Mini Challenges

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of large groups, whether they be social gatherings or work related meetings.  It’s a challenge for me to enter a group setting because of my social anxiety that comes from a place of needing to feel accepted.  I know this now because I talked to my psychologist about it (I can’t take credit for coming up with that on my own).

I guess this anxiety comes from always feeling like an outsider when I was growing up.  I was called “weird” a lot and it made me feel anything but normal, like every middle school kid ever.  But that feeling of being seen as different stuck with me. I know part of it came from being very quiet as a kid.  People think you’re weird if you’d rather keep to yourself than join in a conversation. There’s some stigma around people who prefer solitude over socializing.  Although with things like JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out – I hear it’s a thing now), that’s starting to change. Either way, the feeling of being perceived as weird is what often keeps me from talking to people.  However, my psychologist encouraged me to “embrace the weird”. He said I shouldn’t care so much about what people think about me and it’s ok to be weird. I know he’s right, but easier said than done.

As I was talking to him about all this, he encouraged me to challenge myself to do more social things, like talk to people or at least stand in a room with them.  I thought of them as ‘mini challenges’. So I started to think about other mini challenges I could do and here’s what I came up with, including how realistic my attempt will be:

  • Make small talk with my bike neighbor at SoulCycle (highly unlikely)
  • Talk to one new person at a party in two weeks (likely)
  • Don’t hide behind my husband at the next family gathering (very likely – he usually disappears within 5 minutes of arriving)
  • Make small talk with a coworker whilst getting coffee (somewhat likely)
  • Say good morning and smile at coworkers I don’t know (likely)
  • Make small talk with someone in a random scenario, like the subway, a coffee shop, etc. (highly unlikely – I live in New York and we pride ourselves on avoiding this sort of interaction)
  • Not feel super awkward making eye contact with someone in the bathroom (unlikely)
  • Strike up a conversation during a pause at a family dinner next weekend (somewhat likely)
  • Remember that it’s ok to be weird (very likely)

Well next week I have another big meeting on Monday, and this time I’m going to go.  Well, I’m going to try to go. I’ll do my best, so stay tuned!

What kinds of mini challenges can you put yourself up to? Leave your responses in the comments, I’d love to read them!

 

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.

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.

Note to Self: Proofread

Today was hard.  Not just because I may somehow still be hungover after my bachelorette weekend and my body has forgotten how to sleep, but because of something I never ever thought would happen to me.

The short story is: I used a text generator at work that posted controversial text on a company site.  It’s a generator I’ve used many times without a problem, but this time it was filled with offensive language I thought I had removed.  In no way, shape, or form did I intend to upset anyone. Buuuuuuttttt that’s not what happened.

After it was brought to my attention that the text (a quote from an actor in Pulp Fiction) was offensive, I immediately took it down.  Once I was told that I had REALLY pissed someone off, I sent out an apology email.  I felt kind of like a celebrity who has to apologize on twitter when their boob pops out because it was an honest mistake.  But then I learned that it wasn’t clear that I had used a movie quote; I was accused of being culturally insensitive.

That’s a really serious accusation to throw at someone in such sensitive times, especially someone who bleeds rainbow and dreams of running a yoga studio/home for guinea pigs.  Does that sound like someone who uses offensive slurs in a technical document?  I certainly don’t think so.

It was one thing to have to send out an embarrassing apology email to an entire department, but to think that people considered that I could actually write something like that?  It was an honest mistake and it’s a known fact that I’m a terrible proofreader.  I was both bewildered and devastated.  I try to spread love, not hate.  I’m a freaking yoga teacher for pete’s sake!

It seemed like such a simple accident that blew up like an accidental fat-shaming Instagram comment.  I felt sad, humiliated, and misunderstood, like that time I didn’t realize the shirt I had worn to work was completely see-through.  Fortunately, I had plans to have lunch with my dad so I was able to remove myself from the situation (and pout in the stairwell).  I had packed my laptop in my bag, fully prepared to message my boss and tell him I needed to work from home the rest of the day, but after talking to my dad (a seasoned tech vet) I started to feel better.

I realized that just because someone accuses you of being something you’re not, doesn’t make it true.  I know in my heart that the offense I caused was an honest mistake, and hiding from it wouldn’t make me feel any better.  In these situations, the best thing we can do is admit we made a mistake and keep our head held high.  Sitting at home stewing in my shame would only make the situation bigger and worse than it ever needed to be.

After lunch, I walked back into my office with my head held high and smiled (as I always do) at the people I passed on my way to my desk.  When I open my laptop I found a message from my boss telling me not to worry and that everyone understood that it was an honest mistake.

When life throws you into awkward situations or you make mistakes – don’t hide from them, face them.  I often want to hide from my troubles but it never makes them go away.  Today I feel proud of myself for not running away from this because it showed my coworkers, and myself, that I’m human and I can handle making mistakes.

Self high-five!