Imagine you wake up one morning to an incessant knocking on your front door. You peel yourself out of bed in a groggy stupor, wondering what kind of surprise awaits you on the other side of the door. As you pull open the door, your heart sinks.
There on the doorstep stands your old friend, Mr. Depression. He came without warning. No letter. No phonecall. No email. Not a single little heads up. Even though you are very familiar with Mr. Depression and knew that he could be deciding to visit you again at any moment, you weren't expecting him. Not today. Not now. Yet, here he is, standing on your doorstep with his suitcase in his hand.
In an instant, everything changes.
Mr. Depression breezes by you and barges into your house, bringing with him a dark, heavy cloud that he places directly above your head. That old familiar feeling of self-loathing, hopelessness and dread starts to fill your mind. A heaviness grows in the pit of your stomach while a tightness creeps across your chest. That negative soundtrack in your mind kicks in and you can feel yourself sinking into a dark area.
In a panic, you start to ramble off a few questions for Mr. Depression:
Mr. Depression stays silent and simply stares back at you. He knows that you already know the answers to your questions. As you reflect back on the weeks leading up to this unexpected visit, you might be able to identify some triggers or warning signs; some clues that Mr. Depression was on his way for a visit. Maybe you were overworked. Maybe there was some additional financial stress in your life. Maybe there were some relationship conflicts. Maybe the weather was lousy. Maybe your nutrition and exercise patterns were off. Or, maybe there were no signs.
Sometimes the reasons for Mr. Depression's visits are rooted in our childhood experiences or are the result of trauma. Sometimes Mr. Depression visits us because of life adjustments and losses. Sometimes Mr. Depression is an old family acquaintance who has been passed from generation to generation. Sometimes Mr. Depression shows up for no reason at all. Yet, there he is, in your life. In your house.
Regardless of his origins, Mr. Depression has visited you many times before today. Sometimes he stays for just a day or so but sometimes his stays can be lengthier. When he arrives, he never tells you how long he is going to stick around. Mr. Depression is a terrible houseguest. He is demanding, consuming and completely attached to your hip. He follows you around everywhere you go: to work, places with your children, out with your friends, to the grocery store, in the car. Everywhere. He saps your energy and leaves you feeling completely empty. The longer he is here, the more effort it takes for you to do previously simple tasks like answering texts, getting out of bed, exercising, eating, even brushing your teeth or putting on a bra. Mr. Depression makes everything significantly more challenging and the whole time he is here, he is whispering awful things into your ear - he thinks you are a terrible person; he thinks you are ugly; he thinks you are a bad parent and an awful friend; he thinks you are a failure. The longer he sticks around, the more you start to believe his words.
Often when Mr. Depression comes to visit, you try your best to keep his visit a secret. You don't want your friends to know about your new house guest. Afterall, they might think you are crazy. They might think you are just looking for attention. They might not understand why you can't just grab Mr. Depression's suitcase, toss it out into your front yard and give Mr. Depression a good shove out the front door. They might ask why you can't simply choose to have a visit from Mr. Happy or Mr. Grateful instead. And while you know that your friends will mean well, their questions and advice will probably only tighten Mr. Depression's grip on your life right now.
So, you settle in and try to do the things that have made Mr. Depression leave in the past. Perhaps you adjust some medications, take some trips back to psychotherapy, focus on increasing your coping strategies, increase your self-care efforts and lean on people who are supportive and won't judge you. Over time, like always, Mr. Depression eventually starts to loosen his grip on your life. He stops following you everywhere and eventually one morning you wake up and find that he has left your house in the middle of the night. Of course, he always leaves things behind; little reminders that he was there and that he could be back at any moment.
But what is this visit from Mr. Depression like for the people on the outside, the people unaware of his arrival? For them, they often witness significant changes in their friend; perhaps overnight or perhaps gradually. Their once cheerful, outgoing friend now appears grumpy, irritable and sometimes non-responsive. Texts and phone calls to the friend go unanswered. They begin declining or canceling plans to get together. On the rare occasion that they do engage in social activities, they are a bit of a drag as they talk badly about themselves and focus on the negative. Even their physical appearance seems different. Their social media account activity changes. Friends might think they are being iced out of relationships, that their friend has suddenly become bitchy and uninterested or that it takes too much energy to be around their friend now. All of this means that by the time Mr. Depression finally leaves, he may have already caused some significant damage to relationships.
So, how can we minimize that chances of Mr. Depression destroying our relationships? One good start is to be honest.
For those of you dealing with the unexpected visits from Mr. Depression, consider being honest with those people closest to you. They will notice the changes in you anyways- help them to see what is at the root of these changes. Educate them about your experiences with depression and teach them about what you need in terms of support. If you are struggling with depression and would like additional support, please review The Depression Toolkit.
For friends of someone who might be struggling, be supportive and resist the urge to pass judgement. Remember that the vast majority of individuals would much rather Mr. Depression not be a part of our lives. It's not a choice they make for attention or sympathy or medication prescriptions; It's just part of them. Holding space and providing support for someone with depression can be emotionally exhausting so remember to take care of yourself during those times as well. For additional resources for family and friends, please visit the University of Michigan Depression Center.
For more articles on mental health, depression and self-care, click on the following links:
Now that I am Getting "Me" Back, I have been much more mindful of the concept of balance in my life. For many years, I have grappled with the age old question "Can we really have it all?" While I tend to believe that we can, in fact, have it all, I don't necessarily think we can have it all in total balance all the time. In other words, sometimes something has to be focused on a little less so that our other needs can be addressed. Recently I was reminded via Timehop of how important tracking my macros used to be to me from a physical standpoint and I realized that macros are a great metaphor to how to balance life.
So, what are macros?
I'm sure there is a scientific explanation for macros but you won't find it here. In my experience, macros are components of nutrition - namely carbs, proteins and fats. They are elements that make up the food we eat. Our body needs carbs, proteins and fats each day to help it function at its best. When I was working out 12+ hours/week, my body always functioned best when my average daily intake of food was 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein. Other people's ideal macros may be different. It took some trial and error and experimentation to determine what was best for me. Was I perfect every day? Hell, no. But, it sure felt good when my pretty little macro pie chart was perfect. There was no denying that everything just clicked when those three elements were balanced in the way that worked for me.
So, how does this relate to life? Easy. What are your life macros? What are the components of your life that each are good in their own way but need to be balanced in order for you to function at your best? In other words, what makes up YOU?
My macros include my various roles in life: psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, professor, mother, wife, friend, healthy woman and pet owner (perhaps pet collector?). Are all of my roles equally balanced each day? Hell, no! Are there areas which need to take more of my attention or fill my life more than others in order for me to feel whole? Absolutely!
Are you ready for a small homework assignment? (Sorry, sometimes my CBT and professor sides start to show). Grab a writing utensil and piece of paper. Or, open up a new document on your computer.
1. Make a list of your life macros. Who are you? What is important to you? What are your various roles? What makes you YOU? Write those down.
2. Assign a percentage to each of your life macros. How much of your attention and focus each week gets directed at each macro? Be honest. This should be how things get distributed on average each week, not how you want them to be distributed. Don't forget about your elementary math skills - these percentages need to add up to 100%
3. Are there things that are missing from your list? Things that make you YOU but you are not giving attention to right now? Add those to your list and write "0%" beside them.
4. Draw a pretty little pie chart of your life macros so that it reflects the assigned percentages.
5. Take some time to reflect on your chart. How does it feel? Is it accurate? Are you proud of it? Do you wish it were different? If your pie chart is perfect and you feel totally balanced, bravo! Store that chart somewhere handy and refer to it regularly to make sure you are keeping your life macros in balance. If not, read on...
6. After you have spent some real time reflecting on your macro distribution and chart, make a new one - one that reflects your ideal life macros. What would your ideal life macros be and how much attention would they receive?
7. Now it's time to create an action plan. What would it take to be able to shift your current life macro chart to your ideal one? What small things can you do today to help get your macros moving in a way that works better for you?
Spend some time evaluating your life macros and seeing how making some adjustments might move your life to a more balanced and satisfying state.
For more blog articles on self-care, click on the links below.
Winter in the northeast is super fun.
Strep, flu, stomach bug and other weird viruses are hitting everyone these days. A quick scroll through social media will show another family down for the count. Facebook has become filled with photos of puke buckets, cans of lysol, and photos of sick children camped out on couches. Suddenly all those political posts don't seem so bad anymore. As if these germs don't pose enough of a challenge though, here in New England in February we also have to contend with blizzards, Nor'easters and snowstorms that are measured in feet rather than inches. Do you know what that means? Snow days. Lots of them.
So, despite the cute snowmen, picturesque snow covered trees, delicious mugs of hot chocolate, and laughing children sledding down hills, It's simply not a fun time of year for many of us. We feel stuck and feel like things will never start moving forward again.
We are in the doldrums.
But, the doldrums are a funny thing. They are a place, actually - a place near the equator where everything is often quite still. The winds and seas are calmer and life feels paused in the doldrums. Somehow over time the term doldrums began to be used for life's slumps - those times in life when we are just stuck: times like the thick of winter in New England. Yet, when I was in the doldrums during my Fall 2000 Semester at Sea I found my days in the doldrums quite magical. I remember sitting on the deck of the Universe Explorer, sun on my face, watching the dolphins gracefully gliding alongside our ship. They loved the stillness of the ocean. Those doldrums were inspirational and recharging for me. There was something beautiful about that stillness.
It can be hard to find the beauty in the winter doldrums though. These doldrums are filled with germs, guilt, white-knuckled driving, power outages, stretches of days without seeing the sunshine and let's not forget about the bitter cold. The winter doldrums suck.
So, as I sit here facing yet another potential snow day (third day in a row), more income lost (self-employed folks don't get paid snow days) and am bracing myself as I wait to see if child #2's recent stomach bug will hit the rest of us (please, God, no), I wonder how I can make the winter doldrums more like the physical doldrums. How can I change my perspective?
Let's face it. We have very little control over what happens to us during the winter doldrums. Aside from frequent hand washing, house cleaning and not sharing drinks, we cannot do too much to avoid the winter germs. We also can't do much about the winter weather either. The only thing we can control is how we react to the situations cast upon us in the winter doldrums.
These winter doldrums will pass. Spring and summer always come. Yes, it may take extra time for the ball fields to be cleared, defrost and be ready for opening day. Yes, we may have more snow days and find our kids in school a bit longer in June. Yes, we may be hit with more illnesses. But, days are already getting longer. Spring is coming.
Maybe the snow days and bugs aren't about interrupting our life. Maybe they can be about mandatory pauses from the rush of our typical days. Remember the dolphins I saw playing in the doldrums all those years ago? Maybe we need to be those dolphins and soak up the playful moments the winter doldrums provide us. Snuggle on the coach with our children, break into the hallway closet's mountain of board games, tackle some home projects, re-arrange some furniture, write, read, play. Slow down. Find the fun. Just be. And, when it gets to be too much, remember another thing I learned from my 100 days living on a ship: looking at the horizon can help cure seasickness. When the winter doldrums just get to be too much for you, turn your eyes towards our horizon - the spring - and remember that we are heading in the right direction. We'll get there. We just need to hold on.
Now, let's talk about sunshine. While we can't make the sun appear, there are some tools for those of us who really need the sunshine. Light therapy started as a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition where individuals see increased signs of depression in conjunction with lower exposure to sunlight. Over the years, access to light therapy boxes or lamps has become easier and far more affordable. So, while I cannot make the next snowstorm avoid us, I can bring some sunshine back into my life. I am finally going to purchase one of these lamps for myself and for my office. I've included some links to some highly rated options in case you want to join me in purchasing some sunshine.
In the meantime, find a way to be a dolphin the doldrums!
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I do not have a green thumb. In fact, I am a plant murderer.
I have tried on multiple occasions to start a garden. Aside from an accidental strawberry plant which comes back every year with 4 or 5 normalish strawberries that some yard creature always steals, I cannot keep plants alive.
Cactus? Over-watered it.
Orchid? Under-watered it.
All other flowers? Dead. Dead. Dead. Super dead.
There is one exception though...
This beauty was given to me as a gift by a fellow social worker as a thank you. She knew that keeping plants alive was not a strength for me but she was confident that I could manage with this one. She was right. I haven't killed it. You know why? It's not because I read some planting blogs or joined a facebook gardening group (both of which I did - still didn't help me) or because I believed in myself.
For real. Ice cubes.
This plant doesn't need a lot of watering. Every few days it just needs an ice cube. When it looks a little weak, we give it an extra ice cube. If we forget about it for a few days, it's ok. It lets us know by looking a little less green and a little more droopy. Essentially, it asks us for an ice cube.
So often we get bogged down by life's pressures. Like this little plant, we can start to wither and wilt. We lose our perkiness. Our color starts to fade. We may even lose a few of our leaves. It doesn't mean that we need to be transplanted to a different location or that all hope is lost though. We are telling ourselves and the people around us what we need. An ice cube.
So, what is your ice cube? What is the simple thing that can perk you up or keep you hanging on for one more day? Maybe it's a good book before bed. Maybe it's a hot cup of coffee in the morning before the house comes alive. Maybe it's lunch with a good friend. Maybe it's a lazy Sunday morning in your pjs. Maybe it's a trip to the gym. Maybe it's a text from your partner. What is it for you? What's your ice cube?
Take a few minutes today and get yourself an ice cube.
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About Changing perspectives...
I often find myself encouraging people to consider changing their perspective or reframe the way in which they view things. This blog is an extension of that practice and is also an opportunity for me to write from a number of different perspectives including clinician, educator, mother, friend and supervisor. Blog topics are also quite varied and changeable. Topics explored include, but are certainly not limited to, grief, parenting, health and wellness and relationships. Join me and explore a number of changing perspectives!