Let There Be Full Spectrum Light

wpid-img_20141106_142621.jpgI’ve written a lot lately about depression (especially of the seasonal variety), and I finally decided to buy a Happy Light (by Verilux) after my doctor and a few friends had suggested it to me for literally years. Other friends have asked for feedback on the lamps because apparently I’m not the only one who gets down during these shorter days, so here’s a little roundup of how it’s going.

So! I got a lamp to go on my desk as well as some light bulbs to go in the lamps in our living room. The lamp is called the “Happy Light,” and we found it on Amazon. I chose the Verilux brand because my doctor suggested it and I know a few people who’ve used their lamps before.

Here’s the important info. The lamp’s instruction booklet suggests a minimum daily use of 30-60 minutes. I typically turn it on while I’m writing and probably get significantly more exposure than that. I looked up side effects from exposure to the lamp, but they’re all really minor, so I’m not worried about that. The instructions also say to place the lamp 6-24 inches from your face, so you’re sitting pretty close to it while you work. Some people might find this distracting, but I find it nice because the lamp is warm and there’s always a bit of a cool draft at this time of year. The kitten also likes it, and everyone loves working with a sleeping kitten near by.

As for the light bulbs, they’re more for ambient lighting, so it’s hard to say if they’re particularly effective for seasonal depression. However, my husband (who works from home) often sets up his “office” in the living room near one of these lamps, and I’ve noticed him seeming a little more upbeat and lighthearted lately as well. Don’t tell him I said that because he kinda likes his gruff guy image, but frankly he’s been adorably chipper lately. Granted, that could be the light boosting his mood or it could be me projecting. Le Husband would like to point out that the light is very white and very bright, so if you’re used to warm lighting, this will take a bit of adjustment.

After the first day or two of using the lamp and bulbs, I felt a little bit lighter and brighter but also still a little down. Now that it’s been over a week, I can say definitively that I feel better, and I’m pretty darn sure it has to do with the lamp. However, I’ve also made one other change worth noting: I *finally* joined a gym. As a result, I’ve worked out 4 of the past 6 days (derby practice Monday, basic cardio Wednesday, strength class Thursday and back to cardio Friday). For comparison’s sake, I normally get between 6 and 12 hours of physical activity per week between skating and teaching yoga, but working out on my own time is a little different. Still, we all know exercise has a positive influence when you’re feeling down, and I think the combination of the light and exercise has been really great for me. And let’s not forget that I also take a pretty big dose of vitamin D every day, so if you’re not prepared to invest in the lights, start with taking a multivitamin and a D supplement. I’m told that the body is better at processing the vitamin D it produces (i.e. when stimulated by full spectrum light) than a supplement, so if the supplement doesn’t seem to do enough for you, definitely look into the lights.

I really hope some folks find this helpful, and I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences with full spectrum lamps.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Peace.

Read More

How to Know You’re Depressed and What to Do About It

wpid-20141029_2047422.jpg.jpegThe subtitle for this post should be: “That is, at least if your depression is anything like mine, and maybe it’s not.” I’ve written before about what my depression and anxiety can be like, but this fall has been harder than previous years. Maybe it’s because of all this dreary weather we’ve been having, or maybe it’s the drastic changes in my schedule since taking up roller derby, or maybe I’m just getting older. Whatever the case, this year has really taken it out of me, and I’ve had to re-evaluate a few things. Last night, I came up with a handy-dandy list to help me notice my own symptoms of depression and made a second list to go with it. In the course of writing the list for my own benefit, it occurred to me that a few of you might also find this helpful, so here you go.

Part 1: How to Know You are Depressed

  1. You hate everyone. Like, literally? You think of yourself as a generally kind person, you don’t have ill will toward anyone, yet you pretty much wish everyone in the world would shut the fuck up. You’re kindof overwhelmed with life, and as much as you want to care about the world and be a good person, you’re straight up out of fucks to give. This realization makes you feel even more sad.
  2. You’re mean to the people you love. You can’t figure out what’s really bothering you, so you just act like an asshole to everyone figuring if you could just get everyone to leave you alone you could get maybe pinpoint the one person or thing to be blamed for your inexplicable state of constant irritation.
  3. You don’t know why you’re sad. There’s no immediate rational cause for you to feel this way, a fact which confuses you and seems to make it feel worse. Sometimes you just wish someone would tell you what’s wrong with you so you could fix it.
  4. Nothing is very fun. Everything is annoying. Life tastes like cardboard.
  5. All you want to eat is junk. It is both a cause and a symptom. You get the rush, then you get the crash. The temporary fix sends you deeper in the hole every time you come down. Hello, addiction. Be it food, booze, TV, sex, or even your work out routine. Everyone’s got crutches, but no one wants to be on those sonsabitches forever. Moderate your use of these things to avoid dependence. If you think you’ve become dependent on any substance or habit, seek professional guidance in breaking the habit.
  6. You always want to sigh or cry. You persistently feel a lump in your throat, a weight on your chest, tightness around the eyes and jaw, shallow breath and/or a constant need to rub your eyes. In fact, if this is true for you, stop right this second and drink a big glass of water because just imagining how you feel right now is stressing me out. Then just take a few deep breaths and maybe go for a walk outside.
  7. You feel “tired” even when you’re not sleepy. You are suffering from a general sense of overwhelm, and you’re probably looking for ways to disconnect from the world. You may actually sleep more or find yourself complaining a lot. Sometimes this also feels like a general sense of sickness or malaise, like something is just off-kilter and it’s not clear what.
  8. You are hyper critical of yourself. All you can see are your flaws. You replay conversations in your head and pick apart everything you said. Your decision-making ability has been brought to a halt by the belief that whatever you do will be the wrong thing.

Part 2: How to Get Help for Depression (and how to help yourself)

  1. Tell a friend. Do not isolate yourself. If no one knows something is bugging you, you don’t have anyone on your side. If you feel like the world is your enemy, you need allies. So tell your friends, “Hey, I’m having a rough time.” No one is going to judge you for asking for help.
  2. Tell your doctor. And accept that medicine is an option. This is different from telling a friend. Your doctor’s job is to give you advice about how to take care of yourself, and she probably has some really good resources for you. If prescription medication is an option for you, educate yourself about it, and have frequent conversations with your doctor about how it’s going.
  3. Don’t wait till you’re suicidal. You deserve help now.
  4. Be patient with yourself. Life is not going to become perfect suddenly. There will be days when everything seems great followed by days that feel as long as winter. Recognize your own suffering, and treat it with compassion.
  5. Do not hide from feelings of sadness, but do your best not to wallow. Go ahead and feel your feelings because running away from them just adds to your unhappiness by creating an anxiety response. Acknowledge the fear, sadness, or whatever you’re feeling, but don’t cling to it. It is not your new identity.
  6. Meditate, don’t ruminate. Meditation is literally the practice of stilling the mind. So all those thoughts in your head telling you hateful things about yourself? In meditation, we look those demons in the eye and say, “I see you.” And it’s funny what they do when you see them. They stop for a second. With practice, you get better at staring them down so you can choose a nicer thought.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Seriously, you have to be your own best friend. No one knows you and understands you like you do. Your friends care a ton, but only you know what it’s really like on your battlefield. If you don’t have your own back, you’re gonna have a real hard time no matter how much others try to help.
  8. Practice gratitude. Practice seeing the good in your life because sometimes those things will be your lifeline. They can remind you that the world is a beautiful place and you’re lucky to be in it. They can give you a reason to try. They can make you feel happy just by remembering they exist.

Oh, and don’t forget to take PRACTICAL STEPS. Little things — take your vitamins, get some exercise, eat healthy foods, get on a regular sleep schedule, and consider investing in a happy light (I just ordered one myself). Any little thing you can do for yourself might just make the difference you’re looking for. As a bonus, I often find that my mood is boosted just by knowing that I’m doing something healthy for myself.

Finally, remember that depression is a condition you deal with, not the definition of who you are.

Read More

Ten Tips for End of Year Self-Care

Toe Art...Love & Care So, the year is winding down. You’re making your plans for 2014. Maybe you’ve made a list of 100 cool things to do or set yourself some terrifying yet enticing goals. But it’s also possible that you’re feeling a little anxious about the holidays or down thanks to cold days and long nights. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety most of my life now, and it’s always been harder in the winter, so I’ve come up with a few ways to help brighten my mood and keep the smile on my face even when navigating the toy section of Target among throngs shoppers. I hope these suggestions will help you get through the holidays with your spirit in tact!

  1. Talk to someone. It’s often tempting to hide your feelings because you don’t want to burden anyone or seem crazy, but sometimes keeping your problems to yourself only makes you feel worse. Meanwhile, the people who love you are wishing they knew how to help, so please let them!
  2. Get a normal amount of sleep. It’s tempting to stay in bed and take a lot of naps when it’s cold out, but don’t. Sleeping too much makes you feel more lethargic. If you’re already feeling depressed, this won’t help. 
  3. Indulge moderately. If you don’t allow yourself to enjoy the treats of the season, then it’s not the most wonderful time of the year. Go ahead and have desert, and furthermore, have the slice of pie for a midnight snack. Don’t beat yourself up for enjoying it.
  4. Stay hydrated. Being dehydrated has a bigger impact on your state of mind than you may realize, especially if you tend to drink coffee all day and booze at night as part of your strategy to fight off the cold. Be sure you’re drinking plenty of water, and consider curbing the other stuff.
  5. Schedule time with friends. You need to talk to someone who isn’t going to ask you when you’re having kids or whether you’ll ever move closer to home. Your friends are probably just as stressed out as you are and would love to see your face. Make a coffee date.
  6. Get your vitamins! Vitamin D in particular, but make sure you’re eating well-rounded meals and not just takeout and processed foods, which is for some reason really tempting to do when it’s cold out.
  7. Spoil yourself a little. Take hot baths, bundle up in your coziest clothes, sip on hot tea all day, moisturize your skin lavishly every damn day. Creature comforts help ease the physical discomforts of winter, which also helps boost your mood.
  8. Look for things to be grateful for. Even very little things can change your perspective and make the world seem brighter.
  9. Adjust your exercise routine. If you’re feeling anxious, consider a gentle vinyasa yoga practice which will be both warming and soothing. If you’re feeling depressed and lethargic, a more vigorous vinyasa or maybe Kundalini Yoga class may help lift the clouds.
  10. Look forward to something. Set yourself some little goals or make a list of fun things you hope to do in the new year. Plan your reading list or book a weekend getaway for spring — anything that reminds you sunnier days are on their way.

Take care of yourself, dear.

All the love~

Read More

Monday Night Nonfiction: The First Chill of the Year

Michael_Ancher_001

The first cool weather of the year. Every time.

A normal person’s mind glides through life unphased by little accidents of nature. The first unseasonably cool day in August or a week of fog in April doesn’t set them spinning. In early August, I notice the noon shadows being just the slightest bit off center and know that summer has begun to end. It’s the littlest panic before the panic. It’s knowing that the days will get shorter, that cold will come, that nights will grow longer, that I will not want to go outside, and everything will feel dark.

Last winter was better than the one before it. Maybe this one will be better as well. Maybe I will find some sunny place for a weekend in November. Maybe I will work in the warm light of my livingroom, contented with coffee or booze. Maybe something unexpected will change, and I’ll be wrapped up in the excitement of some new adventure. But maybe not. And because there is room for doubt, doubt takes root cancerously quick and becomes fear, then panic. Before you know it, you’re taking a walk on a buttery bright autumn morning and crying because you’re pretty sure you’ve done everything in your life wrong. Everything ever. And even as you’re having this thought, you can see the full scale ridiculosity of it.

I know my life is pretty good, but sometimes I seem to only be able to see the worst in things. Once I get into that way of thinking, it’s hard to switch it off. That’s why I meditate, of course, and do yoga and write. But sometimes using those things as relaxation is hard to do when I’ve also made them my job.

I’ve been in a funk lately, but it’s lifting. I’m always tempted to run around doing things to fix whatever is wrong with me, which only ever adds to the frustration. Learning how to see it coming is much more helpful. I see the depression coming and say, “Oh, hey, I remember you.” I think about writing poems about it, but depression is not very pretty, so I can never come up with anything worth saying about it. So I just give myself time, try to be kind, take my vitamins, drink my coffee, sleep regularly, etc. It passes.

 

Read More

Don’t tell me I think too much. Even if it’s true.

don't think too much

So, I want to write a little bit about mental health today. It’s a subject that’s close to my heart, but I don’t talk about it much because, frankly, it’s not easy.

For much of my life, I have dealt with a cyclical type of depression. What experience is similar to how people describe bipolar disorder, except it’s … different. I don’t get the manic highs, but I get intense anxiety that builds up until it collapses into depression. Many times, it seems that the diagnosis of mental illness depends on the illness being visible to outsiders, but because my troubles have been mostly invisible, most people figure I’m just a normal person who is moody sometimes. So, even though I’ve been coping with cyclical depression and anxiety for most of my life, I’ve never been diagnosed with anything but plain old depression. On one hand, that’s great because it means I’ve managed to dodge a label that’s easily misused and even hurtful. On the other hand, it means that in my darkest times, the responses I got from other people were usually:
Just get it together.
You’re just too emotional.
Don’t take it so seriously.
You think too much.

“You think too much,” is probably the most common thing I have been told in the midst of an emotional breakdown. I’m not sure if I can explain exactly how unhelpful that is, but for the record, it is unhelpful and also massively insulting. To a person who grew up in an intellectual family and prides herself on being able to grasp big concepts, “You think too much,” is like saying, “Just stop being yourself.”

No, I don’t think too much, but I do have really strong feelings sometimes. And sometimes my thoughts and feelings are hard to control. And there have been times when I’ve lost control completely.

It’s scary to lose control of your thoughts. One minute you’re mad at your roommate for leaving a mess in the kitchen,* and the next minute, someone’s telling you “You think too much,” and you start second guessing everything. Do I really have a right to be mad at my roommate? If not, why am I so upset? What’s wrong with me? I must be crazy. I always freak out about everything. I’m so fucked up. Why can’t I just get along with people? No wonder no one likes me. What the fuck am I even doing here? I don’t belong here. I don’t belong anywhere.

This thought pattern can get really dark really quickly, and for me, it usually lead to one place: If this is the way it’s going to be for the rest of my life, maybe I should just end it now.

That’s a pretty terrifying moment. The first time it happened, I thought, “Mary, you really are thinking too much now. Stop it. Have a drink. Take a nap. You’ll feel better later.” After the second time, I got back on anti-depressants, which I had taken periodically throughout high school and college. But even on medication, I would still have really intense panic attacks sometimes. It was predictable, too. Everything would seem fine until a little anxiety started creeping in. Over a few weeks, things would get gradually worse, and then once every month or two, I would have a meltdown. A couple days after a major meltdown, I would feel bright and shiny as though the sun had come out after a big storm. I took to hiding in my room so my roommates wouldn’t know how insane I was. I was a mess, and I was scared, and I was afraid to ask for help.

For me, help came via my husband, who saw me going through these cycles over and over again. He was confused and hurt and just wanted me to be happy and didn’t know how to help. We took long walks during which I talked to him about everything on my mind. He listened and listened and listened. He loved me even though I felt broken. There were many times when I felt guilty because I couldn’t be as good a partner to him as he was being for me, but he insisted on staying and helping me through it.

It took a long time for me to go to therapy because I thought that people who go to therapy were fucked up. Going to therapy meant admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing with your life. I was afraid it would mean I was stupid or somehow incapable of taking care of myself, and remember, most of the time, I was just normal. Nothing really bad ever happened to me as a kid. I didn’t have any good reason for being so messed up. No one but me could see my scary thoughts, so I assumed I just needed to toughen up and stop letting my emotions get the better of me. Only when I went to the doctor and couldn’t control my tears or my racing heart did someone say, “I really think it would help you to talk to someone, a counsellor maybe…” I didn’t like the word therapist, and my earlier experience with a psychologist was less than stellar, but my doctor was right. I needed to talk to someone. Even though my husband was willing to support me, I didn’t want to burden him with my emotions all the time, and I obviously hadn’t resolved my issues on my own.

The funny thing about therapy is that it worked, even though a lot of people who should know better told me it wouldn’t. I told someone my doctor suggested I take vitamins and focus on getting daily exercise, and they told me she was a crackpot. They would have preferred to see me on lithium, perhaps. When I ran out of my antidepressants, I decided not to refill the prescription since it wasn’t preventing those panic attacks anyway. I learned other coping skills instead. I found that meditation and yoga helped me feel more stable. I learned to let go of those obsessive thoughts that I knew would start the downward spiral. I learned to ask for help. I never went back to taking medication because it turns out that my mental health is manageable through lifestyle adjustments rather than prescriptions, which came as a relief. Not everyone is so lucky.

There must be as many types of mental illness as there are mutations of the common cold virus. Everyone’s experience will be different. But what I know for sure is that mental illness causes suffering, and it gets worse if we believe that “you just think too much,” or “you’re too emotional.” It is terrifying to sit alone in your room and feel that there is something so intrinsically wrong with you, down to the genetic level, that you cannot live a normal happy life. To think, “Well, I guess mother nature fucked up this batch. Maybe I’ll just take myself out of the game.” It’s just an awful experience.

So, what I’m saying is I hope you will ask for help if you’re suffering. And I hope you will reach out to those who suffer. I hope you will not call other people “crazy” when they’re going through it. I hope you will have someone to listen when you need it and that you will listen in return when you can.

Footnotes:

*When you say you’re mad about the mess in the kitchen, let’s be honest. You’re never just mad about the mess. This anger very quickly triggers outrageous thoughts such as, “The mess in the kitchen is just proof that my spouse/roommates/children disrespect me. They leave the mess because they expect me to clean it up.” This line of thinking assumes the other person is being malicious when in fact, it’s just paranoia from your own lack of self worth. That kind of thinking is the result of an anxious and unhappy mind.

Read More