Don’t Let Anxiety Destroy Progress

For the past week, my anxiety has been something terrible. While it was triggered by something specific, it’s wedged its way into every facet of my life and crushed my thought process. Every day, I feel like I can’t help going into a downward spiral every second my mind isn’t concentrated on a specific task. And it sucks – to put it lightly.

I was going to write a post about how much this anxiety sucked, but something popped into my head as I started writing. I thought about how this recent bout of anxiety has diminished the progress I’ve made in recent months. It made me feel like all the progress I made recently was wasted. That it was pointless. That I would have to go back to square one when it came to my mental health.

This always makes me think of the term ‘relapse.’ While it’s more commonly associated with drugs and alcohol, I’ve also seen it used in regards to mental health disorders. And while I don’t like to use that term when it comes to my mental health, I couldn’t help but thinking that I was going through a relapse. I was afraid I was reverting to the old me – the one that got sent to the psych unit after a panic attack and suicidal ideation.

What stopped me from going down the rabbit hole of a relapse was reminding myself that my battle with mental health is not linear. I won’t just slowly improve until one day I’m rid of my demons. There are peaks and valleys to my mental health, just like anything else in life. Some days will be good and others will…not. I put so much pressure on having good days because I’m afraid that a bad day will negate all my progress. But is that true? No.

A bad day will get in the way of improvement. It might get in the way of doing some things that I would usually do. But it does not cancel out the months, the years of hard work that I have put in to get to this point. And the same goes for you.

If you work on something – your mental health, a special project, anything – for a long time and then have one bad day, do not discount all the progress you’ve made. You’re not perfect. You’re human. You are allowed to make mistakes. In fact, they are inevitable. So you can either let them get in the way, or you can grow from them.

But while this can apply to all walks of life, I tailor this mindset to mental health specifically because I know what negative thoughts can do to a person. My anxiety works me up into such a frenzy that I don’t think anything else matters besides the anxious thoughts in my head. But that’s not true. I have made progress recently – progress I am damn proud of. And I have grown strong enough to know that one day might set me back, but it won’t take me out of the game. That might not seem like much, but it makes a world of a difference when I try to get out of bed in the morning.

I know it’s easy to say, “don’t let your mental illness negate your progress.” It’s much easier said than done. I can’t even promise that I’ll always take my own advice. But I believe there is bravery in the attempt, and there is power to even have these thoughts in your head. So maybe all this post does is put the idea in your head. Maybe that’s all you need today. That’s okay. Because every day is a new battle, and we should use all the weapons we can get.

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(Slowly) Going Off My Medication

About a month ago, I decided that I would try to get off the medication I’ve been taking for the past two and a half years. I’m not going to get into what I currently take (I hope I can explore that in future posts), but instead, I want to talk about the process of getting off the medication. My psychiatrist suggested reducing my meds every month until I was completely off them, a process that will last into the summer. I am currently on my second reduction and will go back in a few weeks to reduce my meds a third time.

So far, a month and a half into the process, I don’t feel any different physically. I have been taking two medications for the past two and a half years; one in the morning and one at night. My dosage of the AM pill is half of what it used to be, and my PM pill has been unchanged since it’s at the lowest possible dosage. My schedule has not been any different in recent weeks which is helpful, but I think that I’ve also been taking the proper steps to take care of myself physically.

There are a few reasons I’m trying this now. One of the big reasons is that I don’t want to have to jump through hoops while I’m abroad about how to get my medication. It’s been enough of a hassle trying to get it here with good insurance – I can’t imagine what I’d have to do when I’m in Europe.

While that’s a logistical thing the other important reason is that I am in a good mental state and have the time and resources to give this a shot. I really want to know if I will need these meds going forward.

Why I am I sharing this? Because I want to communicate a few things with you guys. One is that I want to be transparent about what I am doing and why. I would not be as mentally healthy as I am today without the meds I have been taking, and I can admit that without guilt or shame. But now that I am in a good place, I want to know how much of my depression and anxiety was brought on my external/triggering factors and what was beyond my control.

But I also know that stopping a medication, any medication, should be approached with caution. I did not decide one day to just stop taking my meds. Instead, I took a calculated approach toward reducing my medication to see how it will affect me.

If all goes well, maybe I don’t need medication for the time being. I’m aware that it might not go well and I’ll have to get back on it, but I feel like I owe it to myself to give it a try. Send any prayers, thoughts or good vibes my way – I’ll need it!

Have you ever tried getting off a medication? What was it like for you? Let me know in the comments or drop me a line at mybrainsnotbroken@gmail.com!

 

Fear of the Unknown – And the Known

When I was a teenager, I would feel…off. You know how it feels when something is off. It’s like having a pebble stuck in your shoe, or that last bit of corn in your teeth. Of course, those situations have solutions. Take the pebble out of your shoe. Get a toothpick. Now imagine feeling that way but being unable to change it. That was my reality before knowing what was wrong.

Fear of the Unknown

So when I first saw a therapist, when depression and anxiety were first mentioned, I assumed I would be relieved. But I wasn’t. Instead, my anxiety grew, and I was more nervous about my situation than before, when I didn’t know what was wrong.

There’s a lot to be said for fear of the unknown. It makes sense. I’m not saying you should or should not fear the unknown (maybe I’ll tackle that subject another time), but I am saying I had that fear, and I understand why. But what I didn’t understand was the fear that followed. Even though I knew what was wrong, I was still afraid. In many ways, it was worse than not knowing.

Fear of the Known

I was shocked. I was unprepared. I didn’t think I’d be that much more afraid of knowing something than not knowing something, but I was.

I’m not sure why I thought that fear would go away. Maybe I thought I would be a braver person now that I knew what I was dealing with. In many ways, I was. But as those close to me could attest, in many ways I was not. I let fear of my mental illness dictate what I did and did not do. I let fear in, and it won. For a long time, it won.

These days, fear wins less. Every day I get stronger and learn new ways to attack my mental health. But one of the biggest changes was recognizing the role fear played in my life and trying to minimize that as much as possible.

Whether you’re afraid of something you know or something you don’t, fear is fear. When you battle it, you won’t always win. It would be naive of me to tell you that I’m no longer afraid of my mental illness. But for every bit of strength I gain, that fear, every so slightly, shrinks.

Like many things in life, mental health is a marathon, not a sprint. Each day is an opportunity to be better. And since we’re honest here, it’s also a chance to get worse. And sometimes, it will be worse. There’s no way around that. But letting the fear of mental illness dictate what you can and can’t do? You can fight that. You can fight back. And you might not always win, but you will get stronger. And the stronger you get, the better you can fight. And my hope for you is that the fear you have, of the known and the unknown, slowly fades into nothingness.

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Recognizing the Signs of Depression

Depression isn’t always easy to spot. It can sometimes be disguised as grief, fear, exhaustion. Sometimes there seems to be an obvious reason; other times it is incredibly subtle. No matter the reason, depression is something that is extremely prevalent in today’s world – major depressive disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for adults ages 18-44 according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And rather than push the evidence to the side, it’s time to pay closer attention to those around us to look for some of the signs of depression (these symptoms, and many more, are listed on the Mayo Clinic’s website).

Tiredness or lack of energy

Lack of energy is a big one for me personally because when depression hits it saps me of my energy. Working out the right medication has helped physically, but it still takes a mental toll to get things done when my mind is full of negative self-talk and resentfulness. Now some people are just tired – life is like that – but when this symptom is combined with other symptoms of depression, it can be a sign of poor mental health.

Problems sleeping

When you read this I know you’re thinking about your insomniac friend. I know, because I am that insomniac friend. But before you diagnose your friend remember – problems sleeping include both people who don’t get enough and people who get too much. So if your friend has trouble getting out of bed to do normal everyday activities, you might want to ask them if they’re okay.

Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness

This is one of the prime symptoms of depression that set it apart from other mental health disorders. That last word – hopelessness – is common among people with depression. We feel empty. We feel hopeless. And we feel like things are never going to get better. As with other symptoms, this might be circumstantial, but when it’s not you should talk to someone about it. Sadness happens. Feeling empty happens. But it shouldn’t consume your life.

Trouble thinking, concentrating or remembering things

I have a terrible memory. I constantly forget things that happen – my camera roll is full of mundane photos that help me remember the things I do in life. Now, I won’t blame that all on depression. Like the other symptoms listed, take this with a grain of salt. But when you combine this symptom with feelings of hopelessness and a lack of energy, it’s possible that you might be having a depressive episode. Your mind can get cloudy when it’s full of self-hate and negative thoughts, and that can easily get in the way of concentrating on things.

Loss of interest in normal activities

I love the game of basketball. I played competitively at a high level until I was 18 years old. It got to the point that I was doing something basketball-related almost every single day. But as my depression got worse in college, I lost interest in playing. I didn’t get burned out. I didn’t fall out of love with the game. I just didn’t get any pleasure out of it. When that happens to the things you love – schoolwork, hobbies, teams or clubs – you need to evaluate why you lost interest. If there’s a concrete reason, it’s okay. That’s life. But when a loss of interest or pleasure happens suddenly or for no reason at all, you might want to ask yourself why that is.

While all of these are signs of depression, you should NOT diagnose yourself because you identify with one of these symptoms. Depression should not be a word to be thrown around lightly – it is a serious issue that affects millions of people. However, if you begin to combine these symptoms and notice a pattern of behavior in a friend or loved one, you should check in on them – not just to talk about to depression, but to make sure they’re doing okay.

An Attitude of Gratitude

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that keeping a ‘gratitude journal,’ or writing down what you’re grateful/thankful for on a daily basis, is helpful for your mental health. It makes sense why. When you recount good things in your life, it reminds you of how blessed you are. You feel better because you remember all of the good things in your life, and those good things can push the negative thoughts out of your brain. I’ve tried to keep a gratitude journal before, or at least to write down lists of what I’m thankful for. But it’s never sustainable, and that’s because I think that in the past, I’ve done it for the wrong reasons.

What a gratitude journal is not – a cure.

See for some reason, I thought writing down what I’m grateful would remind me why my life was so good, and that reminder would cure me of feeling the effects of depression. If I know that I have a good life, I can’t possibly continue to feel depressed, right? Wrong.

If you haven’t already heard, life is actually going pretty well for me right now – personally, professionally and mentally. I have tons of new opportunities this year and I’m happy when I think about all the good things that are going to happen in 2019. But…I still have depression. And I still have anxiety. And no matter how good my life is, I don’t forget that I have depression and anxiety. Because it doesn’t go away.

I imagined my lists of gratitude bringing me joy and helping me welcome each new day with a wonderful rise and shine attitude. That was not the case. Instead, those lists would bring me guilt. I have so many things to be grateful for, I’d think. Why am I not happier about all this? Then it hit me…I’d approached this all wrong. This exercise was not supposed to solve all my problems but rather, put those problems in perspective.

What a gratitude journal can be – a tool to improve mental health

I would like to start a gratitude journal again, but use my lists in a different way. What I’m grateful shouldn’t make me feel like I have to be happy all the time, or that my life is easy – rather, it should be a gentle reminder that there are positive aspects of my life (very positive aspects, in my opinion) that help me to combat the negative aspects. My blessings help me fight against my struggles – good battles evil, in a way.

I can’t guarantee that things will go any better this second time around, but I hope by approaching my journaling with a new attitude that I will be to use more tools to fight against my mental illness. You can’t have too many tools in the toolbox, can you?

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Life Update – Taking Steps Toward My Dreams

So I know it’s been a long time since I updated you guys on what’s going on in my life, but I wanted to share some of what’s been going on with me recently.

Last year I mentioned my TEFL certification course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and I am happy to share that I am now a TEFL-certified teacher! I have had plans in the works to move to Europe in 2019, and I am making that dream a reality. I settled on returning to Prague, where I studied as an undergrad. In fact, I’ve already found a place to live in advance of my move, which I am extremely excited about! Next thing on the list: finding a job. While I’m a writer at heart, I’m really curious to see what effect a year of teaching English has on me and my personal development. As the son of two teachers, I can only hope some of those genes have rubbed off on me.

I’m still busy at work, learning the ins and outs of what it’s like to work on a Communications team. In May I will have worked at my organization for two years, and I am proud of myself for the fortitude and strength to stay at this position for so long while maintaining my mental health. That’s not to say every day is easy, but I’ve gained knowledge and put more tools in my chest to succeed at my job despite my mental illness.

I also have some big plans for the basketball website that I run (Ballers Abroad – shameless plug, I know) as well as this blog! The tagline for #MBNB is “living with mental illness and promoting mental wellness” and while I think I’ve done a good job of sharing my experience living with mental illness, I have not done as good a job as promoting mental wellness. Next month, I hope that you see more than one post a week from me as I delve into what it really means to live and be mentally well. I’m always open to ideas on what to write about, so please let me know what you want to read!

The next stage of my life is slowly beginning to take shape, and I am excited to share it with you. The positive response to this blog over the past year and a half has been so amazing, and I cannot wait to continue to share my experience and continue to be a true mental health advocate. Much love to you all!

#BellLetsTalk: An Important Movement

If you were on Twitter yesterday, you might have seen the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. It appears once a year, and it’s a beautiful thing. When you tweet #BellLetsTalk, for every retweet you get, 5 cents were donated toward mental health initiatives in Canada. That might not sound like much, but when the results include 145 million impressions, more than 7 MILLION dollars ended up being donated!

I’ve seen #BellLetsTalk pop up more since I’ve started this blog, and it’s encouraging to see. One of the most important ways to combat mental health is by reducing the stigma surrounding it. Bringing in as many people into the conversation as possible is an important step that can go a long way toward having more involved conversations about mental health. I’d encourage you to check out the hashtag and I hope you see why it’s important to have this conversation regardless of whether or not you personally have a mental illness.

Mental health is important for everyone because it touches all of our lives in one way or another – whether we know it or not. Mental illness might affect every 1 out of 5 people in the United States, but mental health affects 5 out of 5 people. We all have to deal with keeping ourselves happy and healthy regardless of whether or not we have a mental illness. Pushing mental health away because we don’t think it applies to us is an unsafe choice that could have serious ramifications on our long-term health.

For my Canadian readers, I’d encourage you to check out Bell Let’s Talk and see what they’re all about. If you’re in the States, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is still one of my favorite places for information and resources, but there are tons of other sites and organizations that offer mental health information and services. I love to see when mental health conversations become a national topic, but it’s also important to know that these conversations are continuing every day online, in-person and on social media. And if you don’t know where to start, I’m happy to help.

#BellLetsTalk #LetsKeepTalking

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I’m Not Sorry About My Mental Illness

I apologize a lot. I mean, a LOT. I’ve done it so much that it’s like a reflex now – I say sorry without even thinking why I’m doing it.

And I apologize for everything. If I’m running late, I say sorry. If I misunderstand what someone said to me, I say sorry. If I don’t do as good of a job on something as I think should, I say sorry. I know it’s not what I should be doing, but I do it anyway. I don’t even consider whether or not I am actually sorry – it’s out of my mouth before I have time to think.

The one thing I apologize for constantly, and above all else, is my mental health. I say sorry when I can’t meet up with a friend because I’m depressed. I apologize that I wasn’t more social when I’m out because my anxious mind is doing cartwheels. If I have a panic attack in front of someone, I’m more concerned with whether or not that person is okay instead of trying to calm myself down. It’s not good for me – and I want to stop.

I want to stop because of all the people who have told me not to say sorry. They don’t want me to apologize for my mental illness – they just want me to be okay. And over the years, I missed that. I prioritized things incorrectly, and it stopped me from dealing with my mental illness in a healthy way.

Yes, apologize for the mess-ups. For the mistakes you make. But don’t apologize for who you are. I was ashamed of my mental health for a long time, and it held so much power over me. Now that I’m not ashamed, that power is gone. Yes, it’s still something I deal with, but I’m not afraid to deal with it. I’m not sorry. Hope that’s okay.

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Five Things to Do When Depression Hits

There’s no doubt about it, depression sucks. Whether it’s having no energy, not enjoying anything, crying for no reason or just wishing you weren’t here (fun STUFF am I right?), there are plenty of symptoms that can be a sign that something is off.

When depression hits, I try to fight it. I’m not saying I’m always successful, but I do make the effort – much more than I used to. And I’ve learned a thing or two over the years about what can help turn a depression day into a (somewhat) normal day. That might not sound like much, but to me, it’s enough. Here are five things you can (try to) do when depression hits you like a ton of bricks.

Get out of bed

Depression can sap you of your energy and make you not want to do anything – even something that seems as simple as leaving your bed can be a monumental task. It’s not always easy, but getting out of bed and interacting with the world can go a long way. It’s easy to stay in bed when you’re tired or you want extra sleep, but when you feel crippled by depression and don’t want to leave, that’s a sign that you might need help. I’ve had many days where I feel like I didn’t accomplish anything, but when I remember that I got out of bed and chose to be a human – that day gets a little easier.

Eat healthy foods

Eating healthily might sound like a pro tip for the general public, but it can also help improve your mental health. Sometimes when I’m depressed, I have the urge to eat junk food until my stomach is sick – making me feel as bad physically as I do mentally. Seeing the link between mental health and physical health is an important step toward self-improvement. If you can improve how you feel physically, that may help how you feel mentally.

Tell someone

It’s important to tell someone that you’re feeling depressed or having an off day. No, they are not responsible for making the depression go away. Sometimes there isn’t anything they can do at all. When I am depressed, I feel like I’m all alone – that no one else is going through what I’m going through. Since in reality, that’s not true, reminding myself that I’m not alone is paramount to getting through the depression. Having someone out there that knows how you’re feeling can go a long way, and make you feel less alone in your struggle.

Exercise

I’ve talked about physical wellness before, but it’s an important aspect of getting out of that depression funk so I don’t want to gloss over it. Please know that when I say exercise, I don’t necessarily mean hitting the gym and lifting weights. Any form of exercise can be helpful to someone who’s depressed. Going for a run, doing yoga, biking outside, or even just taking a walk around the block can help keep those depression symptoms at bay. Try to do get some exercise when you’re feeling down – it’s more important than you think.

Practice Coping Strategies

We all have different coping strategies for dealing with mental illness. Over the years, I have found what works – and what doesn’t work – when it comes to my depression and anxiety. But that came after a process of trial and error. Use this time to practice coping strategies that you’ve learned from friends, therapy, the Internet, wherever. They might not all work. That’s okay! You practice them so you can see what works for you. Everyone’s different and oftentimes, it doesn’t matter what you do to cope with depression as long as it’s healthy and keeps your feelings at bay.

i am bent, but not broken. i am scarred, but not disfigured. i am sad, but not hopeless. i am tired, but not powerless. i am angry, but not bitter. i am depressed, but not gi

Guest Post: Healthy Ways to Cope With Mental Illness

This week’s post comes to us courtesy of freelance writer Patrick Bailey.

Having a mental illness can be terrifying. Most people who deal with a mental illness are stuck inside their own thoughts. They are constantly struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, irritability, mood swings, and more. It can be tough to manage a mental illness, which is part of why so many people self-medicate. They use drugs or alcohol to cope with a mental illness. If you have done this, it is helpful to know there are holistic treatment facilities available to help you overcome and treat the addiction and mental illness.

Knowing Your Limits While Still Using Your Strengths

One of the healthiest ways to cope with mental illness is knowing your limits while still using your strengths. Not everyone can handle stress well and that is alright. You might not accomplish quite as much as someone else in one day. That is okay too. This just means you probably have a lot of patience.

Maybe you can’t seem to focus on numbers or other similar activities, but you might be creative. Use that to your benefit. Allow your creativity to come out. Use your creativity to help you find new ways of getting things done.

Most people who suffer from a mental illness pay close attention to details. This happens a lot with autism, OCD, and other mental health illnesses. You can use your attention to detail to help yourself. Pay attention to how you act in the mornings or the evenings. How do you act in the middle of the day? What happens when you do something in a certain way? What happens when you talk to someone special in your life? Allow yourself to explore what routines and other things in life benefit you the most.

Many people with a mental health illness only accomplish half of what others do in one day and that is alright. Everyone is unique and you don’t need to compare yourself to others. You have your limits and you can stick to those. From now on, just keep using your strengths each and every day.

Radical Acceptance

Have you ever tried radical acceptance? This is when you completely accept something in all your being, with your entire mind and heart. When you know that it doesn’t matter what you do, a situation won’t be changed, that awareness can help. This can be used in cases of mental illness. If you have a mental illness and you know this with all your being, don’t try to force yourself out of it. That is only going to create more chaos.

Accept the mental illness. Use the strengths you have to keep going in the best ways you can. Pretending you don’t have a mental illness will only make things worse. By accepting the illness and what it means for your life, you can find the best ways to live with more happiness. This doesn’t mean you can’t change anything, it just means some things are out of your control.

Opposite to Emotion Thinking

Opposite to Emotion Thinking is just what it seems like. You will act in ways that contradict what your emotions are telling you. For example, if you are angry and you want to get away from everyone, don’t do it. Go spend time with your best friend. Do the opposite of what you want to do. If you are feeling anxious and want to get sleep, do the exact opposite. Find something fun to do. If you are feeling manic, don’t act out in a destructive way. Choose to do an activity that provides you with more stability. Mastering Opposite to Emotion Thinking can be tough, but with practice, you can do it.

Using Your 5 Senses

Some of the most common mental health illness symptoms include irritability, anxiety attacks, panic attacks, stress, and manic episodes. It can be tough to practice using all your 5 senses, but the benefits can be tremendous. When you experience symptoms of the mental illness, stop for a moment. Think about what you smell, what you feel, what you see, what you hear, and what you can touch. Explore all your 5 senses and let those override your mind. This might help to reduce the symptoms you are experiencing.

Getting Treatment

If you are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, getting treatment may be the best route. There are far too many people who suffer alone in silence. They hide their mental illness and may not even tell their loved ones what is going on. You don’t have to do that. You can get the help you need to learn how to cope with your illness in healthier ways.

Having a mental illness may be tough. You may feel isolated or alone, but you aren’t. There are many people who care about what you are going through. There are many people who want to help you in managing your mental illness.

You can find more of Patrick Bailey’s work on mental health, mental illness and substance abuse at http://www.patrickbaileys.com.