New Website, New Career, New Home

One of the benefits of having a major mental breakdown is the clarity that comes in the aftermath. What circumstances brought me to such a desperate state? What do I need to do to keep healthy? What am I passionate about?

Fortunately for me, an answer to those questions crystallized over the past few weeks: I need to be a writer.

It isn’t a matter of want. Desire is playing a small role in this decision. To stay healthy with a large dollop of happiness I’ve been writing. No other single step has had such a positive impact on my mental well-being. It just happens to come with the bonus of being something I’m good at and love to do.

I’ve been working on a 10-post project for the musician re-ID, which will be published over the next month.  Stay tuned; I’m very excited to be involved in his album release.

I’ve created a website: http://kateahendry.com/. Please follow me there as I will no longer be updating this page. Notice any bugs or mistakes? Do you have a layout suggestion?Please let me know so I can sort everything out in these early days.

And finally, I am moving home for an extended “Writer’s Retreat” on December 12th. This will allow me to focus on writing, which will allow me to focus on staying healthy.

Writing is a growing and expanding industry in these days of continuous online content updates. Do you or someone you know have writing needs? Contact me and spread the word: Kate is a writer.

Here is a Method That is Helping Me Connect with My Body

I’m not very connected to my body. Worse, most of my triggers are activities which force me to acknowledge my body exists. My anxiety would prefer we continue living in my head and deny the body status as part of the being called Kate.

This has now become a big problem for me.

The last time I saw my counselor I was doing really well, and proudly told him of all my work and accomplishments. Until we stumbled on the topic of my body. I then stumbled over my words for the rest of the hour. I became full of anxiety. I wanted to leave the room as soon and as fast as possible. I had tears in my eyes and my brain was shutting down. “This topic is too dangerous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” , Anxiety screamed in my ear. My homework was to give my body a seat at my Committee of Emotional Cooperation.

I spent the weekend obsessing over what to say to my body, and fearing what my body would say to me. I felt guilty and sad and angry, just as I was beginning to feel more happiness. “Can’t I just continue ignoring these uncomfortable feelings?” I asked myself. “No. Our entire life mission is to allow discomfort and listen to what those feelings have to teach us. And now we will fully invite our body to share its experiences as well”. At least part of my brain is brave and rational.

The Conversation

Kate: Emotions, we have a special guest at our committee today. I have invited Body to join us. Let us all start with a few words for her, and then Body, you can take the stage.

Anger: I’m enraged over what you have experienced.

Guilt: Body, I am so sorry for all the hurt we have caused you. We are a terrible person, and have mostly abandoned you. I can’t imagine you would ever want, or be able, to forgive us.

Sadness: Body, it is devastating what you have been through. It overwhelms me with grief when I think about how you have been hurt over the years.

Fear: I want to protect you. I am very afraid you will get hurt again, and I’m trying to keep you safely covered and out of harm’s way as much as possible.  I’m also afraid you are mad at us for the pain we have caused you.

Happiness: I’m really grateful for everything you do, Body. We have so much fun together when biking through the city or singing our favourite songs. I hope we get to hang out more!

Kate: I think I most identify with Guilt. I have done as much as possible to separate Mind from Soul, and both from you, Body. I have cut off communication. I have treated you as a non-entity. I have deprived you of care and comfort.  I don’t want to feel the pain you’ve experienced. I don’t want to acknowledge its existence. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the pain in my mind though, at times I have purposefully cut into your skin to have a different kind of pain to distract me. I feel so terribly guilty about how I have treated you. I haven’t wanted to hear what you would say to me, as I am positive you wish you could trade up for a different mind with which to live. I don’t blame you. But now I have braced myself for your words. Don’t hold back.

Body: We have experienced pain. We have been used and abused and treated like a doormat. Our cells are constantly working to keep us functioning as a whole, and sometimes this is difficult when you don’t properly nourish us. We have been very encouraged by the recent increase in water consumption. It really is a vital ingredient to our success!

In 2013 we have already regenerated approximately 5.33 trillion cells.  That is 5 330 000 000 000. We aren’t concerned with the hurts of the past. All we want is a healthy environment now so we can continue our work being the temple, so to speak.

Right now. That is all we care about. Do we have the nutrients to do a good job? Have we been exercised and given a chance to grow? Have we been rested adequately? Some of us have the night shift, and when you don’t give us a full night of sleep, we can’t finish the job. It is in our best interest, mind and soul included, to get enough sleep, exercise, and nutrients. Do you realize how important a healthy diet is to us? Think about how we smell when you fill us with chemical and sugary junk. We are trying to get your attention to switch to healthier foods.

Comfort. You have neglected us in regards to comfort. Fear, I understand you want to protect us, but we need to be touched. Hugs and kisses and cuddles are good. Please find more people to touch. Please don’t be afraid of touch. Not every touch is sexual. And not every sexual experience is bad.

Guilt, we forgive you. We aren’t stewing in resentment. We adapt to how you treat us. Treat us well every day and we will work better as a whole.

Sadness, we are okay. Thank you for grieving for us, but at this point the grieving period is long gone. It is time to focus on the present. Talk with happiness about the good times we are having!

Anger, use that rage to keep us healthy. Motivate us to be strong and to stand up for the vulnerable.

The Takeaway

Listen to your body as it contains a world of wisdom. Schedule frequent check-ins. And treat it with the respect and honour it deserves.

What is your body saying to you right now?

3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Well-being Now

When I was at my most depressed and anxious, the number of steps I needed to take to feel better were overwhelming and added to my despair. “I’ll never be able to do it all”, I told myself before burying myself under the covers. My first step was to eat one banana each morning. Now that I’m on my feet, I have found three more easy steps to get your momentum rolling.

1. Drink water

Time and again I’ve read to keep hydrated for optimal health. Time and again I’ve pushed that information out of my head, thinking my problems were too big for a glass of water to fix. I have to admit I was wrong.

Start your day with 2 glasses of water and notice an immediate boost in energy. I use an app on my phone to remind me throughout the day to keep hydrated. No smart phone? Set an alarm or program your watch to beep every hour. You won’t regret this simple change.

2. Improve Your Posture

I go out for a walk every day, even if it is just around the block. Recently I started paying attention to my posture by keeping my head up, shoulders back, and pelvis forward. I instantly feel like channeling my inner Tyra Banks and practice smizing for the camera. You can’t go wrong with smiling with your eyes.

3. Take 3 Minutes to Meditate

A second app I use reminds me each day to take a three-minute meditation break. Join me in this practice and watch your focus increase and anxiety decrease.

What are your tips for simple ways to kick-start improved wellness?

How to Live With Anxiety and Depression Part 8: Crisis Management

“Are you at the show?”

“No”.

“Are you at home?”

“No”.

“Where are you?”

Deep breath. “I’m sitting on a bench at False Creek”.

“Why are you there? Are you okay?” I could hear the panic bubbling in his questions.

Silence. Finally, “I needed to eat and then I wanted to sit at the water”. My voice was flat, but tears were forming. I had to bring my knees up to my chest.

“Can you wait until next week and I’ll help you find someone to talk with?’”

“No”, I whispered, “I don’t think so”.

“You need to call your parents. What time do they wake up? Do you want me to come over? Walk home and I’ll come over”.

I stood up and my feet took me home. No one noticed my tear-stained face and I hoped I could make it to my room without facing anyone. I got home and curled into a ball. I didn’t know how to do anything else. I couldn’t answer the door. I couldn’t move when he came in my room. All I could do was cry.

Eventually I called my friend who works the phone at the Crisis Center. He spoke with me and heard the desperation in my voice. He spoke with my friend and heard the desperation in his voice. He instructed him to take me straight to the hospital by taxi and stay with me. “Make sure they admit her. Make sure they know how serious the situation is. Keep in touch”, I imagine the conversation went something like that, but I couldn’t focus on what my friend was saying. I couldn’t stop crying.

It was a relief to stop staring at the water wondering if it could kill me. It was a relief to have people make decisions for me. It was a relief to let go and know I was safe.

But it was not a relief to later think how I had placed the responsibility of my life in the hands of a friend without a plan and with no experience in crisis management.

Planning for a crisis

I haven’t been looking forward to this post. I don’t want to plan for something that I hope will never happen again. But depression and anxiety are powerful forces. They might sweep in again like a tornado again and take me with them. I don’t want to play the fool and claim I will be immune to their force. For me and for my loved ones, I must plan.

This section requires time and consideration to complete. Mine isn’t finished yet, so I can’t share it with you as an example. Go to the official WRAP website for instructions and examples.

If you have stumbled on this post because you are in crisis and don’t know where to look for help, reach out to anyone. Call a crisis line. Call a hospital. Call the police. Call a friend. Call a family member. Call a neighbour. Call a radio call in program. Call someone. Tell them you need them to take control and get you help. You’ve searched this out, so you do want to live. You can get help. It will be a relief.

Click here for the beginning of this How To series.

How to Live With Anxiety and Depression Part 7: From Bad to Worse

“I am never going to feel this bad again.”

-me, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013

Does the above quote sound familiar? Does repeating the above quote over and over and meaning it every time sound familiar? Despite our wishes and intentions, sometimes we find ourselves in a position where the anxiety and depression have a strong grip on our lives as we approach a crisis.

There is Still Time to Help Yourself

You feel unhinged, hopeless and out of control. You aren’t taking care of your needs, and your feelings are intense and all over the map. Conversely, you may have lost touch with your emotions and feel numb. Nothing feels possible. This is not true. You can still turn your thoughts, mood, and situation around, but it is time to act immediately.

Just as you did for your Early Warning Signs, you must make a list and create a plan. Your plan should be short, specific, and detailed. I’ll share mine with you, but remember, what is “feeling worse” for me may be either an early warning sign or a crisis situation for you. You must make an individualized plan for it to work.

Signs I am Feeling Worse

  • not leaving my room all day
  • not eating for an entire day
  • crying uncontrollably
  • feeling overwhelmed to take the 8 steps from bed to toilet
  • turning my phone off
  • thinking about suicide for most of the day
  • sleeping for more than 18 hours per day
  • unable to process my thoughts

Action Plan for Feeling Worse

  • call my counselor, set up an appointment, have someone from my support network go with me to the appointment
  • ask my support network to take turns being with me so I am not alone, either at my apartment or theirs
  • go to grocery store with someone from support network and buy healthy, easy-to-cook foods
  • do everything on my Daily Maintenance List
  • work through Thought Records for current, major anxieties
  • use my Early Warning Signs Action Plan

Reaching out for help when you slip from feeling bad to worse is imperative. I cannot stress this enough: ASK FOR HELP.

Click here for more information on this stage of the Wellness Recovery Action Plan from the official website. What is your plan to keep yourself from a crisis situation?

How to Live with Anxiety and Depression Part 6: When Life gets Tough

Life isn’t always easy. Even as the good times are rolling along, symptoms of anxiety and depression can start creeping up and settling into your daily life. It is important to use this part of your WRAP to recognize the early warning signs and have a plan on hand to reduce your symptoms before the wreak havoc on your enjoyment of life.

Plan for the bad so you can enjoy the good

It is no secret most people want to enjoy life and focus on the positive. I am wholeheartedly in favour of a positive outlook, as long as that includes a realistic acknowledgement that there will be times of stress and sorrow. Create a plan so you can enjoy life to the fullest. And remember, the appearance of these symptoms does not mean you are a failure. It simply means you need to use more tools in your toolbox.

Create an Early Warning Signs List

Make a list of what you are like when you are still able to care for yourself, but the uncomfortable symptoms are beginning to escalate and affect your life. Think of your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. Here is my list as an example:

Early Warning Signs List

  • sleeping more than 12 hours per day
  • not leaving my apartment
  • only leaving my room when I can hear no one is in the kitchen
  • skipping meals
  • feeling irritable towards everything
  • feeling hopeless
  • telling myself not to bother trying because I always revert back to feeling bad
  • telling myself I can’t do anything
  • ignoring calls and texts
  • not showering
  • not motivated to write
  • not keeping plans and appointments
  • buying lots of candy

Create a Plan

Now that you know what to look for in yourself when your coping mechanisms start to fall apart, it is time to make a plan of what to do when you notice these symptoms. Your plan might be similar to your Triggers Action Plan. These warning signs tend to point to a potential crisis if they are ignored, so you may want this plan to be a step up from the trigger plan. Here is what I have come up with for myself:

 Early Warning Signs Action Plan

  • call my support network, tell them I am not feeling great, and I need extra check-ins, visits, and support
    • here I list the names of my support network on my copy that isn’t published online
  • call my counselor
  • let the appropriate people know I need to take time off from outside responsibilities, whether work or prior engagements, for 2 days
  • make sure I complete everything on my Daily Maintenance List
  • use my meditation app on my phone 3 times per day
  • drink a cup of tea and focus on the warmth and taste
  • complete a simple task, like taking out the recycling and focus on how I can accomplish tasks even while feeling unmotivated
  • tell my roommates I’m not feeling great and might need encouragement to leave my bedroom

Click here for the official Wellness Recovery Action Plan as developed by Mary Ellen Copeland for more information and examples. What will you put on your Early Warning List and Action Plan? The next step, when life goes from bad to worse can be found here.

How to Live with Anxiety and Depression Part 5: Trigger Action Plans

The second section of the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) developed by Mary Ellen Copeland is about identifying triggers and creating plans for dealing with them. Click here for part 1, and go to the official WRAP site for detailed information and resources.

What are triggers?

Triggers are events, circumstances, people, places, things, basically anything, that causes you to feel uncomfortable and bring up symptoms of your depression and/or anxiety disorder. Everyone has triggers, even if you don’t have a diagnosed disorder.

You may not know why something is a trigger for you at first. This is ok. You can identify and plan for dealing with triggers right away. Discussing them with someone trusted, like a therapist, is a good idea to further find ways to reduce the amount, and severity, of triggers.

Warning

Thinking and talking about triggers can be very triggering. Complete this part of your WRAP with someone from your support team, have your Wellness Toolbox ready, and plan a way to soothe yourself after working on this section. It is ok to work on this in short sections of time if it is overwhelming.

Step One: Create a list

Brainstorm everything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Here is my list:

Triggers

  • anticipating someone being angry with me
  • being around angry people
  • watching/hearing/reading about rape and sexual assault
  • nightmares
  • flashbacks
  • feeling vulnerable
  • thinking people see me as vulnerable
  • meeting new people
  • being judged, e.g. a job interview
  • seeing jeeps
  • getting naked
  • doctor appointments
  • talking about my body and appearance
  • hearing people talk about others’ bodies and appearances
  • being touched
  • kissing and further intimacies
  • talking about sex
  • getting lost
  • going somewhere I’ve never been by myself
  • when plans change unexpectedly
  • when I feel abandoned
  • when people are late
  • when I am late
  • when family members have doctor appointments
  • getting bad news about my family’s health
  • hearing about others’ traumatic experiences
  • when I feel too overwhelmed to do something I planned on doing
  • loud noises/people
  • ending a relationship of any kind (romantic/job/lease/friendship)
  • having too much to do
  • having a jam-packed schedule\feeling like there is always more I could be doing
  • comments/questions about future plans which are outside of my current recovery plan
  • financial matters like doing taxes or applying for EI
  • interacting with the police
  • bra shopping
  • clothes shopping in general
  • dating
  • telling people about my past
  • being asked what my job is when unemployed
  • showering when not at home
  • swimming
  • basketball
  • being physically sick, like having a cold
  • creating trigger list

Whew! I got teary and tense writing that list. Fortunately, I had a counseling appointment between writing the above and writing the rest of this post. It was good to take a break, get some fresh air, and ride my bike there and back. Take the time to be kind to yourself while creating this list!

Creating a plan

Now that you know what triggers you, it is time to create a plan for when they come up. A general plan for all triggers is a good place to start. It might look something like mine:

Trigger Action Plan

  • breathe deeply
  • do everything on daily maintenance plan
  • write about my feelings
  • listen to what my emotions are telling me
  • write out a thought record
  • remind myself these uncomfortable feelings are temporary
  • call a supportive friend or family member
  • get enough sleep

It is also helpful to have specific plans for specific triggers. Especially if you know the trigger is on the horizon and unavoidable. Here is an example I created:

Trigger Plan for Flashbacks/Nightmares/Re-experiencing the rape

  • breathe deeply
  • tell myself out loud, “I am safe”
  • Focus on the present
    • say today’s date
    • do the 54321 exercise*
  • move to a different room/location
  • drink water
  • wash the dishes or something comparable to feel sensations with my hands
  • call a friend and ask for a distracting story
  • watch a funny show/movie if no friends are available for distractions

What actions will you put on your Trigger Action Plan?