I love music. I love listening to it, having it on in the background, seeing it live, popping on a record. I love the way music can make me feel any and every emotion there is, sometimes without even trying. Most importantly, I love music because of the way it impacts my mental health.
That’s why, each month on My Brain’s Not Broken, I’m going to share a song with you. It might be a song I can’t stop listening to at the moment, or a song I have a history with. It could be a song I don’t know much about, or I’ve listened to a thousand times. Regardless of the reason, these songs have inspired me and my mental health, and I want to share them with you. Whether you’ve heard of them or not, I hope these songs give you more insight into my world and my approach to mental health.
In Tuesday’s breakdown of mental health terms, I wrote about mental filters, what they look like and how they appear in our lives. Mental filters can go my many names, but what’s important to know is that they can impact the way we view the world. When mental filters go unchallenged for too long, they can change the way we think, the way we perceive what’s going on around us. Filtered thinking can become instinctual without us realizing and have a severe impact on our thought patterns. Today, I want to look at five things you can do when dealing with mental filters and filtered thinking.
Notice your mental filters
One of the reasons mental filters can grow into harmful thought patterns is because they go unchecked. My filtering went unchecked and unchallenged for years, to the point where I just thought that’s who I was. Mental filters have a way of clouding your brain, and making you think that’s just how your thought process is. Even if you can’t stop yourself from filtering, noticing when it’s happening is a big first step.
Replace the negative thoughts with positive thoughts (easier said than done)
When you’re able, try to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. They could be positive thoughts about your situation or yourself in general; any positive thoughts are going to help. For a long time, I was under the impression that positive thoughts were thoughts that improved my mood or made me happy. With time, I’ve learned that while that’s sometimes the case, it’s not the only purpose of positive thinking. In this case, positive thoughts are directly challenging the negative ones, trying to find a healthy balance where your brain can rest. Even if it’s only occasionally, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is worth trying.
Recognize your thought patterns
I’ll be honest – I don’t always know why I have the thoughts I do. Some things just pop in my head, never to be thought again. Other times, it’s like a thought can’t get out of my head for hours. Even though I don’t understand every thought or why it’s there, there are patterns. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize these patterns – what they look like, and what triggers them. I can’t always stop these patterns from occurring and I won’t recognize them every time. But the effort I put in to recognize these patterns, and try to combat them when they occur, will grow stronger over time.
Call it out for what it is
The terms mental filters, filtered thinking, or filtered thoughts aren’t as widely known as other psychological terms, and that’s something that needs to change. When we can name something for what it is – or name what we’re doing, what’s going on in our brain – we can lessen the damage or confusion around it. The times I’ve been able to recognize my filtering and call it out for what it is, I feel better. I feel more equipped to handle these thoughts and even though they might still make me anxious, the impact is lessened.
Separate the good from the bad
This might be the most obvious thing in the world, but not all of our thoughts are bad. In fact, for some of us the majority of our thoughts aren’t bad. But there is a fixation we can have on negative thoughts, where it feels like we have much more of them than actually exist. By separating the positive thoughts from the negative ones, we can compare and contrast how big of a challenge we’re up against. One negative thought has the power and ability to outweigh several positive ones, especially when we fixate on it. By actively trying to separate these thoughts, we can prove that more often than not, positive thoughts are buzzing around in our brain – it’s just harder to locate them.
What are your thoughts on mental filters, or filtered thinking? Have you heard of this term? How do you try to deal with filtered thinking? Let me know in the comments!
Earlier this week, I wrote about the connection between music and my mental health. I’ve wanted to write a post like this for a long time, but it was challenging. It’s hard to put into words the impact music has had throughout my mental health journey. In Tuesday’s post, I did a lot of research to show the benefits of music, and how it can help improve people’s mental health. Today, I want to expand on that a little bit, and talk about my own relationship with music. Time and again, music has given me a space to feel seen, heard and understood in my mental health challenges.
In my research for my post earlier this week, I found a passage from a Harvard University blog that summed up a lot of my feelings when it comes to music:
“As complex human beings from a wide variety of cultures, with a variety of life experiences and mental and physical health needs, our connection with music is very personal.”
I love this quote because I think it’s something extremely underrated about music. Human beings are complex, so why wouldn’t our music be just as intricate and interesting? There are so many genres of music; even within those genres, there are sub-genres and musical styles that are hyper-niche and specific. And to me, that feels like a wonderful parallel for mental health.
Even though I don’t create music myself, it’s a constant in my life. I’ve struggled on and off with depersonalization over the years, when I don’t always feel like a real person doing real things. But music is a way to deal with those struggles. In fact, it’s become one of my go-to ways to help me feel connected to the world around me. When I put on a song that matches my mood, my confidence picks up a bit. Things might not going right for me but in this moment, I can speak to that in a way that reminds me how well I know myself.
I love listening to music, but I also love having music on while I’m going about my day. It feels like I’m setting the soundtrack to my day, and I can take that day in any direction I’d like. It’s a reminder that while I’m not always in control of everything, I can still have fun with what’s within my control. And in that sense, it’s an apt metaphor for my mental health.
Music has encouraged me and inspired me. It’s picked me up when I’m down, and comforted me when I couldn’t get out of bed. It’s grounded me when I don’t feel like myself, calmed me down when I feel anxious and boosted my mood when I’m depressed. For all of these reasons, I’m excited to introduce a new type of post that will be coming soon to My Brain’s Not Broken! There are so many songs that have impacted me and my mental health over the years, and I want to share them with you.
Once a month, I’ll share a song I love that has had a big impact on my mental health journey. I’m hoping this will help me share more about myself and my mental health journey, in addition to giving some love to some of the songs and artists that have been there for me over the years. Be on the lookout for this new feature on the blog and until then, I hope you listen to some music that feeds your soul!
This week was all about music on My Brain’s Not Broken, and now I want to hear from YOU. What is your relationship with music, and do you think it has an impact on your mental health? Let me know in the comments!
The winter season has always been challenging for me. Over the years I’ve started to learn more about myself and my mental health which has made things a little easier, but I still feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle. To me, the months between November and March present a challenge I’m not always prepared to fight.
I’ve managed to figure out November and December (loving Christmas certainly helps) and January is starting to figure itself out, but February…I don’t get February. Because no matter how, no matter when, at some point during this month, I break. My mental health feels like it’s at it’s lowest point, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Why does February always get to me?
Don’t get me wrong; my mental health is a challenge all months of the year. But the characteristics of each month (or season, when I think about it) are often helpful or hurtful for my mental health. I’ve learned that I’m someone impacted by the weather, someone who likes having a few things to do but doesn’t need a packed schedule. Knowing what’s going on around me is important and when that’s not happening, I can get anxious.
So when I think about it, February really is the perfect amalgamation of a lot of these things. Weather that fluctuates between winter and spring (some years bring a blizzard, while one day last week saw the temperature reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit). There aren’t many holidays (depends on if you celebrate Valentine’s Day), and there’s a President’s Day holiday tossed in that gives most people a random Monday off – but not so many people you’re certain what’s going on. Couple these things with it being the shortest month of the year (and the Leap Year situation) and there’s just a lot I don’t understand.
It feels like things in February are just done arbitrarily, as though anything that happens this month could happen any other month of the year; we’ve just chosen this one. I know I’m being a little hyperbolic but also, this is a conclusion I’ve come to after multiple years of facing the same struggle. I hope one year I figure things out but for now, it’s just good to get my feelings out on what seems to be a challenging time of the year. Onward to March!
This entire post could just be a venting session about how much I struggle during this month, but I wonder if people feel the same way about a certain time of the year. Is there a week/month/season during the year that you feel like has your number? A time that you know is going to be super challenging simply due to the fact that it exists? I don’t know if I’ll always feel this way, but it’s how I’m starting to feel about February. Let me know in the comments what you think, I’d love to know that I’m not alone here!
Earlier this week, I wrote about intrusive thoughts, what they look like, and what we can do about them. Intrusive thoughts can be hard to recognize – I went years before I even knew what they were – but we can deal with them and manage them in a healthy way. There are many ways to deal with intrusive thoughts, and I wanted to share some of the best ways I’ve found of doing so.
Name and label these thoughts as quickly as possible. One of the reasons intrusive thoughts can run wild in our minds is because we can’t figure out what’s going on. I’ve had so many thoughts that I wasn’t able to recognize or name as intrusive; that’s years of moments where a false narrative about who I am and what I’m about ran wild. Labeling intrusive thoughts as intrusive, as unwelcome and unwanted, as soon as you can will go a long way toward mental wellness.
Remind yourself that these thoughts are intrusive, and that not all your thoughts are up to you. I used to believe that every thought I had was a conscious decision on my part. I’d like to say that this was because I was young, or even a kid, but it’s mostly because of the misconception I had surrounding my brain and my thoughts. Not all of our thoughts have to mean anything, and most don’t. But when intrusive thoughts come in, it’s important to have that reminder in the moment so that things don’t fester and grow within us.
Don’t expect the thoughts to disappear in the blink of an eye. As much as I’d like to tell you that intrusive thoughts disappear when you acknowledge them, that’s unlikely to happen. In fact, awareness of an issue can often make things challenging in the short-term (something I’ve continuously learned in therapy this year). But even if it feels like there’s no progress being made, there is. You’re becoming stronger and more resistant to the false narratives in your head, and hopefully gaining mental strength in the process.
Acknowledge that there might be an underlying problem. While intrusive thoughts are associated with several mental health disorders, they can also be triggered by stress, anxiety or trauma in our lives. They can be short-term or long-term problems for people but either way, there might be something going on outside of these thoughts that we need to deal with. In fact, many people who deal with intrusive thoughts aren’t dealing with a mental health disorder, according to experts.
Remember that your thoughts are not who you are. People have thoughts, but they are not what make us. Accepting a thought that we’re having does not make us evil, rude, mean or a bad person. Pushing thoughts down, trying to ignore them and not deal with them, do nothing to make those difficult moments pass. Oftentimes, those thoughts will just come back bigger and badder than before. You are so much more than intrusive thoughts that might come and go every so often. In the grand scheme of things, intrusive thoughts can exist as they are – thoughts that come and go just like thousands, or even millions, of others in the course of our lives.
We can’t choose to have intrusive thoughts, but we can choose how we engage with them. The better prepared we are to go up against them, the better chance we have of building a mentally healthy foundation against intrusive thoughts, and other lesser-known aspects of health and wellness.
Have you ever dealt with intrusive thoughts? What’s a piece of advice you have for someone who’s had intrusive thoughts before? Let me know in the comments! Have a great weekend, friends.
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 intrusive thoughts: what they are, what they look like and what we can do about them.
What are Intrusive Thoughts?
I spent many years experiencing intrusive thoughts without knowing what they were. Even once I learned about them, I still had trouble understanding them. The definition of intrusive thoughts is quite simple, but dealing with them can feel far more complicated. According to Healthline, intrusive thoughts “are unexpected images or thoughts that seem to pop into your head. They’re often strange or distressing. But these thoughts happen to almost everyone from time to time.”
It’s not always easy to spot intrusive thoughts, or to name them when they happen. In fact, not knowing how to name these sort of thoughts can lead someone to assuming that’s just how their mind works. But intrusive thoughts are often unpleasant and unwanted, and that lack of desire for a thought you may have is a good sign that you’re experiencing an intrusive thought. This can also lead people to feeling ashamed or wanting to control/stop these thoughts, which can lead to spirals and other mental health issues.
What Do Intrusive Thoughts Look Like?
Intrusive thoughts are just that – thoughts. There’s an instinct to believe that every thought we have matters or to worry about what they mean, but they’re just thoughts. Our brains have (on average) around 6,000 thoughts per day and for a lot of people, most of those thoughts are pleasant or just nondescript. But it’s these intrusive thoughts – which can often feel scary because they are dark or violent, or full of worry or doubt – that have a habit of sticking with us. These are the thoughts we can’t let go of if we’re not careful.
When I think about identifying intrusive thoughts, there are two criteria I look out for:
Did this thought feel unwelcome/unwanted? Was I thinking about something else, or anything at all, when this thought popped into my head?
Is the content unpleasant, or something that feels vastly different from what we usually think about?
When I can identify these sort of patterns when it comes to a thought (or a set of thoughts), I can recognize them as intrusive and begin to deal with them.
What Can We Do About It?
The more I write these blog posts, the more I end up stressing that the most important part of understanding any of these terms is awareness. This is especially true with intrusive thoughts. Without knowing what to call these thoughts or recognize when they happen, things can feel scary. We can begin to think that those thoughts are who we are, or that they aren’t intrusive and they just are part of us. But we need to push back against this narrative and build a new one.
Thoughts are just thoughts, and if they aren’t interfering with your daily life or make a person feel like they need to take action, they can be harmless. But it’s important to name and define the various aspects of our mental health, even if we don’t deal with all of them. The mental health stigma grows when we’re afraid or unable to talk about our problems. We still might be afraid of these problems when we name them, but at least we know what we’re up against.
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!
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!
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!
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.