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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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 😉

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!

Get On The Bus

I have my favorite quote by my favorite writer (Hunter S. Thompson) tattooed on the left side of my body.

It says “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Those familiar with his writing will most likely recognize it as this line appears fairly frequently in his work. He uses it whenever it’s time to take initiative and go for something, which is usually some highly illegal in his case.

I’m not a political journalist or an ether enthusiast, but I love this quote because to me it means take control. These words are close to my heart, both figuratively and literally, and serve as a reminder that I have the ability to take charge, take a chance, and take the ride.

As simple as this quote is, my darling mother could not remember it for the life of her. She would frequently ask me what my tattoo said and then quickly go back to forgetting. One day she said, “What’s your quote again? You know, your tattoo…Get on the bus?”

Yes mom, I have ‘get on the bus’ tattooed on me.  But I have to admit it was fairly close.  It gave both of us quite a laugh and it’s still something we’ll say to each other to lighten up a “what am I doing with my life?” crisis.

As my beloved yoga teacher training beings to come to an end, I’ve been reflecting a lot on all of the different things I’ve learned about myself, yoga, and life, as well as all the questions that have come up during the past few months. I couldn’t have asked to do this training at a better with time with all that’s been going on in my life and, you know, the world falling apart.

I stopped reading and watching the news after it was named President, but it’s not just him. It’s the suffering in Syria, the corporate greed that caused physical violence on a domestic flight, the endless shootings, the crippling fear that we’re on the brink of WWIII…

Yikes.

Did your blood pressure just spike too? Sorry about that. My point is that I could go down that rabbit hole, I could only see the horror and feel completely hopeless because I know I can’t directly make an impact on any of these atrocities. I could choose to ignore everything going on around me and bury my head in the metaphorical sand like an ostrich (if you didn’t know that’s legit their defense mechanism — you’re welcome for the fun fact you can bring up at dinner parties). But that doesn’t seem like a great idea either. Plus I’d have to become a hermit to fully carry it out because people talk about just as much as we post about it online. But that’s not a bad thing, people definitely need to vent. What’s bad is getting so caught up in everything that it takes away from your ability to function or be around certain people, especially those who disagree with you. So now what?

There’s a third option — you can let it go.

I know, easier said than done, but it’s really the only option that gives you the only thing we really need to remember that we do have control; freedom. When you can accept something for what it is and without assigning it a judgement or label, you can let it go. And that’s really the only way we ever be really free. It’s something that I aspire do to as second nature because right now it’s pretty damn hard.  When people support things that make my skin crawl, I feel like my head it going to explode.  But then I realize that my head exploding only hurts me.

I’ve noticed that when I’m able to let go of hurt, anger, or frustration, it feels like one of the giant elephants sitting on my chest got up and wandered away. Then I can breathe a little better and work on getting the next elephant off me.

If you feel hopeless or powerless, remember that you can control how you feel – or least you can try your damn hardest.  So get on the bus, and live your life.

What it All Comes Down to is Everything is Gonna be Just Fine

I saw my psychiatrist a few weeks ago so he could tweak my meds. I was feeling more depressed than “normal” and having the most fucked up dreams, so I figured I’d ask a professional. Vivid nightmares is a common side effect of my SSRI, so that with the extra 15 lbs that mysteriously added to my body convinced me it was time to get off and just stick with lithium. But my lithium levels were WAY too low so we had to up that dosage and now have to wait to see if it’s all good before we can wean me off.

I hate not having control over what goes into my body. Giggity.

Aside from the meds, I’ve been so consumed in my yoga teacher training program that sometimes I even forget I have a mental illness. That’s right — I’m on the path to becoming a REAL yoga teacher. It feels like I finally found my calling.

Yoga makes me feel so fucking good. It feels like my mind, body, and soul are being massaged by God, or the Divine, or whatever you want to call that energy force we can’t quite explain. It’s the ultimate mind/body experience and I’ve been devouring everything I’ve been learning about reiki, chanting, mantra, Sanskrit, the Hindu deities, and everything in between.

It’s brought a sense of purpose to my life that I’ve been hopelessly searching for. I can’t even describe the feeling of working with someone in a restorative pose; it’s magical. Being able to assist people in a “real” class while watching seasoned, dedicated instructors work makes me feel so happy, peaceful, and alive.

It makes me feel like I have a real ability to help people. You can feel when someone needs to be touched and when they need positive energy. It’s truly amazing.

You can think I’m a crazy hippie or whatever, but I believe in this and it gives me a sense of being and purpose that I’ve never felt before. It allows me to help others and it also allows me to help myself.

When I’m in the yoga studio, I’m not bipolar, I’m not someone who hates their job, I’m not someone with the insecurities that plague most of us; I’m just me. I’m me in my rawest form…and it’s amazing. When I sit on my mat during our closing meditation I feel like all of the labels that have been plastered on me by society and by myself slowly peel away. Every time I practice is a new start.

On Friday evenings we have a class where we discuss our readings and really anything else that comes to our minds. The other week mental illness came up and I felt like the wind got knocked out of me. It was like all the feelings and resentment I hold about having bipolar disorder came flooding back. Because as much I want to be free flowing, positive, and free spirited, I still have bipolar disorder and sometimes it gets in the way.

There are days when I want to get up and start the day with a sun salutation and meditation, but I end up spending the whole day in bed because I’m too depressed to get up. It makes me feel like like I’ve failed my yogi self and that I can’t truly be what and who I want because of bipolar disorder.

But that’s not true. Bipolar disorder is just a work around — sometimes I won’t feel like it’s there and other times it will make it’s presence very known. And that’s ok. It’s ok to have good days and bad days, you just have to remember that having a bad day doesn’t mean you’re letting yourself or others down and that you’re still you.

As long as you have faith in yourself and keep trying, everything will be just fine.