An update and a poll walked into a bar…

Hello lovely people! Just an update to let you know I am still out here and have a heap of ideas buzzing around, but I have my first counselling assessment coming up in a week’s time and I am focused on that for the next 7 days and nights. I’ll post some more after that’s done, but in the meantime, why not do my handy-dandy poll and let me know what you want to read? Love to hear your thoughts!  Until then, take care!

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People are amazing!

This week I started my Master of Counselling at uni. (side note: It is wonderful. I love it. I’m so glad I decided to start studying. I can’t wait to be counselling people!)

We are focusing on something called Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, which is quite a different model to the kinds of therapy I am used to using (ACT, CBT). And I love my ACT and CBT. It’s hard to break out of that mindset into SFBT (so many acronyms!), because SFBT is all about using people’s strengths, capacities, ideas and abilities. It is the ultimate in non-enabling. It is extremely respectful of people’s individual knowledge about their situation and lives. Basically it says, “You are the expert on your life.” And I agree, I think that’s true.

The counsellor’s role is not to know nothing and just listen (although they do stay present, listen and empathise, which is a whole skill in itself!) but to know and ask the right questions that lead the client to their preferred course of action.

In learning about this, I have come to realise that people are amazing. They are incredibly resilient, resourceful and strong. Even in some of the most dire situations, they get up, they look after their families, they complete studies, they go to work…And sometimes they wake up and keep on living, even when they feel they can’t. That takes such enormous courage.

I watched a case study where a man who had been in an accident and become a paraplegic came to an SFBT session very depressed, feeling terrible and with very little hope for change, but he decided of his own volition to come back to a second session a month later, and had implemented some changes he had come up with all on his own. His problems weren’t all solved and he was still depressed/grieving, but his suffering was not as overwhelming anymore. He looked happier and healthier. He had more energy. He even smiled a little. I was soooo impressed.

From this therapy I am learning to look for strengths, possibilites and capabilities in people. I think that’s really beneficial for all of us. It’s given me a real admiration for others, and even helped me to see that I have done far more than I thought I was capable of. It gives me a lot of hope.

How have you managed to get through a difficult time? What resources, capabilities, strengths did you draw on that maybe you didn’t even know you had?

How to have a good relapse

I was going to share a wonderful post about something I’ve found really helpful and wonderful and you might too. It was going to be absolutely wonderful.

Was.

But today, I haven’t been feeling so great. A mixture of little sleep, some theological questions/doubts and anxiety all shaken up caused me to feel pretty awful most of the day.

This doesn’t necessarily constitute a full-on relapse as such, but it is disheartening to feel so well and then one day suddenly find yourself feeling the way you used to at the start of recovery.

Fortunately, I know that this is a normal part of the recovery progression. I’ve been here and done this before. Feels painful? Of course. No one wants to relapse.

relapse

Image credit: https://imgflip.com/i/1hozhg 

HOW DO YOU HAVE A ‘GOOD’ RELAPSE? EXPECT TO HAVE ONE.

Relapse is a normal part of recovery, and does not equal a failure (Presbury, Echertling and McKee, 2008). So I’m not beating myself up about it and adding that emotional baggage to the stuff I’m already attempting to sort through.

The steps I’m taking to manage this episode, and you might find helpful too if you have problems to deal with (which I’m assuming is, like, everyone) are:

  • Medication – sticking with it, not skipping doses, not doing things that interfere with my medication (like drinking alcohol). If I found that I was frequently having bad days and it seemed like the medication was no longer having an effect, I would go back to my doctor and discuss whether it was still effective and if we needed to try something else (higher dosage, different kind, etc).
  • Tools from therapy – using mindfulness to “sit with” the uncertainty and anxiety I’m feeling, rather than constantly ruminating, CBT to evaluate if my thoughts are realistic and helpful or not, visualising positive rather than negative outcomes. If this isn’t effective enough, an appointment to check in with my psychologist would be my next step.
  • Connection – for me connecting with other people is important (I’m an extrovert), and is pretty much always a mood booster. I sent a friend a silly picture I thought she’d appreciate and we had a laugh. (Well I did). It helped.
  • Accepting my doubt as a part of my faith – tonight I heard an excellent talk by Ken Wytsma, guest speaker at Westcity Church, and he spoke about doubt being a part of faith, and how we sometimes “take a break” from God, church etc until we feel happy enough to stop doubting. He encouraged us to continue in our practices anyway, as that is what faith is. So I am continuing in my attempts to pray and cultivate my faith, rather than stepping away because I’m uncertain and anxious about that uncertainty. So be it.
  • Self-care and self-compassion – just trying to look after myself (eat moderately, drink water, get enough rest) and cut myself some slack, not paying attention to the inner critic (aka Judgy McJudgerson).

So that’s what I’m aiming to do while I go through this process of questioning, feeling anxious about it and feeling uncertain about what the outcome will be.

What do you do when you feel like you are relapsing or things are not going as well as they used to? Let me know in the comments 🙂 

References
Presbury, J. H., Echterling, L. G., McKee, J.E. (2008). Beyond Brief Counseling and Therapy: An Integrative Approach (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

What depression looks like for me

After 4 months on anti-depressants and 2 months seeing a psychologist, the other night I turned to my husband and said, “I have depression.”

To which he said something like, “Um…yes.”

What I meant was that I finally discovered what depression looks like for me. It can look different for everybody.

Because I was diagnosed with PND (post-natal depression, aka post-partum depression), I believed that once things with my children settled down, I would go back to feeling better, to feeling like myself. Just automatically.

Things settled down – my youngest child started walking, being able to do things independently, and with some gentle encouragement (and I do mean gentle, as he’s a sensitive little one) started sleeping better. But feeling better didn’t happen. And when it didn’t happen, I couldn’t put my finger on why. I couldn’t name it. All I could say was, “I just don’t feel like myself”. And I’m still not there yet.

But jump to a couple of days ago. I’m on medication, which is going really well. I’ve been seeing a psychologist and she’s been helping me deal with some of the issues contributing to the depression, which has been fantastic. (If you’re in Logan and need someone, look up Rebecca Cockerton at Capability Psychology – shout out to you if you’re reading this, Rebecca!) I’ve had some good conversations, made a few changes, and am feeling in a much better place. Until…

I was driving home from work, not doing anything, but suddenly felt this onslaught of thoughts telling me that my attempts to do new things in my life (e.g. work on creative projects, change careers, bring in money to help provide for my family) were not going to work out. It wouldn’t matter what I did, I wasn’t going to be able to find a job or bring in money.  And with those thoughts come feelings of self-doubt, desperation, and a desire to just curl up and sit quietly by myself away from other people. I don’t want to put in any more effort. I’m exhausted. And if things won’t work out anyway, why bother?

I tried to use my mindfulness skills and just sit with those thoughts and feelings without trying to push them away, and without trying to interpret them as meaningful either. But in that moment I realised that these were the thoughts that had been frequently visiting me – not constantly, but often enough that they were sapping my motivation.

When I spoke to my psychologist, she offered me two techniques to start managing these thoughts. The first was CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which is about evaluating thoughts to see if they are truthful or helpful. She asked me what I felt it meant about me if I couldn’t achieve the goals I wanted. I said that it made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, I was a failure. Then I realised that I am kind of writing off everything successful I’ve ever done, like it doesn’t count. And in the grand scheme of things, that seems pretty out of balance.

The second technique she suggested was visualisation. She said, “I think you have been visualising negative outcomes. Let’s try visualising positive outcomes.” And she gave me a few examples. So I started tonight, and I will be doing this for awhile. Probably throughout my life. This is all about retraining my brain to move away from thoughts that have a negative affect on my mood, and more naturally move into thoughts that have a positive affect.

The reason these thoughts have made me feel not “like myself” is because in the past, my attitude to doing something new was, “Well other people have done it, obviously it’s learnable, therefore I can learn it.” But when I had a baby that often I couldn’t settle or couldn’t get to sleep despite my very best efforts, it wore me down and I think that has spread to other areas of life. And that’s why I’m not fully recovered (yet!) even though circumstances are waaaaaaaay better.

So here’s to recovery. Daily recovery. And if you have helpful techniques that you use to combat depression or anxiety, I’d love to hear them in the comments below, or email me: mytwocompanions(at)gmail.com

 

Manage Anxiety Now

If you’re feeling anxious and need some techniques to help manage it right now, here are some tips. If you don’t want to watch the video (or don’t have time), the tips are listed below in the post and also attached as a pdf that you can download and print if you want to refer to it later.

MANAGE ANXIETY NOW (pdf for you to download)

Physical symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Sweaty (palms/soles of feet)
  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Racing thoughts

These don’t feel nice, but are a totally normal response to adrenaline in your body.

How to manage:

Interrupt the physical symptoms.

  • Breathing – breathe in deeply and slowly, to a count of 4 or whatever number feels comfortable.
  • Exercise – burn off the adrenaline by going for a walk or other kind of exercise.
  • Do a simple activity such as making a cup of tea that allows you to focus on something other than what’s in your head and how you’re feeling.

Good news – your anxiety will go down on its own and your physical symptoms will subside eventually, even if you do nothing.

Mental symptoms:

  • A thought that comes to mind that triggers an anxious response
  • Usually a thought about something that could happen in the future or has happened in the past
  • If it causes you distress, it is worth dealing with.

How to manage:

  • Try not to push the thought away – pushing it away makes it stronger.
  • Let the thought sit – acknowledge it.
  • Then turn your attention to something that is happening now.
  • Not ignoring it or distracting yourself, but choosing to attend to the present moment rather than anxious thoughts.
  • Every time your mind returns to the thought, acknowledge it and bring your attention back to what you are doing.

This skill is called mindfulness. It puts you back in control and takes power away from the thought.

What is important is what you think is important, not what your anxiety says is important.

Resources page: https://mytwocompanions.wordpress.com/helpful-resources-2/

Please do not feed the ibis.

In Brisbane and the Gold Coast we have a bird called the ibis. I think there is an African version too.

Now, not many people really like this bird. It hangs around when you’re eating. Some people claim they smell. (I can’t vouch for this personally, I have never sniffed one!) But to be honest, this picture is actually a really nice picture. In reality, this bird looks like it got whacked with the ugly stick, big-time. These birds are just everywhere, they are really annoying and they scavenge. We have signs in cafes in Brisbane that say, “Please do not feed the ibis.”

2038331756_70786bdbe5_z

By Su-Lin, https://www.flickr.com/photos/su-lin/2038331756 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

The ibis is a pest. Sorry, ibis.

Just like you don’t want to feed the ibis, when you have OCD you don’t want to feed the doubts. Don’t give them a cup of tea. No biscuits. Nada.

One of my favourite authors of all-time, Adrian Plass (who is coming to Australia this year!), in one of his best books (in my opinion) Jesus: Safe, Tender, Extreme, writes this:

When doubt knocks at the door, let him in. Sit him down in a corner, but don’t entertain him, and whatever you do, don’t feed him. Let him stay as long as he likes. Eventually, bored and hungry, he will let himself out, probably when your back is turned and you are busy doing something else. At best, you will forget that he was ever there; at worst, you will breathe a sigh of relief when you realise that you have regained the extra space that he has been taking up.

…As the years go by, I continue to suffer from doubts, but I am agnostic to the point of atheism about their reality.
(2006, p.44-45)

Of course he was talking about religious doubts, doubts about faith – but OCD is known as the doubting disease, and we can truly doubt anything (including our faith) – so this is excellent advice. Doubt is like an ugly ibis, pecking around and being a pain, so it is best to be left to its own devices and not given any special attention.

My plan for OCD in 2016 is to take on some of my bigger anxiety triggers and do some ERP to conquer them. Some of these are related to my faith, so I am excited to see what faith disentangled from OCD looks like. Scrupulosity, I am coming for you! We are on like Donkey Kong!

Happy New Year all! What are some of your New Year’s goals or resolutions?

 

 

Sleep glorious sleep! (Or: when lack of sleep makes anxiety worse)

This is a very timely topic as sleep is a scarce commodity in my house right now. Well, for me anyway. I need at least 6 hours broken sleep a night to feel human. The less broken, the better. But some nights I fall asleep, get woken 1-2 hours later, sit up for 20 – 60 mins, go back to sleep for another 1-2 hrs etc. The intervals get shorter as the night goes on. Or I’ve had my day start at 3:30am. Or I’ve had 3 hours sleep in total. Etcetera. I’m not special – many parents the world over have been here, done this, got the T-shirt. So have people who suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea, anxiety, depression and other conditions. Disrupted sleep is common and takes its toll.

These are some of the effects sleep deprivation has on me:

  • I become irritable or even angry, often over minor things. 
  • Brain fog – can’t think straight, have lapses in concentration, can’t remember words. 
  • Anxiety more easily triggered
  • Quicker to get to higher levels of anxiety
  • Obsessive/intrusive thoughts are more “sticky”
  • Compulsions are more automatic
  • Difficulty in being and staying mindful
  • Get teary more easily
  • Forget to give way at roundabouts (this only happened once thankfully!)

The number of hours you sleep are irrelevant – if you are getting less than you need, you are going to feel it. If sleep deprivation worsens your anxiety, you can improve it.

So, as a sleep enthusiast (who has read a zillion or so baby sleep books and articles) here are my top tips for combatting sleep deprivation.

1. Go to bed earlier.

If you’re going to be up multiple times a night or up for awhile during the night (for whatever reason – anxiety, tending to little ones), maximize your sleep time by going to bed as early as you can. Sometimes it’s comforting to know that even if you’re up many times a night, at least you’ve been in bed for a long time. I’ve been told that sleep before midnight is more restorative. Others say that’s not true. I say, if you feel better with more hours before midnight, then go to bed earlier.

2.  Sleep in.

If you can, sleeping in a little later is a good option to make up for missed sleep during the night. I like this one! Sometimes you can’t get to bed early. Sleeping in is probably not great for your sleep rhythms, but not sleeping is worse for you overall I think. 

3. Take a nap.

If you get no other chance to sleep, a nap can help. Some people say if you nap longer than 20 minutes you’ll wake up groggy, and I’ve found this true for me. But if I’ve only had a few hours sleep at night, a big nap is worth the grogginess to reduce the overall sleep debt. In some cultures they have a sleep in the middle of the day and sleep a little less at night, so it’s actually not that unusual. Just try not to nap too close to bedtime so you can still get to sleep easily.

4. Have a regular bedtime and wake up time. 

Not always possible, but going to bed at the same time each night cues your body for sleep. Waking up at the same time each day sends the message to your body that it’s time to get up. These are your circadian rhythms – your body knows when it’s time for bed and time to wake up. Exposing yourself to bright, natural light during the day and dimmer lighting at night can help regulate your circadian rhythms.

5. Melatonin

Melatonin is the sleepy hormone and helps you drift off. It can be disrupted by light. Blue light from screens (TV, phones, computers) can interfere with it, which is why they say don’t look at electronics before bed. Try reading a book instead.If you get up at night unable to sleep it is best to avoid these too, as they’ll wake you up more. Also, apparently a red or orange nightlight is less disruptive to sleep than a blue or green one. In some cases you can take melatonin. I’ve never taken it, and here in Australia your doctor has to prescribe it.

6. Be boring

If you wake up and cant go back to sleep, it’s best to get up, do something boring or unstimulating in the half-dark, and try to sleep later when you feel sleepy. I have flipped through cookbooks, done a puzzle, prayed, and written in my journal (this is great if I have something on my mind). Stressing out that, “It’s 2am and I’m NOT SLEEPING,” makes it worse. Get up and get sleepy before getting back to bed. You want to associate being in bed with sleeping, not tossing and turning or wakeful activities, so that’s why it’s recommended that you don’t study/work/email or even read in bed. 

7. Get rid of the clock

Looking at the clock in the middle of the night can be stressful. Are you ever going to be happy about what it says? I know I never think, “Oh, I love being up at this hour!” If possible, don’t look at it. Turn it away, cover it up, take it out of the bedroom.

8. Wind down

Have a predictable pre-bed routine to help you transition into sleep time. It can just be a shower, brushing teeth and going to the loo. It might include a warm cup of milk, or a cuddle with a teddy bear or loved one. As long as it’s relaxing and not over stimulating, do whatever works for you. This consistent routine tells your brain that it’s time for sleep.

9. Environment

You want to be comfortably cool. I’ve heard being too hot while sleeping can lead to nightmares in some cases – not sure if urban legend or truth, but being cool (not cold) does help. Block out early morning sun with curtains. Wear earplugs or use a white noise app if your room is noisy. Make your bed, and your room, as comfortable as possible. 

10. Relax

Not sleeping can be stressful. Adopt my motto: “All sleep is a success.” This can apply to your sleep or your children’s sleep! Getting frustrated is normal, but lowering your expectations and accepting things the way they are can help.

  
11. Medication

This is not something I’ve tried, but sometimes you just have to sleep by whatever means possible. In which case, see your doctor for the best option for you. 

So there you go! 10 ways to get more glorious sleep, or at least some ideas to try. 

Have I missed anything? What works for you if you’re having a bad night? How do you cope with sleep deprivation and anxiety?

The Bible and OCD

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”‭‭ Psalm‬ ‭56:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So much of OCD is about trying to gain certainty. It’s not worry as such – it goes far beyond worry, into anxiety and sometimes to the point of absolute panic. It can immobilize you. It’s anxiety about lacking certainty in an area of life you feel you MUST be certain about. OCD is about doubt, and you can truly doubt anything.

But the opposite of doubt isn’t certainty, it’s faith. It’s trust. Those of us with OCD learn to tolerate uncertainty in spite of feeling anxiety, and over time that feeling diminishes. Those of us with faith put trust in God and His word in spite of not having total certainty.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The words “confidence” and “assurance” are used to describe faith, but the words “total certainty” and “all-knowing” are not. We are not all-knowing. We can be wrong. But the skill of trusting in God is one we can draw on when we are learning to tolerate uncertainty and manage OCD. We trust because we have reason to trust – we rely on God’s character and His loving, unchanging nature. And so with OCD, we tolerate uncertainty and trust that our obsessions aren’t the truth about us or life, because we have reason to do so.

When we are afraid, we can trust God and embrace uncertainty.

A prayer for us:

Lord, sometimes we aren’t confident or sure. We are frightened and uncertain. Thank You that You are not. Help us to continue to grow in trust, tolerate uncertainty and move forward with life. Amen.

 Something I need to remember!

  
When I’m tired, I find it easy to lose my temper and get really focused on myself and what I want. (“Why did you use the Tupperware container?! I wanted to use that one.” Who. Cares. Seriously!)

Luckily God is onto me and I found this reminder while scrolling through Facebook. I didn’t have a chance to write it down so I put it in a little meme. Now I have a nice little reminder that even when things are going wrong, am I being humble and gentle? Even if I’m annoyed at someone else, am I being patient and bearing with them as a matter of obedience, out of love for Jesus? Can’t imagine Him worrying too much about who used the Tupperware…

Also, this isn’t a matter of allowing perfectionism or OCD to set in and trying to hold myself to an impossible standard. Only God is good, so I won’t be perfectly humble, gentle or patient. But my loved ones will benefit from my efforts, as will I.

Have you had a moment of realization lately? (Doesn’t have to be Bible related.) What was it?

Prayer and support

If you’re a Christian and you have a mental health condition, it can be hard to open up about it to the people around you, particularly to your church. Not everyone there knows all the details about our conditions, same as in other areas of life, and you do have to be discerning about what level of detail you share, as some Christians might think it’s just a matter of “having more faith” or “praying more”, or that the devil has got his claws into you! (Not everyone, obviously.)

But if it’s difficult to share, then it’s hard to ask for prayer or support. So just putting it out there – if you’re a Christian with a mental health condition (doesn’t have to be OCD) – or even if you’re not a Christian – if you’d like me to pray for you, you can let me know in the comments, Facebook the My Two Companions page or tweet @mytwocompanions. You don’t have to share any details you don’t want to – God knows the details. 

Here’s to better understanding of mental health in our churches 🙂