Finding time for the little moments can be incredibly hard these days, especially with all the things vying for our attention. In the world of mental health, however, the little moments can make all the difference. This is the story of my moment, found in the span of just a few moments.
We’ve hit that time of year where the weather just can’t make up its mind. We keep getting snow, but the days are warm enough that everything has melted by the afternoon. The end result: a soggy mess. I have to step carefully to avoid the sludge getting into the car, walking into work, coming home, taking out the dog. And speaking of the dog, let’s talk about those wonderful muddy paws all over the floor.
Yeah, I’m honestly not a fan of this time of the year. I love the winter, so the melt is a little sad. It means the snow will be gone soon. Add into that the soggy mess of the world (and the rotting plant life waiting to reassert itself), and I’m just about done with spring before it even starts.
That said, spring also means there are puddles everywhere and in the world of a 9 and 2-year-old, well, that’s irresistible. Every day after we get home, it takes half an hour to get them from the car to the back door because both Jamie and Eileen have to splash every puddle until they’re both soaked. At the end of the day, when we’re trying to get in the house, get the dog out, dinner going, and all the other things that need to happen before bed, this is beyond frustrating.
Still, a couple days ago we had a few moments. It was a balmy 40 degrees and we had nothing to cook, so we sat on the back porch instead of trying to rush them. And let me tell you, it was so worth it. Apart from the much-needed sunshine, there’s something wonderful about being outside. It was breezy, but not too much, and the
kids were overjoyed. Jamie discovered he could see himself in the puddles, and if he ran fast enough he could splash Daddy. Later, he found out throwing a rock in the puddle made an even bigger splash.
Needless to say, he was soaked. But it was worth every second.
Sometimes the days just don’t let you slow down; that’s a fact of life. But we always have to be sure to keep an eye out for those little moments where we can. Whether it’s watching the kids splash around (and trying not to panic over the mess), or taking a second to hold your coffee, every second is worth it.
Life is hard. Parenting is hard. Mental illness is hard. But enough of these little moments, and it gets just a little bit better.
Let’s be honest here…life with mental illness is a full time job. Some days are not bad, some are even good, but some are completely horrendous. For myself, most days fall into the “not bad” category, where I can function and even have good moments, but they’re still colored by an underlying depression. The good days are a treasure. The bad days, though… The bad days can be really bad. On those days, I lie in bed, watch TV, and pray it ends soon. On those days, it feels like the only way to keep going is by distracting myself, but that leaves me with a question. Is distraction a healthy way to cope, or am I making things worse?
What do I mean by distraction?
Well, in my case, distraction is pretty much anything that keeps me from thinking about how I feel. That means television, video games, and youtube, typically. Of course, not everyone distracts in the same ways. Some talk with people while others might scroll endlessly through their favorite brand of social media. Then there are those who cope through arguably less healthy means, such as drinking or drugs (and many other options). Distraction can ultimately be pretty much anything that keeps you from feeling how you feel, or at least thinking about it.
Actually, distraction is probably one of the most common coping mechanisms out there. It’s natural to want to run away from bad things, be they danger or despair. So, when we’re faced with something that makes us hurt from the inside, distraction is our mental way of running away.
Does that mean it’s healthy, though? Well, that’s a tougher question with a more complex answer.
There are two different things to look at when answering that question: Method of coping and length of the distraction.
Method of Coping
For the most part, it seems like most people agree that there are different methods of coping and that some are intrinsically healthier than others. To clarify, by healthier I mean coping mechanisms that are less likely to do physical harm to yourself. For instance, alcohol as a coping mechanism can lead to liver disease, heart disease, and many other injuries along the way. In that respect, drinking can become a very dangerous coping mechanism, especially if it is a frequent choice for coping.
Healthier coping mechanisms would be ones that do not damage the body, or even potential improve your health overall. A few examples here include drinking a glass of ice water, stretching, and dancing to your favorite music. In these examples, you can temporarily distract yourself from the issues at hand, and they can all result in your being in a better position (i.e. healthier) than before.
And then, of course, there are the neutral options, like TV or video games. These are neither good nor bad, intrinsically. You aren’t likely to get any healthier, but at least you aren’t likely to end up damaged from it. Those are my particular vices when I’m severely depressed, largely because I can’t bring myself to do much of anything.
So, if there are non-destructive coping mechanisms, why is there any doubt about whether they’re overall healthy? Because everything comes with a condition.
Length of Distraction
Here’s the tricky spot. While we can likely agree that damaging coping mechanisms aren’t healthy, we have to wonder about the others. For instance, a commonly recommended coping technique is to exercise. Get up, get moving, and you can potentially raise those happy chemicals and even make yourself a little healthier along the way! The caution, though? It is possible to exercise too much. And if you’re not eating well to begin with (or drinking enough), you could seriously hurt yourself.
In the case of more neutral coping mechanisms, such as TV of video games, length of time plays a huge role in determining whether it’s an appropriate choice. Are you watching a couple episodes of your favorite show to help bring your mood up? Are you getting up in between episodes if you binge? Have you been watching TV 14 hours a day for the last week?
In general, a good rule of thumb is one quite similar to the one we use to determine severity of depression. Is it interfering with your day to day life? If the answer is yes, it’s probably not healthy.
Overall, distraction is actually a very valid form of coping. In fact, many therapists recommend it as a premium way of making it through severe episodes of depression or anxiety, provided it is used appropriately. When it continues to the point that you are not trying to improve, but simply existing, it starts to lose value. When distraction itself starts damaging your life in much the same way the depression will, it’s time to quit.
So what do you think? How do you distract yourself and do you feel it’s a healthy technique?
I have a confession to make. I’m one of those “trendy” folks currently riding high on the bullet journal train. Admittedly, I didn’t get started with it out of any great desire to fit in. I had just gotten frustrated by the lack of adaptability of traditional planners. My needs tend to change based on the time of year, so a published planner ends up only being useful for a short time. Enter the bullet journal.
What’s a Bullet Journal?
For those that are unfamiliar with the bullet journal method of planning, I highly recommend stopping by the official site for an overview of how it works. At the most basic level, it is crazy simple. You create an index, a yearly calendar, a monthly calendar, and then daily entries. There are a set of symbols used to define whether an item is an event, a task, a note, and even how important it is. Each day you mark the completed tasks, migrate the ones still due, and cross out the ones you don’t need to track anymore.
All in all, it takes about 15 minutes to set up, and maybe 5 each night… assuming all you do is use it as a planner. However, I would argue that if you only use your bujo (short for bullet journal) for planning alone, you are missing out on a whole world of other possibilities.
Bullet Journaling and Your Mental Health
For years, mental health professionals have spoken to the importance of journaling for tracking, exploring, and processing emotions. Now, I don’t know about you, but when it comes to traditional journalling I tend to end up in one of two categories. I either start out strong and them completely fizzle out after a week or two (because, seriously, who wants to spend that much time writing by hand?). Or, I start at the blank page in complete desperation because when it comes time to actually talk about how I feel I run out of words.
When you tie your planner and your journal together, however, it can make it a lot easier to keep going. And if you fall off the journaling habit, it’s easy enough to get on again because you’re already using your journal as a planner. The other part is that many bullet journal aficionados have found ways to use them for reflecting on the good parts of their days, tracking their new habits, and tracking moods and/or physical wellbeing. When therapists and psychiatrists see that, they tend to dance with glee.
Imagine going in to your psychologist and when they ask “how have you been lately?” you can pull out your planner and show them. Imagine the instant feedback from being able to cross off the healthy habits you’re trying to establish (remembering that it’s okay and to be expected that you’ll miss things too). Imagine being able to pull out your journal and open to a page full of all the wonderful things that have happened to you in the last month and how helpful that could be on the really hard days. Imagine. And then do it!
Yeah, I hear you:
I’ve seen those other journals and I can’t do anything that fancy!
To that I say, meh. So what? Honestly, some days I draw pretty little boxes around my sections and make somewhat interesting layouts. Others I’m just scribbling the list down. Again, it’s part of what I love about bullet journals. It adapts to my mood and my energy levels. In fact, it’s a pretty easy way to see when I’m headed into a depressive state because I stop trying to lay it out and just slap the info down on the page.
So, if you’re interested, please don’t let the fancy pictures discourage you. There’s a lot of value in journaling and bullet journals are one of the easiest ways to go about it. That said, if you’re into the fancy swirls and doodles, by all means, go for it! Personally, I’m a master at stick figures and squares.
Ultimately, it comes down to whatever works for you. For me, my bullet journal is a fun way to keep track of my life. Now that I’ve started, I can’t image going back and trying to live my life without it!
Over the last 9 years, my daughter and I have had to work especially hard to find ways to connect when I’m completely disconnected. In any relationship, taking the time to bond with one another is obviously critical, but when you deal with chronic depression, you often can’t even find the motivation to get out of bed, let alone do something with someone else. We thought it might be nice to share what we’ve discovered to see if it helps anyone else!
Before I get into our list though, I wanted to take a second to point out that if you’re disconnecting due to depression or anxiety or anything like that, take care of yourself! Do what you can to get comfortable, and then work yourself into finding new ways to reconnect. Depression can change your life and you might find that the things you used to enjoy with friends are no longer enjoyable. That doesn’t mean you can’t build relationships. It just means you might have to go about it a little differently.
And now, our top 6 ways to bond!
Eileen and I discovered a long time ago that sleep overs were a great way to bond even when I’m not really in the mood for connecting. Just getting to spend the evening in Mommy’s room equals something special. Even better, now that she’s old enough she loves to make sleep over snacks and bring them upstairs with her, which means I get time with her and fed (something that’s a lot harder when I’m depressed)!
During our sleepover, we might do anything from watch a movie to play video games, but if I’m up to it, I’ll pull out the nail polish and we’ll do that too. It just depends on the day. There have been a few sleep overs where she spent the evening with her daddy and then came upstairs right before bed. Ultimately, it’s just the time together that matters.
Both Eileen and I are avid readers (check out some of my reviews here). This makes reading time an ideal bonding moment for us. I personally love that it’s a quiet activity, and something we can share through recommendations or just being in each other’s company. Admittedly, I don’t spend as much time reading as I used to, but it’s still an old stand by for us. In fact, if I’m feeling like hiding, she’ll usually ask to join me and just ready quietly in the same room. Again, it’s all about that time together.
Note: as I’m writing this, Eileen is laying on the floor next to me and reading the seventh Harry Potter.
Dates aren’t just for couples, in case you didn’t know! It might seem a little cheesy, but Eileen and I love to go out together when I have energy to spare. It isn’t always a big event, but it’s special for us. Usually we go get food, but if we have the time we might see a movie or go paint ceramics. When the weather is nice, it usually means a walk over to McDonalds. What it always comes down to, again, is that time together.
Okay, so this is a big one. Eileen and I both love to craft, but I’m seriously never going to finish a project. Our middle ground? Creating craft projects. We both love dreaming up ideas and over the years, I’ve gained the experiences to teach her how to make things. So, I teach her the skill and she makes the thing… at least until she also gets distracted and wanders off.
…Yeah, I’ve got the attention span of a 9-year-old…. Still, we’re bonding, right?
Sometimes we just skip the production phase and stay in the brainstorm stage though. We’ll dig through our craft supplies and dream of different things we could invent and how to put it together. It’s an exercise in imagination, a quick activity, and for us that’s where the real magic is.
Fair warning: The last two are totally nerdy. I actually majored in computer science, and while I didn’t pursue it as a career (because, good lordy, can you say stress?), I do love it as a hobby. Needless to say, as soon as Eileen got old enough to start processing logic, we started programming together. To be fair, most of the work now is done by her, but it’s a fun activity to do together! It’s also a great thing for trips to the bookstore because we’re always looking for new coding books to test out.
Yeah, I know. Nerdy. But it’s something Eileen and I have done together since before her first birthday. No, I’m not suggesting she could even hold a controller then, but I’m a huge gamer and so there were many days where the only way I could handle her was if I was playing a video game. Mike would come in and catch us snuggling on the couch together, her watching me play, and as she got older, us playing together. We still, to this day, use it as a standby when we want some time together. In fact, if she catches me playing anything, she’ll stop and run over to watch. To be fair, I do the same.
Nerd bonding, at it’s best.
In the end… Everyone is different, obviously, which is part of what makes the world amazing. Unfortunately, depression can make it really hard to connect with the people most important in my life. It was a long process of trial and error to find the things that Eileen and I both loved, and now that I have Jamie, it’s a learning process all over again.
Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s frustrating. And honestly, some days are bad enough that none of these options work out. But over all, it’s always worth it.
Quick little off-day post here. Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of my concussion. For those that don’t know, I was cuddling with my daughter in her room when I managed to snap my head back into the windowsill. I was completely stunned for five minutes, unable to speak. Ten minutes later, I was sobbing uncontrollably. Ten minutes after that, I was slurring my words and unable to stand.
One ER visit later, I was sent home with a clean brain scan and the comment that I’d probably given myself a “mild” concussion.
I basically woke up 3 days later. Needless to say, it was not a minor concussion. I spent the next month trying to recover enough that I could get back to work full time, and to this day I struggle to understand language when I’m tired. If I push it past that, I get headaches and eventually pass out. One small event on one random evening has affected every day of my life since.
Yeah, I hear you asking…
What does this have to do on a blog about parenting and mental illness? I’m not sure, to be honest, but it felt important to share.
From a parenting perspective, I know that my daughter, to this day, is still afraid to have me come cuddle in her bed. She will always come to me for hugs and even when I tuck her in, she warns me to be careful. That tiny moment colors our relationship with worry that really shouldn’t need to be there, and all I can do is hope that one day she’ll move past it. Until then, though, we just both feel sad.
I know, too, that my bipolar was a lot more manageable before my concussion, and my depression exponentially increased afterward. Was that due to the actual brain damage? No clue. Was it due to the stress of living with brain damage? Most likely.
I miss me. I miss being able to follow the logical patterns that made me pursue math. I miss being able to hold a conversation without the words turning in to gibberish. I miss being able to learn anything without having to sleep for the next three hours. I miss being me, and I know my family does too. If I’m lucky, it will heal. Today is better than last month, which is better than the month before, so there is hope. Maybe that’s where the similarity is. We can all only hope and cope until the bad times pass, doing the best we can.
The Moral of the Story…
Appreciate each day. You may not be able to do as much as you’d like, but if you do what you can, you’re always doing better and not worse.
Secondary moral: Always wear protection when cuddling. Preferably a helmet.
Well, I did it. I made it through my first day back at work after over a month away. In some ways, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected, but in some ways, it was a little worse. Everyone seemed to be pretty happy to have me back, which definitely made my heart soar. Obviously, after a month, there were some questions to answer, though.
First and foremost: “Are you feeling all better?” (Or the alternative statement of “glad to see you’re all better.”) This question is always closely followed with “Where have you been?” or “What was wrong?” If I hadn’t spent the last week or so rehearsing my answer, those two questions alone would be enough to make a giant pot of anxiety soup. As it was, it was still a little nerve-wracking to have to shoot them down at the first question and explain why the thought of “all better” is all wrong. Follow that up with explaining where I’d been and suffice to say, it was a long half day.
Why is “all better” all wrong?
Well, when you’re dealing with a chronic illness (mental or physical) the reality is there may never be an “all better.” You can be better than you were. You can even on some days be decent, or good. But there might never be an all better. The nature of a chronic illness is just that, that it’s chronic. Persistent, recurring, possibly never-ending. And when someone someone suggests that it has just vanished, that creates a very strong misconception.
Today, I spent a lot of my time explaining that while I feel better, I am not fixed. Bipolar doesn’t have a cure, and while I might be lucky enough to never have a depressive episode like that again, even that would be because of constant vigilance and medication. Maintenance is a life-long task when it comes to illnesses like this. I have to eat properly, sleep enough, pay very close attention to my moods (and notify appropriate medical peoples if that changes), and ALWAYS take my medication. Even if I feel “all better.”
It’s hard to have to share this with well-meaning well-wishers. I understand the sentiment behind it: that they’re glad I’m back and they want to express concern over my health. For some, maybe even many, people, it would be sufficient to leave it at that. I would never blame a person for saying “yup, thanks for asking!” and moving on with the day. But I worry that if we fall on that ideal too often, we risk creating unrealistic expectations from those around us. Heaven forbid I relapse tomorrow and all they can say is “But you said you were better!”
When I answer honestly, though, it opens up a new conversation about Bipolar disorder and what it means for my day to day life. We begin to talk about hypomania and manic depression, and what it means to have your brain work so hard against you that you choose to be locked away for over a week.
So, where have you been?
There are a lot of ailments that send a person to the hospital. And an awful lot of them are the sort you just don’t want to talk about in polite company (colonoscopy, anyone?). But few have the stigma associated with a psychiatric stay at the hospital. Many seem to think mental patients only stay in a hospital by force, and those are “dangerous lunatics” or “addicts” or some other kind of horribly labeled human. Seemingly “normal” folks don’t need to be locked up, and certainly not of their own choice. Right?
Wrong. In fact, of the people I met while an inpatient, many of them were there because they chose to be. Were some forced? Sure. Were some dangerous? Yeah, they could be. Were they all there because they were ill? Yes. Every. Single. One. And the hospital offered them a safe place to figure it out. There they were kept safe from outside influences and toxic relationships, and from themselves. They had a place to learn a bit about what was going on (because many came in with no real idea why they were sick), and a team of medical professionals to care for them while they figured it out. Of the people who showed up involuntarily, many of them chose to stay and work on getting better.
Because of that, I am honest. When people ask where I’ve been, I talk about the 9 days in the hospital. I talk about the 12 days as a partial hospitalization patient. I talk about all the times in between, too, and how it all worked together to help me get to a better place. If they stick around and want to know, I talk about what it feels like to have your brain rebel against you and tell you things that you logically know aren’t true. I talk about how hard it was to decide to go in to the hospital, and how my daughter cried while I was away. I talk about any of it that they ask about, because they need to know.
Healing is a process and there is no shame in getting the help you need. I had a weekend of extreme depression, two medical visits with all of my family on watch, and three missed days of work before I believed I should get that help. Damned if I’m going to waste it.
Lets take a moment to acknowledge the wacky little elephant in the room. There’s obviously a stigma surrounding mental illness. We all know it. Anyone that grows up with mental illness, or has a kid suffering from it, or even a friend, knows that stigma is real. Frankly, given how many people suffer from some form of mental health problem in our world, it’s surprising that we still shy away from the subject. And yet, we sure do.
As patients with chronic illnesses, we face choices every day between what to share and what not to share. We face the knowledge that everything we admit carries a weight, a perception that we can’t control. Everything we admit can change how people think of us. As frustrating and horrible as it can sound, just admitting you have depression can carry a bunch of different meanings for different people. Some will truly understand, but some will call you lazy or tell you you’re faking it, or any number of other things. When you admit anxiety, they may tell you you’re overreacting, or to just calm down, or stop being so childish. When you admit Bipolar, or Schizophrenia, or one of the other “big” name mental illnesses, people tend to run.
While this can be a hot topic for some, lately it’s become personally relevant to me. Ultimately, it’s a huge part of why I wanted to start this blog. I don’t want my children to grow up feeling the same way I have over the years. As I’ve said before, chances are good that they’ll end up with the same or similar illnesses to mine, and if that’s the case, I need to try to build a world as stigma-free as possible. In addition, I’ll be returning to the “real world” soon, and that means I have to decide how to account for all my time away.
Let’s look at the two primary kinds of stigma we must face. The perceived at the self-induced.
So, what is self-induced stigma? Let me ask you some questions to illustrate.
Have you ever felt guilty for calling out of work on a severe depressive day?
Have you been scared to ask for help or felt you were weak for doing so?
Have you stopped taking prescribed meds because “normal” people shouldn’t need them?
Those are examples of self-induced stigma. It is important to know that just because it is self-induced, that doesn’t mean it’s intentional. Many of us have been taught over the years that if we have a mental health issue, we’re somehow broken or not normal. This can lead to a lot of internalized guilt and shame. This can lead us to make some decisions that aren’t necessarily healthy.
Plus side: you can totally do something about it, although it’s definitely a challenge because retraining your brain is a lot of work. However, there are a lot of tools out there to help with that. I’m hoping as we go along in this blog I’ll be able to share some of them that I’ve picked up over the years. They may not all help you, but if any of them do then it’s totally worth it. For now, remember you are doing the best you can and that’s all anyone can hope for!
When we look at perceived stigma, we realize this is the bit that we can’t control as easily: how people perceive us. We can share our lives and our needs and our illnesses, but there’s nothing we can do to change what others think about us. That’s the perception part, and arguably the part that hurts the most. It’s really rough to accept that we can’t change anything about how people see us, at least not in the immediate sense.
Everyone brings their own biases to the world, and mental illness is definitely one of those arenas. We can do our best to present ourselves as capable, reliable, etc., but they will still color it through their own lenses. In those situations, the best we can do is pick our battles, and our friends, accordingly. If you don’t feel comfortable explaining to your boss or coworkers exactly why you were in the hospital, you really don’t have to. If you don’t want to answer why you were sick, or even how you’re feeling today, you don’t have to.
Remember, though, a little honesty to the right person can go a long way. And a little visibility can also go a long way, if you’re in a safe enough position to do it. By sharing our stories, we are able to help reduce the stigma a little bit. We teach people about our health and needs. We educate them on how to support us, and with each step, we get a little better at taking care of ourselves.
So, what do we do?
Well, as always, that’s up to you. For my part, I created this blog. Education is important to me, as is sharing our stories and building strength from each other. Who better to learn from than other people who wake and fight the same or similar battles to ours? If you want to help in that, continue sharing and responding. Start conversations with each other and tell us what it’s like for you.
Do you deal with self-induced stigma? How about perceived? What does it look like for you and how does it affect your life?
I’m only a short distance into my blogging adventure and I’m realizing something very quickly… I don’t fit in here. Parenting blogs exist to show you how to succeed. They’re shiny, pretty, organized… they are filled with mothers just like us…doing their best. They deal with messy kids, hungry families, work, relationships, moves, all that stuff, and yet, somehow they manage to succeed. Mommy blogs exist on the hopes that we can learn from the masters and bring some of that stability into our lives.
And you know what? Sometimes it works! Jeez, you never know unless you try, and there’s a really good chance that your veggie hating kid will love that cauliflower mac and cheese.
That said, my parenting life is a bit different. The house is always chaos (yeah, I know, even the best mommy bloggers have their bad days), but there are some days I can’t even get myself out of bed. I live with bipolar disorder (and thus, bipolar depression), so on my bad days, the weight is physical. This means I can’t get out of bed to eat, shower, brush my teeth, let alone play with my kids.
When I look at most parenting blogs and I’m instantly hit with panic. There’s a realization that it doesn’t matter if my son would love that mac and cheese, I’ll never have the energy to make it.
So it begs the question:
Where Do I Fit in “Mommy Blog Land”?
I told some friends I was thinking about starting a parenting, or mommy, blog and they laughed. Admittedly, I don’t seem like the type. Anyone who knows me knows that it took me years (not weeks, not months, but YEARS) to even come close to loving my daughter. I have struggled my whole life with creating meaningful connections with people and parenting is no different. In the world of parenting experts, I’m probably one of the least qualified.
And yet, after the laughter subsided, every single one of them told me to go for it.
After all, there aren’t a lot of us about.
And no, the “us” I’m talking about isn’t the depressed or struggling or “failing” parent. There are tons of those. We all struggle in our own ways with the joy of parenting. Almost every new parent has to learn to live with a sink full of dishes, no makeup, and spit up on almost everything. They do it with little sleep, no sleep, alone, with absent partners, or even with a family full of help. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how well off you are in terms of money or support, parenting is hard work and we all suffer.
No, the “us” I was talking about is the mommy blogger living in a world of chronic mental illness. Because, believe it or not, we’re there. And there’s a special layer of guilt that goes with seeing all those wonderful pins for homemade play dough, and knowing you don’t even have the energy to pull out the store bought neon colored crap out of the drawer. Yeah, it’s not that hard, but if you pull it out, it’ll be everywhere and then you’ll have to clean it up….or let the dog clean it up….or just walk on those nasty dry crumbles for weeks. Long story short: you’re not getting the play dough, kids. Go find a different toy.
I’m left to ask myself again:
Where do we fit in mommy blog land?
And the only answer I can come up with is….well, right here, I suppose. After all, we’re parents, too. Even if it looks a little (or a lot) different, we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Right now, for me, that’s writing upstairs in my room while the kids entertain themselves. If I find the strength for it, I’ll pull out my computer and play a video game for my daughter. If I’m really lucky, I’ll be able to come downstairs for dinner with everyone else, but that always depends. Some nights I won’t see either of them until they come upstairs to give me a hug and a kiss before bed.
Like I said, it’s different. We’re all parenting together here and we’re all doing our best, but sometimes what works for others won’t work for the rest. I’m here, and I’m going to stick around. Because maybe what I have to share will help you.
Maybe not. Maybe you’re looking for the mac and cheese.
Here’s the deal. I’ve been in and out of therapy for years. When you’ve got a mom that’s crazy (as much as I love her, she and I will both own that title), and then you start showing signs of the same disorder, you end up straight into the therapist.
Actually, to be fair, I ended up at the therapist because my parents were divorced and they were pretty sure we kids were gonna be scarred, but that’s neither here nor there.
In my time in therapy, I learned a lot of different coping skills. Most of those have gone out the window now, as science is always evolving as we learn new things. Some of them are tried and true, though. For instance, when you’re angry, you’ve probably heard that you can punch a pillow. That one’s been a standard for a really long time, and I’ll admit it, I’ve used it way more than once. Or, another anger fighter is to shred a piece of paper into the tiniest pieces you can manage. To start with, you’re burning rage, but by the end you end up so focused on the task that most of the anger has drained away. Bonus: you’ve now got confetti (which will likely make your mom angry when you throw it….heads up).
My favorite, by far, however, was a love/hate list.
As a teenager (and even now still as an adult), it can be really easy to get down on yourself and focus on all of the horrible things about you. “I’m ugly” is an easy one, or “no one likes me” or, my frequent favorite, “I’m just too crazy.” Is it true? I have no idea. Really, it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not because it feels true to you.
The activity is simple. Sit down and write out a list of all the things you hate about yourself. Go nuts. be as mean as you want and petty and all that nastiness. It’s alright. Frankly, whether you put it on paper or not, you’re probably calling yourself all these names already. Do it until you’ve got yourself a good pile of nastiness, or you run out of things you really care to write about.
Do you feel better?
Yeah, probably not so much. You might feel a little relief just having said it all and gotten it out into the open. You might also be looking at that list and feeling like a big pile of crap because seriously, how could you come up with so much awful stuff and god, what kind of person are you?? (deep breath….it’s okay. Just because you came up with a list doesn’t mean you’re horrible… I promise) Take your time and read through that list. Think about it all. How much of that stuff do you really believe? Are there any things you’d cross out now that you’re a little calmer? Any things you maybe said because you got caught up in the rush of things?
If so…cross them off.
If not….that’s alright.
I know when I did this one for the first time I had a whole page of text, narrow rule, completely full with stuff. And I believed every single thing I saw there, so no crossing anything out for me. It was a bit eye-opening. I knew I was angry, and I knew there was a lot I didn’t like, but I think up until I reached that moment I had no clue just how much I hated. I resolved to change that. Thus, the second part:
This is definitely the harder part, but it’s so worth it. Now it’s time to write out all the things you love about yourself. Can’t manage love? Fair enough….maybe just start with the things that “aren’t so bad.” Can you whistle? I can’t (and I hate whistling), but good for you! Add it to the list! Did you once draw a heart that was almost perfectly symmetrical? Add it to the list. Maybe you’ve got amazing style. Maybe not, but who cares because at least you’re always comfy. Either way, add it to the list.
Some of mine:
at least when I’m stressed, I clean
I love my family very much, even when I don’t feel like they love me
I could read an entire 500 page novel in a day
It didn’t really matter what other people thought of me
It can be anything, big or small, but if you start with the small stuff it can be easier to build up to the big. Eventually, you might find it even easier to come up with stuff as one idea reminds you of something else.
Now….here’s the tricky part though. Your goal is to come up with at least as many good things as you did bad for your list. If you’re really wanting to stretch yourself, go for twice as many (yeah, that means my one page of hate turned into two pages of love, and it was worth every annoying minute of it).
Well, what’s the point?
The point is, it’s really easy to get caught up in the awful. Most of us know that on a logical level, but it’s really hard to remember when the evil wheel of hate starts spinning. We can get so caught and crushed that it’s impossible to see the good stuff that’s there as well. That’s why this exercise exists.
For me, it was a very visual reminder that there is something worth appreciating in me, even when I don’t feel like it. In fact, I ultimately taped my lists to my wall as a truly visual reminder. Whenever I had a new thought of self-doubt or hate, I would add it to the list, and then add another two positives to the other list. It was always growing and changing through the 4 years I had it up.
Now it’s a little more internalized as I’ve learned to catch myself thinking those thoughts and stop them before they get too far, but sometimes…. sometimes it’s good to fall back on these activities.
Let me know… if you get a chance to try this one or if you’ve tried this one out, let me know what you think. It’s a little activity, but I really did find it helpful when I was a teenager. Do you have something else you do when you get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts?
I’m going to share something with you today that I didn’t learn until I was a teenager:
My mom has bipolar disorder.
I never knew it, but I lived my whole childhood under the canvas of a mental illness that I have since learned can make things hard on the good days and impossible on the bad. Now, many years later, I’m a parent myself living with the same issues and certain moments begin to make sense.
When I was in kindergarten, my parents separated and divorced. I had no idea, actually, for quite a while. They sent us to live with our grandparents when things really started going south and much later we heard from my dad that they had divorced. We stayed with my grandparents until the day dad showed up and told us he had a new home. Mom, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found.
We actually wouldn’t see her again until about two years after we first went to Granny and Grandpa’s. When we did finally see her again, she had a new husband and a new home. It took a while before I figured out that this isn’t normal…not everyone has a parent that just vanishes for a few years and then comes back. Obviously, some do, but none of my classmates ever did. My experience was different.
Years later, I learned about something called mania (or hypomania). I learned that in mild cases it can lead to feelings of elation and and irrational actions. In severe cases, it can lead to illusions of grandeur and even hallucinations. I never asked mom which brand of crazy was her particular one, but it’s something I’ve wondered about since.
At the age of 14, I was diagnosed with Bipolar type 2. That means I get all the supremely severe depression, but only hypomania. Don’t get me wrong, hypomania is dangerous enough, but I’m grateful I’ve so far managed to avoid the illusions and voices. Since my diagnosis, though, it has colored my view of life with my mom. I look back on those years where she vanished with a bit more compassion than I might have, even though I really have no idea if it was a result of a manic episode or something else.
I wonder, too, what my own children will think as they get older. Will they see my moments of crazy with compassion or annoyance? Will they see they love and effort I’ve put into minimizing the pain, or will they see me as a lost and distant parent?