Is It Anxiety? Tips and Tricks to Recognize Signs of Anxiety, and To Deal With Them

I have a fairly normal outlook on the world:
-someone’s late coming home …so he must be dead or kidnapped.
-that person didn’t smile at me …she hates me.
-the warning light came on in the car …it will blow up before the next stoplight.
-I feel somewhat sick …yes, Google, it must be cancer.

What? That’s normal, right?

It’s not?

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

This way of thinking has hounded me for most of my life. Not until it exhibited as severe depression from how other people treated me did I know …these thoughts may not be that normal. I also didn’t realize my worries had a name: anxiety. That realization didn’t come to me overnight. It didn’t come from a counselor, although uncovering and treating it did come because of counseling sessions. My learning about anxiety –my anxiety- came after talking with a neighbor.

“I felt like I should save up money for a trip,” I told the neighbor, back in June, “But then it got cancelled because of Coronavirus. So… I guess this means I’m going to get sick and will be hospitalized.” *Sigh*

Without skipping a beat, she responded, “No, that’s called anxiety.”

Initially, I felt shocked and surprised. I then felt denial, since anxiety was not a condition I’d ever considered. Anxiety was for other relatives of mine who had experienced panic attacks or hadn’t been able to sleep with the lights off. Anxiety couldn’t affect me…

Then, the puzzle pieces fit together -answers to my racing and irrational thoughts. I brought these concerns to my video counseling session; my counselor was not as surprised as I had been. I’m just glad she’s as smart and observant as she is.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

With her help, I learned that many of my panicky thinking is anxiety. I started making a list whenever I worried about a situation. I shared the list with my more-rational husband or a good friend. I learned which voice spoke: me or anxiety. Over time, I could see the differences.

After that, I learned to answer the worries:
-someone’s late coming home …so I’m anxious.
-that person didn’t smile at me …she’s having a bad day.
-the warning light came on in the car …and that light could be anything from needing an oil change to needing more coolant.
-I feel somewhat sick …it’s probably a cold.

Once I could recognize anxieties and stop the rising panic, I was able to formulate solutions. At the very least, I got better at delaying irrational actions and stress. Which, of course, does not mean the anxiety evaporated.

Sometimes, at times of high stress, my tips and tricks do not work. In times like that, I contact my counselor. Sometimes, she suggests anti-anxiety medications. Why? Because anxiety is like other mental illnesses in that I can’t always fight it on my own.

Armed with tricks, encouragement, professional advice, and help when I need it, I’ve found anxiety to be less formidable than before. I’ve found a freedom I didn’t know before. And it’s wonderful.

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©2020 Chel Owens

Need Help? Go On and Ask for It

Mental illness sucks.

That’s the summation of my thoughts, usually after a depressive spiral. It’s what I think when a good friend loses a job because of a schizophrenic episode. It’s my answer when another friend hits the low part of his bipolar cycle. It’s the phrase I mutter in response to people’s suicidal thoughts, lack of desire to do anything, or expressions of overall sadness.

Not only do we all experience the side effects of our mental issues, we also get no support whatsoever from our own minds. When enveloped in the venom of negative thoughts that mental illness supplies, we hear things like:

You’re a terrible person …with specific reasons.

No one likes you …complete with names.

Whatever you try fails …including examples.

No one can help you. No one wants to help you.

All of these Wormtongue-spoken messages are not true. In fact, the last one is the most not-true. There are plenty of people who can help. Heck; there are strange people who voluntarily went to school and paid a lot of money in order to listen to others’ mental health problems all day.

Weirdos.

I speak of counselors or therapists. I speak of psychologists. To some extent, I speak of psychiatrists as well. They have all chosen a career, voluntarily, to listen to crazy people like you and me.

Uh-oh: negative-thought brain is talking again:

They don’t really want to help you. They’re just doing it for their job …with examples of friends or relatives who’ve complained about a bad experience.

It’s impossible to find one who’ll be good …with reasons why your issues are a special case.

You can’t afford a counselor …with a list of your expenses.

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Guess what, brain! They really do want to help you. Granted, there must be therapists who are terrible. There must be some who are in it for the money. If you ask around and/or read online reviews, however, you’re likely to weed out the bad ones. After all, these weirdos did choose their job. In my experience, they did so because they wanted to help people.

Plus, the costs might be manageable. Depending on where you live, some of those strange people who can and want to help are cheap or free. Some are covered by job insurance plans, others by government programs, and still others by ecclesiastical assistance.

Don’t be afraid to ask around, get a good listening ear, and get going on your life!

You are important. You are worth any cost.

I promise.

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Photo Credit: Pexels
Matheus Ferrero
Dan Meyers

The Not-So-Great Advice a Child Therapist Gave Me

I got my first counselor when I was six. She was an anger management counselor. I had a temper at a young age. Results from my home life. I saw anger and violence at an early age. I mimicked that behavior with my peers. The class was cleaning up the room before recess or lunch or something. I was putting a puzzle away. Another kid tried to help. I told him I got it. He helped anyway. I got angry and hit him with a chair. He was trying to be helpful and kind. I don’t even remember his name.

This incident prompted my parents and the school to get me into counseling. I don’t remember anything we spoke about. She gave me a calendar and told me to put a sticker on each day I didn’t get angry. If I went a whole month without anger, she would give me a present. I remember the excitement and anticipation. When the month finished, she gave me a pencil sharpener. It was a dome shape and looked like half a baseball. I remember thinking that present did not live up to my expectations. Regardless, I had that pencil sharpener for several years after.

When I was eight, my whole family went to counseling. My parents met with a couple’s counselor. My two older sisters went to group counseling. They may have had private counselors, but I don’t remember. I had my own counselor. I remember playing games and drawing pictures. We had many conversations, but I have no memories of these. I recall our on our last session she gave me a small ceramic elephant that wore pants and a button up shirt. I liked it and held onto it for several years along with the baseball pencil sharpener.

This counselor also helped me create something I could use when my parents were arguing. Many people refer to this as a survival kit. I don’t remember the name she used. I found an old Maxwell House coffee can. When they were still made of tin or aluminum. During one of my sessions, we used construction paper to cover the can and I decorated it. I don’t remember the instructions she gave me for the can. I put all sorts of things in it including my little elephant. The baseball pencil sharpener could have been in there at one time or another.

I opened this can and played with my toys every time my parents argued. Sometimes I played with those toys even if my parents didn’t argue. It was my escape from school and from home. I realized recently that I’ve spent most of my life trying to escape. I have nightmares once every two weeks. Sometimes every week. I’m always running from some unknown thing. Or I’m chased by a creature of some kind. Always trying to escape something. I had the epiphany that every time I have a new idea for a business or job, I’m only trying to escape my current situation.

I’ve stopped living with roommates because they made me feel trapped. I couldn’t afford to live on my own, but I still left. I’ve held several jobs over the last ten years. A couple I remained at for many years. But I couldn’t move up any higher. I felt trapped at those jobs, so I left. Most people don’t realize that running from something is not the same as escaping. I’ve been running my entire adult life trying to escape. I’ve only succeeded in getting trapped somewhere else. I haven’t faced my real issues. I’m not sure I know what they all are.

I don’t blame the counselor for helping me escape my childhood trauma. At the time, it was the best solution to an inescapable problem. But this solution doesn’t work for adults. Children don’t always have the ability to face a problem or get out of a situation. Adults do. I’ve been overcoming many issues and I’m trying to deal with problems I didn’t know I had. The only way to escape these issues is to face them and heal. I first have to learn the difference between escaping the problem and overcoming it.

I’m Okay. Why Do I Still Seek Therapy?

I can go into public places without fearing something will happen to my children or me. This is tremendous progress. Yesterday I went into a clothing store alone.

I thought about leaving when the checkout line was long, but I was determined to stay and see the process through. Lines make me feel trapped, though it’s gotten better, the feeling is still there. Instead of leaving, I circled the store and waited for the line to go down. I had a goal and goddammit I was going to stick with it. I didn’t turn away from the end result, which was to buy what I had in my hand: four shirts and one pair of shorts.

My head didn’t rush, my heart didn’t beat out of my chest, my vision stayed normal, the panic stayed away. A year ago, I never would have been able to do this. And there were times I didn’t think I would ever be able to. Strings attached to me everywhere, by personal choice. This day, however, I was fine.

In fact, I’d had a lot of fine days. It had been going so well that I considered stopping my therapy sessions altogether. Isn’t that what we do though? Once we feel good, we back off of what’s been supporting us. I think it’s human nature to do so, sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

When I left my therapist and told I’d let her know in a month if I needed to come back, I thought I’d walk away for good. Then thirty days slid by painfully slow. I missed my chance to vent and let my words fly without shame.

Sometimes big news came from small conversations. A day I had nothing to discuss would lead to a significant discovery. The chance for this would be gone if I didn’t continue.

I went back after thirty days, and I told her I missed coming here, so we agreed to every 3-4 weeks depending on my schedule. I’ve held this now for a few months and here’s what I’ve learned.

  • I have new goals to push toward.
  • I can truly recognize how far I’ve come and the life I’ve taken back.
  • There’s a comfort to having a familiar, someone I know will listen.
  • It has given me a chance to explore areas I didn’t realize needed attention.

street-art-2044085_640.jpgTherapy is one of the things that I have done to regain my life. I am stronger now, I’m not sure I’ll ever be “healed,” but I can do almost everything I used to before anxiety crippled my life.

Sometimes I hear people smugly suggest that therapy isn’t working if you have to keep going. Well, who are they to tout about something they don’t understand. I’m not doing myself any harm by continuing, in fact, it pushes me to take control and prepare myself for harder days that are unquestionably in my future. Life can’t be full of rainbows and sunshine all the time.

Therapy has been one of the many factors I use to battle/overcome/work with anxiety. It took several tries to find a therapist I trust, so if you find one that’s not fitting you, don’t be scared to try again. For me, it has worked to have continual checkups. I have no plan on stopping, even if I decide to decrease to once every other month, a therapist on hand provides me with the outlet I need.

 

Melisa Peterson Lewis is a lifestyle blogger at Fingers to Sky where she writes about her personal wellbeing, gardening, and her writing process as she tackles her first sci-fi novel. Check her out on Instagram or Facebook.

Images from Pixabay.

Always keep fighting!

Y’all Are Crazy, and That’s Okay

Having a mental illness is a lonely thing.

Like most people, we want at least someone with whom we can talk. We want a friend to cry with, or even laugh with. We need a deep connection with another human, to feel loved and validated.

Unfortunately, we have a few things that get in the way of socializing.

Many of us are scared. We have trust issues. When we feel hurt, we feel very deeply and wish to avoid feeling that way again. Often, we’ve had a bad experience of someone breaking a promise or shying away when we shared how we think. Heck, a lot of us have a bonafide diagnosis from a doctor that we have social anxieties.

Besides the hurt and fear, we avoid people for their own benefit. We tell ourselves that we are flawed and unsafe. We justify our anti-social behavior with statements like, “I know I’m a downer,” “No ones talks to me at parties. They can see, in my face, that I’m no fun,” and “If they really wanted to be around me, they’d talk to me.”

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Those reasons and that voice are hard to work with, but our health and mental stability need to fight against them. I mean, did you know that human connections were rated the most important thing in a happy life?

So stop beating yourself up. Seriously. I’ll tell you why:

  • Most people are some level of crazy. They may not be certified, but they have issues. I can’t tell you how many people I talk with who have experienced some angle of what I have, if not the whole enchilada.
  • Even though you are crazy, what are you gonna do about it? I’ve tried starting over, but the person that is me always shines through. I am what I have to work with and I accept that.
  • Crazy people have options, like crazy-people doctors and crazy-people medications and crazy-people blogs. There are even …crazy people groups that meet and talk crazy together. It’s a blast.
  • You are you, and are a work in progress. Just think: are you still crawling around and stuffing car keys in your mouth? NO! You did that as a baby, silly. Now you are older and know better. You are knowing better every day.
  • The future will be better. The future will be even betterer if you keep moving forward -even if all you can manage is a shuffle.
  • If all else fails, there is chocolate.
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I have a few friends. Of those, a few have mental health challenges. Some struggle with depression and social anxiety like I do. One has panic attacks. Another is schizophrenic. A mutual acquaintance is bipolar.

Sometimes when I try to plan a get-together, a friend flakes and doesn’t show up. Sometimes I have a terrible week and have to cancel on one of them. Since we are all in this not-sea-worthy-at-all boat together, however, we get it. If not, we talk about it. We hug. We pull out the chocolate.

I need people. I need understanding. I need connection. So do you. Plus, your challenges and perspectives mean that you are more understanding and empathetic than other people.

I mean, we may all be crazy, but that’s okay. We’re as human as the next person and our needs are just as valid.

You are worth it. I promise.

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Yesterday

Yesterday I met with my new counselor and she thinks along with me that I may have an underlying anxiety disorder that has been missed by a number of psychiatrists and therapists. She couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in the past. To be perfectly honest I believe that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have anxiety about everything and nothing seems to calm it down. Now I know that some of my anxiety comes from the fact that my husband has started a job in the past few weeks and that is bringing its own anxiety but I don’t understand why I am panicking at work.

I have never panicked at work until last week. Yes, I have been stressed out a lot lately but what does that have to do with my anxiety. I can’t live like this anymore. I feel like no matter what I do that anxiety follows me everywhere. It follows me to places that I haven’t been and to places that bring back happy memories. Even as I write this I can feel the anxiety creeping up because I am in a big house by myself humanly speaking. I mean I have my three dogs with me but I need someone to bounce ideas off of to make life easier for everyone around me.

We had talked about my parents and how they just don’t care about anything that I do. They care more about my brother than they do me. They have never cared about what I did because my brother would always get the last word, scream, presence, and gesture in. I will always feel like the black sheep of the family. I was the scapegoat for everyone’s problems. I was the glue that held everyone together. No matter what I did I was always wrong. For those of you going through the same thing or even have gone through the same thing please tell me how you got or are getting through this difficult time.

What’s the Make, Model, and Year of Your Mental Health Struggle?

Hi, I’m Chelsea. I drive a minivan.

I didn’t want to drive a minivan. When people learn that I do drive one, they start assuming other things about me. They also assume: I drive slow, am distracted, have no taste in vehicles, have children, will make a bad decision whilst driving because I’m probably turned around yelling at said children, and that I shop at Costco every day.

Now…. some of those things might be true. But, guess what? am not the minivan. I just drive it. am a person. My name is Chelsea. I am not slow, distracted, tasteless, children, bad decisions, or Costco. I am a human and I am also worthwhile.

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When you go out into the world, what sort of vehicle do you drive? Van? Jeep? Truck? Bicycle? Bus? Sedan? Train?

Are you large, difficult to turn, and roomy like that van? Are you fun outside but hard on the joints over speedbumps like a Jeep? How about pushy and a bit too high off the ground like a truck? Maybe you can’t really afford much in life or are environmentally conscious like a bicycle.

Our mental health struggles are our vehicles.

Say that you go out to the workplace after a difficult morning, only to snap at someone because they echoed a mean thought your Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder chugged and chugged and chugged. That wasn’t you, though. That was the OCD you have to take to work.

What about the night that Depression was your ride? That dark interior, battered trim, and iffy transmission was only how you got to the party, not who came inside.

And let’s not forget the lunchtime meeting you had with Anxiety. Your mechanic still shakes his head over the number of ‘strange noises’ you swear it kept making, the sudden stops, and its refusal to even start when you were at a traffic light.

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Thinking about mental illness as a vehicle might make you say, “Well, then, why can’t we just get another car?” Money, mostly. Circumstance. What your insurance will cover. What you need for your size of family, parking space, parking expenses, and (again) budget.

That’s not to say you’re stuck forever in your quirky transport, nor that you can’t address some of its more-limiting issues. In fact, you really need to address them.

-If you are repeatedly blocked from getting the engine to even start

-If you are constantly arriving late

-If you cannot seem to ever get out of the seatbelt when necessary

It’s time to see a mechanic -er, a therapist or mental health doctor of some sort.

No matter the age or condition of the vehicle, they can always help. No, your car will not be the same as when you first unknowingly signed that crappy contract and drove it home -but, do you want it to be?

And, sometimes, you do get a different ride. Sometimes you have no choice. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes worse. But, the car you drive is still not you.

You are you. Most importantly, you are always the driver. Never forget that.

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Pixabay
James Sullivan

Speak Up! And Your Voice Will Help You

Sometimes I wonder what world optimists live in. It can’t possibly be the same as mine, because mine is one of twisting mists, overcast skies, and lurking shadows.

Besides the possibility of parallel universes, this phenomenon is likely a matter of perspective.

What is perspective?

Duh; it’s how you see everything. And, I mean everything. In fact, perspective is how you see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and sensedeadpeople everything. It’s like eyeglasses you wear on all your senses.

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Now, I know you’re a smart cookie who already knew all that. But, did you think about how perspective applies to mental health? Specifically, did you think that this means other people will have no clue how to relate to what you are sensing all the time?

While you are lying in bed, certain that nothing will ever change and that people are crap, someone else is skipping around and wondering how to spend such a glorious day. That person may even be in your house and driving you crazy with the skipping.

I know. I’m married to a skipper.

I often resort to sticking a leg out as he passes -but, my counselor suggests I ought to engage in fewer sabotaging behaviors like that.

What I and you really need is for others to understand what we are going through. We want them to help us because we often can’t help ourselves. We want acceptance and love. We also don’t always know what we want besides to just feel better.

This is where perspective comes in.

Many, many posts here at The Bipolar Writer Mental Health Blog of Amazing Stories and Poems and Posts and Mental Health Issues and Such If You’re Still Reading This Title I’m Amazed deal with the perspective of mental illness sufferers. I’ve learned a lot, and consider myself part of this little group -though from a safe distance because I also have social anxiety.

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These stories help others to understand. But, they are only the first step.

For other people to get us the help we need, we need to walk at least one more pace. Now, don’t get stressed and close this article and go binge on chocolate. I’m always about keeping things doable. My steps are always baby steps.

All I’m saying is that, after you share your perspective, you need to ask for the help you need.

Not sure what I mean? I wasn’t, either, till recently.

I began counseling just over a year ago from a very dark, confused place. I hadn’t even found this lovely blog. No one seemed to relate to my anxiety or concerns or negative self-talk. If anyone talked to me about my issues, they handed out aphorisms like useless bits of random jigsaw puzzles.

Fast-forward to a lot of sessions (and money) later, and I had an epiphany. (That means an inspirational thought. Look how much I’m teaching you today!)

I had been attending counseling sessions, waiting for her to know exactly what to do based on the few answers I’d given to questions. I expected that she felt my anxious hesitancy about groups, that she was always looking at the glass half-empty, and that she also saw life as an endless drag of sameness.

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Nope, she didn’t.

Apparently, she skips, too -though, less than my husband. And I needed to tell her what I was sensing.

“I need you to give me exact phrases I can say when I feel that way,” I finally admitted.

Or, “Today, I need to talk about how to talk myself out of a depressive cycle before I spiral and don’t want to even get up.”

Or, even, “Can you please explain what you meant by that term?”

Thing is, the counselor has a different perspective. She has hers. You have yours. That random guy walking past has his. That woman over there has hers as well.

In regards to mental health professionals, we need to approach sessions the way we would a regular doctor visit. If you were at the doctor’s office, the dialogue might run as follows:

What are you seeing the doctor for today?

-Oh, you know; I was walking up the stairs and stubbed my toe really hard. I think it’s broken.

Applied to our mental health, the dialogue would go like this:

And how are we feeling today?

-Oh, today I woke up feeling like even the sun hated me and I had a major panic attack at the thought of riding the bus.

As my husband says, we’re paying the counselor to fix the problems. It’s her job.

If you are smarter than a random blog-writer like me, you may already be past the step of telling your mental health professional what you need. So, smarty-pants, have you gone on to apply this to talking with your partner? Close friend? Mother? Busybody neighbor?

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Don’t go crazy -crazier– admitting all your problems to strangers. Let me tell you: one Facebook post can alienate your neighbors. I am, however, advocating appropriate responses that help friends or nagging neighbors to give you the breathing room and support you might need.

If you’re feeling a bit down and think no one loves you, try texting a friend and telling him or her that you need to feel better. It might be a good night for movies.

If you think you could just use a good laugh, call someone who tells jokes.

If you’re feeling too much pressure from demands, ask if you can’t have a few things due at a later period.

When I attended a local mom’s group we talked about the Audacious Ask. The idea was that we needn’t be afraid to ask other people for help. We were challenged to ask a friend or neighbor for something we needed for us, even if we were stressed that they wouldn’t want to.

My counselor agrees that we all have different perspectives. She also says mine can be tweaked a bit up the positivity scale, but that’s a topic for another post.

In the meantime, I challenge you to use your new power of perspective to ask for what you need.

Don’t be afraid. If your friend came to you, wouldn’t you want to help?

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Kyle Broad
Bryan Minear
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What IS The Black Dog of Depression?

Ah, metaphors. Without them, we’d be adrift in a landscape of cement without an actual tree or honest-to-goodness purple unicorn to disrupt our perspective. Sounds boring and harsh, doesn’t it?

The main problem with metaphor or simile or hyperbole is that other people may not have any clue what creative types are talking about.

If you have been hanging around people who describe Depression, you may have been feeling this very thing about The Black Dog. What is this dark canine? Where did he come from? Why a dog?

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The Black Dog is a description for Depression. He is the faithful animal that will not be trained, a dark and hulking shadow to our lives. Much betters writers than I have who have done better research than I say that associating negative feelings with a gloomy, unwanted creature has been happening for a very long time.

The most popular attribution is given to Winston Churchill. Annoyingly, writers say things like, “Churchill often cited ‘a black dog,'” or, “Churchill referenced ‘a black dog…'” In trying to pin down an actual quote, I found this snippet about a new German doctor Churchill had seen, from The Churchills, by Mary S. Lovell:

I think this man might be useful to me – if my black dog returns. He seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colours come back into the picture.

But The Black Dog has been around since long before Churchill. Think of stories like The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or centuries of fireside folktales about hellhounds in British tradition. J. K. Rowling even used these to describe her characters’ fears of The Grim in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The Black Dog has been around for a while, mostly in association with an omen of bad tidings.

One of the best methods of explaining the old rascal is in a video released by The World Health Organization:

I love so many things about the video, but a favorite line of mine is:

Depression is an equal-opportunity mongrel.

Some animal lovers out there may feel a big defensive on behalf of dogs. Most dogs are lovable, goofy idiots whose main goal in life is to get you to dote on them. Not like those cats…

Given the history of the metaphor’s use, the name makes sense. Man has long used dog as a companion, hunter, guard, and helper. In sensing a creature to be ever-present, even at the foot of our own beds, the idea of this foreboding creature being a dog is not so far-fetched.

The most important question to ask, however, is not one of the three I posed earlier concerning its history. It is How do I deal with my own black dog?

At the end of the video I included are a few very simple pieces of advice. Therapy is number one. Medication, exercise, sleep, journaling, and talking openly with friends are all mentioned.

Hmmm… those sound a lot like the tips we’ve discussed in my Cure for Depression series.

We can learn to live with Depression in a positive way. We can leash our shadow, diminish his presence, and even be rid of him altogether some days. As Matthew Johnstone says near the end of his video:

I learnt not to be afraid of the black dog, and I taught him a few new tricks of my own.

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Living with Depression is not easy, but it can be easier.

If you’re not certain whether you have depressive symptoms, The Black Dog Institute of Australia has a basic quiz online. Whether you fill it out or not, I recommend that anyone who wonders ought to get in to see a counselor.

Life has happy moments, too. Don’t let your black dog or purple unicorn stand in front of your view. And that’s something worth fighting for.

The Cure for Depression: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

It’s that time again: time to cure our depression. Way back in May, I proposed that curing isn’t exactly possible -BUT I listed 11(ish) ideas that will help a bunch. We’ve talked about 8 or 9 others; like connecting with people, eating right, talking to a doctor or therapist, medicating, and doing happy things.

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Today, I’d like to get into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. At least, I thought to get into it. I opened my hand-me-down laptop, typed that big, impressive-sounding word into a search, and then thought, Holy flipping crap! (Yep, I don’t swear often.)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is LEGIT. It has its own, lengthy Wikipedia page.

Aaaaand I’ve just barely heard about it.

Hopefully, that means that all of YOU readers are nearly as clueless as I was, and will be completely impressed and amazed at the paltry light I’ll be shedding on this topic.

In order to type fewer words and to start your education: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often abbreviated to CBT.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (hereafter referred to as “CBT,” for the laziness of the writer) is simply a bunch of exercises to teach our brains better habits.

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Let’s say you’re a little kid playing with a hose out in the mud. You, sweet little unsupervised thing, have full command of an entire patch of mud and have decided to make trails and paths and mountains and mudpies. It’s a glorious, messy afternoon!

Using only the best sticks you find laying around, you begin digging waterways. The hose water follows. You’re a kid, so are not quite the best at design and such. Some of your water pools at places, overruns its banks at others, and ultimately empties right into the neighbor’s back fence and washes away their freshly-planted flowers.

Oops.

Your counselor/therapist/doctor comes over to help. “Let’s turn off the water first,” s/he says. “Now, my good friend and trusted colleague, CBT, is going to gently help you with mud-forming.”

You aren’t exactly sure what a colleague is, or CBT. You just want to play in the mud, and get the neighbor to stop yelling at you about a little water. You shrug, and watch what CBT starts doing with your mud. CBT builds up a turn, repairs an overflow area, and (most frequently) digs new paths into less destructive directions.

What’s more, CBT is telling you what it is doing and how you can do it, too.

My paid friend keeps telling me that my brain has learned behaviors (almost all negative) and I need to stop and complete them with the more-positive truth when negative thoughts come up. Psychologists refer to these learned behaviors as cognitive distortions. Like the mud and water analogy, our mind forms automatic reactions to situations or thoughts or feelings in order to handle them next time; and, like our first, unguided attempts, they’re not always the best.

These automatic reactions are like cringing when hit in sensitive areas, crying when our nose gets hurt, or kicking our leg when the tendon below our patella is hit.

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CBT is training to get over knee-jerk reactions. It’s still having the jerking, but toward somewhere that doesn’t actually kick someone and, especially, leaving us feeling happy that we kicked our leg instead of then kicking ourselves for doing it.

Doesn’t CBT sound fantastic? I think it sounds a bit difficult, myself. How do we get started? Can we actually change how we think? I am not very successful at self-run things, and (yep) I tell myself that I’m not very successful.

First, I highly recommend getting someone professional to run this for you. CBT is the most common therapy of its kind. However, like many major startups, it has spawned subgroups of more specific subjects, die-hard zealots of original teachings, and side-therapies of similar names run by leaders who couldn’t get credit for starting the first one. Some professional navigation of these twisty roads will help you.

If you’re poor, shy, or just starting out, there are self-help options. A blog I somehow found recently lists online worksheets. Other sites exist, as well as books you can purchase.

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CBT really does help. My counselor is of the camp that minor mental issues are wholly the result of years of negative thought processes and reactions. Other doctors advocate for mostly medical measures, no matter how minor. I think the farmer and the cowman can be friends and meet us halfway.

Most health professionals agree that medicine and therapy, together, are the winning combination for fighting mental health issues.

Our bodies become resistant to medications and substances. Our hormones and brain chemistry change with time and stressful situations. Our motivation becomes dependent on that boost we get from outside stimuli, like prescriptions, drug overuse, and stimulants.

CBT is very nearly the silver bullet of therapies. It empowers YOU. It teaches you how to better handle your own brain -which is great because that’s what you’re stuck with all the time! Even doctors, as empathetic or sympathetic or knowledgeable as they are, cannot EVER understand exactly what you feel and experience. They have their own brains, not yours.

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I’m running a bit long here, even with shortening Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to CBT so many times, but can’t leave without some practical advice for all y’all. Here’s one type of CBT method you can run through, from wikihow:

  1. Notice when you’re negative.
    My therapist had me make a list what I know about me. It was about 80% self-critical and even the positive items were less-complimentary.
    Or, meditation is an option. Take at least ten minutes without distraction and pay attention to where your thoughts and feelings go.
    Think about a situation in the past that was negative.
  2. Recognize the connection between your thoughts and your feelings.
    Obviously, if you were dropped from a speeding airplane by members of the mafia into a boiling volcano, you had little control over feeling dead afterwards.
    But most situations, even sucky ones, do not cause our bad feelings at the end. WE cause them. YOU cause them. Your natural, poorly-designed mud paths caused the overflow of emotion.
    See the connection, and tell yourself that you felt bad because you had bad thoughts.
  3. Notice automatic thoughts
    All during the day, stuff happens. Automatically, we have some sort of reaction to the stuff.
    Let’s say I went to the store and realized I forgot my credit card. It’s back home in the freezer or whatever. An automatic negative thought from my brain would be, You’re always forgetting things. Further, I would think, Now you have to put all the groceries back. You should never come back to this store again.
    ALL THOSE are not good.
    I need to stop, drop and roll -er, *ahem* I need to stop that thought, way back when it started. Then, I tell myself it’s negative. Finally, I decide to tell myself something more like, Oops! I’ll look for some cash. I’l ask the cashier to hold these for me while I look, or drive home. Heck, I’m not the first person to forget payment; they’ll work with me.
  4. and 5. Talk about core beliefs. Specifically, about tying the automatic cognitive distortions to faulty internal beliefs.
    I’m not in favor of this step, because it’s self-analyzing. Getting into my terrible self-esteem and my potentially-damaging childhood without assistance sounds like a worse idea than the ones my mind comes up with.

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  1. Identify cognitive distortions. This may help with stopping the negative thoughts. Like, you can tell yourself, “I’m not a terrible person! I’m just overgeneralizing. It’s a typical misconception.” Common distortions listed on wikihow are:
    -Catastrophizing by predicting only negative outcomes in the future
    -Having all-or-nothing thinking
    -Discounting the positive
    -Labeling something or someone without knowing more about it or them
    -Rationalizing based on emotions rather than facts
    -Minimizing or magnifying the situation
    -Having “tunnel vision” by seeing only the negatives
    -Mind reading in which you believe you know what someone is thinking
    -Overgeneralizing by making an overall negative conclusion beyond the current situation
    -Personalizing the situation as something specifically wrong with you

Hopefully, this first method of 6(ish) steps works as a starting place for you. The wikihow article lists two other methods as well.

Besides these suggested steps, I’m a big proponent of creating an initial positive environment. I feel like I’m constantly in a negative haze, self-protected and negatively-pressured to the point of not sticking a toe out into the world.

A suggestion from my counselor was to think back on a time when I felt happy or good. Then, I was to keep asking myself, “Why?” until I traced it to a core emotion. For example: I said I’d felt happy driving to the appointment. Why? It was sunny and warm outside and I was alone. Why did that make you happy? I like feeling warm and comfortable. -Holy crap! I like being comfortable. Comfort was my core emotion.

One may also repeat a mantra each morning and evening. Something like, “I am of worth. I love myself;” or reciting an uplifting poem.

Morning meditation is good as well, or prayer.

Whatever activity you do, the goal is to create a positive atmosphere. We want to start our thoughts in a better direction and keep them going that way. Over time, your brain will form better neural pathways. You won’t flood anyone’s flower beds. You’ll have the practice and skills to handle past habits and fight new triggers.

And don’t get discouraged. You’ve had your entire life to build these habits; you can’t change overnight but you can change.

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unsplash-logoArtem Bali
Pixabay
Pixabay
unsplash-logoSharon McCutcheon
Pixabay
Wikimedia Commons
unsplash-logoTyler Nix