Posted in Rife

Hidden in Plain Sight Part II: Depression

My wife is happy by nature. She has always been this way, for as long as I’ve known her. Barring outside intervention, she is simply… happy. Content. Joyous.

The concept is entirely foreign to me. My mental health has often felt more akin to a war, waged against myself. It is said that neural pathways are strengthened by repetitive use, so that the same thoughts crop up easier and easier each time:

I am worthless.

I am not wanted.

I am not loved.

The script it gives me changes, the only consistency that I am always on the losing end. Sometimes I am able to combat these thoughts successfully. Sometimes I lose. Sometimes my heart will not see reason, can only focus on the loneliness of that moment.

I was diagnosed with depression when I was in college. I could tell you what the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual, the bible of criteria on mental disorders) specifies must occur for that diagnosis, but for me, it has always been this: an uphill battle, happiness like sand slipping through my fingers.

As I’ve grown, this mental illness has presented itself in many shifting forms: sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, numbness. I have had panic attacks on the bathroom floor, I have looked at oncoming traffic lovingly.

I have also felt endless love. Boundless joy. I have felt so entirely filled with these things that I dared to use the word recovery.

Friends, it’s okay to need help. It’s okay to struggle, to show weakness, to reach out. It’s okay to be imperfect. You are worth love, worth gentleness, worth care. When I struggle, when I am lost, I try to summon the same unconditional love I have for my partners and turn it towards myself.

Then I get out my toolbox and I get to work.

Sometimes that means stepping into battle. Reminding myself that my brain is lying to me, tearing down each and every one of those traitorous thoughts with cold, hard logic. I am not worthless; if I believe every living thing on this earth is worth love and care, I must also grant that to myself. I am wanted; I have two partners who have chosen to spend their lives with me. I am loved; there are many people who have told me so, and it is my responsibility to trust them.

For those times when I simply cannot win a battle of logic, I care for myself in different ways. I take a hot bath, I drink a cup of tea. I pull a dog into my lap and marvel at the love in their eyes. I remember all of the times I have felt hopeless or lost, and the ways in which those feelings gave way over time to happier ones. I remember that my mental illness does not define me, and I grant it the kind of gentle understanding I would give to anyone else who was struggling.

I tell it: It is okay to hurt, my love. It is okay to feel lost and alone. You have made it through this and worse, and you are still here. You are strong. There are brighter days coming, as they always have before.

 

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Suicide Prevention Online Chat
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Crisis Textline: 741-741 (Text HOME to begin)
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

Posted in Ali

Hidden in Plain Sight: Anxiety and OCD

For as long as I can remember, people have always remarked on how happy I am. And it’s true; I am genuinely an incredibly happy person. I have never suffered from depression, never gotten discouraged for long when bad things happened. In fact, this was one of the qualities my ex hated about me. She would be angry or freaking out, and I would tell her that everything would be okay, and here are the reasons why! Yeah, that did not go over well. I love life, love the spring flowers, the autumn leaves, and the very sight of almost every book I’ve ever seen. I have my bad days like everyone else, and have my heart broken just like the next human, but all in all, I am wonderfully and wholly happy.

What people don’t know about me is that I have terrible anxiety and OCD. Not just the nagging, back of your mind anxiety, but the full-blown panic attacks, lack of sleep, and inability to eat anxiety. I can remember being a young child, maybe five or six, and pretending to have a stomach ache every night so I would be allowed to watch television until I fell asleep, desperately trying to drown out the horror movie in my mind.

Your parents don’t love you.
You hurt someone’s feeling because you did or didn’t do something.
What happens if everyone you love dies?
You make everyone sad and they’ll leave you.

Every. Single. Night.

This bled into my teenage and adult years, worsening as time went on. The story line of my racing brain changed with time but didn’t get any kinder or calmer. There are certain shows I can’t watch, or certain phrases that I can’t un-hear and will play in my head for hours after. There was a night a few weeks ago when Adam laid with me on the couch at 3am while I sobbed into his arms about something that didn’t even happen but that I couldn’t stop imagining and replaying in my head.

I am always afraid that I’ve done too much or not enough. It plays into my OCD so badly that I will make the same list over and over just to make sure I wrote it in the best, most efficient way possible. The OCD fuels my dermatillomania (obsessive skin picking disorder) until the skin between my fingers are dripping blood and I don’t even realize I’ve hurt myself. When my need for control takes over and I feel like the only thing I can control is my calorie intake, it drops well below 1000 while I count the calories in every single carrot I put in my mouth. I work out five days a week and will walk around the house aimlessly until I reach my step goal.

People don’t believe me when I tell them I have anxiety because I look so happy. They often say things like “yeah, everyone gets a little anxious sometimes.” I think about the night before, staring at the clock clearly stating that it’s two in the morning while my worst nightmares play out vividly through my head.

Anxiety is no small thing, my darlings. Take care of yourself and talk to someone if this sounds like anything you’re going through. Learn ways to ease the panic, see a doctor, take a walk in the woods. There is nothing wrong with the solution you find, whether that’s through medication or yoga. Do not let anyone shame you for seeking what you need.

Here are some of the things I do to help when my anxiety monster rears its ugly head.

  1. Crochet or knit. I have this huge blanket I’ve been working on for months. At this rates it’s going to be big enough for two king sized beds lined up side by side. It keeps my hands busy, and my mind focused on something other than my fears.
  2. Remember that there is nothing you can do about the past or the future. Most of the pain we experience in life is worrying about things that never even happen.
  3. Take a bath- for some people this is a great, relaxing experience, for other’s it allows too much free thinking time.
  4. Participate in consistent self-care; take days off, drink some tea, grab a coloring book.
  5. Two words: Weighted Blanket. Have something holding you to earth when your mind tries to fly away with itself.
  6. Plant something. There’s something about getting out in the sunshine, soaking up some vitamin D, and getting your hands in the dirt that soothes the soul.
  7. Hug a loved one. Sometimes I don’t even tell them anything is wrong, just wrap up in their arms and hold on tight.
  8. Set a bedtime routine. If anxiety is keeping you up, you don’t need anything else messing with your sleep schedule. Put the phone down an hour before bed time, drink some calming tea, and try to go to bed the same time every night.
  9. Teach your loved ones how to help you. Some people need their loves to tell them why everything is okay, and why your fears won’t happen. Some people just need tight squeezes and a safe place to cry. Make sure they know that trying to talk you out of your obsessive behaviors won’t necessarily help.
  10. Cuddle a pup.
  11. Be gentle with yourself.

Anxiety, like any other mental illness, is scary and hard. Know that there are people who love you, and that you are so, so important. Be patient with yourself while you figure out things that help, and take the time you need to take care of yourself. There is light at the end of the tunnel. For every night I’ve spent in an anxious blur, there has been a morning where I know absolutely everything is okay, and wonderful. You are not broken. Support yourself and support each other. And know that this beautiful world wouldn’t be as lovely as it is without you in it.

Posted in Ali

Thick Thighs and Renaissance Painters

Body positivity is a hard concept to quantify. I have thought on many occasions that I finally had at least the idea down. First I realized that even though my body wasn’t what I wanted it to be, that was okay. I was going to get there. And the fact that I was working toward my goal was enough to be positive about. As long as I knew I was trying my best to get in shape, I was doing it right.   

Then I thought, no that’s not it. It’s loving my body even though it’s not where I want it to be, no matter if I would get there or not. I could still think my thighs needed to shrink, but as long as I loved my body now too, then I had reached the pinnacle of body positivity. The words “even though” were used a lot in this stage.

“I love my body even though my tummy is rounder than I want it to be.”

“I love my body even though it would be really nice to get rid of the stretch marks.”

“I love my body even though other people probably wish I was skinnier, and even though this isn’t what the world sees as beautiful.”

Even though.

And now I’ve finally broken into the idea of the third stage. I love my body, period. There aren’t “even though”s because there isn’t anything wrong with my body now. Fuck what the world thinks about beauty and the standards fashion industries have set. The way society judges beauty changes with every passing year. These thighs of mine would have brought Renaissance painters to their knees.

I’m not great at following through with the idea yet, but at least I’m starting to understand it. I’ve started to do things that I never would have done before. For instance, Adam told me his hands were cold a couple evenings ago and I put them against my stomach and bent over until there were tummy rolls warming up his fingers. “Warm tummy to the rescue!” I had proclaimed before I had the chance to be horrified at myself. The familiar feeling of oh god, I want this person to actually be attracted to me, happened, but only briefly. Before my brain could spiral out of control, he tugged my shirt up higher and ran his other hand across the softness of it. “I love this tummy.” And he meant it. Slowly but surely I’m learning to as well.

It’s a strange but common situation when you view yourself completely different than you view other people. I love curves. I don’t think they are just okay, or that people are pretty even though. I love them. I look at my friends and their curvy hips and soft bodies and think they look like Aphrodite. Beautiful. Stunning. So I am trying to see myself through the same eyes I see them.

Despite my growth in the body-loving thought process, I still have bad days. The key is to figure out what helps you get through those bad days. Here is a list of things that help me:

  • looking at photos of other people who have a similar body shape to mine, and noting how beautiful they are
  • putting on an outfit that makes me feel good about myself, and then strutting down to the kitchen in it to grab some yummy things
  • soaking up some sunshine and reading a good book (preferably about an awesome lead character that says “fuck you” to the world’s standards and goes on a great adventure)
  • scrolling through some of my favorite body positive tumblrs and instagrams (bodyposipanda is the absolute best)
  • reminding myself that my body is doing an amazing job, and that it takes great care of me

Be patient with yourself as you follow your own body-loving adventure. It takes time to undo what the world has told us repeatedly since we were five. But know that you are so, so beautiful exactly as you are. No matter what shape or size, no matter if you have all of the curves or no curves at all, you are perfect. 

Posted in Adam

Journaling as a form of Self-Care

Hey everyone! It’s Monday again, which means another new blog post from your favorite poly family! This week it’s my turn to type for a while, and I’ve chosen the topic of journaling as a form of self-care.

The History

I’ve been journaling in some way since I was about 13-years-old.

At first I was just writing every angsty thought that crossed my mind and slapping a date on it. I burnt through 5 or 6 journals that way. Some time around age 16 I picked up a Composition notebook and entered my next phase of journaling. This phase consisted almost entirely of cryptic, vaguely poetic thought vomit, and random objects glued onto the pages scrap-book style. I used nothing but wide-ruled Composition notebooks(they were cheap) through this period. Today there is a pile of 10-15 of them boxed up in a closet silently bearing witness to the darkest period of my life.

I often wonder if I would have made it through that darkness if not for my journaling. Working on those notebooks allowed me to vent all my intense emotions in a contained, healthy manner. 

The Current Phase

My current journaling phase began as an attempt to start bullet journaling. I failed sort of miserably at bullet journaling and it has since evolved well beyond that definition. Now I use elements of a bullet journal, a passion planner, and a good ol’ fashioned regular journal. Though I don’t know what to call it exactly, it has become an integral part of my daily life. My stress management and self-care skills would be severely lacking without it.

I’ve kept the index, the yearly/monthly/weekly spreads, and a bit of the bullet noting system from the bullet journal concept. The minimalist look and feel of a true bullet journal just didn’t quite do it for me, however. I wanted something warmer and a little more eclectic to fit my style and personality. To solve that, I’ve added trackers of different sorts and some artsy elements to liven things up a bit. Those trackers and the spaces I’ve intentionally left for creating art is where the self-care bit really shines through.

Self-Care

Each year/month/week I draw out a new spread, and every spread has a different color scheme/doodle/feel to it. This gives me a chance on a regular basis to tune everything else out and create some type of art for a minimum of about 20 minutes. For me personally, this is incredibly relaxing and rewarding. Allowing myself the time and space to be creative has proven to be a necessity in my mental health, so of course integrating that into my journaling experience was going to be a given.

The trackers I’ve added are for things like mood, weight, and health. For example: I have a seizure disorder that I recently started getting medical attention for, so I track when seizures occur. My mood tracker is laid out over an entire year with a block for each day. At the end of every day, the block for that day gets colored in with a color that matches my code for the mood that prevailed. Green for “good,” yellow for “okay,” orange for “bleh,” and red for “sh*t.”

The trackers are particularly useful for keeping an eye on patterns in your mood/health/finances/etc. This allows you to easily look back on them and reflect. Self-reflection has been a really important thing for me these days as I focus on healing and recovering. I’ve realized that I am particularly inept at listening to my body when it’s trying to tell me something and my trackers have been instrumental in allowing me to pay more attention. Even just the act of filling in the trackers on a regular basis is really helpful because it keeps me more aware of those things throughout the day.

My Setup

The setup I have right now is mostly a mismatched collection of things we already had around the house. Things like a cheap ball-point pen, a set of Cra-Z-Art colored pencils, and sometimes my Staedtler marker pens (though they have a tendency to show/bleed through). I did purchase a Moleskine dot-grid notebook, which is the one I’m using now, because I wanted to try the dot-grid style and I’ve always been a bit partial to Moleskine notebooks. I definitely enjoy and recommend dot-grid notebooks for this type of journaling, but any notebook will do. It all just depends on what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.

Of course if you do any kind of online research for journaling, you’re going to see a very wide variety of things that other people have done. Especially on Pinterest. Everything from clean, simple, minimalistic stuff, all the way to almost entirely art notebooks with watercolors, markers, paints, etc. Don’t get overwhelmed. Start off simple. Then, as you get more comfortable in the routine, you can add more things as you please. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to be tempted to try everything all at once. Resist that urge. Just trust me on this. Allow yourself the time and wiggle room to try new methods slowly, so that you can find exactly what it is that works for you.

And that’s it for now!
Until next Monday, cheers to you and yours and happy journaling!