mental health

Listen, I have pants on okay?

Sometimes when people ask me hard questions,  I give a pat answer.

Co-worker: Have you seen the stapler?

Me: I have pants on. What more do you want from me?

I put these on today. 

I put these on today. 

Usually I’m making a joke. 

Sometimes though, I’m not joking at all. Sometimes I’m using humor to cover the truth that, on this particular day, I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, took a shower, put clothes on and drove to work. 

Hell, I even plucked my chin hair. 

There are days when those basic tasks feel far from basic. 

There are days when everything feels just a bit harder. I don’t know how else to explain it. The difference between snowshoeing on unbroken snow and on a well-worn path, maybe. In both cases, you’re following the same path - but in unbroken snow, those steps take a lot more out of you. You’ve got to work a lot harder to get where you want to go. 

On those days, the self-judgement and guilt that follow is relentless. At least for me. 

Many days, I battle a constant feeling of “why does it feel so hard to write one *&^&^^% email?” 

Why does everything feel so hard? 

Why can I not just buckle down and get things done? 

I just, as of last week, completed a fitness product (Stronger You: The Ultimate Fitness Guide) that I began in January. My goal for completion was March, then April then….well, August. The disappointment I feel in myself for taking so long to finish far outweighs the accomplishment of completing something.  

Sure I finished, but it took me forever. 

I don’t always know how much of those delays are laziness and how much are my weekly, sometimes daily struggle with this thing I’ve spent the past decade plus trying to understand. That thing is dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder. I write about it often on this blog because….well….I believe we need to talk about it more. 

Last week, I wrote a post about fears, and I mentioned that my greatest fear is that I’ll never give to the world all it is that I feel I have in me to give. That I’ll spend so much time spinning my wheels worrying about what I should do, that I’ll never get around to the doing part.  

A friend of mine took a screen shot of that last line and told me to post that sh** somewhere I could see it everyday. 

Some days life is as simple as making a list and checking off the boxes of tasks that you want to get done. 

But some days, life isn’t that simple. 

I’ve said before that sometimes I don’t know where the depression ends and I begin. And that’s the daily frustration. 

Sometimes I lose interest in things like music, books, my guitar, exercise. Many days I lack productivity and on many more days, I’m overwhelmed with an overall feeling of inadequacy. I spend so much time thinking and feeling that I should be more. Dysthymia is sometimes referred to as mild depression, because you still function - until you hit a major depressive episode, as I’ve done in the past. 

The trap is that you feel like you should just snap out of it. Recently, I read in a post on dysthymia which mentioned the prevailing myth that a person can just look on the bright side. 

Stay positive! 

Stop being such a Debbie Downer!

If you’d just look for the good things, you wouldn’t feel this way!

Recently, I heard the expression that there are only good days and great days - no bad days. And that expression really wounded me deeply. Because it made me feel like I just don’t try hard enough to see what’s good. It played into those feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem that hit me so hard some days. 

I was relieved to see that concept written as myth, because so often, I feel like a failure for not snapping out of my funks. For not being able to counter a tough situation with straight out gratitude and positive thinking. Mind over matter they say.

And I say, what is wrong with my mind, that I can’t make anything matter?  

It was myths like those above that prevented me from seeking treatment for most of my life. It’s myths like those above that often still give me the greatest heartache at the end of a long day. I don’t always know and understand what I can and cannot control. I don’t always know how much blame is mine. And that is so, so, so, very hard. 

I treat my depression the best I can. I have an amazing therapist, an amazing spouse, I take my medication and I work hard to make the lifestyle changes I know can help. I exercise often, try to meditate, work to let people in to my life and my struggles and try to be open and honest about the struggle. 

That last one is harder than it sounds. 

Sometimes people think that depression is only obvious sadness; that it’s crying in the middle of your living room floor or bursting into tears when your boss looks at you sideways.

Those are often side affects of major depressive disorder, which is it’s own unique monster. I’ve crossed paths with that one before, but it’s the “mild depression” and I beg, beg, beg to differ with the idea that any depression is mild, that clips me at the knees. 

I wrote this post today because I got up and put pants on - but for some reason - perhaps the reason that I can seldom see but always feel - putting pants on felt like an accomplishment. 

So today, and many days, both behind me and probably ahead of me, the best I could do in a day is put pants on. 

But I’m going to do my best to celebrate those pants. And maybe even, if I can find it in myself, bedazzle the shit out of those pants.

 

Oh the stories we tell ourselves

Ever had someone completely call you on your bullshit?

I have.

Just the other day in fact. 

My number one skill, aside from dominating the sports category in Trivial Pursuit, is kicking the ever-loving crap out of myself.

I do it in multiple ways - physically at the gym, mentally at the end of the day, sometimes the beginning, and at least a handful of times in between.

If I really wanted to be like Wonder Woman (this one came from Ireland - thanks Susan), I'd learn to be nicer to myself. 

If I really wanted to be like Wonder Woman (this one came from Ireland - thanks Susan), I'd learn to be nicer to myself. 

I do it for a multitude of reasons - because I didn’t do something as well as I thought I should have. Because I did do something I thought I shouldn’t have. I set high expectations and often come up short. 

Recently, I’ve been feeling badly about a lot of things - I’m not sure that it matters much what those things are.

And so a friend of mine called me out.

I mean called. Me. Out.

My private email signature has the following quote:

“One must be compassionate to oneself before external compassion.”  - The Dahli Llama 

She wanted to know, and I'm quoting her directly "what kind of b.s. is that quote when you don't feel that you deserve kindness for yourself?"

Um...well....

I told her that I have the quote on the bottom of my emails because I want to remind every single person I send an email to how important it is to embrace kindness for themselves. And I want to remind them that they are worthy of kindness and compassion.

And that unless they can do that for themselves, they’ll have a very difficult time doing it for someone else.

She just stared at me, unblinking, as I said this. 

"Yet you rake yourself over the coals over every mistake you make and every perceived flaw you can find?" she was somewhat incredulous. 

I didn't know what to say. 

The best I could come up with, after a lot of reflecting, is that I often look for ways to validate that I’m not a good person. Someone offers positive feedback and I brush it off - someone offers constructive or negative feedback and I use it as confirmation for that strongly held belief; which is ultimately, that I’m not deserving of kindness.

We’ve all constructed belief-systems about ourselves. That we’re unlovable, undeserving of happiness or kindness, that we don’t deserve success or love - I mean the list goes on and on. But just because we believe it doesn’t mean that it’s true. 

I don’t know what negative beliefs you might have about yourself. 

But today I’d challenge you to take a look at some of those belief systems - take a long, hard look at those old beliefs - and pretend, just for a half a second, that they aren’t true. 

I know, it’s tough right? 

It’s ok, try it anyway.

And I’ll keep trying to challenge my long-standing beliefs as well. 

Be kind. 

Happiness is right behind you

Ever since happiness heard your name, it’s been running down the street trying to find you
— Hafiz, Perisian Poet

I read this quote, then glanced at the book on the corner of my desk. 

"10% Happier", by Dan Harris. 

I looked at my bookshelf.

“The Happiness Project,” by Gretchen Ruben.

“The Art of Happiness,” by the Dalai Lama - just to name a few. 

The next book I'm reading is on Geno Auriemma, the head coach of UConn women's basketball. Thanks Anne. :-)

The next book I'm reading is on Geno Auriemma, the head coach of UConn women's basketball. Thanks Anne. :-)

I looked from the books back to the quote on my computer monitor.

Has happiness been chasing me? 

Hardly. 

Sadness often grips me around my ankles, tugging me towards darkness, baiting me into the shadows and shackling me under the cobwebs and stairs. 

It has sometimes felt like my full-time job to pull out of those shackles and go looking for happiness.

The first time anyone ever asked me whether or not I was happy, I was working as a newspaper reporter for a weekly paper in Western Pennsylvania, making 15K a year and considering graduate school options. 

No, I told her. I wasn’t really happy.

At the time, I was completely floundering in my journey, certain that happiness, if it were to be found for me, was on the other side of a Master’s Degree in creative writing. I didn’t know much, but I was sure of that.    

“Have you ever been happy?” she asked.

I chewed on the question for a bit. I wasn’t sure. 

There were moments I’d enjoyed - playing sports, spending time with family and friends. I’d certainly had fun and laughter at times in my life. 

But happy? Me? 

I’ve always thought of happiness as a sacred place of arrival - the Mount Everest of joy - where we arrive one day panting, breathless, savoring the view and reflecting on our effort to get there.  

Happiness is a place we are trying to get to, rather than a place we already are. 

We’re sure that it’s hidden in the new job, the new relationship, or at our goal weight of 145 pounds. Happiness and 145 pounds go hand in hand, right?

But what if it’s not like that?

What if we really don’t need to look for it? Chase it? Try to win it?

What if we really just need to be open to it?  

What if happiness is in the warm sun, shining on my head as I write this. In Rooney’s contented breathing as he lays on my legs and I drink my coffee. Watching my niece and nephew do push-ups for me while we FaceTime. 

In Sunday morning conversations and coffee with my parents. 

And a gym full of people gathered to watch the original Wonder Woman with me. 

Happiness is in so many places and people and moments. 

Happiness has been chasing us all along. 

We’re not always easy to catch. Because we’re too busy running ahead when really, we just need to stop long enough to let it catch us. 

Today, right now, in this moment - stop. 

Practice that sacred pause. 

And let happiness catch you. 

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Personality type and fitness

Friday morning my alarm went off, and I dragged myself out of bed and into the shower.

I’d signed up for an early morning networking event. (As I try to grow my business, I recognize that these type of events are important, even if I’d rather slide down a razor blade into a bed of salt than spend my spare time socializing with strangers.)

So I put my clothes on and as I got ready to head out the door, was slammed with a realization. 

I…just…..couldn’t…..talk….to….one….more…..person. 

Not yet anyway.

This is how I get my energy. And also why it's sometimes hard to actually type a blog post, with his head on my wrist and whatnot...

This is how I get my energy. And also why it's sometimes hard to actually type a blog post, with his head on my wrist and whatnot...

So I turned around. Put my Captain America jammies back on and crawled into bed with a pillow over my head. 

I felt a little guilty because I’d spent 20 bucks on the event. And my life coach, whom I really like, was presenting on the problem of saying no (I’m sure she was proud that I said no to this event on saying no…) 

But I’d spent from 10:50 am to 8:05 pm on Thursday either talking to or being talked to at the gym.  

And for me, that much interacting with people, regardless of how much I am enjoying those people, is exhausting. As it turns out, I’m also a very high empath, which means I’m basically a lint roller for people’s emotions. (Empaths are highly sensitive people who have a keen ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. I sense it, and then I take it on.)

I’ve known since college that I am an introvert. My spiritual director administered the Meyers Briggs test to me during my sophomore year at Gannon. As it turns out, I was an off-the-charts introvert (I’m an INFP if you’re curious). For those of you who only know the current Kim, you might be surprised to learn that I'm introverted, as coaching as helped me to become more outgoing over the years.

Introverted does not mean shy, and those two terms are not interchangeable.

The terms introversion and extroversion are preferences popularized by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and later incorporated into what is now known as the Meyers Briggs test I referenced above. 

Extroverts tend to be outgoing and talkative and get their energy from parties and engaging with people. Introverts tend to get their energy from quiet reflection, and that energy dwindles during interactions. 

I know what I need to get and keep my energy up, and I know that quiet reflective time (i.e. pillow over my head) is important for me. But I forgot.

A few years ago I read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. I didn’t think the book had much to teach me (I know…how arrogant of me), mostly because I spent so much time working with my personality type in college and when I lived in the convent.

I was wrong. This book was an excellent reminder that it’s not just conversations and being around people that fatigue me.

It’s loud noise (I don’t love concerts), bright lights (I work in ambient light at every opportunity), and any other type of stimuli. Which means the gym is actually a very draining environment for me, no matter how much I love it.

I write this post mostly because I think so many of us try to force ourselves to go against the grain. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to terrify yourself sometimes (I’ve been doing more Facebook Live videos, which I recommend if you want to terrify yourself. Also jumping out of planes, but I’m not going to do that.) If you don’t challenge your comfort zone, you’ll never grow.  

But if you don’t also pay attention to your needs and energy levels, you’ll fry yourself. 

Let’s say you are a high introvert and decided to sign up for Crossfit* because your friend insisted you try it. It was okay at first, but gradually, you found yourself dreading each session - maybe because you didn’t feel like working out, but maybe because you just want to put your headphones on and be left alone.

I’m not knocking Crossfit here, but the community aspect is part of it’s appeal. If I spent my day working in an office and rarely talking to people, I could probably enjoy that community vibe. But given the work I do now, there’s no way I want to do a workout that requires engaging with people. 

Choosing an exercise routine that aligns with your personality is a great way to make it stick. That might mean that you work out by yourself two days a week and take a spin class two other days. If you’re an extrovert, that might mean that you find a workout group or class for all of your workouts. 

Last Friday was an eye-opener for me. Despite my self-work and knowledge around my personality, I had to acknowledge that I can’t always force something. Going to a networking event is important and I will go to them. But next time around, I’ll plan that event around my work week and my personality and I’ll attend the event when I’m fresher. I’ll honor my introvert.

*I'm not knocking Crossfit. I just know that the Crossfit environment is largely successful because of the strong community aspect of it.  

Each week I send out a newsletter with tips and tricks for working out. Click here to sign up. I won't spam you. I'm not like that. Besides, spam is gross. 

It doesn't have to be like this - treating depression

Last week I wrote a post about rules

I’ve created some rules for myself, regarding meditation, health and fitness, and writing. Three weeks in, I’m sticking to those rules at least 80% of the time. 

Win.

Don't settle. Unless it's settling your chin on a window sill to watch the ocean waves. 

Don't settle. Unless it's settling your chin on a window sill to watch the ocean waves. 

Last Friday I met with my therapist for only the second time in months, and as I recounted some of my changes, she asked me what was different.

It was a great question. Because the truth is, I’ve often tried to make these kinds of changes in the past, and they haven’t stuck. Then it occurred to me.  

“I think I’m finally on the right dose of medication for depression.” 

Is this as good as it gets?

If you’ve read any of my posts on depression in the past, you know I’ve struggled for most of my life with what used to be called dysthymia, and what is now referred to as chronic low level depression. I have, thankfully, always functioned throughout my depression, and while I realize medication is not for everyone, it was a combination of medication and therapy that finally helped me function at a higher level. 

But I’ve never thrived.

In fact, when I was 29, I had someone tell me that they always thought I’d amount to more. 

It was a devastating comment, but the truth is, I was thinking it too. I still think it sometimes. 

Last spring I was wrapping up my first full year at Spurling, and while I was finally working a job that I loved, I was still struggling. I have taken medication and sought therapy on and off in the past decade. In my mind, I was doing everything that I could to manage myself.

And while I was managing myself just fine, there was a persistent feeling that I wasn’t living my life as fully as I could.   

I wasn’t thriving. 

Last March I sat in my friend’s car in downtown Portland, watching the raindrops slide down the windshield as she spoke. 

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” she said. 

The “this” she was talking about was my overall lethargy and inability to focus. Despite medication and therapy (and it’s very challenging to find the right combination of both) I was in a funk.  

“Trust me,” she said. “I’ve been there.”

“What if this is as good as it gets?” I asked.

“It’s not,” she said. “It’s not.”

As it turns out, she was right. 

I didn't have a doctor I trusted, so I hadn't talked to anyone about medication for years. She recommended a psychiatrist to manage my medication, and I finally went to see him. (And I finally, after months of searching, found a new therapist). For the past nine months, he’s been helping me to find the right combination of medication.

Each time I’ve walked into his office, I’ve asked the same question - what if this is as good as it gets?

But we both persisted in the hopes that it wasn’t. 

So in early December, we made another change to my medication, the third in the past nine months. And if I’m being totally honest with all of you, I believe that last change has as much to do with my ability to create rules for myself as any books on productivity or habits. 

I guess I say that because I don’t want to pretend that any of this is easy. I don’t want to pretend that making big changes to your life is as easy as figuring out what you need to do and doing it. 

Sometimes we paint a picture in the health and fitness industry - that you just have to try harder and get out of your own way.  

The formula is simple, but it’s not easy.

I'm not suggesting that medication is for everyone, or that it fixes everything. We're all different and we each have to figure out what we need to get us where we want to go. 

But I have learned something very important.

Don't settle.

Persist. 

And if you need help persisting don't be afraid to ask.