Writing Prompt: A Letter to a Stranger

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Prompt: Type an anonymous letter to a stranger detailing what you have learned in life.  Leave a link to your post in the comments to share with others.  Here is my letter:

Dear Stranger,

I suppose I have learned a thing or two over my lifetime thus far.  I’ve learned that most people can’t be trusted but a few can.  I’ve learned that opposite phenomenons are going on all of the time.  For example, people are altruistic because it makes them feel better thus actually making them selfish not altruistic.  And parents hurt their children even though they love them intensely.  And churches lie to their followers while preaching the Truth.  I’ve learned to see the world in these grays, rather than in black and white.  It has been my biggest lesson. 

I’ve also learned that I can not like someone but still care about them.  That I welcome eccentricities, but not insincerity.  That someone’s ability to be open-minded shapes every facet of their being.  And that it is quite rare to change an adult’s mind on his or her core values.

I’ve learned that some people are actually capable of unconditional love.  That sunsets make the most beautiful photographs and children are the most difficult gift I have ever received.  That a clean house, flat stomach, or big bank account doesn’t make a person happy.  And that love and health are two of the most important things in life.  Most of all, I’ve learned that I don’t know much and that I’ve got a lot more to learn.

 

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Writing for Mental Health

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There’s solid evidence that expressive writing can be good for your mental health.  I was planning on researching and quoting and referencing articles and telling you why and when and the how does it of it all, like this one: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/boosting-your-mental-health-with-expressive-writing-0823185 but then I thought, you’re an adult.  You’ve got the internet.  I’m not going to reinvent the wheel and regurgitate other people’s articles, which by the way is one reason I hardly write here anymore.  I feel like, “Eh, it’s been said, why say it again.”

Anyway, you can look up why writing can be good for you.  What I am going to do in the meantime here is what is good for me:  write!  Not about my life.  No.  That is for my personal journal which is private.  Sorry.  Not that type of blog.

So, what am I going to write about then?  I have no fricking idea.  I’m still figuring this out.  But I have a book of prompts.  That could be helpful.  I also have a list of different types of journals that we could go through together.  I don’t know, what do you think?  Let’s see where this takes us.

Mental Health Blogging is Cool

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I have been blogging here for eight years now. I have written a lot of posts I am proud of and some that are so-so like the medical research ones.  I say the are so-so because they are kind of fillers for the times I was taking a break from writing anything of personal substance because I became super paranoid that people in my real life were reading my blog and I didn’t feel like I could be as candid as a result.

My two most popular posts year after year are How to Deal With Complex PTSD Triggers and Are People with Bipolar Disorder Lazy?

My highest traffic years brought over 11,000 views and 9,200 unique visitors, which I know many people see in a month’s time, but for me this was good.

My subscriber count is just shy of 800 people. I have super slacked off on reaching out to other bloggers over the last few years and I took a year off from Facebook which hurt my page engagement, of course.

I’ve been back on Facebook for about six months now and things are finally starting to pick back up. It’s nice to finally know my messages of encouragement and hope are reaching more people again.

I’m fairly active on Twitter where people are really encouraging and friendly. I always enjoy sharing there.

I hope you find my blog useful and share its posts on social media and say, hi, and follow me on social media, too. I love to connect with other people and share ideas and thoughts.

Am I My Illness?

I’ve started this place on my phone where I keep blog post ideas and rough drafts because I have so many bits and pieces of information flying through my head at one time that I get completely overwhelmed at the thought of sitting down and writing something out.

I attribute these rapid thoughts to my anxiety disorder or to possible depressive symptoms such as the inability to focus or concentrate long enough to organize disjointed ideas into a single theme.

Then I get to thinking, is this it? Is everything always because of my mental illnesses? Is my difficulty writing or remembering or socializing or driving or losing weight or parenting or making friends all due to mental illness? How do I distinguish that which is part of my personality from that which is my illness? Are they one in the same?

I’m not going to pretend to have the answer and quite honestly this is not a rhetorical question. I would love for some feedback here because I have read on numerous occasions well-meaning memes that state “you are not your illness” when I think sometimes maybe I am.

Bipolar: Commitment Issues Plus H.O.W. to Journal

There are many difficult aspects of having bipolar disorder. This I know since I suffer from it. The mood instability, which can vary from being manic or very upbeat and reckless to depressed, to the point of being suicidal, can wreak havoc on my life in many ways.

Bipolar and Commitment Issues

One of the main things I experience is the inability to commit to anything long term for fear that what I have the energy and motivation for now I soon will not when a depressive episode takes over. I feel like I have to leave my schedule flexible and open so that I can say no to things at all times without reprecussions.

It is hard to find that kind of arrangement in today’s workplace. Currently, I am self-employed, working independently in the creative arts field and that is going well for me.

Still I would rather be able to commit to more long term projects in my field so as to collaborate with other artists. It is isolating to have to do it this way.

Bipolar and Isolation

Bipolar by nature is an isolating disorder. It sets me apart from my family and friends because they do not have the disorder and do not understand the fluctuations in my moods, the agitation, anxiety, irritability, anger, saddness, or suicidal thoughts.

However, this is okay. I have my doctor and counselors and peers, including you, dear reader, who know exactly what I am talking about.

Bipolar and Journaling

I also have one of the best ways to cope with the frustrations of dealing with all of these bipolar difficulties and that is to write about them! Have you ever tried it? If not, please do!

Get it all out on paper or the screen. Spill it out of your head so it’s not mucking up your thoughts anymore. If you don’t release it physically, it will never go away.

H.O.W. to Journal

Just do what you can, when you can. It will all work itself out if you keep an open mind and are willing to do the work and be honest. That is H.O.W. you can journal:
1)Honesty
2)(with an) Open mind
3)Willingness (to do the work.)

If you have any questions or want to chat, leave a comment. Good luck!

5 Tips on How to Love Yourself When You Have a Mental Illness

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This morning, my middle schooler brought to my attention a quote she heard on social media:

“Can anyone say they truly love themselves?”

I asked her if she loved herself and to my relief she said, yes, except for how tall she is. 🙂  Then she asked me if I loved myself.  My breath caught in my throat as years of self-hatred flashed before my eyes, and I hesitated for half a second before giving her my best answer:  I love my true self, but I don’t like everything that I do.

I prayed she didn’t notice my hesitation, because I want to lead by example and instill a good sense of self-worth within her, but apparently, and thankfully, she already has that despite my poor self-esteem and overall dissatisfaction with my appearance and behaviors.

I went on to explain to her that our “true selves,” our spiritual selves, are different from our human selves, and that I really love my true self, the pure, perfect side of me.  It is the human side, the ill side, that is hard to like sometimes.  She looked at me like I was crazy, because, well, she’s only twelve and I was getting way too philosophical for her.  🙂

Our conversation got me thinking though, about how much I dislike myself because of my mental illness, its symptoms and subsequent behaviors – the depression that leads to crying and laying in bed all day, the irritability that leads to losing my temper with the kids, the anxiety that leads to extra work for my husband to do.  All of these things surmount to loads of guilt and self-hatred, thereby perpetuating the symptoms which caused the behaviors in the first place.

How do those of us with mental illness combat this destructive thinking; disrupt this negative thought cycle?

How do we come to love ourselves despite our mental illnesses?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Change our thoughts – I know, I know – easier said than done.  A long time ago, I even wrote about how impossible it can be, (How Positive Thinking Can Be a Crock) but try replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.  For example, instead of thinking, “I’m such a loser,” say to yourself, “I am a kind, thoughtful person with friends who enjoy my company.”  If you can’t bring yourself to think of positive thoughts, that is ok.  Don’t stress over it.  Just being aware of the negative ones is a good start.
  2. Keep a thought journal and write down any negative thoughts you have that day in one column.  In a second column challenge those thoughts.  For example, when my daughter said she didn’t like the fact that she is taller than everyone else, I said, “Even though being tall is an advantage when playing volleyball?”  She said, “Oh yeah, I guess I do like being tall then.”
  3. Make a list of positive attributes in your journal.  If you have a hard time coming up with things, ask friends or family members for ideas.  Keep adding to the list and refer to it often.
  4. Practice, practice, practice.  Just like learning any new skill or playing a sport, you won’t get good at this over night.  It will take lots of repetition before it becomes more automatic.  I have been keeping a thought journal for almost two months now and I still have a hard time catching myself in the midst of self-criticism, but this brings me to the final tip:
  5. Don’t give up!  Keep trying.  Have faith that it will work and that your joy and peace of mind are worth it.

And remember:

You are not your mental illness.

Your true self is perfect.

What to Do About Bipolar Disorder and Stress

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Bipolar and Stress

We all have stress. Can’t avoid it. Can’t get rid of it. Might as well learn how to deal with it. Right? Wrong. Let’s make a list of our stressors. Pretty long list, eh? I bet we can avoid or get rid of at least a few of them if we really wanted to. It may take some finagling, help from others and a lot of courage, but I bet we can do it.

The problem is we may be too worried about what other people think or hurting someone’s feelings or feeling too guilty to make the changes necessary to reduce our stress. We may be too proud to ask others for help or too embarrassed to let others see how we really are, so we put on our masks and act like everything is fine, thereby increasing our stress.

For those of us with bipolar disorder, this is especially dangerous because stress can trigger mood episodes. According to an article on PsychCentral, “people with bipolar disorder are more prone to stress than the average population.”

Along with the danger of triggering mood episodes, chronic stress can over-produce stress hormones resulting in “chemical imbalances and physical changes in parts of the brain already vulnerable due to bipolar disorder. The prefrontal cortex shrinks, leading to emotional instability, self-regulation problems, and mood changes.”

So, you can see how important it is to reduce the amount of stress in your life! My doctor told me just that and my response was: “Yeah, right! I’ll just get rid of my kids then.”

There are some stressors we obviously cannot eliminate. However, I have made changes to reduce my stress, even with my kids like making them do more for themselves and not saying yes to every activity they want to do.

I go to support group meetings for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol. In one meeting, there is this one lady in particular who causes me a lot of anxiety whenever I see her. So, I now avoid that meeting even though I like the other people who go there. The stress is not worth it to me. There are too many other meetings I can go to where I don’t feel stressed.

I say “no” to seventy-five percent of the parties I am invited to because of my social anxiety. I know I offend some people because I say no so much, but I don’t care. I used to force myself to go and then get panic attacks while there and sick with anxiety and migraines for days afterwards. I have to eliminate the stress that I can from my life in order to stay balanced and healthy.

Let’s not forget about positive stressors, too. A recent weekend trip to see friends, while fun, left me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I came home and crashed for two days straight just to mentally and physically recuperate from lack of sleep and over-stimulation. Fortunately, my husband helped around the house so I could do this.

Before I understood how bipolar works, I would have continued trying to do everything for and with the kids until I crashed into yet another severe depression. I also would have returned from that weekend trip and went on with my week like any “normal” person would have. Only unlike a “normal person,” by week’s end, I would have been in full manic irritability and dissociation. This would have lasted for a week or two followed by a depressive episode lasting for who knows how long. Now, I know good self-care is the key to managing my stress.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to play shrinky-dink with my brain, so

My basic plan when dealing with stress is this:

  • Identify my stressors
  • Get rid of them when possible (e.g., say, “No.”)
  • Avoid them when possible (e.g., remove self from situation)
  • Ask for help
  • Practice good self-care (eat well, sleep well, take meds, have routine)
  • This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – when I am stressed I write.  (Guess you know how I am feeling right now.) 😉

What helps you deal with the stress in your life?