Posted in Life Lessons

Feeling S.A.D.?

As soon as the temperature dropped into the sixties and the scent of fall permeated the air around us I felt myself sinking. The changing season means that the sun will be dipping into the horizon earlier and by the time we leave work the landscape surrounding us will be shrouded in darkness. It reminds us that winter is right around the corner and we’ll soon be shivering as we shuffle from place to place. It’s understandable these changes can lead to seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.).

There are a few ways to combat S.A.D. One option is to talk to your doctor and see if medication or therapy might offset some of your symptoms, but it’s not the only route. In research for this post I came across a recent article from Columbia Chronicle and it suggests looking into getting a, “specialized SAD box or light box.” It’s a small box that emits an artificial light that replicates the sun. Stennett notes that, “The benefits of light therapy, also known as phototherapy or helioptherapy, have been proven to replace medicine for those with SAD.” This is something I’ve never looked into so I took some time looking at options. I’ve put a random photo as an example of one type of light therapy box:

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I’m not done shopping around, but so far it looks like the minimum cost for a light therapy box is around $70. It seems steep, but if it alleviates some of the S.A.D. struggle it might be worth it. When I do select a model to try I’ll post an update on the blog after a month of use. In the meantime I’ll keep learning and practicing self care.

If you’d like some holistic suggestions I found a nice article at Jackson Free Press that has some good tips for preparing for winter, particularly the segment on taking a few moments to breathe the air in as the temperature continues to shift.

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Posted in Free Time Fun

Podcasts are Neat

When I’m not doing homework on my commute I still need something to fill the time. I tend to recycle the same music playlists and get easily distracted so I finally checked out the world of podcasts. Oh man, have I been missing out!

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There are endless free podcasts to listen to out there on ANY topic imaginable. Fun podcasts that I like to listen to are 2 Dope Queens, The Dollop and The Lady Gang. When I’m not interested in laughing I look for podcasts to help me think more positively like Optimal Living Daily and Happier with Gretchen Ruben.

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Something I never expected to get from podcasts was a greater sense of my own identity. As I explored the podcast landscape more I started finding mental health themed podcasts that made me feel like I was part of a larger community, but more than that, normal.

I found myself relating to the hosts and to the guests on podcasts like Psych Central and Mental Illness Happy Hour. In the rare event that I didn’t relate to the speaker listening to them talk about their own issues and how they cope with them was informative and enlightening.

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The importance of verbalizing your mental illness cannot be understated. Paul Gilmartin, creator/host/executive producer Mental Health Happy Hour, explains it best during an episode with Mike Levine. On the topic of speaking openly about your experience with mental illness he phrases what it does perfectly, “it gives us a chance to own our issue instead of it being owned.”

In sociology we talk about the politics of reclamation and I think this is a fascinating turn in mental health discourse that we are witnessing. The once predominant view that mental illness is a weakness or made a person bad or wrong or should be kept hush hush to prevent embarrassment for the family IS shifting. I think the driving force behind this change is that people living with mental illness (myself included) are done with hiding our pain and pretending we’re okay. It’s exciting and liberating to feel like I can be mentally ill and not feel guilty or shameful about it. Despite all of the incredibly frightening/saddening/soul-crushing things going on in the world, for the first time in a long time I feel like there’s still hope.

 

Posted in Life Lessons

Separating Food from Feeling

Food is comforting for many of us. Whenever we feel sad, stressed or lonely we try to stuff the feeling down by finishing an entire bag of chips, eating an entire frozen pizza, and a whole pint of ice cream (if you can’t tell, these three in that order are my regular comfort food combo). We fill ourselves until we’re sick and before we know it the ‘bad’ feeling returns, so we reach for another treat to take the edge off.

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It’s problematic for many reasons. For me the main issue is that it fuels my self loathing. When I’ve finished binging and I’m sitting there feeling sick I beat myself up. I criticize being unable to check my impulses when it comes to eating and then I start to pick at my fitness routine. It’s a spiral that only leads to more food and more shame. There’s also a physical fallout. My stomach is extremely sensitive and consuming certain foods can lead to a lot of pain. And that leads to more shame…. the whole situation is a mess.

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How does one go about separating food from feeling without developing disordered eating habits? I have tried logging food before and while it’s been helpful it became obsessive in a very unhealthy way so I’m hesitant to give it another shot. What are my other options?

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There isn’t a quick fix, trust me, I’ve tried. I can follow a new routine successfully for weeks or months at a time, but when my feelings become too burdensome I drown them out with food. It will take time developing healthier eating habits, but there are some methods we can use to get there. Hope to Cope has a post about Emotional Eating Food vs. Feelings that lists some strategies to get there, the most helpful being to face the feelings you’re trying to fill. Wish me good luck, and good luck to you if you struggle with emotional eating!

Posted in Life Lessons

Mental Healthcare is a Struggle

For the past year (maybe even more) I have been struggling to get back into regular treatment with a therapist. It’s something I don’t talk about because it’s a frustrating process. I won’t waste much time on how hard it is to get access to healthcare. Seeing a regular doctor for a routine health issue can be a complicated process with numbers, carriers, referrals, approvals, co-pays and so on. Access to treatment for specific illnesses involves more complications. Without insurance it’s nearly impossible to afford treatment. 

Beyond the issue of access there’s the problem of stigma associated with mental illness that can make reaching out for help incredibly difficult. I talk a bit about the weight of stigma is in my post Bouncing Back From The Blues.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) put together an excellent fact sheet on mental illness statistics in the United States and it’s saddening yet not surprising to me that Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year.” To put that percentage into perspective there are approximately 43.8 million people living with mental illness in the U.S., which breaks down to approximately 26 million people without care. 

More than an individual’s mental health is at stake when mental illness goes untreated. Lack of treatment is a risk to physical health. NAMI notes, Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.” Lack of treatment can lead to traumatic outbursts and, “Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.”

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. indicating that there are countless people out there without hope for the possibility of healing.

Let’s pretend you have great insurance and can get right to a mental health professional without a referral. Then there’s the chance that they might not be a good fit for you. There are innumerous horror stories about providers that fail to help. I heard something that really touched me in a podcast from Psych Central. Their guest Natasha Tracy recalled an incredibly painful comment that a provider made when she was feeling suicidal, “You’ve tried every treatment and they’ve all failed, what’s the point in you having a doctor?” For Natasha those words, “drove me into a place where I felt like suicide absolutely was the only option for me.” I haven’t been in the exact situation, but I have been in similar situations where I was searching for hope and help and instead was met with judgement and defeat.

Recently thanks to a random series of circumstances I have been linked with a therapist that wants to help and fits my needs. A friend begun treatment and loved it so much that she gave me their information. I had given up on finding a provider because each referral was for a clinic I could never make it to since they were only open during regular business hours, but my friend’s excitement about tackling her anxiety gave me the courage to reach out to the contact she gave me. I was impressed at how quickly they responded. Not only did they take my insurance, they had me setup for an appointment in less than a week. I’m still slightly apprehensive about the process since I’ve been burned before, but I know how helpful it is to have that support while I sort out my thoughts and behaviors and aim for a happier life.

If you’re out there struggling with your mental health you are not alone and there is hope, even if you can’t see it right now. Call the suicide line at 1-800-273-8255 if you’re struggling and need someone to talk to, they’re there to help. You matter.

Posted in Life Lessons

Chaos is My Constant

I’ve posted a lot about the importance of setting a routine and planning ahead, but I have failed to follow my own advice in a “do as I say not as I do” kind of way. It wasn’t  intentional. I went into this semester with a positive attitude determined to use all the tools to help change my habit of procrastination and become a more productive individual.

The reality that change is slow and hard has fully sunk in. A lot of our habits are developed in adolescence so I’ve spent over a decade handling responsibilities in a similar manner: avoid it until you have no other choice.
Continue reading “Chaos is My Constant”

Posted in Life Lessons

Perspective is Key

Since I moved in August my commute from school has more than doubled. I have two night classes this year that don’t end until 9:45 PM. Throughout the day I would obsess about how late I would be getting home, how little time to myself I’d have, and how little I’d sleep. Each time it crossed my mind I would get more upset about it, by the time it actually got to the commute home I was livid.

Recently, I’ve been working on re-routing thoughts like these. I’m trying to practice mindfulness by catching thoughts that fuel negative feelings and correcting the path. Yes, it’s a huge pain for me to get home at 11:30PM when I have work at 8:30AM but….
Continue reading “Perspective is Key”