The ugly side of self-care

Standard

Self-care isn’t always bubble baths, spa days and expensive chocolate. It isn’t always something Instagram-able or costly. When self-care started to be a thing, this is actually why I shied away from it. I didn’t have money to order food in and I was cuddling up in bed early to watch Netflix because the feeling that a giant was standing on my chest and the heart palpitations made anything else impossible.

What I’ve realized is that this makes self-care even more important for me.

Self-care is dragging my ass to the doctor to let her know I’m feeling worse on the new dose of meds. It’s telling my partner I’ve been feeling suicidal and need to change something major in my life. Carrying a water bottle around so I remember to drink water, cornering myself into answering texts from friends so I don’t isolate myself and eating breakfast even when I still feel too nauseous to actively want food at 11 a.m. are all forms of self-care in my life.

It’s important for me to remember this. Sometimes when I’m feeling down, I’ll buy myself a vegan cheesecake and eat it for dinner in the name of self-care, when really I should be saving that money and eating a big salad instead. Especially when I’m so down it’s hard to get myself out of bed and dressed to go to the store for said cake. That sugar isn’t going to do shit to get me feeling better.

It’s when I’ve got the basic self-care down–getting all the nutrients I need, staying hydrated, keeping active, finding time for connection and play–that the fun, pretty self-care can come into my life in a way that adds something beneficial.

What’s your relationship with the self-care trend like?

Book review: A Worrywart’s Companion

Standard

I can see why reading Beverly Potter’s The Worrywart’s Companion: Twenty-One Ways to Soothe Yourself and Worry Smart is highly recommended for all the folks who join support groups at the Anxiety Disorder Association of Manitoba.

A lot of the more helpful points in the book, such as how to argue with the thoughts causing your anxiety, were tricks I picked up in counselling. And since not everyone has the resources to go to counselling, it’s fantastic that all that info is packed in this book.

Some of the suggestions seemed a bit hokey to me. I can’t see myself setting up a dedicated worry spot in my home where I sit for X minutes a day to worry, but I also got a lot of my worrywarting under control before reading this book.

And what I love about it is that Potter gives many, many options for controlling worry, from distraction to limiting it to redirecting thoughts. While there were some suggestions I really didn’t think would work for me, there were many others that I’m going to add to my anxiety toolbox.

I highly recommend buying the book rather than borrowing a copy, if you can. I initially borrowed it, but there’s a ton of info that is difficult to absorb in one library borrow. I also really appreciate having it around to reference.

The book starts off with a questionnaire where you rate your anxiety and thinking patterns on a scale of 1 to 9. Your final score tells you how much of a worrier you are. After trying out some of the books techniques, you can go back to the quiz and see how much it’s helped you. It’s a great way to gage how you’re improving, over time.

There’s lots of copies on Amazon for pretty cheap, including audio versions.

Happy reading!

Learn about your mental health labels

Standard

Everyone is different and so, even when we share the same mental health labels, we’re going to have very different experiences.

Some people with anxiety are outgoing and avoid their feelings by surrounding themselves with others, while some (like me) retreat from social situations because of it.

This doesn’t mean we can’t learn from one another. It just means that while we’re talking, reading, listening to how other people deal and heal, we have to remember that their strategies might not work for us. And it also means we might have to listen to a shit tone of voices before we find stories that resonate with us.

Here’s how I’m going about learning more about anxiety, depression and PTSD.

1. Books

As I mentioned last week, I’m challenging myself to read one book per month that has something to do with mental health, whether it’s educational or a personal story. Even when I find a writer who I feel gets me, I move on to a totally different author who’s coming at the problem from a drastically different angle.

2. Podcasts

Besides the podcasts with anxious hosts, I check out podcasts specifically about mental health issues from time to time. I haven’t found one I like enough to subscribe to, but I’ll binge listen for a couple hours to one here and there to see what I can learn.

3. Friends

I try to be as open as possible with my friends and others around me. I’m always surprised by how many people start being more open with me about their own mental health struggles and about how much valuable information is hiding within my friend group.

4. Online communities

From following depressed Instagrammers to joining private Facebook groups for people with anxiety, the internet is a great place to connect with other people who are going through similar struggles. I learn a lot from reading about their lives, but I can also get specific advice just by asking for it.

If you’re looking to grow your online community, check out who I’m following on Instagram and see if any of them are up your alley.

Usefulness of mental health labels

Standard

There are certainly times when mental health labels aren’t helpful, such as when they get in the way of proper medical care. However, I’m finding them to be useful when it comes to taking care of myself.

Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with PTSD, something I was in denial of having. With the label formally slapped on me, I started following the PTSD Alliance of Manitoba group on Facebook and I read some of the articles they post. This led me to an article about PTSD and workaholism, which resonated with me. I tend to work, work, work without taking breaks to eat until I completely burn out, and I especially do this when I’m feeling raw. With the knowledge that this habit is so closely tied to my mental health, I now know when I’m feeling like I want to work on a Friday night, what I probably actually need is a calm, quiet night to sort through my thoughts.

Knowing I have PTSD has also led me to finding the right type of help. During my first neurobiofeedback appointment, I told the therapist I was there for my concussion, but I also have an anxiety disorder, acute persistent depression and PTSD. We’ve now had many discussions about all three over the weeks, including her recommending books and letting me know about current studies.

One that was particularly helpful was research that suggests PTSD should be treated with non-verbal therapies. She told me that because the part of the brain that deals with language shuts down during a traumatic experience, survivors often don’t have the words to talk through what happened, so meditation, animal therapy and yoga are much more effective ways to treat PTSD than having conversations.

Sometimes all the labels make me feel overwhelmed and like too much of a mess to ever have hope of a normal life, but in reality the labels are helping me get what I need to take care of myself and be happy.

What’s your relationship with mental health labels like?

 

List of podcasts with anxious hosts

Standard

I’m trying a new thing this year! The second Monday of each month, I’m going to give you a list of something mental health related. This month, a list of podcasts that have hosts who struggle / have struggled with their mental health.

With these podcasts, the focus isn’t necessarily on mental health. Which, honestly, I love. When anxiety and depression come up naturally in a conversation about murder, it normalizes those feelings. It’s also fun to learn that the host of a podcast I love is dealing with some of the same things I am.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 9.51.06 AM

Beautiful / Anonymous: Show host Chris Gethard is a comedian who frequently talks about his struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts and addiction. On this podcast, he takes calls from anonymous strangers and they direct where the conversation goes, but it often touches on mental health.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 9.49.40 AM

Budgets & Cents: In this podcast about money, co-host Cait Flanders sometimes talks about her mental health struggles.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 9.53.09 AM

Call Your Girlfriend: In this weekly call between two long-distance bestie, Aminatou Sow sometimes jokes about her anxiety.

63886

Guys We Fucked: In this anti-slut shaming podcast, one anxious comedian and another with OCD talk sex with their guest and, of course, mental health often comes up.

600x600bb

My Favorite Murder: Although the premise of this podcast is to talk about the details of murders, there’s a lot of chit chat. Co-hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark frequently touch on their struggles with alcoholism and anxiety (respectively), with a shit ton of humour.

62356

Recovery Elevator: Mental health doesn’t frequently come up in this podcast for recovering alcoholics, but there are a few great episodes that talk about how alcohol can increase anxiety and how alcohol can be used as a coping mechanism.

What podcasts would you add to this list?

My 2018 goals

Standard

My great pal and brilliant freelancer Jenna Anderson and I did our annual goal planning together this year.

It looks a little different for me this year, compared to past years. After 10 months of recovery–during which time I could barely read, write or venture far from home on my own–I now have a radically different perspective on my life. At the time of sitting down for the goal planning, I also didn’t have a work permit and was unable to earn money in my new home country of the US, so making financial and work related goals could have been setting myself up for failure.

Instead, my goals focus heavily on my top three values: relationships, passion, adventure.

Here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish in 2018:

Health

  • Do something active five days a week
  • Quit drinking
  • Try one new breakfast food per month
  • Get back on anti-anxiety meds
  • Start therapy again
  • Increase the amount I’m putting towards retirement savings

Relationships

  • Do one, big kind thing for a friend each month
  • Send birthday cards to everyone I love
  • Check out one different group in Helena each month until I find one I like
  • Find a way to stay in touch with all my family as a group

Adventures

  • Try one new things each month
  • Go on three non-work related weekend trips in Montana, each to a different place
  • Go on five day trips in Montana
  • Drive a car again

Passion projects

  • Run a Vegan Handmade Market in Montana
  • Finish writing my memoir
  • Come up with a short-term work place
  • Start selling knitting online

 

My goal planning doesn’t stop at a list. I’ve got an entire day planner committed to this. The larger goals are broken down into steps. All have either deadlines or points along the way where, if I’ve been successful up until that point, I’ll reward myself with a gift.

If things go as planned, I’ll be buying myself Mikyoko’s cheese, an indoor lavender plant and a treadmill.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see how I do throughout the year.

Self-loathing inner dialogue

Standard

“I’m so ugly.”

“I hate myself.”

“I want to die.”

These are sentences that have run through my head frequently for years. The latter two probably at least a few times an hour.

This wasn’t something I was even conscious of until one day in 2016 when I was hanging out at the artist book library Also As Too Well with my new friend, Murat Ates. I don’t remember exactly how he worded it, but he basically asked if I was kind to myself in my inner dialogue.

Clearly not.

After this realization, I put some work into changing that, but the phrases popped into my mind so often without my control, it was difficult. I tried consciously thinking more positive things and correcting myself when I was aware of my thoughts. It didn’t really change anything. A few months ago, for an online self-love course, I came up with a few affirmations to say to myself each morning in the shower, but it just felt insincere.

Separate from my inner dialogue issues, I’ve been putting effort into self-care, which to me means doing the more basic things I need to do to keep myself happy and healthy. This has meant cutting back caffeine, taking naps, stopping working before my concussion symptoms flair up and not beating myself up for not getting through my to-do list on days when my head hurts and I’m dizzy. It also means cooking delicious meals, even when my husband is out and the food is just for me. I’ve started treating myself like  a friend, buying myself the occasional gift (like a zine subscription!!!!) and being understanding of my inability to do it all.

Through taking better care of myself, I’m learning how hard I’ve been on myself and am learning  to be more compassionate towards me. I’m also learning to love myself.

A few weeks ago, my internal dialogue started to change. “I love myself.” The words popped into my brain while I was standing in the backyard, petting our dog.

It’s pretty important that we all like ourselves. There’s no one anyone spends more time with than themselves. If you dislike the person you’re spending most of your time with, how can you be happy? And if you’re always beating yourself up, how can you be doing your best work?

As a freelancer, I’m my own boss. I’m in charge of making sure the work gets done, and done well, but I’m also in charge of avoiding burnout, providing encouragement and praise, and keeping morale up. I’ve been failing pretty damn hard at some of my job and it’s probably been holding me back.

I’m excited about this new, loving, compassionate relationship I’m developing with myself and I can’t wait to see how it impacts my career. And I, in part, owe thanks to my kind friend, Murat, for bringing my attention to my negative inner dialogue.

For more from him, check out his zine, Life. Fire. Prose.

Things are gonna be quiet over here for the next two weeks. I’m taking a little break over the holidays to enjoy my family and my first Christmas with my husband. See you all in the new year!

Book review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck

Standard

TW: cis-dude saying creepy things re: men wearing “women’s” clothes and a woman’s body

I only got 37 minutes into the 5+ hour audiobook.

I like the premise, although the title is somewhat misleading. Author Mark Manson is suggesting that people choose what they give a fuck about. Instead of yelling at a cashier for not taking a $0.30 coupon, find something more important to worry about. We’re all going to die. Make life full and meaningful.

This is great advice for someone like me. I’m still anxious about a dude who honked at me three years ago for not speeding into a merging lane. (It’s a traffic intersection I can’t explain in words, but I was in the right. Trust me. I’ve been playing this over in my head for years).

From the half hour I listened to of this book, I got a new tool for my anxiety toolbox. When I get the rude cashier at Good Samaritan and she goes out of her way to imply I’m lacking intelligence, I’m going to shift my attention from hating her and plotting ways to never have to see her face again to thinking about how I’m going to use the new crafting supplies I’ve picked up in upcoming Stitching Hearts projects.

But not giving a fuck, according to Manson, is also about just doing things without caring too much about what people think, etc. “These moments of non-fuckery are the moments that most define our lives,” Manson wrote. I like this. This is sort of how I run my life. I don’t dwell on decisions. I dive into whatever seems the most fun, exciting and fulfilling.

I’ve known my husband a total of 11 months and I’ve already moved to another country to be with him. The moment I made that decision was a moment of non-fuckery. I didn’t think about logistics or finances. I’m now so homesick and so broke and really miss being able to work for money (still waiting on that green card!), but when I’m giggling so hard my stomach hurts and I’m about to fall off the couch, I know I made the right decision. A decision I never would have made if I’d taken the time to gather information and weight the options. This is also how I chose my post-secondary program, became a freelancer and got cats. All some of the best decisions of my life.

However, one of Manson’s examples of not giving a fuck is breaking up with your boyfriend because you caught him wearing your pantyhose one too many times. There are so many things wrong with this line. But, basically, this is something that someone should definitely not give a fuck about. Unless said boyfriend has been asked to not wear your tights for practical reasons like he’s stretching them out. I wish I’d just hit pause and moved on then. I’m a little ashamed to say I decided to keep giving this guy a shot.

But not long after this, Manson writes that we need to accept that we’ll never get to touch Jennifer Aniston’s tits. That’s where I bailed. Way to make the breast-harbouring readers super fucking uncomfortable, dude.

If anyone knows of a book that’s similar but missing out on the transphobic, objectifying bullshit, lemme know!

 

Eliminate clutter

Standard

Life is noisy and busy and chaotic.

For me, that can be difficult to deal with when I’m anxious. Too much stimulation is overwhelming. Too long of a to-do list leaves me panicked. Too much physical clutter to sort through to find what I need is frustrating.

Earlier this year, I came down to the US without any of my belongings and decided to stay. It’s going to be a while before I can get anything, so I’ve been experiencing life without a kitchen full of all the fun gadgets and without a totally decked out craft supply. My closet is pretty bare and our food cupboards aren’t overflowing. This is different than what I’m used to.

It’s made me realize that not only do I not need a lot of what I had before, it was actually making life more difficult. When I needed anything from my baking shelf in my Winnipeg home, I pretty much have to take everything out to be able to find what I was looking for. In my Helena home, I can just pop up on my tiptoes and spy the baking powder hiding in the corner.

This has made me think a lot about simplifying my life.

I surround myself with to-do lists a mile long that are impossible to complete in one day. I have dozens of apps on my phone, but only use a few daily. On Facebook, I’m constantly getting notifications from groups that I just completely ignore. By doing this, I’m pretty much setting myself up for failure. There’s no way I can do everything and pay attention to everything in one day.

So, I’ve started to slash it back and think about what is absolutely necessary. I’ve unsubscribed to many emails and turned off notifications on apps. My pal Jenna Anderson actually just posted a list of the ways she keeps her social media under control and I’m using her tips to do a little Facebook weeding. My daily work to-do lists include bare minimum that I want to accomplish. In some cases, thinking about my why helps. Does this app really do something to help me in my why? Nope. Then it’s trashed.

This is also a huge reason why I took pressure off myself to respond to Facebook messages in a timely manner, especially when people are sending me videos and links to articles. As a general rule, I don’t even look at what people have sent me unless there’s a specific reason for sending it, like a friend wants to discuss the book mentioned in an article or have found a craft they think I’d enjoy doing.

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the stuff and noise in your life? Do you need to simplify? What can you to do right now to make that happen?

 

Your “why” could simplify decison-making

Standard

I recently listened to The Slow Home Podcast’s series on finding Your Why  and it really resonated with me. If something doesn’t align with my why, then does it need to be apart of my life?

One episode in the series brings you through finding your values. Mine are:

  • Relationships (with myself, family, friends, strangers, animals, the planet);
  • Adventure; and
  • Passion.

Playing games on my phone is in no way connected to any of my values, so immediately after coming up with my values, I deleted them all. Then I unsubscribed from some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to that I don’t get excited about or that I don’t learn from, the ones that just clutter my feed and stress me out when my phone starts getting too full. And then I spent some time reflecting on how unhappy I’ve been since the car accident, and especially since I’ve moved.

IMG_2902.JPGI’ve been isolated with few friends in my new home and not a ton of connection to the people I love back home. I stay home most of the time. Other than running errands, my husband and I go on a hike once every couple of weeks and occasionally I tag along when he goes to check out a band. And I’m really not doing anything that excites me. There’s a lot of sitting on the couch listening to podcasts and knitting, which is fine, but it doesn’t get me fired up.

A lot of this is because I still have a concussion and just can’t get out much to meet new people, have adventures and work on projects I’m excited about. But I’m also putting precious brain energy towards things that don’t matter, like my phone and Netflix.

With these values in mind, I’ve had some direction in figuring out what I need to do to live a happy life and what can be deleted so there’s more time for what I love, but also time to just breath and relax. It also makes it easier for me to decide if I should say no to a project or restrain myself from committing to something.

Will it help me build deeper relationships? Would it be an adventure? Is it something I’m passionate about? No, no, no? Then the answer is no.

My biggest fear about going back to work full-time is that I’ll get back into the habit of over-booking and over-working myself, saying yes to everything and even offering to take on projects that don’t benefit me at all. I’m thinking this new way of going through life should help keep me on a track to happiness.

What helps guide you when it comes to saying yes or no to a new project?