Mental Health 101

In the past few weeks, I have been going through some pretty intense therapy in an effort to better understand my condition and, along with my trusty psych meds, regain my will to live and to be happy again. In this environment, I am not crazy or weak. I am simply a human being who has a disorder/illness/chemical imbalance. I have not asked for this condition; it’s not a choice or a switch I can turn on and off. I do not consciously will myself to sink into a depression that strips away my will to live, my ability to feel joy, to love myself or to function on the most basic level. Yet, there are people who are unable/unwilling to educate themselves about bipolar disorder, depression or any other mental health diagnosis. These are the people who tell me, “It must be nice to have time off work. I wish I could have a week or two off work.” To which I want to say, “It must be nice to not be burdened by the weight of an intelligent thought.” Seriously. These are the same people who have told me that it’s all in my head. Well, actually it is. That’s where my brain is and inside the brain is where the chemical serotonin is store. If there is an imbalance, my mood will manifest that. In that regard, it is all in my head.

I feel as though the one place I need support and understanding the most is the one place I get it the least – work. I want to photocopy pages from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness) relating to bipolar disorder and put them on their desks, in an effort to educate them on what that is. I’m fairly certain it doesn’t mention the word crazy once.

At any rate, those who do understand, who have taken the time to educate themselves or just support me in general, have given a positive balance to the negative. Should things at work not change, I will have to recognize that the situation is out of my control. I will have to find what is within my control (my expectations, my ways of coping and if I choose to stay or find employment elsewhere) and then take action.

Sometimes I think that the worst part of having bipolar disorder is dealing with the stigma associated with mental illness and the uninformed/ignorant people who keep that stigma alive and well. This type of person is similar to the ones who fought against segregation, against same-sex marriage and who basically want the human race to be as ass-backwards and ignorant as they are.

Someday, I hope that mental illness will be recognized as what it is, an illness. Not a choice, a bid for attention or a scheme to get time off work, anymore than having cancer and undergoing chemotherapy is a way to get some time off work. It would be incredibly stupid for someone to say to a cancer patient, “It must be nice to have all that time off work” so why is it acceptable to say it to someone suffering from depression or having suicidal thoughts? Quite simply, it’s not.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my blog. I appreciate the kind words, thoughts and prayers that you all have given/said/thought. I can sometimes feel the warmth of those thoughts and prayers and it helps. It really does.

Hello Old Friend

Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life. 

John Updike 

I woke up this morning at about 3 a.m. to the most beautiful sound (to me) in the world…falling rain. The smell of rain gives me a feeling of relief from summer’s unending and oppressive heat. A good rainstorm washes away the dust, the dirt and gives the plants a much needed soaking. It is the element that gives life to all things, as Mr. Updike so eloquently phrased it.

I’ve written before at great lengths on my feelings towards summer; just as I strongly dislike it, I feel that it enables me to appreciate the other seasons. For me, pulling out my sweaters, jackets and boots is one of my favorite things to do when the seasons change. A walk in the rain for me is therapy. Listening to raindrops fall puts me in an almost hypnotic state and calms my restless soul. Perhaps this has something to do with being born on the day of Winter Solstice. I truly feel as though I am a child of winter and draw my strength from the cold winds, the rain and the cloudy skies of winter. Of course, I haven’t had the opportunity to live where it snows and I might feel differently if I had to dig my car out every morning, but I might not. I just know that I feel much better in the cold of winter; I love the shorter days, the storms and of course, the holidays. Thanksgiving reminds us how fortunate we are and to count our blessings, as we eat more food in one sitting than we should and then lay about the rest of the day, stomachs stuffed and eyes drooping from food coma. Christmas brings families together, goodwill towards man, however temporary. I don’t buy into the madness of Christmas shopping and the pressure to buy everyone that perfect gift, but I do enjoy sending out Christmas cards. You know, those beautifully designed paper things that they sent out in the old days, before e-mails and iPhones. It’s a small tradition, but it’s one that I’ve tried to keep up on throughout the years. I enjoy seeing a card in the mail, a bit of brightness amongst the bills and the ever-present junk mail. I love driving around town, seeing everyone’s Christmas lights and of course, the holiday music. There are so many beautiful songs and hymns at that time of the year.

Just as rain cleanses the ground and washes away the dirt and dust, I am reminded that I can also wash away old habits, toxic thoughts and poor self-care. I can start anew with a fresh slate and a cleansed soul. I can appreciate my good days, having survived the bad. I am stronger than I was yesterday, wiser for the experience and ready for a new day, in the rain.

Anyone that thinks that sunshine is pure happiness has never danced in the rain.

This Little Light of Mine

I recently heard this song and for whatever reason, it really spoke to me. I have been trying to find something outside of myself to make me happy, help me to make sense of it all. For years, I have depended upon others’ opinions of how I was doing, what kind of person I was, etc. I thought they held the key to unlock the mysteries of “Who am I?” as well as questions regarding my choices, as well as how I was living my life at the time. I never trusted myself to answer those questions because I didn’t feel as though I had the knowledge or the insight to know the answer. So, for many years (or decades, really) I was completely and totally confused, not to mention more than a little frustrated. I would look to drugs and alcohol to “help me” get through the tough times, one-night stands and unhealthy relationships to “feel loved” and many dark days and nights due to those choices. I tried to be what I thought everyone wanted or needed me to be, always with the hope that I would succeed, find happiness and live happily ever after. Yeah, right. All that served to accomplish was fracture my personality, take away whatever sense of self I had and make me completely powerless, in my own mind.

It wasn’t until I got in recovery, got sober and looked back on my life with open, honest eyes that I was able to see this. It didn’t happen on my first day of sobriety and it isn’t a process that’s completed. I still check in with myself to see if I’m falling back on old habits and old thoughts. I realize that I have never really believed that I had any light of mine, be it large or small. In fact, I thought I only had darkness with a touch of red-hot, flaming anger. The truth is, I have darkness, but I also have light. I have anger, but I also have happiness. I believe that the light and the happiness are buried beneath the darkness and anger and in order to reach those, I must push through and not stop until I reach them. It’s taken me quite a long time to be able to trust my instincts, my inner voice and believe that I alone have the power and the strength to make it through the tough times. I deserved to be loved, but first must love myself. I need my friends and family to remind me what a good and caring person I am and that I do have a little light. So I’m going to let it shine.

Happiness

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it”. 
Groucho Marx 

In the midst of a soul-crippling depression, it’s very easy to believe that happiness will never come, that the dark clouds will always be overhead and that things will not change; or if they do change, it will only be for the worst. This is not necessarily true, although I have been in that place and it seems as though it’s the absolute truth, at that time. If one does not seek help, things will surely worsen. Even if help is sought and given, there is no guarantee that the depression will not return. So, when I came across this quote by Groucho Marx, I felt it was the perfect topic at the perfect time for a perfectly awesome blog post.
Depression is a mood that is brought on by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Unhappiness is not. It is a result of our thoughts, experiences, perceptions and overall outlook on life. It can be triggered by an event, such as a death or a disappointment, an unkind word, a overbearing spouse, negative self-talk, low self-esteem or victimology. It can be seasonal, situational, or self-inflicted. I have thought myself out of happiness and into unhappiness just by focusing on what one person said, or one person did and I felt like their words/actions were like a raging river that swept me up and carried me far away from the happiness I had just been feeling. The thing is, I let that happen. I chose to make their words an absolute truth, take their actions personally and relinquish my happiness. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s true. I gave up my happiness, my power and my self-worth and allowed that to happen. The science of victimology is based on helplessness or feeling as though everyone around you is more powerful than you are; that you have no choice, no voice and no option to take or leave their careless comments. Absolutely false. Their beliefs are theirs and I have the option to agree or disagree. I have my beliefs and I don’t need anyone else’s approval of them. They are mine and mine alone. Others may be like-minded and that’s great, but no one has the power to say what I believe is wrong, unless I give them that power. Just like no one can make me unhappy. I have choices, endless choices on what I think, what I retain and what I choose to discard. If someone offers me a pile of dog shit, I am not obligated to take it, so why would I take toxic talk or hang out with people that are constantly negative? It’s a choice.
Today I choose to believe that things will get better, that I deserve to be happy, that I have the right to stand up for myself and be treated as I should, with respect. I will no longer give away my power; if I am unhappy, I will seek out the source of this unhappiness and take action to make a change. I will choose to not stay unhappy. If I am faced with someone who is negative and is a Debbie Downer, I will tactfully get the Hell away from her, say a prayer that she’ll find happiness and keep on keeping on.
I have so many incredible, loving, positive people in my life that I have no reason to suffer with chronically negative, hopeless victims who have no desire for change, only company in their misery.
I choose happiness.

Dark Days Indeed…

Some of you know how I’ve been having a difficult time as of late. I have finally taken the steps to get some relief and made an appointment with my psychiatrist, who thankfully had an opening yesterday. After a few questions (from her) and more than a few tears (from me) it was decided that I was in a crisis situation, mood-wise. Not so much the danger of a manic episode, but heavily on the depressed side. The real danger with depression is, of course, suicide and/or self-harm. For me entertain the thought of “ending it all” is enough to raise red flags with the good Dr. K. If I had thought of a specific method to bring about “the end” that would raise still more flags. If I had thoughts of it daily, we have a serious issue. I scored high on all three! (Not exactly the time one should be happy about a high score, but old habits die hard, being a recovering perfectionist) Dr. K’s primary concern was to get me out of the immediate situation and into some form of therapy, along with a re-evaluation of my meds. So, armed with a note stating that I would be off work for 2 weeks, a new dosage for my existing meds and an appointment with the Intense Outpatient Program (for mental health patients) and a promise to the good doctor that I would not harm myself, I was able to avoid a hospital stay. Now, if things get worse or do not improve, to the hospital I will go.

This is the part that I really, really hate. I mean, I’ve had more manic phases than I have depressed and while neither is a Good Time, I am more familiar with the manic and know which turn in the road is the one I need to watch out for. With depression, it just hits me like a wet blanket thrown over my head, stealing away my ability to see, to breathe and to merely tolerate life. It empties my mind of hope, happiness, confidence and any emotion other than the never-ending pit of blackness, despair and deep sadness. There is no logic at work in my mind during this state; no thoughts of this too shall pass, tomorrow will be a better day, you can make it through this, etc. Not a one. I hear thoughts of it will only get worse, you can’t handle this, it’s just too much, give up – just quit. You can end this misery, once and for all. The logical part of my mind (which is currently being held hostage) knows these things are lies and untrue, but cannot get through the thick, black wall of darkness to reach me. So, I have to rely on what I know. I do know this will pass (even though it feels as though it’s endless) I know that tomorrow will be a better day, if only for the fact that it’s a different day. I know that I’ve made it through this before and more than likely will have to again. I know that I have fantastic support from my family, friends and even some people at work. But the heavy lifting is my job to do alone, so that means going to my appointments, attending AA meetings and talking to people. Most importantly. resisting the urge to isolate, hide from the world and sink deeper into the abyss.

On the other hand, I know that my work environment hasn’t been especially healthy for quite some time and given more time, it’ll only get worse. I cannot change anyone or anything, but I can direct my efforts elsewhere. Maybe it’s time to update the resume, start looking for a different position, at least give myself the hope that I can one day walk away from the mass dysfunction and towards a new, different (and yes, possibly dysfunctional) position that will afford me the opportunity to stretch my wings, grow in a different way and have a fresh start elsewhere. It’s not a new idea, but it’s one that I need to put into action.

So, long story short: things have been bad, I refuse to let them get worse. I am going to take care of myself, listen to what my doctors, therapists and AA folks have to say and know that I will get through this, I will be able to pull myself up out of the darkness and come back into the light. With my mind, body and spirit whole and healed, for this time, at least.

 

Horrible, Rotten, No-Good Mood

So yesterday I found myself in the worst mood. I thought I knew the cause of my mood, but I was wrong. I think that as I near my one-year anniversary of sobriety, the bloom is starting to fade. Things that used to just fall off my shoulders now seem to stick with me and refuse to let go. I seem to be regressing back to where I was trying to control everything and everyone outside of my area of control (aka my Hula-Hoop) which is a recipe for disaster. Once I get feeling like nothing is going right, nothing is working and everything is hopeless, it’s a quick slippery slope to slide right back to being an active alcoholic and blowing my almost one-year of success in sobriety.

So, I’ve identified the problem. Now to find a way to advert the disaster I see coming down the road. I guess the first thing would be to get my head back on straight and start looking at what I need to do to get my shit together again. I can feel my temper gaining traction, my  anger is once again ready to just leap out and unleash the Hulk. How on Earth did this happen? I have to believe that I let my guard down somewhere in the recent past or I raised my expectations of certain people, which is never a good idea. I expected that my best friend would actually want to be a part of my new move (even though she never came to visit me at my previous place, where I lived for over 2 years) so yeah, duh!

I guess this is it; focusing and relying on other people for my happiness, validation and support. Or more to the point, taking the focus from being inward and making it outward. I know better, but I still have to be reminded of the fact that I am the only person I have any measure of control over (and at times I doubt even that) and to use my energy to rage at people being who they are, behaving as they choose, is simply a huge waste.

I hope that I will be able to shake this horrible, rotten, no-good mood sooner than later. On that note, I’m going to do my best to re-set my mood meter and get back to the business of living and focus on me, my life and what I can do to make things better for me and let everyone else go about being themselves, without wishing they were any different.

Thanks for stopping by.

Just For Fun

There are certain times throughout the day when I find myself slipping away from the present task at hand and moving towards something completely random, like perhaps what my 80th birthday party would look like, who would be there, what would I be wearing and where on Earth would we be celebrating such a fantastic event? Would I be single, widowed, divorced, living in sin or just madly in love? These thoughts keep me from feeling as though “This is all there is” and leads me to entertain thoughts of where I’d LIKE to be. I guess it’s like having a nice glass of wine; it doesn’t take you physically away from where you are, but it does tend to offer a different vibe, perspective and overall softer, gentler view of the world. Like being wrapped in a soft, comfy blanket of cashmere, it’s just that good. Since I no longer enjoy the occasional glass (or bottle, let’s be honest) of wine, these thoughts are a part of my daily escape from the mundane. They also help me to get in touch with what my dreams are for the future, what my soul is craving and what I need to change to make the future brighter and today more livable.

Today, I was knee-deep in work stuff and my brain took a sharp left and took me out of the office completely. I was transported to a pristine beach where a lone horse stood waiting for me. As I rode off into the distance, free from the responsibilities of the day, from the drudgery of the office and the oppressive heat of the valley in October (which, by the way, is supposed to be AUTUMN, not SUMMER!) I could hear my soul sigh in contentment. Of course, I did actually sigh, which brought me back to my desk, but just for those few minutes, I was completely and totally, Somewhere Else.

Daydreaming and flights of fancy are something that we did as children, without instruction or direction. It’s one of the things about kids that I just adore. They aren’t bound by reality, nor by what is possible, only by the limits of their imagination. Too often, we are forced to abandon our “childish” ways and Grow Up. I always wished to be older, never understanding how fantastic and fleeting that time of innocence and wonder really is. But just because I’m now an adult, I don’t have to surrender my childish pleasures. Ice cream for dinner, cartoons on Saturday morning (or Wednesday night, for that matter) giggling uncontrollably, blowing bubbles and flying kites are all things that I can enjoy, regardless of how many candles are on my birthday cake.

I had the pleasure of having an incredible woman in my life earlier on, when I was married. My son’s great-grandmother (we called her GG because he couldn’t say great-grandma when he was a little guy) GG had a way of enjoying the smallest of nature’s wonders, the hummingbird. She would fill her hummingbird feeders and watch them come to eat, marveling at their grace and laughing with enjoyment as they dipped and swayed, delicately feed and then dashed away. GG never seemed old to me, even though she was in her early 90’s by the time she passed (or graduated, as she preferred to say) because she enjoyed her life. She laughed often and kept that child-like wonder and enthusiasm for all the beauty and miracles in nature and in Life. When I would come to pick my son up after a visit, they would be playing together, usually with Play-Doh or Lincoln Logs. She wouldn’t sit on the couch and watch him play; she would be right there with him, on the floor or at the table. Both of them would always be laughing and smiling together, in their own little world.

She had the secret to happiness and long life; live it and enjoy it. She has been my best role model for living a good life and staying young, keeping the child within well-nourished, exercised and entertained. Tonight, after a grown-up dinner with lots of veggies, I’m going to break out the colored pencils and do a little coloring, just for fun.

Happy Hump Day!

Moving and Doing and Being

Moving – Sorry I’ve been lacking in posting here, but I have been keeping busy packing, moving, unpacking and sorting, etc. for the last few days. I am officially done and couldn’t be happier to say that. My new place is much closer to work (reduced freeway time – yay!!) and closer to most of the family, which is always a huge plus. Speaking of family, I would not have been able to move, had it not been for my siblings. They were absolutely incredible, hauling and loading, never complaining and helping me yet again. I am so fortunate to have such fantastic and generous brothers and sister. I think that family is one of the reasons why I have been able to work through so much unpleasantness in my life. Family is the safety net that’s kept me from falling from great heights to my death; they have supported me when they didn’t agree with my choices, told me when I was being unloving towards myself and encouraged me always to speak up for myself, communicate what I am feeling and share my gifts, whatever they may be. I have never felt that I was unloved or alone, thanks to my family.

Doing – I am looking forward to celebrating one full year of alcohol-free living in November and am more excited about that than I am about my 45th birthday the following month (although I am pretty excited to hit 45, come to the end of the Mayan calendar and celebrate Christmas all in the same week) I feel much stronger in my recovery and am again so thankful for everyone that encouraged me to make the change in my life and find myself in the process.

Being – growing up in a large family sometimes feels like you are never an individual, only one face in a sea of many. I always wanted my own space, my own room and my own toys. What I failed to realize is that all those people around me would be my best friends, my therapists, my champions, idols and counselors in the decades to come. I can always have my own space when I need it, but as I grow older I have come to value the company of others that I truly love, admire and enjoy. None of us know how long we have to walk the Earth, but I do know that I will spend as much time as possible telling the people I love how much I love them and how grateful I am for the gift of their friendship. I am working on being in the present more, looking back less and not worrying about the future so much that I miss right now. I am working on balance in every aspect of my life and I believe that is a never-ending, constantly changing job.

There’s nothing quite like a fresh start to get me feeling confident, happy and open to change. I hope those of you who are able will come by and check out the new place, have a glass of juice, coffee or tea and make some new memories in my new home. In the meantime, keep on keeping on and thanks for stopping by.