Six years ago we rescued a 5 month old Bernese Mountain Dog. Greta has been an absolutely wonderful companion all these years. Now, she has an unidentified mass in her chest and the clock is running down.
We are working to make these last months good times for her. We spent the weekend taking walks, having playdates, and visiting dog parks. She’s a strange girl. She doesn’t play with toys and barely plays with other dogs. Her entire doggy world is wrapped around Alex. She will even delay eating for a few more minutes of petting from him.
She’s a worker. She loves to walk in her backpack and I regret that we never trained her to pull a cart or wagon. She was bred to pull and we had to be choosey about her collars and harnesses because if they gave her the right feedback, she’d lean into the chest piece and pull you right off of your feet. It happened a lot when she was little and I was pregnant with Jujubee.
She’s a mellow love of a dog, and when the time comes she will be so so missed.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
I’ve posted a few “Gratitude” posts since this blog started, but I have never expressly stated their purpose. Making a regular practice of expressing gratitude for the good things in one’s life is commonly thought to help rewire the depressed brain into a more functional arrangement. Whether your talk therapy is pastoral, DBT, CBT, or something else, making a point of identifying one good thing in your life on a daily basis and expressing gratitude for it is an excellent, drug free place to start working on your mental health.
When I write a “Gratitude Practice” post, it is my hope that you all will reply below with what you are grateful for as well. It never needs to be profound, merely honest. For example, today I am grateful that my children are largely healthy. Jujubee is anxious & Rosebud has allergies and wonky immune system, but on a day-to-day basis they are basically healthy kids. That is a small wonder and I am so grateful.
I am also grateful that you are here. Even if thi is your first visit, I am grateful that you are here. What are *you* grateful for today?
For those of us on a cocktail of meds and supplements, pill boxes can really help ensure that we actually manage to take everything everyday. I have a system of 7 boxes, each with 4 compartments. I use one box for two days worth of pills; morning and evening. It used to be that I would fight the fight to keep them filled myself. Now Alex fills them for me, bless him.
Pill Box Day, when I would lay out all of my prescriptions and be confronted with the reality of my various diagnoses. I would get sucked into a vortex of excessive introspection, thinking and recriminating myself for being a sick person. I knew that this happened, and so I would avoid Pill Box Day for as long as possible. My old system could hold as much as 60 days of meds, if I could coordinate my supplies that well.
Three to six weeks in between sessions still wasn’t enough, though. I would end up off of my meds for days or weeks, and we all know that is no help at all. How does your family support you taking your meds? Do you have a special way of getting through yours version of Pill Box Day?
I had a bad feeling this morning that I just couldn’t shake. I was supposed to go shopping with my mother-in-law and the kiddos, but when the time came for Alex to head off to class and for me to get to work, I was hit with a powerful dread. Bad things were going to happen Out There.
It is a little early in my cycle for the agoraphobic paranoia to be taking over, and we all know it. I talked edgy/weird self into the car for errand running, meant to culminate in a trip to Target: Land of Wonder. My kids live in old hand-me-downs, so the prospect of a Target run for new shoes (“Thank you Grandma!”) is tantamount to a trip to paradise.
The boring errands went well, but I got turned around, flustered, and harried on the way to buy vacation shoes and turned left into traffic. WE ARE ALL FINE. Clearly. But I was instantly triggered; shaking, flinching, crying, and generally making an enormous scene. It was slightly worse than a fender bender. Both cars were able to drive away from the scene.
Now, though, hours after the fact I’m still around the bend. My mother-in-law is calm and cheerful in her gratitude that we are all safe. I’m up in a metaphorical tree. I’ve taken my emergency anxiety med and a nap. I have had food and tea. I’m still shaky and prone to zone way way out. I want to lay down with a book or a TV show, but with MIL right here I’m trapped trying to appear productive. Type-ity type-ity type nothing to see here! I can hear my blood in my ears and my heart feels like a galleon jug shoved into my chest, but we are all fine here!
I can hear the crunching metal, over and over in my mind. I want to drown it out. Maybe David Attenborough will help. That’s a healthy choice. We have already done a kindergarten piano lesson, two games of Candyland, had a brawl about the ownership of a few coloring books, and had dinner. Two hours until Alex comes home. Then I can go to sleep, reboot, and try again tomorrow.
Tomorrow is its own problem. I’ll deal with it then.
I am so grateful that I have so many excellent creative outlets available to me. I write, here and elsewhere, when I’m able to focus. I sew on my machine or by hand. I quilt when I’m too foggy for the others, because chiku chiku stitching requires more meditation than active thought. I paint and color with the kids. I crochet and weave irregularly. I play tabletop role playing games when I need a more intensive escape that what I get from reading. I mend, I crochet, I knit (poorly), I weave (infrequently). I am blessed to have a spirit that finds comfort and completeness in these tasks, and blessed to have the resources to be able to create.
Do any of you all use a planner? What about a journal? Do they help you? In high school I mocked the spiral-bound planners they issued us at the start of each year, but I was obsessed with Franklin Covey planners in college and when I was working. My family nicknamed my little black zipper binder “The Bible” because it was just about the size of that esteemed tome. I was never without it.
“The Bible” Planner
Then I got my official disability notification and started receiving SSI benefits, and my focus shifted significantly. I went from trying to survive when I couldn’t hold down a regular job, and balancing a perpetual circuit of odd jobs, applications, interviews, and contract positions; to the quiet, inward focused lifestyle of someone managing a small household and a chronic illness. I would easily go weeks without a single appointment, resulting in pages and pages of very expensive blank pages. Once I started having children I had already converted to using a cold sterile e-calendar on my smart phone for planning. Like everyone else.
In all that time, I also kept journals. I have done that on and off since my Grandma Mary bought me a diary at Disney World when I was six. As a sick mom, though I hardly had time. My rather vast collection of blank books and fountain pens started gathering dust. I wasn’t working my way through them any more.
Then I heard about bullet journaling. I thought it was just one more crazy trend the hyper-productive mom at my La Leche League was on about, but the term kept coming up. About 18 months ago, I visited the Bullet Journal Getting Started page and re-purposed the pretty little journal I hadn’t written in for three years.
Now, the internet is full of pictures of artfully customized, gracefully lettered BuJos in brand name, dot grid hard-covered notebooks. There are an equal number of images of elegantly minimalist, simple, graceful spreads. Here, let’s look at some.
PICTURE: Bujo Hand Drawn
PICTURE: Bujo Minimal
Now, I have been doing this for 18 months. My first volume was in a wide ruled 8 by 5 fancy little journal. Today I’m using a discbound 8.5 by 5.5 notebook with a combination of IQ360, Circa, and Happy Planner products. I have some ultra fine felt tipped pens, some Mildliners, and get on kicks of using stickers and washi tape, but on a day-to-day basis I use a mechanical pencil and and the pages get decorated with the occasional squiggly line. Wanna see a working BuJo?
What system do you use to keep your days in order and your worries somewhere other than your mind? Do you have a favorite product? I would love to hear about it.
Clearly, I’m experimenting with affiliate links. If you enjoyed this article at all, please click through on the links and explore the products that I’ve been using.
I’m still looking for direction on this site. I want to offer stories of successes over a variety of mental and neurological health difficulties. I want to discuss advice I’ve been given over the years, about parenting and my health. I want to show windows into my life, when it is good and when it is bad. I want other parents with these troubles to find my site and see that they aren’t so alone. I want to reduce the cultural shame and isolation by standing up and saying “I have a mental disease AND I am a good parent. They are in no way exclusive.”
Isolation is a common symptom of mental health troubles, across the board. For me when my symptoms are rampant, I am loath to leave the house. I struggle to reply to text messages, let alone phone calls. I frequently reach out on the internet to find other people like me, but can’t engage even in internet conversations. Today, I’m on the other end. Today, I know that there are thousands of other families out there fighting to keep their heads above water with these kinds of illnesses. I know that my case is not particularly unique. And today I want to reach out to people so they can find their way back. You are not alone. WE are not alone. Comment below, even just a mood emoji. Reach out. There are people in this world who miss you since you have been gone. Don’t let your disease steal them away.