Here it is…a somewhat assorted variety…a mixed bag, if you will, of tools. Tools that have worked for me…and in my professional experience…many others along the way. Others, whom like myself have had to deal with the darkness of depression, the disorienting fears of anxiety and the sometimes relentless battles that are endured when fighting mental illness. Disclaimer: Since mental illness is, well…ya know, an illness like any other…many of these tools work brilliantly when dealing with other sometimes chronic illnesses as well! The list is by no means comprehensive…it is simply some of my “GO TO” tools that I have found to offer hope, distraction and some real life strategies.
Creating a self-care tool box: To be clear…I have made both the “metaphorical tool box” and also the real life actual BOX. It contains reminders of what has worked in the past, touchstones for coping and items to grab on to emotionally and/or physically in times of need. Perfect for when your brain chemistry does not allow you to “access” what seemed like “such a great idea” while on your therapist’s couch last Tuesday!
THE MENTAL HEALTH “TO DO LIST” (Remember what works for one, does not work for all…take what you like and leave what you don’t) *** or…riddle me this….even if you don’t like it, why not try it anyway, because depression will lie and tell you…”That is stupid, YOU ARE NOT doing that!” Screw it… Do that shit anyway!!!
While I was in graduate school in NYC, a quirky, albeit, brilliant professor said to me, “In all my years of practice, I have learned there is NOTHING that breathing can’t make better.” Is this hyperbolic? Perhaps. (Breathing…while swimming underwater, may not make swimming underwater better…) Outside of that, I have seen this be true time and time and time again…in my practice and certainly in my own life.
So…BREATHE. Learn mindful breathing. The balloon Breath. A Simple inhale through the nose, slow and deep…Hold… release slowly through mouth. Repeat out loud, IN….OUT. Slowly. A nice relaxed pace…(just do it as it feels right for you…no over thinking here)
Stretch….bend, walk around the yard, down the block. Look at the grass, look at the clouds. Pick a flower or a leaf or a rock… and stare/study the details. Take pictures of flowers or nature or the sky. Your goal might be “do this for five minutes 3x per day” and work up your time intervals and rest when needed.
Get in WATER…A shower, a pool, a garden hose, a sprinkler…an ocean…a lake. Being in water changes your perspective. Also, DRINK (water!) A GLASS OF COLD WATER WITH ICE, SLOWLY. CRUNCH THE ICE, SIP THE COLD WATER. FEEL THE WAY IT CHANGES YOUR BODY. Force yourself to stay hydrated. Sounds too simple? Strangely it is often the simple things that work! **Disclaimer II: If you are feeling acutely suicidal call hotline/911 and stick with just drinking the cold water, hold ice cubes, feel them in your hand…wash your face with cool wash clothes. Call and talk on the hotline, with a friend or your therapist.
Go on Youtube (or the like there of )…search up guided meditations for “anxiety” depression, anger, fear, love, etc. Listen… Some will suck, but a few will be great…try some.
Read : Read blogs…funny ones, random one, “How To ones” (fill in the blank, mine was learn to loom knit)…. and one’s for support. Head over to Twitter: Bluelightblue or The bloggess…or Speak Your Truth…or any mental health blogs for support! Watch cute animal videos. Search funny memes on weird topics…look at the ever popular e-cards. It’s called distraction people! It works.
Support…even online support (especially online sometimes…because it is always there.) I think the right forums, twitter feeds, facebook groups…they can really help!
http://www.twitter.com/pixeedust72 (MY twitter feed…SPEAKYOURTRUTH)
Literally, make a box. Use an old one to decorate or make one out of wood or a shoe box (whatever works)…decorate it…cut up little pieces of paper and write POSITIVE things (Box of Hope)….Make a box…cut up paper, write what you would like to let go of, painful stuff, things you want gone or healed or feel to heavy for your right now. Give it a name. Your “wish box”…prayer box…worry box?
Go look for smooth rocks…wash them…feel the earth and watch the dirt wash away. Dry them. Feel the texture. Get permanent markers or paint…write worries, fears, things you want to let go or even affirmations…pray on it, meditate on it and throw them in water, river, lake, ocean, a damn puddle…preferably the visual is seeing them floating away. You can do one rock at at time…You can also throw them in the woods…far…just make sure NO ONE is in your line of fire. Bury them…Or you can keep them. Possibilities people, possibilities!
Go somewhere safe (with a trusted friend) …and break stuff…I did this with old crappy plates I got at a garage sale, I went to an old abandoned lot with trusted and emotionally safe friend. Yelling my anger/pain/traumas…with each smashing plate. (Was this the smartest thing? Perhaps not. Did it help release deep rooted pain and childhood wounds? Yes…yes it friggin’ did. **Disclaimer III: If you break shit that you really wanted or get in trouble with the law, this is just a blog people, I hold no responsibility. Ya know? Free will and what not.
Physical Activity…This is a tough one…especially with depression giving ya the ol’ serotonin sucker punch…but try something/anything… (why not?) Kick box…chop wood/break sticks…rip paper…power wash shit…mow a lawn. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I can tell you this…power washing dirty stuff clean, it’s healing and cathartic in it’s own weird way. (for me) Lawn mowing…OMG!!! Meditative, physical and productive.I have a strange obsession with pool skimming as well… that also helps with anxiety. Sorry people, but this shit has and does personally help me. I skimmed today. Yay!!!!
Do art journaling….Go on Pinterest and look up art journals. Do composition notebook art. In fact…Just go on Pinterest and start looking shit up. Plan real or imaginary things/trips…(secret magical rooms, gardens, sacred spaces) Start a resource guide for all that ails you. “Natural remedies” “Mental health tools” …whatever…Pin it.
Plan vacations…you may or may not go on them…just look up what you might want to do one day. Day dream about it. I like vrbo.com to imagine all the houses I am going to rent, like everywhere.
Make a play list: Add songs you love or find new songs. Ask others what their inspiration songs are. Again…a shout out to http://www.bluelightblue.com (I believe she did an article that included something about what our fight songs are to get us through.) Right now, I am so feeling Lake Street Dive, Alabama Shakes and my own personal obsession of many years… Ani Difranco.
Get Some Art Stuff and Make Shit: Model magic (my favorite/Play dough/ clay etc.) and play with it and make stuff and be a kid, even if you are a grown up! Get a coloring book and color….YUP from 1 to 110 years old…coloring helps. *put a picture or a tiny creation in your BOX!
Buy a plant or 10…start with one. Take care of it. Learn about that specific plant. What it needs, what it doesn’t. Take care of it. If it dies (it happens people…go get another plant) Try again.
So there you have it folks… Like I said, this list is far from comprehensive, however, it is comprised of things that have actually worked for people. ( First with me and then as I share ideas with my clients they often give positive feed back! ) Now…LISTEN. It’s not perfect…it’s not magic. Therapy, Medications, Support Networks…those are important and life saving tools that also may fill our unique tool boxes. If you struggle with the darkness and feel there is no way out…put this in your box and use it! You can call as often as you need.
PLEASE…Feel free to comment on what has helped you and remember…there is always hope, help and light, even on the darkest night…sometimes, we just need a a few tools along the way.
Love, Light and Healing Always….
What do you do when you want to write…but your mind feels blank…yet your heart feels weighted and heavy in a way that it needs emptying? I don’t know what to do with my feelings tonight…I am dealing with an illness (lupus) that has managed to completely wreak unexpected havoc on my body and mind, on my spirit and even on my home for that matter. And tonight (and many other nights, days, afternoons, mornings…I AM THOROUGHLY PISSED OFF! ) I am also confused and sad and honestly, I simply and sadly feel as a person I am CHANGED.
I have always been an emotional person…a “feeling a lot”, (perhaps too much) type of person. My ability to tune into my own feelings and as well as deeply empathize with the feelings of others has pretty much guided the course of my life. I am a psychotherapist by profession and I truly love my job, it is sacred and beautiful to travel with others on their own inner journeys. However, right now, I am definitely in the midst of some deeply painful shit…and though I have an abundance of dear friends, parents that love me beyond words, a husband who has been by my side for almost 20 years, two beautiful boys…tonight and so many nights as of late, I feel so completely and utterly alone.
I know, at least I hope, that I will be able to find ways to integrate these dark feelings in with the light…I will have to find ways to weave the painful shredded fibers in with the hopefully stronger, fabrics that make up relief and healing. I pray I find ways to ease the relentless questions of my mind, find a way to stop the unending search for answers, the hows, the whys, the what the hells? The what if’s? Yes, those, “when the fuck did this happen?” type of questions, the ones that I am sure may never be answered nor would they be particularly useful if even if they were. I mean do I really need to know…”Yes…it was that bug spray, that spray paint, that north wind that caused this disease to activate.” I can’t turn back time and undo any particular event that may have contributed to this process…so it is just toxic to live there.
I have been having terrible nightmares as well…a side effect of some medication, in my opinion. So, I feel infinitely more apprehensive this evening, in these late hours of the night. Yet, as I nod off to sleep, quite literally, falling in and out of consciousness while writing this…I realize that my 13-year-old son has snuggled up next to me, his head leaning on my hip, his size 10 man feet dangling from my bed. (Now…this is not great since he has strep throat and a 101 fever) however, just for tonight, I am willing to risk just about anything to steal what is sadly becoming…a more limited number of tender moments, the one’s that he used to offer up so freely and abundantly . Yet, tonight …on his own thirteen year old terms (which apparently could be a side effect of him being kind of sick and weak? HEY…I’ll take what I can get! ) Tonight…he is being generous with his snuggles. When he came in to say goodnight, he actually took my arm and said “mommy…I love you so, so much”…This unsolicited declaration is not common place anymore, so if that was the only moment, I would have savored it.
I am also realizing… just as I write this…that some of my heavy heart is also entangled in the thirteenth birthday of this beautiful boy. He is a May baby…just like his mamma. He is dancing on the cusp of crazy adolescence, while still hanging on a bit longer (thank God) to the threads that keep him my sweet little boy.
So, just for tonight, I worry and grieve and choke back what feels like an endless supply of tears because it feels this sickness is stealing away parts of my life. The parts of me, that at no point and time, and I mean NEVER, NOT EVER… not one damn time, have I offered up for the taking! These dark feelings try to grip me and drown me in sorrow, they try to take hostage my sleep and my inner peace. But on this night….I lay here in bed, with my laptop humming, my husband sound asleep to my right and my son somehow fitting perfectly into the small space that is left on my other side. All of a sudden, I feel acutely aware of the abundance of gifts in my life.
I am not as alone as I thought just a mere 20 minutes ago. How can I not cherish the beauty of what I DO have? Pain and fear are making it all too easy to focus on what I don’t have. While I fight and battle with this pain, this disease and all its unknowns, I begin to realize that there are a few things that I do know and I know them with absolute certainty!
My thirteen year old, the tough guy, the one who drives me to the brink of insanity almost daily…the one who pushes every damn button I have and laughs as he get’s the crazy to come dancing and jumping right the hell out of me! My boy…the one who gets the reactions he had hoped as he encourages his younger brother to join in the game of “let’s drive mommy to the brink and watch the show!” Yeah…that’s my boy. However, for now… he remains snuggled up, sound asleep by my side. His breathing is a steady rhythm bringing unexpected reassurance about mostly everything in the whole world right now. You know what? I am thinking these days may be numbered and that kind of makes me cry even as I type this…Tears. So in this moment, I will simply cherish his sleepy, fevered head by my side, cherish it with every ounce of my being.
My eight year old tried to wrangle his way into our bed earlier and we had the “NO WAY” discussion because he is “too accustomed” to his sleepy mommy and daddy just caving and saying… “sure…come child, disrupt our sleep…because we are too tired and old to fight you off.” So, tonight…he stays tucked under his Spider Man Comforter, head nestled in Avengers pillows. The night is young at 12:19 am, so he may still find his way in, during the wee morning hours. But for now, it seems my heaviness, my darkness, is unexpectedly lifted. I think it’s by this writing, it is by this process of letting my thoughts flow out into words, however poorly written, I just don’t care. Really, I don’t…They are out of my head and on the screen and I can’t help but feel a bit lighter.
I also feel lucky…or is it grateful? Yes, It is Grateful. Tonight I recognize that I have my struggles, my pain, my illness…but it is certainly not all that I have and is most definitely NOT all that I am. Chronic pain can try to steal the brightness from my life…but there is no possible way that it can know this secret…the secret that deep, pure and unconditional love is simply and fully immune to being stolen! It just can NOT be stolen by a thief and his cruel and stealthy ways. For it seems that tonight, I am veiled in protection, I am cloaked in peace. All by this little man who drives me to unimaginable levels of frustration by day…but on this particular night, he is the sweetest of lights. He is the thread weaving together the good and the bad. He is the integration between pain and freedom.
He may likely never know, how on this night…when I felt like all of my chips had been cashed in and the cruel “thief” known as pain tried to steal all of my good…that he was my protector…and that was just from being by my side, his unexpected snuggles and his drifting off to sleep. I listen to him breathe and I feel grateful and I feel blessed. I feel honored by his presence tonight.
I also feel like within 24 hours I will likely be infected with Strep Throat…which can’t be good when dealing with an f’d up immune system, but I feel like this…what’s a bacterial infection if not just a tiny price to pay? Payment for the precious snuggle and sweet, sleepy, unconditional love that is being so freely offered tonight. I don’t know if it’s the fever or the antibiotics or genuinely a boy just needing his mom…honestly, it doesn’t much matter, I’ll take it.
So thank you my boy…thank you for getting me out of my funk…and most likely giving me yours.
Lately, I have been spending more time in the evening outside with my garden…my plants, my flowers, the earth. I have a disease that is making it almost impossible right now for me to be in the sunlight. I have been mourning parts of who I used to be, while fiercely trying to adapt…to acclimate and navigate what I may become. This is new to me and sometimes the grief is heavy. However…there is a gift that seems to be an integral part of this painful process. The gift is being alone with my thoughts (but not in a scary way…) I am in solitude, yet feel one with the earth…in my garden, in nature. Not in the sun…but in the quiet hours of dusk, through the stillness…through the quiet, gentle breezes…If I am able to quiet my mind and listen closely…I can sometimes hear the lessons being gently taught.
Lessons from my garden
Upon looking at a flowering bush that was all but “dead” two springs past… The one I was being encouraged to chop down and discard, and I ALMOST conceded to, but did not, because…HOPE! This is what she whispered to me last night…(if you take issue with my plants metaphorically speaking to me, stop reading…like, right now…seriously… I won’t be offended. She had a lot to say! )
So She Spoke…
“Just because I “look” dead…does not mean I am dead! Give me time. My own time. Not your time. Nor someone else’s ideas and pressures of time. Won’t you help me out a just a bit? I will have to do most of the work, (the really tough inner work)… but perhaps you can help brush away the dead leaves, the ones that are making it hard for me to grow. Might you even trim my branches? Just the ones that you know for a FACT are hurting me…for this will allow my other less fractured ones to grow even stronger. ”
“If it seems someone did not know how to care for me in the past or perhaps even harmed me by planting me in the wrong environment…maybe you can learn about how to help me take root in a new space. A space that might be more suited for what I need to thrive. However…once you help me move, it’s going to take me time to learn, time to learn about this new and healthier space. Perhaps… to even know I have arrived somewhere new. I beg you… Please, give me time to adjust, time for my roots to take hold…I am not used to being in conditions that are well-suited for my heath. I am not used to all of this potential!”
“Just because It is good for me…and YOU know it’s far better…I will still need time to understand that I am really here…in a place with more favorable conditions for my survival. In my own time, I may learn that sunlight and water and rich soil that is filled with nutrients, is in fact, better than the darkness I had so grown so very accustomed to. I didn’t truly understand I was in the darkness, I even learned to like the darkness… don’t you see? I didn’t know my conditions were as unfavorable as they might have been…for they were all that I knew.”
“So my friend, just because YOU know it’s healthy and better….does NOT mean that I don’t deserve plenty of time to adapt and learn, on my own, HOW and WHY it is better. So please, PLEASE… don’t over water me just because I never had enough of it in my life. Give it to me little by little. Don’t keep telling me how wonderful it is on this side…let me come to that on my own. Check on me from time to time, come and sit by my side every now and again. You just might be surprised that although I may not be perfect (and who amongst us is?) and I may not always use or “appreciate” all of my resources like it seems the others do, Ya know…the ones that have always lived on this side of the garden? Even still…I will still grow. One leaf, one branch, one petal and maybe even one blossom at at time”
“And please remember this…winter will come again. The seasons will change, the ground will shift, the temperature and climate will not always be optimal for me. I will fade. I may be buried and I may even “look” lifeless. But as we know, it seems that things are just as they should be. And when that time comes again…just help me brush off the remains of seasons past. Perhaps even honor those decaying leaves…for they protected me from the harshest of weather. Maybe, to you, they do not look pretty, but to me… those are the very things that kept me alive and warm through the storms.”
“Please don’t be discouraged by my reluctant pace or my damaged and misshapen branches or blossoms. Instead…Sit in AWE of my tenacity, my resilience, my remarkable ability to survive all I have. To have survived and still be counted amongst the living! I am my own unique miracle. So THANK YOU…thank you friend, for not giving up on me and for giving me the time and the space I needed to grow and to heal. It may not be how others would do it …but it is the way that seems exactly right for me.”
“I do like it here on this side of the garden and believe it or not…I am even teaching the others that were born in just the right place, a thing or two that they may need to better survive these harsh, unpredictable winters. In return…it seems, they may be showing me a little something…like how to not be so very afraid of such an abundance of all of the things that I had always needed…but didn’t even know I had been missing.”
And That Is What She Said.
So…as you can see…we all have something to learn. Lately, it is me being the student and nature being the teacher. And that is just fine. As long as we remain teachable and open, you really never quite know, from where the lessons will come from.
Remember…it was a rough winter…this was covered in decaying leaves, ice and snow… invisible for so long, maybe even considered gone forever. Yet despite unfavorable conditions…this feisty flower said, “Not so fast bitches…I will bloom in spite of it all.” And little by slowly, I am watching it happen. If you are struggling for hope or the conditions feel tough or impossible, you too, have the innate ability to bloom. Look around you…sometimes hope comes in unexpected forms. May you find some beautiful, tiny glimmers of light on this holiday weekend. As for me…things have been rough, things have been painful…but my plan includes some serious pushing up through the mud and the darkness and blooming the fuck out of this day.
Now…this is a different determined little guy…but he too, refused to be held down.
and her too!!
We all gauge the multitude of so-called successes and failures of parenting moments by different variables. We (us parents) each have a different set of lenses in which we view our children, how we may “think” they are doing. Whether we are talking in general, like their grades, behavior or mood or we are looking at more of the minutia. Little snapshots in time, that sort of show you something unique in your child’s development or personality. It can simply be a look, a statement, a small conversation…watching them play, when they don’t know you are looking…those tiny moments that go on, but often are a reflection of who they are “right now” and even perhaps a foreshadowing of who they may become.
Now…I have two boys. They are both vastly different in both looks and personality alike. They are five years apart. Despite their differences, I try to raise them in quite the same manner, with the same fibers of morals and values being loosely woven through our years together.
O.K…I will cut to the chase. One is a teen and one is in second grade…I am, what one might describe as a bleeding heart liberal. A heart on my sleeve kind of girl. I am a social worker by trade and by human make-up. For as long as I can remember, I have tried to be the voice for the voiceless. The cheerleader for the underdog. The advocate for the marginalized and oppressed…YOU GET IT. My husband, is also a mental health professional and is a Latino male, who despite his best efforts, still carries with him what I might describe as this “semi” machismo perspective. He has come a long way and is also himself, incredibly liberal but let’s just say when my boys were little and I bought them baby dolls and a stroller to push them in (which they did often and around the neighborhood) …he seemed kind of was perplexed, he “sort of” tried to discourage me from letting them… (I wasn’t having it). I would have to say that his reaction was rooted not only in his cultural roots and norms and gender and social norms but also…rooted in FEAR. ( we all know, having a baby doll turns you gay right? )
“Not my boys…not baby dolls? They are not GIRLS!” As the years have gone by…he has softened a lot… has a greater understanding of why I would encourage that … and as for my boys, despite my best efforts…they don’t seem to really embrace there feminine side right now, and that is o.k. It seems, at least right now, they are kind of these brutish, loud, wrestle each other to the ground primate type of kids. (which does not mean they are not sensitive emotionally) But they are rough, crazy, sports nuts who are dirty and what societal/gender stereotypes may reference as or consider “All Boy”. Whatever… I still send the message that it is o.k to cry, to openly talk about feelings, to be sensitive and most importantly to not feel pressured to conform to social norms “just because”.
One of the other things we do together, though I watch next to no television, is watch several weekly sitcoms. One is Modern Family…think what you may about the show, but it has allowed us to crack up together, to explore a vast range of family issues and also to have on-going dialogue with my kids about homosexuality. Questions come in many forms like…”why are those guys married mom AND they have a baby?” Just one of the questions my younger one has asked. My teen…he kind of get’s it already and knows I am open about whomever people love they just love. My little one has asked questions over the past year, and more recently, he seems to “get it” a little more. (not sex…he does not know what that is yet, outside of kissing) But he knows a girl can love and marry another girl…a man can love and marry another man. That God made us all different and amazing and that is o.k.
In a world where gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual youth have so many struggles, higher rates of clinical depression/ anxiety and a significantly higher suicide rate, I feel it is my job as a parent to keep an open dialogue with my kids. To send the message that no matter who they are, whom they love or even if they were confused….they will always be accepted, loved and supported, at least in our home. Now, obviously my son is in second grade, so I don’t go into great detail. I just answer what he asks and try to communicate that however you are, it’s o.k and you will be loved.
It’s kind of hard to gauge how they are doing on that. My older son had a sleep-over…with a diverse group of boys. He mentioned one would be pretty late because he has dance. (now being most of his friends are on sports with him…I talked to him about this… just out of curiosity because I never met this boy…what kind of dance, how late will he be?) He answered without much thought…” he’ll be pretty late and he will be hungry…and ummm, I don’t know, he does ballet, jazz, hip-hop…yeah…he is kind of feminine, but I don’t think he’s gay, but honestly…who really care’s anyway?” (For a seventh grade boy…to me this signals, he is getting it!)
Now, my younger son…was snuggling with his big, muscular, Latino father (otherwise known as my husband) I walked in to his room and said jokingly “Hey you…You are always snuggling with my husband…you better give him back to me !” He glanced up at me, with wild and sleepy eyes, as my hubby lye half asleep and boldly said “HE IS MY HUSBAND NOW…WE ARE GAY!”
Let’s just say my husband was no longer asleep…He gave me the look of “You did this” but then smiled… and I thought to myself:
“YES…PARENTING WIN!!!” (yeah…I know…I may have clarify a few things as time goes on) but he was being silly and I thought to myself…So far, So Good!
So…I don’t know if anyone else will find this fucked up or not, so I will just throw it out there. MAY IS LUPUS AWARENESS MONTH. MAY IS BRAIN TUMOR AWARENESS MONTH. MAY IS MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH. MAY IS MY BIRTHDAY.
Let’s just throw all the cards on the table and say…is it some kind of freaky shit show of a coincidence or karma or fate or JESUS? Is it a taurus thing? BUT…I have LUPUS. I HAVE A BRAIN TUMOR…I AM A SURVIVOR OF DEPRESSION, ANXIETY AND TRAUMA (let’s not forget my ADHD diagnosis too) . I also happen to be a freakin’ clinical psychotherapist who continually advocates for mental health issues.
What the friggity FUCK May? I think I am going to look at this like the universe has given me my own special month to kill as many fucked up birds with several colorful awareness ribbons. (I mean of course they would have to be strangled, because the old “two birds with one stone” wouldn’t actually work in this scenario) But death by ribbon, with little birds might work. (people I am kidding, I love birds and ribbons for that matter)
I mean, I totally appreciate the awareness. It is in fact critical and shines a beacon of light and hopefully research and cash on these very real struggles. (not really my birthday part though… just to be clear)
But really…it’s honestly got me wondering what might have been in the water in MAY? This is the trifecta of some weird alignment in the stars in the 70’s.
Forgive me for sharing this quirky observation…perhaps it means NOTHING…but just as a PSA, It might be prudent to just go ahead and check those damn ribbons aligned with your birthday.
(let me know if I am on to something)
And one more question…is it excessive to celebrate them all AND where the rubber awareness bracelets too? I totally don’t want to steal the fucking show?
But honestly. It’s MY MOTHERFUCKING BIRTHDAY. So doesn’t that give me carte blanche to just be a shit show of ribbons and rubber bracelets?
I think so…yes, I think it does.