Category Archives: Determination

BREAKING NEWS!!!!!! A Benefit of Mental Illness Uncovered

I tend to think of mental illness as that ugly sweater you get from your great aunt at Christmas. You know what I’m talking about, the itchy wool one that doesn’t come with a gift receipt. Yet, there is a good thing or two about the gift—your aunt was thinking about you and in the case of being robbed, you’re guaranteed to have at least one article of clothing left!

So recently I’ve been looking to identify and appreciate aspects of my personality and life that are positively affected by my mental illness. One of the first things to come to mind is my natural tendency toward empathy.

I teach a class of K-2nd graders at church on Wednesday nights and they are AWESOME.  There’s nothing better than playing freeze tag with a bunch of munchkins to remind you of the good in life. After getting pushed down last Wednesday, a little boy came up to me crying and told me, “My elbow needs some love”.  How can anyone resist that?  I clearly couldn’t. So I let him curl up in my lap till it felt better.  Nobody can resist giving love and sympathy in a situation like that.

But what about other situations? Like say if an adult told you their elbow needed some love?

During a party my parents hosted for my dad’s college students, a girl was complaining to my mom about a high level of school stress. My mom looked at her and goes, “Yeah, go complain to Tabitha. She’s way better at the sympathy than I am.” So she came to me, vented a while. I did what I do and at the end she goes “Wow—you are good at this”.

While this is a minor example, I feel like I can be a comfort in more serious situations as well. While I cannot say, I “know how you feel” to everyone I comfort, I can say I understand pain. From my depression I understand hopelessness and despair. From my anxiety I understand fear and worry. From my bipolar I understand irritability and mood swings. And those feelings are never too far removed that I forget how painful they can be.

I like that about myself. I like that I can offer comfort and support to a wide variety of people. So while it might suck to have such intense emotions, in those times of comforting others I can honestly say I’m glad I have experienced them.

I write this to thank you all as well. This is a quality that is so pervasive in the mental health blogging community. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been uplifted by a reader’s comments. Or how many times I’ve read about a blogger struggling, just to see them give hope and encouragement on a fellow blogger’s site. You all are amazing!  Love and appreciate that about yourselves alright?!

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

While I was home for Thanksgiving my parents, who are faithful followers of my blog, asked why I have not posted recently. I gave the standard, easy answer “I’ve just been really busy and stressed out”.  While true (I learned at an early age that lying to mom and dad can only end badly…very badly), after some self-reflection this afternoon I realized there was more to it.

An awesome blogger over at Purple Dreamer helped me uncover the other part of this equation. I was reading through the “rules” of a blog nomination she gave me (more on that later) when I came across a series of questions I was suppose to answer. The first question is “Why do you blog?” That’s spelled out pretty clearly on the purpose of my blog, “providing hope, insight, and awareness for life with mental illness”.  But that is the mission of many amazing bloggers and writers already, so why do I think I have something to add? For me, I try to address a specific audience by to bringing life and emotion to the more tangible facts, knowledge, and coping techniques by being vulnerable and open about my life and struggles…..

And the “AH HA” moment.  No, not the new facts or knowledge, I’ve actually listening to a lot of podcasts recently. The problem is the vulnerability.  See I haven’t really been doing all that well recently. I am not the worse I’ve ever been, if I was I would have been forced to stop and deal with it. Since I’m only kinda bad, I’ve decided it was just easier to ignore the darkness that was going on inside.

I’m ashamed to admit I am a Hunger Games addict.  How can you not have a crush on a small crush on a gorgeous buff blue-eyed baker? But I digress, during the rebellion one character says, “It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”  This is what I’ve been doing recently—I don’t feel like I have time to fall apart, I am completely overwhelmed with work and my job. So instead of putting forth the effort needed to address what’s going on, I’ve done just enough to hold myself together.

Let’s pretend Sidney brings me home a vase filled with flowers. As I’m arranging it on the table it slips from my hand (believable right?) and a small crack appears.  I have three options:  a) ignore it, b) slap some tape on it, or c) examine the break, find the right glue to fix it, hold it to the glue dries. Then rearrange the flowers back in the vase. Since I’m running around like crazy right now—I’d likely put the tape on it (especially if I could find some pink duct tape laying around!).

I know you think you know where I’m going with this—if you ignore something too long it will eventually break….true. But I want to focus on another side of it.

Duct tape and visible cracks are not pretty to look at, and don’t allow the vase to function at its full potential.  Water is likely leaking down and dripping through the cracks.  So while I’ve been cruising along in my life, throwing duck tape on the anxious or depressed thoughts, I’ve impaired my ability to reach my potential.  I’m not happy right now. I’m just existing. I make a “to-do” list at the beginning of the day, work on accomplishing it, go to bed, wash rinse repeat. And since I never stop to be open, to be vulnerable, and introspective, I have not identified and dealt with the garbage of thoughts going on in my head, impeding my life.

I justify it by saying Oh I’m too busy to do my thought journals, I’m too busy to meditate, I’m too busy to identify cognitive errors. And I’m certainly too busy to deal with anything I might find during the process. When it should really be, I’m too busy NOT to identify what’s going on in my head. I’m too busy NOT to be using my brain at its full potential.

I think everyone’s brain collects garbage and false thoughts throughout the day/week/etc. but I think those of us with a mental illness collect more of them, in a faster period of time, and store them more deeply. While many people can drop these thoughts during coffee with a friend, a hard work out, a phone chat—those of us with mental illness require a bit more work to stop the party going on. Our brains have lots of confusing dark crevices, wrong turns, and trap doors for the thoughts to hide behind.  So if I’m going to be successfully living with a mental illness, I’m going to need to remember to clean out the junk drawer that is my brain.  I need to commit to writing my blog, journaling, going to therapy, talking to my support team—even when that means I might drop an hour of work, miss out on a social event, order pizza two nights in one week…

I must remember that I deserve to be healthy and happy—not just existing. And being mindful of my thoughts and emotions is a huge part of that.

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A Day in My Life!

Like most people with a mental illness, I spend way too much time in my own brain. That’s where a lot of the anxiety breeds as I focus on my own thoughts and ideas. In fact, one tactic that I use to prevent panic attacks is to start to point out specific visual things around me. For example, “The clock says it is 9:10 in red numbers; there is a small red light in the bottom right hand corner to show that it is PM”

So for this blog I thought I’d post some photos of a “day in my life”.  These past few days I’ve been paying more attention to life around me wondering “hmm…what should I take pictures of”. I would recommend trying it for a few days and see if it helps get you out of your brain into the world around you.

 

So what do you think? Do you have other ways to help me get out of my anxiety filled brain?

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I don’t want to fight my depression..

Don't want to fight

When I saw this photo I hadto repost it because it so clearly captures my feelings on many days (and the couch in the photo looks pretty comfortable). In fact this morning, I felt this way (but enter “anxiety” instead of depression). I overworked my brain yesterday so I didn’t sleep well and woke up with a tension headache and panic attack symptoms.  I wanted to climb back into bed–but I had commitments at work and my in-laws are coming.  Fortunately, my amazing husband helped cheer me up and I put on a cute outfit (that helped…a little!)

I don’t want to fight my depression...

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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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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.

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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Happy Times (?)

So–this was a blog post from Thursday. That I forgot to post…I have that issue with mailing letters too. I write, address, and stamp them.  Then never mail them.  Awkward when I get mad they didn’t write me back, and find the letter a few weeks later! Now…onto the blog….

I was reminded of a blog I wrote about a year this week. This weekend is a wedding for a wonderful cousin of mine!  It should be so exciting because all my family is going to be there–and I love spending time with my cousins–there’s supposed to be great music, dancing, and the couple is great together. However, all I felt was anxious from all the upcoming activity! And that made me a bit angry…..

Begin Blog:

As a general rule I don’t tend to feel sorry for myself for having a mental illness.  Part of that is most likely because it could be much worse, I could be schizophrenic or other more life impeding diseases.  The other part is likely due to the fact that I’m convinced it’s my fault or I deserve it (issues I’m working on in therapy!).  But I think another large part of it was being raised in a family of four kids with a dad who’s favorite quote (after “living the dream”) was “Life’s not fair pal”.

So as I struggle through particular events that are especially hard for me, such as confronting suicide, or go through difficult times in life such as exams, large changes, supporting friends; I tend to suck it up and realize that sure life is probably a bit more difficult in some ways for me.  Yes, I have to work harder to use my tools to control my stress level and maintain sanity, but I also realize that even if I did not have a mental illness, life would still suck at those times.

But it’s times when life should be fun, things should be exciting, I should be happy but I’m instead anxious and overwhelmed that I start to through a pity party for myself.  I’ve been experiencing a lot of that recently.  On the outside my life is pretty amazing right now.  I am engaged to marry the man of my dreams, my parents are supporting me in a beautiful fantasy wedding, I’m enjoying my classes, and most importantly—I have a job upon graduation.  Not something everyone in this economy can say.

Yet—I’m not getting to enjoy many of these things.  I barely remember shopping for rings with my fiancé—all I remember is the pounding headache and intense desire to run away from the numerous blinding lights.  Registering at Macy’s is overwhelmed by a panic attack and hiding in the changing room afraid of….I’m not sure what.  My Public Program Evaluation class, the first class in which I have not only done the required readings but the recommended ones as well, is spent practicing my breathing exercises because my entire body has tensed because the kid next to me reminds me of someone from an unpleasant time of my life.

I haven’t quite figured out what to do about this yet—but I’ve been experimenting with a  few things.

  1.  Figure out less stressful ways for me to enjoy activities.  For example, registering for things online was a lot more fun for me.  No crowds—could take breaks when needed—less overwhelming.
  2. Recoloring: This mostly applies to memories of events.  When I think of the events—and the  overwhelming anxious moments (like the panic attack at Macy’s), I try to stop: breathe and think of one thing that was enjoyable or peaceful about the event.  Hopefully, overtime I can retrain my brain to not go into panic mode whenever that event is remembered.

But really—its not something I have solved yet.  And that’s ok—but one thing is for sure.  It is unfair, it does suck, I did get the short end of the stick in many ways.  And that makes me angry, annoyed and frustrated.  These are the emotions that are going to keep me going to figuring out how to try things, and to prevent letting my illness win.

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Rascal Flatts: Easy

Official music video of the Rascal Flatts song mentioned in the blog.

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How hard it is…to make it look so easy….

I’ve discovered a new favorite song.  Have you ever heard the song “Easy” by Rascal Flatts? Not only do they have amazing voices—the lyrics fit my feelings about my illness quite well.

It’s easy going out on Friday night
Easy every time I see her out
I can smile, live it up the way a single guy does
But what she, what she don’t know
Is how hard it is to make it look so easy”

Now—I realize this song applies to a breakup.  I can only wish that I had broken up with my illness (I’ve tried, but it just won’t accept it.  Restraining orders don’t work either—believe me, I’ve tried).

Anyways to the point–how it reminds me of my illness.  Until you get to know me really well, my disorder is often not visible. I make it look like I’m ok. I go out with friends to the bar, watch movies, make jokes, dance (not well or to the beat but dance none the less), and play games.  I’m often even the “life of the party”.  I make it look ‘so easy’.

And you’ll never know just how hard it is for me to make it look so easy.

It’s a balance I’m struggling to find. How much do I pretend? And when do I share how hard it is?

The case for pretending: One, I want people to think I’m normal (but really, who am I fooling? I doubt I’d be normal even without my disorder). Two, I don’t want to burden those around me. And three, alot of times I don’t know if they could do anything to make it better, so why share?

The case for sharing: One: those who care about me want to be involved in my life. Do I have the right to make that choice for them? Two: How can I fight the stigma of mental illness if I hide my experiences?

And three, most complicated of all, sometimes I fear that if I pretend so well and for so long, people won’t believe my disease is real.  When I do finally share, they’ll think I’m making it up.  That they won’t realize how hard being healthy, happy, and calm is for me EACH day.  And selfishly—I like some sympathy once in a while (preferably with some flowers, chocolate, or a slushie!)

It’s one of those questions related to my disorder I’m still working through.  I spent the first 22 years of my life on the extreme pretending section.  Now, I’m slowly learning to open up and let people in.

I’m sure I’ll figure it out, after all the song is being played about once an hour or so.

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