One False Move

Recently I was speaking to my mentor and dear friend of many years, and he made the comment that I seemed to be doing a lot better than I was a year ago. He then said, “I bet you have to work hard to keep your depression at bay.” As always, he was spot on.

Many people think that because I went to a psychiatric facility for six weeks, I’m “cured” or “fixed.” But for me, and so many others, major depression is a life-long struggle. I have to be diligent in following my treatment plan and there’s just not much room for error. One false move can cause me to slip into a depressive episode, and there I am — Alice, fallen down the rabbit hole. But it’s no dream, it’s a living nightmare.

Accidentally skipping my pills, going to bed later than normal, skipping therapy, not exercising — that all costs me. Even if it seems so inconsequential, like not brushing my teeth before bed, it’s not. It takes only one thread to pull a tapestry apart.

I try to follow a strict schedule, where I wake up and go to bed at the same time everyday. I adhere to a self-care checklist, which holds me accountable to all the small chores I must do to maintain my mental health (brushing teeth, taking a shower, exercising). It doesn’t sound so bad, and I’m not seeking pity, but sometimes I’d like to stay up late every once in awhile or sleep in (with the kids, I guess this is moot). I crave flexibility and spontaneity. It doesn’t help that I’ve developed a very rebellious side that tells me, “You can’t tell me what to do!” And sometimes I’ll indulge her, which is never a good idea, but one I can’t seem to avoid.

Looking deeper, what I really want is to not have to look over my shoulder so much, in fear of a depressive episode. I don’t want to worry what that would mean for my family. I want security — safety from depression —and the thought of never having that is so overwhelming, it’s hard to breathe. The thought of having an ECT treatment every four to six weeks for the rest of my life, makes me want to sob. The idea that I will be suicidal again, is heartbreaking and scary as hell. It all feels so damn heavy, especially when I think about how my depression is present in my daily life, even when I’m not going through a depressive episode. It’s always there, lurking, making every little thing I do harder.

I would love not to have to question every emotion and investigate every bad mood. Sometimes I feel like I can’t even admit to a bad day without someone questioning if I “fell off the wagon” of good mental hygiene. I wish I could have some normalcy and not be at the mercy of my disease. I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing about it, I sure as hell am. But again, one false move could crush my fragile psyche.

Odds are that I will enter into another depressive episode. I’m just being realistic. I’m grateful that I’m better equipped now if that happens, but it’s still scary. I’d like to think I’ll never get as lost as I was before going to The Menninger Clinic, but if I do, I know my family and friends are there to support me. And that’s more than a lot of people have.

I’ve always been careful to thank God for all my blessings, and I’m so blessed. I know not everybody can go inpatient at a top psychiatric hospital. Not everybody has such supportive family and friends. And as messed up as it sounds, I’m grateful for my depression because it has taught me empathy, strength, resilience and patience. I wouldn’t be the person I am without it (and I’m pretty proud of who I’ve become).

Still, it’s scary knowing that I could return to that lonely, dark place.

Here’s to staying in the light.

I’m Not for Everyone

In the not-so-distant past I’ve had trouble with is that I want everybody to love me, and because of this, I don’t think I’ve been my most authentic self around people. I was a people pleaser. I sought the approval of people who really shouldn’t shape my behavior (family, friends, acquaintances I met at the kids’ school). Usually people pleasers have low self-esteem and self-worth. It’s just not realistic for everyone to like me.

The only person I should care about liking me is me. And maybe my husband.

I’m tired of thinking, “Oh, is this person mad at me? Did I do something wrong? Do I need to apologize?”

I would actually go through my texts or social media posts to see if I posted something offensive or controversial. That’s nuts, and it’s no way to live. I don’t want the responsibility for how others feel anymore. Rejection, if that’s what it is, is OK.

I’m a good person — a nice person. I’m kind, generous and I love hard. If someone doesn’t like me, fine. I think I’m great. It just took me a really long time to get here.

I look back and think of some of my therapy appointments. It was really hard admitting that I’m a good person, and it was unbelievably hard saying something nice about myself or even discussing the good things happening in my life.

I’m tired of that, though. I’m tired of overanalyzing my behaviors and social media posts. I’m also tired of freaking out when I think someone is mad. Just because they’re mad doesn’t mean I did anything wrong. It makes me avoid conflict, and that’s not healthy either.

I’m not for everybody. And that’s OK. I just want to be me — an advocate for mental health, lover of the F word, a “bleeding heart” liberal, an anxious (and sometimes very depressed) person, a kind hearted person who sings no matter where she goes, someone who will admit when she’s wrong, someone I cherish for all these reasons and more.

It’s a long road to love yourself, and I’m no means close to the finish line on that, but I feel it starts with letting go of the idea that you have to please everybody.

I’m an amazing person for so many reasons, but one think I’m not that I need to remind myself of is — I’m not for everyone. I’m for me.

My tips on how to stop people pleasing:

  1. Be OK with saying “No”
  2. Accept who you are, with no exceptions
  3. Know that it’s OK if not everybody likes you
  4. Practice self-care
  5. Don’t place more importance others’ opinions than yours
  6. Set priorities and only do things that will advance those priorities
  7. Ditch toxic personalities

Download my Self-Care Checklist below:

Self Destruct Mode: OFF

I’ve been feeling pretty great lately, which is a bit unusual, but hey, I’ll certainly take it. When I feel this good I tend to treat myself better, I’m more productive and generally in a good mood.

But I’ve noticed, even with these good moods, there’s still a part, albeit a small part, of me that looks for ways to be unhealthy. For example, I’ll get the urge to overeat, even when I’m not hungry. I’ll think, “What pills can I take to feel good?” even though I have no such pills. Images of cutting myself will appear, even though I surely don’t want to do that.

I’m aware that it’s happening and I know it’s 100-percent my lying ass brain spreading more lies. It’s just a malfunction. It’s not really real, but emotions are energy in motion, and I can’t let these awful thoughts fester in my head.

If I do, unhealthy behaviors take control and with them come intrusive, unhealthy thoughts. My control over these thoughts and behaviors loosens, and just like that, I’m in a dark, ugly place that I can’t find my way out of. It’s like being in a deep hole and my depression is just too heavy, weighing me down and preventing me from climbing out.

It’s a slippery slope, a dangerous one for me, given that I can become suicidal very quickly.

I have to take inventory of my emotions constantly to prevent this. I have to be fully aware of how I feel and avoid switching to autopilot where I might miss something. I have to be so diligent so I can avoid that hole. And honestly, it’s exhausting and feels like sometimes it’s too much or not worth doing. Before I’d try to figure out why I was having these thoughts and ask what it meant, but like I said, it’s just a malfunction. I need to stop wasting time wondering why and just dismiss the thoughts. They’re not worth thinking.

I must release the energy that fuels these damaging thoughts and refocus if in a productive way, channeling it into exercise and writing, etc.

A self care check list is helpful to have so I can stay on top of the things I need to do to prevent self destruction. Just thinking about all the work I have to do to stay healthy is daunting and tiring. But I have to do it if I want to be happy. This past week has made me realize how much I’ve missed being happy — singing at the top of my lungs in the car and shower, truly enjoying spending time with my kids, reading for pleasure, writing my ass off and exercising. Medicine, ECT and therapy just aren’t enough to maintain my good mood and healthy behaviors. I have to put in the work at it, just like anything else. Sometimes it bothers me that other people don’t have to work as hard at life.

But I don’t do happy-go-lucky — I physically can’t. Happiness, for me, is hard work. It’s sticking to a strict schedule, taking an assortment of pills daily, going to therapy, keeping a close eye on my emotions and lots of prayerThere’s nothing lucky about it. 

I do have to work hard, but the payout is so, so good and that’s what I need to remember. What is the point in having an amazing life if you can’t enjoy it? Why do I spend so much time self-sabotaging? Again, with the “why?”

I’m going to work at my life like it’s my damn job and like it pays, because it is and it does.

It pays so much.

This is the Self Care Checklist that I created. It’s super simple; feel free to download:

In a Nutshell: My Week in Review

This week was amazing for me. It started off with an ECT, so that took up my whole Monday, but then on Tuesday I was told that one of the news channels here wanted to feature my blog and have me talk about suicide prevention. You can watch that here.

Usually, being on the news would really freak me out and I might’ve turned it down in the past. But I was completely comfortable doing it and so excited for what it might bring.

My blog got a lot of traffic and people have been reaching out to me, saying they love the blog and were glad I was writing about depression and mental illness. That makes everything totally worth it.

I’ve been toying with turning my blog into a book, so I think I’m going to explore that further. I’d have to beef up my blog before I do anything but lately my writing has just been pouring out of me.

I want to thank everyone who visited my blog this week or reached out. I appreciate your support and kindness.

As for this week, it’s likely to be a wild one again, as my oldest child is turning 6 on Friday and we have a drive-by party for her Saturday.

I’m going to focus on my self care checklist this week and making sure I’m being as healthy as possible. This past week, I stopped filling out my checklist and I’m suffering because of it. You can download my checklist here:

I hope everybody has a great week!

Love,
Heather