Archive for the ‘therapy’ Category

Things Making Me Happy

Since going on my leave, I’ve been able to focus on ME as much as possible, and it’s been a) very weird and b) awesome.

It’s very rare to get so much time to focus on your own life and happiness, and it was difficult in the beginning. It induced guilt, of course, because I’m used to putting the needs of others before my own (as with many of us).

I know I’m very privileged to get the opportunity to work on this, so I am trying to take advantage as much as I can.  I have been continuing to do the things in my initial post about my leave, and have achieved some of the goals I listed there (baking, new recipes, making phone calls).

The good thing is this inner focus seems to be working to “fill my cup”. A month ago, I was in a deep pit of despair, would break down in a sobbing mess over the simplest things, and I was worried that my heightened anxiety/panic state would lead into a deep depression, as it had in the past.  Now, I am feeling more relaxed and calm regularly, and even have ever-extending moments of happiness.

Here are some things lately that have been making me happy:

  • YOGA is amazing. Even if I go to class in a horrible state of mind, I come out feeling grounded and happy
    • meditation does the same thing!
  • I got tickets to see U2 with two awesome friends
  • I signed up for a knitting class to learn how to make socks (I’ve been wanting to do this for years)
  • I bought a new purse on Etsy, that was exactly what I’ve been looking for (something else I’ve been meaning to do for a long time)
  • READING! I’m on my 4th book already since starting my leave
  • Today, after waking up to help DH get the kids out of the house, I went back to bed and slept until 11am…11 AM!!!!!!!! It was glorious!

Another reason I know this is all helping is the fact that I am able to think about going back to the classroom without panic or anxiety. Last night, I was able to organize my notes/assignments/tests from the last couple of weeks, and I felt neutral about it. It was just a task, not something that was choking me or sending me into tears.

So, onward I go. I know I’m not fully ready to go back, but I am confident I will be able to. In fact, I think I might be in a better mental headspace now than I was in September.

 

Give Yourself Permission

*This is actually a continuation of an excerpt from an email I wrote to a friend the other day*
Because of the events over the past year, I have been having issues with dealing with “negative” emotions (sadness, anger, worry, guilty etc.). 
I’ve been working with my counsellor about this kind of thing, and she’s given me some good tools to deal with it. First, she said we need to stop labelling them as “negative” emotions — all emotions are there for a reason, and it’s OKAY to feel that way. Instead, I’m learning to label them as UNCOMFORTABLE emotions, and giving myself permission to feel them. 
Then, I practice giving myself the sympathy and leeway to feel those things that I would give to others. We are often so hard on ourselves with how we feel — WHY am I sad/angry/jealous/ worried/guilty, what is WRONG with me? But there’s nothing wrong…you’re feeling those for a reason. We don’t question ourselves when we’re happy – why do it with other feelings?**
So, now when I am experiencing uncomfortable feeling,  I’m starting to FIRST give myself permission to feel that way, then to SECOND look at why I am feeling that way. What is making me so sad, or angry, or why am I so worried?
Then, in figuring out the reason, I can work through the uncomfortable feelings easier. I can use my scientific/logical side to figure out the best way to deal with those feelings and whatever problem there is causing those feelings (if there is actually one).
Last thing she has taught me is that it sucks to have those feelings, BUT I’ve felt them before and have GOTTEN THROUGH IT, and come out the other side okay. We are OKAY after feeling that way. I have been angry, worried, jealous or even really desperately sad before, and am OKAY. 
Having these uncomfortable emotions is part of life, and we probably learn the most from them as compared to the happy/sunshiny times. 
As an example, a couple weeks ago I wrote about how traumatic it was to go back to the hospital where I was for two weeks, and how upsetting it was that my doctor warned me about going back to school. In talking through this situation with my counsellor, I realized I was more angry than sad. 
I was first angry about being told I might not be able to do something that I really want. In fact, I realized that she wasn’t warning me about it because she didn’t think I could do it cognitively (which is why I was upset initially), but was more worried about if additional stress would put me back EMOTIONALLY (because I was really depressed in the hospital for 2 weeks 10 months ago). Now that I know that I crave that kind of stress and challenge – which she doesn’t know (she only knows me for those 2 weeks of my life and defines me by that time) –  I know I will be okay. 
I was also angry about how I went back into my “patient” role during the appointment – that I didn’t feel like I was my confident, well-articulated, self. I felt  I let myself down, and didn’t prove  to her how well I really am doing. Uncomfortable emotions again – so, I had to realize I was allowed to feel that way, and that it’s a natural reaction to return to the same “state” you were in during past similar experiences. 
Finally, I know that I might feel this way again when I have another appointment…but that’s a good thing because 1) I’ll know it’s possible I’ll feel that way and can be better prepared to deal with those feelings and 2) I am okay after feeling those things, and will be okay the next time too.
It’s a whole different mindset to relabel those feelings and give yourself permission and sympathy to feel them. It’s a work in progress, but I’ve been finding it has helped, especially at times when I’m feeling those things. 
**There’s the whole thing about societal pressure to be “happy” these days, so of course we’re hard on ourselves when we’re not because we’re not achieving some perfect life. I won’t get into this here more than that!

Life Lessons

A few weeks ago, after I crashed, I decided to start seeing a counsellor to work through some of the things left over from the stroke.

Initially, all I wanted to talk about what I lost. I lost the first month of Carter’s life, and will never have the chance to bond with a newborn again. I lost out on a breastfeeding relationship – for a second time, and will never have the chance to have one again. I lost a month of Evan’s life, and will never be there for his true 3rd birthday.

I talked about how envious I am of women who have just given birth and get to have those experiences with their babies. How I want to tell pregnant women that not everything will go as planned, and they could end up like me.

But she listened. She really listened, and validated my feelings. What happened to me was shitty. It wasn’t fair. It was hard. Insanely hard. And it’s okay I feel that way about that time, and that I’m not “over it”.

Then she asked me how I would describe my relationship with Carter now. And I just said “normal”. It’s like any other mother-son relationship. I love him to death, and he drives me nuts sometimes. Then she was silent until it hit me — we made it. We DO have a bond. A very strong one. I doubt it would be any stronger if that first month was different.

Ah….I get it, I think.

That first month was awful. It was. But (as my brother says), it is what it is. It IS part of our story, part of my life…but it doesn’t define me or my relationship with Carter. We made a strong bond in spite of everything.

To heal, I need time and I need to give myself permission to feel those feelings. It’s okay to be envious or to be mad or sad. And when I feel those things, I need to check in with myself to see where I go from there. Like this morning, I was sad that Carter will never be this small again, and it made me realize that means I need to be more present.

I’ve learned many lessons in the past few months. Some really hard ones that perhaps a 35 year-old woman with 2 small kids normally wouldn’t learn at the point in life.

– I know life can be shitty, and bad things can happen. But, if it doesn’t kill me (which it could have), I will triumph.
– I have a better appreciation for life and better understand what’s truly important. I try not to dwell on insignificant things (but of course things still get to me!)
– I have become stronger and more confident in my actions and my decisions.
– Our family is still closer than it was before the stroke, and it’s amazing how much support we do have, even if it’s across the county.
– Time really does heal. Sometimes, we just need time.
– Kids are more resilient and intelligent than we give them credit for.
– I do know what I need in times of crisis to get through.
– I need to give myself the same compassion and leniency that I give to others. I need to be nice to myself.

I’m not sure if I will continue to see a counsellor, but it’s nice to know that space is there for me if I need. Sometimes we need to have that appointment to force ourselves to make space and time to focus on ourselves, even for a little while.

Knitting As Therapy

A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook the other day about how knitting can act as great therapy on many levels. This rings so true to me.

I started knitting in the last year of my PhD when I was rather depressed. It gave me something to do with my time to keep my mind off how terrible I felt my life was at the time. It gave me purpose and made me feel accomplished (a stark contrast with beating my head against the wall on a daily basis with my research). I will always credit knitting with getting me through – and beyond – that last year!

Since then, it’s been my go-to hobby. It keeps my hands busy, it works my brain,  it reduces my stress, and relaxes me. Finding new projects/patterns or learning new techniques excites me. I love the way I feel when I finish a project (even though it doesn’t happen too often!).

It’s been a large part of my stroke recovery too. It made me feel normal again, and made me realize I could do things I was able to do “before”. It let me feel like I could accomplish something that others told me I might not be able to do (so, I was able to say “screw that!”). It was the first thing to came to my mind when people asked me what I loved to do or what I wanted to get back to doing.

I love it so much, I created a knitting support group for new mom that just started this week! I even applied for a small grant to keep the group going!

If you’re looking for a new hobby that can reduce stress, that excites you, that taps into your creative side, and makes you feel accomplished, I totally and fully recommend knitting! Plus, knitters are some pretty awesome people too!

Brain Bleed

Well things have kind of hit the fan since Carter was born.
About a week after he was born, my midwife was over to do a check up, and I had a sudden headache right in the middle of my forehead and my blood pressure shot way up. I went to the ER, and it turns out I had a bleed in my brain, so they had to do brain surgery, I’ve been in the hospital ever since.
My condition is called postpartum Vasculopathy – basically a constriction or deformation of the blood vessels in my brain. It is related to pregnancy,and is expected to correct itself within 3 months of the birth.
I lost some physical and mental functions – mostly fine motor skills (on the right side) and some memory issues. Right now I’m at a stroke rehab centre in town, and am working with all kinds of people (physical therapist, occupational therapists, social workers, speed therapist, etc, etc.).
It’s all been a blur, and very weird sometimes,
Luckily, it seems I’m recovering well (though sometimes it doesn’t fee like it to me. I get frustrated when I can’t do things as easily as  I used to – like reading, talking (!) and typing for example.)
Thankfully I get to see the kids and DH, and I even get to do home visits now. Just last weekend we finally got to celebrate Evan’s 3rdbirthday.

We are very lucky that both sets of grandparents were able to come out to help, and DH’s parents and my mom are all still here. Its been amazing having so much support and help , especially knowing the kids are well taken care of.

Worry Saturation

I had a session with my therapist on Monday, and we tried out a technique outlined in The Worry Cure book (the basis of my series on worry). In this technique, you repeat a statement over and over again…200 hundred times or more (I believe the book suggests 1000 times). The idea is that the statement will become so boring that it eases the anxiety when the thought pops up again.

So, I sat there and repeated “I might not be able to get pregnant and have babies” 200 times. The first ten were really painful. I had to stop between each statement just to catch my breath a bit. It was hard to hear myself say it, because it was like admitting that it could happen.

After about 30 times, I stopped myself because it felt like I was making light of the situation. I thought that making it boring meant that it was no longer important to me or that I didn’t care about it. Not sure if that makes sense?

Anyway, I continued on, and really started to get bored of it. It also almost became an out of body experience – like I was listening to someone else repeat the statement over and over. I also started stumbling on my words. It was like when you write the same word over and over again, and it starts looking wrong! I started to get my words mixed up.

By the end, I was really happy to be done. My anxiety about the statement went from about 7/10 to 1/10. After the first 10-20 times, I didn’t find it too hard. However, I could see it being way more difficult if, for example, I just found out that I wasn’t pregnant.

It’s an interesting technique – I kind of felt like an idiot while doing it, but it did help reduce my anxiety. I suggest trying it out the next time you’re sick with worry about something.

More worry tips to come!

Worrying – Part III

The third post in my worrying series continues the list of the dirty dozen from last time (part I here, part II here). So far, we have:

1. Seeking Reassurance
2. Trying to Stop Thoughts
3. Collecting Information
4. Checking Things Over & Over
5. Avoiding Discomfort
6. Numb Yourself with Alcohol/Drugs/Food

Here are the rest:

7. Over-Prepare
Alright, hands up if you have defended a thesis or given a talk? I can guarantee you that every single one of us over-prepared for those bad boys! Doing this infers that you have to be totally in control of your worries, and that not being perfect = looking like an idiot. Another problem, and I’ve found this in my impostor syndrome research as well, is that if we over-prepare and succeed, we believe the only reason is because of how much we prepared. So, next time we over-prepare again. Ah, vicious cycles.

8. Using Safety Behaviors
This is anything that makes us feel safe. For example, not making eye contact at a party or in the hall (that way people can’t reject us!). Yes, we feel safe, but it also reinforces we have no control and it maintains our fears and worries.

9. Always Try to Make a Great Impression
This behavior is common of people who were brought up with an insecure attachment to their parents, or grew up in an atmosphere with an emphasis on what others think or feel, or feel that they have a responsibility for others. Always wanting to appear perfect, or fun, or lovable all the time makes you anticipate being judged by others.

10. Thinking it Over & Over
This is all about thinking about what has happened, or what is happening (instead of worrying about the future). People who do this are more likely to be anxious and depressed. And, perhaps not surprising to many of us, women are more likely to over think/analyze past events. We do this because we think (hope?) we’ll eventually come to a solution and stop feeling bad. However, the problem is the solution must be perfect (so we never find one), and it increases our awareness of how bad we feel. This, in turn, reduces our ability to see the positive side and to come up with alternative, non-perfect, solutions.

11. Demand Certainty
“Oh, if only I knew when X was going to happen, I would be fine!” We all know there is no certainty in this world, so wanting to know what’s going to happen and when just makes us more worried (because we know that’s never going to happen). Plus, if we knew that one thing, then we’d just find something else to worry about.

12. Refuse to Accept Your Thoughts
“Nope – I’m not allowed to be worried about this. NAH NAH NAH NAH!!!!”. That ain’t going to work! This makes you feel that your thoughts are bad or wrong, and that you should be ashamed or feel guilty. So, you must get rid of them immediately, or else you might just lose control completely!! Another big problem with this one? We start to believe our thoughts are predictive (if I think about the plane crashing, it will! If I think I’ll get pregnant, I’ll jinx it!).

Alright – I’m 12 for 12. Wow. What’s interesting is that I’ve been told to try these techniques – no wonder I never felt better!

In summary, each of these techniques imply you:
– cannot face your fears
– should not think of the worst outcome
– should avoid upsetting feelings
– need reassurance from others
– cannot face uncertainty
– need to get rid of negative emotions.

So, how freeing does is feel that you’re ALLOWED to feel upset and negative, to think about the worst possible situation, and you don’t need someone else to tell you what to do? Scary, but freeing at the same time, no? It’s just all about how you handle that worry.

The next part of the book discusses the seven steps to taking control of your worry. I haven’t decided if I’m going to dedicate a post to each one (each is a chapter in the book, The Worry Cure by Robert L. Leahy), or put them together. In any case, stay tuned!

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