The Tripod

There is a holy trinity in mental health care for treating depression and anxiety that us patients rather a hate to be reminded of. (Well, that might just be me.) To maximize the success of your mental health care plan, it needs to have elements of prescription medication management, professional psychotherapy, and physical exercise.

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Part 1: Medication: It took me years to have the courage to accept that I needed medication. Once I did, I needed regular check ins between myself, my prescriber, and my therapist. Taking care of this part of the tripod is as much about the consistent check ins regarding what is and isn’t effective as it is about taking the medication correctly

Part 2: Therapy: Therapy has been a part of my life since I was a teen. There are dozens of philosophies and methods. My current therapist has been a part of my care team for a year. She specializes in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and insists that we make and work towards goals in therapy instead of simply coming in and ranting about the stresses and tribulations of the previous week. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/dialectical-behavior-therapy

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Part 3: Exercise. Gods, I hate being told that I can’t expect my care plan to be effective if I’m not exercising. That being understood, every doctor and every therapist has made a point of suggesting an exercise plan to coordinate with my medications and talk therapy. I pick up exercise and put it down again over and over, never entirely managing to make it a part of my daily routine. A year ago I managed 5 months of working out 3-5 times a week and ran a 5k Virtual Race. Now, though, I’m struggling to manage 2 weekly workouts. I’m on an upswing, mentally and physically. Maybe this part of my care will stay in balance for longer this time.

Branagh’s Story: Part 2

This is a continuation of the story I started way back here I had a breakthrough while working in my morning pages today, so hopefully there will be more of this soon.

Branagh’s students were at the south door of the holding tower when he approached the dam bridge. They were speaking to one of the riders, while the other strode toward them in the easterly part of his pacing. The babble of water through the dam stones covered their words, but the rider gestured emphatically and Mara, a widow of upper middle age, stood with her arms akimbo. She was clearly putting the new comer in his place, and that place would be a low one. Mara’s blood was as pure and high as one could wish, and had only started exploring her magic after her widowing.

The holding tower itself was build of dark grey local stone, grown over with velvety green moss, stained rusty around the crenellations. The hexagonal tower squatted above six wings, each with an exterior door of its own. The doors opened onto stairs into the perpetually flooded cellar, two wide bunk rooms for student and visitors, a two stall stable where the pony lived in glorious isolation, and moldy room that had been the library but now held jars of canned goods and other things that could be stored and not too damaged by the damp. The last door, the south eastern one, led into a hall and then the main room of the tower.

Outside of the tower there was a small muddy yard of stony packed earth and back into the woods where a was a small shady garden plot and a duck coop. The yard was fringed by uneven stone walls that may have once been neatly crenelated. Now, the grey-black stone was softened by thick green moss and lichen.

Branagh reached into the darkness of his heart, stealing an hour of his own lifespan to reinforce him now. His spine straightened, his stride firmed and lengthened, and his gaze extended; piercing the man pacing the wall into swinging around in search of the spirit raking against him. He pointed at Branagh and barked to his partner, who stepped away from Mara’s down-dressing to watch the old man briskly close with them.

“Good day once again gentlemen. I suspect that I could have saved us all time on the road, had I known you planned to actually come here. The more fool I, I thought you were looking for the turning. I am Branagh, master of the mageholding. What brings you to this place?”

The speaker had his back to Mara now, and she was fuming. The pacing man had cocked his hip against the dam wall, folded his arms, and let his gaze drift into the middle distance. Somehow, Branagh felt he was still keenly observing the interplay.

“You are Master Branagh? The mage of the battle of Laughlin Hill? I thought mages didn’t age.”

The speaker’s voice was flat with disappointment. Laughlin Hill had been a bloodbath in the blush of his first youth, more than 60 years in the past.

“I haven’t been a battle mage in the years of your natural life, boy, and everything ages. If you’d like to sacrifice the power of your own life, I could look like a flushing boy again, but that wouldn’t gain your cause anything. Did you come to stare at an old man and judge the way I live my life, or is there some other point to this?”

Grimacing, the beefy young man bent his knee and bent his curling head in belated and perfunctory courtesy. “I am Alistair of West Shepsford. This is my cousin, Laughlin. Welcome seeking your aid. A foul magic is killing the children of our home, and the king and mage counsel refuse to help us.”

Family History: Uncle Hank

Our family has quite a few interesting characters. Whose doesn’t? Contributing to this is a persistent trait of mental health … quirks. My Great-uncle Hank was one of those quirky individuals.

When I knew him he was a sober and self contained older gentleman whose mother, my great grandmother Nell, lived with him. Nell was a firecracker, but there was always something a little odd about Uncle Hank. He was always thrilled to see us kids, but he just wasn’t a natural with us. That didn’t stop him from bribing us with his stash of hard candies until he was a favorite. Secret candy with no strings? Definitely cool.

I found out as an adult that the candy was my mom’s fault. Uncle Hank smoked like a chimney until Mom told him he wouldn’t get to see us unless he quit. POOF. He traded the cigs for an endless supply of Cherry and Butter Rum Life Savers. As I understand it, a generation earlier he quit drinking with the same efficiency. My granddad kept pulling him out of bar brawls when he came traumatised home from WW2. Eventually he succumbed to threats that he wouldn’t get to see my mom and uncle unless he dried out. So he did.

He was a seaman in World War Two, assigned to work on three different ships in the Pacific Theater. He survived the sinking of two of them. This is information I’ve gleaned, mind you, and is integral the image of the man as I saw him. It occurs to me as I wrote this that it may not be completely accurate. I don’t know what work he did aboard ship. I’m not sure anyone does. What information we have about it comes largely from records found in his footlocker that was uncovered when my great-grandma passed away and her house was sold. Looking back on memories of this time I was absorbing conversations the adults were having while my brother and I explored the upstairs of a house where we had never been allowed before. We were little I can’t have been older than 7.

Hank came home from the war with a tattoo, a drinking problem, and shell shock. We’d call it PTSD now. Then he was shell shocked, and a drunk, and maybe schizophrenic. Likely, he had trauma related psychosis having something to do with being on multiple battleships as they sank. He was in and out of hospitals, sometimes for long stays, until my mom was an adult. Family mythology says this included spans in the kind of hospital where they put lithium in the salt shakers.

After great grandma passed,we saw less and less of Uncle Hank every year. I didn’t know why until I was 18. We came into town for a visit; the first face-to-face visit in five years because we’d moved rather far away. Instead of the pleasantly stoic, awkward man I remembered, I was confronted by an angry soul. He yelled at my mother for things I’d never heard of and in some cases for things that never happened. He called us names, but never looked at us, and he left. It was heartbreaking. PTSD had given way to paranoia and dementia.
He passed away in 2012. There wasn’t much of a service, and I didn’t attend it. I was too sick myself at that point.

We are all more than our diagnosis. We are more than our treatments. I didn’t know Uncle Hank was sick until I was an inquisitive teen. It didn’t occur to me until even later that he lived with his mother because he couldn’t live alone. He was just him, and I loved him.

Taste the Rainbow

We are changing my meds up this week. This is directly because of the issues in my last post and finally managing to tell my doctor about it. My basic antidepressant is staying the same, my supplemental antidepressant is being cut in half for a week and then removed altogether, and to combat the sedative effect of the supplemental antidepressant I have been given a stimulant. I’ve never taken a prescription strength stimulant in the long term, and the dose I’m starting on is moderately high.

Today is Day One of this new medication array, and I expect it to be the day when the stimulant’s impact is most startling. I got up an hour earlier than usual to take advantage of it, and by noon I was dressed (!!!), had putaway three loads of laundry and started a new one, cleaned the bathtubs and toilets, scooped the cat’s litter, watered the garden, worked in my BuJo, and gotten the kids going on schoolwork. It is three times what I have accomplished in an entire day in recent weeks. I know this isn’t likely to be a long term solution, but it feels nice to have access to this energy. I don’t feel high, which I was afraid of. Instead I feel alert and like I have access to the healthy energy levels that have previously been inaccessible.

Once I finish this post, it will be lunch time for the kiddos, then I will work out a plan for dinner and maybe we’ll all walk to the playground. Contrary to the title this post, I can’t actually taste colors. What I can do, today at least, is live up to my own standard regarding what it is reasonable to accomplish in a day. I could cry.

Bad Days:Depression

I’m having a rough month. I have no energy, I’m struggling to get out of the house, and even in the house I am hardly moving. Today is the first day in a week when I have been able to write. I don’t expect to get far.

(Note: I really didn’t get far. Those four sentences sat on my computer for a full week without anything else happening.)

The bad days of depression creep up on me. I don’t know how it works for other people. One day I’m muddling along just fine, the next I’m sleeping 15 hours per day and can’t focus on anything for long enough to be productive.

How do I write about the nothingness that is depression without suicidal ideation? It echos. I don’t particularly want to hurt myself. I don’t particularly want anything. I shift from sleep, to staring vacantly, and then back to sleep. My poor kids. Today they are off on a great outing with their daddy while I try to find the will to finish this post and do a little laundry.

The bad days of depression happen in the broadest sunlight, with the windows open and the birds singing. They happen even when I’m taking my meds and exercising daily. The bad days of depression feel like a slow grey suction draining the ability to work effectively; to enjoy the things I usually love; to make use of time that I know is a blessing.

How do I talk about the bad days of depression without sounding like a cliche? This isn’t much of a post. The sun is shining. A bird is singing in the lilac bush. It’s just all exhausting and grey.

Routine

Alex’s semester is over! While we wait for his grades to arrive, we are planning our time. The a babies are used to being home alone with me, and Himself is used to being away and on his own all day. He’s spending this week home with us, then starting next week he’ll spend 3 days weekly at the library doing job hunting and prepping for his first actuarial exams.

Yesterday we sat down and planned the summer semester routine. Having a routine planned, even if we strain against it or are challenged by it, lets us and the children know what is expected of us at any given time.

We don’t tightly schedule the routine. Daily, we set up who wakes up at what time, and what needs to be done for The Morning Routine. After that we set when is lunch time, when is dinner, and when the kids head to bed. Weekly, we settled what days and times Alex with be studying and what the general plan is when he’s home. There are real challenges to his doing school full time, so we are trying to take maximum advantage of the positives in the situation. He will be taking the girls for outings once a week, giving me a chance to have some quiet, personal time to do whatever without their sweet fingers all up in my productivity.

How do you deal with the time one your hands?

Gratitude: Vacation

I am so grateful that things came together for this trip. My sister-in-law let us use her timeshare condo without charging us the fee. We found a cheap hotel for the mid-trip overnight, so I didn’t even have to boondock camp between Denver and Corpus Christi. Once we were there, it was a beautiful rhythm of visiting the pool, the beach, the fishing dock, and relaxing with videos. And rather a lot of eating.

My kiddos fell in love with fishing, which will never not feel shocking. My suburban princesses found a friend on the dock who taught them to reel, let them stroke the teeny fish he caught, and then stood with them on the dock for hours when the fish weren’t biting. Mr. Rocky was an absolute saint. He helped us with gettingout dusty rental rod into functional condition, teased us over using neon pink artificial bait, and then afterward sent us a card in the mail thanking us for sharing the dock with him.

I’m grateful for the last day we went to the beach, when the water and sky were so blue I thought I was in Florida. The wind was light and pleasant. Rosebud got over her fear of the surf when it was calm and rippling instead of stormy and gray. Jujubee made a friend with a little local girl and built a pair of excellent sand castles.

I’m grateful that this was my month to have a mild round of PMDD symptoms. I got home with my sanity essentially intact, even though I was on the road for what is the most acute phase. I didn’t break with reality at all! My worst symptom was an increase in social phobia that had me fleeing the community pool when the neighbors got too chatty.

Shoulding All Over Myself

We are just back from vacation and things are particularly chaotic. I have an idea that I should have handled our return differently. I should have done more school while we were away. I should be resuming our routine with rigor. I should be cooking more and more often, and sharing it with our friends, who are ill.

I should be better.
I should eat better.
I should workout more.
I should engage with the kids more.
I should clean more
I should be more like other people.
I should
I should

I call this way of thinking “shoulding on myself,” because it creates all of this tension to live up to impossible standards. “Should” implies consequences of not doing it. “Should” implies orders that have come from outside of myself. It is a terrible habit. It breaks up the day into chunks of false urgency and harsh self-judgement.

Sick Kidlette

Rosebud is having a procedure done under general anesthesia today. She’s having some dental work done and also her second endoscopy monitoring her EOE. This is her second endoscopy in 2 months.

She also has a condition called Mastocytosis, meaning her body makes too many mast cells. Those extra mast cells can result in anaphylactic reactions to very odd stimuli: for us this includes ibuprofen, temperature changes, and stress. Because of this, general anesthesia is extra risky. She’s on 3 extra meds to keep her from reacting today and I’m sitting in the hospital waiting room twitching. She didn’t have a reaction last time, but I have this sense of dread when I’m not able to personally monitor her.

Having a sick kiddo is worse than being sick myself. First, Rosebud is NOT a stoic patient. She’s 2, for heaven’s sake, and already greets the sight of a person in scrubs by screaming “No pokes!” More subtly, though, when Rosebud and Jujubee are doing poorly I have to ask myself what triggered them. Did I miss something and accidentally expose them to a known trigger? Are they developing a new trigger? Is this the dreaded idiopathic reaction? I can be philosophical about my health, but I have no calm at all about theirs.

Opposite of My Urges

My therapist tell me that when I identify unhealthy urges I should make a point of acting in opposition to those urges. When I want to self injure, I should do some kind of self care instead. When I want to over sleep, I should try to do something active. Today, I want to do absolutely nothing. My mind feels dull and slow, so in opposition I am trying to do some writing and I plan to do some stitching.

Mentally, I’m just so slow. The girls are playing “PJ Masks” upstairs: cute and sweet as can be. I started the laundry, too, so I’m not at zero productivity for the morning.

There. I wrote something. Next, I’m going to sew a hexagon flower patch onto my ancient, nearly transparent, favorite nightgown. After that I will rest.

How do you oppose your unhealthy urges? Tell me! I want to hear about you making healthy choices. <3