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Category: Coping Methods

Not for the Faint of Heart

Not for the Faint of Heart

Working through the mental health recovery process is not for the faint hearted.

Most of my life, I have chosen negative coping methods: binge-watching TV, comfort-food eating, poor sleeping habits, self harm, anything to distract myself from the pain of dealing with old wounds and a negative self-image. As a result, my perspective of the world (and especially of myself) is neither healthy nor accurate. Now as I work toward recovery, I have to address these deep places of pain. And… I’d rather not… because it just hurts so much!

So how do I find courage to process the emotional pain? How do I find resilience enough to explore those places I’m afraid to go? Here are five tips I’ve used.

Tip #1: You need Jesus.

There might be several different reactions to that statement. Regardless of what you believe, whether you love or hate the church, whatever experiences you’ve had in the past, God is good. People are messy and may have hurt us, but God is good. And Jesus is the only reason I’ve made it this far. He has been my constant friend, source of purpose, and bringer of hope. Jesus is bigger than any obstacle we face and He helps us carry our burdens. That doesn’t necessarily mean our burdens go away, but it means we have a Helper. Jesus is my Shepherd and He will guide me through the recovery process. I trust myself with Him more than with anyone else, including myself.

Tip #2: You need community.

On a bad day, I really don’t want to see or talk to anyone. They’ll ask me how I’m doing. On the inside, I scream, I’m dying! I’m doing terribly! I need help! Please help me! But on the outside, I smile and happily reply, “Oh, I’m doing great! How ’bout you?” Because if I share the truth, who knows how they’ll respond or if they’ll even get it. I’d rather isolate myself than deal with the risk… but isolation isn’t what we were made for.

When God made light, He called it good. When He made water, He also called it good. Plants? Good. Man? Good. But then He said, “It is not good that man should be alone.”

People bring with them various perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses. We were meant to work together, helping one another and growing as a community. Inviting trustworthy people into my process invites fresh perspective and new resources to help me get through the hard days. 

Tip #3: In seeking community, it’s ok to start small.

When I changed lifegroups about a year ago, I didn’t tell anyone about my struggles with depression, anxiety, and OCD. There’s normally this underlying fear of how people will respond. Once I finally worked up the courage to share, I still didn’t tell the whole lifegroup. I started by sharing with just two people that I trusted. I invited them over to my home, treated them to coffee, and then shared with both of them at the same time. Super efficient!

At first, I was deeply anxious about the prospect of sharing my struggles. But as I shared with these two friends of mine, something interesting happened. One of them confessed that she was dealing with the exact same thing. I wasn’t alone! It’s interesting that when we share our struggles, it somehow releases other people to share their struggles.

They say about 18.5% of the population struggles from some kind of mental illness. That means theoretically you’d only need to share with about five people before you found someone else who was also experiencing a mental illness. You are not alone, and building community, even if it’s small, can help immensely.

You don’t have to share with everyone, but do share with at least someone, because there are times we all need somebody outside of ourselves to help us process life’s difficulties. 

Tip #4: Know when it’s ok to distract yourself and when it’s necessary to address the pain.

I will say it again: working through the mental health recovery process is not for the faint hearted. There are so many days I’d rather just avoid the challenges of working through my emotional pain. I’d rather zone out on Netflix or stay in bed until 2pm or really do anything else except struggle toward healthier thinking patterns and sort through all of the memories, cycles, and triggers. That work sucks! Pardon my language, but I hate it! Especially on a bad day.

So… when do I veg out, and when do I wear my big-girl shoes and address things? When my symptoms rear their ugly head, it’s not always helpful to try dealing with the pain right away. Depending on the situation, that might just aggravate my symptoms even more. But that doesn’t mean I should just turn on Netflix and eat junk food. Here are some things I’ve chosen to do instead:

  • Go outside and take a walk. Get some fresh air, vitamin D, and exercise. Many times, once I’m done with the walk, my racing thoughts have calmed down enough that I can now address the triggers with a fresh perspective.
  • Clean, clean, clean! Well, sometimes cleaning feels like a chore and just drives me crazy, but other times, it’s exactly what I need to distract myself. And if I’m going to distract myself with something, why not choose a productive distraction? I’m also a huge believer in “clean house, clean mind.” Some minimalists believe that having a clean home helps calm your mind down. Each object in your home comes with thoughts attached to it. When there’s stuff everywhere, then everywhere you look, thoughts are crowding into your mind. For some people, myself included, that can be quite overwhelming. So when my home is clean, I feel much calmer and on top of things.
  • Snuggle with my dog. For all of you animal lovers, you know there is something incredibly calming about snuggling with your favorite pooch! Dogs love us unconditionally, and there’s just something reassuring about their consistent affection.
  • Play Sudoku. Yep, I too have given into the cultural phenomenon of Sudoku! But really any puzzle is great for helping my mind relax. I can fully engulf myself into the mental pursuit of arranging the numbers 1-9 into a bunch of tiny, little boxes. It moves my brain activity from the amygdala into the frontal lobe, which helps get me out of the fear center and back into the reasoning center.

But once I’m done calming down, it’s time to explore those areas of pain. Some people say we shouldn’t get too caught up in introspection, but I think there are also many benefits to self awareness. As I explore the places of wounding, I find myself growing as an individual, discovering healthier thinking habits, and growing more resilient.

Here are a few resources to help with processing the emotional pain:

Tip #5: Don’t give up.

Y’all, I’m so tired…. tired of feeling like crap, tired of the pain and discomfort. I’d rather just ignore it all, but to do so would be giving up. I’d be condemning myself to long nights of endless Netflix or Final Fantasy, little to no interaction with Jesus, and a zombie existence at work as I battle fatigue through five cups of coffee and then stay up even later the next night, distracting myself with other peoples’ stories until I fall asleep from shear exhaustion and thereby successfully avoid addressing the tumult of my own story.

It’s the endless black hole into oblivion, and to do so would wreck my life. I wouldn’t notice it at first, but the realization would slowly set in. Once I start to notice, I’d stuff it, trying to ignore the growing discontent, until it would bubble up and explode, leaving me lying on the floor in a crumpled mess of snot and tears. I can’t live that way.

But the other option is to open up to community, spend time with Jesus, and seek healing from those places of deep-seated pain…. It’s hard work and the prospect scares the crap out of me! Is it worth it?

That’s a question I need to answer for myself now, if I am to keep moving forward. Is it worth it?

I think that’s a question many of us need to ask ourselves. In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world, you will have troubles….” So there it is: life’s not easy. But then Jesus also said, “…take heart, for I have overcome the world.” That verse always brings me great comfort!

So yeah, it takes courage to process those places of emotional pain. But I’ve noticed that the more I want to ignore the pain, chances are the more I need to bring that pain to Jesus. So I take a moment to calm my spirit (tip #4 above) and then I ask Jesus, “What is Your truth in the midst of this situation? And how do You want to release hope into my life right now?”

What helps you?

I’m still a work in progress. I’d love to learn from you as well. If you’ve found a particularly good coping method, please comment below! And let me know the ways you’ve learned to find courage in your recovery process.

All the best!

-Michelle Louise

Secrets to Getting Along During the Holidays

Secrets to Getting Along During the Holidays

I hate conflict.

But seriously, I hate it!

Conflict scares the crap out of me.

Unfortunately, none of us will ever be able to fully avoid conflict. So… how do we handle conflict during the holidays, when emotions, expectations, and stress are already at an all-time high? I think the main answer lies in viewing conflict as “community building” rather than a sparring match. Here are a few thoughts on that.

  1. Don’t head into a conflict with the goal of “winning.” That only results in escalation. You accuse your opponent, who grows defensive and then accuses you. Likewise you grow defensive and raise your voice. And so on and so forth. Once both parties are angry and on the defensive, no productive communication will happen.
  2. Conflict is often a signal that something deeper is going on at the heart level. I remember having coffee at a local cafe once with a new friend. She was emphatically telling me about some abstract concept that I already had a pretty good grasp on. To me, it felt condescending (like she thought I didn’t already know these things), so I snapped, “I already know this,” in order to get her to stop. This deeply hurt her feelings and she immediately told me so. She shared how she was just externally processing through these thoughts and had wanted my validation to make sure she was on the right track. When I had shut her down with that comment, she’d felt deeply rejected. Then she asked me why I’d responded that way. I shared how, growing up, my brother had consistently forced different thoughts and ideas upon me, or explained things to me as if I were stupid. I always felt manipulated and demeaned when he used that tone of voice with me. My friend’s tone had reminded me of that, even though her heart had been in a completely different place.
  3. When handled properly, conflict leads to deeper levels of friendship and intimacy. Looking back on the incident at the coffee shop, as much as I hate conflict, I am soooo thankful that my friend confronted me! Through learning about her places of insecurity, and her learning about my places of pain, we have grown even closer as friends, and we have been able to relate to one another better. We identified ways we could love and support each other. It’s been wonderful!
  4. Clearly communicate your expectations. I believe that one of the top causes of conflict is uncommunicated expectations. Seriously, people are not mind readers! If you want your spouse or relative or friend to do something, then tell them (in a loving way, of course). Don’t just expect certain treatment and then passive-aggressively play the martyr when it doesn’t happen. Share what’s on your heart. If they can’t meet your expectations, that’s ok. At least you know that in advance and it gives them the opportunity to brainstorm alternatives or perhaps meet you half way.
  5. Above all, choose love and believe the best. Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It keeps no record of wrongs. Remember how messed up you are and how much you need a Savior. Then choose to extend some grace to those around you.
Making It Through Work On A Bad Day

Making It Through Work On A Bad Day

Well… I’ve clocked into work, my computer has been turned on, a huge to-do list is calling my name, and yet all I want to do is stare blankly at the wall….

That’s how it feels when I’m in a cycle of depression. The problem is, I’m not paid to sit around and stare blankly at the wall. Somehow I need to muster up my energy and will-power in order to make it through the day.

How am I supposed to remain productive when feeling depressed? That’s a question I recently found on a Life Hacker post. Man, what a great question! Sometimes I really have no idea. And when I’m in the midst of that cycle, the last thing I want to do is force myself through another day at work. I’d rather curl up in bed. Well, here’s my best shot at answering that question:

  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself. When someone has a broken leg, you don’t expect him to run a marathon. If you’re having a bad day in your mental health recovery process, it’s ok to take it a little bit slower than normal. Be realistic. (If things are especially poor, please skip to number 5 below.)
  2. Break larger goals into smaller steps. Large projects and complicated tasks can be overwhelming on any day, but especially on a bad day. If you absolutely can’t avoid that larger task, try breaking it into smaller, more manageable steps. These smaller steps feel more realistic and, as you begin checking a few of them off your list, there is a sense of achievement that may help you regain some momentum.
  3. Take a walk during your lunch break. I know that taking a walk may be the last thing you want to do, but sometimes getting a change of scenery can help your mind press the re-set button. The day light and physical stimulation often help lift your mood. Research also suggests that getting outside during the day may help you sleep better at night, because it adjusts your body’s circadian rhythms.
  4. If allowed, use YouTube. This may apply more to anxiety than depression, but when I’m really struggling, I turn on 10 Hours of Thunderstorm and Rain Sounds. Something about the sound of thunder and rain relaxes me on a deep, deep level. I’ve recognized that about myself, so I take advantage of it, especially at the office. For you, it may be river sounds, crickets, the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, or another genre, but somehow music and sound have the ability to reach deep within and touch our very souls. The main point is: discover what helps you relax (or feel energized, if that’s what you need) and then use it to your advantage.
  5. Know when to step away, re-evaluate, or even seek help. We all need that paycheck, but if you’re just really crashing, it might be time to re-evaluate. Sometimes we just need a day off in order to rest and recover. If taking one day off would help you be more productive on your next day back at work, then it may be worth it to take a mental health day. There is no shame in that. Additionally, depending on how severe your symptoms are, you may need to seek professional help. If you fear you are at risk of harming yourself or another person, that’s when you should call 9-1-1. If you don’t think you’re at that level, but you’re still concerned about your symptoms, you may want to contact your mental healthcare professional. Again, there’s no shame in that. They are there to help.

Anyway, those are some thoughts I wanted to share. Please keep in mind that the above is not meant to be medical advice. Depression is a medical condition, so if you are experiencing any symptoms of depression, I’d encourage you to visit a licensed professional counselor or psychiatrist. I have no professional training in the mental health industry. I’m just a co-struggler with depression and anxiety. The above steps have helped me in the past, so I hope that they will help you as well. If you have any additional ideas for making it through work when experiencing a low day, please share in the comment section below!

Do You Have a Friend to Help Get You Through The Holiday Season?

Do You Have a Friend to Help Get You Through The Holiday Season?

Have you ever felt lonely or anxious during the holidays? Many people do, especially those who struggle with mental illness. Stress runs high as we shop, cook, plan, and travel. Expectations go unmet and we may have to deal with personalities we haven’t seen all year. Without healthy coping methods, sometimes all of that stress and stimulation can be quite overwhelming! But we do have a friend who can help us through that season, or any season for that matter.

I remember as a little girl riding in our family car through the dark nights of New England. My older brother up in the front seat rattled on about the video games he wanted, the new Magic cards he wanted, the wooden practice sword he wanted…. He’d ask mom to give him money for this and that. In the backseat, I rested my head against the frozen window, staring out into the darkness. Here and there, we’d pass a house, lit up with pristine white Christmas lights.

drivingBut suddenly I’m startled back to reality as my brother begins shouting and arguing with mom. He’s angry about something…. I don’t know what. I just keep staring out the window, pressing my face against it, hoping and pretending that I can be somewhere else. I try and lose myself in wonder as I gaze upon the beautiful lights that adorn the houses and trees. I want to be out there, alone in the peaceful winter wonderland!

As surely as the sun rises, He will appear…

Light is such an interesting thing. There is a deep science behind it, wrapped up in frequencies, wave lengths, and electromagnetic particles. Despite its very scientific nature, there is also something dramatically beautiful about light that has caused it to dance across literature, hearts, and minds for millennia. It has come to represent truth and clarity, as well as safety and comfort. Even as a child, I was enraptured by that light and tried to escape into it. Somehow the beauty of the light distracted me from everything else that seemed so broken.

Back then, I didn’t know Jesus like I do now. He is my light and my hope! I love Hosea 6:3 that says “…as surely as the sun rises, He will appear…” That is a promise. We all know there are 24 hours in a day. Half of that time is spent in darkness, but our planet continues rotating and suddenly the sun appears. The exact hour changes gradually throughout the year, but it always comes in predictable fashion. The rising of the sun in our emotional lives, however, does not always seem so predictable….

Struggling with depression often feels like I’m stuck in that endless night, where things will always be hard and my mind will never make sense. There is often a lack of hope and clarity. Everything feels dull and pointless. But dawn is coming….

dawnIn my mind, I sometimes wonder if daylight will ever come again, but we have a promise from Scripture that it will. In the middle of a challenging season, that promise might not make things feel better, but somehow it gives me the strength to keep holding on just a little while longer.

So I try and start each day by choosing to focus on Jesus, whether that’s reading a devotional or even just saying a simple quick prayer. And at the end of the day, as I sit in bed, I redirect my attention to Him before turning the lights out. Sometimes, that’s all I can do: redirect my attention. I often lack the energy or motivation to do a full “quiet time.” Even though I believe that’s important and beneficial, nevertheless if I can’t fully engage in that discipline on a given day, then I still try and just whisper these words: “He loves me. He’s with me. He’ll never leave me.” And as I lay my head down on my pillow, still feeling that uneasiness in my gut, I just say, “He is good and He is enough.” Then I close my eyes and wait for morning to come.

How do you make it through the holidays?

I hope this blog will help start conversations, enabling us to support one another and be an online community for those struggling with mental health difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and others. One of the most important pieces of mental health recovery is finding a source of hope as well as choosing healthy coping methods. Above, I shared that my biggest source of hope is Jesus. What is yours? And how do you cope during the holidays? Even if it seems small, please share with us by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!