Reaching Out

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Support in a Surprising Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Channeling the Bridal Zen

In exactly two weeks from today, my husband and I will be taking off for our honeymoon and I am so FREAKING EXCITED!!! It’s hard to believe the day is almost hear considering we got married back in September.  We decided to postpone our honeymoon because it would give us something to look forward to after the wedding was over (aka my anxiety would not allow for anymore planning).  And so here we are.  With our upcoming getaway and a few weddings coming up, I’ve been reminiscing about our big day.

As you probably know by now, I have anxiety.  I know, big reveal!  Anyway, it made planning the wedding fairly unpleasant for me.  As much as I wanted to joyfully immerse myself in all the planning like all the women you see in the bridal magazines* (*Pinterest), I found myself curled up in a ball a good part of the time begging to just go to city hall and call it a day.  But when the big day finally came, I was anything buy anxious; I was f*cking zen.  So much so that my bridal party seemed concerned and our photographer asked if I had taken anything to relax (which I did not, but I wouldn’t judge a bride for it).  I was so zen that as a woman heckled me on my way to the alter, I barely noticed.

So how does someone go from nervous wreck to buddhist monk status calm?  You let go.

All the planning was done, there were no more last minute details, no more changes, no more stress.  All I had to do was walk down the aisle with my dad and be with the man I love in front of all the people that I love.  That part wasn’t in the slightest bit stressful.  It was the invitations, the goddamn seating chart, and the millions of other decisions that made me into a ball of stress over one. damn. day.  But when that day finally came, I realized that there was nothing left to do but enjoy it.  I wasn’t going to let my anxiety (or anything else for that matter) get in the way one of the most momentous days of my life.

The morning of my wedding day is such a happy memory.  I actually try to go back to that moment when I’m feeling stressed to remember how calm I was and what that felt like.  I had the advantage (and genius idea) of getting married at a spa, so I spent the morning drinking tea on the deck with my best friends and then sitting in a hot tub with my maid of honor.  One of my mom’s friends saw us and said, “This is what a bride should look like on her wedding day.”  I also covered myself in essential oils from the time I woke up til the time I walked down the aisle.  I’m sure that didn’t hurt.

Because it was such an important day, I was able to let go of any anxiety or stress and really enjoy myself.  It’s something I am truly grateful for because I know it could have gone the complete opposite way.  But that’s also what your bridal party is there for – they keep you sane when you can’t hold it together.  I started wonder why I can’t do that every day, how I could be so calm the day of my wedding and a stressed out mess so much of the time.  I forgot about that sense of calm, the zen, until today when I started getting really excited for our honeymoon, which was then promptly followed horrible anxiety around traveling.  But I’m trying to remember that I’ll be with my husband, the man I love more than anything, on our way to some of the most beautiful places in the world.  So maybe I can summon that calmness when I’m taking my shoes off for the TSA.  I mean, I can try at least.

And in case you were wondering, we’re going to Greece and Croatia with a quick pitstop in Ireland.  Woohoo!

Meditating When You Have Anxiety

Did you know that meditation can be as effective at treating anxiety as prescription drugs. That’s a real, bonafide fact backed by science.  This means that anxiety doesn’t have to feel like this all consuming, dominating monster that can strike at any moment.  Instead, meditation can be something you have in your wellness arsenal to combat it. While this is great news, the downside is it can feel impossible to meditate when you have anxiety.  But never fear, there are tools you can use to help get your Om on (don’t worry, you don’t actually have to say Om).

Use an app

Try guided meditation to help you focus and calm racing thoughts. Headspace and Stop, Breathe, & Think are just a few of some of the wonderful meditation apps out there.  YouTube also has a large library of guided meditations of various lengths.  Guided meditations can be 3 minutes or an hour based on where you are in your practice.  But don’t feel discouraged if an hour sounds completely insane. Even if you’re only starting with 3 minutes at a time, you’re still building your practice and helping yourself.  

Use a prop

To help get out of your head and into your body, try using a prop like a crystal or mala beads.  Crystals have been used since ancient times. Specific crystals like amethyst, rose quartz, and black tourmaline, to name a few, are known the help with anxiety because of their specific healing properties.  Choose a crystal that resonates with you and hold it in your hand as you meditate.

Mala beads have been used for centuries by buddhist monks during prayer and contain 108 beads.  Monks used each bead to denote a prayer or mantra, which can be used similarly during meditation.  Choose a mantra (a saying with meaning to you), like “I am enough”, and repeat it as you run your fingers along the beads.

Focus on the breath

If your thoughts won’t seem to leave you alone no matter how hard you try, don’t think about trying to meditate or quiet your mind, focus your attention on your breath instead.  Pay attention to the sensation of when you breathe in, and again when you breathe out. Count your breaths as they go in, and again as the go out so that you develop a rhythm of even breathing.  

Keep trying

Don’t get discouraged.  When you’re feeling anxious, you may not always be able to calm yourself with meditation, but that doesn’t mean you should give up.  Meditation, like most things in life, comes with practice. The more you do it, the more natural it feels.

Over time, you’ll start to see a difference in the way your thoughts comes and go.  Instead of feeling out of control, you’ll notice a sense of calm and control you may not have ever thought possible.  The next time you start to feel anxious, or the next you feel really good, give meditation a try. It can’t hurt.

Work Problem No More

I have had a lot of jobs, I’m what some would call a “job hopper”.  My resume is two pages not because of my many accomplishments (queue sarcasm), but because writing all the different companies, addresses, and dates worked there takes up a lot of space.  The longest I’ve ever stayed at a job is less than two years, which to me seems like an eternity. It’s almost become a joke with my friends and family because you never know where I’ll be working the next time you see me.  All joking aside, I kept changing jobs because I wasn’t happy.  I put such a strong emphasis on job satisfaction leading to happiness that I set up myself up to fail.  I couldn’t look past my father’s guidance that jobs are here to pay bills and happiness is found outside of work.  My brain was unable to comprehend that concept and I continued my search for the “perfect job”.

The “perfect job” doesn’t exist.  Well, I guess some people get to wake up and do what they love and feel fulfilled every day, but I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t get that.  Not everyone can turn a passion into profit and use their hobbies and interests to sustain a living.  I get that now.  I left a lot of good companies because my unrealistic expectations weren’t being met, but I also left a few bad ones because my intuition was right.  Now I find myself at a technical writer’s dream job; a major tech company.  I’ve never loved what I do for work but there definitely parts of the job that I enjoy.  These parts were not always obvious to me, but I was able to pick them out when I sat down and really thought about why I’ve stayed in my field.  Even though I don’t love what I do, I’m very lucky that I love where I do it.  I have the privilege of working for a company that treats people like humans and makes a product that millions of people enjoy every day.  Although I don’t love my company every day, sometimes it feels like a massive cluster f*ck, overall I can honestly say I love this company.  This is meaningful to me because I’ve worked places I wished would burn to the ground. But even though I love my company, I’ve had times where I’ve hated my job.

A few months ago I found myself in the uncomfortably familiar place of not feeling any semblance of job satisfaction.  I was bored and felt underutilized and unappreciated.  But after I got over feeling sorry for myself I came to the realization that I was as a massive tech company – no one was monitoring my every move and no one was going to fix my problems for me.  I talked to my manager and before I knew it, work came pouring back in and I was feeling much better about my position. But something interesting happened yesterday.

Yesterday, we had a department-wide meeting where each team gathered together to write down their goals for the quarter and how they would achieve them.  Since I’m not a developer or a product person, I had nothing to contribute. I sat around for three hours trying to figure out what people were talking about and nodded so much that my neck is sore today.  When it came time for the teams to present their findings, I looked around the room and thought, “I am by far the dumbest person in this room, and none of the work I do really matters.” Strangely enough, this didn’t make me feel bad, it made me feel relieved.  

At all my other jobs, and this one for a while, I got really down about not pursuing my passion and that most of the work I did didn’t really matter.  But while I was standing in that room yesterday something clicked; none of that matters. I work for an amazing company that gives me amazing benefits and treats me better than any company I’ve ever worked for.  I work with good, smart people who don’t make me want to bash my h head into a desk.  I don’t need it to me my passion because it allows me the time and resources to pursue mine. I may not be needed or produce valuable work all the time, but when I do it makes me feel really good that I can provide a needed service.  My department doesn’t need me every day, but when they do I’m here and ready to help them. When I step back and look at all that, it looks pretty damn good.

Sometimes we have to reevaluate our expectations and realize that not everything looks the way we planned it, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  When you can appreciate what you do have and stop focusing on what you don’t, it makes the things you have seem great.  And if you aren’t able to see the good and need to make the change, give me a call – I’m a master resume writer and have a rolodex of recruiters.

Cry Baby

I don’t know if it’s because I have a mental illness, I take medication, or I’m just a sensitive person, but I cry ALL. THE. TIME.  I cry when I’m sad, depressed, frustrated, happy, sentimental, tired, excited, and every emotion in between. I cry on the subway, walking down the street, in my office, on my couch, on other people’s couches, in my doctor’s offices, and basically anywhere in the world.  And I hate it. I wish I didn’t cry every time I watched a movie (even comedies!), TV show, YouTube video, or commercial with some sense of emotion. I wish I didn’t cry when I read a book on the train, read an emotional article at my desk, or talk to someone about anything that’s close to my heart.

I cry every day, at least a few times, and I wrote this because I know I’m not the only one.

We’ve been programmed to believe that crying is wrong; that it’s a sign of weakness.  I’ve been like this my whole life and I was teased relentlessly as a child, where kids would try to make my cry because it was so easy and then make fun of me.  Because crying was bad; it was wrong.  I always hoped my teariness would go away as I got older, but it seems to have done the opposite.  I have an expressive face that turns beet red every time my eyes start to tear. And if it was a good, long cry my eyes swell up. So basically, there’s no hiding it.  I wanted it to stop because I wanted people to stop giving me dirty looks when they notice.  I wanted to stop being judged for something we all have the ability to do.  But why is crying something that has to be hidden?

My mom always tells me that it’s beautiful.  She says the reason I cry so easily is because I’m so connected to my emotions and I can feel so deeply.  I “wear my heard on my sleeve”, if you will.  She always says that it’s a good thing. I never use to agree because I’ve always thought of it as embarrassing. But lately I’ve tried to look at it from her perspective, and I’ve tried to think of it as beautiful.  

Maybe being a “crier” is a good thing.  Instead of burying our feeling where no one can see them, where no one can really see you, we show them to others.  We allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to show the truth that something is causing us to feel deeply, and we don’t hide it.  I know that when I try to hold tears back it is physically painful, and letting them out feels so freeing and nourishing. It’s a way on honoring how we feel by allowing it to come forward instead of keeping it buried deep inside.

So maybe the criers of the world shouldn’t feel embarrassed, shouldn’t apologize every time their eyes start to fill with tears, and shouldn’t hide their tears because it makes other people uncomfortable.  Maybe we should feel lucky that we’re able to show such a pure, honest side of ourselves that so many people are too afraid to do. And maybe we should invest in waterproof mascara because tears are beautiful, but raccoon eyes are another story.

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.