Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mental health ... choices, attitudes, perspective

The way we think is a choice.  I'm writing myself a pep talk today (well last week I started, but am getting back to it today) about positive thinking and how perspective can change our self perception.  Do you struggle with your mind and drive yourself crazy at times?

I do.  Sometimes mental health issues take us beyond the point of reason, to a point where we feel helpless and lost and resigned to riding the downward spiral.  I've been there and I'm not talking about that this time.  I don't think I have bipolar disorder, not that I'm sure, but from what I've read I don't think I'm that extreme.  Still, times like this are scary, and I feel for friends who share this challenge, whatever form or depth it takes.  I don't want my struggle to sound bigger than it is, knowing so many people face so much harder challenges, life threatening illness, natural disasters, major losses etc.  And please don't think I'm oversimplifying these issues ... I'm just sharing a small glimpse into my recent rollercoaster rides.

The ups are exhilerating, I'm soaring and energetically zinging through the universe doing great things.  The world is my oyster.  I have so much to offer and can't wait to get into it ... all at once!  Balance is out the window, but I can forget that for a while.  I brush off suggestions to slow down and can't understand why everyone else is moving at a snail's pace.  But as long as I can get on with my quests, that's fine!

My down times are infuriating ... days of being hardly able to get dressed before lunch, don't know what to feed the children.  I feel like a homeschool failure.  A parenting and marriage failure.  I feel sorry for my family, having to put up with me.  It's hard to start anything, let alone finish.  I try to smile, keep up appearances when I have to, but being awake is stressful.  Jobs pile up.  Even on 'good' bad days I waste time and get lost in my own world.  I'm glad to be alive but wish I was asleep.  The Lord and my family are my lights in the distance, encouraging me to step, towards the end of the dark tunnel.

Perhaps contributing to all of this are our recent trials with death, family illness and parenting challenges (which I haven't much written about).  And I've been physically unwell and hate to acknowledge that and give it any place in my life.  I don't plan to stay sick.  Still, at times it's hard to deny, and last week I actually answered honestly when people asked how I was.  Winter coughs and sinus left me feeling like I had broken ribs for months (perhaps I did), but that's improving now that Spring is here.  My doctor is also investigating the cause of some long term women's problems, and it comes as no surprise my iron levels are low, but we also found my thyroid is out of whack.  Though I'm yet to see her to find out what it means, but this new clue gives me hope that I won't need more tests and various cures which sounds worse than the problem.   Thyroid problems can cause hormonal problems.  I'm reading a book by Sandra Cabot to learn how diet can help.

My advice to myself (and anyone else feeling less than competent and confident at the moment):

*  baby steps ... break goals down into small tasks.  If I'm not up to making the whole house shine all at once (who ever is?) at least I can clean a window or tidy one shelf.

*  momentum ... if I can just start something, before I know it I'm on a roll and have done more than I would have if I'd thought, worried and procrastinated.

*  ask for help ... I find this really hard.  Like I said I don't want to acknowledge there's a problem.  I can ask the Lord, and read the Bible to remind myself He's promised to help me in so many ways.  If I tell my husband, mum or friends I'm struggling, that's being humble, honest and genuine, rather than my unkind self-perception that this is weak, burdensome and ugly ... I wouldn't think that of a friend who asked for help, so why judge myself so harshly?

*  likewise, accept that I'm not perfect.  Not that I won't try and be better.  But I will try things even if I risk failure or imperfection.

*  write in my journal to figure out what's out of sync ... what, within my control, can I do to fix this imbalance?  This time, my reflections have revealed that I need to get organised, redirect my mental energy into a new challenge, and grow up in terms of being disciplined with my housework, home ed. and other responsibilities.

*  recognise that I have choices.  I can't choose when my hormones or tiredness might try to sabotage my energy or mood, but I CAN choose to eat well, pray, sleep enough and make it a habit to think positively and trust the Lord.  I can choose to learn and find ways around my limitations.  I can choose to live and love, and to grow through this.

*  learn, imagine and dream.  Believe that anything is possible.  Enjoy life and look forward to heaven.

Today I'm pretty level headed.  I accept the highs and lows, though I believe God wants me to be moderate and sober ... for the record, since some of you don't know me, I should say I don't drink, smoke or use any drugs ... unless you count books and an occasional coffee or chocolate or smelling the citrus trees in bloom!

That's it.  I'm just sharing part of my journey of trying to live my best life.  I know other people struggle too, for a time or throughout their lives.  Maybe my openness will help someone.  


  1. What a beautiful, honest, open post, Vanessa. Thanks you for being bold enough to share your true self. So often we dance around our bad times, but it doesn't help anyone.
    Thryoid problems can be very debilitating, so at least knowing that and working towards getting it in balance will be a good starting point.
    Praying for you.

  2. Thank you so much, Tricia, that's lovely.
    I'm really glad to know you!

  3. ((Hugs)) Lovely post, by the way. As someone "afflicted" I know too well of what you speak. The most important thing I have learned is to forgive myself. We do the best we can. We love our families. We are human and those around us are strong and resilient, and they will be okay too. My shrink always told me not to fret my downturns and how the children would fare. He said they would see that nothing in the world is perfect, even parents/adults struggle but we persevere. I hold on to that on the days I let the kids eat Cheerios for breakfast, lunch and dinner ;)

  4. That means a lot to me, M.J. Thank you for the encouragement! I'm in catch-up mode now with housework and admin., making up for lost time, so feel I'm neglecting the kids in yet another way ... but fortunately they are thriving, and I know my version of 'neglect' is relative to my own ridiculous expectations of myself as a mum!

  5. {{HUGS}} Vanessa. Asking for help is something I struggle with too. I find it virtually impossible to admit that I need help. Looking back and reading through my diary at the time, I'm pretty sure I suffered Post-natal Depression, but I struggled on alone, not letting anyone, even my husband, know I wasn't coping..

  6. Thanks Kez. I hope you're going ok at the moment. I tend to distance myself from people when I'm struggling, because I want to seem ok, but keeping up with things and pretending is hard work. I'm guessing you do similar. Sending love.

  7. Ah, "Keeping up with things and pretending" - something we women often do so well! But it comes at a price, hey, and often a very big one if we don't stop and get real before it all gets too big. Thank you so much, Vanessa, for your honesty and transparency. I imagine there will definitely be some who are helped by it, to be more honest themselves about how they're NOT doing so well, and hopefully reach out for help.


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