What Do You Say to Taking Chances?

Here it is, yet another blog post inspired by a song from Celine Dion. The song in question is “Taking Chances,” which is a single from the 2007 album of the same name. Apart from being another powerful ballad that we came to know and love from Celine (I’m definitely on a Celine Dion kick, it is what it is), the song has lyrics that ask questions and inspire introspection:

But, what do you say to taking chances,
What do you say to jumping off the edge?
Never knowing if there’s solid ground below
Or a hand to hold, or hell to pay
What do you say
What do you say

“Taking Chances” by Celine Dion

There are a lot of ways to interpret the message of that song but today, I’d like to share how that song connects to our mental health and how sometimes, taking chances can be very challenging.

Earlier this week I wrote about challenges of complacency when it comes to our mental health. I’m not one for being complacent, but I also don’t think that we should view complacency in a simplistic way. People work very hard to build, or maintain, a healthy attitude toward mental health and wellness. There is a difference between becoming complacent, and sticking with certain things because they’ve been helpful for your mental health.

I know decisions can be more complicated than that, but I think it’s an important point to raise. Complacency can occur when we’re comfortable with where we are, despite opportunities to improve that standing. Not wanting to give up mental stability doesn’t qualify as being complacent — at least in the way we understand it. There’s a nuance to complacency that should be acknowledged, but it doesn’t excuse everything.

All of this leads me to the song I mentioned at the beginning of this post. There are several ways to interpret the message of this song; it could be about taking chances in love, with our relationships, with making changes to our lives, etc. But it’s hard for me to think about taking chances in the context of my mental health. So many of us have spent years trying to get better, to find a place of safety and stability. Even if there’s a possibility of making our situations better, there’s a fear that we won’t take a step forward. And what’s even more nerve-wracking is in that attempt, we could actually take a few steps back.

But I think that there’s an aspect of taking chances that we don’t always talk about. When I take a chance to improve my mental health, I don’t want to be afraid. If that chance doesn’t work out, I want to be able to return to where I was. Anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses have the ability to create false narratives within ourselves and if we fall into the habit of listening to them, they can make us feel like every chance not taken is a big failure.

I want to take more chances, but a big part of that is preparing for the possibility that the chance might not work for me. And that’s okay. We won’t succeed all the time but, bit by bit, we will grow in ways that are meaningful and make our lives richer. So what do you say?

Taking chances isn’t always as easy as it sounds. What are some reasons that stop you from taking a chance on something? Why do you think others might do the same? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Mental Health and Complacency

There have been many moments along my mental health journey where I’ve felt like I’ve failed. I don’t quite know how I’m failing or in what way, but I feel that I am. There’s a sense of impending doom, a fear that I am not living up to my potential, that I’m not accomplishing enough. Enough what? you might ask. To be honest, I don’t know what to tell you. This desire to be enough, to do enough isn’t only tied to what I’m hoping to gain. It’s also about what I’m hoping to avoid. There’s a fear of complacency about my mental health that I never want to test, and that is what I’d like to share today.

What does it mean to be complacent?

Complacency is a challenging word for me. It’s one of the many concepts that are difficult for a young person to grasp, despite how often people use the word. From what I could tell, I was trying my hardest at the things I tried growing up and avoiding complacency. I played sports, I tried my best in school and I tried to take something from the hobbies and activities I wasn’t as talented at.

But in those younger years, the idea of complacency never came up. It was when I was older that I heard adults talking about it, about the desire to to never settle. Complacency breeds failure, I was told. Being complacent will get in the way of winning. The fears of complacency were drilled into me as a teenager and young adult and I think these effects still resonate with me today.

I understand that there are plenty of areas in life where it’s not good to be complacent. That desire to strive and be the best at what we do is understandable. But what about in our mental health? What does it mean to be complacent with our mental health, and is that a good or bad thing?

What complacency means to me

Many of us have worked hard to get where we are with our mental health. It’s taken days, months and years of learning, understanding and trying to grow in ways that help us live healthier lives. We find what works and learn what doesn’t, but each new thing we learn is valuable. If I find something that works for my mental wellness, I want to build around it and make it part of my routine. I want my mental health to be as consistent as possible but given all I’ve been told in my life, that sounds eerily similar to complacency.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not about complacency at all. It’s possible that mental illness can exacerbate my fear of complacency, or get in the way of it. I confuse a lot of things in life with anxiety and depression, and vice versa. It’s affected my relationship with happiness and joy, fear and panic. It’s changed how I see agitation and aggravation. But that’s okay. It’s all part of me. If I keep that desire to figure out my mental health challenges and move forward, I know I’m not being complacent. I’m simply doing the best I can with what I have which in my mind, is the opposite of being complacent.

Now, over to you! Do you have any sort of feelings about the word complacency? Is it a useful word in your life or (like me) do you struggle with it? Let me know in the comments!

"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it." Quote from George Bernard Shaw over a photo of mountains.

Sitting With Feelings That Won’t Go Away

After writing earlier this week about how my mental health catches me off guard, I wanted to build on that message and have some tips and techniques for people to use when the same thing happens to them. But before I could dive into that, I had a few thoughts that were nagging at me. I understood how these things catch me off guard, but I couldn’t understand why. Doesn’t everyone have thoughts that distract them? I’d guess that some of the thoughts and feelings I struggle with are similar to ones that many people have. So why do they have such a big impact on me? Before I can tackle the how, I needed to tackle the why – which is what I’m writing about today.

Dealing with depression and anxiety often involves dealing with intrusive thoughts on a regular basis. I’ll be going about my day, maybe getting lost in a task at work or one of my hobbies, and then a thought will pop into my head. Most of my energy is spent dealing with the thought itself; I do some thinking about whether or not the thought is true or accurate. Sometimes it’s decoding a thought to realize it’s not even rational, or the fear I have is logically impossible.

But what often sticks with me isn’t always the contents of the thought I have. What tends to stick around are the feelings that these thoughts have instilled in me. I don’t always remember the thought process that made me feel sad; all I know is that in that moment, I’m sad. The same goes for times when I’m feeling anxious, restless or depressed. The feeling lingers well beyond these thoughts. If I’m not vigilant, those feelings can fester and grow much stronger simply by refusing to go away.

I think a big part of why these feelings linger, and why I feel so caught off guard sometimes, is that I don’t always accept what’s happening. Even after a decade of dealing with anxiety and depression, my brain’s instinct is still to reject any unpleasant or unwelcome thought that pops into my brain. My first instinct is to try to get rid of the thought as quickly as possible, and to get rid of it on my own terms. It’s a fight-or-flight response that does the opposite of its intended effect. Rather than making the thoughts/feelings disappear, the instinct of rejection allows them to stick around longer than they would have, creating a cycle that feels impossible to manage.

Writing this also got me thinking about the role fear plays into our mental health. Fear of the unknown (which I’ve written about before), but also fear what we’ve already been through. Sometimes, my intrusive thoughts can remind me of an unpleasant or unsuccessful experience with my mental health and it can bring me back to that time. I feel stuck or lost in that moment, and I’m terrified of being back there again. Understanding why things impact us is just as valuable as how they impact us and the more we reflect on that, the more we learn – about our mental wellness and about ourselves.

When Mental Health Catches Us Off Guard

Life has its ups and downs, and mental health is no different. There are times when I feel like my mental wellness is in the best place it’s ever been. Other times…not so much. Most of my time is spent bouncing somewhere in between these two extremes, but highs and lows are part of life. I’m used to dealing with these highs and lows, but part of that familiarity is what I’ve learned from previous experiences. However challenging some things can be, it’s comforting when you know it’s coming. Sometimes I can feel my mental health slowly deteriorating, which is when I know it’s time to make some sort of change. Other times, I get caught off guard with moments of anxiety or depression, which is what I want to talk about today.

It happens a few times a week; sometimes daily. I’m in the middle of something – at the grocery store, doing some cleaning or organizing, even sitting around at home – and my body tightens up. I’m panicked, and I don’t know why. It’s not always clear what direction this pang of panic will take me in. Sometimes it’s the onset of an anxiety attack or a panic attack. Other times, it’s a reminder that I need to do some deep breathing, or need to slow myself down.

When mental illness manifests itself in several ways, it can be a challenge to determine what might be happening in a specific instance. It might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things but for people who get stuck on specifics, it can feel like a moment that never ends. Is it my anxiety? Is it my depression? Some other third thing? Does it even matter? In the moment, that thought process can quickly evolve into feeling overwhelmed, exacerbating my existing feelings.

There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” and that’s an apt description for my relationship to my mental illness. No matter how hard my mental health challenges get, I always feel slightly more hopeful when I know what I’m up against. When it comes to our health, we can have anxiety over fear of the unknown. If you’re already predisposed to have anxiety, that fear can run your life at times. When I don’t know what’s going on or how it’s affecting me, I can wind myself up even more – the opposite of what I was hoping to do.

I don’t enjoy when this happens but, like other aspects of my mental health, I grow in experience and knowledge every time it happens. Whether it’s grounding yourself or finding a way to get our of your head, you have options when it comes to being caught off guard. Wherever you are in your mental health journey, I hope you find what you need today!

Now, over to you! Do you ever feel like your mental health catches you off guard? What does it look like for you? Let me know in the comments!

Adjusting The Way We Talk About Mental Health

If you’re a longtime reader of My Brain’s Not Broken, you know my fascination with words and language. I have posts all about mental health terms and why we use the words we do when we talk about mental health. This blog started as a way for me to tell my story, and there is no story without writing one word after the other.

My story has evolved over the years, and I think a big reason for that is because my language has evolved. I have a different way of talking about mental health than I did in years past, and I know I’m better for it. But making those adjustments – even just recognizing that they need to be made – is a challenge.

For most of my life, I didn’t realize how self-critical my thoughts were. I thought everyone had thoughts about themselves. Positive, negative, somewhere in the middle; that’s just the way things were. What I’d failed to realize is the impact of the world around me. I’d read, listen to or watch people use unfamiliar words without any context. Sometimes I was curious and asked questions but otherwise, I was on my own to figure out what they meant.

Looking back, I don’t like how I talked about mental health for most of my life. Now I realize that writing that at 29 is much different than at 49 or 59, but still. At least two-thirds of my life (possibly longer) were spent not knowing how to talk about certain issues.

Until I started having my own struggles, mental health definitely felt like one of them. I couldn’t connect hearing someone talk about their anxiety with the anxious thoughts I was having. I didn’t understand that the depression a person was describing was identical to thoughts I’d had, or feelings I was familiar with. There was language people were using that didn’t make sense because I’d never heard it before. And rather than ask questions, I made assumptions. I tried to go off what I already knew, instead of learning things that could have helped me learn more about myself.

There are plenty of valid reasons to adjust the way we talk about mental health. Society hasn’t always been able to have healthy discussions about mental health, and it shows in how we talk about it. We use words that stigmatize and phrases that disrespect because that’s what we’re used to.

Language persists when people use the same words and phrases over and over, but that doesn’t make it okay. It’s time we challenge that language for what it is. We deserve to be kinder with ourselves and gentler with our struggles. Change isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is absolutely worth it. And like many things when it comes to mental health, this change happens one moment, one decision at a time.

Now, over to you! How do you think our world can adjust the way we talk about mental health? What are some of your suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

"A different language is a different vision of life." - Federico Fellini

A Reflection on Depression

Sometimes, depression takes. It takes things away from you, and you feel empty. You didn’t even know you wanted some of these things. But depression puts those things out of reach, making you feel less than once again. Depression doesn’t care what your plan is, or what your goals are. Your timeline is irrelevant in this scenario. All that’s in front of you is a long, painful, endless moment, as far as you can see.

We don’t always see what depression takes. Our vision can become blurry, or our brain foggy. Memories might go missing for a short time; moments you might have enjoyed vanish out of thin air. What was simple then is difficult now. What makes sense in one moment is impossible to comprehend in another. Our minds wander about all the time, but we’re under the false impression that this can only be in a positive way. When it happens in a negative way, our mind has betrayed us. What was once a safe haven is now a space we’re afraid to explore.

We don’t choose depression. It chooses us, it selects us, it casts its invisible hand out and taps us on the shoulder when it wants to come out and play. Sometimes the explanation is as plain as day. Other times that hand seems to reach out of the abyss, stunning us with its timing and cutting precision.

We get tired of depression. We hope the pain will end, we wonder when will the long night be over. We wonder how long it will go on, and feel helpless in its stead. We think that maybe this time is different, that it feels more manageable in this moment…until it doesn’t. We get frustrated that depression seems to have outsmarted us once again. We outlasted it once, we’ve beaten it before, why is it coming back yet again? We’re one foot out of the boxing ring, but depression wants to fight another round.

We’re not always up to the task of fighting our depression. It can sap us of energy, make us feel tired and exhausted. It can feel like an endless moment, like we’re in a room feeling for the light switch on the wall. It’s right there and we know it exists but we can’t find it, moving our hand along the wall endlessly. It feels like it will never end.

But we do learn from depression. We learn about the way it takes shape within us and around us. We learn how it impacts us, what our reaction is to it and the best ways for us to manage it. We learn that it ebbs and flows; that it has happened before and it will happen again. There’s good reason to be fearful of this fact, but there’s comfort there as well. We’ve been through the dark before, and we’ve come out into the light. We’ve grown stronger, we’re better prepared. There’s hope in what we’ve learned.

There’s a lot we don’t know about depression. Oftentimes, we’re left with more questions than answers. But there is power in pushing on. There’s power in moving through, in understanding ourselves in a better way. There’s also power in resting when we know depression has gotten the better of us. And that is my lasting thought in these moments, in these times when depression gets the better of me. I feel helpless, but I am not helpless. I feel powerless, but I am powerful. I’ve been through this before, but I’m a different person than I was before. Depression might take, but I won’t give. And in between these challenges, I will continue finding joy, hope and inspiration where I can find it. I will be better prepared when depression comes around again.

"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." - Desmond Tutu

Five Ways to Manage Thought Spirals

Earlier this week, I wrote about thought spirals, what they look like, and what we can do about them. Thought spirals can be tricky to deal with, but there are ways we can try and manage them. I’ve dealt with many thought spirals over the years, and these are some of the most effective ways I’ve found of slowing my brain down and getting back to center:

Acknowledge what is happening to you. Name the fact that your thoughts are spiraling. This might not sound like a big deal, but there is tremendous power in being able to define something, to name it or to understand what something is called. This is especially relevant when it comes to mental health, because we as a society haven’t always had healthy ways to define our experience, which lead to further stigmatization. If it feels like your thoughts are spiraling, it’s good to admit that. You might not be able to solve the problem in the moment, but knowing what something is can make it less intimidating.

Control your breathing (make sure it’s steady – check on your physical self in this moment). The link between mental health and physical health is a very real one, and our physical health can absolutely be impacted by mental health challenges. I know for myself, anxiety manifests itself physically, which means that an anxiety attack can sometimes impact my body as much as my brain. A good way to find some semblance of control is to regulate your breathing. Whether that’s taking a few deep breaths spending more time to find your breath, getting back to level is a great way to calm your brain down.

Ground yourself. Though this might sound similar to controlled breathing (and they are certainly linked), grounding yourself is much different. Thought spirals can lead to getting lost in our minds, which might mean we’re less in tune with what’s around us. Finding ways to ground yourself (here are some tips!) and remember who you are, where you are and what’s around you can help slow down that thought spiral.

Challenge one of the thoughts you’re having. A thought spiral can create a lot of different irrational thoughts, ones that can build on each other and make things overwhelming. But if we can isolate one of these thoughts and challenge it, we can try to lessen the impact of this domino effect. Challenge one of these thoughts by asking questions like is this true? Why do I think this is true? Attacking illogical thoughts with rational logic is good way that I slow down when my thoughts are getting out of hand.

Get someone else’s perspective. Mental health challenges feel isolating. Oftentimes, people think they’re the only person in the world who feels the way they feel. That can make someone feel helpless or hopeless, and makes it more of a challenge to reach out. Getting someone’s perspective can be invaluable, and can be a big help in many ways.

Now, over to you! What are some things you do when you’re dealing with a thought spiral? Is there anything you do that’s effective when dealing with a thought spiral? Let me know in the comments!

Breaking Down Mental Health Terms: What is a Thought Spiral?

Over the years, I’ve learned a number of words, phrases and definitions that have helped me understand my own mental health. Some of these are connected to mental illness or medicine, while others are connected to mental wellness. In this recurring series, I break down some of the mental health terms I’ve learned over the years. Today, I’ll be breaking down thought spirals: what they are, what they look like and what we can do about them.

What is a Thought Spiral?

There are many other names it goes by (anxiety spiral, downward spiral, spiraling thoughts) but simply put, a thought spiral is a series of thoughts that become increasingly overwhelming as a person gets stuck on them. They are typically linked to anxiety and anxious thoughts, but thought spirals can also exist when people are experiencing depression or other mental illness.

Another similar term (or perspective to think about this term) are the cognitive distortions catastrophic thinking and magnification. Both of these cognitive distortions can happen when a person’s thoughts have been spiraling out of control. Whether they are becoming increasingly overwhelming or unrealistic, our thoughts can spiral out of control and lead us into believing things that are simply untrue. When thoughts turn from rational to irrational, it’s time to take a look at what’s happening in our brain.

What Does a Thought Spiral Look Like?

One of the tricky things about thought spirals (at least for me) is how they can sneak up on us. Sometimes our thoughts will lay dormant, not bothering us at all. But then an intrusive or negative thought could enter our brains and if we’re unwilling or unable to acknowledge it, it gets stuck in our head. Before you know it, one thought has piled on another, and your thoughts are spiraling in a much more negative or overwhelming direction than you’d anticipated.

An excellent example of a thought spiral (image via guelphtherapist.ca)

As someone who has to be aware of thought spirals on a daily basis, I’ve gained a better sense of when I’m susceptible to thought spirals. Simply put, there are just some roads of thinking I don’t need to go down because I know what could happen. That doesn’t mean I’m always successful, but that bit of awareness has helped my mental wellness in ways that are invaluable. Thought spirals have the same method, but the unique properties of it – what those thoughts are, and how they’re triggered – will look different for everyone.

What Can We Do About It?

In my opinion, the most important thing we can do when it comes to this topic is to be as open and honest as we can. I think that all of us should be aware of thought spirals because they can happen to anyone. Sometimes I feel like my anxiety or depression might make me more susceptible to thought spirals. But also, anyone can land in a situation where they aren’t thinking as clearly as usual.

Recognizing a thought spiral isn’t always easy, but awareness is the first step. If you notice when your thoughts are getting increasingly overwhelming, name it and acknowledge it. When I can name or define something about my mental health, the challenge to overcome that obstacle eases. Be on the lookout for an upcoming post about other tips and techniques for dealing with thought spirals but in the meantime, I hope that awareness is helpful!

For a long time, I experienced thought spirals but never knew what they were. Now I want to hear from you! Have you heard of thought spirals, or do you know them by another name? What is/was your experience with them? Let me know in the comments!

At A Moment’s Notice

It happens every so often: I’ll be having a good day, minding my business and enjoying myself, when a thought pops into my head. Sometimes it’s an anxious, irrational thought. Other times it’s a negative thought about myself, one that I’ve likely had a hundred times before. It doesn’t matter what the thought is, really; what matters is whether or not I engage with it (or them, if the thoughts are persistent enough). This daily challenge can change things for me in a moment, and it’s what I want to reflect on today.

Here’s an interesting fact from the Cleveland Clinic: Every day, your brain processes about 70,000 thoughts. That is a wildly high number, especially considering there are 86,400 seconds in a day. If you get the standard eight hours of sleep, you’re talking about more than a thought per second.

And that’s where the trouble comes in. When it comes to negative thinking or thought spiraling (which I’ll share more about next week), all it takes is one thought we get stuck on, or pay more attention to than we should. All it takes is a moment of rationalizing an irrational thought and suddenly, our brain is off to the races. This doesn’t mean our actions are always impacted, but such a big shift in our thought process could change the outcome of our day. If it happens over and over again, it could start to shape the way we see the world – and ourselves.

I’ve learned a lot of things when it comes to dealing with mental health challenges. No matter what they are, each thing comes with a varying degree of difficulty. They can be very clear things to learn or very difficult things to process, but it’s always a challenge to figure out how to go forward with what I’ve learned. Some things are harder to accept than others, and some take more time. Even though I’ve gotten better at dealing with it, the idea that a single thought can distract me and interrupt my day is something I still struggle with.

At a moment’s notice, my day can go from nothing special to challenging. And it’s all because of a momentary lapse in dealing with one of the thousands of thoughts we have every day. It can distract me from interacting with the people I love, or a good conversation I’m having. It’s something I can get stuck on while trying to do other productive things. Even though there are so many times I successfully deal with some of these thoughts, all it takes for me to lose focus one time, and my brain is headed in another direction.

We do it every single day, but processing thoughts isn’t always as easy as it sounds. All it takes getting stuck on one or two thoughts to interrupt our flow, and then we face a challenge. Either we engage with these thoughts and try to figure out how to get out of that thought process, or we lean on what we’ve learned about ourselves to move through them. It’s a challenge that comes to people every single day at a moment’s notice, and it’s something I hope to learn more about and grow from.

Have you ever had a thought pop into your head that you knew would lead you down a rabbit hole? How did you (or do you) deal with those thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Learning and Growing in the New Year

Happy New Year! I’m sure you don’t need to read another post from me about how I feel about New Year’s resolutions; I can save that song and dance for another year. Instead, what I’d like to focus on today is how I’m hoping to approach the year: what I can bring to the table, how I’m hoping to grow, and trying to build on what I’ve learned about myself in 2022.

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