Give Yourself a Break

You know what’s weird/sad/funny? It’s so much easier to forgive another person for their transgressions and faults than it is to forgive ourselves. It’s widely reported that social media is contributing to our feeling “less than”. It’s not just one area that this applies to. We’re all feeling bad over our parenting skills, dietary choices, music likes or dislikes, bodies, sexuality and so on.

In an attempt to help myself feel better despite my chronic health conditions, I recently took up yoga. I was drawn to it not just for it’s physical benefits, but the emotional and mental benefits as well. But sadly, even in this community, which one would think would be hippie dippie zen, there is fat shaming, posture shaming and alignment shaming. It’s hard to go to classes as a disabled middle aged woman when I’m surrounded by thin, lithe 20 somethings clad in their spandex and little bra tops. So I usually just follow a yoga DVD I have here at home, where only my cat can see me.

I experienced similar issues when I was a runner. I constantly compared myself to the super speedy runners, those without health concerns. I wound up losing my passion for running because I was putting so much pressure on myself to measure up. I am a slow runner, I’ll never win any age group awards, never run a 20 minute 5k, so I gave up. And that makes me sad. Sad I let other people’s opinions of me cloud my own. Sad I didn’t realize everyone else was worried about that same thing, too caught up in their own worries to concern themselves with me.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m feeling bad about the weight I have gained due to my medicines and my decreased physical activity. I’m watching calories, choosing healthier foods and trying to move as much as the pain will allow. But when the scale isn’t moving, I get frustrated. I’ve always had “big” thighs- they’re muscular and got even bigger when I was running. But with all the hype around thigh gaps and size 00, I look down and feel miserable. I avoid wearing shorts, I’m self conscious about how pants fit so then I just put on sweatpants and feel bad.

I’m sure about 90% of you readers have felt the same at one point or another. I’m working hard to accept myself as I am. I may not be a size 00, but I’m certainly not obese. I understand the concept of a “healthy weight”, but I really think there’s too much pressure to lose weight everywhere you look. So I have decided that as far as my weight and my mental health goes, I’m going to start giving myself a break. Viewing myself as a valuable, attractive and awesome person isn’t easy, but I’m getting there. Rather than obsessing over how many calories I’m eating and burning, I’m going to eat foods that I enjoy that are good for me (or at least not complete junk). I’m going to stop viewing my body as flawed and ugly and appreciate all that it does for me. Instead of being ashamed that I have bipolar disorder, I am going to ramp up my activism for causes I believe in, especially mental health.

Feeling a bit more self love and self acceptance isn’t going to happen overnight, but it’s something I’ve committed to. Surrounding myself with those who build me up helps me immeasurably. I’m lucky to have a great guy friend who reminds me that while I may not completely love my curvier figure, he does. I have fantastic co-workers who let me know that my work matters and that they appreciate me listening to them. I am blessed with friends and family who never give up on me. I guess it’s all about perspective. You can dwell on the bad, or you can look for the good.

Additionally, I want to thank a beautiful young lady by the name of Britanie for showing me (and all her readers) the meaning of beauty, both within and on the surface. She’s come a long way in accepting herself and inspires me to do the same. You can read her blog (and gaze upon the most beautiful natural eyebrows ever) at beautybybritanie.com

Dear readers, if you have any thoughts or experiences you’d like to share regarding comparison, the shaming trends, or your own journey with self acceptance, please share them in the comments.

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Wellness Warrior Reborn

Not going to lie, lately the number I’m seeing on the scale is distressing me. I’m currently about ten pounds higher than I was when I was diagnosed with bipolar and subsequently started on meds. I guess ten pounds in two years isn’t anything to complain about, but it’s pretty depressing to attempt to put on your favorite jeans and find you can’t get them past your thighs. Sigh. Having fibromyalgia means I’m limited in what I can do to keep myself in shape. My rheumatologist advised I shy away from high impact exercises, so my time as a runner seems to have come to an end. I do plan to pull out my bicycle now that the weather is better and I’m back into yoga and pilates.

There’s a moderately well-known saying that you cannot exercise off a bad diet. My diet, once really great at the time of my food allergy diagnosis, has slid into fatty comfort foods, super unhealthy convenience foods and too much candy. So, I’ve committed to improving my diet. Part of this includes adding a (gluten free) protein powder into my diet. No, I’m not trying to have huge muscles, but I have read several interesting articles regarding the use of protein powder as a successful treatment for fibromyalgia. And honestly, if I have a protein shake for breakfast rather than sugary cereal, that’s an improvement. Obviously, this is taking a lot of dedication and preparation. I’ve always seen food as a reward, as a comfort. I am an emotional eater, with a tendency to binge eat when I’m manic. Fortunately, I haven’t had a binge eating episode recently, but I definitely needed to look at my relationship with food. So re-vamping my diet and nutritional choices was long overdue. I also invested in a FitBit, which has been a great help. The app allows you to create a food diary, which is essential for me to lose weight. I also set an alarm on it to remind me to take my medications. You also can track sleep, calories burned and so on. It’s definitely worth the price, I find it to be motivating.

In addition to increasing my exercise and improving my food intake, I’m also researching alternative medicines, specifically ayurvedic medications. I have a wonderful co-worker who hails from Chennai and she introduced me to meditation (and the amazing Sattva app) as well as suggesting some ayurvedic herbs I might want to incorporate into my medication regimen. **please note, although I work in a hospital, I am NOT a doctor. I cannot recommend you take any supplements, please check with your doctor/psychiatrist as many herbs can interfere with medications.**  My psychiatrist changed my antidepressant a few months ago, after a particularly bad depression plagued with suicidal thoughts. So, here’s the list of medications I am on, as well as the ayurvedic herbs and vitamins I use, as well:

  • Depakote DR 250 mg twice a day
  • Fluvoxamine 50 mg at bedtime
  • Gabapentin 300 mg three times a day
  • Trileptal 150 mg every morning
  • Relpax 40 mg as needed for migraine
  • Vitamin B Complex every evening
  • Ashwagandha 2 capsules twice a day
  • Turmeric 1 capsule twice a day
  • Tulsi (Holy Basil)  2 capsules twice a day

I get all my ayurvedic herbs from OrganicIndiaUSA.com. You can also find Organic India products on Amazon, usually for a few dollars less. I do recommend visiting the Organic India site, you can read a lot about ayurvedic medicine there. I’ve been meditating with the Sattva app almost nightly. I find it’s really helping my sleep, and I have also noticed I can shut the negative dialogue off in my head a little bit more. It’s not completely gone, but it’s not so loud, which is definitely an improvement. So, am I turning into a hippie? Maybe, but truth be told, I always was one.

It’s going to be a long road to reach a sort of peace with my weight and body issues. I had a great period of confidence several months ago, and then I started noticing how tight my waistband felt on my scrubs, how sluggish I felt. I understand that a scale cannot measure my worth as a human, and fortunately I have some great friends who are supporting me and also making healthy changes in their own lives, as well. So much has to do with the ridiculous standards of beauty set forth by society, of our homogenizing beauty to blond hair, blue eyes, tan skin and a size 00.

Are there things you’re doing, either diet, medicine or exercise wise to help your conditions/disease/general well-being? I’d love to hear all about them, so tell us what’s going on with you in the comments!

It’s June already??!!

Hello my friends, it has been too long. So much has been happening of late, some good, some bad, some neutral. I’ve moved. I’m still swimming in a sea of boxes and containers, but the new place is coming along. So much less stress now to know I have cheaper rent and housemates who can help me when my chronic illnesses flare up.  There’s so much to update you on, but honestly my mind is swimming. I’m hypomanic due to all the chaos, so I’m doing the best I can to corral it. Here’s a few things swirling around my head to tell you about, I’m sure I’ll post in greater detail soon:

  • I went on 2 dates with a guy who was a friend of a friend. Date #1 was great! He got me flowers, treated, held doors open. Date #2…not so much. And the text messages sent the following day equally not cool (hint: I don’t care about your “very high libido”. That’s a huge turn off)
  • My fibromyalgia is pretty bad with all the crazy weather fronts that have come through. But I have started taking some herbs to complement my current therapies for the fibro, my bipolar and my migraines. I’m happy to say the migraines have really gone down in frequency. Is it the herbs? The new living situation? Not sure, but we’ll stick with it for now.
  • I’ve been pretty successful in keeping up with meditating each night and doing yoga several times a week. Sleep for the last few days hasn’t been so great, mostly due to the fibromyalgia pain and the move. But I’m confident I can get my sleep habits back to a healthy level again soon.
  • http://themanifeststation.net/2015/06/01/the-struggle-is-real-body-love/ THIS POST, YOU GUYS. Jennifer at TheManifeststation.net is speaking some real truths. I felt this post hit me somewhere deep, recalling how upset I was when I stepped on the scale to see how much weight I’ve gained with my medication change (hint: it’s not as much as my mind wants to make it out to be). I applaud her bravery for posting the video, too. I mean, I blog anonymously so I am in awe, for sure. I want to write about my journey with this a little bit more in the future, once I can really figure out what “the feels” I’m having are.
  • I meditated with a guided meditation on forgiveness the week before last. During the meditation, I pictured the one person I need to forgive the most (besides myself, of course): my ex-fiancee. It was incredibly moving and emotional, and I actually cried. Afterwards, I felt so free. There is still one person I need to envision with this forgiveness meditation in the future, although I am thinking they are far less guilty than I believe them to be. Since I did the meditation, I have not dreamt of my ex and really haven’t thought much about him at all. Truly freeing.
  • Just read “The Girl on The Train”. Totes awesome.
  • “Came out” as bipolar to another coworker, which led to a great conversation on therapy, recovering from abusive relationships and just that general happy buzz you get when you find another member of “your tribe”.
  • And for the most surprising thing I want to mention: I had a couple of truly awesome, heartwarming experiences in the emergency room last week. Thinking of them almost makes me forget how bad today was. One of them was so special, and one of the people I shared it with means so much to me (to the point I’m pretty sure I am in love with him) that I’m now re-thinking a decision I made so many years ago- the decision to not have children.  Obviously, something I need to really go into more detail on after some more thought.

I hope you are all doing well. If you are in a dark spot, please know that I am thinking of you, praying for you, sending love your way.

Enlightenment

A quick post to just say how much yoga and meditation have helped my fibromyalgia. It’s good to be active again, even if it doesn’t have the same endorphin rush of running.
Also, I made a huge step forward in healing. While cleaning up papers, I found pictures of my ex and various cards he’d given me. I held them in my hands a long while, then threw them in the trash. The man I loved is gone, no use in holding on to reminders.

I feel lighter, hopeful. I can only pray this lasts.

Mental Health Awareness Month 2015: Stigma and Shaming

The last few weeks have been tumultuous. Between a semi-suicidal period, gearing up for my move and learning from my psychiatrist I actually have Bipolar I, not II as we had thought (more on that at another time) and starting a new med as a result, I’m exhausted.

But I won’t let my exhaustion keep me from writing this post, which has been swirling around for a while and I’m just now figuring out which words to use to express it.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar and major depressive disorder are, in fact, disabilities. This means that people who are mentally ill are protected under certain rights, both in the workplace and in “real life”. However, it doesn’t seem that that always happens. There is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness that it impairs a person’s ability to get treatment, acceptance, or both.

Case in point: as a society, we rally against those who bully kids with autism, transgender teens, down syndrome afflicted persons and blind and deaf persons. But if you have mental illness?…not so much. Sadly I do not see Facebook “lit up blue” for mental illness, as it was for autism. Should I choose to mock my ex fiancee’s girlfriend for the little bit of weight she has put on, I would be deemed a bully, anti-feminist. I would receive angry emails about “fat shaming”. Weight struggles are not a disability 85-90% of the time, whereas mental illness is 100% of the time. However, I have received mistreatment as a result of my bipolar disorder and major depression which are, in fact, disabilities that I was born with.

So, why are somethings taboo to mock, but not mental illness? The answer, of course, is stigma. There had long been an impression that people with mental illness choose to be sick. That with positive thinking and exercise we could “shake it off”. We have made so many discoveries regarding the actual organic nature of mental illnesses, but those old beliefs have not disappeared. I am aware that due to a chemical imbalance in my head, I have bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. It’s kind of like having shade on one side of the street and sunshine on the other- it’s just not evenly distributed. But because of this, I am seen as dangerous, unpredictable, unreliable, unworthy of respect or trust, “crazy”. People shouldn’t let their kids near me, or let me drive or vote or reproduce.

I hope that one day we will see a world in which we respond as swiftly to the mistreatment of the mentally ill as we do to the mistreatment of other disabilities. I hope to one day be able to tell people of my illnesses without fear of losing a friendship, a job, a relationship. Some of the finest people that I have ever had the privilege to meet have been disabled- be it with MS, Down’s Syndrome, Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. Each one of these people has had an impact on my life and challenged me to look at my own internalized stigma and prejudices. I’m not perfect, I still have stereotypes in my head that I work on, but I am opening my eyes to what it is like for other people, and I am open to continuing to learn and grow in that respect.

Finally, I want to thank my amazing,beautiful blogging community- both the mental illness and chronic illness writers I’ve gotten to “know”- BPNurse, Dyane Leshin-Harwood, Kat Galaxy, Kitt O’Malley, Jenn Marshall of Bipolarmomlife.com, YourBipolarGirl and so many others. Through your words, I have learned so much, both about you and your illnesses, your lives and the ways you cope and find joy in everyday things.

What Does Mental Illness Look Like?

I came out of the bipolar closet to a work friend today. I knew he would be supportive and non judgmental. But his response kind of irked me, which I know he did not intend. I told him I have bipolar and he said “Oh I wouldn’t have thought that at all”. While he meant nothing wrong with this response, it bugs me. I mean, is a mentally ill person supposed to look a certain way? Are they supposed to have a big neon sign floating above them screaming “BIPOLAR!!!”? Should I be crying more or getting in more arguments to fit a particular idea of mental illness? Should I be writing massive essays about government experiments and chemicals making us sick?

I know I’m probably just being overly sensitive but this is part of why I am careful of who I “come out” to. Stigma and incorrect perceptions of mental illness make me want to hide, to change who I am. Every day I fight to appear “normal” and “pleasant”. It’s exhausting. 1 in 4 Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, which means, undoubtedly, someone in your family or circle of friends is mentally ill.

It’s time to start changing our ideas of who is mentally ill, and just what that means. It’s time to end the stigma and allow people to live their lives as they are, rather than pretending to be something they are not.

OK, end rant.

Downswing

It’s terrifying how quickly dark thoughts can swoop in at times. I’ve been battling with my own body of late, between a stomach virus and migraines and my fibromyalgia. I am pondering filing bankruptcy and things just stink right now. I am willing to admit suicidal thoughts have popped into my head quite a bit of late. I fight them and do something uplifting. I know I’m just in a depression now, that it’s part of the cycle of bipolar. Admittedly I have lapsed on taking my medicines regularly, mostly due to all the physical illnesses I’ve been plagued with.

I get so sick of taking so many medicines. I get sick of not sleeping well. I get sick of never feeling well. I get sick of so many parts of my illnesses. I loathe going into work most days, and being at home isn’t much better. I miss being a kid, of being able to shirk responsibilities and just hide.

What gets me through? prayer, my family, my cat. The online community, music and soft snuggly things all help, too. But it’s still so hard. I am so tired of having to constantly fight. I’m jealous of people who can do what they want physically with no repercussions. I’m jealous of people who can shrug off criticism and bad memories.

I’ve heard that allowing yourself to admit when things are not okay is just as important as recognizing when things are. So that is where I am right now, sad, tired and hurting. But I have survived so much and I know I will survive this rough patch.