It’s Beginning to Look A lot Like…ugh.

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It’s that time of year again. When Christmas music plays loudly at the mall, people are always smiling, children play in the snow, people tend to “pay it forward” more often, and everyone’s heart seems to have grown! However, for those of us who suffer from mental health this is a different type of season. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, ironically) is a type of depression that tends to affect people more during the dark, cold, gray, winter months. When the leaves and flowers die, when everything turns gray and drab, when the sun and its heat seems to hide, that’s when it really hits for some people. The Mayo Clinic reported around 3 million cases per year of SAD symptoms. These symptoms typically belonged to people who already suffered from depression and it only worsened in the winter, however, some people developed symptoms ONLY during winter months.

This time of year can be stressful for anyone, but it can be exponentially exhausting for those of us with mental health issues. It’s almost as though we “over-act” to appear super happy. We put on the mask of joy that everyone seems to naturally have, and we pretend to be on the same mental level as everyone else. We sing, we laugh, we drink hot chocolate, and we open gifts, all the while wishing we could just be at home away from people. We don’t want to be the Debbie Downer during Christmas so we make others laugh and sometimes even become the life of the party to guarantee that no one sees through our facade.

I’ve learned over the years that this can be not only painful for us, but also very harmful. This year I have skipped two holiday family functions because I knew I was not in the right state of mind to handle it. I knew there would be drama, whispers, and judgmental glances. I wasn’t prepared for it, so in the name of self care I stayed home and watched a movie with myself and my dog. It was great! And it was perfectly okay that I didn’t go. Yes, it’s tradition, but I didn’t owe anyone an explanation or apology as to why I wasn’t there. If I had cancer and was just tired and not up for it then no one would bat an eye, but having an invisible illness means that people often overlook it.

I’ve included a short list of things I do (in moderation) or keep in mind every year when it comes to the holidays:

  1. It’s okay to avoid a family get together if you’re not feeling up to it. There is nothing wrong with protecting yourself.
  2. If you do attend a family dinner and the conversation or situation becomes too much feel free to excuse yourself. Go outside, go to the bathroom, whatever it may be, just get away for a few minutes.
  3. If something or someone triggers you then, again, feel free to step away. If you’re the type that can have a civilized conversation in the midst of a trigger then by all means, go ahead. Sometimes I can, it just depends on the situation.
  4. Remember that YOU ARE VALID!!! Your identity, your illness, your happiness, all of it is valid and you are important. Just because Uncle Bubba talks about mental health like it’s a joke, or refers to you by the wrong gender (if you’re trans) it doesn’t mean you are any less of a person. Sometimes ignorant people say ignorant things. You’re better than stooping to their level.
  5. Carry a fidget toy, stress ball, or even a relaxing game on your phone to serve as a distraction when you need it.
  6. If at all possible drive your own vehicle to the dinner. If it becomes too much you know that you always have an escape plan.
  7. Tell a trusted family member that you probably won’t stay very long. I do this one quite a bit. I go, I socialize, I eat, then after I feel I’ve been there long enough I excuse myself to go home. Just because some people can stay around for hours doesn’t mean I can. It’s exhausting.
  8. The most important, and probably most difficult, is to not let your mental illness control the situation. Please don’t use this list as a way to get out of spending time with people. During my years of therapy I did exposure therapy. It’s extremely uncomfortable, but it’s not going to kill me to attend a family get together. Use this time to challenge yourself to sit with your anxiety. Allow it to be present, but know that you are in control. You can leave if you want to, but try to stick it out. This year you may be able to stay an hour longer than you did last year, and that’s a great accomplishment! If you don’t then just try to work on it next year. Recovery in mental health is a process and will not get fixed over night. You’ve got this and I have faith in you!

-Chase

A Rebirth

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Sometimes life gets you down, and it’s so difficult to get back up. For me this has happened more than once in my life, and as recent as last year. A brief recap of my story:

I’ve struggled with addiction, depression, and bipolar disorder for many years and in 2012 I attempted to take my own life. Thankfully the Universe/Spirit/My Higher Power/God had other plans. I got the help I needed and went on to an amazing four years of wonderful sobriety and spiritual growth. However, in 2016 I began drinking extremely heavily and continued this path for two years. In 2018 I ended up drunk on my porch with a gun in my hand, yet again in the same situation as in 2012. Luckily my family intervened and I again got help. My joy was not long lasting as not even two months later I relapsed on pain medicine. This began a very dangerous and scary downward spiral that led to losing a job (again), being arrested four times within a month (DUI x2, Public Intox x2), and totaling four vehicles. I had come to the conclusion that depression and addiction were bound to kill me so I would let it. On December 15th 2018 I took my last few pain pills, got in my car, and began to drive home. I didn’t make it. I nodded off at the wheel and flipped my car three times knocking myself unconscious. Spirit (my Higher Power) was definitely watching out for me because the people driving behind me that night just happened to be two fourth year medical students at our local university. They pulled me from the vehicle and tended to my wounds until help arrived. The only thing I remember is sitting in the back of the patrol car, crying. The State Trooper, assuming I was upset about my car, assured me that I could buy another vehicle. My response? “I’m not mad about the car! I’m mad that I survived! I wanted to die, I should be dead!” There was so much anger and pain in my voice that the officer allowed me to be released on an OR Bond and go home versus sitting in jail. I managed to bruise multiple bones, broke a finger, and had a large incision in my head that required nearly 20 stitches. I was still angry. After all this time this would have been the perfect opportunity for me to go, but somehow I had survived. I told myself it would’ve been easier on family and friends if I had died in a car wreck. I would no longer be around to be a burden. I would be gone and they could move on with life. I was NOT in a place mentally and spiritually that I needed to be, and because of that I saw myself as nothing but a burden. Not long after this the court proceedings began and I had already started the task of finding a rehab center to go to. However, deep down I still didn’t want to go. I wasn’t ready to quit and I still wanted to die. I didn’t want to get help because that would mean fighting for a life that I deemed worthless. From that last night of using to April 2019 when I went to rehab I was fighting my recovery. Even after rehab I still struggled with wanting to die. I had stopped eating, had lost around 50lbs, and had to talk myself out of suicide on a regular basis. I remember one night standing in front of my mirror, tears running down my face, and something in me begged me to keep going. To be strong, and to hold on. Something came through that night and I FINALLY began to fight for my life. I had gone nearly six months not caring if I died, and even wanting to, but now something had changed. This entire time I had been attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but I was simply acting like I cared about myself. My mental health was terrible, my addiction was still strong, and going back and forth to court was absolutely tearing me apart. However, around this time was when I finally let go of my addiction and stopped fighting my recovery. I had been turned down by 10 rehab centers, but I finally got the help I needed and something had managed to sink in. I was literally faking it to make it, and I had made it. Between rehab and NA meetings something someone said made a difference. I had finally surrendered and no longer wanted to die.

I just celebrated a year clean and sober on December 15th of this year, and it was incredible. I still struggle on a regular basis, but I am also much more open about it with those around me. My NA support system and my family have made it possible for me to maintain strength to get through each day. Some days are extremely difficult, and some days aren’t, but I haven’t used and that’s the most important part. My spiritual journey has become so much stronger, and I am truly connected with my Higher Power (whom I choose to call Spirit). Life is not always flowers and rainbows. Sometimes it’s storms and darkness, but like I’ve learned in my Buddhist studies, nothing is permanent. Over the past year I’ve attempted to write a blog post multiple times but couldn’t bring myself to even care enough to do so. Yet, here I am sitting at my computer and pouring my heart out to strangers on the internet hoping that my struggle can help someone else, or maybe sharing my pain will help me to heal. I’ve always been a firm believer in talking things through. I am on a new path with a new destination and I refuse to give up. I ask you to join me on my journey and I look forward to sharing it with you 🙂

-Chase

P.S. I will get back to my regular format of shorter posts from here on out. If you’re like me then you probably don’t have the attention span to read long posts lol. I normally try to keep mine around 500 words or less (even though this one is around 1000) 🙂

***IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS SUFFERING FROM SUICIDAL IDEATION PLEASE REACH OUT FOR HELP. BELOW IS THE NUMBER FOR THE SUICIDE HOTLINE:

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Dancing With My Dog

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I have these little things that I called Daily Dance Parties.  They.  Are.  A. Blast!!! Lol.  I literally crank up the music and dance like a stupid idiot for ten minutes, or sometimes longer if I’m cleaning.  What cracks me up is that sometimes my dog (a Maltese Yorkie mix) gets involved.  She’ll hop around on her back legs and it literally looks like she’s dancing, and I love it!  I know if anyone were to see me they’d have me committed (again), but I don’t really care.  I love my dance parties!

Sometimes shit happens, but you just gotta dance with your dog! 🙂

Broken Glass

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Why is it that we are always looking for happiness, but we refuse to do any work to get it?  Why do we read “self help” books, but not take the advice of the authors?  Happiness is not hard to obtain, and it simply involves changing the way you think.

Just the other night I had a friend of mine (who also happens to be a Shaman) over for dinner.  In the midst of cooking, a glass fell off the counter and shattered all over the floor.  I cleaned it up, threw it in the trash, and continued cooking.  I bought the glass at the Dollar Tree so I knew they will have more that only cost one dollar.  Why get upset over something that is so easily fixable?  In Buddhism we are taught that our suffering is brought about by attachment.  Nothing lasts forever, and I knew the moment I bought the glass that there was a chance it would break at some point.  Therefore, I didn’t get attached to the glass, but I did enjoy it while I had it.  My reaction could’ve been totally different.  I could’ve been angry that the glass broke, and I could’ve allowed myself to get upset over something so small.  However, my friend and I continued cooking, and I have yet to replace the glass.  The empty space in the cabinet where the glass once sat is somewhat a reminder that impermanence is all around us.  Enjoy the things, and the people, that you have in your life now, while you still have them.  Don’t wait until they’re gone to appreciate them or tell them you love them.  Tell them now, today.  Change the way you react to certain situations and happiness is soon to follow! 🙂

Touchdown!

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The Quarterback runs as fast as he can!  He’s at the 40, he’s at the 30, at the 20…TOUCHDOWN!!!

Johns’ team just won the game and he couldn’t be happier!  Sarah, on the other hand, just had her team beat.  She drops her head in shame and exits the stadium.  John continues his celebration out of the stadium along with the hundreds of other fans that are ecstatic that their team just brought home the win!

Let’s look at John and Sarah for a moment.  He is happy, she is not.  Why?  Did the football game make one happy and one sad?  No.  The football game did nothing to affect their happiness, but their reaction to the outcome did.  Had Sarah been a fan of the team that won then she too would be happy.  It’s all in how you respond to the end result.  Say, for example, you get caught by a red light.  You huff and puff, and possibly curse, but then you watch in horror as the car that just went before you gets hit at the next intersection.  You realize that could’ve easily been you, and now getting caught by the red light doesn’t seem so bad.  Now let’s step back.  It shouldn’t take a near death experience to teach you that getting caught by a red light really isn’t that bad.  The next time a red light catches you think, “Hmm, there could be an accident up ahead but the few seconds that this light holds me may keep me from being involved.”  Missing a bus, forgetting your keys, etc. are all things that may benefit you in the end; you just may not realize it.  Let’s say your current relationship ends and you are devastated.  However, three years down the road you  meet that special someone that you know is your soulmate and you begin to wonder what you were doing with your ex to begin with!  The loss of one relationship brought about a better, stronger one.  At the time you didn’t see it that way, but it worked out in the end.

I try to approach all things with this mindset.  I recently read a book that taught you to tell yourself that whatever is happening to you is the best possible thing that could happen to you.  The universe has a way of lining things up to work out exactly as they should.  Trust it, and realize that, although you may not see it now, things may work out in the end.

Getting Off My Butt!

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and for that I apologize.

There are some days that my depression hits pretty hard.  Those days really suck.  However, I am reminded that I need to get out of bed or off the couch and find something I enjoy doing.  Those are  the days that I really have to try.  I have to focus on being happy.  That has both pros and cons.  The pros being that I’m happier, but the con is that I actually have to try.  People who don’t suffer from depression sometimes take it for granted that they’re happy.  It becomes quite a task for me sometimes, but it’s always worth it in the end.  I think my fear of getting as depressed as I was before motivates me to get my butt up and do something!

Granted, just getting up and “doing something” is not always going to fix your depression, or make it better, but most times it does (at least for me).  My day starts with making my bed.  If my bed is not made in the morning it seems my whole day is off balanced.  Making my day sets the mood for the rest of my day, and helps prevent me from going back to bed lol.  After my bed is made I start my coffee and take a shower.  I then open the shades, open doors, light a candle, meditate, listen to music, clean, organize, etc. I try my best to be productive throughout the day, so that when I’m ready to wind down for bed I can be content with my day.  I hate feeling like I’ve wasted the day.  As I’ve written before, I stay away from negative news, and only read positive things online.  I also enjoy watching comedies on TV…really anything that makes me smile!  For those of you who have been reading my blog you’ve probably noticed I have a “touch” of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).  I like order, neatness, and I like everything to be in its place.  Keeping everything neat is something I CAN control, so it helps a lot with my anxiety which is something I CAN’T control.  It probably sounds crazy, but it works for me! 🙂

During the day I also focus on some of the little things that make me happy or make me smile.  The smell of coffee in the morning, the feeling of my mint body wash on my skin, the accomplished feeling of doing housework, all of these things make me feel better.  I challenge you to focus on some of the little things to help you get through your day.  Even go as far as rewarding yourself for things you accomplish.  Every day is a new day, so make sure you take advantage of it! 🙂

Thanksgiving or Stuff-Taking?!

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Thanksgiving, a day of giving thanks for the wonderful things you have in your life.  It’s also a day when people punch each other and attack one another over a pillow or an extra set of cookware.  It has always amazed me at the way some people act on Black Friday.  Fighting one another over something that they could probably buy on any regular day for just a few dollars more.  I think a lot of it is the idea of Black Friday shopping, it’s almost a high for some people.  I have always said that there is absolutely nothing at any store that would make me act that way.  Violence is never the answer, especially not when it comes to who gets a TV or bundle of clothes.

As each of you set out today to do some shopping I ask that you be kind.  Last night I went to Walmart, and I gave up a set of sheets to an older lady who couldn’t seem to find the size and color she was looking for.  I already had a set in another color, so I was more than happy to give away the extra set that I know I didn’t really need.  I also made sure to thank my cashier, and just be nice in general.  I let people in front of me and passed a smile along to anyone I could.  I’ve worked retail before and this is a very stressful time of year for store employees.  Please be kind to everyone you come in contact with today.  Smile, be polite, say please and thank you, and don’t forget the true reason for this holiday (technically yesterday)…to be thankful for what you already have so don’t murder each other over something that you simply NEED.  I’ve Black Friday shopped for several years and actually being nice to employees will typically get you more help if you’re looking for or needing something.  Have a wonderful day, keep a calm demeanor, and be kind to each other.

I Love Burning Things!

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I love burning things.  Absolutely love it.  Now, let me explain.

By “things” I’m talking about incense sticks, candles, and sage smudging sticks.  The other night I noticed I was feeling a little down.  I looked around my room and realized it had become a little bit cluttered.  The room felt stagnant and devoid of open, breathable air.  I got up, opened my window, grabbed a box from the basement, packed away a few things, cleaned (vacuumed, dusted, etc) then decided to light a sage stick so that I could smudge my room.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with “smudging” it is the act of using a bundle of sage (sometimes mixed with other things like cedar, sandalwood, lemon grass, etc.) in order to run off any negative energy in the room.  You light it on fire, then blow it out allowing the smoke to fill the room.  I use a leather bound group of feathers to “sweep” the smoke around the room.  The smoke will cling to, and remove, any unwanted energy.  You are literally smoking out the bad vibes.  This may be all in my head, and it may not do a single thing except fill your room with a small amount of smoke, but it works for me.

I’m obsessed with Native American medicine, healing rituals, crystals, chakras, etc. so any chance I get to learn something about any of these things I’m all over it!  Smudging makes me happy, crystal healing/protection, makes me happy, learning about alternative medicine makes me happy.  All these things are things that I enjoy doing and learning about and they bring me some form of happiness.  So why not light a stick of sage and walk around my room, waving the smoke with a feather?  I discovered a year or so ago that I’m an Empath.  I pick up on the energy of others, whether good or bad, and that energy will affect my own.  Yes, for those of you who don’t understand or follow any of this you will probably stop reading my blog at this point.  You probably think I’m nuts, and that’s okay.  You’re entitled to your opinion 😉 I first realized that I’m an empathic person when I had to attend a funeral.  Upon walking in I immediately felt the sadness, my chest became heavy, my lungs tightened, I was very uncomfortable and for the rest of the day I was extremely depressed.  After the funeral I went home and went straight to bed.  I was exhausted.  I didn’t even really know the person who had passed, but the sad and negative energy that I picked up had literally saddened my heart and it truly affected the rest of my day.  The next day I woke up and decided to do something about it.  I smudged my room (and myself), drank some coffee, cleaned, played some upbeat music, and meditated.  I told myself it’s okay to feel for the family and their loss, but there’s nothing I can do about it so I have to allow those feelings to pass.  And they did.  A few years ago the task of attending a funeral could’ve sent me into a deep depression for a few weeks, but the fact that I now know how to handle it means I can be there to comfort others in their time of need without allowing their energy to attack my own.

I’m sure some of you think I’m nuts, but I challenge you next time you’re feeling down to open a window, play some music, pray or meditate, smile, watch a funny movie, get moving/exercise, clean, and allow all the negative energy that’s getting you down to move on.  Don’t let it stay there because the longer you do, the harder it will be to get rid of.  Have a wonderful day!

No News Is Good News

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Why, as a culture, are we so focused on negative news?  The global news, local news, Facebook news, etc. is almost always something bad.  It’s rare that you see happy and positive news going viral.  I hardly ever watch the news, for this very reason, but I do try to keep up with what’s going on in the world.  It seems the good stuff always flies under the radar, but the bad things seem to take a lead role in this production of life.

Just the other day I was watching the news about a man who had killed his 3 month old baby…..HIS 3 MONTH OLD BABY!!!  What the hell is wrong with him?!  I understand that stuff like that happens, and it’s the reality of the world we live in; however, I don’t feel that I need to clutter my mind with that type of negativity.  The rest of the day I randomly thought of that poor baby and how sick that man must be in the head to do something like that.  It made me nauseous.  Those types of things just bring me down and remind me how twisted some people are in this world.  Some of you may say that by avoiding this type of “news” I’m simply shielding myself and preventing myself from hearing about it, and you would be correct.  Speaking from someone who has suffered from VERY severe depression, I have to take an active role in blocking any negativity that could possibly make my depression worse.  This includes depressing news.  If it is something that is really news worthy, and something I need to know about, then I can guarantee I’ll hear about it.  There are a few apps that are on my phone that give you good news, science news, happy news, etc. and I love those apps!  I guess, when it comes to “news”, I tend to lean towards articles versus breaking news.  I’ve learned the breaking news is typically the worst.  I also try not to share negative news on social media, as that means I’m participating in spreading that diseased news.  Only happy news comes through me! 🙂

I challenge you guys to only share and read good news.  Try to stay away from all the negative news about murder, suicide, bombing, etc.  I promise it will make a difference!  I’m not saying to avoid it all together, because being naive and blind about stuff gives the impression that you don’t care.  I’m just saying to not actively seek out negative stuff.

Have a wonderful day!

Tie-Dye Bandana

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This summer I decided to teach myself the beautiful art of tie-dye!  I went all out buying several white shirts, several white bandanas, and even a cloth tote bag.  I was determined to make the most beautiful tie-dye creations that anyone had ever seen.  Now, let me preface by saying that I am quite OCD, so I wanted this tie-dye project to be absolutely perfect.  That was my first mistake.

The shirts actually turned out pretty good, however, the bandanas and the tote not so much.  Honestly, they looked pretty awful.  Yes, I was upset, but then I remembered that tie-dye isn’t about perfect; it’s about having fun and using color to express yourself.  Once I realized this the bandanas actually started to look halfway decent.  The tote still looked terrible, so I just trashed it! HAHA!  There were several spots on the bandana where I had put too much dye and it caused the colors to run together making either a black or brown muddy smudge.  Other places I didn’t put enough dye and they were very light and there were even some white spots where I had missed putting the dye all together.  I’m the type of person who always tries to see good out of every situation, and I also try to use each of those situations as a learning experience.

The bandana is kind of like my life.  Some spots were lightly covered with dye.  Those times in my life were the easy times.  School was great, my health was great, everything was going well.  Then there were other times, like the dark loaded down spots on the bandana, that were extremely difficult.  Losing my aunt Lisa (who was like a second mother to me) was one of  those times.  Unable to cope I decided to just take a few extra pain pills before the funeral, which eventually led to an even darker place in my life.  Those were the black spots on the bandana.  There was absolutely no light.  No good, and no positive in my life at that point.  However, I sought out help and the white spots on the bandana started to show up again.  I lost 135lbs, had finally beaten my depression (for the most part, and with the help of medication & therapy), had gained victory over my substance abuse, and was genuinely happy with my life.  I was no longer living in a fog, and I can honestly say that I’m extremely pleased with where I am now.  I’ve said before that if I had to go through all that again just to be where I am, I would.  I wouldn’t like it, but I would do it.

How does your bandana look?  Is it mostly dark?  Covered with light spots?  Regardless of how your bandana looks it’s still yours, and you shouldn’t just throw it away.  Life may absolutely bog you down with tough times, but they won’t last forever.  Life may also bless you with wonderful moments.  Sometimes you have to wait out the storm in order to see the rainbow 😉 (As cliché as that is!)

I challenge you to try and look at all the situations in your life as a learning experience.  Good or bad, try to find the “silver lining” and not just focus on the negative.  There’s bound to be some positive moments in there somewhere!