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.

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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!

Yoga Is Not Just For Pretty People

A few weeks ago I went to a free info session about becoming a yoga teacher.  Unfulfilled and frustrated with my current career (this statement is reason #234234 I’m not friends with my boss on Facebook), I decided to explore some other options.

I decided to look into becoming a yoga teacher because I thought it would be a good career for someone who tries to lead a life in a ball of positive energy…and is completely intolerant to any sort of stress or anxiety.  I found a few programs that cost about as much as a semester at my college, but I decided I should check it out anyway.  If it could help lead to a new career then it might be worth the enormous check they would have to pry from my hands, so off I went to a studio in SoHo.

I changed at work since I wasn’t sure what the bathroom situation would be like, which proved to be a horrendous mistake because the yoga pants I brought were now two sizes too small.  The entire train ride I had to keep pulling at my crotch and readjusting to ward of the back rolls that had magically appeared.  Safe to say I got a few awkward looks on the train.  Although that’s not really new since I usually keep my sunglasses on which makes me look like a drug addict or douche.  Or both.

As I walked up the the stairs to the studio I thought, “God I hope this class isn’t full of anorexic ballerinas,” and opened the door to find what? AN ANOREXIC BALLERINA.  Who also happened to be one of the instructors.  And French.

Super.

I wanted to sit in the front to show the instructors that I was very serious about my practice and becoming a teacher, but a very gay man doing a full split and a girl wearing just a sports bra and no body fat had already beat me there.  I awkwardly wedged my mat to the side while I tried to avoid getting kicked in the head by the elastic man practicing his splits.  All I could think of was, “where do the balls go?”

The instructors introduced themselves and then asked if anyone had any injuries.   I suffer from back problems, or ‘grandma back’ as I like to say (which the instructor did not find funny), so I raised my hand.  The french toothpick came over and instead of me just saying, “bad back” and smiling, she asked me more questions than my physical therapist does.  None of my answers seemed to please her and she avoided me for the rest of the class.

During the class I could feel her death stare on me when I struggled to get into a pose, which was caused by me fidgeting with my pants while trying to balance.  The glares combined with my newly formed FUPA was making me anxious, as was the fact that I was WAY to close to the wall and kept punching it, so when I tried to take a deep breath and relax my body decided this was an excellent time to fuck with me and…I farted.

Worst of all, I laughed at myself.  I was the only person who laughed.  Because clearly I was the only one who was not an adult.

The other instructor came over, humiliated for both of us, and asked me to move my mat back since I was too close to the wall.  Back of the room for me.

The rest of the class was basically me trying to relax and get the most of the experience with the instructors glaring at me or trying to adjust me. Normally I’m fine with they adjust me.  But this instructor was a ninja and would come out of no where, which scared the shit out of me and make me yelp and fall over.

This happened at least 6 times.  It was awkward for everyone.

So, that happened.  At first I thought I had made a huge mistake going and wasted my time, but then I realized that this experience made we want to be an instructor even more.

Yogis have this image of being skinny, beautiful, and inhumanly flexible – but that’s not real.  The reality is that some yogis are like that but most are not.  I’ve been too intimidated to go to classes before because the students and the instructor seemed insanely perfect.  But I want to teach people that it’s ok not to be perfect.  Yoga is an incredible way to get in touch with your spirit and your body – no matter what they look or feel like.  Yoga is about your individual practice and deepening your connection with the earth and the energy that surrounds it.

I want to be a yoga teacher because I want to give people the time, place, and guidance they need to do all of that.  That’s what yoga is to me.  Not some blonde barbie doll wearing Lululemon leggings and judging me for a having greasy hair (it was an off day bitch, leave me alone).

Yoga is a wonderful gift to give to yourself and to others, and I strongly encourage you all to try it.  Especially when I become an instructor.

So that yoga studio was not the one for me.  But that’s ok – I found another one.  An affordable one.  In Queens.

Suck it Manhattan.

Double-Sided

I know a lot of people think astrology is bologna, but I don’t.  I think our signs reveal a lot about our personalities and our character.  Notice I said personalities instead of personality; that’s because I have more than one, for I…am a Gemini.

Wait, come back!  Still here?  Super.  A lot of people don’t want to talk to me and physically move away from me after I tell them I’m a Gemini.  Why?  Because Gemini is the sign of the twins, which gets misinterpreted as sign that someone is two-faced.  I’m certainly not two-faced, although I can’t speak for all Geminis, but I definitely think my personality is double-sided.  Especially considering the fact that I have bipolar disorder.

I am notorious for flip flopping how I feel about basically everything in my life.  It’s fairly harmless until I get manic and quit my job, but fortunately that only happened once and I was 22.  Ok, it happened twice but the other time I was 19.  Anyway, the only time my “other side” becomes a problem is when it manifests into anxiety and depression.  I say that I have my regular side – silly, free-spirited, and generally laid back.  But then there’s the other side, the bipolar side, whose sole job is to thwart my success, happiness, and mental wellbeing.  Other side is a dick.

Thanks to a lot of self work (and medication), regular side is usually in control and that’s the me that people know and love.  Other side mainly comes out in my head, but that can then affect my behavior which makes people confused.  I’ll give you an example:

Right now I’m sitting at my desk, pretending to work, while an Oktoberfest party goes on in my office.  Now anyone who knows me knows that I love drinking Oktoberfest AND drinking at work.  People are also decorating pumpkins, which may be one of my favorite things ever.  But I’m not doing any of those things, instead I’m sitting here all alone pretending to be busy.  Why?  Because the other side won today.  This is how the thought process started…

I don’t really know anyone in my office seeing as everyone I work with is in a different part of the country.  But I should go to the party anyway.  It will be fine, this is how I made friends at my last job.  People like me.  I’m fun and I make people laugh.  Bitches love to laugh.

But then the other much louder side of piped up –

Nope, all those people will HATE YOU.  They’ll ignore you because they think you’re weird. Especially all the girls that give you judgey looks.  They definitely think you’re fat.  Which you are by the way.  I can’t believe you cancelled your spin class.  You are the worst.

And now I feel bad about trying to talk to people AND not going to spin class.  These type of internal conversations go on about EVERYTHING.  It’s exhausting.

My point is that I know I’m not the only one who experiences this.  I’m not the only Gemini and I’m certainly not the only one who feels double-sided.  I wish I could tell you that I got it together and went to the party and had a great time…but I didn’t.  I have my bag packed and the second I hit publish I’m going to go home.  The regular side doesn’t win every battle against the other side, but it wins most of them.  And that’s good enough for me.

So you win this round other side, but that doesn’t mean you’ll win tomorrow, or the next day, or even the day after that.  Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to head home for a little self care: meditation, cooking, and Drag Race.

Don’t Stop Believin’

Every so often I like to take a moment to stop and take everything in.  Mentally, that is – I live in New York City and if you stop in the middle of the street you will get trampled by tourists and commuters.  Also you are an asshole.  And there’s a strong chance that where you’re standing smells like garbage or pee.

Anyway, yesterday I caught my reflection in the one of the Macy’s windows and I couldn’t help but laugh.  No I didn’t look like a homeless person (that’s only on the weekends…or after aggressive happy hours).  I looked…like an adult.  A NEW YORKER adult!

I looked at my non-ancient iPhone I was texting my FIANCÉ (ah!) with about planning our engagement party. I looked at the incredibly beautiful and thoughtful engagement ring on my finger.  I looked at the designer sunglasses on my face, the designer bag on my shoulder, and the pricey headphones on my head.  I’m not trying to sound like an asshole – I was just in awe of myself.  Not that long ago I could barely get out of bed, let alone get out the apartment and go to work.  I could barely pay rent, let alone buy myself a purse (my mom had to insist I throw out my old purse because it had too many holes in it), and I was convinced I would die alone surrounded by cats.

Designer clothes and expensive “adult toys” aren’t what matter to me; it’s the fact that I now have the ability and capability to get them.  I bought that purse after I got my start date at my new job because I got a huge raise.  My dad bought me those sunglasses for Christmas because he’s no longer swamped by my medical bills.  My amazing fiancé bought me those headphone because they’re noise canceling and he knows how sensitive I am to sound.

I’m able to have all of this because I fought to get my life back.  Mental illness was taking my life away from me and after a long, grueling battle I finally did.  For a while I let it win because it was too hard to fight back.  I didn’t realize how many resources I needed to fight and a lot of the time it didn’t seem worth it.  I didn’t know that I could have a life like this.  I didn’t know that I could have a successful career, a loving partner, and a comfortable lifestyle that I earned.  My mental illness told me that I couldn’t.  It told me that I was confined to my bed, wearing the same dirty sweatshirt for weeks, isolated and alone because that’s all I deserved.

But something inside me told me that wasn’t true.  Even when 99% of your mind is polluted by darkness there is still that 1%, maybe even 0.01% that holds on.  If you don’t think that you have it, trust me you do – if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this.

You can have the life you dream, in fact you can one that’s even better than you could ever imagine.  But you have to fight for it.  Even if you don’t have a mental illness holding you back, there’s plenty of other things that plague our minds and lives and convince us that we don’t deserve the lives that we want.  Don’t listen to that voice.  Believe that you’re worthy and capable of love and happiness and eventually it will find it’s way to you.

For many years I didn’t think I deserved love or happiness but here I am, sitting in my office writing this post with a diamond ring on my finger.

Keep fighting the good fight.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Drugs

I think more people need to know that there is nothing wrong with taking drugs.  Psychiatric drugs, that is.  Not hard drugs, like crack.  That’s a bad plan.  Probably should have led with that.  Either way, I think a lot of people have a really negative reaction to psychiatric drugs (we’ll call them ‘meds’), because they either don’t understand why people need them or they’ve seen the negative effects they can have.

I was on meds for 8 years, then off for about 6 years, and now as of last week I am back on the wagon.  Or off the wagon?  I’ll say on the wagon because I’m getting back to being stable, happy, and healthy which is what being “on the wagon” is all about.

You may be wondering why someone even needs meds.  I often hear people say that someone suffering with depression needs to “stop being so sad”, someone with OCD needs to “stop being so obsessive”, and someone with schizophrenia needs to “stop being be so paranoid”.  Well here’s the deal – none of those people are being sad, obsessive, or paranoid by choice.  Mental illness is not what happens when you’re having a rough patch; mental illness is often due to chemical imbalances in the brain.

Certain events can trigger someone with a mental illness to feel worse.  A death of a loved one, losing a job, or developing a physical health condition can all worsen the symptoms.  But sometimes the symptoms get worse without an external trigger.  That’s what happened to me a few months ago.

Without warning or cause, my symptoms came back.  When I decided to go off medication my psychiatrist warned me that mental illness can go “into remission”, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone forever.  After six years of med-free life I thought I had finally beaten my mental illness…and then the mood swings came back.  And the racing thoughts.  And the depression.  And the anxiety.  I was stubborn at first because there is still a horrible stigma that surround mental health, especially when it comes to medication.  But then I realized that suffering in silence was a thousand times worse than a weird look someone might give me for taking Lithium.  If people don’t understand, then they’re stupid and you should hang out with cooler people (like me!).

People think taking medication means you’re “crazy” or “unstable” but it actually means the opposite; it means you’re taking care of yourself and there’s nothing crazy about that.  People with diabetes take medication, would you judge them for using insulin?  Or cancer patients for getting chemo treatments?  Illnesses need to medicated regardless of whether you can see them or not.

If you think you might benefit from taking medication, then go see a doctor.  Just be sure to see a good one because 90% of them are horrible.  Trust me, I’ve done the leg work.  If you’re not sure, then try some lifestyle changes first.  Exercise, diet, sleep, and meditation did wonders for me for many years, but my brain hates me so I need a little extra help.

 
And there is nothing wrong or shameful about that.