EXPeriencing SAD, Mental Health, and Triumphs Big & Small

I made it five days after NaNoWriMo before I had to open my computer and write something else unrelated to work. It looks like once you get that habit of writing 1,667 words per day for 30 straight days, you can’t help but write after that.

NaNoWriMo is quite the challenge. I always thought I was a writer. But nothing makes you come to terms with what that means like sitting down at a computer for an hour or more every night and hammering out the worst sentences you’ve ever written just to get them on the page – after working at that computer for eight hours already. I wrote 50,665 words in 30 days, and I am very proud of myself for that.

Five days later, though, I’m proud of myself for putting my contacts in in the morning and making it to work around 9 a.m. Over this past weekend, I had a slight panic attack/mental breakdown. After righting myself from that breakdown, I realized there were several things contributing to it:

  • The stress and excitement of finishing NaNoWriMo
  • A lot of being “on” during social time with NaNo and Terry’s birthday
  • Travel and family time
  • General workload
  • Weather

I could feel my typical depression symptoms creeping back in right after Thanksgiving: trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and trouble waking up the next morning; general irritability; and, my favorite, a vague but unshakable sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

Yay!

So after crying in my husband’s arms and recognizing that I was suffering from some serious Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I decided to do something about it. My doctor and I just increased my anti-depressant dosage a couple months ago, so I didn’t want to go that route just yet. Instead, I called my therapist’s office to make an appointment. It’s been a couple years since I was there, but that’s what you shoot for, right, to not need them weekly or monthly?

Yeah, I guess not at this place. They closed my chart.

And here we reach the rant I’ve been building toward for the past several paragraphs:

It is too damn hard to get mental health services in this country. I’m a middle class millennial with good health insurance through my job. I can get in to see my general practitioner or my OBGYN with just a couple days’ notice if I’m sick. I generally know I will find something in the near future that works with my schedule if it’s not an emergency.

Why can’t I do that with mental health therapy?

My GP referred me to this mental health practice. Even with that referral, it took me well over a month to schedule my first onboarding appointment. Every subsequent appointment was scheduled for about a month out because that’s what they had available. And appointments were only 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Because that is practical for people with day jobs. I made it work, and I think they helped. But after a while, especially once I started taking medication for my depression, I really didn’t need the appointments anymore.

But just as my anti-depressant dosage has steadily increased over the past several years, so, too, has the need for some mental health therapy as well. I would love to talk to a professional about some work stresses I have, family things that have happened over the past several months, and ways to combat SAD without increasing my anti-depressant dosage again.

But my chart is closed, and I would have to go through the onboarding process alllll over again if I wanted to go back to that therapist.

Again, I’m lucky to have good health insurance that I learned provides mental health services. Even still, I have to email our HR rep, figure out what the process is, call to find a provider, and then start the onboarding process elsewhere. And this is with employer-provided healthcare. I can’t even imagine what this would be like if the only place I had to start was Google. And what if I didn’t have insurance or my insurance didn’t cover mental health? Or if I didn’t have anti-depressants covered by an insurer in this gap when I’m trying to find additional services?

It’s hard to talk about this stuff. It’s hard to say, “I had a mental breakdown because it got dark outside too early,” and not feel like an incompetent moron. But the reality is that it doesn’t even have to be dark out to trigger depression and anxiety. It could just be Tuesday.

I could rant about mental health services and universal healthcare for hours. We need to do more to break the stigma and provide care. Until that happens, though, be there for your friends with depression and anxiety. “Hey, you got this,” goes a long way.

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“But this does not define you…”

Cover image from Moana. Screen cap via. An approximation of how I’ve felt the past few weeks.

I’ve had a rough few weeks. Personally, professionally, mentally, emotionally, physically… you name it. It’s been difficult to fire on all cylinders. After a particularly trying week, I gave myself permission this weekend to just be.

Terry and I had a productive Saturday and spent time with friends, but I knew I needed today for and to myself. Based on my activities, here are some tips for a rejuvenating Sunday from someone who allowed herself to have one:

  • Sleep in.
  • Drink coffee.
  • Sink into something methodical—preferably with a goal or something easy to achieve—for a few hours. For me, this was crafting gear in Guild Wars 2 and listening to a podcast. I was playing an open-world MMO, but doing tasks with clearly defined crafting guidelines and a numerical goal to reach. This is not fun for everyone. I don’t even like it a lot of times. But it was perfect for today.
  • Eat lunch. Or a snack. Drink water. Just don’t forget to nourish yourself.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Spend time with your person. Or a person or creature who doesn’t make you make an effort to spend time with them. I’m fortunate to have a husband I can cohabitate with and not have to do anything. Most of the day we were within sight of one another, but we weren’t doing things together. We could just do our thing and have a good day.
  • Eat ice cream.
  • Watch Moana. I suppose you could theoretically watch any Disney movie, or any movie that makes you happy. But I highly suggest Moana for empowerment, good music, tears, and happiness.
  • Do Yoga with Adriene’sYoga for Depression.” Again, you could do any workout or yoga you like, I suppose. But Adriene just posted this today, and it was exactly what I needed. More so than I could have thought.
  • Bathe and pamper yourself. Take a bath, take a hot shower, put on a face mask, shave your legs, pluck your eyebrows. Whatever gets you clean and makes you feel a little special.
  • Dance and sing to the Moana soundtrack while you write a blog post. Okay, maybe that’s just for me.

Take a deep breath and get out there and kill it this week.

OOC: Avocados are not pudding.

OOC stands for “out of character.” This blog isn’t a fitness or food blog, but I need to write about this experience, and by god I’m going to use my blog to do it.

I’ve been feeling pretty down about my weight and body image recently. I completed my fourth half marathon a week and a half ago, but that still doesn’t make me feel any better about my no-longer-flat stomach or the number on the scale.

So in an attempt to feel better about my body, I’ve been looking into clean eating diets, food prep ideas, and substitutions for sugary snacks that don’t help with weight loss. Between a friend who just had a great experience on Whole30 and another who has had a good experience with a detox, surely I could find something that works for me, right?

I found a two-week clean eating challenge from Buzzfeed one day while looking for recipes, and the tab sat open on my phone’s browser for weeks. As soon as I finish this half marathon, I thought, I’m going to try this clean eating diet.

But the longer I looked at the diet, the more nervous I got. It was a pretty big commitment. So, I googled the plan. And found some reviews of it.

That’s right, reviews of a clean eating challenge posted by Buzzfeed in 2015.

There were two consistent aspects of the reviews that gave me further pause: the cost of buying all the food, and the time it takes to prep all of it. Healthy food costs more, we all know this. But almost every meal is different, meaning that even if you’re making the meals for one like the recipes call for, you have to buy different ingredients for every one. That adds up, especially when you’re buying dates, pistachios, avocados, and portobello mushrooms. The time commitment was also alarming. With an estimate of over 20 hours to prep all these meals, the reviewers had zero social lives. One barely even had time to work out, let alone hang out with anyone.

With these two red flags flapping in my face, I ultimately didn’t decide to take on the whole challenge.

Thank god.

Because I did go ahead and try a couple recipes from the challenge. I kept the browser tab open and looked forward to blackberry chia seed pudding for breakfast and trying the delicious-looking chocolate avocado pudding.

Maybe I’m just not into healthy puddings. Because those two recipes sucked.

First, the chia seed pudding. I hate putting blackberries into any recipes, not because I don’t like them, but because I love them so much I want to eat them unaltered in their beautiful full-berry state. So having to crush up a handful of blackberries was hard, but I did it. It looked like jam, and I like blackberry jam, so I was okay with it. I added the chia seeds, the almond milk, the coconut, stirred it all up and set it in the fridge to be enjoyed in the morning. The next morning, I grabbed a spoon, stirred up the pudding (it looked a little thin), and dove in.

Blech.

It tasted like milky blackberry jam. And nothing else. It wasn’t thick enough to be satisfying, and it wasn’t sweet enough to make up for the lightness. It was just bland. I ate the whole thing and was starving for the rest of the morning.

So chia seed puddings aren’t my thing, fine. What about this chocolate avocado pudding? Avocados probably make for a great consistency, and who doesn’t love healthy chocolate?

No one. No one loves healthy chocolate. Because it’s disgusting.

I whipped up this “dessert” tonight. What a waste of an avocado. I froze half of the avocado earlier this week so it was ready to go. I dumped it into the blender. In went the almond milk, the cocoa powder, the vanilla, the date. Then I hit “blend.” Yikes. Frozen avocados are hardcore–and I have a hardcore blender. So I blended and blended, then scraped down the sides, then blended some more. Finally, it looked like pudding, so I scraped it out into a bowl… and noticed it was studded through with chunks of avocado and date. Okay, I thought, I’ll just eat around the chunks. Most of it got blended together, so I’m sure the flavors are right. Dear god, I hope those flavors weren’t right, because it smelled like chocolate, but it tasted like avocado. I take that back, it tasted like bad avocado. It was bitter and cold, and it smelled wonderful, which just made it worse.

What’s sad, is that this pudding recipe made with a frozen banana instead of an avocado is probably delicious. Banana ice cream is good because bananas are sweet. Avocados are not sweet. They go on toast and tacos. Not dessert. Not with chocolate.

I read another Buzzfeed article recently about a woman who cut added sugar out of her diet for 30 days, like a less strict Whole30. The tagline of the article is, “No added sugars, no artificial sweeteners, no fake sugars, no honey, no agave, no syrup, no joy.” That’s what this clean eating challenge sounded like. And, from what I experienced, it’s what it tasted like, too.

Eating healthy is hard. Cutting out sugar is hard. Cutting out carbs is hard. But you shouldn’t be miserable while trying to eat healthy. Try healthy foods, and stick with the recipes you like. I love the Thug Kitchen Cookbook, which is nothing but vegan recipes. I discovered this morning that I like blended oat smoothies. I like salads with homemade dressing and home baked sweet potato fries. All of these things are good for me, and they taste great. There’s no reason to cut joy out of your diet for the sake of a flat stomach. That saying “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”? That’s bullshit. Cake tastes better than zipping yourself into skinny jeans.

Eat a piece of cake, run a couple miles, and be happy.

And don’t make pudding out of avocados.