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.

What Have I Done Today?

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What have I done today? Today, being a reflection of one day last week, April 2, 2020 to be precise. It is (was) day 18 of self-isolation/”quarantine” for our family. That is the official count since we last went out to dinner and our kids last had in-person school, which is not a phrase that comes readily from fingertips to keyboard or off the tongue. In that time, we have managed to come to some sort of happy (?) medium between the four of us who live in this house. Some days have blended into others, some pjs were worn a bit too long, too many video games, streaming services, and DVDs were played and watched, not enough fresh air, and way, way, way too many emails were received from every single email list I’ve been on for the last ten years telling me how they are addressing the COVID-19 situation in their establishments as well as many, many restaurants offering me free delivery or curbside pick up despite the fact that I am very much not in their delivery area.

But we’re all handling this in our own ways; some better than others.

As every day becomes some version of it’s Friday again as well as a Groundhog Day reboot, I thought I’d spend one day listing all of my activities or the less than active happenings as it were.

I decided to would share it here for others to see that we’re almost all coping with the same issues: limited resources, homeschooling our kids, working from home, trying to be useful, and often not succeeding, and then feeling guilty about that. Why haven’t I cleaned out my closets? Why haven’t I planted my garden? How can we possibly use that much toilet paper in a week?! No, I don’t know what’s for dinner; what are you making?

I absolutely recognize my privilege and am ever grateful in that I have a home, my children are safe, and my husband continues to work from our home. He had already been working from home for a number of years, initially requesting it because of some medical limitations for me after my third child was born. Eventually, it became his regular job to work from home. I do know how lucky we are despite having the worry that this may situation may stop or change before the quarantine is over. Time will tell.

For all of us.

I began that Thursday as I begin every day, by waking up. I have an alarm set for 8:30 from Sunday to Thursday. I set the alarm so I can “attend” Mass online. It’s hard to have an excuse not to be there when the commute is literally sitting up in bed and turning on my Kindle. In addition to masses four days a week, my parish priest is also doing FB Live storytime for the younger parishioners (but I tune in every week, and enjoy every minute of it!), our office manager is offering a weekly reflection on FB Live as well, and we’ve had soup deliveries on Wednesday for the last three weeks. Sadly, they end when Lent does. I couldn’t be more proud of my church and how they’ve handled this pandemic from the beginning in March, keeping everyone informed and faith filled, keeping our community despite the physical distance.

So, my alarm goes off at 8:30, and my day begins.

8:30am – Wake up.

8:30 – 9am – Checked email, Facebook, Twitter. Saved screenshots and links for COVID-19 information posts to get to later.

I take my morning medicine.

9am – Facebook Live. Since this is Thursday, there is no daily mass, but my friend and godmother who is the office manager for my church gave a wonderfully lovely Lenten reflection. She’s doing another one this week as well.

About 9:45/10am – I begin listening to my podcasts: What a Day from Crooked Media and Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara.

After that it’s time for breakfast, which sadly won’t come to me: a French toast bagel, toasted with melted butter.

I began reading a new book – The Boston Massacre (because clearly this is a lighter subject than what we’re living through right now.)

I went back on Facebook until …

11:30am – I watched New York’s Governor Cuomo’s daily briefing. I find his briefings calming and informative; also honest. I watch it every day that I am able to, and no, I do not watch the President’s daily briefing because those are the exact opposite of calming, informative, and honest. I screenshot many of the Governor’s slides to post on Facebook.

I cooked the meat and sauce and layered the lasagna in my crock pot for dinner.

When dinner was set up to cook for the rest of the day, I cropped the slides from the governor’s briefing and posted them on my Facebook page. (Several people have told me that they appreciate it, and it makes me feel as though I am doing something productive, something of a public service, even if it’s only in my mind.)

I then had Lunch with a Diet Coke followed by a snack. On my notes page that I kept the running diary, I didn’t write down what I had for lunch and snack, so I have no idea what it was. We’ve had sliced turkey and cheese in the house for sandwiches, we have ramen, macaroni & cheese, and often leftovers to have for lunch, so really it’s anybody’s guess what it might have been.

About now, I’ve begun to flag. I’m always tired since this situation has begun, not always physically, but I feel a constant level of worn out. My brain is going a mile a minute, but I am also paralyzed with uselessness.

I go back on my Kindle: Facebook, Twitter, some games. Things that I don’t need to think about because my brain just won’t slow down.

Clearly, I’m not writing. 😦

Emails.

My daughter was on Facetime with her friends and I heard her giggling and laughing hysterically. It resounded down from her room, and I stood at the bottom of the stairs, and just enjoyed it. It was a welcome sound; one that I haven’t heard for what seems like a long time, and I relished in it.

When the lasagna was ready, my son and I made homemade garlic bread. It was delicious.

We ate our dinner, which was also delicious. We’ve been cooking a lot!

After dinner, I had some yummy Mango Dragonfruit sherbet that my husband picked up for me as a surprise when he went out to get milk.

I read Governor Cuomo’s email that he sends nightly, which caught me up since his morning briefing. Again, positive and reassuring.

9pm – The Rachel Maddow Show. She is visibly upset with the federal government’s response. I am also upset. Disappointed. Embarrassed.

I don’t know if I just realized it while watching Maddow but I did not get dressed today. PJs feel almost like business casual as quarantine time ticks by. It’s quite nearly another universe.

After dinner, I clean up the dishes. I didn’t wash them though, just got them scraped and into (or near) the sink. At the moment, there’s too many for me to get started emotionally. I don’t mind doing the dishes, but I need to really feel it.

I went to bed; not to sleep, but to read.

Then I promptly fell asleep.

I woke up at 1am and went on Twitter where Alt_Immi‘s post set my teeth on edge. He had retweeted a 9 minute video of Russel Honore’, who commanded federal troops in New Orleans after Katrina, and who had a lot to say about the Defense Production Act and the “leadership” of Jared Kushner.

I became enraged, which kept me from sleeping.

I took my nightly medicine (which I’m really supposed to take around 11pm), and then I went to bed for real. Mostly.

I know that tomorrow will probably go about the same except with the addition of a shower and minus meat (since [as of this diary’s writing] tomorrow is Friday!)

This whole thing is horrifying and demoralizing.

As the following Tweet says, this is why we cried when he won. No lie.

We will get through this. Together.

Mental Health Monday on Tuesday – Coloring Books

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Sometimes you just need a mindless break in order to become mindful. Or just to take a breather. I began to color during an art-slash-spiritual retreat, and sitting with a group of people listening to music, lights dimmed, but enough to see the papers and the colors of the pencils was transcendental. It was soothing and calming, and there is no such thing as a mistake on a coloring sheet. You can find a variety in the dollar section at Target or the Dollar store. My most recent acquisition – the Celtic coloring book – was from a bargain store for $1.99. Well worth it.

Give it a try and let me know how it works out for you. Please add any other suggestions in the comments below.

Travel Thursday – Anxiety

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​As much as I love the idea of traveling, and the actual visiting places, the anxiety associated with the anticipation of planning is one of the most debilitating and horrible things to deal with. It’s something that needs to get done, or the trip itself is a no-go, but starting the planning…

And it isn’t even the actual planning. I love the listmaking, and the reading the tour books, researching what i want to do when I get there. It’s the starting. The monumental decision of putting the money into non-refundable tickets. Hitting that send or buy or submit button takes three times as long as filling out the information on the forms.

In the case of our Ireland trip this summer, it isn’t just buying plane tickets; it’s renting a car. There’s the anxiety of finalizing the search with a credit card number, but there is also the shortness of breath and shaking hands just thinking about driving in the UK again.

After eight years back, I thought I was ready. The memory a cry in the distance, but the closer it gets to reserving a car and planning a route from the airport to the cousins and the cities, and the ferry to Wales, my stomach jumps up into my throat and I feel a choking sensation. I can’t imagine what it will be like to get on the plane with this feeling gnawing at me.

It’s almost unbearable, and there is no earthly reason to feel this way at this moment, weeks in advance of actually having to do it.

My kids are coming, so compiled in all of that stress is the stress of pretending that there is nothing to be anxious about to soothe their own normal, rational fears, so I must hide my own, some irrational fears, but fears all the same.

I feel quite sick writing about it right now.

I vividly remember the white knuckles, the terror of every intersection, every roundabout, reminding myself to breathe, the post-it note on the dashboard telling me to turn into the left lane, always the left lane, thanking G-d at every church passed, the slight sound of scraping as I inched too close to the town wall.

It’s all coming back to me.

Not the feelings a few years later that maybe I could do it again; I got through it once, and it wasn’t that bad, but the anxious screaming IT WAS THAT BAD, PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME!!!

But as with all things, it will be okay.

Between that time and now, I have received many tools to get me through this one little hitch that seems so overwhelming, but I can get through it; I know it.

One of those is a diagnosis and treatment for the elevated anxiety that falls into the not quite normal range of emotion and brain chemistry as well as the same for depression, not entirely unrelated, but the destination will assist in alleviating any extra. I have a therapy session planned for a week prior as well as reconciliation with my priest. Not for anything specific, but you know…anxiety and such.

Another thing was something I heard at one of my first masses, actually it was at my first healing mass, the anointing of the sick. My entire life, no matter how severe, no  matter how stressful, no matter how bad, I would tell myself that it would be okay. I didn’t necessarily believe it, but just saying it to myself did have a calming affect.

At that first anointing, my priest quoted St. Julian of Norwich, subseequently a new found favorite of mine.

All will be well.

All will be well.

In all manner of things,

all will be well.

How perfect, and how needed, then and now.

Yes, I’m still anxious, and som of it will be debilitating, but all will be well.

Mental Health Monday – Let’s Make a Coping Skills Toolbox

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I wasn’t able to post while I was out of town on my family emergency, but this gives me the opportunity to remind everyone that suicidal thoughts can come at any time, and having our resources and coping mechanisms in place constantly is a must for those suffering and recovering from them.

Suicidal Awareness and Prevention is an ongoing struggle and our bad days don’t neatly fall within the prescribed awareness month.

We still need to do self check ups and check up on our friends and family who we know are at risk.

Even though this is October, here is the link to a graphic that I found helpful. Original sourcing is included at the link.

REPOST: Coping Skills Toolbox

Rec – Mental Health Resources

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First and foremost, if you are in immediate danger to yourself or others, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

After my best friend, this was the second number in my speed dial directly after my diagnosis. My doctor told me that the medicine would help, but first, I would feel better about suicide and to be sure to have that number handy. Depression is a scary place, but it is much less scary in the light, and diagnosed and treated than hidden away or hiding from it.

Second, I think that these resources can be used successfully by all varieties of mental illness and mental health issues. We are all individuals and react differently to different stimulus. Try it, and if you don’t like it, try something else. You will find the support you need.

Some of the other resources/strategies I’ve found helpful:

1. I found wandering into church a good place to sit and contemplate. You don’t have to be a Christian to do this by the way. I knew, but it was confirmed the first several times I went during an off-hour that no one will bother you. No one will interrupt your contemplation, meditation, prayer. No one will ask you to leave and no one will ask you why you are there. It gave me a place to go when I had nowhere to go just to be, and to think.

2. Be alone in a crowd. I’ve recommended Starbucks before, and for a $2 cup of coffee you can sit and sip as long as you like in most places.

3. My Resource List (link here and on the left). There are phone numbers for depression hotlines, suicide prevention, grief support, and I hope to add more websites. Please comment with those that have helped you, and I can add them to my list. Currently, it’s exclusive to the US, but if my readers are from elsewhere in the world and want to share their resources, I will be glad to add them.

4. I get a lot out of writing therapy. It’s not necessarily a diary or journal, but all kinds of writing makes me feel alive. Is there something that you love to do? Try it again.

5. Later on this afternoon, I’ll be posting a Coping Skills Toolbox that I found online. This is an excellent resource and a positive thing you can do to help for those rough patches.

 

Good luck and my best to all of you.

 

Inspirational – Christopher Reeve

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Ten years ago today, I was having labor pains at St. Peter’s Hospital. The television was on. Christopher Reeve died on this day a decade ago, my middle son was born in two days and my Mom died in fifty-seven.

That year began an unconscious depression that usually lasts from October 12th until December 8th. It’s a hovering cloud of darkness that overshadows everything else. It took me a long time to go from this is the first Christmas without my mother and my son’s first Christmas to this is my son’s first whatever. I’m not sure it left at all that first year.

I hadn’t realized the depression that I was in. Rampant mood swings, emotional outbursts of all kinds, hysterics, but somehow I managed to take care of my two boys. Of course, my husband helped, but there was no help for me. What was happening to me was that the dam broke and mental issues that have plagued me since childhood burst through. I wouldn’t know this until eight years later when things came to a head and I was finally diagnosed.

There literally is a rock bottom and I was down in it. There wasn’t always understanding but without the support and reassurances from a good friend, I don’t think I’d be here today. I got medical treatment and professional therapy as well as being hyperaware of what was going on in my head and with my body.

I don’t think you can say that there’s a cure for depression; nor many of the other mental ailments that are invisible but that thousands of people live with daily. For me there are constant checks and balances, awareness and coping tools that sometimes include hiding out and often include writing, an amazing positive for my mental health and in my life.

Next week, I plan on sharing some of these coping tools as well as others’ coping mechanisms. I find that a wide range of means of managing the unprompted reactions to each of our own mental illnesses gives us strategies for getting through those rough patches that often seem rougher when we have no control over them.

These tools give us that control, even if sometimes it tells us, stay in bed for an extra ten minutes or get up and eat breakfast and get a dose of energy.

Sometimes it takes a combination of things to get us into a beneficial place, and that place can last one day or a week or more. Or less, which is why it is good to have another strategy ready to try out.

On this tenth anniversary, I’ll share Christopher Reeve’s quotation from Wednesday because it really gave me valuable insight into never giving up. We can slow down for whatever causes that slow down, but never give up. That road will still be there when you’re ready to take that next step, and that will that he’s talking about doesn’t always come from a deep, inner place, but sometimes we need our strategies to get us to that place where we do summon the will. It’s different for each of us.

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbably, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”

 

Dana and Christopher Reeve

Dana and Christopher Reeve

Rec

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Today’s recs were going to be LGBT resources. With National Coming Out Day on Saturday, I thought that might be helpful, but in reading Jesus: A Pilgrimage and in re-watching the tenth season premiere of Supernatural, unbidden, I thought of what helps me through the sullen moments of my depression, and realized that I wanted to offer some of my go-to places.

My top three, not including supportive friends (I just received a card from my godmother that was the perfect sentiment at the perfect time, and later on today, I’m planning a phone call to my best friend):

1. I will read the day’s Scripture readings. For non-religious people, I would recommend Robert Fulghum‘s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and his other books. Another book that doesn’t rely on a particular religion is John Harricharan‘s Under the Tamarind Tree – A Secret Journey Into Our Souls: Inspirational Quotes About Life, A Reminder of the Inner Magic. I would randomly pick a page and read it. This book works very well for that kind of inspirational reading.

2. Starbucks or Cracker Barrel. You can get away with sitting there for a long time for very little money. In the case of Cracker Barrel, I have found that their lack of wi-fi and abundance of white noise lets me get a lot of writing done with very little distraction as well as abundant refills of fountain drinks. If you frequent Starbucks, register your card. You can’t beat their perks and freebies if you’re there a lot.

3. It will sound strange, but for me, I watch Supernatural on Netflix. Or TNT. I don’t know when I realized it, but I find it very therapeutic. I think that after ten  years of shows, almost two hundred episodes, being exposed to their personal lives and the good side of fandom, I find it very comforting. It’s well written so knowing the ending doesn’t diminish from the enjoyment of watching it more than once.

Find the thing that makes you feel comfort. It doesn’t have to make you feel good, but you don’t want it to make you feel bad. It gets me through when I know I don’t want to do anything, but I also don’t want to sit like a lump. The background noise of the show is comforting.

For me also, listening to BBC America is also comforting me. It’s those British accents. It doesn’t matter what the show is; in fact, that’s how I started watching The Hour and Orphan Black.

 

Share your go-to strategies in the comments; they might help another reader!

I Heard it in the Homily

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*This essay is about me and my dealing with things. Except in rare circumstances, my coping falls to me until and unless I ask for help. And sometimes I can’t ask.*

When I’m having a particularly difficult time, I pray for patience, courage and strength. Never one without the others. In my early days with the church, there were times when the priest said, “Let us pray.” I had no idea what to do. Make my shopping list? Think about breakfast? Write fan fic in my head for the next three minutes? But one day the words just came to me: patience, courage and strength, and just the thought of them during prayer was very calming and gives me a moment to re-focus. When I have nothing or no one specific to pray for, I can always use more patience, courage and strength.

Today was one of those days. Actually, it’s been one of those fortnights. I’ve been falling into a deeper depression and heart palpitating anxiety and sudden bursts of tears. There are several factors causing this, some that shouldn’t be reaching the level of anxiety that they are and others that are obviously out of my control.

Sometimes my coping works and sometimes it builds to a crescendo until some kind of an outburst happens. I’ve had one outburst in the last three weeks, and considering that I’ve been sick that long, the kids have taken turns being sick, my friend died, a student at my son’s high school committed suicide, my friend has had a crisis of their own and can’t help me, and payday and therapy can’t come soon enough, I think one outburst is a reasonable ratio to three weeks of time.

For example, my coping this morning when my car went sideways in the snow was very good.

My coping last October in Virginia with the idea of driving forty-five miles on a straightaway in near perfect weather was very bad and if you ask anyone present, that would be an understatement.

It’s unpredictable, this coping thing.

Some of my successful coping isn’t available (more than one thing and for varied reasons) and in addition to the coping not being accessible, the idea of the coping being unavailable increases my stress levels.

It’s hard not to blame the people around me (whether in person or by phone/text, whether by actual acts or acts of omission), even though in my mind, my logical places, I know that no one can read my mind and by the time I can, by the time I’m able to, ask for what I need, it’s often too late.

At this morning’s homily, one line blared above the others, and stood out to me:

“We are called on to be strong.”

The exact message I needed to hear today. Maybe I can get through another day if I can hold onto that.

We’re not called on for more than we are able; I truly believe that despite my much often heard whining. I’ve been strong before. I can do this until tomorrow and then see where I stand. Maybe tomorrow is the day I can reach out and my hand is grasped or maybe someone will reach for me. I don’t know. I just have to hope that I’m strong enough to endure until the depression passes or the coping returns, whether that’s through people, writing, planning, carrots, or whatever. I won’t know until it happens, but until then I am called on to be strong and the best thing I can do is believe in myself and have faith that things are going the way they should be and this moment is just that: a moment soon forgotten.