dear emmaline.

Dear Emmaline,

I am building a character out of my depression and your name was the first to come to mind. Right now, It’s 9:11PM on Thursday evening and I am in bed. I dreamt about climbing under my covers all day and now that I’m here, I actually have a moment to sit with my thoughts.

One comes to mind rather quickly–the fact that you’ve been acting up the last two weeks. I’m not sure if you sync up with the full moon’s cycle or it’s the weather driving you to behave in such dismal ways, but you’re giving me a reason to dip into my supply of Clonapin which is actually a “downer”. At least it makes me feel like I’m in a dream floating on air and immune to the energies of others. Perhaps I’ve been around too many people over the last several days. Maybe I’m pushing myself too hard to do all these exciting things and you’re promptly setting off alarms to warn me I’m doing too much.

Which is it? Why do we have to play this game where one day I feel completely in control and the next I am fighting the urge to crawl out of my skin? Because that’s how you make me feel sometimes–inadequate, unintelligent, uncomfortable and restless yet utterly exhausted. I look back on all of these great and wonderful things I’ve accomplished and I feel nothing. Rather, the excitement of some new venture is short-lived. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve cried over the last year and from my psychiatrist’s perch, he thinks this is good.

But I like to test you sometimes. Push your limits a bit. Forget to take my medication for two days just so I am reminded of the old times when we used to have so much fun in my mind and get so creative it was borderline mania. We’d just write and fill up notebooks and sketch and dream and then I’d cry because I was feeling something. But then, my mom notices my prescription bottle and checks how many pills are left because she knows me and my “moth to a flame” mentality. She knows I’ll double my Clonapin dosage on a Tuesday if I’m feeling extra anxious and that I’ll sit at work and try to unravel the mysteries surrounding mental illness while being unproductive in terms of my tasks related to my actual job.

Because doesn’t everyone dealing with mental illness have an Emmaline? The thing we try and suppress but miss dearly at times, as if you’re a part of us, because you kind of are. We’ve learned to make space for you at the dinner table and invite you out with our friends or significant others. You’re our excuse when we can’t pick up the phone or have very little urge to speak to anyone or go out into the world. You’re the friend who knows our darkest secrets, every scar, every memory we try to wash away with either countless therapy sessions or a bottle of wine.

There’s that saying, “Pick your poison.” On days like today when it’s rainy and blustery and my coat is soaked through the liner, I like picking you, Emmaline. I like knowing you’re still around and lurking in the shadows I once feared, that you won’t ever leave me because you are, in fact, a huge part of why I keep going. In darkness, dear Emmaline, you showed me I was able to rise from the ashes anew and carry on despite my depression. You showed me I could use my depression as a tool to help others suffering and how I could be a depressive but still function “normally” (whatever that means these days).

Even when I am inconsistent in my pill intake, which is rarely, you don’t invite me to fall down the rabbit hole but instead encourage me to use that thin space in time to devour myself in my blog posts or drawing or other artistic endeavor. For this, I am grateful to you, even when you’re acting up because I know it’s for a reason. You are, in essence, the annoying sister I never had. 

So today, I am choosing you, Emmaline. I am choosing to give you a name and identify you as an ally rather than enemy. I am offering you up as a presenter of possibilities rather than confining you to a stigma. I’m not sure why I chose “Emmaline”, but I’ve always imagined you with a name from another time period, perhaps a young rebel rouser who refused to wear pantaloons underneath her petticoats but went to church on Sunday mornings and volunteered at the nearest Red Cross.

Because depression, in its entirety, has an equal amount of darkness and light kind of like the rest of humanity. And so, you are born and you will remain something close to me for as long as I live. And to be perfectly honest, you’re welcome to hang out here whenever it’s warranted. You bring the inspiration. I’ll bring wine. 

In love and light,

Your host Brianna

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Introducing, Michelle Shea & the Chakras

My friends, I want to share something exciting with you. A friend of mine who I met through CorePower is a dynamo when it comes to all things New Age and yoga. I’ve been going to her for Reiki therapy for the last two months and the best description I can leave you with is “Wow”, especially if you allow yourself to be open to Reiki’s powers and succumb to its benefits. I invite you to check out her website. No matter where you live, Michelle can provide her therapeutic sessions and energy transfers via phone or video chat. And let’s be real–you know you’re just a little curious…

Here is a link to Michelle’s Heart Chakra Balancing Kit, which I have the pleasure of trying out for myself and is one chakra that seems to be the most in need of attention. There are several other chakra kits for purchase, but I encourage any and all of you to at least show her page some love. 

And as another shameless plug, look for a video post on the yoga mudras that I’m working on as well as some collaboration projects I have in the mix with some of my most favorite yogis and yoginis. ❤

Light and love, my friends…

On this cold, winter’s day

Current Chicago temperature: 1 degree with a windchill of -15 degrees. Welcome to winter and SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

Between the months of January and March, I fall into a rut like most depressed people do, in general. Unbalanced and groggy, I go through the days in a total fog and often find myself beating myself up for not wanting to get off the couch. My Fitbit, a recent Christmas gift, also taunts me as I look at the number of steps I could have taken or miles I could have run despite the winter chill. Dark skies at 6 AM make me want to throw the blankets over my head and hibernate through the rest of the winter months. This is obviously unrealistic since I have a full-time job, yoga teacher training, and posts to write for my blog, not to mention keeping energy levels up to maintain friendships which sometimes feels like another “to do” on my list (there, I said it).

I have also upped the dosage on my Prozac from 20 mg to 40 mg per a rather lengthy discussion with my psychiatrist. I initially started on 40 mg for my depression/anxiety/OCD and decided to drop to 20 mg/day because I was “feeling better”. After 3 months on 20 mg a day, I felt the warning signs of spiraling back into a depressive state of mind. So I went back to my psychiatrist, explaining the situation and honestly stating that I had decided to cut my medication in half because I thought I was feeling good. Of course, he smiled and said, “A good percentage of people prescribed antidepressants decide to either lower their dosage or stop taking the pills. It’s common.” I felt a little better knowing I wasn’t the only one with this mindset.

He continued on, “And how do you feel now?”
“Like I’m relapsing.”
“So what do you think we should do about it?”
“I should probably go back to 40 mg a day.”

And there you have it. I’m back on my prescribed dosage and am feeling a difference in productivity levels. Still, SAD is real, the winter blues are a struggle, and I still have days where I refuse to leave the comforts of my home. What I’ve come to learn is that it’s entirely acceptable to rest your bones if you’re feeling exhausted.

As a person with depression, it’s so important to take care of your mind and body. Don’t be hard on yourself. Allow time to recharge, regroup. If your bed is beckoning for you to stay in it, do it. If your eyes feel heavy, sleep. If your head is hazy, clear it by taking a day for yourself. Don’t judge yourself harshly because you spent your Sunday in your pajamas watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I am discovering that in order to function, we need to shut off the rest of the world, embrace SAD, and hop back into our routine when we’re ready. Some may say you’re lazy; I say you’re smart and saving yourself from a burnout or meltdown. Be gentle and kind to your soul and in turn, it will repay you by carrying your weight further than you imagined. Unplug, unwind, enjoy a day of gray skies and be grateful for this time when this world is constantly moving at warp speed.

Happy Monday, gems!

Half’d.

Half read books. Cans of half consumed Diet Coke. Half finished notebooks with half finished ideas scribbled on pages. Half completed projects I meant to start but got distracted or bored or overwhelmed by the amount of energy it would take for me to get to the end result.

Over the last couple of months, I have noticed a trend in my habits. That’s both the curse and the blessing of dealing with a mental illness–you become almost too aware of emotions and physical feeling in the body. At first, I thought hypersensitivity was an amazing gift to inherit from my depression, a silver lining in all the darkness. I quickly found my energy draining, my body aching and my appetite losing its familiar longing to create and accomplish. But lately, my attention has been directed toward my work environment. Getting out of bed Monday through Friday was growing increasingly difficult. I was setting more than the usual number of alarms. I even tried motivating myself with early morning yoga sessions or short runs outside. Maybe the extra exercise would lend me a boost out of this “funk”. Then, I started observing myself at work. Once a to-do task master, I was now becoming irritable and overwhelmed by all the things I could be doing but didn’t have the energy to actually start. I would begin one thing, find it irritating and immediately go on to the next item on the agenda which usually proved to be as equally irritating.

After evaluating my daily routine, I started to research. My creative bursts of energy happened less and less. These were the times I usually barreled through projects with senses of pride and enthusiasm. My extreme highs were met with even lower lows and I gave Bipolar Disorder some consideration. Maybe I had been misdiagnosed. Could I be suffering from ADHD? How did I evolve into this creature of complacency? How did I get like this? And like any depressive, my self-loathing and criticizing flared up.

On Saturday, I paid a visit to my psychiatrist. I cannot tell you enough how brilliant he is. That’s uncommon in the world of mental health, to get a good psychiatrist on the first try. I walked into his office not nearly as bad as I was when I initially started seeing him, but I didn’t want to risk of going down that horrific spiral again. So we sat across from each other, me sharing my observations about my habits and him half smiling, half studying my fidgety behavior. Nobody likes to show vulnerability but it’s the only way I know how to get the appropriate help necessary for me to thrive as a human. I recounted my feelings to him and we decided it would be a good idea to test me for ADHD.

“You’re normal on the scale. No ADHD is present. It is my professional opinion that you are just suffering from a case of adulthood. Everyone has tasks they hate doing. Procrastination is normal. And as for focusing on all the things you didn’t do, try shifting your mindset to focus on all the accomplishments you’ve made so far. Successful people always look at what they didn’t do well versus what they’ve actually achieved.”

Oh, well, that makes sense. So now what?

Well, here’s my action plan (and I think I stole some of these from around the Interwebs):

  1. Start small. I’m breaking down larger projects into smaller ones. I tend to look at the big picture and then immediately feel overwhelmed because it often feels “too much” for me to handle.
  2. Set breaks/rewards. My supervisor actually suggested this in a team meeting. For every task you completed, treat yourself to a short walk around the office, a coffee, a BuzzFeed article–whatever! I’m telling myself, “Okay, if I get X things done I’ll walk to Starbucks for a Peppermint Mocha.” It’s often just the right amount of motivation I need to get my ass in gear.
  3. Know your “peak performance” hours. I tend to work better in the morning but on days when I’m feeling really stressed, I work through as much as I can and do some work in the evening. I’m one of those people that thoroughly enjoys sitting in a coffee shop on a Sunday morning and working on my laptop. Something about being out of the office and wearing an oversize sweater…
  4. Priorities, people. Ugh, I actually hate this one because I tend to feel like everything or nothing is of the utmost importance. But now, I’m looking at tasks that have earlier deadlines and really are important.
  5. Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s true–depressives and anyone else dealing with mental illness work a bit differently than others with a “normal” work ethic. It’s not discrediting us as crappy employees because we are some of the most passionate, creative, hard-working people. We just have to find a way that works for us in order to get things done. Don’t be down on yourself because you feel like you aren’t as awesome as you thought you were. You’re perfectly competent and smart and amazing.

Oh, and Happy Monday!

All shapes and sizes.

“You don’t look or act depressed.”

Oh, the words that drives a knife right into my gut. What does your depression look like? How does your anxiety manifest? Society has drawn a representation of what mental illness should look like. If you’ve ever seen Girl, Interrupted you have seen one side of it. For so many years, numerous doctors and nurses and psychiatrists didn’t understand the complexity of the mind and its many ailments, so performing a lobotomy was the easiest solution. Thousands suffered at the hands of health practitioners and thousands more were left to their own devices often ending in suicide. The history of mental illness is not a pretty picture to paint and because mental health manifests into so many forms there is no one true way to portray someone suffering with a mental illness.

My grandma, a beauty queen, a polite, mild mannered, stunning human, suffered schizophrenia. Her later years as a grandmother would exacerbate her symptoms tenfold but on the outside, you would never guess this housewife was suffering agoraphobia and mind-altering illness. One of my good college friends is what I like to call a functioning depressive. Highly motivated, ridiculously brilliant and a PhD candidate at a top-notch university, she runs marathons, advocates for mental health awareness and loves to brunch. If she wasn’t so vocal about her own struggles, you would probably associate her anxiety with her PhD work. And what about me? I’m happy hence the title of my blog. I practice yoga to balance my anxiety, run when I have extra energy to burn and travel for work. I have a stressful job where life on the road can get the best of me, but no one suspects a thing when I’m traveling out of state because I’m on the ball.

I’m candid about my personal trials and triumphs because mental illness looks different and comes in all shapes and sizes. We aren’t all Angelina Jolie or Brittany Murphy with pale skin, disheveled hair and maniacal looks in our eyes. We’re actually quite, well, normal to most. Whether you’re purposely choosing to ignore signs of a mentally distressed human or you genuinely had no idea someone suffers from depression, OCD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. it’s important to pay closer attention to those subtle signs. Even if someone you know isn’t clinically depressed, a simple “How are you doing?” will suffice and does let the other person know that someone else cares.

Mental illness is an incredibly deceptive chameleon. It changes at the expense of our own denial and also at the oversight of others. There is no reason to place blame on anyone. The real message is that the wellness of ourselves and of others should be a top priority in helping to eradicate the stigmas of mental illness and having us all be labeled as humans, interrupted.