I see the bad mood arising.

Two different days over the last week had me considering my inability to lift myself out of a bad mood. I’m not talking about the blankness that sometimes grabs the chronically depressed by the ankles and pulls them under for no discernible reason when least expected. I’m talking “bad mood” within the range that everyone experiences as a part of being human.

Cranky. Hangry. On edge. That kind of bad mood. The “I’m sorry, we should postpone our plans because I’m in a vile mood and I know I’ll be terrible company and I don’t want to ruin your day” bad mood. (Fortunately, this rarely happens. But it’s happened.)

When it comes to mental wellness, I focus so primarily on surviving the occasional plunge that I forget to tend to my garden-variety funks. It’s like I expend so much energy chopping down diseased trees, I forget to pull the weeds.

While I often feel like I can’t change my mood when I please, I realize that I only perceive this ineptitude when I ponder the bad mood while I’m in it, maybe because I’m trying to think my way out of it. I’m trying to breathe through it, as we’re advised to do. I know that there’s yoga and aromatherapy and meditation and music and a plethora of other highly suggested tools and tactics that work for many of us. None of that stuff actually works for me, but I can think of a few things that actually do. A few of these wondrously effective anti-bad-mood actions I take with no thought at all:

Drop and do 20 (push-ups).

Clean my office.

Vent my frustrations to my emotional-support cat and my ten emotional-support plants.

Snuggle said emotional-support cat, because her happiness creates a (purring) balm for my mood.

Go outside to see if I can find our tortoise, because one look at his little face skyrockets my mood and makes me smile like nothing else.

Eat some fresh fruit.

 

Nenette napping this afternoon – happy girl

 

Everyone’s different. Also – side-note – we need our ups and downs, right? If there was a panacea for rotten moods, everyone would be happy all the time, and the world would be a stagnant and less-interesting place. Bad moods and anger go together, anger spurs action, which, if channeled positively, can change the world in much-needed ways, blah blah blah (this would be a blathering I’d save for its own post).

Fortunately, I’m not a moody person, in general; my normal, everyday ups and downs are pretty low-key. Admittedly, psych meds also help, no doubt! They help to keep me out of the abyss. I’m happy to deal with the mere pulling of weeds.

 

Conquering the day. (On chronic depression.)

My next shrink appointment is in August, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long two months.

There’s no cure for clinical depression. Coping mechanisms are the currency we need to survive. We look within and gather what we can, learning from ourselves. We learn from others, too… mental health professionals, counselors, clergy, friends, family. We look to individuals we admire, gaining inspiration from them. And, of course, there’s the internet, always ready with advice and “life hacks.”

Certainly, coping mechanisms and strategies and inspiration can be found online. That stuff abounds in books and videos, too. We have popular culture contributors, historians, philosophers, teachers, poets and writers, celebrities of all sorts, and spiritual sages and practitioners and self-help gurus whose words of wisdom are posted as adages meant to uplift or even save us.

I’ve written about a few adages I find to be helpful. I haven’t mentioned those that I find to be detrimental, though. There are a few out there that I think are really just not good. Some adages or tidbits of “wisdom” (often displayed as memes) only serve to show you that you are to blame for your own depression. I saw one on Instagram recently – the one that spawned this post:

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” (attributed to Lao Tzu)

We’re constantly looking for those coping mechanisms, for ways to survive depression. When we see these kinds of adages, we think, well… maybe that person isn’t aware that they’re trivializing the struggle by placing pithy quotes before our eyes, suggesting that if we wanted to, we could change our outlook or perspective and just “get over it.”

We’re happy for those who are well, and we know that many of them mean well, but those who are well aren’t helping when they (inadvertently or otherwise) wellsplain our lives to us. The last thing we need to be told is that we’re doing life wrong.

Unfortunately, there’s no “how to” when it comes to being happy. There’s only a how to cope. How to get by. Clinical depression presents like any other chronic illness: we go through spans of time that feel “normal” and fine. We can feel good and at peace. Then there are the dark spells. The dark spells are tough to work through. I lean on gratitude and love, purpose and intent, anticipation and music, working out, reading and writing, “little things” and those adages that do help. But general happiness is a unicorn in the forest of the depressed.

Each trial through mental illness is individual, because the people living with those illnesses are individuals. There is no panacea for mental illness, and if there is, it’s just not going to arrive in a meme. I know it’s easy to misunderstand depression and think that the depressed can just “get over it.” I wish that it worked that way. It just doesn’t.

Depression can be managed, though. I’m doing a pretty good job at managing it, a fact that I can recognize even though I’m in a dark spell.

 

Conquering the day.

 

Speaking of life hack memes, is there one for how to not eat a whole box of Medjool dates in one sitting?

 

Best break for my brain: working out. (“My Morning Routine” – !)

Every once in a while, I go to My Morning Routine to peruse the site and gain some life inspiration. I went there today, and it actually inspired this blog post. I know I’ve shared a daily routine (or two) here before, but I don’t think I’ve filled in a morning routine questionnaire from this site. These questions are pretty much the same across the interviewees, but I’ll see different, additional questions thrown in here and there. I included as many of them as I could find in the few interviews that I read today.

 

1). What is your morning routine?

These days, I wake up anywhere from 5:00 to 6:30am, though most often at 5:30am. I take my morning meds/supplements, pour some coffee, open my laptop, and get into my writing.

 

2). How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

I started dedicating my early-morning brain cells to my writing sometime in the last 12 months. The rest of my routine hasn’t varied in years.

 

3). How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

My “dedicating my early-morning brain cells to my writing” discipline means focusing on my project before filling my mind with anything else of substance. Before, I would multi-task my brain between writing, email, social media, news, and so on. I’ll still scroll through instagram and twitter on my phone while drinking my first cup of coffee, though. I don’t click to read articles on twitter… early in the morning, I’m only there to check for major news headlines and traffic/weather alerts.

 

4). What time do you go to sleep?

Between 11:00 and midnight, usually.

 

5). Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

No.

 

6). Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

I do use an alarm, though my internal clock (aka my bladder) will sometimes wake me up before it goes off. I never use a snooze button.

 

7). How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

If I’m working out that morning, I’ll have breakfast between two and three hours after I wake up. If it’s not a gym morning, I’ll eat four to five hours after waking up. I have the same breakfast every day. Since a month or two ago, it’s been a bowl of plain organic oatmeal (made with water) with light agave syrup and cinnamon. I also have a handful of raw mixed nuts.

 

8). Do you have a morning workout routine?

My morning gym routine is Les Mills Body Pump at the gym. I go three mornings a week.

 

9). Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

Working out is my meditation. The 50 or so minutes of continuous physical activity provide the best break for my brain. For the duration of the class, there are no thoughts in my head. There’s music and there’s someone telling me what to do, and I listen and I do it and that’s it. There’s no room for anything else. I try to stay in the workout, where there’s no thinking involved! If distractions enter my mind, I force them out. This is key to any sort of meditation practice.

 

10). Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I’m bad at checking email. Let’s just leave it at that.

 

11). Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?

Other than taking my anti-anxiety med and putting on my Fitbit to track the quality and duration of my sleep, no.

 

12). How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

As I’d mentioned above, I usually check instagram and twitter while drinking my first cup of coffee. That’s about 30 minutes after I wake up.

 

13). What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Cleaning Nenette’s litter box and doing my skin-care routine. I water my plants in the morning once a week.

 

14). What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Water, immediately.

 

15). How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

He usually wakes up at the same time as I do, and we have coffee together in the living room. He makes the bed as a part of his getting ready for work routine, and I make his lunch while he’s doing that. We’re a good team.

 

16). Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

Saturday is the day I’ll wake up at 6:30am, as I usually don’t write before going to the gym that morning. Sundays, I’ll try to sleep in until 7:00-7:30am. I write at different times over the weekend. The routine relaxes.

 

17). On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

No. If I’m not in my home, I don’t write first thing in the morning.

 

18). What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

If I fail to follow my routine, there’s a good reason for it, so it doesn’t impact the rest of my day. Whatever changes occur, my daily task list is always there to guide me through. The important thing is that by the end of the day, I’ve checked off as much of that list as possible.

 

Post-gym, seventh of June, two thousand eighteen.

 

Sorry this pic is so dark! Bad lighting and brownish walls aren’t the best for selfies, or anything else, for that matter.

 

The End.

 

What do you get when you cross a flamingo and a ukulele? My office.

I had a hard mental health day on Friday, and all of the late-afternoon popcorn and Perrier couldn’t fix it. Neither did it help that that was the day I decided to watch Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. Excellent song and video. Bad timing.

But then things got better, because when I woke up the next day, it was a gym morning and it was Mother’s Day weekend. I got cards from Nenette, Geronimo, and Callaghan, and for my main gift, Callaghan took me to Home Depot and said I could go crazy and choose any plant I wanted, emphasis on “any”! I chose this tall guy and named him “Flamingo”:

 

Flamingo! (He’s a Dracaena ‘Massangeana’)

 

My desk now, as seen from the doorway:

 

Four of my nine office companions, from left: Holder, Flamingo, Icarus, Thoreau

 

At some point, I’ll do an updated office tour and take you around to see all of my companions of the chlorophyllous persuasion. Two of them have joined me since my last such update, and some of the older ones have migrated to different spots.

Also, you may be noticing that there’s a ukulele sitting next to my desk. Yes, I’ve brought the ukulele back into the light! I haven’t dusted it off yet, but it’s out. That white binder on the shelf above it is a lesson book. Mom gave these to me, as some of you may recall, and I proceeded to capitalize on the opportunity to share some of my favorite ukulele jokes.

i.e. (from my previous blog post about the ukulele):

What’s the difference between a ukulele and a trampoline? You take off your shoes to jump up and down on a trampoline.

What’s “perfect pitch”? When you throw the ukulele into the garbage can without hitting the rim.

What do you call a beautiful woman on a ukulele player’s arm? A tattoo.

And my personal favorite:

A ukulele player suddenly realizes he left his vintage ukulele out in his car overnight. He rushes outside and his heart drops when he sees that his car window is broken. Fearing the worst, he peeks through the window and finds that there are now five ukuleles in his car.

I still love to laugh at the ukulele, but I do respect it, and I’ve decided to learn to play it. Going through my old rhythm and timing workbooks, composer collections, and sheet music made me realize how much I miss doing music. Self, I said one day recently – yesterday, in fact – why don’t you learn to play that beautiful, new ukulele Mom gave you? Why not.

I’m sure I’ll be back with ukulele-learning updates for any of you who may be interested; I can’t wait to laugh at myself as much as I laugh at the ukulele.

Oh, and my second Mother’s Day gift was a new tool box! Callaghan knew that I wasn’t thrilled with the one I’d been using. My new one (which I chose) is shiny and black and spacious and lovely. I should’ve taken a pic of it, too.

I hope you’re all having a great start to your week!

On minimizing “decision-fatigue.” (Mental wellness post!)

One day, in the third week of April 2017, I figured out what I’d wear to the gym each workout day of the following week. I wrote it all down. It was life-changing. I’ve since kept up the practice: once a week, I plan and list my gym outfits in a notebook (to keep track), gather the clothing, put them together in neat little bundles, and place them in the drawer in the order of the workouts. This completely eliminates having to think about what to wear to the gym as I’m getting ready to go.

This might make it sound like I have gym-clothing fashion concerns, but I do not. What I have is limited time and a limited mental/creative energy capacity each day.

No matter how little I care about my gym attire, I still have to decide what to put on. It’s a small, inconsequential decision, but it’s still a decision. Toward the end of the day, small and inconsequential decisions have added up, and then I start to make poor decisions, or I struggle to make decisions at all anymore. It could be that when it’s late-afternoon and I find myself stressed and unable to pinpoint a cause, I’m actually looking at decision-fatigue.

Why do couples sometimes bicker (stereotypically) over what to have for dinner? Maybe because they’re both at the end of a long day of making hundreds of little decisions, and they’re decision-exhausted and hangry. Decision-fatigue is a documented phenomenon; I’ve found web pages devoted to it.

As I said, my habit of putting gym clothes together a week in advance has been life-changing. It helps immensely that getting dressed for the gym involves only opening a drawer and pulling out the bundle on top. Zero decisions, minimal time. Even if I know what I’m going to wear, I’d still have to search for the pieces (t-shirts and pants – told you I didn’t care about gym fashion!) if they weren’t already bundled together.

 

Minimizing decision-fatigue: gym outfit prep, week-in-advance

 

This week-in-advance planning and prep – as opposed to multiple night-befores – allows me to devote my mental/creative energy and time to writing. Early mornings are especially precious to me; my primary focus each day starts with my “morning pages,” which consist of whatever part of my project I have in front of me. (Usually, it’s a single chapter.)

Gym-clothing planning is just an example. I’ve made it a point to try to be aware of other little decisions that feed on my energy levels throughout the day, and to get ahead of these decisions by strategizing accordingly. Because of my new awareness, I’ve returned to the habit of making daily lists of things to do. I might know what I have to do, but having the list in front of me saves me time and mental energy.

This leads me to a tangent: I don’t consider decisions to be distractions. There’s always a time and reason for distractions. Callaghan’s the same way! Perhaps we who work in creative realms need distractions because we’re easily over-saturated with our creations. Distractions carry me into a different head-space… they wipe the slate clean, so to speak. When the text is no longer at the forefront of my mind, I can start the next writing session and see what I couldn’t see before.

With that, I’m going to slam the door shut on this topic, because I can sense other tangents rising up!

Happy Friday Eve, everyone.

The silver lining of a bad day is the day after.

This has been a week. I’m sure you can all relate to this: there is no day as good as the day after a really bad day. The great thing about today is that yesterday was a day of epic fuckery such that today can only be better. For one thing, I was able to get to the gym this morning. I couldn’t go on Tuesday or yesterday, so you can bet that today’s workout made an immense difference.

For me, everything about working out makes everything better, even an aspect as simple as setting up whatever area I use. I took this pic weeks ago when a friend pointed out how I always organize my area, with my backpack and water bottle to the left:

 

Organized crime.

 

I took this picture jokingly, but it’s soothing to see it because I see habit, and habit can be a balm. It’s a way of feeling in control; in this case, it’s a healthy way.

This post comes from a place of gratitude. Yesterday is over. Today is a new day. I have yet another doctor’s appointment this afternoon (my third this week) – one of my medical specialists – but this is a good thing. Today’s doctor will be different, and I’m very optimistic that whatever he does, the experience will be the opposite of the one I had on Tuesday. I’m talking about ophthalmology, the only medical specialty not available at our V.A., by the way.

Yesterday, man. There was just something about it. Callaghan had a Very Bad Day yesterday, too, for reasons different than mine. It was awesome that we didn’t get into it despite our equally bad moods!

I’ll try to remember to repeat this mantra on future bad days: tomorrow is a new day. Some sayings make profound sense, and there’s nothing like experience to appreciate a tired old adage as something more than a tired old adage. Everyone is different. It’s good to hone in on adages that help get us through. For me, “things can always be worse” is a good reminder, but it isn’t as reassuring as “tomorrow is a new day.”

 

The Fitbit and my sleep progress. (New Year’s Resolution check-in!)

We’re three months into the new year, and usually by now I’ve done some sort of New Year’s resolution check-in post, so I figured why not today.

My resolution to get more sleep has been going okay. I think what’s happening is I’m approaching it in slow steps, starting with setting up the Fitbit that Callaghan gave me over the holidays. (Christmas? Birthday? I can’t remember now, so it’s “the holidays.”) Though I’d resolved to get to bed earlier starting on January 1st, it took me until the end of January to start tracking my sleep. The first time I used the Fitbit to track my sleep (the only reason I wanted it, and the only thing I use it for) was on January 30th.

I haven’t yet made the successful jump from tracking my sleep to actually getting more sleep on a regular basis. It’s been enlightening to see my sleep schedules and patterns in digital display, though, and it gives me an idea of my natural, “before success” sleep schedule.

I set my sleep goal to 7 hrs/night, to start. (Baby steps.) The Fitbit tells you when you’ve hit your goal.

Progress: I’ve been tracking my sleep for 61 days. I hit my sleep goal 8 times out of the 61.

That’s right… I got 7 hours of sleep only 8 nights out of 61, and I know that there’s been a slight improvement. Using the Fitbit has verified that my lack of sleep situation was as bad as I’d thought it was. That’s a start, right? And that, my friends, is the whole point of the Fitbit. It’s going to hold me accountable and make it difficult for me to shrug off the effort.

Looking at the Fitbit’s “benchmark” view, I can compare my sleep to that of other women my age. I almost feel weird about sharing this, but it’s of interest to me in terms of my resolution, so here’s how I compare in terms of the minutes I spend in each of the four sleep stages:

  • Awake:* overwhelmingly less than average
  • R.E.M.: above average almost half the time
  • Light: overwhelmingly within the average range
  • Deep: above average half the time

*About the awake stage, since you may not be aware (I wasn’t, until I got the Fitbit): “It’s normal to see ‘awake’ minutes in your sleep stages; studies have shown a typical adult could wake up briefly between 10-30 times per night. You may not remember waking up since you likely fell right back to sleep, especially if you were awake for less than 2-3 minutes at a time. If you wake up in the morning feeling like you had a restless night, you may notice more ‘awake’ minutes in your sleep stages as compared to other nights.”

My “awake” minutes were much less than average. They only fell within the average range 6 out of 61 nights. Also, half of the time, I got more sleep than average in the R.E.M. and deep sleep stages. The anti-anxiety med I take before going to bed (Klonopin) knocks me out, and I stay out. It’s doing its job. (For reference: I take 0.5mg, and I weigh 115 lbs.)

I haven’t noticed that my more alert mornings correlate logically to the amount of sleep I got, or to the time I’d spent in certain sleep stages. I do notice that it’s harder for me to wake up when I’m in R.E.M. when the alarm goes off. If I’m dreaming when that alarm sounds, I’m groggy for half the day, it seems. I didn’t need the Fitbit to tell me this, though.

Now to ramp up my efforts to get to bed earlier! This is where I start setting an alarm to tell me to get ready for bed. If you see me on social media after 9:30pm, ask me why.