Coping Conundrums

therapy-headerIf you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know by now that I struggle with OCD and clinical depression. In other (stereotypical) words, sometimes I feel really really anxious for illogical reasons and sometimes I feel really really sad without a particular cause.

It kinda sucks.

I’ll be honest – I tend to be a bit of a stubborn person, and for quite some time I liked to think that I (alone) could take the bull by the horns and handle whatever life threw my way. Over the years, I have come to realize that sometimes the bull can get a bit rowdy, and asking for a hand to reign him in is probably better than getting stabbed in the stomach by a bull horn.

Put simply – it’s okay to ask for help.

With that being said, since this realization I have tried many approaches in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms associated with my anxiety and depression: countless psychologists and counsellors, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, group therapy, journaling, medication, and meditation…to name a few.

Let me emphasize – the success of mental health treatment varies significantly from one person to the next, but in an effort to break some of the stigma around ‘getting help for mental health’, I’m going to give you a snapshot of what has worked for me (albeit not without challenges).

“Happy” Pillspills

Every morning my alarm goes off and (after pressing snooze about 4 times) I wake up. I reach to my side table, twist the childproof cap of the blue London Drugs pharmacy bottle, and without thinking swallow a pill with the mouthful of water that remains in the cup I religiously keep my by bed while I sleep (an OCD enforced requirement). I then saunter to the shower, eat my typical two scrambled eggs with spinach (after I’m out of the shower…), and drag my ‘not a morning person’ ass to work (which thankfully is only a 12 minute walk from my apartment).

Evidently, for a long time, taking antidepressants has been part of my daily routine. Over the years I have tried more than my fair share and experienced no shortage of their side effects.

There were the pills that made me tired, and there were the pills that kept me up all night. There were the pills that made me hungry, and there were the pills that took away my appetite (ps. I didn’t even try to make that rhyme! – Dr. Seuss better watch out).

There are some medications that made me cry for no reason and other medications that made me feel like I’d had five RedBull followed by a line of cocaine (which FYI I’ve never done – the cocaine that is – I’ve definitely had RedBull).

Most importantly, there are the pills that diminish my anxiety, increase my energy, and help me function to a much higher capacity than I would otherwise when OCD and depression come knocking at my door.

Do I want to take medication?

Of course not.

Do I take medication?

Yes.

Why?

Because it helps.

…but it doesn’t make the anxiety and depression disappear.

Unfortunately, there tends to be a misconception among the general population that taking medication is a quick fix – in other words, popping a pill = happiness. With this in mind, I want to emphasize that while medication can be helpful (and has been for me), it is by no means a cure and is best used in combination with other treatment approaches.

Counsellors and Complexestherapy

Therapy has gotten a bad rep over the years (no thanks to Freud), and it’s descriptions often allude to embellished psychobabble about getting in touch with your inner child; controversial explanations of the anger you feel towards your father being the result of wanting to sleep with your mother (side note: in my opinion, Freud could have definitely benefited from therapy); and dreams about losing your teeth indicating impending doom.

Fortunately, I have not come across any of those therapists, and psychological treatment has since progressed beyond the days of fire walking, LSD, and lobotomies (for the most part…).

Today there are an abundance of helpful (and more conventional) approaches to therapy – so before you jump to conclusions about why you shouldn’t see a therapist (besides the fact that they are hella expensive – because that part is true) let me debunk some myths and hopefully encourage you to reconsider.

1. You’ve gotta be ‘crazy’ to see a therapist.

Almost anyone can benefit from therapy – regardless of their ‘mental health status.’ Many people go to therapy for stress, grief, relationships, parenting help, medical illness, job loss, problem solving, or just to learn healthy coping mechanisms for a better life.

2. Talking to a friend is the same as seeing a therapist.

Although having trustworthy friends and family to talk to is important, therapists have specialized training and can offer an unbiased perspective while objectively identifying patterns or behaviours.

3. Therapists have perfect lives.

As someone who has worked as a mental health counsellor myself, clearly this is not the case. If my life was perfect I highly doubt I’d be writing about it…

In fact, many of those who work in the mental health field are personally invested and often have lived experience (through self or loved ones).

4. All therapists are the same and I won’t like any of them.

I’m going to be straight with you – I’ve been to many therapists and disliked the majority of them. But, I can confidently say that they are all very different, and if you look hard enough, you will find one you connect with. Think of it as dating around – but you have to pay them at the end of it. (haha)

5. Going to therapy indicates weakness.

Seeking help means taking action – and in my opinion, that’s pretty badass.

The bottom line – therapy has helped me, and it can help you too.

Meditation

Please find yourself a quiet place to sit and dim the lights.
Make sure that you are nice and comfortable. Loosen any tight clothing.
Let your hands rest loosely in your lap. Now close your eyes…and relax…

meditate

According to Psychology Today (and probably other sources), meditation is “the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. In other words, meditation means turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment.”

Well, that’s all fine and dandy – but let’s be real – for many people, focusing on the present moment is hard. For someone as anxious and future oriented as me, it’s almost impossible.

Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me to meditate. Unfortunately, as a person who can’t even watch a 45 minute episode of How to Get Away with Murder without getting up 8 times to complete some unimportant task, relaxing does not come naturally to me.

In fact, I think I may even be physically incapable of it…

With that being said, while traditional meditation approaches do work well for some people, it’s not for everyone (i.e. me).  Nevertheless, the way I see it, meditation doesn’t have to involve sitting on your ass with your eyes closed moaning ‘ommmm’ (although if you want it to, that’s cool) – Meditation can be whatever takes your attention away from all the mumbled thoughts in your head that you’d rather not think about.

In lieu of the mountains (See ‘Mountain Medicine’ for more details), my preferred method of “meditation” is exercise. Exercise is proven to be one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health, and I have to agree. If my heart is pumping and I’m busting my butt trying to lift really heavy things, chances are I don’t have much energy in that moment to stress about my entire future; If I’m running, I’m probably focused on how much I hate the fact that I’m running; and if I’m biking, I’m pretty busy trying really hard not to get hit by a Vancouver driver.

At the end of the day, not only does exercise distract me from my anxiety and unwanted thoughts, but it’s reducing my risk of heart disease (among other diseases), making me stronger, and (hopefully) contributing to a rockin’ summer bod.

Best of all?

It’s free! (Well, except for a gym membership if you want to be that specific about it…)

Coping Conclusions

The universe often throws us curve balls – sometimes bad things happen; sometimes the going gets tough; and sometimes we are anxious, stressed, or depressed.

In other words, sometimes life is really hard.

…And when it is?

ASK FOR HELP.

Medication, therapy, and “meditation” are only a small fraction of the countless options available to help improve your mental well-being. While these specific approaches have worked well for me, they might not work for you – but that’s not to say that there aren’t a million other methods to choose from that will.

In the wise words of David Allen – You can do anything, but not everything.

And that’s okay.

 

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