Friday, July 29, 2016
We hear a lot about learning coping skills when we’re dealing with mental illness. There has always been sort of an “industry standard” list that many doctors and therapists will give you to help get you through panic attacks, social anxiety, and depression. It has been my opinion for quite some time that you can’t expect something that would work for person A to work for person B. Not to mention, you may have a go to coping skill that regularly works for you, but a day may come when it just isn’t working.
I think it’s important for all of us to keep a list nearby of what usually works for us, with a few back-ups included. I’m going to talk about a few of the things that work for me. Just in case I use something you’ve never tried. By no means am I trying to tell you what to do, but keep an open mind. You never know!
This one is pretty obvious. I’m an author and a blogger so of course writing is one of my coping skills. I wouldn’t be able to do it if it didn’t help me in some way. Keep in mind that your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. Right now, all you’re doing is attempting to get your thoughts together. Even if you just jot down a list of words that describe how you’re feeling or random sentences, it may help.
Music can be a double-edged sword when used as a coping skill, so tread lightly. The right music may put you in a better mood, but the wrong music can make you feel ten times worse. Be sure you’re using the best choice for you at the moment.
This is something relatively new for me. I re-discovered it earlier this year, and I can’t say enough about it. When you’re putting all of your energy into making the picture in front of you beautiful, it’s hard to think about anything negative. And when you’re done, the feeling of accomplishment sets in, so you’re feeling better on two levels. I use both coloring books and colored pencils and an app on my iPad. They’re both a lot of fun and help when I’m anxious.
I love taking pictures. If I was better at it, I might’ve made a go of it professionally. I have a good eye for detail, and I’m pretty creative, so even pictures I take with my phone are important to me. Nothing is better than a good camera and being able to put all of your focus into getting the perfect shot. Not to mention, when the weather is nice, it feels fantastic to get out of the house out into the fresh air to get some great shots.
I know this sounds a little strange to use as a coping skill, but I do have my reasons. My panic or anxiety attacks are often the result of feeling a loss of control. However, when I clean, I am in control. I can put all of my effort into making a room clean, and it gets my mind off the negative thoughts. Not to mention, this skill also lends itself to a feeling of accomplishment. When you struggle with the guilt of not accomplishing enough on any given day, this can be exactly what you need.
Cats have always been a huge part of my life. We had them the entire time I was growing up, and I got one as soon as I moved out on my own. We have five and they are a constant source of entertainment. Our oldest cat, Hayley seems to have a sense of when I’m feeling down and barely leaves my side. There have been many a lonely day that our cats were the only thing keeping me going.
Movies are a lot like music in that you need to be selective about what you watch when you’re feeling down. When I’m feeling sad, I have a few go to films. I often find myself craving historical films like Memoirs of a Geisha. I also love 80’s movies like The Breakfast Club or action like The Avengers. I stay away from anything that will most likely make me cry. However, from time to time I will just turn on the Lifetime network and immerse myself in all of its cheesy and ridiculous splendor.
This is also new to me, and I haven’t been able to get as much use out of it as I would like. I’ve pictured many a face on that bag while I punch and kick it! It’s a workout and a half, but it is also a lot of fun.
On a side note, certain scents can also be helpful during sad times. I have a variety of wax warmers and scents that I find comforting. This usually goes hand in hand with the other tasks.
So, that’s my list currently. Did anything surprise you or give you an idea of your own? I hope so. I think it’s incredibly important for us to take time for ourselves, especially when we’re struggling. You may even learn something about yourself or develop a new skill.
I get it, these types of things can often seem annoying when you’re feeling bad. I know for me, there are times when I don’t want to do any of them. I want to stay in bed and hide under the covers, and that’s OK too! I’m just saying, think about it. Just try one out and see if it gives you any relief. If not, come back to your list another time and try something else. Isn’t it worth it to get you feeling better?
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
I'm thrilled to have a fantastic guest post from Agyei Ekundayo, a mental health advocate and very talented writer. Thank you, AJ for sharing your perspective on PTSD. I wish you all the luck in the world on your journey through mental illness.
Write. That’s what the therapist told me to do—write. Journal. Get it all out. That when I’m all done with exposure therapy and I’ve practiced deep breathing for an infinite time, to leave a paper trail of how often I’ve been stricken. To count the episodes of when I’ve tearfully succumbed to flashbacks. To note the emotional abuse of a bipolar Caribbean mother. This is one black woman’s plight with trauma; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
PTSD is one of those illnesses with an unfair reputation. It’s written off as “combat fatigue” to emphasize the battle-hardened scars of military personnel. It makes one sympathetic to the needs of those shell-shocked by events incomprehensible to the average psyche. It draws an outpouring of support to veteran sufferers who cannot fend for themselves. It also invalidates the stinging pain felt by people who haven’t served one day in anybody’s uniform. To say that PTSD is worse for service men and women than those who don’t share the same experiences is like telling a victim of sexual violence that he or she was simply fondled; not penetrated.
I was diagnosed at the age of 32 after years of symptoms had crippled my life. I exhibited all of the classic behaviors including exaggerated startled response, avoidance, and numbness when experiencing certain triggers. I continue to stutter to this day at 38; I still sleep with the lights on. My family relationship is strained, to say the least. Mom and I don’t speak very often, no matter how relatives say we should. I haven’t seen her since 1998 and pictures of my hometown triggers crying spells. There have been times when I cut myself to numb the pain or sat in a restaurant with my back facing a wall. I don’t like anyone standing behind me because I feel unsafe.
PTSD is a beast to deal with and medications do very little. Most medications for PTSD are prescribed to relax you. They may do the trick for the anxiety piece of it all, but often leaves you feeling like a zombie. Various forms of therapy are the only sure “cure”. Talking about traumatic experiences help to understand the scope of its effects. Gradual exposure to noise or other less paralyzing triggers in short duration is believed to re-acclimate a person to society without substantial fear. Creative outlets such as art therapy have been proven to be a safe method to recall flashbacks without significant emotional distress.
I’ve tried a combination of therapies without much success. I recently wrote my memoir and suffered multiple months-long procrastination spells while writing, due to flashbacks. The rape I survived my sophomore year of undergrad makes me hate men some days; despise them on others. I can’t shake the migraines from getting hit by a car junior year has caused me, or the short term memory loss brought on by epileptic head trauma. My therapist told me to do deep breathing. I did that. She said switching medications would help. It didn’t. I’ve been institutionalized 5 times and prescribed 13 medications by 10 doctors. My former therapist warned me about visiting family members without having panic attacks under control. Truer words have never been spoken. What am I getting at?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is just that—traumatic. It affects every area of your life including interpersonal relationships and employment. It’s the reason why I am divorced. It’s the reason why I haven’t worked in five years; why I am also diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s the reason why I am writing this article. The next time someone tells you that they suffer from PTSD, don’t ask them “What branch did you serve in?” Say instead, “Do you feel comfortable with sharing how you feel? I’m here to listen.”
Agyei Ekundayo is a mental health advocate and author.
Follow her @AJWriteMental.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Today I have the pleasure of adding another guest post to my site. Rav from the website What She Says has allowed me to share her experiences with depression. If you haven't ever stop by www.whatshesays.net, give it a shot. It's a great site with a little something for everyone.
Thanks for sharing, Rav!
Having depression and anxiety issues can be really difficult to deal with and really difficult to explain to people who haven't had to deal with it themselves. But if you allow it to, it can also teach you a lot about yourself and aid you in helping others. This blog post outlines what helped me before I can help anyone else. I hope this helps you!
Know what you need
This isn't something you will instantly know but figure out what works for you the most. When I've had anxiety attacks I prefer to take time out, be alone, talk myself down and deep big breaths. I find being surrounded by people, including friends and family, elevates my anxiety further. However when I'm having a low (feeling depressed) I find time alone will make me feel much worse, in this instance I prefer getting up and out.
Figure the causes
Has something triggered your anxiety or depression? Is it the people around you, is it something you've just seen, is it the colour of your nail polish, is it that your house needs a clean? See whether you can either take yourself away from the situation or deal with it if it's in your control. Once you've established the cause it can be much easier to deal with the cause or to avoid it causing you further distress.
Who do you have around you
I always found it really difficult being around 2 types of people: the people who did not understand at all (these people told me I was too young to even be depressed and would tell me to grow up and get over it) or the people who would sympathise too much (yes this is also possible). Remember you can change your friends but you can't change your family so it may not be as simple as finding a new group of people to surround yourself with. Maybe the people around you don't understand how you feel but if you reach out you might find just the person or people you need e.g. helplines, people online (including us bloggers), counselling. You never have to feel alone!
What makes you happy
What honestly makes you happy? This may change time to time, what you may have enjoyed previously could be what you need a change from - so ask yourself the question and see whether you can make any changes to make you feel happier. First think of the small things; should you join the gym, start running, start reading books, going out for a coffee on your own or with a friend, going for walks to clear your head, blogging or knitting. These activities could change your whole lifestyle. Now think big, are you happy with your career? Are you being treated right by your partner? Are you happy with where you live?
How can you help
When I first got diagnosed with depression and the anxiety attacks started, I had absolutely no idea how to deal with it. With time I have learnt how to deal with it enough to allow myself live my life, of course not everything is all dandy but I now know how to deal with my anxiety without fainting or blacking out. So although it can be absolutely horrible to deal with, you have the ability to learn about yourself, to put yourself first and try become happier in your life, share your experiences and help the people around you.
Pretend you can step away from yourself and look back in... What do you see? What would you like to see? Can you change anything?
My name is Rav and I'm 21 years old. I first got diagnosed with depression when I was too young to even fully understand it. I used to faint whenever my anxiety was at it's worst which in turn made me paranoid about fainting in the streets, school and college! With the years gone by I've learnt to manage my depression and anxiety and wish the same for anyone else suffering from it. Aside from this, I work in an insurance company and blog about light-hearted subjects such as entertainment, beauty and fashion.