Grief: A Meditation

For a time, sometimes a long time, grief can leave you in a fog.  Memories are all you have and the pain is gut wrenching as the sobs pull the breath from your lungs until they collapse in the dead weight of your chest.  

You don’t want to, but you get up everyday and you put one foot in front of the other and you move forward, resting often, sighing heavily, straining to act.

But, you are doing this a miniscule step at a time. Every inhale and exhale is a healing force. 

Where there’s breath there is hope. Where there is hope, I will create gratitude, for where there is gratitude, I will find peace. 

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5 Tips on How to Love Yourself When You Have a Mental Illness

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This morning, my middle schooler brought to my attention a quote she heard on social media:

“Can anyone say they truly love themselves?”

I asked her if she loved herself and to my relief she said, yes, except for how tall she is. ūüôā¬† Then she asked me if I loved myself.¬† My breath caught in my throat as years of self-hatred flashed before my eyes, and I hesitated for half a second before giving her my best answer:¬† I love my¬†true self, but I don’t like everything that I do.

I prayed she didn’t notice my hesitation, because I want to lead by example and instill a good sense of self-worth within her, but apparently, and thankfully,¬†she already has that despite my poor self-esteem and overall dissatisfaction with my appearance and behaviors.

I went on to explain to her that our “true selves,” our spiritual selves, are different from our human selves, and that I really love my true self, the pure, perfect side of me.¬† It is the human side, the ill side, that is hard to like sometimes.¬† She looked at me like I was¬†crazy, because, well, she’s only twelve and I was getting way too philosophical for her.¬† ūüôā

Our conversation got me thinking though, about how much I dislike myself because of my mental illness, its symptoms and subsequent behaviors Рthe depression that leads to crying and laying in bed all day, the irritability that leads to losing my temper with the kids, the anxiety that leads to extra work for my husband to do.  All of these things surmount to loads of guilt and self-hatred, thereby perpetuating the symptoms which caused the behaviors in the first place.

How do those of us with mental illness combat this destructive thinking; disrupt this negative thought cycle?

How do we come to love ourselves despite our mental illnesses?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Change our thoughts – I know, I know – easier said than done.¬† A long time ago, I even wrote about how impossible it can be, (How Positive Thinking Can Be a Crock) but try replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.¬† For example, instead of thinking, “I’m such a loser,” say to yourself, “I am a kind, thoughtful person with friends who enjoy my company.”¬† If you can’t bring yourself to think of positive thoughts, that is ok.¬† Don’t stress over it.¬† Just being aware of the negative ones is a good start.
  2. Keep a thought journal and write down any negative thoughts you have that day in one column.¬† In a second column challenge those thoughts.¬† For example, when my daughter said she didn’t like the fact that she is taller than everyone else, I said, “Even though being tall is an advantage when playing volleyball?”¬† She said, “Oh yeah, I guess I do like being tall then.”
  3. Make a list of positive attributes in your journal.  If you have a hard time coming up with things, ask friends or family members for ideas.  Keep adding to the list and refer to it often.
  4. Practice, practice, practice.¬† Just like learning any new skill or playing a sport, you won’t get good at this over night.¬† It will take lots of repetition before it becomes more automatic.¬† I have been keeping a thought journal for almost two months now and I still have a hard time catching myself in the midst of self-criticism, but this brings me to the final tip:
  5. Don’t give up!¬† Keep trying.¬† Have faith that it will work and that your¬†joy and peace of mind are worth it.

And remember:

You are not your mental illness.

Your true self is perfect.

Unexpected Moments- A Meditation

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So many things in life come to us unexpected – sickness, heartache, disappointments. Many good things come as well like surprises, laughter, and joy. In each unexpected moment lies the essence of life. These are the moments that cannot be planned or constructed in any way. These moments are gifted to us by the sheer forward propulsion of living, of being alive.

When entrapped in the snare of mental illness, we are still within an unexpected moment of life – a moment of sickness. We are still in the forward propulsion of living because mental illness is not static. It is a dynamic phenomenon that must be ridden out like a surfer on an ocean wave. With treatment and time, a solution may be but a moment away.

In those unanticipated moments of darkness and despair, I will keep an open mind so that I may hear an unexpected message of hope and I will know peace.

5 Reasons I Hate Leaving My House

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Anxiety is a bitch! It has been several years since I have had a full-blown panic attack – the one where you can’t breathe and you think you are dying – but on a regular basis I have bouts of anxiety where my heart races, I get a bit short of breath, and I fear I may go into panic mode. These smaller anxiety attacks, along with some low levels of depression, are enough to make leaving the house a big chore for me.

Top 5 Reasons I Hate Leaving My House

1) Showering takes more energy than I have on most days. And then there is the fixing of the hair, and OMG! make-up, and God-forbid getting out of my pajama pants. I mean, come on…that’s a lot to ask of a girl. By the time I do all of that I am ready for a nap!

2) Driving is stressful. I live in a busy metropolitan area and traffic is heavy. Patience, concentration, and sometimes aggressiveness are needed to safely navigate the roads around here – all of which I basically lack.

3) Social anxiety. Leaving the house often means going to some sort of social event, and I don’t feel comfortable around other people because small talk is like nails on a chalk board to me! I’m definitely an introvert and prefer to be alone or with my immediate family. Also, if it is a larger party, the noise and extra stimuli is overwhelming to my senses.

4) Fear of public places. Leaving the house also often means going to the store or some other public venue where crowds gather and strangers abound. Yikes! What if I see someone I know? What if I get mugged? Kidnapped? How claustrophobic I feel standing in lines and squeezing down isles. How it makes me lose my breath to bump into others or feel them in my physical space! And again, the noises, lights, and movement are all overwhelming to my senses.

5) Agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is an intense fear and anxiety of being in places where it is hard to escape, or where help might not be available. This would explain why if my husband is with me, I feel much less anxious when out of the house. He drives, I stick by him during parties, and follow him through the stores. Now if only he could shower for me. ūüôā

Although I hate leaving the house, I do force myself to on a regular basis. Sometimes I have to take an anti-anxiety pill before I leave and sometimes I don’t. I think it is important for me to desensitize myself to these stressful situations as much as I can, because if I don’t my anxiety will only get worse.

I also grade the tasks in a way that will make them more successful for me. For example, when I go to the grocery store I only get a few items at a time, and leave the big list for my husband (he’s the best!) When my daughter has a 3-day sports tournament in a loud crowded gym, I will only attend one or two of the days. When going to a social event, we will only stay a short while or not go at all if I am not feeling up to it. We go out to eat early in the evening (with all the old people) so we don’t have to wait for a table. These are just a few examples of how I compensate for my increased anxiety.

As you can see, there are ways around anxiety. It doesn’t have to make you a prisoner of your own home. Although, sometimes it will. But it doesn’t have to all of the time.

How does your anxiety limit you, and what are some ways you have found helpful to decrease these limits?

Daily Meditation – The Present Moment

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Life sometimes seems life a series of accidents, like things are spinning out of control. Scary, anxiety-producing, unknown. It can cause us to freeze in our tracks like a deer in headlights, just waiting for the impact take us out. Rarely does this ever happen. Our fears build up scenarios in our heads that make things more unbearable than they really need to be.

If only we could take a moment to stop our thoughts and concentrate on our breathing. Take a deep breath. Do the next right thing. Take it one step at a time. Have faith that if we only take care of what is in front of us – whether it be a daily task, a job responsibility, a self-care activity, a social commitment – the future will take care of itself.

For the future is never with us, only the present moment is. It is only in the present moment where we can take the actions that will make a difference in our quality of life. It is only in the present moment where we can find peace.

Daily Meditation – Fantastic Things

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Life can often seem so mundane. We drag ourselves out of bed to carry on the same old routine day after day after day. When will it ever end? When will something exciting and new come our way?

What we don’t realize is that it is our own mind that makes these tasks boring and unassuming. It is our own preconceived ideas and unconscious conditioning of going through life without gratitude for what we have, what we are capable of doing.

Did you know that in most places in the world there are no indoor toilets? People go in the streets, in front of everyone else! Did you know that millions die of starvation each year? Many do not have running water for drinking or bathing.

Today, let us do something fantastic for ourselves. Take a warm shower, eat a meal, flush a toilet, visit a friend, brush your teeth. Be grateful for every little thing that you can do, for every little thing that is available to you. These are fantastic things! Things which are hard for us with mental illness to do at times – to eat, bathe, groom, socialize – but nonetheless, fantastic. Rejoice and delight in this fact.

10 Simple Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

bluesIf you are like me then winter is not your friend. The cold, dreary days tend to drag on, as cabin fever sets in and depression, boredom, lack of motivation and lethargy begin to choke the life out of me.

I came across this entertaining, well-written article on Psych Central by author, Therese J. Borchard. Borchard lists these suggestions to help you battle the winter blues.

1.  Be of service to others

I started cooking new-to-us, healthy recipes as my husband and I committed to losing weight before bathing suit season arrives. I feel like I am doing something extra special for my family as I spend an hour or more each night chopping, dicing, and slicing fresh fruits and vegetables, and preparing scrumptious home-cooked meals. The weekly planning and execution of such dishes (compared to a box meal or popping a pizza in the oven) alone helps to battle my boredom as well.

2.  Join a gym

I did this – Yeah!!! The problem?  I never went! A gym is a great idea for some, but not for me. Because of my anxiety, I have a hard enough time getting out of the house for essentials like doctor’s appointments. I am more successful with a mile walk around the neighborhood where I can take my time and hide behind my sunglasses rather than going to the gym and risk having to interact with anyone.

3.  Use a light lamp

I do this, and it helps a lot. After 45 minutes in front of my light, I feel energized and ready to get off the couch and do something productive (like make those dinners.) I use my light twice a day, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. It really does work.

4.  Wear bright colors

I am an earthy kind of girl, wearing lots of browns, blacks, and greens.  Neutral colors fill my closets, so I have not tried this suggestion out, but it makes sense that bright colors could lift your mood.

This morning, I walked into a new doctor’s office and the walls were painted a dreamcicle, creamy orange, and adorned with bright impressionist paintings.  It was a breath of fresh air.  I literally felt calmer and happier as I sat there, surrounded by these bright, yet soft, colors.

5.  Force yourself outside

I step outside when I let the dogs out, mainly to have a cigarette, but hey at least I am getting out!  I also go for walks outdoors.

6.  Hang out with friends

This is a tricky area for me.  I meet with a small group of women once a week and overall, it helps my mood.  Having face-time with close friends definitely enhances my emotional well-being, but too much of it drains me physically and mentally.  Migraines often follow visits that last too long.  My limit for any type of social situation is about two hours.

7.  Head south

We have always taken our family vacations during the summer months when the kids are out of school.  Last year, however, I convinced my husband to head south during the month of December specifically for this reason – to battle my seasonal depression.  It worked…for that month anyway.

We will probably do it again next year, but will shoot for January or February instead.  The December trip was great, don’t get me wrong, but I think my depression really takes a nose dive after the holidays, so a trip in January would be more ideal.

8.  Learn something new or start a home project

This winter I have been editing our home videos.  I even splurged and bought a software program to add fun effects to them.  It takes me several hours to do a ten minute video, but the results are very cool and satisfying.

Creative projects like video editing, painting, and photography keep my mind off the bleak weather conditions.  When my hands are idle, my mind wanders and that is never a good thing for me.

9.  Limit sugar intake

Sugar-crashes and weight gain….’nuf said.

10.  Take Omega-3’s

My suggestion on this is to talk to your doctor.  I take them, but I don’t feel they make a huge difference (if any at all) on my emotional health.

What do you do to battle the winter blues?  Share your tips in the comments.  Also, while you’re here, I invite you to subscribe to this blog.  Thanks and have a blue-free day.