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The first time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I sat across from my psychiatrist and watched her draw a wavy line on a piece of paper.
“These,” she said, “are your moods.”
The line immediately made me think of the ebb and flow of calm waves in a harbor. I cocked my head to the side and thought, “That doesn’t seem so bad.”
Then she reached for a thicker pen and began drawing again. This time the waves were bigger, the peaks much higher, and the valleys dismally lower. The bay turned into a violent ocean, whipping debris from all the ships stranded at sea.
“These,” she corrected, “are your moods when you have bipolar disorder.”
This simple illustration landed hard.
It explained the days of elation, like I could conquer the world. It also helped me understand the dismal depression that I often felt. Those waves explained why one moment, I could be charging hundreds of dollars on plane flights and then be suicidal just hours later.
I’ve lived with bipolar disorder for almost two decades now. Like many chronic illnesses, there are days where it’s seemingly unbearable. There have been moments when I’ve been convinced that my brain was broken beyond repair. But, more than that, there have been stretches of months where life is good. Where I’ve built a family, a career, a life that I love.
Trust me, my path to wellness has been a journey. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way that have helped me manage my mental health:
It’s easy to disregard our mental health symptoms as “having a bad day” or as “being too emotional.” If your mental health is impacting your daily life, I suggest seeing a specialist for a diagnosis. A specialist has experience with the nuances of different mental health issues and can provide you with more effective treatments than a general practitioner.
Perhaps it’s coffee with a friend, a heart-to-heart with a trusted family member, or (my favorite) a weekly session with a licensed counselor. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those. Either way, find someone that you can trust and confide in on a regular basis.
Find what feels good for you in this season and go with it. It could be walking your dog. Powerlifting. Perhaps it’s swimming laps or playing soccer. Studies have shown that regular exercise helps increase your brain’s serotonin production, so try to exercise 3-5 times a week.
A mental illness trigger is something that tends to make your symptoms worse. For me, it’s lack of sleep. For other people, it can be alcohol, spending too much time on social media, or perhaps a toxic person from their past. Take some time to learn what your triggers are and work hard to navigate around them.
At the end of the day, I encourage you to remember that mental illness is a diagnosable disorder. It is not a lack of personal discipline, an inability to shift to a more positive perspective, or a weakness of character. All illnesses can benefit from wellness practices such as movement, meditation, and self-care. Often, though, these practices must be balanced with professional medical supervision and medications. Repeat after me: there’s no shame in my SSRI game.
Want more mental health and wellness talk? Follow Paula on Instagram at @paulatamarahoss to read more about her story and tips!
Pride Month offers numerous events where members of the LGBTQ+ community can celebrate who they are. But June is also a good time for everyone to show support for their LGBT friends, relatives, co-workers, and workout partners.
We spent some time with LGBTQ+ business owners Kyle House and Kyle Miller (the Kyles) who own Kyle House Fitness in Chattanooga, TN, to hear from them about their tips to being a better ally inside and outside the gym.
Here are three things they say are important to remember when strengthening your commitment to being a good ally in the community.
The saying, “Knowledge is Power” isn’t just a cute tagline, it can be the best place to start.
In 2020, individual identity has expanded dramatically, and this can make understanding and connecting with people in and outside the LGBTQ+ community more complicated. With new terms entering our worldwide vocabulary, it’s important to have a general understanding of terms so you can easily have conversations and connect with people who identify with these terms.
The good news is, The Trevor Project has made a great resource to help us better understand the terms in their online glossary.
Learning terms are just a starting point, but the most important thing to remember is that the power of the word lies in the individual who identifies with it. What that means, simply put, is never label someone with a term. The power to own a label is their own, and when speaking with someone in the LGBTQ+ community, you never want to take that power away from them. The easiest way to ensure you avoid this misstep is the practice of inquiry over advisory. Ask more questions and let the answers drive the conversation. But, don’t directly ask, “are you gay” or “are you bisexual.” Start just like you would with anyone else, and if you are interested in learning more about an individual's identity, an easy opener is “are you in a relationship?
When we learn about someone, and when we have a positive connection—especially as an ally—it's easy to be excited, and you may want to show support by sharing your interaction with an LGBTQ+ person.
Remember, coming out is one of the hardest things an LGBTQ+ person can have, and it’s not a once and done type of thing. LGBTQ+ people are constantly “coming out.” Whether it’s to family, old friends, new friends, co-workers, or people they interact with each day, LGBTQ+ people are coming out on a daily basis. The last thing you want to do is say something to others that a person shared with you. Building trust is key, and if you can connect with someone and build trust with them, you will be a huge help in allowing them to drop their guard and be more authentic in their daily lives.
As the world continues to grow during a trying time, one thing has become very evident. Prejudice and the power that allows it to exist and grow can be found in the most subtle of things said or actions taken.
If you hear something or see something, say something. I know, another catchphrase, but it’s an easy rule to follow.
Being an ally and a builder of an inclusive community starts with your own expression of what’s acceptable in the environments you call home. If you hear someone make an anti-gay joke or a crude comment, let them know you don't appreciate it. Not only can small statements and actions have an adverse effect on the overall environment, they could be that one small thing that makes a vulnerable person give up on pursuing their goals to be a happier, healthier person.
Hold that close to you as a responsibility, and you might even teach someone else that there’s a better way to engage with others who don’t look, act, and live like they do.
Want to try a Kyle House Fitness class? Check out their schedule!