Monday, November 16, 2009

Coping with a Seasonal Mood Swing

The fact is that despite everything I do to overcome these seasonal mood swings, I'm not able to eliminate them--at least not now. That's not to say that I feel bad. I don't. I do have a low-grade depression, but the Adderall enables me to live with it.

The problem is that I'm just don't feel as well at this time of year as I do during my best months --which currently are April through September. But, I've decided this doesn't need to be a huge problem. I'll list the symptoms--as I see them--and the solutions.

1. I don't feel like writing my blog five days a week (until I have more energy). So...I've decided (for the time being) to only post on Mondays until I feel like posting more often.

2. For the most part, I don't feel like reading other blogs (for now), and commenting. I'll trust that my online friends will understand this, and realize that as soon as things change, I'll be there to support them.

3. I don't feel like socializing as much as usual. I've decided this is no longer the problem I once thought it was. I know plenty of people who are so busy that they rarely see their friends. I know others who are so self-absorbed that they rarely put themselves out for people. So...independent of the causal factors of my own situation, I've decided I no longer have to explain myself if I need more "alone time."

4. I don't feel like exercising as much as I usually do, except I know how important exercise is in reducing the symptoms of depression. So...I have vowed to continue walking the dog at least once a day, and to try to walk him twice because of the importance of exercise. If I need motivation, I have a few friends in the neighborhood with whom I can walk.

5. It difficult to motivate myself to do things I don't truly enjoy. I've decided that's okay. There are very few things I need to do that I don't enjoy.

6. The good news is that when I feel like this, I enjoy working on personal writing projects, and I have a few really good ideas that I plan on pursuing.

7. After a few months where I didn't feel like shooting photographs, my interest in photography is renewed, and this is a good hobby for me to pursue on my own.

8. Since I have problems with Thanksgiving and Christmas when I feel this way, I've come up with some new ways of celebrating the holidays that should make a huge difference. This year, my husband, son, and I are going to have Thanksgiving at a wonderful restaurant, and we're all looking forward to it. I'll write about our Christmas plans sometime soon.

9. My gardening projects still interest me, and that's a real relief. Next Saturday, I'm going to help my friend do the landscaping job at her daughter's elementary school. And I'm still working on a front yard and backyard project at my house.

10. Most of all, I'm going to accept the way I feel without judging myself. It's the way things are whether I would choose to be this way or not. I don't have to apologize. I don't have to feel bad. I can see all this as a "quirky personality trait" rather than a disability of sorts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wellness Activities: Gardening, Libraries, and Books


Tuesday nights are my botany class, and although I decided not to go last night (I like the people, but I don't like the way the class is being taught), I spent the evening reading gardening books, which is my new passion.

Yesterday I went to a public library I rarely visit, but they had a book on hillside gardening that I wanted to check out. And, I had such a wonderful time that I've decided to start trying new libraries just for fun. It's less expensive than going to bookstores, one of my favorite places. And, I love libraries. What's better than going to someplace with a ton of books on so many interesting topics, and being able to take home so many...for free.

One of the books I chose is The Illustrated Garden Book, an anthology of gardening columns by Vita Sackville-West. She was an English author and poet, and created the garden at her home in Sissinghurst, Kent. I had known about her since college, when I took some women's history courses.

What I love about this book is Sackville-West's writing style. She writes delectable personal essays about gardening and flowers. And, since this is the kind of writing I may wish to do, not only am I enjoying the book, but I'm learning a lot.

As I spent hours reading her marvelous essays and poems, my experience confirmed why I'd chosen to miss class. I'm taking these gardening classes to learn. But, at this stage in my life, I'm truly not interested in listening to people talk who don't inspire me. So...while I may have to rethink my participation in this certificated program, I've realized that my true goal is to continue finding teachers (like my first one) whose love of gardening makes my heart soar!

What wellness activities/hobbies makes your heart soar?

P.S. I don't mean to blow my own horn, but Wendy Love wrote a wonderful essay about my blog in hers, and it made my day!

Friday, November 6, 2009

When a Depression Speaks

One of the best things a psychiatrist ever said to me during a depressive episode was when he told me to ignore my feelings because, "It's the depression speaking."

And while it's difficult to do, it's terrific advice. For those of you who've experienced a severe depression, you know that everything changes when you're depressed, and it changes back again when you're not.

Since it's already November 6th, and I'm not depressed, this is a very good sign for someone who suffers from seasonal depression. However...should a depression hit, for the first time ever I've written myself letters, reaffirming my strengths, and reminding myself which wellness activities work, and which people I consider to be members of my support team.

So...for example, I've written:

1. You are a talented writer.

2. You're a good person.

3. You're upbeat most of the year, so it's okay if you choose to share some of the sadness you feel if you become depressed.

4. It's okay to let the people whom you help during the rest of the year help you if you're feeling sad.

5. Wellness Activity: Gardening.

6. Wellness Activity: Playing the keyboard and electric guitar.

7. Wellness Activity: Walking Jack.

8. Wellness Activity: Photography.

9. Wellness Activity: Watching your favorite musicals.

10. Wellness Activity: Writing poetry.

Of course, this is just a partial list. And, my letters to myself are far more personal. I remind myself of everything I like about me. I'm my best cheerleader and I tell myself what wellness activities I need to do and why.

I've created a list of people with whom I enjoy being if/when I don't feel well, and I remind myself why I like them. I've also come up with a list of activities we could do together.

Given the way I'm currently feeling, I believe it's possible that my November/December depression won't be realized, or the symptoms will be greatly reduced. While that's undoubtedly due to therapy and my gardening program, maybe the very act of writing these letters has made a huge difference. Wouldn't that be a kick in the head?

Have a happy and healthy weekend. See you on Monday!

(When I originally posted this last night I was tired from gardening and grammar-challenged. Thus, this is a slight revision.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Taking Baby Steps Towards Pursuing Your Dreams

Susan wrote a heartfelt piece about feeling like she's lost her dreams. If I were her doctor, I'd say, "It's your depression talking. And, I know you'll feel differently when you're not depressed."

The advice I gave to her--and some I didn't--is worth repeating here. I believe that dreams represent hope. In the same way I assumed I'd ultimately be well--even during my darkest days--I also assumed I'd be able to contribute once again.
The mantra that I whispered to myself over and over again was, "You're not a quitter. You're not a quitter. This, too, will pass. You're not a quitter." (It's seems silly to me now, but for some reason, it always made me smile inside.)
Once I was well most of the time, I suddenly realized I was lost...for awhile. I'd spent so much time focusing on illness and then wellness that I didn't know what I wanted to do once I actually became well.

I knew I wanted to write, but I couldn't decide what to write about. I started this blog, which has been very satisfying in many ways, but it wasn't enough. I knew I didn't want to return to grant writing, which is how I made my living for many years. I finally decided I was stuck, and I didn't know how to get unstuck. And it was a very painful and frightening feeling.

Ultimately, I returned to therapy, and one of its many values was to talk about my strengths and the ways in which I feel I can contribute. Luckily enough, I was able to take the time I needed to explore things without feeling like I had to make an immediate decision.

These days I'm quite clear that my path will be to combine my love for the outdoors and gardening with my love of writing. I'm still not sure how this will play out...but I know I'm headed in the right direction.

If I were to give advice to folks who are feeling lost and worried that their illness has destroyed their dreams...it's this: "From experience I know that wellness is possible. I don't know of anyone who's experienced more depressive episodes than I have, but I truly am well...most of the time now. And, if I can do it, so can you."

"And, if you've been ill for a long time, but you're feeling well now, recognize that it's okay to take baby steps towards finding your way again. For me, the first baby step two years ago was to sign up for a six-week photography class at a community college. For years, I wasn't able to commit to anything in advance, and before I took the class, I didn't know if I could remain well for six weeks. So, just completing the class was a huge step forward."

"Then I signed up for a second photography class, which I had to quit because my mother was dying. But, what I learned from that experience was that photography is an interest rather than a passion. And, that was a good realization because it paved the way for me to begin taking my gardening and horticulture classes.

"Now I don't think twice about signing up for ten-week classes, and I know I'll complete them. And, it was a natural progression to commit to a nine-course certificated program, and I know I'll complete it if it continues to interest me."

"Most of all I know that once again, I can pursue my dreams--big and small. Without dreams, there is no hope. But, with dreams, the sky's the limit."

To my friend Susan, I want to add that I know how awful it feels to wonder what you'll do for the rest of your life in order to find meaning. For me, the answer was getting help, and having the courage to move ahead...one baby step at a time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Keeping Things in Perspective

Sorry, this is a bit late. I was so tired after my midterm last night that I couldn't write one more word. And I slept in this morning. The bad news is that I can't imagine I did well on my botany midterm since I didn't finish it, and became hopelessly confused after days of studying.

The good news is I decided I need to change my orientation--after so many years as a high achiever in school--and fully embrace the concept that the joy of learning is more important than the grades I get. Having said that, I'll share a few of my feelings about the class, the program, and the responses from my fellow students.

When I started taking gardening classes last April, what I loved best about the two classes I took was their practicality. In the first, all of the students designed and planted a garden at a local community garden, and our teacher shared her vast knowledge of plants--which was extraordinary.

We had weekly assignments where we charted the growth of plants, collected seed pods, and brought in examples of what was in bloom in our garden or neighborhood. Our tests were take-home exams, which leveled the playing field. For the people who had a breadth of background, they could spend very little time answering the questions. For those of us to whom the subject was new, we could spend as much time as we needed, and taking the exam was a learning experience.

The second class was pruning and we saw slides of good and bad pruning jobs, and for four consecutive Saturdays, we spent three hours pruning plants, shrubs, and small trees at our teacher's clients' homes. I learned a tremendous amount that I'm using on a daily basis.

Our teacher was not only supportive, but she learned everyone's name by the fifth week of class. She wrote lovely comments on our papers, and fully answered the questions we posed. After 30 years as a landscape designer, she was still so enthusiastic about her subject that it was inspiring. And, she was a true plant advocate, and had a wonderful sense of humor.

The botany class is a totally different experience. While our teacher is enthusiastic, he clearly needs to rethink the way he's teaching this class. I could go on and on, but I'll leave it at that.

Last night, when the midterm and class were over, and I walked to the parking lot with a few friends from class, one of them said, "You know, the teacher didn't prepare us for this test at all. What a waste of time." Another said, "I don't know why we have to learn this. It's not helping me at all. And when I get my certificate in gardening and horticulture, no one is going to ask me, 'What was your grade in botany?'"

But, the best comment was from a friend who knew two sisters who were enrolled in the interior design program. She said. "The one sister, who's my friend, really cares about grades. She studied all the time, and while she got 'A's, it was a tremendous commitment of time. Her sister didn't care at all about the grades. She got 'C's', and shrugged it off. All she cared about was learning interior design. She volunteered for all kinds of projects. She truly enhanced her skill level, and she loves the work she's doing."

I told my friend about a man in our first class, who was the most knowledgeable person of all, and although he had a Ph.D in another subject, only got what he called "gentleman C's" in his gardening classes. He said his true interest was the gardening itself, and he didn't have the time to devote to memorization.

So...what is the point of this lengthy post? I've decided I need to change. I, too, care way more about gardening than grades. I, too, don't want to spend ridiculous amounts of time indoors reading when I am taking these classes so I can be outdoors gardening. I, too, would prefer volunteering to work in gardens rather than trying to dazzle people by my intellect, which isn't at all apparent in a botany class.

While I know it's easier said that done, I have decided it's better to be a mediocre student who spends my days with my hands in soil and studies plants in the great outdoors than an "A" student who spends day after day reading books and studying online.

What challenges have you faced when returning to school or learning something new? How have you resolved them?