Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Stigma about yourself

Bring Change 2 Mind is an organization that works “to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.” I believe in their mission and message, and I follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@bc2m).
I keep seeing their message about a Stigma Free Summer, which they explain on their website: “BC2M wishes its community a #StigmaFreeSummer. Let's start conversations, reserve judgment, extend empathy and end stigma.”

The definition of stigma, according to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, is “a mark of shame or discredit.”
There are people who feel like having a mental illness is like having a mark of shame or discredit. A stigma.
Stigma about mental illness sometimes is directed by people who are misinformed or careless toward people living with mental illness.
Sometimes it’s people living with mental illness who direct stigma at themselves.

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about “Depression and lingering stigma.” In that post, I wrote about my struggle to reach the point of asking for help:

“Because no matter how many times I’ve gone through these bouts of depression, I still doubt myself. I still tell myself that I should be able to deal with this depression on my own, without a doctor’s help. After all, I’m already on an antidepressant. After all, I should be able to rise above it, snap out of it.
Yes, I sometimes buy into the stigma about depression.”

I’m not feeling the same now as I did when I wrote that post. My depression is under control.
But I am experiencing a lot of anxiety and intrusive thoughts, connected to my damaged relationship with my mother.
I don’t doubt the decision I made. But I’m having trouble adjusting to it. I think I’m grieving, in a way.
And I haven’t wanted to write about it on this blog or tell others about it. I have feared that I should be able to deal with it better since I reached a decision after all the years of therapy and soul searching.
Maybe I was dwelling on it too much. Maybe I wanted to feel bad. Maybe I should just snap out of it. That’s what I’ve been thinking.

I’d like to be a part of a stigma free summer. So you may see more posts here about how I’m healing, what I’m experiencing, what I’d doing about the guilt that still plagues me emotionally, though rationally I feel OK.
Maybe I will start some conversations. Maybe I will remind someone else that he or she is not alone in having confusing feelings.

Let’s get rid of the stigma.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Back in nature

I had a busy start to the weekend. I had to work Friday night into Saturday morning. (I will tell you the story behind that, but it will have to wait until this Friday.)
I got home early Saturday morning and found that though I was very tired, I couldn’t fall deeply asleep. I dozed off and on until it was time to feed Chase Bird about 6 a.m. Then I went back to bed and tried again.
Saturday passed in a blur of sleep, going out for a late lunch, reading, and more sleep.
Sunday I knew what I wanted to do. I had been eying some Queen Anne’s Lace along the street across from our house. I wanted to get some close-ups.
My camera has been sitting in its bag for much of the summer. I just haven’t felt the energy or desire to capture slivers of the world.
The Queen Anne’s Lace was my get-back-into-it bit of nature.

It felt good to use my camera to get out of my own mind for a while. And being out in nature reminds me—if I am mindful—that I am not the center of the universe.

That’s a pretty good thing to remember, don’t you think?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Life goes on

No matter how bad things can be, life around us does go on, and eventually we have to get back into the swing of things and remember our dreams and goals and the seemingly little things that make life good.
I’ve been busy with work at the newspaper. I’ve pushed myself to do things that are self-care measures for me, things like reading, meditating, and listening to music.
I picked up some crochet work to keep my hands—and my mind—busy. Sometimes I like to sit with Larry and watch a good TV show or movie. But it’s hard for me to just watch the screen. I get restless. So working with my hands helps.
I like using the crocheted knitted dishcloths, so I started one of those.

I like to crochet. But I’ve always wanted to knit. I knew how to cast on stitches and do the knit stitch, but nothing else. I read instructions, but I couldn’t make sense of how to do the purl stitch.
A couple of wonderful bloggers that I keep up with have started knitting and have written about their adventures. Buttons of Buttons Thoughts learned to knit and has created some beautiful scarves and hats. Her cows like to model those hats!
And Debbie of It’s All About Purple recently learned to knit and made a stunning scarf. I know she’s going to continue making lovely things.
These two women inspired me to try knitting again, and they encouraged me to get help from online videos.
So I did that. I watched a video on how to purl (over and over) and (finally) was able to call out to Larry in the next room: “I can purl!”
Here’s a sample of knitting and purling. It’s not perfect, but I had fun.

I still don’t know how to cast off work or how to fix mistakes, but I will learn. Meanwhile, I have a new hobby to enjoy and to keep my hands busy.

What’s the newest skill you’ve learned? And when you watch TV, do you have to do something with your hands, too?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Focusing on the emotions that are

I am afraid of snakes. Very afraid. I’m so afraid of them, I have a hard time looking at pictures of them. I feel anxious just hearing other peoples’ stories about encountering them.
Larry has found about five snake skins in the yard this summer. For a few days after he finds them, I move carefully when I go outside. I examine every stick from afar before I venture into the yard.
When he saw a live snake in the side yard near his truck, I could barely listen to his story. I thought about it later, feeling anxious and worried. I wished for winter.

So why am I including with this post a photo of a snake skin?
I made myself take the picture. Though I felt fear, I made myself walk up to the skin. I held up my phone and took several photos. I made myself look at the photos.
I’m not sure if this “exposure” did much good. When I was flipping through the photos on my phone earlier this week, I shuddered—I did that “jump out of my skin” move—when I unexpectedly saw one of the snake skin photos.
But still, I keep looking at the photo. And I’m sharing it with you.

I’ve been dealing with anxiety over life issues in a similar way. Life has been hard lately, as you know. Bedtime is probably the hardest time because I have less to distract me.
I decided that I would try an experiment. Instead of trying to immediately change my thoughts or cover up the bad emotions with visualizations or calming recitations, I would focus on experiencing the anxiety.
I feel the anxiety the most in my chest. It’s like a weight in the center of my chest. When panic comes, my chest physically hurts.
I have focused on the hate I’ve felt, too. I’m not proud to say that, but that’s what I’ve felt at times. It, too, is a heavy weight.
Anxiety, hate, anger, hopelessness—they all settle in my chest. I feel like it’s going to burst.
I want to get up and move or talk or read or listen to music.
But I try to lie there and be mindful of how I’m feeling, even for just a short while.
My hope is that the more I face my emotions, the less afraid I’ll be of them and the less I will do to avoid facing the issues that are causing the emotions in the first place.

My focus on emotions is not a new idea. There is a lot of good information out there about living mindfully and accepting our emotions. I did an online search and found some good, science-based information HERE and HERE.

One good thing that has come out of my experimentation with this is that I’ve become less afraid of being still and alone with my thoughts and emotions. I hope this leads to more calmness and peace.

And the snake skin photo? I hope from now on the only snake skin I see will be in a picture. That’s about as far as I want to go with that exposure.

How do you deal with uncomfortable emotions?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The importance of getting treatment for mental illness

Sometimes I get emails from readers of my blog, asking me for advice on how to deal with OCD, other anxiety, or depression.
I am always happy to tell them what works for me. I am not a medical professional, but I do have personal experience with mental illness and treatments. So I try to share.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that not everyone is in treatment or even thinking about treatment.
I’m not going to make a blanket statement and say if you have a mental illness, you need to be in a certain kind of treatment.
But I will say this:

If you are having a difficult time coping with daily life, if life seems dark and just gets darker by the day, if you have intrusive thoughts, if you are abusing substances such as alcohol, if the ways you usually cope with the bad times aren’t working, then I believe you need the help of professionals.

For more information about when to seek help, check HERE and HERE.

When I first got therapy, I didn’t have health insurance. This was back in 1988, and I was a graduate student in Ohio.
With the encouragement of a friend, I contacted student mental health services at my university and started seeing a psychologist on staff. It was the first step in understanding the pain I had been in for years. It was the first step in a very long journey to a new way of being.
I was able to see this psychologist free of charge because I was a student at the university.
Eventually, she told me she thought I needed the help of a psychiatrist for my continuing depression and for the OCD symptoms that I finally revealed to her. She referred me to a doctor in a nearby town.
I paid out of pocket to see the psychiatrist, who gave me my “official” diagnoses of depression and OCD in January 1990. I was 26 years old.
I started taking medication while continuing my talk therapy with the psychologist.
I slowly began to see light at the end of the tunnel.
I moved back to Virginia in July 1990, and it wasn’t easy to get the mental health help I needed. I wouldn’t have health insurance for three more years.
But I worked with what Virginia has, a community system of mental health professionals which I could access on a sliding scale. In other words, they looked at my income and billed me according to what I could afford.
It’s not a perfect system. Not all mental health professionals are created equal. But I got some individual help and even took part in some group therapy.
I went for long periods of time without active therapy. I stayed on my medications and had good times and bad times.
I read Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz’s book Brain Lock back in the 1990s, and that helped me a lot with OCD. I began to learn more about meditation. I read a lot about mental health. I began to understand how spirituality didn’t have to be a hindrance or a burden, but could actually help. I began to understand how my relationships with family members and others hurt me rather than helped me.
Eventually, five years ago, I decided that I needed therapy again, and my family doctor recommended my current psychiatrist to me. He encouraged me to get some help from a psychologist on staff, which I did.
I delved deeper into studying and writing about OCD, and I learned a lot about how the disorder was affecting my life.
My mental health has probably improved more in the past five years than in all the years since I saw my first therapist in 1988.

I know the health care system in the United States is not always kind to those who need mental health services. I am blessed to have insurance that covers such care.
I encourage anyone who is having a difficult time mentally to reach out for help. To find referrals to mental health professionals, you might want to start with your medical doctor, a social worker, a teacher, or a minister or rabbi or other spiritual leader.
Make sure he or she is someone you trust and who understands the needs of those with mental illness. Walk away if they don’t take you seriously or try to minimize your problems.
Look on the Internet for help. For example, on the website of the International OCD Foundation, you can find a lot of information about OCD as well as a database of therapists who can help those with OCD.
Other online resources for finding treatment providers include Mental Health America and National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The right treatment can put you back on track. It can enable you to live the life you want to live.
That’s what it did for me.

Note: Where have my photos gone? I haven't been taking many photos lately, but I am working to change that and will have photos with my posts again!

Friday, July 11, 2014

7 ways to cope in times of overwhelming anxiety

If you’ve read my blog posts this week, you know that it has been a very anxious time of late.
But even during the bad times, we can still learn or be reminded of what we’ve learned in the past.
I decided right away that I was not going to get down. And I took some steps in self-care that I believe helped me navigate new territory.
Before I go into those, though, I want to thank you for your kind words, your understanding, your caring, and your presence. Thank you so much, dear readers, for supporting me during a bad time, for reminding me that I am not alone.
And I can’t say enough about my husband. His quiet presence and his open heart are treasures for which I can never be grateful enough.
Here are some of the ways I’ve coped:

Fun reading
I’ve divided reading into two categories. The first one I call fun reading. It’s reading that you don’t “need” to do. It’s not meant for self-improvement. It’s for entertainment, enjoyment. It’s for fun.
During times when I didn’t want to think about any real-life problems, it was a pleasure to turn to reading mysteries. I read Storm Prey, by John Sandford (one of my favorites).
Now I’m reading a book called The Faithful Spy, by new-to-me author Alex Berenson. It’s wonderful. And I’ve found a new author to follow.

Helpful reading
This kind of reading is for self-improvement, though, of course, enjoyment is also part of the experience.
I got out my copy of Mindfulness for Beginners, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I previously studied part of the book, but never finished. I started over and have gained a lot of insight into the ways our minds work and the relationship between our thoughts and reality.

Mindfulness meditation
I turn to mindfulness meditation when I try to focus my thoughts. I increased my practice in order to deal with the swirl of thoughts and feelings that were negatively affecting my moods and quality of life.
Right now I am using the CD that came with the book by Kabat-Zinn I wrote of above. It’s helpful for me right now to have a voice leading me into the meditation.

Writing is so natural for me, something I turn to in just about every situation. I wrote down some of the thoughts I had that scared me, that made me feel especially sad and guilty. A lot of what I wrote will probably never see the light of day. But just getting the words down gave them a safe place to rest, out of my constant thoughts.

I’ve had a difficult time falling asleep lately. I’ve found that listening to certain music helps quiet my mind.
For times when I’m trying to relax, it’s better for me to listen to instrumental music with no words.
My favorites are Lifescapes’ “Meditations: Native American Flute” and Yoga Journal’sPure Relaxation.”

I started doing this almost by accident and found that it helped me relax.
While listening to one song on “Pure Relaxation,” I started visualizing being on a boat in the ocean, right at sunset. It was almost like I was watching a movie that I was adding details to. I imagined Larry and me on the boat, the wind blowing our hair. I could see the lights on shore. The stars were starting to come out. It was a beautiful time.
With the next song, I imagined being in a cabin at night with Larry and Chase Bird. Snow was falling. We sat in chairs by the fire, reading. Then we turned off the lights so we could see the snow falling outside. Chase Bird sat on my lap for a while, then on Larry’s. We were quiet and at peace.
Now when I hear those songs, I am immediately in those places, either on the boat or in the cabin. I have found myself smiling in the dark as I visualize.

Playing with my cat
You knew I would mention Chase Bird, didn’t you? Playing with him takes me out of myself. I laugh at his antics and stay busy chasing the toy that he bats back with amazing strength and agility.

Chase Bird guarding the treat bags that he knocked off the table.

What ways do you cope with overwhelming anxiety? Please share.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Love and saying no

One of these days, I’m going to pack up my bags and leave. And then you’ll find out what it is to not have me around.”

I heard my mother yell those and similar words many times when I was a child. Usually it was during a tirade when she was complaining about how hard she worked and how little she was appreciated.
The words scared me. I pictured my mother packing suitcases—it was always two suitcases in my imagination—and leaving the house, leaving me behind.
What would I do without my mother?
It didn’t matter what kind of mother she was. I needed my mother, and I didn’t want her to leave.
I have been thinking about her words a lot over the past couple of weeks. Maybe they’ve been on my mind because her suicide attempt seemed like the ultimate threat. Perhaps that’s not a fair assessment, but that’s the connection I’ve made.

I told you in my last post that some wise people have helped me. One of those is my minister.
A few days after my mother was taken to the hospital, I met with him. I wanted to get feedback on my reaction to what she had done. I wanted to talk about the guilt that I felt because of all the anger and hate I felt, not just over the recent incident, but over a lifetime of pain.

During our conversation, I made the comment that I knew my feelings were wrong, that the Jesus of my faith tradition taught that we should love one another.
My minister said he couldn’t say what love was.

But he could say that love was not always saying yes. Sometimes, he said, love was saying no. Love didn’t mean that we had to put up with whatever someone did.

Those words helped me tremendously.
I have begun to see that loving my mother doesn’t mean that I have to place myself in circumstances where I am open to abuse.
I love my mother because that is what I needed to do as a child: bond with and love my mother.
She is my mother. She is not evil. She is not a monster.
But she has never acknowledged the truth about our past, nor does she admit that there’s anything wrong with the continuing put-downs, manipulations, and lies.
I was hoping that she would finally get the help that she needed. But she is choosing not to.
I rarely saw her or talked with her on the phone before her actions almost two weeks ago. I was trying to resolve my sense of guilt even then.
Now, I have a sense of resolution.
I cannot be around my mother, at least not now. I cannot talk to her or see her. I cannot have a relationship with her.
I don’t wish her harm. I hope she has a good life. I hope she is happy and healthy.
But for my own health, I have to stay away from her.