Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Staving Off a Depression (Part 1)

Over time I have learned that when I feel a depression on the horizon, it is critical for me to assess my situation, see what factors might be contributing to it, figure out whether I'm engaged in the appropriate wellness activities, and set a schedule for moving forward. It is also important that I seek help if I need it.

As my regular readers know, my annual depressions have a seasonal element. And each day I am feeling the days getting shorter, and I am noticing signs of depression. I counter balance this in number of ways.

1. I reduce my stress level to the minimum. This year I had to cancel a conference I was going to participate in, and while I feel bad about that, I can live with it.

Then, I sat down at my desk and listed the other projects I'm involved in. I love my Botany class, and I'm committed to completing it. I have two gardening pro bono projects, both of which I'm committed to. I'm helping someone who's got a vision for a Wellness Center, and I'm going to participate in that project as well. I'm supposed to write a gardening article, but I'll pursue that at a later date. I've been taking a digital photo class, but I've decided not to participate in a group photography show.

2. I outline all the component parts of each project. When I'm depressed, my organizational ability suffers. So...I've decided to sit down this week, and figure out every element of every project and organize it in a notebook.

3. I need to exercise more, and come up with a plan for doing that. I know that exercise is more effective than antidepressants. And while I walk my dog Jack twice a day, I need to participate in some additional activities.

A few weeks ago I said that I was going to jump rope, but I can't seem to make myself do it. I've decided that I really need to try a yoga class. I've talked about doing this forever, but I haven't done it. There's a yoga studio ten minutes away and I'm going to try out a class early next week. I'm also going to check out a local swimming pool, and find out when the exercise classes meet.

(to be continued)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ebbs and Flows Again

Ebbs and Flows
by Hilda Green Demsky

This was a difficult week for me in many ways. But, life is about ebbs and flows, and on the whole I'm dealing with things much better than I used to.

On Monday, we had some work done on the roof of our house--and while it was a necessary expenditure--it certainly isn't a fun way to spend hard-earned money, is it? I was so exhausted when the roofers left that I took a two hour nap.

On Tuesday, I opted out of a writing and wellness conference I was going to attend in Atlanta in October, where I was going to lead a Blogging to Heal workshop. I realized that the stress was adding to the low-grade depression I've been experiencing, and I can't afford the airfare and accommodations. While I felt bad about cancelling, my top priority always has to be my health.

I also started my new botany class, which was a good thing, but a bit stressful as well. And I had a communication problem with a new friend...and that made me feel sad. But, I let her know how I felt, and we've resolved it, and now I feel much better. Late in the afternoon, I received the most wonderful book and card from another new friend...and that made me feel really good.

On Wednesday, I was dragging all day...and did chores, read a chapter from my botany book, and took my son for a check-up at the eye surgeon's (which was good since my son is recovering so well). While I was waiting for him, I had a lovely cup of iced tea at one of my favorite bakery/restaurants, and spent a half hour reading a new gardening book, which made me feel better.

On Thursday, I spent the entire day cleaning our house, organizing a ton of files at my desk, and meeting with a young woman from my photography class who will help me learn Photo Elements, and help me create a new web site for my soon-to-be-renewed freelance writing career. And, I felt like I'd accomplished a lot.

Today, if the weather cools off a bit (it was in the low 90s yesterday), I plan on gardening all day. I need to stop thinking so much, relax by working in the soil, and see if I can lighten my mood.

Hope everyone has a happy weekend! See you on Monday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Accepting Myself (Part 2)

The reason I returned to therapy in January was because of a severe depressive episode last November and December, which continued through March (to a much lesser degree). I couldn't understand why I was suffering so terribly when I had changed so many aspects of my life, engaged in a ton of wellness activities, had stopped seeing relatives (and a few friends) whose behavior was making me ill, and was very happy with my life.

What I realized was that I was carrying a ton of anger related to how I had been treated when I was so ill. What still amazes me is that I am kinder and more supportive of complete strangers than some of my relatives and friends were to me. (And I was certainly deserving of their support because I'd done everything humanly possible to get well.)

What I didn't realize was that I had internalized their criticism of my behavior, and was judging myself harshly at every turn. I was angry at myself that I'd become depressed after working so hard to remain well. I was angry when I talked too much. I was angry and disappointed if a freelance assignment didn't work out. I was angry if a friend disappointed me. I was angry about every single person who had abandoned me during my darkest hours.

And I knew that my anger was preventing me from getting well. So, I decided it was time to stop being angry, and to begin therapy again.

I don't want to belabor this topic, but I will tell you that my eight months of therapy were terrific. For the first time ever, my therapist had insight. He was a great listener, and truly supportive. He helped me regain my self-confidence, and finally let go of my anger.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Accepting Myself (Part 1)

While most of my bipolar symptoms ended when I stopped taking medication, a few have remained. Sometimes, I still have energy ebbs and flows, and while it's no longer rapid cycling, there are days when my energy level is too high.

That doesn't translate into hypomania, but sometimes I talk too much. While I try to be conscious of it, it's not always possible.

One of the best things I learned in the eight months I recently spent in therapy was to be more accepting of my behavior. When I explained how bad I felt about a number of residual bipolar symptoms, my therapist continually said, "I have lots of patients who aren't bipolar and they do that (whatever "that" was)."

"Really?" I would ask.

"Yes," he responded. "I just don't see all this behavior as bipolar. Sometimes, people talk too much about themselves, and don't listen. Sometimes, they have a lot of energy even though they're not bipolar. Sometimes, they're very enthusiastic about something, and then their enthusiasm wanes. Everything you're describing to me is within the realm of 'normalcy.'"

As I listened to my therapist's perceptions of my behavior--week after week and month after month--I realized that all the negative responses I had gotten during my 15 year illness when the medication caused erratic behavior and rapid cycling--had taken their toll. And I had become hyper sensitive about everything I did, and how people responded to me.

But, after hearing my therapist discount all the "crap" that I'd felt had been piled on top of me and was so suffocating, it was time to dig my way out of the pit, and stop accepting a "bipolar label" for every behavioral inconsistency.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thanks to Our Virtual Support Group

One of the best aspects of blogging is meeting so many people online who are so supportive. As many of you know, fall is the worst time of year for me. And last year, I experienced one of the most devastating depressive episodes ever. However, I believe that just because something has been a certain way in the past doesn't mean it needs to remain that way in the future.

During these last days of September, and with October on the horizon, I am suddenly feeling better rather than worse. And that's great news!

Part of it is because I realized that a lot of the tension I'd been feeling was related to my son's Lasik surgery. Not only was the surgery successful, but my son has healed very quickly. And I thank God for that!

And part of my feeling better surely has to do with the support I've gotten from all of you. As I write this, I'm too tired to thank everyone personally and list the links to your blogs, but know how much I appreciate your kindness, advice, empathy, and goodwill! It has made a huge difference!

P.S. My botany class meets tonight and I'm leaving early because it's the first session. So...thanks for leaving comments. Know that I won't be able to moderate them until much later tonight, and I hope to respond before midnight (my time).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bipolar Blogging and Depression (Part 3)

The question I posed yesterday is this: Why does writing about negative things make me feel worse, while writing about positive things make me feel better.

Perhaps the best source on all this is James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., who, for more than two decades, has been a key researcher on the topic of writing to heal. In his book, Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval, Pennebaker differentiates between writing about negative things or traumas for a few days--until you understand what happened, and writing about it every day.

While writing about traumatic events so that we can understand them and can move on is beneficial, dwelling on negative experiences isn't. "I’m not convinced that having people write every day is a good idea," Pennebaker says. "I’m not even convinced that people should write about a horrible event for more than a couple of weeks. You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity."

On the other hand, writing to figure something out or problem solve is beneficial. And using positive words and expressing optimism truly does make you feel better.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bipolar Blogging and Depression (Part 2)

After I started writing this series about Bipolar Blogging and Depression, I decided I needed a week off. So, I ended up posting about the importance of playing for adults, and toys I enjoy. The stats on these days were lower than usual, and there were far fewer comments.

And I realized once again that when I post on topics that people don't perceive as "important," there isn't as much participation. But, I also know that whether or not my readers feel these topics are important, in fact, they are.

After years of trial and error, I have learned that when I personally begin feeling depressed, writing about it and thinking about it makes me feel worse. While my readers are quite empathetic with my situation, and that's always nice, writing about negative feelings engenders more negative feelings.

Yet, writing about wellness activities like playing and toys makes me feel better. So, why is that?
(to be continued)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bipolar Blogging and Depression (Part 1)

It's difficult for me to know if I just need a small respite from blogging or whether I'm experiencing the beginning of a depressive episode. But, tonight--after more than 640 posts--it suddenly seemed more like a chore to write this rather than a pleasure.

I do know that when I feel depressed, I don't feel like sharing my thoughts and feelings with others. I also know that I had a very busy weekend and I'm tired. I am aware that the weather has been changing, and I can feel it.

But, I also know that depressions have triggers.

Am I feeling slightly depressed because I'm worried about my son who is having LASIK surgery on Tuesday? Possibly. Despite the fact that he's very excited about the procedure because he's worn glasses since he began reading when he was five years old (and he's now 20), I'm quite nervous about it. Somehow, elective eye surgery is something I personally wouldn't do.

Or am I slightly depressed because I've had a tremendous amount of energy for the last few months, and after a while it's exhausting? That could be the case as well. I'm pleased because I've monitored my behavior very well. Still, I've taken on a lot of projects, and I'm trying to take those things off my plate that others can follow through on, and just work on the things that I find relaxing.

Are there other triggers? Possibly. Do I feel like figuring them out? Oddly enough, "no."

(to be continued)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wellness Actitivity: Using the Right Side of My Brain (Part 3)

This is the final post of photographs for this week. As I stated in parts 1 and 2 of this series, for the last few weeks I've felt tired and rather than taking a few days off from blogging, I decided to brainswitch by posting photographs rather than writing.

Today's photograph is from Joel Meyerowitz, a New York photographer who was born in 1938. I've seen a few of his books and really like his work. Just looking at this photograph made me feel better! I felt like if I could just dive into this pool I'd feel rejuvenated! See you on Monday!

The Elements: Air/Water 1, 2007
Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

P.S. On the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, my heart goes out to those who died, and to their families and loved ones who mourn them.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wellness Actitivity: Using the Right Side of My Brain (Part 2)

As I wrote yesterday, I've been more tired than I should be, and so rather than using the left-side of my brain (the analytical side), I've decided to brainswitch and use the right side by posting photographs I like a lot. Henri Cartier-Bresson is another favorite photographer.

Behind the Gare St. Lazare, Paris, 1932
A Gallery

Rue Moffetard, Paris, 1954
A Gallery

Srinagar, Kashmir, 1948
A Gallery

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wellness Activity: Using The Right Side of My Brain (Part 1)

I have learned that when I'm really tired, and can't seem to rejuvenate myself--even with the right amount of sleep--it's usually because I need to clear my mind a bit. And, in order to do that I need to switch from using my left brain (the more analytical side) to my right (the more artistic side). So, for the rest of this week, rather than taking a few days off from blogging, I'm going to post photographs instead. Next Monday, I'll begin writing again.

Today's photographs were taken by Walker Evans, an American photographer (1903-1975) who was best known for documenting the Great Depression. However, the three photographs I'm sharing show some scenes of New York, which I really enjoy!

Brooklyn Bridge, 1929
Lee Gallery

Truck and Sign, 1930
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Broadway, 1930
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, September 4, 2009

Courage Boosters for Writers

Since today is Friday, and it's been such a busy and exhausting week for me, my post today is a list of courage boosters--always a good way to end a week--for writers from The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes. They are as follows:
  • Read about successful writers, paying attention to their fears and how they dealt with them.
  • Take a writing course or two.
  • Attend an occasional writers' conference.
  • Join a serious writers' group.
  • Develop anxiety-easing rituals, no matter how eccentric.
  • Devise fear-taming work techniques, no matter how gimmicky.
  • Write at times of day when you're most productive and least anxious.
  • Identify your censor in chief and mentally rehearse how to deal with that person.
  • Get to know yourself well enough not to be too terrified by what escapes from within onto the page.
  • Convert fear into excitement.
  • Write.
It all sounds like good advice whether it's about writing or how to live your life. Have a lovely weekend. See you on Monday!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wellness Activity: Maintaining a Positive Attitude

Last Saturday, I spent the afternoon shooting photographs with my digital photography class. It was the first "group shoot," and I was very disappointed with my photographs. The goal of our class is to shoot photographs for a group show.

We met on Monday night to critique our shots, and mine were the worst of the lot. But, rather than feeling bad about it, I decided I could look at what my classmates shot and learn from them. And I did.

Today, I had promised to shoot "head shots" for my cousin who's an actress. Rather than approaching the shoot in a negative way because I'd done so poorly last week, I approached it in a positive way because I'd learned so much on Monday night. And not only did I have a great time, but I got a lot of really good shots.

My approach to photography is the same approach I use in seeking wellness, and in living my life. I believe I'll be successful. More importantly, I believe that if I try hard enough, I'll overcome any obstacles that are preventing me from achieving my goals.

I believe there are two kinds of people in this world. Some see the glass as half empty. Some see it as half full. Which kind of person are you?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder

Since my depressions have always had a seasonal element, which suggests some form of Seasonal Effective Disorder, and since I've decided that I can overcome all this, I figured that one area I need to deal with is darkness.

It is the darkness of night and the shorter days that contribute to my feeling worse in October, and escalate in November and December. And independent of whether I live in Los Angeles or Norway, the fact is that for years I've known I have a sensitivity to seasons and light.

I believe that one of the best ways of changing behavior is confronting the fears that cause it. And I recently realized I have become frightened of the darker days. Before writing this post I reread an essay, In Praise of Sweet Darkness, by Shepherd Bliss, (which can be found in Ecotherapy:Healing with Nature in Mind). While I've quoted from Mr. Bliss's essay once before, today I'll provide two different quotes, which are illuminating for me.

"Darkness can allow transformation to occur. Seeds benefit from darkness in their hulls, and can drink from it for many long years before becoming beautiful plants when they finally burst into the light. Common caterpillars can crawl about with a hidden treasure within them, and then suddenly sprout into butterflies, flap their wings and soar into the air. Other small flying creatures can also penetrate the darkness. "

"...'How Sweet It Is' is a little sign that greets me when I drive from my small farm past another nearby small farm that specializes in honey. Whereas some honey is a light amber color, other honey is darker. Busy bees transform pollens and other tasty items into that sweetness, as chickens transform bugs, grass, and other tasty items into eggs. The Spanish poet Anthony Machado captured this transformation in lines that describe 'the golden bees.../making white combs and sweet honey/from my own failures.' The darkness of one's 'old failures' can indeed be transformed into something sweet. Bees and birds are among the many flying creatures that benefit from the benevolent darkness."

Any thoughts?

P.S. The graphic is by Chato B. Stewart, and I found it at Mental Health Humor and Cartoons.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Taking Charge of an Illness (Part 3)

This is the final post in my three-part series, Taking Charge of an Illness. As I've mentioned before, October is usually the month when my depressive episodes begin, and it's probably due to the darkness of the sky, less light, and also the holidays. I've discussed a number of prevention method I'm implementing to try to stave off these depressions. Here are the last two:

9. I've decided I no longer need to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. While I've never been diagnosed as SAD, there's always been a seasonal element to my depressions. I've read Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder by Norman Rosenthal, M.D., and instituted many of his suggestions.

I've changed the curtains in my bedroom so that I let in optimum light. We changed the carpeting in the house so that it's much lighter. We've painted the walls a warm white. I've tried a dawn simulator, which doesn't work for me. I've also tried a 10,000 Lux light, which doesn't work for me. But, I spend a lot of time outdoors every day, which does work for me.

While I realize that some people do suffer from winter blues, I also believe I can overcome anything if I put my mind to it. And it's not like I live in a climate where there's real darkness, a lot of rain, or snow. For goodness sakes: I live in Los Angeles where I can spend almost every day outdoors.

So...I've decided to overcome SAD the same way that other people overcome cancer or high blood pressure. I realize what the issues are. I've changed my lifestyle to the best of my ability. And it's now time for me to let my SAD feelings go.

10. As a family, we are going to change the way we celebrate the holidays. I have wonderful memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas (which I've always celebrated even though I'm Jewish). However, once I got married, the holidays changed for me for a number of reasons I won't elaborate. But the basic problem is that for me, the holidays are spiritual, not about presents.

And, the emphasis should be on making it special for my son, rather than the adults. Because I was so depressed last year, we celebrated the holidays alone, but that wasn't the answer either. This year we're going to begin developing new rituals that focus on my son and our values and sensibilities. (I'm not sure what they are yet, but I'll keep you posted.)

I guess if there's any true lesson to be gained from this series, it's that at the very depth of my being, I believe in recovery and wellness. I'm a problem-solver by nature. For years I've tried to get rid of these winter depressions to no avail.

But, perhaps the problem was that I wasn't willing to tell my husband how I felt about the holidays, and come up with new rituals. After a severe depression last year, and the subsequent months of therapy, I now realize that my own health and my son's happiness are my top priorities and my guiding light! And we will overcome!