One year short of a decade…my personal nod to Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s 2019 and this original post, made with a lot of fear and a major push of will is still extremely relevant, not just for me, but for so many people in the world, so many people in my life, and so many people in YOUR life, even if you don’t know it.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I guarantee that every single person who reads this knows someone who has mental health struggles. It can range from PTSD to depression to anxiety to bipolar to eating disorders to schizophrenia. You probably don’t even know it in many cases because most people have learned to hide it (and themselves) very well. But I promise you, there is someone in your life that survives a mental health struggle every.single.day.

I posted this on a different blog in May 2014 and thought it would be a good idea to repost it to this blog which has a different readership…it’s a long post, but worth the read, in my humble opinion. At the end, an update on where I’m at today.

I love May for many reasons. The grass is green, flowers are blooming, the windows are open, and I can get outdoors to do things without impersonating the kids from A Christmas Story. And, it’s my birthday month, so you know, that’s always a big plus (hint: I have Amazon wishlists…feel free to find them and buy me presents. KIDDING!)

But May also marks the anniversary of an unbelievably hard time in my life. This month will mark 4 years since I drove myself to the hospital and told them that if I didn’t get help, I was going to take as many pills as my body would hold so I could die (failing to mention that I’d already started that little process). I thought I wanted out of this life that I felt was making me so miserable…yet some small part of me still held a glimmer of hope, I guess.

I don’t remember driving to the hospital or waiting in the ER waiting room…

I remember the intake nurse telling me repeatedly to be very sure of what I was saying. She didn’t know that it wasn’t my first rodeo…between 2008 and 2010, I tried several times to kill myself…always with pills, never with “success”. It seems my body has a very high tolerance for medicine…dosages that probably should’ve worked, only made me sleep for days and then throw up for a couple more.

I remember the very kind, young doctor who was semi-hippie-esque and hugged me as I sobbed huge, wracking sobs. He told me over and over that we’d work this out, that I’d feel better, that with the right help things wouldn’t look and feel so bad. He calmed me down enough to tell him the details and then he asked me one simple question “Are you ready to start over?”. I couldn’t speak, I just nodded my head.

I remember the ambulance crew telling me that they thought I was “hilarious” and why would I ever consider suicide when I seemed so happy? Even at that point, I was still putting up that facade of being ok and well.

I remember standing in a room, naked, while the nurses checked me over from head to toe to make sure there were no signs of self harm…and how embarrassed and ashamed I felt. They were kind and gentle, but it was humiliating to be scrutinized in that way. They gave me fuzzy socks and a warm blanket because I couldn’t stop shivering, even though I was sweating bullets.

I remember the abject fear I felt when the solid steel door shut behind me, locking me in a hospital ward that I would not be able to leave for a minimum of 5 days. I remember how bleak and sterile it felt.

I remember calling my boss and explaining to him where I was and that no, I didn’t know when I’d be back to work (because it’s not like there’s a specified end date to treatment for depression). I remember him calling me back because he didn’t believe I was in the hospital.

I remember calling my mom and how stunned and sad she sounded. My facade of happy works wonders when you don’t see me for months on end and only have my voice and my words to go by to determine my well-being. I didn’t talk to my dad…I haven’t talked to my dad about it to this day.

I remember meeting my roommate and thinking how ironic it was that I got paired up with a girl almost 20 years my junior who shared so many of my core beliefs (yay feminists) and superficial interests in movies and books and music. There were times when it felt like we were having a slumber party instead of being in a psych. ward, which just seems kind of surreal.

I remember the morning when the meds they gave me kicked in. It was the first morning in at least, at the very least, 15 years that I woke up and didn’t feel like there was a giant knot in my stomach and an elephant was sitting on my chest. I was so happy…giddy even. It was such an amazing feeling. One of the orderlies on the floor told me that morning I was glowing. THAT is how amazing it felt.

I remember the moment the floodgates broke, while in group therapy, reading this segment of a poem:

PLEASE HEAR WHAT I’M NOT SAYING (excerpt)

Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me,
But don’t be fooled
For God’s sake don’t be fooled.
I gave you the impression that I’m secure,
That all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without
That confidence is my name and coolness is my game
That the water’s calm and I’m in command
And that I need no one
But don’t believe me.

Reading it made me realize that I did not have to be alone in this situation while at the same time putting into words how I was feeling–something I couldn’t seem to say with any amount of accuracy. The passage described me almost perfectly and it scared the hell out of me to think that everything I put out to the world was a lie.

I celebrated the last week of my 30s in that hospital with a wonderful roommate that I’m still friends with; with nurses and therapists that cared so much; with a doctor who quickly picked up, that by nature I’m sarcastic, and he dished it right back at me in a joking manner that made our sessions so much less difficult; and with other people who knew what I was thinking and feeling because they were sitting in the same boat with me.

In a way it seemed fitting to close out that decade of my life by basically hitting rock bottom and  realizing that I wasn’t the person I thought I was and  I would have to start from scratch all over again, building me from the ground up in many ways.

It’s been four years since then and as much as I’d love to say I’m exactly where I want to be, that would be a lie. These past four years have been an incredibly huge struggle. A struggle to learn to love the person I am, a struggle to have honest and open relationships with people, a struggle not to fall back into old patterns and habits, a struggle to take my meds every day even when I think things are “fine”. There are days when it’s still a struggle to even get out of bed and function like one assumes normal people do…shower, brush teeth, make food, go outside, interact with other humans. Some days I succeed, some days I fail. I stopped keeping track of which I did more of.

But the biggest struggle (still) is quieting that inner voice that still tells me, every single day, that life really isn’t worth it. No medication in the world, no self-help, no amount of therapy, no meditation has made that voice completely stop. It’s not as loud as it used to be, it’s not as persistent, but it’s still there…always. Thankfully that therapy, meditation, medication, books, support groups, friends and my parents are there to help me cope when the road gets rough. And I call upon them far more now than I ever used to, but probably still not as much as I should. Asking for help has never been something I’m good or even average at. But I know I have to and I know that if I don’t, then I won’t be on the mortal coil anymore.

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I felt some inexplicable pull to share this with the people I know. There is such a huge stigma to mental illness. And that’s a heavy burden to bear for people who are already struggling just to get through each day. That stigma needs to be eradicated and I hope that by me and other people sharing our stories that there’s a chance we can chip away at it and start realizing that just like physical illnesses you might not be able to see, mental illnesses is just as devastating and painful and REAL. And that others will realize that we’re pretty normal (relatively speaking) people…we aren’t contagious, we aren’t going to suddenly go homicidal on them (most people turn their anger and pain inwards on themselves, not out at others), and we’re not going to force our issues upon them…a majority of us share it only with those who’ve made it clear they’ll be there for us. We learned the hard way that not everyone is cut out to help us cope—and that’s ok.

Hopefully this month and all the months and years to come will see better communication, better information, and better qualifications for mental illnesses…and most importantly, it will see people realizing how important it is to take care of their mental health; that it’s just as important as their physical health in every way.

UPDATE

I really wish I could say that life has improved immensely for me in the 9 years since that hospital stay. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I’ve lost my father and my brother. I take care of my mom who is very slowly dying from COPD or possibly another metastatic cancer that will invade her body. I live in a town I loathe with people who are as different from me as night and day. I’ve eradicated almost my entire family from my life because they take toxicity to a whole new level and that sends me spiraling hard and fast. And the things I love–arts, great music, author readings, museums, etc. are over an hour away.

Five years ago, intellectual conversations about anything and everything were a regular part of my weeks. Now, I’m lucky to have a really good one every few months, if that. I don’t have a career that challenges me. Hell, I don’t even have a full-time job because there are few available, and I guess I’m more qualified for the caliber existing (or so I’ve heard back from several companies).

I have little to no social life, have gained more weight than I ever though I would allow to happen, and I can’t remember the last time I had a deep, belly laugh or smiled in a way that I can feel it in my eyes and my heart. Every night…every single night…I go to sleep hoping I won’t wake up in the morning. And every morning I wake up angry, just because I woke up.

And getting quality, effective mental health help in Iowa is hard. In SE Iowa, it’s almost impossible. There are very few psychologists or mental health workers set to deal with long-term, ongoing therapy. There are a load of licensed social workers who have base knowledge, but not the depth of knowledge necessary for serious and major mental health issues.

All of this creates an ugly vortex that seems inescapable. Yet, I do get up every day. I try my best to take care of mom. I continue sending out resumes. I’m trying to start my own consulting business as a “side hustle”, and I continue taking classes when my mental faculties are able to handle the rapid pace of accellerated classes (it’s taking longer than I had planned).

My support system is not big, but it is solid. I have two close friends, one being my former hospital roomie, I know I can count on. I’ve met some people online who understand what I’m going through, and I no longer fear calling a mental health hotline when I feel I’m not coping and the suicidal ideation becomes a little to real.

Yes, there are days when doing what “normal” folks do every day with ease is impossible or nearly impossible, but I accept those days as part of what I have to deal with for the time being. And I keep hope alive that the people who run this country will realize that if given the resources to take care of our mental health, many people can and will become more productive, more effective, and help develop a more understanding and accessible society.

If you think you or someone you know needs help, do what you can to find it. Know that it can be extremely frustrating, but in the end, it will make a difference. If you do have mental health issues…DO NOT BE ASHAMED OF THEM! They are not a “fault”, they are a medical issue like any other you would be willing to talk about. There should not be a stigma and that stigma dies when more people speak out about their mental health.

Be well, treat yourself with the care you’d give to those you love and care about, know that sometimes self-care is more important than anything else you can do in your day, week, month, or life. And speak out to those who denigrate others’ mental illnesses and issues–let them know that shaming is not acceptable.

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May’s Love/Hate Relationship cont…and it’s LONG!

Long before Moving to Mindfulness began, I made this (original) post on a completely different blog of which I don’t even remember the name (there have been quite a few). I updated it in 2015, but failed to do so again in 2016 and 2017. I’m not really sure why. Maybe I didn’t (don’t) feel like my life has changed as much as I think it should have.

But, it’s 2018 and it’s probably time for an update on things. So, where to start?

The bigger points being mom was diagnosed with cancer in her left lung. They did pinpoint radiation treatment and since August 2016 she’s been cancer-free. Almost two years and no cancer.

I don’t know if I believe in miracles, but I do know that she was given a 50% chance of living more than 1 year after her initial diagnosis and removal of 2/3 of her right lung, chemo, radiation, and the fact that she was early stage 4 since they did find cancerous cells in her lymph nodes.

For it to be nearly 4 years, well, maybe miracles do happen.

But the time in between has been hard. Very hard.

On July 16th, out of the clear blue, my dad got very sick and died suddenly from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. There was no clue he was even sick or had an issue until 2 hours before he died.

I will say there is one wouldn’t wish on anyone and that is seeing their parent, or any loved one,  suffering in excruciating pain that no doctor can take away, then watching them code out in the ER, and then hear them call a code blue over the intercom after they’d taken him for a CT scan—and knowing deep in your heart that your dad had died.

It was beyond awful. There are no words for how bad it was for my mom and for me. And I will never forget the feeling of having to be the one to tell the doctor’s to stop trying to resuscitate him. No matter what, there will always be this very small part of my heart that feels like I killed him, though logically, he was gone long before that moment.

Sadly, or maybe not, my father’s death led to a chasm in our family that will probably never be mended. My siblings (sisters) felt that my mom should make choices regarding my dad’s services, “burial”, division of material possessions, etc. that my mom knew my dad did not want–because let’s be realistic, when one person is damn close to dying from cancer, these things are discussed (at least in my mom’s world they will be).

In the end my one sister stopped speaking to my mom in the fall of 2015 and my mom had to draw up a legal notice of no contact for my other sister.

I truly meant it when I said chasm…And as for me, I didn’t care. I had already filed a harassment charge against my sister shortly after dad’s death and I hadn’t spoken to my other sister for over 5 years. But to see the pain it caused my mom sent me into an emotional down-spiral that was on more levels than I knew how to contend with.

And the therapist I loved going to stopped being a therapist due to his own health issues so then I was scrambling to find the right person/people in a time when I barely had the focus to make it through work each day without fucking everything up. I was sad, punch holes in walls angry, lost, lonely, scared, worried about my mom, and didn’t feel like I had much of a support system at all.

I ended up volunteering to go into a newly formed group therapy at a nearby hospital and it was a really great thing for me. It gave me so many different coping methods, perspectives, ideas, support, and strength. And even though it was only a few weeks, I walked away feeling like I could cope once again.

And life went on…It had ups and downs. Some days and weeks I dealt better than others, as it always is.

But sometimes life really likes to knock you around a lot more than you think you deserve.

Which brings me to my brother. Ohhh my brother. I’m not going to lie, he was hot mess. Drug addiction, raging alcoholism, high levels of domestic abuse, inability to hold a job, and a HORRIBLE relationship with our father.

Strangely, my father’s death seemed to give my brother some bit of will to change a little. His drinking was far less than it had previously been. Drugs were pretty much out of the picture other than smoking pot, and he’d held a job for almost two years–more than he’d done in a decade or more.

He came to my mom’s almost every weekend to help out with the lawn and flowers and repairs and anything he could do. He and I started building a bit of a relationship. We were talking openly and I was trying really hard to give him support while nudging him towards getting some help because 35+ years of that behavior and the physical and mental abuse he received from our dad is not something you get over on your own. Nobody could, in my opinion.

And then suddenly, back he slid. He lost his job, his alcoholism and abuse towards his girlfriend started up again. At that point my priority was mom’s well being…it’s my priority only second to my well-being…and I had to make the call that until he got help, meaning inpatient. fairly long-term, rehab and mental health help he could no longer be around mom or me.

This was in September 2016.

One month later, at 2ish in the morning I got repeated phone calls from his phone that I ignored and then blocked. And then my mom called…

My brother was dead. And it felt like hell started all over again.

Initially it looked like he committed suicide and the guilt was overwhelming. He’d threatened before, he’d tried before, but he ALWAYS got in touch with someone immediately—they were his cries for help and attention, and I honestly don’t believe he ever “meant” to kill himself.

Then we waited for the coroner, the toxicology, the pathology—9 weeks of waiting.

And in that 9 weeks the rumors were flying because that’s what people in small towns do. And they were flying all over social media and word of mouth from extended family members who were clueless. Once again, I stepped up and in and laid it out that if they didn’t stop, legal action would be taken because I honestly believed that my mom was near a breakdown hearing things from virtual strangers (not to mention my brother’s girlfriend, ex-wife, and son seeing it all over social media). And the family chasm grew wider and uglier.

To our slight relief, the reports came back that my brother had a massive heart attack and there’s a good chance he took some of his girlfriend’s anti-anxiety medicine because he thought he was having a panic attack, not a heart attack. That with the high level of alcohol in his body created a storm that his body couldn’t overcome. But he did not have enough drugs in his system to be considered an overdose, even with a compromised system as his was.

The strange bit, in a way, is that my brother was 56. My grandfather was 56 when he had his first heart attack. My dad was 58 when he had double bypass surgery, my uncle was in his 40s when he had his first heart attack. In some ways knowing all that is a little more of a relief because regardless of his history of drugs, alcohol, it could’ve happened anyway (because seeing doctors is not something the men in my family do unless under dire circumstances).

And so the spiral continues much like one of those whirly things people hang outside their windows where you can’t tell if it’s going up or down. Regardless, life hasn’t been easy, but I think if it wouldn’t have been for a consistent meditation, journaling, and mindfulness practices it would be a lot worse.

In November 2016 mom and I went to Arizona, a vacation we’d had planned for months and one we hoped would give us a little emotional reprieve. While there, I did a Chakra Cleanse Meditation and Hike in the vortexes at Sedona.

At the time I went into it with a healthy dose of skepticism, but if the years since I’d moved back to Iowa taught me anything it was that the universe has an energy it gives to us and takes away from us and we give and take away from it—I decided to move home, mom got diagnosed with cancer. I started looking for a job elsewhere and had some very close but no cigar hits and then my dad passed away…I think those things were the universe’s ways of saying this is where I’m supposed to be. But, I digress.

Back to the Chakra cleanse/hike.  It was something I can’t say I’ve ever felt before. The emotional release I had with my guide was beyond anything I’d ever accomplished in therapy or with medication. It was as if a brick wall had been lifted off my heart.

Chakra cleansing is now part of my weekly meditations and mindfulness practices and though I don’t feel that same level of emotional freeness, I still feel it in small measures.

And that brings us fairly up to date. 2018 has been mostly uneventful so far—and THAT is a really good thing. All of the work I’ve been doing has brought me to the point that in the past 9ish months, I’ve gone from taking 300 mg of Effexor daily to 75 mg every other day which will then lead me to being off it completely. I’ve dropped my anxiety meds from 3 mg daily to 1 mg daily also with the hopes of being off them completely.

I’m supplementing these changes with a fair number of supplements and adaptagens, and some CBD (100% THC free).

The depression still rears its head occasionally, but no more or less than when I was on a much higher dose of meds—which makes me wonder if they were necessary, if I was diagnosed correctly, and a lot of other thoughts, but one thing I work very hard on is keeping the past in the past, the future in the future, and focusing on the now.

I think the anxiety will always be with me at some level–it’s definitely part of my chemical make-up. Deep breathing is my THANG! My fitbit even has a “relax” mode that I can use as my SOS when needed! Oh technology, the love and bane of our existences!

My front door has two phrases written on it to be my reminders every day: LIVE YOUR TRUTH and FOREVER IS COMPOSED OF A LOT OF NOWS. And that’s what I try, really hard, to do every day.

There are more changes in my life to come…a double masters, working on my own consulting business, possibly becoming a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy trainer. And I will be making another trip to Sedona, maybe many, because it’s the closest I’ve come to healing my soul.

For all the people who live with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, please know you can work on it, through it, even with it. Pushing it down and out of ourselves, as the Western Medical Community seems to want us to do, may not be what works best for you. Seek your options. Google is your friend, support groups of various kinds can be your guiding hands, others you know personally or through friends/family/co-workers can be your support. Don’t shy away from alternative methods and don’t EVER fear asking questions of your healthcare providers or changing them if your gut is telling you they’re not working in your best interest…
strongerthanyouknow

Seismic Shifts

Most of the time, in mindfulness practice(s), things shift slowly and subtlety. You move along day after day and then suddenly you realize that you’ve had this small change in how you think, how you react, how you respond instead of react. You quickly see what causes imbalance in you instead of it taking multiple times or days/weeks/months to realize these things.

And though I have no “proof”, I do believe there are occasional times when you feel or notice a huge shift in your path. It’s kind of a Quantum Leap, to reference an old favorite of mine.

I recently I’ve had one of these leaps and it’s caused a little trauma for me because it wasn’t an external realization, but an internal one. It was something about myself that I consider (personally) a serious negative in the whole of who I am trying to be (basically the best me possible) and it’s something I wasn’t willing to honestly look at. When I did, I  realized “this HAS to change because it is not only awful for those you push it out to, it’s awful for your psyche as well”. Let’s just say there have been lots of tears and recriminations over the past few days. But I’m past those, a little more accepting of these behaviors as PAST behaviors. OK, maybe not totally past, but since their on the priority radar, they are ones I can focus on to change.

The other thing I’ve noticed about mindfulness practice as you continue along is that once you have these realizations, whether they be big or small, your “being present” makes it, for lack of a better word, easier to make those changes.

Now, this certainly doesn’t mean it will happen overnight, nor that it will take a short amount of time. But, mindfulness also helps one realize that when you notice and feel, truly feel, these things, you want to change them and you want to work at those changes.

So, that’s my current journey, changing these behaviors that are harmful to me and to others, continuing the journey towards the better me…

quote Pema Chödrön

Get Healthy-The Time Has Come to Focus on Mind AND Body

This is slightly off the beaten path, but still has a definite connection to Mindfulness and one’s overall well-being and it’s my physical health.

My life of solitude has also lead to a life of sedentary activities more than active activities. And that has led to serious weight gain and physical health issues (neck/back/shoulder), insomnia, major and consistent heart-burn, lack of energy. Yeah, 232.3 pounds (as of this a.m.) AIN’T pretty. I know the scale isn’t the psychic of healthy living, but I know, in every fiber of my being, that I’m NOT living a healthy life and I also know that has to change for so many reasons.

So, I ponied up $149 to Join the Nerd Fitness Academy. For anyone who knows me, they’ll totally get why I’m on there. For those who don’t, you’ll quickly see, via that site, that I am NERDPROUD!

In seriousness, what it really came down to was that I liked the founder’s way of 1. breaking it down. 2. reaching a niche audience that I think feels like they don’t fit into the standard ‘fitness’ roles that society throws at us, and 3) the cost is less for one year than any gyms in my town that have pretty limited equipment (they don’t know that cardio equipment has gone far past ellipticals, treadmills, and rowers) and I don’t have to deal with looks, comments, gossip, etc. that tend to happen in these parts—and considering I have 2 bikes, a kayak, an indoor bike trainer, kettle balls, yoga mats, straps, loops, bolsters, blocks, etc., hand weights, and a couple of nice park areas for walking/running (one within walk/run distance).

And Steve (the founder) is big on accountability. For my first week, I had “quests” (doesn’t that sound much more fun than goals, steps, or whatever else the fitness world puts out there). I had to take those dastardly before photos (and no, they won’t be posted here), put down my weight and body measurements-SO MUCH FUN, and right out, with pen & paper, the BIG why. The deepest level reason I want/need to lose weight.

Let’s just say that when you dig deep and the first line you write is “I’m disgusted and unhappy with myself, inside & out.”, it’s very telling how you feel about the body you’re living in.

BigWhyThis is my Big Why statement. It speaks volumes about how I feel about my body and what I think a healthy lifestyle, long-term, will do for me.  And it’s one of the Quests—we are accountable for sharing this with someone(s). I’m sharing it here because I think it also speaks alot about how mindful one has to be about themselves to be able to deeply look inside and put these things down on paper, post them publicly, and in my case, hang it up by my bed as a daily reminder of what I need to do consistently to create the healthiest, best life of me that I can.

And hey, maybe someday I’ll even feel good enough about how I’m living my life, physically, mentally, and emotionally, I’ll even post those before and after photos!

Depression: It Has a Control Panel

This morning while doing my mighty stack of dishes*, I was listening to the Sincerely, X podcast from the creator of the TED talks. These short 20-25 minute talks are done anonymously and the speakers share not only intimate details of their lives, but also their resilience, creativity, ideas, and ways for us, the listeners, to be proactive regarding specific topics (if applicable).

I’m sure you’re asking “What the hell does this have to do with mindfulness?” Well, Episode 7/8 (depending on what you use to listen to podcasts) , “Mood Changer” is a woman speaking about her debilitating depression. Her words resonated with me in a way that I could feel myself vibrating with energy because she was putting into words what I have a hard time doing. In a nutshell, depression isn’t one size fits all, it doesn’t always come at us the same way each time it comes at us, and even more important, you can’t really “plan” for it and we can’t necessarily control when it hits us, but we CAN control how we deal with it, not as the big tidal wave or cannonball or blanket suffocating us, but as the incrimental moments that make up our day in which our mood may be depressive, but is still fluxuating in various forms for depression.

Her perspective is that we have to be spontaneous with our depression, which in many ways speaks to mindfulness because it is all about being in the present, dealing with the NOW. And really, isn’t that what spontenaeity is–opting for something right now, this minute, let’s go…whoo hoo!?

Ok, there is probably no serious get up and go with depression, but we do hold the control switch on taking a moment or 5 or 15 or 30, sitting with ourselves and our emotions and feeling them, letting them guide us a little bit to tell us what we need in that moment. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is easy, it’s far from it. Learning to sit with yourself and your monkey mind/hamster brain, not to mention the flood of emotions that come with it is hard. It can be exhausting and painful. But, after working on this for a couple years now, I’ve found that I usually come out of it one of two ways 1. needing a serious nap to overcome the exhaustion or 2. with an idea that might help me cope with the emotions I’m feeling right then.

Cope—it’s a word we use a lot when it comes to mental and physical health issues and tends to sound negative, but for me, coping is a positive. Every day that I cope with my mental health issues is another day I’m living. It’s another day I have to work on more ways to deal. It’s another day to hope that medicine, my hormones, my overall body chemistry, etc. can change and grow so that hey, maybe the depression will lessen to a point of being so much easier to cope with!

But, let’s get back to that spontenaeity. While doing group therapy, one of the things we did was create a ‘coping box’. This could come in multiple forms—a larger container full of things that you know help you cope–coloring books, bath bombs for a bath, essential oils, books, journals, crossword puzzles, uplifting movies, etc. -OR- a smaller container with words on them to pick at random and do when you feel like you can’t make a decision.–go for a walk, bake, light candles and soak in the tub, read a funny book, dance to music, play an instrument, call a friend, journal, buy helium balloons and let them fly-giving each a name of a negative emotion that you’re letting go, names of favorite meditations, podcasts, etc. to listen to, cuddling with your pet, asking your partner or friend for a hug…really, the list is endless.

And these are both great mechanisms, but I believe if they are the only things used, we see depression as something controlling us and so we’re randomly choosing a distraction.

What happens if we just be for a moment or two and let our mind decide what might make us feel better, but doesn’t necessarily mean we “escape” from our emotions, but instead allow them to drift through what we’re doing like wisps of smoke or cloud, dissipating as we go along?

I find that different levels or types of depression cause me to want different things. For a period of time coloring helped me. It gave me a focus, not a distraction because I opted for coloring books that allowed me to use color arrays to portray my emotional state (mandalas, geometric patterns, etc. instead of actual pictures). My last really bad bout last month sent me into research mode. I wanted to know more about the brain science/body science of depression, as well as what meditation and mindfulness did to the brain/body when, as a person with a depressive disorder, I practiced regularly.

Neither of these things were escapism from what my body and mind were doing to me (that’s what the sleeping for 15-18 hours a day was for), but instead got me more in tune with what I’m dealing with right now, each in it’s own way.

My coloring during that depressive episode is a spectrum of the roller coaster ride that it was…dark, ruminating, inpenetratable colors on my worst days, jewel tones and metallics when things were more even and balanced, and water colors and blending when my focus was absolutely not coming into focus. They are a beautiful array of how I moved through that episode.

The reading and watching of scientific, medical, psychological, and spiritual information during my research episode gave me so much useful information to use in the future–not to mention, helping me try to explain it to family and friends who can’t wrap their heads around it.

This is all to say that “Mood Changer”  is on to something, in my opinion. We can’t plan out how our depression is going to manifest or live (because it definitely feels like a living thing) in us, but we can control how we work with it, even make cordial acquaintances with it instead of allowing it to be our nemesis that eats at us all the time.

I really do suggest listening to this podcast episode…actually, all of them. They’re perfect for that short walk, while doing chores, and they’re incredibly informative, even if you don’t necessarily agree with all of them!

 

 

It’s been a rough winter, but the snow is pretty!

Emotionally and mentally, this winter has been a hell equivalent to that of May 2010. It seems that the past 3 years and all that has happened have caved in on me and my mind and body are trying to deal with them…not very well, I might add.

It’s strange to think “it’s been three years, things spread out over time, not all falling on your head at once, just get over it”, yet logically knowing that the death of your father, the death of your brother, the terminal cancer diagnosis of your mother, the death of several friends’ parents, a sibling who’s made my life and my mom’s a living hell, extended family that pushed me to the limit with their two-faced, rumor spreading, ugly behavior, plus the added luxury of depressive and anxiety disorders is A LOT OF SHIT TO DEAL WITH NO MATTER HOW LONG IT’S BEEN. Warring sides of your brain and emotions is a recipe for some serious issues, at least for me it is. So much to the point that I gave my sleep meds to a friend and only keep one or two in the house for bad nights because I was at the point I was, once again, worried I was going to take them and not look back. It’s not a fun place to be.

But, in the midst of it all, I’m also trying my best to utilize the coping skills I’ve learned through therapy and on my own. And one of the biggest things I’ve been trying to really work is that if something isn’t typically bringing me a level of ok-ness or better, I need to do something about it (i.e. change my mindset if that’s the case or remove that “thing” from my life).

In the case of the extended family that were doing mental and emotional harm by their words and actions, it meant telling them I want nothing to do with them ever again. In the case of things that I can’t really control, like far more things on my FB feed causing me to be unhappy instead of happy, it’s deleting my account.

To many people these things seem very extreme. And in many ways they are…to someone who’s brain works normally. When your brain doesn’t, you can only do what “normal” people do for so long and then you have to self-protect in the best way possible for you.

These extremes don’t have wholly negative connotations. I no longer feel the stress of my extended family members getting information about me (and my mom) and spreading rumors and misinformation that we were battling on a regular basis, whether it be about me and what I’m doing with my life (none of their business), mom’s cancer status (why not come to the sources), or the death of my brother (telling false information before we had all the medical reports back, thus creating a lot of drama and pain for those who loved him), nor do I have to listen to my one aunt bitch incessantly about her siblings while insinuating and trying to control their lives in manipulative and ridiculous ways.

With FB, I no longer have to see the posts that make me feel like I don’t remotely have my life together when it looks like everyone else does, even though that’s a false scenario(s) logically, or read about the constant barrage of negative political and social information that was eating at me because I never felt like I could do enough for enough things, again, giving me the feelings of failure.

Cutting the family loose and letting go of FB for a couple of weeks freed up time, energy, and brainwork to begin the process of viewing myself differently—a very slow, painful, lather, rinse, repeat process that I want to have as little (chosen) interference as possible). And though the depression is still a very hardcore, semi-constant this winter, I’m dragging myself through it each hour of each day. Some days I do better than others.

At some point, I will be posting about some of the meditations, books, journals, etc. that I’ve been utilizing for this process. There’s a chance they could be a help for someone else, just as they’re being a help for me. But right now, I leave you with this…life isn’t easy, it isn’t “normal” for anybody. Life is just life and regardless of how it looks on TV, the movies, FB, Insta, Twitter, magazines, or reality shows, EVERYONE is muddling through the best they can. Some just have more and better access to help than others, but we are all, on our own able to get through the next minute and then the minute after that and keep doing that until we can check off that we successful made it through the day, then the week, then the month and so on. EVERYONE CAN DO IT.

On the plus side…we have SNOW! Gorgeous, white, fluffy snow. It is the one thing about winter that makes me happy.

Serious post: TW-Sexual abuse connotation

Mindfulness is all encompassing. It’s about sitting with all your feelings, reconfiguring how you view things, and also incorporating how you interact with the outside world.

The U.S., the world, is embroiled in a battle, mostly spearheaded (rightfully so) by women who are standing up against the sexual harassment, assault, abuse, and rape they have endured for decades upon decades. And these are just the public faces. There are millions, MILLIONS of women….faceless, nameless women to the rest of the world, who have also endured, sat by silently, committed suicide, suffered years of PTSD, suffered loss of relationships, jobs, and have dealt with an array of mental health issues.

And hopefully the #metoo campaign will help all of them do what is right for them–seek help, come forward, press charges…whatever it takes to help them heal.

But, I have a side of the story that is a little different. One where I had to question myself in a manner that disgusted me because how, HOW could I be someone who did the exact opposite of what I stand up against.

I went home one night with a guy. We were both drunk, him moreso than me. It wasn’t until several months later that he told me he didn’t remember that night. He remembered me coming back to his house, but nothing beyond that, and there were a lot of empty pockets before that as well, it seems.

We had sex. We had sex that he initiated and I enthusiastically accepted.  I did this knowing, logically, that “consent” is not possible in either of our inebriated states, yet still did it because drunken brains to function on logic.

When I found out he had no memory, I flipped the hell out. I felt like a predator. I felt like an abuser (or what I assume an unintended abuser would feel like). I felt like a rapist—there, I said it. I.felt.like.a.rapist.

I did the only thing I felt was right and I talked to him about it. I apologized. I explained how I was feeling. And then I asked him where he stood emotionally, mentally, etc. with it. I was willing to take whatever he threw at me, including the absolute worst—that he thought I raped him. Dear god, I was bawling beyond it because I NEVER thought I, a woman who has fought for abused women for well over a decade, would ever be in this position. Yet there I was.

He said that it wasn’t even an issue in his eyes. There was no harm, no consequences, nothing “bad” had happened. I was stunned and wasn’t sure what to do beyond continuing to apologize because internally, I felt like the worst human being ever!

And I’m not going to lie, I’ve been on the opposite side of this equation more than once where the previous night’s activities were blurry, some a complete loss to me (I was really, really stupid in my 20s), but like the guy I was with, I never felt I was violated in any way…except one time, and even then I kept my mouth shut because I knew my “sexually free” lifestyle would come back to haunt me because it was my word against the dude’s—and we know how that turns out, especially on college campuses.

I’ve dealt with that through years of therapy, helping others in that position, trying to be an ally to those who’ve gone through it, and trying to educate others so they don’t have to. It’s the reason I’m so absolutely passionate about the issues of abuse and repro. rights for women (sometimes they go hand-in-hand).

And the one thing I’ve learned in all these years….well over 20, is that very few women will come forward and lie about something that will drag their name and reputation through the mud, potentially lose them friends, family, jobs, careers, self-respect, and bring up memories that re-trigger those mental health issues. They’ll rationalize it away in any way they can, until some kind of internal trigger pushes them to open up about it—whether to family, friends, therapist, or publicly.

So when someone like Michael Douglas makes a pre-emptive strike* against a woman, it makes me fear how far the patriarchy will go to shut women up, to take away their agency, to put them on the defensive…and why they just can’t admit they fucked up, pay their dues for it, and get on with their lives….just like the women who’ve been abused are expected to do every day, while suffering in silence and pain.

*He also claimed, though he says it’s not what he meant, that his throat cancer was because of cunnilingus (I’m sure that made his wife feel just peachy, along with his denigration of her over her mental health issues…why the F is she still with this douche?)

I honestly am at a loss for what we can do right now besides come forward, hold people accountable, hold our ground as women (and men) who’ve been abused…and continue pushing forward so that boys and men don’t think this behavior is ok, that they can get away with it, or that they can intimidate others via threats of any sort, even if they’re unspoken.

5…4…3…2…1, Blast-off (in a positive way)

 

I LOVE THIS for all the reasons she pointed out and another one that isn’t totally touched on.

And it’s blame. When something negative happens to us, we have a tendency to blame that person, event, thing, whatever it might be for how we react. But, that’s not REALLY it…
Example, I knocked a 3/4 full cup of coffee off my table the other day. It tipped and hit the floor and spilled partially on my journals and books scattered about that I’d just finished writing in and reading excerpts out of.
I.LOST.MY.SHIT. I was swearing up a storm, very f’n loudly, ranting and raving to myself about being fat and uncoordinated and not paying attention–oh the list was big, so very big.
That afternoon I read something that gave me a light bulb moment . I was reading this book and it made the simple equation that goes something like this.
A—Action or words that you deem negative.
B—Your instantaneous/knee-jerk thoughts about those actions or words.
C—Your reaction

Now, in math it’s the A+B=C, but in this one, not so much. A becomes irrelevant because it’s not really the action or word that causes us to react. It’s what we instantly think upon it happening. It’s those thoughts that cause our reactions. And WE can have control of how we process those thoughts. WE don’t have to knee-jerk our reaction.

Was knocking a cup of coffee really worth me treating myself that badly and getting that ridiculously angry? No, it was accident, it happens every minute of every day to at least one person world, I’m sure—might not be coffee, but someone is ALWAYS knocking over a drink.

So, what if when those negative words or actions slap us in the face, we count backwards, 5 to blast-off,  as if NASA was looking over our damn shoulders and the fate of a rocket and astronauts was in our hands?

Isn’t not beating ourselves up or engaging in ridiculous drama* that isn’t of much importance which causes us internal emotional and mental pain for hours or days or weeks or months equally as important?

 

*Drama—unnecessary crap that has no value in your life.

It’s not issues that need to be addressed and dealt with, though there’s a good chance, people who, deep down, know they’re in the wrong will say it’s “drama”; people who have a 100% different POV than you will think it’s “drama” when you stand your ground. There are certain times that we NEED to be angry because as Mr. Nancy/Anansi in American Gods said “Angry is good, Angry gets shit done.”

Mindfulness is all about baby steps

It’s been close to a year and half since I started my mindfulness journey and there’s a part of me that feels like I should be further along than I am. But in all the reading and research I’ve done, everyone goes along at their own pace and it’s not something that 10 meditation sessions a day will really help in speeding it along.

The part about mindfulness is that it’s not this zen, happy, transcendental place. It’s about tapping into a lot negative emotions and thinking, a lot of the time…at least for me.

Some weeks the meditation and mindful practices come very easily to me. Some weeks, it’s a struggle to make it through 5 or 10 minutes. The same good be said for my appetite, exercise, sleep…life in general these days.

But, it’s those days when it does flow smoothly that make me keep pushing forward with it, and also trying to expand it into other areas as well.

In February I embarked on the Whole30# diet (I prefer to call it a program…it doesn’t seem like a “diet” due to the foundational reasons for doing it). I found that I did a HUGE amount of emotional eating. Being given a quite limited option of food and drink to choose from (i.e. fruit, vegetables, meat/fish/poultry and no dairy, legumes, grains, added sugar…). I didn’t choose to do it to lose weight, though whenever I mentioned having done it, that was the first question asked by every.single.person (more on that later). Besides the emotional eating, I also learned what things bothered my digestive system, my skin, various areas of inflammation, etc. which has put me on a path to eating way better, though much differently than I had before. And it also made me more mindful of what I ate, when I ate it, how I ate it, what I cook, when I cook it, and even the process of cooking, and I’ve begun to thoroughly enjoy foods again, instead of using them as crutches.

As much as mindfulness brought about the above positive, among others, it can also bring about some negatives. When you spend the time being present, it also means your spending time with the essences, or the core-if you will, of who you are and what beliefs reside there and you begin living your life fully within those beliefs.

Unfortunately, when those beliefs don’t coincide with a majority of the people around you, it can be quite painful, emotionally and mentally. You become an outsider in more ways than you imagined because,  you no longer accept and allow people or things in your life that go against them. And realistically, those people don’t want to be around you either. And this has created some loneliness that I’ve never really dealt with.

I rarely felt lonely in Chicago. I always felt comfortable doing things by myself. I don’t feel that way about Fort Madison. I don’t like the conversations that typically surround me in public, I don’t like the looks I get when I do things alone, and honestly, I don’t really want to interact with a large chunk of the people here. So, maybe it’s more that I feel isolated than lonely because I don’t feel like I CAN go out and do those things and be comfortable. Dealing with that is just one more little baby-step to be dealt with when the time comes that it is moving up my priority list. Right now, there are other things that take precedence.

Word of the Day: Jangle

via Daily Prompt: Jangle

verb: make or cause to make a ringing metallic sound, typically a discordant one.
noun: a ringing metallic sound.

This is a “Google” definition of jangle.

My definition has nothing to do with the discordant ringing of bells or a metallic tone.

Jangle to me is a discordant rattling of my nerves/anxiety…and the words “jangled nerves” have been around since…well, I remember my granny using them.

For me, it’s a bit different because it ties directly into my anxiety disorder. Jangled is a “socially acceptable”, non-stigmatized world anyone can use out in public without being judged. Me saying “oh yeah, I have a severely high anxiety disorder and it fucks with me a lot in many different forms.

Perfect example: I just brought Willow the kitten home. I’ve been an anxious mess making sure she’s safe, the other cats are still feeling loved, still eating, and drinking their water, not feeling like their territory is being usurped, etc.

For most people this would be a minor thing. For me? Major anxiety inducing situation–short-term because I know that they’ll all come around at some point, in their own time. But, I have to  be mindful and meditate on this daily…allowing myself the knowledge that there’s only so much of it I can control.

And that’s where the jangle comes in…control. I have slowly began the process of stepping away from the things I can’t control, but I’m type A, it’s not easy to think I can’t control a situation in my home with my own felines! 🙂 But I can’t–they have little minds and wills and issues of their own, that I can’t do much more than try to sooth when their nerves get jangled.

So, my jangle is a deeper existence of the word. Not that doesn’t bring up the idea of those big bells resonating in the hands of faux Santas at Xmas, or a the church bell that rings at 10 a.m. across the street from me and that I’ve incorporated into my meditation–as weird as that probably sounds.

The reality is that I have to always be cognizant of when I’m getting jangled, how strong it is, can I get it under control by coping mechanisms, or do I need to take a anti-anxiety med? Decisions become a little tougher in my jangled states.

But, as I continue working through my mindfulness practices and my meditation practices, I learn to keep the jangle, sometimes-mostly, under control for the minor things…the jangle of the bigger anxieties, well, that’s a different story.