Day 8: Humor #GIG2017

I could’ve put any meme here and would’ve gotten a chuckle. Internet humor has certainly evolved my odd tastes.
Laughing when the last thing anybody else is doing is laughing. Laughing until you’re no longer making noise and your stomach is cramping and tears swell in your eyes. Laughing to turn a dreary day into one with at least little bit more sunshine.

I don’t necessarily call myself full-out funny. I’m certainly awkward and pretty quirky, but not everybody understands when I use sarcasm in 90% of my conversations or refer to some obscure TV show or YouTube video. Or, my general obsession with memes…that’s a whole other story.

But humor is powerful. In fact, it’s great for our health and well-being. Laughter has been shown to relax your muscles, release those good endorphins, boost your immune system, and improve your connections with others. 

There’s a reason we’re drawn to watching comedies when we feel blue or stressed out. Humor allows us to draw our perspectives away from negative emotions of anger and anxiety and realize the potential resentment and tension we hold. We can then see how small and insignificant some grudges can seem, or be able to distract ourselves enough to think of new solutions to make improvements.

Some of the funniest people in the world are the ones suffering the most pain. They utilize humor as a tool to cope with their mental illness and traumas, to continue finding purpose in life whilst connecting with others beyond their struggles. We might underestimate humor in this way, that it’s just a funny joke to share or late night talk show. But humor can mean so much more.

It’s part of our psyche to laugh, to seek out ideas and situations that swell up in our bellies and on our tongues. How hopeful it is to know that we’re wired to be humorous, to use humor as a bridge to reach other people and thoughts and emotions. Plus, it feels great. If anyone out there genuinely doesn’t like laughing…well…I don’t know what to tell you.

Let’s face it: If you’re in the midst of a hectic schedule, working or taking classes or whatever else, it’s not like humor appropriately arises. I’m sure I go days without laughing, which really isn’t my preference. I can feel the difference it makes when something or someone out of the blue leaves me in stitches, and I almost rediscover myself through that humor, especially if my personality resonates in it. 

I’m grateful for laughter, for well-intentioned jokes (I’m looking at you, offensive words made as jokes that are anything but), for the memories I share with loved ones that are filled with unadulterated joy. I’m grateful for how powerful humor can be, in improving our lives and making us aware of new perspectives and ideas.

Think of how blessed we are in our everyday lives, and sometimes how silly it can be to make a huge fuss over little situations and details that at the end of the day don’t matter? That you won’t remember a day from now? An argument with someone over a trivial matter you’re lucky to even be worrying about at all? An embarassing mishap that, trust me, others won’t be dwelling on any longer you feel angry about it. It’s not always easy to do, but you might as well laugh.

How can I incorporate my laughter into my days? Find places in conversations that can be filled with humor, a good joke or random meme shared online. Spend time with those who tickle your funny bone. Find the outlets that make you laugh, certain TV shows or websites or whatever else. And when in doubt, smile, and the whole world will smile with you. 

I challenge YOU this Friday to make the extra effort to sneak in a laugh, from yourself or from someone else you encounter. See how it impacts your day. And count your blessings from there.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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Not Pretty

We filter ourselves to ensure nobody questions our strength and resilience, but how many of us are having these same thoughts in the harmful game of comparison?

Most of the time, we’re viewing our world through a filter, however that might look. 

Reality might deter drastically from that filter. We choose to see what we want and expect. We know suffering is inevitable in life, but even then, it’s easy to acknowledge that and just keep moving along.

But perhaps there’s even more beneath the surface of what isn’t innately suffering. Pass by any pleasant person on the street, exchange a kind greeting or a smile, and that’s that. If we don’t immediately see something concerning, we’ll just continue about our day and not think otherwise.

We all have or currently are in a time of struggle and challenge. Chances are, that won’t be made blatantly obvious to many. Anyone out of the loop automatically assumes all is fine, but is it really?

We don’t like to appear weak, helpless. We avoid vulnerability because it doesn’t coincide with the productivity and “success” we seek. So we fasten the masks on our faces and go about our days as if life is stable and nonchalant.

This is Mental Health Awareness Week. Whether we have seen or felt mental illness directly or not, we all have mental health. But thanks to stigma, how we discuss and address mental health falls in the cracks. It doesn’t fit into our societal standards of constant progress, so we often must disguise and beautify mental illness into some trend, as if then we’ll actually care.

How ironic it is that during this week, I’m personally in a time of major depression. My illness is chronic and comes in phases, alternating between better spans of time and downward spirals. With treatment, the goal is to minimize the frequency and length of these lower moods, but you cannot completely prevent them, especially depending on your current circumstances.

Let me tell you, the last thing I want to do is pretend my depression is just some brooding persona to match cooler weather. It deserves no bedazzling or embellishment. It’s not a choice consciously made to seem cool and trendy. 

Too often I have adorned myself with a mask to get through every day with mental illness. I push aside my reality into the deep recesses of my mind until it becomes unbearable, unavoidable. A ton of bricks smacking you all at once.

But I refuse to play that game any longer. In today’s case, I fully acknowledge my mental state and the mood I’m in. With that awareness, I can know what is manageable in the day and push myself where I can. In areas and times that I know I simply need to rest and accept what my mind needs, I have days when I might hopefully brush my hair and accomplish at least one thing, even if that’s a basic function like showering or putting food in the microwave. 

Mental illness isn’t pretty. It’s dissociating and having the urge to cry in public for no reason. It’s aching in your body and head when you’ve barely managed to get out of bed. It’s not just feeling numb, but having no motivation to feel anything else. It’s staring up at your ceiling before going to bed super early because you’re done with that day but still have racing existential questions spinning in your mind. It’s every little task turned into the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced. 

That’s just major depression. Let’s not forget anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia, everything that constitutes support and awareness. We often only talk about mental illness if we’re retweeting some “relatable” post, or making an ironic joke about how “depressing” something is, or chuckling about being so “OCD” about organizing your agenda. 

True awareness is researching and learning. It’s standing in solidarity with those directly affected, and using your voice to speak the truth. We can share a Buzzfeed video on our Facebook timelines about mental health all we want, but awareness also implies action, proactively advocating for transparent, widespread treatment options and universal acceptance. 

I don’t suggest everyone becoming as vulnerable online as I have about my struggles. Express yourself in whatever way you feel most comfortable, even if that’s just opening up to close loved ones. A million shouting voices evokes clutter, but a few strong messages that lead to proactive change are what will make a sustainable difference. 

I fight for recognition. I fight for a healthcare system that equally serves all aspects of my well-being. I fight for those who have lost their own battles and those in the midst of mental warfare. And I fight because it’s simply the the right thing to do. When 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year, we can no longer put up a filter and pretend it’s not there. 

Beyond this week, realize that it’s okay to not be okay. Support those who you know may be struggling. Please seek help when you need it. Reach out to your loved ones. Take each day at a time. Be gentle with yourself. You are not alone. You are a warrior. You will win this battle.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Fear Setting

Verbal to Visual has provided a helpful image to illustrate this TED Talk.

 

Seems like a backwards concept, right? Why would we want to amplify our anxieties when we could focus on our goals, our successes?

Tim Ferriss speaks of the value of better understanding our lowpoints in his TED Talk. As he lives with bipolar depression and has found himself many times on the edge of darkness and suicide, his insight is worth a listen.

So what do I mean by “fear setting”? Well, we all know about goal-setting, a practice even I’ve probably talked your ear off about. It’s most effective to physically write out what you hope to achieve for yourself so you can keep those thoughts at the forefront. You can then better align your daily actions with those goals and make them that much more tangible.

Yes, you’ve heard that one a few or plenty of times from me. But what about fear setting? Mental illness or not, we’ve had points of hesitation, of self-doubt. If an opportunity arises, we fear its implications and might automatically push it aside. This could be anything from accepting a new job, going out to a social event, or even just taking a break for yourself when you feel overwhelmed with work.

The first step is to make three columns. The first list, write out every fear you have associated with a particular situation. For example, if that’s going on a vacation to get away from a hectic schedule, you might fear the unknown of what could go wrong on the trip, or you fear getting so far behind in your work that you risk failure.

Now you list what you could do to prevent these fears from happening. In this case, you could research ahead of time your travel plans and prepare accordingly, and you could let others know of your plans and work ahead to get major assignments out of the way before you go.

Inevitably, there are some things you can’t control. Life is unpredictable, and no matter how much you plan and prepare, things can fall through. The third column then is listing how to repair the damages if your fears were to happen. So maybe your luggage is lost or a flight canceled. You can always readjust your schedule and make do with what you have. If something arises with your work or schooling, talk with those involved and work something out. Either way, no matter what happens, it’s not the end of the world. Admittedly, that’s easier said than believed.

But here’s another thought to think and write about. What would happen six months, a year, even three years down the road if you did not choose to partake in these opportunities? If you let your fears get the best of you, what effects will that have? If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be working your tail off until you implode. You’ll fall into unhealthy, harmful behaviors, relying upon stimulants to get you through the day. You’ll regret not giving yourself some relief. You might find that you had less work to do than you realized, and then fall into depression for overthinking it all. Which, trust me, I’ve been through this pattern too many times to count.

Self-awareness and reflection is so powerful. Being able to look objectively at even a snapshot of our racing thoughts really can change your perspective. When we allow those thoughts to just continue buzzing through without questioning them, they can truly run our lives. They can isolate us into what we see as safe, comfortable status quos that, in reality, hold us back from truly living.

A single list probably won’t change your life. If you have specific fears, you probably will continue facing those even after listing and rationalizing them. But at least you’re becoming an active voice above your anxiety. You’re not entirely allowing it control. You’re making progress in the right direction. Hopefully you’ll realize your mental strength is far greater than you ever imagined.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie