Fighting Off the Invaders

It makes me really irritated when I find myself in a pissy mood or feeling down because of something another person did.  It makes me even more irritated when this person didn’t do anything directly to me and just their existence is infuriating. Or they did something unintentionally that drove me insane.  It’s such a waste of energy and even though I know this, I can’t seem to get the thoughts about how much I hate this person out of my head.

I really noticed it this morning when I went to grab a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.  The woman in front of me ordered one of the unhealthiest breakfasts I’ve ever heard someone order, and I found myself stewing with rage with every word that came out of her mouth.  But so what?  If this woman wants to be unhealthy and increase her risk for diabetes, that’s her business.  Her actions have literally no affect on my life, and yet here I am still fuming about it.  I’ve started noticing this happen with other people too.  A friend does something dumb and I take it as a personal attack.  A woman on the train won’t let me pass by her to get off the train because she’s trying to take the seat I just got up from, and she’s trying to ruin my life.

Now that I’m no longer in the midst of those situations they all seem like very silly things to get upset about.  But when you’re in the moment if feels almost impossible not to lose it.  So how do you make it stop?

I’m reading this book called Why Buddhism is True, which I highly recommend, and the author talks about a lot about “thought” and the “self”.  One thing that he talks about that I’ve been thinking a lot about is this concept of negative thoughts being invaders in our mind.  So when you’re sitting there, minding your own business, and you start think something like, “Wow, Jessica is so conceited.  All she does is post dumb selfies on Instagram,” that thought is invading your mind.  You know it’s wrong to judge people, even if they ask for it by abusing social media, but the thought just creeps in.  These thoughts aren’t always about other people too, in fact more often it seems that they’re about ourselves.  Like when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a store window and the thought “ugh my thighs are HUGE” comes in, or you think “I’m not nearly as smart as any of these people in this meeting. Why am I even here?” (I think this one a lot).  These are all negative intrusive thoughts that do nothing except make us feel worse.

So how do we make them go away?

The author of Why Buddhism is True believes (from the Buddha’s teachings) that meditation is one of the best ways to put up walls and protect yourself from these intrusive negative thoughts.  He also stresses the concept of mindfulness; the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.  Mindfulness can be obtained through meditation because meditation is all about focusing the mind.

I started meditating because I wanted more control over my thoughts.  Part of having bipolar disorder, as well as other mental illnesses or just being a New Yorker, is being plagued by racing thoughts.  When most of these thoughts become negative, critical, and judgmental you start to find yourself in a very dark place.  But meditation or practicing mindfulness is like putting the brakes on these thoughts.  So when your mind starts to race and go after someone or yourself in a negative way, think STOP!  But just thinking stop isn’t enough because the mind will just start to wander back to the negativity, so you need to give it something else to focus on.  When you meditate, the breath is usually a good go-to.  Counting breaths, deep breathing, and other breathing techniques are a great way to quiet the mind.  But what about when you’re out in the world?  You can’t just stop and sit cross-legged on the ground.  Instead, the first step is to bring awareness.

One of my yoga teachers wears a bracelet and every time she has a critical or judgmental thought about another or herself, she moves the bracelet to the other wrist.  I started doing this too and it is truly disturbing how many times I have to move this damn bracelet.  I’ve noticed the #1 place the bracelet moves rapidly back and forth is the subway.  But for other people this could be at the gym, at work, or when you’re all alone and you don’t have any distraction from your thoughts.  I highly recommend giving this a try because your thoughts may surprise you.  So each time I start to notice my thoughts go dark, I take three deep breaths to give myself a “reset”, then I focus on something else like reading a book, playing a game on my phone, or anything I can give my full attention to. Pro tip: DON’T go on social media.

Don’t let your negative thoughts overtake you.  We all have them and we can all fall prey to them.  So buy yourself a bracelet (rubber bands work just as well), focus on your breath, and let that negative shit go.  Make the world, and especially your world, a better place by removing one negative thought at a time.

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Finding “The One”: Therapy Edition

I made an appointment to see a psychologist on Friday.  It’s the first therapy appointment I’ve made in almost two years.  I spent many years in therapy, so it only takes me about 5-10 minutes to see if a therapist is worth a follow up appointment.  I have my preferences (middle-aged, straightforward, and sarcastic is a huge plus) although I have been known to see someone who’s not necessarily my type when there was “something there”.  I try to remain open minded but I have a few deal breakers (asking me the same question over and over, being overly sympathetic, being emotional, etc.) which I rarely budge on, especially if they’re out of network.

As I revisited the lineup of therapists I’ve seen over the past 17 years, both good and bad, I realized that finding the right therapist is a lot like finding the right partner.  Intake appointments are like first dates, which can be promising or major letdowns, and finding “the one” is like winning the jackpot.  Like most things in life, it’s all about chemistry; do we mesh or do we not?

Here are some of the similarities I’ve found between therapy and dating:

The Name

Are they a doctor? A social worker? An internet certified crazy person?? What letters are after or before their name?  Does that even matter? I’m looking for a connection here, titles don’t matter all that much.

The First Look

Old?  Young?  That guy looks like Jesus…is that bad? Thanks to ZocDoc, much like Tinder, you can get a glimpse of your potential “one” ahead of time. But unlike Tinder, ZocDoc lets you rate these contenders so you can get the tea ahead of time.  Too bad Tinder doesn’t do the same.

Initial Dialogue

Are they going to talk about themselves or ask me questions first? Do they keep referencing other people and comparing me to them?  Ugh, their ex/other patient is nothing like me, I wish they’d stop brining them up.  Wait…are they playing on their phone??? I CAN SEE YOU.

Conversation Skills

They just keep nodding at me, are they even listening?  Do they care?  Do I want them to care?  I need a little banter, especially if I start to get emotional or “overly passionate” (aka crazy).  Let’s get some conversation going and not just me reciting every negative experience of my life.  And stop asking about my mother.

The Goodbye

Do I want to see them again?  Did they get me?  How much did this time cost me?  I said I would see them again, but do I want to?  I need a minute…

Although it’s been a while since I was in the dating world, searching for a therapist was oddly reminiscent of scrolling (I didn’t make it to swiping) through potential matches.  When you think about it, a partner and a therapist can fulfill a lot of the same needs; the need to be heard, the need to be validated, and the need to be calmed when irrationally angry.  And just like with dating, the search can take a lot of trial and error and requires a good amount of energy.

So if this one doesn’t work out for me I need to remember not to give up and that there’s always another therapist in the sea.

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.

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.

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.

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: Step by Step

Anxiety is word that gets thrown around a lot in our culture.  I’m not here to stand on a soapbox and tell you what “real” anxiety is because I can’t do that.  I know what my anxiety is but I don’t know your life, and I’m not going to stand here and tell you what it is vs. what it isn’t.  Instead, I’m here to tell you how I deal with it with the hope that my survival tips can help you too.

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or your feel stress from time to time, we can all agree that anxiety is annoying and something that go from inconvenient to crippling very quickly.  Recently, my anxiety has been through the roof.  Starting a new job, trying to finish up my yoga certification, planning a wedding, and just existing in New York City have my nerves all sorts of screwed up.  It’s so out of control that I get anxious just trying to decide what to each for lunch, which can lead to me hiding in the bathroom contemplating if I can scale down my building to run down the street screaming.  

Needless to say, it sucks and I’m not about it.

I have a plethora of coping skills thanks you years of therapy, but when my anxiety reaches new levels it can become impossible to implement them into my life.  My beloved yoga mat goes unused, my essential oils never seem to make into my work bag, and crying in the bathroom gets really old really fast.  So what have I been doing to maintain any semblance of sanity?

I write down or think about every single step I’m going to take.

That might sound excruciatingly tedious and annoying by I swear to Mama Rupaul that it works.  So here’s what I do:

When I’m sitting at my desk, walking through my office, or even sitting on my couch I think about all the steps I need to take.  Not all the things I need to do – the physical steps I’m going to take.  For example, here’s what I’ve been writing down today:

  • At 5pm I’m going to close my laptop and put it in my purse.  Then I’ll put my headphones on and turn my music on.  
  • I’ll walk out of the office and go to stairwell because I don’t want to be near other people in an elevator or god forbid get stuck one.  I’ll walk down six flights of stairs and admire the old architecture of the building.  
  • Once I get to the bottom I’ll go through the door, not the revolving door because they make me anxious, and turn right.
  • Once I get to 6th Ave I’ll turn right and then right again at 19th St.  SoulCycle is half way down the block.

Today I needed more of a distraction from my thoughts so I got pretty specific.  Other days, it looks more like this:

  • I’ll leave my office at 5pm and walk towards 6th Ave.  I’ll turn right at 19th St. and walk to SoulCycle.
  • Once I get to SoulCycle I’ll get changed and go to my bike. After class I’ll walk to 23rd St. and take the subway from there.
  • After I get home, I’ll shower and order sushi as a reward for making it through the day.

Different approaches, similar results.  Sometimes I do a combination of these tactics and get really specific and include things I’ll see on the way to know I’m getting closer to my destination.  I vary it based on the way I feel because there is no right or wrong way to do it.

 

When even this is too much and feel too stressful, I’ll repeat a mantra over and over.  A mantra is a word, sound, or phrases repeated to aid concentration in meditation, but you can use them all the time.  Most of the times I use mantras in sanskrit that I learned through my yoga practice.  Other times I repeat simple phrases like “you’re ok”, “you’re safe”, or “I can”.  There’s something soothing and meditative about the repetition, even if you’re walking down 5th Avenue during rush hour.

 

Give it a try and post your favorite mantras in the comments, I’d love to read them!