Yearly Archives: 2011

Today was a good day; what gives?

Today was a really good day. I don’t know why exactly, but it was.

Never mind the troublesome fact that having one good day is blog worthy. That probably means I have a long way to go in fully recovering from a crash-and-burn episode of severe depression last summer.

Yet that’s a blog for another day. Let’s get back to today. It was a whistle-in-the shower, think funny things, eat chocolate and enjoy life kind of day. Seriously.

Since I reverse engineered a bad day in an earlier blog, let’s walk back through today and see if we can identify what made it a good one. The fact that I didn’t have to go to work today surely is a factor, but I promise you I have just as many bad days on the weekends as I do during the work week—sometimes more. But in the interest of full disclosure, I was off today (work, that is).
  • I ate a healthy breakfast. I learned in a partial hospitalization program that good nutrition is key in battling depression. This morning, I had a wheat waffle covered in peanut butter. No syrup!
  • I went for a brisk walk. I’m a runner at heart but can’t bring myself to run hard again just yet. I’ve lost my edge, lost that eye of the tiger with this soul-sapping illness. But instead of lying on my ass today, I got it moving. I made two personal phone calls that I needed to make while walking, one to my mom and one to my brother.
  • I did not drink alcohol last night. Back when I was a heavy drinker, the next day or two (okay, three) were often brutal. My anxiety would go through the roof. My depression would worsen. That was almost a guarantee.
  • I took some time for myself. I went and got a massage. I’ve blogged about the benefits of massage before. It really helps me. If you are screaming through the keyboard that you can’t afford a massage right now or don’t have the time for it, fine. The point is I did something for me and me only. That’s pretty rare for me but it’s critical in recovery.

Today wasn’t perfect. But what day ever is, even for “normal” folks? Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to simplify a complicated illness. Some days are brutal for those suffering from depression no matter what we do. Truth is, today was a good day because of choices I made today, yesterday, and the day before that and probably even the month before that. I’ve been taking my meds and making my appointments with my therapist, for example. 

I want to thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I write to cope and, hopefully, connect with others who suffer. If you had a bad day, take heart. Keep fighting. It will get better.

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When Mornings Start Rough, Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Fake it ‘til you make it.

That’s what one great collegiate golf coach that I know tells her players when they’re having a bad round. “Fake it ‘til you make it” means a bad start to a round of golf, or a work day at the office, doesn’t have to always turn into a bad afternoon.
Sometimes you just have to fake it til you make it, or keep plugging away until things improve.
Too many Mondays are like that for me. Today was an especially Manic Monday. At least the morning was. I awoke tired and depressed. The weather was depressing. Work was even worse—at least until after lunch. 
As I’ve blogged about before, there is a natural explanation for why mornings can be harder for those of us who suffer from depression. It’s partly because our body naturally produces more of the stress hormone called cortisol in the mornings.
That can become a vicious cycle because an elevated cortisol level only makes us more stressed out, which then leads to more cortisol, which then leads to even more stress and anxiety.
Enough with the science, which I have only a limited grasp of anyway.
Sometimes I find, like today, if I can just grind through a tough morning, I can end up with a decent afternoon. I end up setting small goals when mornings start out rough. Like make it to my 10 am coffee break. Finish that letter I’ve been procrastinating. And then just make it to lunch.
That can be enough to propel me to the afternoon, when my energy and mood generally improve. I’ll be honest here. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes all the coffee and positive self-talk I can stand doesn’t make tough starts turn into good days. But I try. We always have to try.
This is a bit dramatic perhaps, but we just need to remember the words of the late Jim Valvano, the North Carolina State basketball court who led his team to an unlikely National Championship and then died of cancer a decade later.
“Don’t give up,” Valvano said. “Don’t ever give up.”
 Words to live by.
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10 things for which I’m thankful

10 things, in no particular order, for which I am thankful (From the perspective of a man who deals with mental illness).

1) My wife: She has stood by me through good times and bad. Compassionate but candid when I need to be called out for not trying hard enough. Would not be here without her and my kids.

2) Valium: Sometimes it’s the only thing that quiets my anxiety and slows down those racing thoughts.

3) My psychiatrist and my therapist: Good doctors who really understand mental illness are hard to find. If you are depressed and aren’t getting the help you need from an internist, I’d make it a New Year’s Resolution to find a specialist.

4) Chewing gum: Gum is definitely underrated.

5) Drug companies: Tar and feather me for saying this, but if they didn’t invest millions in R&D, we wouldn’t have anti-depressants that improve the lives of millions. I have no problem with them making a profit.

6) Starbucks: They say caffeine can actually help with depression. And their Mocha gives me mojo when I’m feeling down. So drink up.

7) Politics: It’s a good diversion when I don’t want to think about my problems. And it makes me realize there are people who are more confused about life than I am.

8) Blue Bell Ice Cream: I read somewhere that too much sugar can impair the brain’s ability to make enough serotonin. That’s okay. Refer back to #2 and #3.

9) My children: For making me laugh, making me cry, for teaching me about patience and for giving me three really good reasons to get out of bed on the days I don’t feel like it.

10)  Football: An even better diversion than politics. Only when my team loses, I have to refer back to #2.

I know it’s been a while since I last blogged, but I haven’t had much to say. Happy Thanksgiving, and feel free to share what you’re thankful for, especially if you deal with mental illness.

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Boredom is no cure for depression

There is a vacuum in my mind.

It is a space that feels this relentless urge to latch onto something, good or bad, real or imagined.

Lately, I have felt a sense of boredom at work, not finding my work to be stimulating enough. It’s not that I don’t have work to do. I do. And I do it. It just isn’t very exciting at the moment.

My wife counsels me to just try and enjoy it when things are less hectic, but that is easier said than done for me.

That vacuum in my brain, when not filled with something interesting or exciting, can cause depression and anxiety.

If the vacuum in my mind is not occupied with something stimulating, the ruminations start. And nothing can stop them.

The problem with boredom and depression is that even though we know being actively engaged in something—whether it’s our work or play—would make us feel better, we often don’t feel like expending energy….the one thing that probably would make us less anxious and depressed.

I wonder how many others who suffer from depression and anxiety are worrywarts like me, their minds always searching for something to be preoccupied with?

Please share your experiences or your thoughts about boredom and depression. Maybe someone can even enlighten me on being more “mindful” and just accepting the ebb and flow of life as it comes.

Sharing always helps, and reading your thoughts might cure my boredom.
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Massage can help relieve depression

Don’t look now, but I’ve had at least three good days in a row. Somebody call Guiness.

I’m not sure who gets the credit. My talk therapist or my massage therapist?

I went into the spa a few days ago with heavy shoulders and a sore back. As those who suffer from depression know, it’s not just an in-your-head problem. Depression hurts. Physically.

As I always do, I emerged from the spa feeling like a bear that just awoke from hibernation—rested, rejuvenated and hungry…hungrier for life too.

While massage may not be a cure for depression or anxiety, it sure does help manage the symptoms. It’s expensive, yes. But can we put a price tag on our mental health?

While the science doesn’t suggest massage is a miracle cure for depression, there are studies like this one that show it sure helps. I always go in with heavy shoulders but come out feeling like a champ.

They say our thoughts control our feelings, but that’s easier said than done for many of us. I’ve found that when my body feels better, say from depression or exercise, it’s easier to tame the torturous negative thoughts that sometimes push me to the edge of sanity and bring on bouts of depression.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found massage to be helpful. If you’ve tried it and it didn’t help, I’d suggest a new massage therapist.

So give it a shot. Massage away that nagging anxiety—even if only for a little while.

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Anxiety: Depression’s Evil Twin

Some times I have to reverse engineer a bad day to figure out how my anxiety gets the best of me.

Today was a tough day. My oldest child is six years away from college and yet I had a near panic attack worrying about how to pay for her college tuition. I worried about how we are going to pay for braces for my youngest two…not to mention theircollege tuition.

I worried about what my family would do if something happens to me. I have insurance, but is it enough?

Today was not unlike most Mondays, actually. I don’t do transitions well—and I’m not talking about my writing style.

The transition from the weekend to the work week is always a struggle. The transition from home to work in the morning and then work back to home at night is hard some days, too.

Change causes anxiety for me. And as I’ve written before, my problems controlling anxiety only aggravate my depression.

My doctor just today decided to increase my dosage of Abilify, because the progress I’ve made since some really dark days this summer has stalled.

(That paragraph is a good example of a bad transition).

In searching around for information on anxiety and depression tonight, I found some helpful informationon depression and anxiety from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. It explains that depression and anxiety disorders are different, but some of the symptoms are the same. They include nervousness, irritability, sleeping issues and problems and trouble concentrating. Sound familiar? Does to me.

I have never been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but I don’t need to be. I know it’s a problem.

So how do I reverse engineer my day? Looking back, I realize I should have done something helpful when the negative thoughts occurred. I should have written down an action item, like figuring out a way to set aside a little additional money for the kids’ college funds. Then I should have stopped worrying about it.

If you are like me, that’s easier to say than it is to do.

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Fighting depression like pulling weeds

I hate pulling weeds. And the flower bed in front of my house is full of them.

The worst part? They’re all tangled up with the jasmine we had planted as ground cover.

The hope was the jasmine would eventually strangle the life out of the weeds, but that hasn’t happened.

It looks like we’ll have to do it the hard way—one weed at a time.

That got me to thinking. It’s a lot like my depression and anxiety.

Fighting depression and anxiety is like pulling weeds. It’s hard work. Now, it’s easy to rip the top off the weeds, just like it’s easy to obfuscate, scratch the surface or dodge the real issues with our therapists. The hard part is getting down to the root of the problem.

Dump-truck talk therapy, in which we just spend an hour jabbering about our week and how we feel, is sort of like ripping off the tops of those weeds. It doesn’t really fix the problem. It’s only going to come back. 

We can dump our feelings on somebody else, but until we figure out how to stop being so anxious, how to stop the negative thinking, it just comes back. And like they say about addiction, it will only come back stronger if we don’t kill the lion.

It’s much harder, so hard I haven’t done it successfully yet, to get to the root of depression. We can take meds, which I do, we can exercise, which I don’t do often enough, and we can spend money and time with our therapists. And yet we can still be depressed and frustrated.

I guess we have to just be patient, keep pulling one weed at a time.

Successful recovery, as I view it in my mind’s eye, looks like a well-manicured garden. It’s just not easy to get there.

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Thank you, Bono and Simba

Music and movies can be mood changers for me.

This was a tough week. Anxiety and depression got the best of me for the most part during Mental Illness Awareness Week, which ends today. Thank goodness. I am quite clearly aware of my mental illness.

But Friday was different, and I have Bono to thank. Bono, Bruce Springsteen and The Lion King in 3D.

Those of us who suffer from mental illness need something to help elevate our mood when we fall into the rut of depression. One trick I learned in a partial hospitalization program this summer was the power of music to change mood.

So I signed up for satellite radio in my car and on my computer at work. With the click of a mouse at work, I can listen to Beethoven or the The Beatles, The Counting Crows or Tchaikovsky. I can climb into The Loft and mellow out with some contemporary eclectic tunes or slide into the Coffee House and soak up a groovy acoustic tune.

I can listen to music to change my mood.

After a four-day losing streak, I won the battle on Friday. My day started with Bono belting out “Beautiful Day” on the way to work. I was almost surprised to find myself strumming along with The Edge on my steering wheel. Was that pure joy just now? Wonders never cease.

As this informative article points out, the connection between music and mood isn’t new. Ancient philosophers knew that music could change their mood, even kings in ancient times used music to relieve stress. We see music used all the time to elevate mood or relax us. My favorite college football team uses rousing music blaring over video highlights to whip the crowd into a frenzy before every home game. And it works every time.

My Friday ended with an uplifting trip to the movies for “Lion King” in 3D with one of my children. Such is the Circle of Life for those of us with depression. The circle will take me to a low again at some point, I know. Not today, though.

Music and movies can change my mood, but I have to be careful.

If I’m feeling depressed, “Terms of Endearment” may not be a great choice for a Friday night flick. When I want to feel better, I change the channel when sad ballads come on my radio. I turn it up when upbeat tunes come on.

So thank you, Bono and Simba. Friday actually felt like Friday should feel.

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