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.

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.

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 😉