List of reasons to live

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In the past year, I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts. I’m doing much better, but there was quite a dark period where continuing to live seemed unbearable. This is when I started making lists of things worth living for.

I’ve written quite a bit about my love of lists, besides grocery and to-do lists, I keep a list of activities that will calm me down when I’m incredibly anxious and a list of things and people who make me happy. In a way, the collage of photos on my fridge is a list of people who I love so deeply I can’t help but smile when I look at them.

During a crisis, it’s so hard for me to get my brain working. It’s also critical that I figure a way to do that. So, on top of my many other lists, I’ve made a list of reasons to live.

  • My cats love me so much and they’d be sad without me;
  • I love my cats so much and want to spend all the time cuddling and playing with them;
  • My parents would be so upset;
  • My partner is super awesome and I’m so lucky to have him. I really want to see how our relationship gets more awesome;
  • There are so many books I haven’t read;
  • I still haven’t written my book!;
  • If I died, someone might look at all the snippets of writing and lists of story ideas that are all super raw and unpolished and I don’t want anyone seeing them but me;
  • I have so much stuff. That’d be too much for anyone to go through;
  • There’s a vegan mall in Portland, OR and I have to go there;
  • My yard is huge and it’s ugly and it really needs a beautiful garden. I should be the one to rectify this awful situation;
  • My three nephews are all so cool, clever and funny. I just have to see how they turn out and spend so much more time with them;
  • Although it’s really painful now, I’ll laugh again. I’ll laugh so hard my stomach will hurt and when I think back to that laugh, I’ll start chuckling all over again and it will be beautiful.

Are you as obsessed with list-making as I am? Do you make any unusual lists?

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Book review: 100 Days of Mental Health

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Full disclosure, I haven’t finished this book. This time, it’s not because I hated it. Actually, I was quite enjoying it when I slipped on the ice. While for most people jerking back in time to prevent a fall would be a good thing, but for my concussion-weakened brain, it wasn’t so great. So, I’m back to being unable to read. Sigh.

When my brain gets itself sorted out again, I’ll dive right back into Paul Green‘s ebook, 100 Days of Mental Health. Each day for 100 days, Green wrote a bit about what he had gone through that day. There are triumphs–like getting out to large public events–and lots of bad times–like feeling unable to get anything done.

For people who struggle with anxiety or depression, I think this is a great read. Knowing others have similar struggles can make those struggles seem normal and okay.

Who I’d really recommend this book for, though, is people who have not experienced mental health issues. It’s a quick read (if you’re not concussed) and Green has a great sense of humour, which definitely shows through in the book. Although it’s just one person’s experience, Green’s book gives some insight into what it’s like to be constantly fighting with your brain and emotions. For anyone who has difficulty understanding mental illness, this book could help.

This book was only available as an ebook, but I’m having trouble finding it now. But Green does regularly blog on his website, so that’s a great place to get a taste of his dry humour and openness about his mental health.

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?

 

Rejection anxiety

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Before I send any pitch or story to an editor, I read it approximately 5,000 times. By the fifth time, I’m just tinkering with words that don’t really need tinkering with, but I keep going.

Before even getting to the point of writing anything, I sometimes spend hours on websites I’m interested in writing for, scrutinizing every piece and trying to convince myself that I’m as good as everyone else who’s written for the publication. Granted, it’s a great idea to really familiarize myself with a publication before contacting an editor, but it’d be healthier to be doing so strictly for research and less so to convince myself of my skill level.

I don’t find rejection all that difficult to deal with when it comes from time-to-time. When I worked as the arts and culture editor of The Uniter, my boss and co-workers gave me so much positive feedback and constructive criticism that it was easier to be okay with editors for other publications letting me know they were passing on my ideas.

Barely working as I’ve been since the car accident, it’s been more difficult to deal with rejection. I send out about two pitches a week and hear back sometimes months later, so the acceptance emails and rejection emails are often spread so far apart.

A “Sorry, but this isn’t a great fit for this publication at this time” feels more like a “You’re pretty shitty at what you do and should just quit” when it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a green light.

I’ve chatted with a few friends and posted in an anxiety group I’m apart of, asking what others do to deal with rejection.

Some advice I received was to look at the evidence that I don’t suck balls (I’ve been making a living as a writer and editor for years), remind myself of outside factors (it’s a numbers game: publications get tons of pitches and can’t accept them all, someone else may have just pitched a similar story) and be understanding of my personal circumstances (I’m just getting back in the game, I still have a head injury, I’m dealing with mad anxiety and depression).

A few weeks back, I got a rejection email weeks after sending in a piece I was sure would be accepted. Honestly, I was so crushed that I spent the rest of the day on the couch and today is the first day that I’m actually back at my computer, pushing away the excuses of why I shouldn’t work.

While all the advice I got was helpful, struggling with the anxiety and depression–which has been taking over my life since I moved–along with still recovering from the concussion, I just couldn’t pull myself up. It was more work than I was capable of handling.

To prepare for future blows, I’m going to work on a set of cards that outline how to deal with different situations. On the “rejection” card, I’ll put the above advice. I’m going to make “Sensory overload,” “Panic attack” and “Anxiety for no fucking reason” cards as well. Sometimes the feels get so overwhelming, it’s hard to remember how to deal and written instructions to follow before the situation gets out of hand might be helpful for me.

But, before I do this, I’d love to hear how you deal with rejection? Comment below or join in the discussion on my Facebook page.

Explore natural remedies for anxiety

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Medication is a valid solution to mental health problems, and in many instances it’s all that will help. However, the process of finding the right meds and dose is long and arduous. For me, there were weeks where I felt virtually nothing change after popping the first pill. There were times when I bumped up my dose and then cried nonstop for days. One terrifying time, I felt like I had lost my mind, becoming suicidal and manic. Focusing on finding natural remedies during these times helped me reduce anxiety while I searched for the right med and made me feel like I had some control.

I’m not sure how I would have kept working through some of this if I was relying solely on the medication, and as a freelancer being unable to work is bad news.

Natural remedies are not often the entire solution, but meds likely won’t completely kick anxiety’s butt alone either. Finding the right combo is key. Here are a few options.

Hydrate

I heard at a seminar on anxiety that people who have anxiety disorders have thicker blood. Because we’re often in fight or flight mode, our blood thickens so that if we’re attacked, we won’t bleed out as fast. The speaker told us that, for this reason, we should make sure to drink tons of water.

Since hearing that, I’ve read a few other resources that talk about the importance of drinking water. Being dehydrated can cause anxiety, so staying hydrated is important for people with disorders.

Cut the caffeine

Caffeine is fuel for anxiety. Cutting out my morning coffee does wonders for my anxiety, but has caused me a lot of sadness because I love  good cup a joe to start my day. So, I’ve done some experimenting.

Many of the coffee replacements are tasty. Decaf works alright and Half Ass is fine for me most days. There are some days when regular coffee doesn’t send me into anxious spins, especially if I have a cup later in the day.

If you’re a caffeine addict like me but it’s not really helping your mental health situation, it’s worth finding ways to comfortably fit it into your life. If not, it’s totally worth cutting it all together.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

People with anxiety often fall into negative thought patterns. For example, I often become paranoid that people dislike me and will overanalyze every social interaction, always interpreting small actions as feedback that I’m boring and stupid.

Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), my therapist helped me first recognize these thought patterns and then come up with activities to change them. When anxiety comes up, I sit down and think about what is going on. Once I’ve identified the thought patterns that got me there, I think through it rationally. Has my friend not responded to my text because she suddenly hates me? Well, we’ve been friends for more than a decade and she always tells me when she’s upset with me so probably no. More plausible reasons are that she’s busy, she’s overwhelmed with her own life, or technology is failing us and the text didn’t go through.

Regularly examining thought patterns like this, it eventually becomes a quick process that nips anxiety in the bud. Check out some books on CBT at your local library if you think it might help you out!

Exercise

The solution to so many health problems is to get moving! Many anxiety resources I’ve consulted recommend calmer forms of exercise for anxiety, such as walking and yoga. Personally, I prefer high energy activities such as zumba and running because they let me get some of my anxious energy out quicker.

What’s most important is that you’re doing something regularly that you can stick with. If you start to get bored, find a new activity. If you feel too busy, add something that doesn’t take time out of your day like doing exercises at your desk, cycling to work or doing stretches while watching the news. Find what works for you.

Herbs

Lots of plants are said to reduce anxiety. With some experimentation, you might find some that work for you.

A friend of mine makes a tea she not so fondly calls Ass Tea. It’s made of dried angelica sinensis slices and dried astragalus roots. Toss a handful of each into a pot of water, boil them, simmer for 25 minutes, let cool and then strain. It tastes awful—as the name implies—but chilled with ice and some flavouring (tea or herbs), it’s tolerable. It makes her need to pee uncontrollably, so she adds in a bit of poria. I can skip that last awful-tasting ingredient.

Lavender, chamomile, valerian and lemon balm are all calming as well. You can grow some of these plants to have them readily available for tea, or buy teas that include them in the ingredient list. At the very least, settling into a cozy spot for a warm drink can be relaxing.

Mindfulness

I tried meditating many times before I finally found a meditation series that explained the purpose of the practice in a way that makes sense to me. It helps us strengthen our thinking muscles so we can have more control over what is racing through our brains.

This has helped me so much with CBT. When my mind is going too wild to be able to deal with my thoughts using the techniques I’ve learned, I do a quick meditation on my Calm or Headspace app. With my mind a bit calmer, I then implement what I’ve learned from CBT.

A lot of anxiety comes from overthinking, so being able to control the mind is a huge factor in its reduction.

If you have an anxiety disorder, it’s unrealistic to expect that anxiety will ever be wiped out completely. However, with small changes over time, it’s entirely possible to reduce anxiety enough so it doesn’t have a significant impact on your day to day life.

Each month through my weekly newsletter, I challenge my audience to make one change in their life, whether that’s eating healthier, reaching out to friends more or drinking more water. Sign-up today to join in the fun!

Bow out to avoid burnout (trigger-free version)

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Many creatives are also super political. That’s super cool. The world is fucked and we all gotta do our part to make it better. But burnout is real.

 

It is okay to take time away from the news and heartbreaking bullshit of the world, from time to time. There’s a big difference between sticking your head in the sand and getting a little distance to heal, rejuvenate and gather the strength to keep fighting.

It’s also okay to find ways to fight that cause you the least amount of harm.

This is especially important for people who battle with mental health issues. When the chemicals in your brain are handing you heavy, life-stopping blows on the regular, you don’t need anything else holding you down.

One thing I can offer to help you keep going through the mental health struggle is a weekly newsletter I’m now putting out that gives creatives motivation and support based on my experiences dealing with anxiety and depression. Sign-up now and together we can keep working for a better world while taking care of ourselves.