Waiting for today...: 2014

Wednesday, December 31

Wednesday the 31st: What A Difference A Year Makes…

Welcome gate, Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World
in Orlando, Florida


This time last year I was knee deep in the worst acute episode of depression since college. It was also the first time I seriously sought therapy.  Although that episode would last almost a year, I’m happy to say that when it was finally over I was more hopeful than I had been in sometime; two whole years to be exact.  

I would find  myself depressed again a few months later.  Except this time it would be of a shorter duration and with less clean-up post-acute.  These setbacks left me with a little over a year to live peaceably.  Well, as much as I could while simultaneously trying to sort through and put the pieces

of my life together.
Nonetheless I can honestly say that it has been an amazing year.  I’ve learned so much about myself.  I’ve been thee most gentle with myself than I have ever been.  This gentleness is helping me to get through this very taxing process.  I’m embracing my awkwardness as well as those areas in which I am most weak.  Being honest… accepting… learning to no longer be embarrassed or ashamed of the person that I am.  The latter has been the most difficult but I know that it will no doubt be most rewarding so for it I am thankful and grateful.   Equally difficult is recognizing my strengths and being confident yet humble in them.  I’ve got a long way to go in this area but optimism is fueling me.

2014 will soon be a memory.  Still in a period of normalcy, I’m super stoked that I’ve survived these holidays.  I welcome the new year with anticipation… hope… Even more hard work is a head of me.  What is the saying: when you know better you do better?  

In 2015, I’m going to do better.

Friday, December 26

Stress, Mental Illness & Self-Care, Part 2

con’t from: … Part 1
                            Goal Chart: Acute                                  Goal Chart: Post-Acute
      for use during an acute depressive episode       for use immediately after an acute episode

As mentioned above goal-setting is a very important activity of self-care.  Depression often leaves its victims in a dense fog, unable to see but so far in any direction. Hopelessness is then not far behind.  Mix with the negative thinking and all the past triumphs and successes that would normally propel me forward are replaced with things like “I can’t do anything right”, “I’m an idiot” or “I hate myself”.
These charts not only remind me of some things that I can do to relieve my symptoms during an acute depressive episode, but it also reminds me of what I have already done; what I have accomplished.  Being able to see even the smallest of accomplishments, injects a bit of positive into the dark cloud of depression to help neutralize the negative.   During those dark times, I am sure to hang this tool where I am forced to see it every day.
An added dose of positivity is the scriptures that I’ve included.  My faith eventually buckles under the pressure of depression.  The scriptures help to remind me that while I may not be able to feel God’s presence, He is always near and there is always hope.

Activity Chart
  for use during periods of normalcy

This is my favorite chart but not one I can use when I'm depressed.   Actually, I give myself no less than a month after an acute episode before putting it into use.  This chart not only lists those things that need my attention on a daily basis, as on the goal chart, but it also lists my many interests.  But, if at any time I begin feeling overwhelmed during a period of normalcy, I will revert back to the post-acute goal chart until I have stability.
If I am to be honest, I fall victim to tunnel vision and pretty often.  Because of this it would be easy to forsake those things in which I love to do and instead pour all of my attention into only accomplishing those things that are needful.  This chart allows me to balance my days and weeks to allow for both work and play.
And I do have many interests.  I did not realize this until I made the chart!  And perhaps it is because I've spent most of my life trying to be someone else, neglecting those things that mattered most to me.  Whatever the reason, that same tunnel vision sprinkled with a little obsession causes me to spend a nauseating amount of time on just one thing.   The spark soon fizzles and boredom sets in.  By tracking what I've done and planning what I would like to do, I can keep my playtime fresh and exciting.

To-Do List 
for use during periods of normalcy

While many will use the various electronic apps that are available to plan their days, I'm an old school gal.  A scrap of paper and a pen will do.  I've even tried to carry around those notebook style planners but most often I found them cumbersome and I disliked their page layouts.  Yes, just a scrap of paper will do... as long as the layout is similar to the above.
Seeing a list of twelve tasks and trying to prioritize each from 1 to 12 is a bit overwhelming.  I'm liable to toss it and in the end not get as much done as I would’ve liked to.   Things will then pile up and yada, yada, yada.  So I have to first break my daily tasks into small chunks then prioritize them.  This method not only makes that same list manageable but I also feel more motivated to complete it.
Those tasks that I "Have To Do" are thee most important and therefore are the priority. Those that I "Should Do" gets my attention when the previous tasks have been completed, after I've gotten some rest and there is time to spare.  I "Could Do" other tasks if by some miracle I've completed those that I have to and should do.  Yet if I decide to treat myself to a movie, go shopping or have lunch with a friend instead, I’ve made it okay to do just that.  I can do these the next day or even the day after and not feel guilty about the delay.   I use this tool during periods of normalcy.
To many this may seem like overkill, rigid even.   However, these charts keep me focused, balanced and collected.   I've opted to keep the comprehensive self-care log, goal chart and activity chart organized by month and archived in a binder.   When depression looms, I can look back at my accomplishments/progress and feel a little less worthless... hopeless... helpless.  This is one way I'm learning to live with and manage my depression.
With the exception of the Comprehensive Self-Care Log, I have shared these documents via Google Drive.  Please feel free to download them by visiting the links provided, click “file” in the top left-hand corner and choose download.  Edit them to the desired format to fit your needs.  Please note that the fonts appear altered in Drive.  However, once the document has been downloaded they should be in their original format.  You will find the Comprehensive Self-Care Log at Depressiontoolkit.org.

Tuesday, December 23

There is Good News

With Christmas looming I got to thinking about Jesus Christ and The Good News…  “All the years of being a believer, I never once felt whole; there was always a question about what being a Christian truly meant.” -- December 16th, 2012
Many across the world will celebrate Christmas over the next few days. Among them are those that will mark this time of year as the birth date of the Christ. Throughout history there has been and still is much discussion about Jesus Christ, the Son of man, from individuals who would deny his deity.  Many say He was a revolutionary, a heretic, a prophet, even a false prophet but not the son of God.
Yet, there is also much confusion within the Christian world about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He is the only begotten son of God, the savior or the messiah many others would say and while in the form of man He was no mere man.  No matter who people say He is, believers within the church and without all associate Him with God’s love for the world (John 3:16).
In the next few days many across the world will celebrate the birth of the Christ.  They will envision a baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2:11-12).  Surrounded, not only by loving parents, but also by shepherds and wise men who marveled at his appearing (Luke 2:15-16, Matthew 2:1,11-12). Except it was in His death that the world would be saved and freed from sin (Jon 1:29).  It is this reality of Christ’s earthly ministry that is most often avoided at Christmas time.
Sin entered into the world shortly after the beginning of time; at the very moment man first disobeyed God’s command (Romans 5:12; Genesis 3:1-11).  Despite this unfortunate event in the history of mankind, our Creator and Father looked upon us in our unfortunate condition, had grace and mercy, and destroyed us not (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:23-24).  And, at the appointed time, Christ was sent to redeem all mankind from sin (Galatians 4:4-5).
Sin’s simplest definition is the violation of the law, or commandment, of God (1 John 3:4).  Sin not only separates us from our Creator (Isaiah 59:1-2) but it is the root cause of all that ails the world; its ultimate penalty is a spiritual death (Romans 6:23). We become accountable to God’s law once we have come to the knowledge of right and wrong.  We are then morally responsible to do those things which are morally right in the sight of God, that is, according to His law and righteousness (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  We become entangled in sin when we choose to do those things which are morally wrong in His sight (James 1:14-15).  In Jesus, and only in Christ Jesus, can we be freed from that spiritual death penalty (Acts 4:9-12).
And that is the good news!  Upon Christ's entry into this world, He would give mankind the power to once again become sons and daughters of God (John 1:12-13); adopted and joint heirs to the promises of salvation (Ephesians 1:5, Galatians 3:29) which includes eternal life forever reconciled to our Beloved Creator.  So, on this Christmas, instead of taking pride and pleasure in the gifts we give to one another, let us focus our attention on the invaluable gift that was once given to us: Jesus Christ.

The birth of baby Jesus is apparent at this time of year.  On the other hand, what about Jesus the man and son of God?  The one that was betrayed, falsely accused and not given a fair trial (Matthew 27:3-4, 26:59-60).  The same which was ridiculed, tortured and spat on (Mark 15:16-20, Matthew 26:67); forced to carry the very device employed in His murder (John 19:17-18).  Will we envision Him being strung up on a cross and made to suffer?  Will we marvel at this same baby Jesus, barely in His thirties, made to endure a cruel death so that we may have a chance at eternal life (John 3:16)?

Friday, December 19

Stress, Mental Illness & Self-Care, Part 1

During my most recent acute episode of depression, I was forced to realize how significant the role of self-care has to be in my trek toward mental wellness. The human body and mind requires adequate sleep, proper nutrition and regular activity among other things in order to perform optimally and manage stress. Poor self-care is a very good predictor of burnout.  

In the past I've experienced exhaustion, inability to concentrate, further lack of attention to self-care and even physical illness due to burnt out.  The average person will experience these and other symptoms even as they approach burnout.  Once they’ve begun to routinely engage in self-care practices, they are sure to turn the tide within a week. Although it may still take weeks to return to what would be their normal. For those living with mental illness, recovery from burnout can be as taxing as the burnout itself.

At our baseline, stress is ever present and it does not take much of it to overwhelm and paralyze us. Walking out the front door is enough to incite a full blown panic attack. Once overwhelmed the risk of spiraling out of control and ending up in a dark depression, with psychosis, suicidal ideations or all of the above is highly likely.  These manifestations can last weeks and months and on occasion, require acute hospitalization. Because we are so very sensitive to stress, getting good and consistent self-care is as important to us as food and water.  Self-care will not only help to maintain our chronic illnesses but it will also help us to endure the acute episodes.

In an effort manage my depression I created a list of self-care activities I ought to engage in daily to remain healthy and balanced.  Having a plan is most essential to achieve that balance.  Winging it may work for a day or two but then comes unpredictability followed by chaos. Once the latter happens, I'm eventually left at the mercy of my illness.

From day to day I liken my mind to a futuristic superhighway straight out of an episode of The Jetson's.  If I don't write things down in a systematic way, I wouldn't know what to do with myself.  Feeling unaccomplished surely leads to feelings of inadequacy. To prevent the ripple effect before it even begins, I use the following tools to plan my days and weeks.

courtesy of The University of Michigan Depression Center and Depressiontoolkit.org

As I’ve browsed mental health blogs, I’ve come across a few self-care charts; every one unique to its creator but all helping with daily self-care.  Some were simple and included hygiene, medication and sleep among other things.  While others were more complex and included a food diary, multiple mood descriptors for the user to most accurately describe their mood as well as time slots to track what time of day they experienced those moods.   

It was about a month into my last acute depressive state when my therapist appealed to me once again the importance of self-care.  Up until then, all I could manage to do was feed the cat, go to work and wait the depression out on my sofa, with the remote and some snacks in hand.  Even with the pep talk, I didn't have the attention span to come up with a concise list of self-care activities myself.  

I was so thankful to have found the above at DepressionToolkit.org.   Except for leaving out hygiene and mood rating, it has highlighted the foundational aspects of self-care: sleep, goal-setting, medications, diet and activity.  I use this tool, in addition to the next, during acute depressive episodes.    

con't to: ... Part 2

Wednesday, December 10

Article: Why Depression and Sadness Are Not the Same

Hearing the responses of members to whom I spoke to about my struggle with mood disorder and depression got me to thinking about things people shouldn’t say to a person living with mental illness… see The Endless Fray
Depression and sadness are often viewed as the same thing. Part of the confusion is that the most recognizable symptom of depression is sadness… Many people use the words interchangeably. “It’s just part of our popular culture…” … Sadness is a painful emotion. At times, it can feel utterly agonizing. But it’s “a normal response to difficult life events,” … When we think of depression as the same as sadness, we minimize the illness. We don’t realize the many other debilitating symptoms depression creates. We expect people to get over it quickly. But people with depression don’t…

con’t reading Why Depression and Sadness Are Not the Same by Margarita Tartakovsky. M.S. at PsychCentral.  Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/10/12/why-depression-and-sadness-are-not-the-same/

Sunday, December 7

The Endless Fray

Freely discussing my illness with loved ones is at times liberating.   It brings encouragement to break free of the bonds of fear that has long had hold of me.  At other times I find myself wanting to run for cover.  It is at the point in the conversation in which I suddenly realize I've misjudged the receiver’s ability to receive what I've chosen to disclose.  Then the opposite becomes true: I become discouraged and unwilling to ever open up to them or anyone else again.  Dreadfully non-therapeutic.
It’s beyond sad to hear and to read of the many instances in which people are further antagonized by those making an effort to sympathize.  Scary is those that lack the insight or awareness to quit while they’re ahead of themselves.  They get caught up in their own passions laying waste any bit of confidence brought to the conversation. This was, again, my experience.
I returned to the assembly mid-October after being away for two months due to my most recent acute depressive episode.  Happy to be among my brothers and sisters in Christ, I was ready to once again pick up my cross and follow Him.  But as I spoke to a couple of the members on one particular Lord's Day, I was again reminded how many times I would be knocked backward in my many attempts to share this burden. "Everybody has mood disorder”... “we all have periods of anxiety and depression”... bulls in a china shop.  When these things were said to me, the first thing I thought was:  well, I guess that means I have nothing to worry about.
Will they ever feel the sorrow and the heaviness I carry around every day?  Or feel the pressure to believe the lies that are spoken to me when no one is speaking?  Or how taxing it is to have the same scenes of disparagement and betrayal play before my eyes over and over and over again?  Intrusive.  Unrelenting.  Crippling.  They could... understand.  The pessimism tells me they won’t,  they can't,  they simply don’t know how.    
Later, I would sympathize: maybe it was their way of telling me that I was not alone. Unfortunately, their delivery didn’t allow them to stick the landing.  So, here then appears another burden.  I am herded in with everyone else with the expectation to carry on as they do because one size fits all. Left to die inside.  Not feeling.  Dared not to speak.  Chalking it up to "life".  Everyone else does it...
I don’t believe that the brother and sister I chose to share with feels that way.  They simply fell short in the way that many others do.  All intentions aside.  I'm learning that as we call upon our own experiences, our own beliefs, feelings, etc. we unintentionally minimize the hardships of others with injurious results.  Why should anyone have to suffer because of another grown person's surrender to ignorance?  

Maybe it's my cross to bear...  

related: Mums the Word

Saturday, November 29

Saturday the 29th: Exhausted...

Fog at dawn on US Route 13, Delmarva Peninsula

Four days off this week and I almost feel like I haven’t had any.  It seems as though exhaustion is in heavy pursuit of me… determined to take me captive.

It’s not just exhaustion.  I’m also feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I began going through my mail; attempting to get organised.  And tracking my finances; trying to get myself back on a budget.

This is a tricky predicament I’ve found myself in as I also have to study for a certification exam.


I’ve got to get a grip.  Recall my priorities.  Tunnel my vision on self-care only to avoid an unnecessary spiral.

I’m feeling fatigued.  
My brain feels “dry”.  
I’ve got a slight headache.  
I’m short tempered.

I’m dehydrated.  As I look over my activity chart, I realize that my water intake has not been adequate these last two weeks.  I’ve also been drinking caffeinated beverages.  Rehydration just may be enough 
to turn exhaustion away.

As a child, I remember being fascinated by everything around me. I took to drawing
early, trying to capture those things. My earliest remembrance of this fascination is from
elementary school. Instead of paying attention in class, I went about trying to recreate a
design I saw on a hand-woven bag. My creativity has waxed and waned since then. As I
grew up and became aware of cameras, my interest shifted from drawings to photos. It never evolved beyond pointing and shooting however. And just as I lost my passion for drawing and “less than amateur” photography, I lose my desire to write from time to time. I am almost certain it is related to my instability. So on days like this, when I’m speechless and lacking or time simply eludes me, I’ll share instead one of my photos in hopes to somehow keep my diminished creative flow from dying altogether.

Sunday, November 23

Finally, I See

I saw a man the other  morning standing on the corner seemingly waiting for traffic to slow that he may cross the street.  This man appeared to be talking.  Talking with his lips and with his hands, no one present with him.  I couldn't tell if he was on a blue tooth.  Or if his bulky dreadlocks were hiding ear buds and he was simply lost in his favorite song.
In the few seconds that it took me to notice him, before having to make that right hand turn on the way to work, I realized that I saw him through different eyes.
As a young child, I would've stared at him.  Tugged on the coat of my adult and pointed.  I would have been curious but at the same time afraid.  As an older child, I would've laughed at him, teased him and called him "crazy".  My friends and I would've made a spectacle as we jeered.  As a young adult, I believe I would have sympathized with him.  But my sympathy would be nothing more than fleeting.  And as the setting changed my sympathy would to turn, into indifference.
Today, I see through different eyes.  Through the eyes of one who suffers an inner turmoil that seeps through to the surface for all to witness and misconceive.  Of one that wrestles daily with those powers which seek only to tear down and destroy. Through honest eyes.  With curiosity and humaneness.  Through the eyes of one who hopes to someday be a voice for the voiceless. Courage for the faint of heart.  Can you see?

Mood disorders are no better or worse than personality disorders.  Eating disorders, no better or worse than anxiety disorders.  While we all suffer differently our suffering still consists of hopelessness, stigma, fear, emotional and physical pain among others.  We are the many faces of mental illness.  It doesn't take much to conceive.  You just have to be willing to "see" through different eyes.

Sunday, November 16

A Time to Regress

Statue of a Hawaiian girl in the The Aloha Tower Marketplace, Honolulu Hawaii

I’ve alluded to the fact that I was an avid reader as a child. And before moving back to the states I had an impressive book collection. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to bring it with me. And when my grandma died I was told nothing about the fate of those books. I just wondered, and still do, about what became of my collection.

The first few groups I tried to fit into once I returned home was short of avid readers. If there were others they did not make themselves known. Perhaps they were more worried more about fitting in like I was. Whatever the case, I was thankful for the few that did share my interest.

Although the first friend I made entering elementary school had a few unpleasant personality traits, she was also a reader. We often read the same book and would have competitions to see who could finish it first. There was another friend, in middle school that had an interest in reading and collecting comic books. And finally, there was my friend in high school. Even though she favored the romance novels and I took a liking to thrillers and horror, we would take time away from the group to bond at the library.

Somewhere along the way, between the Bahamas and now... between the pages of school books and an overwhelming need to fit in even at the expense of my own identity, I lost interest in leisure reading.  And each time I felt a hint of a spark returning, it would be squelched by guilt. Guilt would tell me that I couldn’t afford to waste my life in a book. Or, “you’re a professional now; you ought to be reading nursing journals or manuals”.  And my personal favorite: “if you can’t set aside time to read the bible you shouldn’t be reading anything else”.

One of my favorite places to go when I cut school as a teen was the bookstore. I would grab a book from the bookshelf and find myself a little corner. It was one of just a few moments of peace I found in those days. I would forget about the mounting tensions at home. I would forget about the misery incited by my peers in the classroom. It was an opportunity to forget about my life.

As I reach back into my past to identify the starting point of my many complexes, including my guilt monster and my insistence on punishing myself, I am also searching for that little girl that was once content and full of wonder. Before she was dejected, she showed me how to enjoy the simple things in life and she was always ready for an adventure.  And when she couldn’t create her own, she found it in a book.

Thursday, November 13

I've Decided

It’s been a year since I decided I didn’t want to be in denial anymore.  A year since I sat nervously in the waiting room of the psychiatrist’s office, waiting for my first therapy session.  Searching the faces in the room hoping to not see a familiar one. About a month later, I got my first prescription for a mood stabilizer.  Later, an antidepressant.  It’s been a long year and I’ve learned so much about my condition; about myself.  Yet as this recent episode of acute depression has passed, it is evident I’ve only scratched the surface.
It will also be a year in December since I decided to start blogging again.  Actually, I toyed with the idea for a couple of months before coming to a decision.  I hesitated as I remembered the fate of my blogs in the past but moved forward when I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter:  I was only going to write for me.  Of course this didn’t stop me from exploring the blogosphere for other mental health blogs.  After joining the community at PsychCentral, I became aware that there may be a place for me and my story.
I’ve noticed that many bloggers have been living with and battling their illness for years.  I thought maybe I could lend to the perspective of a person who is just beginning the long journey to wellness.   A perspective that would include a view of the many challenges, stumbles, even successes and breakthroughs that we all have faced as we finally decided to take on our illness.  Laying claim to our lives once again.  Or at least that’s what I thought.  Even though it went against the initial premise of my wanting to blog again.  Fear of failure had me conflicted and indecisive.     
So again, I've been here for a year.  I know there is a place for me and my story.  But since December, I’ve be straddling the fence about what I want this place to be.  Its somewhat distant mood whispers to “stay away”.  Its choppiness has secretly created an air of confusion.  Other than myself and a few chosen loved ones it wasn’t published to attract any attention.  If someone else read it I thought, “that’s cool”.  If no one read it I thought, “that’s fine”.  Perhaps it is this need to draw people near but at the same time protect my fragility that has kept me conflicted.  And maybe that's why I feel like I could never fit in.   Or why I only a few months ago began making a real effort to connect with others in the community.   
I have always valued the ability of some who keep in mind the bigger picture. The bigger picture in this instance being the unfortunate level of mental health illiteracy in this country.  Sadly, I would be part of the problem and not the solution if I did not use my blog to at least help raise awareness.  So, I’ve come to a final a decision.  Instead of closing my Blogger account and going into a virtual isolation.  Instead of silencing myself and becoming a mere spectator in the fight against illiteracy and stigma associated with mental illness, I’ve gone about the business of making Waiting for today more… personable, intimate and fluid.
With this I hope to not only make friends in the mental health community but to also be more of an advocate.  Having a fear of rejection and failure will make it challenging in terms of putting myself out there in greater display. Even when I’m not depressed I tend to keep myself in a little hiding place.  All tucked away from the unpleasant things that come with having to be outside myself.  But isn’t attaining mental wellness about finding the courage to come out of our comfort zone?  To forsake the darkness and step into the light?

related: Why A Blog?