Fighting for Mental Health

I’ve had several down days in these past couple of weeks. I cried in my therapist’s office. I beat myself up about my past parenting. I’ve caught myself using self-deprecating words to myself, speaking negatively to me about me.

My husband has noticed – he’s very tuned in to my moods. In fact, he saw it before I did. But I’ve noticed a lower rating on my daily mood scale. So I’ve known something was going on.

We had a week or more of rainy days, so I was lacking in natural Vitamin D (I take a supplement anyway). I had some serious self-evaluation going on, and had to fight my own negative voices with God’s truth about how He sees me. My left leg is causing consistent shooting pain; it could be lumbar stenosis, which doesn’t really get better except with pain relievers and gentle stretching – when whatever inflammation exists subsides. Walking hurts, so exercise is hard(er) for me.

I realized today the foundational truth of Fresh Hope, the peer-led support group we’re starting at our church. Their mission is: To empower individuals with a mental health challenge, along with their loved ones, to live a full and rich faith-filled life in spite of having a mental health diagnosis.

I can choose to live a life that is rich and faith-filled. I can choose mental health vs. mental illness.

I have a mental health diagnosis – Major Depressive Disorder, Moderate to Severe, Recurrent. But that doesn’t mean I’m always depressed. Right now, my depression is in remission, and I’m relatively healthy (except for my leg pain).

It means, like I told my therapist today, that I realize that sometimes I can coast, and other times I have to fight for my mental wellness. So I’m fighting for it a bit right now. That’s ok.

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Depression Analogies

So many times through this journey with depression, I have thought “once and done.” Like, “There! That depressive episode is over and now I’m all better!” But in my case, that’s just not the way it is. I keep walking with it – it sidles up next to me on my life’s path.

Depression is an unwelcome visitor who keeps arriving on my doorstep. I try not to invite him in, but sometimes he sticks his foot in the door so he can push it back open. He wants to come in and make himself at home. And he’s been here before, so he’s a familiar guest. I want to close the door and bolt the lock!

Depression is a deep cavern with a hidden entrance in the ground. One misstep, and I could fall in. If I land at the bottom, it will be very hard to crawl out. The sides are slippery mud and jutting rocks. The cave is dark. My hands will bleed from pulling myself up towards the exit.

Depression is a wet gray wool blanket, weighing me down and dampening everything. It’s heavy, and I can’t see through its tight weave. And it stinks!

Depression is an ongoing battle. As a soldier in the fight, I must stay alert to the enemy’s tactics, and be quick to action so – at best, I can defeat it, or – at least, I can keep it at bay. “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.” Ephesians‬ ‭6:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬ (italics mine)

Red Flags

Over ten years ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder – Recurrent, which means that I’ve had multiple episodes of depression. It’s important for me to learn to recognize the symptoms of an episode quickly, because the faster it’s treated, the sooner it goes into remission.

According to psychiatry.org,

Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.

Given these symptoms, it’s critical for me to know my red flags – my warning signs – that an episode might be lurking. These are my indicators prior to actual depression symptoms – they tell me it might be coming.

Here are some I’ve noticed.

  • Listening to music loudly –
    • in an effort to drown out my negative or ruminating thoughts.
  • Desire to be alone, or in the dark.
  • Not wanting to go to my regularly scheduled activities – anhedonia.
  • Saying “I’m sorry” a lot.
  • Difficulty concentrating when reading a book or even watching a t.v. show.
  • Wanting to stay in bed, even if I’m not tired.
  • Feelings of self-pity.
  • Crying – maybe. Sometimes I can’t cry, which is also a red flag for me.

When I see several of these characteristics, or if someone close to me notices, it’s time for me to contact my psych doc and let him know that I might be headed into a depressive episode.

[Side note: even though I know these things about myself, I am always surprised. You’d think that after ten years, I wouldn’t be shocked to discover the journey back into depression. I guess it’s a good thing – I don’t ever want to get used to it. I need to accept it, and make every effort to be mentally healthy, but I don’t want to be resigned to a life of depression.]

Over the 10+ years that I’ve battled depression, I’ve gotten better at seeing these things quickly, which means we can modify my treatment and get me the help I need so that the episode doesn’t deepen. Maybe that means adjusting my meds. Maybe it’s increasing my therapy sessions.  Maybe it’s simply monitoring them, being self-aware.

It’s a call to pay attention.

Out of Sorts

Friday – what a weird day after a long week. I feel discombobulated today – out of sorts. Perhaps a culmination of the past few days.

Saw my psych doc on Monday – my emotional scale scored better than last month’s, so that’s good. I’m pretty stable in the psych world, so don’t need to see him for two months. That’s progress.

Feeling frumpy: saw an ear-nose-throat doc and audiologist on Tuesday – 40+% hearing loss in each ear – prime candidate for hearing aids. I’m only 54 years old! Have gained 5 pounds so my clothes don’t fit right. Can’t read anything without my glasses on. Feeling sorry for myself. Need to figure out how to accept these changes and move on without discouragement. As I’ve said before (last time with humor:) – getting older isn’t for sissies! Paul talks about being content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11) – not until today did I consider that might include ageing.

Got a haircut on Wednesday, but she didn’t listen and cut where I told her not to. Makes me miss Susie, who did my hair almost perfectly for 12+ years!

Had a good lunch with women from Book Club on Thursday – nice to be included. Took a relaxing nap during the afternoon thunderstorm. Reading a fantastic book for next month’s Book Club – I’m devouring The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Have had the book for 24 hours and am already on chapter 17!

Today is a lovely sunny day, but for some reason, it’s causing me to miss my Fort Myers house and pool and beach time. Sitting outside on my porch in Virginia is just not the same as on the lanai in Florida.

Leg pain has greatly abated – only hurts when I turn a certain way. So I won’t turn that direction! So glad to finally have relief, after weeks of severe pain.

Several friends going through really tough times. Have prayed hard for others all week, which is as it should be. Still, only one success story from them all – feels discouraging. So much pain and difficulty, and I am helpless to do anything. But praying is doing something – it’s allowing God to work. You go, God!

Missing my kids, my old friends. As always.

Need to remind myself that days like this happen to everyone. Just a funk. A week of ups and downs.

Tomorrow is Saturday – a lazy day, but includes dinner out with my husband to celebrate Mother’s Day. Then a new week. Glad this one is over soon.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

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I Googled Mental Health Awareness images, to find a new Facebook Profile picture to represent this month. There are lots of posters out there!

Imagine different colors and shades of green, different fonts and different pictures.

Here’s what some of them say:

 

 

 

Wear green!

Break the stigma. Break the silence.

1 in 5 people will suffer from some form of mental illness in any given year.

1 in 4.

Not all pain is physical and not all wounds are visible.

You wouldn’t be ashamed to tell your friends you have the flu, so why do we stay quiet about mental health?

Inspired – Informed – Involved.

Be aware!

Keep talking about mental health.

About 900,000 people commit suicide every year…and mental disorders are one of the most prominent and treatable causes of suicide. (That number is now actually closer to a million per year worldwide.)

No Health without Mental Health.

Stand up against stigma.

You’re not alone.

Depression. Anxiety. Phobia. Panic. OCD. Schizophrenia. Eating Disorder. Self-harm. Post-traumatic stress. Bipolar Disorder.

Take care of your stress.

Let’s talk about it.

Silent no more.

Behind the mask.

Be the change.

You are safe here.

And one of my favorites, from Consolidated Agencies of Human Services in Hawthorne, NV (cahsnv.org):

[Encourage others to seek help. Raise awareness of mental illness and where to get help. Teach respect for the daily challenges of poor mental health. Advocate to expand availability of effective treatments and supports. Nurture understanding among all.]

 

I urge you to find out what’s happening in your community this month to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Learn about mental health. Attend a lecture. Participate in a walk. Reach out to a hurting friend. Seek help if you think you have a mental illness.

Let’s talk about this!