Coping Strategy #2 Revisited – 5 Things I Learned at my Support Group

I’m going to an anxiety and depression support group through my local hospital now! It’s a lot more functional than when I tried to make an anxiety support group 😛

I’ve been going for a couple of weeks now. Here are the highlights.

1. How do we relax? Our most common response was taking long baths. Take note, but remember that stealing baths is completely unacceptable bath behaviour…

2. I know psychiatrists need to learn to understand mental illnesses too, such that they can talk to their patients in addition to throwing pills at us prescribing medicine (sorry, psychiatrists reading! I do take medicine, and I’ve met one or two good ones – but many bad ones! so do take note – I, your average patient, am generally having more trouble with you than with other health care professionals!) Basically, our group counselor had a really awkward psychiatry resident sit in with us, without asking us. He looked incredibly uncomfortable when our counselor asked him to join in conversation with us, as though he wasn’t expecting to be subjected to the ‘inferior’ role of mental patient. He didn’t speak unless forced to by our counselor. We weren’t asked if we wouldn’t mind having him there. We weren’t told that he would be there. I felt this was disrespectful to us and I felt helpless, which I think is a common theme with people being treated for mental illnesses and disorders in hospital settings, as opposed to physical ones. We are not grade school children, we are adults receiving medical care and when someone completely irrelevant to our care sits in with us in order to benefit his education, we certainly deserve to be asked permission, or at the very least informed respectfully, before he enters the room. Rarr.

3. We weren’t allowed to get water for ourselves. Because apparently, they had their water cooler stolen a few times. Again, I felt the mental health stigma. These crazies keep stealing the water cooler bottle, was the message I read between the lines as our counselor chuckled. Do you know how much one of those bottles costs? Under $20. Our collective dignity is worth more than $15 plus tax. Let us grab our own darn water, or if you are ever so fearful of these horrendous thefts, install a water fountain. Yeugh.

4. The people in my group are lovely, and my counselor is well trained, well meaning, and quite effective. They clapped the first time I didn’t fall asleep during meditation time, and I was incredibly flattered. We are just a clapping kind of group as it turns out. A bath-loving, clapping crew, motivated to improve our mindfulness. Yay!

5. Speaking of meditation, I found one that works for me through this group, and maybe it will work for you too, because it speaks specifically to that constant level of pain you carry with you every day, every minute, when you are experiencing a depression or an anxiety disorder. It doesn’t pretend that when you sit down to meditate, you will magically float away to happy unicorn paradise, but instead helps ease some of that pain. It’s called First Aid Meditation, by Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix (available on iTunes for download, only $0.99)

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/loving-kindness-mindfulness/id514149496

Anxiety and the (Now Properly Medicated!) Girl

ImageDear friends, 

It’s been months since I’ve last written, and I apologize! I find that when too much is going on and changing in terms of my frame of mind, I need to sort of just experience it – and reflect later. Besides that…I don’t know. I come here to write and I want so much to say something worthwhile, to say something uplifting. When everything is too confused in my head, when too much is changing and when the way I see things is changing too much, I just – I don’t want to spread the confusion.  

There is a quote I like that I can’t quite remember, about not splaying your emotions carelessly on the paper, I think by Primo Levi. And I really do feel that way – whether to protect myself, to not look like a total fool on the internet, or you – because I do not want to bring anyone reading down, just because I am feeling down. 

So. Another year has begun at school. I will be (gulp!) mentoring a younger student with anxiety at my school, as part of a program I have signed up for. It’s so scary yet exciting!

As for my life? Well, of course nothing is perfect. But I am once again taking the one medicine that has ever worked for me in terms of daily pills to tone down anxiety. This has given me the space to fix my sleep schedule, to begin preparing my own food again, make lists, make time for friends and to generally have a better handle on my life. It is not the pills on their own that are improving my quality of life. They do, slightly. But the bigger change is brought about by the positive changes I am able to make in the moments when I once again feel well enough to prepare for and prevent some of the more difficult moments. 

PS. Italy was awesome. There were Italy-specific anxiety triggers, interestingly enough. There were also friends, family. cappucinos, gelato, beautiful architecture, a day at the beach, and that magnificent language. Ahhh. 

– Catalina

Coping Strategy #3: Lumosity games!

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My aha! moment – the first time I played a memory game on Lumosity while trying to be conscious of my anxiety.

I’ve been playing Lumosity games for the last year or so on my iPhone. The premise of the games on the app is to improve your cognitive functioning through games. 

I’m not big on app games, but I gave Lumosity a shot and ended up sticking with it. Only recently did I realize that I could use it as a tool to monitor my anxiety and maybe even to calm myself down – all while improving my memory/attention/problem solving skills, etc.

I will try to describe a few of the ways this works for me, but you may want to try it out for yourself.

First – anxiety is known to impair memory: http://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/symptoms/memory-problems

Well, my weakest area of thinking has definitely and consistently been memory.

Lumosity games can be pretty addictive, and you are encouraged to play daily. So play I did, and I began to grab for it in the morning before getting out of bed. I’ve absolutely noticed my memory score drop as anxiety was increased. My score dropping with increased anxiety I believe happened to some extent across all areas (attention, speed, memory, problem solving, flexibility). Some days, scattered panicky musings on what exactly I was feeling that prevented me emerging from my lair became clear – my memory score has reached rock bottom and this game is making me supremely twitchy. I realized that my anxiety was through the roof. So, perhaps the gym, a nap, a snack or meditation was in order.

Can Lumosity actually improve anxiety? Research by the Human Cognition Project, that is, human brain research using data collected by Lumosity from its users’ usage of their games, suggests that it can, among other emotional disorders.
Lumosity training holds promise for emotional regulation

I researched this because I found a quick-and-dirty way to calm myself a bit. I play one of these games, and as I begin to panic, I practice slowing down my speedy fingers, allowing myself to be sure before clicking on an answer (in the case of Memory Matrix, before shading in a square. Allowing myself that extra split second that I need (and then trusting my gut instead of my tricksy, doubt-prone anxiety which tells me, “you’re never right! And you’re going too slow!”) for me, is a great relief.

Every strategy to improve mood is a tool in your toolbox, therapists will tell you.

I’ll take it.

Coping Strategy #2: Anxiety Support Group

What do you get when you take an anxious organizer, an idea for a support group, 7 anxious strangers and a coffee date?
Nothing, mostly. Do you know what anxious people (including yours truly), do after they commit to show up?
That’s right.
Get too anxious about it to come.
Oops.
I guess I still have a lot to learn before I attempt that again!