Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Exhausted and Fried

In January my husband will start a new semester of college taking 9 credits and will work 56 hours a week at his job. This week was to be spent in preparation for January and the stresses it will bring.

So, of course, Monday my daughter begins coming down with the stomach flu, and by today everyone's got it. Not much is getting done. My stress level is mounting, as are my laundry and dish piles. This makes me very cranky on top of being sick.

I'm trying to think of ways to dig myself out. First priority is to get everyone healthy. Then get the dishes and laundry under control.

Maybe I should just stop thinking until the sickness passes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Looking on the Bright Side

I can feel depression's claws trying to dig their way into my brain again. So I'm resisting. First, we have good news:

Somebody awesome dropped off gifts for Christmas at our front door, knocked on the door, and ran before I could find out who it was. They were very nice gifts, too.

Monday my family and I were supposed to drive to meet up with my siblings an hour away from home, but there was a huge snowstorm forecasted for Monday. So we packed up really quickly and headed out Sunday night to beat the storm. We avoided the storm, we were able to stay for free in a nice apartment owned by my sister-in-law's parents, and made it to take pictures with my siblings on time. I got to see my brother and his wife for the first time in 18 months, along with my brand new niece and nephew. Also, our formal pictures turned out really well, despite some potential hiccups solved by my sister-in-law's quick thinking.

My brother relayed some bad news about my dad's health, but if anyone can help him, it's my mom and brother. I'm suddenly really glad my brother's studying medicine.

Christmas eve and Christmas day were both really fun. We had relaxed days at my husband's parents' house, and we got spoiled rotten. I got a breadmaker, which I'm excited about. Now I can make my own bread, which is good because bread's gotten expensive to buy and you can't really store loaves of bread for times of emergency. Also, it has a cinnamon roll setting/recipe.

I'm glad we have food, warmth, shelter, and a support group for when we get hit with big snowstorms. Last night there was too much snow, and my husband couldn't get the car home. So he parked it in a gas station parking lot and walked the rest of the way home. Today we found out they'd towed our car. My husband is upset, but his parents were available to pick him up and give him a ride to work. We have enough money to get our car returned (assuming the towing company ever picks up the phone or returns our calls). I don't have a pressing need to go anywhere today because my house has enough food for the weekend.

The news has been pretty awful lately. People buried in avalanches, people dressing up as Santa and going on murderous rampages, people cheating others out of money. But there are also stories of people surviving being buried in snow for days, people helping strangers avoid forclosure, people doing smaller acts of service like whoever put presents on our door. I really want to find something nice to do for somebody, soon.

So I guess my conclusion is that for me and my life, I have more cause to celebrate than to despair. And I have the opportunity to brighten someone else's day, too. I hope everyone has a good day and remembers to look on the bright side and see what has gone right out of things that could have gone bad and be thankful for what we have.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Season's greetings! Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! Happy everything!

Drink some eggnog, already. I'm indulging in a day or two of shameless sugar eating, lazing about the house with new toys, and absolutely trying not to think about all the things that are nagging my brain.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Be the Best at Basics

I went to yesterday's therapy appointment expecting more homework. I like homework and classroom settings. I'd been in classrooms for 16 years by the time I graduated college. I turned in last week's assignment and was ready to write down more, and then my therapist told me a story. He said:

Once upon a time a boy went to a week-long camp to learn wrestling moves taught by Olympic wrestling winners. The boy had several years of wrestling experience and was very excited to be taught by the best of the best. But on the first day they taught him the one leg takedown, which is the most basic of wrestling moves. On the second day they taught him the two leg takedown, also a basic move. Lessons on basic moves continued through the rest of the week, and the boy was disappointed. Finally it dawned on him that Olympic wrestlers don't use special, secret moves to win their battles; they use the same basic moves as other wrestlers. They're just really really good at using those basic moves.

My therapist went on to explain that I already know all the basic moves now. There's nothing new he can teach me. I just need to get really good at using basic techniques to keep myself functioning until it becomes second nature instead of a struggle, and I can only do that with practice.

I was going to write more, but my kids just woke up and need attention. So toodles, and I hope everyone has a good day. :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Changes in Temperament

In the last two weeks I've been eating healthier foods and exercising regularly, and I think it's affecting my temperament. Situations that I know would have bothered me previously aren't as frustrating to me now. For example, a few days ago I took my three year old son to a friend's house who also has a three year old son. We were going to try our first day of a neighborhood preschool. Our children did not cooperate; they wanted to play with (and fight over and throw tantrums about) toys instead of listen to storytime or do crafts.

Previously I'd be so embarrassed by my son's behavior that I'd haul him home and put him in time-out or tell him he's been a bad boy and then feel like the worst parent in the world and spend the rest of the day wallowing in self-hate. I'm sure I'll have more days like that to come. But Thursday I was able to think clearly enough to understand that both boys were just having trouble sharing (as is age appropriate) and were tired and cranky. There wasn't fault to be passed around; their behavior was normal. So we took our kids back to our receptive houses and I gave my son a hug and I'm optimistic about this week's second try for preschool.

I still get cranky when I'm tired (usually at the end of the day). But I'm nowhere near as cranky or unreasonable as I used to be. I'm feeling better about myself because I'm being proactive in getting healthy (and, I must admit vanity, I'm happy about losing some extra weight). So I must work on doing a better bedtime routine instead of dreading the end of day. Maybe that will be my goal for this week: keep up healthy diet & exercise, add in bedtime routine.

My weekly therapy appointment is today. Will report in any new homework. Must also be more consistent with homework...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Know Your Feelings Assignment

Monday's therapy appointment brought me a new homework assignment. Its purpose is to help me identify my feelings, the sources/causes of those feelings, and to help me realize that I have other options for my responses to those feelings. The assignment is as follows:

Once a day, at different times each day, answer these four questions:

1. What am I feeling now?
2. What is the cause or source of this feeling?
3. What are three things I typically do when I feel this emotion?
4. What are three things I could do differently when I feel this emotion?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Follow ups / Making Progress

Huzzah for progress! I have made my binder to track goals and calendars and stuff. I have made my list of support group people and put it in my binder. I have printed my exercise and diet charts and put them in the binder, too. Did I mention I've started going to the gym with my sister-in-law? That I've started making better food choices and have been cooking a LOT more than I used to? That I've been getting up early enough to see daylight and going to bed before midnight?

I've tried doing food and exercise and a normal sleeping schedule on my own for months with zero success until I told my sister-in-law I'd be there ready to go to the gym at 5:45 a.m. on Monday, and then I went Tuesday as well. (Wednesday I was sick and Thursday she didn't go.) We're going tomorrow again, so I know I have to go to bed at a reasonable hour tonight if I'm going to live through getting up that early. Kudos to my sister-in-law for being willing to take me with her to the gym and for all the good consequences that have come of it.

So YAY for progress! And for actually doing the things that I said I would and that I know will help me. And if I can do it, SO CAN YOU.

Homework Assignment Part 2

Question: How can I develop more trust with other people and develop a bigger support system?

Answer: I can develop a bigger support system by making friends with more people in different areas of my life. There are different groups of friends in one's life: people at work or school, people from church, neighbors, people from special interest groups like a writing group, etc. So my plan is to try to have/make two or three good friends from each group (instead of my 3 or 4 good friends period). By "good" friends I mean people I will actually talk to and open up to instead of being just acquaintances. Then I'm going to make a list of those friends and their phone numbers and put them in my self-journal that I will carry around everywhere that also contains my goals and calendars and stuff.

Which brings us to the trust part. I don't really know that there's an easy cure for expecting people to attack you or abandon you at the drop of a hat besides experience. Experience taught me that some people can and will lash out for no particularly obvious reason, but I've also had some really good friends who have had plenty of opportunities to hurt me and haven't. Soooo, if I have lots of good experiences with friends then maybe I will get over that fear, which is something that will never happen if I hide inside all day.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hello Newcomers, and Homework Part 1

My friend Moneydummy linked my blog on her blog. Which means that there are now people actually reading this blog. o.O So, um, welcome, visitors! And thank you for your kind comments.

Today's post is part one of my therapy homework mentioned in the previous post. I tried answering the first two questions, but didn't get anywhere. Instead, I kept getting ideas for the third question, so I'm answering it first.

Question: How can I learn to be less emotionally reactive? When am I more emotionally reactive, and how can I decrease those times?

Answer: I am less emotionally reactive (aka calm, content, capable of functioning without biting peoples' heads off) when:

- I have had enough sleep
- I have eaten (stable blood sugar)
- I have exercised
- I am in a clean environment
- I am not overwhelmed by noise/kids wanting attention/things to do/etc.
- I feel I have accomplished something / have made progress towards goals, especially long-term goals
- my kids and husband are calm/happy
- I am alone
- I have had alone-time to de-stress
- I feel I am doing a good job
- I am outside (and it's warm)
- When my husband is home

I'm not sure this list is complete, but it's what I've got.

I can increase the time I am calm by:
- eating, sleeping, and exercising regularly
- getting regular breaks from kids
- tidy the house every day
- learn to meditate (I don't really know how to do that, but it's supposed to be helpful)
- keeping a journal of accomplishments and goal tracking so I can have visual proof that I'm not just spinning my wheels
- taking heavy-duty parenting classes or something.
- getting off the computer when people start fighting me for it?

If anybody's got suggestions, you're welcome to post them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An Interesting Development & Writing Prompts

When I went to therapy today, I learned something new and interesting and potentially really helpful. I went in determined to ask what other treatment options besides individual therapy and Al-Anon were available or recommended for adult children of alcoholics, and my therapist's supervisor finally comes out from behind the two-way mirror and says (in summary): Psychology students used to have to read lots of material on adult children of alcoholics until research finally caught up with what was being taught. It turns out that adult children of alcoholics are just like anybody else who comes out of a dysfunctional or chaotic home. They all have problems in three areas:

- They have difficulties with trust.
- They have difficulties dealing with emotions.
- They have a hard time talking about it.

So I thought that was an interesting revelation. We went on to talk a bit about where each of these problems comes from, and in my opinion it boils down to growing up in an environment where reactions to things are unpredictable (you don't know if somebody's going to take offense and yell at you or hit you for doing or saying normal things -- you can't have actions or reactions without getting into trouble so you tell yourself to stop having actions and reactions at all. you end up spending your life trying to hide as much of yourself as possible so that you can't get hurt again). In my case, for example, I have a hard time trusting anyone besides my husband and children. I keep expecting rational people to suddenly turn savage on me or abandon me or I wonder about their motives for talking to me in the first place. I have a really hard time expressing emotions, so they come out in quirky ways or not at all, and sometimes I interpret my emotions poorly. And I can't generally talk about this stuff verbally without crying, which is something I really really really don't like doing in front of people, so I don't want to talk about it. I'm more likely to smile at you and tell you I'm fine just so you'll go away before I have an emotional episode.

So, my homework assignment(s) for next Monday's therapy appointment is to try to come up with answers to the following questions:

- What were the effects on my life as being the child of an alcoholic? (There are both good and bad effects.) The point of this question is to see how I can use the positive values I gained to help me get past the negative values/effects.

- How can I develop more trust with other people and develop a bigger support system? Because right now I limit myself to talking to the people I absolutely need to continue to function and shut everybody else out, and a lot of times those few people I depend on are busy with their own lives, leaving me with no support when I need it. So I need to make more friends in the different areas where I have needs (geek friends, friends with kids, friends at church). And I need to extend them more trust than I previously have (for example: admitting when I need help instead of hiding).

- How can I learn to be less emotionally reactive? When am I more emotionally reactive, and how can I decrease those times? - I was thinking that my post on irrational thoughts is relevant here, because those irrational thoughts are always caused by negative emotions.

I am to conclude with, "What did I learn? What are things I can draw from this to work on in my therapy sessions?"

So I'll be working on answering these questions this week and probably write a post for each one.

They also gave me a writing prompt structured as a free-write, which is where you're supposed to take a writing prompt and just start writing without worrying about punctuation or grammar and continue at it for at least 15 minutes without stopping. Free-writes are meant to work as a way to get your creative/mental juices flowing and weird stuff usually comes out that doesn't normally see the light of day. These free-writes (you're supposed to do them once a day for 3 or 4 consecutive days) are not for anyone else to see but the writer, so I won't be posting those. But I'll post the prompts in case anyone following along wants to try the same exercise:

- Write about something that you are thinking or worrying about too much.
- Write about something that you are dreaming about.
- Write about something that you feel is affecting your life in an unhealthy way.
- Write about something that you have been avoiding for days, weeks, or years.
- Over the next four days, write about your deepest emotions and thoughts about the most upsetting experience in your life. Really let go and explore your feelings and thoughts about it. In your writing, you might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. How is this experience related to who you would like to become, who you have been in the past, or who you are now? Many people have not had a single traumatic experience but all of us have had major conflicts or stressors in our lives and you can write about them as well. You can write about the same issue every day or as a series of different issues. Whatever you choose to write about, however, it is critical that you really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts.

And now that all that is finally out of my head, maybe I can sleep.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

one step forward, two steps back

So depression is still kicking my ass. Leaving in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner to go cry your eyes out because somebody said you looked tired and your kid is crying because he's tired, too is NOT A GOOD SIGN.

I'm frustrated to the point where I just want to throw things or walk away from life and start over as, say, a hermit crab.

I keep trying new things to get myself to feel better. I map out the way my day should go in fifty different ways trying to get myself to do what I know will help improve life. I can't get myself to do what I need to. I can accomplish maybe three things a day that I need to, but that leaves maybe seven left that I didn't get done that day that should be done EVERY DAY. And so I accomplish things and it's never enough and all I hear is how I'm a failure and I can't seem to break out of it. I can't seem to stick with things or follow through on plans to just Be Better.

A lot of this comes from being an adult child of an alcoholic. Here's a good link to a description of what that's like. At least I didn't become an alcoholic or marry one, but the majority of the rest applies. The other source of my angst is being a stay-at-home mom. I love my kids, but I'm a college educated woman who wants to do something else besides change diapers and clean my house all day every day day after day with no hope of reprieve in the next decade. And I absolutely feel that I'm doing a poorer job at raising my kids than I should. I'm given to frustration and anger easily, and my kids watch television all day while I sit on the computer and blog and chat with people on the other side of the United States so I can have a semblance of a social life that's at a safe distance.

It's not that I don't try to take steps to get better. I try to exercise. Tomorrow I'm hauling my turkey-filled carcass (ha. my joke for the day) to the gym with my sister-in-law at 5 a.m. to learn to do a real workout the professional way and map out a diet with exact food measurements. I'm pretty good at keeping commitments to other people (since I value them more highly than myself) so I will at least be guaranteed a few workouts this week and maybe have another attempt at getting my kids and I on an earlier sleeping schedule. Going to bed at 2 in the morning is not healthy.

Also, making generalized "this is how to not be depressed" posts are decidedly LAME. So they're going to stop. This is my blog. It's here to help ME. If it helps you, great. If you don't want to read it, then bugger off.

Also, you may have noticed. I'm an angry person. I hide it well, and maybe that's one of my problems. I'm pissed off that my parents couldn't get their act together and raise me properly. I'm pissed off at my grandparents for being the total jackasses who raised my parents to be so screwed up. Between both sides of the family I think every form of abuse is covered. Now that I'm a parent I understand more how my parents did so much better than their parents did, and how much they must have struggled and continue to struggle. I'm more like them than I realize. And I remember absolutely hating them as a teenager and swearing that I would never be like them when I grew up. And here I am, almost a mirror image of my mother, struggling with the same self-esteem issues she has. I realize that if I'm ever going to accept myself, then I must accept my parents and grandparents and forgive them. But I do not have to continue the cycle of destruction.

I've read a lot about adult children of alcoholics. I've read about the trials of motherhood. I don't think my parenting will improve until my self-image improves: depression is too destructive and knocks me down to square one about every other day. Right now my kids cry and what I hear from it is, "I'm crying because you're a bad parent/person." when all they want is a toy or something. I've read about how instability in alcoholic families creates defense mechanisms or warped versions of reality in a kid's brain. What I haven't read about is what to do to change it.

Therapy doesn't seem to be helping anymore. Maybe I need to readdress the issue of "I'm an adult child of an alcoholic, what do I do about relearning the things I learned as a kid?" I go back in tomorrow. I'll try that. And I won't settle for, "Well, what do you think you should do about it?" or "How does it affect your life?" which are my therapist's favorite answers. Give me information, not more questions. That route helped with some things, but I think it's exhausted now.

I've read about codependency, which seems to be a big problem with adult children of alcoholics. It used to be a big problem for me. You get your kicks by having other people need you, and when their day goes wrong you take it as a personal failure. I ended up distancing myself from everybody and while sometimes I probably come off as heartless, I think it may be better this way. I can sympathize with people having a bad day, but that's the end of it.

I realize I'm jumping around topics. Sorry.

So what did we learn today? We learned that this blog is mine and I will use it for my benefit instead of trying to please everybody. We learned that I need to bring up the topic of how to relearn thinking patterns in my next therapy session tomorrow. We learned just how (really really) pissed off I still am. We learned that I need to do more research of my own into Life After Alcoholism or whatever you want to call it.

Also, anyone who wants to be mopey about me cutting them out of my life when all they are is depressing to me can bugger off. I don't need your guilt trips. I can't handle your depression when I'm struggling with my own, and I'm not hanging around someone who's poisoning me just out of a sense of guilt.

Depression is like quicksand. You gotta keep moving forward, or else you sink.

An Article on Frustration <- A good article on frustration, which describes how I feel most of the time. I'm posting it here so I can share it and also so I can find it and expound on it later.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. I'm thankful that a lot of research and article writing has been done already on the topics of frustration and depression. That way I know I'm not alone and there's help for me. :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learn to Recognize Irrational Thoughts

Studies show that people who are depressed often have irrational thoughts. Irrational thoughts can cause depression, like the belief that you have to be perfect. Logic states that being perfect is impossible, so striving for an impossible goal can only cause failure.

Depression can also cause irrational thoughts and reactions. For example, if you are at home on a Friday night and no one calls, a logical thought is, "My friends are busy. Maybe I should call them." A depressed person in the same situation may think irrationally, "No one has called because no one likes me. I'm never going to go out ever again."

Learning to recognize irrational thoughts is critical in fighting depression and trying to return to a normal life and healthy state of mind. Recognizing thoughts that cause depression is the first step in changing those thoughts. For example, a person who believes she has to be perfect might set one or two reasonably accomplishable goals and say, "I know I can't be perfect in all things, but I can be perfect in these few things that I think are most important, and that will be enough for me to be happy with myself."

Recognizing irrational thoughts that are caused by depression is a good way to dismiss them instead of accepting them as fact. Some good warning signs of irrational thoughts are when you find yourself using absolute terms like: never, no one, always, only, every, etc. For example, "No one likes me," and "I'm never going to get it right." Also, one should be wary of any self-degrading thoughts such as, "I'm a bad person." Those kind of thoughts are almost always irrational.

Fighting irrational thoughts caused by depression may be a matter of countering them with positive thoughts, avoiding thinking entirely, or trying to pinpoint and resolve the source of those thoughts. When you're in a good mood you can write down a list of the things you like about yourself or the things you are successful at. Post this list in a place you can see it when you're depressed. If you can't think of anything you like about yourself, you can ask friends or family members to write down a list of things they like about you and post that instead. Another idea for fighting irrational thoughts is to take your mind off of what's bothering you entirely. You can do this by reading a book, watching television, calling a friend and listening to what their day has been like, or engaging yourself in some other activity that keeps your brain too busy to think of other nasty things to say. The hardest but possibly most rewarding technique for fighting irrational thoughts is to track down their source and resolve them there. For example, women who irrationally think they are unattractive can probably track the source of this belief to all the videos, magazines, and people who have told them, "An attractive woman is slim, well-endowed, with flawless skin, hair and makeup." I don't really know what to do about resolving this problem. Perhaps you can use the same solution from a previous example and decide, "I'm going to set my goals to have a healthy weight, my hair done, and my makeup done every day. If I reach those three goals then I will consider myself attractive."

Let me be clear on one thing, though: DO NOT MAKE MAJOR DECISIONS WHEN YOU'RE THINKING IRRATIONALLY. This may include but is not limited to ending or beginning major relationships, harming yourself or others, quitting a job or school, moving, etc. If you feel the need to make a major decision, check it with someone who is thinking rationally and has a good track record for making good decisions.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Exercise Eases Depression and Anxiety

This article from the Mayo Clinic talks about how exercise can help ease depression and anxiety by producing mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain. Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week is ideal, but just ten minutes of exercise can help in the short term to improve mood.

So what do you do for exercise? You can take a brisk walk around the block. You can remember what you did in gym class in high school: ten sit-ups, ten push-ups, ten jumping jacks, jog in place for two minutes, jump rope for two minutes, lift weights for two sets of ten for each set of muscles.

Maybe I should take my own advice and do the things I just wrote about. :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Know Thine Enemy

The National Institute of Mental Health has a great article on depression's definition, causes, symptoms, treatments, and more. To sum it up, depression is when you feel so sad that you can't function normally anymore. Nobody knows exactly what causes depression, but there seem to be a lot of contributing factors. Also, there are a lot of things you can do to treat depression.

My goal is to look in-depth at each of the potential contributing factors and treatments of depression, so stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I'm starting this blog because there are days, weeks, months, and even years when I've just wanted to lay on the floor and cry the whole day or lash out at anything and everything that comes near me. It's not a good way to live, and I'm tired of it. Really, really tired of it. So I'm going to kick the habit.

I realize there are a lot of possible contributing factors to depression. I'm going to try to find the clinical research surrounding each contributing factor and the suggested remedy for each.

For today, it's enough to make the decision that I will not live this way anymore. It's the first step to a better life, one where I'm actually living instead of just surviving.