Say Something

This morning I went to SoulCycle because I’ve been waking up at 6am and I’m obsessed with it.  Towards the end of the class the instructor walked around the room and said a few motivational lines as she usually does, but one stuck with me more than the others.  She said, “If you want to say something, say it,”.  Simple, right?  But it stuck with me.

Yesterday was a nightmare.  For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook, this is what I posted:

I am not proud to be an American today. Yesterday my insurance provider denied coverage of my medication and is continuing to deny it, even after my doctor appealed. Without insurance, a one month supply is over $1,000. This medication gave me sleep, energy…it gave me my life back. And now the provider is saying that I’m not eligible for medication DESPITE the fact that my DOCTOR has advocated that I DO need it.

I have no idea what’s going to happen. I feel completely powerless and hopeless. I filled the prescription no problem last month and now they just turned around said “DENIED”.

Insurance providers in this country are DISGUSTING. This is the SAME PROVIDER that tried to kick me off my father’s insurance 10 years ago when I required more mental health treatment after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

They don’t look at us as people with lives, loved ones, and hopes & dreams, they look at us as numbers that drain their pockets. I don’t know how to fight back yet but you better be damn sure that I will. I will not be treated like this and I will not stand by and watch others suffer the same.

This needs to end NOW.

Yeah, it’s been a rough couple of days.  The matter still hasn’t been resolved but I was able to buy three pills (by far the worst $200 I’ve ever spent) so I feel a little better today.  It’s adding so much stress that I really didn’t need considering the holidays are upon us, my body is still adjusting to switching to a new medication and getting off another, and oh! I have terrible PMS.  Basically, this week can go back to the hell it came from.

Obviously, this is affecting me at work.  It’s really hard to focus on writing technical documentation for advertising products when your mental health is in jeopardy and it feels like your insurance provider is trying to kill you.  I work on a small team of great people but none that I know on a very personal level.  I’ve never told any of them about my mental health but it was getting too hard to hide it from them.  I blatantly started crying during a meeting because my body just does that, and they either didn’t notice or were very polite about it.  I have no problem writing about my mental health and posting it on the Internet, but something about confronting it head on at work and telling people about it terrified me.  I asked a coworker whose role is to help everyone “keep the peace” when it comes to development and team functionality, if I should say something or not.  I told him that my fear was that if people didn’t know what was going on and saw me leaving early, working from home, or crying at my desk (again, it’s completely involuntary and the worst), that they would get the wrong impression and think I was a mess who couldn’t hold down their job.  He encouraged me to address it with them…and so I did.

And….

…their response was incredible.  They were all so understanding and so willing to help in any way they could.  I spared the details because the words bipolar disorder still scares people and mental health doesn’t always get held to the same priority as physical health, but either way their response was exactly what I needed.

It shouldn’t be so scary to tell people about what you’re dealing with, but let’s face it – it is.  I kept hearing my instructor’s words in my head, which is what finally gave me the push to say something (another reason I love SoulCycle – the instructors are magical).  Everyone deserves to be heard to have their needs met.  But if you don’t speak up for yourself, no one else will.

So I give you the same challenge my instructor gave me – if you want to say something, say it.  Whether it’s at work, with family, a personal relationship, or whatever, say something – you deserve to be heard.

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Stop. Breathe. Think

A fews ago I decided I wanted to start meditating.  I would sit cross-legged on my bathroom floor (the only dark, quiet place in my apartment), close my eyes, and sat there as my mind raced in circles until my legs hurt and I had to get up.  Spoiler alert: this is not what meditating is.  Meditation is focusing your mind on a single endpoint.  It can be your breath, a visualization of some sort, or a mantra (i.e., a word or phrase like “I am enough“).

I didn’t learn about that last part until I did my yoga teacher training (several years later), so I started to research how to meditate since sitting in a dark bathroom wondering what you’ll have for lunch that day is basically the opposite of meditating.  Everything I found online suggested using one of the many guided meditation apps, and linked me to the one I’ve now been using for several years; Stop. Breathe. Think.

The app offers a variety of guided meditations based on how your and body and mind are feeling.  You tick off some feelings or sensations your experience at that particular moment, and a list of recommended meditations display for you to choose some.  Some are longer (15-20 minutes) and some are very short (1-3 minutes – great for the train or waiting in line).  It was fantastic for me because it gave me something to focus on which helped silence the rest of my incessant internal monologue.  Eventually I learned how to meditate without an app by focusing on my breath or various mantras I learned during my training.

Although I don’t use my app as much as I used to, the concept of Stop, Breathe, and Think has followed me into various aspects of my life.  Like today…

Today, for whatever reason, is a sh*tty day.  You know the old saying that someone “woke up on the wrong side of the bed”?  Well I did that.  I don’t know how, but I did and it’s stupid and it’s make everything seem impossible and infuriating.  And no, it’s not that time of the month, in case you were wondering.  Since I’ve been feeling so much better, it bothered even more than it normally would to feel so off all day.  Nothing particularly bad happened, a few annoyances here and there, but that’s normal.  But for whatever reason, today anything could send me into a blind rage and I’m not about it.

The offense: I was sitting in a meeting and someone was eating and chewing with their mouth open.  The sound of someone chewing will irritate me on a great day, but on a bad day?  I was seething.  All these thoughts about how rude and disgusting this display was distracted me so much that I have absolutely no idea what happened in that meeting.  Someone could have said “Wow that girl, the technical writer, is really stupid and ugly,” and I would have either nodded or completely ignored it.  All I could think about was how angry I was.

The second the meeting ended, I bolted out of the room and headed for the elevators to go back to my desk.  Still filled with rage, I impatiently waited for the elevator.  Then God or the universe or whatever is watching over us took this opportunity to mess with me, because every time I hit the button, the wrong elevator came.  Eventually I gave up and took the stairs, pouting and stomping my way up, and then slumped down at my desk, defeated.  I was so mad that I felt like I was going to burst into tears.  I could feel the hot, angry tears welling up in my eyes and couldn’t believe I was about to cry over nothing.  In that moment, something came over me.

“STOP,” a voice in my head told me.  That’s when I noticed my breath; it was erratic and labored.  My hands were shaking and my palms were sweaty.

“BREATHE”.  I have the word tattooed on my wrist and yet I still forget to do it all the time.  I slowly and deliberately got up from my desk and calming walked to the bathroom.

“THINK” about the breath.  It always comes back to the breath, as any yoga teacher will consistently tell you.

I sat in the bathroom and took a few deep breaths (thankfully no one has done something foul in there before me) and thought about getting a cup of hot tea from the kitchen.  After my breathing became regular again, I washed my hands with warm water to feel the calming sensation of the heat and went to the kitchen to make some tea.

For all the time I spent feeling angry, irrational, and upset, it only took me a few minutes to calm myself down.  Had I just sat at my desk and continued to stew in my irrational rage, I can absolutely tell you it would have taken exponentially longer to feel normal again.

We have a lot more control over our thoughts and feelings than we give ourselves credit for, and one of the ways we learn this control is through meditation.  If you’ve never tried it or have tried it and not felt the benefits, I highly recommend downloading an app like Stop. Breathe. Think.  Our time is precious, so don’t spend it outraged over someone just trying to eat their lunch.

Holiday Self-Care Tips & Tricks

The other week as my husband and I frantically tried to figure out our holiday schedule between our FOUR families (the joys of being children of divorce), I almost considered packing up our stuff and shipping off to the west coast where we would never be heard from again.

Clearly, we did not do that.

Instead, we were able to reach some compromises and our families were understanding and flexible.  I know, unheard of, but we’re pretty lucky.  However, the stress doesn’t stop once you decided where you’ll be for a holiday.  Oh no.  That’s just the beginning.  Then you have to actually go to the holiday, and if you’re over 25 you most likely have to help.  And I haven’t even gotten started on Christmas shopping…

It’s enough to make anyone go from Buddy the Elf to the Grinch real fast.  So what can you do?

Obviously preparing ahead of time is out of the question because let’s be honest, no one will ever buy their Christmas presents in October or anytime that is not a week before Christmas.  It just won’t happen, that’s not who we are.  So instead, I offer you these tips you can do for yourself to try and stay sane this holiday season.

Keep your body healthy from the inside out

You know what’s worse than sitting through another game of charades with your drunk aunt?  Sitting through it with a head cold.  Pump up that vitamin C (if still counts of it’s in a mimosa, right?) or start taking a daily multi-vitamin.  That way, your body will work to stay healthy even while you’re sleeping!  But I’m not a doctor, so definitely consult one before adding or changing anything to your diet.

Sweat it out

A lot of fitness studios have special challenge classes and packages around the holidays to help combat added stress, as well as added pounds.  Check our your local gyms to see if there’s any specials going on.  Or you could join me on Thanksgiving at SoulCycle for the infamous Turkey Burn, a 90-minute ride (aka back-to-back classes), where I may or may not collapse mid sprint.

Get your Om on

As a huge proponent of yoga (and a certified 200hr teacher – woo woo!), there’s no better way to decompress from a mall overrun with late, insane shoppers than finding some peace and calm.  Head to a studio or grab your mat at home and flow through some sun salutations.  For some added peace of mind, diffuse lavender oil while you move and make sure to take an extra long savasana. Namaste indeed!

Sneak in some “you” time

If you have to travel and stay with family for the holidays, make sure you can carve out a little alone time to decompress.  Put on your noise cancelling headphones and watch Stranger Things (again) on your phone.  Borrow a car or take your own and go for a drive, maybe to an old hometown favorite spot.  Go for a walk with an old high school friend or a relative you love but don’t get to see too often.  Or go see a cheesy holiday movie by yourself and treat yourself to your favorite movie theatre snack.  The point is – make sure you give yourself time to recharge.  Even the most loving families can be overwhelming and smothering.

When it comes to gifts, do what my family does – Amazon wish lists.  Make a list, check it twice (hehe), and send the link in a group email, then have your family do the same.  It makes life SO. MUCH. EASIER.  So when you’re going around the dinner table to express your gratitude this holiday season, make sure you mention Amazon Prime; the greatest gift to mankind.

Stay sane my friends.

Warning: This is PSA

I’ve been writing more about medication recently because meds have always been a part of my battle with mental health that I’ve had mixed feelings about.  I think that one of the reasons I’ve also been apprehensive and skeptical about medication is because of the stigma that comes with it.

When I was in college my mom gave me this little capsule to put on my keychain so I could “discreetly” keep my meds with me and hope that people just wouldn’t notice.  Mental health is a lot better understood and accepted (well, it’s sort of better) today than it was in the early 2000s, so I grew up thinking that I was broken.  We didn’t have the Internet like we do today.  There weren’t all these online support groups to validate my experiences and show me that I wasn’t broken, I just needed a little extra help to stay together.  We all do at certain points in our life.  But because of this lack of an unseen, understanding network of people just like me, I thought medication made me different and weird.

It’s hard when you’re 18 and you think the world revolves around you to get your head out of your ass and see the bigger picture; we ALL have problems.  Just because your brand of crazy doesn’t have a label like depression or bipolar, doesn’t mean that you may not need a little extra support from time to time.  And medication can give that.

While I do fully believe that we are in an incredibly overmedicated climate thanks to Big Pharma convincing everyone that they have depression through their stupid commercials, I also believe that medication can really help some people.  Like me.

Several months ago I put myself into a position that could have ruined my wedding day for me.  It was also because I was stubborn and didn’t want to deal with medication.  One of the problems of having dealt with this issues for so many years is I’ve become jaded about certain things, particularly medication.  I’d say that 90% of the psychiatrists, psychologist, and therapists I’ve seen over the years have been TERRIBLE.  Like, they should have their license ripped away from them.  And then be punched in the face.  But I digress.  I finally found a good one, thanks to my mom.  Still, I was hesitant to call him when I noticed a problem because I was afraid of going on a new medication right before my wedding.  What a mistake that was.  I was still able to have an incredible time (and I credit that mainly to the fact that we got married at a spa.  Best decision ever), but I put myself and my beloved husband at risk.  If one of us is upset, it’s almost impossible for the other not to feel it.

Right after the wedding, the happiness and stability I was somehow able to create for that weekend came crashing down.  I spiraled right back to that unpleasantly familiar  depression I was just getting used to (Editors note: NO. DON’T EVER DO THAT).  I finally called my doctor and he lectured me, in a kind and caring way, that when I feel off I need to call him.  As he said, “If I had you on heart medication and you started to feel sick, wouldn’t you call me?”  Touché doctor.   So he changed my medication about a month ago and I actually feel like a person again; a person that I’ve haven’t been able to be in what feels like a very, very long time.  It’s amazing, it feels like getting my life back.

So my point is this – if you feel that you may need medication, whether you have a diagnosis or not, talk to a doctor.  Don’t google it and don’t just ask other people who take medication because there’s a whole science behind it that the vast majority of us can’t begin to comprehend.  But definitely do your research on your doctor; there are a lot of assholes out there who just look at you as a paycheck and not a human with real problems.
Medication doesn’t make you crazy.  Your erratic behavior makes you crazy.  Kidding!! You have to joke about this stuff or it will be a very long and arduous life.  If you don’t have anyone to talk to about this stuff or just want some advice or even just to vent about how Wellbutrin made you think that everything is vibrating, or getting of Effexor was (apparently) just like getting off heroin (anyone? No, just me?) then leave a comment to get a conversation going or email me at kate@thebrochick.com.  I’m on your side.

Keep fighting the food fight.

So That’s Why So Many Writers Are Alcoholics

This weekend I went to my very first writer’s conference.  You may be wondering what that means exactly and what it entails.  Allow me to explain…

This particular conference was hosted in Manhattan and provided an opportunity for writers of various genres to work on their book pitch and then recite that pitch to three different editors from different publishing houses.  There was also a panel with three agents from different publishing houses, which was both very educational and informative while also being incredibly depressing and disheartening at the same time because basically, it’s impossible to get someone to publish your novel.

The conference was three days, Friday through Sunday, and we spent our time with the groups we were broken into.  My group had nine people in it and each idea was incredibly creative, developed, and different from the next.  I feel like I really lucked out on my group because on day one I was the only New Yorker, people had traveled both near and very far, and everyone showed up ready to work.  It also seemed like we collectively did a good job of checking our baggage and bullshit at the door because having an ego will get you absolutely nowhere in the publishing world.

I pitched my novel to two editors on Saturday and one on Sunday and they all had the reaction I anticipated; it’s a really great story, but I don’t publish work like yours.  The words “brave”, “passionate”, and “intense” were thrown around which makes sense when you’re writing a modern day version of Girl Interrupted based on your own experiences in a loony bin while maintaining “fiction” status.

I have to say that overall this was a really incredible experience and I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in something like this, but I learned a few things I wasn’t anticipating.  But I guess that’s kind of how learning goes so I’m definitely looking it as a positive experience.  So, things I learned:

The publishing industry is bleak.

Less than 1% of authors get published.  Those are not great odds.

Opinions are like assholes.

Aka everyone’s got one (in case you weren’t familiar with that joke).  The editors I met with didn’t have any interest in publishing my novel, but that doesn’t mean another one will feel the same way.  I always think about The Beatles and the fact that dozens of records labels rejected them, one going as far to say that they would never amount to anything.  I bet that guy feels like an asshole, and so will these editors when they see me on The Ellen Show sitting next to my book (come one universe, give me this one).

They still don’t get me.

Pitching a book about mental health is hard, especially when the word “suicide” is in your pitch.  I kind of felt like I didn’t get the same kind of feedback that others got because my topic is so sensitive and I state the story is based on my life experiences.  I mean it’s not like I’m used to be treated a little differently when people find out I have bipolar disorder, but I guess I didn’t expect that kind of “skating around” that I felt today.  The main reason I wrote this damn book is to avoid those situations.  When I say I have bipolar is should get the same reaction as I have diabetes or I have chronic migraines or insert whatever medical condition; I’m just a person who needs to take a  pill to be function.  Who doesn’t at this point?

I might ride solo.

In other words, I’m starting to seriously consider self-publishing.  From what I’ve heard it’s pretty easy and you get to do everything on your own terms.  The main reason I’m writing this book is to spread awareness and reach out to people who are suffering and let them know they’re not alone.  I have my job to make money, I just want people to read this because I think it can help them.  I mean, I would certainly love to make money and be able to quit my job and travel the world talking about mental health while simultaneously becoming BFF with Ellen since I keep appearing on her show so often.  But I’ll take what i can get.

Basically, this weekend taught me that I might need to be creative with my approach and I am so extremely grateful for my day job.  Because anyone who thinks they can pick up a pen (i.e., open a Google doc) and write a money-making best seller right off that bat is playing a fool’s game.

The Game

It feels like the only time I can actually write is when I feel crummy.  Like now.  So I guess it’s good that I haven’t written in a while?

I don’t know the answer to that question and I’m not sure if I want to.

Anyway…

I’m in the midst of another round of “what’s the right combo of meds for Kate” and I wish I could tap out.  This is a game I’ve played with multiple doctors for almost 16 years.  Sometimes I think that it really is all a game, that it’s all bullshit and therapeutic meds just make everything worse.  But then I get on the right combination and I remember what it feels like to feel “normal” again.  Normal for me is being able to go to work, hold a conversation, take a shower, and leave my apartment without having a breakdown.  You forget how difficult the simplest things can be until you have a depressive episode.  Plus, meds tend to minimize these episodes, which is why I try to push out some of the hippie crap that’s always in my head about being “natural” and remember that meds are here to make me better.  If I had diabetes I would take insulin, so what’s the difference?

Another reason I go along with it and keep holding out that there is this “right combo” of meds for me is because I know it’s too risky to go without them.  I know what it’s like to actually feel crazy; to have a very skewed and limited sense of reality.  It can be both terrifying and exciting at the same time, until reality (the real one, the one you can’t see) starts to fall apart around you.  But you’re too delusional to care so you keep falling until you hit the bottom.  I’ve hit that bottom a few times in my life, and it’s not a place I ever dare to get near ever again.  

So I call my doctor when I feel crummy.

I trust him to make educated decisions about my mental health and he trusts me to tell him when something isn’t working.  I have to, I’m a human not a computer so no alert will go off if my mood destabilizes (unfortunately, that would make so much easier).  I have a similar agreement with my husband; as long I never give up on me, neither will he.  I can imagine being married to someone who has an illness that you can’t usually see can be quite frustrating and draining, but he makes it look easy.  

This gaming is getting harder to play because the stakes keep getting so much higher.  When I could withdraw from college, live at my parents house, and use their insurance things weren’t as complicated.  Now I have a (super amazing) marriage, a (legit) career, and a great life that I need to keep alive.  And some day I’ll (god willing) have a tiny human being to keep alive.  

So that’s why I keep playing this game.  

I don’t think bipolar disorder is a game I can ever “win”, but I think if I can keep the upper hand at least most of the time then I’m doing just fine.  And after 16 years of practice, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to keep me on top.

Anxiety Survival Tips: The Wedding Edition

I’ve always heard that planning a wedding is one of the most stressful and exhausting processes a human can go through.  I’m here to say that is absolutely, 100% accurate.  But does it really have to be?

I find it incredibly irritating that wedding planning is so stressful because getting married is supposed to be the “happiest day of your life” and “all about the bride and groom”.  Even though that’s the truth, it still feels inherently false.  It feels like it’s not about the bride and groom at all; somehow a wedding morphs into this monstrous, expensive, and soul-sucking life force for everyone but you.

I get so mad when I go to weddings and see that everyone is having a good time except the bride and groom.  They’re running around putting out fires (literally and figuratively), they’re playing therapist to drunk wedding guests and/or bridal party members, and they end their night exhausted and starving after missing out on all the food that they paid for.

So why the hell would anyone have a wedding?

That was my feeling after getting engaged.  I was happy to go to city hall, elope to an island, or even have a teeny tiny ceremony with no more than 15 people.  But when you marry into a big, tight-knit Italian family, that is not an option.  Since part of getting married and maintaining a healthy relationship is compromise, I gave up my vision of the two of us saying our “I do’s” in bathing suits and agreed to a reasonable 160 max guest list.

There are now 60 days until my wedding, and the months since my engagement back in October have been quite the roller coaster.  Overall, I have to say that wedding planning has been an overall positive experience.  But even with the help of friends and family, the stress of planning and coordinating has the tendency to mask all the good and highlight the stressful.  Couple that with have anxiety disorder and you become a ball of fun for everyone around you ::queue sarcasm::.

Knowing that I’m prone to anxiety attacks and thinking that the sky is falling, my future husband and I have taken some precautions that have really helped.  I wanted to share them because even the coolest of brides will find herself at one point crying over something that does not matter AT ALL, like my ‘font size on the placement cards’ meltdown.

Exercise, exercise, EXERCISE!  

This isn’t just a #sweatingforthewedding thing, this will help keep you sane.  So when you get the inevitable “we won’t have those flowers in stock until 4 weeks after your wedding” email, you body is already prepared for you to take out your anger on a bike at SoulCycle.  Plus your butt will nice.  Win/win.

Meditation, yoga, and aromatherapy are your friends.  

This isn’t just a plug since I’m a yoga teacher (but do email me for private lessons), these are your weapons against stress and sleeplessness.  If you’re unfamiliar with any of these things, check out a beginner yoga class and ask your teacher about essential oils.  Most teachers should be able to answer your questions and the studio may even sell them at discounted rates.  As for meditation, Spotify and YouTube are fantastic resources for endless Om-ing.

Remember that people will surprise you in both positive and negative ways.  

Something about weddings brings out a lot of baggage someone may not even be aware they have.  Don’t let them dump it on you – now is not the time for you to play therapist for them.  Focus on the people who surprise you in a good way, and remember to thank them every step of the way.

Ask for help.  

If finding ceremony music or choosing a table setting is stressing you out, ask someone else to do it for you.  That’s what your wedding party is for, or your family if they’re not stressing you out.

Be selfish!!!  

This is one of the very few times in life that something is all about you!  Enjoy the time with your partner when together you pick what you want to have for dinner, what type of music you want played at the reception, and which wedding traditions you want to want to include or skip (you will pry my bouquet from my cold dead hands).

People remember feelings.  

You won’t remember what your napkins or table numbers looked like because those things don’t really matter. But you will remember dancing with your partner as newly weds vs. fighting with the caterer that the dipping sauce is too sweet.   Just like everyone will remember that your friend from college break-danced (with no ability to do so whatsoever) after the father/daughter dance, rather than the chicken that may or may not have been overcooked.

Focus on both of YOU – no one else.  

This is YOUR day. When it comes down to it, every single person who attends your wedding is there to celebrate the love that you and your partner share.  I keep thinking about the line in Wedding Crashers about why people go weddings because it’s the only reason that matters – people want to be in the presence of true love. That’s what a wedding is; it’s celebrating two people committing their lives to each other.  It’s not about the music, the centerpieces, or even the food and booze – it’s about two people in love.

Over the next 60 days, I have more little, annoying details to take care of then I’d care to acknowledge. But knowing that no matter what happens, even if everyone hated what we chose and dubbed it ‘the worst wedding ever’, I’ll still be married to the person who means absolutely everything to me makes all of the stress and anxiety slowly fade away.  Well, at least most of it 😉