On a More Personal Note

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I have been writing my blog for a few years and I have rarely spoken about myself and my own struggles. Having started my own journey of recover nearly 30 years ago, I have a great deal of experience and knowledge about all the skills I have shared with my readers. I have also learned from all the people I have counseled over the last 20 years. I hope that some of you have benefited from my blog.

One thing I have to keep in mind is the phrase: progress not perfection. No one, including me, has ever done this perfectly. I am a work in progress like everyone else who is in the process of change and growth. I suffered from chronic depression and addictive behaviors for most of my life as well as poor self-esteem. Although I have experienced a tremendous improvement in the quality of my life, I also have my struggles. I sometimes find it difficult to apply all the coping skills I know. There times I have to work hard to focus on the things I need to and stay in the present.

I have my own philosophy of life: Life is to be enjoyed. I work every day to make that a reality. One of the ways I stay focused is by writing this blog. It has great value to my life. I hope it has value to yours.

What Are You Waiting For?

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You have realized that something is not quite right in your life.  You have become more aware of your anxiety or depression or some other issue that weighs heavily on you and negatively affects your life.  You have become increasingly aware that something has to change because you can no longer tolerate living like this.  What are you waiting for?

You have experiences that have haunted you for many years.   You have tried to put behind you.   You have read books and gotten advice from friends on how to overcome it.  You have beaten yourself up for years about it.  You have thought about getting help with the issue for years and understand that you cannot do it on your own.  What are you waiting for?

Your drinking or other substance abuse has become more and more of an issue in your life.   The damage continues to pile up.  Friends and family keep telling you need to get help and deal with it.  As much as you try to control it you find it impossible.  You life is unraveling in front of your eyes.  You know you can’t deal with it on your own.  What are you waiting for?

You are very unhappy at your job and keep telling yourself you need to find another one.  The economy has improved and it is easier to find a job.  You have been thinking of continuing your education for a long time.  You keep putting it off and continue to feel sad and anxious.  What are you waiting for?

Your relationship is just not working.  You and your significant other have one disagreement after another.  There is more conflict than calm and happiness.  You have worked hard to find ways for you both to get your needs met.  The more you try, the more you realize your values, wants, and desires are not the same as hers/his.  You know in your heart that the relationship will never be as fulfilling as you want.  You want more.  What are you waiting for?

Life is so short.  The clock continues to move as you stay stuck in a place that you do not want to be.  Fear stands in the way of finding a more fulfilling life.  For the most part it is you that stands between yourself and having an opportunity to find the things you seek.  Taking the steps to overcoming your fears is the only path.  Moving forward one step at a time.  Try not to look too far into the future.  That’s a very scary place full all kinds of unknowns.  You can deal with those when you get there.  You are responsible for your own happiness.  You are not responsible for the happiness of others.

Another year is about to come to an end. What are you waiting for?

Experiencing Loss and Overcoming It

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One thing we have in common is the experience of loss. No one goes through life without experiencing some degree of loss at some point. Sometimes the losses are minor (a small amount of money, changing jobs, moving from one city to another). Other times they are more significant (the death of a parent or spouse or child, loss of a relationship, a betrayal, loss of something we are unable to replace, economic reversal). No one wants to have these experiences, and rarely are we prepared for them.
When we experience loss, what we feel is pain, but often we cannot identify exactly what it is about the loss that is causing the pain. We miss whatever we have lost and it just hurts.
This emotional distress comes mostly from two sources. First, the realization of how little control we have over what we experience in life. This realization is both frightening and depressing. We feel helpless and are powerless to control the situation. We want to regain a sense of control.
Secondly, what was lost occupied a part of our lives. It had meaning for us and took up space in our day to day living that was either physical or emotional or both. This leaves a void, and a longing to fill it. We feel empty inside and it is deeply upsetting. Many of us try filling the void with activities, a new relationship and/or, material things. Many of us turn to substances or addictive behaviors in order to avoid these feelings, but nothing we do can replace what we have lost. We struggle with our feelings and want the pain to stop.
The only way to heal is to allow the grieving process to run its course. It is important to avoid pushing those feelings away no matter how much we want to. Feel them for as long as you need to. Cry until you stop crying. No one can tell you how long this process will take. We will eventually release the pain and other people and things will enter our lives to fill the void. We will also begin to feel we have more control over what happens to us.
Allow yourself to heal. Repressing or denying your feelings will only lengthen the process and could result in prolonged depression and anxiety. Allow yourself to feel your feelings without judging them or yourself. Find ways to express them. Keep a journal and write as often as you need. Rely on friends and family for support. That is what a support system is for. The use of drugs and alcohol really won’t help and might make things worse. There is no timetable for grief. But, remember that you will heal. Those feelings will not last forever.

Helpful Hints for Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder

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By Alex Orlov for Life by DailyBurn

Do dark, chilly days make your mood cloud over this time each year? You’re not alone: Roughly 10 to 20 percent of Americans report feeling tired or sad when there are fewer hours of daylight in the winter months. With bone-chilling temperatures and blustery winds, it’s easy to give in to laziness and snooze just a little longer instead of dragging yourself to that early Spinning class — or, make a date with Netflix instead of bundling up and getting dinner with friends.

While many people can still function even if they’re feeling a bit melancholy, for some, winter brings a clinical form of depression called seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. According to Kelly Rohan, Ph.D, professor and director of clinical training at University of Vermont, at least 2 percent of the population suffers from the psychiatric condition, but that percentage tends to increase in regions with shorter hours of sunlight. Researchers estimate that up to 10 percent of Alaskans experience SAD symptoms such as fatigue, overeating, loss of interest in activities and difficulty concentrating.

Another SAD factor? Genetics. Just like depression, your likelihood of experiencing seasonal affective disorder can increase if your family has a history of mood disorders. And surprisingly, gender may also play a role in your bleak winter outlook. Studies show seasonal affective disorder is four times more common in women than men. Though researchers have struggled to understand exactly what contributes to this gender difference, Rohan has one hypothesis. “Women [stereotypically] ruminate on feelings more than men,” she says, and brooding on those sad sentiments can lead to more severe depression in some cases.

Beat The Blues
What causes this wintertime down-in-the-dumps attitude? Research published in the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology this October reveals that it’s a biochemical imbalance that’s at play. Come winter, people with SAD experience a significant dip in serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, memory and libido.

“When someone notices significant distress or problems functioning in everyday activities, like performing at work and maintaining healthy relationships, that’s the time to consult a professional for an evaluation,” says Rohan.

But even if you don’t suffer from full-blown seasonal depression, you may feel less social and more pessimistic come winter. “As the season changes, our circadian rhythms get impacted because the sunlight pattern has changed,” says Ani Kalayjian, Ph.D, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University. “If you know that you get less joyous in winter months, you have to start a preventative approach.” After all, you prepare your home, car, garden and other things for the seasonal change, so why not your body? Kalayjian suggests evaluating the severity of your symptoms (energy level, appetite, desire to be social) and then exploring forms of treatment.

Fortunately, there are several easy ways to boost your mood if you’re experiencing an energy dip this winter. Here are some of the best expert-backed strategies.

1. Soak up morning sunshine.
According to Kalayjian, winter blues will be worst in the mornings when you’re rousing yourself from bed. She tells clients to open curtains as much as possible to get exposure to natural light right when the body is waking up.

2. Maintain your routine.
“The most helpful thing is to try to keep up everyday activities,” says Rohan. Once daylight savings time occurs, don’t neglect your favorite hobbies just because winter spurs an impulse to hibernate. You’ll feel better knowing you’re still making it to your weekly book club, basketball game or brunch with friends.

3. Work it out.
During a killer gym session, the brain works hard to override the temporary feelings of discomfort by telling the body to keep pushing. You’ll naturally release endorphins, which will make you feel happier and even euphoric. A meta-review published in the American College of Sports Medicine Journal in 2013 suggested that, for some individuals, exercise might be comparable to therapy or anti-depressants as an effective treatment for depression.

4. Flip a switch.
Research suggests that light boxes can help up to 50 percent of people who suffer from SAD. The bright light emitted from these devices helps the body awaken in the morning and decreases the hormone melatonin that keeps us asleep at night. And for those seeking a quick fix: Studies show that light therapy can spur a mood lift in just several days. “Based on the literature, [light therapy] is a very effective treatment,” says Rohan. However, since the FDA does not regulate light boxes, she recommends consumers pursue light therapy under the supervision of a professional. “It takes some trial and error to get it just right,” she says, emphasizing that timing, positioning and potential side effects should all be discussed with an expert before you begin treatment.

5. Ditch the sugar.
It’s common knowledge that too much of the sugary stuff will make us gain weight and puts us at risk for developing diabetes and certain cancers. And research shows that sugar has a sour effect on mental health, too. Countries that consume the most sugar have higher rates of depression, and scientists hypothesize that it hinders the body’s ability to cope with stress and can worsen anxiety. Many people crave sweet and starchy foods in the wintertime because they provide a temporary energy boost, but these treats will ultimately leave you just as sluggish as before. Instead, opt for eating complete meals with good sources of protein and fiber.

6. Get outside.
Both Rohan and Kalayjian recommend breathing in some fresh air each day. Studies confirm that spending time outside can relieve stress, so bundle up and brave the cold for at least five minutes to lift your spirits. “It turns out that going for a walk in the morning after sunrise can be especially effective,” says Rohan. “It gets light to the retina, but it’s also physical activity.” Two birds, one stone!

7. Develop wintertime interests.
Bummed that you can’t play beach volleyball every weekend? Rohan recommends finding substitutes for the mood-enhancing activities you enjoy in the summer. “Having fun is central to having a good mood,” she says. “What are things to do in winter that are fun to do?” Strap on some snowshoes, check out a new fitness class, take a spin on an ice rink or step up your game in the kitchen — you just might find a new passion.

8. Practice relaxation.
Some down dog could help you get out of the dumps. Practicing yoga, studies show, can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Plus, preliminary research on meditation reveals that breathing exercises and mindfulness exercises can actually change neural networks and decrease stress. Kalayjian also recommends progressive relaxation, a technique that promotes body awareness by tensing and relaxing muscle groups throughout the body.

9. Book a trip.
Prepare for takeoff, because quality vacation time will certainly boost your mood. Those that suffer from seasonal depression will benefit from additional sunshine if they head south, but taking a break from work is important for anyone’s mental health. Studies show that people even experience pleasure from anticipating trips. “Across the board, SAD patients will tell you they feel better [after vacation],” says Rohan. But she cautions against depending on getaways for happiness. “I think it’s important to learn to tolerate the place where you live instead of jumping on a plane.” While you count down the days ’til your beach holiday, find ways to get joyous about the winter wonderland in your own backyard.

If you struggle with serious and continuous depressive symptoms, be

Living In the Real World

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Whenever someone famous commits suicide people are affected in different ways. There is usually the surprise and shock associated with the sudden death. There are the questions of why and how could they? Most of them have achieved success and wealth and have adoring fans. Why would a person who seems to have it all want to end their life? They live in the real world just like you and I.

When these people appeared in the public eye they seemed so happy and positive and full of energy. It seemed their lives were so easy and they were able to have whatever they desired. What we saw was just a snapshot of their life. What we saw was only what they wanted us to see. What we saw was actually fantasy and not reality. These celebrities lived in the real world as we all do. They all had a history of life experiences, tragedies, losses, as well as the happy times and successes. Some had medical issues. Others had mental health and substance abuse problems. It is not easy living your life in the public eye. It affects how others see them as well as making it more difficult to have stable relationships. They lived in the real world and what the rest of us see is merely an illusion.

Just like the rest of us, life sometimes gets to be too much to deal with. Feelings of desperation and helplessness and hopelessness take over. It seems there is no way out other than to put an ending to it all. They lived in the real world.

If you look at what you think their lives have been and compare them to your own remember that you live in the real world too.

The Value of Insight and Hindsight

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I am certain you have heard of insight focused therapy. I imagine you know the phrase “hindsight is 20/20”. We seek to gain insight in order to understand our past and how it has affected us. And, somehow, by gaining insight we will change. We also tend to analyze our past actions or decisions and how they relate to the outcome or our current situation. We will likely say we made a mistake or say it was dumb or even that we were dumb to have done this or that.

The only value I see with hindsight is to see where we were as compared to where we are at that moment. With hindsight we have more information than we did when making a decision or taking an action. If we had all that information at the time we would have done something else. It wasn’t the mistake we may think it was. We make a choice based on the information we had at the time. When we view those things in hindsight we tend to make ourselves wrong and put ourselves in a negative light. That is never a useful exercise. This can be damaging to self image and self esteem.

Thinking of insight as a valuable tool to help us change our thinking for behavior may not be nearly as helpful as we might think. When I was in therapy I had the belief that if I only knew why I was the way I was and what made me that way, I could change and be happy. I figured that insight would be followed by change. I was so wrong. After a long time of seeking the “truth” I had hardly changed at all. I found quite the opposite. As I began to use healthier coping skills and was changing, I gained insight. I was able to see a comparison between the past and present and was able to understand things like never before. I believe that all the insight in the world won’t change thoughts or beliefs or behaviors. I think that challenging thoughts and beliefs what are not working is the path toward changing behaviors and improving the quality of our lives.

In summary: My verdict is that hindsight and insight are not all that valuable as a way to enable our change and growth as people.