Perception

One of the things mental illness can do is cause you to perceive things incorrectly. You might think someone has said something they haven’t actually said, or assign a meaning to someone’s actions that simply isn’t there.

That’s something I deal with a lot. Because of people I’ve dealt with in my past, and the resulting PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety, sometimes my brain filters someone else’s actions or words through a distorted lens. I hear something in their words that they didn’t say and didn’t mean, or I believe their actions are for a reason that has nothing to do with why they’ve actually acted that way.

This makes communication extremely important for me. I am usually aware when my thoughts are getting away from me and when my perception is off. In those moments, I can choose to continue with the incorrect perception, and let my thoughts spiral into darkness, or I can choose to go to the other person and say, “I think I’m perceiving this wrong. Can we clarify what you meant?”

That isn’t always an easy choice to make. Sometimes my belief about what the other person has said or done is so strong that my emotions take over. I might be too angry to try talking to them, or might not be able to get the words together. Sometimes I’m afraid to ask for clarification because I worry that the other person will be angry with me for having an incorrect perception. But under the emotions, I know that the only way to resolve the situation is to speak up.

Misperceptions are going to happen. To be honest, I think it’s part of being human, regardless of whether mental illness is a factor. Learning to recognize when you might be perceiving something incorrectly, and learning to communicate and clarify the situation, might not be easy, but it’s important.

Tomorrow…

Friday, February 23, I’ll be speaking at the Provincetown Public Library about acceptance and being true to oneself. I’m a little nervous about it; this will be the first public presentation I’ve done in over seven years! But I’m also looking forward to it.

If you’re in the Provincetown area, I hope you’ll stop by. My presentation begins at 3pm. I’m hoping to have it recorded, at least bits and pieces, so I can share it here, and I’ll blog next week about how it went.

No Small Parts

When I’m teaching theater to the elementary school kids I work with, sometimes they’re disappointed with the roles they get in the plays we do. They might only have one line, and for some of them, that’s disappointing.

I remind them of what an actor friend of mine told them when he came in to speak about acting. No matter how small your role is, it’s important to the play. Whether you have one line or a few hundred, your part helps make the play what it is.

The same applies in life. You might believe you haven’t been around someone enough to make an impact in their life, but you impact almost everyone you come in contact with, even if only once. The impact might be small, but it’s there, and it can be very important to that person. Something as simple as saying hello to someone you walk past on the street, or smiling at a cashier in a store, can change things for that person.

Everyone is important in various ways. If we view our lives as a play, everyone’s role matters. It can change the play entirely, even if it’s only one line. One word. Even if nothing is said.

So don’t discount your part in other people’s lives. You might never know how much of a difference you make, but big or small, your part helps make their life what it is.

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is basically the belief that any success you have is a fluke, and that the people around you will figure out you’ve just faked your way to where you are. You downplay your accomplishments and find plenty of excuses why those accomplishments don’t really mean anything.

I found a great post about imposter syndrome recently, so rather than rehash it, I thought I would share: “Do You Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome? by Cindy J. Holbrook.

Others Don’t Define You

Sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on what other people think of us. We try so hard to be what we think others want us to be, or do what we think they want us to do. We try to avoid being judged, but we’re all human, and not judging or being judged is nearly impossible.

But the thing is, other people’s opinions of you aren’t the ones that matter. Even the opinions of those closest to you don’t matter as much as your opinion of yourself.

Things others have said to or about you in the past might have contributed to how you view yourself in the present, but you don’t have to let others thoughts and words define you. You have the power to create yourself as the person you want to be, and no one can take that away from you unless you let them.

Look at yourself and see what’s really there, not what other people tell you they see.

Accept Your Past

One common piece of advice I’ve heard and seen from many sources is to let go of the past. Stop letting it affect you and define you, and move beyond it.

I completely agree with that, but I believe that before you can let it go, you need to accept that it happened. That doesn’t mean being okay with everything, and it definitely doesn’t mean liking everything that’s happened to you. It means simply saying, for example, “Okay, that did happen. It sucked, and it caused me harm, but it happened.”

Your past doesn’t define you, but things that occurred, and more importantly how you handled them, does contribute to who you are, in both positive and negative ways. We build strength by living through and living beyond certain things. We might have gained compassion for others who are in similar situations. Everything that happens in your life, whether good or bad or somewhere in between, adds to the person you are.

If you try to let go of your past by pretending it didn’t happen, as some people seem to do, you’re not only rejecting the events. You’re rejecting a part of yourself. The part that went through those events and rose from them.

You can definitely learn how to stop being affected and defined by your past. It’s desirable to do so, because you are the person you are today, not the one you were then. But there’s a difference between not being affected and defined by your past, or denying it altogether. Part of accepting yourself, even when it’s painful, is accepting the negatives of your life.

Listen to Yourself

Most of us get advice from one time or another, whether we ask for it or not. Sometimes we find information online that’s meant to help us. Well-meaning people make suggestions about how to improve our lives. There’s a wealth of beliefs and thoughts and statements about who we can be, who we should be, and how to get there.

When you’re bombarded with all these messages, it can be difficult to figure out who and what to listen to. Everything sounds reasonable. Some of it sounds like things you could do, or want to do. But there are just so many things to pay attention to, and they can’t all be right.

At times like that, listen to yourself first. Just because something is right for someone else, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. No one knows you better than you know yourself, and that means if you take the time to think about it, to really listen to your inner self, you do know what will and won’t work. So give yourself credit for knowing these things, and listen to yourself above anyone else.

Polyamory

I’ve blogged before about polyamory. It’s something that a lot of people don’t understand, so for the Ultimate Blog Challenge I thought it was worth bringing up again.

Polyamory, at the most basic, means having the capacity for more than one romantic relationship at a time. Someone who’s polyamorous is able to love more than one person. That’s essentially it.

It gets more complicated than that, of course. People don’t necessarily understand the difference between polyamory and cheating. The biggest difference is that in polyamory, everyone who’s involved knows about and has given their agreement to what’s going on. No one’s doing anything behind anyone’s back, unless that’s part of the agreement. (Some people who are polyamorous go by the idea of “don’t ask don’t tell,” where it’s mutually understood that they’re seeing other people but they don’t talk about it or share any information about their other partners.)

In polyamory, each relationship is its own separate entity, but the relationships can affect and impact each other. Some people practice what’s often called “kitchen table poly,” where everyone involved is friends with each other, even if they aren’t romantically involved with each other. The idea is that everyone involved would be comfortable sitting around the kitchen table for a meal together.

Polyamory takes a huge amount of communication to make sure everyone’s on the same page about agreements, schedules, and so on. Although a common misconception is that people who are polyamorous just don’t want to commit to anyone, the truth is that polyamory in some ways takes more commitment than monogamy. You aren’t choosing not to commit to anyone; you’re committing to multiple people.

There are pluses and minuses to polyamory, and this blog post isn’t going to be long enough to explore all of them. But there are a lot of books and other resources available if you’re interested in finding out more.

Why Meditation Isn’t For Everyone

Meditation is probably one of the most recommended ways to relax and clear one’s mind. There are a number of different techniques and methods, and a number of different reasons for using them.

But meditation doesn’t work for everyone. For me, sometimes it backfires completely. Instead of feeling calm and relaxed, it leaves me feeling angry and anxious. I know other people, most of whom have PTSD or a mental illness, who experience the same reaction.

That doesn’t mean meditation is a bad thing. It definitely is beneficial for some people. Even for me, there are times when it does serve to calm me down and help me focus better. And different forms of meditation might work better for some people than others. For example, some people refer to yoga as “moving meditation,” and yoga is something that might work for those who have difficulty with other forms of meditation.

It’s easy to tell people to meditate on certain questions or problems, or to make daily meditation part of their self-care routine. But sometimes the easy advice isn’t the best. Meditation can be more harmful than beneficial to some people depending on their needs and conditions. If it works for you, that’s great, but please remember not everyone will gain benefit from it.

Medication

I take several medications every day. And I’ve had several people tell me I shouldn’t take them.

I understand that some people are severely overmedicated nowadays, and sometimes medications have side effects that are worse than whatever they’re supposed to treat. For some people, not taking medication would be right move.

But not all alternative treatments work for everyone, and some don’t work at all, just as not all medications work for everyone. In my opinion, unless you’re a medical professional (including holistic medicine, depending on training) of some kind, it isn’t your place to tell someone else they should or shouldn’t be taking a certain medication or following a certain treatment plan. By all means, at least if asked, tell others what works for you, but don’t tell them that *they* have to do something just because it does work for you.

It’s even more unfair to shame someone for taking medication that, for all you know, might be saving their life. I have severe depression, and I take antidepressants. I have tried other means of managing and treating the depression. They did not work, and in one case nearly landed me in the hospital. The medication I take works, and I can honestly say that it helps keep me alive.

Whatever works for you in treating medical conditions is fine, but please don’t take it on yourself to tell someone else they’re wrong about what works for them. That goes for people who are on medications as well; medication might work for you, but that doesn’t mean other people don’t successfully manage or treat their conditions with other methods, and that’s okay too.