I Cannot Worry About The Future if I Am Experiencing My Present

Right now I’m reminding myself frequently: I cannot worry about the future if I am experiencing my present.

That does not mean I don’t have thoughts or worries about the future. It simply means I redirect my focus to the present. In the mental hospital, I was taught a grounding exercise: identify things through the five senses. What do I see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel?

Not surprisingly, there are many types of meditation that teach this presence and mindfulness is taught as a way to connect with now.

I also learned positive affirmations in the mental hospital and from my psychologist. This is very similar to a powerful invocation called the Sankalpa, or your heart’s desire. You meditate quietly for a few moments, then allow something you want to arise from a place that transcends your thinking mind.

In any of these practices: grounding, mantra, Sankalpa, mindfulness, meditation, etc. gratitude is fundamental to reaching these states. Gratitude is a place that transcends the ego, the anxiety, and the depression because it places power outside of your thinking mind. If a few moments are taken to see and appreciate everything – good and bad – by acknowledging everything has happened to bring this moment, the ego becomes quiet, confused, and powerless. Gratitude helps with acceptance too. In my journey, being thankful for being bipolar taught me to stop fighting being bipolar. In any situation, I guide my focus to gratitude. Even the worst situations, I can still be thankful I’m breathing.

Once gratitude helps center, I can “hear myself think” better. This is when positive affirmation or Sankalpa helps. It’s a statement in the present of something you wish to accomplish. My first Sankalpa was “I am peaceful, loving, trusting whenever I am confused or upset” this arose as a need for me to shift because as soon as my moods did what my moods do, or depression made me feel worthless, etc. I question every decision I’ve ever made, doubt myself, and worry about my entire journey.

Pretty quickly, I saw this shift. I couldn’t say how specifically, but I started listening to myself and trusting myself more. I recited the Sankalpa after connecting with gratitude and repeated it three times. I also recited it before meditating and bed.

Right now, my Sankalpa is “I am love”. This has led me to stop getting into my head about the future and experience the present instead. Love is action, not a noun. It’s a dynamic, ever changing energy. Love is not clinging or fear, so worrying about the future is the opposite of love.

If these practices are of interest, hop on YouTube. There are guided meditations to set a Sankalpa, to connect with mindfulness, and gratitude practices. I do general searches and just pick whatever I feel pulled to pick. This helps to connect with intuition too. If the spirituality side of things feels weird, check out positive affirmations and I Am statements, mindfulness exercises for depression or anxiety, and try journaling 3 gratitudes daily. It’s the same, just different words and more or less talk of God.

Do things that resonate with you and you alone. Never force a practice that doesn’t resonate or force yourself to do anything a certain way because someone else does it. All the self help books, guides and all this have good intentions, but each of us walks differently with different feet, shoes, and baggage. Meet yourself where you are at and with what you want, and find the resources that support and work for you. At the end of the day, being in your life and experiencing your life now is what is important. Not the past, not the future.

Me vs. me

The most frustrating aspect of bipolar or mood disorders (including ADHD) is there are essentially at least two diametrically opposed personalities in your life. There’s the person who can handle it and the one who can’t. They’re both you, it’s not multiple personality disorder, but one you is on the ball and trying to improve and the other you is overwhelmed, anxious, and wondering how the hell to get half of what was done before done now.

This has been an ongoing battle in my life. When things are good, I’m on the ball, organized, house clean, and dotting all my lower case j’s. When things are not, I don’t even know where to start. I call it going down holes. It’s frustrating because as far as I can go up is as far as I can go down. Most of this year has been me trying to teach myself baseline. An area where I can manage and cope without too much pressure either way. Things that are easy on good weeks are difficult on not good weeks. I make commitments on good weeks that are impossible on bad. And then I have to dig myself out of the holes my moods can go to.

Buddhism taught me impermanence and to relieve myself of expectations. The largest part of my suffering was in comparing myself to myself and to others. I am not the person I was five minutes ago, let alone last week. This frees me to just do my best every day. It doesn’t matter what I did or didn’t do previously. It’s also okay to be overwhelmed, because I have a lot going on. Carving time to meditate creates space to just be and allow myself to be however I am without fixing me.

I am not my house or my to do list. Some days, I just need to cope with my Newtonian moods watching me go up and inevitably come down. Ram Dass said his stroke is a grace from God, because he finally learned to ask and receive help. He is paralyzed on his left side saying this is grace. I’ve been pondering his beautiful words for a month, and I agree.

Bipolar is my grace from God. If I had not gone into full blown psychosis, I would never have started asking for help. If I hadn’t started seeing my mood swings, irritability, and suffering, I would never have turned to Buddhism for help. I would have followed the path others laid for me, and never become me. I would have never accepted me. I would never have expressed me. I look at the weeks I go down in the hole as me just needing rest. Does it suck to have to dig out and try to get back to baseline? Sure. But I have a baseline now. I know when I’m off, and I know what to do when I’m off.

And I know how to ask for help now. I’m not ashamed for needing help. I am not ashamed that I can’t do it all. I’m not ashamed of myself. None of this would be possible without the grace of bipolar. My creativity, problem solving, personality, empathy, and compassion all come from being “batshit crazy” as I called myself before. There are kind of two or more me’s in here, and at least we’re all playing nicer in the sandbox. Even if I gotta pick up my slack sometimes.

I believe our greatest challenges are our greatest strengths. This becomes apparent when we stop fighting with ourselves and love the good, bad, ugly, and all in between.

Quiet Minds are Focused Minds

Coming off the last post I wrote, Pay Attention, I wanted to talk about meditation. Meditation is recommended for a myriad of mental health issues including ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety. The problem is that most of us do exactly what meditation will teach you not to do: we are trying to meditate, we are goal setting on meditation, or trying to achieve something. Meditation is doing nothing and being everything.

Sitting meditation is challenging. As soon as you start settling, your body will begin whining, your brain will attempt to focus on the whining and create new whining to go along with it. There’s lots of people who struggle with having thoughts about their thoughts, and this noisy charade goes on while they try to meditate.

Meditation will not necessarily silence the mind. In fact, I would go so far as to say, meditation will show you how futile it is to attempt to silence the mind. What you can learn from meditation, is more important: You Are Not Your Thoughts. You are observing your thoughts and focusing on your breath. Quieting your mind is more about not responding to your thoughts vs. not having any thoughts. The most noise in our brains come from us talking back to our thoughts with new thoughts. Meditation teaches to allow the thoughts to come and allow them to go without a response – like an unwanted dick pic from Tinder.

Meditation can happen while you are driving, cleaning, building a puzzle: it doesn’t matter where or how. The principle is to remain connected to your breath either by counting or by observing the natural flow of your breath without influencing it. The same rule applies to thoughts, they can be observed without influence, judgement, or an attempt to make it go away. A five minute meditation is as effective as 5 hours, because there is no race, deadline, or even finish line. Meditation is more effective when there is no goal or expectation. If there is a goal or expectation, then the left hemisphere of the brain is attempting to control, analyze, or add logic to a practice that is attempting to connect you with reality by simply being.

One of my favorite ways to meditate is using Yoga Nidra, or Yogic Sleep. This meditation is done laying down flat on your back with your arms spread out and feet apart, like savasana in Yoga. The biggest challenge in Yoga Nidra is remain awake. Yoga Nidra takes you to a bridge between your conscious and subconscious mind. YouTube has tons of guided Yoga Nidra meditations. This form of meditation is deeply peaceful and relaxing. The meditations can be as short as 10 minutes to over an hour. I typically do yoga nidra in the middle of the day when my energy is dipping, because this is a restorative meditation that will help with energy and calm.

In any form of meditation – walking, sitting, mindfulness, or yoga nidra, the aim is to help focus return. Right now, focus is very difficult, we’re all yanked around by so much stimulation and noise.  But by turning to meditation, it teaches how to utilize your focus by realizing you are the only person who can direct your focus, unless you are letting someone or something control you. Not only that, but old emotions, trauma, anxiety, etc. has space to come to the surface and be healed. There are so many forms of meditation, and the only way to know the best way to meditate is to find your personal style.

Finding your own path can be pretty nerve-wracking and confusing. Group meditations or guided meditations are helpful to start, because someone will help bring the quiet state with verbal cues. At the end of the day, though, only you know how it feels to be in your body and mind, and if you find a particular style of meditation to be frustrating, try something else. Meditation is about just being: not trying, not doing. Open awareness and complete allowing of whatever is just is.

I find now, if I don’t meditate at least once a day, I’m an irritable confused mess of a person. Some days, I can sit for 5 minutes, somedays it’s 50 minutes. It is irrelevant either way. There’s no gold medal for best meditator ever. The more important part of meditation is to practice consistently so you can find deeper states of relaxation and understanding.

By becoming aware of thoughts and emotions, there’s no further need to escape them. If anything, there is a need to express them and heal them. Often, whatever is disturbed on the inside robs focus and leaves us distracted and out of whack. Inner worries, fears, and feelings about self project in our lives and relationships, but meditation creates awareness, and by simply being aware, the situation is changed.

Sitting and doing nothing seems counterintuitive, but in reality, it will increase efficiency and focus. By focusing on breath, it’s easy to bring conscious breathing in any moments of stress or unhappiness. It helps align your focus to what you really want and your best path forward. It connects you with intuition. When our brains are so noisy, we almost never can hear the small voice guiding us from within. Meditation is a do not disturb button on life. It’s a mini vacation for life. So many of us cannot or will not disconnect from life to connect with themselves. This gives no chance for focusing on what is really happening in your body and mind. So often we blame externals for unhappiness, when in all likelihood, unhappiness is sitting within, but being projected on others.

TIPS FOR MEDITATION

  1. Create consistency. Pick a time you can sit quietly for a few moments.
  2. Create a space to meditate. Get a bolster or something comfortable to sit on. Try to find a quiet space, so that you will be minimally distracted while learning how to go inward.
  3. Light incense or a candle. A smoothing scent that you light right before you meditate. It will have a Pavlovian effect eventually, that when you smell that scent, you slip into meditation
  4. Try different forms of meditation to see what resonates
  5. Keep a journal and write any feelings, thoughts, etc. that came to you while meditating
  6. Begin meditation by cultivating gratitude – for good things and bad things, because everything brought you to the now moment, where you are perfect just the way you are.
  7. Don’t make meditation a burden, sit quietly for as long as you can, and stop when you stop.
  8. Don’t focus on what you did or did not get out of meditation, leave your expectations behind.
  9. Don’t judge or criticize your performance in meditation.
  10. Don’t give up. This is not instant gratification. This is a patient practice that can only deepen with consistency and time.

 

Pay Attention

Do you know what your greatest gift, asset, tool, etc. is? Do you know the most powerful part of you? Do you know the one part of you, that if you use it wisely, it will change your life?

It is your focus.

Focus is something most of us struggle with immensely. The climbing rates of ADHD diagnosis in adults and children are testament to our struggles with the power of focus. Most of us pride ourselves on our abilities to multitask, but the reality is multitasking, over-committing, and generally being too busy is one of the biggest reasons we are miserable. (No shit Sherlock). The reason, though, isn’t because we are tired or stressed. It’s because we are maligning our greatest and most powerful gift.

Take a moment and think of people you deem wildly successful, the people you wonder how they did it, or what their secret is. There’s a common denominator: focus. Take a musician: they focused on their gift and passion until it became their reality. They don’t just work in music, they live music. They tour, write, perform, and embody music. How did they get there? “I never gave up, I never stopped believing in myself, I practiced every day…”

Most of us dismiss them as “lucky” or how we can’t possibly do that because “here in the real world…” However, we overlook the simple trick they use that can change everything for us: focus.

Do you fixate on things? Do you ever wonder why sometimes you just want to do the same thing, and other weeks it barely crosses your mind? Do you have interests that you want to incorporate in your life, but you can never seem to find the time?

These fixations are your inner compass, and they are a blessing, a gift, and guidance. Call it God, your higher self, intuition, the Holy Spirit, or channeling divinity. I don’t care. What your fixation or focus is trying to help you with is what you need to do to help yourself to be happy and fulfilled.

When we multitask and overwhelm ourselves, we erode our powerful focus, and like a muscle, lack of use creates weakness and lack of results. Our society loves to erode our focus. How many times do we check Facebook or even just our phones in a day? How many times can you say, “I just did one thing for like an hour.” When you go to work, how many things are you doing at once to be productive. Are you actually productive? How is your energy?

Have you ever watched a kid actually playing? Not video games, I’m talking driving a car on a floor, building a puzzle, or taking Barbie on a date with Ken? The outside world doesn’t exist to these kids. As a matter of fact, the kid doesn’t exist to the kid. There’s no mental observer, “I am making Barbie perfect, but up next I really must see about my muffins in the oven and good God that laundry!” It just doesn’t happen. They’re focused and immersed, which means they, and all their problems (kids have problems too) don’t exist.

What happens then? They’re happier! Have you ever dealt with an overstimulated kid? It’s fucking hell! My kids are constantly overstimulated, then they overstimulate me, and I want to go weep under a blanket for a month, pondering how to simultaneously be a great mom and hermit in a mountain, and if there’s a wawa located in any mountains.

Why wouldn’t we realize if kids can get overstimulated and turn into dickbags, most of the dickbags you encounter in your life (especially yourself!) are also overstimulated, unfocused, and outta their damn mind. We’re all chocolated-up toddlers demanding nap time 24/7!

We lack focus. Without focus, we’re generally ships without a compass lost in a world of circular thinking, rumination, habitual confused behavior, escapism, and in need of that nap.

Or, perhaps, more accurately: our focus is squandered in the wrong place. When you have that rare five minutes of quiet time, what do you focus on? Your blessings, or your problems? If you’re a resident of this planet, I bet problems are the more likely answer, although you’d try to caveat it with, but I’m really happy with my life, it’s just….

Focusing on something is transformative. In that, your focus takes you away from your idea of yourself, or your ego. We all have imaginary worlds we live in, where expectations run the show and expectation and reality are perpetually two ships passing in the night. When expectation and reality don’t align, frustration is a constant. When you focus on something and come away from your chattering monkey brain, suddenly shit makes more sense. Why? Because our brains can’t actually solve problems. Our ego, our idea of ourself, doesn’t do anything but take past data and attempt to answer a question. This just puts us in circles. This is what we all do when we have a problem, and it never actually solves our problems.

If anything, what if we create the outcome we don’t want? If you have a situation, and you’re focusing on the thing you don’t want to happen, how often does the thing you don’t want to happen come to fruition? When it does, do you feel a sick satisfaction that, although you’re miserable, at least you were prepared for it?

What if you made it happen though?

Your focus isn’t just what you’re doing, it’s what you’re creating in your life. Focus on peace, you will find peace. Focus on not wanting to fight about the dirty dishes, how many times did you end up fighting about dirty dishes? Focus on too much, and you end up confused and tired.

If you think about driving: if you focus on not hitting a pedestrian, you’ll find yourself inevitably steering away from the pedestrian you are somehow drifting towards. Where you set your focus is where you go, and focus doesn’t understand not. You’re staring at the pedestrian saying, “I don’t want to hit this 90 year old gentleman carrying his groceries”. Your focus says, “oh you wanna go to that guy? Got it!” Next thing you know, you’re jerking the wheel after startling someone’s grandpa. Google target fixation motorcycles and you can see this concept repeated in thousands of articles.

I think everyone has ADHD to varying degrees. ADHD is not a lack of focus, it is a lack of focusing on what someone else wants you to focus on. This is why school age children have these letters. The little bastards just don’t want to sit in a chair for 8 hours listening to someone talk about shit they’re not interested in. I don’t know any adults who struggle like that 🙄 Hell, this is a longer post: how well are you getting through it? Are you still reading? We all try to write less to keep our readers’ attentions because none of us have any!

ADHD, when framed properly, is a superpower, and we all have access to it. How many artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs have either ADHD or bipolar? How many stories have you heard where some wildly successful person sucked at school? Why is this? Their focus didn’t give a shit about anything but their focus, and they listened to it. An incredible musician can’t be incredible if they don’t play their instrument constantly. That’s great, because that was their focus. An inventor doesn’t give a shit about anything but making an iPhone. That’s great, because that was their focus.

We all have this to varying degrees because no brain is the same. Your focus could be as simple as wanting to drink a cup of tea and write in your journal. You put it off because your busy, and you end up grumpier than usual, because you didn’t do what you wanted to do. That urge did not come from your brain, either. We all know there’s a place in us that we can’t quite put into words, and when we don’t listen to it, it becomes a “man, I wish I had just….”

Focus is key. Our egos love to plan, dictate, tell us or shortcomings and problems. When we listen, we find lots more shortcomings and problems, and we create more of the same. Why? That’s where the power of our focus was squandered. If you do sit and journal with your tea, you may just find the answer to the question that’s been bugging you. If you go to that class you said you didn’t have time for, go to the gym, write the blog, etc: epiphanies can happen. You didn’t think of it, no amount of rumination did it. It wasn’t until you used your focus to not focus on creating problems did you, in fact, see through the problem.

Once I tapped into focusing on what I want versus what I didn’t want, life got better. Don’t get trapped by instant gratification. I didn’t practice yoga once and I am a billionaire with no cares in the world. My problems are exactly the same, I just see them differently. For me, focus and fixation come in approximately 1-2 week bursts. This week, my fixation has been practicing yoga nidra. This is something I had practiced when I started meditating, but didn’t know what it was called. It just made sense to lay down, close my eyes, and chill the fuck out. The week before was yoga. I pick one focus – whatever is pulling me the most – and I let that dictate my week. I’m busy, and I’m a mom. I don’t have tons of time. I keep my practices simple, I don’t let them become a guilt factor or burden. I just let it be my focus. Everything still gets done, but I redirect and focus on the fixation of the week when I start ruminating. Some weeks it’s cleaning my house, or writing, or journaling. I call my week whatever fixation I have, and it is my compass. I cut back on the shit I don’t need to make time for the shit I do. I can’t and won’t do everything I want or should do, so I pick one and I let my day focus on that. If it’s a yoga week, I plan my schedule around getting to yoga. If it’s a writing week, I wake up and write before I get distracted, etc.

What have you been wanting to do? What do you keep putting off? Where is your focus being squandered? If you had more time, what would you be doing? Start focusing on these questions, and I’ll bet things begin shifting. Keep focusing on the things you don’t want, and don’t be surprised when you told yourself so. Your focus will create your reality. Start using it to your benefit. What can you focus on today? Hit me up in the comments, this is my current fixation, and I want to talk more!

Up next, I’ll give you some more personal examples of my focus and fixation, a couple steps I took to get my focus back, and what changes I’ve observed since. Thanks for reading, and share the love if this was enjoyable, relevant, or semi coherent.

Using Your Body to Discipline Your Mind

Yesterday was Summer Solstice. At my yoga studio, Shanteel, we did 108 Sun Salutations to welcome summer. This was my second time – the first was for Spring Equinox. It’s a very challenging practice, taking about 2 hours to complete. It’s also deeply healing and eye opening.

Yoga is not about getting in better shape, although it helps. It’s not even about getting in proper postures, or looking like the Instagram pictures. Yoga teaches using the body to discipline the mind. I think when any of us are doing something repetitive and challenging, our brains love to comment on its difficulty and our inability to do it. If we listen to the chatter, the difficulty grows exponentially. Every ache, muscle, etc becomes screaming resistance.

It becomes a mind over matter situation, and yoga demonstrates this perfectly. As I was thinking how hard this was, I was struggling until I caught myself. I went to child’s pose, rested, and changed my internal monologue to a simple “I can do this”. I whispered it to myself as I was in downward facing dog. Eventually, thoughts ceased and all that remained was the sensation of my body, with my eyes closed, moving through the postures. I became focused solely on alignment and positioning, and allowed myself to just move without commentary. I stopped when needed for water or rest, but I was acutely aware of how many more sun salutations I did, how few rests I took, and how much my practice improved since spring.

I didn’t have to modify by dropping my knee in lunges, I could stay up. I was keeping my elbows hugged in for transition. More importantly, my internal monologue became kind and encouraging as opposed to critical and belittling.

Nowadays, it seems difficult to hear ourselves think. I didn’t notice it until I started meditating. I never noticed how critical and mean I was. On the outside, I was so nice to everyone, but on the inside, I was downright mean. This sets you up for terrible projections. If you are constantly criticizing and hating yourself internally, you’ll project those feelings unconsciously on the people you love. Their words and interactions will be perceived with negative intents where none were present. It’s inevitable.

It’s only by bringing awareness to the mental chatter that you can change it. Yoga helps because as much as you may feel good after a practice, it’s rare you want to contort your body in bizarre ways, sweat in places you didn’t know you could, all while trying to breathe and quiet your mind. My mind loves to tell me how hard it all is, yet not once have I lost a limb or died in practice. I generally get sore and relaxed.

This experience carries into day to day, as you become more aware of your monkey brain and realize that your thoughts are messing with your reality. Sure, my house is messy, but in my thoughts, it’s an insurmountable Mount Everest of dishes and laundry, my kids are bound and determined to drive me insane with messes, and I’ll never ever know what it’s like to be done cleaning. In reality, some music and a few hours of focus gets me where I need to be.

I never would have thought I’d be capable of 108 sun salutations. I remember struggling to even commit to 3 as I practiced on YouTube. I was scared of even joining a yoga studio. I thought I was too fat, too this, too that to join a studio. I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the classes. Yet, there I was, in reality, flowing through 108 sun salutations with my community.

If I had listened to my brain, I wouldn’t have a family at Shanteel. I wouldn’t have found my home, where I go to find myself daily. I wouldn’t have found my strength or beauty. I would have just sat around letting my brain kick my ass, as opposed to kicking my ass on the mat to see how much further I can go beyond my thoughts.

Last night was even more special for me. I promised myself I was going. I negotiated if I had to miss regular classes, I’d go. Because this is the week after my period, which means it’s depression week. Awareness of my cycle has helped me plan around my hormones. I know these weeks are tough for me. My energy is low, my mood is typically low, and life is harder than usual. My house is a mess, because I didn’t have the energy to keep up. My kids are home, and I had to let them do screens more than I’d like so I could rest more than usual.

Normally, depression weeks are harder to practice yoga for all these reasons. I’ve promised myself to try to get to 2-3 classes/week versus my normal 5-7. I’ve promised myself to rest without judgement, and listen to my body without criticism. I had to nap most of the day yesterday, but I got to the 108. All day, I was thinking of reasons I couldn’t or shouldn’t. All day, my brain wouldn’t shut up, and all day, I had to ignore it, because I promised myself I was going.

Depression used to be a call for mania, where I would force myself to hide everything away and pretend everything was great. I’d pile on activities and do anything to distract myself and hide it. Depression was 75% of the time for me. As I pushed, intrusive thoughts would begin screaming at me, I’d become suicidal, and driving would be a challenging experience of internally telling myself why driving into a phone pole or oncoming traffic was a terrible idea. Once I stopped that insanity, and allowed myself to feel depression, I became aware of how debilitating it was. I felt sad for all my body has been through as I fought. Once I accepted depression as a state I go through, episodes become shorter and less debilitating.

After about a year of regular yoga practice, almost 2 years of regular meditation, etc etc. I just did 108 sun salutations while I was having a bout of depression. This practice is about releasing what no longer serves you. What no longer serves me is telling myself I can’t be everything I want to be. What no longer serves me is being a slave to my thoughts and endless brain chatter. I am way, way stronger than I think I am. We all are. The only true limits that exist are the stories we tell ourselves.

Don’t be a Slave to Should

5 years ago, I went to the hospital for bronchitis. Over the course of a week, my “normal” life was flipped upside down. The hospital cold turkey’d me off the lexapro I was taking, because I had finally accepted after decades of hell that the depression was more than “just being lazy” or “needing to stop being a baby”.

Lexapro withdrawal can be pretty severe. The hospital mistook my withdrawal symptoms for a worsening cold. They were giving me klonopan and finally asked me (as I’m laying in a hospital bed) why I wasn’t taking the lexapro. Things worsened. I started having panic attacks, I couldn’t walk myself to the bathroom from being so dizzy. The albuterol for breathing made me felt like I was on speed, and my cough was so bad, I burst blood vessels in my eye and started having migraines. Things came to a head when I called my mom at 5 am hysterical because I could no longer pee and had a catheter. After I got discharged, I was a wreck. I had never had a panic attack before that hospital stay.

When I was discharged, I had them constantly. I had no coping skills, I had never seen a therapist or psychiatrist. My panic attacks can make me twitch and stutter. This hospitalization led to my first stay in the mental hospital, because nothing could stop the panic attacks. Ativan, Xanax, Klonopan, nothing helped. I began hearing, what I described as, voices telling me to kill myself. Many years later, I’d learn these were intrusive thoughts, something I had deemed myself as crazy for since they started happening when I was a teenager.

5 years later, I am a walking DSM-V. I don’t take any shit from doctors, because I’ve been through too much to be talked down to. I advocate for myself by speaking intelligently about my symptoms. By referring to intrusive thoughts as “voices”, I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder at the mental hospital. That is schizophrenia and bipolar combined. I was put on a cocktail of anti-psychotic medication and basically was so drugged, I practically drooled on myself. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared and convinced I was crazy as I was then.

Crazy is the word that I’ve run from my whole life. I think the biggest hurdle to treatment is not knowing that what you deal with on a daily basis doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine if you only ever saw the sky as green. How could anyone help you see or understand it’s actually blue? The way my brain works is how it works, and I blamed myself for all the faults and problems. This is how suicide can come to be. I’m nothing short of blessed that my suicidality never succeeded, and that went on until literally my last hospital stay in January 2017, as I was trying to strangle myself with my hoodie strings in the horsham clinic bathroom.

It’s difficult to convey what it’s actually like in my brain. Five years ago, I was forced to start talking. I didn’t tell the doctors about the constant bulimia combined with hours at the gym, because I was obsessed with not being fat. I didn’t talk about how I was working 80 hours a week, cleaning my house constantly because it had to be right, and in constant fights with my husband. I blamed it on the hospital stay. I didn’t tell the doctors how much I wished I was dead, or how most days I cried before I got out of bed, cried in the shower, and cried myself to sleep. I definitely didn’t tell them how afraid I was of being crazy because deep down I knew I wasn’t okay.

5 years later, none of this is my reality, and I am really glad that hospital stay fucked me up so badly. I don’t know how else I could have been forced to say the three words that can change your life: “I need help.”

We all like to think we can handle it all. Kids, jobs, home, life, society etc. but the truth is, we all need help. None of us can do it alone. Yoga has shown me just in the last few months how I still don’t like to ask for help – even from a brick wall, foam block, or a cloth strap. I don’t like to go to child’s pose. But Monday night, I was forced to child’s pose, because my body was done, like my mind had been done all those years before. I wasn’t beating myself up about it, I just knew I needed to listen to myself and take the help of the floor.

This must have been weighing on me this morning, because I had a panic attack first thing. No twitching, no stuttering, no two week hospital stay. 10 minutes of meditation with alternate nostril breathing every hour, yoga nidra, and letting the kids be lazy while I

Took care of myself, without guilt trips of

What we should or could be doing. I know what I need, and I know if I don’t listen, I can go to the hospital. There’s no more fighting through it for me. The kids will see me

Have bad days, and they will see me

Cope, and God willing, they’ll follow the example I set now. There is nothing like the self induced hell you create when you push yourself beyond your capacity while telling yourself it should be better. Some days you can barely be mom, let alone super mom. Some days, you do let the kids be lazy because you gotta be lazy.

Don’t be a slave to should. Honor yourself and ask for help. Even if it’s an iPhone or Thor ragnarok on a nice day. I need help is not weakness, it’s strength. Like a muscle, we all get torn and broken, but only with rest can we truly become strong.

Thanks for reading ❤️

First World Problems

With this Nor’easter supposedly coming through, I’m really excited to get gardening. I love the site of fresh green shoots of hyacinths bedazzled with old snow. All this talk of freezing rain and heavy snow has me thinking of getting my hands muddy.

There is a dark cloud looming over these picturesque visions. I am completely out of eggs and almost out of milk. This is a Pennsylvanian’s worst nightmare. A French toast-less blizzard.

For me, I’m generally irritated because I WILL go buy milk and eggs before a storm because my coffee don’t get drank without milk, and snow doesn’t fall without baking cookies. These are priorities!

I’m a really bizarre baker – in that I only bake in inclement weather. Is it your birthday? Enjoy this delicious store bought cake. Is it a polite and classy gesture required event? Entemann’s raspberry crumb danish twist thing may not say much, but it tastes of what I’d imagine the nectar of the gods to be. Is hurricane Sandy destroying the East Coast? Well you better believe Zucchini Bread, Pumpkin Zucchini Bread, Banana bread and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are coming out of my kitchen! This storm has a 100% chance of sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies if I can survive the dairy aisle gauntlet unscathed.

It’s inevitable. I cannot explain the compulsion, nor do I mind stuffing my face with chocolate chip cookies while I get snowed in. It’s genius, if you ask me. It’s terrible, if you ask my pants. (That’s a lie, my pajamas love me no matter how many cookies I eat)

Now, I did make a box batch of brownies for my dad’s birthday on Friday and I attempted to get classy and make ganache. I screwed up by not allowing enough time to chill the ganache, and by attempting to be classy on a sunny day. (I only make completely homemade brownies during blizzards, duh) I was also in the middle of making corned beef with cabbage and potatoes as well as sauerkraut in another pot. I wanted my dad to have a Reuben or corned beef and cabbage for his birthday.

As the brownies weren’t coming out right, I was simultaneously convinced my corned beef was tough and my brownies were burnt. I was so irritated with myself, and felt like a completely useless asshat. BUT, then I reminded myself it is actually the thought that counts and maybe I should chill along with the ganache. (Literally my new favorite word)

Once I chilled out (unlike my ganache), I went to my parents and my dad told me my corned beef was awesome. The next day, I ate a brownie and it was the best ganache I have ever had. I literally concocted two abysmal failures in my brain. Neither actually happened or existed. Aww, look how metaphorical cooking can be!

I stopped the drama by making myself laugh at myself. My mom and I tried to bake a cake for my dad forever ago. It was this hamburger cake. It was the most depressing impersonation of a hamburger. I’m talking worse than McDonald’s. It tasted like sugar died. I was ranting to my mom about my illusory failed meals saying my dad choked down our hamburger cake he can choke down my corned beef. It was enough of a chuckle to make me stop the stories.

As the first day of spring approaches, with the traditional raging nor’easter, I’ll hear the chirping birds of wind, see the green tufts of snow, feel the warm kiss of freezing rain, and I will be celebrating new beginnings. New beginnings always start at the end. Now that winter is ending, I’ll hopefully not lose power and bake those cookies. Hell, I’ve gotten better at baking thanks to Pennsylvania’s bizarre weather and my compulsively storm infused sweet tooth. I’ve also gotten better at laughing through the storms – literal or metaphorical.

I had always thought my problems were menial in the face of others, but then I realized my first world problems would have been third world problems to Siddhartha Gautama, a former prince turned Buddha. A man who was waited on hand and foot taught of suffering, because suffering is a gift we all give each other regardless of demographic or storm baking proclivities

So….I just cannot believe I have to go to the store tomorrow. But I appreciate that I can. #blessed

Lies Are Rarely Intentional

Words are so powerful and paradoxically completely worthless. We give all of the power to the words but fail to see if we give them power, we can take them away. In truth, almost every word we share with ourselves and each other is a lie. I’d like to play a game, shall we?

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About 2 years ago, I climbed a mountain for the first time. There are two important facts you should know: I am terrified, and I mean out of my mind terrified, of heights. I was also wearing heeled boots. I was not expecting to climb a mountain. My boyfriend at the time and his friends decided to climb a mountain, and I tagged along. In my boots with the heels, not fur. I was out of my mind terrified. Visions of sprained/broken ankles danced through my head. I could feel my lungs tightening as a panic attack started creeping on me – both because I was short of breath (I’m a heavy smoker) and because I was going up high (I have literally had a panic attack going up a slip and slide at a carnival. Ask me about the time I climbed the Brigantine Lighthouse!) I focused on my feet with Tetris-like precision. Every rock formation and my foot were precious combinations I was not going to screw up. When I got to the top of the mountain, the scene was breathtaking. The sky was a combination of pink, and blue, and orange. I’ve never seen or felt anything like it. I had never hiked before, either. My enjoyment was only marred by my fear of going back down the mountain and breaking my ankle. I forced myself to sit on the rocks and quietly take in the scene. My purpose in climbing the mountain, if I’m honest, was trying to impress my boyfriend. I remember him looking back at me as we climbed, and saying, “She can do it, she’s a fucking bad ass.” I remember the smile on his face and for the first time in a long time, a rush of feeling like someone believed in me. I think his words had helped me climb higher than my fear. Looking back now, I climbed higher than my fear.

Sounds great, right? I write well, I think.

Let’s try this:

I climbed a mountain in heeled boots. I thought I was going to break my ankle, and I could not believe how stupid and irresponsible I was. The entire time I climbed, all I could see was 2 dudes carrying me down a mountain with a broken ankle. Visions of all the other times I’ve sprained my ankle by the sheer act of walking were flashing through my head. Strangely, all I could see was Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Glass with my face on his body. My boyfriend was being a dickhead that day. He had been giving me attitude all day, and even after we climbed, he bought all of his friends a banana but me. I don’t know why that bothered me, its’ a 33 cent banana, but it really kind of hurt me. He had told me before I met his friends not to “be weird” so that told me to just “be quiet”. He finally acknowledged that a) I existed and b) I was climbing not too shabbily for a woman wearing heeled boots. When I got up to the top of the mountain, my brain went silent because it was so beautiful. I was still scared to climb down especially because I knew the sun was setting, and darkness with heeled boots felt more like suicide in fancy footwear. As I went down the mountain, I felt confused. I couldn’t understand why my boyfriend was the way he was, why I put up with how he was, and so on. Fortunately, I was so terrified of breaking my ankles, I forced myself to focus on my footing, and in doing that, I experienced quiet mind for the first time.

Or this:

I am equally an idiot and a jackass who climbed a mountain in heeled boots. Looking back, it was one of the craziest and coolest things I ever did. It started a love for hiking that I never had, and it was too beautiful to describe.

We put so much weight into the noise of words and emotion, but the reality & truth is this:

All of these stories are lies of omission because I cannot give you the full story. My memories and words are being placed to align (intentionally or unintentionally) with the emotion. This is how we all communicate. None of my words adequately convey how beautiful it was up there. None of my words even adequately convey how I felt. If I close my eyes, I can see it and feel it as clearly as if I was there.

If we live purely in the realm of our thoughts and words, we omit reality. I don’t think anything can be more harmful than missing our reality. It does not mean coming up with better words to describe a situation. It means being fully present to experience it. Your focus (awareness/consciousness) dictates your reality. When we experience the world, we do not need words for it. Anything that is put into words is inherently a lie of omission.

Try this for yourself. If you think back on something you did that was hard/challenging/sucked, depending on how you speak to yourself or others about it, will determine your emotions on it. From paragraph to paragraph, the same experience changes with the emotion we express. If you focus on any positive in a memory, the memory will have a pleasant association, just like a word. Look at how different my ex-boyfriend and I seem? Yet both are equally true, only what I shared and how I shared it changed.

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Definitions, connotations, and context will always change depending on who is hearing it. Context and connotation mean something different to every person, regardless of what Websters tells us. People who are “literally dying” are a great example. We don’t even use words according to their definitions anymore.

download (2)My favorite definition of a metaphor is “a beautiful lie” (hmm…feels like I used that somewhere) Literally every word you use is a metaphor for your existence. You are using metaphors with every syllable. The key to being happiness is not to confuse metaphors with the point.

In either way, a metaphor and words are grammatical and literary devices. We confuse our reality with grammatical and literary devices, making ourselves hapless victims of an unseen author instead of being our own authors.

Actions and experience are all we have in this life. By choosing our words and memories, we can turn any experience into a lesson or an opportunity for growth. By seeing how powerless words and memories are, we can see nothing in this life is actually bad. That is an illusion of our thoughts.

It doesn’t matter how I describe it because climbing a mountain in heels made me see I can climb mountains on my couch with a laptop. I can climb anything anywhere, but in the future, I will be more mindful of my footwear. I hope this game shows you a deeper understanding of the game of life and the games we play with ourselves. Don’t confuse reality with metaphors, and just climb.

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To Be or Not to Be: I Am Not Depression

Our brains like to talk. Thinking is talking to yourself. If you’ve never looked at it that way, congratulations and welcome to realizing you are crazy like the rest of us. Every thought you make is really a judgement. “I like that boulder”, “That smells funny”, “Where are my keys?” These experiences happen without you thinking, you just like to talk about it to yourself. If you said your thoughts out loud all of the time, people would think you are crazy. Since you are “not crazy”, and keep them to yourself, you simply converse with yourself judging away at every little thing: most especially yourself. Judgement is one of the most toxic things for our minds, whether or not you are mentally “ill”.

Diagnoses are descriptions, not definitions. Diagnoses are statistical in nature, people are not. Does a diagnosis affect your life? Absolutely! Any diagnosis is likely going to call for a modification – diabetes causes modifications in diet, exercise and medication. Depression calls for the same. It does not mean, however, that anyone is less than or greater than another due to a presence or lack of diagnosis. Nor does it necessarily impact your entire life. Those are judgements we all make that affect ourselves and those around us greatly.

There is a world of difference between “I have depression” and “I am depressed”. Do you not believe two words can have such a profound impact? “You are a shithead” versus “You are frustrating me” How is your emotional response? How are your thoughts?

When “I am depressed” becomes an internal monologue, you are powerless and in the grasp of depression. It will guide thoughts and actions towards depression. The brain will always support thoughts. If you wake up saying, “I am going to have a bad day, ” you will inevitably find no end of reasons to have a bad day. This is the same as thinking “I am depressed”. In identifying with a diagnosis, the brain will support the diagnosis and find more depression.

When “I have depression” becomes an inner monologue, there is a space between you and depression. Depression is a transient state. It is not forever, although the brain in this state will lead you to believe it is. In all reality, when depression occurs, it is difficult to even realize depression is occurring. Thoughts are often ruminating and circling all of the reasons for misery and all of the reasons you are the cause of your misery. How does reinforcing having depression and being depression change this?

It is easier to see the negative thought patterns as opposed to being the negative thought patterns. It becomes easier to question yourself. “Is it really true that my children would be better off without me? Who would cook them spaghetti?” Questioning thoughts is easier when you understand your thoughts are not reality. It is also easier to communicate your symptoms without judgement. “Today I struggled to get out of bed because of depression” as opposed to “Today I was a lazy sack of shit who did not get out of bed.”

Each of our minds is exquisitely unique different mechanisms. It is not often we get into convos about what our thoughts are really like, and I would propose if we did, there would be far more similarities than differences: regardless of diagnosis. I do not think for a second a woman without depression does not mentally lambast herself for everything she does at least briefly. I do not think for a second anyone does not have thoughts that make them confused and uncomfortable. Yet, a diagnosis of depression will make my brain more suspect than someone who lacks one. Suddenly, all of me is ill/crazy (even the language: mentally ill!) The suffering comes from the thoughts, not the person, regardless of diagnosis.

I have made changes in diet, exercise, seeing a psychiatrist, taking medication, etc. Journaling, meditating, and practicing yoga are all lifesavers. I don’t do any of those things because I am depressed, I do them because I enjoy them or they support me.  They also alleviate symptoms of depression. All of the things that make my life harder during bouts of depression are symptoms: not me. When my thoughts tell me everyone would be better off without me, I can identify a symptom of depression, as opposed to me being depressed. Why? Because I question my thoughts. I know my thoughts are not me, and I do not allow them to run me around by the nose. This is true regardless of diagnosis.

I find the easiest way to deal with having depression is not taking it so seriously. (Get the pitchforks!) If I am depressed, it’s my focus. Why in the hell do I want that to focus on? Even if I focus on “beating” depression, uh… that’s a part of my brain, so I am essentially “beating” myself? I don’t feel like going to war with me, I have enough problems.

When depression becomes a description as opposed to a definition, there is a lot more space to see the light in the all-consuming tunnel when it comes. I’ve stopped fearing depression. Depression used to rob the sun from my skies and the wind from my sails. Happiness could be robbed at the thought of “Oh crap, I’m going to crash!” because what goes up must come down.

Happiness is my ever-present state. Depression is a cloud in the sky of me. There are lots of clouds in the sky of me, some are ugly and shitty and some are quite lovely. Not a single one of them define me. I am boundless and limitless. When I see depression as a cloud in my sky, I can make fun of it. I can make fun of myself. I don’t take any of this seriously because none of it is me. Who cares? I no longer “fight” for stability, as I am under no obligation to be who I was five minutes ago let alone five years ago. Change is good, healthy, normal and aside from death and taxes: the only thing you can expect in this life. This is great when it comes to having a bout of depression. It will go away. If you engage with the thoughts and identify yourself as them, that’s you now. You perpetually judging you which makes you crazy like everyone else either way.

It’s very difficult to engage in ruminating and self-destructive thought patterns when you generally disregard everything your brain has to say. It is, after all, a chattering monkey that we all have. If you give power to depression, it will have power over you. It is the same power as a craving for pasta. Have you ever had a food craving that seemed to take over your being? The more you engage with pasta-based thoughts, the more you want it. That power comes in your thoughts and words and how you communicate with or about yourself.  Am I comparing depression to spaghetti? I suppose.Why be serious?

Depression is a transient state, even when it does not feel like it. I have had bouts that have lasted for months. It is always worse if I allow it to consume me by thinking it is me.  You can substitute depression with literally any other word and it still remains true. The judgements and thoughts are the only thing that will change. It makes it easier when I inevitably am judged for having depression because I am not depression. It makes it easier to not judge myself. I just have depression. Our thoughts and judgement create more misery than anything else, so with or without depression: watch those and you will find the most transformation. Depression sucks, and I would not wish it on anyone, but it’s something I have. Along, apparently, with a hankering for pasta.

And here’s some tips!

Thanks for reading, I would love to hear thoughts and comments, although I would read them and not hear them, but hey. If you want to grab spaghetti, let me know 😉 Share away if you found it helpful, and all of the other good blog-ly things. 

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Tippy Goodness – Depression/Anxiety (How to help, not how to have it)

To Be or Not to Be: I Am Not Depression

How do I deal with depression? Glad you didn’t ask!

  • Understand the diagnosis
    • A better understanding of the symptoms will guide you to see where the symptoms are and where you are not
  • I cannot emphasize enough that you are not your thoughts.
    • Meditation is a tool to allow you to observe the transient yet ceaseless nature of your thoughts.
    • Try to not think, you can’t do it. It does not mean you have to engage with the thoughts. Meditation can strengthen this.
  • Mindfulness is another word for meditation.
    • It is a psychological way to take the spiritual association of meditation away. The tools, methodologies, and reasoning are identical to what Siddhartha Gautama taught in 500 BC and what Buddhists and many other eastern philosophies or religions have practiced for millennia
  • Meditation does not have to imply sitting in lotus with your eyes closed for hours.
    • Any open awareness and focused intention can equal meditation. It is bringing yourself to a state where you are observing.
    • It is not equal to stopping your thoughts, and if you are unable to stop your thoughts, you are not failing at meditating.
    • You only fail at meditation when you try to meditate 😉
  • Pranayama (Spiritual) or Breathing techniques (Psychological coping skill) are powerful tools that can prevent panic attacks and/or break negative thought patterns
    • ALL coping skills (I HATE THAT TERM) are not only for an episode. These need to be part of your routine and part of your toolkit.
    • This will not work if you do not practice when you are not in crisis/struggling
    • 4-7-8 Breathing
    • Alternate Nostril Breathing
  • The Buddha also taught impermanence. CBT Therapy calls this Radical Acceptance.
    • Impermanence means things will always change. Suffering, he said, is caused by clinging or fleeing from that which will always change. This truth applies to everything – you are not always depressed or anxious.
    • If you simply do nothing but wait, change will occur. There are ways to expedite, but change is inevitable.
  • Create a toolkit for yourself
    • Include routines and habits that support you in good times and bad
    • Include anyone you can reliably talk to if you need an ear
    • Create a playlist on YouTube or Spotify of music that helps calm you or lift your spirits and listen to it – I have tons of playlists to help change my mental tracks! It’s a fun exercise and you can create a hell of a habit building playlists for yourself
    • Gratitude – Never forget to be and find gratitude – no matter your mood, make gratitude a constant place to come to in thoughts and communication. It is amazing what being thankful can do to shift your mind.
  • Watch your language about diagnoses.
    • The way you think, speak, and act reinforces your belief system. If you believe you cannot overcome your depression, no one can change your mentality.
  • Do you struggle with basic daily functions during a depressive or anxious episode?
    • Judging yourself and criticizing yourself will only make this worse. If you are berating yourself for not taking a shower, you are making everything worse. You have the power to choose to take a shower or not to take a shower, and thinking about it will not change that reality.
    • If you are unable to do so, accept it. Remind yourself and understand that a symptom of depression IS difficulty performing basic life tasks. Would someone berate themselves for vomiting from chemo? Why are you berating yourself for your symptom?
  • Track your moods in a journal and look for trends
    • Do you find you have increased depressive episodes during certain times? Are there triggers? Is there something you are doing or not doing that is affecting you?
    • A journal is a goldmine of insight into you
    • Take on an observer role – much like a psychiatrist observing a patient. Make notes about yourself.
    • Hell, WRITE about yourself in the third person. Sound crazy? Talk about a way to detach from your symptoms and thoughts.
  • Take everything 1 day at a time.
    • I struggle with every life function during a depressive episode. I can go days without showering, exercising, eating right, etc.
    • I have stopped berating myself because I KNOW I take good care of myself when I can!
  • Create routines that support you every day
    • During a depressive episode: yoga, meditation, and other things may become difficult for me to achieve. Journaling and breathing exercises are easily achieved when everything is difficult though. The more routine something is in your life, the easier it is to turn to because it’s part of your life.
  • Do not focus on what you did not do, focus on what you did
    • If you list out all of the things you did not accomplish during a depressive episode, you will create lots to be depressed about
    • If you focus instead on what you were able to do, you cannot help but feel better.
  • Listen to your body
    • Depression causes psychosomatic pain, fatigue, “brain fog”, etc. It is okay to let your body be the guide. It is not okay to ignore your body.
  • Be honest with yourself and others and ask for help if you need it!
    • I don’t think this needs much explanation
    • This includes basic life functions – if you need help doing the laundry, ask!
  • Lastly, take care of yourself always
    • Like I said, when I am in a depressive or anxious episode, it’s hard to take care of myself. I look at life now as a system of checks and balances. If I cannot do it well when I am not feeling great, it’s okay because I do when I am.
    • I find the more I take care of myself when I’m feeling fine, the easier it goes when I’m feeling not fine – depressive episodes/panic attacks/etc occur less when I am taking care of me.
    • I don’t do it because of my diagnoses, I do it because I want to take care of myself

Got any more tips? I’d love to hear them! I’m always looking to learn 🙂