Taking Stock

It’s a new year and the tendency is to resolve to be better in the year ahead. Three days in, I’ve done that, broken that and become a bit lost. So after a long absence, I thought I might return to blogging, something that has helped me so much in the past in figuring out where I am and where I am going. So here I am.

Major Depression:

Six years post-major depressive breakdown, I really do feel like I’m on the verge of breaking free. There have been several relapses, but they aren’t as bad now. My doctor and I have been lowering my medication over the past year, and I’ve managed to make some progress regaining my career. Low mood, hopelessness or sadness aren’t so much the issues now as anxiety. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

The companion of my depression has been anxiety. This, I think, is my biggest obstacle at the moment, but here too there has been progress. I think for a long time my shame over mental illness fueled my anxiety and made me so afraid of people finding out. But a lot has happened to fight the stigma of mental illness and I think this has helped. I’m comfortable discussing it with some friends, I don’t dread going to see my psychiatrist, and I’m not ashamed to admit my situation to myself. 

But I’m currently not managing my anxiety very well.  I’m struggling a lot financially, the aftermath of my prolonged depression and career issues. I’ve taken significance steps to address this, but until these play out there is a lot of immediate stress in trying to stay afloat. So here is where I try to remind myself that I have taken the steps, that I’m almost at a point where I can balance things. But it’s hard. Not being able to pay for the simplest things, figuring out how I’ll feed myself and get to work until my next pay cheque arrives…it all adds up. My psoriasis has flared up and there are big red sores where I’ve scratched too much. I wake up with my fists clenched and tension up and down my arms. I struggle to sleep at night and yet sleep way too much overall. I’m sleeping in the day to avoid my worries, but this is just perpetuating things. 

I also stress about work. I’m struggling with a project and veer from worry to avoidance. This has affected my recent work and I’m seriously stressed about going in to work this week. I also worry about my work reputation, which compounds other worries. 

Right Now

I feel this post getting more negative as I confront my worries. So I will take a step back and look again at the big picture.

Depression: under control, with the exception of oversleeping

Anxiety: grounded in real stresses that I’m taking steps to manage

Medication: gradually lowering

Work: I’m functional, I have recovered some of the ground lost when I was laid off, and I have found a job and organization that I like

Social: I’m making some efforts to break free of my hermit like ways, though there is still a lot of work to do here

Shame: lessening as I’ve stopped self-stigmatizing and I have opened up to some

So that’s where I am in a nutshell. Thanks for listening 🙂

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Energy on the Rise

I’ve had a good week. I have been dedicated to doing my runs — I’m now at 3 minute running intervals. And, with my new tracker, I have also been dedicated to making sure I have 10,000 steps per day. This has been a very helpful motivator for me on days where I have no plans and I would often stay in bed. This week, at least, I’ve beat the temptation. And the more I am active, the more I feel like being active. Yay!

I’ve been reading a lot lately on the benefits of exercise for depression and other mental illnesses. And the benefits for the brain in general. I find it helpful to think in terms blazing new pathways in my brain and how I have to keep reinforcing them to make them strong and replace the old, well-worn paths.

So that’s where I am right now. Finding my way out of the funk of winter and easing my way back to an active lifestyle with walks and short running intervals.

Hope you are well!

Better Days

A friend just pointed out that it has been over a month since my last post, which was a sad one. I’m happy to report that many days since then have been better. I’m starting to suspect that SAD impacts my depression and the weird hours of my job are exacerbating this. The good news is that spring is supposedly on the way… Despite all the snow today!

I’m starting to feel a bit more energized and have started doing more regular exercise. Yoga and running – for real this time! I’ve talked a lot about running in the past and how I wanted to get back to running half marathons, something I did prior to my major depressive breakdown. After several years of setting myself up for failure with my big goals, I’ve taken things back to the beginning with much more success. For the last month I’ve been running intervals for about half an hour, one to three times a week. At first I did intervals of one minute walking, one running, and now I’ve done a couple of weeks at two minutes running, one walking. It’s nice, manageable, pushes me gently and makes me feel better. I’m up to 3.75 km and should have a nice base in place when I can finally start running outside (once the snow melts).

I’ve also just bought myself a Fitbit to encourage myself to stay active. I’ve had it for a week and it’s been clear that I have some very inactive days. I’m hoping to start evening this out by tracking my steps. I’m also reading the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and it makes quite the case for regular exercise to treat depression. I’ll write more on this once I finish the book.

Bye for now and take care!

A mini breakdown and recovery

Today I had an important test I knew I could ace, and yet I mismanaged my time and wasn’t able to finish. I was so frustrated and angry with myself, and I had a mini breakdown.

I cracked. I cancelled everything planned later in the day and buried myself in bed. I wanted to cry, I wanted to hide, I wanted the relief of sleep. I slept for hours. Constructive, I know.

But then I woke up. And I felt a bit more compassionate towards myself. Yes, I didn’t do as well as I could have, but I had been exhausted from lack of sleep. Also, it is still good practice for other tests and maybe I will do better than I thought. Nothing I can do about it now. Just learn for next time.

And I had a surge of energy and started to tackle a lot of things I’d left half done. I got rid of clothes that didn’t fit, purged clutter in my room and completely organized my closet. It felt so nice as these were things I’d been wanting to do for quite a while and the clutter always weighed on me.

So at the end of the day, I’m feeling more neutral — not upset over the test as that is finished and there is nothing to do but wait for the results, and satisfied with my decluttering progress. I was triggered for the potential of crashing, but managed a bit of compassion to reenergize and inspire myself in other ways.

Some much needed self-care

This week I took the time for some much needed self-care. A long session of massage therapy helped get rid of some of this built up tension. And for the first time in over six months, I got a haircut! With all my stress and psoriasis and losing clumps of hair, it was so nice to have a head massage and bring some order back to my hair. It’s nice not to feel so straggly and the shorter hair will hopefully make it easier to treat my scalp.

I also went to a follow-up appointment with my psychiatrist. Re-upping my medication to the levels I had in the spring seems to be helping. I have tremors but otherwise my mood is much improved with the higher dose. I feel a bit more able to handle the work conflict. We talked a lot about my work conflict at the session. I explained how I work with someone that veers from ordering me about and yelling at me to being as nice as can be. She said that this treatment is harassment, and it was a relief to be validated. I’ve felt so uncertain about myself. With a history of mental illness, I wondered, is it me? Am I being too sensitive? Am I the problem? But she reassured me that yelling at people in the workplace is never appropriate. She was annoyed that my boss wants to send my to a course on working with difficult people and difficult situations. She thinks it’s my colleague needs to learn how to communicate with people. But I’m of the mind that a) this may be a good way to learn some new strategies because I do get very stressed by interpersonal conflict and b) if they want to send me on a course then I guess they don’t want to fire me.

Anyway, that’s where things stand. Some improvement and a lot of self-care to get me through this stress.

Any tips on working well with difficult colleagues?

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.

A clean slate

Today has been a good day. I slept well, woke up when I was ready and immediately showered and went out. I bought food for me and my kitty, and then went back home for a big day of cleaning.

There is something about cleaning that is invigorating. It’s kind of like exercise, with the wonderful reward of a relaxing environment free of the chaos of my messes.

Now that I’ve cleaned almost every room, I can sit back and enjoy the coziness. I think I’ll even light the (electric) fire. And then a friend is coming over for a dinner and a movie.

All in all a really nice day. So nice to have a bit of relief from the stress.