April Showers Bring May Goals?

April Showers Bring May Goals?

Okay, it’s a weird title, but it gets the point across.  I’m here to talk about goals.  I’ve mentioned before on my review of Stuff That Sucks that ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) is one of my favorite therapies because it speaks to my heart.  In it you learn to accept that things sometimes hurt, embrace it, be kind to it, and move on to pursue those things you value. It’s important to set yourself goals and go for them!

That said, I’m really not a master at it.

Setting goals is hard, but keeping them is harder.

These last few weeks have been brutal for me (and thus the whole family).  I’ve been “enjoying” the roller coaster ride…in fact, I can’t seem to get off, and now I’m just sick to my stomach.  But life continues.  There are still bills to pay so I get up each day and go in to work and do my thing.  It’s harder to smile, but I muster through. I move a little slower because everything is exhausting, but I’m making it. Unfortunately, it means that some things have had to get set aside, including my regular posting schedule.

See, I’m not really great at pursuing those values.  Or at least, not this one.  Instead I focused on other things like my health and keeping my family together. It was a hard month, and to be honest, we’re not out of the woods yet.  But, I’m getting to a point where I want to get back on track.  So, with that, I plan to start a new series that I hope you’ll be willing to join in on.  I would like to set a monthly goal.  It doesn’t have to be big, just has to be important to you.

a bullet planner checklistMy May Goal

As some of you know, I’m planning to move my blog to a new domain name.  It’s been in the works for a little while, but there’s still a lot of work to do and that work has been seriously derailed by life.  That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s not important to me.  In fact, one of my driving values is the outreach of this blog.  I’m no one special, but I know there are a lot of others like me who feel completely alone.  This blog is a chance to reach out to them and let them know that they aren’t alone, that we are here and we are doing the best we can.

So, instead of beating myself up for faltering, I’m going to set myself a goal.

I will complete the site set up and officially launch by the 31st of May.  This will include a whole host of sub-steps that I’m not about to write out here (seriously…it’s tedious and there’s a ton), but when it’s done we’ll have a little party to celebrate (or something like that).

What about Accountability?

Here’s the other side of this project… At the end of the month, I’m going to come back here and tell you how I did.  In this case, you should be able to figure it out by the fact that everything’s just a bit different (including the name!), but other months may not be as obvious.  So, to keep myself accountable, I will return at the end of each month and tell you how it went!

The goal here is to give yourself, well, a goal.  Something to work toward.  It could be something small, like remembering to brush your teeth or put the laundry in the hamper.  it could be something bigger like finding a new job.  And yeah, we may try and we might fail, but that’s okay too.  We’re working on it and that’s what’s important.

So, let me know!  What’s your goal?

Even the Best Warriors Fail Sometimes

Even the Best Warriors Fail Sometimes

So, here I am, creating a blog focused on helping others learn more about mental illnesses and cope with chronic conditions. It’s something I’m very passionate about, for sure, but I need to stress that I am not an expert. In fact, I frequently fail to listen to my own advice. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been in therapy for years. It doesn’t matter that I have a fantastic psychiatrist. Sometimes, I just fail.

And….well…I think you need to know that.

rain on a window

The truth is, we are all doing the best we can. The demons we face internally when it comes to mental health are strong. They take your own brain and turn it against you. They undermine everything you do and try to keep you from ever starting. Depression, anxiety, bipolar, and so on, are strong. Without help, they would be even stronger, but even with help, it’s inevitable that we will lose some battles.

I was reminded of this recently at work. Things happened (what those things are isn’t important), and they broke my control. I’ve been back at work for approximately 4 weeks, and only the last 3 of them were full time (and short work weeks at that). The stress of going from half days to full days tied up with the stress of how busy we are and how short staffed, well, it’s been keeping me right on the edge of falling apart.

smooth black pebble on beachThat means, when I got hit by one more thing, a pebble really, I fell right over the cliff. I had a panic attack. At work.

First, let me clarify what a panic attack is for me, because everyone is different.  For me, it’s burning skin, watery eyes, shortness of breath, compulsive touching (and picking and clenching) of anything in reach, culminating in intense sobbing and physical collapse.

At work.

Yeah, to say it was humiliating and terrifying is an understatement.

Now, as I said, I’ve spent years learning how to cope and get through situations like this. I focused on my deep breathing. I counted, I redirected my mind to a simple task, I mindfully took in my surroundings and the sensations around me. I did everything I could. It didn’t work. By the end of that work day, I had endured three separate panic attacks.

Needless to say, I was exhausted when I got home. It was horrible and I hope to never repeat it again but odds are that I will.

Why do I share this with you?  Well, I guess because it’s important to be aware that it happens.  We all do our best, we fight our battles, and sometimes we lose.  Sometimes it’s everything you can do to just get through it until you can retreat and lick your wounds.  But, you know what? I got through the day.  You can, too.

And remember, we’re all fighting this battle together.

<3

Shahana

Stuff That Sucks – A Mental Health Book Review

Time for another book review!  This one is a little different from my last few.  Usually I pick one of my favorite fiction novels, as I tend to read when I’m stressed.  This time, however, I want to review a book we picked up for my daughter on a whim.

Before we get too far, I do use affiliate links to bring in income for site costs. As such, there may be links within this post to allow you to purchase items discussed. If you chose to purchase, I get a small fee but you don’t have to pay anything extra. If you have questions, see my disclosures here. On to the post!

Stuff That Sucks Ben SedleyStuff That Sucks is a teen self-help styled guide written by Ben Sedley, and it talks about exactly what the title suggests, a whole bunch of sucky stuff (including the stuff that makes the stuff that sucks suck more). Thankfully, he also talks about ways to accept this and not let it get in the way of what’s important to you.

Confused?  Let me clarify a little.

This book is based on a form of therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy, or simply ACT.  The main premise behind this particular therapy is learning to accept that sometimes things really do suck.  Sometimes you will be worried about something, or scared, or ashamed, or any number of awful feelings, and that’s alright.  The idea is to acknowledge the feelings, accept their value, and not let them get in the way of your goals in life.  That’s the commitment part.

ACT focuses on creating a value driven life. Think of it like this: We all have something that we care about, a major driving force in who we want to be and something that gives us the reason to continue.  Those things are our values.  For me, teaching is something very important to me and it influences almost every decision I make in life. In order for me to live a value driven life, I do things that uphold that value.  For instance, I regularly make time to tutor, and I always look for new ways of teaching and connecting with my students. I will even find ways to incorporate teaching into my daily life, from being open to answering questions, training at work, to this blog.  All of these actions bring me closer to my values.

Stuff That Sucks, in particular, focuses on identifying emotions as they occur, learning ways to feel and accept them. Once the reader has passed that point, the book walks them through how to identify their values and how to create a value driven life.

Who should read this?

Stuff That Sucks is technically marketed as a quick help guide for teenagers, and I’d say they’re a good option. But beyond that, almost anyone could benefit from this book.  The fact is, we all go through things that suck now and then, and learning how to live with it is a giant step toward a better life. With that said, I would honestly recommend this for kids as young as 8 or so, depending on their needs.  The reading is not overly complex and the content could do a lot for an anxious or depressed child. As for adults, well, lets just say I read it quickly, but I’ve also gone back to it again and again.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book.

Who shouldn’t read this book?

Avoid it if you live a life without anything bad in it at all.  Or maybe don’t avoid it, because I suspect you have someone in your life that could really benefit from it.

A final note

This book is by no means a fix for all that ails you.  It is a great tool, but anxiety and depression often require more than just one tool.  Proper therapy, medication, and support are also often critical in managing a chronic mental illnesses, so please keep that in mind.

Also, note that this is a “quick guide” and so it’s not going to cover everything that could be learned about ACT (which is also only one of many different therapies for chronic mental health conditions).

And with that, I say…

Go get this book!

<3

Shahana

Experiencing the Roller Coaster of Bipolar

Experiencing the Roller Coaster of Bipolar

I’m going to start this post out by confessing something… I LOVE roller coasters. My favorites are the ones that zoom around with twists and turns and maybe a couple loops. I am not a fan, however, of the ones that launch you in the air like a rocket and then drop you just as fast.  Those are just too much for me. Why does this little fact matter? Well, one of the most common analogies for bipolar disorder is a roller coaster ride.  As always with mental illnesses, not all will find this accurate, but for me it works pretty well. Let me explain why.

At the Station

Imagine “normal” is the station.  This is life as lived by those who don’t suffer from chronic mental illnesses. Here you wait in line for the ride.  For some people, those who don’t relapse very often, the line can be incredibly long.  You watch a video on your phone, chat with your friends, watch the clouds go by, just generally enjoy life while you wait. Maybe sometimes it’s boring, but it’s steady and predictable.

For those of us with bipolar, and especially those that relapse more frequently, the line is shorter. We may still get time to chat with friends, enjoy some time to relax, but it’s not a long wait.  Far too soon, we’re sitting in our car, strapping in, and climbing that hill.

desert mountain roller coasterThe Climb

Depending on your view of roller coasters, this can be the best part of the ride.  It’s the anticipation of the thrills to come. You’re slowly inching your way up, waiting for that thrilling moment when your stomach drops and you’re speeding off. When you hit the top and the train stops for a second, you hold your breath, and then whoosh! You’re off, and screaming and laughing with glee.

For others, say the friend that was coerced into climbing aboard or the kid that was goaded into it because they didn’t want to look weak, that climb is horrifying. Each click of the car ratchets the fear up one little notch until suddenly, you’re at the top and time stops for just a breath. You exhale. You pray.

You crash. It’s the inevitability of the up, that there will always be a down.

There are different ways to look at this stage through the lens of bipolar. The climb is the elevation of your mood.  It’s slow, sometimes too subtle to notice, but it’s there. Eventually, you peak at the top. You are above everything, looking out to see the beauty of the world and you know you can do absolutely anything. This is the mania. This is the point at which most people with bipolar tend to do the most damage to those around them. When you’re on top of the world, anything is possible, even if it really shouldn’t be.

at the top of the roller coasterOr maybe that climb up means you slowly grow happier and more engaged. Maybe you’re finally getting things done. Maybe you’re chasing dreams, and it’s amazing until that moment when you reach the top. And then…reality sets in, and you realize why you’ve been feeling so good. You realize what’s about to happen. Everything is about to fall apart. That’s what it is for me when I’m in a hypomanic state. I don’t typically realize it’s happening until I hit the top and see the inevitable fall before me.

One Wild Ride

A common theme you’ll hear from those of us with bipolar is that with every up, there comes a down. Our manic, or hypomanic, episodes tend to be followed with a swift and brutal depression.  Everything becomes harder. It’s like the pressure you feel as you’re whipped around that coaster right, forcing your head back into the seat and causing you to hold on desperately to the car. If you’re at all nervous about that roller coaster, chances are this is the time when you pray that your restraint holds, and you envision all the terrible ways you are about to die.

Yeah, let’s be honest.  That’s a pretty literal translation of what it’s like to experience bipolar depression.  You’re just holding on, praying that you stay safe, and envisioning all the ways that you won’t. It’s terrifying.

Returning to the Station

Eventually, though, things stabilize again.  Your train car pulls in to the station, and you get off the ride. You can finally relax, unclench your fists, take a deep breath, and walk away. At least, you can in a real roller coaster.

For me, though, that exit leads straight into the entrance and I’m forced back in the line. With proper medication, therapy, and support, I might end up with a long wait before I get on the roller coaster again. But no matter what, I will eventually be forced on it again.

 

5 Ways to Keep Sane While Going Crazy

5 Ways to Keep Sane While Going Crazy

It happens to every parent.  You’re going about your day when you suddenly notice the massive pile of clothes in the middle of the floor.  And then you see the juice on the counter because someone didn’t bother putting it away.  And then, it’s the chewed up pen that the dog got to, and the baby is screaming, and you have to make dinner but there are no pans, and, and, and.  And suddenly, you snap.

stressed woman screaming black and white“That’s it! I’m done! Do your own dirty work from now on,” you say, stomping off to your room and slamming the door.

Okay, maybe not. Maybe you manage to keep your cool, let the annoyance simmer under your skin, and get things moving.  I know for a fact that I can’t, though, because when I talk about sanity, I mean dictionary definition of sanity. In my world, days like this can mean a full swing into a depressive state, and if my environment doesn’t get better, that can turn in to weeks of depression.  Even worse, a chaotic environment tends to ratchet up the anxiety, which means I get really irritable and end up isolating for the sake of everyone. It’s a terrible cycle, all around.

So, how do I keep sane? Well, there are a few different things I’ve found that help.

1. Stave off what chaos you can.

Now, this comes with the understanding that some things you really can’t control. Others in the house are bound to put their stamp of mess on the public spaces, but you can focus on keeping your own personal refuge tidy and comforting.  In this way, if you do end up with an explosion in the rest of the house, you have a safe space to retreat that doesn’t add to the stress.

And on that topic:

2. Have a personal refuge!

woman in bed hidden under blanketI know for some this is easier said than done, but it is really helpful if you can manage it.  Your refuge doesn’t have to be anything big, even.  I personally have a bedroom of my own right now, but in the past I’ve had a corner of a room, a walk in closet, a utility room, and even a fort under the table.  Okay, that last one was a little more temporary, but it worked! In the end, it’s about having a space that is all your own where you can take a deep breath and regroup.

3. Enlist help.

Guess what. If your kids are the ones leaving clothes and stuff all over the floor, it’s totally fair to make them clean it up! Likewise, if the spouse is sitting around and there are dishes needing doing, get them on it!  Most of the time, I’ve found family members are more than willing to help with the workload, if they know what to do.  As much of a pain as it can be, teaching them what to look for can help in the long run.  And in the short term, you get an army of helpers!

4. Pick a small thing and attack it.

Maybe for tonight you just wash the one pan you need most.  Or maybe you just focus on moving the clothes to wherever they belong. Whatever it is that you can do, go ahead and do it.  Even the little things can make a huge difference and sometimes the little things add up to big things!

5.  If all else fails, get a baby and dog sitter, pack up the rest of the household and run away.

Okay, maybe don’t run away…  Still, keep in mind that it’s okay to pick your battles.  Sometimes that means you leave the dishes until tomorrow and get food somewhere else. Or, if that’s too expensive, let the kids make sandwiches. Either way, people get fed and you get a little less fed up.

<3

Shahana