Breaking the Stigma: Meds

In the past I’ve been pretty adamant about finding alternatives for medication, and I still am to some extent.  Medication is really tricky and it’s difficult to know if it’s right for you, which is why it’s so important to have a good psychiatrist or other medical professional who can prescribe you medication.

I’ve been taking medication for 16 years and yet I still sometimes have a problem with it. There was a five year period where I was off medication completely but that ended three years ago, and I’ve been back on ever since.  I felt some sense of pride that I didn’t need medication, which is really stupid because there’s nothing wrong with taking medication.  But this was 8 years ago and the mental health movement was still far from taking off.  I was so embarrassed of my medication that I used to hide it in vitamin bottles so my roommates wouldn’t know.

Not everyone with a mental illness needs medication, but for those of us who do it can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow (no pun intended) to know that you may very well be on medication for the rest of your life.  For me, it makes me feel like I’m sick and I hate that feeling.  Most of the time I’m ok with the fact that I have a mental illness and I need to take medication to manage it, but sometimes it can be really hard to deal with.  I get this idea that I need pills to be normal and that somehow makes me wrong or broken.  But really that’s not the case.  So many people take medication for so many reasons and I would never judge someone for taking their medication so why should I judge myself?

I currently take two medications, one as a mood stabilizer and one to help with depression.  Recently I added a third to help with anxiety, which for some reason I had been very hesitant to take.  I’ve struggled with anxiety since high school but over the past several months it had become unmanageable.  I found myself having a hard time having conversations with people or reading because I could’t stop my mind from racing.  I had so many irrational fears and found myself performing rituals, similar to OCD, like checking the door lock more and more.  Sometimes the anxiety about locking the door got to bad that I would get to work (which is a 40 minute commute) and turn around and go home to check the door.  I’m sorry to say I did that more than a few times.

Even though anxiety was clearly affecting my life in a very negative way, I was hesitant to talk to my doctor about it.  I would casually mention it but always downplayed it and said it was probably just because of work.  But finally it got to the point where I couldn’t enjoy being with other people because I was too anxious about literally anything that I finally said something to my doctor.  He gave me a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication and I am not kidding when I say this – it was LIFE CHANGING. It felt like someone finally silenced the constant chatter of my mind that was incessantly and relentlessly pestering me with things to worry about.  I can’t fully explain how helpful this medication is to me because it’s that amazing.  I feel like I got my life back.

My point is not to push drugs on people, but to say that it’s important to be open to treatment.  There’s no need to suffer is silence.  If you’re taking medication and something isn’t working, tell your doctor.  If you think you might need medication, talk to  your primary care about finding a psychiatrist.  It’s amazing how medication can change your life and there’s no reason to feel ashamed that you need to take a pill (or two) to feel like yourself.  I’m trying to erase “feeling normal” from my vocabulary because what does feeling normal even mean?  I like feeling like me, and being riddled with anxiety is anything but that.  I wish I had said something sooner because anxiety got in the way for lot of things for me over the past several months.  But I’m happy I finally said something and found the help that I needed.  For me, natural remedies don’t work and I need medication. And there is nothing wrong with that.

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Do Less

I’m feeling a little bullied by social media lately.  I see so many posts telling me to live my best life! Go out and do something!  Follow your dreams! And I know these are all positive things and the people who post them mean well…but all I want to do is take a nap.

I’m in the midst of going through med withdrawal, which is a side effect of going off a medication (in case you were wondering). So basically I am SUPER tired ALL. THE. TIME.  It’s quite annoying and puts a damper on things like working out, being productive at work, and trying to do normal human things like hold a conversation, shower, or put my clothes not on the floor in a pile.  Even simple things, like taking a dress to the tailor, feel like climbing a mountain. It’s a lot similar to feeling depressed. So maybe I do have a touch of depression, sometimes I can’t tell the difference.

Anyways, during these times I feel like I have a million voices yelling at me to do things because they’ll make me feel better. Go to spin! Make a smoothie! Take a walk! But all I want to do is lay under my weighted blanket and watch reruns of Drag Race. I don’t want to go out and reach for the stars.  I don’t want to ‘express myself’. I want some goddamn peace and quiet. Sometimes I just get really tired of the pressure I feel to feel better. Because the truth is willing it doesn’t always work. I wish that was the case. I do believe in the power of positive thinking but I also believe in the power of taking a mental health day, taking time to not speak or communicate with another human for as long as possible, and taking time to do absolutely nothing and not feel sorry about it.

I feel like social media puts this pressure on us to be constantly doing things.  We have our friends and random “influencers” we get basically bullied into following telling us to do things to make ourselves feel and be better.   But maybe the answer isn’t always an expensive protein powder or meditation, maybe the answer is doing nothing and not feeling ashamed. Maybe it’s ok to log off Instagram, turn off your phone, and be alone with your feelings.  That’s how we heal. When your sprain your ankle, you’re told above all to rest. So what about when you sprain your brain? I think the answer should be the same.

Going through a depression, changing meds, or just feeling like crap is like spraining your brain.  You’re temporarily not at your best and it’s ok to take a rest to recover. There should be no shame in taking a few hours, or better yet a whole day, to sit around and do nothing.  When I give myself that kind of time I can feel myself getting better. I allow myself to write down my thoughts, to cry, to not shower (sorry husband), and to not do anything. Sometimes I don’t even watch TV or listen to music.  I sit in silence. I know it sounds weird and like something a serial killer might do, but it’s actually really nice to just be. You get to see where your thoughts take you, which is usually to the refrigerator, and then you take it from there.  But they key is to not feel ashamed for using this time to rest, for using time to take care of yourself without doing ‘self-care’ rituals. Because sometimes the thought of running a bath, meditating, or even lighting a candle can feel like too much.  Instead, allow yourself to literally do nothing and see where your mind takes you. It can be the palate cleanser your mind needs.

 

Reaching Out

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write.  I’ve been going through a bit of a depression the last couple of months and it zaps my energy to do anything, even things that I love.  Depression is tricky because as much as you or others tell yourself to snap out of it, you can’t. It feels like nothing can make it go away, which is why it’s easy to feel hopeless and afraid.

I’ve been feeling very isolated so I decided to join an online support group for women with bipolar disorder.  I was hesitant to join any type of support group because I prefer to suffer in silence. But I realized that’s part of the problem.  When you feel depressed, anxious, manic, etc. it’s often times very lonely. You feel cut off from the rest of the world. You feel like your feelings are wrong and invalid.  You feel completely alone. At least, that’s how I’ve been feeling. I feel like I don’t deserve to feel depressed. Anxiety is kind of another ball game, but depression always makes me feel selfish.  I forget that it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain that my doctor can’t seem to figure out how to fix. I forget that it’s not my fault, nor is it anyone’s who experiences it. There’s no contest that determines who gets to be the most miserable.  There’s so scale that validates your pain. There’s only what you feel, and what I keep reminding myself is it’s ok to have those feelings. This support group has helped me realize that.

I’m frustrated that I’m in a depression.  All I can really say to explain how it feels is that it sucks.  Very eloquent I know. But this group is helping. I see other women, often around my age, who are going through similar experiences.  It validates how I feel and shows me that I’m not the only one who feels like that; it shows me I’m not alone. We encourage each other to seek help and support each other through the highs and the lows.  And what’s so funny to me is this is a group of complete strangers, but I feel like I can be open and express what I feel without fear of judgement. I found this group on Facebook with just a quick search.  That’s how easy it was to find such a wonderful form of support.

There’s been a lot of talk about depression and suicide in the news late with the recently losses.  It’s been hard for me to read about because I’ve been in dark place and I’ve been in darker ones, the ones where it starts to feel like maybe there isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel.  But that’s why I’m writing this post. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face – get help.  There are so many resources I’ve mentioned in my previous posts and they’re all available to you and anyone you know who is suffering.

Depression is hard, messy, and soul-sucking…but it doesn’t last forever.  I’ve been in much deeper depressions than this one which what I hold on to, knowing that there is an end in sight.  And when I feel alone or like I’m going crazy, I check in with my group and they help me remember it isn’t just me. And when all else fails, there’s always reruns of Drag Race and funny cat videos to put a smile on my face, even if it’s just for a minute.

 

Support in a Surprising Place

When you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, or any other unpleasant feeling it’s not uncommon to feel alone.  I’m very lucky to have an incredible support system of loved ones and mental health professionals, but one of my favorite support systems came from an unexpected place: work.

During the first few months at my job I changed medications and the process was anything but pleasant.  I felt physically and mentally drained, and was having a hard time keeping it together at work. With the fear of being reprimanded or even fired, I decided to say something to my boss.  Not only was he completely accepting, he had been through a very similar experience himself. I felt more comfortable at work and mentioned that I had a mental illness to a coworker who told me about a mental health group at our company; an online support channel made up of employees.

In this group we share the highs and the lows and speak freely without fear of judgement.  We even started meeting in person in the New York office, which have such a loving, supportive energy.  This groups gives me a feeling that my company supports me and I have a support system within these walls.

But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what some of my amazing, brave coworkers have to say:

“I took a 4 months of medical leave from work to deal with a debilitating episode of depression. Managing my ongoing transition back to work (along with the continued depression symptoms, and the seemingly endless search for “the right meds” and “the right therapist”) has been difficult. But having a manager who I can be completely honest with during down and unproductive weeks, a team that proactively reaches out to offer their support, and a group of like-minded individuals in a public slack channel (!!) who are open and honest about sharing their own positive and negative experiences has motivated me to continue prioritizing my wellbeing and self-kindness. Without these compassionate work support networks, I imagine that I’d still be on leave, and I feel grateful to work at a company that really does let me “bring my whole self to work.””

“Having an inclusive and safe channel to discuss my mental health at work helps make me more productive. I’m less afraid and anxious to go to work in the morning when I know I have a place I can turn to for support from my peers that understand what I’m going through and can help me navigate my way through the tough times.”

I know most companies don’t have support groups like this, but there are hundreds and thousands of other online support groups out there.  Just having someone say “me too” or “that sounds really hard, I’m sorry to hear that” can have such a positive impact. Do a Google search for the type support your looking for and you will find endless resources.  Remember, there is no need to suffer alone; there are people just like you who will understand.

Channeling the Bridal Zen

In exactly two weeks from today, my husband and I will be taking off for our honeymoon and I am so FREAKING EXCITED!!! It’s hard to believe the day is almost hear considering we got married back in September.  We decided to postpone our honeymoon because it would give us something to look forward to after the wedding was over (aka my anxiety would not allow for anymore planning).  And so here we are.  With our upcoming getaway and a few weddings coming up, I’ve been reminiscing about our big day.

As you probably know by now, I have anxiety.  I know, big reveal!  Anyway, it made planning the wedding fairly unpleasant for me.  As much as I wanted to joyfully immerse myself in all the planning like all the women you see in the bridal magazines* (*Pinterest), I found myself curled up in a ball a good part of the time begging to just go to city hall and call it a day.  But when the big day finally came, I was anything buy anxious; I was f*cking zen.  So much so that my bridal party seemed concerned and our photographer asked if I had taken anything to relax (which I did not, but I wouldn’t judge a bride for it).  I was so zen that as a woman heckled me on my way to the alter, I barely noticed.

So how does someone go from nervous wreck to buddhist monk status calm?  You let go.

All the planning was done, there were no more last minute details, no more changes, no more stress.  All I had to do was walk down the aisle with my dad and be with the man I love in front of all the people that I love.  That part wasn’t in the slightest bit stressful.  It was the invitations, the goddamn seating chart, and the millions of other decisions that made me into a ball of stress over one. damn. day.  But when that day finally came, I realized that there was nothing left to do but enjoy it.  I wasn’t going to let my anxiety (or anything else for that matter) get in the way one of the most momentous days of my life.

The morning of my wedding day is such a happy memory.  I actually try to go back to that moment when I’m feeling stressed to remember how calm I was and what that felt like.  I had the advantage (and genius idea) of getting married at a spa, so I spent the morning drinking tea on the deck with my best friends and then sitting in a hot tub with my maid of honor.  One of my mom’s friends saw us and said, “This is what a bride should look like on her wedding day.”  I also covered myself in essential oils from the time I woke up til the time I walked down the aisle.  I’m sure that didn’t hurt.

Because it was such an important day, I was able to let go of any anxiety or stress and really enjoy myself.  It’s something I am truly grateful for because I know it could have gone the complete opposite way.  But that’s also what your bridal party is there for – they keep you sane when you can’t hold it together.  I started wonder why I can’t do that every day, how I could be so calm the day of my wedding and a stressed out mess so much of the time.  I forgot about that sense of calm, the zen, until today when I started getting really excited for our honeymoon, which was then promptly followed horrible anxiety around traveling.  But I’m trying to remember that I’ll be with my husband, the man I love more than anything, on our way to some of the most beautiful places in the world.  So maybe I can summon that calmness when I’m taking my shoes off for the TSA.  I mean, I can try at least.

And in case you were wondering, we’re going to Greece and Croatia with a quick pitstop in Ireland.  Woohoo!

Meditating When You Have Anxiety

Did you know that meditation can be as effective at treating anxiety as prescription drugs. That’s a real, bonafide fact backed by science.  This means that anxiety doesn’t have to feel like this all consuming, dominating monster that can strike at any moment.  Instead, meditation can be something you have in your wellness arsenal to combat it. While this is great news, the downside is it can feel impossible to meditate when you have anxiety.  But never fear, there are tools you can use to help get your Om on (don’t worry, you don’t actually have to say Om).

Use an app

Try guided meditation to help you focus and calm racing thoughts. Headspace and Stop, Breathe, & Think are just a few of some of the wonderful meditation apps out there.  YouTube also has a large library of guided meditations of various lengths.  Guided meditations can be 3 minutes or an hour based on where you are in your practice.  But don’t feel discouraged if an hour sounds completely insane. Even if you’re only starting with 3 minutes at a time, you’re still building your practice and helping yourself.  

Use a prop

To help get out of your head and into your body, try using a prop like a crystal or mala beads.  Crystals have been used since ancient times. Specific crystals like amethyst, rose quartz, and black tourmaline, to name a few, are known the help with anxiety because of their specific healing properties.  Choose a crystal that resonates with you and hold it in your hand as you meditate.

Mala beads have been used for centuries by buddhist monks during prayer and contain 108 beads.  Monks used each bead to denote a prayer or mantra, which can be used similarly during meditation.  Choose a mantra (a saying with meaning to you), like “I am enough”, and repeat it as you run your fingers along the beads.

Focus on the breath

If your thoughts won’t seem to leave you alone no matter how hard you try, don’t think about trying to meditate or quiet your mind, focus your attention on your breath instead.  Pay attention to the sensation of when you breathe in, and again when you breathe out. Count your breaths as they go in, and again as the go out so that you develop a rhythm of even breathing.  

Keep trying

Don’t get discouraged.  When you’re feeling anxious, you may not always be able to calm yourself with meditation, but that doesn’t mean you should give up.  Meditation, like most things in life, comes with practice. The more you do it, the more natural it feels.

Over time, you’ll start to see a difference in the way your thoughts comes and go.  Instead of feeling out of control, you’ll notice a sense of calm and control you may not have ever thought possible.  The next time you start to feel anxious, or the next you feel really good, give meditation a try. It can’t hurt.

Managing Anxiety at Work

Dealing with anxiety is anything but convenient.  It seems to strike at the most cumbersome times like traveling, family functions, and work.  When anxiety strikes at work it can feel embarrassing and alarming since mental health is still stigmatized and misunderstood, especially in the workplace.  So how do you manage if you’re one of 40 million people in the US struggling with anxiety?  Try some of these tested and trusted remedies:

Listen to soothing music

Turn off the pre-workout playlist you use to keep yourself alert and turn on some calming tunes.  If you’re not sure where to find some, Spotify has many playlists dedicated to calming music, specifically cultivated to calm you down.  YouTube also has a wide variety of calming music to help settle your nerves.

Inhale some zen

Essential oils are great to keep in your bag for when you’re feeling anxious.  If you’re not familiar with them, essential oils are the highly concentrated version of natural oils in plants that have been used throughout history for their medical and therapeutic benefits. Lavender, Frankincense, and Ylang Ylang are just a few known to help with anxiety.  You can order them online or find them in certain health food stores and yoga studios.  When you start to feel anxious, just grab it from your bag, slip into the bathroom, and take a few deep inhales of the oil.

Take a walk

If you’re able to go outside, give yourself 10 minutes (or less if you’re really strapped for time) and take a walk.  Depending where you live, you can stroll up a few blocks or do a couple laps around the building.  The change of scenery and fresh air will help calm your nerves and take away focus from whatever is causing the anxiety, even if you don’t know what the cause is.  If the weather isn’t great, you can also find a department store or drug store and casually stroll the aisles.

Breathe in private

If you don’t feel comfortable doing deep breathing at your desk, go into the bathroom, stairwell, or your car and focus on your breath.  An easy breathing technique is to inhale for a count of three, hold for three, and then exhale for three.  Repeat as many times as necessary but aim for at least five rounds.

Anxiety may be stressful and obnoxious but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to manage and control it.  Next time you start to feel anxiety take control, stop whatever you’re doing and take just a few moments to try one of these techniques.  Remember, mental health first.