Small Things I Do Every Day to Manage My Depression

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Some days you feel well, and other days, darkness envelopes you. You feel achingly sad, or you feel absolutely nothing. You’re exhausted, and every task feels too big to start. You feel weighed down, as though there are sandbags attached to your shoulders.

Managing the symptoms of depression can be hard. But even the smallest steps taken every day (or on most days) can make a significant difference.

Below, you’ll learn how five different women live with depression on a daily basis, and the small, yet pivotal actions they take.

Having a daily routine. “Having a daily routine helps me push through the days when I’m not feeling my best,” said Denita Stevens, a writer and author of the recently released poetry collection Invisible Veils, which delves into her experiences with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Stevens’s routine starts at night with two morning alarms: one alarm is optional, the second one, which rings around 7 a.m., is not. “I take a moment to gauge how I’m feeling before deciding which one I wake up to.  Sometimes I don’t always have a good night’s sleep and an extra hour of rest helps.”

When she’s up, she drinks coffee and reads. Then she focuses on work. The evenings are dedicated to personal time. This “gives me motivation to accomplish what I need to do during the workday in a timely manner and allows me to end the day investing my time in myself,” Stevens said. This me-time might mean socializing, exercising, relaxing, or working on a writing project—right now she’s working on a memoir about what it was like to live with undiagnosed PTSD and how she recovered.

On weekends, Stevens doesn’t have a schedule. “A balance between scheduled and unscheduled time every week seems to work best for me,” she said.

Setting boundaries. “Setting boundaries is extremely important to my mental and emotional well-being,” said T-Kea Blackman, a mental health advocate who hosts a weekly podcast called Fireflies Unite With Kea.

For instance, Blackman has set her phone to go into “Do Not Disturb” mode every night at 9 p.m., because she wakes up at 4:45 a.m. to exercise. “Working out has been beneficial as it helps to improve my mood and I sleep much better.” Going to bed around the same time and waking up around the same time helps her get consistent rest. “When I am not well rested, I am unable to function throughout the day.”

Exercising. “I make myself exercise even if I don’t feel like it,” said Mary Cregan, author of the memoir The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery. “If my mind is troubling me, I’ll try using my body instead.”

If Cregan’s energy is really low, she goes for a walk. And these walks have a powerful benefit: She gets to see other people—“little kids in playgrounds, old people walking with their shopping bags, teenage girls all dressed alike. People can be interesting or amusing, and help me get out of my own head.”

Cregan, who lives in New York City, also likes to walk along the Hudson or around the reservoir in Central Park, and admire the water. She likes to look at the plants and trees, too. “If the sun is out, I’ll sit on a bench with the sun on my face.”

Tidying up. Cregan also regularly makes her bed and cleans up the kitchen. This way, she said, “things don’t feel messy or ugly, because that would be depressing in itself.” Sometimes, she buys flowers for her home, since looking at them cheers her up.

Having downtime. Blackman prioritizes downtime to help her unplug and recharge. Sometimes, this looks like listening to water sounds—waves crashing onto the shore, water hitting the rocks—and putting on her essential oil diffuser as she listens to a podcast or reads a book. Other times, it looks like lying in bed and letting her mind wander, as she listens to the water sounds and breathes in the essential oils.

Wearing comfortable clothes. Fiona Thomas, author of the book Depression in a Digital Age: The Highs and Lows of Perfectionism, regularly tunes into her inner dialogue. When she notices the chatter is negative—“you’re so lazy”—she decides to actively challenge the voice and be kind to herself instead.

“One small way that I’m kind to myself every day is by wearing clothes that I feel comfortable in as opposed to what I think people expect me to wear. If I want to wear leggings and a baggy jumper to the supermarket, then I do it.”

Creating small moments of self-care. Another way that Thomas is kind to herself is by going out for coffee, or taking several minutes to stand by a canal and watch the ducks go by.

Practicing self-compassion. In addition to depression, Leah Beth Carrier, a mental health advocate working on her master’s in public health, also has obsessive-compulsive disorder and PTSD. When her brain tells her that she isn’t worthy, doesn’t deserve to take up space, and won’t ever amount to anything, she gives herself grace. “This grace I give myself allows me to be able to hear these old tapes, acknowledge that they are fear based and my fear has a purpose, and then continue to go about my day.”

Taking a shower. “I try my hardest to take a shower every day even though I find this really difficult with depression,” Thomas said. “Even if [showering is the] last thing [I do] at night, I know it helps me feel healthier in the long run.”

Looking in the mirror. “I have also found that the simple act of looking at myself in the mirror, eye to eye, each morning and making a point to say hello to myself—as silly as it sounds—keeps me grounded,” Carrier said. “It is also a little reminder that my existence here on earth is allowed and OK, maybe even something to be celebrated.”

Of course, the specific small actions you take will depend on the severity of your depression, and how you’re feeling that day. The above actions are examples that speak to the power of small. Of course, it’s also vital to get treatment, which might include working with a therapist and/or taking medication.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the pain isn’t permanent, even though it absolutely feels permanent in the moment. You won’t feel this way forever. “Having lived with depression since I was a teenager, I’ve discovered that even at my lowest points, I can still survive and it will get better,” Stevens said. “It always gets better. May not seem like it at the moment, but those feelings are only temporary.”

“I never believed it when people told me it would get better when I was in my darkest days and attempted suicide, but I remained committed to my recovery…,” Blackman said. She’s made various changes, and has seen a huge improvement in her mental health.

Don’t discount the power of small daily acts and steps. After all, before you know it, those small steps have helped you walk several miles—a lot more than had you been standing still. And if you do stand still on some days, remember that this is OK, too. Try to treat yourself gently on those days, to sit down, and extend yourself some compassion.

Small Things I Do Every Day to Manage My Depression

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What I Want Someone Who’s Overwhelmed with Their Mood Disorder to Know

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You have depression, or bipolar disorder. And on some days, you feel like you’re treading water—at best. You’re tired of struggling. You’re tired of regularly feeling tired. You’re angry that your to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer. You’re angry that you have to deal with so much darkness day in and day out.

Some days are just hard. Some days you feel so overwhelmed.

It is on these days that you probably feel like the only person on the planet who’s struggling with persistent symptoms.

Thankfully, you’re not. And thankfully, it will get better.

We asked individuals who live with depression or bipolar disorder to share what they’d like others who are feeling overwhelmed with these same conditions to know. Most of the individuals are speakers from This Is My Brave, a fantastic nonprofit organization that hosts live events and aims to “end the stigma surrounding mental illness through storytelling.”

Get treatment. T-Kea Blackman, a mental health advocate and speaker who lives with depression and anxiety, stressed the importance of seeing a therapist who can help you identify triggers, learn healthy coping tools, and set boundaries, along with a psychiatrist if you need to take medication. (For bipolar disorder, both medication and therapy are vital.)

Blackman emphasized not getting discouraged if the first or third medication you try doesn’t work, or the first or third therapist you see isn’t a good fit. “It can take time to find the right dosage and medication, and therapist for you.” This can be frustrating, but it’s common—and you will find the right help.

Focus on small victories. Sivaquoi Laughlin, a writer, blogger, and mental health advocate with bipolar II disorder, has good days, bad days, and sometimes great days. She underscored the importance of realizing that it’s OK not to be OK, and acknowledging small victories, which are actually “huge.”

Some days, those small victories might be getting out of bed and taking a shower, she said. Other days, they might be excelling at work and going to dinner with friends. Either way, it’s all important and worthwhile.

Forgive yourself. Fiona Thomas, a writer who has depression and anxiety, stressed the importance of not beating yourself up when you don’t do everything on your list, or when you have bad days. One of her friends always says: “Remember that your best changes when you’re not feeling well.”

Thomas, author of the book Depression in a Digital Age: The Highs and Lows of Perfectionism, suggested not comparing today’s output to your output from last year or last week. “It all depends on how you’re feeling mentally, and if you’re not 100 percent, then just do what you can—the rest will come later.”

Thomas also suggested doing one small thing every day that makes you feel better. This might be anything from drinking a few glasses of water to walking around the block to talking to a friend, she said. “There are so many ways to boost your mood little by little, and over time, they become habits and make you feel better without even really having to try.”

Do one enjoyable thing every day. Similarly, Laughlin encouraged readers to find one thing that brings you happiness, and try to incorporate that into your daily routine.

For Laughlin, it’s many “one things.” That is, she loves being with her grandson and her dogs, meditating, hiking, reading, and writing. “Start small and build upon it. Forgive yourself if you miss a day or days.”

Remember you are not broken. Suzanne Garverich is a public health advocate who is passionate about fighting mental health stigma through her work on suicide prevention as well as telling her story of living with bipolar II disorder. She wants readers to know that you “are not damaged, but [instead] so courageous and strong to live through and fight through this illness.”

Document your OK days. This way, “when you are having an off day or month or series of months, you can go back and remind yourself that you have felt differently,” said Leah Beth Carrier, a mental health advocate working on her master’s in public health, who has depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and PTSD. “You are capable of experiencing emotions other than the numb, black hole you reside in at the moment. There is hope.”

Surround yourself with support. “Surround yourself with people who can support you and find an online community who can relate to you, such as the Buddy Project or my community, Fireflies Unite,” Blackman said. She also noted that the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers free support groups.

Other online supports include: Psych Central’s forums, and Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue–both of which were started by one of our associate editors, Therese Borchard.

Teresa Boardman, who has treatment-resistant bipolar disorder, attends weekly therapy sessions, but sometimes, she said, she needs more. “It’s OK to talk frankly with someone. I like to use the crisis text line because I do not have to break my cone of silence. Expressing yourself truly makes you feel less alone.”

Living with a mental illness can be hard. Acknowledge this. Acknowledge your overwhelmed, exasperated, angry feelings. Remind yourself that you’re not alone. And remind yourself that you are doing an incredible job, even on the days it doesn’t feel like it.

What I Want Someone Who’s Overwhelmed with Their Mood Disorder to Know

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Overcoming Trauma Is Possible – with Help

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When you see news accounts of people experiencing traumatic events, shootings, violent or sexual assaults, kidnappings, accidents, fires, drowning and more, it may seem both commonplace and far removed at the same time. The fact that the news tends to sensationalize such terrible events might numb you to the magnitude of the trauma these victims endured.

But when it happens to you, you’re stunned, frozen with fear, totally unprepared. The aftermath leaves you deeply scarred, physically, psychologically and emotionally shattered.

I know exactly how this feels. I was a victim of such trauma. Yet, I did overcome this life-altering experience with psychotherapy.

The Attack

It was a beautiful, sunny day in June when I drove into the parking space behind my best friend’s apartment building. She lived on the other side of the building, and so couldn’t see me approach. Thus, she had no idea what was about to happen. Neither did I.

Since we were going to do our hair and nails at her place before going out to a restaurant for dinner afterward, I gathered my purse and situated the bag containing shampoo, conditioner, blow dryer, curling iron, hair spray, makeup and change of clothes in the front seat. There was no one on the sidewalk and no cars nearby. As I opened the door to get out, my purse was hanging on my shoulder, my car keys in my other hand.

Suddenly, I felt something sharp pressed into the left side of my neck, and someone grabbed me roughly to pin my right arm back.

“Don’t move,” a man’s voice commanded.

I didn’t. I couldn’t. Everything seemed so surreal. Time seemed to stretch on forever as I stood petrified.

I felt my purse yanked off my shoulder and felt the sharp tip leave my neck. I sensed motion and after a few seconds realized my attacker was gone. I turned my head and saw two young males running down the sidewalk that led to another apartment building and forked to a small park.

For some reason, I started yelling at them to stop. Then, inexplicably, I took off after them. One turned, saw me, and they split. I ran after the one I thought had my purse, although I couldn’t be sure. He had a huge head start on me and I soon lost him.

The sidewalk ended on a residential street. There was a man watering his tiny patch of grass and I ran up to him and asked if he’d seen a young guy barreling by. He said he hadn’t and asked me what happened. Out of breath, just then beginning to realize how foolish my actions had been in trying to chase my attackers, I told him. He urged me to call the police.

I felt like my legs turned to Jell-O, but I slowly made my way back to my friend’s place and tearfully related what happened. She drove me to the police station and I made a report. The officers held out slim hope that the attackers would be apprehended, but said they’d be in touch if they did.

We went back to my friend’s place and had some iced lemonade. Forget the evening plans. Forget me going home to my apartment that weekend. My house keys, identification, wallet, address book with my home address in it, my checkbook with the same, my medication, all were now in the hands of my attacker.

I did call my upstairs neighbor to give him a heads-up. He promised to watch my place.

Three days later, on my return home, my neighbor met me at my door. It had been broken into and the doorjamb was destroyed. My neighbor said he heard loud banging the night before and went out on his balcony to look down. He yelled and saw two guys making off with something, although he couldn’t see what it was. He called the police.

I spent the next few nights at my mom’s house, while the landlord installed a new door and lock at my apartment. I also got a call from someone who said they’d found my purse, and wanted to know if I wanted it. I was afraid this was a scam, so I arranged for the finder to meet me at the police station with my purse. I did, and the purse was fine, although the money, my ID, checkbook and keys were gone. I offered a $20 reward, which the man gratefully accepted. I had to borrow the money from my friend to give to him.

The Nightmares and Flashbacks Begin

For months after the attack, I never slept through the night. I tossed and turned, knowing that when I did fall asleep, I’d have vivid nightmares that replayed the traumatic event over and over. In the daytime, any sudden movement put me on edge. The sound of a man’s commanding voice anywhere – on the TV, radio, in the market, at work – put me right back to the attack. I felt the knife tip, heard his insistent voice, saw the wild-eyed look in his eyes. The latter is something I remembered in the split-second when he turned to look at me on that sidewalk.

As I attended night school at university, I was also afraid to go from my car to classes. My schoolwork suffered. I had to finally drop out of school for the semester.

At work, my attention wandered. I couldn’t stay focused on the task at hand. Often, my supervisor would find me gazing off into space. I barely knew he was there, for what I was seeing was the attack happening all over again.

He suggested I go for counseling and said my company benefits would pay for it. I asked a few friends for recommendations for a psychotherapist, selected one, made an appointment, and began therapy.

The Long Road Back to Mental Health

It wasn’t easy reliving the violent episode with my therapist. Although he knew that was the reason that I started therapy, there were other items in my past that needed attention as well. We first had to establish trust. I’ll admit the thought of psychotherapy was very unnerving, but I was in a precarious state and needed help.

My therapist was a kind, gentle man. He spoke softly, whether to ease my fears or that was his regular demeanor. All I know is that I instinctively trusted him and believed he wanted the best for me.

In helping me learn how to deal with my trauma, we went over self-protective measures I put in place immediately following the attack. He also encouraged me to stay in close contact with my upstairs neighbor, my family, co-workers and friends so they knew my schedule and could tell if something was off. This gave me an added sense of security.

Working to rebuild my self-confidence and self-esteem took quite some time, and he used different approaches for that. I know I cried a lot during sessions, and a lot more at home. Still, I felt I was getting stronger every day.

I knew that I’d never again put myself in harm’s way. Before exiting a vehicle or building or wherever I went, I taught myself to be keenly aware of my surroundings. I needed to be able to quickly identify escape routes, to impress on my memory specific details of people, places and things around me – in case I needed those facts later.

While in those days, I don’t recall the words post-traumatic stress disorder or panic attack, I know now that I probably suffered from both. I was prescribed anti-anxiety medication that I took for a period of months before my therapist felt I could be weaned off them.

Did therapy help me overcome trauma? Absolutely. Was it a rapid healing process? No, it took a couple of years to undo the damage that one traumatic act of violence inflicted. Yes, I did heal. Frankly, the episode gave me an overwhelming appreciation for life and gratitude that I was able to survive what could have been another fatality statistic.

Overcoming Trauma Is Possible – with Help

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Small Things I Do Every Day to Manage My Bipolar Disorder

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Living with bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming. Maybe you’re tired of the ups and downs of different episodes—the soaring energy, the debilitating fatigue, the racing I-need-to-do-everything-and-I-need-to-do-it-now thoughts, and the dark, decelerated, bleak thoughts.

Maybe you’re exhausted from struggling with an especially stubborn and deep depression, which makes it tough to concentrate on anything, and feels like you’re walking through a river of waist-high molasses in a fog.

Managing bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming, too. What can make it much easier is getting effective treatment. Bipolar disorder is highly treatable—but a lot of people with the illness don’t get professional help.

Author Charita Cole Brown pointed out that “Of the estimated 5.7 million Americans living with the disorder, over 50 percent won’t seek treatment.” She wrote the memoir Defying the Verdict: My Bipolar Life “to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in general and bipolar disorder in particular. People need to understand how important it is to seek appropriate treatment.”

“My recovery is no anomaly,” Brown said. “By sharing my story, I want people to understand that mental illness is physical illness, therefore we must seek treatment as we would for diabetes or a broken arm.”

In addition to seeking treatment, there are small things you can do every day. Below, alumni from This Is My Brave share the small and significant ways they manage their bipolar disorder. This Is My Brave is an international nonprofit organization that hosts live events and publishes essays on their website written by people who are living with mental illness and living well.

Checking in. Amy Gamble is a speaker, executive director of NAMI Greater Wheeling, and a former Olympian. Every day and throughout the day, Gamble checks in with how she’s doing: “’Are my thoughts racing a little or do I just have a lot of creativity going right now?’ If I find I’m a little charged up or anxious, maybe even hypomanic, I take extra precautions not to make a lot of decisions.”

Gamble monitors her behavior, too. “I think about what is typical for me when I’m balanced. I am a very deep thinker and don’t typically make impulsive decisions. If I start acting on impulse, I reel myself back in. I don’t always notice a change in my behavior right away, but I monitor with hypervigilance.”

Suzanne Garverich also carves out time to pause and do a “self-inventory.” “I assess quickly how I am doing emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually,” said Garverich, a public health advocate who is passionate about fighting mental health stigma through her work on suicide prevention as well as telling her story. This helps her identify her needs—“before I go too far down the rabbit hole”—and meet them.

For instance, if Garverich determines that she’s feeling emotionally low and having dark thoughts, she figures out what she needs to do to “help me not go deeper into the dark thinking and depressive feelings.” She might call a friend or take a 10 to 15-minute walk. “It could be as simple as walking to the water fountain and drinking some water—just moving a muscle to change a thought. It could also be that I need to do some redirection of my thinking using my CBT and DBT skills…”

Having an effective bedtime routine. “The major thing I do is to make sure I get 8 hours of sleep a night,” Garverich said. “This really helps in keeping me balanced—sleep has a huge effect on my bipolar.”

To help herself get restful sleep, Garverich maintains a routine. Two to 3 hours before her bedtime, she stops doing anything work-related. She usually watches 30 minutes to an hour of TV. Then about an hour before her bedtime, she takes her nighttime medication, and gets into bed to read. Some nights she also takes a shower or bath.

“I also spend time before I go to bed breathing on my back and reviewing my day—seeing what I have done well, what I would like to improve, and if there is anything I need to share with anyone.”

She sets her alarm for the same time every morning. After she wakes up, she meditates in bed for 30 minutes. (More on meditation below.)

Practicing mindfulness and meditation. Gamble, also author of the book Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor: An Olympian’s Journey with Mental Illness, practices meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness. “Staying in the present moment keeps me from getting down about how my illness has limited me.” (She also reminds herself that “everyone has something they are dealing with.”)

Every day Gamble listens to a playlist of her favorite meditation songs. “I put on my headphones and attempt to quiet my thoughts. I focus on slowing my mind down and paying attention to my breathing.”

Garverich also finds it helpful to practice deep breathing throughout the day, especially if she’s overwhelmed. For instance, at work, she usually takes a break and goes to the bathroom to take deep, slow breaths.

Connecting with others. “For me what is really important to achieve daily, to manage my illness and nourish my well-being, is feeling connected and not alone in my thoughts,” said Susie Burklew, who shared her story at the 2018 This Is My Brave show in Arlington, and co-produced the fall 2018 show. Eight years ago, for the first time, Burklew told her therapist that she thought she had a problem with alcohol. Her therapist suggested Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

“I went to my first meeting that evening and I haven’t had a drink since. For the first time in my life I felt like I wasn’t alone. I connected and was inspired by people who had been through the same struggles and were living a happy life in recovery. I formed a strong network of people in AA and became comfortable opening up about my addiction to alcohol.”

For the past 6 years, Burklew has worked as a behavior specialist and counselor at a government residential rehab that specializes in co-occurring disorders.

Today, reaching out to someone on a regular basis—such as someone from her recovery network—helps her to stay in the moment, instead of getting “caught up in the stress of something that’s happened in the past or the fear of what’s ahead.”

Garverich connects with at least one person in her support system every single day. She might talk to this person over the phone, or they might simply text. Either way, this helps her know she’s not alone—something her illness wants her to feel, she said.

Sivaquoi Laughlin, a writer, blogger, and mental health advocate with bipolar II disorder, makes sure she spends time with her grandson and her dogs every day. “The energy from both provide me with a level of joy that I’m constantly yearning for.”

At the end of the day, Laughlin also sits down with her “16-year-old daughter and [we] discuss our day and name something good/great that happened. Even if it’s been a hard day or we haven’t had time to really connect, I make sure she knows that every day has a highlight.”

Engaging in art projects. “I undertake artistic projects daily. I am no good at it, but I can feel like I can breathe,” said Teresa Boardman, who has treatment-resistant bipolar I disorder with PTSD, OCD, suicidal ideation, and hypersomnia. Her latest project is a birdbath. “It is quite discombobulated that I decided to go with a steampunk theme. Now it is beautiful because I changed how I see it.”

Reducing the to-do list. Every morning, Laughlin lets her dogs out, and immediately makes a cup of tea. Next, she looks at the day ahead and jots down three things she’d like to accomplish. “They could be simple, such as returning a library book or dropping off dry-cleaning to bigger projects like organizing my closet or mowing the lawn. I’ve found that by committing to only three things, it keeps me from being overwhelmed and being triggered by ‘voices’ telling me I can’t do something.”

Boardman makes notes on her bathroom mirror of things she needs to do. For instance, she might list her exercise routine (e.g., 20 minutes of cardio, 20 minutes of yoga), and that she needs to take her morning medication and her evening medication. Boardman noted that she tries to work with her illness and its varying moods. After having over 20 electroconvulsive treatments (ECT), she realized she needed to take a different approach and embrace her illness.

It’s understandable that living with bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming and frustrating. But remember that there are 5.7 million Americans struggling alongside you. Remember that this illness, though difficult, is also highly treatable.

“Don’t give up hope,” Gamble said. “Things will get better, and you can learn how to manage the symptoms. They might not go away completely, but you can learn how it affects you. You can learn how to beat bipolar disorder.”

Small Things I Do Every Day to Manage My Bipolar Disorder

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How Writers Write About Heartbreaking Things and Care for Themselves in the Process

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For more than 20 years, Mary Cregan wanted to write her recently published memoir The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery, but she felt that she couldn’t. It’s primarily because she wasn’t ready to face the exposure required to be so honest about such a devastating, difficult part of her life.

Because that’s the thing about writing: We let readers into our innermost thoughts and feelings, into our souls, and that can be scary.

We tackle topics we’d never bring up with a close friend, let alone a stranger, and yet that’s exactly what we do. We share our stories with thousands of strangers.

Writing about heartbreaking things and publishing that work makes the private very, very public, a process that we, of course, can’t reverse. This is especially difficult if you were taught to keep your stories to yourself, behind closed doors. As Cregan writes in The Scar, “In my large Irish Catholic family, the tacit understanding was that it was best not to draw attention to oneself.”

Nita Sweeney thought she was writing a memoir about running, but after many, many drafts realized that she was writing a memoir about how running saved her life—from depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and alcoholism.

“The fact that I’d gone from a woman who could barely walk around the block into a marathoner was important, but the real story was that I’d gone from a woman who wanted to kill herself into one who wants to live,” said Sweeney, whose forthcoming memoir Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink will be published mid May.

Mental health advocate and writer Hannah Blum regularly writes about her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her blog “I’m Bipolar Too” and her website Halfway2Hannah.com. While there are many parts of her story she’s not ready to share, writing about difficult things actually isn’t that difficult for her.

“Turning my pain into art gives power to any of the challenges I have faced throughout my life.”

“It’s when I am writing about the people I have met along my journey who were not given a chance because of their mental illness that I struggle to write about the most,” Blum said.

Author, mental health advocate, and Psych Central editor Therese Borchard has been writing online about her experiences with mental illness for many years (and before that she shared her story in her print column). But that doesn’t make sharing any easier.

“It’s extremely difficult to share the more personal posts. My index finger hovers over the publish button sometimes for an hour before I have the courage to press it,” Borchard said.

Why Write About Such Hard Things?

When a friend asked Cregan why on earth she’d want to revisit the worst days of her life—the death of her infant daughter, and her descent into a deep, unrelenting, suicidal depression—Cregan realized that it was because she’d spent decades trying to conceal that time. “…I wanted to turn to the past and face it squarely,” she writes in her memoir.

Cregan also wrote her story as a way to reject the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness. She wrote it for her younger self, and for the young women in her family who, too, live with depression.

“It is also for the countless people who find themselves struggling to cope with internal forces that feel overwhelming but—as I try to show in these pages—are survivable,” she writes.

She writes at the end of her book: “Most importantly, I want to encourage people in the depths of hopelessness to believe that they can come through, and to find help from a compassionate, responsible professional who will care for them until they do. People in the grip of severe depression might take as their mantra a line from Rilke so relevant to all kinds of human trouble that it has become an Internet meme: ‘Just keep going. No feeling is final.’”

Sometimes after publishing a vulnerable post, Borchard feels like she’s “walking around naked,” and wonders if it’s really worth it. “However, then I will get an email or comment from a reader who tells me she feels less alone because I shared it, and it makes it worth it.”

Blum, too, is propelled by the people who read her work, along with the mental health community in general. “Knowing that I may help someone not feel so alone or encourage them to accept themselves is a gift to me. Relating to people emotionally through words inspires me every day to write.”

For Borchard, writing about the more challenging parts of her recovery helps her in another powerful way, as well: “I get to recognize the voice within me that doesn’t necessarily come out in casual conversation with friends or even in therapy. There is something about writing about your experience that clarifies it…”

Self-Care During the Writing (and Publishing) Process

After Borchard pens a difficult piece, she’ll often walk in the woods or over to the creek by her house. This is when she processes what she’s written—and tells “myself that should I get scathing responses, it doesn’t detract from my truth—that I am a good person who speaks from the heart, even if that truth isn’t received well.”

Blum finds it helpful to sit with her thoughts, and journal what she feels. She also reads books by Hemingway along with pieces from modern-day poets, such as April Green, Lang Leav, and JM Storm.

For Cregan, when the writing became especially difficult, self-care looked like refocusing her attention toward researching or writing less personal sections of her book. On the days it felt unbearable, she’d schedule several sessions with her psychiatrist.

She also found it helpful to “change the channel” in her mind, something she still does today when she’s getting depressed. “I read or watch a movie or see a friend—anything, really, to get my mind out of the track it’s stuck in.”

Exercise is equally critical for Cregan’s well-being, which she does regularly, whether it’s indoor cycling or yoga.

For Sweeney, self-care while writing includes: hugging her husband, cuddling her dog, running, spending time with a supportive community, meditating, taking medication, going to therapy, not drinking, and calling her sister.

Because Sweeney writes regularly, the actual process isn’t so difficult (more on that below). But the after is.

“My mindfulness meditation practice helps with the aftermath, the ‘post-writing’ emotional hangover…During the time I’ve allotted for this practice, the huge rock in the pit of my stomach or the noose tightening around my neck becomes the object on which I focus. Awareness and a non-judgmental attitude transform these unpleasant sensations into something more neutral. It might sound like hocus pocus, but it’s quite intensely practical and for me, effective.”

And sometimes, Sweeney said, she needs a good “scream-cry.” “I do my best to experience heaving chest, stinging tears, and howling, with awareness and equanimity. If I find myself judging any of this, that becomes the object of meditation.”

The Power of a Regular Writing Practice

Sweeney also has developed a consistent, strong writing practice. Thanks to studying with Natalie Goldberg, she’s learned to “shut up and write,” and “go for the jugular.”

“Following [Goldberg’s] suggestion, I’ve spent years, no, decades, pushing my pen or pounding keys into painful and unpleasant memories. Hours reading aloud to small groups of people then listening to others who are also sharing their difficult situations by reading aloud, developed my spine.”

Plus, Sweeney has participated in National Novel Writing Month every year for a decade, writing or revising nonfiction. “Producing 1667 words a day during the 30 days of November, trained me to write on a regular schedule the rest of the year.”

Because she’s always writing, nearly every day since 1994, she doesn’t think about it. “It’s just what I do. If I thought about it too much, I’d never do it.”

Borchard views writing from the heart as “just another way of living sincerely, or with integrity.”

“It’s not for everyone, but I’ve found that the more transparent I can be in my life, the more I create opportunities to bond with readers and others on their journey. You are like a travel guide of sorts. So it’s also a privilege and one I take seriously.”

How Writers Write About Heartbreaking Things and Care for Themselves in the Process

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What It Means to Be a Mental Health Advocate—And How to Become One

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

See credits below.


Over the years, the stigma surrounding mental illness has significantly decreased. One of the biggest reasons?

Mental health advocates.

These are the individuals who tirelessly share their stories in all sorts of ways. They remind us that we’re not alone in our struggles—and there is real, tangible hope and healing. They shatter stereotypes and myths about mental illness, helping the public see that people with mental illness are just people.

As Jennifer Marshall said, “By showing the world that we’re your neighbor, your family members, your friends, and we are not only surviving with these conditions, but thriving, we’re educating the world and changing the world for the better.”

If you’re thinking about becoming a mental health advocate, you might be wondering what advocates actually do, and how to get started. We asked advocates who are doing all kinds of incredible work to share their insights.

What It Means to Be a Mental Health Advocate

Therese Borchard defines a mental health advocate as “anyone who is a voice for those suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other disorder—who hopes to disseminate a message of hope and support.”

Similarly, Marshall said it’s “someone who learns how to take the best care of their mental health and shares openly about their story to help others.”

According to T-Kea Blackman, an advocate is “a change agent,” “someone who educates his [or] her community on mental health, reduces the stigma and fights for change in the behavioral system.”

Sally Spencer-Thomas, PsyD, thinks of advocacy as a “spectrum of engagement” from allies to activists. An ally is someone who feels connected to challenging the discrimination and prejudice related to mental illness, but might not act on their feelings. An advocate uses their voice to encourage change. An activist “engages in intentional action to move change along—getting people organized, moving legislation, changing policy.”

What Mental Health Advocacy Looks Like

There’s no one way to advocate. It really depends on what’s important and inspiring to you—and what you feel comfortable with.

Borchard mostly writes and has created two online depression support communities: Project Hope & Beyond, and Group Beyond Blue, on Facebook. She also serves on the advisory board of the National Network of Depression Centers, speaks to different groups, and helps depression organizations spread their message.

Blackman hosts a weekly podcast called Fireflies Unite With Kea, where she gives “individuals who live with mental illness the opportunity to share their stories.” She hosts mental health events and speaks at workshops and conferences. She also works as a peer recovery coach for a pilot program, helping others with their personal and professional goals.

Years ago, Marshall started a blog at BipolarMomLife.com, after being hospitalized for mania four times in 5 years. Today, she’s the founder of an international nonprofit organization called This Is My Brave. They share stories of individuals who have mental illness and live full, successful lives through poetry, essays, and original music. This Is My Brave hosts live events, and has a YouTube Channel.

Spencer-Thomas is a clinical psychologist, and one of the founders of United Suicide Survivors International, “pulling together a global community of people with lived experience, lifting up their voices and leveraging their expertise for suicide prevention and suicide grief support.” She also advocates for workplaces to become involved in mental health promotion and suicide prevention; for providers to learn evidence-based clinical practices; and for innovation in men’s mental health through campaigns such as Man Therapy.

Gabe Howard, who believes that “advocacy must start with open and honest dialogue,” primarily does public speaking, and hosts two podcasts: The Psych Central Show, and A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. He’s also testified in front of legislators, served on boards and advisory councils, and volunteered for various initiatives.

Chris Love has shared his story of recovery from substance abuse all over North Carolina. He works as a counselor at a substance abuse treatment center, and with the nonprofit organization The Emerald School of Excellence, which is North Carolina’s first recovery high school for teens struggling with substance use.

Lauren Kennedy is an advocate who speaks to all kinds of audiences, including police officers, high school and college students, and healthcare professionals. She also has a YouTube channel called “Living Well with Schizophrenia,” where she talks about mental health and her own experiences with schizoaffective disorder.

The “Why” Behind Advocacy

“Being an advocate is important to me because I believe the only way we’re going to eliminate the stigma, judgment and discrimination surrounding mental illness and addiction is by putting our names and faces on our stories,” Marshall said. “This Is My Brave does this one person and one story at a time.”

For Kennedy, being an advocate is important because “people living with mental health problems are just that, people; and deserve to be treated with the same respect and compassion as anyone else.”

Similarly, Blackman’s mission is to “show that mental illness does not have a look,” and to “show those in the African American community that it is OK to attend therapy, take medication (if needed) and pray.”

“We do not have to choose our faith over our mental health, or vice versa. Every human deserves the right to have access to mental health treatment. Therapy is not a white or rich people issue; this is a myth that must be dismantled in my community.”

Spencer-Thomas views her advocacy work as her life’s mission after her brother died by suicide. “Every day I get up to prevent what happened to Carson from happening to other people. I feel that he walks alongside me, encouraging me to be courageous and bold. My fire in the belly is fueled by the process of making meaning out of my loss. I would do anything to have him back, but he’s not coming back, so my work is part of his legacy.”

Howard noted that as someone with bipolar disorder, he’s been unfairly judged and discriminated against. He’s had difficulty accessing care—and seen others experience difficulty, as well, because of their finances, where they live, and other circumstances.

“I just couldn’t sit by and do nothing. It seemed wrong to me. I tried to ‘hide in plain sight,’ so I could avoid the negative reactions—but it felt so fake to me.”

During Borchard’s lowest points, reaching out to others relieved some of her pain. “In those times when nothing, absolutely nothing worked, becoming an advocate for those who suffer from depression and anxiety, gave me a purpose to strive for, to get out of bed. Today, I continue to feel the benefits of service. It connects the random dots of life.”

How to Become An Advocate

Becoming a mental health advocate can include big and small actions—it all matters!

  • Advocate for yourself. As Blackman said, you can’t be an advocate for others if you don’t first advocate for yourself. For instance, she recently talked to her therapist and psychiatrist about discontinuing her medication. They collaborated on a specific plan, which includes continuing to attend weekly therapy sessions and calling her doctor and returning to medication if she notices any negative changes. According to Blackman, advocating for yourself means getting educated, understanding your triggers, developing coping skills and stating your needs.
  • Share your story. Start with family and friends, which also will reveal whether you’re ready for a wider audience, Borchard said. Love said if you’re comfortable, consider sharing your story on social media. “The beginning of ending stigma is being able to put it out there and talk about it.”
  • Educate your immediate circle. “There is a tremendous amount of power in reflecting on how you think and talk about mental health, and how you can help others in your life to take a more positive and accepting stance on mental health and mental illness,” Kennedy said. For instance, you can correct misinformation, such as using person-first language (“person with schizophrenia”), instead of “schizophrenic,” she said. Blackman also noted that you can text family, friends, and colleagues articles about mental health. In fact, she started by sharing articles and videos with loved ones to help them understand what she was going through.
  • Volunteer. Many of the advocates suggested joining local mental health organizations and assisting with their programs and events.
  • Get a mentor. “Like most things, getting the right mentor is about building relationships,” Spencer-Thomas said. She suggested noticing people you’d like to be like, reading their posts, leaving comments, and asking questions. “Volunteer for events or at meetings where [this person] is present…Ask them directly about being a mentor and set realistic expectations.”
  • Get trained in legislative advocacy. Spencer-Thomas noted that one way to do that is to become a field ambassador for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
  • Find your niche. “[F]ind the thing that you are better at than most and that inspires you,” Howard said. This might be anything from public speaking to writing to fundraising to managing volunteers, he said.

Advocates who’ve been there also remind us that even though we can’t see past our pain right now that doesn’t mean this will be our future. As Blackman said, “…I am amazed at how I went from not wanting to live [and] attempting suicide [to] using my experience with mental illness to educate and reduce stigma.”

What It Means to Be a Mental Health Advocate—And How to Become One

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When Faith Alone Can’t Heal Depression

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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There is no question that religion and spirituality can help pull us out of darkness and provide the hope and inspiration that is needed to persevere through despair. Several studies over the last decade have confirmed the positive role of faith in recovery from depression.

How Faith Helps Depression

A 2016 study from the University of Utah School of Medicine demonstrated how religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits. In the study 19 young-adult Mormon church members performed four tasks in response to content meant to evoke spiritual feelings. Based on the brain imaging scans (fMRI), researchers found that when participants experienced spiritual emotions, there was activation in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain critical for processing reward, and in the medial prefrontal cortex, responsible for judgment, moral reasoning, and focused attention.

In a 2014, researchers at the Columbia University’s Teachers College documented other brain changes caused by religious experience that contribute to emotional resilience. Lisa Miller, professor of psychology, and colleagues found that the participants in the study who valued spirituality showed thicker portions of brain cortices that may protect against depression, especially in those at high risk. A previous study by Miller and her team published in The American Journal of Psychiatry showed a 76 percent decrease in major depression in adults who said they highly valued spirituality or religiosity, and whose parents suffered from the disease.

Religion not only provides hope, it assigns meaning to suffering. Stories of redemption encourage us to look at the bigger picture and find consolation in the wider, spiritual perspective of our hardships. In other words, they place our pain in the context of other faith heroes, which makes us feel less alone in our dark night.

Stigma and the Church

But what about when we spend hours on our knees and feel no respite or consolation at all? What about when our faith fails to heal us? Are we bad Christians? Bad Catholics? Do we not believe enough?

Just as religion and spirituality can lift us out of despair, a simplistic approach to faith can worsen symptoms of depression and interfere with treatment and recovery. When some believers don’t get better, they feel as though they have failed at one more thing – that they aren’t the disciples that Jesus called them to be. Unfortunately, this kind of stigma is reinforced in many congregations.

A while back, a reader left this comment on one of my blogs:

I am a Christian and I truly believe in Jesus Christ, the son of God, and He has helped me through many dark times, but just as the diabetic, the heart patient, the patient with high blood pressure I must have medicine to treat my illness. Unfortunately, many pastors and other Christians say that I am on happy pills, never thinking how sad that makes those of us who struggle with this illness.

Her experience is hardly unique. Consider the following statistics (which I edited for clarity) from several LifeWay research studies:

  • A third of Americans say mental illness could be overcome with Bible study and prayer alone.
  • Almost half of pastors say they rarely or never speak to their congregation about mental illness.
  • Less than 5 percent of churchgoers who lost a loved one to suicide say church leaders were aware of their loved one’s struggles.

When I was a sophomore in college, I attended a Mass in the chapel of one of the dorms. I was struggling with suicidal thoughts at the time and had just agreed to start taking an antidepressant after fighting about it for a year and a half with my therapist.

“Psychologists’ offices are starting to replace confessionals,” the priest said. “We need to bring sin and spiritual warfare back to church, where they belong.”

I stood up and walked out. With those two irresponsible sentences, he discounted the 18-month struggle I endured to arrive at a place where I was finally okay seeking treatment. That was the beginning of a recovery that last 15 years, the start of a new life for me. Had I listened to him, I may not be here today. I continue to hear variations of his words today in homilies today. Each time, I walk out.

Redefining Miracles

Let me be clear. I do believe in miracles, very much so. And I believe our faith can bring on miracles. I have witnessed the line of crutches hanging over the grotto in Lourdes, France, proof of hundreds or thousands of disabled persons whose faith somehow allowed them to walk away. A year ago, a friend of mine claimed that she was “healed” of her depression during a prayer service and has been able to reduce her meds.

Most of the time, though, I believe that God offers us certain tools for intervention — medication, psychotherapy, support networks. It is by employing them that we are healed. The work isn’t separate to our faith. We don’t just sit back and wait for Jesus to relieve our symptoms.

I suppose my God is more high maintenance, demanding a little action and cooperation from me, much like the joke about the guy who dies in a flood despite his prayers for God’s rescue:

As the floodwaters rise, a man named Sam calls for God’s help.

First a neighbor offers him a ladder.

“Nope, my God is coming,” Sam replies.

Then the police arrive with a rescue boat. “Hop on board!” they instruct him.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Sam says, “God will save me.”

And finally, the national guard provide a helicopter, and he tells them to go away, too.

Sam dies, goes to heaven, and asks God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?”

“I sent a ladder, a lifeboat, and a helicopter…what more could I do?” says God.

When it comes to depression, don’t be Sam. Get on your knees. Derive a sense of hope and meaning from your religion or spirituality. However, if your faith doesn’t cure you immediately, don’t beat yourself or become idle in your recovery. Continue to do the hard work. Because most miracles demand a little sweat.

When Faith Alone Can’t Heal Depression

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Feeling Completely and Utterly Alone Because You Have a Mental Illness? This Can Help

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

See credits below.


You have a mental illness, and you feel incredibly alone. Intellectually, you know that you are one of millions of people who also have a mental illness—people who also have depression or an anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

You know that you’re not the only person on this planet to be in pain.

But it doesn’t matter. Because it looks like everyone around you is just fine. You’re the only one who has a hard time getting out of bed, who feels overwhelmed by everything, no matter how small. You’re the only one who feels like an impostor and a fraud. You’re the only one who feels irritable and on edge for no reason. You’re the only one who can’t seem to get through the day. You’re the only one who has strange, sad, uncomfortable and cruel thoughts.

But you’re not. You’re really not.

Sheva Rajaee, MFT, is the founder of the Center for Anxiety and OCD in Irvine, Calif. She’s lost count of the number of times a client has started a session by saying: “I know you hear things every day, but this one is really weird.” When the client shares their “gruesome or socially unacceptable thought,” Rajaee’s face barely registers surprise.

Why?

“…[B]ecause I’ve had the experience of seeing thousands of clients, which means thousands of thoughts. I’ve come to understand that if the brain can think it, the brain can obsess about it, and that everyone experiences dark thoughts and scary feelings,” Rajaee said.

Kevin Chapman, Ph.D, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders in Louisville, Kentucky. His clients regularly tell him that they’re the only ones who feel afraid to go into a carwash, they’re the only ones who freak out at Target, they’re the only ones who feel like they’re dying, and they’re the only ones who are dwelling inside a bubble while everyone else is actually living their lives.

Rosy Saenz-Sierzega, Ph.D, is a counseling psychologist who works with individuals, couples and families in Chandler, Ariz. Her clients have told her: “I know everyone knows what it’s like to be sad, but being depressed is much worse…it’s like the darkest shade of black…it’s like a 100-foot pit that I have fallen into and there is no way out. I’m in there, alone, and I know I can’t get out.” “I can’t even describe what I feel to my friends because they just think I’m exaggerating.” “Being around people is just too difficult, but being alone means it’s only me and my dark thoughts.” “I feel like I have an emptiness I can never fill; I can’t ever deeply connect with anyone because they will never know what it’s like to be me…in my head.”

According to Chris Kingman, LCSW, a therapist who specializes in individual and couples therapy in New York City, “thoughts like ‘I’m the only one….’ or ‘I’m alone in this…’ are cognitive distortions. They are irrational.”

We tend to automatically generate these kinds of thoughts when we’re feeling vulnerable and are in an unsupportive environment,” he said. Sadly, while it’s getting much better, as a whole, our society isn’t very supportive of people with mental illness. That’s “because most people have not had sufficient education about mental health and illness; and [they] feel uncomfortable when faced with others’ mental health struggles.”

Cognitive distortions also are part and parcel of illnesses like depression and anxiety. For instance, Saenz-Sierzega noted that “depression creates a severely negative view of the self, the world and of one’s future—which frequently includes feeling as though no one can possibly understand what you are going through, how you feel, and how to help. [And this makes] it that much harder to seek help.”

While seeking support is certainly challenging, it’s not impossible. And it’s the very thing that will make a huge difference in how you feel and in how you see yourself. So if you’re feeling alone and like a massive outcast, these suggestions can help.

Validate your feelings. Acknowledge, and accept how you’re feeling, without judging yourself. Honor it. “The experience of having a mental health disorder of any kind can be emotionally and physically draining, and even with all the help in the world there will be days when you feel down and alone. This is normal,” Rajaee said.

Revise your self-talk. Kingman stressed the importance of not telling ourselves that we’re alone (or inferior or broken or wrong), because “feelings aren’t facts.” As he said, you might feel alone, and inferior and broken and wrong—and that’s a valid experience, as any emotion is—but these emotions don’t reveal some end-all, be-all truth.

“The issue is that you feel vulnerable and insecure, and you need support but you’re afraid of judgment and rejection.”

Kingman encouraged readers to record your thoughts in a journal. Specifically, observe how you talk to yourself, “catch” yourself when your thoughts are critical or demeaning, and replace these thoughts with constructive, compassionate, supportive self-talk, he said.

Seek therapy. If you’re not seeing a therapist already, it’s vital to find one you trust, Saenz-Sierzega said. A therapist will not only normalize your feelings and help you better understand how your mental illness manifests and functions, but they’ll also help you build a healthier self-image and learn effective coping tools and strategies.

“The gift of mental illness is that if navigated well, you come out a survivor,” Rajaee said. “The same tools and coping strategies you have had to learn through treatment give you a resilience that makes other challenges in life more doable.”

You can start your search for a therapist here.

Reach out. This is a powerful way to “get outside of your own head,” Saenz-Sierzega said. “Surround yourself with person(s) who love you, know your worth, and appreciate you for who you are.” Talk to them about how you’re feeling.

Join an in-person or online support group. For instance, Kingman suggested participating in 12-step recovery groups. They “are free and there are many groups in every city for so many human issues, like alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, relationships, emotions, over-spending, and more. Lots of acceptance, support and solidarity in these groups for human suffering, diagnoses [and] struggles.”

Also, check out the online depression communities Project Hope & Beyond and Group Beyond Blue.

Rajaee suggested finding online forums with people who’ve been through what you’re experiencing. Psych Central features a variety of forums.

Another option is a therapy group, “where the experience of being human and the struggle of having a mental health disorder is normalized and where you are celebrated for your strength and resilience,” Rajaee said.

Finally, Saenz-Sierzega suggested texting “home” to 741741.

Listen to sound mental health information and relatable stories. “[I]f you’re not ready for [therapy, or want to expand your knowledge], start with a podcast on mental illness to get familiar with how to even talk about it and to learn what helps others,” said Saenz-Sierzega.

She recommended Savvy Psychologist and the Mental Illness Happy Hour. Psych Central also has two excellent podcasts called A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic and a Podcast, and The Psych Central Show.

Read inspiring stories. “To alleviate human suffering, we need solidarity with others who are suffering and working on their own process,” Kingman said. He recommended reading the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Psychologist David Susman has a blog series called “Stories of Hope,” where individuals share their mental health challenges and the lessons they’ve learned.

Psych Central also features numerous blogs written by individuals who live with mental illness.

Create a list of comforting things. Your list might include activities, movies, songs or photos that make you laugh or spark a fond memory, Saenz-Sierzega said. Turn to something on your list when you’re having a hard time. Let it “remind you of who you are and who you are fighting for.”

Mental illness is common. If you just look at anxiety disorders, the stats are staggering. They affect about 40 million individuals per year, Chapman said. Forty million. Maybe this is reassuring to you. Maybe it’s not. Because your soul feels alone.

This is when reaching out is critical. This is when talking to someone face to face or in an online forum is critical. Because this is when your soul actually hears the truth: You are not alone. You are absolutely not alone.

Feeling Completely and Utterly Alone Because You Have a Mental Illness? This Can Help

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12 Ways to Keep Going with Depression

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

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About once a week I hear the same question from a reader, “What keeps you going?” The short answer is lots of things. I use a variety of tools to persevere through my struggle with depression because what works on one day doesn’t the next. I have to break some hours into 15-minute intervals and simply put one foot in front of another, doing the thing that is right in front of me and nothing else.

I write this post for the person who is experiencing debilitating symptoms of depression. The following are some things that help me fight for sanity and keep me going, when the gravity of my mood disorder threatens to stop all forward movement.

Find a good doctor and therapist.

I have tried to beat my depression without the help of mental health professionals and discovered just how life-threatening the illness can be. Not only do you need to get help, you need to get the RIGHT help.

A reporter once referred to me as the Depression Goldilocks of Annapolis because I have seen practically all of the psychiatrists in my town. Call me picky, but I am glad I didn’t stop my search after the third or fourth or fifth physician because I did not get better until I found the right one at Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center. If you have a severe, complicated mood disorder, it is worth going to a teaching hospital to get a consultation.

Be just as choosy with your therapist. I have sat on therapy couches on and off for 30 years, and while the cognitive behavioral exercises were helpful, I didn’t begin making real progress until I started working with my current therapist.

Rely on your faith — or some higher power.

When everything else has failed, my faith sustains me. In my hours of desperation, I will read from the Book of Psalms, listen to inspirational music, or simply yell at God. I look to the saints for courage and resolve since many of them have experienced dark nights of the soul — Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Mother Teresa. It is of great consolation to know that God knows each hair on my head and loves me unconditionally despite my imperfections, that He is with me in my anguish and confusion.

A substantial amount of research points to the benefits of faith to mitigate symptoms of depression. In a 2013 study, for example, researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, found that belief in God was associated with better treatment outcomes.

Be kind and gentle with yourself.

The stigma attached to depression is still, unfortunately, very thick. Maybe you have one or two people in your life who can offer you the kind of compassion that you deserve. However, until the general public offers persons with mood disorders the same compassion that is conferred on people with breast cancer or any other socially acceptable illness, it is your job to be kind and gentle with yourself. Instead of pushing yourself harder and telling yourself it’s all in your head, you need to speak to yourself as a sensitive, fragile child with a painful wound that is invisible to the world. You need to put your arms around her and love her. Most importantly, you need to believe her suffering and give it validation. In her book Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., documents some of the research that demonstrates that self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being.

Reduce your stress.

You don’t want to give into your depression, I get that. You want to do everything on your to-do list and part of tomorrow’s. But pushing yourself is going to worsen your condition. Saying no to responsibilities because your symptoms are flaring up isn’t a defeat. It is act of empowerment.

Stress mucks up all your biological systems, from your thyroid to your digestive tract, making you more vulnerable to mood swings. Rat studies show that stress reduces the brain’s ability to keep itself healthy. In particular, the hippocampus shrinks, impacting short-term memory and learning abilities. Try your best to minimize stress with deep-breathing exercises, muscle-relaxation meditations, and simply saying no to anything you don’t absolutely have to do.

Get regular sleep.

Businessman and author E. Joseph Cossman once said, “The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” It is one of the most critical pieces to emotional resiliency. Practicing good sleep hygiene — going to bed at the same time at night and waking up at a regular hour — can be challenging for persons with depression because, according to J. Raymond DePaulo, Jr., M.D., co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, that’s when people often feel better. They want to stay up and write or listen to music or work. Do that too many nights, and your lack of sleep becomes the Brussels sprout on the floor of the produce aisle that you trip over. Before you know it, you’re on your back, incapable of doing much of anything.

Although pleasing our circadian rhythm — our body’s internal clock — can feel really boring, remember that consistent, regular sleep is one of the strongest allies in the fight against depression.

Serve others.

Five years ago, I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor and Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl and was profoundly moved by his message that suffering has meaning, especially when we can turn our pain into service of others.

Frankl’s “logotherapy” is based on the belief that human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose. If we devote our time and energy toward finding and pursuing the ultimate meaning of our life, we are able to transcend some of our suffering. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel it. However, the meaning holds our hurt in a context that gives us peace. His chapters expound on Friedrich Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why can bear almost any how.” I have found this to be true in my life. When I turn my gaze outward, I see that suffering is universal, and that relieves some of the sting. The seeds of hope and healing are found in the shared experience of pain.

Look backwards.

Our perspective is, without doubt, skewed during a depressive episode. We view the world from a dark basement of human emotions, interpreting events through the lens of that experience. We are certain that we have always been depressed and are convinced that our future will be chock full of more misery. By looking backwards, I am reminded that my track record for getting through depressive episodes is 100 percent. Sometimes the symptoms didn’t wane for 18 months or more, but I did eventually make my way into the light. I call to mind all those times I persevered through difficulty and emerged to the other side. Sometimes I’ll take out old photos as proof that I wasn’t always sad and panicked.

Take a moment to recall the moments that you are most proud of, where you triumphed over obstacles. Because you will do it again. And then again.

Plan something fun.

Filling my calendar with meaningful events forces me to move forward when I’m stuck in a negative groove. It can be as simple as having coffee with a friend or calling my sister. Maybe it’s signing up for a pottery or cooking class.

If you’re feeling ambitious, plan an adventure that takes you out of your comfort zone. In May, I’m walking Camino de Santiago, or The Way of Saint James, a famous pilgrimage that stretches 778 kilometers from St. Jean Port de Pied in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The anticipation of the trip has fueled me with energy and excitement during a hard stretch of my life.

You need not backpack through Europe, of course, to keep moving forward. Organizing a day trip to a museum or some local art exhibit could serve the same purpose. Just be sure to have something on your calendar other than therapy and work meetings.

Be in nature.

According to Elaine Aron, Ph.D., in her bestseller The Highly Sensitive Person, approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population is easily overwhelmed by loud noises, crowds, smells, bright lights, and other stimulation. These types have rich interior lives, but tend to feel things very deeply and absorb people’s emotions. Many people who struggle with chronic depression are highly sensitive. They need a pacifier. Nature serves that purpose.

The water and woods are mine. When I get overstimulated by this Chuck E. Cheese world of ours, I retreat to either the creek down the street or the hiking trail a few miles away. Among the gentle waves of the water or the strong oak trees in the woods, I touch ground and access a stillness that is needed to navigate difficult emotions. Even a few minutes a day provide a sense of calm that helps me to harness panic and depression when they arise.

Connect with other warriors.

Rarely can a person battle chronic depression on her own. She needs a tribe of fellow warriors on the frontline of sanity, remembering her that she is not alone and equipping her with insights with which to persevere.

Five years ago, I felt very discouraged by the lack of understanding and compassion associated with depression so I created two forums: Group Beyond Blue on Facebook and Project Hope & Beyond. I have been humbled by the level of intimacy formed between members of the group. There is power in shared experience. There is hope and healing in knowing we are in this together.

Laugh

You may think there’s nothing funny about your depression or wanting to die. After all, this is a serious, life-threatening condition. However, if you can manage to add a dose of levity to your situation, you’ll find that humor is one of the most powerful tools to fight off hopelessness. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” That’s what laughter does. It lightens the burden of suffering. That’s why nurses use comedy skits in small group sessions in inpatient psychiatric units as part of their healing efforts. Humor forces some much-needed space between you and your pain, providing you a truer perspective of your struggle.

Dance in the rain.

Vivian Greene once said, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

When I was first diagnosed with depression, I was sure that the right medication or supplement or acupuncture session would cure my condition. Ten years ago, when nothing seemed to work, I shifted to a philosophy of managing my symptoms versus curing them. Although nothing substantial changed in my recovery, this new attitude made all the difference in the world. I was no longer stuck in the waiting room of my life. I was living to the fullest, as best I could. I was dancing in the rain.

References

Rosmarin, D.H., Bigda-Peyton, J.S., Kertz, S.J., Smith, N., Rauch, S.L., & Björgvinsson, T. (2013). A test of faith in God and treatment: The relationship of belief in God to psychiatric treatment outcomes. Journal of Affective Disorders, 146(3): 441-446. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016503271200599X

Hildebrandt, S. (2012, February 6). How stress can cause depression [blog post]. Retrieved from http://sciencenordic.com/how-stress-can-cause-depression

Frankl, V.E. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Cutchogue, NY: Buccaneer Books.

Aron, E. (1996). The Highly Sensitive Person. New York, NY: Carol Publishing.

12 Ways to Keep Going with Depression

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Welcome to the Bipolar Club

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

See credits below.


One of my best friend’s nephews was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He’d been in mental distress for about a year and was self-medicating, so this didn’t come as a surprise to me. In a way, it was a relief because the kid could finally get the right help he needed. I’ve had bipolar disorder since 1991 (and probably before that.) I told my mother that my friend’s nephew was diagnosed.

“Mom, you know Peter’s nephew, Jonathan?”

“Yes,” she said.

“He was diagnosed bipolar.”

“Oh, no!” she said with a horrified look on her face. I might as well have told her that he’d passed away.

I have to say, her reaction surprised me. I didn’t know that she viewed the disease with the angst that she did. But she’s been the mother of a daughter who’s been bipolar for almost 30 years. In many ways, it must be harder to stand by and watch a close loved one go through the roller coaster of this illness than to have it yourself.

18-year-old Jonathan’s diagnosis was certainly no big deal to me. It wasn’t the deal breaker that it appeared to be for my mother.

My friend Peter called me. “Would you talk to Jonathan?” he asked.

“You mean about bipolar disorder?”

“Yes.”

“Sure.”

“You’re the most successful bipolar person I know.”

“Wow, what an honor!”

“No, truly.”

“Well, thank you.”

“You’re more successful than most people I know, never mind the bipolar.”

What could I say? The illness took its toll in years gone by, but today, I was in recovery, had a job, was raising a child, had a good marriage and a freelance writing career, had great friends. I’d finally come into my own. I guess I was a good role model for a newly diagnosed person.

I planned out what I would say to Jonathan.

  1. Take your medication. If you don’t take your meds daily, your life will be shit. (Sorry, about my language, but there’s no better way to say it.)
  2. See a psychiatrist and a psychologist. The psychiatrist will handle the medication, and the psychologist will talk to you and help you cope with this often debilitating disease.
  3. Be careful whom you tell. Not everyone is comfortable with mental disorder. If you spread the word haphazardly, you might lose friends and keep from making new ones.
  4. Don’t mix street drugs and alcohol with your prescription meds.
  5. Plan for your future. Don’t quit school and lie low for a few months or a year. You might never get up. Dig in and get a degree, then a job, then a place to live, etc.
  6. Be happy that they found out what was making you crazy. You’re one of the lucky ones. There’s nothing worse than undiagnosed severe mental health issues.
  7. Rely on your family and true friends for support.
  8. Exercise, exercise, exercise. (This is something that I need to start doing. I don’t always practice what I preach.)
  9. Believe it or not, this malady will make you a strong, better person.
  10. Sometimes, you’ll feel like giving up. Don’t give up.

The above is a list of ten things I’d like to tell Jonathan, but I could go on and on. I think I’ve covered the major issues.

As far as my mother and her horror of Jonathan’s bipolar diagnosis, I have to realize that, again, she’s been experiencing my pain all through my disease process. Now that I’m in recovery, she can display how she feels about bipolar disorder.

I will do my best to help Jonathan. I’ve been down this road before.

It’s not a road I would have chosen, but it’s my road, the road that has characterized my life.

Welcome to the bipolar club, Jonathan. You’ll be fine. You really will. Don’t let the diagnosis get you down.

Welcome to the Bipolar Club

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