Waiting for today...: December 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