Fall. Fallen.

Today was the first day that it really felt like autumn. The morning greeted us with a thick blanket of clouds. There was a crispness to the air. I even had to put on a fleece before sundown.

Here’s the thing: leading up to this day, my body has been responding to the seasonal atmospheric change.

Earthlings, flora and fauna alike, respond to light and temperature. Both are necessary parts of our lifecycles. My body, like a good chunk of humans, seems to be a bit more sensitive to changes in both.

Y’all. Seasonal Affective Disorder is legitimate. There is a moment when one notices the days getting shorter and the temperature is just a couple degrees below comfortable. As much as we try to keep some pep in our steps, life seems just a little bit more unbearable.

In the last twelve months, I have learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about myself, as well as mental health as a whole. The past year has given me insight about my values, work ethic, desires, and a deeper understanding about why I feel all the emotions that I do. It has been an interesting and amazing journey.

So, I’ve known for awhile that my moods are very much affected by the weather and the seasons. I am a cranky bitch if I’m in an non-breezy atmosphere hotter than 80 Fahrenheit. My body runs hot, always; being in a hot environment without any solace is painful. That has nothing to do with SAD, though. That’s just a physical response to heat. I’ll take the risk of being physically uncomfortable if it means the sun will be out until 9:00pm.

As soon as October hits, my body starts to slow down. I feel the upbeat mood still lingering from summer waning. It’s harder for me to get motivated in the morning, and I feel like I’m dragging most of the day. The Major Depression my body hosts is heightened from mid-October to the beginning of March.

The SAD started to kick in a week or two ago. For a moment, I just thought it was menstrual hormones. It might still be, but I know my body well enough. The sluggishness and apathy stem from a lot more than just a change in my hormones. It’s the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. We are creeping into winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

I’ve started to ensure I have tools in place to help ward off the deep navy winter blues. The apartment complex I live in has a “gym” (two rooms with a few pieces of equipment). I need to make sure I get down there and get on the treadmill at least three times a week. I’m starting to stock my bedroom with some dumbbells. They get used everyday, especially when they are in plain sight. All of my lightbulbs are warm to give my brain a boost of happy lighting. I use uplifting aromatherapy, citrus blends being my favorite. I make sure I take a B-Complex pill every day, as well Vitamin D3 and Magnesium. Being a vegetarian, I get a lot of nutrients from all the veggies, fruit, lentils, and nuts I eat. And, about a year ago, I invested in a light therapy box. I’ve used it only three times, but it’s living right next to my bed, so I can use it more often. Apparently these light boxes are great for people with SAD (and people who live in places far away from the equator), as they help regulate circadian rhythms, ensure melatonin is being produced, and the body’s ability to create Vitamin D is not a lost cause. Or, something like that. Don’t quote me. In fact, please correct me. I’m not a licensed medical/mental health professional. I’ll have to go look at the legitimate studies again. 

This will be my first winter without my family nearby. My parents are enjoying their retired life thousands of miles away in Ireland. I am definitely in for a huge learning experience, as I don’t get the treat of my mother’s delicious wintery Irish soul food. (Irish people really do do the best comfort food during winter months.)

Who else experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder? What are some of your coping mechanisms? Share! We are not alone and should lift each other up.

Take care of yourselves. Remember: YOU ARE LOVED.

Advertisements

So Far…

I wish getting a job was a lot easier than it is. I also wish that I had an advanced degree that would make getting a job easier. And, I really wish getting a higher education didn’t make people bleed money. It’s such a shame that education is so expensive. I’d have gotten a Masters a decade ago if higher education wasn’t so expensive.

And, if I had taken care of my mental health.

May is mental health awareness month. It’s no secret that I live with major depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Life is no picnic for me, and part of living with these is the constant, nagging thought “there are actually large communities of people out there in the world who actually have serious issues, so get out of bed and be happy.”

Yes, I think this very regularly. It is a common thought that many people with lifelong depression (may) think. The people I have spoken to with similar mental health concerns can empathize with this train of thought. It has the potential to be detrimental to our healing and self-care, as it minimizes our health.

One thing that I have learned over the course of self-care is that I “can’t heal the world.” Really, I can’t. I am one person in an aquarium full of 6+ billion people. And, the best thing that I can do to help people who I feel have it worse than me is take care of myself to the best of my ability.

When I take care of myself, I feel like a productive part of the community. I believe that my efforts have an effect on the immediate world around me. When I make other people happy and/or create or fix something, other peoples’ lives are easier. When their lives are easier, they can pass that flame on.

Something that I rarely talk about is that I have borderline personality disorder traits. We have a tendency to over-overthink things and see the world in only black and white. Mix this with obsessive compulsive disorder, and life gets real tricky. I am constantly having to remind myself to calm down, take a step back, and think in the grey.

This is why I get fixated on people who have it worse than me. The guilt is something that has been ingrained in my psyche. It’s what I have known for twenty years. My mind can go in a guilty loop for days, until I do something good and I’m shocked that I’m an okay person. It’s an extremely annoying cycle.

So, after 36 years, I’ve had enough. That’s why I started seeing a therapist and got on an anti-depressant. I’ve chosen to stick with both, because both are tools for success. It is important that I take care of myself, so I feel comfortable in my skin. A byproduct of this is that I’m more pleasant to be around and people will enjoy my company more. When I am a pleasure to be around, I feel better about myself. This is a cycle that I can get used to. But, I need to not think of it as a cycle. I just need to go with the flow.

Because not everything is black or white. Most things are grey and grey is a pretty color.

Change is Inevitable

Here I am, still unemployed. I am also very hormonal, or so it seems.

My weight seems to drastically fluctuate daily, and even something low calorie, like cucumber or spinach makes me extremely bloated and uncomfortable. This is always a sign that my flow is about to start. But, I’m 36 and have never had a naturally regular cycle. So, this could just be my body rejecting change.

Whatever the case, I had two phone interviews yesterday, both of which seemed promising. One lead to an actual onsite interview (and was told I needed to ensure I had two free hours to do so). This morning, I let someone know that I would like to rent the room she has available. It’s the most expensive room I looked at, but it’s a nice room with a large private bathroom.

Here’s a secret: I am a bathroom fanatic. I love large bathrooms that are light and welcoming. The larger, the better. And, a bathtub is essential.

When I was a teenager, my parents let me have the master bedroom. This meant I had a private entrance to the house, as well as my own private bathroom. High school was great, because I got to sneak out whenever I wanted. I could take a shower when I crept back in at 4:30am to wash the night’s fun off. But, there wasn’t a bathtub.

I am absolutely excited for the bathroom that will be all mine. The bathtub is perfect! As soon as I am all moved in and settled, I’m going to light a few candles and toss some essential oils and salts in, and luxuriate in this new journey I am embarking on.

The next couple weeks are going to be jam packed with packing, storing, interviewing, exercise, mindfulness, eating well, and moving.

I do still have my GoFundMe active, as well as an active Patreon page! Please visit both. Any donations are greatly appreciated. Please know that I will keep all donors updated on my progress with moving and job hunting, as well as any exciting events in my life!

The Stories We Tell

Each line tells a different story, their histories equally unique and identical. Without them, who would I be? I could tell you who or why or what was the root for every line.

It started soon after I hit my teenage years. I felt I had no ability to voice what I was feeling. Life was scary and confusing (it still is, at times). At that time, I believed I had no way of speaking up. Many of you understand that feeling, and lived that in a deeper way than I.

The first time I did it, there was a momentary internal sigh of relief. The tension in my neck loosened. My forehead no longer wrinkled in confusion. While the weightlessness was fleeting, it was real and exciting.

Over the space of a decade, these moments started off few and far between. In times of internalized crisis, I found solace in this secret time with myself. That momentary rush of endorphins got me through the night. Just like an addict, that chemical reaction in my brain was a quick fix to a deeper problem.

Over the years, the time between each moment grew shorter. Finally, I found myself focusing on seeking relief most of the time. While I was in the throes of it, I was acutely aware of how damaging my behavior was. But, I was addicted. During that time, the only coping mechanism I knew and had was my behavior. At one point, I was able to count 37 fresh marks on my body. That number scared me and the palpable guilt was hard to shake.

It took removing me from the environment I was in and being physically near people who I felt I could give permission to monitor me. Another decade passed. During that time, the desire to seek out temporary moments of bliss melted away. It is rare for me to have that desire, and if I do, I have learned how to cope in healthy ways.

Twenty years of learning how to love myself and finding my voice has left me with scars. Each one happened for different reasons; ultimately, they are all rooted in the same place. At 34, I embrace my scars. They are a part of who I am, and the shame I attached to them no longer exists. With that lack of shame, I’ve found that people no longer ask about them. I used to tell some people I was a highly adventurous child and teenager. I would tell others I couldn’t remember how I got them. And, there were some days I’d simply say “I get that you’re curious, but we’ve never met before and asking me about the scar on my wrist isn’t very polite,” because, really, it isn’t polite to ask a stranger about scars that are clearly self-induced.

So, I am happy to talk about my scars. But, I have to be in control of the conversation. It has to be on my own time and in an environment that lacks judgement and full of compassion.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing any kind of self-harm and/or addiction, there is a multitude of resources available. A couple posts back, I listed some sources for mental health help. There are so many more options, including (but definitely not limited to) the following:

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Self-Harm
HelpGuide: Self-Harm
Self-Injury Outreach
S.A.F.E Alternatives
Selfharm.co.uk
Harmless
The Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury & Recovery

This only skims the plethora of online resources. But, this short list is a great starting point. Remember, we all deserve care and compassion. We deserve to find our voices and speak our truths. Be kind to yourself and share love with others.

Scars

Don’t Ask If You Don’t Want To Know

There is a subject women in the US will get spoken to about infinite times in her life: children.

That’s perfectly acceptable, as (biological) women are the humans equipped to grow other humans for nine-ten months. But, the thing is, not all of us want children. On top of that, asking if or when one will be having children is like asking how much money one makes in a year. All are incredibly personal. Emily Post would suggest you avoid asking strangers if and when they are having kids.

Simply, one should never impose their preconceived notions of what makes a person complete. One should never impose their idea that a standard issue 2.1 children, 1 dog, two car family is what makes life fulfilling.

Yesterday, I just finished a sociology class titled “Marriage, Family, and Intimate Relationships.” It wasn’t what I expected and was definitely history heavy; however, I did learn a lot and was able to become more interested in learning about non-standard American values regarding family.

After three months, I remembered why I considered being childfree for such a long time. Sure, I get the occasional pang of maternal desire. But, the desire to learn, travel, and own land seem like much more interesting things. Coming up on 34, my biological timeframe to have kids is dwindling at a rapid rate. Ideally, I’d need to have kids in the next three years if I want to be an active mother. If I adopt, that gives me a couple more years. Essentially, I have a 3-5 year window to save a good chunk of $250k-$500k. And, to make things easier on me, a partner would have to be introduced into the mix. I’d rather not be a single mother and would enjoy having an extra set of hands and an extra source of income to alleviate the emotional and financial costs of having kids.

What it all boils down to though is that a woman doesn’t need children to be complete. I am an entire and whole being without children, and will remain so until the day I die. Not using my ovaries and uterus for their main purpose does not make me any less of a person.

Imagine if infertility didn’t exist. Imagine if every single woman wanted to be mothers. If women lived up to the expectation that our ultimate purpose is to bare children, the world would be a disgustingly overpopulated (even more so than it already is) and resources would cease to exist rapidly.

So, don’t assume all women want to have kids. Don’t randomly ask strangers when they are going to start having kids. You never know the situation you are walking to. You might be talking to someone who isn’t physically able to have kids of their own. Some people simply don’t want children, and have other amazing aspirations that are valuable contributions to society. [*Ahem* Starting a non-profit that directly helps hundreds of thousands of children who come from broken homes or are orphaned is far more admirable than popping one or two kids out while not doing much else. Just sayin’.]

Some of my favorite notable people happen to be childfree women. I like them for reasons other than their choice not to be mothers. Their childlessness has nothing to do with why I appreciate them.

  1. Gloria Steinem. I mean, look at what she’s done for feminism and human equality. She is an amazing example of the fact that a woman can be childfree and remain compassionate and caring.
  2. Stevie Nicks. DUH! If you can’t get down with Stevie, then you’re silly. She’s an amazing lyricist and singer and, again, a wonderful example of a woman being maternal without having kids.
  3. Helen Mirren. She’s played Elizabeth II twice, and has an amazing artistic range in the roles she plays. She’s got an amazing sense of humor, and I bet she is a hoot to hang out with.
  4. Betty White. If you don’t like  or can’t appreciate Betty White, I might not trust your creative judgement. She is a perfect example of a woman who chose her career, and made an excellent choice. Everything she does is pure gold. Plus, she has incredible compassion for animals. She’s sharp, highly motivated, has had an incredibly successful life, and gives a damn about animals.
  5. Margaret Cho. Sure, she’s not everyone’s cuppa. But, here is a woman who has had a successful career, is witty, and in the side she has shown to the public, has proved to be highly compassionate and in favor of equality and human rights. She has chosen to be childfree and maintains a complete life.
  6. Oprah. I might not be Oprah’s biggest fan, but I am a fan of any successful woman. Especially if said woman’s success is entirely hers. She’s never married and never had children and is one of the richest people in the United States. I stand behind any woman who chooses to do what she can to be autonomous and satisfied in life.

There is a conversation that regularly happens in my life:

Stranger: “Do you have kids?”
Me: “No.”
Stranger: “Soon, right? You’re going to be an amazing mother.”
Me: “Thank you, but I probably won’t have kids.”
Stranger: baffled, “Well, um, you might change your mind, right?”
Me: “No, I probably won’t.”

After that, some people will look stunned, trip over incoherent sentences and walk away. Other people will continue on the “kids, kids, KIDS” rhetoric. A few will tell me I’m selfish. On very rare occasions, some people will say “I respect that” and move on.

If I haven’t made my point clear enough: women do not need to have children to live a complete life. We are all as complete as we choose to be. We don’t need social norms (that are 30+ years behind) or gendered rhetoric to make us complete. So, please, just be polite. If you assume all women want to have kids, keep that thought to yourself. Simply, that idea is antiquated and unnecessary.

Incomplete

It Always Takes Time

All of this will be old news to many people by now. But, sometimes, the world needs a little help remembering important things. Right now, Earth has approximately 7.4 billion* people roaming her (the world’s birth rate is just over twice the rate of deaths), and a sizable number of her inhabitants live with some sort of mental disorder or illness.

“Just snap out of it” and “do something about it already” are two incredibly insensitive things that one can say to a person living with a mental illness or disorder. We’ve heard it countless times, and often from loved ones.

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing from family members that my depression will pass and that I’ve just got to get over it. There seems to be a lack of understanding or compassion when statements like these are given to me. Yes, they might feel like they mean well and it might actually be coming from a place of love, but the choice of words often can do more damage than good. Another thing that bothers me is that I can be, at times, treated with hostility, rather than love. When that comes from strangers, I am not effected. But, if and when the hostility comes from someone in my circle, naturally, I hurt.

I’ve spent twenty years dealing with depression. This clearly should tell my loved ones something. One does not just “get over” depression, nor can one “snap out of it.” If it was that easy, I would have been free of it 19.5 years ago. Mental health is a daily task for every human. It is in everyone’s best interest to check in with themselves every day, whether mental illness exists or not. For those of us who live with any kind of mental health issue (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, etc.), we do have to be diligent about monitoring our environment, our nutrition, and our moods in order to maintain our health. When we don’t, the disordered mental health we live with can take over.

For the last three months (maybe four?), I’ve been going to a therapist. The time I’ve spent with her has been incredibly helpful. Not only am I learning a lot about myself and humanity in general, I am learning how to live with the mental health of others. Someone in my life has finally gotten the DSM diagnosis he deserves. An actual licensed psychiatrist said “you fit the criteria for this mental disorder and these are things that can be done to help manage it.” It’s a relief that he now has an official diagnosis and seems to be, at the bare minimum, attempting to manage it. Frankly, I feel that this person could benefit from weekly counseling sessions and other mindfulness based therapies, but I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist, so I can’t (won’t) consistently urge him to follow through.

It’s not my place to tell a person how to manage their mental health, especially if they don’t ask me how they should. I have always believed that it’s improper to hand out advice willy-nilly to people without being asked. If someone wants advice from me, I am happy to give it.

So, I am learning how to live with a person learning how to live with their own mental health concerns. I am also learning how to be mindful when I am given unwarranted or unnecessary advice (that is often lacking compassion, empathy, or validity). And, I’m learning how to let go of any hurt that may have previously been caused or continues to be caused at the hands of someone’s altered mind. One person’s experience usually doesn’t reflect my own, nor does it need to dictate my own. How I choose to react in a situation is my responsibility, and the reactions of others are theirs.

We should all be treating each other with kindness and compassion. It can be difficult at times, especially for those of us who sometimes find it difficult to feel love for ourselves (or even understand love and care).

Mental illness is rather common. This is why I am a huge supporter of mental health advocacy. [I’m also a huge fan of preventative and holistic health care. I’ll talk about my favorite places for healthcare, Northern & Western Europe, in another post.] If you or someone you know lives with any kind of mental disorder or illness, there is a wide array of information out in the world for you. By doing research, not only will you become better educated, you will be able to care for your community with compassion and an open mind. We appreciate people who are willing to take the time to understand where we are coming from and how we live our lives. Receiving compassion and love does actually alleviate a lot of stress we deal with. The less stress we experience, the easier it is for us to focus on being as healthy as we can be.

Here are some great resources to get started with:
Bipolar Disorder: Effects on the Family
NAMI: Mental Health Conditions (I love NAMI. It’s a fantastic resource for everyone.)
National Institue of Mental Health: Topics & Info
NIMH: Depression
NIMH: Borderline Personality Disorder
NAMI: Borderline Personality Disorder (Again, a great resource, especially for something that is under diagnosed, but more common than people realize.)
NEWSWEEK: How Colleges Flunk Mental Health (An interesting read, and has light a fire under my bum. I’d love to finish my college education with Social Work and do advocacy on college campuses for students.)
An Open Letter From Those of Us… (This is a go to piece for me; it might be BPD specific, but the soul of it can be applied to many mental health experiences.)

There are so many other resources out there, but these are trustworthy resources that can get you in the right direction.

Seriously, if you or anyone you know is experiencing any kind of mental health issue, help is out there. I promise, it doesn’t matter how large or small the issue is. There are a lot of trained professionals and support groups out there in the world. Utilize them! You and your mental health are essential and important! I know, first hand, that one can never just snap out of their mental illness. It takes time, care, compassion, and love.

*Worldometers: World Population

Undetermined Life

The last couple of weeks have seen me getting off my tush and moving. On Sunday and yesterday, I actually made myself run. Once was in the rain that California so desperately needs, and the other was on a treadmill. I love running in the rain; always have. There is something magically cleansing about running in the rain.

But, running is not the point of this post.

Today, on my walk around our neighborhood, I found my mind wandering on what I’ve done with my life so far, and where I want it to go. Ten years ago, I wanted to be married with three kids, a dog, two cats, and a five bedroom house in Woodside or Portola Valley by this time.

Clearly that hasn’t happened.

Coming up on 34, I still want to get married. Three kids, though? Sure, three kids would be nice, but that means I’d have to get married yesterday and be well on the way to having $750k saved up. I want kids. Two is still doable, and I am happy to adopt. In fact, I’d rather adopt. But the five bedroom in Woodside or Portola Valley? Nope. A five bedroom house, period? Nope. I’ve learned as I age that, while luxurious and impressive, large houses on huge properties aren’t essential in live. Space is space and a house is a house. Home came be anywhere and space isn’t the only important factor.

Walking past newly renovated houses, sprinkled with a few houses that haven’t changed in sixty years, I really started to consider what kind of living space I could see myself in. For the time being, I am happy with a decent studio or loft space, or even a small one bedroom apartment. For now, it’s just me. And, I don’t need heaps of space in order to create my own home. If and when I fall in love and decide to co-habitate, I’ll need my own bedroom. That’s non-negotiable. Even if it’s an office that I can convert into a sleeping area, I’ll be happy. I’m one of those people that sleeps better alone.

All of these adorable and fresh houses are charming, and I’d love to live in one like them. That is definitely possible if I leave California. I used to think I could never leave the Bay Area. Now, I want to run far away from the Bay Area (even California) as fast as possible.

Oregon is calling my name. Washington state might even be able to lure me back. There is also a strong pull to the East Coast. I’d love, very much, to get away from the overly-PC liberal bubble of the West Coast. Sure, if I move back East, I might find myself in the minority and in a community that holds more moderate or conservative views than I. The thing is, I’m fairly good at keeping my two cents to myself. Unless I feel that a life (mine included) is in immediate danger, I tend to keep my two cents to myself.

In my research, Minnesota seems to always be the favorite for women’s overall wellbeing (health, economic, social, and safety).* Do I want to live in Minnesota though? No! Snowy winters are not good for my mental health. The cost of living is, but my mental health is important. Hawaii ranks in the top 20-25% quite often, but the affordability and cost of living isn’t quite the same. I keep getting pulled towards Boston, though. Sure, the winters are cold. But, New York is pretty accessible from Boston. There is a specific mindset in Boston that I have been told I’d do well with. [I get along very well with hardworking, blue collar people. I also can be direct, in a kind, Irish way.] Who knows? That might just be where I end up. Summer weekend trip to Boston this year? Yes please!

Ultimately, the dream is to live in Europe. But, that’s not going to happen in the foreseeable future. I think it’ll help if I find a partner first, and make sure they are on board with that. If we both can be our own bosses, that’ll benefit the dream in a major way.

Anyway, it’s time for me to get on with my life. It’s time I find a place to live, a job to sustain me, and someone to share my time and love with. It’s March already. No time for to waste!!

*https://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-for-women/10728/