Preventing Panic

Garden of the Body


I have several health care appointments over the next two weeks. Most are for annual or quarterly exams and one is my therapist. 

I was very anxious about today’s appointment because it was with a new doctor. New people, places, and things are, at times, anxiety provoking for me and since I have bouts of “white coat” anxiety a new doctor ups the freak-out-factor. 

A few things that help me manage anxiety when I have a new person, place, or thing to deal with:

  • Plan ahead and be sure to allow plenty of time to get dressed, travel, park and have food and drink before, etc. to limit anxiety related to feeling rushed or having a blood sugar issue
  • Call ahead and ask questions (if possible) about the new place – especially questions that are raising concerns that are provoking anxiety. If a phone call is too much, try email, looking at their webpage, etc.
  • As necessary, take my anxiety medication about an hour before the new experience
  • Arrange for a moral support person to go with me. 

Here’s how I applied and slacked on these strategies today:

I didn’t plan ahead in order to eat at home before my appointment, so we had to grab drive through on the way…not my best preparedness, but I didn’t enter the appointment hungry or thirsty. I took care of a basic need and completed that self-care task to ensure that the anxiety was kept to a minimum. 

I had a few questions and concerns on the drive to the new doctor, so while my husband drove, I called the office and asked those questions and got comforting answers. Anxiety gague is lowering steadily!

Having my husband go to the appointment with me and even sit in on my visit with the doctor was a great support.  Sometimes the 30 minutes waiting (sometimes under a paper gown) for the doctor to come into the exam room is the worst part of the exam, so having him there today to talk to me and even make me laugh while waiting helped ease the tension so much. 
I took my anxiety meds about an hour before the appointment – another great reason for husband to come with – to drive.

A huge part of self-care is keeping yourself healthy and while regular doctor check ups are not as much fun as other more pampering self-care techniques such as getting a spa treatment, they are a necessary part of a holistic approach to self-care. 

Thankfully, my appointment went much better than I expected (imagine that!) and my husband and I enjoyed the rest of the sunny spring afternoon together. 

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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.

The D Word

Garden of the Mind

Watching someone struggle with depression or anxiety while being in denial about having it is like watching someone with the flu deny they are sick. They have many of the symptoms and they are not themselves, while they say things like: it’s not that bad, they don’t need to see a doctor, it will pass, etc. 

It’s easy to point out the speck in a loved one’s eye while ignoring the plank in your own isn’t it? 

I am often quick to notice and diagnose others’ mental health struggles, but usually slow to admit my own when it comes to the D word. I live with anxiety most of the year and deal with it pretty well, but when D comes to pay me a visit…I usually don’t realize it was here until it’s gone. 
This is what I’ve been dealing with recently as I enter a period of (seasonal?) depression. (Sigh) There. I said it. I admit that I am feeling depressed. 

It’s probably the most common time of year to be depressed…January.  Songs have been written about it:

In the bleak midwinter…

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray…

So I’m not surprised really that here it is January, the month that also includes the anniversary of my father’s death and other family tragedies, that I am sitting on my front porch typing away about depression while I’m wading ankle deep in it. I know this month is usually a difficult one for me for these reasons and more. 

I prepared for winter before it arrived  like a chipmunk does, storing up nuggets of sustainable joy by planning ahead with tangible things such as special lightbulbs to mimic sunlight and setting up an area inside to tend and overwinter plants. I planted pansies and violas outside and redecorated my Gnome garden with a sign that says “Happy Everythjng!” so I would both be reminded to be grateful for life when I get down and to also have reason to step out onto the patio on days when I want to stay inside and hide. 


I memorized mantras and made a Pinterest board with coping strategies and uplifting quotes. I downloaded two apps to help me track my mood and help me relax and breath and meditate. I took my meds. I focused on self care.

But D still knocked on my door, my brain chemicals shifted and Depression entered my life again. 

There were triggers that preceded D’s appearance on my doorstep, sure.  I will keep them private for now. My therapist has helped me through the details and the plan for coping and moving forward. 

But that’s the rational brain talking…depression is irrational at times.  It tells me that no one likes me. Not even my mother or my husband or my best friend of 20 years. It tells me I’m damaged and dysfunctional. It tells me that this is how my life will be forever. 

I know these are all lies, but it still hurts to hear your own voice using such hurtful language against yourself. 

And then there’s the crying and the anger and the irritability and the tension and the panic attacks…(sigh)…and the physical exhaustion from all the mental ping pong of it all! ūüŹď I’m tired. But the irony is I can’t sleep because…insomnia. 

Depressing to even read about, right?!

Tell me readers, that I’m not alone in this. My social support network has taken some hits over the last couple years, so even strangers on the internet showing some love could help me to know that someone has been here and someone reads this and cares. Neediness doesn’t look good on me so I hate to even ask for moral support here…but I need it.  I need a hand or two to hold to help me get through this. 

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Winter is Spring’s Waiting Room

Uncategorized

I’m usually not a lotion person. I like the way it smells and I like the way my skin feels after I finally use it, but the sad fact is that most bottles of lotion I have purchased in my lifetime have never been used up by the end of their shelf life. Most days, I don’t take that extra minute to apply this little dose of TLC that my body sometimes needs.

This¬†lotion though, is serving a purpose greater than merely moisturizing my skin. It is part of what the mental health community calls “a self care routine.” That is a term I have become very familiar with the last two years (since I resigned from my job to improve my overall wellbeing and most importantly my mental health). You can read about that¬†here.

Who knew something so simple being an intentional part of¬†self care could help not only my body,¬†but also¬†my mind!¬† Two nights of showering and applying this lotion before bed made me want to blog!¬†Something I haven’t done in four months!¬† So obviously it reawakened some hibernating part of my consciousness, right?

Of course, on¬†some days self care is easier¬†than others. ¬†On good days, it’s a reflex. ¬†On symptom-filled days it’s like walking through deep mud uphill.¬† On terrible days it¬†seems impossible.¬† Those days my husband says, “Why don’t you take a shower? You always feel better after a shower.” I resist and negotiate that I will shower if he will come sit in the bathroom and talk to me while I’m showering…who knew as a grown woman with a Master’s degree in developmental psychology I would need moral support to take a shower…

That’s the nature of the beast that is any chronic illness…especially the invisible ones.¬† If I had a visible physical disability, most people would understand that I would need assistance taking care of certain personal care routines, especially on “bad” days.¬† When ones has an invisible illness it’s harder to explain to others the husband-sitting-outside-the-shower-for-moral-support thing…unless¬†they have¬†lived¬†it.

We must all remember on days when self care seems impossible that there is beauty in living life.  Everyday life.  Good days, symptom-filled days, and terrible days.  I need to type these words right now as a reminder to myself as well!

…and in months like January I have to remind myself that¬†the beauty of the earth will¬†return¬†with spring green and flowers just like the ones on this lotion bottle.¬†Until then, I will focus on beauty that is present in the wild birds at my backyard feeder and in the friends, family, and even strangers¬†who surround me.

It’s not easy many days to do these things¬†(shower, eat healthy foods, drink water, be grateful, be kind), but it’s possible¬†when I focus on small¬†starts like¬†using my favorite lotion.

Happy New Year and Hearts & Flowers!

Nesting

Uncategorized

nest

I recently watched a nature documentary about animal homes and one episode was about nests. I learned some interesting facts about nest building that related to my emerging human homemaking skills.

If you are new to my blog, you might be interested to know that I am a rookie housewife by day and a blogger by night. ¬†OK, that sounded really cheesy so if you have to navigate away from this page, I understand…

….Oh! You’re still here! Yay! With the Avengers movie buzz in the air I must be thinking of myself as some type of self-help superhero with the words above…

I must admit, I have much more practice at writing and photography than homemaking. I had to write a lot of research papers in graduate school and have always kept a journal. ¬†I have taken photographs since I was a preteen when we still used film, had to wait nearly two weeks before getting prints back, there was a high likelihood that the shot you wanted didn’t develop or you cut someone’s head out of the shot. Whenever I open my photo albums full of photos from middle and high school I thank God that during those days Facebook and social media did not exist.

Writing and photography feel like second nature to me, so this blogger by night thing comes more easily than my housewife by day gig.

I have been married for a few years now and until a few months ago, I was working full-time and used that as an excuse to let the housework slide until the weekend or when company was expected. Now, housekeeping is basically my primary responsibility and at times I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. A dish wand and a broom feel foreign to me even though I love to wear an apron, be a wife, and watch afternoon talk shows.

How did I reach adulthood without a knack for cleaning you might wonder?  As a child, my mom and college-age sister kept our house clean and I always had a messy room that my mom would help me clean when it got out of control. I remember my ploy for getting out of cleaning was to sit on the floor in front of my bookcase and tell her I was dusting or organizing the books. She would speedily clean up my room while I would flip through my favorite Berenstain Bears and Fraggle Rock books.

I took over the responsibility for cleaning my room as I entered adolescence. I occasionally had to clean the bathroom I shared with my mom, but can’t recall a time where I had to mop or wash dishes. My biggest household contributions were vacuuming and voluntarily cleaning out the family refrigerator while my parents wore big smiles.

In college and graduate school, I didn’t have much stuff so clutter wasn’t a terrible issue and when I lived alone my messes could be cleaned up within a couple hours. Now, cleaning up after myself, my husband and our dog makes me concerned how I’m going to deal with kids once they are introduced to the mix.

The PBS nest documentary taught me a few things about eased some of my worries about nest/homemaking:

  • Some birds make a nest first and then choose a mate to then have babies. ¬†Until I watched this, I thought birds were making nests as the eggs were in the bird waiting to be laid. ¬†This probably comes from my last minute attempts to clean before any major event.
  • The male bird might start making the nest first to attract a mate.¬†This taught me that your partner’s homemaking skills regardless of their gender greatly effect your marriage if you don’t learn to deal with conflict in a positive way.
  • Some birds steal other birds’ well-built nests. ¬†I guess this is where humans hire housekeepers or browse Pinterest for organization and cleaning ideas.
  • Cow birds lay eggs in other birds’ nests for the other type of bird incubate to raise as their own. ¬†Adoption is awesome!
  • Experienced nest builders build better nests than first-time nesters. ¬†This gave me the most comfort of all. ¬†It reminded me that I’m not a loser because I’m still learning what is the most effective way to clean a bathtub, organize my cabinets and closets, and clean floors.

Before I watched this documentary, my husband commented a couple times that all the organizing, cleaning (or attempting to clean), etc. that I’ve been doing around the house is “nesting.” ¬†Huh? ¬†I’m not expecting and about to give birth. ¬†Before watching this nature film, that’s a term that I would associate with third trimester pregnant woman. ¬†As I watched the program, I realized that I am nesting even though I am not currently expecting.

To think of it another way, maybe we nest in our lives to usher in any new stage: ¬†a new baby, a new dwelling, change of season, experiencing a death in our family, getting divorced or breaking up, starting a new habit…¬†

As a teen, I would often rearrange the furniture in my bedroom when I was having social issues ranging from crushes to mean girl problems.  Looking back with what I know now, I was nesting.

Building a nest is difficult. ¬†It takes large amounts of patience and time. ¬†Birds have to scavenge for and gather all their nesting materials one piece at at time and then weave and arrange them using only their beak! ¬†Imagine having to scavenge for each piece of straw to make a broom and then once it’s made sweep with your hands tied behind your back. ¬†I feel overwhelmed just typing that sentence!

Because I am a first-time nest builder I am experiencing a bit of a learning curve. Which techniques and products are best, what daily/weekly routine works for me, etc. ¬†I shouldn’t expect myself to be some combination of Betty Crocker, June Cleaver and Martha Stewart in a few months.

My aim is to be my own brand of modern feminist housewife, but more importantly, my best self. 

Those who admire the freedom of birds have never built a nest.

Thankfully, I have the freedom to choose to be a housewife, a career woman or some blended balance of the two. ¬†From my experience, balance is almost impossible when you’re trying to “do it all.” ¬†For example, I was entertaining hiring a housekeeper before I resigned from my job because I couldn’t do everything and be healthy and happy. ¬†I have had working women friends tell me recently they are envious of my ability to be home full-time. ¬†I feel flattered, but also slightly embarrassed that I’m possibly being self-indulgent.

Then, I reframe the thought and remind myself that for now this stage of life is about self-care and all I have to focus on is building my nest…which brings its own joys and challenges daily.