My Experience Only. YMMV.

Posts tagged ‘coping mechanisms’

Realistic Self-Care

woman in white long sleeved shirt holding white ceramic mug

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

I hate articles about self-care for mental illness such as the one I saw recently that said:

…[W]ays I practice self-care include swimming and Pilates, getting regular massages, spending time with friends and family, since staying connected is an essential part of emotional health at every age, watching TV, and seeing movies. I also love going for walks, especially near Santa Monica beach, and reading or listening to books.

If I could do all those things, I wouldn’t need self-care! When I’m depressed or anxious, I cannot make myself swim or exercise, or even get out of bed and shower at times, which lets out going to the movies and spending time with friends, too. I can maybe read a book or listen to a podcast if I’m not too twitchy and if my attention span and concentration will cooperate. And I can sit on the sofa and watch TV, but that feels like uselessness, not self-care.

Plus, guess what? A lot of those activities cost money.  Massages, movies, exercise classes (for which you need exercise clothes), and swimming (for which you need a swimsuit) would all require “shopping therapy,” which I loathe IRL and can’t afford online.

I personally would love a massage, but that’s not self-care for everyone. As Emily Roberts points out in “Self-Care for Mental Health: Find Ways That Work for You”:

The myth of a massage as an essential self-care activity – or anything that makes you more anxious – isn’t helpful for your mental health. I didn’t listen to my body the first time I booked a massage and guess what? It was so triggering to my body I couldn’t even finish it….I started to cry and couldn’t compose myself 10 minutes into the appointment. I was embarrassed and confused. I thought, “This stuff works for all the people in the magazines. What is wrong with me?”

I decided that booking an extra appointment with my therapist and having a date with my best friend was more helpful as self-care for my mental health than pushing myself to practice self-care in the way the media was telling me to.

One person’s mani-pedi can be another’s nightmare. I much prefer small ideas for self-care rather than big expeditions or splurges. For me, comfort food is one form of self-care. It has to be something I can make easily, though, like frozen mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese, or French bread pizzas. (The microwave is my friend.)

Of course, these comforts require a little planning when I’m not overwhelmed to the point that I need self-care to restore me. I must think ahead, during those times when I’m able to go to the store, to bring home the foods that are easy to make yet soothing.

Another self-care technique I came across is definitely more my speed. Caiti Gearsbeck, in “Make Your Own Mental Health Self Care Kit” offers a simple, DIY alternative. She recommends filling a shoebox or other box with soothing things that appeal to all five senses, plus a few activities. Here are a few of her examples:

Sight: photos, cards, and letters

Smell: essential oils or candles

Taste: chocolate or tea

Sound: meditation CD or an mp3 player with a playlist

Touch: soft cloth or stuffed animal, stress ball or fidget cube

Activities: coloring books and pencils, a journal, a favorite movie

She adds: Whatever works for you!

For me, that box would contain photos, Irish Spring soap, oolong tea, an mp3 player, a stuffed animal (I have lots to choose from), and a CD of The Mikado. I’d need a cat in the box, too. But given the nature of cats, there would probably be one in there anyway, whether I wanted it or not. All of that is stuff I have around the house, unless I’m out of Irish Spring or oolong. Add a quiet room like the bedroom or my study and I’m all set. At least until I can afford a massage.

 

References

https://blogs.psychcentral.com/millennial/2017/10/make-your-own-mental-health-self-care-kit/

https://www.jwi.org/articles/mental-health-and-self-care

https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2018/5/self-care-for-mental-health-find-ways-that-work-for-you

Reaching Out and Reaching In

A lot has been said in recent days about reaching out when you’re in trouble psychologically. And that’s always a good idea. Reach out to your friends, your family, your therapist, your psychiatrist, your church or synagogue or temple.

hands people friends communication

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com  

Unfortunately, not everyone has those resources. And sometimes when you reach out to them, they do not reach back to you or even respond in hurtful ways.

Sometimes – many times – you’re just not able to reach out. That’s true of me, anyway. When major depression hits me like a truck, I get immobilized. Uncommunicative. Isolated. I usually have the wherewithal to get to my therapist, if my husband drives me, but not much more.

My family and friends can tell when I’m in trouble. And they do reach out, even when I don’t reach back.

My mother always knew when I hit a particularly bad spot because she could recognize it in my voice – it lacked animation, even if I was talking about something I loved. Not that I talked much or felt much. Depression can damp down all your feelings sometimes. You don’t cry, you don’t feel sad. You feel nothing. And it shows to someone who knows how to look and listen.

This is called “flat affect” by psychiatrists. The person’s face, voice, mannerisms do not reflect emotions, sometimes not even anxiety or despair. And sometimes people adopt a flat affect so as not to betray their inner turmoil. (It can still leak out around the eyes, even to relative strangers. And I don’t mean crying.)

My husband knows I’m depressed when I turn monosyllabic. Ordinarily, I enjoy talking to my husband about anything and nothing – things we’ve read or heard, what’s happening at work (his, mostly), funny things the cats did, and so forth. But when I stop responding and communicating, or respond only with “yeah,” “nah,” and “meh” sorts of answers, or don’t laugh or at least groan at his jokes, he knows I’m headed downward.

I stop communicating other ways, too. I don’t post on Facebook or only pass along the occasional pass-along. I skip commenting on posts regarding things I usually care about. I spend hours alone reading, if my sometimes-dubious powers of concentration let me. Or I sleep, and nap, then sleep some more. I certainly don’t leave the house or even make plans to go out. I don’t call friends. I isolate. I don’t reach out, like the memes say I’m supposed to.

I am fortunate to have friends that do reach out to me. John would lend me books, talk about them with me, and listen if I needed to vent. Peggy would call and invite me to visit, even when she knew I wasn’t leaving the house. Pete sometimes IM’s every day just to check in and JB assures me that when he IM’s and I don’t feel like chatting that’s still okay. Robbin calls me and tells me all about her life even when I can’t talk about mine, then says, “Let me know when you surface.” If she doesn’t hear from me for awhile, she calls again and reminds me that I can call her too. (She can also “read” my voice and knows when there’s some topic I’m avoiding.) My husband offers a hug or kisses me on the head. My mother prayed for me. I am fortunate indeed to have had people like these around me when I really need them.

Reaching out to others is good. So is reaching in to the suffering. Best is a combination of both. But that takes work and not everyone is able to do it.

If you can reach out, reach out.

If you can reach in, reach in.

If you’re lucky, you’ll meet in the middle, where hope lives.

 

Bad Thoughts and Tattoos

Sometimes I have bad thoughts. We all do. I find that mine fall into three groups.

The first kind of bad thoughts are when I want to snap or snipe or snark at my husband, despite the fact that he is indispensable to me. He takes care of me, understands me, helps me, hugs me, feeds me in ways I can’t begin to describe.

When those bad thoughts arise, I have a brief internal chat with myself. (It looks like I’m thinking what to say because that’s exactly what I’m doing.) Then I choose not to say the nasty thing or I think of a less-nasty way of saying it. (I’ve written about the phenomenon before in “Managing My Anger” https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-kw.)

The skills involved are impulse control, the use of “I statements,” and the ability to rephrase. I try to say something that will get my point across without hurting or making things worse. These are techniques I have learned over the years, which makes me think they are things that can be developed with a little practice.

Learning to restrain myself has prevented many a fight. Some people find this style of communication inauthentic or wishy-washy – that I am tiptoeing around my husband instead of saying what I really think. All I can say to that is that it works for me and for our marriage.

The next kind of bad thought is the kind that comes with depression: I’m useless. I’m pathetic. I can’t do anything right. I’m worthless. Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) talks about these thoughts in her book Furiously Happy, and she has one thing to say about them: Depression lies. These are the thoughts of a biochemically influenced brain that makes you miserable and sometimes wants to kill you, or at least kill your possibility of happiness.

Fortunately, my husband has read Jenny Lawson too. When I express these bad self-thoughts – and it’s best if you have a safe person to tell them to – he reminds me. He doesn’t try to deny the thoughts (You know you’re not worthless. You do lots of things right). He tells me, “That’s depression lying to you.” I used to get stuck in these cycles a lot before I was properly medicated and before I had his help and that of my therapist.

Then there are the really bad thoughts, those of self-harm or worse. Most of the time I don’t have these anymore, but when I do, there is one thing I can do. (Actually, there are more things I can do, but this is one that works for me.) I look at my tattoos.

The one on the right wrist is a symbol for bipolar disorder made up of punctuation : ) :  in the form of a smiley face/frowny face. This reminds me that my brain isn’t working right and is sometimes out to get me.

The other is on my left wrist, near my scars from self-harm. It is a semicolon. You may have heard about the Semicolon Project or seen the semicolon symbol on t-shirts or jewelry.

The semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark. It comes at the place in a sentence where a writer could choose to put a period and stop; instead, she continues the sentence. The semicolon says, “My story isn’t over,” something you’ll also see on t-shirts and such. (I’m thinking of making that sentence my third tattoo.)

Recently I had a bout of those really bad thoughts. But I looked at my tattoos and told myself, “My story isn’t over yet. I still have things I need to do.” One of them is to tell my story, in this blog and in a book I’m trying to write.

My tattoos helped me get over the bad thoughts. They have paid for themselves many times over. I never regret getting them. They may have saved my life.

Knitting Away Depression and Anxiety

Photo by Athena, Creative Commons

Last week I dissed a story that I read online about self-care for bipolar disorder, which consisted of praise for sleep, pets, and creativity, things which anyone with bipolar already knows are good for their mental health.

It was pointed out to me by someone who should know that I was wrong to make fun of the researchers, since they were students learning valuable lessons about how to conduct research studies in the first place. Which led me to believe that it was all the reporter’s fault for presenting their results as news.

Anyway, as an apology to researchers and grad students everywhere, I’m now going to praise a research study that would otherwise get a “well, duh” from me.

Huffington Post (UK) shared the good news:

Knitting could save the NHS [National Health Service] vital funds because it leads to a healthier population, reducing depression and anxiety, slowing the onset of dementia and distracting from chronic pain, a new report has found.

The study was primarily focused on the benefits of knitting for the aging, but since depression and anxiety were two of the conditions that it reportedly relieves, I thought it might be relevant to bipolar disorder too. Now someone can do a study to confirm or deny this idea.

The report added that knitting “is a sociable activity that helps overcome isolation and loneliness, too often a feature of old age,” and, I might note, of mental illness.

There are many, many articles that extol the benefits of creative pursuits for those with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. Although the notion of “basket-weaving” is outmoded and stigmatizing, other creative activities are commonly suggested as part of self-care. (I discussed this in a post called “Tools for Tackling Bipolar Disorder.”)

Coloring seems to be the most popular recent trend, but drawing, painting, collages, and all sorts of needlework are well thought of too. (I would certainly put crocheting in the same category as knitting.)

But then there’s the other side of bipolar – mania. I don’t know a lot about creativity and mania because I only get hypomania. But I do know that when I’m hypomanic I can get a lot of writing done. (Whether it’s good writing is another question.)

However, if you’ll forgive anecdotal evidence, I once knew a woman who did experience full-blown mania as part of her disorder and was not well controlled on medication. One year at Christmas she decided to make green velvet dresses for all three of her daughters.

As she spoke of her progress over the ensuing weeks, however, it was clear that the project was not going well. She kept rethinking – and redoing – all the sewing. She didn’t like the design, or she didn’t think they’d fit right, or she saw some other flaw. She never finished the dresses.

Other people may have better experiences with mania and creativity, of course. I hope you’ll share with me if you have.

The idea of creativity as a way to be sociable intrigues me. Sewing circles are a time-honored tradition among neurotypical people as well as those with mental disorders. (A friend of mine and her cronies had what they called the “Stitch and Bitch Club.”) Needlepoint, quilting, and indeed all of the fabric arts can be group activities.

For those who aren’t into those kinds of needle-centric activities, there are classes in scrapbooking, drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, or other creative art forms, often available through local adult education programs, museums, or shops that sell arts and crafts supplies. And of course, writers’ groups abound at bookstores and other venues (though presenting one’s own work at such a gathering may be too daunting for some with self-esteem issues).

I should probably get involved with a writer’s group myself. I’ve had to give up needlework because of my eyesight and shaking hands. But I’m all for doing something for my brain. Lord knows, it needs all the help it can get.

 

References:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/knitting-linked-to-health-benefits-including-reducing-depression-and-slowing-dementia-report-reveals_uk_5aa63cb0e4b07047bec7feee?ncid=tweetlnkukhpmg00000001

knitforpeace.org.uk

“Tools for Tackling Bipolar Disorder” https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-uT

 

Self-Care: Beyond Pets, Sleep, and Creativity?

New research from Western Sydney University has revealed that simple self-care strategies, such as spending time with animals and getting enough sleep, are helpful for people managing bipolar disorder symptoms. (https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-02-pets-people-bipolar-disorder.html)

Sleep, pets, and photography – everything in one bundle

This is not exactly news, but the headline (“Sleep and time with pets help people living with bipolar disorder”) reflected my life so perfectly that I had to read on.

It turns out that the research involved only 80 subjects and was conducted by Edward Wynter, an honors student, who says he hopes “that knowledge of effective strategies can inspire proactive therapeutic engagement and empower people living with bipolar disorder to improve their health and wellbeing.”

And here’s the money quote:

This research reveals support for strategies already well known to professionals and people living with bipolar disorder, including those relating to quality and quantity of sleep, and drug and alcohol abstinence; but this study also highlights the effectiveness of several strategies yet to be explored such as spending time with pets and engaging in creative pursuits. (emphasis added)

Here’s some news, Mr. Wynter: Spending time with pets and engaging in creative pursuits are not “yet to be explored,” except perhaps by researchers. As he himself notes, professionals and people with bipolar disorder already know these concepts. I wonder what sort of grade this research gained him?

I’ve written about pets and creative pursuits myself. Service dogs for the mentally ill, for example (https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-nN):

Emotional Support Animals are dogs or cats (or, less commonly, other animals such as miniature horses or guinea pigs) that live with and provide comfort to a person with a psychiatric disorder, [t]ypically … one that qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

And even everyday pets can help (https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-jS). As I said of my very first cat: “We needed each other. I needed someone to care about, to focus my attention outward on. She needed someone to draw her out of her shell, to care for and about her.”

And regarding creativity (https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-uT):

Coloring books and pages for adults have been the trend for a while now. (Some of them are really for adults.) Jenny Lawson draws and also puts together tiny little Ferris wheels. I know someone who can make little sculptures out of drink stirrers or paper clips. The point is … [j]ust keeping your brain and your hands occupied is a good idea.

As for sleep, we all know that proper rest is a good thing, even if we’re not always able to achieve it. And I’ve written about that too (https://wp.me/p4e9Hv-vk):

Whether you sleep too much or not enough, bipolar disorder may be the cause. There are treatments, some involving meds, and others not. Meditation, for example, helps many people sleep … It’s a thing to discuss with your psychiatrist and/or your psychotherapist.

If I, a non-professional, already know about these aspects of treatment for bipolar that don’t involve therapy or medication (though I’m not knocking either one), why is research covering this old ground? Surely even lowly grad students can think of better, more productive topics than this.

 

Handling Hypomania and Shopping

I know it’s common when hypomania or mania hits for the bipolar person to go shopping.

The thing is, I hate shopping. Always have. Probably always will. I don’t like to shop for clothes or groceries or shoes. I don’t like to go out to stores.

Ah, but there’s always the Internet (I hear you say). You can shop without ever leaving your house, or for that matter your desk chair.

The problem is, I don’t have any money to spend on online shopping. And that’s one of the reasons I don’t have a credit card. It’s too easy to spend non-money.

What I do have are a debit card and a PayPal account. If there’s no more money on my debit card, too bad – I have to reload it (or more likely ask my husband to reload it). This requires taking money out of the bank account.

The PayPal account is where I usually get paid for the bit of writing and editing I do from home. I really should roll that money straight into the bank account.

But sometimes I don’t.

In fact, when the PayPal well is dry, it reverts to my backup payer – which is my bank account. It does this automatically. My husband never knows about it, since I’m the one who handles the online banking.

You see the problem here. I could shop to my heart’s content, and pay with PayPal/bank account as long as there was money available. Theoretically, I could bleed it dry.

Even with my meds working and all the progress I’ve made, I still get hypomania occasionally. I try to keep the shopping under control as well as I can.

There are several dresses in my closet that I never wear because I hardly ever go out, especially to places where a dress is necessary. I even have a party dress that I bought recently. It’s really becoming. But I never go to parties. I was just overwhelmed with the butterfly pattern and how cheap it was ($20).

But still, five dresses in two or three years isn’t bad, considering. (I once actually hyperventilated over a dress, and often do over amber jewelry.)

The real problems I have always had are books and music.

When I was still going out to malls and shopping centers and the like, the bookstores were always my downfall. My husband would take my arm and steer me past them, unless he was jonesing for a book too.

I’m trying to keep my online book-buying to a semi-reasonable level, too. I buy full-price books only when they’re absolutely essential – the last book Sue Grafton ever wrote, for example, which is not going to be discounted anytime soon.

For the rest of my ebook purchases, I subscribe to various newsletters that present me with cut-rate book choices every day. (Early Bird Books and Book Bub, for example). These books sell for $.99 (rarely), $1.99-$2.99 (usually), or $3.99 (occasionally). Once in a while I can even get a free classic – for instance, Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Ivanhoe (which I don’t recommend) or Journal of the Plague Year.

Back when I was going out, in the days when I did that, my other hypomanic shopping thrill was the used CD shop. I had a strategy for curbing my hypomania there, too, even though I didn’t know that hypomania was what I was feeling at the time. I would fill my little basket with everything that caught my eye.

Then I would weed. I made three piles – must haves, can pass on, and maybes. Then I would angst over the maybe pile, juggling price, artist, essential tunes, and the like until I had the piles down to something more manageable. Under budget or just a wee bit over. I can do the same with my online “cart.”

Again, this is a thing that could get me in trouble on the Internet, but since I have all those CDs and have loaded them all into iTunes, I seldom get the music shopping urge anymore.

So, yes, I do hypomanic shopping and no, I don’t let it break the bank. Just chip away at the edges.

Andrew Tate Doesn’t Get to Define Depression

“Depression isn’t real. You feel sad, you move on. You will always be depressed if your life is depressing. Change it.”

Now, before you jump all over me, let me say that I never said that. It’s a tweet from Andrew Tate, kickboxing champion and former star of “Big Brother UK.” It caused quite a stir in the Twitterverse and was immediately challenged by, among others, J.K. Rowling and Patton Oswalt.

Obviously, there are a few things wrong with Tate’s opinions. First, the notion that depression isn’t real. To quote Hemingway, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

The millions of us with major depressive disorder and bipolar depression would love it if our disorder weren’t real; if we could just move on. If we could only change our lives. Kick depression out of our heads, as we should be able to, according to the kickboxer.

And Tate threw more fuel on the fire. He tweeted “MY DEPRESSION INBOX. Is hilarious. Full of crybabys. . . .”

Admittedly, many depressed people cry. But that doesn’t make us crybabies. Babies stop crying when their needs are met. People in the throes of depression don’t really know if their need for it to stop – their need for, if not happiness, at least not-despair – ever will.

When I first became clinically depressed I was a child and knew nothing about clinical depression. But I knew I was profoundly depressed. And I knew that if I waited long enough, that depression would lift. Being undiagnosed and unmedicated, I had no idea when I would come out of depression. All I could do was wait for it to happen.

Now older and wiser (and diagnosed and medicated), I know some things I can do to shorten that time until the depression lifts. I can practice self-care. I can call my therapist. I can turn to my husband. Now I know – really know and understand – that my depression isn’t forever, even if my disorder is.

And I know that, if I have to, I can push through depression instead of waiting for it to ease up on its own. Meeting my self-imposed blogging deadlines is one way I do that. Paying the mortgage and power bill is another. In some way those are both life-affirming activities, or at least statements that I am still connected to the world – however fragilely – and that I want and need to come out of the depression and get on with my real life.

It’s ridiculous to say “move on” or “change it.” Depression comes and goes when it wills. All we can do is endure it and keep pushing back until it gives the tiniest toehold. Then take that tiny purchase and push some more. It’s the hardest thing in the world when depression has sapped your energy, but believe me, there is more inside you somewhere. It may just take a long while to find it and to recognize it. We can no more change our depression than we can our souls. We can push back against it.

So screw you, Andrew Tate.

And screw you, depression.

 

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: