Bouncing Back

The last few weeks have been really rough. On top of dealing with some difficult things in my personal life, my depression and anxiety have been worse than they usually are at this time of year. I’ve felt myself slowly sliding down this rough and rocky slope towards the bottom. Then Wednesday night I finally hit rock bottom again. But this time, I decided I wasn’t going to stay there.

metaphor-1209691_1280

Emotions are real. All emotions. There’s nothing we can do about initial emotions we have as reactions to things that happen to us, things we might witness or hear or things that are said or done to us. No one ever tells you to stop feeling happy after you’ve just witnessed your child do something silly. No one ever tells you to stop feeling excitement after you’ve won a prize vacation. No one ever tells you to stop feeling peace after you’ve had a spiritual experience. So no one should tell you to stop feeling hurt, pain, anger, frustration, disappointment after something bad, sad, frustrating, hurtful or disappointing has happened. It’s okay to have those feelings. But it’s also your choice how you’re going to proceed and react after the initial feeling has happened. With mental illness, it is extremely difficult to let go of those feelings and not let them sink in and consume you. But there are things you can do to help.

I’ve often stated how there’s no one set cure, or even help, for mental illness. What works for one person may not work for someone else. We’re all different and we all need different things. It’s also frustrating that what worked for you a few years ago may not work for you now. Or maybe something that didn’t work for you before is something you should try now, as hard as it is to realize that. Each day, each time, can be different. Hitting rock bottom for me this time was different than last time.

trammpolin-2635260_1920Last time I stayed down. I moved forward, but it felt like I was inching along hard, rough ground the whole time, and it took a certain experience with a certain person to really pull me up. This time it was like I hit a trampoline. I landed hard enough to hit the ground, and it hurt! It really hurt, but then the trampoline bounced me back up. And it’s because I decided I didn’t want to stay down. I decided I was sick of feeling depressed and confused and in turmoil, and I was going to do something about it. I decided I wasn’t going to let initial feelings of hurt stew inside of me. I decided I wasn’t going to let someone else determine my emotions for me. I’m a fighter. I’m not weak, I’m strong. And I’m stubborn. And this time I needed to prove to myself, and others out there, that I am all of those things, that I know what I’m doing and that I can do it!

So, despite still having a lot of unresolved conflict, despite uncertainty, despite unfulfilled hope, yesterday was a good day. I was happy! There were times I started thinking of what has hurt me, what I have done wrong, and I’d start getting that sinking feeling in my stomach, but I’d move past it. I didn’t let it overtake me, I didn’t let myself drown in it. I pushed it aside, knowing it was still there, but also telling myself I was okay. And I was okay. I am okay. And I know I will be. You will be, too. You can be. Whether it’s by your own sheer will power or medication or therapy or coping mechanisms or help from another person and whether it’s the same as it was last time, or different, you can do it. You can come back from rock bottom. I know you can. And I know I can.

Mountain Therapy, Music Therapy

This past week has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve had some high highs and some very low lows. Last night I watched Hulu for hours and hours and feasted on waffle fries from Chick-fil-A for dinner, along with diet Coke and a whole six pack of raspberry-filled donuts. And I sobbed. A lot.

Today, I realized I couldn’t allow myself to engage in such destructive behavior again, so I thought about what might help me. I’ve talked about it before, but I will again—one of the tricky things about mental illness is that there’s no one set cure. Different things help different people. What works for one person might not work for someone else. I’ve dealt with my mental illness for so long that I’ve come to know what helps and what doesn’t—or at least what hasn’t helped so far. Two things that do help me are mountains and music. So I decided to take a drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon, while listening to music from my youth.

The drive was so good for me! Drinking in the towering granite cliffs with their varying shades of gray, black, blue, white. Being mesmerized at all the waterfalls I passed. It has been the second wettest spring on record here in Utah, so there were more waterfalls than I’d ever seen, and the river was raging harder than I’d ever seen. It made me downright giddy! And rocking out to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Collective Soul and Soundgarden—that was what I needed. That was my therapy.

Last night I was feeling pretty hopeless and defeated. I have those moments. We all have those moments. Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to remind me that I don’t have to stay there. I’m a fighter. I will get back up and soar above that rock. It may be hard, it may be painful. I may stumble and falter as I scrape my way up, claw my way out, but I won’t stay down. And when I get up, I will be stronger than I was before. I will be able to look back at what I’ve learned and use it to propel me forward. Doesn’t mean I won’t get on anymore rollercoasters. Doesn’t mean I won’t have anymore lows. Doesn’t mean my mental illness will be gone. But it does mean I can keep going. It does mean there is still hope.

Controlling My Fears

I let fear drive my life for so many years. As a child I believed there really were monsters hiding under the bed. When I was six or seven I had this poster hung above my bed depicting various fairytale characters such as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. Every night I forcibly reminded myself not to look at the poster before I turned the light out because I just knew if I looked at the Big Bad Wolf he would jump out of the poster and eat me.

full-moon-1654539_1920

Fear never really went away. I always imagined the worst happening so I often never tried. If I did, there was always someone there to catch me when I fell. Even as an adult I was an extremely dependent person. If I was afraid to do something I convinced others—my parents, my husband—to do it for me.

Getting divorced forced me to become independent, which is actually a lesson I have been so grateful for. It has been incredibly empowering knowing that I can do things, that I can take care of myself, my kids, my house. Of course I have needed help. We all need help at times. A few weeks ago my washing machine broke. I couldn’t fix it, but I did reach out, seeking help, and one of my friends came to the rescue. He figured out that it simply needed a new part. So I ordered it, then he came back and installed it for me. When I was married I would have left everything up to my ex. Asking for help and calling someone on the phone were things I feared, so I wouldn’t have done them. I would have stayed in my comfy, cozy bubble and let someone else do all the hard stuff.

It has been a difficult lesson to learn, and I still often find myself initially giving into my fears. However, I recently made up my own form of exposure therapy, I suppose you could say.

There is a waterpark near my house that my kids and I love to go to in the summer. One of the waterslides has a pitch black tunnel in it. This summer was the first time I had ever gone it, and boy did I freak out! My very first time on it I had a panic attack, especially as I thought about how scared my son would be going down it. He came out smiling and excited! I came out trembling and nearly unable to breathe. I was never going on that waterslide again! But the next time we went to the waterpark my six-year-old wanted to go on the tunnel slide, so I forced myself to go on it as well. I decided I no longer wanted fear to guide my decisions in life.

Even though I know what the waterslide is like it still freaks me out every time I go on it. I hate the utter darkness, hate not being able to see where I’m going. Each time I enter that tunnel fear grips me in its dark, icy tendrils. Every. Single. Time. My chest tightens, my heart pounds, and my throat closes to where I can barely breathe. But I make myself go on it, usually several times, to remind myself that fear will no longer control me. I will control my fears.

Music and Therapy

I’ve wanted to write more about music for quite some time, but it just feels like such a monumental task. Music means so much to me. I believe it is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. I love this quote by Victor Hugo – “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” Music is a language that speaks to the very core of my soul. Music is therapy.

guitar-2216068_1920

I’ve always loved music, but it was in high school that I first started to truly understand the power it has. I started listening to classic rock from the sixties and seventies. Here were these artists/musicians who had lived decades before I had, but who sang songs that I understood and could relate to. They sang songs about . . . me. The music was there for me in a way no one or nothing else could be. Not just rock, but classical, new age, world. The words, the music, spoke to my soul.

I think most of the time I take music for granted, it is such a part of my life. I have it playing all the time, especially in the car. I’m that crazy person you see totally rocking out as I drive—the one you point and laugh at! It’s okay, I’ll take it! Then, I’m reminded again. This one day, a couple of weeks ago, Pink Floyd’s Eclipse came on as I was driving home from a therapy appointment. I must have heard that song and the whole Dark Side of the Moon album at least a hundred times, probably more, in the last twenty years, and yet I was still amazed at what an incredible song it was. It gave me chills. The same thing happens every time I listen to Stairway to Heaven. I know it probably sounds incredibly cheesy, but that song, and Led Zeppelin, changed my life. It’s my favorite song in the world. Sometimes, when I hear it, I wonder if I’ll still love it as much as the first few times I heard it. It couldn’t possibly still be as powerful now, right? And yet, it is. I still get this . . . feeling inside when I hear it. A feeling of who I truly am and who I want to be. It’s amazing.

Music definitely has the power to affect how we feel—our mood. There are times when I’m feeling down, depressed, sad, and I’ll throw on music that only enhances those feelings. Bad, I know, but sometimes I want something that can relate. Other times, I put on something I know will put me in a better mood. Often, my rock ‘n’ roll can do that! I also have a “reminisce” playlist on my ipod. I call it that because it is music my friends and I listened to in junior high and high school. No Doubt, Alanis Morisette, Sheryl Crow, Third Eye Blind, Smash Mouth, Collective Soul and even Metallica’s No Leaf Clover. These songs remind me of better, or at least simpler, days and always manage to make me happy, no matter how down I’m feeling.

Of course, music can’t be on all the time, but it is a great supplement to my mental health. I highly suggest checking out the benefits of music therapy. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” For anyone who has found traditional forms of “help” or therapy ineffective, give music therapy a try. I really do believe in the power of music.

Beating My SAD

great blue heron_88

I live in a desert. It’s a high desert, there are mountains, we do get snow, but it’s still an arid region. Because of this, winter snow and snowpack are very important. I know how important it is to our water situation come summer, yet I can’t help but be grateful for the mild winter we have had. I can only think of two major snowstorms this winter. There was a brief period of time where it got pretty cold, but for the most part it hasn’t been a bad winter at all. This is great new for my seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which hasn’t been nearly as bad as previous winters. It hasn’t abandoned me completely, unfortunately, but just like this winter, it has been mild. I think part of it has been my consistent light/heat therapy, but the warmer temps and overall nice weather have definitely played in as well. Rather than being holed up in my house, escaping the cold, but getting antsy and claustrophobic, I have been able to get outside, enjoy the sun, the warmth, birds, water, the sky, nature. It’s had an amazing effect! Yesterday morning I planned on hiking around this trail near my house, but got caught up taking pictures of all these great blue herons and white-crowned sparrows—which was just as much fun as hiking!

I know the warmer-than-usual, lack-of-snowfall winter has many people concerned, but I am going to remain grateful for how it has helped my health this season!

Heat and Light Therapy

I’m experimenting with a new treatment for my seasonal affective disorder—heat and light therapy. This place has a sauna, a hydration bed, red light therapy, a hydro-massage bed and more. I try to do at least one, hopefully two, and possibly three of these services three days a week. I’ve only been going for a few weeks now, but I’m already noticing a difference.

Normally, at this point in the winter I stay inside, away from the coldness, as much as possible. It also gets pretty hazy where I live. We get an inversion that traps the cold air, with all of its awful pollutants, under a layer of warmer, clearer air. It’s incredibly depressing. Yet, last Saturday I motivated myself to brave the cold and walk along a trail at Farmington Bay, near my home. Yes, it was cold. My ears froze, my nose ran, but it was so incredibly beautiful! Peaceful. Still. Needed.

I took a bunch of pictures, I was outside, moving around, feeling happy. I even saw a bald eagle! As I walked back along the trail to my car the sun reached this perfect angle. All of the tall, yellow grasses glimmered golden in the light; the reflection in the frozen water, clear and mesmerizing. I actually felt good, happy, confident. It’s not the sort of thing I normally do in the winter, and I’m not suddenly gleefully happy all of the time, but I do think the heat and light therapy is helping to keep me more optimistic and motivated than I usually am. I’ll have to do an update in a couple of months. February is usually when I’m at my worst in the winter. Hopefully the new treatment will continue to help. It feels so good, like a weight lifted off my shoulders, to finally find something that is helping after so many failed attempts with medication and lack of funds for other therapies. But that’s why you keep trying—until you find something that works or at least helps.

Help and Hope

sunrise-1983740_1920

In my last post, I said there was hope. There is hope because there is help. There is no one set “cure” for mental illness, but there are things that can help improve quality of life, things that can help make it a little easier to get through life. First, we have to break through the stigma within the stigma. I know, you are going to get so sick of that word, but it is attached to mental illness, so there’s no going around it.

One of those stigmas is medication. Medication is something that can help. It has helped me. It does not “cure” my depression, anxiety or OCD, but it has improved my quality of life. It has made the big things that seem impossible, a little bit smaller and the smaller things more achievable. Yet there is a stigma attached to taking medication. For some reason, people don’t want to take it or others don’t want you to take it. They think it means there is something wrong with you, and you should be able to take care of it yourself. Yet, no one has a problem with someone taking medication for their thyroid disease or a diabetic taking insulin. Medication for mental illness is no different. It is an illness that can help be combatted by medication. Maybe the way to fight it is through medication.

Counseling is another thing that can help—and another one of those things with a stigma. There will never be an end to psychiatrist and therapy jokes, but if getting therapy helps, it is a good thing! I’ve been amazed in the last ten years or so to learn just how many people have seen therapists—not just for mental illness. People see therapists for all sorts of things. And there are different kinds of therapists and therapy. You just have to find the one that is right for you. I have been to three different counselors since I was sixteen. Sometimes just having someone to talk to really helps. Sometimes the advice they offer works. Sometimes their perspective gives you understanding. All of these are things that can lift up someone with mental illness.

Light can also help. I have seasonal affective disorder. Even when taking medication, winter where I live is hard. It’s cold, dark, gray and depressing. I always struggle in winter. So sometimes, I would go to a tanning salon—just for the light and the warmth. Steam rooms, saunas, hot tubs or a warm bath also help. It may sound silly, or even stupid, but it really can help!

Other things that have made a difference to me are exercise and yoga. I really believe keeping your body in shape helps keep your mind in shape as well. When I exercise, I feel good about myself. Yoga is meditative for me. Meditation—another thing that can help. As a parent it can be hard to find time to yourself, but you have to do it. Even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, find a time and place where you can be alone without crazy, noisy distractions.

Depression steals the joy from your life. It’s hard finding joy in anything—even thingsflute-2047943_1920 that once did bring you happiness, but it’s important to try, anyway. Go back to the things that brought you joy, develop interests and hobbies. This one day, not long before my divorce was final, I was feeling really down. Going through a divorce is the hardest thing I’ve faced in my life. I ran upstairs, away from my kids, because I could tell I was about to break down. Then I saw my flute sitting there. Before I could fall on my bed and start crying, I picked it up and started playing. I only played for a few minutes, but it relieved the stress, tension and sadness in me, and I came out feeling happier than I was before. Other things that do that for me are reading, writing, being outside, talking to a friend. I understand how hard it is to motivate yourself when you have mental illness, but if you can find even one little thing that helps bring some bit of light back into your life, it is worth it.

I hope some of what I’ve shared helps. If anyone out there has their own story of things that have helped them through mental illness, please contact me. I would love to share your story here. Let’s inspire each other!