Wednesday Wishes: Number Twenty-Two

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Twenty-Two: I wish you how phrases like “you’re crazy” “he must be insane” “I’m going to end up in the pysch ward” make me feel. This is actually a very personal one. I feel like each consumer will have different words that bother them and some they actually laugh about and find funny. For example, the only one that really makes me uncomfortable is joking about a “pysch ward” because having to be taken to one unwillingly was a fear of mine for a long time and it increases stigma about needing to go to an inpatient treatment center.  Most of the other stuff, I joke about myself. So start the conversation, find out what bothers them and what they can joke about.  Here’s a picture below to get the conversation going.  Funny or offensive?

 

Funny? Or Offensive?

Funny? Or Offensive?

 

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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When the Stressful Situation Occurs…..

In a recent post I discussed ways to prepare for a stressful situation. Unfortunately, as much as we wish it would, all the preparation in the world does not always prevent the situation from occurring. While stressful situations cause anxiety for everyone, for those of us with an anxiety disorder, the situations can be especially intense. For us, when the situation kicks our body into the “flight or flee” mode—our brain takes off. Meaning, our brains over estimate the danger or don’t realize when the danger passes, taking us into a higher state of intensity for a longer period of time. I think this just means I don’t do things half way right? : )

Part of therapy and treatment is training your brain to realize that the “lion” you think walked into the room, is actually that crazy kid from next door dressed up in a costume. Then realize you can relax because the danger has passed.  There’s several of techniques you can use to help your body relax, but one tool involves changing some of your thoughts. It can be crazy hard to think of the “right” things to say to yourself in a stressful situation. If your brain is anything like mine is basically running around screaming “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

So for moments like that, here is the second part of the worksheet I shared in “Preparing for Stressful Situations”. Post these affirmations somewhere you can see them during the stressful situation.

  1. I can deal with this stressor as a challenge
  2. I don’t have to become overwhelmed. I can deal with the situation one step at a time.
  3. Take a deep breath and relax.
  4. Don’t think about being upset. Focus on what I have to do.
  5. Being tense is not bad, it is a cue that I need to do something.
  6. If one strategy doesn’t work I can switch to another.
  7. Remember, I will get through this.

Now, you might choose to be discreet where you post these—for example, on your boss’s door (even if they are the cause of your stress!) is not the best idea!  But I hope they help.

Anyone else have some good positive affirmations to get you through a stressful situation?

Hope these statements either prevent you from going crazy or bring you back soon!

Hope these statements either prevent you from going crazy or bring you back soon!

BREAKING NEWS!!!!!! A Benefit of Mental Illness Uncovered

I tend to think of mental illness as that ugly sweater you get from your great aunt at Christmas. You know what I’m talking about, the itchy wool one that doesn’t come with a gift receipt. Yet, there is a good thing or two about the gift—your aunt was thinking about you and in the case of being robbed, you’re guaranteed to have at least one article of clothing left!

So recently I’ve been looking to identify and appreciate aspects of my personality and life that are positively affected by my mental illness. One of the first things to come to mind is my natural tendency toward empathy.

I teach a class of K-2nd graders at church on Wednesday nights and they are AWESOME.  There’s nothing better than playing freeze tag with a bunch of munchkins to remind you of the good in life. After getting pushed down last Wednesday, a little boy came up to me crying and told me, “My elbow needs some love”.  How can anyone resist that?  I clearly couldn’t. So I let him curl up in my lap till it felt better.  Nobody can resist giving love and sympathy in a situation like that.

But what about other situations? Like say if an adult told you their elbow needed some love?

During a party my parents hosted for my dad’s college students, a girl was complaining to my mom about a high level of school stress. My mom looked at her and goes, “Yeah, go complain to Tabitha. She’s way better at the sympathy than I am.” So she came to me, vented a while. I did what I do and at the end she goes “Wow—you are good at this”.

While this is a minor example, I feel like I can be a comfort in more serious situations as well. While I cannot say, I “know how you feel” to everyone I comfort, I can say I understand pain. From my depression I understand hopelessness and despair. From my anxiety I understand fear and worry. From my bipolar I understand irritability and mood swings. And those feelings are never too far removed that I forget how painful they can be.

I like that about myself. I like that I can offer comfort and support to a wide variety of people. So while it might suck to have such intense emotions, in those times of comforting others I can honestly say I’m glad I have experienced them.

I write this to thank you all as well. This is a quality that is so pervasive in the mental health blogging community. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been uplifted by a reader’s comments. Or how many times I’ve read about a blogger struggling, just to see them give hope and encouragement on a fellow blogger’s site. You all are amazing!  Love and appreciate that about yourselves alright?!

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Preparing for Stressful Situations

Screenshot_2012-12-03-23-19-2

 

 

My friend recently texted me this picture and I literally laughed out loud.  People at work would have looked at me strangely, except they are used to me being doing weird things. It was fitting in her life at the time as she was coming up on final class papers and assignments…always stressful!  But it is also perfect for me right now. I’m under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress at work right now—and it is only going to get worse for the next three weeks.  Just like that wave, I can see it coming.  So the question then becomes—how do you prepare!?

Here is a great tool that I learned in therapy—a list of questions to ask and answer BEFORE the stressful event occurs (with a few random self-affirmations thrown in there). Then post the questions and your answers in a place you can see them as the event is taking place.  If your mind is overwhelmed and freaking out, like mine is right now, it’s probably a good idea to have someone you trust work through this with you.

Self-Statements for Coping With Stress:

  1. What is it that I have to do?
  2. I can develop a plan to deal with this. (Form a plan or mental outline)
  3. Just think about what I have to do, not anything else. (Focus on the needs of the task at hand)
  4. Think of things that I can use to help cope. (Review the strategies that you know can be of help)
  5. The situation is not impossible—I can handle this.
  6. What’s the worst possible outcome? Can I live with that?
  7. Remember: I can shift my attention and control my reactions.

I’ve found this to be very helpful. It breaks the situation down into parts, and gives your mind a grounding point when it starts to stray.  So instead of waiting for that wave to crash over you, think of this tool as your surfboard to ride it!

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Dad…Pilot…USAF Col…Medication Nazi….

It takes all types of people to make a successful support team. I think I have mentioned before that my dad is a retired Air Force colonel. So as you can imagine he is not the “emotional breakdown” support team member. However, I am incredibly thankful to have in my life because he is the person I would credit most with my medication compliance.

His favorite costume...guess you can see where I got my weird side of my personality!

His favorite costume…guess you can see where I got my weird side of my personality!

I’ll never forget the first day of my first mental illness medication. I had been refusing each time my mom had tried to get me to take it for several hours. So later that night, I had some friends over and went out to the garage to get an “adult beverage”. I grabbed the drink and turned back around to head back inside and BAM! ran smack into my dad…..holing (drum roll now) the dreaded box of pills. Guess that military trains g wasn’t for nothing because after stealthily sneaking up on me he had strategically placed himself between me and the house. Using the element of surprise he removed the drink from my hand. Well Damn. Looking around and realizing there was no way out I used my next weapon, confusion.

Nicole: [wide eyed and innocent] Hi daddy! What are you doing? Would you like a Miller Lite–here let me get you one.
Dad: [hold out single, deception-ally harmless, white pill] I’m not letting you back inside till you take it.
Nicole: [Plant feet, lift chin]
Dad:  You’re friends are going to wonder what took you so long.

And checkmate…well played dad, well played.

And so, I took my first lexapro with a raspberry flavored Smirnoff   Not exactly what the doctor recommended  but it did the trick.

Resistance to medication is so common, and we fight it for so many individual reasons. The largest feeling I remember preventing me from taking it was fear. I was terrified what it was going to do. If it could affect my brain and my emotions positively….it could be just as negative.  I had heard the horror stories about what anti-depressants can do! I spent the first couple of weeks obsessing about it forever altering my brain and me going crazier than I already was. Symptoms of anxiety include catastrophic and obsessive thinking–I sure applied that to my medication!

I’m not going to lie and say those thoughts don’t still plague me from time to time. There are mornings when I stare at my medication for a few minutes trying to remind myself that it’s suppose to help me. There are times where random thoughts of it sabotaging my brain pop into my mind. And it has been a factor in a few of my medication “protests” (Like “hunger protests”…but with medication).

If you have the same problem, or are the medication Nazi on a support team, here are a few things that Rick did to help me manage this fear.

  1. Identify the truth: Specifically address the fears with your doctor. I trust my psychiatrist and I have specific memories of her describing numerous studies that show no long term effects. Have your team provide you with these studies….leading to my next point.
  2. AVOID THE INTERNET and even some books/magazines: The horror stories are out there–you HAVE to avoid them. I have never researched a new medication. I trust my sister and my mom to do that. No way would I take any medications if I read some of the scary stuff out there.
  3. Journal: Track how the medication makes you feel–that way you’ll be confident that if it’s “destroying your brain” you’ll notice. And if it’s helping, then you can see that too!

I’m so lucky to have such a wide variety of people on my support team–I owe a significant amount to my dad getting me to take that medication.  I hate to admit it, but it does make a huge difference in my life. and like in everything in his life, my dad illustrated the three core values of the Air Force.

  • Integrity first: While the blackmail and threats were questionable, he didn’t sneak it in my food!
  • Service before Self: Made me take it BEFORE getting himself a beer…clearly a sacrifice
  • Excellence in all you do: He succeeded right?

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Wednesday Wishes: Number Twenty-One

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Twenty-One: I wish you would stop deciding to “try and see if you really need your medicine”.  You do. Life is better for everyone when you take it.

Love, Sidney (and I’m sure other members of my support team)

[First “Wednesday Wish” from the support team viewpoint!]

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder

While I was home for Thanksgiving my parents, who are faithful followers of my blog, asked why I have not posted recently. I gave the standard, easy answer “I’ve just been really busy and stressed out”.  While true (I learned at an early age that lying to mom and dad can only end badly…very badly), after some self-reflection this afternoon I realized there was more to it.

An awesome blogger over at Purple Dreamer helped me uncover the other part of this equation. I was reading through the “rules” of a blog nomination she gave me (more on that later) when I came across a series of questions I was suppose to answer. The first question is “Why do you blog?” That’s spelled out pretty clearly on the purpose of my blog, “providing hope, insight, and awareness for life with mental illness”.  But that is the mission of many amazing bloggers and writers already, so why do I think I have something to add? For me, I try to address a specific audience by to bringing life and emotion to the more tangible facts, knowledge, and coping techniques by being vulnerable and open about my life and struggles…..

And the “AH HA” moment.  No, not the new facts or knowledge, I’ve actually listening to a lot of podcasts recently. The problem is the vulnerability.  See I haven’t really been doing all that well recently. I am not the worse I’ve ever been, if I was I would have been forced to stop and deal with it. Since I’m only kinda bad, I’ve decided it was just easier to ignore the darkness that was going on inside.

I’m ashamed to admit I am a Hunger Games addict.  How can you not have a crush on a small crush on a gorgeous buff blue-eyed baker? But I digress, during the rebellion one character says, “It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”  This is what I’ve been doing recently—I don’t feel like I have time to fall apart, I am completely overwhelmed with work and my job. So instead of putting forth the effort needed to address what’s going on, I’ve done just enough to hold myself together.

Let’s pretend Sidney brings me home a vase filled with flowers. As I’m arranging it on the table it slips from my hand (believable right?) and a small crack appears.  I have three options:  a) ignore it, b) slap some tape on it, or c) examine the break, find the right glue to fix it, hold it to the glue dries. Then rearrange the flowers back in the vase. Since I’m running around like crazy right now—I’d likely put the tape on it (especially if I could find some pink duct tape laying around!).

I know you think you know where I’m going with this—if you ignore something too long it will eventually break….true. But I want to focus on another side of it.

Duct tape and visible cracks are not pretty to look at, and don’t allow the vase to function at its full potential.  Water is likely leaking down and dripping through the cracks.  So while I’ve been cruising along in my life, throwing duck tape on the anxious or depressed thoughts, I’ve impaired my ability to reach my potential.  I’m not happy right now. I’m just existing. I make a “to-do” list at the beginning of the day, work on accomplishing it, go to bed, wash rinse repeat. And since I never stop to be open, to be vulnerable, and introspective, I have not identified and dealt with the garbage of thoughts going on in my head, impeding my life.

I justify it by saying Oh I’m too busy to do my thought journals, I’m too busy to meditate, I’m too busy to identify cognitive errors. And I’m certainly too busy to deal with anything I might find during the process. When it should really be, I’m too busy NOT to identify what’s going on in my head. I’m too busy NOT to be using my brain at its full potential.

I think everyone’s brain collects garbage and false thoughts throughout the day/week/etc. but I think those of us with a mental illness collect more of them, in a faster period of time, and store them more deeply. While many people can drop these thoughts during coffee with a friend, a hard work out, a phone chat—those of us with mental illness require a bit more work to stop the party going on. Our brains have lots of confusing dark crevices, wrong turns, and trap doors for the thoughts to hide behind.  So if I’m going to be successfully living with a mental illness, I’m going to need to remember to clean out the junk drawer that is my brain.  I need to commit to writing my blog, journaling, going to therapy, talking to my support team—even when that means I might drop an hour of work, miss out on a social event, order pizza two nights in one week…

I must remember that I deserve to be healthy and happy—not just existing. And being mindful of my thoughts and emotions is a huge part of that.

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I wish I were….

I wish I were calm…
                then my head and shoulders could relax.

I wish I were happy…
                then I could smile more.

I wish I were stronger…
                then I could manage my emotions.

I wish I were confident…
                then I could believe I am pretty.

I wish I were whole…
                then my brain wouldn’t be broken.

I want to make my wishes come true

 I wish she were more open…
               then I could hold her till she relaxed.

I wish she were perceptive…
                then she would see how much I love her smile.

I wish she were aware…
                then she would know she’s the strongest person I know.

I wish she were trusting…
                then she would believe how beautiful I find her.

I wish she were assured…
                then she would see how beautiful her brokenness is.

I want to make her wishes come true.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” Jeremiah 31:3

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Wednesday Wishes: Number Twenty

Have you ever read one of those “Ten things your guy wished you knew” or “Ten things your mother-in-law would never tell you but thinks you should know” (though in many cases—unfortunately for you, there’s nothing your mother in law wouldn’t tell you). Well I wanted to create a lists of things that those of us who struggle with mental illness wished the rest of the world knew—and hopefully get insight from my support team about what they wish I knew!

Number Twenty: Following in line with Monday’s post….I wish I could express to you how I feel.

To help with that!  I’ve uploaded pictures of the feelings list I discussed!

Let me know–do these helps? Do any particular words resonate with you?

 

Disclaimer: Not all of these thought will reflect all people, in the same way not all “Ten things your guy wished you knew” would relate to my husband—some will not even relate to me. They are thoughts/concerns/opinions I’ve heard when talking with fellow adventurers along the journey that is mental illness.

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I feel scared…concerned….insecure…startled…restless…fearful…panicky….shaken…

As I’ve begun learning about my mental illness and how it affects my life, I’ve started to look back through journals I’ve written in the past.  It’s interesting to see what I wrote in a different light and to see how far I’ve come. Also, it’s pretty hilarious to read about my past crushes—glad I ended up with Sidney.

Another huge benefit for me is that it sheds a bit of light on one of the questions I identified my previous post. “Why do children not share the extreme of their emotions with adults?” One reason for me was an inability to express my emotions.  Two phrases I see over and over in my journals are “It feels so dark in my body” and “I am losing control of my mind”.

I was never able to describe that feeling better—but instead wrote it over and over. I knew I was feeling awful, but I didn’t know how to express it. I would tell my parents, “I’m stressed” or “I’m sad”.  Or I’d cry and scream but was not able to explain why I was doing it. Or I’d give a reason I was crying, but it did not convey the intensity of the feeling.

One friend of mine tells a story of sitting on her front porch crying uncontrollably before school. Her dad promised her she wouldn’t have to go if she would only tell him what was wrong.  But she couldn’t. All she could say was “I’m sad”.

In therapy one of the first skills Rick and I worked on was learning to identify my emotions. Rick claims this was to help me, but I’m pretty sure that he was bored listening to the same conversation.

Rick: “How are you today?”

Nicole: “Anxious”
Rick: “Anything else?”
Nicole: “Sad”

After about three weeks of that, Rick introduced me to my feelings list.  I have a sheet of 100 feeling words that I am can use to identify in various situations. There are 30 words alone that go under the “anxious” category.  If they would put these words on the GRE I’d knock that out of the water! Instead there’s words like noxious.

We teach kids to write descriptive paragraphs about scenery, explain how to perform mathematical operations, support a thesis with detailed evidence…yet do we teach them to identify feelings? I’m not even sure how we would start to do this—after all, many adults are not good at it.  But I think it would be a big step towards helping kids manage their emotions!

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