All by myself

I’ve noticed that when I feel “good” I really struggle to write, which is one of the reasons I don’t post weekly on here.  I believe in ‘quality over quantity’ and I’ve never wanted this to be a place where I dump content just for the sake of posting.  That’s not what this blog is about. This blog is a safe place for me to share my thoughts with others who may experience things similar to the way that I do.  It’s also for people who are curious about mental illness and my wonderfully supportive loved ones to get a glimpse into my mind.

I’m writing today because I’m supposed to be in meeting.  I guess, technically I am in a meeting – I dialed in, but I should be there in person.  Why did I dial in? Because it’s a department-wide meeting and seeing a large group of people I don’t know very well made me turn on my heels and head back to the safety of my desk and my big headphones.  Groups of people I don’t know well make me very anxious. Sometimes even groups of people I know make me anxious. Basically, I don’t like big groups. Crowds are fine. I live in New York City so I’m fine being shoved around by people I don’t know.  But put them in a room where I could potentially have to speak to one of them? No way. Abort.

I don’t know why people make me so nervous.  Maybe it’s because I grew up as an only child and spent a lot of my childhood, and adulthood, alone.  I love being by myself and it’s crucial for my mental health. As I sit here, half listening to this meeting, I keep thinking about why groups of people make me so anxious.  Where did this social anxiety come from? Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert and that’s just who I am. I don’t like being around people I don’t know. I don’t like making small talk.  Maybe that makes me anti-social, but whatever it makes me it’s who I am. I used to wish I could be extroverted. I look at people who walk in a room full of people and can talk to anyone and think, ‘how the hell do they do that?’.  But that’s just not who I am. I get really quiet when I’m a group of people I don’t know well. Being around people also makes me really tired – it drains me. Even being in a group of people I love makes me tired. It takes a lot of energy for me to be around people, especially when I don’t know them well and I’m so focused on trying not to be awkward.  Even though I don’t want to admit, I do care what people think of me. I think most of us do.

So here I sit, away from the people at the safety of my desk.  I’m lucky that if my manager asked why I never come to meetings and call in instead, she’d understand.  But I’d be lying if I said I felt completely comfortable with my decision to sit alone. Part of me wants to be ‘part of the team’, but a bigger part of me is fine with being on the outside looking in.  I wish the thought of being in a big room full of people didn’t make my heart race, but I have social anxiety and that’s just part of my deal. I know I’m not the only one, I see the other people who call into the meeting who I know are here.  Maybe they’re too busy to attend, or maybe the feel the same way I do. Maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way. And maybe that’s ok.

 

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Some Thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve written something and I can’t tell if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I tend to write more when things are difficult, and recently things have been going pretty smoothly.  My meds seem to be in order and my mood has been pretty stable. It’s amazing how something that seems so small, like adding an anxiety med, can make such a huge difference.

I often wish I didn’t need medication and I could use natural remedies to treat my bipolar disorder, but I just don’t think that’s in the cards for me.  I completely agree that Americans are overmedicated, but for some of us we need it to survive. When I feel down, I feel completely alone. By down I mean depressed, anxious, and just generally shitty.  It’s a horribly isolating feeling. It feels paralyzing because the world keeps moving around me, yet I feel like I’m stuck in one spot. One sad, lonely spot. And it feels like no one understands. But what I’ve learned from reaching out to the mental health community is that people do understand.  Everyone experiences depression or anxiety differently, but we often face similar battles. Like depression feels like a weight you can’t push off you, or a cloud that follows your relentlessly. Anxiety feels like being trapped in box with water rising around you. It can also feel like a heart attack.

Even though my anxiety has been under control thanks to medication, I still feel it creep in from time to time.  This usually happens when I’m extra tired or haven’t been doing a good job at taking care of myself (eating well, sleeping enough, drinking plenty of water, exercising, etc.).  I notice it when my mind starts to race and I feel my heart start beating faster. If I’m without my medication, I put my hand on my chest and try to slow down my breathing. I do breathing exercises like counting my breaths (inhale for 3, hold for 3, exhale for 3).  But it frustrates me that even though I take medication, I still experience anxiety. I guess nothing is perfect.

My mood, in general, has been unusually stable, which for me (someone with a mood disorder) is extraordinary.  As someone with a rapid cycling mood disorder, I’m used to not being able to trust my feelings because I know my mood will just change again.  It’s a weird and awful feeling to feel like you can’t trust yourself because your brain is turning against you. It’s scary and it makes making decisions feel almost impossible, even small meaningless ones.  But I haven’t felt that way in a while, and for that I feel incredibly grateful. And it’s not just medication that does the trick, it takes a lot of work on my end as well. There is no magic pill that makes you feel better all the time.  And even with the work I put in, like exercising and sleeping enough, I still have my lows. They’re just less frequent and less severe.

So generally speaking, things are pretty good.  Will they stay that way forever? No. I’ve been dealing with this long enough to know that the good times don’t last forever, which is why it’s so important to enjoy them.  These are the times when I’ll try to exercise more and be more social, because I know that when I’m not feeling great those are two things I avoid. As my dad always says, some days are rock and others are diamonds.  Enjoy the diamonds while you have them and persevere through the rocks since neither lasts forever.

 

Do Less

I’m feeling a little bullied by social media lately.  I see so many posts telling me to live my best life! Go out and do something!  Follow your dreams! And I know these are all positive things and the people who post them mean well…but all I want to do is take a nap.

I’m in the midst of going through med withdrawal, which is a side effect of going off a medication (in case you were wondering). So basically I am SUPER tired ALL. THE. TIME.  It’s quite annoying and puts a damper on things like working out, being productive at work, and trying to do normal human things like hold a conversation, shower, or put my clothes not on the floor in a pile.  Even simple things, like taking a dress to the tailor, feel like climbing a mountain. It’s a lot similar to feeling depressed. So maybe I do have a touch of depression, sometimes I can’t tell the difference.

Anyways, during these times I feel like I have a million voices yelling at me to do things because they’ll make me feel better. Go to spin! Make a smoothie! Take a walk! But all I want to do is lay under my weighted blanket and watch reruns of Drag Race. I don’t want to go out and reach for the stars.  I don’t want to ‘express myself’. I want some goddamn peace and quiet. Sometimes I just get really tired of the pressure I feel to feel better. Because the truth is willing it doesn’t always work. I wish that was the case. I do believe in the power of positive thinking but I also believe in the power of taking a mental health day, taking time to not speak or communicate with another human for as long as possible, and taking time to do absolutely nothing and not feel sorry about it.

I feel like social media puts this pressure on us to be constantly doing things.  We have our friends and random “influencers” we get basically bullied into following telling us to do things to make ourselves feel and be better.   But maybe the answer isn’t always an expensive protein powder or meditation, maybe the answer is doing nothing and not feeling ashamed. Maybe it’s ok to log off Instagram, turn off your phone, and be alone with your feelings.  That’s how we heal. When your sprain your ankle, you’re told above all to rest. So what about when you sprain your brain? I think the answer should be the same.

Going through a depression, changing meds, or just feeling like crap is like spraining your brain.  You’re temporarily not at your best and it’s ok to take a rest to recover. There should be no shame in taking a few hours, or better yet a whole day, to sit around and do nothing.  When I give myself that kind of time I can feel myself getting better. I allow myself to write down my thoughts, to cry, to not shower (sorry husband), and to not do anything. Sometimes I don’t even watch TV or listen to music.  I sit in silence. I know it sounds weird and like something a serial killer might do, but it’s actually really nice to just be. You get to see where your thoughts take you, which is usually to the refrigerator, and then you take it from there.  But they key is to not feel ashamed for using this time to rest, for using time to take care of yourself without doing ‘self-care’ rituals. Because sometimes the thought of running a bath, meditating, or even lighting a candle can feel like too much.  Instead, allow yourself to literally do nothing and see where your mind takes you. It can be the palate cleanser your mind needs.

 

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!

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.

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.