It’s All Relative

I had a med check last week to make sure my anti-depressants are still being effective. During the appointment the doc asked me all the normal generic mental health questions that they ask to assess your level of depression and risk. Not the super intense ones a therapist would ask but just the easy ones… Are you sleeping too little, too much? Eating too little, too much? Feeling like a failure? Feeling no energy? Feeling out of control fidgety? Feeling like hurting yourself? Along with a couple others. I thought I was doing okay as I answered the questions but when the doctor compared my score to last May he was a little concerned. My score had gone up quite a bit. Not a dangerous level of up but enough to make a difference.

I explained to him that it is the holidays and this is to be expected. I don’t have happy holidays I just try to survive them. I deal with a lot of grief at the holidays and in the last year there have been massive changes to my life with my family and friends. It is also the birthday of my sister this month which is an especially difficult day of grief even after all the years that have passed since I lost her. I grieve for the things I never had with both her and my childhood. It is all made more difficult with the constant family-centric questions that make me feel uncomfortable because nobody wants to hear the real answers and it just makes me long for things I do not have or have never had and brings up trauma to re-live once again. Sometimes the holidays seem like a mental war-zone

I assured my doc that compared to the last 3 years or so this holiday season has seemed like a picnic so far. That I am usually on the verge of suicidal or catatonic depending on the year and that right now I don’t feel nearly that bad despite my slightly concerning score. We talked about being on top of things and I told him I would keep up my self care strategies and make an appointment with my therapist if I needed to. I have these tools to call on now. He renewed my prescription and I went on my way.

Thinking about it the next couple of days I realized how relative our mental health can be. Depending on life circumstance and time of year one person’s moderate depression can seem like a fucking day at the park. Don’t get me wrong. I do not feel like dancing in the streets right now. I feel an undercurrent of self doubt and anxiety and the last couple of days the feeling of being perched on the edge of a cliff leading to the inevitable holiday spiral has been palpable. But I’m holding on for now. Holding my broken pieces together if slightly precariously. I’m keeping my head up and trying to find joy in the things I am doing in the present with my children who love this season. I am breathing and trying to stay out of the past as much as possible. And so far I am okay.

So if the holidays are tough for you consider this a reminder to practice self-care. To take it easy if you need to. To survive. Reach out to someone if you need to. Do what you need to do to make it through. Because sometimes the holidays just aren’t happy. And that is okay.

Be gentle with yourself out there. And remember it is okay to not be okay. Just keep doing your best.

Love to all of you. The unconditional kind.

 

 

 

 

Using My Mental Toolbox

This time of year is hard and it is very easy for me to find myself backpedaling with my mental health. Part of it is that there is just so much change. Change in seasons and weather. Change in the amount of sunshine vs darkness. Change in my children’s lives with back to school and trying new activities and getting used to new schedules and routines. I am notoriously bad with change. Add to that the negativity of news and elections and money stress and it is easy for me to start sliding.

It all starts with little things. I start eating like shit. I stop sleeping because my mind won’t turn off. I lose interest in doing things that make me happy because I am just so fucking exhausted from the lack of sleep. So I stop going to my yoga classes and I quit running. I spend more time on the couch. I disconnect more from life.

My brain takes this opportunity to start to lie to to me. It starts with little niggling insecurities and moves on to bigger and bigger sweeping generalizations. Eventually I am a terrible mom. I am a terrible wife. I am a terrible friend. I am a terrible human. I am useless. I start rapidly descending down the rabbit hole of self doubt.

In the past this kind of downward spiral would lead to suicidal thoughts and ideations. I would think that I am so awful I don’t deserve to live and really everyone else is better off without me anyways. I’d be doing the world a favor if I wasn’t here anymore. Down, down, down.

But I do not find myself there this fall. At least not at the bottom of the hole.

I am struggling, true. I thought I was getting pretty bad, yes. I started fearing the worst was coming again, absolutely. But then I remembered something. I remembered my toolbox. All of the tricks and tips I have gained from therapy. Sort of my mental first aid kit.

I remembered to stop and breathe and take an inventory of sorts. I am still going to yoga albeit not as frequently. I am running occasionally, when I feel like I really want to, but not constantly like a compulsion. I have a weekly date with my bestie and I am still leaving the house to do things with my hubby. I baked cookies the other day. I have not walled myself off emotionally or physically from the outside world. I am still taking pictures of nature and recognizing beauty. I am still seeing color; not everything is grey.

Fuck you brain. You fucking liar.

From there I can pep talk myself into making some small changes. I will start eating better. Less sugar, more veggies. I will make it a point to get to yoga 2 times a week. I will not pressure myself to run if I don’t feel like it. I will do those fucking dishes in the sink. I will volunteer at the kiddos’ school. Baby steps. Little things.

I have to remind myself that I don’t have to do ALL of the things. Doing some of the things is totally acceptable and really probably normal. Also everything doesn’t have to be awesome all the time. Sometimes it is okay to be just okay. And sometimes it is okay to not be okay. Neither of those things is a failure. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. This is the thing I will struggle with all the way to my grave. But I am learning. Slowly.

So today I will go to the pharmacy and pick up my refill of my meds and remember that I am taking steps to be okay. Lots and lots of little steps. I am in a much better place than I was a year ago. I am okay. And that is okay.

It feels okay to be okay.

If you are struggling I encourage you to dip into your mental first aid kit and take an inventory. Be gentle with yourself. Remind yourself that it is okay to just be okay. And if you feel like you are absolutely not okay and you find that inventory to be empty then please reach out and get some help. Contact a friend or better yet a therapist. Get the help you need so that next time you start down the rabbit hole you don’t go quite so deep.

Love to you all. The unconditional kind ❤

It’s All Okay

Today is World Mental Health Day. I am glad we have a day devoted to the work of stopping the stigma but honestly I try to make every day Mental Health Day.

One year ago yesterday I sat in my therapist’s office in so much emotional pain that I am pretty sure I almost made her cry with my mere presence. The pain seemed to emanate from me in waves. I was sure that I was never going to be okay. I had lost all hope. I had hit rock bottom. Despite all the work we had done we decided that we had tried enough other things and it was time to try some meds. To me it was a last ditch effort. I was already considering suicide and if the meds didn’t work it would be the last straw.

This year I am in a very different place.

The last couple of weeks have been incredibly difficult for me. I have been reliving some pretty traumatic shit from my past, trying to figure some stuff out, and been stressed out about money and mom stuff. I have been focused on my lack of faith in humanity and I am feeling the pain of those around me in a way that has been crushing my soul. Add to that the fact that it has been raining for about 9 days and I haven’t seen the sun and I can hardly believe I am functioning. Yet here I am.

It is not easy. My life never will be with the constant presence of depression and anxiety in the back of my mind. There are many days where I wish I wasn’t here but I no longer think that maybe I should just step in front of a truck when I am out for a run and end it all.

The biggest difference has been that I got help. Somebody told me that it was okay to not be okay and that there were ways to make it better and I tried it. I went to therapy and learned about self care. I learned that the shit that happened to me when I was younger may have shaped the way that I am now but that it does not define me. That with a lot of work I can rewire some of those parts of my brain and do better. I learned that I really haven’t done so bad with the totally shitty hand I was dealt.

I also learned that chemicals play a huge part in how I feel. My brain doesn’t work the way a “normal” brain does. It needs a little help. And that help is readily available at any drugstore with a prescription from my doctor. And that does not make me a failure. It is just a chronic illness that should be treated as such.

All of this is why it is so fucking important to talk about this stuff. If nobody had told me that I was not alone I would not still be here. If I hadn’t gone to therapy and learned that my childhood circumstances caused so much of the fucked up brokenness in my life and that it was possible to make it feel better I would not still be here. If countless people had not shared that they too were medicated and that it was not a failure but a way to treat an illness I would not still be here.

We have to stop the stigma of talking about our mental health so people no longer think  they are alone. So they will know there is help available. That life can be better. We have to keep making it ok.

So take care of yourself today and everyday. Whatever that looks like for you. Go to therapy, take your meds, practice your self care. And talk to others about it. Reach out to someone who is struggling and share your story with them. Hell, reach out to strangers and share your story. Make this so normal that nobody ever has the thought that they are some fucked up freak show that doesn’t deserve to live. Because we all deserve to live. And we all deserve to want to live.

It is okay to not be okay. We do not always have to feel happy and that is fine. Being depressed is okay. Having anxiety is okay. Dealing with any other slew of mental illnesses is okay. There are so many others like us. We are not alone.

Join in me in not just stopping the stigma but smashing it to pieces. Because sometimes it feels really good to break shit.

And don’t forget that you are important and necessary in this world. I am glad you are here. And so are a bunch of other people. Just keep swimming. And reach out if you need help.

Love to you all, the unconditional kind.

 

Be Gentle Out There

This morning I sat at my dining room table and wept as I scrolled through facebook and had to explain the effects of trauma on the brain to another asshole who has never experienced anything remotely resembling trauma in their life but still managed to think he was an expert on the subject. I am tired in my soul of this. There is a wealth of science based information on trauma and the brain. We live in a world where the internet is literally at your fingertips and you can choose to educate yourself on any topic in a matter of minutes but people still sit behind their keyboards and spew hatred and ignorance at others who are experiencing deep pain and suffering. And right now with current events in this country there is an abundance of pain and suffering. An abundance of people having to relive their trauma each and every day. My heart aches for each and every one of them.

I have a lot of experience with trauma in my life. Trust me when I say I have experienced more than my fair share. And each event has left its mark on me. Each one has shaped the way that I experience and react to events in my life. Mostly for the worse. These traumas have been a source of so much frustration and pain and suffering for me. They are really the gift that keeps on giving in that way. Not only do you get to live through the traumatic event but the effects fuck with you for a lifetime. Making it impossibly hard to react like a normal human being to a totally normal conflict or situation. Making you seem like a complete fucking lunatic when even the smallest thing goes wrong. Making you feel like your entire life is spiraling into a giant flaming pile of garbage because of one small hiccup.

I could write multiple posts about my own personal traumas and the way that I have dealt with them but that is not the point of this post. My point for this post is that trauma is complicated and each person experiences it and processes it differently. Each brain deals with it in a different way but I think the main goal of our brain is to try to protect us from it as best as it can. That looks different for each person and varies depending on a number of factors like their resiliency and ability to process. It depends on the severity of the trauma and the age it was experienced. It even depends on the type of trauma. Everyone’s experience is different.

Every single person is different.

Some of us may have similarities but there is no cookie cutter response to trauma. We are all doing the best we can. We are all trying to make it through one more fucked up day without throwing our arms in the air and giving up because it is just too fucking hard to keep doing this over and over. We are all just trying like hell to learn from another failed interaction, response, friendship, or relationship. We are all trying not to make the same mistake again and again and again. We are trying not to believe the voice in our head telling us that no matter how good things seem right now there is no way they can stay this way because life is chaos and happiness cannot last. We are all just trying to do better. To pick up the pieces over and over. And it is indescribably hard with this monster riding shotgun in our brain. Sometimes impossibly hard. But we keep going.

And do you know what helps most? I will give you a hint… It is not criticism and judgement, both of which I have seen in abundance over the last few weeks. It is your compassion. It is your love. It is your understanding. It is your offers of help and your willingness to learn about us. It is your gentleness. Your kindness.

I want to share that with all of the traumas I have experienced in my life the memories that I carry with me vary from each event. Almost none of them do I remember in vivid detail. Most are missing huge pieces, especially locations and time. I couldn’t pinpoint the age I was or the even the year that they happened for most. The one thing that I remember about each and every trauma my brain has allowed me to remember are the feelings associated with them. The fear, the terror, the hopelessness, the anger. These are seared into my brain and they are what flood my senses when a song or a smell or a word or a voice or a memory triggers them and makes me re-live them.

So I ask you this… Do not dismiss somebody’s experience, their pain, their truth because you cannot understand. Because their memories of an event do not check off the neat little boxes of what you think they should remember. Because their reaction to the event is not how you think you would have handled it. I guarantee you they have done the very best they could do in an impossibly unfair and shitty situation. The kind of situation that I pray you never have to go through. That nobody should ever go through. Their brain has dealt with this situation the best way that it could to try to protect them. And your judgement is not necessary or helpful.

I encourage all of you to be gentle with each other. You have no idea what each person you are interacting with is dealing with. What they have carried with them for a lifetime. What they may be hiding or masking. What kind of pain may be present under the surface at all times. The enormous amount of work they have put in to make it to this point. The setbacks that they may be encountering. The constant fear that they may be living with. Think about your words, your actions, your judgements.

And if you are a survivor of trauma in this current shitstorm please be gentle with yourself. Give yourself grace and love. Practice your self care. Think about setting up an extra therapy appointment. And for fucks sake stay out of the comment sections. That shit is not doing anybody any good right now.

Most of all remember that you are important in this world and we need you.

Love to you all, the unconditional kind.

 

 

 

 

There’s Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself… and depression, and anxiety, and butterflies, and…

I haven’t had a panic attack since May. I haven’t had many symptoms of depression since then either, but over the last week or two I have had little warning bells ringing. Tiny things that may not mean much to most people and that could maybe be written off as a million other things but to me they make my brain scream “Maybe this is the beginning of your next spiral!!!!!!!!” Feeling overly tired, not having motivation, feeling a general sense of being overwhelmed for no particular reason, little tiny doubts that get in my brain and burrow down in there for awhile, small intrusive thoughts.

It could be the change in seasons. It could be a lingering physical illness. It could be anything really, but to my brain it is definitely the beginning of the end.

You see the thing about people who suffer from depression and anxiety is that even though we may feel really good for a really long time there is always that feeling in the back of our brain, a tiny niggling fear, that at any moment it could all end and we could be plunged back into the seemingly never-ending darkness. It is a thing that I live with. I guess that is one of the many awesome things about having the combo of depression AND anxiety. I get anxiety about possibly getting another massive bout of depression and it all feeds into a shit storm of awfulness.

Most of the time when I am feeling good it is easy to forget that fear and believe that maybe, just maybe, I won’t ever feel like that again. But when I start to feel even just a little bit “off” sometimes it is enough to let the fear take over. All I can think about is how I can’t do this again. It’s too soon. I’m not ready. I’m not strong enough to deal with this bullshit again.

Treatment is a magical thing though. Therapy has helped me identify my symptoms and notice red flags. It has also taught me some good things to do to alleviate the bad feelings and head off a depressive episode a little. I have a greater awareness of what is happening in my brain and I can monitor those changes and keep an eye on them. And meds help to keep things a little more even so the ups and downs aren’t quite so sudden and violent. They are easier to recognize and manage.

So for right now I am aware of these little things. I am trying not to freak out. I am monitoring it but trying to stay chill. I am practicing my self care and I am taking my meds. I am practicing a new deep breathing thing when I start to feel overwhelmed. I am trying to get out in nature and to exercise. But I am also practicing balance and giving myself grace for those times when I just want to curl up on the couch with the dogs and do nothing at all. Because that is important too… in moderation.

If you are struggling here is your reminder to take care of yourself. Seek some kind of treatment if you need it, because that is NEVER a sign of weakness. Take your meds, set up an appointment with your therapist, or maybe just go for a walk in the woods because it is so fucking beautiful this time of year.

It may not be the beginning of the end. It may just be a cold. Or autumn. Or some crazy chakra thingy. Who really knows. Humans are crazy yo.

Just don’t forget that we need you, and you are worth it. Always. And if you need help reach out.

Just keep swimming.

Love to you all, the unconditional kind

P.S. If you are wondering about the butterfly reference in the title it has nothing to do with anything. I am just really scared of butterflies. As evidenced by this picture of me in a butterfly garden thingy on a recent vacation with my husband where he tried to convince me I needed to confront my fears. He can be a real asshole sometimes;)

Butterfly Hell

P.S.S. This is actual 100% fear, no exaggeration or acting on my part. And yes my husband is 100% laughing at me.

P.S.S.S. I hope this gave you a little laugh for the day 🙂