Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's a new week

Last week was a busy week for me, with lots to do and lots to be anxious about.  I had some successes, and some failures.  I also reached another level of understanding of my depression.  It's amazing to me how many levels there are - each time I think I have a pretty good picture of my illness, and what my life will look like with it, I realize there is still more for me to understand.  And more for me to accept.

I think the reality is that I will be actively managing my mental health for the rest of my life.  Day in and day out, week in and week out - I'll be thinking about my illness and how to mitigate its effects on my life.  At some point I thought that meds would help me to put the illness away and not have to think about it...but I understand now that that vision isn't at all accurate. 

So I've increased my for the harder step of acceptance.  There's a part of me that wants to throw a tantrum - scream and rage that it isn't fair, and I don't want to be accepting, and my kids shouldn't have to be penalized for having a mom who battles depression.  And on and on.  But I know that won't do much to help me.  Yes, there would be some immediate satisfaction but eventually I need to accept that this is my reality. 

This week is a quiet one, with not much scheduled and no real pressing issues.  I'm going to take this week to regroup and work on acceptance.

I'd love to hear how you cope with your depression, anxiety, or whatever it is that you're struggling with.  Sometimes it helps just to know that you're not alone.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The pause button

I was feeling pretty damn good after my success earlier this week in managing my symptoms and focusing on doing the things that I know are good for me.

Fast forward a few days, and that success seems like ages ago.


Tonight was pretty shitty and I felt out of control with my family - my kids in particular.  I sometimes feel like my current life is exactly what you would not recommend for someone battling my mental health struggles.  Don't get me wrong - I'm blessed with a wonderful, supportive husband, and three very good kids.  Honestly, truly, great kids.  But...they're kids.  And they peck at me. And peck, and peck, and peck. 

This afternoon I was feeling anxious - lots to do including preparations for my daughter's 7th birthday party on Saturday.  (Birthday parties for the kids are a big trigger for me with my childhood emotional Stuff, but that's for another post.)  So I'm busy, and feeling distracted, and suddenly there are three kids who all need me at the same time.  I need to have a conversation with my older daughter about her apparent lack of focus at school lately.  Her sister needs me to give her a practice spelling test, and oh by the way, she can't find the paper she needs for that.  And then there's the youngest, a 4 year old boy, who wants me to read a book and see his army men and geez we really need to work on getting him to stop sucking his thumb.

In the middle of all of this, I start to feel suffocated.  And really kind of panicky, like I'm no longer fully in control of my reactions to them.  My one attempt to reel myself in was to sit on the bathroom floor and try one of my new whizbang meditation apps.  Okay, I'm feeling better, maybe a smidge more grounded...but then I head out into the tornado of life again and my little meditative reset button doesn't stand a chance.

Eventually it got to the point where I knew I was completely overreacting to the kids but I didn't know how to stop it.  And I just wanted them to go away - in part to reduce the overall mayhem in my head, but even more so that they would be protected from me and my unreasonable reactions to their normal kid stuff.

And then I start to fall apart, and they sense it, and they wonder what's wrong with Mommy.  They ask me what's wrong with Mommy and I don't know what to tell them.  That I'm overwhelmed?  That I have a lot on my mind?  That I'm having a hard time dealing with all of the demands for my attention?  None of these answers seems even remotely adequate.

I wish that I could be better for them.  I wish that I could take the lessons I learned earlier this week and apply them to the tornado that happened to me today.  I wish that I could have stopped it before it got out of control.  I knew that I needed a break, and in an ideal world, I would have pressed the pause button on Life so that I could exercise, or meditate again, or do something else magical that would push away the anxiety.  But how can I do those things when there are kids to be taken care of, and dinner to be made, and the regular duties of Life to be handled?

In these moments of reflection it seems as if my anxiety and my depression could only truly be managed in a bubble.  Maybe it's just that I'm such a newbie at developing the tools I need, that I can't find them and operate them and have them work in the middle of a tornado.  I hope that I can become more skilled at using those tools...because there is no pause button for Life, and I don't want to keep having nights like tonight.  My family deserves so much more.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Managing my symptoms

I've been feeling kind of crappy lately.  It's crushing since I thought (naively?) that I was on an extended upswing.  I can't tell if I'm really, truly on the slippery slope, or if this is just a brief spell...but in a way it doesn't matter.  This week I have a lot to do, and I'm very anxious about all that's going on.

Yesterday morning I made a decision.  I took my cue from DysthymiaBree, who has talked about how she managed a recent crisis - by simply (simply!!) making more good choices than bad ones.  She was in the mode of managing her symptoms to the best of her ability.  So I decided yesterday, as I laid in bed and felt the cloak of depression and anxiety, that I would try to go through my week with that strategy - focus on managing my symptoms, doing things that I know can help, and most importantly, putting on hold all of my thoughts and worries about my depression returning in full force.

It forced me to really think about the things that help me.  What are they?  In no particular order...

  • Exercise.  Exercise.  Exercise.  There's really something to be said for those damn endorphins!
  • Get plenty of sleep.  I need at least 8 hours.  It sounds pathetic but it makes a difference for me.
  • Practice deep breathing. I'm new at this, but I'm certain it will help me once I commit more time to developing the skills.
  •  Ask for help.  This is a tough one - isolation is my default and my comfort.

I took the first step tentatively - getting out of bed.  So far, so good.  Then I got the kids off to school and took some quiet time to just sit and breathe.  Then I exercised.  And as I went about my day, I tried to push away all thoughts of the slippery slope and how afraid I am.  It took a considerable amount of willpower but I kept telling myself that today was not about analyzing my feelings, contemplating my meds, and getting to the psychological roots of things.  There is a time and place for that, and it is not now.

The day was all about managing my symptoms.  And you know what?  As the day went on, it gradually required less and less effort to keep the monsters at bay.

Success?  Perhaps.  Certainly enough of a success that I'll do the same today.  And tomorrow, and the next day...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mommy, do you get depressed?

I had a long, relaxed, very connected conversation with my daughter at bedtime tonight.  This is a good thing, since I often beat myself up for not feeling connected enough to my kids, for not taking enough time with them, for not enjoying them enough, for not doing the things that a "good mom" does.

It was a great conversation until I suddenly found myself in the middle of a conversation about mental illness.  After a rough therapy session today, I wasn't in the right frame of mind to tackle this one with any objectivity.     

And then there was the question that stopped me dead in my tracks. 

"Mommy, do you get depressed?"


Yep, that's a punch in the gut.

I've thought a lot about the fact that someday, I would probably have to talk to all of my kids about my depression and the genetic components that might put them at risk.  But I didn't think it would come up quite yet - after all, my oldest is only 10.  And I certainly didn't expect it to come up tonight.

So I'll be honest - I wasn't at all prepared.  I told her that yes, sometimes Mommy gets depressed.  But that I'm working on it.  For being only 10, she has always been very perceptive in picking up things that I think should fly below her radar.  So the series of emotions that crossed my face throughout this conversation?  Trust me, they didn't go unnoticed.  I have often joked that parenting her is like parenting a little psychologist.  In this case I felt like I was trying to explain depression in very vague terms to...a psychologist.  But how much can she really understand?  I shudder to think of how much she picks up on...what she has already sensed.  We talked about how Mommy gets "agitated" a lot.  I know full well that my agitation is linked to my depression - it's one of the things about depression that I find so maddening.  It would be one thing if I were just sad and mopey.  But to be pissed off all the time, at those I love?  Let's just pile on to my already monstrous sense of guilt over how I'm letting my family down.  So to have my daughter tell me that she wished I didn't get agitated so much?  And that sometimes she gets scared because if I'm agitated, then the whole family feels agitated?

What should I possibly say to that???

I can't process any more of this tonight.  It's simply too hard.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


It's finally starting to register with me how much self-doubt goes on in my head on a regular basis.  More importantly, it's starting to register with me exactly how crippling that is for me.

This morning I was a bit out of my element - I interacted with a few people, none of it at all significant, but afterwards I was wracked with doubt over how I had handled myself.  And the criticisms - wow!  I would never speak that way to anyone else.  Never.  But to myself?  No problem.

I need to work on identifying when the self-doubt is happening.  And then I need to figure out how to stop it from spiraling out of to set the doubts aside and just accept life as it comes, trusting that my reactions are not out of the ordinary.

I often wonder how much of this kind of thing is my depression, and how much of it is just me.  I know there's no easy answer, and the truth is probably a combination of depression and me.  I keep doing the hard work in therapy, and managing my depression the best I can, and I suppose that's all I can do.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Buddha and the Borg

The universe has been very clear lately in letting me know that I need to work on this whole mindfulness thing.  This morning I was listening to a podcast that talked about loss and pain, as viewed through the lens of the Noble Truths of Buddhism.  Then I checked on DysthymiaBree to find that she was mulling over the same exact things.  And then there was SuzJones and her post about taking a break from pushing so much, and letting life guide her instead.

Ok, Universe, I hear you.  It would have been fabulous if you had put all these pieces together in a cohesive whole for me to process and apply to my life...but apparently it's up to me to do that.  First let me preface by saying that I'm in no way an expert in Buddhism - frankly, there are only a few tidbits I've gathered here and there.  So if I butcher some fundamental beliefs, please forgive me!  Here goes...

I think the idea of mindfulness and awareness is to accept all of the experiences and feelings that we have in life.  To let them flow through us, to acknowledge them and then let them go.  This is particularly challenging when it comes to difficult experiences and feelings - things that cause us pain.  We are sort of hard-wired to resist pain and fear, and we develop all sorts of strategies of resistance.  Some of these might be addictions, for example.  We fight the pain with all our might, and in so doing, we cause our own suffering.  As I heard on my podcast today, "Pain in life is inevitable, but suffering is optional."


All of us will experience pain in our lives.  There is absolutely nothing we can do to change that.  But, we suffer when we resist that pain, when we don't let it move through us.  As DysthymiaBree says, "Suffering is when we 'dwell in the pain'."  When we're unable to accept the pain, when we're unable to let go of the injuries of the past, when we can't control our anxieties about the future.  We push against the pain with every ounce of strength we have.  I think that's part of what SuzJones was getting at - that sometimes we just need to let go and let life flow through us.

I can't help but be reminded of the Borg from Star Trek:

Strength is irrelevant.  Resistance is futile.
They were SO right.  Damn Borg.

So then what?  This could be just an academic exercise - a brief foray into the principles of Buddhism.  I've done my fair share of term papers, and knocked out a dissertation back in the day, so I kind of like academic exercises.  But really, what the hell does all of this mean for me, struggling with depression, trying to find some approaches that will make my life more bearable - and perhaps even happier (perish the thought)?

Like DysthymiaBree, I think I need to truly accept that my mental illness will be with me for the rest of my life.

(Ugh.  Suddenly I just want to curl up and press the delete button.  It's so hard to say those words out loud.  Kind of knocks the wind out of me, frankly.  Deep breath...)

My mental illness will be with me for the rest of my life.  That is - and will always be - a regular pain for me.  I need to experience that pain and acknowledge it.  I need to acknowledge all parts of it - my 7 tons of bricks, my Grey Ghost, all of it.  I need to stop fighting it - to stop expending so much energy on rehashing things I wish were different in my past - things that would have been different if I weren't so depressed.  I need to stop wasting energy on my fears for the future - that I'm on the slippery slope again, that my kids will spend decades uncovering their own depression, that I will never be truly happy.

Strength is irrelevant.  Resistance is futile.

Sometimes it's easier to identify the things you shouldn't do, rather than the things you should.  So at this point I get a little tied up trying to make sense of what I should do instead of fighting all of this.  In theory I'll have freed up a whole lot of time if I'm no longer resisting - but what to do instead?  What does that look like?  I don't know yet but I hope I can figure it out.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tired of the worrying

I've been "off" for a day or two.  You know what I mean, I'm sure.  Not really, really off...just a bit off.  Enough that I notice a little more self-criticism, a little more self-doubt, a little more of the symptoms I have with my depression.  Again, nothing life shattering, but enough to trigger the thought of "Am I at the top of the slippery slope again?"

I'm scared.  Scared that my depression might be starting to creep in again.  Scared that I might lose the momentum of the past couple of weeks when I've felt better than I have in a very long time.

I'm trying to think of this as just a blip - and blips are temporary.  But I still worry somewhere...and that worry can be so tiring.  I want to stop worrying and paying so much attention to what's going on in my head! 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Squirrels and mindfulness

Consider this:

Squirrels do not walk mindfully on this earth.

Shall I pause and let you reflect?

If you're Tara Brach, who has been teaching Buddhist meditation for 35 years, this statement is just a tiny part of a discussion on mindfulness and spiritual awakening. 

If you're me, and you're attempting to listen to a podcast while stretching out at the gym, the thing about the squirrels is all you can remember.

We used to live in a neighborhood that had literally millions of squirrels.  They were everywhere, in constant, frenetic motion.  Occasionally you might see one sitting still for more than a second or two, but it was rare.  Sitting still for longer than that usually suggested mortal injury.  So I get why squirrels and mindfulness are a laughable combination. 

I've read a good bit about mindfulness, but haven't been terribly successful in implementing it.  It struck me today that the image of squirrels' frenetic activity is a perfect example for me of anti-mindfulness, whatever that might be called. 

I want to quiet the squirrels that are so often running around in my brain. My new goal is to be an Anti-Squirrel.  I don't know quite how I'm going to get there, but I like that I have a visual reminder.  As I watch the squirrels in the backyard, hopefully I will remember to slow down and quiet my mind.  And maybe that's really what Tara Brach was trying to achieve?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What is "normal" anyway?

I'm fascinated by the process of understanding more about the dynamics in your family of origin - and using that to help you understand more about your approach to the world and your relationships.  I've covered an awful lot of ground in the past week or so, and it has left my head swirling.

The initial seed was the suggestion from my therapist that my mom and my sister both display some borderline personality tendencies.  Not that they have the disorder, or anything close to that, but they may have tendencies.  That led me to the book Stop Walking on Eggshells, by Mason and Kreger.  I wasn't reading from the perspective of someone who has identified a borderline in their lives - but more from the perspective of someone who wants to learn more about borderline traits.  In skimming through that book, it occurred to me that I might have another possible borderline in my life - a friend who recently disappeared from my life completely after we had been lifelines for each other for years.  Looking back, the friendship was quite dysfunctional, and not at all healthy for me, and her possible borderline traits definitely played a role in that.

The Eggshells book made a reference to Childhood Emotional Neglect.  That was Stop #2 on my tour of psychological phenomena:  Running on Empty, by Webb.  I won't attempt to summarize the book here, but it discusses how kids who do not have their emotional needs met by their parents, grow up to be adults who have a great deal of difficulty in managing their emotional lives and their relationships.  This isn't profound but it was the first time I had read something that sort of pulled it all together.  And I was amazed by the similarities between the examples in the book and my own childhood experiences.  Of particular note was the description of the narcissistic parents, who see their children as extensions of themselves, and judge them very critically as a result.

So...that led me to Stop #3:  Daughters of narcissistic mothers, described in Will I Ever Be Good Enough?, by McBride. 

At this point, I succumbed to psychological overload and collapsed in a heap, my head a swirling mess...none of which is conducive to my growing emotional health.  But I know it's a process.  Try to understand a component, process it, figure out how it applies to my life, then work on making changes.  Do that for a while until I uncover something else to research, process, apply, etc.  I'm diligent about this work, and I'm good at some parts of it, but it makes me wonder... Does everyone have this level of Stuff in their lives, and in their family histories? Is my family really this screwed up, while most other families are "normal"?

Borderlines?  Check.
Childhood Emotional Neglect?  Check.
Narcissistic parent?  Check.

And who knows what this week will uncover!

Friday, March 7, 2014

My Grey Ghost of depression

Today is a Grey Ghost kind of day.  40 degrees and raining - the kind of rain that you know will last all day long, unrelenting.  On days like these, I'm drawn to my Grey Ghost "uniform" - sweatpants, sweatshirt, even slippers, and all heather grey, of course.

Several years ago, I spent weeks (okay, months) in Grey Ghost mode.  Day after day after day.  At the time, I was working from home, and had no kids, so there was no pressure to get dressed in anything respectable.  I also happened to be in the throes of my depression, although I didn't realize it at the time.  It's kind of hard to believe, actually - how could I not see that as depression?  Wearing the same, dull, grey clothes for days on end, rarely leaving the house, rarely putting in the effort to get truly dressed.  Needless to say, there was very little self-care happening in those days.  I figured that was just how I was.  After a while I upgraded to a fancier Grey Ghost with some "lounge pants" from the Gap.  Lounge pants, as we all know, are still just sweatpants, only without the telltale elastic at the bottom.  That was my style makeover???

The thing is that there was such comfort in the Grey Ghost.  It called to me every morning and I slipped it on like a second skin.  I embraced it.  And it held a certain kind of power over me.

I realize now that I was putting on a cloak of depression. Every. Single. Day. For months. Maybe even years.

The Grey Ghost still has some power.  It still calls to me, and on days like these, there's a part of me that still longs to put on that cloak.  To slip on the Grey Ghost and crawl back into bed.  But I know better now.  I recognize it for what it is.  I know that I need to fight it, even if it requires more energy than I think I have.

So today I acknowledge the Grey Ghost, and I acknowledge how comforting it is, and I acknowledge how much I want to embrace it.  And then I get in the shower.  And really get dressed.  And maybe put on some makeup.  And keep on fighting.