Do What Makes You Happy

So simple and yet not so easy.

Why don’t we do more of what makes you happy and less of things that don’t?  Now I know what you’re thinking, someone has got to put food on the table and pay the bills, but I am proposing that one should not be exclusive of the other. In fact, I think they may actually be dependent on each other for a truly full life.

What if we were taught as children and young adults to explore the world around us with a sense of curiosity so that we can discover the things that bring us joy, or give us energy and feeds our soul? Why not encourage kids to be creative when thinking of their futures and not just what is likely to be a secure career choice?  I believe that one of the reasons that depression has been increasing at staggering rates is that we don’t know what makes us happy and we don’t make it a priority to find out.

I know when I was at the worst of my depression, I thought nothing I could do would make me happy.  Not to say I never had fun or had good days, but I didn’t feel like it was something within my control. However, now that I am past that phase, I think it is worthwhile to figure out what makes us feel good so we can do those things intentionally.  For example, if having a clean house feels good for you, make time to clean more, or recruit your family or hire someone to help.  If feeling strong and healthy is a good feeling for you, make time to eat well and exercise.   Sounds simple, but I know it is not always easy.

Most of us feel the need to be productive, useful, earning our way in the world. However, when we are coping with a mental health issue like depression, these goals can feel unattainable, or at least incredibly difficult. So we pour all our energy into survival and just trying to feel productive or useful again and that often means we have nothing left for all the things that make our lives enjoyable.  But when we don’t have time or energy to do anything that feels like an extra, trying to recover from a deep depression becomes even more difficult and hence the slippery slope to hopelessness begins.

When I hear myself making excuses not to do things that I know I would make me feel good because I’m too tired, or I too many other things to do, or it probably wouldn’t be that fun anyway… These excuses are a signal for me now, a warning sign that something needs to change so I don’t find myself slipping further down the slope.  Sometimes it is because I really am tired and I need to go to bed earlier. Other times it’s because I’ve let other peoples needs take priority over my own and I need to reorganize my time. Or maybe I need to see my doctor or therapist. The point is, by making time for things I enjoy,  I can actually prevent myself from sliding too far down and even get myself back on level ground.

This is not to say that even if you feel like you can’t see your way out that you never will. I remember feeling like everything was impossible and I had every excuse and valid reason why, but I also knew I didn’t want to settle for a life like that. So I kept looking for solutions and one of those was to make time for things that made me feel good. It was challenging at the beginning as I didn’t think anything would, so I took baby steps and I tried new things.

Now I make time to paint, to take horseback riding lessons, to travel, to eat dinner with my family and many other things that bring me joy and give me energy.  Ultimately I hope it will inspire my children to discover what makes them happy and to make sure they prioritize that because being productive is only a small part of living a full life.IMG_2845

 

Missed Appointments; A Side Effect of Anxiety

Guest post by Barbara Brocken.

Barbara and I met in person at the Walk For Women’s Mental Health and as we walked the 5km, she told me this story.  I could relate instantly and yet it is a situation I would not likely talk to my other friends or family about for fear of judgment (once again that stigma sneaks into my thoughts and tries to censor what I share).  But Barbara said she would be happy to share, so here is her story:

I decided about a month ago that I needed an image change I thought the best way to do that was some highlights and a haircut. I was gung-ho at that moment so I called a salon. I booked an appointment and felt great! Then the day came. Anxiety set in. 3 hours with people I don’t know. So I canceled. Damn. I wanted to look good! So a few days passed. I called another great salon and booked an appointment. Excited again. The day comes and I can’t bring myself to go. I call. Make a ridiculous excuse and back to square one! Week three. …. I book my third hair appointment at the original salon I love. Yet again e cited. Would love a change. I’m trying to get myself hyped up. Yet again I miss the appointment. This time so ashamed I don’t even call. So now I’m on week 4 of trying to get my hair done. I booked under a fake name because I want to go there and don’t want my no-show to affect my visit. Feeling anxious. Is there anyone else out there that feels this way?

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My Pet Peeve With Peer Support

This is a topic that has bugged me for years. At first, I thought it was just because I didn’t have a positive experience trying to get support from a ‘peer’ who was trained to be a peer support person. But my pet peeve is much bigger than that. It is when peer support is offered or suggested instead of treatment. Whereas I believe it has a place in addition to treatment.  I will try and explain my rationale in the following video. As always, I would love to hear what your experience with peer support.

Why We Still Need to Raise Awareness About Anxiety

This is a true story about how easy it is to overlook anxiety as a serious health issue.
While sitting at my desk, typing away on some project when my colleague noticed that I was shaking my hand, then my whole arm. She asked why but I didn’t know I was doing it. Then it felt it was tingly and weird. A few minutes later I realized I had a bad headache and my fingers were almost numb.
It was a long afternoon and I eventually found myself going to the ER (my colleague thought it could be a stroke). I sat there for hours being watched, poked at, asked question after question, and eventually sent home with Tylenol for the headache. Not one person mentioned anxiety that whole day. All kinds of other possibilities were discussed and then ruled out. But now that I’ve done my own research, years after this first episode, I know tingling in the extremities is a relatively common symptom of severe anxiety. No one asked how I was feeling other than these unusual symptoms, not even my family doctor when I went for a follow-up. It took another two years from that day while having changed doctors, to be properly assessed and treated for generalized anxiety.
But a lot of additional stress and other episodes like this one could have been avoided if the right questions were asked that day. If anxiety was known by the medical professionals I saw to cause very real physical symptoms as I was having, it could have been discussed as a possibility.
This is why we still need to raise awareness about the seriousness of mental health issues and how they can affect the whole person.

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Mental Health Week -Days 3 & 4

Do you ever feel like your emotions are so near the surface of your skin that they might start oozing out your pours? Or do you feel like you may actually drown in the tsunami of tears that will come if you let myself cry?  Or you feel you may explode if you don’t find a release valve to let off some of the pressure that is building inside?  These are all ways I’ve described my depression and I’ve often felt ridiculous for using these words. Because I know emotions don’t ooze and no amount of crying will cause a tsunami, but the usual words to describe depression are so overused that they don’t adequately describe my darkest moments.

Maybe it’s time we have new ways to describe the huge spectrum of human emotions. So that when someone is sad because they lost their cat it is not the same ‘sadness’ as someone struggling with a major depression.

In honor of Mental Health Week and the theme of #GetLoud, I’ve been thinking about how we describe our feelings. Do we even have words to adequately describe our experience?  Do we need to create new terms?

Just something to think about. IMG_0905

Mental Health Week -Day 2

Selfies are hard for me. I usually feel terribly uncomfortable doing them, then even more uncomfortable sharing them. It is all the things that make me most anxious about social media summed up in a little picture.  I worry about people seeing me because I wonder what they are seeing and thinking (and yes, judging).

But it’s not only with pictures. When I walk by mirrors in public spaces I get a little lump in my throat if I see my reflection (which I try to avoid by hurrying by). Because I often don’t even recognize the person looking back.  I have a picture in my head of what I look like, and it is definitely not what I see in the reflection.

But as I am challenging the shame and secrecy around mental health, what we think of ourselves, our bodies and minds, I feel the need to explore these fears too.  So I am taking part in a 14-day Visibility Challenge with the Biz Studio and my goal is to get more comfortable with being seen and letting go of the fear of whatever people may be thinking of me.  Ideally, I hope to like what I see.

Because as I learn more about the power of social media and the positive connections that can be made online, I recognize the need for people to see me, just as I am, selfies included.  I would love to know how you feel about selfies. Do you take them? Share them? Do you like to see other peoples selfies?

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This is me in my sewing room, with some of my favorite things.

Mental Health Week -Day 1

I had big plans for promoting Mental Health Week, but then today happened. Nothing horrible happened, but I woke up with a terrible headache and a very heavy heart and I just couldn’t get my act together. So here it is, almost my bedtime, and I am frustrated with myself for not following through on my plans to help raise awareness for mental health.

However, it was suggested to me recently that I should be more compassionate towards myself.  What a simple concept; just be nice to yourself. But it really isn’t simple to do, at least not for me.  I find myself having a one-sided internal battle where I beat myself up and yet can’t defend myself.  So I will try to be gentler, try to be ok with the fact that not all days are ‘productive’ days in the ways I had envisioned.

So this is isn’t what I planned, or hoped to do. But it is all I can do today and I’m going to be happy with that.  #mentalhealthweek

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Mental Health; A Whole Body Experience

Just like depression is so much more than feeling sad, our mental health affects so much more than our mind. Sometimes I feel like it every movement requires superhuman strength; like I’m moving through pea soup and not just air.  Sometimes I am not able to coordinate my limbs and find myself tripping over nothing. Sometimes there is a disconnect between my brain and my mouth, so what I say is not always what I intended, or what I hear is not what has been said.  So although it all stems from my mind, my whole body is affected.

This morning, while at my weekly riding lesson this became very evident to me.  While I was riding, I could not stay in proper position, when I tried to fix one issue, another one would immediately appear.  In the past, I would probably have thought I’m just not a good rider and I’ll never get better.  But today, after leaving the barn, I could see the connection to my mood. The last few months have been really challenging for me. With my mom passing away in February, and my uncle in March, and today my daughter left for France.  Although I am excited for her to have this opportunity, it does bring up a lot of my own anxiety issues.  Being close to my kids has always been very grounding for me, and knowing they are growing up is something that I struggle with (even though I am so proud of them and their independence).  All of this combined has left me feeling drained this week.

So today, my horse probably felt that my mind was all over the place, as were my limbs, luckily he is always very patient with me, I just need to be more patient with myself. IMG_0860

Possibility Versus Probability

The default setting for the human brain is usually set to imagining the worst case scenario.  For people with anxiety, this can be debilitating.  Our brains play tricks on us by providing an overload of options of horrible things that could happen, and it is not a simple switch; ‘to worry’ or ‘not to worry’ (that is a whole other topic for another day).  There is a very real grey zone for people like me who are optimists at heart, but when our anxiety is acute, the optimism can eventually get over-ridden by the fear.

My therapist recently suggested I try looking at things differently. What if I examined the worry, aka the worst case scenario and questioned it not only for being possible, which is a common suggestion, but rather I should also ask, how probable is it?   When I only ask myself if it is possible, the answer is almost always yes. It is possible I will fall down the stairs and hurt myself, however, considering the hundreds of thousands of times I’ve gone downstairs,  it is not very probable.  So I can feel safe to keep using the stairs.  Similarly, it is possible to witness a terrorist attack in your hometown, however, it is still, thankfully, highly unlikely.

I find this is so much more helpful than trying to ignore the thought, which is like trying to hold a ball underwater; it’s bound to pop up at any moment. So perhaps next time your worrying about something, acknowledge the worst case scenario, then ask yourself if it is possible, and if the answer is yes, ask how probable is it.  You may find yourself feeling a little bit more optimistic once again.

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Anxiety Can Be Really Shitty!

If you are eating or feeling squeamish, you may not want to read this now.  Anxiety sucks for many reasons, but one of them is that it can give you the runs.  Yup, I’m talking about diarrhea.  It is one of those subjects that no one wants to talk about and yet we all do it.  And for those of us with anxiety issues, it can be really debilitating.  It is one of those chicken or the egg scenarios: I’m nervous so I get diarrhea or I have diarrhea and that makes me nervous. Either way, it’s a real problem.  And even for people who have specific medical reasons that cause issues with their bowels,  the stress (or shame and embarrassment of it) can also cause them severe anxiety.

There are very few people that I have talked to about their anxiety that have not also confided that they have days with frequent trips to the bathroom and have an emergency stash of Immodium on them at all times.

So why do I choose to write about it? It’s simple, if we are going to eliminate the shame and secrecy of mental health issues, we have to talk about the symptoms.  There’s nothing worse than intense stomach cramps and need to find a bathroom asap when you’re at the grocery store with your kids. Or when you’re trying leave for work to make it in time for that early meeting, but you can’t even leave your own bathroom. It’s simply not something that you can pretend is not happening, or ‘push through it’ like you might do with other symptoms.

Even those times when I’m getting ready to get out to an event that I am really looking forward to, I often find myself running back to the bathroom one more time (and maybe one more time) before leaving the house.   I have also felt incredible guilt while my family is all ready to leave for a special day out and I have to cancel because I’m not up to it (I’m not sick, I just can’t trust my bowels to cooperate with my desire to out).

Unfortunately, I have no solutions.  Good eating habits, learning to manage our stress levels and practicing positive coping strategies for our anxiety can help alleviate the problem, but I don’t know of a cure.   My hope is that by talking about it, we may feel less embarrassed the next time we have to explain to a friend why we’re running late, or our desire to know where the closest washroom at any new place (or why we have a stash of Immodium in the secret pocket of my purse).

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