Why a Mental Illness is a Big Deal

I’ve been depressing for awhile now -as in, dealing with Depression. I’ve also entertained its close friend, Anxiety; plus a few hangers-on like Disassociation, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Social Phobias. I didn’t even know those existed till they walked off with some of my mental furniture.

Once I’m back to staring at the cracked ceiling of an empty apartment, I wonder why mental illness is such a BIG DEAL. Why does it always have the ability to kick my butt this badly every time?

Photo by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

Because, Mental Illness is a BIG deal.

Yesterday, I witnessed a boy who collapsed into a hysterical fit when his mother said they had to ride in the elevator. A perfectly healthy friend had to reschedule her doctor’s appointment for “a better day.” Another friend told how she could not sleep in the same room as her baby, since the baby’s normal breathing patterns kept her up all night.

Minor issues become major. Small things are big. Mole hills are mountains!

So, now what? Treats? Bed? Movie marathon? I wish. Those things cost money! We need practicality before the rest of our sanity escapes out the window, and takes the rest of the chocolate with it.

Knowing that a mental illness blows things out of proportion is empowering. How? When one of my kids starts melting down, I KNOW to back off and get him a snack. When fear and anxiety cloud my horizon, I KNOW to get outside for a walk. When my friend says she needs to talk, I KNOW to drop everything and listen.

Am I freaking out? Don’t have a mental couch to collapse on? I take a break. I breathe. I run a meditative exercise. Try it; re-focus with what works for you. Then, try the basics: sleep, food, love, happiness.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

On the flip side, stop doing the little things that make it worse: staying up, eating crap, avoiding affection, and wallowing in sadness.

Sounds easy, right? It really is. The trick is to not make it difficult. “Just go get in the shower,” I tell myself. “Just get in there and sit -you don’t even have to wash yet.” Or, “Wrap up in a blanket and hang out on the porch. You don’t have to get dressed.”

See? Believe me, I’m in the camp of making a simple thing much more complicated. I also know how BIG I feel once I get past the little, white lies of my mental illness.

 

©2020 Chel Owens

A Chapter on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy From my Memoir

Last Saturday, I held a “mental health discussion” on Zoom. I consider it a success as there were many questions and great dialogue within a small group. I will be writing about this experience later this week, and on Saturday, I will be hosting another Zoom get together. One of the topics that came up was Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and I wanted to share one of the chapters in my memoir The Bipolar Writer: A Memoir about learning Mood Induction therapy, which has served me well as a part of my CBT training. Mood Induction is a small part of the process, but for me, it is one of my favorites. I am in no way a professionally licensed therapist, and this chapter from experience only. 

I promised one the participants that I would share this as a stepping stone for them to research CBT.

Chapter Thirty-Two: My CBT Journey – Mood Induction

SINCE SUMMER 2017, I have been working on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. My therapist introduced it to me after a bad stretch of anxiety and social anxiety from January to March. My goal was to work on ways to fight anxiety without Ativan. I have learned a few techniques over the course of the summer and I want to share what has worked. One of the goals that I set out to achieve is to give advice about things that have helped me along my journey. 

CBT is the practice of developing personal managing strategies that help solve problems. The point is helping to change negative thought patterns in positive ways. The outcome is working on what is wrong with your thoughts. I have used CBT only for anxiety. I have known people who have used it for other mental illness issues, like depression.

Mood induction has been helpful for me as I work toward my goal of conquering my ongoing battle with social anxiety. Different experts go about using mood induction techniques with music in different ways. I am by no means an expert, but rather I will share what my own therapist gave me in the form of steps. Music has always been a great coping tool that I have used over the years, so it was exciting to work on this technique.

The first step is simple, the initial response step. First, find some music to listen to that will evoke emotion while you listen. It might be helpful to rate your mood before you listen to the song. Focus on the song and what it brings out in your thoughts and emotions. Then write down the emotional responses that you first felt (like happy, sad, or frustrated.)

The second step in the mood induction process is the intensity of emotional response. This step is your determination of how strongly you felt the emotions in the first step. Using a scale of 1-10, you rate how much emotion came when listening to the chosen song.

The third step, reaction to emotional response, is perhaps the most important of the steps. This step breaks down into important steps:

  1. Describe your thoughts: This is simple. What thoughts came to your mind while listening to the song?
  2. Describe your sensations or feelings. Did your heart rate increase while listening to the song? Here you talk about any feelings and sensations.
  3. Describe your behaviors while listening to the song. Did you fidget, pace, or sigh?

This step is important to the process because it is here that you analyze your thoughts and behaviors, which is helpful in real life. You take a moment in time, listening to a song, and you range your emotional response. From there, you can focus on what these thoughts mean to you. It also helps find the meaning behind such emotional responses. In my experience, it helps to choose a song that brings out a strong emotional response.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to help log my breakdown. Here is what a complete breakdown was like for me:

  • Song Choice: Nineteen Stars, Meg and Dia.
  • Emotional Response: Relieved, happy, good.
  • Rate Response: 8
  • Thoughts: Meaningful, it reminds me of the journey that I have been on. Where I was ten years ago to now. I want to be a part of this world now. What this song meant to me in 2007.
  • Sensations/Feelings: Heart rate increased.
  • Behaviors: Fidgeting and moving my legs up and down while sitting at my computer.

The responses and emotions are different for each person and the results will of course vary. I have used this on hundreds of songs. I used an excel worksheet to break down each section.

I have found it useful going back to the songs that you have already broken down and do the process again. It helps to see if your thoughts and emotions change when listened to the second time or a third time.

This is one part of CBT. There are so many books and schools of thought that I have found over the years. It has helped me sort through my anxiety. It’s a long process and I am not where I want to be with my social anxiety. It’s important that I keep moving forward and working towards using CBT every day. 

Always Keep Fighting

James

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