Update: I Missed Mental Health Awareness Month…Oops

Update: I Missed Mental Health Awareness Month…Oops

Hi there, how have you been?

It would only make sense that I would do at least one post last month given that it was Mental Health Awareness Month. I had every intention of doing so, I was just a bit too consumed by life and my own mental health awareness, so I thought I’d catch up with an update. The big news, I was accepted last month to the bachelors of social work program at SFSU, I’m over the moon!! But I was also rejected at first. Ok, I was wait-listed. I was devastated, so I let myself feel sorry for myself for a day or two and then I moved immediately into figuring out a backup plan. While I was in the midst of my self-pity an old poem from my childhood popped into my head called Harlem, by Langston Hughes. It graphically challenges your answer the question, “What happens to a dream deferred?”, and then suggests that maybe the dream just explodes. Well, my answer to that was a resounding– hell no my dream does not explode, it absolutely lives, albeit deferred. And so I began planning what I would do should I not make it off the wait list this year and have to wait another year to reapply.

Given that I want to go into mental health in the LGBT community, I began looking at a minor curriculum in LGBT studies, I was actually pretty excited about the idea of it. While I was busy making these alternative plans, and being a total pain in the ass squeaky wheel to the entire social work department, I was notified that I’d been moved from the wait list into the program. There’s 25 seats, about 50 people applied, I’m happy as a clam on my new path! But it was hard earned. This whole process of totally uprooting my life in my mid-thirties, working only part time and going back to school has launched a serious platform for forced growth, and it seems in my years of experience that when it comes to growth and healing, it gets worse before it gets better.

I’m immensely grateful to be able to say that after a lifetime of depression symptoms and about 12 years of actively battling clinical depression, I feel I’m finally free of its daily grips (that’s not to say I don’t still get down from time to time, and I can’t say at this point in time that I or anyone can fully be cured of depression from a clinical standpoint. I am hopeful though). But what has come along in full effect in its place, and is the topic of many of my posts this year, anxiety. More specifically morning anxiety.

It’s a horrible way to wake up (often after a night of minimal sleep) and start off the day with that wad of tension in my chest, my mind racing, extremities tingling. Feeling out of control and scared my heart starts racing, my breath gets hyper, the noise in my head gets louder and louder and before I’ve reached 30 minutes into my day I’m broken down mentally, physically and emotionally, and in tears. There’s so much nervous energy in my body combined with the cacophony in my head, it creates so much resistance toward the whole day, and I’ve lost control before I even had the chance to try and hold onto it. It disrupts my sleep, it steals my cognitive ability, it makes me sad. And I can’t say it’s because I’m forever stuck in the future, I just wake up this way first thing with a full mind/body effect. I’ve done loads of research on morning anxiety and the only real biological factor that plays into it is that the stress hormone cortisol is highest in the morning. Otherwise everything else steadfast suggested a good morning routine.

The good thing about anxiety is that with all this nervous energy, it’s become a great motivator. I took the advice of a morning routine despite wanting to hide under my blankets in bed from the world where it used to feel so safe during depression. Now with anxiety, I genuinely fear that if I stop moving I’m going to self destruct. So the first thing I do is wake up early. It works out because usually now once I wake up I can’t go back to sleep anyway, and it allows me the time to 1. engage in my morning routine, and 2. not feel rushed to get ready and out the door for the day. Both have proven to be quite helpful in maintaining my morning chill vibe. What’s also helped is not just the morning routine, but self-care throughout the day. If I’m feeling tense or worked up by nervous energy or stuck in my head, I do something about it instead of resisting it and allowing it to fester.

Here’s what I’ve been doing and the general frequency, in any combination throughout the morning, afternoon, or evening:

  • Morning pages, most days. I do 1-2 pages
  • Meditation 1-2 x a day or as needed, no less than 10 minutes
  • Yoga 1-2 x a day, 10-20 mins
  • Stretching throughout the day
  • Walking 4-8 x a week, whether its 10 mins around the block or meandering 3 miles through the city
  • Jogging 3-5 x a week for at least 15 mins. I was never a jogger but for whatever reason the higher impact seems to help clear the nervous energy better
  • Smaller interval exercises like crunches, pushups, squats, wall sits 1-2 x a day
  • Breath work as needed throughout the day
  • No alcohol during the week
  • No caffeine (I get my jollies from a cup of decaf a few days a week)
  • Cleaner diet– I’m mostly vegetarian but I default to carbs. I’ve tried replacing  more of those with fruits and veggies, seriously limiting sugar, and avoiding anything that will make me feel heavy
  • Ashwaganda and CBD oil to help calm my nervous system
  • Acupuncture 1 x a week
  • Reaching out to my community and loved ones for support as needed

One other thing I’ve learned to do that’s been really helpful is to not resist the anxiety. I know that sounds totally counter-intuitive– like um, ok I’ll just let the anxiety have me until it grinds me down into a panic attack and they my whole day is shot? Yes and no.  This took a bit for me to understand, too. I realize it’s fully instinctual for us to resist that which causes us harm, but maybe anxiety isn’t there to try and harm us. Maybe its trying to tell us something, like a child crying out for help but who has no words to express himself. Maybe whatever it is that’s in us that crying out for help just needs to be loved and cared for instead of turning a cold shoulder to it, so that it may ultimately heal and release on it’s own. It’s almost like Murphy’s Law in that the more you resist something, the more you’re feeding it your power through the resistance, giving it reason to stick around, and therefore it’s going to be further destructive. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.

So when I feel it start to rise up, or when I’m fully in the throes of it, I try and remind myself to not be upset over the way I’m feeling because it’s more than likely a part of me that needs healing, and it’s going to be a process. If tears need to flow I let them, if I need to let off nervous energy then I move, if I need to quiet my mind and calm my body I meditate and breathe and allow myself to be present with my feelings, no intellectualization needed. Not only that but it all helps to keep things in perspective and it helps me keep the faith in myself that I can and will make it to the other side of the daily struggle with anxiety, just as I have with depression.

I’m sorry I missed you last month. Things in life are falling into place, and anxiety has been actively trying to displace all these things I’m working so hard to maintain. But with love and compassion for myself and my challenges, I will keep a place for everything and everything in its place.

Peace, love, and wellness.

 

Meditation Medication Mediation

Meditation Medication Mediation

It’s kind of funny how all 3 of those words are just one letter off from one another. On my journey over the last 5 years or so in search of alternative methods to dealing with mental health issues, aside from plant medicine, meditation was one of the first ones I landed on. It took me a while to sort out what it was or what it meant. I learned that a lot of people go through that, the notion of exactly what mediation is can be elusive. Like anything else I want to unravel and apply, I’d begun by simply researching it via articles and discovering all the different types. Then I began trying to understand what it meant to me and how I could apply it in the way that worked best for me. Know now that there is no one way to meditate.

What I really wanted when I’d originally set out on this path was a rehab of sorts; an escape from life, the real world, mental illness, and some way to begin to work out the remainder of the trauma knots and triggers I had left in me that medication and therapy couldn’t seem to touch. Mental health rehab centers are essentially financially out of the question for the lot of us and I’d already tried voluntarily committing myself to an inpatient ward. I was rejected because I wasn’t actively trying to physically harm myself or anyone else, despite how deeply I’d been mentally and emotionally hurting myself. I knew through and through that I was in need of somewhere to go physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

I started off with basically trying to see if I could just sit still and shut myself off from my biggest enemy at the time- my mind. To say it was challenging is an understatement. But I didn’t feel like I had a whole lot of other options and frankly I wanted to see if I even had the discipline to make a practice out of it. I also thought I’d better start somewhere and discover what was right for me. Then I found the method of closing my eyes and focusing on my breath. It still wasn’t enough, I didn’t feel like I was getting it. I needed guidance and was still looking for that sweet escape. I found it in Vipassana Meditation. 10 whole days of silent self-observation in a residential course, following a prescribed code of discipline, led by teachers appointed by the now deceased S. N. Goenka. It was either a cult or the immensely difficult beginning of an incredibly massive journey I was about to embark upon. I did my due diligence of lots and lots of research and, spoiler alert: it was the latter. I sent a group email to those closest to me letting them know I’d be incommunicado for a while working on myself, and off I went.

I stepped foot onto the beautiful Dhamma Manda grounds, 12 days before my 31st birthday. They were some of the most challenging days of my life but also the most rewarding. If I’m totally honest, it kind of felt like voluntary Buddhist internment camp, and I don’t know if I came out of it fully understanding what meditation meant to me but I knew I’d gotten a great start. Not only that, I was pretty damn proud of myself for not quitting. The attrition rate of that course, as you might imagine, is fairly high.

It was almost 4 years ago that I took what I was given from those 10 days, slowly but surely adapted meditation into what I needed, and begun to turn it into a regular practice, using multiple techniques based on whatever my needs are at the time. These days I’m honestly no good without it. I do it at least twice a day, whether it’s 30 seconds or 30 minutes. Sometimes I can sit for over an hour, easy. I get lost, I absolutely love it, I crave it, I consider it my mental defragmentation. Mental health issues, anxiety specifically, and a very acute sensitivity to daily life get me worked up pretty easily. I’ve learned over time and trial that if I don’t self-care through meditation I will work myself right into a panic attack and/or depression and life will become a real bitch very quickly. I’m on a slippery slope here, meditation has become like an insurance policy, and it’s become contagious. I’ve got my dad doing it now, my boyfriend, my best girl friend and her kids. Who’s next?!

My friend Danni said it best, “meditation is the best drug there is”. He would know, his story is pretty incredible, and he himself is powerfully inspiring. He started this group based on a meditation/journaling journey he did last year called 108 Days of Meditation. Oddly enough, akin to my Vipassana journey in 2015, it ends on my birthday. As soon as I heard he’d put it out there, there was no question for me. I do it every day anyway, and we also know I love to write to get things out of me, why the hell not? It felt very serendipitous actually, given those circumstances and the fact I’ve recently up-ended my life’s path.

All that being said, it’s not the ultimate answer to everything, but it has done wonders for me, my general sanity and well-being, and keeping my shit together on the daily. I’ve found that silence is loaded with answers, and that meditation is one of the safest places on this earth. I wake up in the morning with anxiety, I meditate and choose to start my day that way instead of clenching my jaw teetering on the verge of an episode. I come home from work or school wound up super tight and tired as hell, I put myself on a meditation time out and all of a sudden I can think straight again, have my calm back, and actually have more energy. I don’t always win at meditation, but I’m always better for having tried. It’s taken a lot of practice, hard work, focus, effort, and really honestly wanting it, and here I am using it as one of my most effective tools at managing my mental health. I hope that you can, too.

Peace, love, and wellness.