Saturday, November 30, 2013

30 Days of Mental Health Awareness: Day 5

I'm taking part in the 30 Days of Mental Health Awareness Challenge. Every day I'll post in response to their prompts.

Day 5: Do you believe nature (biology/physiology), nurture(environment), a mix, or something else has an impact on mental health?

I believe it's a combination. I majored in psych in college, and we talked about this a lot in my classes. It seems most logical to me that there are some people who are predisposed toward mental illness, and that in many of them, it requires some kind of trigger. This can be a single event or years of buildup.

Of course, there could also be exceptions. Maybe people who get PTSD don't have a predisposition, but the event that triggered it was so traumatic that it didn't matter, for example. The human mind is absurdly complex and we don't come anywhere near understanding it completely yet, so who knows if the current theories are correct, or even in the ballpark.

Friday, November 29, 2013

30 Days of Mental Health Awareness: Day 4
I'm taking part in the 30 Days of Mental Health Awareness Challenge. Every day I'll post in response to their prompts.   

Day 4: What are the pros and cons of having a mental illness(es) or your specific illness(es)?

There are a lot of cons. I have a dreadful time being social and dating. I am often completely unable to "go with the flow." I have periods of my life I barely remember. I have wasted a lot of time being sick. I often feel like a fraud. I lack confidence. I am sometimes unsure if my moods or feelings are legitimate or are symptoms. I have to live in a brain that doesn't want to relax.

I am having a harder time with pros. I guess you could say I'm more empathetic. I try to be understanding of others' needs, moods, illnesses, and so on. I am forced to exercise self-care. I work extra hard to be a good person in some kind of convoluted attempt to make up for the times my depression made me mean or negative.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

30 Days of Mental Health Awareness: Day 3

I'm taking part in the 30 Days of Mental Health Awareness Challenge. Every day I'll post in response to their prompts. 

Day 3: What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?

I'm still working on this, but I've found that writing down my feelings/thoughts and the triggers to be very helpful. Distraction also works, even if it's nothing major. My shrink recommended that if I'm feeling anxious, I start naming and describing random things in my surroundings ("that man has brown hair," "that taxi is yellow," and so on) to ground myself and come back to the moment. I've done that a few times and it does seem to help. I recently wrote about joining a chamber ensemble, which is in itself a distraction technique, because it gives my brain a few hours every week to be hyper-focused on music and music alone, which is almost like a little reboot. It's great.

More officially, I do talk therapy (semi-weekly, though there have been conflicts and holidays interfering) and take medication. I take Zoloft daily, and have Klonopin for as-needed anxiety help.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

30 Days of Mental Health Awareness: Day 2

I'm taking part in the 30 Days of Mental Health Awareness Challenge. Every day I'll post in response to their prompts.  

Day 2: How do you feel about your diagnosis?

I'm glad to be able to give what is happening in my head a name, and diagnosing means being able to treat, so I feel good about having a diagnosis.

Do I wish like hell there was nothing "wrong" with me? Yes. But a diagnosis is an explanation. When reading up on my conditions, I actually felt a lot better seeing so many things I dislike about myself listed as symptoms, because then they aren't part of me, they're part of this problem that I'm working to contain.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

30 Days of Mental Health Awareness: Intro and Day 1

I'm going to take part in the 30 Days of Mental Health Awareness Challenge. Every day I'll post in response to their prompts.

I will also use the tag "30 day mental health challenge" so you can follow the posts if you want.

Today is day 1.

Day 1: What is/are your mental illness(es)? Explain it a little.

 I have both depression and anxiety.

They manifest themselves individually a lot, though when I'm feeling one I often notice traces of the other, so maybe it's more that I feel each more strongly at different times.

If you haven't felt these things yourself, they're very hard to explain. Depression is beyond just feeling down in the dumps, or even an extended case of the blues. It's an all-consuming feeling of worthlessness, hopelessness, dread, etc. You can't get out of bed or eat or sleep. You can't control your reactions. Everything is foggy. There are periods of time I hardly remember because my depression was clouding me so much.

Similarly, anxiety is a lot more than just getting nervous or stressed. It's a constant sense of heightened awareness, coupled with feelings of dread and terror. A lot of my anxiety is social, which means for me that there is a block that goes up whenever social interaction happens, or could happen. Add romance into the mix and that block becomes three-foot-wide reinforced steel bank vault wall. It's double checking every last detail of an event over and over so I know exactly what to do so I don't look stupid. It's having fight or flight constantly activated and not knowing how to feel at ease.

Chamber Ensemble: Survival Tool

A few weeks ago, I started playing my flute again, something I haven't done since graduating from college in 2006. I joined the Classical Fusion Chamber Ensemble, a community orchestra that meets weekly in Manhattan.

I'm not really sure what made me want to play again. Maybe it was the stress of school. Maybe I associate band with a social life, since that's where I made almost all of my friends in high school and college. Maybe it had something to do with turning 30 and getting nostalgic. Whatever it was, earlier this fall I realized I had an intense craving to make music again, so I started looking around for amateur community groups to join.

I landed on CFCE because their repertoire was a fun combination of popular and classic pieces and, possibly more importantly, they didn't require an audition. I mean, I used to be really good, but that was more than seven years ago.

In the three rehearsals I've been to, I've noticed something: I don't worry or think about school or any other obligations while I'm there. It's great. I have this chunk of a few hours every week when my mind is totally distracted and occupied by something fun.

This is the sort of thing I really needed. It's like I get a total reset once a week. I'm hoping it will help me in the long run to manage my anxiety levels.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Earlier this year, I embarked on a one-month experiment with veganism. I survived, felt great, and actually continued a few weeks past my end date, but ultimately I began adding egg and dairy products back into my diet.

And I kind of hate myself for it.

The main reason I stopped eating meat half a lifetime ago (seriously! I was 15, and now I'm 30) was because of a love of animals. Well, that and a Silverchair song. But mostly the animals.

As it is, I do my best to avoid leather products so I'm not wearing animals anymore. So how can I justify eating dairy and eggs? The animals may not be killed for them, but the process is cruel and inhumane, except maybe for the most tiny and ethical of independent farmers.

I keep thinking I should re-assume veganism. It wasn't that serious a leap when I did it back in February. My only concern is that the strictness of the rules made some old dieter feelings bubble near the surface. I'd like to be able to do this, but I need to figure out a way not to become disordered in my thinking and eating.

So I will likely progress slowly, cutting things out here and there. I'd like to do this for my body and the planet, but I can't sacrifice my mind in the process.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

I Will Not Excuse My Body

I'm sure by now you've seen, or at least heard of, that "what's your excuse?" thinspo* photo. If not, it's a conventionally attractive, thin woman wearing workout attire with her three kids around her and the caption "What's your excuse?" Basically, she's trying to say that if she has three little boys and still makes it to the gym, everyone else should, too.

Except, no.

See, no one should have to excuse their existence. The word "excuse" implies that you're trying to justify something bad. You need an excuse to miss work. You provide an excuse when you apologize for wronging someone. You don't need an excuse to do you.

I recently submitted this photo to the Don't Need an Excuse blog:

They haven't posted it yet.

The blog is doing a great thing, but I hate the idea that anyone feels they need to excuse or justify themselves because of one random lady in a photo.

I don't have the time to spend hours every day in a gym. I don't have the desire to, either. I like to exercise, but don't need to do it constantly. If you don't like to exercise, that's fine, too. My priority right now is school. Then work. Then pretending to have some kind of social human existence. I'll find time to go swim some laps if I feel like it, but I also won't beat myself up if I don't.

We just need to stop policing each other. No one owes you a reason or excuse for the choices they make with their own body. Focus on whatever is important to you. If it's exercise, fine, but if not, that's also perfectly alright. Let's cut out the shame and just live our lives.

*I'm calling it thinspo and not fitspo because the photo only exhibited the woman's appearance. There was nothing to indicate she was any fitter than anyone else.