Sucker Punch

It had been a good day, a really good day, actually. Work was a good pace, not too busy and not too slow. I felt that I really connected with a patient who was emotionally pained, and we prayed together. My coworkers and I all got along and laughed. The sun was out and I had a healthy and satisfying meal. As is my usual custom, I turned on Pandora and then a song came on that hit me like a sucker punch.

Had this song not been recorded prior to my relationship with my former fiancee, I would swear it was about us. The pain I thought I was past came rushing back. I wonder if this is a hurt that will never truly heal, if I will be haunted by these ghosts forever.

Jinxed

So apparently I jinxed myself with posting about maintaining mood during a vacation. I am sure part of my current dilemma stems from normal post vacation letdown, but it’s becoming more clear I am in the midst of a mixed episode. It started with me feeling a bit blue. That wasn’t so surprising as on vacation I visited a place that holds a lot of powerful memories for me, both good and bad. And while I had a great time, it was impossible to avoid some less than happy memories. I’ve healed a lot but in some respects, it was a bit like pulling off a scab and making the wound fresh again. The last several days have found me sorting through the residual emotions, making sense of things and getting back into my regular routine. 

Today found me irritable and longing for solitude following quite a few days of feeling “less than”. If I could get over my bad habit of comparing myself to people who (seem to) have the life I want this would be less of a problem. I know I’m not alone in this problem, studies have shown that thanks to social media, we’re all less satisfied and more depressed. 

But the most troubling thing is that I cut a few days ago. I hadn’t done it in months but after allowing social media to get in my head and reaffirm the messages of “I am Not Good Enough” “He Didn’t Want You” and “You are Mentally Ill And Alone”, I did it to ease the pain. And I remembered why I used it as a coping mechanism- instant relief, followed a while later by shame. I’ve been able to keep from cutting anymore, and it’s definitely something I need to discuss with my psychiatrist. So for now, I’m trying to avoid comparing myself to anyone, reminding myself I don’t know their whole story/struggles/thoughts. I continue to try to focus on positives, to reach out to God for help. 

I keep remembering being on the outskirts of a forest fire back when I lived in Montana. There was just enough smoke to make it hard to breathe, to cloud your vision. The smoke made things far less comfortable and reminded you of the danger that lay behind it. Mixed episodes remind me of that forest fire, of that smoke. I am praying for safe delivery from the danger. 

Images

The last two weeks have been busy! I’m feeling a little low the past couple of days so I took some time to observe things more graciously and simply to lift my mood. Here’s some highlights:

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My veggies are growing! They’re holding up well to the heat and I look forward to fresh salads and snacks soon! Great to see my work paying off!

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These gorgeous copper earrings were a gift from my sister. It’s nice to get little care packages from her, though she could send an empty envelope and I’d be thrilled.

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Off to find a new coffee shop in my neighborhood this week. We all know I love coffee but I especially love buying local and supporting small business. Hoping I find a new great place to enjoy.

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Love this mug! This depression that is coming in like a fog has darkened the joy I felt following vacation. Sometimes a simple reminder, like the one on this mug, can put a smile back on my face.

I’ve been reading on so many blogs about simplifying and appreciating what you have and what is. It’s something that is on my mind a lot lately and I expect to be writing more about that soon. Until then, take a little time every day to be still and be present!

A Question

Vacation

Hello dear readers! I apologize for my absence, but I just returned from a vacation. I got to see my sister and it was relaxing and fabulous. One thing that holds true for everyone as far as vacation goes is that it breaks us out of our routines. Mostly this is a good thing, but for those of us with a mental illness who rely on routine to stay well, it could be quite bad.

I’m happy to say I was able to vacation with a few alterations to my set routine and it worked out well. There were no manic episodes, no depressive periods and while my diet wasn’t what it was at home, it wasn’t at binge eating proportions- I prefer to call it “vacation portions”. I cut way back on my coffee consumption (though I did check out some small local coffee shops I adored) but definitely was lacking on getting the same amount of veggies I usually eat.

I was able to go to sleep and wake up about the same time every day, save one evening my sister and I went out and enjoyed ourselves (only one drink though!). I’ve noticed sleeping the same amount of hours (usually 9) every day is key to keeping my mood in check. I was still physically active, walking a lot as well as going on a hike.

Obviously I took my medications with me and made sure to bring my anti-anxiety medication, which I needed on the extra turbulent flight home. I also made sure I had time to myself here and there and took my journal to jot down any thoughts or feelings I had along the way.

So if you are suffering from a mental illness but want to take a trip that won’t send you into a spin, here’s a list of guidelines I followed-feel free to adjust to your own personal preference!

  • Make sure you have all your information sorted out- airlines, hotels, rental cars, etc. Knowing what time you need to be at the airport reduces a lot of stress, obviously. I found that having everything settled ahead of time as far as lodging and transportation were concerned reduced a lot of anxiety and also helped me budget ahead of time.
  • Plan activities, but don’t be too stern with them. Meaning, if you decide you’d really rather relax poolside than see the museum, don’t beat yourself up for it and say you’re being lazy. You also don’t need to do everything in one day. Vacation is all about enjoying yourself! 
  • Bring your medication! I don’t think I need to go into why with this one
  • Get enough sleep. Maybe you can stay up a little later than you usually would, but definitely get enough sleep so you don’t have a manic episode or worse.
  • Put the smartphone away! This applies to everyone, not just those of us suffering from mental illness. I only used my phone as a camera during my vacation,I wasn’t Facebooking or checking emails every hour. I also slept in one room and charged my phone in another room. I wound up sleeping deeply every single night.
  • If you’re traveling with someone, get some solo time. My sister is not much of an outdoorsy girl, and I love nature. So she was in the city while I hiked on a trail. We both appreciated the quiet time and then had stories to share when we were done! 
  • General travel tip: find out if there is a farmer’s market in the city you’re visiting. It’s a great way to shop local, get good food and really get the feel of the town. There are vendors offering everything from food to arts and crafts and the prices are pretty low!

If you have any other tips on traveling/enjoying family activities as a mentally ill person, please feel free to share them in the comments! 

Silver Linings, Sugar Skulls and Symbolism

Last week I finally watched the movie Silver Linings Playbook. I have to say I loved it and the message that you can overcome hardships by keeping a positive attitude. Plus my football team the Philadelphia Eagles were featured, always a good thing. I tend to be more on the depressed side with my bipolar versus manic, so maintaining a positive outlook can be hard, but I always maintain hope. Hope or faith, whichever you prefer, keeping a positive outlook and looking for the silver lining in a crummy situation has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. It doesn’t mean sticking your head in the sand and ignoring how bad things are. It means acknowledging that things are bad, but that they aren’t totally bad- there is always some good to be found, I feel.

What good can be found in being bipolar? A lot, actually. It’s taught me to be more in tune to my own needs, to take better care of myself. I’m learning to tune out the garbage other people might say and to honor my own voice. I also remind myself that it’s only bipolar, which obviously one will still live after being diagnosed with. I’ve met and come in contact with some amazing people who suffer from mental illness and I learned something from all of them. 

I admit that I allow what other people say and do to affect me far too much. From family and  friends to fellow bloggers to coworkers to random strangers, I let their opinions get in the way. It clouds my own judgement and I wind up feeling disappointed, silly or “less than”. I’m slowly learning that my own voice, my own opinion is the only one I really and truly need to listen to. This new found realization, long in the making, came from a strange source: Mexican Sugar Skulls and home decoration.

My friend was visiting my condo the other day and I was showing her the sugar skull artwork I was going to be purchasing. I had heard an opinion that decorating my bedroom with skulls was a bit odd, but this friend really liked the idea and when she explained why, I was even more convinced I was honoring my own opinion. Mexican sugar skulls are sugar candies shaped like skulls and decorated in a festive manner, believed to ward off evil spirits on Halloween. The skulls are also used to honor loved ones who had passed away and to generally make death seem less scary. My friend and I looked over the artwork and color scheme I had chosen and she said that for me, the sugar skulls made sense- that to her, they represented my bipolar. She said that through my life (and my blog) I was taking something scary and turning it into something else, something good. Much like a brightly decorated skull, I was changing the outlook on my bipolar by approaching it with light and humor. I was really glad someone was seeing things as I was seeing them and acknowledging my own efforts towards keeping positive, to boot!

So whether it’s always looking for the silver lining or finding your own sugar skull symbol, mental illness or whatever hardship you are facing- it doesn’t have to be scary. Being diagnosed with a disease or facing financial problems can overwhelm anyone. The trick is to listen to your own voice and looking at the situation positively rather than catastrophically. Trust and have faith in God, Allah, whomever you worship.  Is there a rough situation or scary experience that you overcame with positivity? Please share your story in the comments!