Bipolar Disorder, International Bipolar Foundation, My Real Opinion

The Holidays Aren’t Happy For Everyone, And That’s Okay

This post originally appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/holidays-aren%E2%80%99t-happy-everyone-and-that%E2%80%99s-okay

It’s that time of year again. December. The holidays are approaching. Time off school for students, perhaps time off work for those whose offices close (or who take time off), time to travel for some, staycations for others. A chance to spend time with family and friends and enjoy yourself- that is, if you want to and are able to.

You may be wondering what I mean by that pessimistic sounding last line. I am just being realistic for those of us who experience bipolar disorder (or any type of mental illness).

To clarify, when I talk about holidays, I am referring to whatever holidays happen in December, including New Year’s Eve. Okay, especially New Year’s Eve.

There is pressure to make plans, to be social, to “party” (depending on your age) and to have a good time.

I find the lead up to the end of the year brings anxiety and feelings of sadness, guilt and disappointment.

However, this year I noticed somewhat of a mixed state where I became hypomanic and wanted to shop and buy random things off of Amazon (because Amazon Prime is dangerous when you have a credit card). I am tempted to hide my credit cards from myself or have my husband hide them from me.

Why anxiety, sadness, disappointment?

Anxiety hits me hard because I feel a rush of thoughts surging through my brain about everything I didn’t do and should have done and still have to do. And of course, the thought “how will I get everything done” shows up. Anxiety makes you live in the future. You are future-focused. It probably doesn’t help that resolutions are associated with New Year’s and people always ask if you have any resolutions and if so, what they are. Or if you have had a bad year, “Next year will be better”. Then you doubt this is possible because anxiety tells you not to believe anything anyone says.

Depression makes you live in the past.  I feel like I accomplished nothing. I am saddened by this. So, then I feel guilty and like I disappointed people, because I set ridiculously high standards for myself. I start to remember how productive and efficient I used to be a 4 or 5 years ago, before this awful mental fatigue that interferes with everything existed.

The usual thoughts are that “I didn’t do x, y or z” and then I start thinking about how I would have if I had more time and I should have more time and can I make more time and then I panic about how time goes by so fast and then I just feel old. Then my husband tells me “age is just a number”.

For me, this time of year is difficult as it brings back some very difficult and painful memories (I know, I know, it’s bad to dwell on the past but this is what happens when you experience depression) and I associate this time of year with one awful New Year’s Eve I had four years ago where I felt so low and alone. But I made it into the next year, and the year after, and the year after that and I will keep on going…

So, how do you survive the holidays and New Year’s Eve with bipolar disorder? Here are a few tips:

1)Take care of yourself. Take some time to decompress and practice self-care whatever form it may come in. For some of us self-care can be as small as taking micro-breaks from a task we are doing, getting take out instead of cooking, getting our nails done, having a bubble bath- you get the idea. It can be doing an activity you enjoy. Really, it is about carving out time for yourself, so that you take care of yourself, especially your mind.

2)Forget about making New Year’s Resolutions. This can just create added stress and expectations that you don’t need in your life. Or, if you are determined to make a change, aim for something small and achievable, so you don’t have to deal with the feeling that you’ve let yourself down, and so that you do get to experience feeling proud of yourself for making that change.

3)Make plans that you will actually enjoy and will be comfortable with and more importantly with people you are comfortable with!

4)Don’t overextend yourself. If you are going to a party, or an event and are asked to do something or bring something, keep it simple and don’t offer to do more than you are asked to. It’s okay to bring something store bought to a potluck or a party. When you are around people who know the real you, they are not judging!

5)If you feel like doing nothing, do nothing. Just go with the flow, whatever it is. Don’t fight it. If you don’t want to socialize, it’s not a crime to stay home. There are many of us who are content with takeout/snacks and Netflix and there is nothing wrong with that.

However you decide to spend your holidays, may your mind give you a break from anxiety, depression and anything else it throws at you and let your mind be quiet enough to let you enjoy what you are doing and who you are with! We all deserve that, right?

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada

How to Practice Compassion

This blog first appeared on Healthy Minds Canada’s website: https://healthymindscanada.ca/how-to-practice-compassion/

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I’ve written before about how powerful and overwhelming thoughts can be. When you are feeling anxious or feeling depressed, or a combination of both, you have thoughts that are hard to process and thoughts that lead to further feelings of distress. These thoughts are real to you and are important as part of your mental health journey.

There will always be people who think that our anxious or depressed thoughts make no sense, are illogical, and essentially are trivial thoughts. You know the people who I am talking about. The people who think other people have “real” problems (i.e. physical injury or illness, suffering a loss, surviving a disaster) and therefore your symptoms of mental illness don’t count, because other people “have worse problems than you do“.

Coming out and being open about living with a mental illness is courageous and a brave thing to do. I wanted to share my story and encourage others to do so because suffering in silence is painful and feeling ashamed of something that is no fault of your own is foolish. It’s just plain wrong. I say we are brave to be open and share our stories because that stigma is a real b**** and we have to teach her a lesson.

I always tell people don’t apologize for something you didn’t do, or something that isn’t your fault. So why feel ashamed, or apologize for our condition, or symptoms of our condition?

I know we can’t expect everyone to understand what mental illness is, what it looks like, or how it affects us on a day to day basis, but a little compassion goes a long way.

How can someone show compassion or understanding?

Let us be our real selves.Tell us it’s okay to let it all out. Tell us to take off the “normal mask” we may have been wearing all week at work (to make things easier at work), so the real self can breathe.

Don’t make us think our thoughts have no value, or are trivial. Help us work through our thoughts if we are willing to talk about them.

Let us be silent if we don’t want to talk. Enjoy the silence with us.

Let us speak when we are ready to.

Give us space when we need it. We need down time to decompress. Mental illness is exhausting.

Make sure we practice self-care and self-compassion. Teach us to relax if you can. Give us gentle reminders that self-care is important and that whatever we insist we must finish today can wait until tomorrow, because most of the time, it really can.

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Bipolar Disorder, Healthy Minds Canada

Give Yourself A Present

This post first appeared on Health Minds Canada’s website: https://healthymindscanada.ca/give-yourself-a-present/

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Next weekend is “the most wonderful time of the year” according to a famed Christmas song. Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah fall on the same day this year. The “Holidays”, Winter Break, you know, that time of year, the part that’s supposed to be full of giving and cheer?

Why don’t I feel cheerful? I hate this time of year. It’s awkward when people wish me “Happy Holidays” and I am thinking “what’s happy”, because I don’t know anymore. Last blog I said I want to believe that everything is going to be fine. I do. But there is a difference between fine and happy. Fine means I can function and get through the day; fine can be my baseline.

I have mentioned this prolonged mixed state I am in a few times before, and this mixed state has also involved some rapid cycling. I am stuck in this loop of moods and emotions and feelings. I had a moment at work last week where I thought I was going to bawl my eyes out if anyone talked to me and I felt myself tear up and had to start drinking water and immediately put on my “Feel Better Mix” to calm down. Not long after I was anxious, then I was having these thoughts where I question everything, i.e. “Am I where I am supposed to be in life”, those type of thoughts. After having lunch out of the office, I was fine, and my mood changed to a more elated one, and by the time I got home and saw my husband, I was in a hypomanic, very hard to calm down state. I  couldn’t stop talking. I couldn’t eat dinner. I had all these ideas and the thoughts and words could not get out of my head.

Why do I hate this time of year? To be honest, a few years ago, I was in a terrible state of mind at this time, having just left a job where things had turned sour and I felt lost (I hadn’t yet started my current job), I was in one of my most painful depressive states and I felt like I didn’t want to be here. I was not fine. I was not anywhere close to fine. I don’t know how I got through it, but I did (because the best way out is always through as I mentioned in my previous post).

My anxiety seems to take over my memory and makes me remember how I felt then, or tries to make me remember. I will became anxious and wonder why, and then remember the time of year and try to remind myself that I am in a better environment now, things are different now, but nope, anxiety takes on a life of its own. It makes me feel sensations I don’t want to feel and takes away my qualify of life. I want to reign it in. I deserve better than this. I try to think about all the things I have been able to do in spite of/despite having anxiety, how panic attacks pass and how I know how to get through them.

I saw a quote the other week that I really like:

“Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.” – Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks

A present doesn’t have to be something material; it can be anything. Maybe your favourite episode of a show you really like is on and you let yourself watch it. Maybe you allow yourself time to read and enjoy a book. Maybe you allow yourself some down time to relax however you want. Something that is just for you.

So what could a daily present be? Today, I gave myself the present of being able to focus. I was able to focus so I can write this blog post. I was also able to do laundry, fold the clothes, hang them up, put them away (which usually doesn’t happen). I was able to cook this afternoon to get ahead for the week (also a rarity). I have given myself a present, because being able to focus gives me hope that my brain and mind are trying to calm down, and are not letting anxiety rule.

Tomorrow, the day after, the day after that? I have no idea what I will give myself. I’ll just let it happen.

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International Bipolar Foundation

A Q&A For Self-Care Day

This post first appeared on International Bipolar Foundation’s website: http://www.ibpf.org/blog/qa-self-care-day

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July 24 is International Self-Care Day. On behalf of International Bipolar Foundation, I asked my friend, Mike, a fitness enthusiast, yogi, plant-based eater and animal lover, to share the benefits of practicing self-care.

As a person who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders, I know that self-care is important, but I have difficulty with change and implementing healthy habits. I can say that having a good support system is an important part of any wellness plan, and Mike is a part of my support system.

What does self-care mean to you? How would you define self-care?

I believe that “self-care” is making time for yourself. Everyone has a great deal of stuff to deal with in their life, whether it be family, friends or work, and we can get lost in all of that and forget about our own health and happiness. Unfortunately, making time for yourself and your health/happiness is commonly made the lowest priority.

How do you practice self-care?

I use the gym as a stress reliever and therapy. Whether I am having a good or bad day, I can go to the gym and just focus on myself, almost go into a meditative state while I clear my head and relieve stress. I also have a weekly yoga practice that is a great way to relieve stress, clear my mind and learn about the limitations and capabilities of my body.

What made you decide to try yoga? 

A number of years ago, it had been suggested to me that I try yoga and at first, like most men, I feared the stigma of showing up to a mostly female yoga class. I now look back laughingly at the fear I had considering where I am now. I have thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of yoga whether it is the clear head and calmness I feel in all aspects of my life or the amazing results that I have seen with my body. I am very happy that I overcame the fear of judgment because it has changed my life.

What made you decide to change the way you eat?

Being a filmmaker means lots of sitting on sets with endless food options or sitting at a computer and editing for hours. The result of not taking time for myself or eating right, I gained a great deal of weight. Eventually, I had to put myself first and take the time to eat right and exercise.

After a number of years and losing a great deal of weight, I had become bored with my routine eating. I was eating lunch with a friend, who had already been living a plant-based diet for a year, and I decided to temporarily eat a plant-based diet for a couple of weeks. It began as a challenge to myself and have a change in my eating but within the first week, I saw and felt a great deal of benefits to the new diet and three years later I have continued to learn the health, environmental and animal rights reasons for maintaining this lifestyle and could never go back.

How has your life changed since implementing these changes?

Since I began living a plant-based active lifestyle, my entire life has changed. Living a plant-based lifestyle takes a great deal of effort and sacrifice. To stand up for what you believe in and putting yourself before all else can also cause issues with those around you. Making a big change does affect others who have only known you as your previous self. When you can no longer do things that you used to do, or begin choosing to put your health and self-care first, it can be upsetting or confusing for others. As many challenges and hardships I have faced in my transformation, I can not say that I regret what I have done because I know I am happy with the person I have become and I am hopeful for what my future will hold.

Do you think self-care means something different for men and women?   

I believe that self-care is universal for all genders because it is simply focusing on yourself and your own needs and making time for yourself. This can vary from person to person. Many people may find going to the gym to be an annoyance and not find the therapeutic results that I may feel. On that same note, I may not find going to get a massage or sitting by a pool reading a book to be relaxing. Everyone needs to listen to their heart as to what they enjoy and make the time to do it, whatever it is.

What advice would you give to other men who are hesitant or shy to take up activities like yoga because it is perceived as a “feminine” activity?

I wish that I had some sage advice for those men who could benefit from yoga but are too afraid of the stigma of it being a “feminine” activity, since I was once one of them. Sadly, the majority of times when men see a man in a yoga class, they assume that he is there just as an excuse to look at women, as if that could be the only reason why a man would go to a yoga class. The stereotype is evident, even when I go to a local yoga clothing store and am approached by the staff (male and females) with the assumption that I have never heard of their clothing and am likely not someone who needs “yoga clothes.”

Even though yoga has been long considered “easy” and just filled with stretching and bending, these people are likely unaware of a large part of yoga which contains arm balances and inversion poses that take a great deal of strength and balance to accomplish. Even though I was once shy and reserved about being in a yoga class, I now enjoy breaking the stereotypes of male yogis. I believe that many men mock yoga because they know that they would be unable to do many things that they see and, as a defense mechanism, they mock and belittle others who do it to make themselves feel better.

Something that is important in all aspects of life is having the willpower to stand up for what you believe in and ignore those who may be jealous of your abilities or skills. Know that you are doing something to better yourself and that’s all that matters.

How do you use self-care to find and establish a work/life balance?

I must force myself to do what will help me physically and mentally. Sometimes it means rescheduling work or time with friends in order to be sure that I get my “me” time in every day. Of course, like many, I would love to stay home and relax on a weekend; but I have to remind myself that while going to a yoga class or the gym may be a bit of a pain, once I am there (and especially when I finish), I will, and do, always feel better. This is important for any activity that brings you balance or joy.

What are your tips for “grounding” yourself or “centering” yourself?

I find it very difficult to turn off my brain because I am constantly thinking about things that are going on in my life. The meditative parts of Yoga allow me to somewhat clear my mind by focusing on my breathing. Even if I am unable to completely clear my mind that day, I am able to think about a single issue much more clearly and remove all of the other “chatter.” With a bit of practice, I have been able to meditate and think on a subconscious level. Sometimes, emotions will come out for seemingly no reason, but you have to let it out so you can move on.

What are your best self-care tips for anyone looking to practice self-care?

The most difficult thing about self-care is to find what it is that can provide you with that clarity or time to yourself. I find that people may pick things that are told to them and not really enjoy or continue with it. For example, someone may prescribe doing yoga for physical and mental health needs, but that type of activity does not give you enjoyment or all of your friends go to a Pilates class; this doesn’t mean that you have to do these things, too. I suggest trying things and seeing what works best for you. Find something that brings you enjoyment and peace of mind.

How does a healthy lifestyle help the mind?

I believe strongly in holistic living and that each part of our body and life are not in isolation. If one element of your life is off, it can cause imbalances in other things. If you are not fueling your body properly by missing meals or eating sugar-filled junk food, it is known that these issues can cause issues in your mood and overall happiness. If you are neglecting your mental wellbeing, it can sometimes cause physical issues in your body. On the other hand, if you know that you took an hour that day to focus on yourself and go for a walk or do some yoga, this may make you feel better for the rest of the day.

I find that the more elements of my life that are in balance — mind, body and spirit — the better I may feel.


I want to thank Mike for his time and insight on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation and for sharing his amazing photos. I hope that the readers of this post are helped by this information!

About Mike Bernofsky:

Mike Bernofsky is the owner of a media production company in Toronto, Canada. Mike has made drastic changes in the last few years in order to live a more wholistic life and focus on self-care. Teaching others from his experiences and knowledge has become a passion for him.

 

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