Advocate

I wanted to write about something people in my life commend me on because I think it’s something I wish others could do; ask for help.  Through the ups and downs in my life I’ve learned to be able to acknowledge when things are getting bad.  I can tell the difference between an “off” day and something more serious being “off”, like my medications not working properly.  Loved ones have praised me for being able to identify this switch between normal and not-so-normal because it’s when I know it’s time to take action.  Action can be calling my psychiatrist, reaching out to my manager, or taking a day off from work to hide in my apartment.  It all depends on how I perceive my feelings.

In order to know things are bad, you need to know what bad feels like.  I wish there was another way, but the only way to know what bottom feels like is to hit it.  If you’ve never hit your bottom, you’ll know when you get there; it’s when you feel the most hopeless, alone, and miserable you’ve ever felt.  It’s a horrible feeling, but the good news is it can only get better from there.  Once you’ve identified the feeling, you need do something difficult and painful – remember it.  Remember what it feels like when you had nothing left, when you reached the lowest of lows.  Feel that feeling and then make a vow to yourself to never reach that place ever again.

Hopefully, you’re not living that feeling now and if you are – hold on, I promise it won’t last forever.  Hopefully you’re feeling your equivalent of “normal”, i.e., whatever normal feels like for you.  But normal doesn’t last forever.  Life is continually swaying between the highs and lows that surround your normal.  But how do you know when your low is getting too low and closer to that place you vowed to never go again?  I really concentrate on how I feel and see how it compares to that low place.

I’ll share a very personal example to clarify what I mean.  A few years ago, I wasn’t taking medication and I was doing pretty well.  I had lows but they always felt like something I could pull myself out of or something I knew would eventually go away.  However, over time the lows started to replace the highs.  I found it really difficult to handle my emotions and it started to feel almost impossible to pull myself out of the slightest low.  But I still kept going on as if I was fine.  It wasn’t until one day while I was at work and feeling very low that my mind started to wander.  I started to think about what would happen if I wasn’t here anymore.  I continued to think about it, but it wasn’t until the thought “what if I just stepped in front of the train?” that something in me said “STOP!”.  I hadn’t had a dark thought like that it several years, since I hit my bottom, and I knew it was time for help.  I knew I could no longer pretend I was fine and that everything was ok, and I knew I had to reach out.  I called my mom who gave me a referral for a psychiatrist.  I told him what was going on and he saw me that afternoon.  He put me back on medication and I haven’t had a thought like that since.

 
You don’t need to get to that level to need help.  Once you start to feel that sadness, that hurt, and that despair that you know is serious, it’s time to reach out.  Call a loved one, a doctor (if you have one), or a hotline (National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255) and get the help you deserve. People won’t always reach out to you with the answers which is why it’s so crucial that you listen to yourself, take action, and advocate for yourself.  You have the strength, I promise.

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Food Vs. Mood: How One Affects the Other

This a guest post written by Martin Smith (bio below).  As The Bro Chick grows, we welcome posts from authors writing about mental health and any and all topics under its umbrella. 

Please note that the thoughts in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Bro Chick and any advice should be followed up with a medial doctor.  Thanks!

If you munch on something like a dessert, you know that while it will boost up your energy level immediately, it can also lead to poor mental health in the long run.
A number of studies have revealed that diet helps not just physically, but also plays a significant role in altering your mood. In fact, it even brings about changes in the brain structure.  However, not all foods were created equal and are certain foods work to improve your mood as well as your overall well being.

Here we have enlisted few tips by which diet may help in revamping the mood.

Eat Regularly
If blood sugar level falls down, you’ll find yourself feeling irritated, depressed and lazy. Try eating at regular intervals to keep your sugar levels balanced (this is especially important for people with mood disorders). This will assure that your body is receiving a
sustainable supply of fuel, which will keep you mentally sound.

Eat slow energy food items like oats, cereals, seeds, and nuts.  Rather than eating three huge meals a day, aim for four to six smaller meals throughout the day. Avoid eating foods that give an immediate spike or fall in your blood sugar level like sweets, desserts, and alcohol (womp womp).

Stay Hydrated
It has been proven that if you don’t drink sufficient fluids, thinking clearly or concentrating can become quite tedious. It might even spoil your mood further by making you constipated (the worst).  It is recommended to drink 1-2 liters of water a day. This helps keeps you hydrated and rejuvenated through the entire day.  Although smoothies, teas, and coffees are also considered fluids, they contain caffeine and sugar which are not very beneficial for your health.  Stick to water, it’s free!

Don’t Skip Meals

Many people have a tendency to miss out on their meals, specifically breakfast.
Breakfast is still widely considered the most important meal of the day, and if you miss it you’ll most likely feel tired and even anxious throughout the day.  Skipping meals reduces the body’s potential to assimilate food and messes with your blood sugar (as mentioned above).

Eat “Mood Foods:
There are some foods that help you to stay healthy as well as happy.  Eating good amounts of protein helps to ease off the absorption of carbohydrates in the blood,
and boosts mood and energy levels.  Eggs and yogurt are good examples of these proteins.
Vitamins, especially vitamin D helps to helps to cure several mood ailments. Spend some time under the sun (with sunscreen!) or eat foods like soy milk, oatmeal, and beef to get your supply of vitamins.  Fiber helps to increase the serotonin level in the body and release the ‘feel good’ chemicals, which can minimize mood swings. Beans and peas are good fiber friendly foods.

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When you make certain changes in your diet, allow yourself to adjust and adapt to the new pattern.  Apart from eating well, exercise also plays a focal role in helping you feel good. Don’t forget about breathing exercises, another natural way to help soothe your mind.

Author Bio
Martin Smith is a content curator, recipe developer and fitness blogger. True foodie by heart, he is fond of good food and delicious desserts. His passion for nutrition stems from a life-long love affair with food and cooking especially chocolate recipes on https://www.tesco.sg/

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.

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.

January 2nd

I don’t think I like New Years as a holiday anymore.  There’s too much build up and pressure that it just guarantees a let down.  New Years Eve is fun, but highly overrated.  You go to so much trouble to put together some epic way of ending one year and beginning another, when most people just wind up with a hangover and disappointment.

I had a fun New Years Eve this year, very fun to be correct, but it was still just a day.  And on this day, like most days before it, I thought about all the things I was going to do differently once the clock struck midnight.  I was going to wake up and do yoga and meditate (even though most days I already do one or both of those things), and I was going to eat better and drink less (even though I already eat pretty well and I already cut back on drinking).  So January 1st started with yoga, good food choices, and a positive outlook on the next year.  But January 2nd was different.

On January 2nd I woke up with a horrendous migraine that basically disabled me from doing anything but lay around and think.  And what I thought about was this strange concept that surrounds New Years.

Nothing changed when 2017 ended and 2018 began.  I mean, I was one day closer to turning 30, but that happens every day.  It was just another day.  I mean, I did celebrate this new day watching the most insanely awesome firework show I’ve ever seen. So I guess that was different, but otherwise everything else was pretty status quo on January 1st.

We often think that a new year means we have to change.  But what if things were pretty good in the old year?  Can’t we just keep rolling on and change accordingly?  If I want to go on a diet, I will.  I mean, I won’t because diets are stupid and I love eating, but if I do decide to eat better/less then I’ll do it whenever I feel like it.  It could be in January or March or even August, it really doesn’t matter when.  

The point is, if you want to make a change then just do it.  Don’t wait for a specific day of the year or some sign from the universe to do something.   And don’t think that just because it is a special day or you received some sign from the universe that you have to make a change at all.  Maybe you’re just crushing life and should keep it up.  Either way, don’t think you owe anything to 2018 and need to immediately quit all your bad habits.  Maybe some of your bad habits make you who you are, and they’re not so bad at all.  Unless you’re smoking crack or something, that’s definitely bad and you cut that out immediately.  Otherwise, 2018 can chill out to wait and see what type of person you are, or aren’t. 

Happy New Years, friends.  May 2018 be less of a clusterf*ck than 2017. 

Say Something

This morning I went to SoulCycle because I’ve been waking up at 6am and I’m obsessed with it.  Towards the end of the class the instructor walked around the room and said a few motivational lines as she usually does, but one stuck with me more than the others.  She said, “If you want to say something, say it,”.  Simple, right?  But it stuck with me.

Yesterday was a nightmare.  For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook, this is what I posted:

I am not proud to be an American today. Yesterday my insurance provider denied coverage of my medication and is continuing to deny it, even after my doctor appealed. Without insurance, a one month supply is over $1,000. This medication gave me sleep, energy…it gave me my life back. And now the provider is saying that I’m not eligible for medication DESPITE the fact that my DOCTOR has advocated that I DO need it.

I have no idea what’s going to happen. I feel completely powerless and hopeless. I filled the prescription no problem last month and now they just turned around said “DENIED”.

Insurance providers in this country are DISGUSTING. This is the SAME PROVIDER that tried to kick me off my father’s insurance 10 years ago when I required more mental health treatment after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

They don’t look at us as people with lives, loved ones, and hopes & dreams, they look at us as numbers that drain their pockets. I don’t know how to fight back yet but you better be damn sure that I will. I will not be treated like this and I will not stand by and watch others suffer the same.

This needs to end NOW.

Yeah, it’s been a rough couple of days.  The matter still hasn’t been resolved but I was able to buy three pills (by far the worst $200 I’ve ever spent) so I feel a little better today.  It’s adding so much stress that I really didn’t need considering the holidays are upon us, my body is still adjusting to switching to a new medication and getting off another, and oh! I have terrible PMS.  Basically, this week can go back to the hell it came from.

Obviously, this is affecting me at work.  It’s really hard to focus on writing technical documentation for advertising products when your mental health is in jeopardy and it feels like your insurance provider is trying to kill you.  I work on a small team of great people but none that I know on a very personal level.  I’ve never told any of them about my mental health but it was getting too hard to hide it from them.  I blatantly started crying during a meeting because my body just does that, and they either didn’t notice or were very polite about it.  I have no problem writing about my mental health and posting it on the Internet, but something about confronting it head on at work and telling people about it terrified me.  I asked a coworker whose role is to help everyone “keep the peace” when it comes to development and team functionality, if I should say something or not.  I told him that my fear was that if people didn’t know what was going on and saw me leaving early, working from home, or crying at my desk (again, it’s completely involuntary and the worst), that they would get the wrong impression and think I was a mess who couldn’t hold down their job.  He encouraged me to address it with them…and so I did.

And….

…their response was incredible.  They were all so understanding and so willing to help in any way they could.  I spared the details because the words bipolar disorder still scares people and mental health doesn’t always get held to the same priority as physical health, but either way their response was exactly what I needed.

It shouldn’t be so scary to tell people about what you’re dealing with, but let’s face it – it is.  I kept hearing my instructor’s words in my head, which is what finally gave me the push to say something (another reason I love SoulCycle – the instructors are magical).  Everyone deserves to be heard to have their needs met.  But if you don’t speak up for yourself, no one else will.

So I give you the same challenge my instructor gave me – if you want to say something, say it.  Whether it’s at work, with family, a personal relationship, or whatever, say something – you deserve to be heard.

Stop. Breathe. Think

A fews ago I decided I wanted to start meditating.  I would sit cross-legged on my bathroom floor (the only dark, quiet place in my apartment), close my eyes, and sat there as my mind raced in circles until my legs hurt and I had to get up.  Spoiler alert: this is not what meditating is.  Meditation is focusing your mind on a single endpoint.  It can be your breath, a visualization of some sort, or a mantra (i.e., a word or phrase like “I am enough“).

I didn’t learn about that last part until I did my yoga teacher training (several years later), so I started to research how to meditate since sitting in a dark bathroom wondering what you’ll have for lunch that day is basically the opposite of meditating.  Everything I found online suggested using one of the many guided meditation apps, and linked me to the one I’ve now been using for several years; Stop. Breathe. Think.

The app offers a variety of guided meditations based on how your and body and mind are feeling.  You tick off some feelings or sensations your experience at that particular moment, and a list of recommended meditations display for you to choose some.  Some are longer (15-20 minutes) and some are very short (1-3 minutes – great for the train or waiting in line).  It was fantastic for me because it gave me something to focus on which helped silence the rest of my incessant internal monologue.  Eventually I learned how to meditate without an app by focusing on my breath or various mantras I learned during my training.

Although I don’t use my app as much as I used to, the concept of Stop, Breathe, and Think has followed me into various aspects of my life.  Like today…

Today, for whatever reason, is a sh*tty day.  You know the old saying that someone “woke up on the wrong side of the bed”?  Well I did that.  I don’t know how, but I did and it’s stupid and it’s make everything seem impossible and infuriating.  And no, it’s not that time of the month, in case you were wondering.  Since I’ve been feeling so much better, it bothered even more than it normally would to feel so off all day.  Nothing particularly bad happened, a few annoyances here and there, but that’s normal.  But for whatever reason, today anything could send me into a blind rage and I’m not about it.

The offense: I was sitting in a meeting and someone was eating and chewing with their mouth open.  The sound of someone chewing will irritate me on a great day, but on a bad day?  I was seething.  All these thoughts about how rude and disgusting this display was distracted me so much that I have absolutely no idea what happened in that meeting.  Someone could have said “Wow that girl, the technical writer, is really stupid and ugly,” and I would have either nodded or completely ignored it.  All I could think about was how angry I was.

The second the meeting ended, I bolted out of the room and headed for the elevators to go back to my desk.  Still filled with rage, I impatiently waited for the elevator.  Then God or the universe or whatever is watching over us took this opportunity to mess with me, because every time I hit the button, the wrong elevator came.  Eventually I gave up and took the stairs, pouting and stomping my way up, and then slumped down at my desk, defeated.  I was so mad that I felt like I was going to burst into tears.  I could feel the hot, angry tears welling up in my eyes and couldn’t believe I was about to cry over nothing.  In that moment, something came over me.

“STOP,” a voice in my head told me.  That’s when I noticed my breath; it was erratic and labored.  My hands were shaking and my palms were sweaty.

“BREATHE”.  I have the word tattooed on my wrist and yet I still forget to do it all the time.  I slowly and deliberately got up from my desk and calming walked to the bathroom.

“THINK” about the breath.  It always comes back to the breath, as any yoga teacher will consistently tell you.

I sat in the bathroom and took a few deep breaths (thankfully no one has done something foul in there before me) and thought about getting a cup of hot tea from the kitchen.  After my breathing became regular again, I washed my hands with warm water to feel the calming sensation of the heat and went to the kitchen to make some tea.

For all the time I spent feeling angry, irrational, and upset, it only took me a few minutes to calm myself down.  Had I just sat at my desk and continued to stew in my irrational rage, I can absolutely tell you it would have taken exponentially longer to feel normal again.

We have a lot more control over our thoughts and feelings than we give ourselves credit for, and one of the ways we learn this control is through meditation.  If you’ve never tried it or have tried it and not felt the benefits, I highly recommend downloading an app like Stop. Breathe. Think.  Our time is precious, so don’t spend it outraged over someone just trying to eat their lunch.