Feeling All the Feelings That I Feel

I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m not, but it feels like it. I don’t need anyone to give me grief or tell me I shouldn’t act/feel/think this way because I’m my own worst critic. I don’t have it bad. I have an abundance of good. The biggest culprit behind my overwhelm right now is being smack in the middle of moving from one home to the next, but I should be grateful and shouldn’t be complaining, right? Just like the kind older woman from church told me years ago when I gave a her a brief peek into my anxious mind, “Just look at your blessings!” There may not be logic to my swirling feelings, but this is depression. Although I’m not sure why, I’d like to give you a glimpse into what depression looks like on me; a 42-year-old privileged mother who should be thriving. It may even look like I am on the outside, but the swirling is on the inside.

Because I have had many, many years of mental health counseling, I’ve picked up a few phrases or explanations for how depression works. It’s one thing to know the buzz words and quite another to apply them in real life. I often deal with a lot of Cognitive Distortions. Maybe you do, too. Most of the time I don’t catch them, but sometimes I do. Just the other day I very loudly noticed one of these distortions in action and it allowed me to recognize that maybe my depression was “inflamed”, if you will. Mental illnesses are generally chronic and when life hits with an increase in stress, the symptoms can become exacerbated. In a nutshell, I feel like a failure in most areas. This comes in the internal critique that I’m lazy. It comes in the form of thoughts like, I’m not a good mother. Some of my friends didn’t invite me to hang out with them because I’m a burden. I can’t keep up with basic things in the house. This person thinks I’m annoying. That family member thinks I’m complaining too much. They don’t want to spend time with me. How come they didn’t call me? I don’t know how to be myself. I spoke out about something and now have done irreversible damage to that relationship. God is disappointed in me. I’ll never get better at this.

As I type that list and the phrases kept flooding, I burst into tears because of how awful they sound and yet how true they feel. This is depression. These are cognitive distortions. If you’re not familiar with what that means, here is a list I stumbled upon that I found helpful and clear. In addition to picking up on that negative banter that was becoming a regular script, I’ve noticed how much more tired I feel. I’ve been crying more often. I even had a “classic” sign of crawling into my bed one morning this week and sleeping rather than being productive like I should have. I recently reduced my anti-depressant medication (with my doctor’s approval) and this may be a solid sign that I may need to go back up to where I was. Is that disappointing? A bit. The side effects (weight gain, lethargy and an increase in heat-sensitivity aka sweaty!) aren’t my favorite, but I do know that my well-being is more important.

Besides considering my medication dosage, what else can I do about it? Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of “experience” with this so I’m a tiny bit better equipped, but it’s still not easy. Another buzz word from therapy is Behavioral Activation. This is basically doing the things you know you should do, but really don’t want to do. It’s moving forward; one step at a time. It’s really the only way to find more freedom or ease of symptoms, but it won’t feel good right away. It may not feel good for some time. It may be as simple as getting out of bed and walking to the mailbox each day or for me right now, it’s getting up with my alarm or purposely listening to a podcast that I like. I need to and want to be kind to myself. Right now I may feel frustrated or angry with myself, but I can practice being kind. The biggest key I have in my toolbox is PRACTICING. I am going to choose to practice making space for quiet in my day and for setting small goals. I’m also going to ask for help. I’m going to pray and PRACTICE reminding myself of how God truly feels about me; whether I feel like it’s true or not.

If you have experienced anything like this or love someone that does and you don’t know what to say or do, begin by asking for help. Try to be consistent. Practice being kind to yourself. This life is filled with so many emotions and experiences. Just because you may be more sensitive to those things doesn’t mean you are wrong or broken. Our minds just need more tending to; just like a diabetic or quadriplegic need more physical tending. We are worth it. As I heard this morning in church worship, if I’m not dead, then God’s not done. We are still breathing and I’m here right alongside you.

One Small Step for Man…

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong

When you really think about it, what a powerful statement that is! What a true and quite often unnoticed truth it is, too. Many scenarios rapidly come to mind when I think of practical examples of this and it’s been something flowing through the last few weeks of thoughts for me. I have been working with an ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) therapist over the last year and a half and this recently came up in conversation. When we are experiencing big feelings or what feels like overwhelming tasks or life circumstances, it is very often a small choice that can, over time, make a big difference. For example, with ACT therapy, there’s significant focus on one’s personal values and learning to make decisions based upon those values. Over my time in therapy and as I really began to highlight my values and what that looked like in my little life, they often led to rather small shifts in my everyday choices. I struggled and felt silly when I found myself discussing with a therapist something as insignificant as the snooze button on my alarm, but now more clearly than ever am I really seeing what “small steps” can do for my purposeful living.

Let me explain the snoozing and how a delightful domino effect can happen. As I spent time reflecting on my personal values, a particular area that landed at the top was my parenting and being as present as possible for my children. Digging a little deeper, that leads to practical examples such as creating more opportunities to be able to actually look them in the eye, giving them my undistracted attention when I’m not washing dishes, on my phone, rushing to get myself dressed, etc. This led to the very simple, but oh so difficult for me choice dating back to circa 1990, which is waking up in the morning to an alarm at a reasonable hour that allows for dressing and eating in a civilized manner. This may sound foreign to those of you who are actual grown-ups and don’t still act like a 13-year-old in the morning, but that damn snooze button is my arch enemy and causes me to wear my hair in a ponytail 362 days of the year, bark at my children to get up and find their other shoe, do a lot of sweating getting loaded up in the car and possibly tempt speeding to school. I am not present on those mornings. However, when I PRACTICE making a simple shift in my choices and drag myself from the bed to the bathroom when the alarm goes off, I then have the option of having a cup of coffee in quiet, matching my socks or accessories with my underwear, helping kids with breakfast and sitting down with them while they eat, and just plain feeling better and ready to face the day. I could go on and on with ways that the dominos continue throughout the day, but you can likely imagine that it leads to meeting other personal value goals like productivity, creativity, etc.

What led me to begin typing this morning is another small change I’ve been recently working on (and failing a lot on, too) is that dang social media habit! The brain and fingertip mindlessly tap on the app and suck me into a vortex of time-sucking, productivity-wasting, and guilt. That’s a bit dramatic, but something I despise nonetheless. It continues to come up in therapy as a frustration for me and at this last appointment, we set a very simple goal to try. I’m (supposed) to quickly set a 5-minute timer on my phone right before opening a social media app. When it goes off, I choose to take two slow breaths and then decide if I want to keep scrolling. It’s my choice at that point, of course, but it gives me a small window to assess whether I’m enjoying the scrolling as a mental break or if it’s mindless and unhelpful. Maybe this sounds silly, but this very small, seemingly insignificant choice, can potentially help me with living my life focused more on my values of productivity, mindfulness with my faith, self-care of my mental and physical health, being more present and available with my dear children, creativity projects, renewing my love of reading, etc.

This message and encouragement goes for big and small goals. Have a disaster of a mess in your house? Start with one thing. One thing at a time. Feeling the overwhelm of weight gain or emotional discomfort? You get to choose to start with one small thing. In the mental health world, the phrase used for helping those struggling with depression to find health and routine again is called Behavioral Activation. It was certainly one of the hardest pieces for me when my depression was heavy because you simply “don’t want to” to the nth degree because it feels almost painful to take the first step, but it is the first step that slowly leads to the feeling of hope that we desperately want. Wherever you are today, whether that be in the depths of frustration or simply aware of an annoying habit, set a tiny goal with realistic expectations of the classic “one step forward, two steps back” and keep going.