Mini Challenges

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of large groups, whether they be social gatherings or work related meetings.  It’s a challenge for me to enter a group setting because of my social anxiety that comes from a place of needing to feel accepted.  I know this now because I talked to my psychologist about it (I can’t take credit for coming up with that on my own).

I guess this anxiety comes from always feeling like an outsider when I was growing up.  I was called “weird” a lot and it made me feel anything but normal, like every middle school kid ever.  But that feeling of being seen as different stuck with me. I know part of it came from being very quiet as a kid.  People think you’re weird if you’d rather keep to yourself than join in a conversation. There’s some stigma around people who prefer solitude over socializing.  Although with things like JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out – I hear it’s a thing now), that’s starting to change. Either way, the feeling of being perceived as weird is what often keeps me from talking to people.  However, my psychologist encouraged me to “embrace the weird”. He said I shouldn’t care so much about what people think about me and it’s ok to be weird. I know he’s right, but easier said than done.

As I was talking to him about all this, he encouraged me to challenge myself to do more social things, like talk to people or at least stand in a room with them.  I thought of them as ‘mini challenges’. So I started to think about other mini challenges I could do and here’s what I came up with, including how realistic my attempt will be:

  • Make small talk with my bike neighbor at SoulCycle (highly unlikely)
  • Talk to one new person at a party in two weeks (likely)
  • Don’t hide behind my husband at the next family gathering (very likely – he usually disappears within 5 minutes of arriving)
  • Make small talk with a coworker whilst getting coffee (somewhat likely)
  • Say good morning and smile at coworkers I don’t know (likely)
  • Make small talk with someone in a random scenario, like the subway, a coffee shop, etc. (highly unlikely – I live in New York and we pride ourselves on avoiding this sort of interaction)
  • Not feel super awkward making eye contact with someone in the bathroom (unlikely)
  • Strike up a conversation during a pause at a family dinner next weekend (somewhat likely)
  • Remember that it’s ok to be weird (very likely)

Well next week I have another big meeting on Monday, and this time I’m going to go.  Well, I’m going to try to go. I’ll do my best, so stay tuned!

What kinds of mini challenges can you put yourself up to? Leave your responses in the comments, I’d love to read them!

 

All by myself

I’ve noticed that when I feel “good” I really struggle to write, which is one of the reasons I don’t post weekly on here.  I believe in ‘quality over quantity’ and I’ve never wanted this to be a place where I dump content just for the sake of posting.  That’s not what this blog is about. This blog is a safe place for me to share my thoughts with others who may experience things similar to the way that I do.  It’s also for people who are curious about mental illness and my wonderfully supportive loved ones to get a glimpse into my mind.

I’m writing today because I’m supposed to be in meeting.  I guess, technically I am in a meeting – I dialed in, but I should be there in person.  Why did I dial in? Because it’s a department-wide meeting and seeing a large group of people I don’t know very well made me turn on my heels and head back to the safety of my desk and my big headphones.  Groups of people I don’t know well make me very anxious. Sometimes even groups of people I know make me anxious. Basically, I don’t like big groups. Crowds are fine. I live in New York City so I’m fine being shoved around by people I don’t know.  But put them in a room where I could potentially have to speak to one of them? No way. Abort.

I don’t know why people make me so nervous.  Maybe it’s because I grew up as an only child and spent a lot of my childhood, and adulthood, alone.  I love being by myself and it’s crucial for my mental health. As I sit here, half listening to this meeting, I keep thinking about why groups of people make me so anxious.  Where did this social anxiety come from? Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert and that’s just who I am. I don’t like being around people I don’t know. I don’t like making small talk.  Maybe that makes me anti-social, but whatever it makes me it’s who I am. I used to wish I could be extroverted. I look at people who walk in a room full of people and can talk to anyone and think, ‘how the hell do they do that?’.  But that’s just not who I am. I get really quiet when I’m a group of people I don’t know well. Being around people also makes me really tired – it drains me. Even being in a group of people I love makes me tired. It takes a lot of energy for me to be around people, especially when I don’t know them well and I’m so focused on trying not to be awkward.  Even though I don’t want to admit, I do care what people think of me. I think most of us do.

So here I sit, away from the people at the safety of my desk.  I’m lucky that if my manager asked why I never come to meetings and call in instead, she’d understand.  But I’d be lying if I said I felt completely comfortable with my decision to sit alone. Part of me wants to be ‘part of the team’, but a bigger part of me is fine with being on the outside looking in.  I wish the thought of being in a big room full of people didn’t make my heart race, but I have social anxiety and that’s just part of my deal. I know I’m not the only one, I see the other people who call into the meeting who I know are here.  Maybe they’re too busy to attend, or maybe the feel the same way I do. Maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way. And maybe that’s ok.

 

Some Thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve written something and I can’t tell if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I tend to write more when things are difficult, and recently things have been going pretty smoothly.  My meds seem to be in order and my mood has been pretty stable. It’s amazing how something that seems so small, like adding an anxiety med, can make such a huge difference.

I often wish I didn’t need medication and I could use natural remedies to treat my bipolar disorder, but I just don’t think that’s in the cards for me.  I completely agree that Americans are overmedicated, but for some of us we need it to survive. When I feel down, I feel completely alone. By down I mean depressed, anxious, and just generally shitty.  It’s a horribly isolating feeling. It feels paralyzing because the world keeps moving around me, yet I feel like I’m stuck in one spot. One sad, lonely spot. And it feels like no one understands. But what I’ve learned from reaching out to the mental health community is that people do understand.  Everyone experiences depression or anxiety differently, but we often face similar battles. Like depression feels like a weight you can’t push off you, or a cloud that follows your relentlessly. Anxiety feels like being trapped in box with water rising around you. It can also feel like a heart attack.

Even though my anxiety has been under control thanks to medication, I still feel it creep in from time to time.  This usually happens when I’m extra tired or haven’t been doing a good job at taking care of myself (eating well, sleeping enough, drinking plenty of water, exercising, etc.).  I notice it when my mind starts to race and I feel my heart start beating faster. If I’m without my medication, I put my hand on my chest and try to slow down my breathing. I do breathing exercises like counting my breaths (inhale for 3, hold for 3, exhale for 3).  But it frustrates me that even though I take medication, I still experience anxiety. I guess nothing is perfect.

My mood, in general, has been unusually stable, which for me (someone with a mood disorder) is extraordinary.  As someone with a rapid cycling mood disorder, I’m used to not being able to trust my feelings because I know my mood will just change again.  It’s a weird and awful feeling to feel like you can’t trust yourself because your brain is turning against you. It’s scary and it makes making decisions feel almost impossible, even small meaningless ones.  But I haven’t felt that way in a while, and for that I feel incredibly grateful. And it’s not just medication that does the trick, it takes a lot of work on my end as well. There is no magic pill that makes you feel better all the time.  And even with the work I put in, like exercising and sleeping enough, I still have my lows. They’re just less frequent and less severe.

So generally speaking, things are pretty good.  Will they stay that way forever? No. I’ve been dealing with this long enough to know that the good times don’t last forever, which is why it’s so important to enjoy them.  These are the times when I’ll try to exercise more and be more social, because I know that when I’m not feeling great those are two things I avoid. As my dad always says, some days are rock and others are diamonds.  Enjoy the diamonds while you have them and persevere through the rocks since neither lasts forever.

 

Breaking the Stigma: Meds

In the past I’ve been pretty adamant about finding alternatives for medication, and I still am to some extent.  Medication is really tricky and it’s difficult to know if it’s right for you, which is why it’s so important to have a good psychiatrist or other medical professional who can prescribe you medication.

I’ve been taking medication for 16 years and yet I still sometimes have a problem with it. There was a five year period where I was off medication completely but that ended three years ago, and I’ve been back on ever since.  I felt some sense of pride that I didn’t need medication, which is really stupid because there’s nothing wrong with taking medication.  But this was 8 years ago and the mental health movement was still far from taking off.  I was so embarrassed of my medication that I used to hide it in vitamin bottles so my roommates wouldn’t know.

Not everyone with a mental illness needs medication, but for those of us who do it can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow (no pun intended) to know that you may very well be on medication for the rest of your life.  For me, it makes me feel like I’m sick and I hate that feeling.  Most of the time I’m ok with the fact that I have a mental illness and I need to take medication to manage it, but sometimes it can be really hard to deal with.  I get this idea that I need pills to be normal and that somehow makes me wrong or broken.  But really that’s not the case.  So many people take medication for so many reasons and I would never judge someone for taking their medication so why should I judge myself?

I currently take two medications, one as a mood stabilizer and one to help with depression.  Recently I added a third to help with anxiety, which for some reason I had been very hesitant to take.  I’ve struggled with anxiety since high school but over the past several months it had become unmanageable.  I found myself having a hard time having conversations with people or reading because I could’t stop my mind from racing.  I had so many irrational fears and found myself performing rituals, similar to OCD, like checking the door lock more and more.  Sometimes the anxiety about locking the door got to bad that I would get to work (which is a 40 minute commute) and turn around and go home to check the door.  I’m sorry to say I did that more than a few times.

Even though anxiety was clearly affecting my life in a very negative way, I was hesitant to talk to my doctor about it.  I would casually mention it but always downplayed it and said it was probably just because of work.  But finally it got to the point where I couldn’t enjoy being with other people because I was too anxious about literally anything that I finally said something to my doctor.  He gave me a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication and I am not kidding when I say this – it was LIFE CHANGING. It felt like someone finally silenced the constant chatter of my mind that was incessantly and relentlessly pestering me with things to worry about.  I can’t fully explain how helpful this medication is to me because it’s that amazing.  I feel like I got my life back.

My point is not to push drugs on people, but to say that it’s important to be open to treatment.  There’s no need to suffer is silence.  If you’re taking medication and something isn’t working, tell your doctor.  If you think you might need medication, talk to  your primary care about finding a psychiatrist.  It’s amazing how medication can change your life and there’s no reason to feel ashamed that you need to take a pill (or two) to feel like yourself.  I’m trying to erase “feeling normal” from my vocabulary because what does feeling normal even mean?  I like feeling like me, and being riddled with anxiety is anything but that.  I wish I had said something sooner because anxiety got in the way for lot of things for me over the past several months.  But I’m happy I finally said something and found the help that I needed.  For me, natural remedies don’t work and I need medication. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Do Less

I’m feeling a little bullied by social media lately.  I see so many posts telling me to live my best life! Go out and do something!  Follow your dreams! And I know these are all positive things and the people who post them mean well…but all I want to do is take a nap.

I’m in the midst of going through med withdrawal, which is a side effect of going off a medication (in case you were wondering). So basically I am SUPER tired ALL. THE. TIME.  It’s quite annoying and puts a damper on things like working out, being productive at work, and trying to do normal human things like hold a conversation, shower, or put my clothes not on the floor in a pile.  Even simple things, like taking a dress to the tailor, feel like climbing a mountain. It’s a lot similar to feeling depressed. So maybe I do have a touch of depression, sometimes I can’t tell the difference.

Anyways, during these times I feel like I have a million voices yelling at me to do things because they’ll make me feel better. Go to spin! Make a smoothie! Take a walk! But all I want to do is lay under my weighted blanket and watch reruns of Drag Race. I don’t want to go out and reach for the stars.  I don’t want to ‘express myself’. I want some goddamn peace and quiet. Sometimes I just get really tired of the pressure I feel to feel better. Because the truth is willing it doesn’t always work. I wish that was the case. I do believe in the power of positive thinking but I also believe in the power of taking a mental health day, taking time to not speak or communicate with another human for as long as possible, and taking time to do absolutely nothing and not feel sorry about it.

I feel like social media puts this pressure on us to be constantly doing things.  We have our friends and random “influencers” we get basically bullied into following telling us to do things to make ourselves feel and be better.   But maybe the answer isn’t always an expensive protein powder or meditation, maybe the answer is doing nothing and not feeling ashamed. Maybe it’s ok to log off Instagram, turn off your phone, and be alone with your feelings.  That’s how we heal. When your sprain your ankle, you’re told above all to rest. So what about when you sprain your brain? I think the answer should be the same.

Going through a depression, changing meds, or just feeling like crap is like spraining your brain.  You’re temporarily not at your best and it’s ok to take a rest to recover. There should be no shame in taking a few hours, or better yet a whole day, to sit around and do nothing.  When I give myself that kind of time I can feel myself getting better. I allow myself to write down my thoughts, to cry, to not shower (sorry husband), and to not do anything. Sometimes I don’t even watch TV or listen to music.  I sit in silence. I know it sounds weird and like something a serial killer might do, but it’s actually really nice to just be. You get to see where your thoughts take you, which is usually to the refrigerator, and then you take it from there.  But they key is to not feel ashamed for using this time to rest, for using time to take care of yourself without doing ‘self-care’ rituals. Because sometimes the thought of running a bath, meditating, or even lighting a candle can feel like too much.  Instead, allow yourself to literally do nothing and see where your mind takes you. It can be the palate cleanser your mind needs.

 

Reaching Out

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write.  I’ve been going through a bit of a depression the last couple of months and it zaps my energy to do anything, even things that I love.  Depression is tricky because as much as you or others tell yourself to snap out of it, you can’t. It feels like nothing can make it go away, which is why it’s easy to feel hopeless and afraid.

I’ve been feeling very isolated so I decided to join an online support group for women with bipolar disorder.  I was hesitant to join any type of support group because I prefer to suffer in silence. But I realized that’s part of the problem.  When you feel depressed, anxious, manic, etc. it’s often times very lonely. You feel cut off from the rest of the world. You feel like your feelings are wrong and invalid.  You feel completely alone. At least, that’s how I’ve been feeling. I feel like I don’t deserve to feel depressed. Anxiety is kind of another ball game, but depression always makes me feel selfish.  I forget that it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain that my doctor can’t seem to figure out how to fix. I forget that it’s not my fault, nor is it anyone’s who experiences it. There’s no contest that determines who gets to be the most miserable.  There’s so scale that validates your pain. There’s only what you feel, and what I keep reminding myself is it’s ok to have those feelings. This support group has helped me realize that.

I’m frustrated that I’m in a depression.  All I can really say to explain how it feels is that it sucks.  Very eloquent I know. But this group is helping. I see other women, often around my age, who are going through similar experiences.  It validates how I feel and shows me that I’m not the only one who feels like that; it shows me I’m not alone. We encourage each other to seek help and support each other through the highs and the lows.  And what’s so funny to me is this is a group of complete strangers, but I feel like I can be open and express what I feel without fear of judgement. I found this group on Facebook with just a quick search.  That’s how easy it was to find such a wonderful form of support.

There’s been a lot of talk about depression and suicide in the news late with the recently losses.  It’s been hard for me to read about because I’ve been in dark place and I’ve been in darker ones, the ones where it starts to feel like maybe there isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel.  But that’s why I’m writing this post. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face – get help.  There are so many resources I’ve mentioned in my previous posts and they’re all available to you and anyone you know who is suffering.

Depression is hard, messy, and soul-sucking…but it doesn’t last forever.  I’ve been in much deeper depressions than this one which what I hold on to, knowing that there is an end in sight.  And when I feel alone or like I’m going crazy, I check in with my group and they help me remember it isn’t just me. And when all else fails, there’s always reruns of Drag Race and funny cat videos to put a smile on my face, even if it’s just for a minute.

 

Support in a Surprising Place

When you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, or any other unpleasant feeling it’s not uncommon to feel alone.  I’m very lucky to have an incredible support system of loved ones and mental health professionals, but one of my favorite support systems came from an unexpected place: work.

During the first few months at my job I changed medications and the process was anything but pleasant.  I felt physically and mentally drained, and was having a hard time keeping it together at work. With the fear of being reprimanded or even fired, I decided to say something to my boss.  Not only was he completely accepting, he had been through a very similar experience himself. I felt more comfortable at work and mentioned that I had a mental illness to a coworker who told me about a mental health group at our company; an online support channel made up of employees.

In this group we share the highs and the lows and speak freely without fear of judgement.  We even started meeting in person in the New York office, which have such a loving, supportive energy.  This groups gives me a feeling that my company supports me and I have a support system within these walls.

But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what some of my amazing, brave coworkers have to say:

“I took a 4 months of medical leave from work to deal with a debilitating episode of depression. Managing my ongoing transition back to work (along with the continued depression symptoms, and the seemingly endless search for “the right meds” and “the right therapist”) has been difficult. But having a manager who I can be completely honest with during down and unproductive weeks, a team that proactively reaches out to offer their support, and a group of like-minded individuals in a public slack channel (!!) who are open and honest about sharing their own positive and negative experiences has motivated me to continue prioritizing my wellbeing and self-kindness. Without these compassionate work support networks, I imagine that I’d still be on leave, and I feel grateful to work at a company that really does let me “bring my whole self to work.””

“Having an inclusive and safe channel to discuss my mental health at work helps make me more productive. I’m less afraid and anxious to go to work in the morning when I know I have a place I can turn to for support from my peers that understand what I’m going through and can help me navigate my way through the tough times.”

I know most companies don’t have support groups like this, but there are hundreds and thousands of other online support groups out there.  Just having someone say “me too” or “that sounds really hard, I’m sorry to hear that” can have such a positive impact. Do a Google search for the type support your looking for and you will find endless resources.  Remember, there is no need to suffer alone; there are people just like you who will understand.