A new year, mantras and compassion

Wow, it’s been over a month since my last post! My WordPress 2014 Year in Review report shows a definite drop in activity, from posting nearly daily last winter and spring to once month or so in the fall. I’ve missed blogging and this great community so I will try to be more active again. 🙂

With the new year, it is of course time for resolutions. But instead, I heard about another idea that I would like to try: making new year mantras. I like the idea because it’s not so absolute as a resolution — I will always do this or never do that. Instead it’s like regularly reaffirming an intention — much better for my perfectionist self, who avoids anything with the potential for failure. (And who sees the first small mistake as failure…)

I have yet to create my mantras, but it’s something I intend to put my mind to this week. A year or two ago my therapist recommended I do the same, so I think it will be a good step.

Speaking of perfectionism, I’ve been listening to an interesting e-book while doing some boring tasks. It’s called The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert. I’ll write more on this once I’ve finished it, but it looks at the following:

  • the evolution of the human brain
  • how our brains and bodies are programmed to work and their discord with modern life
  • perfectionism and criticism and how they contribute to anxiety and depression
  • what compassion is and how it can be used in daily life
  • how a compassionate approach can help those with depression and anxiety, anger and other issues.

The section on criticism, perfectionism and anxiety made me realize that I focus a lot on my depression, but not so much on the anxiety that (I think) causes it. Most of what he says really resonates and I’m interested in trying out some of the compassion exercises he recommends in order to develop compassion skills. He says it’s all about practice and exercise, just like with building physical fitness. We’ll see if I can teach this old brain some new tricks!

Have any of you read some interesting thoughts on compassion? Do you have a mantra that really works for you?

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Inspired to read on mindfulness

I’ve been really struggling with my latest episode of depression. I’ve been feeling isolated, hopeless, frustrated and apathetic.

But after sleeping way too much for the past four days and calling in sick today, I suddenly felt the need to read one of my many self-help books. So I stopped a movie about twenty minutes in and started to reread The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness.

I say reread, because I bought this book about three or four years ago on the advice of my last psychiatrist. I have a bad habit of buying self-help books and only reading bits and pieces. I tried to read through this book when I bought it, but I think I was too deep in the depths of depression at the time to absorb it. I did practice some of the meditations in the CD that comes with the book, but that was it. A couple of years later I did a mindfulness-based stress reduction course that is based on many of the same teachings and experts. I took much more readily to the practice when learned this way. My later trainings in yoga helped to solidify these teachings.

But here I am, once again falling into depression and not using any of these helpful practices.

But tonight I was inspired to pick up the book again. I flipped through to see where I had left off and then decided to just start again at the beginning. I’m glad that I did.

Upon reading the introduction, it seems to me that perhaps the place I’m in right now is conducive to taking more from the book.

Already there are a lot of statements that really struck me:

…it is actually okay to stop trying to solve the problem of feeling bad. In fact it is wise because our habitual ways of solving problems almost invariably wind up making things worse. (3)

Depression, once treated, often returns–and becomes more and more likely to recur the more often it is experienced. (4)

…every time a person gets depressed, the connections in the brain between mood, thoughts, the body and behavior get stronger, making it easier for depression to be triggered again. (4)

…break the cycle of depression, in which we tend to go over and over what went wrong or how things are not the way we want them to be. (5)

We get lost in comparisons of where we are versus where we want to be, soon living almost entirely in our heads. (5)

…endless cycles of mental strategizing that increase your risk of getting depressed. (6)

… The mind, body, and emotions work together to compound and sustain depression. (6)

…we are all prey to habit-driven patterns–of thinking, feeling, and doing–that curtail the joy inherent in living and our sense of possibilities. (6-7)

…there is an unsuspected power in inhabiting the moment you’re living in right now with full awareness. (7)

We invite you to let go of the tendency we all have to try to force things to be a certain way and instead work with allowing them to be as they actually already are in each moment. (8)

I think this is a great time to reread this book, because already I’m showing so many of these tendencies and I definitely want to break the habits. It’s time to rediscover the mindfulness approach.

Do I stay or do I go?

Two things are causing me enormous stress at the moment: my job and finances. I need one to pay for the other, but what if it’s also making me sick?

I’ve almost quit my job so many times. I’ve never worked with such conflict before, and interpersonal conflict is not my strong suit. I’m constantly stressed and my psoriasis has flared up again, always a physical warning.

And I’ve been feeling so hopeless.

I’ve tried working things out with my colleague, but things improve for a few days and then turn more sour. I just don’t believe things can change anymore. Since starting this job I have:
– needed to increase my medications
– suffered from poor sleep and felt constantly tired
– increasingly withdrawn from everything around me as the job leaves me so exhausted I don’t have energy to do anything else
– had my whole head break out in psoriasis
– had so much tension I needed two sessions of massage therapy and yet the pain remains
– felt that I was going to have a nervous breakdown
– thought things would never improve and that it may not be worth living.

Only the love of my cat and not wanting her to be homeless is keeping me going. I’ve fallen so far from the optimism I had this spring.

The job isn’t the kind of work I want to do and it’s well below my abilities. I only took the job for access to internal opportunities and stability. But I’m feeling anything but stable, so more and more I’m coming to this conclusion: I have to quit.

It was a long weekend and after venting to everyone I thought maybe I could stick it out a few more weeks. But I’m home sick today because I can’t bear to go into work. This is also a really bad sign and not something that has otherwise troubled me in the past year.

So more and more, I think the answer is that I need to go. This will be a huge financial strain but I can move, take a lower paying job for now… But my health? It’s so much more important.

Stumbling

Things have really gone downhill over the past few weeks. I haven’t felt so stressed in a long time. Especially so much physical tension.

I’m feeling so tired and a bit hopeless, like I keep getting almost better only to plunge again. I’m financially stressed still, and yet my new job is about to give me a breakdown. I’m withdrawing from everything again, burrowing in my apartment even when it is gorgeous out. I keep telling myself one more week, but it always seems that getting back to an even keel is sometime out of reach.

I could really use some good news this week.

A Ball of Stress

So, I hate my new job. I was almost crying when I left today. It is so stressful with horrible and long hours. And constant criticism. I am so full of tension, I shake for hours after I leave. I think I will need to increase my meds back to what they were as this job makes me feel on the brink of a nervous breakdown. And I was doing so well!

Please wish me luck in finding a new job soon. I’m not sure how much longer I can take this without quitting. But if I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that your health needs to come first. 😦

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams

As I was heading home from my yoga class, I heard the sad news that Robin Williams has died of suspected suicide.

An amazing person who gave the world so much joy, it is so tragic that he himself struggled with severe depression.

This brings home the fact that mental illness has a long and indiscriminate reach. That it is so often hidden below the surface and isolates the sufferer.

Some of my earliest memories are of toddling about and laughing at the antics of Williams’ hilarious character Mork in Mork and Mindy. I grew up with the Dead Poets Society, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Will Hunting. He was such a talented man.

Please take this as a reminder that major depression is a serious illness and that it should not be ignored. It can affect anyone and we need to have more openness and help for sufferers, without stigma.

My deepest sympathy to Williams’ family.

Breaking an ingrained habit

Today I made inroads in breaking one of my worst habits.

I’ve been struggling with fatigue and tummy troubles for the past few days. I’m genuinely fatigued, not oversleeping like in the past. I have a full plate schedule-wise with my return to full time work and my intensive yoga training. It will still be another week before I have a day off.

So this morning I had a really hard time waking up. I was so exhausted and still struggling with my upset tummy. And I was really, really anxious! I had a meeting with my boss’s boss today and I was nervous. I was also meeting up at lunch with old colleagues from my major depression days, who were likely expecting me to cancel. I seriously considered calling in sick.

I mean, seriously considered it. I slept in an extra half hour and it was, I think, only my kitty’s sad, hungry face that first got me moving. Plus, I just really didn’t want to disappoint myself. I haven’t missed a work day since October. So I got in the shower and started to feel better and then drove to work since it was too late for the bus.

In the end I was late for work but not too much (no way I could manage the morning without stopping for coffee!). And then I was fine!

My boss is really happy with my work. My input is taken seriously. I have a sort of work plan now so I was busy all day. And my lunch with my former colleagues was really nice!

Nothing to stress over.

Which reminds me: I was obviously too much into the future when I woke this morning! Borrowing worries for things that hadn’t happened.

Anyways, I feel like it is a pivotal day because of this: I faced a situation where I was exhausted, sick to my stomach, and really anxious. It was morning, when my defenses are low and I have a tendency to hide under the covers. And I broke through my habit! I’ll likely have other days when I struggle, but the fact that I won today will be very encouraging the next time I’m tempted to hide under the covers.

Also, more important than the actual fact of missing work, if I had called in sick I would have felt so guilty and ashamed. And that would have affected my comfort level at work. I would always face my colleagues with that shame hanging over me.

So for these reasons, what started as a pretty bad morning ended up being a great day. And now I’m taking the evening to just rest and take care of me. I was juggling too many things last night and will be again tomorrow, so today, I just need to chill…. That, and treat my psoriasis. It’s been having a field day with this underlying stress! 😛