Being flexible for my health

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I have a clear picture of what I’d like my work life to look like. I want to wake up early, grab a cup of earl grey tea with a splash of soy milk and sit down at my desk to work. I want to be able to work for hours at a time, but also be able to take a day or afternoon off once in a while to go for a hike or indulge in a little self-care. I want to have lots of healthy snacks around and remember to drink lots of water throughout the day.

This is something I was so close to having before the car accident. After a second concussion recovery set-back in the past year, I’ve been back to only being able to be on the computer for a maximum of 15 minutes at a time, needing at minimum a 45 minute break afterwards. I have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, so if I don’t wake up when my partner’s alarm goes off, I want to stay in bed. If I wake up at 5 a.m., I’ll happily get up, but regret it by the early afternoon. I’m always forgetting to eat until I’m so hungry I’m shaking and I know I’m not drinking as much water as I should, but it slips my mind. As do my vitamins, which are so important for my brain right now.

My ideal work life is lovely and beautiful and I still am working towards it, but it’s just not realistic right now because of my health. So, I’ve been finding ways to work that keep this in mind.

What this mostly looks like for me right now is a gigantic mess of scrap paper, button-making supplies, yarn, paint brushes and wheat paste all over our living room. Between my little bits of time on the computer, I’m making envelopes and buttons to sell in my Etsy shop and knitting scarves to sell at markets.

This isn’t what I want to be doing with my days, but it’s what I can do, so I’m choosing to be happy with my current work life while still working towards the ideal. My health is always going to be more important than my work, so I need to be flexible in order to be able to get shit done and take care of myself.

I’m spending some of my computer time editing photos and listing items in my Etsy shop. Check it out!

How do you alter your work life to your current health needs?

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List of acts of love towards me

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This year, I’ve been working on a project I’m calling My Kindest Year. Each day, I do one nice thing for another person and one nice thing for myself.

Doing nice things for myself has been the most difficult. I’ve been putting it off until the end of the day and then not doing anything particularly special. Which is okay, but I do want to go a little above and beyond some of the time.

Here’s a list of acts of love I can do towards myself:

  • Go to bed extra early;
  • Take a long, hot bath;
  • Stop for a coffee on my walk home from counselling / biofeedback;
  • Cook myself a nice dinner when I’m going to be eating alone;
  • Ask others for help or to do something special for me;
  • Knit myself gifts;
  • Read for hours without feeling guilty about not being productive;
  • Take breaks from work to cuddle the animals in my home;
  • Bake my favourite pastries and desserts;
  • Do my nails;
  • Ignore emails / social media comments from trolls;
  • Sit out on social events when I’m not feeling up to it;
  • Buy myself nice vegan cheeses and beauty products for no occasion;
  • Be totally okay going out without make-up;
  • Give myself compliments; and
  • Use the things I’m saving because “I’ll probably never be able to afford this again!”, like soy candles and dark chocolate and face masks.

Are you frequently nice to yourself? What do acts of love towards you look like?

The ugly side of self-care

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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?