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

 

Taking my meds part the third

So 2 months later (been a long time, sorry!), and here is an update. I am now on 10mg of escitalopram per day (aka Lexapro/Loxalate/Cipralex/probably several other brands). The transition from 5mg to 10mg was easier than the transition from 0 to 5mg. I didn’t experience as much dizziness or fatigue. My brain didn’t feel as fuzzy. And after taking 10mg for 1 week, I felt perfectly normal.

Has it helped? I think so.

  • I am more able to recognise the little things as “little things”. When my kids are melting down, I am no longer melting down with them the majority of the time. One example: tonight one of my children is unwell, and while holding him as he was crying, crying, crying, I stepped on a corn chip (from dinner…nachos) and it crushed onto the floor, adding to the fairly substantial mess. In the past, I would have felt a wave of rage at making the mess worse/not being able to prevent it in the first place and despair at not being able to console my crying child. But tonight I was able to just brush it aside with my foot and focus on continuing to get my unwell child into bed. (Then cleaned it up later with no stress). Awesome! Such a little thing, but makes such a huge difference.
  • I find myself enjoying my kids a lot more. I like playing with them, laughing with them now. Before I mostly just wanted to get out of there.
  • I still feel some anxiety when my husband goes to work and I’m alone with the kids, but not as much as I used to. Usually the anticipation is worse than the actual day, rather than most days feeling awful.
  • I am laughing more! Years ago, before my anxiety really kicked up a notch, I used to find humour in the absurd and ridiculous situations we all find ourselves in. Somehow I lost that, and I don’t even remember where. But I remember one day, after being on Lexapro for awhile, I suddenly found something so funny I just burst out laughing at the absurdity of it. Usually I would have found it annoying or inconvenient and it would have made me irritable. But I feel like some of my sense of humour has been freed.
  • I don’t feel so angry at God anymore. I used to feel like what was the point of praying for help, when my kids would never sleep through or do what they were told. I just felt like everything was against me and he didn’t care. I can’t say I’m completely not angry about the difficulties we had, but I am now able to at least communicate those feelings to him, and trust that he understands. I think that one’s a work in progress. But at least I survived with my faith intact (although not unchanged – more on that another time maybe).

Things that haven’t been fully resolved:

  • Feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty. Some days (many days) they are pretty strong and I feel unmotivated or like I am going to fail at everything anyway, so why try. Of course I still get up, care for my kids (and enjoy them), go to work, hit the gym etc. I think the self-doubt relates more to my thoughts about the future, like my work situation and how to juggle our schedules as a family. I find it really hard, and stressful.
  • How I feel about changes that have happened in different relationships in my life. I don’t want to say too much about that in detail, but I need to process and deal with some things in order to move forward.

In order to deal with these things, I have gone to my GP and together we did a mental health plan which allows me access to a psychologist at a subsidised rate. I think I get 6 sessions, and my plan is to schedule an appointment soon to see if we can deal with some of the above issues.

My experience with medication so far has been positive. I know not everyone’s is, and sometimes it takes time to find the exact medication or combination of medication and therapy that suits your situation. But if you’re struggling, I encourage you to seek out the help you deserve, and if that includes taking medication under a doctor’s supervision, then I believe it is worth trying.

Thanks for reading!

Taking my meds part 2

Quick update:

3rd dose of 5mg Lexapro (actually the brand I’m taking is called Loxalate – sounds like “lots of luck” – not sure if this is good or not ;-).

So far side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • A little nausea (not as bad as morning sickness though)
  • Feeling fuzzy in the head or spaced out.

All in all, quite normal. Will be nice to feel less wiped out, but that will happen. I’ve nearly got through half of the first week already!

I believe I’m not supposed to take ibuprofen while taking this medicine, but I’m unsure if my youngest child can have it either as he is still breastfeeding and will be receiving trace amounts of the medicine. (He is almost 1 and only feeds about 3 times in 24 hours, so it will be very minimal levels.) Must check with my doctor next week. Sticking to Panadol (paracetamol) for now.

“Have you taken your meds?” (Or, my journey with medication)

Yes I have taken my meds.

Tonight was the first time ever. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and anxiety. Signs and symptoms I experienced included:

  • Feeling isolated, weepy and down 
  • Feeling overwhelmed anytime my husband isn’t home to help me
  • Feeling a sense of failure and agitation when I can’t settle my youngest child or when he cries (which is often)
  • Not feeling like myself anymore
  • A couple of anxiety attacks – shakiness, crying, nausea, stabbing pain in stomach
  • Waves of anxiety coming over me at random intervals
  • Thoughts of wanting to run away and not come back, and even very briefly of not wanting to be here at all.

Fortunately, I do have a strong desire still to be here for my husband and children, and myself. And while some of the symptoms have been ongoing, the more severe ones have been recent and less frequent, which means I have intervened early and treatment will likely be easier and quicker than if I had let it continue to go on.

After going to my doctor, she got me to take a blood test to rule out thyroid issues or iron deficiencies. She then prescribed me Lexapro, which is an SSRI and used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. I was unsure whether I truly needed it, but after trying to spend a full day at home with the boys by myself, I found I was not coping. And then the next day my anxiety was being triggered again by other things, and I decided I wanted to be able to stay home with my boys by myself and feel like I could cope and maybe even enjoy it. I also read that having a depressed mother can be linked to poor outcomes for children, and that isn’t something I want.

So I’ve decided to give Lexapro a try. The first two weeks can bring some side effects, so I’ll see how I go. I am also going to be finding a new psychologist to help me cope with my anxiety/depression, and if both these go well, then I should be feeling better and coping better soon.

I will try and post updates here for anyone who is interested, maybe about to try medication themselves for the first time, or just curious about how it all works. 

I want to share this because I want to try and reduce stigma about it, especially amongst the Christian community, where sometimes mental health issues are treated as though they are spiritual issues. Maybe more on that another time. For now, I just want to say that mental health is like physical health and just as I take a Panadol for my headache and gratefully accept God’s provision for my physical pain through medicine, I do the same for my mental health. 

Love to hear your experiences with mental health. Have you ever seen a mental health professional or taken medication? How did you feel about it all?