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.

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.

It’s the end of the world as I know it – how do I feel?

Moving across the continent (and into another country) has been hard on me, but for my mom it’s been a whole other ballgame. She deals with anxiety just like I do, and sometimes I think she blames herself for how I am. Based on her personality I really believe she is a very high-functioning ball of anxiety – not because that’s the nature of her anxiety but because like me, she deals with anxiety by keeping busy, like a coping method, and she does so with gumption. She is by far one of the busiest people I know, and in her defense her anxiety hasn’t turned into depression like mine so maybe there’s something to keeping busy.

Regardless of her management of her anxiety, she was very concerned about my move (in the truest ‘Mom’ sense – my baby is 2000 miles away!) as well as how the move and lack of a job would impact my struggle with my anxiety and therefore my depression. I’ve often wondered how similar my experience with this has been to someone who has recently retired after three decades of being a slave to their career and going from go-go-go to… nothing. When my mom and I were chatting yesterday, she again brought up the same question that she brings up every time we chat – “Have you found a purpose yet?” It sounded like something you’d ask a recently retired person, which I suppose I technically am.

I brushed it off as usual, mostly because I don’t know how to answer it. I questioned it briefly internally a bit later in the day but how do you answer that question in the moment?

“Yes, I have one definitive purpose”?

“No, I have a lot of things to do but I’m only 50% invested in them all”?

“I don’t know; I guess so”?

Our conversation ended (about 2 hours later because you know how a 28-year-old daughter and her mom can get on the phone) and later on I was scrolling through Twitter because I, like most other millennials, tend to get my news from Twitter and Reddit, and I came across a post that hit me like a slap to the face.

Just try and tell me my phone isn’t listening to my conversations…

Of the seven offered ways to find meaning, the majority were not something I hadn’t considered before. It’s pretty standard stuff, specifically ‘develop relationships’ and ‘create something’. I know that I feel best when I’ve gone out to be around friends or volunteer, and my artwork, cooking and tending to plants are all manifestations of ‘creating something’ but the bottom left one caught my eye.

Accept the Worst.

I’ve seen a few therapists in my path to ‘feeling better’ (wow, I hate that term, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t accurate) and a few have mentioned going to a happy place or thinking positive thoughts when you feel anxious – basically, try to reverse the negative downward spiral.

But… what happens if you go full speed ahead into the anxiety? Turn it around and make yourself experience the negative path on your terms instead of letting the anxiety pull you down there. You’re afraid your car might get broken into – okay, let’s assume it happens. You can’t prevent it, so that’s out at this point. The window will probably get broken, some of the things you keep in your car might get stolen. Worst case scenario they might steal the car itself.

Ok, that’s awful, but what do you do?

Probably call the police, file a report and maybe it ends up with you getting the car back, maybe not. Let’s go ahead and assume the worst, you’re not getting your car back. You call your insurance company and go down that road. Even if you aren’t covered, you are now just going to have to Uber back and forth instead of driving to work and yes, this will all suck – but you’re okay. You will survive.

If you accept the worst and go through the steps of the worst case scenario while asking yourself ultimatum questions (Is this really the end of the world? Can you come back from this? Will this matter less and less as time goes on?) you’ve effectively driven straight into the eye of the storm, and stopped it in its tracks.

This is all a theory, I have yet to actually try it but to me it seems like a refreshing take on anxiety attacks and generalized anxiety about some things. Sometimes I develop anxieties about things that are truly terrible, like my husband getting injured on the worksite and not making it home – those anxieties probably wouldn’t be the best time to apply this because yes, sometimes the event could be the end of your world, and delving into the anxiety head on is a way to escalate the anxiety and make it ten times worse.

Here’s to hoping I can tell the difference.

*It is worth noting that I did download the app featured in that Twitter post, it was rated 4.6/5 on the Google Play store, so I plan on trying it out for a few days. If I remember to use it, I will definitely give my thoughts on the app in my next blog post.

Teetering on the Edge

Today I’m experiencing a weird feeling that I know all too well, so it’s weird but not unfamiliar.

I’m on the edge. It’s just after noon my time but this day could go either way. I could spiral out and end up being an anti-social mess. Nothing can get done and I could end up going to bed early and sleeping 12 hours (or waking up multiple times and ending up more tired than before).

Or maybe… I can turn this around. I could get off my butt and weed the garden while listening to podcasts, I can cook an actual meal (and clean up the kitchen after!) and go out with some friends because, after all, it’s Saturday night, and it’s a warm night out.

I’m never really sure how to make it go the good way and therein lies the problem. I have ways of making sure I prevent myself from slipping lower, but that’s for when I’m already in a downward spiral and that’s not where I am.

Maybe if I do one thing right today, that will be enough?

We’ll see – it can depend on the day. Maybe I slept funny?

Where it all began.

“I have been a lot more distressed about [things] before, but part of me wonders if I’m just too jaded and tired to care.” — My journal, March 29, 2018

This was one of my first journal entries on Penzu (which I highly recommend, by the way) and I really feel it sums up the majority if not all of my “bad” anxiety and depression days. I recognized that things had been worse in my life and I’ve felt worse about my situation, and yet somehow I still felt anxious and apathetic at the same time.

On March 29, 2018 I thought things were just the status quo for me – sadly, this wasn’t a one-off feeling – but my journal entry a few days later, on March 31, described my first anxiety attack in years.

“I was feeling anxious again, as I had been all weekend, but it got to the point where nothing could distract me, and I was dashing between not wanting to do anything and wanting to do anything because it’s a distraction. I tried everything that usually works – I tried coloring, watching documentaries or Suits or movies, playing games on my phone, anything. I did a bit of purging and cleaning but I’m still so weak from this parasite that I couldn’t really physically move anything that was significant. Then I tried vacuuming and the vacuum wasn’t working properly so I gave up on that… Then Cam noticed I’d been sitting in the same spot for a long time, and asked what was up with me, what’s wrong.

I didn’t know what to tell him, so I said nothing. Technically, nothing was bothering me, at least not something I could put my finger on.

Then the panic attack started. I couldn’t get out of my head, and every time I stood up I would get dizzy and sick-feeling, so I would sit back down, but all I wanted to do was to move. Move my body, get some energy out, but it wasn’t working. Cam came around the corner from the kitchen and started getting freaked out because I was all sweaty and couldn’t stop fidgeting… I felt terrible, but instead of showing compassion he just seemed to get more frustrated. I wanted to go for a walk but then the next second I wouldn’t want to, so he suggested a bath but that is the LAST thing I need – get naked and wait for a tub to fill, and then sit still? Forget it.”

Reading that journal entry now, almost a year later, it upsets me.

How could it not?

The big thing that I take from this is that it passes. I felt better, and I saw my doctor. I ended up coming home with an emergency prescription slip for Citalopram if I felt I needed to go back on and a bottle of 30 Lorazepam for what I referred to as my “inevitable slipback”. My doctor was much more optimistic and called the Lorazepam a “contingency plan” because he believes in me more than I do in myself when I’m in that state, but he’s right.

I ended up throwing the Citalopram script out a few months later, because it expired without me having even glanced at it. It’s the small wins.