The main objective of my writing as you probably know by now is to tell my story in as open and honest a way as possible in hopes of helping others who may be suffering with similar symptoms or diagnosis to know that they are not alone and that it’s okay to not be okay. In doing so I am also trying my best to help end the stigma associated with having a mental illness while navigating our loved ones and society as a whole into becoming more tolerant and accepting of people who may be battling such a complex disease.
From time to time this has included my own personal testimonies about products or services that have been helpful to me and of course the not so helpful ones as well. In no way are 2 people’s journeys the same and what can work for one person may definitely not work for someone else (if that were the case that magic pill or hospital admission would have cured me long ago). But either way I feel I need to give my anecdotal accounts in order to help guide others in some sort of direction especially when feeling like traditional treatments are not enough.
One of the biggest struggles I encounter on a daily basis (or nightly I should say) is due to severe anxiety which causes me to suffer from a massive amount of sleep deprivation and no matter what nothing seems to help. When I do eventually fall asleep it is not for long periods of time and it is usually disrupted hourly causing me to never feel refreshed in the morning. It has been suggested to me on several occasions by people in the mental health field that maybe I should purchase a weighted blanket to help regulate my sleep and nighttime anxiety.
I’ve been researching them online for some time now and I happen to follow many Hollywood influencers who promote certain brands of them as well but this week when someone actually took the time to give me their very own personal account backed up by the scientifically-based, therapeutic benefits of a weighted blanket did I decide that maybe it was time to try one for myself; afterall the information came directly from a real-life scientist. The underlying science behind these blankets is called Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) and by applying that deep touch pressure to one’s body helps increase the release of serotonin which promotes relaxation.
These blankets have become widely used for both children and adults alike suffering with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety, Sleep Deprivation as well as many other mental and physical ailments. I just started using my blanket and can’t say for sure that it will actually cure my anxiety or sleep deprivation but I can tell you that the blanket is so soft and cozy (even though it weighs a ton) and just being wrapped in it helps put some of my anxiety at ease. I don’t know why it does and I certainly don’t know how but any comfort I can get even if it’s for a short while is worth every penny. And you better watch out Kardashians because I may soon become your direct competition as the next big Hollywood Marketing Influencer!
Today being the third Monday in January is also known as “Blue Monday” and through a mathematical equation formulated by a Psychology Professor in 2005, he believes that the third Monday in January should be labeled as the most depressing day of the year. His calculations make sense on paper but there is absolutely no scientific proof that today, the third Monday in January be the most depressing day of the year.
Sure today just happens to be the coldest day of the year thus far at a whopping -30 with the windchill, but keep in mind that it is certainly not that cold everywhere in the world. And sure those Christmas bills have now piled up on your kitchen table, but again it certainly doesn’t apply to everyone around the world. And of course let us not forget that being three weeks into the new year probably means that many of us have already broken nearly all of our New Year’s resolutions by now. So ya, on paper this mathematical formula may seem quite depressing to many but at the same time it is also quite misleading and possibly harmful to anyone suffering with depression.
Yes this time of year can cause a seemingly healthy individual to have feelings of depression due to the bitter cold, dreary weather or the shortened amount of daylight hours but categorizing the third Monday in January as the most depressing day of the year feels like a slap in the face to someone like me. It is quite common for someone to be affected by S.A.D or Seasonal Affective Disorder (please see blog “”I’m S.A.D, The February Blues”; Feb. 14, 2018) but again to say that today is the most depressing day of the year makes me SAD as depression is not a one day occurance like “World Chocolate Day” or “International Puppy Day”.
Take it from someone who is suffering with depression and know that it is an ongoing battle that can hit you at anytime and does not just come and go because we failed our attempt to start a diet on January 1st, or that by paying off our debt from Christmas will make your feelings of depression disappear. It unfortunately doesn’t work that way and when you research “Blue Monday” you will find out that it was actually created as a marketing strategy for travel companies to get people to book a vacation whether you need one or not. It’s strategy is kinda ironic though when your still drowning in debt from the recent holiday season, don’t you think?
Well either way, if anything positive can be taken away from “Blue Monday” maybe it’s another reason for people to talk about mental illness and anytime that happens it’s never a bad thing!
Today when my memory wall on Facebook popped up I was quickly reminded about one of the many memories in the last 4.5 years that I’d sooner forget. The pictures I have posted are from today, 4 years ago when I was released from my first full inpatient hospital stay which ended up being well over 3 months in total. The first post was for Rich and only Rich as he sacrificed (and still does) so much during that time in order for our kids to feel some sense of normalcy still. The second post was for the many, many friends and family who helped me and my family out during that time in ways that went above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Although I would sooner forget these and many other memories from the last 4.5 years, I am beyond grateful and thankful at the same time to be reminded today, four years later just how much love and support I still have surrounding me and my family and that four years ago many of you did not know what I was going through as I was not yet ready to let everyone in, but in doing so a couple of years ago that love and support is now overflowing. I have also made it my mission to let anyone in who wants in, to know that today is the best day to start that conversation, to share your story, to not suffer in silence anymore, to understand your own feelings better, that you are valued and that it’s okay to not be okay. #endthestigmatogether #youareenough #bekindtoyourself #depressionkills #anxietyisreal #mentalillness
It’s hard, I mean it’s really hard for me to ever truly feel at peace with myself, to ever truly be able to shut off those voices that perpetually ruminate in my head and those voices I speak of seem to keep getting louder and stronger with each passing day. Lately I have been experiencing an overwhelming amount of tears, an overwhelming amount of anxiety and my panic attacks have taken on a whole new meaning.
Within every family unit there will always be many highs and many lows and there is just no hiding from the fact that when it has come to my illness (which is heading into its 5th year) those lows have had a tremendous impact on my family’s cohesiveness. I don’t like to talk about my kids or husband on a very personal level in my writing because the truth is their stories are not mine to tell (unless a New York bestseller is in the works). But how could it not have some sort of impact on their lives just as it would if our family was dealing with any other kind of life altering illness? Basically, when one or more parts of your family unit becomes broken there is no doubt in my mind it will have an effect on the rest of it, but of course with depression comes the added guilt that even the smallest impact my illness may have had on them, it is all my fault.
Throughout the last several years there has been a great deal of confusing, stressful and sometimes unsettling emotions surrounding our family’s cohesiveness and the build up over time has become too difficult to navigate alone and so on the recommendation of my family doctor it was time to seek some outside guidance from a professional together as a family.
I couldn’t think of a better person for the job than my own therapist who knows me very well and through me in turn knows the many challenges we face as a family. At the end of the day the main goal of our session (which was done in the comfort of our own home) was to learn (through a series of questions) how to communicate better with one another, how to understand each other’s needs in a non-judgmental way, how to help alleviate some of the day to day stresses we all face and to simply remind us all about the importance of family cohesiveness. It’s probably something all families could benefit from every so often.
THE ELEPHANT IN MY ROOM
Recently I made a donation to a non-profit organization which has grown to become one of the leaders in bringing Canadians together to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness by working closely with a variety of Nationally acclaimed and most-connected mental health services available in Canada. Their main objective in doing so is to provide a strong, cohesive voice to individuals suffering with a mood disorder/mental illness by helping to improve upon our access to treatment, to educate & continue research as well as to further develop & increase program availability & government policies. Through collaboration with their partnerships they are able to work on a wide-range of these projects and initiatives to help those suffering with often debilitating but treatable mental illnesses.
One such campaign they have developed is called “The Elephant In The Room” Anti-Stigma Campaign. The main purpose of this campaign is to end the stigma most often attached to mental illness which for many of us can actually be more detrimental to their well-being than the illness itself. The negativity, disrespectfulness, discrimination and judgment associated with a person having a mental disorder keep many, many people afraid to seek treatment or reach out to a loved one for help.
We have all heard the expression before “The Elephant In The Room” which signifies that there is a “major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.” Basically it’s what many people do when it comes to mental illness.
This campaign is trying to do the opposite of what the definition conveys by sending each individual who makes a donation an actual little, blue happy faced elephant to be placed anywhere you like in your home, your office, your car or even to carry it with you in your purse, briefcase or knapsack. I truly loved the powerful symbolism of what this little, blue happy faced elephant represents and couldn’t wait to have one of my own to let everyone know that when they enter my home it is a safe and stigma-free zone.
My elephant (seen in picture) is now proudly on display by my front door to welcome anyone who visits the opportunity to talk about whatever they need to without feeling any sort of negativity, discrimination and most of all judgment. It’s these small but powerful steps we can all take in ending the stigma together.
WHAT A CATASTROPHE!
If you were to look the word catastrophizing up in the dictionary (okay so nowadays we call it Google) you will probably see my picture right above the definition. Catastrophizing is when an individual has an irrational thought or feeling which they believe to be far worse than it actually is. The catastrophic thought or feeling may have to do with a current or immediate situation that the individual is in or it may also occur when they are thinking about a future event. Either way they both can gravely affect the mind of someone suffering with depression and anxiety.
From my own personal experience I can tell you that it directly impacts all aspects of my life (and that of my family too) including my behaviour in general, my ability to function on a daily basis and my overall quality of living. I can take any seemingly normal situation and magnify it by a gazillion making it seem much more severe, frightful and even disastrous than it would be for others in a similar situation.
If I try and look at the positive side of catastrophizing (you see sometimes my glass can be half full!) then I can never truly be disappointed except for the fact that there are way too many negatives attached to it which far outweigh the one quasi positive outcome.
Unfortunately catastrophizing every single situation really means that reaching any kind of goal for me (big or small) becomes that much harder, it means a constant reminder that I am a failure or that I am going to be stuck in this state of mind forever. Catastrophizing also means continuously ruminating unhealthy thoughts and feelings, that something bad is going to happen to me or someone I love and that I am unworthy of any kind of love or friendship. Put all of that together and you have one gigantic catastrophe.
And now you also have a person who suffers with very low self-esteem, a person who suffers with an endless feeling of despair and anxiety and a person who suffers with an immense amount of insomnia. And for what? Because I know deep down inside (very deep) that 9 times out of 10 these catastrophic situations are nothing more than figments of my broken perception of what is real and what is not.
But I also know that I can’t be alone in feeling this way, I can’t be the only one believing my own narratives or giving too much consideration to something that isn’t actually a threat or true? I can’t be the only one who makes a mountain out of a molehill or will only “expect the worst” without ever remembering to “hope for the best”. ‘Cuz ya I have to be honest, it’s a very scary and lonely place to be sometimes.
Today was my first scheduled Neurofeedback session which arrived with a great deal of anticipation, anxiety and rumination as I have spent the past 2 weeks since I was last there talking myself out of doing it for fear that it would result in another failed attempt at recovery and further hopelessness. So it should be of no surprise to you that as Rich drove me to my appointment this morning he needed to pull the car over while I was in the midst of having a panic attack that caused me to throw up at the side of the road.
Feeling a shred of relief we eventually arrived (only a bit late) at the clinic still feeling anxious, dizzy, overwhelmed and weak (which is probably not the best way to start off) but I sat down in the waiting area where I was given a glass of water to drink and Rich went and got me a bagel from Tim Hortons while I attempted to calm myself down. Once he got back we were escorted into one of their “training” rooms and we were briefed on what the session would look like (Rich was allowed to stay and observe the entire session, which he thought was really neat!).
It all sounded pretty darn cool even if I only understood half of what the technician was telling us (he has been patiently walking me through this process from my first phone conversation we had about a month ago). But even if much of the information we were receiving was a little bit too “sciency” for me there is simply no denying from watching the expressions on the technician’s face and listening to the enthusiasm and passion in his voice that he truly believes in this concept and that he honestly cares about my wellbeing and that he sincerely loves the work that he does. That has to give anyone hope, right?
This first session was purely a learning curve, figuring out what may work for me and what may not which included so many variables, some of which are very technical right down to the musical overtures playing as my brain is being rewarded. It may even take a few sessions to play around with several of these concepts like to what degree the program is set at in order to challenge my brain, but from just one session I definitely knew what didn’t work for me, including the musical selection, so next session I will try more calming sounds of a harp!
I really don’t know how to truly explain how Neurofeedback actually works because I am honestly still learning and figuring out how the hell it can work or better yet will it work for me but to put it in layman’s terms one might compare it to the “high” we get from playing the slots in Vegas or our favorite video game from the comfort of our couch. The slot machines are programmed to reward you a certain percentage in order to keep you excited and make you want to continue playing with its positive reinforcements. Same is true in most video games where each time you reach a new level the bells and whistles go off which will also keep you excited and wanting to continue playing.
Essentially when my brain is being rewarded with those same auditory and visual rewards as that of the slots and video games it’s getting positive reinforcement and retraining your brainwave patterns in an irrefutable manner. I’m still very unsure about whether or not continuing with this treatment is doable right now after the toll its taken on me both physically and mentally these last couple of weeks but either way it looks like I could achieve an honorary Master’s degree in Psychology and my PHD in Neuroscience if nothing else!
You’ve probably heard this famous quote by John Lennon before, you know the one where he sings to his beautiful boy that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, a quote that seems to have become a self-contradiction in my own life. And what better time of year to reflect upon this quote than the beginning of a new year when everyone around you is busy making plans, setting new goals and looking toward their future.
You see making plans, setting goals and looking toward the future have not been an easy feat for me over the last 4+ years and that is why during this time of year I have stopped pressuring myself to do so because well you can probably figure the reasons out for yourselves by now (see blog New Year’s Resolutions & Depression, Dec 14, 2017). Sure I may do all those things on the exterior to give my life a false sense of direction or purpose but in doing so, it only seems to backfire leaving me feeling a further perception of hopelessness and failure.
This New Year’s is one that I won’t soon forget that’s for sure. While getting ready for bed the other night and anticipating the final day of 2018 both my husband and I simultaneously fell ill with an acute stomach bug (we are so insync!) that kept us up for the remainder of the night and asleep for the remainder of 2018. Such is life and there was nothing either of us could do about it but accept it for what it was; a very shitty end to a very shitty year (but at least I didn’t have to feel guilty this time for ruining our New Year’s plans all by myself since he was an equal participant!).
If I have learned anything throughout my journey it’s that life is so unpredictable and some things are just beyond our control and ya basically “life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans”. When I reflect upon the last 24+ hours I simply just want to laugh until I can cry no more. How am I supposed to feel any type of positive emotions as we move into 2019 when I continue to feel like I’m always being punched in the stomach (which is ironically how I do feel right now from having the flu)?
I just want so badly to believe that this was not another evil or cruel sign of what’s to come as the new year begins. I just want so badly to believe others when they offered their kind words and support yesterday, wanting me to believe that it is not another evil or cruel sign but instead a sign of a new beginning, a fresh start, a cleanse if you will. I just want so badly to feel hopeful as the new year begins and I just want so badly to believe in myself again. Is that really too much to ask knowing that life is going to continue to happen no matter what plans we try and make?
It may very well just be another one of the latest fads or gimmicks or maybe it’s just another aesthetically pleasing decorative piece that sits on your desk at work, your fireplace mantel or on your bedside table collecting dust but either way I figured I have nothing left to lose so I bought myself a Pink Himalayan Salt Lamp.
A Himalayan Salt Lamp is a hand-carved solid block of Himalayan pink salt crystals which have been hollowed out to allow for a light bulb to be placed inside in order to release heat and light. The lamp’s intended purpose is not that of an ordinary lamp because the chunks of salt are meant to produce negative ions and releases many positive effects on indoor air which may help to enhance your quality of sleep, reduce cold and asthma symptoms, purify and cleanse the air, raise your energy level, and its pinkish glow is said to help reduce anxiety and produce a calming feeling which of course can be very therapeutic and mood enhancing.
I have found myself struggling to write lately as I have been even more distracted than usual and my mind is beyond cluttered so I decided to place my new lamp in the most central part of my home for now where I spend the most time and where I do most of my writing and I also figured this way everyone else could benefit from it as well.
At the end of the day it’s probably not going to cure my mental health issues but after a few days of it sitting on top of my fireplace mantel I was able to find a way to start writing these words (even if only for a moment) and maybe just maybe it will one day (sooner than later) help me to replace the toxic blue light source I so fondly depend on until the wee hours of the night with its beautiful pink light source in order for me to get a good night’s sleep.
It’s been just over a week since I went for my Neurofeedback Assessment and had scheduled my follow up appointment for today. It gave me an entire week to talk myself out of going to the appointment, ruminating and incessantly telling myself “what’s the point?” In my mind this is just going to be another failed attempt at my recovery, another reason for self-doubt and another cause to lose more hope. But the problem was that I had scheduled the appointment specifically around my husband’s work schedule so that he could come with me which basically meant that there was no turning back.
Upon arriving at the clinic we met with one of the resident psychologists in a room with a very large tv screen on the wall that had larger than life pictures of my brain patterns on it. He first began by presenting us with a great deal of clinical psychological and neuroscience mumble jumble information which too was displayed on the tv screen. Some of the information brought back memories of psychology 101 in University, but much of it went way over my head. Once he switched focus to the screens which centered on my own personal results and were clearly labeled (for us regular folk) did it begin to sink in.
The results essentially showed that my brain is stuck and exhausted! I could have told you that but probably not in such clinical terms! My “z-scores” (google it, I’m too exhausted to even try to explain properly) which indicates how many “standard deviations” an element is from the mean showed to be far greater than the norm in every category (too many categories to list). They could also see from my brain patterns several reasons why traditional treatment with anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications have not been successful.
All of the results in their eyes were a “win-win” for potential success using Neurofeedback training to help with my recovery. As they had mentioned last week to me they would like to start with 10 sessions and then re-evaluate my progress with 2 additional brain scans and compare them to the original results to see how I am doing in a clinical sense at that point. They originally felt 2 sessions a week would be okay but upon calculation of the results they would prefer I try and start with 3 a week instead (which is very overwhelming).
Of course having my husband with me today meant that these appointments were to be on the calendar before leaving the clinic because my overwhelming hesitation and lack of decision making skills he saw on my face would have resulted in me walking out of there ruminating and incessantly telling myself “what’s the point?” right through to the New Year. But instead, as of right now, Saturday January 5, 2019 has officially become my new “New Year’s Day”.