I feel like I’ve had nothing to say all week. I haven’t actually posted since last Tuesday, and that bothers me. Every time I’ve tried to brainstorm this week I’ve come up empty. The words I want to write just aren’t there, and I feel guilty. Why?
Maybe it’s because I feel like I owe it to my readers that I have something to say every week. Maybe I think I owe it to myself, I don’t know. But I have this innate feeling that by not writing, someone is missing out. There’s someone I could be reaching, but I’m not because there’s nothing for them to read.
I could chalk it up to the fact that I am finally off my medication and that’s what is affecting me – but that wouldn’t be true either. Truth be told, that process has been good so far (it’s only been a few days), and though it will be weeks until I am out of the woods I feel good about how it’s been going. Maybe I’m just making excuses for being lazy.
As a writer, what do you tell yourself when you have nothing to say? Do you remain silent, or do you try to conjure something out of nothing?
I’d liken this situation to fighting against mental illness. Sometimes the fight seems fruitless and that you’re getting nowhere. Sometimes you just want to remain quiet and won’t write again until you ‘feel like it.’ But if we all waited until we ‘felt like it’ to do something, things would never get done, goals would not be created and dreams would not be reached.
Sometimes success isn’t just in doing something well, but in doing something at all. I don’t know what I hope to accomplish with this post, but I know that I’m winning just by writing it at all. That might not mean much, but it means something to me. And isn’t that enough?
Is there something you want me to write about on the blog? Let me know in the comments or @brainsnotbroken on Twitter!
I’m a little nervous this week. As I shared a month ago, I’m currently in the process of weaning myself off the medication I take for my anxiety and depression. Since I am at the lowest level of one of the medications, I have been slowly lowering the dosage on the other medication until I am off it entirely, and I have finally reached the time where I go off that medication entirely – a very big step to take.
In our various appointments, my psychiatrist has shared with me that this will likely be the most difficult part of the process. There’s a good chance that while my body goes through withdrawal and gets the medicine out of my system, symptoms of my depression and anxiety could return. While he wasn’t guaranteeing anything (and did mention that all people are different), it’s a very real possibility that he wanted me to be aware of. I would be silly not to be a little scared, right?
That being said, don’t be afraid if you don’t see a post from me at the times I usually post. I will do my best to keep the blog going and keep posting, but I’ll admit that it won’t be easy. One encouraging thing is that I am in a good place to try and do this – the decision was not made on a whim. I have been on my current meds for the past two and a half years, and by taking all the proper precautions I’m ensuring that I am doing this in the safest way possible. Wish me luck this week – I’ll need all the good vibes sent my way!
Have you ever weaned off a medication (any medication) you’ve taken for a long time? Was it weird? I want to hear about it!
I am not very good at waking up in the morning. I’ve written about this in the past, but it hasn’t made things any easier. When the alarm goes off, I hit snooze. I’ve calculated how long it takes me to get ready in the morning, and I am prepared to use the minimum amount of time to get dressed and head off to work. I’m not proud of it, but that’s my reality.
I’m also not very good at going to sleep at night. This often happens because it’s hard to turn off an anxious brain, but other factors play into it as well. There are plenty of tips out there about falling asleep in an efficient manner, and I’m pretty sure I’ve tried almost every single one. Some have worked better than others, but I haven’t found that secret formula that gets me to fall asleep in a timely manner; I usually sit in bed for a half-hour or more before drifting off to sleep.
But one thing I am getting much better at is not staying in bed. If I’m not sleeping, I’m not in my bed. It’s an important distinction and one that has improved my mental health.
The connection between sleep and mental health is deeper than you realize. Getting the most out of your time in bed could be a key factor in improving your mental health and even though it’s hard for me, I understand those benefits. Though sleep is essential to your health, staying in bed for too long or being in bed too often makes it harder to cope with your mental illnesses. When my depression is the worst, all I want to do is stay in bed and sleep. It’s my refuge, my place of safety from the world. And though it makes me feel better in the moment, I always regret staying in bed for too long and hate myself for it. It’s not a great long-term solution, and it does not improve my mental health.
I remember in college, I could stay in my bed for hours at a time – watching television, doing schoolwork, even eating meals. I developed a dependency on my bed that was not only unhealthy but extremely unhelpful. I don’t have that relationship anymore, and I think that’s because I realized how much of a hindrance this behavior was in my daily life.
I’m not asking much of you this week, but I’d encourage you to be aware of how much time you spend in bed. Is it a place for sleeping, or do you spend more time there than you realize? I’m not asking you to change how you deal with your mental health or mental illness, but becoming aware of your habits – good and bad – is a good thing to do.
This weekend, my laptop broke for the third time in three years. Since the reason I bought it was that I thought it’d be a reliable piece of equipment that wouldn’t break easily, I was pretty angry. First at the computer and at the company that manufactures it, which is understandable. But then I quickly turned that anger on myself.
I thought it must be my fault somehow. I must have done something, or forgotten to do something, and my carelessness is what led to my laptop breaking. I went to get it fixed yesterday (I should get it back this weekend) and the whole time I was at the store, all I could think of what how could you be so stupid? I could not get out of my head, and it really bothered me.
Now in the grand scheme of things, the situation isn’t all that bad. The fix will cost me some money (more than it should, but that’s a whole other issue), but in the end, I will be okay and my life will go on. But to me, it’s minor setbacks like these that are some of the most dangerous to my mental health.
Why are they such a big deal? Because they make me reexamine my actions, which is one of the last things an anxious person wants to do. I spend all day thinking about the choices I make, the words I say and the things I do. I don’t need another replay of a mistake I made; nothing good will come from it. I’ll only dig myself into a deeper hole and chalk everything up to how stupid I am. In this scenario, I suffer mentally and not only does the situation not improve, but I do not either.
Getting Past a Minor Setback
How do I get past a setback like this? Repetition, repetition, repetition. It’s worth telling yourself that it’s not the end of the world, that it will be okay. But only saying those things once means that they don’t have any staying power. Repeating these positive thoughts is a good way to have them take up more space in your head than negative thoughts. I’m not guaranteeing success (I know from experience), but I would say it’s worth trying. Like any other skill, you get better at it over time. While I’m not where I want to be with this repetition, I’m in a better space than I was, and it’s been super helpful.
I also view setbacks as an opportunity to spend more time doing something else. Instead of focusing on the closing door, I look around to see what door is now open. In this specific case, I don’t know what the open door is, but I do know from experience that it exists. It might not always be what we expect, but it can be better than we ever imagined.
Again, this is my advice for minor setbacks – the things that happen in our everyday life that can get under our skin. There are major things that happen that can really set us back, which are much more difficult to process and deal with. But in most cases – like with my laptop – things aren’t as bad as they seem. The sun will rise. Life will go on.
A setback doesn’t make you a bad person, and I hope you don’t let yourself believe that it does. You have so much more going for you than a broken laptop, a flat tire or bad day at work. It might not always feel that way, but it’s true. It’s not how we fall, but how we get back up that defines us (that’s a cliche for a reason). You’re allowed to be upset, to be annoyed, but don’t let those feelings dictate your mood for too long because eventually, that will become who you are. And you’re a better person than that.
How do you deal with the little setbacks that happen to you during the day? Let me know in the comments!
It’s May, which means it’s once again Mental Health Awareness Month. I wrote about this last year when the theme from Mental Health America was #4Mind4Body, which brought awareness to the importance of taking care of every aspect of your health. MHA has decided to expand on this theme in 2019, focusing on a variety of ways to boost mental health and general wellness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also has its own focus for Mental Health Month called the WhyCare? campaign. NAMI’s campaign will promote the importance of care in ‘our relationships to others, in mental health treatment and services and in support and education to millions of people, families, caregivers and loved ones affected by mental illness.’ They offer plenty of ways to get involved and demonstrate WhyCare? by sharing stories about how caring for others, or having others care for you, as affected you.
And those are only two of the many organizations that will be having their own campaigns throughout the month of May focusing on mental health awareness, education and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. There are plenty of ways, and reasons, to get involved this year.
Whether you participate with MHA, NAMI, another organization or on your own, know that you’re not alone in trying to spread mental health awareness. I will do my best to try to participate in as many campaigns as I can, and at the end of the month, I hope to share some of what I learned with you all.
Last year I wrote a post about wanting to know what the good things in life were. Not necessarily big-picture stuff or something life-changing, but moments that you look back on and think man, that was good. I had one of those moments this past weekend, and I’d like to share it with my readers because it affected me in an interesting way.
This past weekend I celebrated the engagement of my brother and his fiance, two fantastic guys who have shown me a lot about what it means to be in a loving relationship. They came in from out of town, and we had family and friends over to celebrate their engagement. It was a wonderful day and I enjoyed myself.
But, as often is the case when I enjoy myself that much, I felt guilty once it was over. I felt guilty because, in my head, I didn’t deserve to feel that happy. One of the lies my brain tells me is that I don’t deserve the good things that happen to me. I’m not talking about a relationship or a promotion, but something as simple as being happy for one day. I feel like I’m not allowed to have a ‘good’ day unless I have a string of ‘bad’ days to balance them out (and yes, that is something I will need to work out in therapy).
With this mix of happiness and guilt swirling about, I felt confusion and anger toward myself. I felt like I was ruining another good moment and would not remember the good time I had, but the anxiety surrounding the event.
But then I remembered what my brother said right before people started to come over before the event. He said that everything could go wrong and it wouldn’t matter. Things could break, the food could burn – he didn’t care because he was with people that he loved and who loved him back.
Whether it’s biological or not, the concept of family is extremely important. Having people who are in your corner for every success and failure, who love you no matter what – that is a rare and beautiful thing to have in this life. Whether they’re family by choice or by blood, the result is the same, and it’s something worth celebrating.
I had a good moment in my life, and I will not let my anxiety ruin it. I’m going to lean on the people who love me to get through this moment and on to the next one. Because while I don’t always know what’s next for my mental health, I know who I have in my corner. And that helps me remember the good moments all the more.
Yesterday I went for a run. I hadn’t gone on a run in more than a year, and I was nervous as to how I’d feel after, physically and mentally. Since I have a bad back, my preparation for physical activity is more involved than most, and I don’t always know how my body will react to certain workouts. But I also know the benefits of exercise go beyond the physical, so I wanted to see if this was something I could get back into. And it was...incredible. I didn’t break any records or move at the speed of light, but I was proud of my effort. But then came the hard part – the recovery.
The recovery is where workouts have a tendency to affect my mental health. When my back hurts after a long workout, I immediately tense up and think that it’s the end of exercising. I lose all the confidence I gained during my workout, and feel worse about myself than I did before I started. Then comes the negative self-talk about how I’m a lesser person than I used to be. It doesn’t take much to spiral from there, and all of the benefits of exercise get washed away in a cloud of depression.
As the adrenaline continued to flow after my run, I knew a crash was coming. And sure enough, when I woke up this morning I could feel it. I was sore all over, and my back was incredibly stiff. The negative thoughts began to pop into my head, one after another. Thoughts that I could never run again, that it was a stupid idea to start with. I was crushing myself hours after feeling better than I have in a long time.
How did I get out of this mindset? Well, to be honest, I didn’t. This post doesn’t have all the tips to stop negative thoughts – you might have to read another post for that. But I wanted to share that in spite of the negative thoughts, I was able to do something that I’d long considered impossible for me to do. I’d like to start running on a more regular basis – twice a week is my goal – but for now, I’d like to revel in the fact that I was able to go for a run at all. That despite what I tell myself, I’m still able to accomplish a great deal.
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words,’ right? But have you ever used that phrase in regards to the words you tell yourself? In this case, my actions (running) spoke louder than my negative words. I just went out and did the thing.
Sometimes it’s more complicated than that, but sometimes it’s not. I had a goal and, rather than think about it, I went ahead and did it. The success was not in how well I ran, but that I ran at all. Don’t ignore the little victories in life; they add up. Whether I start running as much as I want or never run again, I will always be able to look back on this little victory as a time where I did something. That might not sound like much, but it’s enough for me.
What are some of your favorite little victories? I want to know!
For the past week, my anxiety has been something terrible. While it was triggered by something specific, it’s wedged its way into every facet of my life and crushed my thought process. Every day, I feel like I can’t help going into a downward spiral every second my mind isn’t concentrated on a specific task. And it sucks – to put it lightly.
I was going to write a post about how much this anxiety sucked, but something popped into my head as I started writing. I thought about how this recent bout of anxiety has diminished the progress I’ve made in recent months. It made me feel like all the progress I made recently was wasted. That it was pointless. That I would have to go back to square one when it came to my mental health.
This always makes me think of the term ‘relapse.’ While it’s more commonly associated with drugs and alcohol, I’ve also seen it used in regards to mental health disorders. And while I don’t like to use that term when it comes to my mental health, I couldn’t help but thinking that I was going through a relapse. I was afraid I was reverting to the old me – the one that got sent to the psych unit after a panic attack and suicidal ideation.
What stopped me from going down the rabbit hole of a relapse was reminding myself that my battle with mental health is not linear. I won’t just slowly improve until one day I’m rid of my demons. There are peaks and valleys to my mental health, just like anything else in life. Some days will be good and others will…not. I put so much pressure on having good days because I’m afraid that a bad day will negate all my progress. But is that true? No.
A bad day will get in the way of improvement. It might get in the way of doing some things that I would usually do. But it does not cancel out the months, the years of hard work that I have put in to get to this point. And the same goes for you.
If you work on something – your mental health, a special project, anything – for a long time and then have one bad day, do not discount all the progress you’ve made. You’re not perfect. You’re human. You are allowed to make mistakes. In fact, they are inevitable. So you can either let them get in the way, or you can grow from them.
But while this can apply to all walks of life, I tailor this mindset to mental health specifically because I know what negative thoughts can do to a person. My anxiety works me up into such a frenzy that I don’t think anything else matters besides the anxious thoughts in my head. But that’s not true. I have made progress recently – progress I am damn proud of. And I have grown strong enough to know that one day might set me back, but it won’t take me out of the game. That might not seem like much, but it makes a world of a difference when I try to get out of bed in the morning.
I know it’s easy to say, “don’t let your mental illness negate your progress.” It’s much easier said than done. I can’t even promise that I’ll always take my own advice. But I believe there is bravery in the attempt, and there is power to even have these thoughts in your head. So maybe all this post does is put the idea in your head. Maybe that’s all you need today. That’s okay. Because every day is a new battle, and we should use all the weapons we can get.
In the year and a half since I started this blog, I have undergone a positive transformation in regards to my mental health. I have started to prioritize healthiness over happiness, and that decision has paid dividends. But what are the long-term goals for my mental health? The reason I’m asking this question is because I don’t have an answer.
One of my most reliable coping strategies is living present and taking each moment as it comes. A speaker at a work event said something last week that stuck with me, and it’s an approach I realized I’d been taking with my mental health.
“Just make it through the next meal. If you can’t make it through the next meal, make it through the next hour. If you can’t make it through the next hour, make it through the next minute. And if you can’t make it through the next minute, make it through the next moment.” – Jon Sanchez
I’ve focused so much on getting through every hour, every minute, every moment, that I haven’t thought much about what I’m trying to accomplish. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; sometimes you have to use whatever you can to get through the day. But those days can add up, and sometimes knowing that you have a long-term goal to work toward is a source of inspiration and strength on the days when things aren’t so great. It’s been that way with other aspects of my life, and now I want it to happen with my mental health as well.
There is no shortage of information on setting and achieving goals (if you don’t believe me, just Google it), and while it’s a good place to start, you need to make sure that your goals are unique to you and your lifestyle. This is where I struggle! I don’t know how to cater goals to suit my needs, and the result is that no goals are made at all.
I could also chalk this up to not really feeling secure in what my purpose is at the moment. While I’m extremely excited about my impending move, I realize this decision will not provide more security, which makes having long-term goals all the more important. I guess it’s a step in the right direction that I’m even thinking about this; a year ago, having a long-term mental health goal was a pipe dream. I was just worried about making it to the next day. But now that I’m able, I’d like to figure out what it is I’m working toward. And when I have, I’ll be sure to let you know.
What are some of your long-term goals? Whether they’re mental-health related or not, I could certainly use some ideas!
Last week I wrote about negative self-talk and how it affects me. While writing that post I ended up on the topic of cognitive distortions. Since that wasn’t the intention of my post I didn’t go into too much detail but when I read through the post, I realized I should have.
I didn’t know a thing about cognitive distortions until my therapist brought the topic up to me a few years ago. What are they exactly? Cognitive distortions are, more or less, lies that our brain tells us. They’re irrational thoughts and beliefs that, like any other thought or belief, grow more powerful the more they occur. Cognitive distortions come in many forms, and sometimes it’s hard to recognize when they happen. I decided to list and explain five of the most common cognitive distortions that I struggle with. I hope this helps!
Cognitive Distortion #1: All-or-Nothing Thinking
As the name implies, ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking is when you look at things in a very black-or-white, right-or-wrong way. You think in extremes – either something is very, very good or completely awful. You’re either perfect or a total failure.
Cognitive Distortion #2: Overgeneralization
This is one that many people I know struggle with because it’s so easy to turn into a habit. Overgeneralization is when we generalize about ourselves based on one event. For instance, if you don’t win a game, you think you’re a loser. If you don’t do as well on a test as you think you should have, then you label yourself as stupid. This type of thinking can lead to dangerous behavioral patterns and become very instinctual.
Cognitive Distortion #3: Mind Reading
This one sounds a little silly – of course, you can’t read minds! – which is why it’s so dangerous. When you try to guess what other people are thinking and make your decisions based on them, and not your own thoughts, you can end up expecting things from others that you’re never going to get.
Cognitive Distortion #4: Fortune Telling
We all love to predict the future, but when it’s done in a negative and pessimistic light, it might just be a cognitive distortion. Popular versions of this thought process are ‘I will never find that special someone’ or ‘every job I ever have will be terrible.’ You don’t know what’s going to happen to you, but by guessing the worst-case scenario you’re only causing more stress and anxiety.
Cognitive Distortion #5: Emotional Reasoning
Probably my least-favorite cognitive distortion of all-time, emotional reasoning is when you approach your feelings as if they are facts. For instance, if I feel like I’m worthless, I believe that I am worthless. Whatever I feel is true. Wrong! As we know, feelings are not facts, but no matter how many times I repeat this to myself, I still mistake what I feel for factual things.
While there are many different types of cognitive distortions, these five had played the biggest role in my life. I won’t say that they’ve disappeared now that I am aware of them, but in understanding my thought processes I have taken the first steps to gain a more positive mindset.