The importance of speaking

I had an interesting experience a few nights ago. While talking with a good friend (I won’t get more specific than that to respect their privacy) we got on the subject of mental illness and depression and our responses to people who have them. We discussed how the knee-jerk response was often to just “cheer up” and be more positive and get over it. I tend to be very open about my experiences with depression and mentioned some of what I had felt when I was at my worst.

Lo and behold, my friend told me that after she’d had her baby, she’d had postpartum  depression for a while and how that helped her understand what people with depression felt like. This surprised me, as I’d been in close contact with her after the baby was born and hadn’t had a clue she was going through this. As we continued talking and sharing our respective experiences, it was almost a bit of a relief for me and I got the feeling it was for her as well. There is something truly powerful in being able to talk with somebody about depression who’s actually been there too.

That got me thinking more about the importance of speaking about metal health issues. I know for me, personally, part of what helped me recognize and accept that I had depression was listening to author Robison Wells talk about his mental health issues. His choice to be open about the many challenges he faces inspired me to do the same. I wanted to maybe be for someone else what he had been for me: an example of someone who has mental health issues but deals with them and still lives a great life, or someone who by being open could help someone else recognize that they too are dealing with depression or some other mental health problem. Just like with anything else, I think the more we are open about mental health issues the less stigma there will be attached to it and (hopefully) the more understanding people and society as a whole will be.

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Presentation on Depression: an LDS perspective part 3

See parts 1 and 2. This post will finish up the remainder of the suggestions.

Divine Healing

Essentially, this is remembering that healing can come through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, “Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed.” However, that healing may come in different ways. For some, it may be a removal of the illness. For others, it is continued strength to deal with it and healing from the scars that can come with having a mental illness. But I can testify that Christ can heal us as we are obedient to His commandments and laws and seek His help in our lives.

Remember who you really are

One of the first songs most young children in the LDS church learn in Primary (Sunday School for children) is “I am a Child of God.” We are the literal sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father and as such have a divine potential and worth. Depression often distorts that view and causes us to forget who we really are. We need to see ourselves as God sees us: as His children and as a person who has the potential to become like Him and become our best selves. He wants to help us do that. It’s essential that we remember this no matter what is facing us in life. We are children of God!

Have a realistic view of life

Life is often going to be hard. There will be heartache, disappointments, and trials. There is no magic pill or program that will make our life be absolutely perfect all of the time. There will also be joy and happiness. We will learn and grow and progress. If we have an unrealistic view of life, we’re going to be easily discouraged. Be realistic as you approach life.

Do what you can and let go and let God

There are things we can’t do and things that we can’t control in our lives. Trying to control the uncontrollable or do the things we simply can’t do is a sure path to frustration and disappointment. Doing what we can do and focusing on what we can control, on the other hand, helps us feel empowered. Turning everything else over to God and trusting that He can and will take care of it is frankly liberating. As Dr. Clyde Parker, clinical director of counseling and therapy once said, “One definition of good mental health is the ability to give up control— to trust in God, ourselves, and others— and to know that things will work out.”

Don’t take counsel from your fears

If we focus on our fears and live our life according to them, we will be living far beneath our potential. Depression often magnify and expands our fears to the point that it’s hard to see much of anything else. But as we focus on Christ and place our faith in Him, our fears will fade. As we live our lives according to His words, we will reach our full potential and live our best life while becoming our best self.

Recognize the Lord’s tender mercies

In essence, watch for the hand of God in your life. Be grateful for what He has given you rather than focusing on what you don’t have. Remember how the Lord has blessed you in the past. One thing that helps me is writing these things down so when I have days where I truly can’t think of anything to be grateful for or any ways the Lord has blessed me, I can read what I wrote and remember how he has blessed me and trust that even though I can’t see it, He is still blessing me.

Forget yourself and serve others

Mental illnesses often cause us to turn inward, focusing our ourselves constantly. Finding ways to help others helps us get out of ourselves and see a bit of the bigger picture. We remember what it is to care for others and it can help us pull ourselves out of the pit our illness has put us in. I know for me, when my depression was at its worst, one of the things that helped the most was the fact that I was visiting my grandmother twice and week and picking up groceries for her. Focusing on how I could help my grandma and help brighten her day gave me something to focus on other than how terrible I felt and how much of a failure I seemed to be. It works. I don’t know exactly why serving someone else ends up helping me so much, but it does.

And with that, that wraps up this three-part report on the presentation. I hope that it helped you as much as it helped me. I thought much of what was presented was too important not to share.

Presentation on Depression: an LDS perspective part 2

This is part two on my reporting on a presentation the women’s group in my church had last week on depression, anxiety, and spirituality. Part one can be found here.

As part of the presentation, we received booklets that listed the steps that the presenter suggested as a way to spiritually deal with depression and anxiety and deal with/repair the spiritual damage those illness can do. I’ll list each suggestion he gave with a few thoughts of my own.

Seek the Spirit and greater light and truth

Essentially this suggestion is to return to the basics of the gospel and make sure we’re doing the basic things that will bring the Spirit into our lives: attending our church meetings, praying, studying the scriptures, attending the temple, etc. As we do this, we open ourselves up to the influence of the Spirit, even if our mental illness makes it difficult to feel that influence. It also allows God to bless us because of our obedience.

I know for me, this made an enormous difference in dealing with my depression. Even when I hit a point when I honestly wasn’t sure why I was still going to church, I continued to go, as well as reading my scriptures and praying. The prayer especially made all the difference as I poured out my soul to God and asked for and received strength to keep going. I knew that no matter how I felt, I had a Father who loved me and wanted the best for me.

Believe you have the power to change

As Elder David A. Bednar said, “The enabling power of the Atonement of Christ strengthens us to do things we could never do on our own.” If we don’t believe we have the power to change and to overcome and deal with our illness, then we won’t. Nothing will happen. And part of dealing with a mental illness is recognizing what patterns of thought and behaviors contribute to it. But until we have that hope that we can change, that things can become better, we are lost in despair and things will only become worse.

Overcoming perfectionism

We aren’t going to be perfect in this life. Period. End of story. We can come closer to achieving that through the Atonement of Christ, but on our own we are never going to be perfect. I know this is something that I struggle with. I feel like I should have my life perfectly in order and together right now and when it’s not or I slip up and slip back into patterns I had when I was in the midst of my depression I feel like a failure. I start to think I should just give up, because I’m always going to fail anyway, so why try? But that’s not the point of this life. It’s to keep trying, keep improving, even if it’s only by the tiniest bit. It’s not to beat ourselves up over every little failure.

Don’t believe the lies

Depression lies to us. Satan lies to us. We can’t believe those lies or they will destroy us. Here are some of the lies the presenter listed:

  • Depression and anxiety come from sin
  • I am unworthy and worthless
  • I’m not as righteous, spiritual, attractive, or talented as others, and I’ll never be able to measure up.
  • God does not love me, or has given up on me
  • The principles of the gospel are true, they just don’t work for me
  • I’m broken, damaged, and I can’t be fixed

The truth is, God loves you. We won’t be able to measure up to others because that’s not the measuring stick we’re supposed to use in this life. We can be healed through Christ. We have challenges in this life to test us and help us become more like our Savior that have nothing to do with our righteousness or lack thereof. The principles of the gospel work for everyone, even if we can’t see the immediate results. There is hope, and there is help. No matter how worthless or unworthy we may feel, we have infinite worth in the eyes of God.

Note: There are four more suggestions, but this post is becoming a bit long so I’m going to continue this in a third post.

Presentation on Depression: an LDS perspective, part 1

I went to a women’s meeting of my church a couple of nights ago. (In my church, the women’s group is called Relief Society. Find out more about it here.) It was on anxiety and depression and while I was excited (mental illness is something that needs to be talked about more, in my opinion) I was slightly worried. Sometimes in a religious setting, it often seems the suggestions for dealing with mental illness is to trust in God and He will heal you. Now I’m not saying that He won’t. I know He can. However, when you’re trying to do so and the problem doesn’t go away, it’s discouraging and having someone tell you that is all you need to do makes it worse.

I needn’t have worried. The presenter had anxiety and depression and was very upfront and honest about his struggles and how it caused him to doubt God and even hate Him. He began the presentation by using a visual to describe what’s it’s like to have depression. He had a member of the audience wear sunglasses smeared with Vaseline to show how depression distorts your worldview. They wore a backpack filled with rocks showing how depression weighs you down and wears you out. They wore headphones that represented how depression feeds you false and negative views about the world and yourself. Then they wore gloves to represent how depression can cut you off from the very human touch and love you need. I thought it was a powerful way to show what depression can do to you. Throughout the entire presentation I kept nodding my head— yep, I’ve felt that. That’s right on. Exactly!

He went on to discuss the different types of anxiety and what it’s like to have that. Then he went into the application section— if you have either of these, what should you do? Who should you talk to?

I was so appreciative of one of the bishops (a volunteer lay minister who leads a congregation) who said, “Talk to your doctor.” The presenter agreed whole-heartedly. I shared something that had helped me when I was considering going on medication for my depression: you wouldn’t look down on someone for taking insulin for diabetes. You would in fact encourage them to. Medication for mental illness is the same way. It’s an illness and you need to treat it. The presenter expanded on what I’d said for another five minutes or more. I really appreciated that. As I said earlier, too often getting treatment and help for mental illness is pushed aside when talking about mental illness in a religious setting or is lightly touched on. I hope it helped others in the audience remove a little of the stigma of mental illness or being on meds for it.

The rest of the presentation was more focused on the spiritual side of things. He presented it as mental illness not only damages you physically, emotionally, and mentally, but also spiritually, so here are things you can do to repair your relationship with God and your spirituality. It will also help you as you heal from your mental illness. Not in the idea that you will never have to deal with them again, but that you’ll be able to function again and God will heal the damage done to you by your illness. His suggestions were excellent, and deserve a post of their own.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening. It was nice to hear from someone else of my faith talk about their experiences in dealing with depression. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one dealing with this, so it’s wonderful to hear from someone else and know I’m not alone and to hear it from a spiritual side instead of just the medical or worldly side of things. My relationship with God is incredibly important to me and a large part of why I never even flirted with considering suicide. I have no doubt that without my faith in God; I would have been much, much closer at times to considering that. It scares me to think about where I would be (or possibly NOT be) without my Savior in my life.

Next week I’ll do a post on his suggestions for spiritual healing and repair.

Depression as an illness

Several days ago I stumbled across this conversation on Twitter:

Depression

 

The last comment was the one that particularly struck me. As I mentioned a few days ago, I feel like parts of my life are a bit off track and that I have a hard time sticking with some of the plans I come up with to change that. It frustrates me immensely! Why can’t I just pull myself together and live the life I want to live? Why do I keep being so tired and having days with no energy and on and on and on.

But that last comment reminds me why. I’m tired and have low energy sometimes because I have insomnia which makes it hard to sleep, even with medication. I have days with no energy because even with my medication, depression can do that to you. If I had chronic pain or some sort of physical illness I would be understanding with myself and my limitations. But because depression is, quite literally, all in my brain, the very thing I’m using to try to change myself is the thing that is ill and holding me back.

That isn’t to say I can change to be the person I want to be and I can’t still live the life I want to live because I have depression. It means that I need to have patience and understanding with myself. I’m being treated for an illness. I have an illness. That illness comes with certain limitations and restrictions some days.

It’s a paradigm shift that I still haven’t completed yet. I haven’t yet made the shift from “I have a mental illness so I take medication to fix it and fix me” to “I have a mental illness so I take medication to help me function but it isn’t a miracle pill and I still have to live and deal with the effects of the illness just like someone with diabetes or chronic pain would.” It’s a hard shift to make because as a society, we’re still very much in the mindset that mental illness is something you can “get over” and “get better” from. That isn’t to say that people don’t, but they’re often people who have periods of depression or anxiety and then whatever is triggering it ends and they move on. When you have chronic depression, as I do, it’s exactly that: chronic. It may lessen, but it doesn’t completely go away. There is no miracle fix that makes it all better. It’s something that is managed, not cured.

And so that’s something I need to keep in mind as I’m going about my life. My depression won’t hold me back, but it may mean I need to take a slightly different route to get where I want to go in life. And when it sidelines me, I need to be as patient and understanding with myself as I would if it were any other illness, not get frustrated and wonder why I can’t just pull myself together and get over it. I need to love myself enough to do that.

Medication saga (or how I blew things out of proportion again)

I’ll be honest, I debated a bit on whether or not to actually write and post this. But I’m trying to be real on this blog, and sometimes that means including things that, in retrospect, turned out to not be such a big deal but were at the time.

I set up an appointment with my doctor a week or so ago because my depression medication needed to have the prescription renewed. No big deal right? Except this was the first time I’d seen him to get it renewed and I was honestly terrified that he wasn’t going to renew it.

Where did this fear come from? Soon after he prescribed the medication to me, I attended a workshop my church sponsored where he did a presentation on physical and mental health. He mentioned there that he generally only prescribed antidepressants for around six months, since by then most people no longer needed them.

It may have also come with my experiences while working as at a Social Security Disability advocacy group and trying to get medical records and other paperwork from doctors and hearing my clients stories of trying to deal with their doctors to get medications.

Wherever it came from, I’ve been nervous about this appointment since even before I made it. I’d been rehearsing in my mind what I would say if he wanted to take me off the medication, what I needed to tell him to convince him that this medication was essential to my well-being and productivity.

Yesterday was the day of the appointment. I was so nervous and scared about not getting my meds renewed that I had a hard time focusing on much of anything. The closer to the time of the appointment it got, the more nervous I got. I made myself sick to my stomach, no exaggeration. What if he wouldn’t renew the prescription? Where would I get my medication from? I’m heading out of the state for a week in a couple of days and was due to run out during my vacation. What would I do without it if I ran out?

Finally the appointment came. I met with the nurse and she took my vitals and everything, then left me to wait for the doctor. I’m honestly surprised I wasn’t shaking by the time he came in, I was so worried.

Turns out all my worry was for naught. He renewed the meds without a problem. He just checked to make sure they were still working for me, and then gave me the prescription. It was such a relief!

Did I once again blow something hugely out of proportion? Possibly. But to me, this medication is an absolute necessity. Without it, I have a really, really hard time functioning. So to me, the possibility that the doctor might not let me keep taking it was terrifying.

I think this is something that a lot of people who don’t have a mental illness don’t really understand. Just like someone with diabetes would start feeling bad and have problems if they stopped taking their insulin, people with mental illnesses who are on medication are the same way. You wouldn’t tell a person with diabetes or high cholesterol or blood pressure or something like that to just suck it up and be positive and then they won’t need their medications anymore. It’s the same way for people with a mental illness. It’s exactly that: an illness. And like any other illness or condition, it needs treatment. What that treatment is will vary, but don’t ever knock somebody for taking medication for a mental illness. It literally can be a life changer for a person whether or not they have their medication. I know for me it is.

Thoughts? Comments? Please feel free to share below.

Blowing things out of proportion

I (re)learned something interesting a few nights ago. I was feeling a bit down because I didn’t feel like I’d accomplished much that day. For example, here is my “chore list” (More on that in a future post):

Chore list

Mind you, this was part way through the week and I hadn’t done a single thing on that list. Oy. So, I decided to tackle the monster that had been mocking me for weeks: my filing.

Filing

The folders are my filing cabinet, as it were. The shoebox is a future project, and the top drawer and the pile in front were what needed to be sorted. I’d been putting it off because I was certain it would take forever and I’m not really fond of filing. (In fact, I took the picture because I planned to write a post about my fight with filing and filing systems. I probably still will at some point.)

But I needed to do something to feel like I’d actually accomplished something. So I set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes, turned up some tunes, and had at it. I promised myself that whatever was done in that 15 minutes, that would be good enough and I would be done for the day.

This was how it looked 13.5 minutes later.

Finished filing

I filed everything and cleaned up in less than that 15 minutes. I’d been putting this off for WEEKS because I thought it was going to take so long and I finished it in less than 15 minutes.

I think everyone, not just people with depression or another mental illness, tend to blow a task out of proportion. We look at something and imagine that it’s going to be so much more difficult than it actually is. But I have noticed that I tend to do this a bit more since my depression really hit. I already know I’m depleted in energy, and so things seem just that much harder. And so they get put off, again and again. But really, they’re a simple job and if I would just sit down and do it, it would be done.

Was it a silly little thing in the grand scheme of things? Yes. Did I still blow it out of proportion and make it more difficult in my head than it was? Yes. Will I do it again? Probably. But maybe the next time I assume something is going to be too hard or take too long and I want to put it off, I’ll remember my 13.5 minute filing job and sit down and get to work. Who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise myself again with how little time and effort something takes.

Forgetting my meds

Sometimes I hate how much my depression meds affects my moods and energy levels. Specifically when I forget to take them and I get reminded what pre-meds me was like. Today is one of those days. So I’ve spent most of the day alternately antsy and unable to focus or depressed and on the verge of tears with a level of tired underneath all of that. Not fun.

All of that is to say that I don’t have it in me to write the blog post I intended today but wanted to still post something. Plus, I think this is something about depression and medication that should be shared— the difference really can be that drastic, but in a good way. I’m able to be myself, my real self, when I’m taking my medication. Not so much when I’m not. I don’t particularly like who I am when I’m not on my meds.

Part of the reason I’m doing this blog is, as I said, to document my journey in dealing with a mental illness. And this is part of it. My hope is that someone will read this blog and will maybe understand a loved one in their lives who’s dealing with a mental illness a little better or that someone who has a mental illness will know that they’re not alone in what they’re going through. All of that requires me to be honest in what I’m going through, the good, the bad, all of it. And that means admitting I do things like forget to take my meds and have a really crappy day because of it.

I think I’m rambling now, so I’ll stop. Tomorrow is another day, and it will be better, at least in part because I’ll remember my meds.

Beginnings

Hello, and welcome to Musings and Experiments for Living! My name’s Caitlyn. A bit about me. I’m a student, going back to school to get a second bachelor’s degree in history and English/Creative writing education. That’s right, I’m going to teach!

I’m LDS, and my religion makes up a large part of who I am. It’s likely going to come out in the blog, so letting you know right up front. I also have depression and insomnia. While I’m receiving treatment for both, they are likely going to come into play on the blog.

I enjoy reading, cooking, Marvel movies, fantasy, sci-fi, Doctor Who, Sherlock, and traveling. I love biographies and history, random quotes, organizing, personal finance, and humor. Expect to see anything from those categories on the blog.

I’m a bit (a lot) disorganized. The depression derailed my life for several months, so I’m trying to pull my life together again. Basically I’m starting this blog to talk about  my journey as I’m trying to do that in hopes that it will help someone else. There will be experimentation as I try different things and see what works, and some days there will just be my thoughts or musings on life. Thus the title of the blog.

So there you go. I’m going to shoot for posting at least three times a week. We’ll see how this goes!

Hope you enjoy the journey!