The Art of Showing Up

The Art of Showing Up

My sophomore year of college, while I was on the women’s varsity swim team, I struggled a lot. I struggled with sleeping, eating nutritional meals, getting to class, doing my school work, dealing with and managing the stress and anxiety of everyday life and with motivating myself to be a contributing member of the swim team. I was undiagnosed at the time and was probably dealing with the undiagnosed symptoms of bipolar disorder. Stress, college, being around 20 years old seemed to be a high trigger for feeling out of control and symptomatic.

I put so much pressure on myself to be the star student-athlete. I put pressure on myself to perform to make my teammates, my athletic department, my advisors, my family and my university proud of me. I put pressure on myself to be viewed as a hardworking athlete. I mentally, emotionally and physically drained myself so much by doing this that I just couldn’t keep up with my efforts anymore. I wasn’t swimming fast, I wasn’t being positive and it was showing to everyone, everywhere. I was beating myself up for it. It was a negative, never-ending cycle. So, once day, I stopped.

I decided there would be no more “swimming for my school” and “swimming for my coaches” and “swimming for my team”. I would go to practice and swim for me to make me happy and make me a better athlete; this meant that I would show up, jump in the pool and if I wanted to try that day, I would and if I felt like just floating around all practice, that’s what I would do. It completely changed my entire season.

I was in control, all I had to do was show up. I went to practice and during the first few minutes of warm up, I always consciously made the decision to workhard each day and I had a great season, even with a rocky start. I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to meet other people’s standards, I made my own and it was simple. Show up.

This week, I started the week the same way I did when I was beating myself up. I had a full, daunting work week ahead of me, in addition to the half marathon training I started recently. I felt weird, off and symptomatic. This whole summer I was afraid of having an episode since sometimes I feel like I’m “due” for an episode. I spent the summer exercising a lot, traveling and I was drinking more which, always leads to my meds being off.

I switched my black and white thinking and made myself believe I just needed a few days or a week of routine and I’d be okay again. I wasn’t going to go to the hospital or back on medical leave. I just needed to show up and get back into my routine.

But, that stretch of time took patience and tested my ability to just show up to run, to my commute, to work and every thing I had planned for the week. So that’s what I did. Each morning, I set my alarm for my morning run and I just showed up. I did each run, even when I didn’t want to. I told myself to just step outside and start, if I wanted to stop, I could. I had the same mentality that if I didn’t want to push myself, I wouldn’t. Naturally, I did push myself and accomplish more this week than I had in my past weeks of training.

When I was coming home from work yesterday I thought, what did I accomplish this week at work? And to be honest, I told myself nothing. I didn’t do anything great. I actually have been putting things off. I was not very productive but, I showed up. And sometimes that’s all it takes. I just have to show up. Showing up can mean different things and showing up can lead to different results.

I’ve found with my illness, sometimes its the beginning of something that is the hardest. It’s telling someone when I feel off. It’s sitting down at my desk at work and just showing my face or answering a phone call. It’s taking the first few strides of a run. It’s texting a friend a few times back and forth. It’s just showing up.

Showing up comes up in varying degrees but always has a positive result. For me, with athletics, when I show up, I have the natural drive to push myself. With work, showing up sometimes literally means just showing up. I will feel good that I came and gave my day the structure it needs.

Showing up can take a lot of effort but once I show up, I’ve already accomplished so much and I am only in the position to do so much more.

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Always. Check on your strong friend.

About a year ago, I had just finished up my medical leave and was heading back into my very stressful and intense job. I had been released from the hospital, did a few weeks of an outpatient program and ultimately, I partied for weeks.

I did not take care of myself. I did not recover. I was still unwell. I didn’t learn how to live a stable life. I just kept riding the manic wave.

I went back to work with ADA special accommodations. I could leave for doctors appointments. I had shorter hours. I had a lower workload. But, I still struggled. And to say struggle is an understatement.

After one week, I quit my job. After a meeting with HR, I felt if I had to stay there, I cannot live. I walked out of that meeting with tears down my face, left work at 10 in the morning with no hopes to return. I was writing my final letter in my head. The one thing that stopped me was my father. My dad and I have always been extraordinarily close and I couldn’t imagine ever saying goodbye to him.

I knew I didn’t want to live the life I was living but, I also didn’t want to say goodbye to the people in my life. I was having these awful suicidal thoughts and I felt stuck.

Quitting my job was one of the hardest decisions. At one point, I was doing really well. I had great benefits and I made good money. I had friends and I worked in a nice office building. I was truly happy for a while until I became sick.

And then the environment became toxic. It became so toxic I didn’t want to live another day there.

My black and white thinking turned from thinking I could conquer my return to completely shutting down.

Ultimately, I quit my job. My dad said there’s no way I’m going back to the hospital. So I quit. And I worked full-time in a retail store. I spent about 6 months there before I spiraled downward again.

I walked around my neighborhood and I obsessed about who would take care of my cats once I passed. I texted my mom and asked her to please not give them away. I was so worried. I was so scared of living. I enrolled myself into an outpatient program because I felt myself falling into this anxious obsessive suicidal thinking with no way of getting out.

I am so lucky. There have been so many moments when I wanted to give up. There have been so many moment where I was so close to giving up. But, I didn’t.

I don’t know what I did. I asked for help. I was open about it. It’s pretty obvious when I’m not doing okay and I guess that’s what saved me. I have a hard time filtering myself around my best friends and parents. Not everyone is as lucky as I am. But I’m so happy I’m here today. And I’m so happy for everyone else who pulled through a hard time. As always, we do it together.

A Common yet Simple Misconception.

It took me a long time to accept my diagnosis. I didn’t know what was “wrong” with me for a while. My parents didn’t accept it fully and I lost a lot of friends. It wasn’t easy and I felt very personally attacked when it was discussed. I was offensive and I didn’t like feeling “crazy”

It’s been a few years and I’m lucky it’s only been a few years. I know people go a long time without getting the proper help. A lot has happened to get me here but, I know what works for me. I know the structure, self care, support systems, etc. Do I always follow it? No. But I have a good sense of how to function in society.

As a result of me feeling confident in my illness, I’m more open to talking about it at length with people. I don’t feel attacked. I can take the emotion out of it and tell stories, tell facts or just have a discussion. A common thing that has come up with multiple people are the medical providers I have.

It blows my mind every time it comes to this.. people don’t know what a psychiatrist is and what a therapist is. I have had multiple people ask the difference and why can’t a therapist prescribe medication.

For having a mental illness it seems a little obvious. But, for how common mental illness is, and how I feel the stigma is reduced through social media, organizations, TV, etc. it’s still something so foreign.

It’s a little frightening but I’m very happy to be in the place I am that I can help educate one more person out there whether it’s teaching someone what a psychiatrist is or what a manic episode may seem like.

The Best One Year

After being in and out of hospitals for 2 years. I am officially 1 year inpatient free. Yesterday, July 31st, one year ago I was discharged from McLean hospital for a manic episode. I’ll write more later, my original post was accidentally deleted grrr but I wanted to post this

Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way. And thank you to everyone who has let me help them. I didn’t do it alone. We do it together ❤️

Check On Your Strong Friend

“Check on your strong friend”

The phrase that went viral a few weeks ago after we lost some pretty amazing people. The phrase that highlights that people who seem put together on the outside, may actually be breaking and screaming in the inside. The phrase that is trying to break the stigma of asking for help and the stigma of showing weakness, especially in times of crisis.

I am the strong friend. I’m there to listen to my friend complain about co-workers or how a work meeting went really bad. I’m there when my friend is going through a mental health crisis with her brother and I check in to make sure she and he are okay, even if she isn’t talking about it. I FaceTime my friend from New York City who cries about her ex-boyfriend from 6 years ago. I give my friend motivation to hit an athletic goal and encourage her to sign up for a race, even though she has a track record of not showing up. I offer suggestions to my friend who hates her job and mentally help her stick it out. I’m there to plan a weekend getaway when we feel like we’re itching for a change of scenery and need to get out of the city. I’m there for my friend who needs to decompress, get sushi for dinner and sit outside in my courtyard in the warm weathered evenings.

I’m reliable, accountable and I’m the strong friend. I provide. I always have.

I also have a lot of my own problems. It can become exhausting to be the strong friend when I’m not taking care of myself, but helping others before I help me. I feel taken advantage of, my needs are ignored and I no longer hold my friends to the same level of trust and accountability.

“You can’t pour yourself from an empty cup”

In the beginning of June, I drew a boundary. I put self-compassion and self-care first. I felt burned out. I still do. But, I’m filling up my cup, slowly.

My boundary has caused a lot of tension. I have only been looking at it from my point of view but, my friends likely feel as if I have abandoned them.

I am the strong friend. Probably because I’ve been through so much therapy, by the transitive property, I am a therapist to them. I’m the strong friend because I’ve been shaped to be the strong friend through my experiences. I’ve endured a lot of pain, I’ve struggled with more than people my age do, I’ve carried an immense amount of shame, I’ve felt belittled and degraded, I’ve been exposed to trauma and I’ve truly neglected my own personal, physical, emotional and mental needs. But it’s made me strong and it’s given me an enormous amount of compassion. My journey has made me the reliable friend, the one who is there and shows up.

I’m the strong friend.

Check in on your strong friends. Always. Check in on yourself. Always. If no one is checking in on you, remind yourself that you are enough and find what fills your cup so you can feel strong again.

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When the Wave of Life Burns You Out

This week hasn’t been my week. I was away on Cape Cod for the weekend and came back to an apartment with cat throw up on my bed, my baskets of clothes knocked onto the floor, some more food thrown up on the floor, the stench of all of these things, an empty fridge along with my soaked suitcases and grocery bags that needed unpacking.
I was happy to be home and happy to be in my apartment with my cats. I was ready for the week, until I realized on Monday that I wasn’t.
Monday morning, I couldn’t wake up. I usually swim in the morning before work and after work. I couldn’t make it to either. I gave myself the day off of swimming. The mess of my apartment completely made my brain into a corn maze that I couldn’t make sense of.
Tuesday morning, I dragged myself to the pool, feeling unmotivated and then feeling guilty for feeling unmotivated. I had no self-compassion, I wanted to push myself to keep showing up and giving my best. I have a big 5k open water ocean race next Saturday that I should be excited for. I’ve worked so hard and I’m in the final stretch, where’s my enthusiasm for what I’ve been working towards?? I felt this wasn’t my best effort and why couldn’t I push past it? In that moment, it was. I couldn’t give anymore, so I let my Tuesday afternoon swim be much shorter than planned.
I did not want to admit that I feel burned out.I know I am. This isn’t self-care. This is self-sabotage. I’m in a cycle of doing things that make me feel exhausted and then I’m looking for a life raft but I end up with someone drowning me even more. It’s nothing I haven’t done before and I know this feeling is temporary. It’s hard, nevertheless.
On days or weeks like this, sometimes I have to turn notifications for text messages off. I have turned off my email notifications about a month ago and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I am in control of when I want to read my emails, they don’t control me.
I have to take a step back from my hectic schedule and put me first. Me as myself, a person with needs. I have to put myself as an athlete, as an employee, as a friend and as a daughter on the back burner. And that’s okay.
I have a daily quote next to my desk on a 365 calendar and today’s quote was SO relate able.
It says,
“When you’re drowning you don’t say, ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me.’ You just scream.” – John Lennon
That’s how I feel right now. I’m screaming. I think back to when the post “Check in on your strong friend” was going viral a few weeks ago and I think of how people portray me as the strong friend and deservingly so. I am the strong friend but right now, I have to be strong enough to say no and take care of me, especially since no one, except my father, checks in on me.
I have to take care of myself and right now, swimming is not taking care of me and that’s okay.
Self-care for me this week is sleeping in, having self-compassion for doing less than I usually do, taking leisurely walks home from the office instead of frantically biking through rush hour traffic, laying in my bed with my cats and being surrounded by things that motivate me, cutting my magazines to make happy collages, going to therapy, and reminding myself that this feeling of being burned out is going to end.
I’m going to make it through. I will be okay. I am strong and no feeling lasts forever.

 

What A Great Weekend

This weekend was really great.

I’m going to say I went on a little “Lithium Holiday” so I went about a week without it and my anxious, irritability and stress levels were very high as the week was ending and even throughout the weekend.

My dad, as much as I love him, I have this relationship with him where I feel his anxiety and his stress so at times, it became too much. But regardless, I had an amazing weekend.

Saturday morning we left Boston at 6am for Cape Cod so I could swim in the ocean. Something, I’m doing for a competition in July and something I don’t really enjoy doing. I prefer pools, they have walls, lines on the bottom, a system of how people move throughout the lane. Open water is a completely different game.

But, we met this amazing group of people who come out every weekend and swim together about 2 miles on Saturday and Sunday and then have breakfast at a nearby market. They invited me into their group and my dad and I ended up going to the Cape again on Sunday.

Today, during my swim, for the first time in years, I felt so strong. I felt like I connected with my body again. I wasn’t swimming to wish calories or what I ate last night away. I was swimming with the power and strength that I had built these last few weeks and months. I haven’t felt proud of what I could physically do in a long time. After stress fractures, struggles with competing while hungover, etc. I didn’t remember how it felt.

I’m on this high. I want to go back to the Cape every weekend (luckily, I got an open invite to stay and swim with them whenever I am able to!) and I’m ready to commit myself back to this sport. It gave me so much joy in so many different ways that I see it again and I want it back in my life.

After the Cape open water swim, my dad and I went to this Boston Oyster “farm-to-table” learn to shuck an oyster where I met more swimmers! It was so crazy. It was like the most serendipitous moment.

I’m at this point where I feel like my friends aren’t supporting me, my health, my goals, my overall well-being and I feel like right now, there’s this sign from the universe that I have these new people who can bring better into my life and I can also bring better into my life.

I had all these annoying mood symptoms throughout the weekend but I faked it til I made it and, I am happy.

And Happy Father’s day to all the dads out there!!! What would we be without you!

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