To Sparkle Punch...

That is the question

self-help

A year of sparkling!

JessComment
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To Sparkle Punch turns 1 today! YAY! I can barely believe that it's been a year. A WHOLE YEAR?! I've had blogs before and watched them fizzle after a post or two, so I'm really glad that I stuck with it this time and connected with so many people along the way! :)

This time last year, I was limping around South Philly in a walking boot, packing up to move home, and cringing at the thought of launching this blog (which I'd been secretly planning since May). In the spring of 2014, I was part of Jen Sincero's online Badass Bootcamp (highly recommend, btw), and she was adamant that writers should have at least a blog to their name because it's such an easy thing to get rolling. In Bootcamp, I'd been happily writing pieces that, deep down, I never intended to show anyone, so the thought of starting a blog was like, "Oh crap." I'm glad I pushed through those feelings and did it anyway. And then I slowly began linking up with blogs I was already reading (like Franish and A Cup of Tea), and suddenly I was part of this awesome blogging community! No longer on the sidelines, where I love to sit timidly, surveying everything. (I'm often like Scotty Smalls when his mother is pushing him to go out and play and "get into trouble, for crying out loud!") That is largely how I lived my life, pre-inpatient. I don't think I was exactly depressed in those days when I would immerse myself in things like classic rock and scrapbooking at home--I truly enjoyed doing my own thing by myself. But that's because I was fully in control. It's hard to live life when you hide until a situation is perfect and safe or until someone/thing shoves you out of your comfort zone.

In that regard, it's pretty mind-blowing how much I've grown in the last year--namely speaking up about my history of anxiety and suicidal thoughts, and working through my driving phobia. I feel like I'm finally starting to discover my authentic self, the funny, compassionate, honest one hiding under layers of fear. I'm glad this space allows her to come out and play. :)

Most importantly, though, THANK YOU! Thank you for reading my blog and supporting me. We are all in this world together, and I hope I have been a bright spot in your day, as you have been in mine. For anyone reading while struggling with depression/anxiety/suicidal thoughts, I hope To Sparkle Punch provides some insight into the "other side" of those issues that can be reached by working through them--that seeking help (by going inpatient, opening up to a friend, starting therapy, etc.) can profoundly change your life, and that profound change IS possible.

Here's to another year! <3  

 

Sparkles! I had grand plans of a cool picture with a sparkle shower, but that&nbsp;did not work out at all, haha

Sparkles! I had grand plans of a cool picture with a sparkle shower, but that did not work out at all, haha

I wanna get better

JessComment

Last week, a doctor's appointment in an unfamiliar town inadvertently threw down the driving gauntlet. 

Because exposure therapy has shown me how awesomely fast one can get around by driving (as opposed to taking 4 buses, a train, and a dirigible), I was open to the idea of driving myself to this doctor's appointment--despite the fact that I'd never been there and multiple people cringed at the thought of driving to that congested area themselves. I found a back roads route on Google Maps and set out on a dry run with my dad the night before the appointment. Annnnd I made a wrong turn five minutes from our house, could barely make out the street signs in the dark, and I couldn't find the right building when we "arrived" at our destination. As has long been the case with me and driving, I grew frustrated and shut down emotionally. "Eff this! I'm so taking the bus!" Concerned for my own safety, and probably that of his car ("I'm not trying to hit potholes!" "Well, you're not trying to avoid them either!"), my dad encouraged me to take Septa: "This is a tough route for an experienced driver. I know you could do it, but why stress yourself out?" So it was set: I was not driving to this appointment.

Fast-forward to me planning my Septa route the next morning. Taking Septa TO the appointment was easy enough, but it was harder to plan my way home, not knowing when exactly I'd reach the bus stop. So I contemplated taking Uber home... and then realized the ridiculousness of that idea: I would be paying someone else to do the very thing that I'm supposed to be working on! It was just a 20 minute drive, consisting of all back roads and like five turns. I could handle that... right?

After fortifying myself with some Starbucks and Million Dollar Listing, I pushed through the anxiety and drove to and from the doctor on this vaguely familiar route alone with no problems. At all. It was like I'd been driving since my 16th birthday (which, FYI, was in 2002--Lizzie McGuire was still on TV then!). I had been too nervous to eat before setting out, but once I got in the car, I was surprisingly calm. Upon arrival, I triumphantly FaceTimed my friend (and her cat) from the doctor's parking garage.

On the way home, I even dared to put on music--ie a playlist of four songs on repeat, one of which was Bleachers' "I Wanna Get Better," which I proceeded to shout/sing along with on my ride home :)

An outfit for springtime driving adventures:

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  • T-shirt: Mossimo (Target)
  • Jeans: thrifted (so soft!)
  • Flats: Bandolino (Zappos)
  • Belt: Old Navy
  • Bag: Fossil (eBay)
  • Watch: Francesca's
  • Necklace: gift
  • Bracelets: DIY and Lokai
  • Sunglasses: Kate Spade (prescription!)
  • Nail polish: Maybelline Color Show "Lust for Lilac"
I DID IT!!!!!!

I DID IT!!!!!!

Live your life

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(Remember this song, which is now stuck in my head?!)

My trip to Chicago last weekend was AMAZING. I would like to congratulate my past self for ignoring my naggy anxious mind to book a solo trip to a different city and also to sign up for a writers' conference (to attend alone in said new city)! 

We can do anything we want in life. We are resilient and courageous. The only thing we have to fear (besides fear itself) is our own limiting beliefs, the ways we keep ourselves down when instead we could soar.

In flower heaven at the Garfield Conservatory

In flower heaven at the Garfield Conservatory

I'd had serious second thoughts about the writing conference after re-reading its super intense description, which sounded as if there were going to be a pat-down for manuscripts upon entry. In reality, it was way more laid-back. While the two-day event put a huge emphasis on publishing, the speakers touched on many aspects of the creative process (whew). I got to listen to awesome people like Mike Dooley (creator of Notes from the Universe!!) and the beautiful Nancy Levin share the circuitous journeys that got them to where they are now. And when being around hundreds of strangers became too much to handle, I simply escaped to a secret nook in the convention center. Introverts, ftw!

The rest of my time in Chicago was spent catching up, shopping, site-seeing, and couch-melting with one of my best friends from high school, which was, of course, a blast. Even an unexpected snow storm only set us back temporarily (for some cathartic whining) before we  hit the Garfield Conservatory* for some gorge (free!) flower creeping, followed by Wicker Park for shopping and psychic readings (WUT). I never expected getting a palm reading and then watching Timmi sort through chunks of amethyst with "All Along the Watchtower" playing in the background, but it happened. It was seriously the best day, fully uninhibited by doubt and anxiety.

*On a related note, Timmi is a genius and spends many a grey winter day at museums and botanical gardens. What a great way to cope with SAD!

I am usually so reluctant to break out of my routine that I forget how great it is to do so, how much of the world is out there, waiting to be seen. This trip was an excellent reminder of what awaits me just a short plane ride outside of my comfort zone.

Second Rebirthday

Jess2 Comments

I consider March 20 to be my "rebirthday" because March 20, 2013, was the day I checked myself into the hospital. It marked the beginning of getting unstuck from the negative, destructive thought patterns and paralyzing fears that made my life feel so difficult. It was a dramatic change from how I'd lived up to that point.

Lately, I've been listening to the Alice Cooper song "I'm Eighteen," which always reminds me of being 17 (lol) and working on a research paper on the Vietnam War. That year (junior year) was my favorite year of high school, probably because it was so routine. I had two years under my belt and knew what to expect behind the doors at SHA. My homework was always done, my uniform always ready. Outside of school, I had created a safe, solitary bubble of classic rock, homework, and hockey games on TV. 

I'm 18, and I don't know what I want. 

I'm 18, and I don't know what I want. 

That bubble had to pop at graduation, but I formed another in college, and yet another in grad school. School was great--it gave my anxious mind something to focus on, gifted me a group of potential friends, and allowed me to create my own schedule. March 2013, a few months after finishing grad school, marked the first time I'd really struck out on my own--taking a full time job in my field, even though it came with no safety net of friends and was far from home. For the first time, I really had to face my anxiety and lack of control and make a choice: flee (through suicide or avoidance) or deal with it.

I broke down in 2.5 weeks.

Going inpatient was possibly the scariest decision I've ever made. While waiting in the ER, a big part of me wanted to bolt. I'd made it through 26 semi-turbulent years before; eventually, I'd get back into a routine and feel ok, right?

But that sickening thought was what pushed me to check myself in: I was just muddling through. Riding the waves from high to low and back again, unceasing, unquestioned. What kind of life is that? No wonder an "out" looked so appealing.

Inpatient didn't "fix" me, of course (clearly!). It just put me on the right road of actual therapy, not bullshit 30 minute sessions with a psychiatrist. Admitting I had a problem meant that I could stop pretending I was fine to the people closest to me. I could start working on my issues, rather than covering them up. But it's still tough. This year in particular has not been easy, mostly because living at home means I can barely get around without a car (as compared to city living). Feeling trapped and isolated is not great on the ol' depression/anxiety, and neither is a four-hour-a-day commute. But I'm working through it with my ever-valiant therapist, and I start exposure therapy next month for a HUGE fear of mine (and a key to increased independence): driving.

And in the spirit of doing something scary and new on March 20, today, I fly to Chicago to visit my high school BFF Timmi (ok that part is awesome, not scary lol) and to go to the Hay House Writers' Workshop this weekend. Alone! Writing! New city! STRANGER DANGER!! But facing fears and truly LIVING honors my rebirthday. I'm 28 now, and I still don't know what I want, and I still default to avoidance and wide-eyed Pusheen face more than I'd like, but at least I'm trying things and showing up to life instead of hiding all the time. <3

 

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This is what an anxiety attack looks like

Jess4 Comments

It's so easy and fun to post pretty pictures, right? Ones that showcase fabulous outfits and super cute accessories. And if you don't quite feel like a million bucks, almost any picture can be contorted into perfection with filters and editing tools. 

So the last thing I'm psyched to put out there is a picture where I'm crying and covered in runaway mascara, but that's what anxiety looks like. It's far from pretty and perfect.

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I rang in 2015 with the worst anxiety attacks I've had in a very long time. I was sick with a cold and spent one day home from work... and I started FEELING things. Deep sorrow. Confusing terror. Completely out of control. I, who am always cold, needed ice packs because I was constantly overheated. I hyperventilated so intensely that I threw up. I teetered on the edge of tears for those three days. It was fucking awful. Anxiety is such an insidious bastard. It sneaks up on you and upends your otherwise orderly life.

My anxiety level is still higher than normal, but its waves are smaller, not tsunami-grade. Thankfully, my dad, my bf, and one of my good friends were all super patient and understanding,  and helped to calm me down when my anxiety was at its worst. And I was able to be open with them (and with you, dear reader) about how awful I was feeling--something I never used to be able to do.

Perhaps, best of all, suicide never crossed my mind as an option. I now see my old gravitation toward suicidal thoughts as a kind of drug--something dark and desperate and unhealthy that I could sink into, to feel in control and to numb out pain. But even in such a panic last week, I didn't reach out for that old vice, and for that, I am very thankful.

Goal setting that won't make you barf

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Hopefully. I mean, this process hasn't made me barf yet, and I once anxiety-puked on Septa--so if that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is!

First of all, I should say that I used to hate setting goals, and by "used to," I mean three months ago. I would pick these huge tasks to do that would just paralyze me with stress and overwhelm. Barf.

But NO MORE! I have come up with a way that is stupid easy and helps me to focus on a few things to accomplish each month in a variety of areas (lifestyle, creative writing, money management, etc.). And if I don't get a goal done, I miraculously don't beat myself up about it (probably because I feel accomplished for checking off other goals). It's great! I just think of it as a skipped goal to keep in mind going forward, unless I've totally lost interest in it, which is (again, miraculously) nbd.

I was recently talking to my dear friend Trampersand* aka Timmi aka The Artist Formerly Known as Prince about this type of goal-setting and thought I would flesh it out more for her here, and for anybody else who's interested. I started using this process after reading Ruth Soukup's (FREE!) goal-setting e-workbook, so I highly recommend checking that out for further guidance and more intensive goal work.

Step one: Think big (just like Doug: think big! think big! THINK. BIG!)

In this step, you just grab a piece of paper and a pen (personally, I like using markers) and word vomit (yikes it's a theme) all of the things you'd like to do or work towards in the next few months to a year. Make sure to include things even if they scare you. These monthly goals aim to nudge you out of your comfort zone, as well as help you to focus on a few specific things at a time. Don't worry, this list is a just jumping-off point and can be revised later.

Step two: Think small (sorry, no catchy Doug song for this, unless you want to go vegan)

Alright, now it's time to sit back and come up with 4-5 things from your big list (or steps toward accomplishing things on your big list) to work on in the next month. Maybe "look up a yoga class" or "flesh out a story" or "send a card to someone." ANYTHING! For myself, I like to quantify tasks whenever possible, i.e. "go to the library three times" or "comment on two blogs," to get myself thinking that said task is a breeze! I also like to pick mini-goals from a variety of areas, so two of my recent monthly goals were "Get SHA ring resized" and "schedule physical." So go ahead--spice up your life.

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Step three: Think vision board

Personally, I like to write my chosen 4-5 mini-goals on a neon index card and hang it in my room. You can forgo the neon, but I highly recommend putting your goals somewhere you can see them so that a.) you don't forget about them *grandma emoji* and b.) you can cross those bastards off when you complete them (aka the best part of any to-do list-type thing!).

And then repeat steps 2 and 3 the next month.

So that's it. This process has definitely helped me to focus and get stuff done without feeling like I'm being pulled in a million directions at once** and, hopefully, it can do the same for you! :)

*Fun fact: Timmi is my cape-wearing accomplice in this post!

**I'm actually no longer "allowed" (by my therapist) to keep daily to-do lists because I used to go crazy with them, writing down way too many things to do in the few hours I have outside of work and then stressing myself out trying to get everything done. So these mini-goals have been, for me, a lower-stress, more focused substitution for a to-do list.

I could have shared Robin's fate

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Cupcake from my "rebirthday," March 20, 2014: celebrating one year since my stay in the hospital for major depression

Cupcake from my "rebirthday," March 20, 2014: celebrating one year since my stay in the hospital for major depression

The reactions to Robin Williams' sudden death have been many and varied. Personally, I've been reeling from it because I've been down that road and, thank god, made a different turn. 

Few people know that I was deeply depressed in March 2013. It's not something I like to advertise. My ego far prefers sharing pretty pictures, achievements, and outings, rather than things that leave me so vulnerable. But mental health is such an important thing to talk about that I couldn't ignore this opportunity.

My real "issue," if you will, is anxiety. I have long gravitated toward worry and fear, muting them with constant activity and control. But when I do fall into that dark pit of depression, it is damn hard to climb out. Especially because I just want to be left alone. Outwardly, I seem fine, but inside, I'm totally freaked out that I'm in this pit again and that I always wind up back here and that things will never get better. Hence why controlling my fate and planning to escape pain through suicide becomes appealing. This escape hatch didn't just open up in 2013 though; it's popped open to varying degrees for a long time. But 2013 was the time it swallowed me up the most. 

When I was that depressed, I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to call my psychiatrist and, for the first time, stopped scheduling follow-ups. I was so convinced that my life would be forever a loop of anxiety and sadness that I didn't want to hear otherwise, although I desperately needed to. It is so vitally important to seek help when you're depressed, ESPECIALLY if you don't want to. Luckily, I never attempted anything, but the thoughts I was having were scary as hell. So I finally treated depression like the illness it is, admitted that I needed help, and committed myself to treatment.

If you have a friend who expresses suicidal thoughts, do whatever you can (within reason) to make getting help easier. I usually can't sit still, but when I was depressed, all I wanted to do was sit on the couch watching The Carrie Diaries. Doing anything felt like a huge chore. Thankfully, the one friend I inadvertently opened up to called the suicide hotline for me, offered to take me to the ER, actually took me there the next morning when I decided to go, and covered things with my family until I was together enough to deal with the outside world. Having less things to worry about gave me less "outs" to justify not checking myself in when I so needed to. 

Suicide is the depressed mind's main option, when in reality, there are so many others. I'm living proof of that.

 

Treat yo self... medically

JessComment
Thank god this isn't me and also that I didn't injure myself by FLYING OFF A SWING. (Holy shit.)&nbsp;

Thank god this isn't me and also that I didn't injure myself by FLYING OFF A SWING. (Holy shit.) 

I've never been a fan of doctors. I'm much more used to playing through pain. If four years of perfect attendance in high school (what.a.dork) taught me anything, it's that there is never a legit reason to stay home. Fever? No problem. Incapacitated by allergies? Nbd.

The only problem with this mindset is that it's REALLY FREAKING UNHEALTHY. And unkind. We get sick because the body is like, "I know you'd rather be doing 85 things right now but YOU MUST CHIIL!!!!" So in the spirit of being more attentive to my body, I actually went to the doctor about a month ago when my foot started hurting out of the blue (possibly because some Sasquatch on the bus stepped on it). But even as I was on the examining table waiting for my doctor, my mind was screaming helpful things like, "You're insane. Your foot is fine, suck it up, she's gonna think you're nuts." I think I saw my doctor for about three minutes, in which time she pronounced my foot swollen (even though it looked fine to me) and sent me across the hall to a podiatrist. An hour later, I emerged in a soft cast with possibly the beginnings of a stress fracture, although nothing had shown up on the x-ray. Huh. When I informed my boyfriend that my foot pain was actually something sorta serious, I said, "Who knew?" "YOU did," he replied. Oh. That.

"Whoa, that's some King Tut-grade wrap!" LOL, Pops.

"Whoa, that's some King Tut-grade wrap!" LOL, Pops.

I was ok with my soft cast for the prescribed week. My foot felt fine after the doctor took off the cast, so I was patting myself on the back for a job well done. Way to take care of yourself, girl.

But sticking with healthy decisions isn't easy. The universe will conspire to throw every sink in every kitchen in your neighborhood in your way. Sure enough, within two days of cast-removal, my foot was hurting again. I didn't want to be an alarmist, but my foot clearly wasn't better, so after a few days of hemming and hawing, I moved up my follow-up. This led to an MRI and its charming machine gun sounds, hyperventilation over a potential IV and blood work, and a dose of Ativan that helpfully kicked in three hours after said MRI and left me deliriously bumping into walls. 

Oh yeah, and my foot still hurt, and I was pretty much handing my paycheck over to doctors and techs. Once my bum Ativan trip ended, I remembered very clearly why I usually avoid getting involved with doctors.

My MRI was on a Friday night. First thing Monday morning, my doctor called, wanting me to come in that day. I've never had a doctor call right after a test (prob because I never get tests) and I handled it well:

"Am I dying?!?!"

"What? No, but we found out why your foot's been hurting... it's broken!"

Apparently, stress fractures usually only show on MRIs, and the area of my foot that hurt perfectly corresponded to a white area of inflammation and a tiny crack on the MRI.

So now I'm thudding around in a walking boot for at least a month. I'm supposed to be "taking it easy" (barf) but relaxing makes me anxious, so that has been a struggle. At least I'm trying to listen to my body and apparently, it needs some rest. Now, I guess I can pat myself on the back for not ignoring pain. Yay, health!