Friday, June 28, 2013

Curing Anxiety, Part 3: Positive Self-Talk


(Ideas adapted from Attacking Anxiety and Depression, byLucinda Bassett of the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety, Inc.)

Answer this question: If my depression/anxiety weren’t holding me back, I would ____________?

It’s not the depression or anxiety that is really keeping you from doing the things you want to do.  No.  The number one reason people don’t achieve their goals or follow their dreams is because they are caught in a vicious cycle of “negative thinking”.

Negative thinking plays a major role in your poor mental health.  No matter how well you take care of yourself, no matter how many counseling sessions you attend, no matter how many drugs you take, if you think negatively on a regular basis, you will have a really difficult time recovering.

Because of their depressive nature, negative thoughts will eventually wear you down.  If you don’t challenge your thoughts, they will become rules.  And if you let your negativity rule your life, you will be miserable.  It’s exhausting, it’s draining, and it’s not how you have to live.  Your negative thoughts are NOT the truth!

Negative thinking is a bad habit.  Think of it as an addictive behavior.

In order to break any habit, you have to be committed.

First, you have to admit that you are a negative thinker.  Then you will have to make the decision to stop the negative thinking.  Do you really want to change the way you think in order to get better?  Do you really want to stop listening to the negative thoughts?  Then you have to put in the time and effort.  And it WILL take lots of time and lots of effort.

But it’s worth it.

The average person has up to 300 negative thoughts a day.  If you’ll trust my math, that’s about one negative thought every 3 minutes (if you sleep 8 hours a night).  How can anyone expect to be cured of anxiety and depression when you are constantly being bombarded by negative thoughts every few minutes? 

I always thought I was a positive person.  I didn’t think that I struggled with negativity.  I was, however, a person who seemed positive on the outside, but who really struggled with tormenting thoughts on the inside.  I would beat myself up on a regular basis because I listened to and believe all of those negative, harmful thoughts that popped into my head.

I started taking note of all the negative thoughts that crept into my brain throughout the day:
I’m not good enough
I’m fat
I’ll never get better
All I do is sleep
My stomach hurts
I can’t breathe right
I probably have cancer
I’m a failure
I’m a bad wife
I’m ungrateful
I ate too much
I look terrible in this shirt
I’m such a bad friend
This doesn’t taste right - I must have made it wrong.
I should read more
I’m so lazy
I should clean more
I should have said something different
I don’t deserve anything
My hair is so gross
I’m so ugly

And the list goes on and on…

Every time I had a negative thought, I wrote it down.  This list was made in the first half hour of the day.  I was shocked at how many negative thoughts I had.  Now, I not only believed I could make it to 300, I thought I might reach 1000!  (Was that another negative thought?)

In order to become a more positive thinker, and thus enhance my quality of life, I must begin by giving myself positive, uplifting internal messages instead.

If you also want to fully recover from anxiety, you have to replace the negative thoughts with positive thoughts.

Talk to yourself compassionately and gently, like you would talk to a dear friend or a young child.

Act like your own best friend.

I’m not good enough.  You are good enough for God.
I’m fat.  You are beautiful the way you are.
I’ll never get better.  You will get better - it just takes time and patience.
All I do is sleep.  You sleep the right amount.  There is nothing wrong with taking naps.

Get the picture?

Try not to make a big deal out of perceived “failures”, instead make a big deal out of accomplishments.

This doesn’t taste right; I must have made it wrong.  That is awesome that you tried a new recipe!
I should have said something different.  It was good of you to try to help out in that situation.

A lot of the time, people who struggle with anxiety and depression think in black and white terms.  This or that.  All or nothing.  It’s either the end of the world or the best thing in the world.  Sound familiar?

When you are trying to break the habit of negative thinking, don’t go from one extreme to the other.  Don’t start out going from negative thoughts to unrealistic thoughts (even if they are positive) because you won’t buy it.  Start out being real with yourself.  Replace the negative thoughts with thoughts that make you feel confident, in control, happy, comforted, peaceful, or relaxed.

Here’s an example.
If you are starting to beat yourself up, DON’T tell yourself:
I’m perfect, don’t worry about it.
I’m the most beautiful person in the world.
I’m totally in control of this situation.
I don’t have any problems.

Instead, try these statements:
It’s OK. I’m OK.
I’m allowed to feel this way.
I’ve been this way before and got through it.
It will pass.
Everyone has anxiety.

You can’t control your feelings or the negative thoughts that pop into your head.  So be patient with yourself and give yourself a break sometimes.  It’s important to realize, however, that you can control your self-talk and how you respond to those negative thoughts.

**Also, you can’t control other people’s negativity.  You might find, if you change into a more positive person, it will rub off on others.  Unfortunately, some people won’t change - and that’s not your fault.  If you are having a difficult time being around some people and staying positive, you might have to give them up for a while (or maybe for good, depending on the relationship).

You can also help yourself by posting positive phrases around the house where you can see them often.  The notes are little reminders of the commitment you’ve made to getting better.  You will be surprised at how beneficial those positive reminders can be.  When you get used to seeing them, you will still benefit from seeing them because your subconscious will remember the positive feelings associated with the messages.  You don’t even have to read the note and you will become more positive.  That’s pretty cool!

Some examples:
How can I get through this and still take care of myself?
Remember: Just because you have a bad morning, doesn’t mean you have to have a bad day…
Be kind to yourself
Thoughts do NOT dictate actions
If you get stuck, think of more solutions.  Don’t quit!
I don’t have to earn the right to eat food.
You are beautiful, you are Loved ~God
I am body, mind, AND soul.
Feelings are NOT facts.
 
Bottom line is: if you want to recover from anxiety, you have to change your self-talk.  Turn those negative thoughts into positive thoughts.  Be kind to yourself.  And with time, you will be able to do ANYTHING you want to do.

Have a nourishing weekend!

If you missed the previous posts in this series, click below:
Part 1
Part 2

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Curing Anxiety, Part 2: Seven Practical Ways to Defuse Anxiety

There are so many benefits of taking care of your mental health (understatement of the day).

In Part 1 of this mini-series on anxiety, I wrote about the link between anxiety and digestive problems.

This time, I want to talk about another physical symptom of depression and anxiety that I’ve had a lot of trouble with as well.

When I get in stressful situations, or when I get overwhelmed, my brain and body seemed to shut down.

I don’t know what to call this reaction.  It’s like a spaced out kind of feeling.  I get VERY tired all of a sudden.  It is almost as if a fuzziness overtakes my being.  All I wanted to do is go to sleep – like I took too much Benadryl.  Everything in my head stops making sense.  I can’t comprehend anything that’s going on around me either.  My initial reaction is that I have to get out, get away, or run home because I feel like I might die.

This “fuzziness” symptom is a common symptom among people who struggle with anxiety and depression.  By listening to Attacking Anxietyand Depression by Lucinda Bassett, I learned more about what this symptom is and how to deal with it.

I also learned that it’s actually not such a bad thing.  This fuzziness reaction is the brains way of coping with relentless obsessive thoughts.  Think of it as you brain giving your body a break from the constant anxiety in your mind.

Anyway, before I learned about this perfectly-normal-reaction symptom, being in stressful situations really freaked me out, to say the least.  I would either start to get an upset stomach or feel spaced out and then I would freak out even more.  “What if I’m going crazy?  What if I run out of the room screaming crazy things and I embarrass myself in front of my friends?  What if I pass out and I have to be brought to the hospital?  What if I can’t function anymore?  What if…what if…what if…”

This is how a panic attack begins.

In the workbook, I found this scientific explanation really interesting.  This is what happens when you experience panic or anxiety (2-2 of Attacking Anxiety and Depression workbook):
“Your body senses fear and releases chemical stimulants into your system to strengthen your body so it can fight or flee from whatever it is that’s causing the fear, whether real or imagined.  These chemicals include adrenaline, sodium lactate, and cortisol.  As your anxiety level grows, more chemicals are released into your system.”

This technical reality is why you can’t just “get over it”.  Your body already released the hormones into your system because it thought there was a potentially harmful situation.  Even when the danger is unrealistic or made up, the chemicals are still released.  All that pent up energy just gets traps in your body with nowhere to go and swirls around until you feel like you’re going to explode or die or whatever.

The key to coping with stress and anxiety is to stop fueling the anxiety with your thoughts because that causes more adrenaline to be released.  You have to stop the snowball of obsessive, unrealistic thoughts before it starts rolling downhill and out of control.  And then, you have to calm your body and mind so the chemicals dissipate and your hormone levels return back to normal.

When the panic first starts to set in, put up a stop sign and coax your thoughts down a different, positive and more realistic road.

Before I go any further, let me remind you that Anxiety is a GOOD thing.  It can let you know how to react in a potentially dangerous situation.  So, when it’s not a dangerous situation, all you have to do is let your body know it’s OK.  Anxiety is not bad.  Everyone experiences stress and nerves on a regular basis.  Its how you deal with it that makes the difference in your mental health.

So, how does one stop the panic before it gets out of control?

To defuse anxiety, follow these Seven Practical Steps: (adapted from Attacking Anxiety and Depression, Tape 2)

I am going to use the example of going to a party.

1.  Slow down – start by moving slower, taking slower breaths, walking slower, eating slower, talking slower, or whatever you’re doing, try doing slower.  By slowing down your actions, you will be able to convince your mind to slow down as well.  I have found that I cannot slow down my thoughts, if my body is moving too fast.  I often sit down and close my eyes when panic first starts to set in.  “I’m going to sit down over here where there are not too many people and pretend to look at my phone so I don’t look weird.”

2.  Recognize (become self-aware) that you are currently feeling anxious. Try to pinpoint what is giving you the anxiety.  “I feel underdressed at this party and that sparked some anxiety.  I am anxious in social situations as it is.  I am at a bar and I’ve been sober for over a year so this feels weird.  There are a lot of people I don’t know crowded into a small space.  The music is loud and it’s difficult to have a conversation.”

3.  Then, give yourself permission to feel anxious – Say to yourself, “I am allowed to feel this way.  Anxiety is not bad.  It is just a reaction to this or that.”  In my example, I could say, “This is just anxiety.  I haven’t been in a bar in months.  Of course I would be nervous.  But it’s OK to feel this way.  I am allowed to be anxious.  I am committed to not drinking so I can think of the anxiety as an affirmation of my commitment.”

4.  Focus on your breathing and take deep, intentional breaths for a specific period of time – 15 or 20 seconds, or however long you need.  This is a technical, scientific step that you don’t want to skip.  By taking calming breaths, you are slowly reducing the amount of adrenaline that is in your system.  You are telling your body that there is no imminent danger and everything will be OK.  If you don’t feel like you can do this where you are, step outside or go to the bathroom to take your deep breaths.  However, if you are at a bar, I don’t recommend taking deep breaths in the bathroom…stinn-KEE!

5.  Talk to yourself compassionately and positively – Say to yourself, “I am strong, I am confident, and I can handle this situation calmly.”  If you are having a difficult time with this step, imagine that you are trying to calm down your 12 year old daughter (sister, brother, friend, etc).  What would you say to her if she was feeling anxious?  And then say that to yourself!  “You are OK.  You are doing such a good job dealing with your anxiety.  A few months ago, you wouldn’t even have been able to get to this point.  I am so proud of how much progress you have made.”

6.  Remind yourself that it’s OK, it’s just anxiety, it will pass, and nothing bad will happen. (Notice the difference in how this sounds compared to “Oh no! What is going on! Why do I feel this way! I am so weird, no one else is freaking out but me!!)  Realistically look at the situation and remind yourself that it is not as bad as you think.  “I am not going crazy.  I will not lose control.  Anxiety will not hurt me.  I can still be here with a little nervousness.  No one knows I feel this way.  No one is looking at me weird.  They don’t care.  I am going to be fine.”  Tell yourself the truth.

7.  Smile or find humor in the situation.  You have to laugh at yourself.  “Here I am, freaking out inside, feeling like a masked robber is going to burst through the door with a gun.  That’s something my mom would be afraid of.  You know what’s really funny?  What if my mom was here right now?  I wonder if she would ever get over the fact that there is carpet on the walls.”  Seeing humor in the situation not only allows happy hormones to be released into your system, it also distracts you from the anxiety.  Distraction can be a very useful tool in coping with anxiety.  But it is important to remember that distraction is the last step.  You can’t try to distract yourself without doing steps 1-6 because the anxiety will just come back after a short time.  Distraction is most effect after all the other six steps are completed.

Follow these Seven Steps when you are having a difficult time coping with anxiety.  Now that you understand why these steps are important and how it works, you can simplify the steps to one word or a short phrase.

In my phone, I have a shortcut to the Notepad.  The one and only note reads:
1. Slow down
2. Recognize
3. Permission
4. Breathe
5. Positive talk
6. Just anxiety
7. Smile

With a few clicks of a button, I have this incredible resource at my fingertips.  I highly recommend that you figure out some way to make these seven steps easily accessible to you.

People check their phones all the time, so I have no problem getting out my phone where ever I am.  You might think I am sending a text, but I am really just reminding myself that it’s not the end of the world. J

Stay tuned for Curing Anxiety, Part 3.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I hate seeing pictures of myself

If you are friends with me or any of my in-laws on Facebook, then you’ve probably noticed that we took family photos last weekend.

The event was probably the biggest challenge I’ve had to face thus far in my recovery.

I feel like I need to lose weight, pronto.

It is really difficult, and has always been really difficult, to look at pictures of myself.  I pushed myself through the experience because I know that one day, hopefully, I won’t care about my appearance and I’ll be glad for the pictures.
Portrait of my sister, Marcella, when
she was maybe five.  She stayed
still for 20 min, then I finished
the rest from memory :)
 
When I was a kid, I loved seeing a younger version of my mom.  I didn’t care what she looked like, how much she weighed, or what she was wearing.  Someday, if we have kids, I want them to be able to see pictures of me and Craig when we were young and carefree. J

I am really glad that we took those pictures, please don’t get me wrong.  I would not change it, if I could go back in time.  No way!!

However, I didn’t expect that taking family pictures would be so difficult for me to deal with afterwards.  Looking back, I probably should have prepared myself a little more.  Maybe I could have spent less time fussing with my outfit and more time practicing compassionate self-talk.

Before I go any further…

Don’t tell me that I looked fine in the pictures.  Don’t tell me not to worry about it.  Don’t tell me anything about the pics or how I look.  It will only feed into my anxiety and my eating disorder.

To me, words are pointless unless you have the actions to back them up.  I am not trying to be mean.  It's just that I know that you care about your appearance.  I know that you put on make-up and do your hair to look a certain way.  I know that you try to watch your weight.  So your actions speak louder than your words.  Seriously, I am not trying to be mean; I am just saying that it’s not going to help me if you say something…it could actually hurt instead.

You may not think I should be worried about the way I look.  But, I can’t see myself accurately.  All I see is fat.  All I see is me taking up too much space.

If you tell me that I look thin or pretty or whatever, your words could fuel my eating disorder tendencies.

I know your compliments stem from good intentions.  However, if you compliment my looks, then I feel like I can’t change.  I must, therefore, keep it up and stay in control of the way I look because, well, you noticed.  If you compliment my looks, then all the progress I have made seems to go down the drain.  I feel noticed for my appearance instead of who I am on the inside.

I am trying to not care what other people think of my appearance.  I know I can’t control what people say to me.  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” says Eleanor Roosevelt. 

 
One of my biggest struggles is trying to let go of controlling how I look.  I want to be fine with the way I look now, and I want to be fine with the way I look if I gain 100 pounds.  I’ll never be OK with having a baby unless I can give up control of my weight.

Right now, I feel like I can’t do it.  It’s too difficult.

I can’t stand the way I look right now.

I was going to end there, but, like yesterday, I cannot end a post with having some kind of positive take-away.  Today, the only thing I can come up with is that “thoughts do NOT dictate actions”.

Maybe I should remind myself that it’s my feelings that I cannot control.  I’m trying to give up controlling my weight.  Maybe I should first give up trying to control my feelings.

I can’t help it that I feel a certain way, that I feel fat and need to lose weight.  Just because I am feeling that way doesn’t mean I have to act on that feeling.  Feelings are not always the truth.

Truth #1:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Because I'm fat...


Because I’m fat, I can’t run anymore.

My knees hurt.  I can’t run as fast or as far as I used to.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t run anymore because I’ve gain too much weight.

My knees are hurting me because they can’t support my fatness.

It’s not because I ran a marathon last fall and still haven’t fully recovered.

It’s not because I tried to rollerblade the other day for the first time in years in 20 mph wind.

It’s not because I push myself too hard and don’t know when to stop.

It’s not because I’m getting older.

It’s not because I’m still running in my marathon training shoes.

No.

I can’t run anymore because I’m fat.

I heard this story a while back – a tall, lengthy basketball player got a scholarship to play for a big university.  The coach wanted him to bulk up, gain more weight, and build more muscle in hopes that he would be a better player.  The student athlete took supplements and lifted daily.  He achieved his goals but then started having knee problems.  It got so bad that he couldn’t play his favorite sport anymore.  So he took some time off, stopped taking the supplements, stopped lifting weights, and went back to his normal schedule.  Viola!  No more knee problems.  Next year, he was a starter and had a lot of success.

Because of hearing this story I am convinced that my knees hurt because I’m too heavy.  No thing or no one is going to be able to make me believe otherwise.  My knees hurt because they can no longer support the weight I’ve gained like the basketball player in my story.

If I wasn’t so fat, all my problems would go away.

If I can’t run anymore, I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I feel like I would lose part of myself if I could no longer be a runner.  Running has been my crutch, my stress reliever, my proud accomplishment, and the only thing that can make me feel better in some situations.

Before this happened, I wanted to get to a place, mentally, where I can enjoy exercising because it enhances the quality of my life.  Is running the only thing, the only form of exercise, that can fulfill my need to be strong, healthy, and happy?

Part of me is still holding onto the belief that, if I run a lot, I’ll keep the weight off.  I won’t let anything else replace running because, deep down in my gut, I believe running is the most effective weight-loss technique.  I won’t give anything else an honest try.  I won’t replace running with biking or walking, even thought they might be better for me.

I honestly don’t know what to do.  The only way I know how to feel better is if I run.

Just going through the motions for the time being…

Since I can't end on a negative note, I must give myself some kind of pep talk.
 
All I got today is: "fake it till you make it”.  Repeat (1) on playlist.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Story of the Salesman


The doorbell rang.  I answered the door to find a sales man with an iPad around his neck standing on my porch.  He was with Time Warner Cable.  He asked if we have a contract with any cable company at present…

“No.” I said.
“How do you get internet?” he asked.
“We don’t have internet.” I replied.
“So you just look at your tiny phone screens, then?”
“We don’t have internet on our phones either.”
“Do you even have a computer?” he arched his eyebrow.
“Yes,” I said, “We have a laptop.”
After several stumbles and pauses, “What do you do for internet then?”
“We go to the library.”
“Oh. Um… Well, what shows do you watch?”
“We don’t watch TV,” I said, “We don’t have an antenna or cable or anything.”
“Do you have a TV?” he asked in disbelief.
No.  We don’t have cars either.  We have a horse and buggy.  “Yeah, we have a DVD player to watch movies occasionally.” I’m getting a little annoyed.

He proceeded to show me some of his company’s special offers.  I let him do his spiel but then I told him no thank you.  He kept bugging me, so being the polite person I am, I told him TV and internet is not a priority for us.  He assumed that it was my decision and tried to make me feel guilty for imposing my Amish ways on my husband.

Craig and I are on the same page when it comes to TV.  It’s not only too expensive, we believe it is better for our marriage if we don’t have it.  I told the sales guy that if he offered a two channel package, EWTN and FOX Sports Ohio, we’d consider.  He laughed and said he couldn’t do that.

Not wanting to get into a debate about how television is bad for your soul with a cable salesman who makes a living selling TV, I told him to come back in eight years and maybe then we’ll re-evaluate.

“Why eight years?” he asked.
This guy just won’t leave.
“Because by then we’ll have our house paid off and all our other debt paid off as well.  Sorry, but cable and internet is just not that important right now” I responded.
With a surprised look he asked, “You’ll have your mortgage paid off in eight years?”
“We’ll be DEBT FREE in eight years.”
“Whoa, that’s amazing!  It’s going to take me like 30 years”
When you have a goal like becoming debt free, TV, internet, fancy phones, and gadgets aren’t that necessary all of a sudden.
“You could do it too.  It’s not that difficult”, I said.  “Sometimes I think I can save more, but we still want to have fun and enjoy life.”
He left his card with me in case we changed our minds and walked away with the most confused look on his face.

I don’t think he will go home, make a budget, and cut back on things like phones, internet, and TV.  But at least, he got to see that you can be perfectly normal without them.

The point of my story is that money has always been a humongous source of anxiety for me.

When I was in the fifth grade I took a babysitting class and starting babysitting occasionally.  I felt like the money I earned was needed.  I tried to pay for my own stuff as often as I could.

In seventh grade, I started working at a horse farm.  I paid for my own clothes and gave a lot of my money to my family.

In high school, I bused tables, waitressed, babysat, and mucked stalls to try to save money for college.

In college, money caused so much stress that it became difficult for me to go to class.  I tried to work to pay off my debt and pay for my living expenses.  Because I tried to keep some part time jobs, I sacrificed my studies.

Then after I graduated, I perpetually took on too much thinking that I needed to make more money.  My debt was constantly looming over my head.

When Craig and I got married, I thought, for sure, I needed to have a job to help contribute to our household income.  Because of the pressure I put on myself and because I struggled with depression and an eating disorder, it was really difficult for me to keep a consistent full-time job.

I put added pressure on myself because society says that women must work, unless there is something really wrong with you.

After I was hospitalized for depression, I completely relied on Craig to take care of me.  He convinced me that he wanted to take care of me and provide for me.  I didn’t have to have a job.  I didn’t have to make money.  He wanted me to stay home.

 
Seriously, once I finally believed him that he wasn’t just saying that to be nice, I couldn’t have been happier.

Not having the pressure to make money has greatly reduced my anxiety.  Also, Craig and I have a realistic, responsible plan for the money we do have.  I trust that Craig will take good care of me.  And I trust that we will make smart decisions with our money as well.

I know that money is not everything.  There are definitely more important things than money.  But money is a big part of life, so you can’t ignore it and hope that everything turns out OK.

Forming our debt free plan together has played a crucial role in lowering my anxiety.

If you also have money anxiety, I highly recommend that you (and your spouse, if applicable) create a plan that you (both) feel comfortable committing to.

If you really want to work, go for it.  But remember, you don’t have to sacrifice your mental health because society says you have to have a job to be worthy of life.

Monday, June 17, 2013

I blame myself for all the bad things that happen in the world

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that something died in our garage.  Craig and I looked but we couldn’t find any signs of a decomposing animal.  Maybe the rodent’s in the wall?  Maybe it’s in the attic?  I don’t know, but it stinks.

At first, I thought our garage was smelly because of the trash.  I was reprimanding myself for not keep up with the cleanliness of our living spaces.  I was thinking that I should do a better job of getting the trash out in time for pick up.  I thought, “I am such a lazy loser.  I can’t keep anything clean.  Our whole house probably smells.  People won’t want to come over and visit us after smelling our nasty odors.”

After a while of sulking over my long lost friends that I didn’t lose yet, Craig said something to me about the garage being a little stinky.  His first thought was that some animal probably crawled in while the door was open, couldn’t get out, and then died.

Oh.

That’s a logical deduction.

I guess I will be able to keep my friends after all.

A few years ago, there was a dead baby bunny in our garage next to the lawn mower.  I saw it when I was leaving for work one morning.  Tell me who doesn’t call in sick because they can’t handle moving the dead baby bunny out from under the tire so that they could leave for work?  Hmm?  Who doesn’t do that?

Now that I think about it, the mourning of a rodent might not be a good enough excuse to skip work.

Anyway, back to my story, there might be another poor little bunny rotting in a grave of work gloves, fire wood, or potting soil.  Where ever his is…we’ll find him…eventually…I guess.  Until then, all the doors will stay open to air out the gas chamber.  Seriously, it will make your eyes water.

Everything in my life, in some way, is a lesson about mental health.  (It’s OK, you can giggle…I said giggle, not laugh out loud.)

My reaction to the stink in the garage was way overboard than it had to be.  Just because we had to cover our noses with our shirts to get to the car, the situation was, by no means whatsoever, cause to feel as if it was the end of the world.

Because of my depressive tendencies, I was blaming myself for the smelly garage.  When, in reality, I had no control over the animal that decided our garage was the best spot for a final resting place.

A common symptom of depression is blaming one’s self for things that go wrong.  This blame is not like an athlete who beats his chest, says “my bad”, and moves on.  No, this type of blame is the end of the world, everything will collapse, and everyone will die because you screwed up, you worthless piece of bologna.

For example, if my sister is upset about something, I blame myself for not being able to see into the future to stop whatever happened from happening.

When a café near our house went out of business, I blamed myself for not eating there enough and supporting them in their endeavors.

I also blame myself for things like bad weather, the weeds in the grass, and other people’s problems.  Things I have very little or no control over at all, still cause me to beat myself up.

One time, there were bugs in a sack of flour that I bought.  I was so upset with myself because I had to throw the whole thing away.  I thought that if I was a better wife, a better person in general, if I paid more attention at the store, if I didn’t have anxiety attacks while shopping, if I could have been perfect, then I would have pick out a good bag of flour.
 
In reality, blaming yourself for things you can’t control feeds into more depression and anxiety.  If you personally attach yourself to everything bad that happens, you will hold on to more than you can handle.  It’s really difficult for someone with depression and anxiety to let things go and move on from certain situations.  Overtime, the storage of bad builds and builds until you can’t house it anymore.  Eventually, the world will feel like a better place without you in it: whether you just withdraw into yourself, or you want to die.

These thoughts are textbook depressive disorder symptoms.

The first step, as always, is to become aware of what is going on in your head.

Then, the key is to realistically analyze what you have control over and what you don’t.  What you cannot control, you must learn to let go.  If there is something you can control, do your best to make the right decision.
 
Having a better quality of life is all about letting go of unrealistic expectations and control.
 
Remember that everyone makes mistakes.  No matter how many times you fail or make the wrong decision, you are still forgiven and given a chance to try again.

My husband, Craig, acts as a sounding board when I am struggling with this particular depression symptom.  When my thoughts begin to rock my peace and calm, I talk to Craig or someone with a clear head about what is going on.

Peace is a good judge of whether or not some thought or reaction is realistic.

If you don’t have peace, it’s a good sign that you might be putting your faith in unrealistic standards.

Friday, June 14, 2013

I am an Avocado...


I am an Avocado…I mean, I am an Advocate!  But Avocados are pretty good, right?

If you haven’t already noticed, I get fired up about topics of body image, mental health, and eating disorders.  I also like to speak up for people with depression and anxiety.  Because of the mental illness stereotypes, these problems are very misunderstood.  However, we shouldn’t have to talk about these things in the shadows.  The only way to spread knowledge and defeat stereotypes, I guess, is to talk about them and out in the open.

Mental illness is a real, legit issue that many people deal with.

Having depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, negative body image, or poor mental health doesn’t make you a bad person.

I wish someone would have said that to me years ago.

Because I’ve neglected to address my issues for a long time, I’ve suffered for it.  So now, I recognize that mental health is a big part of my life, and I acknowledge it by blogging about it and sharing my experience with others.  It’s not my whole life, just a part of my life…

Recently, I’ve been trying to gather resources for Catholic women struggling with mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.  There is a lot of information on the web for Catholic women.  And there is a lot of information about mental illness.  However, there is very little information for the two together.

I found one website.  One…

“Beliefnet” is a place designed to give Christians support for overall health - mental health included.

I was shocked that I only found one option for people of faith when I “Google searched”.  But then I remembered what kind of world we live in, and I wasn’t shocked anymore.

The other day, someone told me I was an advocate for the untouched population of Christian women struggling with these various types of mental illnesses.  I first thought it was funny because the word “advocate” always makes me think of “avocado”.

But then, I realized that being an advocate is way too much pressure for me.  I started thinking, “what else is out there for us?”  Women and men of faith struggling with a mental disorder have to constantly sift through treatments and self-help methods if they want to stay in the heart of the Church.

...Don’t think I’m getting a big head because I have big fancy blog now.  I don’t write to be popular or so that a lot of people will read it.  I am only sharing my story because if I keep it in my own head, I’ll go crazy…literally.  It helps me to be open and honest with everyone whether or not anyone reads my ramblings.

It’s healing to be transparent about your problems.  You don’t have to be perfect all the time.

You can do amazing things when you are not trying to pretend to be someone else.

So for me personally, while trying to get help for my own problems, I often found myself in a dilemma.  I felt like I had to be on guard at all times, because I know my soul is important.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to find healing and support through the church?

I know that some parishes already have groups to support mental health and such.  So I started thinking about what would make a successful group.

I think it would need these three components:
1)      Education
2)      Compassion
3)      Listening

Education: because there are many misconceptions about mental illness.  A lot of people do not understand what goes on in the mind of someone struggle with a disorder such as an eating disorder or depression.  Education and understanding, as you might know, can go a long way when starting any group.

Compassion: because dealing with mental illness takes patience – a lot of patience – for the person suffering and for their loved ones.  Christ is the best example of compassion; He came to earth and made friends with sinners.  What patience that must have taken!

We can learn from Jesus how to treat others.  He taught that the greatest commandment is Love: not fixing every problem, not making everyone believe the same things you do, not having the best of everything, and not being perfect.

Listening: because everyone has a story.  Everyone’s life journey is different.  And everyone has something to offer to the world.  We cannot learn if we cannot listen.

I don’t think I am ready to start a group yet.  But I could definitely do an online forum.  I am looking into what it takes to start something like that.  Would you like to participate in an online discussion about mental health?

And…

Do you know of any websites that help Christians recover from mental illness?

If I have more options to turn to I won’t feel so much pressure to be an avocado…I mean an advocate!

Thanks for reading.  I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Now, I’m off to make some guacamole.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The bathroom scale and I don’t get along too well.

Standing in line at the BMV, I looked at my old license picture.  The photo wasn’t taken that long ago, because I had to get a new one after I got married.  Not much has changed with my appearance; I still wear my hair the same way, I still don’t wear my glasses because I have contacts, and I still love to wear dangling earrings.

Unfortunately, after looking at my picture, I had to notice the big “W”.  The standard physical identifiers on a driver’s license are hair color, eye color, height, and weight.  I know I am not that “number” anymore.  And as much as I tried to pretend it didn’t matter, it did.

A few weeks ago, while visiting a friend, I found out what I weigh currently.  The bathroom scale was out in the open.  It would have been a great drama had the internal workings of my brain been visible.  “To weigh or not to weigh” was the question.

The good angel lost the battle and I gave in to the temptation.  I had to know how much I weighed.  Having a scale available to me without anyone else seeing me step on it was too much of a lure to resist.

Of course, I didn’t like what I saw on the digital screen.  I never like what I see there.  No matter how small the number is, it is not good enough for me.

I know can’t handle knowing my weight.  After I found out the first time, I wanted to know every second of every day: wondering after every meal if I had gained or lost weight, wondering every morning if my pants would be a little loser, wondering if my actions were contributing to a smaller waistline.

When I step on a scale, my life becomes focused on a number. My goals change and my accomplishments have to do with losing weight.  I have a bad day if I eat and a good day if I don’t eat.  Nothing else matters expect what that number says, everything else about me fads away from my consciousness.  I am no longer a woman, a wife, a painter, a teacher, a helper, a friend, a sister, a daughter…no…I am just a number.

It is safe to say that me and scales don’t get along.

I have a love/hate relationship with the bathroom scale.  I hate seeing them.  But, I cannot resist its demands.  Yet, after I know my weight I want to burn all the scales in the world.  I know it’s bad for me, yet I keep doing it.  I don’t have a scale in my house, but I encounter them from time to time, like at the gym, the doctor’s office, or a friend’s house.

I don’t go to the gym that often, so that’s not a huge issue.  At the doctor, I ask the nurse not to tell me my weight and I stand on the scale backward.

If you want to help me and other girl’s struggling to break-up with the scale, put your weighing machine away someplace where we can’t see it: in a cupboard, under the sink, in a closet, in the trash.  (You can do it!  I believe in you!)

If you can’t throw away your scale yet, put a posted note on it that says “I am more than this number”.  This reminder will help you keep things in perspective.

You are so much more than a number.  That number means nothing.  You are a beautiful, worthy, deserving child of God.  It doesn’t matter how much you weigh or what you look like, God still loves you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Loving How Your Body Works vs. Loving the Way You Look


As you know, the internet is busting with information.  It can be used as a powerful tool, if you know what you are doing.  However, if you are looking for eating disorder recovery information, I caution you.  There are many websites out there that actually promote eating disorders as opposed to eating disorder recovery.

It’s very sad.  Sometimes, they don’t disguise their language.  Other times, these people who promote eating disorders operate under code words like “thinspiration” and “skinnydeep”.  They might assume good intentions but that doesn’t make it right.

Even on Pintrest, there are hundreds of thousands of motivational boards that encourage eating disorders.  These boards contain pictures of airbrushed models, unrealistic sculpted muscles, coveted outfits or “looks”, exercise routines, and obsessive food information -- all gathered in one place with the intention to motivate one to lose weight.

What results is not self-love.  This information causes obsessive compulsive behaviors, unnatural relationships with food, and eating disorders.

If a person is teetering on the verge of an eating disorder, the internet can be a very dangerous place.  I am not exaggerating when I say that the internet is a bombardment of unrealistic expectations.

Just a little advice: If you want to love yourself more, don’t go on Pintrest.
 
I particularly like this one particular blog, “ED Bites; recovering from an eating disorder one bite at atime” by Carrie Arnold.  She gets pretty technical because she does a lot of research.  What I like most, however, are the discussions that come from her blog posts.  She reaches a wide audience and I love the diversity in the responses.

Carrie recently published a post titled, “Why I don’t lovemy body and I don’t really care”.

Her point was that she’s recovered from an eating disorder yet still doesn’t love the way her body looks.

During ED recovery, across the board, there is a lot of push to have a positive body image in order to keep the negative thoughts at bay.

But Ms. Arnold was saying that she just can’t love her looks no matter how hard she tries.  And she is at a point now where she’s realized that she doesn’t care if she ever ends up loving the way she looks.

I thought she had an interesting point and reading the article caused me to question how I approach my own self-love.  When I think about it, I am still trying to love the way I look…and I am not sure if that is possible…or necessary.

However, I wasn’t fully satisfied with her article until I read this comment from an “ED Bites” reader:
 
…I think the important thing to realize is that there is a difference between loving your body’s appearance and loving your body...  Loving your body means feeling gratitude for the amazing things your body does instead of just focusing on how it looks.  It means experiencing the wonder that comes with the realization that you have a trillion cells in your body that all come from the same DNA but are specialized to become skin cells, nerve cells even fat cells etc.  The power that comes with realizing that women have bodies that are capable of creating a whole new ORGAN(!) to support developing life.  The gratitude that comes with realizing that your bones, muscles and nerves carry you, let you walk, type and stroke your soft kitty’s fur.  The amazement that comes when you realize that you carry the genetic signature of your parents, your grandparents, your great-great grandparents and can pass this on to a new generation. Your body is so so much more than the clothes you fit it into, your shape, or your body composition…

I thought whoever wrote this had such beautiful insight.  Loving yourself does not necessarily mean you have to love the way your body looks.

We live in a fallen world, thanks or no thanks to Adam and Eve – whichever way you want look at it.  We are all born with original sin, which means we are going to struggle with sin until we die.  And, speaking of death, every person is going to have to die someday.

My body is not perfect; your body is not perfect.  Actually, all our bodies are slowly headed toward decay.  At the end of time, if we reach eternal life, we WILL have perfect bodies.

There is something deep down inside of us, ingrained in our wiring, that wants to have a perfect body.  We just have to remember, however, that we will not be perfect in this life, but the desire to be perfect is proof that we are meant for something greater.

(This is a superficial way to think about eternal life.  But when you're struggling with an eating disorder, it means a lot.)

On this earth, I might not ever love the way my body looks, and that’s OK.

Instead of focusing on loving the look of my body, I will aim for thankfulness of what my body can do.

I am grateful that my body can:
Write a blog post
Paint a picture
Run a few miles
Weed my garden
Give my husband a hug
Knit a blanket
Make a new and delicious meal
See my family and friends
Canoe down a river
Sit around a campfire
Play games with my friends
Hold a baby
Drink a really good cup of coffee
Listen to a beautiful song
Watch Seinfeld with my husband
Ride a bike
Go to Holy Mass
Sing in a choir
Read a great book
Take an epic nap
Play tennis with a friend
Play with kiddos at a park

Now it’s your turn: make a gratitude list of all the things that your body allows you to do.