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Category Archives: Mental Health

Self-Care, Part 3

Lately I’ve been reading old blog posts in an effort to reconnect with myself. I have gotten better at practicing self-care. I am better able to recognize when I’m hungry, when I’m anxious, and when I have to pee. Those 3 used to feel really similar for some reason. Now I feed myself. Last week I cooked 3 meals, and I hate cooking. I just came back from the grocery store, which I also hate. My sleep cycle is more similar to the average person, although still night owlish. I don’t go to bed past 1 am, and I don’t sleep past 10 am anymore. I even do chores on the weekend, rather than lie around because I’m too exhausted to do anything. I don’t overstimulate my brain with games in an effort to prepare for some kind of mental apocalypse.

I’m working on taking care of my health. I just went to an orthopedic appointment last week because my shoulder hurts so much that I can’t even swing a racket. When the woman took me back for an x-ray she asked me how long it has been hurting, and I said since January. She was like, that long? What, did you think it was just going to get better on its own? It made me realize that I don’t take my pain seriously. I wanted to get my hip checked out, too, but I have to schedule a separate appointment. It’s been hurting for several years so I wonder what she’s going to say about that.

I also realized that I don’t get to decide what is strenuous enough to require an inhaler. My body decides. I may think it’s pathetic to need to take a few puffs to bring my trash can up and down the hill, which only takes about a minute. Or that cleaning doesn’t count as exercise. But if it makes me throw up, then I have to accept that my asthma is that bad and just take the darn thing.

I’ve gotten better at solitude. In one of my first posts, I talk about my newly single status and how challenging it is to live and be alone. At that time, I had never been without a romantic relationship because I thought being alone was worse than being miserable. I was terrified of something happening to me and no one knowing about it so I played tennis every night just so that people would worry if I didn’t show up.

At the time I figured out that feeling bad about yourself for being in a sucky relationship was not better than being alone. But I had no clue the extent to which boundaries were an issue for me. Now I do, and I feel fiercely protective of my boundaries. My home has become my safe space, and I am happy to have it all to myself. I am happy that everything in it, including the color of the paint on the walls and the art work that I created, is a projection of myself. I am not ready to have anyone in my space. If someone else is in it, then I feel them instead of me, and I need to know what’s me. I need to know what it is that I want. Even if the other person doesn’t ask, I intuit what they want and give it to them anyway without asking myself how I feel.

I try not to beat myself up for my codependency. It’s not my fault that I had to develop this skill. I’ve always told my therapist that I feel like I have a crack in my foundation. That something was broken from the very beginning, although I didn’t know what it was at the time. Recently she told me that those cracks can be repaired. That a house is a metaphor for our personality, and the first floor is our relationship to ourselves. Only after we’ve spent time on the first floor can we move to the second floor.

I do have some advantages this time around that I didn’t have last time. One is that my family lives nearby, so if I’m too tired to eat I don’t have to lie on my couch and starve to death. I can just go over there and let them feed me, which I do with some regularity.

The other advantage is my Apple Watch. Before I used to obsess about throwing out my back and not being able to crawl to my phone to call for help. Because one time my back was in spasm and I couldn’t move for a few minutes. I used to try to remember to keep a device in every room and to tell my friends that if they received a text or saw a Facebook post saying Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! to take it seriously. They suggested getting one of those Life Alert buttons to wear around my neck, but that seemed extreme. But now that I have my Apple Watch, I will be able to call for help in any room of my house even if I can’t move thanks to Siri.

So thank you, Apple, for making solitude a little less scary.

A Downside to Optimism?

I was talking to a friend today about how much harder starting a new life has been than I expected. My new job has misled me about a lot of things that will result in working longer hours for less pay. I thought that when they pre-approved you for a loan, they couldn’t revoke it on the day you were supposed to close. I’ve never spent 6 weeks unpacking before. I still haven’t touched a racket yet. I still don’t have any friends.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought all of these changes would be easy. I was so focused on how great everything was going to be that I had completely forgotten I had a mental breakdown during my last move just 3 years ago. Such is the nature of my optimism.

My friend, who is full of words of wisdom, many of which I have included in previous posts (e.g., sometimes you can try too hard; surgery is not a competitive sport), told me that there’s a downside to optimism. We both pride ourselves on never giving up. 0-6, 0-5 in a tennis match? Then channel your inner warrior! Don’t turn off the TV, even when there’s .9 left on the clock, because it is still possible to win (e.g., see UVA basketball vs. Louisville in 2018). Knit that complicated dress! Solve everyone’s problems! Get 2 surgeries, quit your job, sell your house, buy a house, start a new job, and move to a new state!

Perhaps it wasn’t just that I was being optimistic. Perhaps I was being ever so slightly delusional.

Almost every day after some new disappointment I do the “move math.” What if I had stayed in my job? What if I had stayed in my townhouse? What if I had stayed in Virginia? Could I have made it work? And every time the answer is no. These are the changes I had to make to have a chance at freedom.

On the plus side, I’ve gotten a lot of steps from unpacking my house. I’m saving a lot of money on food by eating at my brother’s house and taking all the leftovers. My house feels more peaceful than my 2 previous townhouses did. I save a lot of money on gas because I work from home. And I don’t have to get one of those “Help! I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” buttons because I’ve told my family to check on me if they haven’t heard from me in 24 hours. And I have an Apple Watch.

Sometimes my inner critic uses a lot of gratitude shaming to try to make me “feel better.” What are you complaining about? Your house could have burned down. Someone you love could have died. You could have a broken leg and not be able to walk up and down your stairs. All true, but definitely not compassionate.

But I’ve been practicing genuine gratitude to put things in perspective. My friends check on me and tell me that they miss me. My family here has supported me financially, emotionally, and socially. God cares.

So it’s going to take longer to have a life here. That’s OK. My relentless optimism is what has helped me survived all this time. Yes, there’s a downside to it. But even when I’m down, I can still get a blog post out of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I Haven’t Moved Yet and Other Updates

It’s June and a lot has happened since my last post. Inquiring minds want to know.

First, after another semester in COVID, surgery #1, and obsessing about all of the things I have to do for the move, I am finally feeling better! While I was going through all this, I knew it was bad. But I guess you can’t fully realize all of the things you had to do to survive while you are in the process of surviving. It’s only when you look back that you realize you’re stronger than you think.

The other thing about depression is that when you’re in it you think, was there a time I wasn’t depressed? My boyfriend was always trying to get me to go outside to get sunlight, but I was too tired. But then I began to doubt myself. Did I like sunlight at some point? Maybe I’m just making excuses. But I vaguely remember playing tennis. And watching my team play tennis. And I remember thinking it was fun.

But then when you’re not depressed you think, did I really just crash on the couch after work every day in a comatose state? Did I really have that little energy? Wow. Thank goodness that’s over with.

The other update is that last week was my last week of work. 19 years. That’s longer than any relationship I’ve had. But I always knew I’d be better at work than marriage. I still have to pack my office and transfer files, but I’ve said my good-byes to clients and colleagues. We had a nice get-together during a work retreat last week. That was the first time I had seen most of my colleagues in over a year. In a way, I’m glad I’m leaving during Covid. I wouldn’t have wanted a bunch of people coming up to me saying good-bye. I may seem sociable, but I’m really not.

My next update is that I am able to do a lot more stuff now. Like

  • play tennis again–it’s starting to come back to me
  • ride my bike–managed not to crash
  • see the Star–with a short hike uphill after playing tennis to boot
  • rollerblade–not very smart but it did inspire this haiku

As I laced my last

rollerblade I remembered

I’m too old to fall.

I didn’t fall. But hopefully I won’t try to do it again.

Most of the time these things were done without coughing, and I’ve only thrown up a couple of times. I’m getting a little less rusty and out of shape, but I’m still getting old. My body can’t do what it used to do. And there’s nothing that can fix that. So, I’m trying to focus on being grateful that I can be active at all. And I’m putting that self-care commitment I made in my last post into action. I spend a lot of time resting, icing, stretching, massaging, and doing yoga. All things I didn’t do before because I thought they were a waste of time. Hence the neglect of my body.

Which brings me to my next update. I had to take a bunch of tests to see if I needed surgery for my GERD, and one of them was a pH test. You have to get this tube inserted through your nose and down your esophagus and wear this big monitor where you had to indicate if you were eating, sleeping, or taking a pill. For 24 hours. But I still went outside for a walk, as indicated in the Rocky-like picture below.

The cutoff score for high acidity was 14, and I had a score of 80! My surgeon said it’s the highest score she’s ever seen! So I’ve been bragging that I have the worst GERD ever. I know I said I wasn’t going to be competitive about health stuff anymore but that one is just too good.

Plus it makes me feel vindicated. When I was watching my team play a few months ago, I noticed how quiet it was. No one was coughing. Why am I the only one? I was worried that when I moved to Knoxville no one would play with me because they’d probably think I had Covid. But now that I’m having surgery, maybe things can get even better. Maybe I’ll be cough-free by the time I meet people to play with. Maybe they’ll want to be my friend.

Thanks to all of you who prayed for me last time. If you think of me on June 18, feel free to send some healing vibes my way. This time I’ll have to spend the night for observation, which makes me a little nervous. I haven’t stayed overnight in the hospital since I was 5.

This brings me to my final update. I haven’t moved yet. In retrospect, I should have said in that initial post that I am moving months from now. Probably in August. Ever since I wrote that, people keep coming up to me saying, what are you doing here? I thought you moved. I don’t think they’re disappointed or anything, but I just want the rest of you to know, in case you see me in the near future.

Déjà Vu

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At the end of 2013, my youngest brother R. stopped taking his antidepressants. My mom, who is a doctor, was giving him samples, and she told him that he needed to find a doctor to prescribe them. Because it’s the legal thing to do. Not wanting to have depression on his record, and coming off 5 years of steady employment, he decided to go off of them instead. I begged him not to, but he was afraid to be dependent on them in the advent of an apocalypse and wanted to prepare himself.

Three months later he was depressed. And, as I’ve mentioned based on my own folly, every time you have another depressive episode, it’s harder to recover. My psychiatrist described it as breaking your leg in the same place over and over. Still, he did not go to the doctor until his depression and anxiety were so bad that he could not make it to work. His job was very generous, allowing him to cut back his hours to as little as he needed and keep his job. But ultimately the shame and guilt of not being able to go overwhelmed him and he quit.

After a few months of unemployment, my brother moved back home with my parents. My dad, who had been depressed for 4 years, went straight to a manic episode and was blowing through his retirement money. And my mom’s retirement money. And she could do nothing to stop him. So he took on the impossible job of trying to figure out how we could stop them. But the situation was so bad that, instead of helping them, he had a heart attack. At the age of 40. And since they were in no mental state to care for him, he moved in with me. And still lives with me.

It has been a rough 3 and a half years, but in the past year R. has been feeling much better. He is able to go to make it in work, has friends, a church community, extracurricular activities. He’s the happiest he’s been in a long time. But it was a 6 year journey–a high price to pay for going off his meds.

Last winter my other brother M., who also struggles with depression, stopped taking his medication. Because he didn’t want to have to see his doctor for his yearly follow up. And he didn’t want to be dependent on the meds. In case there was an apocalypse. And he got depressed right a way.

A few days ago in our sibling Zoom meeting, M, confessed that he had stopped taking his meds and recently restarted them. He was feeling anxious, having chest pains, shortness of breath. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t think clearly. He was afraid of losing his job. He was a loser, a failure. He worried about homelessness.

It was déjà vu.

We did everything we could to talk him into going to his doctor to discuss getting back on meds. And to rule out the possibility of a heart attack. Like R. did when he was depressed and anxious, M. makes excuses because he doesn’t see how dire his situation is. Doesn’t seem to remember anything that happened to R. Doesn’t recognize that history is repeating itself.

I’ve been trying to convince him to come stay with me until he gets better. Yes, there is a travel ban, but I consider the possibility of him committing suicide or having a heart attack essential travel. I feel as anxious as I did when my younger brother was about to be released from the hospital and would be in may parents’ care for recovery. Which meant certain death.

It’s strange to be in this catch-22: trying to convince my brother of something that will save his life, knowing that it will once again probably cause me to become anxious and depressed. This is the first time in a very long that I feel mostly relaxed. I’d like to enjoy it for as long as I can. But I don’t think he can get better in isolation. And he is also at risk for a heart attack. And he’s bipolar and could become manic.

Is every family like this? One mental health crisis after another? Will there ever be a time when things can be “normal”? Just for a little while? Just so I can catch my breath?

R. thinks it could be a good thing for all of us if M. comes. He will have someone to talk to. They can exercise together. R. can take him to church, introduce him to his friends. Maybe one day he and M. can get a place of their own, which is their dream. M. would be closer to his kids. I could have my space again but have them close by.

I hope he’s right.

Adventures in Blogging: Six Years Later

warrior push up

I wrote my first blog post on September 24, 2013.  At that time, my goals were to take some preliminary steps towards writing a book. Like writing stuff down and letting people read it. Because I had never written anything about myself that I thought was good enough to share. I figured blogging could be my version of exposure therapy–just throw myself out there, with all my weaknesses, secrets, and embarrassing moments. Make myself vulnerable to the world.

Fortunately, not many people read my blog, so it wasn’t too painful. And the people who read it were mostly my friends and family. And people who could relate to my problems. Which turns out to be almost everyone. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, in fact. It turns out that the things I was so reluctant to share are the very things that have improved through the process of blogging. So I thought I’d share my progress with you, since you helped me to be the person I am today.

  1. Self-care. This has actually become one of my areas of expertise. Which is kind of ironic, because I was pretty terrible at it when I started my blog. I never got enough sleep and often had to binge sleep on weekends and breaks. I would get hypoglycemic because I wouldn’t make eating a priority. I coughed all the time, couldn’t breathe, and threw up on occasion but didn’t bother to find out what was wrong with me. I would only allow myself to consult my therapist in emergency situations. I had a terrible relationship with my body. To be honest, I still struggle with all of these things, but the difference is that I’m committed to making self-care a priority. When I falter, I forgive myself and renew my vow. And it makes a big difference, having someone who is committed to caring for me.
  2. Self-compassion. At the time I started my blog 6 years ago, I was separated from my second husband and dating someone who I couldn’t stand and filled me with self-loathing. We broke up shortly thereafter, and that was the first time I had ever been single. Most people never knew what was going on in my relationships because I feared that people would judge me, and I already judged myself harshly enough. I didn’t need the extra guilt and shame. But in freeing myself from the pressure of seeming like I had it all together, I was able to forgive myself for my mistakes. And I have become less judgmental of other people, too. Or at least I am committed to being less judgmental of myself and others.
  3. Boundaries. Before I started my blog, I only had a vague idea of what boundaries were. Probably because I didn’t have any. I never said no. If someone needed something and I could provide it, I felt it was my duty to give them what they wanted. I couldn’t distinguish my feelings from someone else’s feelings. I knew what other people wanted but I had no idea what I wanted. There were no boundaries in my thoughts, either. Everything ran together in this litany of worry that played over and over, like an anxiety playlist on repeat. Practicing mindfulness has helped me to put some boundaries in place, but I still struggle in all of these areas. But that’s OK. In mindfulness, there is no goal to achieve. No grade to earn. I just need to keep practicing.
  4. Warriorism. I love a challenge. A difficult relationship. A complicated knitting pattern. Being so tough that I can throw up during a match but keep going, win or lose. But I have learned that, while it’s good to know that you are capable of doing hard things, that doesn’t mean that you need to make everything hard to do. So now I take my drugs for all my conditions, take time off from playing when my body tells me to, let go of people who do more harm than good, and sometimes knit really easy things, like scarves. Because I imagine even warriors take it easy when they’re not in battle.

2019 has been a tough year, and the school year has already begun with some unique challenges. But I feel up to the task. I am committed to caring for myself. Being kind to myself. Saying yes to what I want and no to what I don’t want. Being selective about the challenges I take on. And blogging.

The Power of the Pause

Remember how I said I have trouble with transitions? Well, it turns out that everyone has trouble with transitions. And I thought it was just me! (By the way, if you ever think that something is just you, it’s not true. This is really how everyone thinks and feels.)

This summer, in an effort to recoup after a challenging academic year, I decided to up my mindfulness practice by pausing more often in transition from one thing to the next. Because I had this mini epiphany that mindfulness is actually about creating pauses. At the most basic level, it’s about pausing between a thought or feeling and how I respond to it.

For example, I started having anxiety attacks the week before work started because I kept getting work emails asking me to answer questions, check my schedule, review this thing, take this assessment, etc. I tried to ignore them, but once they popped up on my screen, I had to read them. You know. Because I’m OCD. If you’re thinking, well why don’t you just turn off those notifications, Christy? It’s because while I was single for 4 years and never got any texts, every time I looked at my phone, my inner demons would be like, don’t even bother checking. No one gives a crap about you. So I turned on my notifications for everything so I could be like, take that, demons! You don’t know me!

But I digress. What was I saying? Oh yeah. Pauses. Actually, that’s a good example of a pause. Those inner demons are constantly trying to make us think we are worthless, and without taking a pause, we believe them. If you put a pause between the thought no one gives a crap about you and the automatic thought that comes up after that, which is something like, I’m unlovable, lots of useful things can happen. You can ask yourself, is that thought true? No, actually. It’s not. I just had dinner with a friend last night. And I’m playing tennis with more friends tonight. So some people must like me. That’s just my inner demons, doing what they always do. Persistent little buggers.

So then, based on something a client said (clients often have really good ideas), I decided to insert more pauses into my daily routine. Before I ate something to give thanks. Before I turned on the TV to see if there was something else that would be more helpful. Before reading the next chapter, to let what I just read sink in.

And it really helped. Before I used to go through my self-care routine like a to do list. Meditate–check. Take meds–check. Stretch–check. Just going through the motions, trying to get them out of the way. But then I remembered how another client had talked about a book she was reading that encouraged treating even the most mundane activity as though it were sacred. Which is what mindfulness is about. This moment, while you’re folding clothes, matters. Regardless of how you feel about it. Or what you have to do afterwards. Be here. Experience it. It will never come again.

Perhaps sometimes that’s what we want when we’re bored or sad. Or filled with dread about school starting. But perhaps when you look back at some point you’ll think, wow, I spent that last week of vacation obsessing about school so much that I didn’t even get to enjoy it. Or, remember when I had a job? Those were the good old days. Or some other thought that makes you realize that there were a lot of good things going on in that moment when you thought it wasn’t so great.

And you know how we can try not to take those things for granted? With pauses. They require no special training. No therapy needed. No self-help books. You can’t do it wrong. And even taking one will make a difference.

Try it out. See what you think.

How to Predict the Future

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If you’re psychic, this blog post does not apply to you, because you already know how to predict the future. For the rest of us, there are a range of options for predicting the future, each with their pros and cons. In this blog post, I will review the primary strategies so that you can be more informed and mindful about employing whichever one you choose.

  1. Worst-case scenario. This is the most common strategy I see in therapy. It involves things like predicting you will fail your test, and then your class, and then college altogether, and then you’ll end up flipping burgers at McDonald’s. People who use this strategy are not delusional; they know they are picking the worst-case scenario. Their argument is that if things go poorly they will be mentally prepared, and if things go well they will be pleasantly surprised. The problem with this strategy is that it causes unnecessary stress, since the worst-case scenario is not likely to happen. And, if you’re trying to practice self-care, your goal is to eliminate unnecessary stress. Plus, even if the worst-case scenario does happen, you can prepare for it then, just as well as you can prepare for it now, and save some energy.
  2. Optimism. In this strategy, people assume that things will turn out in their favor, even in cases when this might be statistically unlikely. In fact, even if your optimism is not based in reality, there is research to suggest that it is still effective in creating positive outcomes and feelings of happiness. One recommendation for how to capitalize on the benefits of optimism is to write your goals down as though you have already accomplished them. (I’m trying this out for myself and have started writing I’ve lost 10 lbs. every day to see if it works. I’ll let you know.) The downside to this strategy is that, from a mindfulness perspective on happiness, we do not need to rely on any particular outcome to be happy. Well-being can be created by learning to be fully present in this moment, whatever it looks like. Assuming that things will turn out the way we want them to, on the other hand, makes our happiness dependent on a favorable outcome.
  3. No expectations. This strategy is best illustrated in the expression “expect nothing but be prepared for everything,” which presumably came from an ancient samurai warrior, according to Jerry Lynch in The Way of the Champion. With this mindset, you do not assume that you will win, but you expect that you will do your best, regardless of the result, because doing your best is all you can control. And you expect that, whatever happens, you will learn more about yourself and become a better person because of it. This strategy is more consistent with a mindfulness approach because it does not assume that we have more control than we actually do. It also does not assume that a negative outcome is necessarily a bad thing. The biggest drawback to this strategy is that it forces us to live with the anxiety of not knowing what will happen. Our fear of uncertainty is so great that imaging ourselves failing out of school and flipping burgers at McDonald’s seems less anxiety-provoking than the ambiguity of the unknown.

It’s probably obvious what my bias is. I encourage my clients to have no expectations. When making predictions about the future, I encourage them to substitute their negative predictions with the mantra “I don’t know what will happen,” and reassure them that whatever happens, they can have faith that they will be able to figure out a solution when the time comes.

How to Tell if You’re Lazy

lazy cat

I have clients tell me that they’re lazy all the time. Even though they are all high achieving, perfectionistic, over-scheduled students who work more hours in a day than I do. And I work a pretty full day myself. Why is that, you may ask? That doesn’t make any sense. Because that’s how mental illness is; it doesn’t make any sense.

Usually when people beat themselves up for being lazy it’s a telltale sign that they’re probably depressed. A better word for laziness would be something like fatigue. When people are depressed they have no energy, no motivation. Nothing is enjoyable. Getting out of bed is too much effort. But it can’t be depression. That’s just an excuse. I don’t have real problems. I’m just being lazy.

Sometimes being paralyzed with fear can feel like laziness. Because fight or flight aren’t the only possibilities in the face of fear. Sometimes you freeze, like a deer in headlights. This is usually what happens when students have a paper due the next day but they have been staring at a blank screen on their computer for hours without typing a single word.

We do need a certain amount of anxiety to be motivated to do anything, but it doesn’t take much to go from the kind of anxiety that motivates you to the kind of anxiety that paralyzes you. Especially when you try to motivate yourself by saying you suck, you’re disappointing everyone, you’re going to flunk out of school and end up homeless. Not exactly a pep talk. And yet, this is the kind of stuff we say to ourselves all the time.

The ironic thing is, when I was looking for a meme on laziness, I discovered that people who really are lazy don’t feel bad about it. They’re out there looking for hacks to make the most out of their laziness–trying to figure out how to make it seem like they do yoga, or what comfortable clothes they can buy to lounge around in. There’s no shame about it at all. In fact, many of the memes are about wearing their laziness on their shirts like a badge of honor. Literally. Like this one:

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And this one:

Not productive

In case you were too lazy to read the whole blog post, I’ll summarize it for you.

Here are 5 signs that you are not really lazy:

  1. Your therapist tells you that you are depressed.
  2. Your therapist tells you that you are anxious.
  3. You think you’re a loser and a terrible person.
  4. You worry about homelessness.
  5. You feel a strong affinity to deer in headlights.

And here are signs that you might actually be lazy:

  1. You’re a cat.
  2. You own one of those t-shirts.
  3. You have a Pinterest board about hacks for lazy people.
  4. You don’t read them because you’re too lazy.
  5. Being lazy doesn’t really bother you.

And if you were too lazy to read those signs, then here is the one-sentence moral of this story:

If you’re beating yourself up about being lazy, then you probably aren’t.

50 Shades of Blue

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When I was in grad school, clinical depression was described as this discrete period that occurred in episodes with a clear beginning and ending. It was even called the common cold of mental illness. Like you would know when you had caught it, and then you’d get better and be in remission. If you had a genetic predisposition, you could be at risk of recurring depressive episodes, potentially for life.

You could also have this more chronic but less severe form of depression called dysthymia. Sometimes you could be unfortunate enough to have dysthymia and major depression at the same time. Double depression, it was called. As though you could have carefully measured doses of depression, and double depression has 2 cups of symptoms instead of 1. Which is strange, because you can’t have double of any other mental disorder.

Now that I’m a practicing psychologist, I know that the diagnostic categories are not as neat and clean as they were made out to be. As a person who has been depressed for most of my life, I can say that major depression feels distinct, but it is not always clear when I am depression-free vs having dysthymia. There are times when I didn’t think I was depressed in the moment, but when I look back, it’s clear that I was.

Often we tell clients who are on meds that they can begin tapering off once they are in a period of stability. Over the summer, perhaps. Or some time after they have gotten settled in their new job. Maybe the problem for me is that there is never a period of stability. Never some time when there isn’t some family crisis. When there isn’t some problem that I’m dealing with. If anything, I would say there have been episodes of stability that have broken up the more chronic feeling of being depressed.

I don’t to want give the impression that I’m always miserable, because I’m not. Like I said, sometimes I don’t even realize I’m depressed. Sometimes it only lasts a few hours or a few days. And it doesn’t feel the same every time. So at least there’s some variety to it.

Every now and then I get upset about how unfair it all seems. The depression. The anxiety. The family craziness. The stress that comes with thinking I need to save the world. But life isn’t fair, right? And I am blessed and fortunate in other ways. If I had to choose my suffering, at this point I’d choose mental illness, because at least it’s familiar to me. I know what to expect. I know how to manage it.

And the meds do help. So does therapy, self-care, mindfulness, and self-compassion. I think depression has made me wiser. It has made me a better therapist. I’ve learned to accept the ebbs and flows of my mood, and of life in general, without beating myself as much, because I’m doing the best that I can.

This week is finals week. We are all willing ourselves to make it to the break, exhausted from the semester. Despite taking my meds, talking to my therapist, and practicing self-care, mindfulness, and self-compassion, I’ve still had bad days. But I’m determined to get that Perfect Attendance award, so I’ve made it to work when I’m supposed to be here.

Today I would call my mood cornflower. Which is a pretty shade of blue.

Take the One Day Judgment-Free Challenge

Even though I have been practicing and teaching self-compassion for several years now, it is still extraordinarily hard not to judge myself. I’m more aware of when I do it, but I still do it a lot. It is just so deeply rooted in the way we think. So automatic that it’s hard to catch, even when I’m being mindful of my inner dialogue. And so hard to come up with alternative statements. Let me give you some examples of some that I have been struggling with lately.

One thought I’ve been having difficulty with is that I feel fat, because I really have gained weight since my brother moved in with me. I specialize in eating disorders, so I know that fat is not a feeling. Yet it conveys the way I feel better than any feeling words I can think of. Usually my next thought is, I know I shouldn’t be focused on my appearance, but should is a judgment word, too. So now there are 2 sentences I need to change. And need is borderline judgmental. And on and on it goes. It’s hard to even get a sentence out without having to rephrase it.

The should sentence is easier because I practice reframing should statements with students a lot. It could be something like, I feel guilty and ashamed that I still care about how I look. (I would like to end that sentence with, even though I know better, but that’s judgmental, too.) That’s a lot longer to say in my head  than I feel fat, but it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve already failed.

The feeling fat sentence is harder. Maybe it could something like, I’m ashamed of my body in this moment. I kind of feel ashamed for feeling shame, too, but it’s OK to feel whatever we feel. There is no right answer.

Most of the time it is about shame when we judge ourselves or someone else. We think we–or the other person–is a bad person. Maybe they were mean to someone. Maybe they cheated. Maybe they voted for the other party. But I know I’ve done things that I’m ashamed of, and I try not to think of myself as a bad person. So who am I to say that someone else is a bad person? Who am I to say that I am better than anyone else?

Which brings me to the next sentence that I have difficulty coming up with a compassionate alternative for. And that is, I feel pathetic. Like fat, pathetic isn’t a feeling, either. But when I try to come up with other sentences, it’s something like, I feel like a loser, which is equally judgmental. The closest thing I’ve come up with is something like, I feel embarrassed, humiliated that I did that. That’s still painful to admit, but it’s the truth. Whereas being pathetic is not. Hopefully.

When all else fails, I use my favorite mantra: I’m doing the best that I can. Because I know that’s true. And all you can do is all you can do.

Since taking challenges is the in thing to do these days, I’d like to invite you to take a One Day Judgment-Free Day with me. See if you can spend just one day paying attention to whether you use judgmental language. And when you notice that you have, take a few minutes to think about how to rephrase that sentence. It will be tough, and you may find yourself judging yourself for your judgments, but be compassionate about that, too. We all do it. It doesn’t make us bad people.

If you do take on the challenge, let me go how it goes! I’d loved to hear what it was like for you.