Maintaining Relationships When You’re Not Doing Well

This has been a rocky couple of weeks for me. I’ve had a lot going on lately, so my self-care routine has kind of fallen by the wayside. The obvious result of this has been that I’ve been experiencing a super fun (not) cocktail of anxiety and depression. This is my first rough patch since moving in by myself (which I guess has only been three weeks), and it’s a whole different experience. I tend to withdraw when I’m depressed and/or anxious (like a lot of people), and that’s a whole lot easier to do when you live by yourself.

When I’m anxious, I ignore calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages, not because I want to withdraw or isolate myself, but because the anxiety of responding — especially if I’ve been MIA for a few days — is too overwhelming. When I’m depressed, I’m already using what little energy I have to get out of bed, get dressed, and get through the work day before collapsing into bed again. When I’m anxious and depressed, I don’t have the energy to conquer the anxiety of responding, so then I go awhile without responding, which in turn makes me feel anxious because I feel like people are mad at me, and then I worry so much that I have even less energy to conquer it…well, you get the idea.

I know I’m not alone in this. So how do you maintain connections with your support system when all you really want to do is hide under a table until people leave you alone? 

Send out a mass message. Whether it’s a Facebook post, a tweet, a group text, or anything else, just let people know what’s going on. You don’t need to go into detail, just let them know that you’re having a hard time and you’ll get back to them as soon as you can. Here’s what I posted on Facebook a couple of days ago:

Facebook Grab

This served two purposes: it let people know what was going on, which eased up on the guilt a little, and it encouraged people to reach out to me and tell me they loved me, which I desperately needed. I know some people might be resistant to this because it seems like a “cry for help,” but I’ve never really understood that negative knee jerk reaction to that. There’s nothing wrong with crying for help when you need help. In fact, I think it’s a great idea! Cry away.

Do a little extra self-care. First things first, if you’ve been slacking on your regular self-care routine, do your best to get back on track. Then you can try to squeeze in a few things from your “wants” and “extras.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m not doing well, the first thing to go is my self-care. Then I feel even worse, which makes it even harder to get back on track. It’s another one of those vicious cycles. If you can get back on track with your self-care, not only will it make you feel better because you’re taking care of yourself, but it will also remind you that you’re worth the time and effort required to take care of yourself.

Make plans. I know this is the absolute last thing you want to do, but it will help. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Pick your closest friend or family member, one you know won’t judge you if you haven’t showered or your house is a mess, and make some plans. Even if it’s just inviting them over to eat takeout on the couch with you, it will help. It’s always good to spend time with people who love you, and it will help break that endless cycle of negativity that your brain can get stuck in when you’re not doing well.

Be honest. Odds are good that if you have close friends or family who know you well, they’re going to notice when something’s wrong. When people ask me what’s wrong, I used to always respond the same way: a big fake smile and a cheery “Everything’s fine! I’m just tired.” You know who I was fooling? No one. Lying will only make you feel more isolated, and the people closest to you will probably know that you’re lying anyway. Again, you don’t have to get into the vivid details, but if someone asks you what’s going on, tell them. Just say “You know, I’m not doing well right now. Can you come over and hang out with me?” Look at that, you accomplished two things right there. Yay you!

Share your small victories. You don’t have to blast it all over social media, but if you just did something little that seemed huge, share it with someone who will understand. Here’s a text I sent to Anna last night:

Anna Text

I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 missed called and voicemails, so this was a BIG deal for me. Not to mention how stressful I find listening to voicemails. Anna knows all these things about me, so it felt super rewarding to share this little victory. Even if it’s something as small as taking a shower or putting on pants or not crying at work, share with someone who will get it! And if you don’t have anyone in your life who will get it, get some better friends, and then tweet @ftwtwblog and tell me about it! I promise to be super impressed by you.

Cut yourself some slack. It’s okay to not be doing well. It’s not your fault. Sometimes it seems like you’ll never be okay again and that everyone in your life is going to abandon you because you suck at getting back to them, but they won’t. Everything will be okay, I promise.

If you feel like you can’t talk to the people in your life, you’re more than welcome to reach out to me via e-mail at findingthewaytowell@gmail.com, on Twitter and Instagram at @ftwtwblog, or post in the Facebook group. I’m a really good listener. If things are really scary and you need to talk to someone ASAP, please please PLEASE call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.

Stay safe and keep your head up. People love you, and it’s all going to be okay!

**NOTE: I’m going to start posting more regularly, instead of throwing a post up whenever the spirit moves me. Now you can look for new posts every Friday! Woohoo!**

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5 Ways to Show Love to Someone with Depression

Happy Valentine’s Day, loves! Whether you’re single or in a relationship, I hope you’re showing yourself and your favorite people some extra love today.

In honor of this love-centric holiday, I figured it was high time to write a piece that’s been on my mind for a long time. Loving someone who has any kind of mental illness can be tricky, especially if you’re not someone who’s ever struggled with it. For today, I’m going to focus on the most common mental illness: depression.

Every person is different, but here are my basic guidelines for showing love to a person with depression, whether it’s a special occasion like V-Day or any regular old day.

Ask them what they want. This one can be hard, especially in a new relationship, but it’s so important. Grand gestures are great, but for someone who’s depressed they can be really overwhelming. When you’re planning something for a holiday, a simple question a few weeks out like, “Hey, how do you feel about surprises?” can make a big difference.  The second, equally important, part of this is to listen to them. If they tell you they don’t want to go out or exchange gifts, surprising them with reservations at a fancy restaurant and an extravagant gift runs the risk of making them feel worse.

Do something to make their life easier. If you love someone with depression and you know they hate cleaning the kitchen, surprise them with a sparkling clean kitchen. Run errands for them. Clean the cat litter. Take their car in for an oil change. If it’s a new relationship/friendship and you don’t feel comfortable doing those things just yet, offer to cook dinner and clean up afterwards, or offer to help them do something you know they don’t enjoy. This may not seem super romantic, but a clean litter box and a fridge full of groceries shows me how much you love me way better than a bouquet of flowers.

Keep their limitations in mind when making plans. I know for some people, dressing up and going out somewhere fancy can help pull them out of a depressive episode, but this doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes the stress of having to shower and compose yourself enough to go out in public can be overwhelming and awful. If you know your significant other or friend is going through a depressive episode, skip the surprise this year, and let them be a part of the planning. Find a way to celebrate that doesn’t take so much energy that it’s draining. Go see a movie, eat somewhere casual, or make a fancy meal at home.

Help them with self-care. Do something that you know will help their mental health, whether it’s something big like a professional massage, or small, like prepping their lunches for the week or filling their prescriptions.  If they’ve made a self-care list, that makes it even easier. Help them get the needs done and throw in some of the extras. It might not seem big and romantic, but I promise it will make a huge difference.

Remind them that your love is unconditional, and follow through. Depression sneaks in and tells you that no one really loves you, that everyone who tells you they love you is lying, and that everyone you love would be better off without you. Combat those nasty thoughts by telling your friend/partner/loved one that you will always love them, rain or shine, good days and bad, laughing or curled up on the bathroom floor sobbing. Say it and mean it. When they do have a bad day, make good on those promises and keep on loving them as loud as you can.

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Happy V-Day from my Valentine to yours!!

The Positive 30 Challenge

Hi friends! What did you do for the Super Bowl yesterday? Did you go to a party and eat lots of delicious junk food? Watch it at home with your family? Skip it entirely and watch the Puppy Bowl instead? My life is pretty hectic right now, so I watched the Super Bowl at home while I unpacked and prepped my meals for the week. Tech rehearsal for Treasure Island every night this week means prepping breakfast, lunch, and dinner for every day. Kind of exhausting.

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The Super Bowl was a non-stop thrill ride at our house.
Anyway, as I watched the Super Bowl this year, I couldn’t help but think about last year’s Super Bowl. The day of the 2015 Super Bowl was the day before I was admitted to a mental hospital, and the day my mental health hit rock bottom. I’m sure there will come a time where the only association I have with the Super Bowl is happiness and lots of delicious food, but this year, all I could think about was the negative stuff. Most of the time I can see how amazing it is that I’ve come so far, but yesterday the bad memories started to overwhelm me.

I don’t know if it’s my mental illness or just my nature, but my default setting is to fixate on the negative side of things. I’ve caught myself falling into that negative spiral a lot lately, so I decided to start making a conscious effort to focus on the positive side of things instead. And you know what? It’s made a difference. It’s getting easier to focus on the positive, and I’ve even noticed a change in my body when I shift my focus to the positive, like a giant weight is being lifted off my chest.

Whether you struggle with mental illness or not, I’m confident you’ve gotten trapped in a negative cycle a time or two before. Have you ever overslept, and then everything else seemed to go wrong for the entire day? Some of that is just the universe conspiring against you (sorry), but some of it is a snowball effect. If you hadn’t been wrapped up in how frustrated and flustered you were about being late, you probably wouldn’t have spilled coffee down your front or locked your keys in your car. What if you had chosen instead to take thirty seconds, breathe deeply a few times, and think about how much your body will benefit from the extra hour of sleep and how lucky you are to live a life where you won’t get fired for being late once? You might have still had a bad day, but it might stop that snowball effect of everything being awful all day.

Let me say that I’m not trying to suggest this as a “cure” to mental illness. I understand that sometimes you’re really depressed or anxious and you just can’t focus on the positive, and that’s okay. I’m saying that if you train your brain to start focusing on the positive when you do have that choice, it might be just a teeny, tiny bit easier to do that when you’re not at your best. And who knows? Maybe you’ll see other benefits too. You won’t know until you try.

For the next thirty days, I want you to find one thing a day to which your immediate reaction was negative, and find a way to spin it. I’m going to do my challenge primarily on Instagram, but you don’t have to. Feel free to use any social media platform you choose, or none at all. If you’re more comfortable, leave comments on the blog, or just write it down in a journal every day and post/tweet/comment at the end to let me know how it went.

Here’s the official Finding the Way to Well Positive 30 Challenge in a neat, tidy numbered list:

  1. Pick one thing per day for thirty days that you immediately reacted negatively to (a parking ticket, a flat tire, a new haircut, etc.).
  2. Take a picture of it (if you’re so inclined).
  3. Tweet/Instagram/Facebook it and tell us a) the situation b) your immediate reaction c) your positive spin.
  4. Tag @FTWTWBlog on Twitter and Instagram and Finding the Way to Well on Facebook and use #ftwtwpositive30

Positive 30 Pinterest

Follow me at @FTWTWBlog on Twitter and Instagram and Finding the Way to Well on Facebook to see my daily posts, and be sure to check out #ftwtwpositive30 to see what everyone else is posting!

P.s. If your immediate response to this is a massive eye roll and the thought of “Oh my god, not another stupid challenge,” examine that response and how negative it is. I’m just saying. No one ever got hurt from having a little extra positivity in their lives. 

Check out my Day One post here!

5 Tips to Stay Mentally Healthy When You’re Sick

This morning I woke up all congested with the beginnings of a killer sore throat. I really, really don’t have time to get sick right now. I’m in a production of Treasure Island out in Skokie that opens in a week, which means 16 hour days every day next week. Plus I just moved into a new apartment last weekend (pics to come!).

I don’t have anything planned tonight or tomorrow, so I made a grand plan to do what I always do when I get sick: sleep for sixteen hours straight, eat my weight in gluten-free macaroni cheese, and not leave my couch. Then I started to think about how much I’ve improved my self-care game in the past few months, and I realized that my plan for the weekend probably wouldn’t be great for my mental health. I set out to revamp my sicky plan to protect my mental health, and here are the five best tips I came up with:

Sick Pinterest

Take a shower. Any time I start to feel bad, mentally or physically, the first thing I do is take a shower. It’s like hitting the reset button. Take a long shower, enjoy the steam, take longer than you usually do to get clean, then put on clean, cozy pajamas. If you’re going to be sitting on the couch for most of the day, it’s way more enjoyable when you feel like you aren’t sitting in your own filth. Besides, the steam will help if you’re congested, so it’s a win-win.

Leave the House. I feel like I got hit by a really mucus-y truck, and the last thing I want to do is get up off my couch. It’s February in Chicago, and my apartment is warm and smells nice and has all the internet and food I could wish for. That being said, the longer you sit around doing nothing, the harder it’s going to be on your mental health. You don’t need to do anything strenuous, just head outside for a few minutes. If you can afford to, pick up a little something that’ll make your convalescence more enjoyable: a hot tea from your neighborhood coffee shop, trashy magazines, Vicks Vaporub. That way you get a little Vitamin D and fresh air and you have something to look forward to when you get home.

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I highly recommend a furry cuddle buddy.

Eat your veggies. I am a junk food eater when I’m sick. I love eating mac and cheese, pizza, fast food — basically any food that gives me an entire day of calories in one meal. As delicious as that might be, I know I’m not doing myself any favors, mentally or physically. Eat foods that are high in Vitamins C, D, and B12 to help your immune system and give your mood a little boost too. Eat balanced meals instead of loading up on empty carbs. Try this awesome soup for a little comfort food that won’t make you feel gross afterward. Especially if you’re someone who struggles with your weight, eating high-fat, high-calorie foods is just going to leave you feeling bad, mentally and physically.

Be mindful of your cold meds. If you made your self-care plan, you (hopefully) established a baseline by cutting out addictive stuff for a while. That probably means that you’re becoming more in tune with how your mood and your body react when you take OTC medications. Since daytime cold meds are uppers and nighttime cold meds are downers, they’re probably going to affect your mood if you’re taking them regularly for a couple of days. Avoid taking more than one or two doses in twenty-four hours if you can, and definitely aim to be off them in three days.

Give yourself permission to rest. It’s really, really hard for me to lay around and do nothing. Between work, blogging, rehearsals, and keeping up an apartment by myself, I always feel like there’s something I “should” be doing. This mentality is really dangerous when you’re sick, because it means you’re beating yourself up every minute that you’re lying on the couch doing nothing, which can lead to a pretty nasty downward spiral. Your job when you’re sick is to get well. You’re not doing anyone any favors by showing up sick and half-assing your responsibilities because you’re too sick to do things well. Lay down. Watch trashy television. Drink fluids. Rest. Rest. Rest. Your health is the most important thing you have, so treat it gently.

I hope these tips can help keep your mental state healthy, even when the rest of you isn’t.

**Social Media Note: I’ve resolved the thumbnail issue we were having with sharing the blog to Facebook, so share away!**

How to Handle the Medication Stigma

Me: *Discreetly takes medication*
Person: What did you just take?
Me: My anti-anxiety medication.
Person: You’re on anti-anxiety medication?
Me: Yeah.
Person: Really? You don’t seem crazy at all.

I used to be on an anti-anxiety medication that I had to take with lunch, so conversations like this happened more than once. Odds are that if you have to take a medication when you’re away from home, or even if you’re just open about the fact that you take medication, you’ve probably had some version of this conversation.

Most people react well, or at least respond tactfully, but every now and then you get a negative response. I used to get flustered and really upset by that, so I figured I’d put together a little guide on how to handle the medication haters.

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Most of the negative responses I’ve encountered fit into one of three categories:

The anecdotal evidence for why medication doesn’t work

What it looks like:
“My aunt’s boyfriend went on antidepressants and it actually made him way worse and he tried to kill himself.”
“My mom went on anti-anxiety medications and it didn’t help her at all.”
“I went on antidepressants when I was in college and it made me feel awful.”

Why it’s a problem: If we based all of our medical choices on anecdotal evidence, we’d all be sick or dead. Just because I’m allergic to amoxicillin doesn’t mean you can’t take it. Everyone responds to treatment differently, and the one-size-fits-all treatment mentality just adds to the stigma surrounding mental health and makes it that much harder to get help.

How to respond: I’m assuming here that you want to remain diplomatic and spread positivity and education with your responses. I usually try not to dismiss them or their experiences, but I still stand my ground. “I’m so sorry that you/your mom/your uncle’s cousin’s brother had such a bad experience. It took me a long time to find the right medications for me, but once I did, it made a huge difference in my life.”

The failed compliment

What it looks like:
“Wow, I never would have guess that you’re medicated. You seem so normal!”
“You don’t seem like you have bipolar!”
“No way are you crazy enough to be medicated!”

Why it’s a problem: First of all, I know I don’t seem crazy. I’m on medication and in therapy precisely so I don’t seem crazy. Second of all, the notion that you should be able to see my illness just adds to the mental health stigma. The idea that you have to look or act a certain way to be considered mentally ill makes it so much harder to recognize an illness and get treatment for it. Mental illness looks different on everyone, and the first step to fighting the stigma is to stop pretending that we can recognize it on sight. Third, when you throw around words like “crazy,” and “normal,” it diminishes the complicated experiences of people who struggle with mental illness.

How to respond: “Well, you don’t seem like an insensitive ass. I guess we were both wrong.” No, I’m just kidding. Although I’ve considered that response more than once. This one’s tough, because it’s so ingrained in us to thank someone for what was intended as a compliment, but don’t do it! Try “Most people who are medicated for mental illness aren’t the people you would expect.” or even “Well, I’ve been in treatment for [insert number] years, I certainly hope I don’t seem crazy.” And if you really want to be educational, throw in a, “Hey, did you know that 1 in 5 American adults experience mental illness in a given year? Bet you wouldn’t pick out 20% of the population as ‘crazy’ either.”

The dismissal.

What it looks like:
“Ugh, do you really want to be on pills for the rest of your life?”
“You have so much to be happy about, why would you need medication?”
“Aren’t those basically placebos anyway?”
“Have you tried thinking positively/yoga/acupuncture/exercise/etc.?

Why it’s problematic: First of all, it’s just personally insulting. Most people who are medicated didn’t make that decision lightly, and that choice is between them and their doctor (and their parents, if they’re a minor). Second, it goes back to taking ownership of your body. This is just another way of saying “I know what’s best for you and your body better than you do,” and that’s not okay.  Third, it’s that mental illness stigma again. The notion that you can treat mental illness by choosing to be happier is as absurd as the idea that you could treat asthma by choosing to breath easier.

How to respond: This is the one I have the hardest time with. I usually go for something along the lines of, “Actually, I use a lot of different treatment methods. Medication is one of them, and it’s just a vital to my health as medication for any other illness.”

When people say rude, hurtful, ignorant things, it can take every fiber of your being not to rage at them for being part of the problem. Just remember that they didn’t choose to be ignorant any more than you (or your loved one) chose to be mentally ill. Every interaction you have that centers around mental illness is a chance to fight the stigma that surrounds it. Use your voice and your unique experience to battle that stigma and make the world a little brighter and more educated.