Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Set Realistic Goals

I know everyone can relate to the feeling of “I’m not looking forward to what’s waiting for me at the office” after taking time off work. I took a week off work, as I mentioned I would be in my previous blog post. It was nice to have time off to “get things done” that you usually can’t do during the week and deal with things that I had been putting off. I don’t feel rejuvenated or like it was a vacation and I am still tired, but it was good to be away from the office and sitting in a chair all day.

Of course, being off work means my usual schedule is different, which means my sleep pattern is off and I still experienced anxiety and low feelings.

I saw some friends, went out for some nice dinners and actually enjoyed the food which was a good sign (meaning my anxiety let me do so!) and although I feel like I didn’t accomplish a lot, my husband says otherwise. This led to a discussion about happiness, where he said, “I don’t want to sound selfish, but I just want you to be happy. I don’t know what that will take or what will make you happy.” Of course, I don’t think that makes him selfish, but it is easier when your significant other is happy. Happiness, like success, can mean different things to different people. I don’t know what will make me happy either but that’s for a different blog post.

This is what I had hoped to do (in no particular order):

  1. Organize my paperwork, bills, receipts etc. for tax returns and file my return (and pay taxes) (Done)
  2. Change over my closets from winter clothes to summer clothes (Done)
  3. Change over coat closet (Done)
  4. Change over the shoe closet from boots to shoes/sandals
  5. Get passport photos and renew my passport (Done)
  6. Do some cooking to make things easier for this week (Done- Made a pasta salad, hard boiled some eggs, cut up veggies for snacking and cooked dinner – this was a big accomplishment for me considering I was avoiding the kitchen)
  7. Do some pleasure reading (a minimal amount)
  8. Do some colouring to relax (Yup)
  9. Organize my closet and get rid of any garbage (Done)
  10. Organize all of my makeup and minimize (likely to get done)
  11. Write a series of blog posts to have on hand for my business
  12. Use my social media dashboard to plan posts for the next few weeks for all my social media accounts/client accounts
  13. Clean out my google alerts in my Gmail account (80% done)
  14. Prepare for my presentation on Thursday

I always say there is not enough time in a day and I never feel like I have accomplished “enough”, whether it is personal goals or at work. My husband asked me if I experience self-doubt, which I do. I have issues with self-esteem and self-confidence that I have written about before. This started after receiving my diagnosis, first because of my fear of stigma, and then because of weight gain, memory issues and feeling forgetful and “foggy”. Oh, and don’t forget tired. I question if decisions I make are the right decisions, if I remember to do things, or if I can’t make decisions, I am unbearably indecisive (but let’s not go there- let’s just say deciding what to write can take hours).

Now that I listed all the things I wanted to do/hoped to accomplish, I see that I was pretty productive. I pushed myself but it was worth it.  My home office still is cluttered but note that I did not have “organize office” on my list. I wanted to start exercising, but I know myself so “go to the gym” was not on my list. I guess I am getting to know my limitations and what sets me off, what I realistically can and can’t do in a week and what kind of pressure I can put on myself.

Here are some tips for setting goals:

  1. Make a list so you can check/cross off tasks as they are completed;
  2. Set realistic goals for yourself so you don’t overwhelm yourself – you are only one person;
  3. Break the tasks down into smaller tasks so they don’t seem so daunting;
  4. Figure out how long it will take you to complete certain tasks so you know how much you can do in one day;
  5. Remind yourself that this is your list, and the only person you are answering to is yourself (which is good and bad, because you can take the pressure off yourself, but you are also your worst critic and may pressure yourself more);
  6. Take pleasure in knowing that you are able to accomplish any goal (s) you set;
  7. Do not give yourself a deadline (unless you have to);
  8. Remember that even completing one task is a big accomplishment!

 

Stephen Covey

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada, My Real Opinion

Time For A Break

I must make a confession: I am a workaholic. This is great for anyone who employs me, but obviously problematic for me and my health (because my mind never rests). Also problematic because I am a perfectionist when it comes to my work, which means my work must be up to par before my boss sees it. I guess being a perfectionist and a workaholic go hand in hand.

My ability to focus and concentrate fluctuates day to day. Noise and people distract me more than they should. I have questioned the possibility of whether or not I might have ADD (and am going to further explore this with my doctor), as I feel frustrated, sad, and let down by my (perceived) low level of productivity and diminished attention span for the past few years. Adding one more diagnosis to the mix doesn’t bother me, as it would provide me with an answer and, like I always do, I would find new coping strategies.

I have worked consistently since my diagnosis and I haven’t had prolonged absences from work because of my desire to keep working and because I wanted to keep having a regular schedule. Working a “9-5” job means my weekdays are structured and I know (roughly) what to expect 5 days a week. This doesn’t mean it is easy to go to work and “act normal” but it makes waking up during the week less anxiety-provoking because I know what to expect when I get to work.

This particular job does not involve me having to interact with a lot of clients, as the position is really a customized position and I am lucky in that respect, as it means less “faking it”. I only have to be pleasant and say “hi”, “good morning” etc. to co-workers (if they do the same), and sit at my desk and do my work. I am not saying work is easy, because it isn’t when you can’t concentrate and are experiencing a very long depressive episode and every morning and afternoon, there are points where a feeling of overwhelming sadness and pain hit you like a ton of bricks and you want to run out of the office crying or just take your purse and go home.

courage

Working full time is exhausting period, but even more so when you have multiple mental illnesses and want to please everyone, get everything done in one day or set unrealistic deadlines for yourself. I do have tight deadlines to meet and some weeks are harder than others. The past few weeks at work have involved a lot of late evenings and overtime due to these deadlines. I haven’t felt like myself at all and I feel worn-out. It feels like it will never end and the work keeps piling up, but I am looking forward to a well-deserved week off next week of “doing nothing”. I am hoping I will catch up on sleep, relax a little bit and forget about work for a week. Will any of the aforementioned happened? We shall see.

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International Bipolar Foundation

Mental Health Awareness Q&A With David Susman, PhD

This blog was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website, as part of Mental Health Month/Mental Health Awareness Week: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/mental-health-awareness-qa-david-susman-phd

celebrate small victories

The Canadian Mental Health Association first introduced Mental Health Week in 1951, and it has since become a yearly tradition. This year, Canada celebrated its 65th annual Mental Health Week from May 2, 2016 to May 8, 2016.  In the US, Mental Health Month takes place throughout the whole month of May.

Both Mental Health Week and Mental Health Month are opportunities to spread awareness about mental health, provide support, fight stigma and GET LOUD for mental health!

As a person who lives with bipolar disorder (type II with rapid cycling) and anxiety disorders, I like to find out as much as I can about my condition so I can understand what is happening to me and so I can understand past behaviours. I subscribed to BP Magazine  early on and began reading books, blogs and articles to find comfort from bloggers who have been on similar journeys and from mental health advocates, psychologists and doctors who can provide insightful information and follow many of them on Twitter and Facebook.

One mental health advocate/psychologist, David Susman, PhD, whose blogs I enjoy was available to answer a few questions for Mental Health Month that could be shared with the readers of International Bipolar Foundation’s blog.

How do you define Mental Health?

Mental health means different things to different people. But I like the definition provided by mentalhealth.gov(US Department of Health and Human Services): “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

Do you believe stigma prevents people from seeking necessary treatment?

First, let’s say what we mean by stigma related to mental health issues. It’s a complicated term, but it includes negative beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that translate into bias, prejudice and discrimination toward people with mental health concerns. Yes, stigma definitely gets in the way of people seeking appropriate mental health care, as several large-scale surveys have clearly shown.

What do you see as the biggest barrier to ending stigma? 

In some ways, ending stigma may be as difficult as ending poverty, hunger, or war, since it’s so well-entrenched. I think one of the biggest barriers is that stigma isn’t really even on the radar for most people as even being a problem. They are totally unaware that stigma toward people with mental health issues even exists.

What do you think is the most effective way to combat stigma?

It all starts with raising awareness and education. Getting the word out about stigma and its negative effects on people is key. Getting personal accounts from consumers of mental health services about the effects of stigma is critical to bring a face and a voice to the problem.

Many people try to “self-diagnose” by googling their symptoms, or once diagnosed, google their diagnoses. Do you think this is harmful behaviour?

The Internet is full of both good and bad information. The overwhelming majority of people search for health information online, so that trend isn’t going away. It’s important to help people find reputable, well-researched health sites online so the information they find is reliable. But you still need to have a formal assessment and diagnosis by a health care professional to make sure you receive the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.

What would you say to a person who was recently diagnosed with a mental illness?

Your mental illness is a disease just like diabetes or high blood pressure. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or broken or hopeless. You didn’t bring this on yourself and it’s not contagious. There are very effective treatments including counseling and medications, and you can still have a really good life and achieve many of your personal goals. There’s also a lot of support out there to help you along the way. But you will have to do your part by learning more about your illness, how to manage your symptoms and take some time to learn and practice helpful coping skills.

What advice would you give to caregivers, family and friends of people living with a mental illness?

Be there for your friend or loved one with a mental illness. Learn more about their condition so you will understand what they’re going through. Above all else, let them know you still love them and care about them and that you’ll do your best to help them.

What advice would you give to the significant other/spouse of a person living with a mental illness?

When you live with someone with a mental illness, it’s sometimes stressful or tiring. In addition to what I said above, it’s important for significant others to also take care of themselves. You can’t help others if you are physically or emotionally exhausted. Connect with support groups where you can talk to and learn from other families going through the same thing.

There are many smartphone “apps” for mediation, mindfulness, mood tracking etc. Can these be effective tools?

I just heard a webinar on this topic. Many people are using mental health apps, but the jury is still out on how effective most of them are, because the necessary research hasn’t been done yet to show if they really work. In the meantime, apps may be a useful tool just like self-help books or websites, but remember they don’t replace working with a health care professional.

How important is it for a person to have a work-life balance?

You hear this term a lot, but it’s really so, so important to have balance in all areas of our life, whether it’s work, home, fitness, spirituality, hobbies, relationships, or health care. This balance is tricky to achieve, but if we’re intentional and planful about it, our chances to improve the balance are more likely to go up.

What are your recommendations for achieving mental wellness?

Have realistic expectations. Problems or struggles aren’t solved overnight. Change is slow and often challenging. Celebrate the small victories along the way. Surround yourself with the important things in life that bring you comfort and happiness: friends and family, pets, enjoyable work and activities, humor, faith, physical activity, good nutrition, adequate rest and sleep, and a positive attitude.

What advice would you give to a person who is struggling with low self-esteem or with a lack of self-confidence? Do you have any resources you would recommend? 

To gain confidence in any endeavor, look for the easy wins first. In other words, try to accomplish a simple step toward a larger goal first. for example, if your goal is to learn to play the guitar, first say you will learn to play one chord. Even making small progress can be very rewarding and can give you momentum to keep working toward your ultimate goal. On a related note, be forgiving to yourself when you aren’t making as much progress as you would like. One particular book which I’ve found helpful is The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Shiraldi.

***

I want to thank David Susman for his time and insight on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation and for all his many helpful blog posts. I hope that the readers of this post are helped by this information!

About David Susman:

David Susman, PhD is a clinical psychologist, college professor and mental health advocate in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. He blogs about mental health, wellness, and recovery at www.davidsusman.com. He was recently named by PsychCentral as one of the “21 Mental Health Doctors and Therapists You Should Be Following on Twitter.” You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or connect on LinkedIn.

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International Bipolar Foundation

What Happened When I Asked A Few People To Get Loud For Mental Health

This was originally posted on International Bipolar Foundation’s website for Mental Health Month/Mental Health Awareness Week: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/what-happened-when-i-asked-few-people-getloud-mental-health

those who mind don't matter

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) first introduced Mental Health Week in 1951, and it has since become a yearly tradition. The official hashtag for Mental Health Week is #GETLOUD. CMHA and the Mental Health Commission of Canada asked that everyone speak up and get loud for mental health during the week of May 2-8, 2016. And of course, as you know, May is Mental Health Month in the U.S.

I asked some friends and loved ones to #GETLOUD and share their views on stigma, supporting me (as a person living with multiple mental illnesses) and to share what they have learned from reading my blogs.

I didn’t do this so I could receive praise or accolades. I wanted to write this blog to 1) show people that you can function well despite and in spite of your diagnosis (es) and that people do recognize it 2) people understand you better than you think and3) you may not realize that you make a difference in other people’s lives. My ultimate goal in life is to write and share my story so I can help other people know they are not alone and to bring understanding and awareness to anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder.

Here are the views of my support system:

Let’s start with my Father. My Dad is a lawyer/mediator and has had clients who have had mental health issues and mediates many cases where the plaintiff has been through trauma and has a mental illness and is unable to work (because of a car accident, or perhaps was on long-term disability). This is what he had to say:

“Understanding the effects of mental health issues on an individual from reading about it is certainly not the same as seeing its impact on one’s child. My daughter Melanie bravely announced that she is bipolar and suffers from an anxiety disorder. She is an example of someone who can function at a high level and multitask galore. She struggles from time to time and has to put up the brave front. She has perfected her acting skills when she has those darker moments. We are proud of her accomplishments, particularly in light of her daily challenges. She is a shining example that despite suffering from a mental illness, one can succeed. When I mediate cases involving individuals who suffer from mental health afflictions following trauma I make sure to use Melanie as an example that one can overcome challenges and move forward.”

On World Bipolar Day, we used the hashtag, #MoreThanADiagnosis because we wanted people to know that we are more than that, and that we can have a real life and not be confined by our illness. Yes, I do have to “act” at work, but the important thing is that I CAN work. I think it is important to show others that there are accepting employers out there.

The next response is from my husband, Daniel, talking about how to support a significant other.

“Things change after a diagnosis, but they don’t have to change for the worst. Being in a long-term relationship with someone who has a mental illness is no different than being in any relationship as all relationships involve hard work and dedication. I have learned that the best way to support a person living with a mental illness (or multiple mental illnesses) is to be kind, patient, caring and to throw some humour in the mix, because as my wife’s Grandfather would always say, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’”.

I will say that humour and laughter is important. Especially when you have anxiety, because something that I find really helps anxiety is distraction, and what better way to distract yourself from your anxiety than laughter?

Nicole, someone I worked with and became close friends with had this to say about friendship and being there for your friends:

“True friends know when their best friend is having a bad day, or is feeling off. They don’t walk away, they stand by and remind them they are loved and you are here to listen anytime. True friends don’t let anyone they love and care about go through this alone. Bipolar doesn’t change a true friendship.”

Nicole never changed how she treated me after I told her about my diagnosis. On my wedding day, as it was nearing the ceremony and I was becoming a little big anxious, she knew what to do to calm me down. She can tell when I am “off” and will check in on me. That is something important for a friend to do, because people who suffer from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder often tend to withdraw and try to isolate themselves.

Gabriel, a close friend but also someone I work with for my part-time business, talks about a misconception and strength:

“If a diagnosis like bipolar disorder is supposed to slow you down and make you vulnerable then someone needs to tell Melanie because clearly she never got the memo. Melanie is an incredibly hard worker as well as a loyal and compassionate friend. If anyone is dealing with a new bipolar diagnosis they should look to this strong, intelligent young lady for guidance and inspiration.”

I will say that I am a perfectionist and work harder than I should, to my own detriment where I don’t take care of myself, but that’s a story for another time. The point here is that someone else recognizes that fact and the fact that just because you have a mental illness, it doesn’t take away your ability to work or be a good friend.

Mike, a long-time and trusted friend since my early high school days and one person who knows how to handle my anxiety best and be honest with me (even if it’s something I don’t want to hear) said:

“I support my friend because I need them to know that whatever stigma may unfortunately exist out there, does not exist to those who mean so much to me.”

He also said that,

“I guess it is also about trying to separate you from the “illness”. Sometimes I get hurt by some things and can admittedly get mad or whatever. And I need to take a step back and remember it isn’t “you” doing it. I can’t hold anger towards you for it. But sometimes my feelings were hurt and I got a bit upset. I have learned not to let those things hurt me as much. Understand it isn’t “you” and wanting to be understanding an empathetic towards you and make it less about my “feelings”.

This brings up a good point. We all have our good days and bad days. Sometimes my response to people in text messages can seem rude or curt, when I don’t mean them to be, or I am being impulsive because of the state I am in. I never mean to hurt my friends or family and I am trying to be better with my agitation and irritability and to warn people when those symptoms are rearing their ugly heads so they won’t take my comments personally.

Another long-time high-school friend who plays a large role in my life, Elana discusses anxiety and what she’s learned about mental illness over the past few years:

“When Mel had her first panic attack I didn’t realize what it really meant aside from having anxiety and I couldn’t appreciate how difficult the experience was for her. I know people say a condition doesn’t change a person but for Mel, I think that it made her more aware of herself and gave her determination to not let it get the best of her. So no, it didn’t change her but it motivates her.  Reading her blogs and the different articles she’s forwarded to me over the last six years, has made me more aware and understanding of the struggle people with mental illness experience. It’s important that people accept that a mental illness can be just as debilitating as a physical ailment. Yes, the symptoms are different, but they are very real! I learned that just because a person appears happy, doesn’t mean they are.  Since her diagnosis I have become more aware of mental illness and it even has made me more sensitive to my uncle who suffers anxiety as a result of his mental illness. Mel’s determined to stop the stigma and she does her best to encourage and educate her family and loved ones about her condition and mental health in general. Just this year I supported her in World Bipolar Day, something I wasn’t truly aware of, it wasn’t for Mel. So thank you Mel!”

A few things to take away from this:

1) Sharing information really does make a difference and can help your support system to better understand you.

2) Mental illness should be treated the same way as physical illness.

3) A mental illness can change you for the better- I always say that being diagnosed with bipolar disorder made me a better person because it gave me the chance to get to know myself better and I learned to be more compassionate. I admit I still struggle with self-esteem issues and there are bad days, but I don’t regret receiving my diagnosis and finally receiving an answer as to what was “going on” with me.

Elana’s brother, Jordan, has also become a good friend and wanted to say a few words:

“I never really understood Mel’s day to day challenges. She hides things very well. That is one of the reasons I love reading her blog. It allows me to have a better understanding of how she feels and what she struggles with and that allows me to be a better friend. Her blog also helps me with my anxiety issues. There always seems to be something in every post that helps, like an anchor in choppy water. She has the ability to change my perspective (when thinking about mental illness) and routinely shares great stress reducing exercises I can practice at work or home. Mel continues to dismantle mental illness stigma through her work and gives all of us (who struggle or know people who struggle) tremendous hope.”

I do hide things very well, sometimes too well. Sometimes I just don’t feel like sharing, but it is important that people recognize my pattern of doing this and that they read my blog posts and find out how I am feeling. I do find I can express myself better in writing. I highly recommend it – journaling helps too – think of it as getting those negative thoughts out of your head!

This quote also goes back to my earlier point about how you can make a difference by sharing your story. You really never know who you are helping, whether it’s a stranger or a friend.

I hope that anyone reading this can find some comfort, learn something new or if you have bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression (or any mental illness or are just a mental health advocate), you can show this to someone who supports you, a family member, friend, or someone you want to understand you better so they can get a sense of what we go through and how important it is to have a real, honest support system.

Thank you for taking the time to read this!

love don't judge

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