Perspective

[Written in 2014, finally finished today!]

One of the techniques that I’ve been working on is looking at life differently.

My psychologist first got me onto this with a technique called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which tries to redirect thought processes.

For example, people with anxiety and depression often catastropise. I would have a thought like, I’m not working at the moment, which would then lead to, I’m not contributing to our finances, my husband is looking after everything and I’m doing nothing, and, what if I never work again and become a vegetable, and I’m totally useless and live forever with other people having to take care of me, and hating me!!

Obviously, to an outsider this is a drastic way of thinking and a rapidly snowballing thought process! Which is not even factual, as I’ve never had it suggested to me even once that I will be doing anything but returning to my previous active, contributing life. Neither is it at all likely! But depression just has to nut out the worst case scenarios and get you to think, ‘what if’?! And the thing is, at the time, you can’t see it for what it is. It feels totally real, and scary, and awful even though other people may dismiss it as illogical.

Depression, does not have logic.

But depressive thoughts can be changed. It isn’t easy, but if you work at it in the right way, you can slow or stop the snowballing and start to prevent the catastrophising.

Around the same time as I started to see my psychologist, I was already involved in the 100 Happy Days photo challenge that I’ve talked to you about before. Happy. Depression. The two don’t naturally go hand in hand. They’re kind of opposites. Making this a real challenge! This involved, every day, taking a photo of something that made you happy. I knew I was suffering generalised anxiety when I took it on, and during the course of the challenge got diagnosed with depression and bipolar.

Finding something in the day that makes you truly happy takes a real change in thinking. It takes noticing the detail in the day, the little things that are often overlooked, appreciating what is often taken for granted.

These were not the happiest days of my life! Needless to say. In fact, some of the worst days that I have ever experienced were smack bang in the middle of the challenge. But did you know that it never once crossed my mind to not go on with the challenge? I never once considered not doing the challenge, even when I was sitting in the emergency department beside myself with suicidal thoughts and in so much mental pain that I didn’t know how I would live. My happy day photo that day? I was wearing my favourite dress with the huge rosettes around the hem and I was eating my favourite Snickers bar!

There’s always something. That’s what the challenge taught me before I was even conscious of it.

Depression is called depression because it’s depressing.

It lowers you down, it lowers your mood, it lowers your mind. It’s the mind version of walking along in life looking at the gutter. All you can see is the dirty, the trashy, the boring, the bleak, the wasteful, the dead, the mundane.

I’ve always been a stare at the ground in front of me and watch for snakes kind of girl. You know, just in case. But now, instead of physically looking down and stomping along to the train to go to work, I started looking up, casting my eyes around me and began to see all kinds of things in that 10 minute walk alone. The wood ducks nibbling on grass beside the path; never even knew they were there! How beautiful the pond looked shimmering in the morning like. How green was the grass, how blue was the sky. How beautifully kept that lady’s roses are so close to busy Box Hill Central!

And it got me mentally looking up. Instead of snoozing my alarm until the last possible minute, and dragging myself begrudgingly out of bed, I started to wake up wondering what I would see today that would make me happy. There is no mistaking that my mental health was in a dire situation, but at least for a few moments of the day there would be something that I found that would give me a glimmer of a smile, a bit of satisfaction because I found it! That thing that could make me happy. And the memory of it could be taken with me throughout the day. It truly proved to me that if you put yourself to the effort of looking up, mentally or physically, you will surely be rewarded.

So in an effort to lift one’s mind’s eye to a more beautiful view we try this technique of purposefully, intentionally looking up. Some call it mindfulness, some call it practising gratitude, some people call it thankfulness; doesn’t matter what it’s called, it’s a thing. A method to get out of the grunge and into the pretty meadows, or paddocks since this is Australia.

Probably this is the most powerful method of changing perspective, although I’ve way under used it! I came to it as a compulsory part of my insurance, and having someone tell you that you have to do something that you think is stupid is never a good starting place!! But I had to change my thinking. I had an amazing logical sensible teacher who was on my wavelength, and the lessons I learned were incredible!

Mindfulness teaches you to slow down, to take more time to take in the things that we usually just rush by. By doing this, you get greater fulfillment out of life.

I’ve also always been a person to try to scrape the most out of every second, minute, hour, moment. I always got up at the last possible moment, showered for as long as possible til I absolutely had to get out, dressed as fast as possible and left the house only when leaving a minute later would make me nine minutes late instead of eight! Because I was always rushing I’d often leave my lunch, my wallet, my phone, my brain at home! I always squeezed the most time possible into my breaks, felt jibbed every time I had to go back, put off going back to bed so I could fit more into the day. Etc, etc!

But anxiety made me realise that this is not a feasible way for me to live anymore. The extreme anxiety I feel when I’m rushing, late, overcommitted is so awful with the nausea, the sweating, the palpitations. And mindfulness reinforced this again. What if you could walk slowly and calmly without a care in the walk on your way to work? How would that be? Wouldn’t that be nice? Mindfulness is kind of addictive in it’s own way, because it’s highly rewarding to your brain. Of course then there’s the real world, but for a little while, you are in total control and that is amazing!

Mindfulness also teaches you how not to judge yourself and others!! Could there be a more powerful tool than this? In mindfulness, you sit with yourself, which sounds funny to start with, but you just sit with your thoughts and all you have to do is acknowledge each thought as it comes, without it being “good” or “bad”. Do you know how often we are bagging ourselves out in our head and we don’t even consciously know it? It’s terrifying! That’s the worst 3 second wrap ever, but I do highly recommend it, and not only for people with mental health disorders; it can help with a lot in life.

Changing perspective.

Looking for the happy, the good, the joyful things in life.

Some people call it being positive, but I’m not a fan of that description. I feel like being positive is ignoring the reality and the badness, and trying to paste over it with being chipper and perky and upbeat!! Maybe that’s unfair but I feel my arm hairs raise and my spine tighten when positive comes up!!

I prefer to fully acknowledge exactly what is present, what the problems are, and try to work with that to change it for the long term good, not for the short term glossing over it. I’m sorry if that’s offensive; but I feel that if the problems aren’t realised, the treatments won’t be effective so it’s important to be honest.

Changing perspective is hard. It’s hard. It takes effort. It takes perseverance. It takes time. It takes motivation. It takes emotional energy, sometimes physical energy.

Most of these are the things that depression takes away from you. Before you even have a chance to notice, depression whisks away your energy, motivation, ability to exert effort. And leaving you a blob sitting in a chair, staring at a wall wondering what to do next, and how on earth you’re going to do it?

Looking up. Changing perspective. Mindfulness. Gratitude.

The outcomes are so worthwhile if you can put yourself to the trouble.

I highly recommend engaging a psychologist, a mindfulness coach, a doctor trained in CBT because it’s much easier to be guided than to have to do it all yourself. If the session is pre-booked and all you have to do is turn up and be coached, you are already on an easier path, from someone who knows.

Of course you have to participate, and at some point in time you will have to do it on your own, but let’s focus on getting started and you will absolutely benefit from whichever path you go down.

100 happy days is different. You can do this on your own, and unlike me doing it all through Facebook, you can do it by yourself in a notebook and nobody has to know. I can’t recommend blurting everything about your journey onto Facebook like I did; it worked for me, but not so sure about all the poor readers, and it might just not be something you are comfortable with. It’s your call, and there are lots of other options out there.

I wish you well on your perspective changing journey!

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Keeping busy

Life has been a little busy lately. I’ve been trying to be an adult, a functioning adult. You know, one that gets up in the morning, does stuff all day then goes to bed at night. Without an afternoon nap or sitting in bed for half of the day or getting nothing done.

So I’ve been adding structure to my day, much like I did last May when I thought I might get back to work soon! Well that didn’t work that time, but hopefully this time I’ll get there.

Last May I took on an eight week photography course, an eight week mindfulness course plus went to the Imax once a week to check out a 3D animal feature, plus a joined a pilates studio and etc etc. I haven’t stayed in touch with anyone but my teachers.

This time I’m in a very different place. I took on an eight week getting back to bike riding course where I made a lot of new friends and still catch up with them every week. I’ve been doing housework: trying to keep on top of the dishes, the meals, the washing, the bins, the groceries and trying to commit to keeping up with the ironing. I have a bird bath, a little flower patch.

I feel like this is the real thing. Like I am breaking through the barriers to get back to the life I had before LRH (my old job). I’m cooking dinners and enjoying it, I’m getting the washing done before we start taking clothes out and wearing them dirty, and so on. My husband is thrilled! He got to love cooking but he’s happy to be alternating nights instead of doing everything; or even just not having to do the meals one night a week! And I’m glad that I’ve moved on from sitting watching him cook feeling useless and pointless and not worth my keep! He’s still surprised when he goes to do a chore and it’s done. It’s almost comical. He asks, who did this? Did you do this? Well yes, yes I did. There’s no-one else here!

I’ve still been trying to get out and about, checking out exhibitions, looking for day trips with either my bike group or my bird watching group. having coffee or lunch or brunch with friends. On Saturday I rode from Woori Yallock to Warburton return, 34km, with my bike group, Wheel Women. It nearly killed me but the weather and scenery and people were all wonderful. Yesterday I had impromptu coffee with a good friend. Tomorrow I’m going on a bird watching outing with Birdlife.

I’m having good days 🙂 And it’s so good!

 

Wired

Today I spent four hours without looking at my phone.

It’s sad that this is a fact worthy of comment. I’m not proud.

This came about because I had the opportunity to visit with a lovely girl who I hope will become a good friend. I checked my phone before I walked in the door then put my bag containing my phone down, and never thought of it again til three hours later. Even then I left my phone in my bag untouched, and didn’t check it until I was about to walk out the door.

This is definitely some kind of record. Being home and somewhat unoccupied I have gotten into a bit of a phone checking habit…actually this was a good going habit from well before I stopped work.

I say stopped work in the absence of a better expression; I didn’t actively stop work, I just got so unwell that I couldn’t keep being and had to go get emergency help.

Throughout my experience with mental and physical unwell-ness in the last eighteen months my anxiety and distress have generated a number of habits, some helpful some detrimental some iffy. One of these is checking. Checking checking checking.

What do I check on my smartphone?

All my ‘things’: Ebay active selling, sold, unsold, messages and reminders; email inbox, social box and promotions box for my personal email; email inbox for my professional email; email inbox for my work email (uff! I’m exhausted already!); my calendar for events and things ‘to do’; Facebook in case someone or something has said or done or manufactured something of vague interest; the weather for today, tomorrow, the week just so I know; my mobile banking in case someone has unexpectedly paid me a million dollars in the last hour; my mobile service provider for my internet usage in case I’m close to the limit and they forgot the notification text; Words with Friends in case someone desperately wants to play me and again the notifications failed; Fitbit if I’m wearing and have charged my device to see how many steps I’m up to for the day; and of course I have to check my stats for this my lowly blog to see if anyone cares about my self centric postings!

Yep, ummm…I don’t have too much more to say about that! Sometimes I shortlist that to Ebay, calendar, Facebook, Words, WordPress; and I will justify the extensive list to say that it’s quicker to check these things than it is to write about or read about them!

Why didn’t I need to check my phone for that long, when at home I would be checking it almost constantly?
I just didn’t think of it. I was distracted, with new surroundings, a new friend, delightful pets, with hobbies and chatting and food and life. My phone alert was set to vibrate only instead of sounds which deprived me of (or benefitted me without) any audible reminders. And I wasn’t lacking in occupation; I was talking, laughing, photographing…instead of checking checking checking.

Amazing! Now how can I replicate this phenomenon at home…?

What did I find when I finally checked it?
Two missed calls, 4 messages, 3 notifications from Metro about train delays, a couple of Facebook notifications, a update reminder for some apps and a calendar alert. And an Ebay message and some emails and a Words with Friends game prompt.

A lot of stuff!

Any of it vital?

Well it was too late to do anything about the missed calls and most of the messages, one message could be sorted out tomorrow, the public transport notifications were irrelevant (I was driving) and this continues my gripe with the Metro app; that you can’t choose notifications for selected services only.

The Facebook notifications weren’t at all relevant, I updated the apps, the calendar reminder was for tomorrow, the Ebay message was easily answered, the emails could all be archived and so I wiped it all from my mind and got stuck into Words with Friends 🙂
So really, nothing that would be terribly missed…nothing vastly important; certainly not enough to fret over or to warrant fidgeting if I was unable to check for them.

But this all continues a theme that has been going along in my mind for a while, about how wired in I tend to me the majority of the time. And surely I can’t be the only one?

I have been participating in a mindfulness class over the last few weeks and I was initially quite daunted and still continue to be fascinated with the struggle it can be to let go of my white knuckled grip on the here and now, to just sit. Or lie. Or be, in any pose. To let the body come to rest and be still. Just quiet, doing nothing, thinking nothing, being nothing in particular; just resting.

I find it hard. My body wants to twitch. I want to roll over or change position. I want to wiggle my fingers and toes. It’s hard to just be still! And that’s just the body! Then there is the mind! Sitting quietly and having no other occupation than using your senses and paying attention to the mind ticking over gives a lot more room to notice all of the jumbled thoughts that are swirling around in my brain. I’m still sitting on the fence about whether this is beneficial or unecessary.

I initially started being so wired in because I didn’t want my thoughts. Particularly in the days when I was battling with anxiety I wanted to get as far away from my thoughts as possible.

I didn’t want to think about what it would be like if the global financial crisis hit us and we became homeless, or if the war spread and we were horribly mutilated in a bomb blast or if the end of the world came today at afternoon tea time or if all the children endured hideous burns in a fiery bus crash or if the global warming crisis caused my house that was built on a filled-in swamp to be completely inundated and we were swept away in the floods and watched horrified as relatives and friends drowned before our eyes or etc etc!

When you have anxiety or depression it is common to catastrophise. I wish I knew this a long time ago! I first heard the term with my new GP in October/November; can’t remember exactly when. By then I’d been battling with anxiety at least for six months or more and I really wish I’d known that this whirling dervish inside my head was just a symptom, perfectly normal for someone with anxiety, completely manageable, nothing to worry about.

Because when you start worrying about the worrying, everything turns pear shaped and gets out of control very quickly! So to avoid thinking about the thoughts or in fact noticing them at all I’d turn up the radio, try to force my concentration onto some reading, turn up a video, trying to override my brain with other things. Checking my things distracted me for a short while which was good enough for me; any kind of break from myself.

As I’ve gotten more well I’ve realised that these habits have become problematic and are kind of disrupting my plans for a new life. So there’s work to be done to wind back some of the checking, some of the background noise, some of the distractions.

It’s a work in progress. There’s a ways to go but every time I have a little success it’s nice because it gives me a glimpse of what could be, of life unattached to noise or distractions and just lived in full awareness of what’s around going on around me and able to cope with that!

And that looks lovely to me. Here’s to it!

Recovery

 

“You will get there when you are meant to get there and not one moment sooner. So relax, breathe, and be patient.” -unknown

 

Last Wednesday was an interesting day for me.

Another new start, another new pursuit, another new hobby, another new lifestyle angle.

I began a new journey, a new pathway towards I don’t know what exactly. I participated in my very first formal mindfulness class.

When I was in my first year of university and had my first panic attack, I went to see the campus counsellor. She was a really sweet lady and helped me through some difficulties, frustrations, emotional strain and odds and ends in our one-on-one sessions. She also got me involved in a lunchtime class where we tried meditation and mindfulness as stress reduction methods.

I don’t have a very clear memory of that time; I had a lot going on I guess. But I do remember one mindfulness exercise that we did with a mandarin and I’ve gone back to that a few times over the years since then.

This year and last year while I’ve been seeing a psychologist pretty frequently the idea of mindfulness has come up briefly a few times and the last time I was able to borrow a mindfulness CD from my counsellor by well known Dr Craig Hassad, lecturer at Monash University. That was a good reminder of what mindfulness is and how it can be used.

So now I’m doing this class for two and a half hours every Wednesday for eight weeks. So far, I’m very happy. The lovely group leader is a practical, kind lady who has made me feel very at home and the other members of the group all seem like they are very nice as well. I was a bit worried that it might be really alternative and other worldy, like rituals and incence and weird stuff; but thankfully its all very normal and logical and helpful.

We arrived on a freezing cold morning to a delightful old church done over for other uses. Not only was the heating on high but we were able to help ourselves to lovely fleece blankets that had been warming in front on one heater to keep ourselves soft and cozy! Plus cushions and pillows; how lovely! Off to a good start!

What I’ve been thinking about most is not the course so much, but how I introduced myself to the other ladies; no men in this particular course. My introduction of myself was that over the last year or so I’ve been progressively diagnosed with anxiety disorder, depression and now bipolar disorder. I told the other ladies that I’m now in the recovery phase of resting, starting medications, having doses changed and getting used to medicines.

Recovery phase.

Interesting.

When I got home that day I thought about that a bit more. And realised something. I tell other people that I’m in the recovery phase; resting, medications etc but I don’t let my brain get that memo. I’m telling myself a whole other message, which is hurry up and get your stuff together because your life is waiting for you and it won’t wait much longer!

See? A whole other message!! And quite a lot more stressful! So time to help myself out.

Danika, you are in the recovery phase.You can rest, you can allow time the healer of all things to have its place to work. You can allow medications to take their effect, you can attend your appointments with your doctor, psychiatrist and psychologist. You can go to your photography course, your mindfulness course, to free meditation class, on bird watching walks, on interesting day trips and excursions. You can take naps when you need them, rest when you are tired, socialise if you have the energy.

Can you take five minutes to realise how amazing this is? You have free rein to do whatever you feel like to help yourself and heal yourself!

Don’t think about how you can’t do everything that you want to, don’t worry about your limitations, don’t get put off by tiredness or weakness or feebleness. You can do whatever you feel like and are up to with whatever resources you have. That is amazing!

And make a new attempt at perspective, please. You have been on six different antidepressants on less than a year, each one taking a month to six weeks to show its full effect then needing to be washed out and a new one started. You have been on varying doses of a mood stabiliser since March and each dose or formulation change had its own issues. Remember that you started lithium not even eight weeks ago, and that the last dose change was just three weeks ago!

Three weeks. That’s not forever ago, you aren’t taking forever to get better, please remember that you are still taking step after step and every change takes some kind of toll, so you need time to roll through each new wave of turbulence.

 

 Don’t even think about work.

 

Those are the words from the psychologist provided with my insurance.

 

Don’t even think about it. Just relax, take it easy, take your time, get yourself better.

 

At my last psychiatrist visit we checked in again about my colossal weight gain and high cholesterol. He’s still thinking about putting me on a cholesterol lowering drug.

 

Its pointless trying to diet and exercise right now with all the changes in medication. You aren’t going to be able to do much about it until we get you stable.

 

Stable. We aren’t there yet. You are still in the figuring out what’s what and getting everything straightened out stage. You’re still adjusting to having this condition, and having to take medication twice every day and having to take life at a different pace.

But as always, instead of taking the psychiatrist’s words face value, I debated with myself and am still debating whether using that information is a cop out, and maybe I can do more about it than I think, and maybe I’m just being lazy and not trying etc. Typical!

But no, rest, relax, take advantage of this amazing time that you have. You’re young, you have time to fix your cholesterol, time to fix your weight, it doesn’t have to happen three weeks after changing doses of lithium! Sure, if you have the emotional and physical energy you can small changes now, but let’s resolve to postpone the big changes until 2015!

You’re in the recovery phase. You’re only job right now, is to recover. So off you go, recover. Rest, relax, enjoy, feast on this unexpected piece of time that’s been given to you, make the most of having very few responsibilities and hardly any “have to” claims on your time. Recovery.