Happy Healthy Holidays

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Lots of wishes float around this time of year. Lists are jam packed with material goods, gadgets and toys people covet. Well wishes also abound as folks entreat each other to celebrate all of the holidays that fall in December. In that spirit, I want to wish all of us in this community a Healthy Holiday season.

Remembering Christmases when my children were younger brings up some painful memories. Mania gripped my mind years before (and after) I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The stress of trying to provide a happy holiday seemed to exacerbate my tendency to overspend. This left a mound of unwrapped (and mostly unnecessary) gifts at 2am on Christmas Eve more years than I care to count.

Another year, I stayed up late hand-stitching personalized Christmas stockings for my in-laws. The socks didn’t turn out great and my morning was marred by lack of sleep.

I understand firsthand the desire to buy your way into your loved one’s hearts. Especially this year, when things have been so dismal. For those of us who suffer from a lack of impulse control, I wish you restraint, moderation and creativity in meeting the needs of those around you. And your own.

The flipside of mania, depression, can also come to call around this time. Personally, the shortened days and lack of sunlight can have a real detrimental effect on my moods. Couple that with expectations of constant cheerfulness that are impossible to achieve and it’s not just Elvis having a Blue Christmas.

But the biggest obstacle to enjoying the holidays this year will be our unconventional celebration. Like a lot of families, we’ve made the decision not to gather in person. The consequences are too grave should the virus invade our group or be contracted by vulnerable family members back home. I haven’t been able to listen to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “Miss You Most”. I fear I’ll cry my eyes out and won’t be able to put them back in my head.

So instead, I’m going to be grateful. I believe it was Shawn Achor, the best-selling author of “The Happiness Advantage” and positive psychology expert, who offered a stunning antidote to depression. He said (paraphrasing), that you can’t be simultaneously grateful and depressed. I’ve found this to be true and extremely helpful in dealing with my depression.

I will try my best not to have a bipolar Christmas. I’m hoping thirty years of living with the diagnosis and achieving a certain level of insight will allow me a healthy holiday season. And that’s exactly what I’m wishing for you.

Be well,

Colleen

World Kindness Day

World Kindness day is November 13 and World Kindness Week begins the Monday of the week with November 13. After the events of the last few years, and the many years crammed into 2020, kindness is needed now more than ever. There are a couple of Buddhist sayings that always come to mind when speaking of kindness. The first is, ‘Be kind whenever possible. It’s always possible.’ And the second is, ‘Be kind to all creatures. This is the true religion.’ Kindness is the quality of being friendly and considerate. There are many who believe kindness is a weakness and these are the people who would do harm to others.

When someone is kind to you, it can lift your spirits and put a smile on your face. What happens to you if you’re kind to others? Some benefits for a person who is kind to others include elevation of dopamine levels in the brain, which make us feel good. It can also include the feeling of emotional warmth leading to a healthier heart, reduction of inflammation slowing the aging process, reduction of emotional distance helping couples feel bonded, and contagiousness that often sets off a pay-it-forward ripple effect. There’s one important message I have for everyone regarding kindness. Always be kind to others and always be kind to yourself. That last part is harder than people think. Be kind.

James Pack is a self-published author of poetry and fiction.  Information about his publishing credits can be found on his personal blog TheJamesPack.com.  He resides in Tucson, AZ.

My Heart is Heavy

My heart feels so heavy in my chest. It weighs so much I feel like it will drop to my feet by the start of next week.

I’m not sure if second hand trauma is a real term or not but I think it’s what I’m experiencing.

**I am going to be talking about suicide so if this topic is triggering for you please do not read. Take care of yourself first! **

Last week my neighbor killed himself. His girlfriend found him in the shed in the middle of the night. She screamed so loudly she woke up my boyfriend, me and many of our neighbors.

The next day was very difficult for me. I did not know him, we never spoke, but experiencing the aftermath of his actions was very intense. My boyfriend and I stayed up until all of the first responders left.

I started to feel better about what had happened until last night. Last night our neighbor was outside sobbing in her backyard. This weekend is the viewing and the celebration of life so I think she is really struggling with those events coming up.

Hearing her pain made it hard for me to sleep and has made today difficult to get through. All day I’ve had trouble focusing at work because of what I heard last night.

I’m a very sensitive person so hearing everything going on weighs heavy on my heart. I can’t get in to speak to my therapist for a while so writing a blog post is the next best thing.

This weekend I need to focus on my mental health and get myself to a better place in my mind. I want to relax, clean up my house and eat good food. I think exercising would also be good in a situation like this.

I’m sorry to put my second hand trauma on your shoulders.

Have you ever experienced somebody else’s traumatic experience? How did you cope with that?

If not, what are you doing lately to take care of your mental health?

Post War

Realising what causes my mental blocks, which are, upon summary, conflict without a comprehensible source.

I am so used to the compulsion of mental review, that I can’t always catch myself doing it.

Its harder and darker than the rumination of the non-sufferer.

There’s a lot of conflict involved and a lot of self analysis.

This post will be brief but concise.

I’ve begun my course of study now, I’ll let you know what it is once I graduate.

Perfect timing.

I find it as hard to pay attention to peppa pig, as I do quantum physics, when the mental blocks are heavier than the Earth.

I do not have obsessions anymore like they were years and years ago, that is, total preoccupation with chronic anxiety + depression alongside..

However, the blocks are a motherfucking beast of an enemy.

Could they be autism? It’s possible cos eye contact and social interation is exceedingly awkward when im not feeling right.

I am very happy with my first few posts, I hope they entertain and help.

Helping others very much so helps ourselves. I am working things out on the outskirts, in the suburbs of my condition.

Wisdom has been stumbled upon, like acceptance I mentioned.

Zen Buddhism is a philosophy.

I am not too interested in religion, apart from this zen philosophy.

So.. a few notes from my imaginary book today:

No ego, no urgency, no conflict.

Doubt and delusion. I experienced the psychotic episode, refer to this when I do.

Five hinderances. (a video I watched about a shaolin monk and some very wise teachings)

Understanding the mind and being non-reactive is for healing.

Enjoying the quality of things. No conflict in any form, including doubt, insecurity and ego.

If I do not enjoy the current thing, the current task, then it is likely the same will always occur in future tasks.

All the clouds and the lava stream are not real, they are a part of me but are brain-random stuff. They only hold meaning I give to them.

Feelings are subjective, but gotta’ feel fully.

As soon as I examine, I need to let it be, not ‘answer’ or fight.

Make room for the mental illness, but I can speed up when I do not engage them, the volcano or lava stream, by way of calm bandwidth.

Mindfulness means opening up, but not engagining especially obsessing.

No forcing.

No conflict by being nonjudgemental, fully, with the object of meditation. Even smaller doubts… everything.

And finally…

Never any urgency.

Is It Anxiety? Tips and Tricks to Recognize Signs of Anxiety, and To Deal With Them

I have a fairly normal outlook on the world:
-someone’s late coming home …so he must be dead or kidnapped.
-that person didn’t smile at me …she hates me.
-the warning light came on in the car …it will blow up before the next stoplight.
-I feel somewhat sick …yes, Google, it must be cancer.

What? That’s normal, right?

It’s not?

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

This way of thinking has hounded me for most of my life. Not until it exhibited as severe depression from how other people treated me did I know …these thoughts may not be that normal. I also didn’t realize my worries had a name: anxiety. That realization didn’t come to me overnight. It didn’t come from a counselor, although uncovering and treating it did come because of counseling sessions. My learning about anxiety –my anxiety- came after talking with a neighbor.

“I felt like I should save up money for a trip,” I told the neighbor, back in June, “But then it got cancelled because of Coronavirus. So… I guess this means I’m going to get sick and will be hospitalized.” *Sigh*

Without skipping a beat, she responded, “No, that’s called anxiety.”

Initially, I felt shocked and surprised. I then felt denial, since anxiety was not a condition I’d ever considered. Anxiety was for other relatives of mine who had experienced panic attacks or hadn’t been able to sleep with the lights off. Anxiety couldn’t affect me…

Then, the puzzle pieces fit together -answers to my racing and irrational thoughts. I brought these concerns to my video counseling session; my counselor was not as surprised as I had been. I’m just glad she’s as smart and observant as she is.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

With her help, I learned that many of my panicky thinking is anxiety. I started making a list whenever I worried about a situation. I shared the list with my more-rational husband or a good friend. I learned which voice spoke: me or anxiety. Over time, I could see the differences.

After that, I learned to answer the worries:
-someone’s late coming home …so I’m anxious.
-that person didn’t smile at me …she’s having a bad day.
-the warning light came on in the car …and that light could be anything from needing an oil change to needing more coolant.
-I feel somewhat sick …it’s probably a cold.

Once I could recognize anxieties and stop the rising panic, I was able to formulate solutions. At the very least, I got better at delaying irrational actions and stress. Which, of course, does not mean the anxiety evaporated.

Sometimes, at times of high stress, my tips and tricks do not work. In times like that, I contact my counselor. Sometimes, she suggests anti-anxiety medications. Why? Because anxiety is like other mental illnesses in that I can’t always fight it on my own.

Armed with tricks, encouragement, professional advice, and help when I need it, I’ve found anxiety to be less formidable than before. I’ve found a freedom I didn’t know before. And it’s wonderful.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

©2020 Chel Owens

Could I Move on from Blogging?

Purchase The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir here.

Blogging will always have a special place in my heart, as it was here, within the confines of this blog, that I found my place with my writing. I found a group of people with like-minded ideas about sharing the stories of mental illness. The encouragement I got allowed me to write my memoir. I wonder, though, will I always be able to write here or will a time come that I will move on.

I think that is why I am pushing so hard lately to get a great list of authors on the website to always have words written here. I don’t mind paying the yearly fee to keep this blog going if it is still a safe place for mental illness/mental health advocacy writers to call it home. If I can swell the number to fifty members to end 2020, it might be the perfect storm where this blog goes on without me.

Where is this coming from? I have been dealing with stress more in 2020 than at any other time in my life. I know everyone is dealing with anxiety, depression, and stress. The list is probably longer than that if I am honest. For me, it is many things at once. Starting my business. Finishing my Master’s degree. Publishing my novella. Writing projects and writing this blog. Going through Life Coaching while still trying to find the confidence in my writing. Then, of course, losing my mom. Almost a year has gone by. How do I deal with that in December? My hope is to not be a mess.

I love what I have created here, and for the foreseeable, I will continue to write as much as humanly possible so that things will be in the right place in my life. The need to share my story continues here, and the magnetic pull is still here. Writing blog posts is my center, and it helps me continue throughout my day, so a baseline would be an accurate account of why I still write here. When that day comes when I am ready to move on, then I will. There is too much as stake to give up this space for good because the mental illness stories we share help fight mental health stigma. Perhaps someone reading this post will find their place among the writers here. Stay strong in the fight.

Always Keep Fighting

James

You can visit the author site of James Edgar Skye here.

Purchase The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir here.

My Memoir

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My First Time.

I have never been hospitalized before. I think that I am pretty good at hiding things, but I couldn’t hide this from myself. I knew there was something wrong. I wasn’t sleeping more than a couple hours, I was becoming emotionally abusive, and I was falling back into overspending. Mania. This isn’t the first time I have been manic this year, but I hope it is the last. I moved into a new apartment earlier this week and I already can’t make rent. I am exhausting. I am tired from being me.

I took myself down to the hospital which I think we can agree is a feat on its own. Not having insurance was both a blessing a curse. The plus side is that I could choose whatever hospital I wanted and the downside is that I am uninsured. I can’t help but laugh that this insanely expensive vacation I just took and I didn’t even get to go to the pool. I am constantly, actively working to better myself. I take my medication, go to all my doctors appointments, religiously see my therapist, use the breathing exercises. I am not immune to it. It wasn’t at all what I had expected. Clean, hospital like in some ways, slightly degrading, and cold. BUT I am blessed to have gone to a place that provided me a private room and bathroom. Granted, everything was bolted to the floor and the bathroom had no door. Overall it was a really nice place filled with people actively trying to get better.

I was sad and anxious that I was taking all these days unpaid, but I had to. I had to go and get help. It was an out of body experience watching me set fire to all the relationships that took years to rebuild. One conversation has sent it all tumbling down. Here I am, trying to intervene and slow the damage. I was discharged yesterday afternoon and it seems that my grandparents are going to be the hardest to recover. I suppose it is divine timing because we just moved away after living next door to them. I am fortunate to still have my mom in my corner because it would be hell living together for the next year if I am going to be the source of her pain and anger.

I am doing better today. Better than yesterday, better than a week ago. I just have to keep pushing forward. My anxiety is manageable right now and I hope that it stays that way. I hope that this made inpatient stays a little less scary for those who haven’t experienced it.

Keep fighting the good fight!

Why a Mental Illness is a Big Deal

I’ve been depressing for awhile now -as in, dealing with Depression. I’ve also entertained its close friend, Anxiety; plus a few hangers-on like Disassociation, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Social Phobias. I didn’t even know those existed till they walked off with some of my mental furniture.

Once I’m back to staring at the cracked ceiling of an empty apartment, I wonder why mental illness is such a BIG DEAL. Why does it always have the ability to kick my butt this badly every time?

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Because, Mental Illness is a BIG deal.

Yesterday, I witnessed a boy who collapsed into a hysterical fit when his mother said they had to ride in the elevator. A perfectly healthy friend had to reschedule her doctor’s appointment for “a better day.” Another friend told how she could not sleep in the same room as her baby, since the baby’s normal breathing patterns kept her up all night.

Minor issues become major. Small things are big. Mole hills are mountains!

So, now what? Treats? Bed? Movie marathon? I wish. Those things cost money! We need practicality before the rest of our sanity escapes out the window, and takes the rest of the chocolate with it.

Knowing that a mental illness blows things out of proportion is empowering. How? When one of my kids starts melting down, I KNOW to back off and get him a snack. When fear and anxiety cloud my horizon, I KNOW to get outside for a walk. When my friend says she needs to talk, I KNOW to drop everything and listen.

Am I freaking out? Don’t have a mental couch to collapse on? I take a break. I breathe. I run a meditative exercise. Try it; re-focus with what works for you. Then, try the basics: sleep, food, love, happiness.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

On the flip side, stop doing the little things that make it worse: staying up, eating crap, avoiding affection, and wallowing in sadness.

Sounds easy, right? It really is. The trick is to not make it difficult. “Just go get in the shower,” I tell myself. “Just get in there and sit -you don’t even have to wash yet.” Or, “Wrap up in a blanket and hang out on the porch. You don’t have to get dressed.”

See? Believe me, I’m in the camp of making a simple thing much more complicated. I also know how BIG I feel once I get past the little, white lies of my mental illness.

 

©2020 Chel Owens

The Lure of Normal

 

I’ve been away as a contributor to this blog not because of illness, but due to the lack of it. As a survivor of Bipolar I, my moods run the gamut from depressed to supremely manic. Lately, however, I’ve found myself in the sweet spot a lot of people would call normal.

I’m watchful for changes to my affect because for years, the chilling temperatures of autumn signaled another mania was on the horizon. This year, I face the prospect of fall with confidence and resolve to remain stable.

Many of my kindred spirits have written of their experiences with the seductive aspects of mania. I no longer have such lust. My manic episodes have caused me humiliation, anguish and disruption in my life. I have little interest in chasing fantasies only to be left holding cold ashes once my dreams flame out. Trips to the hospital were the result of Icarus-like flights of fancy.

Today, the day after Labor Day, is an anniversary for me. It’s been five years since I walked out of a psychiatric ward, released after I received medical treatment for a manic episode. It wasn’t the first time.

I have worked very hard to regain my emotional sobriety. Due to the nature of mental illness, there are no guarantees that particular hospitalization will be my last, but I have put many barriers between me and unbridled delusional thinking. One of the most helpful is the lure of normal.

Sky high self-esteem, visions of grand schemes manifesting overnight and touching the third rail of connection with The Divine are some of the elements of mania that used to call my name. It seemed so real; I could imagine all of it happening. Now, my wish is more Pinocchioesque: I want to be a regular person.

With over thirty years of experience as a diagnosed bipolar survivor, “average” and “normal” were terms I knew little about. Today, they are my goals. I don’t want to miss any more of this precious life with a runaway mind separated from my family and friends. Getting adequate sleep, taking meds, checking in with my therapist and doctor and monitoring my moods are just a few of the remedies I’ve chosen to use against the beast of mania.

Currently, there is no cure for what I’ve got. I can only do my best with the tools I’ve got on hand. Striving for stability is one of the ways I keep the symptoms at bay. As we head back to work and school in the midst of the pandemic, let’s try our best to keep our mental health foremost on our priority list. Take care of yourself first. It’s not selfish, it’s imperative.

Colleen

Mania.

Please know that the following is me writing something when this discovery hit me. I plan to write about my thoughts on my manic journal on another post tomorrow.

No clever titles today.

I am manic.

I might start to ramble. I am trying not to, but you know how that can be. I started blogging because I wanted to be a voice in this community. Not only do I want to normalize mental health, but I want to be a friend. I want to be a friend to the people who are suffering from mental illness and I want to be resource for their loved ones who want to ask the hard questions.

This is something I need to share if I can focus enough. Mania manifests differently in everyone who suffers from it. Some of us aren’t at the point where we can pick it out, and others know their tells. I have been having trouble sleeping and using my herbal medications has become pretty consistent. I try not to use it on the regular so I am sitting here racking my brain trying to understand why I could possibly be experiencing this.

I was contemplating doing something: boom. My thought went to purchasing something. WHY. I JUST went over my finances a couple days ago because we had been eating out a lot. I realized how short I was on my savings goals for the big move coming up. I made a mental note to remember how disappointing that was if I started trying to spend unnecessarily. Do you know how much money I have spent on shopping recently? I am no addict but I am spending outside of my means. like 300 in savings here, 100 there. Granted it isn’t the rent or car note this time, but it may as well have been. I still have to buy furniture, pay the rest of the deposit, rent, the moving company, and the utility deposits. I start to get irritable typically, but my medications have been adjusted since my last episode.

So yeah, I am a reckless manic. I just realized that I have been manic. I just didn’t think of all the symptoms together and that sucks. Can’t see my therapist for another two weeks because she is booked, I don’t have the money to see my doctor. I have to build up the courage to tell my mom. She can hold me accountable and the guilt alone might set me straight lol.

MY mania isn’t violent, physical self harm, or intentional. Read that again.

MY MANIA.

but everyone’s looks different.

My mania is managed 99% of the time.