Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014 Firsts

I was doing some lamenting early this year about how it seemed many of life’s “firsts” were behind me. After all, I would never try sushi again for the first time, or kiss my boyfriend for the first time, or see the roller derby for the first time again. In a harsh and gloomy place, I was really feeling like some of the best and momentous of life’s experiences were behind me -and I can tell you, that doesn’t lend itself for a particularly sunny outlook on the future.

I decided to do an experiment and start a list on my phone. Any time I did something for the first time or tried something new, I would add it to the list.

For example, January 26th 2014 is the first time I ever ate Puerto Rican food.

(It was also the first time I ever got sick from eating Puerto Rican food -and unfortunately not the last!)

No one thing was too big or too small for the list. I had firsts ranging from the first time I ever enjoyed pulp in my orange juice (I must be growing up or something) to wedding dress shopping with one of my friends (and getting a killer deal) to inventing the insult “wool turkey” (as in, “shut up you old wool turkey!”).

I even saw the biggest spider I’ve seen in 28 years in the Pacific Northwest on July 27th.

I think what I liked most about this project was that sometimes unpleasant things can also be firsts, and spinning something unpleasant (like, say, a colonoscopy) into my list of “firsts” somehow made these moments seem like they were serving a purpose and that I have been moving forward. When it feels like I am moving backwards (or not at all) sometimes it can be helpful to see the list of accomplishment (no matter how silly) that got me to today.

What I didn’t realize when I started this project was that it would not only document my exploration of new places, new foods, and new experiences but also fuel me to try more new things than I normally would. Even if it was a bust (like lime yogurt) I could at least add it to the list… and in the periods when I hadn’t added anything to the list for a while, why not wear something new? Or try vitamins? Or reach out to someone I might not normally talk to?

It can be easy for me to get locked into a place of sameness, orbiting those few things that make me feel comfortable. What I learned this year is that there are ways to step out of my comfort zone that don’t require me to move to Bangladesh or shave my head or wrestle an alligator. Yes, I mean, those things are good too… but recognizing that we are all growing in tiny ways constantly can be a great reminder that I’m not just sitting here “doing nothing”.

This is a great project for anyone who has been feeling stagnant, or trapped in a life you may feel you have little control over, and it is a pretty easy one too. There is really no need to commit to “once a day” or “once a week,” because exploration should happen naturally (and you will notice these things often happen on their own), but if goals help you follow through there certainly is no harm in it. All I did was start a list on my phone and write down the date and a (very) short explanation of what occurred. Later you can look back and marvel! Seeing as we are approaching the new year, if you are interested  this is as good a time as any to start!

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Overwhelmed By Positive Emotions

Normally when I think of being overwhelmed by emotion, I think about my day to day life and the fear, anxiety, and depression that I experience. These emotions often make me feel overwhelmed by the world and everything it entails, from social gatherings to daily living. One thing I had forgotten however (up until recently) was the feeling of being overwhelmed by positive emotions.

Looking back on my life up to this point, I can remember small snippets in time where a joyful sort of emotional floodgate opened and I found myself, almost drowning, in whirlpools of joy or appreciation or beauty. When I was younger, most of these moments took place where something as simple as hearing a song (that I had only heard on a recording) played live for the first time swept over me; when something powerful that I already had an emotional connection to came close enough to me that we came as close to becoming one as possible.

In these moments I found myself so overwhelmed by beauty and joy I could not speak, and my heart often felt like it was trying eagerly to escape my body. I would cry uncontrollably, but not out of fear or sadness or desperation; simply tears of love and appreciation and joy.

I can recognize well enough that this sort of reaction to something beautiful or profound can be just as jarring to the innocent bystander as my typical negative emotional reaction. In fact, many people can’t tell the difference from the outside when they see me overwhelmed in either a positive or negative light; they see simply someone who is overwhelmed.

Becoming emotionally overwhelmed in a positive way is something I don’t hear many people talk about, and for me it has been one of the most profound experiences I have associated with bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, for every thousand days I experience being overwhelmed in a negative way, I only seem to get that positive overwhelmed feeling once or twice. For me it is exceptionally rare, and as I’ve gotten older the moments have become few and far between. I also can’t orchestrate them anymore, many years ago live music stopped producing this tidal wave of emotion for me… so I slumped into a dark depression for several years without that punch in the face of joy or beauty.

The moment this concept and these memories came flooding back to me was last week. Through an odd turn of events I witnessed one of my childhood heroes give a talk and sign autographs for charity. I know people say you should never meet your childhood heroes (because they will be sure to disappoint), but all I saw was an aging man who was genuinely interested in doing something kind for others.

I spoke to him for a couple minutes (as best I could with my throat closing up anxiously) and he was very sweet. When I walked away it hit me like a ton of bricks; the joy, the appreciation, the beauty, the hope and compassion I don’t normally feel toward others. Within moments I was running for the bathroom because tears were spewing out of my face and I had no way to control them.

For the next two days, every time that memory came up I would start crying and grinning like an idiot. On the bus, down the street, at home, talking to my sister, it didn’t matter. I normally spend so much time trapped in a place where I can only ever seem to see the negative things in the world, being afforded a moment, even a split second, where I could see something wonderful felt extraordinary.

Happiness and I have not been the best of friends this year, but I am very appreciative that it is something I’ve been afforded (even briefly) this holiday season, even if it came at me like a tidal wave. Here’s my wish for each of you; if you’ve got to be subject to feeling completely overwhelmed over the holidays, I hope the tidal wave approaching carries joy and love and hope.

And maybe a personalized surfboard.

Leaving on a High Note

If you’ve ever watched Seinfeld you may remember Jerry (a comedian) advising his best friend George that the best thing he can do is to “leave on a high note.” Lately I’ve been trying to change some of my habits to reflect this idea.

A big problem I have been facing is that no matter what my mood is like during the day, it often takes a big downward spiral (even more downward in the event I am already depressed) in the evening before bed. Going to bed feeling so negative has lent itself to trouble sleeping and nightmares for me, so when I first discovered that the specific mindset I am in when I go to bed plays a big role in my ability to be fully rested the next day I began to do some experimenting.

Lately I have been trying to go straight to bed during a brief moment of contentedness. Sometimes that means booking it to the bathroom immediately after watching a show that has made me laugh or smile, or even going to bed earlier than I normally would (to cut off my emotional nosedive before it gets too out of control). Sometimes that means picking a moment where my rapid cycling is affording me a breath of fresh air from the depression I was experiencing moments earlier.

My general desire in these moments is to stay up later (because I may feel, for a moment, a bit better) but experience, at this point, has taught me that if I do the waves of depression and pointlessness can wipe out those small, good (or even just neutral) moments and leave me stewing for the rest of the night.

So far this experiment has provided me a slightly easier time falling asleep, and though I am sleeping slightly less, I am feeling more rested from the time I am asleep.

I have also been working to incorporate the idea of “leaving on a high note” with my therapy sessions. Let’s face it, they can get pretty… well… glum (is a nice word for it). Spending five minutes at the end of the session bringing the mood back to a happier or funnier place has helped me leave therapy sessions feeling slightly less like a sack of discarded potatoes.

This idea is also something that has made a big difference for me in terms of communicating with friends and family members as well. Leaving a conversation in the middle of something serious or even triggering without bringing things back around to a happier place has been extremely detrimental to my overall mental health. It is almost as if those negative topics, if not contained, spread through my system and drain me of all my energy. Encapsulating those moments in specific conversational bubbles (and moving to another lighter  bubble after hitting a dark one) seems to make a big difference for me, in terms of becoming triggered.

One of the things I like most about this idea is that no matter how dark, or weird, or awkward things get, there is always opportunity to make things a little lighter before moving on. While this is something I tend to do with humor, even something as simple as apologizing to the store clerk who I’ve just been short with has been enough to help me leave a potentially negative situation feeling slightly better. Sometimes it feels really important to me to recognize that I can’t always keep situations from being negative (or keep myself from feeling negatively about something), but if I do what I can to turn things around before walking away, that negativity seems to have much less power over me and doesn’t linger the way it might otherwise.

Maybe this holiday season a good option might be to leave on a high note. A polite goodbye before a party or gathering turns into total chaos could be the difference between a short, sweet appearance and that dreaded stressed out holiday meltdown. Not only that, but leaving when you feel good might also help keep you from feeling negatively about your friends, relatives, and yourself!