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Spring Cleaning – Inside and Out

I bet I’m not the only one with a full-blown case of Spring Fever right now, am I?

goodbye winter

I get this way every year. We get a day or two of warm weather, sunshine and breezes and I’ve got the windows flung open, tank tops and shorts on, hair pulled up, ready to do battle with all the winter clutter and grime. And that usually includes some serious internal deep cleaning, too.

No, I don’t do any fasts or cleanses. Are you kidding me?!? Spring cleaning does NOT mean spending a week in the bathroom pleading for an old priest and a young priest.  No siree, Bob. I just mean that I usually do the kind of re-evaluation and contemplation that most people do on New Year’s Eve when they’re making their resolutions. And then I put that into action. The reason it takes me until Spring to do that is I generally do not have the energy or motivation to do so in the dead of an Ohio winter. (It’s that whole hibernation thing, y’know.)

So right now, the urge to pull EVERYTHING out of my closets and start tossing the old is really strong. But even stronger is the urge to get rid of all the mental and emotional clutter that simply isn’t working for me. I think it’s time to let the sunshine and fresh air breeze through my whole life and spark some renewal and regrowth.

So here’s what I’ve decided: for every physical thing I clean up and declutter around my house, I’m going to find one aspect of my life that needs the same attention and treatment. I’ve already started going through my inbox and my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds and unsubscribing to anything that was an impulse” follow” or sign-up, anyone whose posts I typically hide, or any page I’ve liked that doesn’t really contribute to my growth or at the very  least entertainment in some significant way. (But never underestimate the value of a cute otter video or kitten picture when you’re feeling down. Those are keepers.) Instead of just deleting emails from companies I’m not interested in, I’ve started unsubscribing from their sites. It takes a second now, but it’s a whole lot less mess in the future!

I’ve made a pact with myself: I’m not signing up for any new webinars, meetings, workshops or anything else until I go through and use the stuff I’ve already downloaded and/or signed up for. I have a really bad habit of collecting information because I’m afraid I’ll never find it if I don’t act on it the moment I see it. And as a result, my life over the last few months has grown more and more overwhelming by the day as my attention is drawn in 1,000 different directions. It’s time to find some focus and eliminate some distractions.

I’m cutting way back on Netflix time. It’s too easy to just turn something on and think, “Oh, I’ll just let this play for background noise while I work”, but I need to face facts: I’m not someone that deals with distraction well, so I need to eliminate it as much as I can. I’m also making it a habit to only check e-mail twice a day, as that’s just one more interruption that I’ve allowed to suck up a lot of my free time.

And as much as I despise routine and schedules, I’m forcing myself to finally adopt one – somewhat. I have a tendency to get involved in a project and lose all track of time and space and then 3 hours later realize I’ve wasted half the day on one thing. It’s especially bad for me when I’m working on genealogy research because those little green leaves on Ancestry are like crack. You’re always just one little click away from discovering the Holy Grail of your family tree. Except you’re not. EVER. It’s an endless search and that’s the entire point! Quite honestly, most of the work I do is like that. So from here on out, I’m blocking out my day into incremental segments of time with breaks in between. And I’m going to set up a timer so that I stick to my schedule.

I’m taking a mental broom and sweeping out feelings and hang-ups that no longer serve me. There’s no way to move forward into who I’m meant to be if I hang onto old grievances, grudges and doubts. I am letting go, lovingly, of relationships that are toxic for me. I know that some folks are best loved from afar, or you risk being cut to shreds on their broken pieces. I have learned throughout my life how to be compassionate to others, but turning that on myself has been a far more difficult lesson to learn. But at the end of the day what keeps me stuck is me. Plain and simple. So I am letting go of my attachment to the things and feelings that just don’t work for me anymore.

And then there’s the health thing. I make all kinds of promises to myself to eat better, get more exercise and then beat myself up when I don’t stick to it. I’ve already gotten halfway there by deciding I’m never going to diet again. That does nothing but make me obsess about eating and generally just backfires and makes me gain more anyway. And I’m sticking with my gym schedule because it makes me feel good. But I’m trying to throw in some extra activity every day to give me a little boost – maybe a walk after dinner or some yoga. And I’m going to try to keep eating better – more whole foods, less junk and just more of what makes me feel better. Because in the end, that’s what it’s all about for me – feeling better. Not hitting a number on the scale or a certain dress size – just feeling better.

Voila! My spring cleaning plan. I’m excited and determined to put this new-found energy to use in the best way possible – growth. (And yes, I’m also going to get my house cleaned up.) So here’s my question for you (well, actually two):

 

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If you are, or think you are, and would like some ideas on where to start, click here to download my Spring Cleaning Affirmation! Print it out and post it on your refrigerator, in your planner, on your mirror – anywhere you need a reminder of why it’s important to get rid of all the clutter and junk in your life. And hey – I expect you to report back and tell me how it’s going. I want to hear what you’re letting go of and how it’s changing your life. Let’s do this!

spring cleaning affirmation

Click on the photo to download and print your Spring Cleaning Affirmation! 

Much love. – Mama Bear

meds

Yes, I’m Off My Meds – Here’s Why

meds

First of all, let me be clear. I am NOT anti-medication, nor am I advocating that anyone else stop taking theirs. Nothing I say here is meant as medical advice and I’m definitely not a medical professional.

But yes, I am off my medications. It’s really not that big a deal at this point in my life; All I was taking was the lowest clinical dosage of bupropion, anyway – far from the cocktail of meds I’ve been on in the past. But I’ve been on bupropion for over 10 years and I finally felt like it was time.

I’ve been on psych meds since I was in my early 20s and I’ve never really liked being on them. It’s not because I view the need for meds as a weakness (I don’t and never have), and it’s not because I don’t feel I’ve needed help from time to time (I definitely have). And when I felt there was a need for me to be on them, or that I was deriving some benefit from taking them, I took them. But over the last several years I’ve been seriously questioning just what the benefits were for me, and I finally came to the conclusion that there just weren’t enough to justify it anymore.

I think the final straw came after watching a documentary about the pharmaceutical industry and its relationship with consumers and the FDA. It really opened my eyes to not only my own history with psych meds, but the way they’re marketed and how they’re used. One segment in particular stuck with me. A young man, who happens to be a doctor, told a story of a time when his elderly mother went to her physician after suffering the loss of her husband and partner of 40+ years. Her doctor asked how she was feeling and she said that she was sad (obviously). The doctor proceeded to ask her if she’d like to be put on any medications. She was puzzled and simply responded that she was sad because she’d lost her husband and asked if the doctor didn’t think that was a normal response to the loss.

I’m not qualified to judge whether or not an individual needs medication. But I do wonder at the statistics. A 2011 report from the National Center for Health Statistics stated that antidepressant use among teens and adults rose nearly 400% between 1988-1994 and 2005-2008. And less than 1/3 of Americans who were prescribed an antidepressant had seen a mental health professional within the past year. The implication is that we’re getting the meds in greater numbers and we’re getting them without getting additional mental health treatment. And frighteningly enough, our kids are also getting medicated at higher rates than ever, even though there are dire warnings against giving children and teenagers antidepressants because of the risk of suicidal ideation and behavior.

I don’t really think that the problem is the meds. I think the problem is we’re handed meds as a solution, when they’re only a treatment. Popping a pill is not going to help anyone deal with a traumatic childhood, a shitty marriage, an unfulfilling job, or a stressful  life. But if you’re like most people, your insurance is more than happy to pick up the costs of your psych meds, but good luck getting them to cover anything but a few visits to a mental health care professional. And at upwards of $100 per visit, those costs might just put decent mental health care out of most people’s reach. So the solution for most of us is to go to our doctor, talk about how we’re feeling, get a prescription and hope for the best.

That just wasn’t enough for me. And it didn’t work. I counted, and I think I’ve been on about 17 different psych meds over the last 23 years. Part of that is because I was misdiagnosed as bipolar, which REALLY adds a lot of fun to the mix when you’re talking about meds. Some of the meds were antidepressants, some were anti-anxiolytic, some were anti-convulsants, and some were anti-psychotics. Yeah. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? The really fun part is that a lot of that was experimental on the part of the medical community. They call if “off-label prescribing” meaning it’s been approved by the FDA for some other reason, NOT for the reason they’re giving it to you. So no, I don’t have convulsions nor have I ever been psychotic, but when Drug A doesn’t work, why not try the hard stuff? And none of it made a profound difference on my psyche, but some of the meds made my hair fall out, some made me lethargic, a great many of them made me gain a lot of weight, and some gave me tremors and made me incredibly forgetful. The side effects on psych meds read like a horror novel.

I finally rebelled a few years ago and stopped trying to get anyone to listen to me when I said that I didn’t think the bipolar diagnosis was correct. I actually had a psychiatrist tell me that the diagnosis didn’t matter if the meds worked. That in spite of the fact that I was telling him quite clearly that the medicine DIDN’T work and yeah, I’m weird but I think proper diagnoses actually matter. You wouldn’t say that to a heart patient that you were trying to give insulin to, would you? Abilify (an anti-psychotic) was the last straw for me with the bipolar meds. After being on it for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t sit still for more than 10 minutes and I was so jumpy an anxious I couldn’t function. I went off it and stopped seeing that particular psychiatrist. I was still afraid to go off the meds completely, so I’ve stayed on the bupropion for the last few years even though I never really saw much improvement in my depression while I was on it. But it didn’t give me horrific side effects, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

Then slowly, over the last year or two, I began to realize something. Perhaps there is no magic pill for me. I started to pay attention to patterns and what I noticed was that there were specific actions I could take to help myself feel better. It wasn’t that they made the depression disappear; but it was at least manageable. And the knowledge that there was something that I could do to help myself was so empowering. And I began to realize that there have been things that have happened in my life that have given me legitimate reason to be sorrowful and to grieve and to be depressed. Hell, if I weren’t sad about some of them, then there’s definitely something wrong with me! I stopped trying to run away from the pain and came to the realization that it wasn’t going to kill me to sit with it and try to find a way to cope with it. There’s no medication on earth that’s going to make me stop missing my dad, or my grandma or my mom. There’s no pill that’s going to make up for what I suffered as a child. I am always going to have wounds that no amount of medication will heal. So what do I do?

Well, I do everything I can and everything that works. I exercise, I try to eat well (and sometimes I even succeed), I read lots of books on the subjects that will help me – trauma, abuse, depression, anger, parenting, happiness – you name it. I write. I get plenty of sleep. I am kind to myself. And I fight every goddamn day to stay well and to chase off the negative voices that play in my head (no, not real voices – just that negative “demon voice” that’s always ready to tell you you’re not good enough). I remind myself that my thoughts and feelings don’t have any real power and they are transient things; they’re not going to stay around forever. And I did all this before I went off the meds, and now that it’s been two weeks, I’m doing all the same things and I feel good. Not great, but good. It’s a lot of work but it is so worthwhile.

So yeah, the 20+ year journey with meds wasn’t a pleasant one for me. It was painful and disappointing but like any experience in life, it taught me a lot. And the biggest lesson I learned was that I have to do the work. No pill is going to do it for me. And in many ways, I got really lucky that the side effects weren’t permanent (except the weight but we’ll see how that works out). At the very least, I know that I have the skills to make my life better and that has made a tremendous difference for me. And the moral of this story is – take the meds if you need them, but educate yourself about whatever you’re taking. And definitely, whether you’re on meds or not, get the help and support you need and take good care of yourself because you’re worth it.

Much love. – Mama Bear

anxiety girl tall

When a Swift Kick in the Ass Is in Order

ultrasound 1 ultrasound 2

I’ve been looking at these two images for over a month, trying to decipher something, anything that might put me at ease. And I’ve been looking more intensely over the last week since my ob/gyn told me that what I’m looking at is a 9 cm by 5 cm complex ovarian cyst.

It all started with a trip to the urologist, followed by the ultrasound a month ago. We were trying to make sure my bladder and kidneys were okay because I’d been having some issues. I kind of suspected something was going on when the ultrasound tech seemed SUPER into my right side for whatever reason. It was like the paparazzi trying to get photos of Beyonce and Jay-Z – he was there for days, it seemed like. The urologist mentioned that I had a cyst but didn’t seem overly concerned when I told him I had a check-up with my ob-gyn scheduled for the end of October. But good news on the bladder and kidneys – just a couple of teensy kidney stones but everything else was okay.

The ob-gyn also didn’t seem overly concerned but when she told me how big it was, it freaked me out a bit. Then when she said we were going to wait a month before doing a follow-up ultrasound, I knew I was in trouble. She wanted to see if it would shrink on its own (they sometimes do) and then we’d figure out a plan (which might include surgery). That’s a full 32 days for my inner anxiety monkey to drive me full-on crazy. And I was right. Immediately it started in…

“What if the surgery goes wrong? What if she has to take your ovaries? What if it’s not just a cyst but something worse? Am I going to get slammed straight into menopause overnight? What if I have to have surgery during the holidays? How the hell am I going to get the Christmas shopping/decorating/cooking done with all that shit going on?” and on and on and on and on. And lucky for me, I had WebMD and internet message boards to fuel my anxiety bender.

anxiety girl tall

I talked to a couple of friends, my husband, my kids, my mother-in-law. I read up a lot about what complex cysts are and how they’re treated. Honestly, a lot of it was reassuring but that didn’t really help quiet my mind. You probably don’t know this about me, but jumping to conclusions is one of my superpowers. Jealous? Yeah, I’ve been playing my favorite fun time game – “Worst Case Scenario”. That’s what happens when you have a vivid imagination, a mind that never stops, anxiety and lots of free time. And facts and rational thinking don’t always help when you’re dealing with anxiety. If you tell me that only 1 out of every 10,000 planes crash, I can come up with 10 scenarios why MY flight will be that one. That’s how anxiety works. I didn’t really share too much of my thought process with anybody else because if it’s driving me crazy, I figure it’s not going to be a picnic for anyone else to listen to, either. To be fair to myself, I also tried to meditate and lurked in my Happy Tribe a bit, did some reading and tried to think positively. But still that monkey kept right on going.

Finally, it got to be too much for me. I was sitting here with that monkey going batshit in the cage and I actually said it out loud.

“ENOUGH.”

Enough. Holy hell, enough! Enough with the doomsday shit. Enough with the negativity. Enough with worrying and feeling sorry for myself and beating myself up for dismissing how I was feeling as just my hormones. Just enough already. I had just finally gotten fed up with myself. The happy quotes and reading and positive thinking weren’t what I needed right then. What I needed was a good swift kick in the ass. And so that’s what I did. You know it’s bad when you’re getting on your own damn nerves!

jump to conclusions mat

I’m self-aware enough to know that my mind really is like a wild monkey or an unattended toddler. If I leave it alone in a room for too long without something constructive to do, it’s going to make a god awful mess of things. So I made a few rules for myself:

  1. No more endless worry loops. I can fret for 15 minutes and then I need to move on to something else.
  2. No more researching symptoms/conditions/outcomes online. Period.
  3. Hit the to-do list. I now have a mile long list of stuff to do when I’m having trouble staying focused and have free time to spare. Activity is one of those things that helps me stay positive and makes me feel better.
  4. No more pity party. Yes, I physically feel like shit, but the doctor told me to take it easy and take care of myself, so that’s what I’m going to do. Good sleep, good foods, good energy. Wearing myself out further isn’t going to change the outcome and it’s also not going to help me deal with whatever lies ahead.
  5. If all else fails, talk to someone.

Like I said, activity is one of the things that helps me. And in this case, the activity I needed was a good swift kick in the ass. It’s helped remind me that I’m more powerful than I think  sometimes and that worrying isn’t going to change what happens; it’s just going to make me miserable until then. There’s a quote that I love – “Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair – it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Besides, there must be something more important for me to obsess about, right? And then there’s the whole garage that needs cleaning…

Until next time, take care. – Mama Bear

you do you

You Do You

I’ve been kind of quiet lately. I’ve been really busy, I’ve had some health issues that I still haven’t solved to my satisfaction (the next doctor that says the words “menopause” or “at your age” is gonna get punched), and to be completely honest, I’ve been struggling a bit. I’ve made some life changes that weren’t really accepted as well as I’d hoped, and while it didn’t surprise me all that much, it still hurts. That’s not something I’m always comfortable admitting, especially to people I don’t know really well. I’ve started to write a couple of times, but I would stop midway through a post and think, “Nah, I’m not going to go Debbie Downer on everybody.” Then I realized that maybe being totally honest is exactly what I should do since it’s pretty much my entire reason for starting this blog.

I don’t beat myself up for my need to hibernate anymore. I used to be so critical of my need to hide from the world and lick my wounds when things got tough. Now I have come to realize that it’s simply my way of coping. I also used to have people in my life that criticized me for it – for “hiding from the people that wanted to help me” – and even lost a few friends along the way because of it. But y’know, I don’t criticize other people for the way they handle things, and I don’t try to change them (unless of course, they’re involved in something that involves self-injury or self-medicating) so there’s no reason I should expect any different from others, or from myself. So yeah, I’m an introvert. I’m not really comfortable with people “helping” and I’m not always really open with my life and my problems and you know what? That’s okay, because when I’ve had my much-needed mental hibernation to mull things over, I come out and I talk it out with the ones I love most. And they know me and understand that about me.

I tend to get overwhelmed when my life gets too busy, even when it’s busy with happy things. I’ve felt like I’ve been meeting myself coming and going lately, and I know without a doubt if I don’t slow it down for just a little bit, I’m going to pay for it. I’ll wind up worn out and my immune system will pay me back by making me susceptible to everything that comes down the pike. So before it gets to the point that I’ve picked up bubonic plague from someone at the grocery store because I’ve let myself get run down, I’m learning that it’s okay to say “no” every once in awhile and take some time to recharge my batteries. And that’s exactly what I plan on doing this week.

I am changing, in lots of ways, and I’m far happier than I was even a year ago but I realize I still have a long way to go. Depression’s not going to let go that easily. But the good news is, because I’ve taken the time to learn more about depression, how it works for me, and to become more accepting of myself, I don’t doubt anymore that the sun is going to shine again, even on the darkest days. Because I’ve learned that self-care is important, and have devoted time to taking care of myself, I’m rewarded with more sunny days than cloudy ones. And even when my changes aren’t popular and are misunderstood, I’m able to get through it because I’ve built a solid foundation of self-love and self-acceptance and have worked hard to surround myself with people who love me just as I am and accept me, warts and all (I don’t really have warts).

So what’s my point in all this? Well, my point is, however you need to cope, as long as it isn’t hurting you or someone else, is okay. If being quiet and binge-watching Netflix with your phone on silent is how you get through a rough spot, do it. If you need to sit and cry for an hour and then get up and dance in your undies a la “Risky Business”, do it. If you need to call someone at 1 AM and rant senselessly for a bit, do it. If you need to write or paint or dance or drive or pet a puppy or go to the zoo or go shopping and it helps you, do it. Don’t max our your credit cards. Don’t eat until you make yourself sick. Don’t call someone that’s not going to help you or be accepting of you. Don’t have risky sex or binge drink or take pills or drive like a maniac because none of that is going to help you. And don’t kid yourself that it will. My point is, do what helps you. Like the kids say, you do you. And if someone can’t understand or accept that, well, do it anyway. And here’s some Kevin Hart because he makes me laugh my ass off every single time.

you do you

 

Take care of you. – Mama Bear

Self care is not self indulgent

The Importance of Small Attainable Goals in Dealing With Depression

I’ve already admitted to my list-making addiction in other posts. And even with all of the technology at my fingertips, I’m still an old-fashioned paper list maker. I don’t know if that will ever change because I get so much satisfaction from using a pen to scratch an item off after I’ve accomplished it and I just don’t think there’s any way to mimic that with an app. In addition to keeping track of what we need from the grocery and what I need to get done in any given day, I’ve found that making lists of real, attainable goals has been invaluable for me in treating my depression.

One of the most damaging effects of depression is the distorted thinking that goes along with it – that “demon voice” telling you that you’re worthless, you’re lazy, you’ll never accomplish anything and on and on. The perfect remedy for that is being able to accomplish things so you can tell that voice to shut the hell up. But that’s awfully hard to do when your mind is working against you. When getting out of bed to take a shower seems impossible, it’s awfully hard to convince yourself that you’ll be able to reach goals that you’ve set for yourself and anyway, why try? It’s too much work and it doesn’t make any difference. (There’s that voice again.) And if you’re looking at it as a whole, it might feel like it really is too much work. That’s why it’s much easier (and smarter, in my opinion) to start with small, attainable goals. When you’re in the midst of a depressive episode, it’s asking an awful lot to try to tackle your ten-year plan. Especially when you’re just trying to get through the next ten days, or even ten hours!

So what do I mean by small attainable goals? Well, let’s start with a small goal – setting up a daily plan for self-care. Think of it in these terms – what small things do I genuinely believe I can accomplish today to take care of myself? What are five things I can do that I know for sure will help make me feel better? For me, the list might look like this:

little list

(I wasn’t kidding in my Total Gratitude Thursday post when I said that I love these little tiny list pads from Target’s One Spot! They’re perfect.) All of the things I wrote on the list are things that I know I’ll have time and energy to get to today, even if it takes a little bit of pushing. And when the end of the day comes, and I’ve checked off those five actions, not only will I have a sense of accomplishment that I’ve been able to check them all off, I’ll also have devoted roughly an hour and a half of my day to taking care of myself. Both of those are vastly important when you’re trying to help yourself through a depressive episode. You’ll notice I didn’t have anything like “run a 5k” or “clean the whole house” on the list. That’s because neither of those are realistic or attainable goals for me right now. So putting them on my list of goals is self-defeating because that’s just one more thing I’ll have “failed at” when the day is done. I put that in quotes because it isn’t a real failure – just something my depressive mind would tell me I’d failed at.

Sometimes I make multiple lists. I’ll make one for me (self-care tasks to accomplish for the day), the household (small things I can do to make the house run more smoothly), business goals (in my case, relating to the blog, etc.). Again, all small, realistic goals of things that I can actually get done in the time period I’ve specified for myself. I would highly recommend a daily self-care list for anyone dealing with depression. It might be something you can print out and check off every day, or something to put on a dry-erase board or chalkboard, or if you like techie lists, download a list-making app and then make sure you have it set to remind you daily. But setting up a list of things you’re willing to do to take care of yourself every day lets you take a role in  your own health and well-being and reminds you of how important that is when you might have a hard time remembering to do so.

Self care is not self indulgent

I found what I think is a really good resource to use for teaching yourself these skills, and for dealing with depression in general. It’s at the University of Michigan’s Depression Center website. They have a downloadable Goal-Setting Worksheet and a whole Depression Toolkit that is full of tips and ideas for how to help yourself when you need it most. Be sure to read up on the self-care section – it has an amazing amount of information on how to make sure you devote time to taking care of yourself.

So that’s your assignment for this week – set up some small, attainable goals for yourself and set up a list of things you’re willing and able to do every day to take care of yourself. You’re worth it.

Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on the University of Michigan Depression Center website, your own self-care list or goals in the comments section, on the Facebook page, or find me on Twitter. I’d love to hear from you!

Have a beautiful weekend! – Mama Bear

dmsr mix

There’s No Miracle Pill

happy pills

Let me start off this post by stating that I am NOT a doctor, nor am I a mental health care professional. I’m not offering medical advice, treatment or cures for depression or any other mental health issue. I am simply sharing my own experiences and what has worked for me. Never go off medications without consulting a professional and if you are in crisis, call 911 immediately.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression in my early 20s, but looking back I realize I’ve been dealing with it since at least my early teens. But I think my 20s was the first time I heard about being able to take medications for depression, and so I went to see my doctor. The first medication I tried was Prozac, which helped a little but it also made me so tired I could hardly function. That simply wouldn’t work for me, given that I had two small children at home. Next came Effexor. It helped a bit, too and I wasn’t exhausted all the time. I was also referred to a counselor who I was able to see a total of 4 times as that’s all our insurance would cover. And since we couldn’t afford an extra $400 a month for weekly appointments, that’s as far as I got with therapy then. I found out I was pregnant again after having been on Effexor for several years and had to discontinue the meds. That’s when things really got fun. Withdrawal was pure hell. I was dealing with nausea and exhaustion from the pregnancy and then had dizzy spells, mental fog, and anxiety attacks from the meds.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was back on meds, but not really feeling I was getting any help from them, so I finally went to see a psychiatrist. After filling out the medical forms and spending 15 minutes talking to the doctor, he diagnosed me as bipolar. That was a bit shocking, but I thought maybe that was why nothing seemed to help me. The next 12-13 years were a blur of anti-psychotics, anti-convulsants, antidepressants, lithium, and benzodiazepines. I’ve lost count of the number of times my medications were switched and I have no idea how many I tried. Most meds didn’t help my depressive symptoms, just made me numb and sedated and the side effects were horrific. I lost my hair, gained a lot of weight, had tremors, confusion, nausea, fatigue. The lithium was the only drug I tolerated reasonably well, but even that required blood tests to make sure I didn’t overdose on it. Somewhere in there I had a nervous breakdown, which just seemed to confirm the diagnosis as well as my need for meds. Newer meds and stronger meds. I also saw several different counselors, but just wasn’t getting the help I needed.

My husband always questioned the bipolar diagnosis, and honestly, I did, too. It wasn’t that I was in denial – it’s just that it didn’t seem to fit me. We both read extensively about the disorder, and while I definitely had depression and some mood swings, they weren’t anything like what we were reading about. I tried discussing my concerns with my doctors and therapists and they were mostly dismissive. One even told me that the “label” (diagnosis) didn’t really matter; we just needed to treat the symptoms. I pointed out that a lot of medical conditions share the same symptoms, but you wouldn’t give someone chemotherapy if they only had a headache and not a brain tumor. I don’t think he liked my attitude. He just let out an exasperated sigh and gave me the prescriptions. Eventually, I got tired of no one listening to me, so my husband I talked to my family doctor. We told him we thought the bipolar diagnosis was wrong and that I wouldn’t be taking any more medications for it. I told him I was willing to stay on the antidepressant I was on (bupropion), and that I would be sure to watch for side effects and track my symptoms. And so I did. And he monitored me for several months to make sure I was safe.

I also started reading more about self care and alternative ways to treat depression. And that’s when building a positive life for myself started to take on a deeper importance for me. The medication helps, but it only goes so far. I would never advocate someone going off medication, but I think that the medical community is using medications as a cure-all, when there’s so much more to the story. People suffering depression sometimes have more than just a chemical imbalance to treat. And depression can do one helluva job on your self-esteem and self-worth. When you’ve suffered abuse or trauma, or when your self image has taken a beating for any reason, you need help learning coping skills and self care. Treatment shouldn’t be medications and nothing else.

So what works for me?

1.Well, I still take bupropion twice a day because it’s one of the few medications I tolerate well. I take the lowest therapeutic dose because I’m extremely sensitive to side effects.

2. I exercise. Yeah, I know, everyone’s telling you to exercise, but believe me when I say this: moving and doing some cardio and a little bit of strength training has helped me more than just about anything else. It’s so hard to get yourself motivated when depression is telling you that nothing’s going to get better, nothing matters, you’re worthless so why even try…on and on. But study after study have proven that exercise helps. So find a way to work some activity into your day. Your body and your mind will thank you for it, I promise.

3. I avoid depressants. I do drink occasionally, but I try not to overdo it. (It doesn’t mix well with most meds anyway.) In addition to limiting my alcohol, I don’t do things that will depress me. I don’t watch depressing movies, I don’t listen to depressing music and if I find that the news or social media are bumming me out, I avoid them.

4. I avoid toxic people like the plague. It sometimes pisses people off and it might make people accuse you of being unsupportive or abandoning them, but this is your sanity and your quality of life and it is sacrosanct. MY health and well-being will not be compromised by people who are not healthy for me – whether they’re family or friends.

5. I don’t push myself when I’m having a rough time. I know we’re Americans and our society seems to think suffering is somehow noble, but I think that’s kind of crazy. I don’t try to push myself to act like nothing’s wrong. If I need a day of staying in, focusing on myself and my needs and some intensive self care, then I do it.

6. I work really hard to maintain a positive attitude. It makes it so much easier to ignore that voice in my head telling me that it’s always going to be this bad, that everything is awful, that life is meaningless…you know what I’m talking about. I work my ass off to inject as much positivity into my life as I can.

7. I use the techniques I learned in therapy to cope with tough situations and stressors. I’d definitely suggest finding a good therapist, support group or if you can’t afford it, finding a good friend or loved one who can listen to you objectively and help guide you in positive, healthy ways to deal with issues you may be having. A good support system is crucial.

8. And I try to eat right, although this is the hardest one for me. Processed foods and junk food definitely don’t help anyone dealing with any type of health issue.

Self Care

So, while I’m not advocating for anyone to quit medications, I’m definitely suggesting everyone get a good self care program going for themselves. You can tailor it to fit your individual needs, but definitely do it. I’ll be offering more information in the coming posts about self-care methods. No one should have to spend decades of their life suffering. A better life is out there – it just requires some work and creative thinking. You deserve it.

Please comment with your own self care strategies or any insight or feedback about this post.

Take care.

– Mama Bear