Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mental Stimulation and always striving for MORE

I got to really thinking about our brains and about the idea of mental stimulation. Now, granted, everyone needs mental stimulation because we are human beings. No one wants a life that is dull, boring or monotonous. But I think some people *cough cough – like me – cough cough* have more of an extreme need for this kind of stimulation than others. It has nothing to do with any sort of “mental illness” either. It’s just how I am. Let me dig into this a little more.

I made a video a couple of years ago, I don’t think I ever uploaded it though, about this idea. I believe I called it “over active brain.” I’ve kind of always been this way, with a constantly active mind, but I think it is increasing with age instead of decreasing. There are some times when I really feel almost like a computer and that I can just sit and have all this output spitting out from my mind through my hands or body. It’s kind of a cool yet intense feeling. I think perhaps this is why I have a tendency toward more elevated periods in recent years. I really honestly believe that the two sort of feed off each other. The more elevated you become, the more open your mind is and the more knowledge you can access. But it works the other way too. Actively working to use my mind for something somewhat strenuous causes my mind to open and then I can go on to become elevated. It’s a very interesting circle, a weird feedback loop going on.

Anyway, back to this idea of mental stimulation. I realized a few years back that I am a person that really needs it. Now, obviously, not everyone has mental stimulation all the time from outside sources. Sometimes our relationships are boring, jobs are boring, our day to day life is boring! For a long time I just accepted that. I would sit with my husband night after night in the dead of winter, bored, watching TV shows. UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH *clawing my brain* I became so mentally inactive it was terrible and my moods really suffered. I noticed I was sort of apathetic and my brain felt like it had started to atrophy and shrivel.

With day to day responsibilities, it can be hard to find time to engage in meaningful activities or interesting activities. But I finally decided I was going to. Writing has always been a really big outlet for me, and that is great, and I continue to blog, journal, write prose. But there are so many other things that I want to do/try and am starting to get into more. I find that when I get good at something, or have learned a lot about something, I become slightly bored with it and I need to move on to the next thing and attempt to master that. Obviously the more you do something the more adept you will be at it (generally, and especially if you have a passion for it. Now, if you’re repetitively doing the same thing again and again and don’t care, I dunno. Haha.) I get a weird kind of pleasure and excitement over the idea of mastering any sort of skill/concept/ability. Also it isn’t really narrowly defined in my case. It could literally apply to anything, as long as it’s challenging my thinking abilities.

In the world, there are endless possibilities.  I’m naturally a pretty creative person and so I gravitate toward those expressive areas – writing, music, art, literature. But really, anything that challenges my mind is exciting to me. Maybe part of that plays into the novelty of something. Naturally, everyone gets excited by something new because it’s unknown and you don’t know what to expect. Eventually the novelty of anything wears off though and you’re left seeking the next thing. So that can leave a person feeling empty if they don’t have something else to fill that gap. But I never ever have any shortage of ideas or things to fill it with. In fact, I think I have TOO much!

Most people wind down from their day at night, but I am the opposite. It’s when I’m most alert, I cannot wait for the day to be over usually and for 9 PM to roll around so that I can start purging my brain of all the things that are whirling inside of it constantly. And it’s really a gratifying feeling to be able to take something that is a mere abstract idea and make it into a reality simply by your sheer force of will and desire. To take something completely intangible existing only within the spaces in one’s mind and form it into something physical, concrete, and easily able to share with others is darn cool. Very very cool.

But at the same time, it can be a little tough to deal with. It leaves me restless sometimes because I have so much I want to do and seemingly so little time to do it and I get thwarted by just, well, day to day life. Also I get so interested in something, either wanting to do it, or learn about it, that I become obsessively consumed by it and the urgency can be unbearable. Like reading a book and not being patient enough to get through it, but wanting to siphon the entire volume of information into my brain at once. Or trying out a new skill, like video editing software, and not wanting to learn all the ins and outs but to just sit down and DO IT. That sort of furious, urgent NEED to do it can feel good and bad at the same time. Sometimes I gorge on something so much for so long I just drop it entirely. Then a couple months later, I circle back around and go back to it incessantly. It’s kind of bad too because I sometimes become so consumed with something I sacrifice sleep and even food because I don’t want to tear myself away from it. It’s almost like mental stimulation is like a drug to me, and I can be like that lab rat that gets administered doses of heroin and will keep pressing the button to get that pleasurable reward to the detriment of its own health. (Hey that just gave me another random idea about correlation between elevated states and addiction in our reward circuitry…interesting…)

Currently I am interested in getting some software/hardware to record music and voice, I am also interested in getting back into drawing (which I did as a teen and sporadically over the years) and trying my hand at painting, I’m interested in some makeup design as well, on top of all my usual reading, research, etc. etc. So much stuff…infinite possibilities…but so little time….

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Motivations and Needs - Are all people just selfish?

So today I want to write about this idea of motivation. Not really People Who Are Motivated To Do Stuff (e.g. ambitious, driven) vs. People Who Are Unmotivated To Do Stuff (e.g. lazy, procrastinating), but more of internal motivations for what we do as human beings. I’m always digging down, down, down, to the root of things and believe that everything starts somewhere. And where do our motivations for doing (or not doing) anything stem from? Well, ourselves of course.

Now, it might be said that I am at times cynical. However, I like to think of myself as a realist. I think of being cynical as more hard and skeptical of everything, whereas being a realist means you see it as it is and accept that THAT IS JUST THE WAY IT IS.

As a realist, I try not to get my hopes up about things that involve others because ultimately I do understand human nature and that innately, people are generally selfish. Whenever I mention this, inevitably someone will say to me “Not everyone is like that!” Or something to that effect. But really, it’s true!!! It’s not cynicism, it’s realism. And I’m going to tell you why.

If we really examine the motivations that other people have to do things, it typically comes down to one thing: themselves. Now, I guess I can’t really criticize because I am a human and so whatever I apply to other people I have to, by default, apply to myself. If all humans are by nature selfish, that means my own motivations are also selfish. Kind of an unsavory thought, but I can’t make an exception for myself just because I’M ME! Right? (Although, that is what everyone does!) I like to believe I think a little different than the average person in that I’m 1) self-aware enough to realize these things and 2) I admit them. People really never want to admit to anything negative about themselves because ultimately it will skew their entire self-concept. So they apply it outwardly and not inwardly. But, I’m doing it both ways in making a generalization about humans.

Now, this question of selfishness and motivation especially applies in intimate relationships (and I don’t mean intimate as in just lovers, but friends and family members too.) Essentially, I have come to see that people are motivated by what they get from someone else, not by what they give to someone else. In essence, most relationships are futile and worthless if you really get down to the bottom of it. They fill a need that someone has and beyond that, I can’t really say much else. People are only as interested in you as you are in them. Maybe that’s why some intimate relationships work well, because there is a reciprocal need that keeps being fed by the other and it becomes a back and forth cycle. People tend to think of this as “give and take” but realistically, it’s more about filling our own needs than theirs. We give hoping we will get in return. And if we don’t, we becomes angry, resentful and may leave the relationship entirely.

So anyway, let’s throw a few examples out there about how all motivations come down to selfishness.

SITUATION #1: You’re at the park and you exchange numbers with a person you had an interesting conversation with. They call you and invite you to go do something, and you agree. You go and have a good time and enjoy each others company. Sounds good right? Yes? Not really. How come? Look at the motivation. What is the underlying motivation? Are you REALLY thinking about them? Are they REALLY thinking about you? No. You each want to be around the other because of the way they make you feel ABOUT YOURSELF. Maybe they make you feel smart because you’re able to talk about really complex topics. Maybe you make them feel witty because you laugh at their jokes. They like that feeling. You like that feeling. So you continue to see them. They continue to hang out with you because of the way you make them feel ABOUT THEMSELVES. It’s reciprocal, but only as long as you each fulfill that need in the other person. When that stops, the relationship tends to end.

SITUATION #2: You have a friend that you have known for ten years. Obviously, you know a lot about each other because of the amount of time you spent together. Your friend moves away and begins living a new life. You’re still in the same place, living your life. You’re so consumed with your own lives that your contact becomes more and more sporadic. First it’s a week, then two weeks, then a month between contacts. You rarely hear from them, so you don’t bother contacting them either. Eventually, you realize you haven’t talked to them in a year. Your friendship falls by the wayside. Why? You NEED them to listen to you. It really has nothing to do with them. And they NEED you to be there for them, and it isn’t much about you. Do they really care that your dog died? Probably not (well, maybe on a surface level but it really doesn’t affect them at all). They’re too busy worrying about how they’re going to manage their first summer with kids after their divorce and they NEED YOU to listen. Do you really care about how their work is going? Not really, you’re too busy concentrating on your GRE’s and you NEED THEM to listen. So is the friendship selflessly motivated? Not really. It all boils down to our own needs. Our friend stopped listening to us and we stopped listening to them and therefore, we are no longer friends.

SITUATION #3, Part 1: Let’s make this a non-relationship related one. Let’s say that you just want to do a good deed for someone. You know the local homeless shelter needs donations of blankets. You decide to hand make one just so that someone will have something soft, cozy and comforting. You drop it off and the person who takes it smiles and thanks you and can see how you genuinely affected their day in a positive way. You walk away feeling good inside, and you decide to make some more blankets in the future to give away. Why do you keep doing it? Because YOU got a good feeling from it.

Part 2:             Let’s take that situation and give it a different spin. You make your blanket and when you give it to the person, they glance at it disdainfully, spit tobacco juice on it and say “I wouldn’t give that to a dog!” You walk away feeling crummy and wishing you had never done anything. Are you likely to make more blankets and drop them off? No. Why not? Because YOU DIDN’T feel good about it.

So you see, people do things for themselves first and foremost. The idea of altruism is something I would like to believe in, but ultimately, all I really see is selfish motivations behind anything that anyone does, whether it has a good outcome or not. Because after all, I’m not talking about outcomes here. I’m talking about what motivates people to have relationships, or what motivates them to do ANYTHING.And that is: what they get out of it.

Now that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy people’s company, that you can’t have relationships, that you can’t ever try to do something nice for a stranger or let them do something nice for you. What it does mean is that you can’t expect people to A) always be appreciative and B) always be there for you when YOU need them.

In the end, all we really have is ourselves (and isn’t that all we really care about deep down?) Once we stop filling the needs of others (whatever they may be) we get replaced by the next person that will. And we do the same back. It happens to everyone, all the time. No one is perfect, infallible or beyond it. It is just a fact of life. Cynical? More like realistic.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


I got my hair did! Yeah, I LOVE IT!!!! My hairstylist is the absolute BEST. :) And you know, pink is so girly!!!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Self Esteem

I’ve been thinking a lot about people lately – it’s never ending for me. I’ve been noticing patterns that people get into in their lives or relationships or in different forms. How they love, or don’t love, are attached or detached, selfish or altruistic, those sorts of things (mainly in the sense of how it relates to people in their relationships, friendships, families, jobs, etc.)

So then I got to thinking quite a bit about insecurity and self-love, and self-esteem.

Alright, we all have insecurities. No doubt. We are all human beings and none of us are perfect. It varies a lot from person to person but there is no one out there who feels 100% great about themselves 100% of the time. But, we CAN feel very good about ourselves and be confident about our abilities/skills/talents/appearance. But that involves acceptance of those things. If we are always trying to change things or wishing they were different or pushing them away it’s a sure recipe for feeling crappy about yourself.

Hard for me to admit now, but most of my life I had fairly low self-esteem. I was often told that I was attractive, smart or talented by my peers or people within an academic realm (“Your hair is gorgeous!” “You have the highest grade in class” “That was an amazing project” “I wish I could sing like you!”) Yet despite the positive messages I received from peers, in my personal home life, I really got none. It was sort of like a complete discredit to anything anyone else said. Why didn’t anyone in my actual life notice that I was smart? Why didn’t they tell me I looked pretty? Why didn’t I ever get told they were proud of me? I believed that it was because I really wasn’t any good and felt a sort of paranoia that the nice comments others made were somehow false or just lip service. So, really they wound up doing nothing for my self-esteem and it remained very low even into my adult years.

Having low self-esteem caused me to get into a lot of bad relationships and have bad experiences in general. In ways I’m sure I (subconsciously) allowed myself to be treated in a poor manner because I BELIEVED that I didn’t deserve any better. Sometimes the people actually told me that I didn’t deserve any better. It became this lifelong message drilled in – you’re not any good, you have too many flaws, no one is going to want to be with you and if they do you should consider yourself lucky.

Yeahhhhhh, not exactly messages conducive to feeling good about oneself, eh?

I’m not sure when the real turning point came. I think I simply had some realizations and insights into things after years of talking in therapy, discussing feelings and life experiences with friends and family and just stepping outside myself and DISTANCING myself from my feelings and taking a cold hard look at the reality of the situation.

Awhile back I came across some old papers I had from grade school. Report cards, projects, the works. I looked through them and was amazed because everything in there had positive comments, teachers singing my praises, high marks and just an overall glowing portrayal of me. I never ever saw myself that way and I think it really hit me then, wait a second. Why have I thought I was no good all this time? Why did I listen to the bad messages instead of the good ones? Maybe it’s because of conditioning. Maybe because as I got older the positive messages became less and less as I entered the adult world of work and relationships. I had forgotten all that stuff from childhood. But it came back to me and made me rethink things I previously thought about myself.

Most of my life I viewed self-esteem as something that needed to be bolstered by someone outside myself. I needed someone to like me to feel good, I needed someone’s praise to feel good. I was always a sensitive person and in ways I think that was more of a personality trait than anything. But it became completely maladaptive. It got to where I just internalized everyone else’s view of me and that is who I became. If someone thought I had done a nice job on something, then I was good. If someone thought I looked terrible, then I was ugly. It was the exact opposite of self-esteem. It really had nothing to do with self and everything to do with others.

When I finally started realizing all these things, I knew that in order to feel good, and I mean TRULY good (and not the fake front that you put on so that others can’t see your insecurities) you have to learn to LOVE YOURSELF FIRST. You have to love yourself even if no one else does. It’s very hard at first because you don’t believe it. You have to dig down, (sometimes wayyyy wayyyyy down) and find those things that you know make you special. Everyone has them. I do believe that everyone has something worth celebrating, whether that be that they are a great listener, a stellar cook, good with animals, a generous giver, or whatever. Everyone has something within them to celebrate, regardless of what those outsiders say. Loving yourself means holding onto those things and allowing yourself to revel in them. Don’t listen to the naysayers if they think your talent is useless or that you are just “no good”. What do they know? Generally, not much, especially if they are the types of negative people who would make such comments to begin with.

Now, my self-esteem has soared in the last couple of years and there have been so many positive outcomes from that. A) I accept myself more now and feel far far less of a need or even desire to change for anyone else B) I am more likely to go after the things I want because I know that I CAN achieve them and that it isn’t a futile goal or investment C) This is huge – my depression levels have gone WAY WAY down. I used to be incredibly depressed much of the time. Now I find that I am rarely depressed. And when I am it only lasts a day or 2 and then I pop back up ready to tackle the next thing. Having that self-esteem and self-confidence bolsters me into more positive thinking such as “I know I’ve got this” instead of “I’m just going to fail.” It gives me a lot more resiliency than I previously had. D) Whenever things DO happen that are negative, I don’t automatically attribute it to myself. I used to think anything and everything that went wrong was my fault. No more! I realize that when people do/say things to us, it often has more to do with how THEY feel about THEMSELVES and very little to do with us. Recognizing that helps keep things in perspective and realize, hey, they are just one (or two or three) people on the face of this earth. There are millions upon millions of people on the earth! Why should I care what a few negative nellies say???

So I really think that self-esteem is a core issue in so many problems, both social and psychological. We have to assess ourselves and ask, how am I doing? What can I do to pick myself up? True self-esteem comes from within and exists independently of anything else. It can be a hard road (in my case, 30 year road!) but completely worthwhile pursuit that really can change your life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I don't need fixing

I’m a roll with my blogging again. You know, I don’t think I’ve been this active on my blog since I first started it! I got really busy with my vlogging on YouTube and didn’t write much. I stopped journaling then also. Now I’m back into both and it is really fulfilling. I know YouTube reaches a wider audience, and I will still make videos but there is just something special about the written word…I don’t know why.

BEWARE!!! This post may be pretty triggering and upsetting to some. So, you have been warned.

So I’m going through a transition period. I’ve changed my YouTube channel name from Bipolar State of Being to Nicole For Real. Why? Because there is more to me than bipolar. Because honestly, I’m not sure I even view myself as “mentally ill” anyway. I don’t think I do. Being mentally ill implies that I have a disease, a “sickness”. Does having more intense moods than an average person qualify me as “sick”? Actually, in this country, yes. Sadly, I bought into it for a long time. I think I’ve gotten a lot of crap messages from people and society that told me I was defective and needed fixing. And I believed them. I thought I needed to fix myself, and I tried REEEEAAAAAAALLLLY hard to do that, to do all the things those people asked.

Grow a thicker skin and stop being so sensitive.
Quit being melodramatic.
Deal with it.
Quit complaining.
Take your meds.
Try harder!!!

Wow, so there is a lot to address there. Let me make a little list.

1)     Sensitivity. Sensitivity is not a character flaw, like many people try to make it seem. It is actually in many cases as asset. People who are sensitive, well, SENSE more. We feel more deeply, love more passionately, empathize wholeheartedly. I think most of this country at least, could benefit from a large helping of sensitivity. In ways it can be painful to feel such heightened emotions but it ways it is like enlightenment. So, do I believe I am flawed and need to “quit it”? Errrrrr, no. At times it causes me pain but at times it causes me intense joy.

2)     The med issue. Ok, this is huge and too big to get into it all now. But in short, I used to believe what everyone said, that I NEEEEED meds, that meds will make me better, that to be “responsible” I HAD to take them, etc. etc. etc. Never mind that they all had horrible side effects and a lot of the time, no real positive effects. But, you NEED them, “that’s what the doctors say!!!!” And we all know, the only people who are capable of making choices, being intelligent, or using their God given reasoning ablilites are doctors *insert sarcasm*. Certainly, “mentally ill” people have no right to challenge THE DOCTORS!!! Ok, so I didn’t. I deferred to them, the “professionals” I sucked it up, I ate the little white pills like a good girl should. Hmmm, those didn’t work. Try these. Now these. Now these. Now these. Oh, come on, one of these is bound to work!!! But…but…wait. Four years later, I wasn’t any better off than when I started! HUH????????

3)     Societal expectations. Alright so this is sort of a combination of the above two. Here’s how it works. We (the patient, the person, the one experiencing the moods, however you would like to describe it) have some difficulties functioning. We become depressed, or anxious, or Maybe suicidal. We, or others we know, insist that we seek help. What do we need help with? The terrible feelings we feel, learning how to deal with these feelings, trying to figure out what exactly we can do to STOP feeling these terrible feelings. We fit the criteria, and so we have a “disorder”. Now that we know we aren’t normal, and everyone else becomes aware that we aren’t normal, we have to do something. We have to fix it. We treat disorders by medicating them, right? 

So forgive me, I didn’t mean this to sound as scathing as it does (upon rereading) but it comes from a real anger.

So let me simmer down a bit and address in a more calming manner. What is my point here? My point is that people with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, BPD, (indeed, most mental illnesses) just WANT TO FEEL BETTER WHEN WE ARE DOWN. At times, we are grasping at straws, just trying to keep our heads afloat (yeah, I’m mixing metaphors there.) Many of us are actually relieved to GET the diagnosis of the disorder because now we are validated, our pain has been validated. All those people who told us to suck it up have been thwarted, they don’t have a leg to stand on because the medical community tells them it is “real”. You know what the saddest thing is? That people, as a whole, are so insensitive, that they need the medical community to TELL THEM that depression/anxiety/intense moods are real!!! I guess that is the really staggering thing to me.

Our society seems to be shining the spotlight on mental illness more, and in previous times, it was helpful. After all, anyone dealing with any sort of mental issue knows that what we really want is validation, acceptance, love, caring, empathy, NOT to be turned into somebody else. And often (depending on the issue), this can help more than medication. Some medications have been shown to be almost totally ineffective, yet they are still prescribed and touted as the way to treat certain mental illness. DOUBLE HUH??? Why??? Because that is the current idea in society. Take the little white (or blue, or red) pills and your life will get better. That’s the message we all hear, and we have to believe because we are offered no alternative. And don’t even think about mentioning God or spirituality. You will be labeled as even more severely ill than before. Because no mentally sane person could believe in God! *insert more sarcasm* Here, take more white pills, quick!!!

Now, back to my harping on society, and how we want validation, acceptance, love and empathy. It is because WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS not because WE ARE “DEFECTIVE” “SICK” OR “ILL”. Every single person on earth wants those things, especially when they are going through hardships! I personally am really tired of the patronizing labels. Many people with mental illness are intelligent, talented, charismatic, witty, outgoing, sensitive, or a host of other positive attributes. It’s anecdotally known (and I’m sure that I could dig up research as well) that people tend to seek help when they are in low periods. During these periods we describe our lives in the blackest of terms because that is how we truly feel. But when the period passes, our energy comes back to us, we may be positive and cheerful and going about our daily lives as usual. Some things may be long lasting, but virtually no mind is paid to any sort of social factors in our lives that could be affecting us (Are we having marital problems? Job issues? Money troubles? Kids suspended from school?) No, it’s just because we are sick. If we took enough white pills, we could cope with our cheating spouses and being laid off and having insane debts and kids acting out. Darn it, we are weak, we have diseased brains, that’s why we have problems and we need those pills!!! (Oh, and by the way, here is half my salary to pay for the pills that run $600 for a month supply. I just paid $20 a pill to feel crappier!!! TRIPLE HUH???)

People really seem to fall into two camps when it comes to the mental illness issue. They think either A) it isn’t real and that people are exaggerating or making things up or B) it is extremely serious and that you must treat any “mentally ill” person with kid gloves, or like they are a child or invalid. Now, neither one of these is really correct. Granted, I’m sure there are some people who exaggerate (not just illness but anything) and I’m sure there are people who are incapacitated or unable to function independently most of the time. But I believe many “mentally ill” folks like myself fall somewhere in the middle.

So let’s take me as an example. I’m not even sure how “severe” I would be classified as. It’s like the saying “When I’m good, I’m REALLY good, and when I’m bad, I’m REALLY bad.” Is that an indicator of severity? Does having more “severe” moods warrant special treatment above and beyond a “normal” mentally ill person? Now we’re getting into weird semantic categories that just get murky and confused and have people battling within their own communities over who is “worse off”. Holy cow, that is not one I want to win (although, to my chagrin, I at once believed I needed to!)

I am in no way demeaning anyone who has a mental illness (as it is currently called). When I first started moving away from all these negative messages that society is meting out, I was met by hostility by many in the mental health community, which saddened me. I think they perceived me as blaming people with mental illness or as attacking them and saying “Man up!” But I’m not. I’m doing the opposite. I’m saying, by golly, we have been sold a lie and we deserve MORE than that. We deserve more than hollow promises by medical professionals, more than patronizing pats on the back. We want UNDERSTANDING. We truly want to FEEL GOOD and not BAD. I am tired of being DEFINED by an “illness”. We even are guilty of propagating it ourselves. Look at what I titled my blog for Pete’s sake! We call ourselves “bipolar people” “depressed people” “borderline people” “anxious people”. We are human beings. Bipolar is not me. I am not bipolar. I am Nicole. I have ups and I have downs. Maybe I'm a bit eccentric. I am creative and loving and yes, intense. But I am not broken. And I don’t need fixing.

(And if you don’t agree with me, and you think I am a wackjob, that is your preprogative. If you are happy with your meds and doctors, you have my full support. I’m not criticizing anyone who chooses to take this path or continue on it. It is a personal choice for each individual and up to them to decide whether it is worthwhile or helpful. If it is, I encourage you to continue and do not listen to me. I’m speaking my own personal thoughts and experiences, and what I have seen and heard within the online mental health community for several years.)