Before I Learned to Live

It’s been a year and a half since my last trip to the hospital.

Life has been challenging this last year. There has been a mountain of change and my mental health has continued to ride the same familiar roller coaster that I have traveled for most of my thirty years.

A year and a half ago, life wasn’t that difficult. My husband had a good job, I was working on my business, we had our two dogs. But I was not doing well emotionally. I was anxious all the time. My depression was deep and vast. And that summer, I couldn’t handle it.

I was on a heavy cocktail of medications to try to curtail my severe anxiety and the worst of my moods, but they weren’t working. I was taking more and more of my anxiety medication and one day, I took too much. I overdosed and almost died. I nearly passed out in a dog training class and E rushed me to the nearest hospital. I don’t remember anything after leaving the class.

I woke up the next day in the hospital, hooked up to machines, and unable to speak. I passed out again and woke up hours later, I think or maybe it was the next day. None of it is clear to me. Once I was fully recovered, they sent me to the psych ward.

Weeks later E and I were talking about his experience. Before I woke up the first time, the doctors had told him that I was in critical condition and no one was sure if I would wake up.

I imagined how I would feel if doctors told me that E was in critical condition and might not survive. It made my heartbreak to think about how he must of felt. And it was the final piece for me. In that moment, I realized that I would never put him in that position again. For better or worse, no matter what, I was going to live.

Sitting here today, feeling as anxious, stressed, and sad as I have felt in a long time, I am struck by how easy it has become to endure.

Life is difficult. I am depressed and some days I wonder what the point is of living. But I keep going, because living is the only choice. We are nothing if we are not alive, even if living means staying in bed or sitting on the couch all day. I have learned to live.

If you are struggling with being alive, think about someone who loves you – a family member, a spouse, a girl/boyfriend, a pet, a neighbor, a friend. Imagine how you would feel if something happened to them, if they died. And then know that this is how they would feel if you died. Even if you don’t think anyone cares or if you think that these people would be better off without you, imagine how devastated they would be and hang on to that. Hang onto it as long as you can and get help. Comment here, or send me a message.

Call the suicide hotline 1 (800) 273-8255 or Contact the National Alliance for Mental Illness 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org. They can help you find resources in your community.

You are not alone.

How to Break Out of Your Rut

One Step at a Time.

That’s the short answer.

There are self-help books, blogs, podcasts, Facebook pages, Pinterest boards, Instagram accounts, and the list goes on. Everywhere you look, you will find a list of things people are telling you to do to stop feeling bad. Whether you suffer from mild to severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or your simply having a rough go of it, it can feel impossible for things to get better.

Trust me, I’ve been there. Before I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I believed that one day my depression would just go away and never come back. Every time I started to feel better, I would think, ‘This is it. This is the first day of the rest of my life.” (Yes, I was dramatic.)

I thought, when I go to highschool things will be better. When I go to college, when I travel, when I graduate, when I get a job. After each milestone in my life, I would think, okay, it didn’t change this time, but it will change the next time.

Until, one day, I realized that being bipolar meant (more than likely) that I would live with some form of depression for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t manage it.

I have learned that just like my depression, managing my mental health comes in peaks and valleys. Months might go by where all I do is sit on the couch, watching TV, knitting, and doing the bare minimum to keep the lights on and my clients happy.

And then there will be times when I wake up in the morning and think about what I will do that day to make it different and better than the last. (There are also days when I wake up, ask myself that question, and then roll over and go back to sleep!)

Changing your habits isn’t easy. In fact, that’s the understatement of the century. Habits sometimes feel insurmountable. But habits started somewhere, which means you didn’t always do (or not do) that thing or behave that way.

Which means, that one step at a time, you can change or feel better or simply do more if that’s your goal. I have a friend who recently complained on Facebook that he felt like he wasn’t doing enough. That day, he had done two things 1. Gone to the mailbox and 2. Breathed.

If you’re having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, or leaving the house, then going to the mailbox and breathing are fabulous accomplishments.

If setting a goal of “feeling better” feels overwhelming, then don’t make that your goal. Make your goal, “Accomplish more.” A list of things you might accomplish in a day, (and I highly recommend that you only pick one), include:

  1. Take a shower.
  2. Put on clean, presentable clothes. (This does not mean you have to leave the house.)
  3. Walk around the block.
  4. Walk to the mailbox.
  5. Get up and lay on the couch instead of laying in bed.
  6. Stand, sit, or lay outside in the sun for any length of time, even if it’s only 30 seconds.
  7. Eat a piece of fruit or a vegetable.
  8. Write something down. Anything.
  9. Fold one piece of laundry or wash one dish.
  10. Sit on the floor and watch a yoga video. Even if you don’t do any of the exercises.

The things on this list may seem trivial and even a little silly, but if you’re stuck in a rut – whether it be staying in bed all day, eating poorly, watching TV all day, not leaving the house, or whatever – then changing one part of your day can help break you out.

My rut looks like this – I wake up in the morning, spend an hour surfing the internet, make breakfast, and then I sit on the couch for the rest of the day trying to convince myself to do something, anything else. This week I’ve done yoga twice and I’m going to do it again today. Yoga may not be something I turn into a lifestyle, but it will help me break out of my unhealthy routine.

How are you breaking out of your rut?

How Changing Your Food Can Change Your Mind (and Body)

Something is happening. The last two weeks have been difficult. I have been increasingly aimless, lethargic, and devastated. Crying all the time. Not wanting to go to bed.  An increase in medication hasn’t helped – at least not yet. In fact, because it makes me tired, I think it made it worse.

So today, I am taking radical action. Whole30.

Reason #1. Something I am doing is making me feel worse. Food is the easiest thing for me to start with. I generally eat paleo, but I’m not strict about it. I get frequent stomach aches and so gingerale is a regular part of my diet. Definitely not paleo. I recently decided to cut way back on my meat intake also, and so I added beans and oatmeal back into my diet. I think that last part was probably a big mistake.

Have you heard about your gut microbiome? The bacteria in our intestines do more than just digest our food. They also communicate with our brain, creating neurotransmitters and metabolites. If you know anything about your brain, you know that you need neurotransmitters to be happy and balanced. If you don’t have a well-balanced microbiome, then you likely won’t have a well-balanced brain. Read more here.

Reason #2. I’ve lost twenty pounds in the last three months and I have another 10-20 to lose. The way I’m eating has maintained my weight, but I haven’t lost a single pound since losing five pounds over Christmas. (I know! It was bizarre.)

Turns out that the bacteria in our intestines probably have a huge effect on our ability to lose weight and that everything we ingest effects our gut bacteria. From over the counter drugs to prescriptions, and sugary and processed foods. Change what you ingest, change your microbiome, change your life! Read more here.

So, I’m going to try the Whole30. No legumes, no dairy, no grains, no sweeteners (of any kind, not even honey or maple syrup), no processed food. Only whole, healthy food for the next month, starting today with Chia seed and Almond Milk (no carageenan) pudding for breakfast.

I’ll let you know how it goes. According to the Whole30 website, there is a timeline of moods for the 30 days and I won’t be happy for all of it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to persevere through the mood swings and come out the other side. Nothing can be worse than the way I’m feeling now, right?

What changes do you make when you’re feeling sad, tired, and fat?

 

 

Tips for Child-Less People (Who Want Children)

 

  1. Don’t go to stores that sell things for children. Obviously that means no Kids ‘R’ Us, Babys ‘R’ Us, no toy stores in general. Also, no Target, Walmart, Walgreens-type stores. No grocery stores either. Although Trader Joe’s is mostly safe. You’ll have to increase your grocery budget to afford shopping there. Natural Grocers aka The Vitamin Cottage is also pretty safe.
  2. The mall is your personal hell. It should be avoided at all costs. The mall is ground zero for small children. The mall and the park. Plan out your routes and avoid temptation. These places hold only misery.
  3. No animated movies or movies made for children. Wait until Finding Dory comes out on Blu-ray or digital download. Resist the urge to go see the next Marvel movie unless you can stay awake for the 11pm showing – and still, there’s no guarantee there won’t be a few small children in that one. You’re better off waiting for that one too.
  4. Avoid media that reminds you. This means staying off Facebook mostly. And Pinterest, definitely. Instagram too. Twitter is probably safe-ish depending on who you follow. And you probably can’t watch the news or most TV at all. NPR might be safe – most of the time.
  5. Large gatherings of people should also be avoided. Work-related events where coworkers bring their families. family events, because you almost certainly have some cousin who pops out babies and then says something like, ‘Oh, that last one was an oops!’ And it’s not polite to throttle your family members. This grouping also includes festivals, fiestas, fairs, parties of any kind other than the adult beverages variety, etc.
  6. If you’re feeling really sad, you probably need to take a break from your friends who have children. If you’re 30 or over, this means finding new friends.
  7. You’re only hope is to stay home. Stay home and sit in a dark room. Stare at the ceiling or the wall. Read a book about elephants ( have adorable babies), politics (politicians love talking about their kids), dogs (are fur-babies), $#!& Cars! Read a book about cars!

A Badgered Groom

Today is my 4th wedding anniversary.

When we woke up this morning, after the sweet stuff (Happy Anniversary, I love you, etc.), I said to Erik, “I’m so glad I badgered you into proposing.”

Five years and three months ago, Erik and I met online (eharmony) and started dating. Three months later, we moved in together. And three months after that, Erik proposed.

This may sound like a whirlwind fairy tale, but here’s what really happened.

  1. Erik and I met on eHarmony and hit it off from the first date. We started spending a lot of time together very quickly and almost immediately hit our first relationship road block. I wanted to spend more time together, Erik thought we were spending enough time together. Upon further discussion, I realized that Erik had a specific idea about the pace of relationships. (Read: slow, abominably slow.) And I was of the opinion that as long as you’re enjoying each other, who cares at what pace you move? My logic won out and we started spending more and more time together.
  2. Around three months into our relationship, I rather suddenly lost my job. Shortly after I met Erik, I had moved into a rather expensive apartment right near my office building and upon losing my job could no longer afford it. We were essentially wasting apartment space anyway, because one of us slept at the other persons apartment almost every night. So, when I lost my job, we moved in together.
  3. We had managed to successfully combine our physical stuff and things were going well. We were both in school and as such were spending a lot of time hanging around the house together. We negotiated time alone and space to ourselves rather well (if I do say so myself) and after an unknown, but brief amount of time, I started thinking I wanted to marry him. And if I wanted to marry him, why wait? This is where things got complicated. (re: #1, Erik’s ideas about the pace of relationships.) What was the rush? We had only been together for a few months. But I didn’t see any reason to put it off. I wanted to start our life together as soon as possible. After probably two or so months of badgering him, Erik took me camping and proposed. (When we told his family, I very quickly discovered where he had learned his ideas about the pace of relationships.)
  4. We set the date of the wedding for a year and a half later, which gave us plenty of time to satisfy anyone’s notion that we hadn’t been together long enough and that people should be engaged for a year before marriage. But then Erik enlisted in the Air National Guard. And we were told he could be sent to basic at any time, wedding be damned. Our July wedding became a rather rushed January wedding. We got married in front of about 50 people and lived happily ever after.

Darling, I am so glad I badgered you into marrying me.

Happy Anniversary!

Why You Should Thank a Caregiver Today

I was sitting on the couch last night after having had a migraine all day. I was feeling better, but I was comfortable and so I didn’t get up. The dogs needed to be let out and given water. I needed food and water. And Erik just got up without asking if I would get up. Later in the evening when he was in his office doing some work and I was still sitting on the couch knitting, he came out, not because he needed anything, but to check on me to see if I needed anything.

This may sound like a sweet and caring thing that my loving husband did, and I’m not saying it wasn’t, but this exchange gave me pause.  It made me realize that Erik and I have fallen into some bad habits.

For a large percentage of the last four years of our marriage, Erik has been my caregiver. He has made sure that I have eaten, bathed, gone outside, and has held me when I cried. He has watched over me and made sure that I have had whenever he could give me.

Looking back, I think that we both put my happiness ahead of his. I can see it when I ask for his opinion or when we’re trying to decide what to do. He almost always defers to my choice even when I double check to see what he wants. It seems that the dynamic between us has become: I get what I want because neither one of us wants me to be sad.

But the truth is, always getting my way doesn’t make me happy.

When I look at him and know that he is giving up what he wants because he thinks that’s what I want, that makes me sad. Somehow I have created a relationship where only one of us is getting our needs met.

I think it’s easy for this to happen when someone in relationship has a chronic illness. Too frequently we don’t think of mental health as a chronic illness. There is all kinds of assistance emotionally and mentally even monetarily for caregivers of physically disabled people. But we hardly ever think of family, friends, or partners of a mentally ill person as caregivers. (There are certainly exceptions to this. People who suffer from the most severe mental illnesses, for example, need and often have full-time caregivers.)

To be clear, I’m not saying all mentally ill people are disabled, although I do think that people with moderate to severe depression or moderate to severe anxiety, for example, are sometimes temporarily disabled. And if they’re in a relationship during those periods when they’re having a hard time managing their life, their partner absolutely becomes a caregiver.

So we need to start thinking about the loved ones who care for us when we’re down and out. We need to start thinking of them as our caregivers, because once we start doing that that we are less likely to take them for granted. Caregivers need a break and we need to find the time and space to give it to them.

As a person in relationship with someone who I consider to be my best friend and who I love very much, I think it is very important that we nurture each other so that the relationship doesn’t become toxic.

Caregivers frequently give and give while getting very little time to relax and recoup the energy they are spending. In the case of family, friends, and partners, they often work full time jobs and then come home to take care of a loved one. Taking care of anyone day in and day out is exhausting and can be difficult to maintain without gratitude and a little time to themselves. Be grateful today. Say thank you and then do something nice for the person in your life whom you turn to when you need a hug.

Is it possible that you or your partner are acting as a caregivereven if it’s only some of the time?  Make sure that you are taking care of yourself and that your partner is too. It may not always be possible for the relationship to be balanced, but it is important that you do everything you can to make sure you are both taking care of each other in the long run.

So let me start the process by saying Thank you Erik. Thank you for standing by me and standing with me. For being my port in the storm (even through a hurricane). Words will never be enough. I love you.

Here are some of the lovely pictures I took at the Grand Canyon.

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We had a wonderful time, although it was cold and snowy. The trails were so covered in ice and snow; it was quite treacherous.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the period train ride. Here is the entertainment on the way to the canyon.

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Here I am knitting Color Affection. This is my new favorite way to travel. Plenty of room and plenty of time to knit!

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Our fabulous train attendant was kind enough to hold my color affection.

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We had lunch at the famous El Tovar and explored the South Rim via bus tour. It was fabulous and I wasn’t ready to go home. All in all, a very grand thing to do for my thirtieth.

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I finished Color Affection Sunday evening and blocked it out. It’s not exactly the shape it’s supposed to be and I’m not sure why. The cast-on edge ended up being really tight, which I think is part of the problem. It still turned out lovely though.

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Resources for Caregivers and their Families:

Caregivers.org

Medicare.gov/caregiver

NAMI.org/familymembers

ChoicesinRecovery.com

How to Escape Your Mental Illness (or Not)

I’m in my 30s now.

Expectations I had for my 30s:

  1. I would be married check
  2. I would own a house. (I think the fact that I used to own a house counts for this one.)check
  3. I would have a career. x
  4. I would still live in Albuquerque. x
  5. I would no longer struggle with mental illness. x

Well, two out of five. Not what I had been hoping for.

Number five is pretty ridiculous. It took twenty years to disavow myself of the idea that there was something I could do to get rid of my mental health challenges. In the last ten years, here are the things I thought would let me escape my mental illness:

  1. Wherever you go, there you are. Moving to a new city, state, or country will not rid you of your mental illness.
  2. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. There are no miracle drugs for mental illness.
  3. Falling in love will not make you feel less alone. If you feel alone and lonely, you will still feel alone and lonely once you’re past the honeymoon period.
  4. A new job, haircut, pet, car, computer, outfit, etc. might make you feel better for a few minutes, but it will fade and you might feel worse after.
  5. More money, more problems. Well maybe not, but more money won’t get rid of your mental health problems.

The most important lesson I learned from the above list is: Wherever you go, there you are. I can’t escape myself. It bears repeating. You can’t escape yourself.

If you think where you are living, working, or who you are with is the problem, and then you replace one of those things with a new city, job, or person and you find history repeating itself, then you are the problem. I mean that in the nicest possible way. If you are the problem, then only you can fix it and the circumstances of your life have no bearing on it.

Things I’ve learned actually can help with mental illness:

  1. Learning how to spend time with me, myself, and I. Get comfortable spending time alone, so that you don’t feel lonely when everyone leaves at the end of the day.
  2. Taking up a hobby or five. If you have something to do when you’re alone, you won’t dread it and you might find joy.
  3. Embracing silence. I spent years filling silence with music, audiobooks, and TV. There is peace in silence, in observing your own thoughts. Meditation.
  4. Sitting in the sun. You don’t have guilt yourself for not exercising. Simply taking whatever activity you’re doing — reading, writing, knitting, surfing the internet, etc. — outside, can go a long way to improving your mood and/or anxiety level.
  5. Asking for a hug or getting a snuggle from a loved one or pet. Physical contact with friends, family, and pets has been clinically proven to improve mood and lower anxiety.

What have you learned helps lift your mood and lower your anxiety?