The List.

 

I once read that a good strategy in dealing with bipolar is to recognize what is an episode and what is just a run of the mill bad day. When I find myself feeling “moody” I make a list of things that are pissing me off. I look over it and try to determine if the things triggering my anger are truly things that I should be upset about or if I am overreacting. Whether or not it is an episode, it is a way to hold myself accountable.

 

I thought I would give you a glimpse into my list from this week. It truly is….something. If anything, it is hilariously ridiculous.

 

  1. I walked into the copy room to use the copy machine and there was a coworker in there organizing the incoming faxes. I just started the job so I asked her if I needed to dial nine to fax, to which she responded no. As I start typing in the number in she turns to me and says, “you have to wait until I am done with the fax machine”.
  2. People answering a question with any information outside of the answer to the question I asked.
  3. I work with a woman named Carrie. That is how she spells her name. She is from New York. She corrects anyone who says her name without the New York accent.
  4. Someone held the door for me and then proceeded to their car. When I went to back out (after taking time to plug my phone in and respond to a text) they were backing out behind me and I had to wait.

 

This list is small. This is because I am saving you from the 13 other ridiculously unimportant things that pissed me off. As you can see, I blew things out of proportion.

 

My whole life, my grandmother has hated when someone does not clear the microwave after using it. Lets say that you put food in to heat up for one minute and took the food out after 45 seconds. You better not leave that fifteen seconds on the microwave. My thoughts on this have always been if I see it as being easy enough for her to just not say anything and clear the microwave, then it is just as easy for me to do the same.

 

These things that happened did not hurt me or alter my life in anyway. It is far easier for me to make myself aware of this than it is to explain to someone that I have a mental illness full of mixed episodes and mood swings where I blow up over the preferred pronunciation of YOUR name.

 

I am a huge proponent of people learning about mental illness, ending stigma, and coexisting with those that have them. I am not a proponent for expecting everyone around me to deal with the fallout of my bad days.

Makeup Saved My Life

Please don’t judge me for the title of my post, hear me out before you think of me as someone who is “fake” or “self-absorbed.”

In my life, I have always enjoyed wearing makeup. I never thought I did a great job at it, but I admired others who had a true talent for it.

I fell into a severe depression in 2016 where I could barely get out of bed, was self-harming and was suicidal. At this time I was seeing my therapist twice a week and starting my 6-month long journey to finding the right antidepressant for me.

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon the beauty community on YouTube, but once I did, I was completely sucked in. As I watched the makeup tutorial after foundation review after getting ready with me videos, I was able to forget the pain. For the moments I was watching the videos, I wasn’t consumed by suicidal thoughts that plagued me day in and day out.

Watching women like KathleenLights, Tati Westbrook and Emilynoel88 made me feel like they were my friends and that they were helping me through this horrible part of my life. I could count on them to make me feel better when nobody else could.

Eventually, I started buying lots of makeup that they recommended. My makeup collection grew from a small bag of products to a small pond of them. I began practicing their techniques which helped me express myself in a new way. When I was focused on recreating a look, I could go into my zone and be safe.

At the time I was working for a newspaper so I asked if I could have my own makeup column. I wrote Megan Does Makeup for a year and I loved it! I started an Instagram account, @megandoesmakeupxo, to go with it and everything, it was (and still is) great for my mental health to have that creative outlet.

It’s 2018 now, and I have come so far in my mental health journey. Makeup is still an amazing escape for me when I’m feeling depressed or anxious. I am so incredibly thankful that I stumbled upon whatever video first pulled me into the beauty community.

See, I’m not so shallow, am I? 😉

Challenge Yourself! – Find 5 Meaningful Things To Do

Ever get so caught up in the day to day crap-you-have-to-do that you lose sight of what you actually need to do… or what might actually enrich your life?

Of course you do!  If you don’t, you’re probably kidding yourself.  That, or you need to immediately publish a book enlightening us on your secret – probably make a million dollars while you’re at it.

Today I was trying to distract my mind from the typical stress at work (and procrastinate from doing the crap-I-had-to-do items detailed on the to-do list sitting on my desk) so I started cleaning and organizing my office.

After reaching the bottom of a formerly bottomless desk drawer, I found a note from my predecessor.  It was a to-do list filled with 5 mundane tasks that were not unlike the ones I was myself putting off that moment.

The note was unremarkable in every way but one – the date; it was dated from just before he went out for the last time.  You see, his cancer had returned, and this time it would not be beat.  He passed away in the months that followed.

It made me think about what I was doing in that moment – just going about the motions of the day, looking at the clock, wishing it was over.  What if this was it?  What if I was running out of time and I didn’t even know it?

How many of you are doing the same thing?  How many of you are wishing for the hours to slip by so you can do something that’s actually meaningful to you?  What is actually important to you?  Challenge yourself to make a list of what you actually need to do.

I scribbled off the list sitting on my desk and made a new one:

5 Things I Actually Need To-Do:

#1 – Help My Kids Find Their Passion.

There is one really important word in that goal – “their”. I want to help them find their passion, not mine.

I love football. I’d love to have my kid in the NFL.  But I have two daughters that probably aren’t going to share that goal.  Also I don’t see many women in the NFL in 2018.

This was something I think I missed as a child; I never found something that I was really into that I could also do for a living. It wasn’t until after college that I really started developing true passions other than drinking beer and spending money.  What a waste!

Also, I think it’s really important that kids have at least something they know they’re interested in before school’s over.  Otherwise how the hell are they supposed to decide what they’re going to do after high school?

Here’s what the decision making process looked like for me:

Dad: Alright, here’s a book of college majors, you need to pick one.

Me: Wait, what?

Dad: Yep. You’re 18, and it’s time for you to decide what you want to do for the next 40-50 years.

Me: Can I just play X-Box?

Dad: Nope.

Me: Ok, let me see that book then…

Me: [Flips through book of alphabetized majors, loses interest at the letter ‘C’]

Me: Chemistry sounds good!

Dad: Excellent.

Me: [Wastes next 10 years of life stumbling down misery-path]

I really, really want to avoid that, which I know can be difficult.  I know my parents tried to get me into things and it was me that resisted.  I know you can’t make your kids do anything once they get to a certain age, but I hope I’ll be able to help them see how what they are interested in can become a career.

Here’s an example that would have worked for me. I’m really into video games.  That’s one of the only things I was consistently into growing up.  That sounds like a horrible waste of time, right?

Cut to 10 years later and I discover a passion for computer programming. Now I program video games in my spare time for fun.  Imagine if I had the creativity and vision to see this as a possibility when I was 18?  I could be doing this for a living right now, and I would have loved it!  Sometimes you need to be creative.

#2 – Pay for Kid’s College.

My wife’s parents paid for her to go to school, a generosity for which I am extremely grateful. We bought our first home when I was 24, and she was 23, because of the financial boost her parents were able to give us after we graduated.  We had an incredible head-start.

I graduated with $25,000 in debt, which is probably pretty low since I went to a public school. $300 dollars a month to student loan debt payments really sucks when you’re 22 – A huge percentage of your paycheck simply disappears.

Thankfully, I actually have a pretty decent head-start plan on this. It’s called the Stop-Obsessively-Buying-Ridiculously-Irresponsible-amounts-of-Ethanol (that’s alcohol for you – remember, chemistry major)-This-Year also known as SOBRIETY.

The math looks something like this:

$20 dollars per week for margaritas on date night.

$35 dollars per week for beer.

+             $45 dollars for Woodford Reserve because I’m one of those classy alcoholics.


$100 dollars per week

×             52 weeks in a year


$5200 per year on alcohol.

×             18 years


$93,600 saved over 18 year period.

That’s a decent head start!

#3 – Finish One of Those Damn Mania-Projects!

If you suffer from bipolar disorder you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re manic, or hypomanic, and you’ve fallen in love with… something. You have all this energy and you’ve decided to direct it towards writing a book, or starting a blog, or making movies, or learning an instrument, or learning to paint, or going back to school… or all of those things at once!

The problem is that bipolar disorder is a cruel mistress, and now two weeks later your depression is back and you have absolutely no interest in doing any of those things anymore. So what was just days ago an all-consuming passion project is left abandoned and incomplete.

I’ve spoken at some length about how mania or hypomania may be thought of by some as a blessing, but I’ve started to view it as a curse.  In my days or weeks of depression immediately following a hypomanic period I find myself surrounded by husks of beautiful, useful, and creative things that I was only able to take halfway to completion.  The sense of failure does nothing to help the depression.

Just once, I’d like to finish something. Write a book, learn a skill, finish programming that video game – anything!

I can say I have found one way to scratch this itch; break it down into small, bite size pieces! When you get the bug to start writing, instead of only working on that 100,000 word manuscript, why don’t you write a blog post!  I finish those all the time!

#4 – Travel Abroad With Family

I’ve been to two countries in my entire life. The United States, since I happen to have been born here, and Canada, since I happen to have grown up about 30 minutes from the border.

I never had a strong desire to travel (or really, to do anything) when I had the (relatively) easy opportunity to do so in college. Many of my friends did however, and it always seemed like a great adventure that enriched their lives.

I’d love to do this with my family, or if we can’t all go, I’d like to send the kids when they’re young, in college, and life is still (relatively) simple.

#5 – Start a Business

Is this every manic person’s dream, or is it just mine?

Imagine taking your energy, and your sudden, intense focus on something, and getting so good at it that you can actually start a business around that thing. Then you can screw the man and ride off into the sunset!

Ok, so I understand in reality that starting a business isn’t actually easy, and the whole riding off into the sunset thing is not likely to happen, but can’t a guy dream?

So that’s it!  That’s my What-I-Actually-Want-To-Do list – my 5 Meaningful Things.  I challenge you all to do the same thing!

Unfortunately, reality always seems to get in the way.  Speaking of which, these expense reports aren’t going to approve themselves. Back to it…

Gratitude–a Game Changer

According to Google Dictionary, A game changer is defined as “an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.”  Gratitude, for me, was such a thing as I struggled through deep depression from bipolar disorder.

While we are looking up definitions, why not take a look at Gratitude?  This is defined by Google Dictionary as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

Could something as simple as being thankful, really be a game changer?  I will attempt to illustrate just how this worked in my life.  Who knows?  Maybe you will find it to be that “ace up your sleeve” that will help you turn a corner in your recovery from significant depression.

If you have been reading my posts, you know that my most recent episode of bipolar depression caused me intense mental pain and a feeling of being in deep darkness.  I also had many physical manifestations of my depression.  I had excessive weakness and fatigue that caused me to wonder if there was a serious physical medical problem going on.  To say that I felt overwhelmed by what I was experiencing is an understatement.  I was emotionally drowning in tidal waves of hopelessness.  I felt completely inadequate to handle what was happening.  I finally got on needed medications and this helped to just take the edge of of what I was feeling, but I was still suffering.  On top of this I felt very negative about who I was.

Everything was terrible.  It was too hard for me to bear.  I would never make it through.  There was nothing to be glad about.  These were my thoughts at this time.

I went on like this for a period of months–I don’t remember how long now.  But then, as I have recounted before, I had a moment where I realized something had to change.  I had to change.  I didn’t know how long this would be going on.  Would my circumstances stay like this for 5, 10 years?  Maybe the rest of my life?  I certainly didn’t know.  I just knew that if this was going to be a long haul, I wanted to do my best to be happy.

I couldn’t change my circumstances, but I could change me.

I had an epiphany, of sorts–I decided to try cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  It was difficult, at first.  I had to look deeper than I was accustomed to looking.  I decided, that my way of cultivating an attitude of gratitude within me would be to say a prayer of thanks, any time I noticed something good in my life.  I have heard others say that having a notebook handy to record a positive occurrence in your life, works as well.

I would acknowledge any good thing, no matter how small.

For example, I recall a time I was headed to the dentist, but I was running late.  I had green lights at every intersection which sped my arrival.  Now, in the past, I might had overlooked that, but because I was really trying to notice something–anything good–I saw positive things I would have missed otherwise.

Here’s another, more recent example.  I had a short window time to do a little shopping.  I headed to the thrift store–a hobby of mine– and found an armful of things.  When I got ready to purchase my items, I realized that I was going to be late picking up my son from preschool, unless I had a very fast checkout.  There was a problem, though–every line was long and each person in line seemed to have as many items to purchase as I did.  I inwardly groaned.  Thankfully, a new register was opened right next to me and I was invited to check out there.  My checkout process was quick enough that I made it in time to pick up my son from school.  Definitely something to be grateful for!

Now, maybe you are thinking–noticing a couple of good things isn’t going to do anything for me.  And you might be right.  But if you can start to notice and record all the little things going right each day, at the end of the day, you will quickly realize just how long the list is. It won’t be just one or two measly things, it will be dozens of small things that add up to this: there are many things going right in your life.  That is what happened for me and I can assure you that you will notice the same!

It became my quest to look for the good things happening in my life.  It still is.  Being able to really look and notice the good, shifted my perspective from one of negativity and self-pity, to one of deep gratitude.  Just imagine what it could do for you–if you could make it your quest to notice positive occurrences in your daily life.

I still had depression.  I still struggled with negative thoughts and feelings.  I still had difficulty coping with my life, but I was able to do so with gratitude.  I could see the good.  My attitude had changed and I endured with greater patience and greater peace.

Have you had experience with this?  I would love to hear about it.

Before I conclude, let me share some things I’m thankful for today.  Right now, I am really grateful that my son took a nap this afternoon, so that I can have some quiet time to myself.  I am thankful I had hummus and veggies for lunch because it’s one of my favorite foods.  I am thankful I got to go the gym today and use my favorite machine.  I am grateful a good episode of “Fixer Upper” was on while I used the elliptical because it helped me get through my workout.  The list can go on and on and on–It’s all in your perspective.

What will you notice today?

Overstimulated

The clinking of dishes;

The lights;

The “Mom, I’m hungry.”  “He’s hitting me.”  “Can you play with me?”  “What’s for dinner?”

The piles of laundry;

The overflowing dirty dishes;

The homework;

The crying infant;

The endless varieties of ketchup;

The music;

The shoulder tapping;

The blaring of the television;

If you are a parent, you might be laughing (or crying) right now, because this sounds like typical things encounter all day long.  If you aren’t a parent, though, I am sure you can still relate to the concept that we are constantly barraged by stimulus of every kind all day long.  Everywhere we go, we are we are seeing, hearing and touching things.  In good health, all of this stimuli is just part of the daily routine and we may not even take note of it.  When dealing with severe emotional pain from depression, however, this constant assault on our senses can take our symptoms from bad to worse.

As a mother, I have 4 built-in sources of almost constant auditory, visual and tactile stimuli which originate from each of my 4 children.  I also have the visual stimuli of my environment, which often is in one of the varying stages of getting messy or getting clean.  All of this input was too much for my ill mind but I didn’t really have much choice–I had to live with it.  I learned, therefore, that it was essential for me to be very selective in what additional stimuli I was allowing into my life in order to survive the worst of this mental pain.  I also found ways of doing what had to be done, in the easiest way possible to limit the load on my delicate mind.

If you are in a similar situation with your mental health, I hope some of what I share here will be helpful to you.  Remember, the key here is to lighten the load on our minds by limiting the stimuli our brains have to process.

Here are some things I stopped doing in my life to give my brain a break:

  • I didn’t initiate many interactions with my children, I would let them come to me for the most part. (They did come to me, often–trust me).
    • Along with this, I learned to listen and interact without emotionally extending myself, or in other words, not getting emotionally involved.  I learned to be more emotionally passive in my interactions.  This was essential due the high volume of interactions I had to participate in everyday.
  • Situations where I had to be physically present (such as going to church meetings) I would do my best to tune out whatever I didn’t absolutely have to listen to.
  • I limited my social interactions because these would always increase my pain.
  • I limited time spent listening to loud music as the added noise would often increase my pain.
  • I stopped multi tasking. This was much too taxing for my brain.
  • I eliminated any media that was really action-packed, intense, or loud as this would increase my distress.  In fact, I reduced my media consumption in general.
  • I limited time in “busy” environments, such as the grocery store.

Here are some things I started doing to help give my brain rest:

  • I set aside about an hour each day for quiet alone time. When the kids were home from school for the summer, this meant all of my children had to participate in quiet time when I did. When my older children were in school, I did this while my baby napped. I cannot stress enough how essential this was! It still is, in fact.
  • I had my children do a large share of the family chores. They were all old enough to help. This improved the stimuli from my environment without me having to do it all myself.  (We still do this in our family).
  • I would remove myself from a situation when I started to feel an increase in pain. For example, this meant that sometimes I didn’t eat dinner with my family, because I needed a break in the quiet.
  • I got rid of a lot of possessions, with my husband’s help. I found it difficult to tune out my environment when it was a mess or when excess “things” were constantly assaulting my eyes. I actually went so far as to take most of the pictures and decor down in my house. I just really needed to see blank, empty space. This helped me a lot.

These are not exhaustive lists by any means and many of these of individualized to my circumstances, but hopefully this gives you a starting point from which you can form your own plan to decrease the load on your mind by limiting the stimuli in your life.

Does this make sense?  How have you coped with mental pain from depression?  I’d love to hear your suggestions.