I know, I know, long time no post, but honestly it’s difficult to put depression down on paper when it stops taking up the front row seat to your life most of the time, so I won’t apologize because it’s a good sign.

This morning I was getting dressed after a shower and I had a revelation. This isn’t weird for me, in fact many of my musings take place in or immediately after showers… maybe it’s the cleansing factor or something, maybe everyone’s like that because “shower thoughts” but today it wasn’t useless thoughts that come across as something only raving lunatics ponder.

Looking at my clothes, I realized I had not worn leggings in… countless days or even weeks. I had been leaning towards my jeans almost every day.

I can feel those readers who know me well going, “uhhh yeah, so?” because I am pretty much always in jeans unless I’m somewhere they’re not appropriate… and even then I’m sometimes wearing them.

The problem is that my identity took a huge hit with the move. My confidence was shattered; suddenly I’m out of place, I don’t belong here. I used to go to work and contribute to the household income, and I used to argue with Cam about who was going to do the dishes or take out the garbage… when you both get home so late in the day after 9 hours of work and a godforsaken commute, no one exactly falls into the caretaker role.

Naturally, when I was suddenly not working and Cam started being away 2 out of every 3 weeks, I was plopped into this domesticated stay at home wife position and not really sure what the point of it all was. Between my cross-continent move and the medications I was on, I didn’t stand a chance at healing my mind from the already lingering depression and anxiety that were (most of the time) deep below the surface. Both came roaring back up to the surface because there were no distractions to pull me away and welcome my attention.

I started wearing leggings.

All my attention was centered on making this new place a home, for my husband but mostly for me too. If I’m spending the majority of every day in this house, it better be my god damned sanctuary. But, my personal style took a hit and as my bff Sarah will tell you, leggings are the comfiest thing in this entire world. When you can’t get out of bed, leggings will suffice as pyjamas, but if you do have to go get groceries you can still enjoy the snuggly, cozy hug around each leg as you do so. Don’t get me wrong, I still wore jeans *sometimes* to go out with friends or to events where I knew leggings would be uncomfortable, but it just became so much easier to wear leggings even to those outings.

As my depression grew weaker and my body began to recover from the adverse reaction-causing birth control, somehow I started caring more about what I wore – even if it meant wearing nice(ish) things around the house. Every time I went clothes shopping I found myself more drawn to prettier tops, cute rompers and – you guessed it – jeans.

Today, that was my realization; that I haven’t resorted to leggings since before I returned to Calgary for the aforementioned Sarah’s wedding. I wore them on the plane ride up, because that was an appropriate time for leggings (I highly recommend them for plane rides – so cozy!) but I’m happy to say I now rotate through my 3 favorite pairs of jeans, and my multiple pairs of leggings have sat in a drawer, largely untouched, for over 2 months now. J

Feeling Bad for Feeling Good

I’ve spent so much of this blog talking about how to avoid feeling depressed and my journey with anxiety that I often don’t know when it’s okay to stop. How do I know when my coping mechanisms have indeed worked and I can press pause on the fight for a minute and just take a breath?

About a week ago I was at my bathroom sink just after waking up from what seemed like a restful night’s sleep (they all seem so, at least at first) and I was washing my face in my usual fashion, but when I finished drying my face in the towel I saw myself in the mirror and was kind of surprised for a second. I wasn’t surprised because of my appearance, but instead by the sensation that I felt a distinct lack of heaviness and sense of “ho-hum, I’m awake” that normally comes with daylight. I was surprised because for the first time in a long time I felt happy.

Now you’re probably wondering why it took me a week to write this. It’s not like I’ve got a whole lot else going on, and normally I rush to document things like this because they’re often fleeting. It took me so long because after the shock of how light it felt, I felt bad. I felt like I shouldn’t have been so shocked – after all, I had a delightful childhood and I remember what ‘happy’ feels like, and this is the sensation I’ve been fighting to achieve every day that depression or anxiety has taken hold.

I’ve always understood depression to be a come and go cyclical being, where it will wax and wane like the moon but in a much less predictable fashion, so why did this good upswing catch me so off guard?

The best explanation I’ve come up with was that I’ve become complacent and almost accepting of how I feel day to day. I understand how I feel is not normal but struggling to be what society dictates as ‘normal’ is usually harder and more detrimental than just being what you can and leaving it at that. Given that assumption, it makes a lot more sense that when faced with a typical ‘normal’ feeling I kind of panicked.

Once the shock wore off and was justified, I started feeling bad in a different way. I kept associating me feeling ‘normal’ with someone who doesn’t need help, and I was treating this feeling like it was permanent. All those times that my husband would call me from the field instead of texting me just to make sure I was okay felt like attention-seeking behavior on my part. If I’m feeling happy and not depressed right now, then did I really need those phone calls or was I just wasting his precious free time? When I messaged that friend who also suffers from anxiety and depression for advice and validation that I’m not broken, was that actually just me wanting to place myself in this tragic role?

Every mental health-related interaction I’d ever had with people in the last few months was coming to mind, and I felt like a fraud.

And then I started thinking about writing this post, which led me to think about this blog overall.

If I were a fraud, how would I have been able to express the feelings so specifically in various posts? If the phone calls from my husband were attention-seeking, then why would I feel glad that they were needed less frequently than before? If my messages back and forth with my friend back home were me putting myself in a toxic role, then why have they since switched from a lifeline to a catch-up conversation about happy events?

The fact remained that once my mind processed the sense of calm, ease, lightness and happy outlook everything was okay. I was free to simply enjoy this feeling, because it won’t last forever. I’m sure I’ll have a down-tick sooner or later but being present for the good times makes them gain momentum and makes the dark days seem more tolerable. The good days are the light at the end of the tunnel.

Medications, Part Two: The Dark Side (Effects)

A few weeks ago I talked about medications and the stigma behind taking medications to help ease the burden of certain mental health problems, but there’s another side to medicating that has the opposite problem; there’s really no stigma surrounding medications for almost any other malady, but those medications can have some really nasty side effects on your mental health.

When I moved down to the US from Canada I was warned by a close friend that doctors in the states are, in her experience, very eager to prescribe a pill and forget about the whole thing. She described medical treatment in the states as more of a band-aid approach to health problems instead of an actual curative approach like the treatment she’d received in Canada since moving a few years previous.

This made me really nervous, especially when it came to my mental health. I used to work in a medical office, and between my few anatomy classes in university and various CPR and first aid courses I’ve taken I am able to research medications and minor ailments that come up (Sprained ankle? Rest Ice Compression Elevation – RICE). Mental health, though, is a totally different ball game and my research on medications has never been able to give me the answer to a question I ask quite frequently: What are the possible or probable side effects of this medication on my mental health?

When I was tying up our lives in Calgary in preparation to relocate to a different country, I asked my doctor to prescribe me a whole year of birth control pills. I wasn’t sure what my situation would be in the US as far as cost to see a doctor and get a prescription, plus I know that medications are usually way more expensive down here. He offered up one specific brand that I’d never been on, but it was similar enough to others I had tried before that I didn’t give it a second thought.

I started taking them, we drove for four days and eventually got settled in our new home and our new life. My husband started settling into his new job, which meant 6 days of not seeing him and then having him back home for 3. At first those six day shifts were really hard, but I was prepared for that. I knew it was coming and had prepared as much as I could have. Eventually he was moved up to 14 days on with 7 days off, and soon I started noticing that days 2 through 4 were the hardest on me, and those were my worst days. I wouldn’t get out of bed, I was lethargic and either overeating or not eating at all, things were not okay.

I blamed everything I was feeling on my husband being away. “I just miss him,” I’d tell my parents when they’d call. Things got marginally better after a few of these shifts but I never really felt ‘okay’ – I just accepted that this was how I was now.

I actually went off my birth control pills because of the painful cystic acne it was causing. I’ve had problems with acne ever since my pre-teen years, but this was particularly bad and nothing was helping. In hindsight I’m glad it was such a problem though, because it made me read the fine print of the birth control pamphlet in great detail.

Would you care to guess what showed up on the common side effects?

Depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Accompanied, of course by the usual host of problems – weight gain, acne, nausea and headaches.

The pamphlet for Lolo.
Only about 30% of it is instructions on proper use.

Naturally, I stopped taking the pills and found another method of birth control. What’s the point of taking birth control if it leaves you feeling so depressed and broken that there’s no longer a need for contraceptives in the first place?

All of my other problems eventually subsided, including the migraines and the acne, but it was surprisingly validating when my anxiety and depression got measurably better the longer I was off the medication. It took a few months to finally be rid of it, but my days are generally on the mend. While I’m still coping with feelings of anxiety and melancholy regularly, I feel a lot more capable of bringing myself out of that place.

Not all medications are created equal, and even the Lolo manufacturer treats the physically visible side effects as “major” side effects while bundling the damaging mental health side effects in with the less harmful ones, like nausea and menstrual cramps.

I guess the stigma surrounding mental health and its medications is even present in the manufacturers of the very pills that are stigmatized against.

Self-Care and SuperBetter

I’ve been really terrible the last few days about writing these blog posts, and it’s not because I’m in a down-swing; actually the exact opposite, I’ve been feeling really good lately overall and as nice as it is, I’m not sure why but I’ll take it. The unfortunate side of feeling good is that it doesn’t require coping mechanisms, and guess what purpose this blog serves for me.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on self-care and coping mechanisms and what those terms mean to me versus how they manifest in other people. Just like medications I feel like there’s no one-size-fits-all cure or treatment, but the diversity in ways of dealing with anxiety and depression (or preventing them altogether) has allowed for so much variance in how those who are good at managing these issues are able to help those of us who need guidance.

Take, for instance, a quintessential ‘home spa day’: you do your skincare routine, a clay face mask and put your clean, wet hair up in a towel on top of your head and you might do your nails while watching a trashy drama-rom-com on Netflix.

That would be lovely if my best friend were coming over with a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a rant about that lady in her office who reheats her fish and talks about her boyfriend that no one has ever met.

But… that’s not a reality for me, and to be honest that isn’t exactly something a lot of people can have on demand or as often as need dictates. Plus, on days where you can barely afford to expend your precious energy to get off the couch or actually give enough of a shit to pick out an outfit that isn’t meant for sleeping in, that spa day is exhausting to even think about.

Self-care for me is a series of small wins, like this blog. Some days it doesn’t work and I end up in bed and not eating for an entire day (I call it ‘unintentional intermittent fasting’) but what always pulls me out are little things that my brain does to show it still loves me, depression and all, kind of like my brain is a computer just booting up again with the flashing cursor quietly telling me “I’m still here, I still work!”

Reflection is a big part of it too, and sometimes realizing your enemies is the biggest hurdle. I recently found an app called “SuperBetter” that sets you up with a goal of your choosing “I’m getting SuperBetter at ________ so I can _________” which really could pertain to anything. If you wanted to get better at yo-yo tricks or managing people or brewing beer – you could do it all, it’s fully customizable.

There are really 3 big categories at first that you can use as a kind of quick-start guide on the app, and because the app was designed with depression and anxiety in mind they are a nice template to recognize good (helpful) behaviors and negative (destructive) behaviors.

You have quests, which feels kind of like I’m making my way through a school work-book. Sort of a ‘your mission, should you choose to accept it’ presentation of a task that will focus your thoughts, and you log this focus on your activity wall by doing something in the app. For instance…

It feels really cheesy at first, but trust me – there’s a method to the madness.

And then there are the Power-ups, which is probably the most relevant section to this blog post, because they are little acts of self-care that you can do almost anywhere and at any time. On good days, these power-ups come naturally, but the app is there to remind you of these little things that can improve your mood significantly at times (or at the very least keep you functioning long enough that you do feel good again). I am always shocked at how much better I feel when I hug myself.

The ‘Hug Yourself’ power up is a very powerful thing, but ‘Human Tag’ will be easy if you are at work or leaving the house at all.

Last but definitely not least is the Bad Guys page. This one is a sneaky add-in because I know that I certainly don’t like to admit my flaws or negative behavior when I’m in a down-swing. It’s counterintuitive to me, why would I want to kick myself why I’m down? (Yes, I realize how that is physically impossible…) But that’s the point – once you identify the negative parts of your spiral or your down-swing they become less of a boogey-man and more of a road block that you can avoid in a preventative way. SuperBetter presents these obstacles and negative behavior as a battle that you can either celebrate a win against or admit defeat to, and these battle outcomes get logged to your Activity Wall so that they become a track record for you to look back on and learn from.

Bad Guys is the really customizable section that doesn’t come easy at first but will be most beneficial in the long run.

I’ve only been on it for about a week and a half, but it is a nice coping mechanism to make you feel better. You can tell the app developers intended it to be incorporated into a social media platform, or at least treated like one (the ability to like and comment on Activity Feed logs and add friends or ‘allies’ function is ever present) but personally I can’t see myself sharing the details of my depression with anyone in this way. I don’t need updates on people’s every meal, so I don’t expect them to celebrate me hugging myself to feel better.

My only other complaint is that there’s no notification option, I would really like a reminder to log what I did that day and see how my day stacked up against yesterday or last week. I don’t work and I still keep forgetting the app is there, and it’s only after I’ve scrolled through Reddit a few too many times that, out of boredom, I look at my other apps and realize I haven’t been on it that day.

Other than that, I think this is a really good tool to help manage depression specifically, and it serves as a useful guideline to self-care that is still flexible and customizable to allow for the user’s specific self-care methods. You find that watering your plants is beneficial? Add it as a power up. Is there a routine your therapist has suggested to help you feel better by making a list? Add it as a recurring quest. Do you see that procrastinating folding the laundry results in a down-tick in your mood? Make it a new Bad Guy.

Try it out, let me know what you think.

Sunshine and Daisies… or maybe just SAD

I’ve been seeing things all over my social media feeds that relate to SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it reminded me that spring is finally on the horizon in Calgary and everywhere else at that latitude. I guess being somewhere where the temperature generally doesn’t get close to freezing even in the winter has allowed me to forget that it is, in fact, April and that people back home are experiencing the last few days of snow and sub-zero temperatures. To be completely honest I’m sitting on my back patio writing this and considering going inside only because the mosquitoes are already showing up to suckle my apparently delicious blood.

As I’m sure you can imagine, the warmer climate and much longer growing season have been one of the more favorable things about moving so far away from my support network, but all these posts about the sun finally being out and the temperature being warm enough to go out and enjoy the sun on bare skin have made me question whether I actually missed the sun or not.

Back in Calgary I saw an acupuncturist for a few months in a bid to try and lessen my anxiety, and while I found acupuncture relaxing I found it was actually the advice of my acupuncturist that truly made the whole experience beneficial to my anxiety treatment. She advised me that doctors in Alberta used to test their patients for vitamin D deficiencies whenever they sent said patients for blood work – usually for their annual physical or check up for another unrelated ailment. They started finding that almost everyone in Alberta was vitamin D deficient simply because the majority of the year the weather would not allow for bare skin sun exposure. It makes sense – you’re cold but you still have to go outside, so you put on a long sleeved shirt or a coat and make sure most of your skin is covered.

All of this made sense to me, and I even tried taking vitamin D supplements. I didn’t notice a difference but I was also on an anti-depressant at the time, but now I’m wondering, could they be beneficial to me now, even though I’m in super warm and usually quite sunny Texas?

I did some reading on vitamin D deficiency and its effects are very unpleasant. Many people report lethargy and aching in their bones, but eventually the effects compound and you can start losing bone density and start experiencing hair loss and – you guessed it – depression. One doctor in Austin started testing all his patients just like the doctors in Alberta used to do and he estimated that about 70% of his patients were deficient, but he credited it to more people working in office settings and the increased awareness of the benefits of sunscreen in everyday life.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s page on Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are multiple factors that can have an impact on your mood including which season tends to affect you, but the incidences of Spring- or Summer-induced SAD are by far much lower than Winter and Fall. The other interesting thing I learned was that the occurrence of SAD goes up the further away from the equator you get, so I thought there could be no way I was better off in Calgary than in Texas for that reason alone. I thought to myself, ‘Just go outside and experience the sunlight (UVB rays between 11 am and 4 pm are most recommended) and that will help your mood’.

I’m not sure exactly how to explain this next part, because I feel my mood has been better for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons is that I’ve been getting outside for at least 30 minutes per day without sunscreen. That last stipulation is key here, and for anyone who’s met me or seen my pictures, you’ll know that I’m part red-head and that part of me burns at the slightest touch of sun, so being outside without sunscreen is a really touch-and-go tightrope walk for me (sorry Mom). That being said, sunscreen filters out the UVA and UVB rays, and the UVB rays contain all the vitamin D you need, so I’ve been leaving it off.

Long story short, I can’t tell if it’s the sunshine or just simply being outside that has helped my mood and my depression, but my yard is looking nicer every day because of all the weeding I’ve been doing in the sunshine so no one’s complaining – least of all, me.

Weighted Blankets for Mental Health — The Psych Talk

Okay, so bit of a new thing coming at you.

I’ve been reading through some of the blogs similar to mine on WordPress and I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned my weighted blanket. The blog The Psych Talk talks about the effects of various things on mental health – everything from items like the weighted blanket, to treatments like massage and relaxation spa treatments and even medications, like Citalopram. It is a really good read for everyone, not just those who suffer from mental health issues, because it can offer great insight. It’s a very factual blog and goes more into the scientific side of things as opposed to my more anecdotal and experiential way of explaining anxiety and depression.

A weighted blanket is a blanket filled with hypoallergenic, non-toxic polypropylene pellets. The pellets are sewn into self-contained small pockets that are evenly distributed throughout the blanket. These pellets give the blanket its weight, which should generally be around 10 percent of the user’s body weight, give or take a few pounds depending on the […]

Weighted Blankets for Mental Health — The Psych Talk

With the scientific side of the blanket out of the way, let me explain my take on it.

In a word, I love it. I need it. It is the one single best purchase I’ve made that has had the greatest effect on my mental health, and I cannot recommend it more.

I bought mine almost a year ago when I was living in Canada still, so I bought mine from Gravid after much research on materials and the best company to deal with. At the time I weighed around 175 lbs so I bought the 15 lb blanket as the next size up was 20 lb, which I think would have been overwhelmingly heavy. Taxes and shipping included I paid just over $250 – and I was nervous.

My job’s medical benefits included a health spending account that was a fund to cover medical expenses not included on the regular health plan. Unfortunately the benefits company didn’t deem a weighted blanket a proper ‘medical’ expense and didn’t reimburse me for the cost, which was a disappointment.

Once it arrived, though… let me tell you. I opened it and sat underneath it and I was instantly transported to cozy-land.

Between the soft, plush cover and the feeling of the weight surrounding me I felt more relaxed within minutes. I sleep better when I put it on top of my normal blankets on my bed, but it can get really warm at night and then I end up waking up sweaty throughout the night or I kick the blanket off.

The big thing about sleeping with it though, is that I don’t experience nearly as many sleep panic attacks. Without it, I will wake up as if I just had a bad dream, and even though I know I’m awake the anxiety won’t end with the dream. I won’t know why I’m panicked, but my heart rate is high and it feels like there’s someone standing on my chest because I can’t get in a full breath. They suck, and without the blanket I will experience two or three of these sleep panic attacks a week. With it? Maybe one a week, usually because I kicked it off or there are other circumstances causing me anxiety during the day.

I know it’s expensive, and if it didn’t help I probably would have sent my $250 blanket back to Gravid if it didn’t make a noticeable difference. There is no way in hell I would pay anything close to $250 for a regular blanket, but this blanket is magical.

Furry (or Not) Friends

Like everyone else, I love myself a good binge-session on Netflix and my latest favorite is Border Security. It’s easy to put on in the background while I do laundry or take care of things around the house, and one thing I’m seeing a lot more of (besides people lying about bringing food into the country) is having an emotional support animal board the plane with you.

I’ve seen this all over the internet recently whether it’s people who have gone through the process of getting their pet certified as a service animal or just emotionally leaning on their pet when they need comfort, and I often think that many people abuse the term ‘emotional support animal’ – just because you find your pet’s love and affection comforting doesn’t mean you can take that animal everywhere and circumvent rules.

That being said, when we moved down to Texas we were faced with a small problem. Well, two small problems – our two guinea pigs. Turns out most, if not all airlines will not allow guinea pigs into their cabin due to a lack of vaccination records (the records aren’t there because no such vaccines exist for guinea pigs). After many half-joking conversations about declaring the pigs our ‘emotional support rodents’ we eventually settled on driving down with Roxy and Boo sprawled very happily across the backseat.

Cam making sure the spoiled rodents were comfortable in the hotel room on the way down to Texas.

The option existed to give them away to a classroom of students or a friend, but the thought of losing my furry friends was unthinkable. Why, though? They’re $30 rodent pets, found in every pet store.

It led me to think about why I find dog walking so beneficial, because my mood is immeasurably better after I volunteer with the dog shelter. My conclusion was that dogs (and all pets) don’t have negative opinions on people for their issues; pets don’t inherently dislike or judge someone by anything other than their actions, so the social anxiety aspect is instantly evaporated around animals.

We weren’t able to get dogs in our previous homes and I’m allergic to cats so we settled on guinea pigs.

Every time I was feeling down, Cam would go get one of the pigs and settle her on my lap, because if nothing else, forcing me to care for someone or something else even in the smallest way was enough to bring me out of my head. Plus, there’s something calming about seeing your pet nestled in your lap. If a neurotic prey animal like Roxy can be calm, I can too.

Spazz-erella (aka Roxy) is comfy and calm – you can be too!

A week ago yesterday Boo passed away. It was sudden and very unexpected, and I think a little part of me broke inside. Cam was away at work and I had to deal with my grief without him for a few days, which was honestly probably the best thing for me. My crutch for emotional support had just died, and my other crutch was 150 miles away and couldn’t comfort me… so I dealt with it. Making sure Roxy was okay was important and very distracting, because while I lost my beloved pet, she lost her bonded pair sister and her roommate and there was about to be a lot more change in her life than mine.

My sweet snuggle pig, Boo. We miss you, baby girl.

I’m obviously still very sad that Boo is no longer with us, but I’m feeling better every day. Like I said, the day to day changes for me aren’t all that noticeable, and luckily Roxy is handling it better than I expected she would. I still have her to care for and to receive comfort from in return. We may get another pig to keep Roxy company, and I’m not hopeful that she’ll be as snuggly or affectionate as Boo, but she won’t be for me – she’ll be for Roxy.

Caring for your pet is what I think offers the most relief from whatever plagues your mind. I’m sure someone has fish who you could say are comforting to their owners, because you can’t snuggle fish but having a routine of cleaning the cage and buying tank accessories could be your catharsis. People (my parents, actually) have made light-hearted fun of me for having conversations with my rodents – yeah, I’ll admit, it’s weird, but it’s my weird.

Sometimes I just gotta be weird to be okay.