leaving only the front half (or less!) of my brain to function. And that part of my brain is attempting to function with a railroad running behind it. Imagine trying to study at Grand Central Station. Sounds like a great idea, I’m sure.

While I’m not consciously aware of the content of the racing thoughts—it just seems like loud noise in the back of my head. I catch pieces here and there, but mostly it’s just a sense of generalized anxiety (hence the name “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”).

I left work about half an hour early today because my brain lost the battle to the train (I could make that into a nursery rhyme—next blog!). What started as a whisper eventually worked its way to an all consuming noise. After staring at my computer for an hour and not having read a word—I got on the train and went home. I did some meditation—which lowered the volume to a medium hum. Like the train is no longer shaking the whole house…just the windows are rattling.

Running through my head this whole time was “You have survived anxiety before, you can do it again.” And I have worked through it….over and over and over….and over…and ov—ok you get the point.

But I am

SO

SO

TIRED

The question is—how much longer do I have to continue to fight this? The answer is rather bleak. I am not going to kill myself and despite jay walking at every possible opportunity I have yet to be hit by a car. So for the foreseeable future—I get the distinct pleasure of picking myself up over…and over…and….over

You might be thinking “stop feeling sorry for yourself”, after all—other people starve day after day. And maybe you’re right (about the bad attitude part—unfortunately it’s true that people starve everyday). But this is my reality, and if I’m being honest, today—I’m tired.

So I could leave you, my beloved reader,  at this rather depressing point—but what good would that do either of us? After all—I want you to keep coming back!  And it doesn’t do me any good either. Because guess what? Tomorrow—I get to wake up, with the same messed up brain, and do it all over.

So where will I leave us instead? Below I’ve listed a few techniques I’ve learned in therapy of dealing with these kind of days. And if I may be so bold (and I may, it’s my blog) I think the tips apply to anyone going through a rough time—not just mental illness.

  1. Stop Predicting the Future: I do not know what lies ahead. Whenever I would say, “so there’s no cure for bipolar” Rick (therapist) would say “not YET”. So maybe one day I won’t have to feel like this.
  2. Accept: Be ok that today is a bad day. I touched on this a bit above, but don’t compare yourself to others. Your hell is your hell. Trying to pretend it’s not a bad day is not going to make you feel better—it’s just going to wear you out.
  3. Let it go: Cross something off of your “to-do” list—without doing it. I’ve had a huge mess of clothes in our guest room for a week that needs to be put away. Sometimes, avoiding something you don’t want to do can be freeing, and give you back a sense of control. And hey, it makes selecting an outfit in the morning easier since my clothes are all there on display.
  4. Have fun: Take a bath, watch a funny show, drink some hot chocolate, get a foot massage (I’m currently trying to convince my husband to help with this one….). But make sure it’s something that involves very little effort on your part, we’re trying to get you to relax!

Ok…so its 11:10PM and I’ve done three of the four. And if Sidney would just give in on the foot rub…I’d hit all four and be the poster child of therapy.

However, if I’m honest—it’s not a magic cure. I’m still tired and tomorrow still seems overwhelming.  But I do know from past experience, what this did do was unhook a few of the cars off the train. So hopefully it will be a quieter train in my head tomorrow (or at the very least not louder than today!)

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Wednesday Wishes: Number Ten

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 Ten: If I don’t feel like talking when I’m in a mood, don’t assume I’m cutting you out. Sometimes there’s just nothing new to say. How many ways can I say “I’m so anxious I want to throw up”? or “My thoughts are racing so fast I can’t focus on anything?” I figure that I’m tired of feeling the same old thing, that you probably get tired of hearing the same thing.

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.