Down but not out

Hello! It’s been a long time since I last posted. Thanks to those who’ve been reading the blog, leaving comments, and sending messages. And thanks to those who are reading this 🙂

Depression and anxiety have been kicking my ass lately. Anxiety especially. It’s funny, in a way: generally, I feel like I can control my anxiety pretty well, but when it gets bad, I become quite aware that my anxiety controls me.

I wake up anxious. As soon as my eyes are open, the anxiety sets in. My mind starts going a million miles a minute trying to worry about every little detail of every little thing. On occasion, my anxiety wakes me up in the middle of the night. It’s exhausting. I think that makes the mental illness harder to combat – sometimes you’re just too tired to fight.

Panic attacks have been a frequent friend over the past few months. The heart palpitations are always disconcerting, no matter how often I experience them. The palpitations aren’t a medical concern for me, but when my heart is thumping away like that, I can’t help but take notice. My poor heart works so hard for me; I don’t think I treat it well enough.

I’ve begun the process of seeking treatment. Meds and therapy again, probably. It’s slow going (partially because it’s a struggle for me to get anything done and partially because the health system can be slow if you’re not dying on their doorstep [I’m not complaining though; I might actually be dead if it weren’t for Canada’s socialized medicine). I’m not exactly jumping up and down at the prospect of treatment, but medication and therapy were a big help to me in the past, so I’m fine with trying again. Really, I probably shouldn’t have been off meds or out of therapy in the first place, but I wanted to try going without, and I was fine for a while. My brain caught up with me, is all!

In the meantime, I try to keep myself occupied – crochet, paint, read, cook, listen to music…whatever distracts me for a little while. I’m taking things day by day. Today was a little better than yesterday. Maybe tomorrow will be a little better than today. I can hope at least!

Hopefully you have a good day too ❤

 

 

 

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Negative Thinking

Hello, all! It’s been so long! I’m afraid I haven’t been in much a writing mood lately, but I figured I should check in and let people know I’m still alive. 🙂


I wouldn’t call myself an optimist. I like to think of myself as a realist. But, let’s be honest, that’s just a fancy marketing-type term for pessimist, isn’t it?

In the past, I have frequently and compulsively let myself mope and ruminate about all the awful things in life. It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing with the depression; do I feel depressed because of the negative thoughts, or do I think negative thoughts because of the depression?

When I began treating my depression and anxiety, I had to confront my own thinking patterns. The negative thoughts were not helping me. If I wanted to be happy, I had to learn to think more positively, or, at the very least, realistically about things. Instead of telling myself ‘Today is going to be hellish,’ I had to begin telling myself ‘Today might be a good day; I won’t know until I get on with it.’

The change in perspective has helped a little, though it’s not a pancea. There’s a bit of a learning curve to it, but eventually it starts to feel natural to challenge the negative thoughts. I assume the eventual goal is that you don’t have all the negative thoughts to challenge, but that seems like a distant goal at this point.

Now, here’s my confession: sometimes I still let myself mope and ruminate and relish in those terribly negative thoughts. I do this for two reasons.

The first reason is that it allows for a cathartic release. Once in a while, I curl up in bed and think awful things and have a cry. Sometimes I feel better after. Not always. Sometimes I feel worse. But the times that I feel better allow me to justify it in my own mind.

The second reason is to combat anhedonia. I spend a lot time comfortably – or uncomfortably – numb. Sometimes it seems like I don’t feel much of anything. Letting myself think negative thoughts and feel bad for a while serves as a reminder that I do have feelings, no matter how well I manage to push them down most of the time. I wonder if this doesn’t make me a bit like an addict. Perhaps I’m addicted to feeling bad. I’ve spent so much of my life feeling miserable that there’s a certain amount of comfort in it. Still, I know this won’t help me to get better, so I try not to do this too often.

But let’s look on the bright side since that’s what we ought to do: at least I don’t mope all the time anymore. Any progress is good.

Changing is hard

Changing is hard. Okay, lots of things are hard when you’re depressed. Getting up in the morning. Finding the energy to do everyday tasks. Looking for the will to go on. You know, all that good stuff. But changing yourself and your thoughts is especially hard.

It’s a strange battle, isn’t it? Often, you know what you ought to do or have to do. And often, you just can’t seem to summon up the will to do it.

Let’s say you want to to start exercising more, and let’s say you even found the energy to do it a couple of days. Great! That’s a good start in making a positive change in your life. Then you miss a day, or two, or three, or a month. That change didn’t go so well, and now it’s like you have to start over from the beginning. It can be demotivating.

Or let’s say you’re trying to combat social isolation. You chat with a couple of friends you haven’t talked to in a while, catch up. Everything seems pretty okay, and maybe you’re even feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Then plans you made with one friend fall through and you’re left feeling disappointed and depressed. It’s not really their fault and it’s not necessarily yours. But it can set your progress back.

I know there are changes I should make to improve my life. The problem is that my mind, my depression tells me that these changes are nearly impossible. I think of the cost, the energy needed, the risk and I find it difficult to carry things through. Changing is hard!

And I’m stubborn, really stubborn. I have negative thought processes that have slowly been ingrained in me over the past 20+ years; it might take another 20+ years to rewire those processes.And I’m so, so tired of fighting some days – tired of fighting with myself, with the world. Sometimes I don’t want to change. Sometimes I want to take the easy route.

But I think change can be good. So I try, and try, and keep trying, despite some reluctance and more than a little anxiety.

I don’t think there is some magical way to make changing easier. Take things one step at a time? Get back up when you fall? Pick your battles wisely? It’s all decent advice. But it’s still going to be hard. And it’s still going to seem pretty awful. And it’s probably going to be pretty depressing.

But I hope it’s worth it in the end!

❤ Michelle

Runs in the Family

Mental illness can have hereditary links. Between scientific evidence and anecdotal experience, I don’t think many people would disagree with this. If somebody in your family has a certain mental illness, you might have it too. You might not. But you might.

I couldn’t really tell you if depression runs in my family. I’m tempted to say it does, but I could be mistaking somebody’s regular old sadness, or temporary bouts of depression for something more serious. I’m not a doctor, so I won’t try to diagnose anybody.

However, I can say with more confidence that anxiety does run in my family. It is especially common in the women. One of my aunts has received medical attention and medication for anxiety. When some of the others talk about their worries, I’m able to recognize the unhealthy thought patterns. I recognize them because I have them myself.

But here’s the thing: we don’t talk about it, not really. Something might be mentioned in passing. Nobody comes out and says “I have an anxiety disorder.” For whatever reason, talking about it isn’t something we do. I’m really no better than the rest of them. I’ve never told anybody in my family my diagnoses. None of us are necessarily hiding the truth, but we don’t face it head on either.

And I wonder how much of the anxiety is learned behaviour. My mother is a worrier. She’ll keep herself up all night worrying about things. I’ve done it a time or two (or three, or four – I’ve lost count) myself. Did I pick up on her bad habits? Did I subconsciously learn to be afraid of things because I sensed that she was afraid?

I don’t know, but I know it can happen. We’ll use the example of my mother again. She hates thunderstorms. She’s afraid of them. I love them, but so does my father. I asked my mother why she’d afraid. She said because her father was. When there was a storm in the night, he’d get up and pace in the kitchen. He was afraid of storms because his mother was afraid. She would gather the children and they would all hide beneath the kitchen table when there was a storm. This fear was passed down through the generations because the children took on their parent’s worries.

What can I conclude from all this? Not much. All I know is that my family is a bunch of worriers and I love a good storm.

Art Therapy: Mandalas

I read somewhere that drawing mandalas (basically, geometric patterned shapes/designs) could be a good way of coping with stress and anxiety. Having a bit of a creative bent, I thought I’d give it a try. A little art therapy is good for anybody, right? So, for a while, I took to doodling mandalas (most often when I was watching T.V or doing some other mindless task that had me sitting down).

I had mixed results with this activity. On one hand, I think it can be useful to get your mind off things because you’re focused on creating your pattern. It gives you something neutral to concentrate on. This is handy if you’re feeling a bit anxious!  On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s a great task for somebody with perfectionist tendencies (like me) because you will notice every wonky line, uneven shape, etc. Perhaps for the especially self-critical among us, coloring mandalas would be more relaxing and less infuriating (You can find lots of mandala colouring pages online that are free to print off!). Colouring is also pretty popular these days as a way of dealing with stress and anxiety; I do that once in a while too.

One great things about this activity is that it’s pretty easy and incredibly inexpensive to do. All you need is some paper and some sort of writing utensil. I used lined paper and a black pen (plus a red pen to colour one). You can make your mandala very simplistic, or very intricate. If you need some ideas, I recommend looking up images of mandalas for inspiration.

I’ll show a few I did (and I’ll try not to mourn my sloppy line work too much haha!):

If you click on the image, it should enlarge. Number 3 is my favourite 🙂

So, if this seems like something you might enjoy, I suggest giving it a go. Just try not to stress about it too much – I’ll try this too!

Worthlessness, Depression, and Unemployment

I am almost impressed by how worthless depression and unemployment can make you feel.

If you have depression, chances are you already question your worth. Unemployment can seem like confirmation of your worthlessness. Job searching is like a really un-fun game to see how many times you can be rejected and still get back up after. Every rejection can make you question your own worth. Am I not good enough for that job? Am I not smart enough, skilled enough, nice enough? Am I not worthy of a job?

Since I graduated, I’ve been looking for full-time work. The job search isn’t going that well. I place some of the blame on the poor job market, and some of the blame on myself. Yes, it doesn’t help that I live in a city that was hit hard by the recession and hasn’t really recovered. Yes, it doesn’t help that I’m overwhelmed by anxiety every time I send out a resume. There are many reasons things aren’t going well. It’s a complex problem. Yet my brain likes to tell me that it’s a really simple thing – I mean, isn’t it clear? I’m unemployed because I’m worthless!

The truth is, I’m probably not worthless. You’re probably not worthless either. I’m not sure if I’ve met a person without any worth.

So how do you combat the feelings of worthless that come with depression and unemployment?

I really wish I knew the answer to that question!

I’ve been trying to do a few things to keep my mood up. I’ve been doing some exercise. I’ve been taking some vitamins. I try to get out of the house once in a while. I’ve been doing some writing (though not on this blog obviously, oops). It all helps a little, but it’s not a perfect solution. I still have to fight the feelings of worthlessness.

But if I stop fighting the feelings, I know I will just get more depressed, and feel more worthless. If that happens, I don’t think I will have the strength to continue my job search, which would make me even more depressed and worthless-feeling. Vicious circle, no? So even though I’m tired and sad, I keep going. Hopefully that’s enough for now.


 

Have experience with depression and/or anxiety and unemployment? Have tips? I’d love to hear your stories or advice, and I’m sure other readers would too! Why not leave a comment below? 🙂

 

Change of Scenery

I fought tooth and nail to avoid spending the holidays with my family and friends this past year. I was in such a bad state of mind that I didn’t feel like being around people (especially when people would be merry-making). I just wanted to be left alone with my misery.

Despite my protests, I ended up ‘going home’ for a visit anyway. In truth, my family and friends didn’t give me much of a choice – they were quite adamant I was going to visit them! And you know what? The change of scenery was good for me.

I totally expected to spend most of my time completely miserable. That’s how I was spending my time, so I figured it would continue. But just being in a different place and around different people helped my state of mind. I wasn’t necessarily all smiles and laughter, but I also wasn’t hobbled by my anxiety and depression. It was okay.

Now that the holidays are over and I’m back in my normal environment, I can feel the miserable state of mind creeping back in. I can’t just pick up and visit my family and friends whenever I want, but I think I can still use a change of scenery as a way of shaking my bad mood.

So, when I’m feeling poorly, I’ll try to switch things up. This might mean going for a walk, or heading to the store, or it might just mean stationing myself in a different room (It’s cold outside, but it’s nice and warm in here! 🙂 ) Hopefully I’ll see some benefit from this.

Anybody have any experience with this? Anybody think this would help them? Drop it in the comments 🙂 I’d love to hear from you!

All the best to all of you!

X

Michelle

Just Breath | Breathing Exercises

Hopefully you know about breathing exercises as relaxation method. There are quite a few techniques – breathing meditation, diaphragmatic/deep breathing, breath counting, etc. I don’t notice much a benefit to using breathing techniques as a way of dealing with my dysthymia/depression (that’s not to say there are no benefits, only that I do not personally notice any). However, I definitely benefit from using breathing techniques as a way to combat anxiety.

I now – finally – use different breathing techniques instinctively. I don’t remember exactly when I first learnt about using breathing, but I estimate that it has taken over 5 years for me to reach the point where I use the techniques without consciously telling myself to beforehand. That seems like quite a while, doesn’t it? But it’s not easy to train your brain, I guess (or at least, it’s not easy to train my brain).

When I feel anxious, my breathing becomes shallow, my chest and muscles all tighten up, and my stomach will get a bit upset. It doesn’t feel great. However, by doing some deep breathing, those sensations go away. They don’t go away immediately (I wish!), but I do think they reduce fairly quickly. Breathing exercises also give my mind something to focus on, rather than ruminating on whatever idea is making my anxious. So, for me, using different breathing techniques is a good way to avoid panic attacks.

I do experiment with different breathing exercises, but I have three go-to ones:

diaphragmatic/deep breathing: literally just taking slow, deep breaths using your diaphragm (rather than your chest)

4-7-8 counting: breath in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, breath out for a count of 8, then repeat (warning: this one has made me a bit light-headed before; you may wish to slightly modify the count, such as 5-6-7)

4-count breathing: breath in and then count ‘1’ as you exhale; repeat and count ‘2’; repeat again and count ‘3’; repeat again and count ‘4’; keep breathing, starting again at ‘1’ – never count past 4

As a bonus, I find breathing exercises can be a good way to get to sleep. It’s better than staring at the clock, anyhow.

So, if you don’t do breathing exercises, give it a try! If you do, be persistent, because they can be very useful!

P.S. Feel free to share your favourite breathing exercises; I’d love to give them try! 🙂

The physicality of depression and anxiety

I think that some people don’t fully understand how mind can affect body, especially in the case of mental illness. Even I underestimate how the effects of mental illness manifest in my body. I’m good at ignoring and neglecting my body. Which isn’t good! There are many symptoms you might notice in yourself or others. I’m going to talk about some common ones.

Changes in sleep patterns

You might find yourself sleeping more, less, or lighter/heavier than you normally do. I think this often goes hand-in-hand with feelings of fatigue. I know it’s hard for me to get a good night’s sleep when I’m very stressed or depressed. I could easily stay awake all night ruminating. I’ve always been a night owl and had troubles falling asleep. It’s really hard to maintain sleep patterns when you have depression and anxiety, but it’s still good to try. It’s easier to face the world when you’re well-rested.

Changes in appetite or diet

You might find yourself more or less hungry when you’re depressed or anxious. Personally, I’m an emotional eater; I try to distract myself from bad feelings with good-tasting food. Spoiler alert: this method doesn’t actually work. I find I have to keep in mind what my body needs rather than what my mind wants. Staying hydrated is really important too (and it keeps me from feeling hungry when it’s not time to eat).

Pain and tension

This one covers a lot – you could experience back pain, chest pain, joint pain, muscle pain, tension, pressure, etc. I’m lucky in that I don’t experience too much pain in relation to my depression and anxiety, but I do experience a lot of muscle tension. I’m incredibly tense all the time. I clench my jaw. My shoulders are often drawn up. My back and neck are held stiff. My brow furrowed and lips pursed in an unhappy expression. I’ve been trying to correct this. I do a little self-massage, and I practice muscle relaxation. These are both useful, but as soon as I stop thinking about being relaxed, I tense right back up again. I joke that tense is my natural state. I’ve unknowingly trained my body to always be tense, and now I have to train it to relax. It’s not an easy task, but I’ll keep working on it.

Headaches

I think headaches, especially tension headaches, are a really common symptom. I get quite a few headaches. I don’t know if this is entirely connected to my mental health, as headaches and migraines are common in my family, but the depression and anxiety certainly don’t help. I haven’t found a good way to prevent stress-related headaches. When I get a headache, I generally just take some aspirin or acetaminophen (a.k.a. paracetemol) and hope for the best. I know several people who don’t like to take any medication when they have headaches. I couldn’t do that! Kudos to them, I suppose.

Stomach aches

I don’t know exactly how common this symptom is, but it was my first and most noticeable bodily symptom. As a teenager, I had chronic stomach aches, often to the point that I felt quite nauseated. I would get so anxious and stressed out my body was producing excess acid (which I feel is a really weird ‘defense mechanism’). Turns out this hurts! My doctor prescribed me ranitidine (which you might know as over the counter Zantac) to reduce acid production. This worked fairly well for me; I used ranitidine for a long time just to able able to get through the day without an aching belly. My stomach is still sensitive, and I take ranitidine from time to time, but I’ve become more attuned to when my stomach is getting achey, and I’ll try to nip the problem in the bud by altering my diet and doing some stress and anxiety-relieving practices.

I’m of the opinion that recognizing these physical symptoms is important. Recognizing them can help you be more aware of your mental state (e.g. ‘I haven’t been sleeping well…possibly because I’ve been anxious about x‘). Plus, you can treat the symptoms if you notice them; this might not be as effective as treating the overall cause, but I think it could still give you a little relief and improve your quality of life.

If you have any experience with or tips for dealing with stuff like this, please do share! 🙂

Guest post @ Life of MI

Michael from lifeofmiblog.com asked me to do a guest post on the blog, so I wrote a little about my experience with mental illness and my perception of self. I thought some of you might be interested in checking it out.

Here’s a little excerpt to get you started:

Sometimes I have a hard time separating myself from my mental disorders. That’s the thing about chronic ailments (In my case, dysthymia, a form of chronic, lower-level depression) – it is with you so persistently and for such a long time that you get tangled up in it. I forget where the mental illness ends and where I begin. Read the rest here…


More posts soon!

-Michelle

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