Tips For Getting Through the Worst Days

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The title of this blog is "Coping with Depression." In the past, I've used it to talk about ways to feel productive, beat procrastination, and improve relationships during a depressive episode. But the reality is that some days, "coping" just means surviving. So, in honor of World Suicide Prevention Month, I would like to offer some simple tips on how to get through when "getting through" seems impossible.

Simple Tips for Getting Through the Worst Days

  1. Open your curtains and windows: While leaving the house might not be on the cards for today, letting in some light and fresh air will make you feel less entombed, and give you that little connection to the outside world that you need to keep you from total isolation.
  2. Change into some fresh PJs: When you're struggling with depression, it's easy for the days to bleed into one. A simple way to combat this is to commit to changing your clothing every morning-- even if that just means changing from one set of PJs into another.
  3. Eat something healthy: I'm not suggesting that you don an apron and whip up a gourmet meal. I mean grab an apple, a banana, or (if you can face it) stir-fry some veggies. Our instinct in times of emotional distress is to reach for comfort food, but too much salt, fat and sugar will leave you bloated, sluggish and tired, and when depression has already depleted your energy levels, this is a lethal combination. Eating something healthy is a simple way of practicing self-care, and can have profound psychological and physiological effects. So stock up on that fruit.
  4. Watch something funny: Instead of reaching for the chips, why not try some televisual comfort food? When I'm feeling low, nothing cheers me up like an episode of Parks and Recreation. I've seen every episode at least five times, but when I'm struggling to concentrate, it's comforting to let something familiar and charming play in the background and occasionally permeate my conscious mind with a funny joke or pratfall (and yes, that is a Chris Pratt pun for those of you who've watched the show). 
  5. Play something fun: I've never been much of a gamer, but a few years ago I dug out my old Game Boy Color and spent a full afternoon playing (and completing, I might add) Super Mario Bros. Sinking yourself into a hobby like gaming on a day when your depression is at the helm can be a great way to distract from any intrusive and unwanted thoughts and focus your mind on something benign and entertaining. 
  6. Contact someone you haven't seen in a while: This one might seem like a stretch, but in times of struggle, it is often easier to talk to people you don't see regularly. These people won't be familiar with your situation, and so it will be easier to just "shoot the breeze" about films, books, TV, or whatever else interests you, without the pressure to "get deep." I am in no way suggesting that you ignore your support networks on days like these, but sometimes a casual chat with someone from the world beyond the walls of your depression can help to make you feel like a "normal" person, and remind you that there is a place out there for you once you get through this day.

You Can Get Through Your Worst Days

Coping with depression is an exhausting endeavor. And some days, just getting out of bed feels like climbing a mountain. So if you are feeling at a low ebb, know that the only thing you have to do today is to get through it. And maybe eat an apple. 

 

If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.

For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources and support section. For additional mental health help, see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section. 

Living in the Present Moment with Borderline PD

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It can be challenging to stay grounded in the present moment when you live with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Unstable emotional states and anxious thoughts can often pull you into the past or future mindset. However, bringing yourself back into the present can have a wealth of benefits for your mental health

The Challenges of Living in the Present Moment with BPD

I have always struggled to live in the present moment. When I am feeling down, I often find my thoughts pulled back to the past. I might ruminate on old traumas or feel emotional about relationships and events that have long passed. In these times, I often relive the previous emotions and experience them as if I were reliving them. 

Additionally, I frequently find myself worrying about the future. My brain becomes very anxious and obsessive about potential upcoming events. It starts working overtime to solve problems in advance and think of solutions for every possible outcome. During these times, I feel restless, uncomfortable, and sometimes nauseous with the burden of responsibility that I am carrying. 

In the past, I would often try to escape my brain through self-destructive behaviors such as binge drinking. While these behaviors helped me focus less on the past and future, they also had short and long-term consequences for my physical and mental health. So, I've been focusing more on healthy ways of keeping myself in the present moment. 

How to Live in the Present Moment with BPD

Keeping focused on the present moment helps me feel calmer inside my brain. Without the constant anxiety and stress swirling around, I can enjoy more of my life and remain grounded.

Although it is challenging to do, these are a few techniques I use to bring myself back to the present moment:

  • Surrender: Sometimes, I notice that my brain is obsessing and trying to drag me into a spiral of destructive thought patterns. These anxieties usually come up when I'm worrying about something in the future that I want to control. When I am in this state, I often remind myself that I can do little to impact future events. I also tell myself that I am wasting emotional energy and simply making myself upset. 
  • Relax: When I start worrying about the future, I often feel very agitated. This emotional state has a powerful impact on my physical sensations. During these times, I usually try to pull myself back to the present with physical sensations. For example, I might take a long shower or focus on my breathing for a while. 
  • Forgive: There are times when my brain becomes very preoccupied with the past. I might think about previous conflicts, traumas, or other upsetting events. During these times, I usually feel upset with myself, others, or both. When the feelings and thoughts come up, I try to focus on forgiving myself and others, as past events do not reflect the present. 
  • Immerse: If I spend too much time alone with my thoughts, they usually start moving in upsetting directions. If I'm already upset, I sometimes find it easier to engage myself with different tasks. For example, I might concentrate on my work or cook a complicated meal. By doing so, I can distract myself from my harmful thought patterns. 

Which techniques do you use to keep yourself grounded in the present moment? Let me know in the comments section below!

Schizoaffective Disorder Changed My Sense of Style

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I was diagnosed as schizophrenic in 1999 after a psychotic episode at college. My first diagnosis of a serious mental illness markedly changed my sense of fashion and the changes stuck even with a later reassessment that I was schizoaffective. I have a few ideas as to why.

Why My Style Changed After My Schizoaffective Psychotic Episode

Let me tell you about the way I dressed before my diagnosis of schizophrenia in 1999. I really marched to the beat of my own drummer but with trendy results. In high school, some people even thought I made my own clothes. I didn’t, but inspired by the grunge aesthetic and some of my mom’s hippie originals loaded with 1960s nostalgia, I wove together a personal style that sometimes even managed to bring the flower child to goth fashions.

But my psychotic episode forced me to come home from college and face a new life with a debilitating, chronic illness. I just didn’t feel safe anymore and I didn’t feel fashionable after the medication I took put on lots of pounds. Most of all, I wanted to feel safe, in any way that I could. I started dressing for comfort. I swapped my black lace and crushed velvet for corduroy, fleece, and hiking boots.

What made my new fashions feel even more protective was that my mom picked out a lot of them for me. Maybe she felt I wasn’t safe either, so she babied me though she encouraged my decisions and actions. I gladly let her in those spaces.

Another thing was that, for the first time in my life, I wanted to be normal. Well, at least part of me wanted to be normal. What I mean by “normal” is that I wanted to listen to the music that was playing at the drug store where I worked as a part-time job, I wanted to watch Ally McBeal, and I wanted to wear fleece pull-overs and hiking boots like so many people had started to do.

My Sense of Style Has Evolved with My Schizoaffective Disorder

I feel secure now. This sense of danger at every turn actually only lasted for the first few months of my illness. My fashion sense stayed what I started to call “utilitarian,” though. With the rigorous academics of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where I transferred from The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) after my psychotic episode, and being saddled with demanding schizoaffective disorder, I really only had time to dress for comfort.

Today, I express myself with jewelry. I love to wear funky, offbeat, artsy pieces from my parents, my husband Tom and my great aunt, and my grandmothers. I also wear t-shirts and pull-overs that advertise things I care about: everything from SAIC to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I am so far from normal, it’s not even funny. But I love it. As my dear auntie who gave me the jewelry said, I’ve made a very nice life for myself. Even if I have schizoaffective disorder and even if my sea glass necklace from this summer’s trip to Door County, Wisconsin, covers up the “S” in my SAIC t-shirt.

Using Creative Writing for Self-Harm Recovery

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The stories we tell ourselves can often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Using creative writing for self-harm recovery is one way to rewrite the narrative of your life in a way that can affect real, positive change.

Before Using Creative Writing as a Self-Harm Recovery Tool

It's important, when exploring self-harm in creative writing, to be aware of your own triggers and boundaries first. If, for example, you've felt strong self-harm cravings after watching or reading something to do with self-injury (and especially if you have had a relapse resulting from that exposure), writing about self-injury may not be a viable recovery tool for you at this time.

As always, the guidance of a therapist or other mental health professional would be invaluable here. As it is, I can only speak to my own experiences using this approach, and offer some ideas if you (and your therapist, if applicable) think tackling self-harm topics with creative writing might prove to be a healthy outlet for you.

How I've Used Self-Harm Creative Writing to Heal

For me personally, writing has been one of the most powerful tools in my recovery toolbox. Journaling is one way to sort through the many thoughts and emotions you'll need to deal with during the healing process, but there are other options too. I consider the work I do here for HealthyPlace, for instance, to fall under the category of creative nonfiction. 

I've found fiction to be a welcome refuge as well. I don't often write about self-harm directly in my poetry or prose, nor do any of my published interactive fiction novels include any reference to it. However, I've found fiction a cathartic conduit for tackling some of the darker thoughts and emotions I've experienced as a result of my history with self-harm.

If you'd like to try using creative writing in your self-harm recovery process but aren't sure where to start, here are a few ideas you can try on for size.

Have you used creative writing to recover from self-harm? If you have any additional ideas, comments, or suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments—you never know who you might help or inspire.

Inspiring My Child’s Mental Health Despite Mental Illness

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Keeping a child mentally healthy can be challenging, especially if your child has a mental illness like mine does. In fact, I think it can be harder than keeping a child physically healthy since keeping the body in shape basically involves a checklist. Good diet, check. Lots of exercise, check. Plenty of water, check. Annual checkup, check. A child's mental health, though, can be a bit more complicated.

How I Inspire My Child's Mental Health

Even though my child has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), there are things I can do and teach him to help him manage his symptoms and, hopefully, avoid further mental health problems, such as depression and substance abuse, in the future.

  • I encourage him to label and express his feelings. When my child is upset, I'll ask him what it is he's feeling. Sometimes I don't have to ask at all. It's become natural for him to tell me what he's feeling. Sometimes, though, he still needs my help figuring out why he's feeling that way, especially when he's tired.
  • I'm trying to teach him how to breathe deeply when he's upset. It's a work in progress. My child wants to take deep, shallow breaths, which won't do anything for his mental health. Still, though, when he gets upset, I try to guide him through a few deep breaths and explain what deep breathing can do for him when his emotions feel out of control.
  • When the time comes, I'll talk to him about my own mental health struggles. Since he's still so young, I don't know if my child would understand yet--or maybe I just don't know how to explain it to him yet--but eventually he will know about my own struggles with mental health problems and how I've learned to cope.
  • I'm trying to teach him that most things aren't that big of a deal. What with his ADHD (and him just being a kid), my child can get very upset very quickly, and most of the time it's over something small. If he could let go a little and let the small things run off his shoulders, life would be a lot more comfortable for him. I try to teach my child that most things just aren't that big of a deal and definitely not worth sacrificing his happiness and mental health, even for a moment.
  • My child sees a psychologist. When it comes to keeping a child mentally healthy, no parent can do it alone. Everyone needs some help sometimes, especially if your child already deals with a mental health condition. What better person to turn to for that help than a mental health professional.
  • I've explained to him what the counselor at his school is for. My child knows that his school counselor is there for him in case he needs to talk about something that he doesn't want to talk to his dad or me about. These days, it takes a small army to keep a child mentally healthy. There's no reason I should expect myself to be able to do it alone.

I Have to Keep Tabs on My Own Mental Health Too

More than once in the past few years, I've sought professional help because I saw my mental health issues affecting my child. There's no way I can keep my child mentally healthy if I can't keep myself mentally healthy. I can't set a good example for him or stay out of my head long enough to really pay attention to what's going on in his.

I might not necessarily see the fruits of my labor immediately. My child doesn't try to calm himself down with breathing exercises, and most things that happen throughout a typical day seem like mini-crises. What I'm trying to do is plant seeds. Hopefully, my little boy will grow up to be an adult who knows how to maintain his own mental health, and it will start with the seeds I planted.

How do you inspire mental health in your child? Let's share ideas in the comment.

How Compartmentalizing Helps Anxiety

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Struggling with anxiety means often experiencing symptoms unexpectedly, so compartmentalizing anxiety can help. Life does not stop when you experience anxiety. The day goes on, you still have to go to work, go to school, tend to your family, and all of this does not stop when you feel anxious. However, there are coping strategies you can use to help you manage chronic anxiety on a daily basis when you know that life goes on and it is important to focus on the present. During times that this has occurred for me, I have found that it has been helpful for me to compartmentalize my anxious thoughts and feelings.

Why Compartmentalizing Is Helpful for Anxiety and When It's Not

I think compartmentalizing occurs when you have conflicting feelings, and you organize them in a way that allows you to cope. You may find that this is something you tend to do automatically, such as going to work and focusing on work instead of a problem you are having at home.

This is something that I have found extremely important to be intentional about. I remember a time during graduate school when I was experiencing quite a bit of anxiety. During the time, it became vital for me to compartmentalize anxious feelings to focus and function.

However, it is critical to be aware that compartmentalizing feelings does not mean avoiding feelings, nor does it mean ignoring an issue. It is also a short-term solution and should not be used in the long term. The purpose of compartmentalizing is to put something away and deal with it later. So, for example, you may tuck away that problem you are having at home so that you are productive during your workday, and you deal with it later on when you get home. If you use this coping strategy in the long term, this could lead to not dealing with an issue that needs to be dealt with, and it could even lead to negative coping behaviors.

Ways to Compartmentalize to Treat Anxiety Healthfully

Ultimately, the purpose of compartmentalizing is to help you stay grounded and focused on the present. I have found that it helps to reduce my anxiety in the present moment and allows me to function for work or whatever I am doing at that time. It also helps to keep fears and worries about the future from overwhelming me. So, how can you compartmentalize your feelings?

  1. First of all, be aware of your triggers. One thing I have practiced quite a bit over the years is recognizing certain things that trigger anxious feelings for me. When I recognize these triggers, I am then aware of something I need to compartmentalize and deal with at a later time.
  2. Think about it as a way of organizing your thoughts. Visualizing this process of organization, such as putting your worries in a box and setting it aside, can help you to compartmentalize.
  3. Give yourself time to focus on each thing you have compartmentalized. This might involve writing down these different feelings you are dealing with and the situation associated with them. Set aside time to focus on each one. You can even write this time down in your journal or your calendar. When it is time for you to focus on the issue, focus on it entirely.

Try these strategies to help you compartmentalize your anxious feelings. Share any strategies you use to compartmentalize anxiety in the comments below.

Co-Regulation: How Just Being with Someone Can Help

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When we aren't at our best emotionally, it can help on a nervous system level to just have someone be with us to co-regulate our emotions. I was definitely one of those children who needed a hug when I was upset. I have always responded strongly to the negative and positive emotions of others. I also respond very well to a calm person comforting me when I am anxious or stressed. I work mostly with children, so I am used to hearing the term "co-regulation" as it relates to parents and caregivers helping children calm down when they are upset, but it can be just as powerful for adults in relationships.

Co-regulation is the process of someone with a regulated nervous system, meaning they are feeling safe and relaxed, effectively sharing their calm with someone whose nervous system is spiraling out of control. If you are anxious or upset, and someone you love takes your hand, gives you a hug, or just sits with you, they are co-regulating with you. There is a whole nervous system explanation for this that I love to talk about, so I'll get into that in the video below. 

Communicating with Your Partner About Your Co-Regulation Needs

It took a while in my relationship for my partner to understand how co-regulation helps me. I talked about this in a previous article, "When Your Partner Doesn't Understand Your Mental Illness." I identify as a highly sensitive person which means my nervous system easily becomes overwhelmed. This sends my anxiety skyrocketing because my nervous system senses danger and alerts my fight-flight-freeze-fawn response to kick into gear. It took many conversations over the past eight years to help him understand that just his presence helps my nervous system regain control and calm down.

Being in the presence of another calm and compassionate person helps me calm myself by sending the message to my nervous system that there is no danger, allowing me to think rationally again rather than acting out of survival mode. When my anxiety is getting the best of me, I am likely to say, "I just need a hug," or "Can you just sit with me for a few minutes?"

Communication Is Key When You Need Co-Regulation

As with everything in a healthy relationship, communication is key. If you aren't regulated enough to help your partner, like if you are having a fight and exchanged some angry words, you can say something like, "I need a minute by myself to calm down. I'll be back."

If you want your partner to help you co-regulate, don't expect him or her to read your mind. Let them know exactly what you need such as, "My anxiety is bad right now. Can you hold my hand?"

Assuming your partner should know what you need without you saying it leads to avoidable disappointment and unnecessary feelings of rejection -- the last things you need when your nervous system is already dysregulated.

Co-Regulation or Co-Dependence?

The part of co-regulation that can get tricky for some people is balancing the line between co-regulation and co-dependent behaviors. Co-regulating isn't about expecting your partner to take responsibility for you or your emotions. Our emotions belong to us and ultimately we are the ones who have to deal with them. Co-regulation isn't about asking someone else to fix us but instead about using the power of the relationship to bring us to a place where we are able to take care of ourselves. 

Check out the video below for more information on emotional regulation and mental illness as well as more explanation about how co-regulation can help. 

Did this information help you? Let me know in the comments.

Natural Methods to Treat Postpartum Depression

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When you're going through postpartum depression, it can feel like you're lost. It's as if you're seeking mental health through an endless maze of treatment, setbacks, and obstacles. Knowing how to treat your postpartum depression is a big step. When it comes to treatment, I firmly believe in using everything at your disposal. I am all for talk therapy and medication. In fact, I used both of those avenues in my treatment. However, that doesn't mean those are the only two ways you can treat postpartum depression. I found that there were several natural methods that helped me feel better and have more good days.

3 Natural Treatments for PPD that Helped Me

  1. Exercise -- You probably know that exercise is good for depression, but it's easier said than done. When you're feeling tired, the last thing you want to do is go for a run. On the days I exercised, I consistently felt better. I didn't always feel like it, though. I had to learn to find activities that I enjoyed and activities that wouldn't push me too far. For me, one of those activities was walking. I love taking walks. It's something I could do every day, and I could control how far I wanted to push myself. Even though I now incorporate more types of exercise, walking is still one of my favorite activities. 
  2. Sunshine -- Getting sunshine every day was a huge mood booster for me. There's just something about the fresh air and the vitamin D. When I would go outside, the effects were almost immediate. Making it a priority to go outside frequently can help you feel better. In fact, I liked taking walks outdoors, combining exercise with the sunshine. It was also good for my daughter, who loved riding in the stroller.
  3. Healthy eating -- I am an emotional eater. When I am feeling stressed, I want sugar and comfort foods. What I noticed, however, was that while those foods were making me feel better initially, I ended up feeling way worse over time. In fact, they were causing other problems that were exacerbating my postpartum depression. I knew I had to make some changes. I started incorporating more whole foods into my diet, focusing on fiber and protein. I stayed away from sugary, processed foods. If I craved a sweet, I would try to make it healthier by using natural ingredients. These changes helped me feel better over time. I also dropped the last of the baby weight, which certainly didn't hurt.

Treatment can sometimes feel burdensome. You might think, "That's just one more thing for me to do when I don't feel like it." I get that. I felt that way, too. But perhaps you can change how you view treatment. Instead of viewing these ideas as chores, view them as fun challenges or opportunities to feel better. When I changed my view of these treatment methods, I started using them. No surprise, it helped ease my postpartum depression symptoms.

Verbal Abuse and Suicide

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Suicide can be a genuine issue for individuals of any age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. It can be more widespread in some locations or groups, but anyone can fall victim to suicidal thoughts, including individuals who suffer from verbal abuse

Why We Need Awareness Around Suicide and Verbal Abuse

The subject of suicide is sensitive, but it should not be taboo or ignored because it may be difficult to talk about. In fact, the individuals who need the most support could have difficulty talking to someone who can understand and help them. 

Anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts can come from being the victim of verbal abuse, unfortunately. No one should face the devastating effects of abuse and feel that suicide is the only solution. The negative and hurtful comments from an abuser can chip away at a victim's self-esteem creating a mental health crisis

What You Can Do When Verbal Abuse Triggers Suicidal Thoughts

If you are the victim of verbal abuse and have suicidal thoughts, you should know this is a common response to a traumatic situation. Although you may feel broken or unworthy, these notions are projected from your abuser. Therefore, you need the help and support of someone who understands your situation and can help you through these circumstances. 

If your life has reached this dark place, you need to reach out immediately for support. There are ways you can find help from friends or family members to toll-free hotlines and trained professionals, so you are never alone in your journey. 

Do Not Suffer Alone 

It can be hard to reach out for help and support when you are suffering from anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. The remarks from your abuser can make you seem like you are not worthy of love, but this cannot be further from the truth. In fact, because of your situation dealing with verbal abuse, you are entitled to receiving aid to get you out of the dark place where you are and ahead to better days. 

Even if you feel alone without any friends or family close, there are community supports available that can put you in touch with people and organizations that are there to help. No one should have to face those dark days alone. 

There Are Options

It can be challenging to find a way to overcome verbal abuse and suicidal thoughts, especially if you have been dealing with the situation for some time. However, remember that there are options, and if you do not know what is available in your area, many local hotlines can direct you to a professional who can provide the support you need. 

The sooner you can find help, the better you will be on your road to recovery and move away from the disparaging effects of verbal abuse. 

Resources

Why It's Inappropriate to Ask People What They Do for Work

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Picture this: you are at a social event and having a reasonably good time. Then, someone you don't know walks up to you, and after some small talk, asks you, "So what do you do for a living?" If you like your job or don't care much about it, this question can be mildly irritating. But since you are used to it, you answer and move on to another topic. However, no matter how common this question is, nothing changes the fact that it is inappropriate to ask people what they do. Let's see why.

Why Asking People What They Do Is Rude

Work Influences Identity -- Even When You Are Out of It

As many of us spend most of our lives at work, we develop a work identity. From observation, I have noticed that work has such a massive influence on identity that we associate it with our self-worth. I guess this is why we become more impressed by job titles and big-name companies than the actual work involved. 

Work has a significant impact on how we see ourselves. Now imagine how someone unemployed feels when a stranger asks what they do for a living. As someone who has experienced unemployment, I know how awkward and upsetting it is to answer this question. Worse, the person asking it typically becomes judgmental and offers unsolicited advice. All of this is enough to ruin the entire event for the out-of-work individual. And it's only a matter of time before they will face this question again. 

Not Everyone Can Work

It is ableist to assume that everyone is fit to work. For example, disabilities like low-functioning depression prevent the most intelligent and hardworking person from holding down a job. As someone who has recently been through low-functioning depression, I cannot tell you how disturbing it is to deal with this intrusive question. Since telling the truth invites disapproval, I reply that I am a freelance writer. But as I haven't written for a few days, I feel like an imposter. And until I can write again, I continue to feel like a fraud. Worse, the person who asked this question never knows of my mental agony. 

The Question Is Rude and Lazy 

There are so many things you can ask a perfect stranger. Why would you ask them what they do for a living? Just because it's a common icebreaker doesn't mean it's alright. Please get creative and ask something interesting instead. It will make you memorable and ensure that no one gets hurt.

What is your take on this issue? Do you think it is rude to ask what someone does for work? Please let me know in the comments section below.