Monday, 17 June 2013

Embrace the Crazy

Through my journey with mental illness, I think one of the hardest parts has been accepting who I am. When you are young, you want to fit in, especially as a teenager. Conversely, you want to stand out and get noticed so that your peer group accepts you. Teens are miserable human beings. So few truly know themselves because so many will sacrifice who they are for who they want be friends with. It's an incredibly hard time. Looking back on my teens, and having raised a couple boys through theirs, it amazes me that any of us survive this time. It's shocking how judgmental and unaccepting teens can be.

When you mix in mental illness, something that is difficult to understand as an adult today let alone as a teen twenty plus years ago, I wonder how I made it through. Well actually I do know. I completely suppressed anything that was natural to me in an attempt to be normal. Yea, that didn't work. Just made it worse.

It wasn't until about six years ago that I decided to "embrace the crazy", as I like to say, and accept who I am. It took twenty years, but I finally am happy with who I am. I've accepted my mental illness. Like many other illnesses, I can't just wish it away. I've had to learn how to live with it. Part of embracing the crazy for me has been to be open and honest with others about who I am. I now refuse to hide who I am. 

That doesn't mean I walk up to strangers and say "Hello my name is Kay and I'm batshit crazy. Wanna do lunch?" There still is stigma. I can't wish that away either. However, I do have the power to educate people. After I've gotten to know someone a bit, I casually drop little pieces of info about myself to test the waters. Generally it's greeted with a bit of intrigue which then is my opening to start and fill in the blanks and tell my story. I've found most people will actually ask questions to better understand me rather than run screaming from the room. Who knew being honest with yourself and others could be so beneficial for all of us?

I never used to have acquaintance friends because I had such extreme trust issues regarding my crazy head. Not anymore. I have learned to stretch my friendship circle further than I could ever imagine. Now I don't tell every dark deep secret to every single person. I have my set of boundaries, but they have been pushed even further than most non crazy people. That's because of my honesty. I choose to not lie or hide my past from others. I can honestly say (pun intended) that I'm 99% honest. "Of course I love those plaid polyester trousers you sent me mom! They're awesome!" I think you can see where that one percent is necessary.

I know some people are gonna read this and try to call bullshit, but it's true. Don't believe me? Call my former coworkers of five years at the restaurant I worked at before I moved out of the country. Restaurants are gossip monging cess pools, but I was immune because my life was flopping in the wind for all to see. And you know what happened? They all learned to accept me just the way I was and actually looked up to me, although part of that might have been because I was twice their age.

So what about the people who didn't receive my hints about my past and my crazy so well? Guess what? I have the power to not hang out with them. I can just walk away. There's billions of people on this planet and the close minded are not on my list of friends. However, I have always kept in mind that perhaps they themselves have circumstances that make them reserved and untrusting. Maybe they have problems I know nothing of so rather that judge them, I simply let them be. We all have our skeletons now don't we?

I know a lot of people are going to read this and can't imagine living as openly as I choose. Hell, if you had told me way back when that I would be so open, I would have laughed in your face. And maybe living this openly isn't for everyone. But learning to accept yourself the way you are is and always will be the best way to survive this life. Like they say, you've only got one life, so you might as well embrace your crazy and enjoy it! Happy trails!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Oops... Busted!

So a funny thing happened to me today...

Quick background for reference:  My husband and I live in a town in the middle of England. Our neighbourhood is fairly average. Rows and rows of detached and semi-detached terrace homes. So your neighbours are very very close. We are friendly enough with the couple next door, "Dan & Marta", but other than small talk in our front gardens on a nice day, we don't interact. They have a baby and have been doing extensive remodelling the last few months.

... So I was coming back from a late morning wander in the woods. And as I was going past, I decided to peek in Dan and Marta's front window to see how the work has been coming along. And as I started to press my face to the glass, Marta opens the window! Oh so mortifying. I quickly play it off like I had seen her and was trying to get her attention, which I did. I started making up small talk. Turns out Marta only works weekends while Dan works weekdays. So like me, Marta is home alone most of the time staring blankly at the TV in between chores (though she's a little busier with a baby). The other commonality is that neither of us drive, so we are both limited on where we can go.

To make a long story short (too late!), we ended up walking up to the grocery store together this afternoon. Marta also invited my husband and I over for Dan's birthday next Saturday for a couple drinks. We also agreed we needed start hanging out, whether walking to the shop or just sipping a glass of wine in the garden.

I made a friend! Completely by accident. I was just being nosy. But I made a friend! Yea me!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Pet Peeves

Pet peeves. Everyone has them. Everyone is annoyed by them. Some common ones that annoy me personally are using the incorrect form of "there, their, they're", people who squeeze toothpaste from the middle and leave the cap messy, and people who litter right next to a trash bin. Really? You couldn't take an extra step?

However, not everyone reacts to them in the same way. Those of us with a mental illness can take what would be a little annoyance to the average person and turn that molehill into a huge mountain. Someone with OCD regarding cleanliness will find it nearly impossible to visit someone else's home. I mention this example because frankly it's probably the most well known overreaction to a pet peeve. We even have reality shows dedicated to OCD'ers helping hoarders declutter and clean. We can see how dramatically it affects someone with a mental illness to be thrown into their own nightmare. I'm not a fan of these shows because I fear that most people who watch will see the OCDer as a freak, further stigmatising them. Watching someone have a panic attack is not entertainment to me. However, if the message gets across of what a challenge it is for someone with mental illness to face their fears and overcome them, then maybe it's helping our community.

I've always just chalked up my overreactions to pet peeves as a huge character flaw of mine. I'm now coming to realise I don't really have much control over my emotional responses to certain triggers. I can do my best to control my outward reaction, but often that just makes the internal reaction that much more painful. My journey of self discovery regarding my illness has just now made me realise this about myself. One of my biggest peeves is when things aren't put away in their place. I am by no means a clean freak, I just want things where they are supposed to be. And taking like items and placing them several different places, absolutely drives me nuts. All bakeware should be together, gardening tools together, pots and pans neatly nested. If you don't have time to put it away in the appropriate place, then leave it out. Unfortunately, my husband is a "I hate clutter but don't care where he stuffs things" kind of guy. It's maddening to me!

Since I'm just now realising these reactions are part of my illness (not the average normal person's reaction), I've been doing quite a bit of reflection. My poor husband is the recipient of my undiluted knee jerk reactions since he is the one who hates clutter and is perpetually tucking things away in odd places. As I started really analysing my behaviour, I started reflecting back on past situations. One time, while living with a girlfriend, I went into a complete tailspin trying to marry up a plastic ware bowl with its coordinating lid. You know the ones. All the companies make them slightly different so you have to use their matching lid. I'm sure most homes now have a ridiculous amount of these ever so handy items. Perfect for leftovers, crafts, etc., we cram them in every nook and cranny of our kitchens. On this particular day, my crazy head had had enough so I pulled all of the bowls and lids out of every cabinet (and yes they were scattered all over the place) and spread them out on the kitchen floor and proceeded to marry up like pieces. My roommate was howling as I cussed and threw lids without bowls and bowls without lids across the room.

Looking back on this day, and other similar instances, I now understand my illness causes these ridiculous, sometimes hilarious reactions. I just wish I could laugh about it all the time. My husband and I got into it regarding our garden sheds a couple weeks ago. I came completely unglued throwing things and eventually stomping off like a child. I went off to the woods and watched the ducks swim for a while to calm down. When I returned I apologised to my husband for my behaviour, but explained that I can't completely control my reactions. A normal person would rant for a moment then move on with their lives. I can't. I stew over why he keeps putting things away in the wrong places. Is he trying to mess with my head? Doesn't he realise how crazy in makes me? We talked about the situation. I explained that the clutter that bothers him pales in comparison to my emotional response to things being out of place. He promised to try and put things away properly for me.

I suppose it's somewhat good to now know these emotional responses are part of my illness, but it's also deflating. Just another thing that I have to be aware of and deal with. Is it any wonder so many of us our exhausted all the time and have so many limitations on what we can do? 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Have I Got Hobbies?!?!

Even though I have been dealing with this illness for over 25 years, I find I still learn new things everyday about how it affects me. These things are generally disguised as normal things that most people deal with, but since I'm not exactly normal, they all affect me differently. For example, my never ending rotating list of hobbies. Even though I recently wrote about how I have trouble focusing on one hobby at a time, I didn't completely see how that has affected me my whole life.

Yesterday, I had a consultation with a nurse at my new family doctor's office. Since medical records aren't shared across international lines, it fell on my shoulders to provide as much history as possible. When the nurse hit the multiple entries regarding my mental health, the inquiries began. I choose to manage my illness without medication with the exception of the occasional anti-anxiety as needed. She was a little surprised by this considering my lengthy history. She asked me if I had any hobbies. Actually, it was more of a statement. My husband and I looked at each other and kind of laughed and simultaneously answered "billions". 

Suddenly it occurred to me that I'm not just a flighty person who bounces from hobby to hobby. It's all part of my illness. I suppose it's possible that "flightiness" is actually directly related to mental illness.

I've always been embarrassed and ashamed of this part of my personality. I've laughed it off, but deep inside it has always hurt. I've always just tried to will myself into having one activity going on at a time, but that actually causes me more stress. I always have doubts about my talent regarding my numerous creative outlets, so I tend to start then stop projects half way through. If I never complete a project, I can't fail at creating something great. Right?

Now don't get me wrong, I have completed projects, and when I do I feel epic. Sometimes inspiration hits me and I paint (or whatever) until I'm done. I actually become so immersed at these times that ten hours can pass and it will seem like ten minutes. But more likely I will have dozens of projects going on at once. I've never thought about it much, but I actually like it. One day I may paint, then go on a drawing spree, then switch to writing. It helps to have a little guidance, but I like that I have my little area of the house dedicated to my many projects (thanks hubby for that). So when inspiration strikes, I'm ready to go!

Thinking back, it's probably this part of me that allowed me to multi-task so efficiently back in my corporate robot days. My brain could bounce so easily from task to task and remember exactly where I left off. So strange to reflect on this and realise what I used to be able to do. But I had totally suppressed all emotion back then. Today my memory is such an unreliable thing. I can remember song lyrics, movie lines, worthless trivia, etc. but I have huge gaping holes in other frankly more important areas.

However, since "embracing the crazy", multi-tasking is not my strong suit. Oh I do it all the time. I just don't actually get anything done! But that's okay. My husband is learning how to gently nudge me in directions so I complete small tasks one at a time. I will probably always bounce around, but with his love and support maybe I can keep my billions of hobbies and occasionally complete a project and be proud of my accomplishment.