Psychiatry

How I Went From Suicidal to Successful

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I love picking things apart. From people, to problems, to clogged pores. Sometimes that’s a strength. More often than not in my personal life, it’s a way to self-sabotage. But today I am going to break out my metaphorical magnifying glass and use my investigative powers for good.

Because today marks a very special day in my life.

It’s the anniversary of the day I decided to stop living out an active pattern of Depression. It may sound strange to call it a “pattern,” rather than a “disorder.” But for me it was a self-sabotaging cycle that kept me stuck. Spare me the angry comments I’m sure that statement will incite, I’m well versed in the biopsychosocial approach, the genetic, and chemical components. Just go with me on this.

If you had asked me at the height (or depth, more accurately) of my Depression if I would ever be 30, happy, and fulfilled, I’d probably have mustered up enough energy to give you the finger before taking an Ambien and calling it a day. So, to celebrate my decision to stop getting in my own way, I’ve decided to put my detective skills to good use and analyze the

How I Went From Suicidal to Successful:

1. Quit the Blame Game.

If there’s one thing I learned from my first 10 years in therapy, it’s that everything I blamed someone else for was my fault and everything I blamed myself for was someone else’s fault. Bluntly put, but accurate. This taught me two things:

  1. Culpability doesn’t change a situation.  
  2. No matter whose fault or who takes responsibility, you have the ability to change your situation.

This. Is. Freakin’. Huge.

It’s easy to get caught in the “I wish things were different” cycle, but all that does is keep us stuck. You can either stay in a shitty situation or you can accept things as they are and get the fuck out.  It all comes down to taking responsibility, not simply for what happened, but for what you want to create.

The Takeaway: Dare to become self-aware, having the courage and humility to take personal responsibility.

 

2. Make Mistakes.

I rocked this one. I’m the type of person who can’t take your word that the stove is hot. I need to get burned, often more than once, before I learn my lesson. This not only applies to the obviously poor decisions I made, but in the ways I attempted to bounce back. Newsflash: There’s no such thing as a “rebound,” you probably don’t need a medication to counteract the side effect of another medication, and escapism only works until it doesn’t. 

The Takeaway: It’s fine to make mistakes, just don’t keep making the same ones. New mistakes = Growth.

 

3. Ask for Help. Lots of It.

DBT, CBT, EMDR, SSRIs, not to mention yoga, meditation, mood stabilizers, family therapy, a spiritual mentor, and puppy cuddles. Loved some, hated others. I wanted to find the one modality that would fix everything. But much like the perfect chocolate chip cookie, it simply doesn’t exist. As I look back and fondly bitch about the methodologies and practitioners who claimed their way to be best, I realize that everything played a role in my growth.  I learned positive communication & coping skills, emotional resilience, and more than anything, how to trust myself. Today, I see an AMAZING therapist, I exercise, I engage in creative outlets, I meditate, and I honor my intuition. Ultimately, even if only 10% of everything I do now is actually making a difference, it all adds up.

The Takeaway: Try everything that intuitively feels right, there’s more than one path to happiness.

 

4. Cultivate Compassion, Forgiveness, and Self-Love.

Hot damn. Those three words say it all. I’ve heard that Depression is anger turned inwards. So it doesn’t surprise me that the biggest shift in my life came from forgiving myself for past mistakes, turning my back on myself, and not living to my potential. Unconsciously, I held onto anger and guilt, further exacerbating the issue by attracting people and situations that would confirm my self-limiting beliefs. I found compassion for others, but never for myself. The moment I decided to give myself what I gave to others was the start of my journey to self-love, self-esteem, and self-respect.

The Takeaway: Forgiveness gives you the power to re-write your story.

 

5. Surrender Control.

I used to joke that I wasn’t manipulative, I was an outcome engineer. While that deep need for control kept me safe, it also kept me stuck. Surrendering an outcome taught me that letting go of what I think I want (whether that be a guy or a job title), creates the space for bigger and better things to flow into my life.

The Takeaway: Let go of what you want so you can receive everything you need.

 

Bonus Tip: Green things are good. Junk Foods=Junk Moods. Seriously, clean up your diet and you’ll stop feeling like shit.

 

I was recently asked in an interview how I changed into the person I am today. The truth is that I’m the same person I always was, I just removed the blocks that prevented me from expressing and embracing my true self. Today, I look back on my old story with a feeling of gratitude, both for the lessons I learned and the ability to share it with others.  Thank you to everyone who’s supported me (and challenged me) along the way, it means more to me than you’ll ever know.

The Problem with Needing to Be "Heard"

As many of you know, I have a past of complicated, codependent, and crazy relationships. I’ve blamed the men, I’ve blamed myself, and for a brief period of time, I thought I found the answer in couples therapy.

And never before have I been more wrong.

Harville Hendrix, the Founder of Imago Therapy, claims that we can change the world by changing our relationships. That sounds nice, until I truly listened.

He believes that we strive to connect to others in order to experience a taste of the joy & love we once received from our primary caregivers. In a recent lecture, he stated that this connection is our deepest desire and losing it is our greatest fear.

If that is true, then does it make any sense to look to another relationship to fix one from the past?

The belief that we would find joy in a lover’s arms because it will temporarily quell a deeper abandonment issue is the exact reason most of us are codependent. We’re constantly searching for a band aid to cover a hemorrhage.

Dr. Hendrix believes a connection occurs through safe conversation in which the speaker’s feelings are validated by his or her partner. Sure, it felt nice when my ex-boyfriend said he “heard” me and that my feelings “made sense.” But it didn’t bring me joy. Because none of it was real.

Let me explain. In the midst of a heated battle about whether my boyfriend was actually doing something he had sworn to do months ago, a light bulb went off:

I really don’t need him to validate that my feelings regarding his actions are okay. The fact that I’m needing him to tell me I have a right to feel this way is exactly what’s keeping me in a relationship that’s wrong for both of us.

Instead of my having a desire for him to understand where I'm coming from, I needed him to tell me my feelings were okay to have. And ultimately, the belief that feelings need to be validated to be valid was the cause of my codependency. 

Here’s what it comes down to: If you don’t believe your feelings are genuine, real, and legitimate then nothing your partner says will make a difference. Whether or not your partner gets you is secondary to honoring your own feelings.

And while I loved pathologizing what was wrong with my then boyfriend, what you give your attention to only grows. Taking inventory and focusing on your partner’s inability to understand you will only create a deeper void to fill. All that negativity creates anxiety, changing your endorphins to cortisol and blocking your inner guidance, strength, and resilience.

After all, your partner isn't going to fix your old wounds. You are.

For the record, I’m not saying couples therapy is bad or that it wasn't helpful for me. One just needs a strong sense of self and a clear picture of what they want to achieve.

So here’s the solution: Give it to yourself. Heal your core fears and wounds and stop thinking that someone else will fix it for you. You can spend the rest of your life craving a connection to others when what you’re really searching for is a connection to yourself.

I’d love to hear from you! Share your story in the Comments section below!

How to Meditate: Your Questions Answered

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Meditation is one of the best things you can do for your health, happiness, and productivity.

How could one tool that costs nothing have such an impact?

The magic is in its simplicity.

But, the reason many of us don’t meditate is the complexity of the topic. So let’s break it down:

1. "Why should I meditate?"

Meditation has a tremendous number of well-documented benefits including, but not limited to:

  • increased self-awareness & intuition
  • less stress
  • better sleep
  • improved physical & mental health
  • increased happiness
  • emotional resilience
  • more energy
  • better memory

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (which is now used in thousands of hospitals, prisons, and leadership development programs) sums up the benefits, “[People typically start meditating] because they’re overwhelmed by stress or pain. But there’s something about paying attention to your own inner states, and seeing what needs to change in your life. People on their own stop smoking or change the way they eat and start losing weight.”

And, if amorphous health improvements aren’t motivating enough:

2. “I tried it before, I couldn’t get my mind to stop wandering, so I gave up.”

Meditation Frustration is a common issue. The belief that you have to be in an ashram or on top of a mountain is ridiculous.  You don’t need to be a monk. You don’t even need silence. We get frustrated because we tend to believe it’s for perfect people with perfect self-control. It’s a common misconception because meditation is not taught in a way that resonates with most people.

Contrary to popular belief, you can’t be good or bad at meditation. Each time you meditate is an opportunity to connect with yourself, so whatever happens in meditation is exactly what is supposed to happen. That being said, I completely sympathize with that feeling of annoyance. So, let's set the record straight: Mindfulness is the ability to draw your focus back, it is not simply the ability to concentrate on one thing forever.  If you feel like you don’t know what to do with your thoughts during meditation I recommend trying the meditation at the end of this blog. For more information on passing thoughts during meditation, check out this post on Psych Central.

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3. “I can’t find time, I’m too busy to meditate.”

Ha! I love this one. I’m tempted to snarkily ask how you find time for Facebook or TV, but I’ll use some self-control and answer this lovingly. If you are too busy to meditate, then you definitely need to do it. Finding time is a 2 part issue:

  1. The belief that there isn’t enough time to meditate. All you need is 5 minutes. No exaggeration, even 5 minutes each day makes a SIGNIFICANT impact on your life. Don’t believe me? Try meditating 5 minutes each day for one week. For the second week, try meditating for 7 minutes. Slowly increase your time. Your mind is a muscle, treat it like one.
  2. Not knowing when to do it. The ideal times to meditate are in the morning when you wake up (after you wash up, but before you caffeinate) and in the evening either before dinner or before you wash up to go to bed. That being said, it’s about your schedule and working it in. The key to making a habit stick is visualizing it as part of a routine. For example, in my mind brushing my teeth, washing my face, and meditating are lumped together as my morning ritual.

Meditating during the day is powerful. During the workday it’s helpful because as we get busy and flustered we lose awareness of our breath. Practicing mindful breathing in and out of your nose allows us to connect to our bodies and our emotions. It calms anxiety, stress, and racing thoughts, while increasing our energy.

You’re probably thinking, that sounds nice, but who has time during the workday for that? 

4. “Do I really need to? I just don’t want to.”

I love the challenge of clients who have a general unnamed aversion to things. News flash! Your fear of meditating isn’t about meditation. It’s about sitting still and having to actually deal with your own thoughts and feelings without a distraction. I’m betting that you’re the person who checks facebook/email as soon as you get out of the subway just in case you missed something. (I know you because I was you!) These are the people who really need meditation. I invite you to watch this delightfully and hilariously inappropriate video by comedian Louie C.K.

And, if you know you should, but you still don’t do it. Check this out. 

5. “Doesn’t meditation go against my religion?”

Someone once told me that I shouldn’t do yoga or meditate because "if you relax, then the devil will snatch you up.” I was speechless.  But, had I had control over my words, I would have pointed out that meditation and mindfulness are not rooted in any religion. It’s silence and it’s science. Yes, cognitive neuroscience says that this practice is like taking my brain to the gym. And the gym is not a house of worship.  

Check out Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s take on the issue. 

6. “So HOW do I meditate? What do I actually do? What do I think about? How do I breathe? How do I sit?”

There are many types of meditation, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter which one you do. It’s like pizza. It all tastes good, we just prefer one topping over another.

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  1. To start: Set an intention for your meditation practice, even if it’s just 5 minutes.  Try “I choose to honor myself today.” Set a timer on your phone or use an app.
  2. How to Sit: Start in a seated position, it doesn’t need to be fancy like those zen yoga photos. All that matters is that you’re sitting straight and tall. You can sit in a chair or on the floor. If you choose to sit on the floor, use a bolster, pillow, or blanket under your hips to reduce the strain on your lower back. If you sit in a chair, be sure your feet are on the floor pointing forward.
  3. Eyes: Close your eyes. How’s that for simple?
  4. Breath & Focus: Take a deep breath and allow your breath to anchor you. The easiest way to start meditating is with a breath-counting mindfulness meditation. It’s as simple as counting to 4. 
  • Inhale through your nose. As you exhale through your nose, count “1” in your mind.
  • Inhale through your nose. As you exhale through your nose, count “2” in your mind.
  • Inhale through your nose. As you exhale through your nose, count “3” in your mind.
  • Inhale through your nose. As you exhale through your nose, count “4” in your mind.

Repeat this for 5 minutes.

As thoughts enter your mind, allow them to pass without judgment. Visualize them as nothing more than passing clouds. Return your focus to your breath.

5. End with gratitude. As the timer goes off. Slowly open your eyes and stay present to how you feel. Honor yourself and your practice by stating, “Thank you for this practice. I am grateful for the opportunity to nurture my mind, body, and spirit.”

 

The Takeaway:

Each meditation session is an opportunity to raise your awareness and your vibration. It only takes one simple tool to improve your heath, your happiness, and your productivity. And now that I’ve busted your excuses, the takeaway is that you have nothing standing in your way except your fear of your limitless life.  So what are you waiting for?

 

Share your meditation story! What works for you? How does it help? Let me know in the Comments section below!