Prescription for Peace 

Garden of the Mind

geese in deep water

Let’s talk about psychiatric medication. 

Over the last few years, I have had many conversations with friends and family about various mental health diagnoses of ourselves and loved ones (both confirmed and speculation) and only a few times medication has been part of the discussion.  Most of the time when mental health is discussed, I hear the story of how someone becomes diagnosed due to a breakdown or Stage 3 or 4 symptoms and then that’s the end of the story.

When medication is part of the story, it’s often spoken about in a negative way:

“You can’t just pop a pill to be happy.”

“She was all doped up on all kinds of meds.”

“He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol.”

“The medicine prescribed just made things worse.”

“I felt like a zombie.”

“Someone could have punched me in the face and I would have smiled and thanked them.”

“Mental illness is spiritual warfare, so medication is not the answer.”

 

Mine is a somewhat classic story, in that medication was not part of it until I had been struggling with mental illness for many years. 

I first experienced anxiety as a young child, which evolved to an anxiety disorder and depression as a teen.  I attended talk therapy sessions from 14 until I moved away to college and from those four years of therapy I mainly learned that talking about feelings and a 20 minute walk daily should ward off depression and anxiety.  No medications were suggested as I was coping and seemed resilient.

During college, my anxiety increased and I began to develop OCD and have panic attacks. At 21, I was prescribed my first antidepressant after I had a silent, nearly undetectable panic attack in my new internal medicine doctor’s office.  I had become practiced at hiding my anxiety in public since I had no idea it was a medical condition and had a name.  I tried hard to hide my symptoms and feelings because I thought I was just mentally weak.

The doctor prescribing me the antidepressant did not give me any referral to a therapist, or psychiatrist, or make any follow up appointments with me to manage this medication, unfortunately.  I took the low dose antidepressant for a few months while living alone at college, but later stopped it on my own when I was feeling better. (Rookie mistake! Always talk to a doctor when changing your meds).

About a year later, I went to my student counseling center, on my own accord, and signed up 15 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat the OCD and anxiety.  These sessions made a tremendous impact on my functioning and mood.  No meds were required at this point in my life.

Fast forward to today and I have been taking medication for panic disorder regularly for about seven years.  I attend talk therapy regularly and have regular check ups with my psychiatrist.  I love to read articles that help me tweak certain areas of my life relating to mental health and relationships.

In the last two years, I have become well-versed in self-care. I believe that caring for myself through managing stress is key when living with any mental health issue.  I am continuously working on becoming more comfortable with my diagnoses and am beginning to find the courage to speak more openly about my experiences in order to fight mental health stigma.

Mainly regarding my anti-anxiety medication, I have had to use self-talk to teach myself that I am not just “popping a pill” to make me happy, but that there are times that I truly need this life improving medication.

I am grateful that I have been able to receive the necessary pharmaceutical treatment for my anxiety disorder.  While cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was life-changing, so was the relief of being able to alter my fight-or-flight response chemically with a medication, as needed.

I am not a doctor, so this is a disclaimer to please consult a psychiatrist or doctor when making medication or any healthcare decision.  

I felt the need to share my personal experience here so that it might be helpful to someone reading this who has been taught to have a negative attitude toward medication or doesn’t realize that other options such as CBT are out there.  

Whatever self-help tactic you choose, I hope that you receive the help and support you need so that you can life a happy and healthy life.   

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Chasing Happiness

Garden of the Mind

What is happiness?

According to Merriam-Webster, “…happiness is a state of well-being and contentment: joy.  It is a pleasurable or satisfying experience…”

I often feel that I lose my contentment with life when I purposefully search for the elusive feeling of “happiness.”  I guess you could also say that it makes me unhappy to try to be happy!

Sometimes finding happiness, or feeling content with life, seems as if it arrives as spring sometimes does.  One day I notice that the chill is gone from the air and new green and spring flowers are appearing.  New birds have appeared to migrate through our backyard…and even though it happens every year…it still is a bit of a surprise and it sneaks up on me at times.  When I am in a wintry place like depression or anxiety, I stumble upon happiness and contentment in a similar way to a change of season. One day, I wake up and my mood is slightly better and I feel more positive, calm, and grateful for what I have.

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Does this day come randomly or by chance? Sometimes it seems that way!  Just as a change of season from winter to spring brings a few days at a time of beautiful sunny warm weather in late winter/early spring and I think “Spring is here! Get the sandals out!” …only to wake up the next day to pull my sweatshirts and blankets out again.

Coming out from a depressive episode works in a similar way, for me.  I explained this to my psychiatrist and she helped me understand that this is normal and that it was a good sign even to have a mood swing type of day where it might be half “good” and half “bad.”  It means that the depression is lifting and eventually days will be mostly “good” again.

In the last two years, I have focused on self-care, goal setting, a little organization, consistent boundary-enforcement and positive coping strategies to help me improve my mood stability, relationships, and overall outlook on life.  Exciting stuff, right?!

I have spent many hours in therapy working through my “stuff” and it has been just that, work!  I have read self-help articles, worked on my communication style, and learned how to graciously say no to things that were not growing me or helping me live as my best self.  Who is she?  I am working daily to find her and figure that out.  Some days, the “work” on myself is just getting out of bed, eating regularly, and getting dressed.  Sometimes, that’s all I have in me to be my best self…and I’m learning that that is OK.  This in itself has been a hard lesson to learn since I have been prided myself on being an overachiever most of my life.  Fear of other people’s negative opinion of my productivity (or lack thereof) is something I’m dealing with currently.  Hello, my name is Heart Gardener, and I’m a recovering people-pleaser.

Have you every heard someone use the phrase “Happiness is a choice”?  I believe there’s even a book entitled this.  It makes me sigh deeply when I hear these types of phrases as I have struggled most of my life to be happy and content.  This particular phrase makes happiness sound easy! But as many of us know, finding lasting happiness is hard!

The chemicals in my brain and the negative behavioral patterns I developed as a child and young adult often have an effect on my ability to see the world with rose colored glasses. Instead, I am prone to catastrophizing, ruminating on the negative, generally keeping tension in my muscles, and not taking care of myself by not drinking enough water or exercising regularly.

I had someone tell me this week that their friend was depressed and his doctor prescribed him a daily walk.  Mmkay… That might work for many people.  In fact, that was what my first therapist advised me to do at 15 years old when I was first treated for depression and anxiety though talk therapy.  I replied to my friend with some information on my experience with depression: that ny the time I realize it has arrived, it is often difficult for me to leave my house or sometimes my recliner on “bad” days, so a walk per day isn’t an easy fix treatment for me during those times. 

As I have said before, when I’m that depressed, my first priority is to focus on self-care in order to make it through the day/week and eventually get out of the pit. Usually my most basic self-care routine involves making sure I shower daily and talk to at least one person other than my husband.  Sometimes that’s all I can handle for a day…and as I said… I’m learning that “whatever I do is enough.” Even as I type that I am allowing it to seep down deep to the roots of my heart’s garden. Whatever I do is enough.

Another technique when battling depression that I have used before, is writing a list of things, people, places, etc. for which I am grateful.  I list everything from a good cup of coffee to my supportive husband.  It helps me realize that today is not so bad.  That the depression is just making the garden of my mind have storm clouds overhead and storm clouds, just as seasons, do pass.  They might leave some debris in their path, but clean up and restoration is possible.

I hope the photos in this post bring you some joy whether you are experiencing mental health challenges or not.  I love spring and took these photos two years ago just walking around my neighborhood as I was exiting my typical seasonal winter depression.  I was so relieved to see that spring was returning that day.  Beautiful nature makes me happy.  The things that “spark joy” for us are everywhere and sometimes you just have to step outside your own thoughts or maybe your front door to experience it.

Therapize Me! 

Garden of the Mind

Anyone who has had more than 5 conversations with me in the last couple years knows that I am a supporter of therapy for all!  I believe that everyone, at some point in their life can benefit from therapy. It’s an investment in yourself and your future. No one should have to stay silent or whisper about going to therapy, yet still many do because they fear they will be seen by others as weak, damaged or worse. 

I hope that in my lifetime, it will be as stigma-free to tell someone that you have a therapy appointment as it is a dentist or hair appointment. 
Therapy with a trained professional is in the same category of self-care, for me, as getting my teeth cleaned. It’s usually uncomfortable at first, but once I find a good hygienist and doctor and get used to the process I leave feeling better than when it started.

Just as when you are finding a new hair stylist sometimes finding the right therapist takes a while. If you’ve tried therapy before and it didn’t “work” or you didn’t like it find a new therapist. They are not one size fits all. 
When someone wants to change their physical form, some hire a physical trainer to improve their physical fitness, teach them proper exercise techniques, motivate and hold them accountable. Going to therapy or counseling works in a similar way. It’s like hiring a “mind trainer” or taking behavior modification classes. 

You improve your mental health through learning positive communication and coping skills while having an objective non-judgemental person listen and help you sort through things that need venting or processing. 

I used to say that therapy was the one time I could sit and talk about myself for whole hour and not feel selfish, guilty or second-guess everything I said. 

I have been going to therapy through good times and bad for 20 years.  I wrote a post on an old blog describing all of my therapists and the therapy I received under their care. I will add that to this post soon. Until then, enjoy this article from Psychology Today and if you haven’t already find a therapist if you would like to see what all the fuss is about! 💜🌷

Find a therapist near you.
Therapy for all!

Did you miss me? Well, I missed you!

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Photography Prints

I had a bit of a privacy scare over the weekend and consequently made my blog private for the last 48 hours.  My anonymity (for now) is very important to me since it is allowing me to open up and post publicly about sensitive and personal issues.  I know that there are others out there who deal with similar issues and might benefit from reading about my experiences.  I hope that through the garden analogies and daily life commentary I can bring peace of mind to someone who might be struggling.

Writing anonymously has allowed me to share my inner most thoughts on life, mental health, lessons God has taught me, struggles with confidence, and much more to come without editing myself for fear of judgement by someone who might know me in real life and be reading the blog as a peeping Tom/Tomasina.

I hope that one day I will have the confidence to post with my name and not be afraid of being the victim of gossip, harsh judgement, or the like.  I am fully aware that I cannot control other people’s actions and thoughts, but I do know that I can control my efforts to improve my self-confidence. This quote has helped me lately:

Confidence is not “They will like me.”

Confidence is “I’ll be fine if they don’t.”

The last line there – I’ll be fine if people don’t like me – is something I’m working on.  People pleasing and guilt carrying are two skills I’m trying to unlearn.  I am also trying uninstall the program that makes me feel responsible for other people’s reactions and emotions.  I take responsibility for my reactions and emotions like a boss!  Well…I’m working on that too…

give it a try

The quote on my photograph above felt appropriate for the conversations that I had the last 48 hours surrounding the possibility of ending the blog and starting anew because of the possibility of my identity being revealed to people who I didn’t want to know that I am the Heart Gardener (author) of this blog.

“It’s impossible,” said Pride.

  • I thought it might be impossible to tell only a handful of trusted people this is my blog and expect them to keep it a secret that I’m the author.
  • It’s impossible that I’m going to feel safe writing my heart out here again knowing that maybe there is a person I know that would, for entertainment value, want to see how flawed I am behind my public smile and bubbly personality.

“It’s risky,” said Experience. 

  • In past blogs I have used my name, my husband’s name, the region of the country where we live, and other identifying information.  It made me feel at risk for lots of reasons and I usually abandoned the blog or wrote really light-weight things that I constantly second-guessed.
  • When I post on my personal Facebook account I flinch when I see someone like my status who I had no idea even payed attention to me on Facebook.  I guess social anxiety can also apply to social media.
  • It’s risky to open up your heart anywhere when you are a tender-hearted person as I am.  Even telling people that I’m close with that I have this blog and how to find it has felt risky at times.  If I know you personally and I told you about this blog it means I trust you.

“It’s pointless,” said Reason.

  • When I was in the middle of my pity party/anxiety attack/disappointment fest of the last 48 hours I was thinking it was pointless to return to the blog with the chance that people I know in real life that I don’t trust might tie my identity to Heart Gardening.
  • I felt it was pointless to make another blog since Heart Gardening felt like my one great idea that I’ve had in the last decade.
  • I felt like it’s pointless to write when very few people are actually reading it…so who knows if it’s actually making a difference in someone’s life.

“Give it a try,” whispered the Heart.

  • The original quote said “whispered the heart” not “said the heart” as I wrote on my photograph above (See! I’m working on my perfectionism and just posted it even though I caught the minor error).
  • After talking with the parties involved in the privacy scare and receiving information that calmed my anxious, the-sky-is-falling thoughts I decided that the chances were very slim of someone breaking my confidence and divulging my identity to those who know me in person.
  • So here I am, giving it a try again.  Trying to make the world a better place, help people, become a better writer, stimulate my brain, be creative, use my God-given talents, relax and have fun.

green-heart-love-HikingArtist

Thank you to the 39 followers I have here.  You are 39 reasons I returned to Heart Gardening and didn’t press the delete button.  Those of you who have liked, commented on, and shared my posts have encouraged me to keep writing and have nourished my self-esteem.  I have had this blog for less than a month so, I figure if this rate of following continues I’ll have over 365 followers this time next year.  Exciting stuff!

Are you on the right path?

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I noticed a trend on inspirational websites today in my Facebook newsfeed this morning.  Three of the sites I follow had posts about following a “path” in life and images of roads and trails with inspirational quotes. One site had an article entitled “5 Signs You’re on the Right Path” and another had a photo of a train track with the quote “Never run back to what broke you” written on it.  Tonight I realize that when reading those items God might have been preparing my heart for a phone call I would receive this afternoon.

Two months ago I resigned from an anxiety-provoking, stressful job without looking back.  You can read about that here.  Since then, I have slowly returned to a person I used to be.  I’m happy again on a regular basis.  My family has even commented on that fact.  I haven’t had to take my anxiety medication except to attend a funeral and deal with the occasional anxiety hiccup, a marked improvement from taking my medication almost daily before resigning from my job.  I’m still going to therapy regularly which I enjoy for the most part since I’m not crying the majority of the time as I was when working.  Crying is a good release at times so even those sessions weren’t that bad.

Life is truly looking up since I am out from under the stress and I am starting to actually enjoy life again rather than just endure it.  I said to my husband last night, “We have a really nice life.”  I am so thankful to be able to say those types of things to him since he had to endure heartache watching me struggle through my hard times.

Today, I got a phone call out of the blue from an old coworker from the job I had before my most recent job.  She wanted some help preparing for an interview doing the same type of work from which I had just resigned.  I explained to her that I would be happy to share with her the good, the bad, and the ugly of the field but that I had resigned from my position two months ago.  She asked what I was doing now and I proudly replied, “I’m being a housewife for now.”  She got really excited about the fact that I am unemployed and told me I needed to apply for the position as the director of the job she was applying for so that I could be her boss.  I was flattered and excited at the prospect of being qualified to be the “big boss.”

I told her that since it involved a move to another city it would most likely not be possible for me since I am married now and with no disrespect to my husband at all this is one reason a spouse is sometimes called a “ball and chain” – one can’t pick up and move as easily as when one is single.  She insisted that I look into the job since the pay was considerable and I am highly qualified.  Again, I felt flattered.

I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about this job, other work options and how I felt about being “just” a housewife (or homemaker as is now a more PC term I hear).  I also started questioning the new path I have chosen.  The same path that less than 24 hours before I was telling my husband how much I was enjoying.

path sign

Even though I had a few doubts today about my recent change of direction from career woman to housewife I have peace again tonight.  If I had not had to hike such a treacherous path for so long being unhappy and stressed I might not be as grateful as I am now for being feeling so free and happy again.

If you are going through a hard time now, please know that good times are ahead.  You might have to change paths as I did, but trust that life can’t be uphill forever.  Who knows, you might have a “mountain top experience” like this one ahead.

path view

I took this photo on vacation last fall.  We were driving to a cabin rental for the first leg of our trip and followed the GPS directions which unexpectedly took us over the top of the highest peak in the area and through a forest.  I was not mentally prepared to drive up the narrow, winding mountainside, so I had not braced myself for the momentary terror excitement.  It was a bit tense at times when meeting other cars along the way up and when there was zero guardrail to hold us back from plunging to our deaths if we accidentally left the road.  I had not driven in the mountains in a long time so it was a shock to my system.  The photo opportunity above was well worth the scary parts of getting there.

I believe that whatever scary or uncomfortable things that are on the paths we travel are momentary and that we all will have views like the one above at the end of our trials.

What kind of seeds are you watering?

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I love the quote above especially since I am working on growing some seeds indoors for the first time ever.  I went to visit family and spent a night away from home this weekend so my seedlings missed a couple waterings and I returned to some of them (delphinium and phlox)being well…dried up and pretty much dead.  Thankfully, the zinnias and the old fashioned mix made it.  Because this is my first attempt at starting seeds indoors I am not being too hard on myself.

A few days ago, when I first put the quote above onto the photograph I took of some zinnias I had several years ago it conjured up ideas about being strong and overcoming what life can pile on top of us.  Seeds of courage, love, determination…

But, after looking at it again with new eyes now I see that all types of seeds might get “buried” in our lives that we need to dry up and die but we keep watering them.  Seeds like self-doubt, jealousy, judgment, hate, anger…are there others you would like to add to the list?

I think it’s interesting how a quote such as this can mean different things at different times.

“They tried to bury us.  They didn’t know we were seeds.”

Rereading this quote again also made me think of feelings that we bury hoping that they will go away and memories that we suppress because of the way they make us feel.  Sadly, those feelings usually can’t stay buried and never sprout into a problem.  Seeds like these might grow into chronic overeating, substance abuse, compulsive shopping, putting others down to lift ourselves up, hurting others the same way we have been hurt…

This week, which seeds am I going to water and which ones am I going to let dry up?

Water

  • fitness – move my body in some way that benefits my heart and mind daily
  •  patience – count to ten before overreacting responding to something that irritates me
  • water consumption – water myself by drinking more water

Let dry up

  •  self-doubt – pray and do evening visualization at bedtime
  •  sleep disturbances – limit screen time before bed
  • household clutter – declutter one space daily (even if it’s just a drawer)

What seeds do you want to water or let dry up this week?

Whole Heart Gardening

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I know that the first few posts I have written here have mostly been about the garden of the mind, but I have plans and ideas to write about the whole heart: mind, body, and spirit.  I’m trying to limit my computer use each day so that I can get some housework non-blog related tasks checked off of my to do lists, so hopefully categorized (body, mind, spirit) pages will appear with handy posts on things related to but not necessarily revolving around mental health.  I believe that our bodies and spirits are tied to our mind in numerous ways, so it just seems natural to have the site divided this way.

If you would like to see something specific in bloom here leave me a comment or email me at heartgardening411@gmail.com.

Several months ago, I started using visualization and meditation to cope with anxiety, lose weight, motivate myself to eat healthy foods (when I really love pizza and cheese-covered Mexican food and crave chocolate and pasta).  I was able to do a nightly visualization for about three weeks and I felt like I had been brainwashed (in a good way!).  I was walking around spouting positivity and telling everyone who asked me how I was how this awakening was life changing.

Then, we went on vacation.  It was a great vacation, but as you know vacations break routine and there is usually some pretty awesome food that is not the most healthy thing you could put in your mouth.  After we got home from vacation I never listened to my visualizations again.  My stress level increased, my anxiety was dominating my life again and depression started to creep in since I gained the weight I had lost over the few weeks of enlightenment.

Last night, for the first time since vacation about six months ago, I put my ear buds in and pressed play on my evening visualization.  It helped me relax and calm my mind before bed and actually feel a little happier after a stressful day. I also slept and didn’t have the usual crazy vivid dreams I’ve been having in recent weeks so it felt like I really slept and didn’t run around playing pretend all night.  So, if you are looking for something like this check out The Gabriel Method at: http://www.thegabrielmethod.com/

Hopefully, I will get back into this old habit of visualizing and meditating and relight the spark I once had to talk about the body and spirit side of heart gardening.

Weeds & Flowers

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This week I have the opportunity to take some photos of the glorious spring we are having.  Flowering trees were in full bloom and skies were blue.  This spring did not disappoint.

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Birds have built nests and are singing almost around the clock.  The world is waking up from its winter nap.  Thank goodness!

I have heard so many people talk about how happy and relieved they are that it is now spring.  Some of us have struggled with the winter blues (a.k.a seasonal affective disorder) and are beginning to see the fog of depression lift.

With the glorious weather and spring flowers also come spring weeds!  This is a photo of the grass that has appeared in the pot on my patio that usually contains dianthus.  DSCN5827[1]This pink and white dianthus was purchased and planted where I lived two towns and about four years ago.  It made it through two moves and decided it was tired I guess and this grassy weed type thing has taken its place.

It is a reminder that if you do not tend to the flowers the weeds can easily grow in their place.  It reminds me also of a quote I pinned on Pinterest during my hard times:

Stop watering the weeds in your life and start watering the flowers.

Having anxiety I often give power to the negative thoughts I have (weeds) and obsess over them at times.  Things like:

  • She doesn’t like me.
  • Am I annoying…offensive…(some other negative trait)?
  • Did I lock the front and back door?
  • I feel guilty that I said no to (plans, someone’s idea, etc.)
  • Am I doing a good job?
  • What do they think about me?
  • Is this random pain cancer?
  • What if (fill in the blank; this one usually is about death).

Basically, any Anxiety Cat Meme is a thought I have had at one point or another. Don’t know about Anxiety Cat? It’s a good laugh and comfort that you are not alone in your anxious thinking.

Go to: http://anxietycat.tumblr.com

I recently read another quote about a woman’s brain being like a web browser with 1,453 tabs open at once.  I think this describes my brain a lot of nights when I turn off the TV and try to sleep.  It has gotten significantly better lately, but my anxiety brain still gets the best of me every now and then if I have had caffeine late the day, haven’t exercised that day or have had a lot of stimulation such as a big social event.

Those night those anxious thoughts go around in my mind and I have to work hard to calm my mind and focus on positive thoughts to help me relax.

Writing in my journal and expressing gratitude verbally, in prayer and in writing are all ways that I can get my mind out of the “sky is falling” mode of anxiety and panic.

What are some tactics you use to pull the weeds out of the garden of your mind?

🌾🌾🌾