Depression, Anxiety, and Trusting Yourself

When you live with mental illness, it can be difficult to trust yourself. Not in the “I don’t trust that I’m going to do the right thing” sense (though there’s plenty of that for me too!), but in the sense that often, it’s difficult to tell if you’re assessing a situation as it is, or as it is through the lens of our illness. Now of course, everyone looks at life with some sort of lens. None of us are completely objective about every single situation. But when you live with a condition like depression, anxiety, or a mood cycling disorder that includes mania or hypomania, it often feels (at least after the fact), like our brain might be lying to us. Depression, for example, often makes us feel that we’re hopeless, worthless, that our lives and what we do is pointless. It can make us feel unlikeable and unlovable. More than that, it can make us tell ourselves these things, repeatedly. When depression hits, a small setback may feel like a massive failure. It may throw us completely off course, not because “we’re over-reacting”, as we may be accused of, but because our brain actually sees it this way. Anxiety can act in a similar way, running away with worst case scenarios without our permission or cooperation – it isn’t conscious thought, it just happens. Mania, or hypomania, on the other hand, can make us overly energetic, sometimes to the point that the energy feels almost uncontrollable. On these days, distinguishing the (hypo)mania from just feeling really positive and good about ourselves and capable, can be tricky (at least for some).

 

trust yourself

 

All of this makes it difficult to trust yourself. Because when you have difficulty determining a good day from hypomania, and depressive lies from the realities about yourself or your situation, it makes it difficult to trust anything. This feels especially true these days, when we’re constantly reading phrases like, “You can’t control what happens in life, but you can control how you react to it.”  A nice sentiment in theory, but it can make you feel like you should be able to control every thought in your brain. You should be able to just tell yourself not to be so anxious, not to feel so hopeless or worthless. And when you can’t, it may feel like “If I can’t even trust my own brain, what can I trust? Certainly not myself.”

 

If you’ve been here, or you are here, know that you’re not alone. So many of us go through this feeling. And I wish I had all the answers, but quite simply, I don’t. But I’m hoping, through this series of weekly topics that I’m starting, we’ll cover topics that will help you (and me!) learn to trust ourselves more. By digging deep into some of our fears, patterns, and struggles, especially those that often make us feel stuck, that we can learn how to trust ourselves better. I do, though, have one piece of advice that I have to remind myself of time and again, and it’s this:

 

When in doubt, go back to your core values. When it’s all said and done, what really, really matters to you deep down at the core?  If you took away all the external factors, people’s thoughts and judgements, even some of those critical self-judgements and lies our brain tells us in a bad flare up, what would be most important to you?  If you aren’t sure how this ties back to trusting ourselves, think of it this way: Our core values, the ones we’ve held since we can remember, that are so near and dear to our heart, that make us feel like something’s off when we aren’t holding true to them, don’t tend to change drastically without some sort of major life change (i.e. having children may zoom “keeping my children safe” right to the top of your list, and alter your perspective on other, previously high ranking items). But for the most part, without major life changes, these stay consistent.  Therefore these core values be can generally be relied upon to guide us. For example, one of my core values is putting people first. My loved ones especially are the most treasured piece of my life. Money, on the other hand, is not (don’t get me wrong, I like money, but it’s not a “treasured piece of my life”). So no matter how stressed I get about money – and I get highly stressed about it at times – when it comes down to it, if I have to make a decision that puts the choice between my loved ones and money, I can always look back to my core values, and know that putting my loved ones first is the right decision. I can trust myself, when I look at my core values, to make the choice that I feel is best, even when I’m severely depressed.

 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about topics that I hope will help those who may struggle like me, especially during bouts of depression and anxiety, to trust ourselves. Often this requires us to dig deep, and examine those things that are really tough to examine. I’ll be doing this right along side my readers, so please know that you’re not alone in this.

 

And of course, thoughts and inspiration are always welcome, so if you have something that helps you trust yourself, even when you are struggling to trust your brain, I’d love to hear them!

And remember….
You Are Amazing

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October LinkUp Party: Resetting My Focus

As you may have read in my past blogs, Sheryl over at A Chronic Voice does these awesome blog linkup parties, writing prompts and all – especially helpful if you’ve been dealing with some minor writer’s block like I’ve been.  October’s prompts are:

 

oct linkup

Technically we have to only write on three of the five prompts, but I love each of them, and also, writing is a bit of an …. ahem… escape for me, so I’m going to do all five.

Budgeting:

I’m looking at budgeting literally here, because it’s a big stressor for me.  Let’s just say that earlier today, a financial wellness company sent me an (unsolicited) email entitled “Are you saving too much?” and I laughed out loud. It’s not that I’m a bad budgeter or big spender. It’s that you can’t get blood from a stone, as they say. Or in this case, you can’t get money from a bank account if it’s not in there in the first place. I’m in a bit of credit card debt – not the worst anyone’s been in, but I hate owing anyone anything, especially money, and it really stresses me out.  I’ve started taking a closer look at my bill and spending to see where I can cut things down slightly.

I’m also working on ways that I can begin to make more passive income, as well as paid patient advocate opportunities.  I’d love to make patient-advocacy my full time thing but…. bills.

 

Speeding:

I definitely have a bit of work to do in the “a little less talk, a lot more action” department. I am ideas person by nature. I’m great at the big picture, the brainstorming, coming up with the “Ooh maybe we could do this! And what about that?!” I’m a list-maker and a mind-mapper and every other ideas-related graphic one could create.  It’s the transition from idea to making it happen that trips me up. For instance, I finished writing a novel over a year ago. I still have made no efforts to get it published or even edited. Also: my dad is an editor, so I have literally zero excuses on the editing front. I did have the first chapter of it published online in Wordgathering, which my dad edits and publishes, so that was a big first step – even though it was my dad publishing it, putting it “out there” for general public consumption took a lot of courage on my end.  My goal for the “speeding” part of this is to stop getting stuck in the ideas phase, and to start moving into the action phase – not only with my novel, but with my advocacy as well.  The stagnancy definitely stems that internal voice that tells me it/I won’t ever be good enough, capable, successful. I just have to get better at telling that voice to sit down and be quiet more frequently.

 

Slowing:

My mind races a mile a minute. Anxiety, hypomania, and temporarily being off meds for these because we are family planning and my meds are contraindicated with pregnancy, all tend to wreck havoc on my brain. Things like yoga, meditation, going for a run, being out in nature help, but obviously, these aren’t always accessible and they don’t eliminate it all together. But in the past month, I started yoga teacher training, which means that I’m spending 2-3 weekends a month in yoga teacher “workshops”, for lack of a better word (i.e. we aren’t doing yoga all weekend, we’re studying it), plus taking at least two classes a week, per the teacher training requirements. I’ve spent a lot more time lately slowing down my breath and focusing on things outside of my day to day life, and it’s helping me refocus.  Of course yoga isn’t a cure for my anxiety or any mental illness, but the continual practice and study is helping to get me slow down my racing thoughts more.

 

Evaluating:

If it wasn’t apparent from the “slowing” section, I have a very evaluative brain. I can evaluate just about everything and anything. And I do. My latest struggle emotionally has been a bit of an identity crisis. I’m struggling with where I am (in life, not in Philadelphia), and who I am, and what it all means. I’ve also been turning over a lot of would’ve, could’ve, should’ve in my mind, and particularly, a lot of guilt over the past. To be honest, it almost feels like when I turned 39 last month, and my brain decided that I had reset and restart before the big 4-0, almost like some sort of emotional cleanse. It feels somewhere in between a break through and a break down, and I’m never quite sure which way it is going to go. It’s unsettling, but it also feels like I’m on the verge of something big, if that makes sense.

As I mentioned, I’ve been in-trenched in yoga teacher training, and I’ve also started to be more active in church. To clarify, by “more active”, I mean, I emerged from my 15 year hiatus, and began going to my husband’s church (different style/denomination), and actually paying attention. And interestingly, on Sundays as I go to church followed by yoga teacher training, the messages are eerily similar  – the idea of being part of something bigger, being connected to others, and not having to control it all.  Whether you’re religious or spiritual or not, the reminder of being connected to others in this world through… whatever it is you believe in, even if it’s simply being connected through humanity, and that I don’t have to control every minute of every day for things to turn out OK, is a bit of a comfort. This resonates with me as I’ve been feeling disconnected from everything and everyone, including myself, lately, trying to be so in control of everything.  So I’m trying to shift my focus more to working on connection, instead of working on control. This may sound counter-intuitive to the ‘more action’ statement above, but often, it’s this need for constant control that holds me back from going for things.

 

Escaping

I’d love to escape off to Europe somewhere this fall, but I’ve done that twice already this year, so it’s not really in the cards. So in terms of escaping, I’m actually working on a more personal escape – escaping my strongly held negative beliefs about myself, and some of the patterns of dismissing myself and self-sabotage that I get myself stuck in. Also, as mentioned above, I’m trying to escape some of that nonstop mental chatter, and focus on connecting – with myself at the core (not with the unhelpful stories I tell myself about who I am), with loved ones and friends, with the yogic/spiritual side of me, with nature, whatever serves me. I know this might not be the take on escaping that was intended, but for me, this is the focus right now. Unless I have the chance (read: spontaneous time off and money) to escape to Europe again soon. Then sign me up!

 

Thanks for reading! Make to check out the other participants’ October Linkup posts here!

What Are Your Dreams?

What are your dreams? Seriously. I’m asking. Not “what are the dreams that will sound safe and acceptable to my friends/spouse/family.” Not “what are the dreams that I dare to have without really putting myself out there because I’m afraid of failure.” Not “what the dreams that I can have within the confines of logical/rational/paths we’ve been told we must follow.” Not “what are the dreams I can have while still managing to clean the tub and the floors this weekend.” What. Are. YOUR. Dreams?

Here’s the thing. We rarely really offer up the full extent of our dreams up. We’re afraid someone will object, point out that we can’t do it/aren’t qualified, suggest a safer/more secure (financially) option. We’re afraid people will placate us and say “aww that’s nice” but when we want to go for it we’ll get, “OK, realistically…”. Maybe we’re afraid they’ll get thrown in our face. Held against us. “You’re so unrealistic….” and that kind of thing. (Been there? Yeah, me too.).

 

dream

 

But you know what? That’s BS.

To step back and clarify for a moment, I absolutely get that because of illness or disability, there are certain things some of us can’t do. And this is not a “you can be anything you want to be” speech, because I get that in some cases, we just cannot. Or maybe it’s not medically safe for us to do so even if we can. My point is that often, we are afraid to speak our dreams because we think others will object, degrade or belittle them, or make us feel badly about them/incapable/etc. 

Now obviously, there are certain things that regulations require we can and cannot do. I cannot perform surgery because I’m not a surgeon.  If a job requires me to be 6’0, unless I’m allowed to do the job on stilts and am comfortable doing so, I’m never going to do it because I’m 5’0 on a good day.  But regulations and legal requirements aside, I’m tired of people putting down our dreams. Yes, we have to feed our families and pay our mortgage/rent/bills. Yes, there are tasks that need to be done like getting groceries and cleaning the house.  But there can be some sort of happy medium between your wildest dreams and feeling like you don’t fit in your life because you feel so stifled into logic and tasks that you are put down for dreaming.

So here are my dreams, in no particular order:

  • Grow Spread Hope Foundation into a viable organization that I can run and grow into my life’s work. I have a lot of love and empathy to give, I have a lot to offer others, and a passion for doing so. I’m particularly passionate about helping support other advocates, and this is becoming an increasingly significant part of SHP.
  • Incorporate my travel experience, knowledge, business into that. (The how is TBD, but hey, these are dreams).
  • To not feel alone in doing all this, but to have a “partner in crime” (not real crime guys, don’t worry), or teams to do this with.  Because I don’t think this can be done alone, nor should it have to be.
  • To have farm land and  gardens and goats and a Scottish highland cow. And to be able to cook meals from those gardens (not the goats! The plants!) and to be significantly more sustainable.
  • To have a family and to celebrate large family holidays and gatherings together, all sides of the family. I want to have gifts under the tree and play games together and have our own traditions that we as our own little family start and share with all who celebrate with us.
  • To adopt a lot of dogs. Shelter dogs of course. To rescue them and have them live long happy lives. And of course be part of our family. (This is long term, since current pup must be the queen bee of dogs).
  • To publish a book. Hopefully my novel (more on this coming up!).
  • To be completely loved and supported and accepted for being me. Not me with improvements and changes and this and that. Me. Who I am. It’s not that I won’t grow and learn and change a bit. But I don’t want to ever have to in order to be enough. We all deserve love for who we are, not who people want us to be.

So what are your dreams?

I’m Going Live!

Hi friends! So, if you know me at all, you may know I tend to be more a behind the scenes (or behind the screen)  person. But, I was recently given the the opportunity to be featured on Crazy Talk, hosted by the amazing Lee Thomas. Crazy Talk is a podcast that’s broadcast live on Facebook that features open conversation about mental health.  I rarely pass up an opportunity to talk honestly about mental health and my life with rapid cycling cylclothymia, so I’m foraying into the realm of podcast participation!   I’ll be sharing my story/experiences/whatever else we decide to talk about – you’ll have to tune in I guess!

I’m being featured TONIGHT, Wednesday, Oct 10th, at 8PM EST, 6PM Mountain Time. The face that it’s World Mental Health Day makes participating today of all days feel that much more special. So  if you have the chance, tune in – and while you’re at it, give Lee’s page a like!