Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Something different?

I've been off my meds for almost a month now and I'm feeling ok. I'm not sure why this time is different than other times that I have tried to go off. Maybe I gave up too soon? I've had a plan this time, maybe that helps. Maybe it is because I know that while I can exist on meds, to truly live I need to be off of them. I don't know.

I have not stuck to my plan as well as I'd intended to. I bike to work maybe 1-2 days a week instead of the 3-5 I was aiming for. I've tried to increase the healthiness of my food, but if I don't get something cooked on the weekends, it throws the whole week off. I am taking my B-vitamins, and trying to reduce my sugar/junk food intake. I think that has helped.

I think the main reason for success is that I've been changing my thought patterns. I know the consequences of failure. Because antidepressants leave me living a half-life, having to stay on them is like a life sentence. I've become more aware how I think, and when I start to obsess in a negative manner, I tell myself that my thought pattern is destructive and force a change. Sometimes I have to repeatedly force the change, but I have not been spiraling downwards.

I've also come to accept that my emotions work in their own ways. If I need to cry, I go to my room and cry. If that isn't available, a public restroom stall will do.

By redirecting my thought patterns and accepting my emotions, I'm doing pretty well without antidepressants. I'm not sure how I'd weather a traumatic event, such as job loss or the loss of a friend/significant other, but I'll cross those bridges when I come to them.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Living Within One's Means

Financial matters are at the root of much unhappiness. Couples fight about money more than any other issue. People with substantial incomes spend more than they make, yet they still want more stuff. With a few exceptions (like when my employer was 9 months late getting me tuition reimbursement checks I'd been counting on) money isn't an area that causes me great stress.

I chalk most of this up to one thing: I live within my means. With the exception of a house, I don't buy stuff I can't pay for in cash. I do use plastic for convenience, however I pay off my credit card in full every month. Even when I bought my house, I bought a house that I could afford to put 20% down on. I pay a little extra on my mortgage each month so that I can pay off my house as quickly as possible.

I make less than 30k/year. I dated someone once who made 4x that, yet my net worth was greater than his. I could have afforded to lose my job and take some time to find a new one, he could not have.

I am changing jobs soon, and with that will come a nice bump in salary, along with professional status and more vacation days. I don't expect my spending habits to change much. I plan to put a little more into my retirement savings, a bit more into my mortgage, and go to a few more dog shows. That's about it.

I'm not so good at being happy, but I am pretty sure that after one has enough to eat and a comfortable place to sleep, happiness doesn't come from money spent. It comes from living one's life as best one can and filling it with meaningful relationships, paid and unpaid work and experiences.

My advice: Fun doesn't have to cost lots of money. Host a game night with friends - it's virtually free, especially if everyone brings a munchie and/or a favorite game. Plant a garden , or go hiking with the dog. Look at your monthly income and expenditures, and at least force income to be a little bigger than expenditures. Use the excess to pay down debt or build a little cushion. By increasing your financial stability, life will feel a whole lot better.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Happy Diet

This weekend I am going grocery shopping, and I'm going to focus on creating a planned, healthy and happy diet for the week.

I'm going to start taking a multivitamin, folic acid and a B-vitamin complex.

I'm going to reduce my sugar intake by eliminating all prepackaged junk food, and most other desserts. I am making an exception for Sunday evenings when I eat dinner with my family. My mom's pies are worth it! Instead of chocolate and cookies, I will treat myself to homemade quickbreads that are at least partially made with whole wheat flower. I love baking with Garden Way's Bread Baker's Almanac. It's a wonderful book with excellent recipes that never seem to fail.

I'm also going to try and boost my omega-3 fatty acid intake by eating more fish. I'm going to aim for at least two fish meals a week. Fish isn't too hard to cook, and should be absolutely delicious with fried sweet potatoes! If I decide cooking fish twice a week is not going to work, I'll add a fish-oil supplement to my diet as well.

I need to do more research on what nutritional improvements I can make to optimize my mood, but I think this is a good start.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Do Something!

Today is not a good day. It is a verge of tears day. I had planned to bike to work today, but needed to drive as a friend needed a ride. Maybe I should have said no and gotten the exercise. I will ride tomorrow.

I'm at work. There isn't much to do at work. That is a problem. I have too much time to think. When thoughts go sour, changing the trajectory of one's thought is important.

For now I will listen to happy music and sing along in my head. When I get home I will walk the dog, cook the soup I was planning on cooking last weekend and work in my garden. If that isn't enough, I will go to the library or bookstore and pick up a good read.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sadness vs. Depression

I just read Chandra Alexander's post on whether a person is sad or depressed. After surviving for several years in the numbed state that antidepressants put me into, her motto "to heal is to feel" makes a lot of sense to me. It is natural to feel sad sometimes, and accepting sadness as a normal, healthy emotion is important.

I'm not sure that I agree with Chandra that depression results from not dealing with sadness. Maybe it is the phasing, but she makes it sound as if depression is a choice or personal failure. I've been pretty much as low as someone can go. I don't know that I would be alive today without medication. When depression hits, it can be so debilitating that dealing with one's malaise on one's own isn't a viable option.

That being said, I think Chandra is correct that there is a lot of power in dealing with one's emotions and accepting that sadness is a normal part of life. As someone who has been on antidepressants long term, I am embracing the ability to feel again. Even "unpleasant" emotions such as sadness and anger are amazing to feel. I can't believe how alive I feel as emotion over emotion washes over me.

Accepting one's emotions and allowing oneself to feel them fully, yet not allowing them to spiral out of control is a fine line to walk. Sadness is often an appropriate emotion. Allowing oneself to accept sad feelings as a normal part of life is important for maintaining emotional balance.

Friday, May 2, 2008

5 Techniques for Breaking Negative Thought Patterns

As the meds clear my system, I have noticed my tendency to focus on negative things is returning. My neighbors stole my trash two weeks ago and returned it yesterday filled with their garbage. This is annoying, and is part of a pattern of misbehavior on their part that needs to be dealt with. Their misbehavior is not worth putting myself in a negative frame of mind over.

Five techniques I can use to break a negative thought cycle are:
  1. Listen to music AND sing along. I find that just listening to music is too passive and allows my thought cycles to continue. When I listen to music I can sing along to it uses a larger portion of my brain and I can't as easily think about other things.
  2. Try and think of 2-3 positive things about the situation/person. Most situations are not all bad. If one can think of things about a person or situation that one likes, it is harder to stay upset and angry.
  3. Read a book, preferably engaging fantasy that easily transports me to another world. I'm a reader. It's always good to have a book around that one can escape to. I recommend Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy for good, escapist reading. I don't recommend my Regression Analysis textbook. It takes too much effort to get into and is too easy for one's mind to wander away to uncharted territory.
  4. Tackle an project that needs doing. Doing something productive gives one a sense of accomplishment and pride that helps to chase away negative thoughts. Choose something manageable that can be accomplished in a few hours. For example, my house needs cleaning and organizing badly. Trying to tackle the entire house is a project I can't accomplish in one afternoon. Choosing to organize and clean the spare bedroom is something I can accomplish in an afternoon.
  5. Take action to change the situation. If this involves confronting a person, make sure you are not too angry or upset while you are doing it. Try using steps 1-4 first to get yourself in a better frame of mind before initiating a confrontation. Make sure you know what you want to get out of the confrontation and give the person something concrete they can do to fix the situation. A good approach for the problem with my neighbors would be to tell them that I would like them to get their own trash cans and keep their trash at their house. A poor approach would be to tell them they are noisy messy slobs.
Things that upset are a given in life. Sometimes actions can be taken to correct the situation. Other times these situations are out of one's control. In either case, dwelling on the negative does not help and leads to negative thought patterns. I am trying to use these techniques to be a happier, more productive person.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Just to be clear...

I have nothing against antidepressants or other medications designed to treat mental illnesses. My choice to go off of antidepressants is purely a quality of life issue. If antidepressants worked for me with acceptable side effects, I would not have considered going off of them.

There are times in my life when I needed to be on antidepressants. My mental state had gotten so bad that I couldn't pull myself out of it on my own. My mind worked in irrational, paranoid ways. I am not sure I would be alive today without medication. If my mood and/or mental stability takes a nosedive, I will go back on lexapro or some other medication.

Treating depression is not formulaic. Different things work for different people. Going off of antidepressants is a serious issue and it can have dramatic effects on one's life. I neither encourage nor discourage others from doing so. The techniques I am using to try and live my life without antidepressants are things that may make people happier and healthier whether or not they are on antidepressants.