Mental Health (Madness) Monday

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Mental Health Madness?

I hear a lot about March Madness, but for those of us with schoolchildren and working/living on a school calendar, it’s definitely May Madness.

Well, it’s not that bad, but I am moving into a very, a ridiculously, very busy section of spring. The next four weeks or so are going to try my patience and my limits and my family’s. Not to mention all of the people around me.

The good news is that I am very aware of this.

Just looking at my calendar is giving me hives, not to mention that I have just discovered that I apparently have some newfound allergies and I am miserable. It’s like a cold, only constant, and there is a croaky frog in my throat. I have been very fortunate not to have had allergies thus far for my entire life, but I guess I dodged that long enough because if this is a cold, it’s nothing like I’ve ever had. Allergies – yuck. insert emoji of yucky face

I belong to a non-profit that is closing its doors, and in these last, waning, sunset, state-legal requirement encroaching days, I have been asked to take over as vice president. Can I say no? No. We’re also in the midst of cleaning out decades worth of papers from the borrowed offices. insert emoji of praying hands

I interviewed last week for a job. It went well. Although they are still looking, I am still in contention. If I were to be honest, after twenty-plus years of being my own boss (apart from my kids), I’m worried both about getting the job and not getting the job. I will wait and see what the future has in store for me. At this point, it’s at the bottom of my anxiety, so that’s a good thing. It’s kind of nice not to be excessively worried about the outcome.

The ending of the school year includes two kids who need to learn how to drive, get summer jobs, take on more chores (what fun!), and one is graduating from high school. How did that happen? I’m not ready. Fortunately, he seems to be, but we’re having a house-guest (my brother) plus coming up with meals for that entire week (and the entire time between now and then), the actual graduation (and parking and seating and what not). There is the school district transportation breakfast that I volunteered for, Ascension Mass, a second Synod listening session (this one for LGBTQ+ issues), finishing up my presentation for my Cursillo team, continuing my spiritual journal (which is coming along nicely), one more writing class, and at least a dozen more things that haven’t come up yet, but they will, I just know it!

As you can see, this is one of my ways of coping:

Write it all down.

Yes, it is on my calendar, so I won’t (shouldn’t) forget any of my appointments, and I have a master checklist, but just spewing it here and getting it out of my system is one step in several of coping with the onslaught of the coming anxiety. I highly recommend it.

My second piece of advice and one of the most important items in my toolbox is water. Drink lots of water. I’m drinking water right now. Stay hydrated. This benefits you two-fold: 1. water is good for you, and 2. when you’re hydrated you are less likely to get a headache. Avoiding headaches will always help with everything else.

Third, stock up on pasta, sauce, and cans of soup. Macaroni and cheese in the blue box is also highly recommended. These are all easy and fast to make, good to eat, and simple to clean up. Even if you don’t want to eat, you need to eat, so for several days a week, make it simple. You can always dress up pasta with frozen meatballs and bread with butter (with or without garlic).

Fourth, find one or two things to skip this week. I can’t tell you what – they would be personal to you, but I’m sure there is something that won’t be a problem missing out on. You decide. Oh, and it can’t be sleep. No missing out on sleep. Rest is just as important as water. Naps are great even if you’re older than three!

Fifth, and last, start your week on a positive note. For me, I’m going to Sunday Mass. Church feeds my soul. I miss it when I’m not there, and I enjoy it when I am. Besides the sacraments, it is truly that simple. Sunday is also the May Crowning for Mary. I may also stay after that and pray the rosary. I know this isn’t for everyone. If you’re not a church person, don’t start your week there – it will only make you miserable. What do you like though? Cup of coffee on the porch? Get out early before the oppressive heat, but you can get out. Tea? A good book? Just quietly sitting while a breeze floats by? Tell me your go-to.

As we keep reminding, May is mental health awareness month, and when May ends in a week or so, we will still need to remain aware of our mental health and how to keep coping during the rest of the year. I’d be happy to hear how you cope and we can share our advice, hints, and tips with each other in the comments.

Wait! Did I forget the haircuts?! Oh well, I guess I’ll add it to the list!

Have a lovely week!

Mental Health Monday – Lists

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Mental Health Monday is all about those little reminders that we all, no matter our circumstances, no matter our levels of anxiety, we all need to stay aware of our mental health. I had intended this to publish yesterday despite a busy morning, but at the end of the day (literally), I still could have gotten it in under midnight on Monday, rushed, and (in my mind) unfinished or I could wait until Tuesday and let that be a reminder that not everything is an urgency. Yes, some things are, but not everything.

Today I wanted to talk about the benefits of lists, and the first thing on any Mental Health Monday list is to let yourself take a break when you feel its needed.

I needed it yesterday and I ignored that feeling all day. After church and my lunch meeting, I went home fully intending to sit at my laptop and do the Monday post. I thought I’d take a short break, read a chapter in one of the books I’m in the middle of before I got started.

I fell asleep.

I woke up with a crick in my neck, so I stretched and pulled out my book again.

I fell asleep again.

This happened on and off throughout the afternoon (including the painful crick), and each time it happened I became more and more frustrated and angry at myself. I didn’t think that I must have needed the rest; I was just angry that I wasn’t getting done what I had planned on getting done.

Once I decided that I would intentionally postpone the post until today, my anger and my anxiety* went away.

[*I don’t mean that I was now suddenly free of my chronic anxiety. We all have anxiety that crops up from time to time depending on circumstances, and this was in additional to the anxiety I take medication for. It’s important to differentiate between the two, but it’s also important to treat each of them and not ignore either one.]

I’ve written previously about lists. I find them a great tool in all kinds of situations. When I was undiagnosed (for depression and anxiety) I was very forgetful. I couldn’t remember the simplest of things – did I have breakfast? Did I take a shower? Why aren’t the kids in school? Oh right, it’s Saturday. I found ways to cope – giving myself a schedule was one, getting diagnosed was a big one. I was trying so hard to not let my family know that there was a problem that I was in “fake it til you make it” mode and whatever slack I left behind, my family picked up – like cooking. I missed many school deadlines in this time and that led to all kinds of guilt, especially concerning my middle child.

One of the lifesaving tools I discovered and still utilize was making lists.

The lists range from important appointments and deadlines to seemingly mundane items like eating and showering. Some days those mundane ones are needed just to get through.

My list for yesterday was (with completed items crossed out):

  • Mass
  • See Father J.
  • Donation to St. Vincent de Paul (as part of Spark/GISH)
  • Meet M & E at bank
  • Meet M at Panera to go over information for my new (volunteer) job
  • Check in with home to see if we need groceries while I was outwe didn’t
  • Home to write MHM
  • Refill pill box for the next two week period
  • Continue reading two books.
  • Begin reading final two chapters for book club.
  • Attendance form for kids’ school.
  • Check calendar for next month’s writing assignments.
  • Find free write prompt for next week’s group that I’m leading.
  • Group rosary by phone.
  • Dinner.

It looks like I got a lot done, and I did. Even if you do one thing on your list, it is important to acknowledge that. That one thing could be everything (and some weeks, it is). I did also have a lot of little things on my list. They may seem little (even to me) but when I forget something it can be very frustrating. Why continue reading those two books? They’re library e-books, and often the library will take them back before I’ve finished, and I’ve tried to read them more regularly so I don’t have to go back on the waiting list, which can be quite long sometimes.

Today’s list was much smaller:

  • Mass – opted not to go.
  • Get gas.
  • Check out po box at new post office for new volunteer job.
  • This is where I am at the moment ——–>Lunch to write first draft of MHM-Lists
  • Pick up daughter and go to Target (with lists for home and school supplies she needs immediately of course)
  • Publish this MHM before dinner.
  • Dinner.
  • Read books.
  • Bed (hopefully early).

I think I can get through the remainder of today’s list and I know that I can make up some of the ones that I missed on Monday (like refilling my pill box and finding a free-write prompt) on Wednesday.

As we get back into the swing of things, as masks come off, and more people find their new normal, it’s okay to give yourself some time to readjust to public life. Personally, I’m still wearing masks, and I’m okay with that. And as the school year winds down, I’m making daily lists, making sure that nothing important falls through the cracks.

Try making your own lists, and let me know how you did with your week.

Be well.

Mental Health Monday – Re-opening Stress

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​I’ve kind of put this off for most of the day. I didn’t intentionally procrastinate. I did need to get groceries, and I suppose I could have not bribed my son to come with my by promising him a trip to the bagel shop and Starbucks for a frappechino, but I did. And while I do really need to sit down and finish my lesson plan for RCIA next Sunday and contact the printer for the handouts (that need to be mailed since we’re meeting by Zoom), I still really did not intentionally put this off. There were also people WRONG ON THE INTERNET that I needed to take care of.

It is true that this Mental Health Monday comes at the beginning of the last week for us in New York for NY Pause. While the entire state won’t be opening up, and the emergency orders are still in effect, the formal Pause expires on Friday, and I honestly don’t know how I feel about that. It gives me stress just thinking about it. That is partly because I will continue to isolate at home, as will my family; I will continue to wear a mask when I go out, and I will stay six feet away from you, and I will expect you to stay six feet away from me. Being cautious doesn’t make me paranoid. After all, sometimes they really are out to get you.

Seriously though, the stress associated with opening up the states is almost as viscerally debilitating as closing them down was in the first place.

My main advice to you is the same that I’m giving myself: Take it slow. If you’re not ready to go to the store when everyone else is there, don’t go. I can tell you that there is food on the shelves. Today when we went they didn’t have everything I wanted but I just picked alternatives, like in pasta – cavatappi instead of penne, thin spaghetti instead of angel hair. They didn’t have Bertolli’s pasta sauce but they did have Prego. Meats were all on sale and we got everything we came for. The only thing we didn’t get that was on our long list was Alfredo sauce. 

My church is still livestreaming on Facebook Live four times a week. If they came back on Sunday, I would still not attend. If you’re not comfortable, there is no reason for you to go to the building for your worship service. There are appropriate alternatives.

If you’re working from home, see if you can extend that. 

If you’re in a house, get outside once a day. You don’t have to go anywhere – just breathe in the fresh air. Of course, if it’s snowing, like it was here in New York on Saturday, maybe avoid that. If you’re in an apartment, go for a drive. I will take a drive at least once a week (and not go through a drive through) just for a change of pace.

Go to bed earlier than usual. Turn off the electronics, get away from the internet and social media, take a quiet half an hour before sleeping. I may have mentioned that I’ve been sleeping with an eye mask. The light pressure of it has a way of calming me down for sleep, which surprised me, but it seems to work for me; maybe it will work for you.

Share some of your coping and stress relievers in the comments so we can all benefit from each other. We are all in this together.

Mental Health Monday – Setback

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​A week or so ago, a man I follow on political Twitter had a rough couple of days. I left some supportive comments, and liked a few extra posts because I know how far that can go when you’re reaching out. I know he’s going to be okay, and so does he. Setbacks happen. I’ve said for a long time that depression and anxiety is very much a constant state of recovery. I can’t compare it to a 12-step program as I’ve never done one, but there is the continuity of keeping yourself healthy and remaining self-aware when things change.  There are ups and downs as there are for people who do not have depression or anxiety disorders or issues. All life is a roller coaster ride, and for some of us all we want is the merry-go-round or the slow train around the park.

Before I was diagnosed I didn’t know what was going on. It was unsettling to say the least. After diagnosis it took several weeks to begin to feel better; to recover. The meds didn’t work, then they worked too well; finding a happy medium takes time and patience, and depression is many things, but one thing depression is not is patient. I didn’t feel it at the time, but I was very lucky. Once I got through the initial couple of months of doctor’s check-ups, medication, weekly and bi-weekly talk therapy, and whatever other coping tools I amassed in my toolbox, I was more or less good; not all good, and by no means perfect, but steady. I remained noticeably self-aware of how I was feeling, checking in with myself and paying attention to what I needed. It’s been seven years.

And then about a week ago, I got hit with something. There was nothing gradual or building up to it, and I’m still at the tail end of it today, but there is was: setback. Although setback may be the wrong characterization. I’ve had low moments, but in the course of a year, depression as sad or disappointed is really quite regular. I’ve recognized the situations, and adjusted. This was different. Ironically, it also occurred after my regular therapy appointment. I could probably go back sooner, but there wasn’t really anything new to talk about. I’m in a rut. I will muddle through. It will pass.

But it hasn’t passed; not all the way yet. I can feel myself moving towards the light, but it’s the third week of November, our Thanksgiving plans are still in flux, I have no idea what to get my family (or my son’s girlfriend) for Christmas, my house is a disaster, my papers are too abundant, and writing this part and re-reading it reminds me that this isn’t that weird for any other person out there, with or without depression.

I felt the lethargy first. Then the wanting to just stay in bed and sleep; a different type of lethargy. I got up every morning with headaches for several days in a row. Apathy set in. One minute I was excited about Nanowrimo, the next I was uninspired and not at all caring about writing anything, let alone working on my book(s). If I had an appointment, I kept it. It got me out of bed, and gradually, I’m getting back into my groove.

The first thing I did was recognize whatever this was. I checked myself. I was not suicidal. I knew that. I could feel that. As deep as this felt, it was survivable, and I could handle it. I did not need an emergency intervention. (Others may, and that’s okay. We all need to do what works for us to maintain our recovery.) I chose to stay away from certain political sites, but still remained in the informational loop. I became very picky on what I let into my sphere. I put aside all but four of my podcasts so I could better use the time I had carved out where I wasn’t lying in bed. I tried to read (Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, which I did read, and finished it despite having to stop just to be so very angry about the content). 

I kept my morning routine: taking medicine, reading the day’s [Thomas] Merton, listening to What a Day podcast to get the overnight news (and bonus they do more than politics). I forced myself to meet all of my obligations: driving the kids, planning dinner, blog planning, praying. Then on top of that, as I thought I might be surfacing, I got sick last weekend with some kind of twenty-four hour bug, and I wallowed. I allowed myself to be sick, to stay in bed, to do what I needed to do to get well. I was at a church breakfast, and instead of soldiering through, I called my husband to come pick me up. I didn’t talk myself out of taking care of myself and letting my family fend for themselves. I didn’t worry about what I could let go of. Easier said than done, I know.

I didn’t try to why myself and analyze why I was so down, so deep in a hole. I just accepted it; briefly.

And everyday, I got up, I checked in with myself, accepted I was still in the hole, and thought about what I could do to keep living until it passed. I did consider that I might need to adjust my medication, but I wasn’t sure that was something I wanted to do at the stressful holiday season. I do have a doctor’s appointment in a couple of weeks, followed by a therapy session, and I know I can get through these weeks until then. I’ve found that just having the days on the calendar is a asset to my mental state.

I know that so many people go through these feelings, these moments of self-doubt, undermining and self-sabotage that taking away the stigma and talking about depression and the inevitable setback benefits many. But I think I’ve gotten over this bump.

What are some of the ways you get through your ruts?

Mental Health Monday – Resources

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Suicide Prevention HelpLine: 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

IMAlive (an online crisis network)
The Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

TWLOHA: To Write Love on Her Arms

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1. Text to 838255. There is also a confidential chat line on the website.

There is a more comprehensive list (although not inclusive) on my Crisis Intervention Page.

Check out all of the Mental Health Monday posts by followng this tag: mental health monday

Two other things you should check out:

Questions to Ask Before Giving Up

Let’s Make a Coping Skills Toolbox

Add anything you’ve found useful in the comments so I can include it in any updates.

Mental Health Monday – Profile – Wil Wheaton

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​Wil Wheaton is an actor, best known for his roles in Stand by Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation. His motto is: Don’t be a dick, and he tries to live his life with that philosophy at the forefront. It is a simple philosophy; one I equate to the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

He and his wife live in California with their two dogs, Marlowe and Seamus, and a cat, Watson. They are both (all) very committed to animals and their welfare, and lend a lot of support, both in time and financial charity to the Pasadena Humane Society and SCPA.

He homebrews and is a huge fan of the LA Kings, through good times and bad.

Wil Wheaton is a writer and has been influential to me in seeing alternative avenues of publishing, the importance of using social media to your advantage, and inspirational to keep going forward and to never stop writing.

He also has chronic depression and generalized anxiety, something that I can understand, having similar, if not the same diagnoses. I can only imagine how much harder it is when you’re a celebrity and all eyes are on you when you’re out in public. He is one of the voices speaking out against the stigma of mental illness and supports NAMI among other groups who help.

Visit his official website: Wil Wheaton

From Slate

In Wil’s Words

Wil and his lovely wife, Anne at a LA Kings game. Copyright belongs to Anne Wheaton. (c)2019

The Road to Recovery is Paved with Good Intentions or Something Like That

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​The biggest difference between a recovery and a cure is with a recovery there is no end. Whether that’s with chronic or terminal illness, alcoholism, or depression.

People who don’t have first hand experience with depression think it’s a mood that can be changed by a good night’s sleep and a journal, a glass of wine and a walk in the woods, shopping therapy, but it’s really so much more complicated than that, and the person with the depression is tired of explaining it and the person listening is tired of hearing it. 

I can do this; why can’t you?

Even when they  don’t say it, it is heard.

And then there’s that one person who’s like but you’re on medication or they didn’t need medication or some other sabotaging dig that really means buck up, pull up your bootstraps, we all have depression.

It’s been two weeks, and it wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say or a planner filled with mediocre posts for you, but I just couldn’t sit down, couldn’t clean off the table, couldn’t wake up early enough, and it wasn’t that I ignored all of this and didn’t care, but I can’t say that I mulled over it either. It wasn’t until the first week blended into the second that I recognized this for what it was.

I still had stuff to do.

Kids had to get fed.

Doctors had to be visited.

My annual GISH scavenger hunt was this week, and I was not feeling it.

This weekend is a retreat at my favorite place, and while I was looking forward to it, I am also so, so tired. The kind of tired that sleep won’t fix. I forgot my notebook to take notes in, and my tea (!), and my hairbrush, and without a recent haircut that is practically a necessity. I’m usually quite organized, especially about packing, and i literally tossed everything into my suitcase and zipped it up. Half of it wasn’t folded, and I’m not sure if I have enough shirts and I definitely don’t have enough pants, but for some reason I have six pairs of underwear, so I guess I’m ready for next time.

Maybe I could change my meds, but I don’t want to change my meds. I’m pretty self-aware, and this retreat is all about self-awareness and mind-clutter as well as physical clutter and it’s exactly what I need, and maybe meds do need to be adjusted, but I think I can muddle through for the moment.

Lists are being made, and some are being ignored. Bills are behind, and have been, and that’s part of that helpless feeling.

I think I can force myself to be somewhat productive this coming week, and I’m hoping that might jump-start a little something.

Between now and Tuesday, I plan on catching up on my posts – the July quotation, the August blurb, possibly a travel post, and on Tuesday, as much as I know it contributes to how I’m feeling, I will have a resource post to add to the political one from a couple of weeks ago – a few more recommendations of reliable political thinkers and speakers.

I know it can be draining, but stay aware of the world around you. I’m sure you have been tempted, as have I to hide under a rock for the next two years or more, but we are needed, here at home and in community.

Just being here lightens my load. Now to see how to bottle it and take it with me when I leave.

July: Sum Sum Summer: Reflection

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​July has sped along, and it hasn’t been bad, or terrible, or really all that hot. Some really hot days, and really hot steering wheels, but I can’t complain overall about the nights. I was just mentioning today that the last couple of years it seems that August is the hottest of the summer months, thank you very much global warming for screwing up the norms.

From the end of the school year until just after Independence Day, our family is in flux. Some days off from work, some, if I’m being honest, a lot of, lazy days, some pajama days, not always planned until we wake up and don’t feel like getting dressed, but it ticks along until we get into some kind of schedule that works for everyone. Usually after my husband’s birthday.

I have implemented a points system this year for my kids that appears to be working. More or less. They don’t know what they’re working towards or what the points can be traded for at the end of the summer yet. Neither do I. Yet. But with my husband working from home, it’s really helped them declare their own independence while letting me work in my bedroom for most of the morning. Instead of bothering him, they get their own breakfasts and set about doing their busywork, whether that’s YouTube or games or books. They quietly feed themselves with whatever we have, and they’re old enough to microwave or use the tea kettle and toaster, so their breakfast and lunches (peanut butter for one, Nutella for the other) gets them through most mornings without rancor.

For me…I just don’t want to do anything. I think it’s part of a mild depression. I don’t feel that things are impossible or that I’ve reached desperation, but there’s something just bleh that I can’t shake. I’m tired but not in the needing rest sense. I know that current events and politics are feeding that tiredness and anger and frustration. 

I want to be in church for mass, but I don’t want to actually leave the house to go to  mass. 

My husband organized a spontaneous road trip to Destiny USA on Cayuga Lake in Syracuse, and it was cheap, which is always a good thing. I mean it cost next to nothing, and it was fun. It was adventurous for the two of us in the family who need plans and lists and things. But it was still something of a struggle. It was a very conscious effort to be there for everyone and everything. And the amount of energy it expends to be that self-aware and that self-censoring is really quite exhausting.

I want to write, but I don’t want to sit down and get to the process of writing. I have so many things that need to be written and then posted or filed or edited, and I can’t decide on which is the most important, and then I get paralyzed with indecision and do nothing. I have yet to continue the journal I want to write for our family trip to Ireland. It’s almost a year since we went and came back. Part of that, I know is that we probably won’t get a vacation this year, but part of it is also that I want it to be perfect for posterity and summer at home is too noisy to just sit and reflect quietly on that very special trip. Unsure about a vacation this year with too many other monetary priorities plus a mistake with our taxes that refunded us significantly less than I had anticipated. Trudge along, though. That’s all any of us can do. Trudge along.

I did see my therapist a couple of days ago, and that helps; not just the going, but the anticipation of going. It’s like a balm. If I’m feeling anxious, I look at the calendar and see the appointment and I can get through a minor pang of anxiety.

I think July is just more of my cranky month than the others. The kids home more than usual, the air hotter than usual, less money, more expectations, anticipations of so many things to do, and then having to live up to those expectations.

Well, let’s think positively.

Let’s see what can happen.

REPOST: Coping Skills Tool Box

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Let’s Make a Coping Skills Tool Box is a wonderful resource that I’ve found that gives suggestions on what you might add to your own coping skills tool box. Have a look, and if you think of anything else that you find useful, please add it in the comments.