Overcoming Depression: One Step At A Time

I started writing this blog post a few weeks ago when I was really in a low place. Some days it took me until 2:30 p.m. to get out of bed. I spent all day watching TV and I barely ate. Night after night, I was plagued by insomnia. Almost all of my groceries went bad each week because, even though I normally love to cook, I just couldn’t motivate myself to do it. I felt anxious and reclusive and just plain sad.

I’ll say upfront that I much prefer to write about my triumphs on the internet than my struggles. But it’s important to admit that some days (and even some weeks or months), depression and anxiety can smack me in the face out of nowhere. And it’s confusing, exhausting, frustrating and really sucky.

As a very achievement-oriented person, it’s hard not to feel ashamed when I slip into a depression like I did a few weeks ago. I struggled with thinking that if I just worked a little harder or had more discipline, I would be able to fix it and feel better. It’s so easy to be consumed by embarrassment, loneliness and shame. But I slowly committed to a few things that helped me make it through.

  • I made an appointment with my psychiatrist as soon as I recognized the problem and I got a new medication that has helped dramatically.
  • I went to therapy more.
  • I took melatonin at 10 p.m. each night to ensure I was getting enough sleep, which is especially crucial for people with bipolar.
  • I dove into self-help books.
  • I dragged myself to a coffee shop each morning to give me a reason to get dressed and leave the house.
  • I tried to create something each day, no matter how small (more on that later).
  • I reached out to friends as much as I could to keep from isolating myself.
  • I finally cleaned my disaster of a room and forced myself to keep it that way.
  • I spent as much time as possible outside and in nature.
  • I did yoga.
  • I started writing down things I’m grateful for every morning

And little by little, I started to feel better.

Now, a few weeks later, I’m happier than I have been in a long time. I feel like myself again, I’ve re-established my positive habits, I’m exercising, and my drive and motivation are back (I’m finally finishing this post!).

I get really caught up in all the things I’m not doing when my mental health is in a bad place. But I’ve found that I have to be proud of the progress that I do make on bad days, even if it’s just getting out of bed and leaving the house before noon. If I can hold onto that pride, it helps carry me into doing a little more the next day. And then a little more the next. Overcoming depression is all about baby steps. But slowly, one day at a time, I promise it gets better.

Nature Heals!

Exercise has never been my friend. In fact, one of my first blogs talked about exactly this issue — how hard it is for people with ADD and depression to get out and move (even though it’s so important).

However, I’ve been in a strange season of life recently that has forced me to change some of my habits. I’m waiting for a new job to start and, without anything to do, I’ve been bored out of my mind. While navigating this transition, the strangest thing happened.

I fell in love with hiking and with nature. Who woulda thought!

Last week I hiked 11 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain up to Mount LeConte, one of the highest peaks in the Smokies. And I’m not going to lie — for a lot of the hike I wanted to die. It was exhausting and draining and at some points deeply challenging both emotionally and physically. However, when I got to the top, I felt a euphoria and pride I haven’t felt in a long time. After being bored all summer, feeling like I had achieved something once again inspired and exhilarated me.

In the last few weeks, I’ve walked and hiked more than I have in years and I’ve spent at least three days a week out on a trail. Mount LeConte was actually my third huge hike this month. And the more I’ve hiked and exercised, the more motivated I’ve become to keep it up.

People have told me to exercise more for years, but I had no idea how healing nature and movement could really be for my mental health. It forces me to quiet my brain, find time to be grateful for the world around me and gives me something I can continuously work to improve. I’ve started to understand how people can get so addicted to endorphins. Hell, this is probably the first time I’ve even exercised enough to even feel endorphins.

During a time of depression, it can be incredibly hard to get out and move or exercise. And this is not to say that time outside can take the place of therapy or medication. But I’m finding each day more and more that nature heals when I’m at my lowest. In fact, I’ve felt too unmotivated to even blog recently, but I felt inspired enough while out on the trail that I sat down on a bench and wrote this post in my iPhone notes. I even ran a mile this today and I don’t think I’ve done that since middle school PE.

So even if it feels extra hard, get outside. I absolutely know how tough (and sometimes miserable) it can be, but I’m learning that a little exercise or a walk in the woods each day really can turn things around.

What keeps you motivated to exercise? Let me know in the comments!

What To Do With Nothing To Do?

When I graduated college, I decided I needed a little time off to rest and recharge. After so many years of hard work, a couple months of doing nothing seemed like an absolute dream. And at first, I loved my newfound freedom to sit in bed and watch The Office all day or take a long road trip on a whim or cook something elaborate and experimental just for kicks.

But after two months with no structure or real responsibilities, I am practically bored to tears. The novelty of an empty calendar wore off quickly and when my ADHD set in I had nothing to use my excessive energy and imagination on.

I can’t remember the last time in my life when I had more than a week or two with nothing to do. If I wasn’t in school, I was in camp or working or interning. And as much as I craved a break during those times, it turns out staying busy is a crucial part of maintaining my mental health. I desperately need things to do, think, and talk about.

Because, honestly, with nothing I need to get out of bed for, some days I just don’t. I’ve spent far too much time on my phone and on social media. I stay up too late and waste half the day sleeping. I get bored and lonely and sad. Instead of enjoying my time off, it’s started to feel like I just waste day after day after day.

So I’ve learned a big and very important lesson: those of us with ADHD and mental health issues need routine, structure, and things to occupy our wonderfully active and creative minds each day. I’ve found this to be true both for myself and my family and friends with ADHD. But since I still have few concrete responsibilities right now, it’s hard to implement and stick to a routine of my own accord even though I know I need to.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve found a magic fix. But a few things that have helped me so far!  Yoga classes have been a great way to re-center myself. Instead of watching hours of TV, I’ve tried to re-direct my attention to reading and picking back up old hobbies like playing guitar. It’s also been important for me to make a conscious effort to meet up with friends regularly to get me out of my house. This phase of my life is definitely challenging, but each day I find it more and more important to learn how to entertain myself without a busy schedule.

What do you do during time off and how to do build routines? Let me know in the comments!

How CBD Oil Is Helping My Mental Health

At first, I was skeptical of all the CBD hype. I kept reading about how it had healed a variety of physical and mental ailments but I figured it was too good to be true.  Then I tried American Shaman’s Water Soluble Oil and the results honestly blew me away.

A few weeks ago, I woke up feeling distracted, unproductive and didn’t even want to get out of bed. I took a walk hoping that would help me reset but I still felt just as out of it when I got home. With nothing left to try, I decided to drink a little bit of the American Shaman Water-Soluble Oil sample I had bought on a whim a while ago.

I can honestly say that the CBD oil turned my entire day turned around. I suddenly felt motivated and focused. I cleaned my whole room, wrote a blog post and finished my homework. My mood was elevated. My anxiety improved. I felt infinitely better than I had just hours before. I was so blown away that I actually called both of my parents to tell them how excited I was about this new product. Over the last few weeks, I’ve continued to drink the Water Soluble Oil each morning and it’s been obvious that it still makes a huge difference in my day whenever I use it. While I definitely cannot recommend CBD on a medical level, I can certainly say it has begun to make a huge positive difference in my mood, my anxiety and my ADHD.

This is why I am so tremendously excited to announce that I am partnering with American Shaman to help you all get the CBD I have found so valuable! And the Water Soluble Oil isn’t their only product I love. I’ve started using their Hydrating Body Lotion and Lip Revitalizer too. I particularly love the lotion because it makes my skin feel unbelievably soft but also helps relieve some of the aches and pains in my muscles. The texture isn’t greasy like many other CBD lotions and it has a lovely, calming lavender smell. The Lip Revitalizer has also been a lifesaver for my chapped lips because I’ve found that the CBD makes it extra hydrating and it’s not full of fake chemicals and fragrances like many other chapsticks. Everything American Shaman makes is organic, non-GMO and lab-tested to ensure everything is safe and high-quality.

I am partnering with American Shaman because their products — especially the Water Soluble Oil — have genuinely made a huge positive impact on my mental health and I hope they can help you all too.

Head to AMERICAN SHAMAN’S WEBSITE and use my discount code SS10 for 10% off your order!

Seasonal Mood Swings Or Something More?

Sudden warm weather tends to make me absolutely ecstatic.

But the last few weeks in Nashville have brought some wild weather, from terrible thunderstorms to beautiful 70 degree days, to a dramatic drop to an icy 20 degrees, all within two weeks.

I tend to forget the serious impact that weather changes can have on mood. But this bout of insane weather gave me a big reminder of the reality of seasonal impacts on both depression and hypomania.

When the sun appeared out of nowhere last week I found myself suddenly in an almost manic state — cleaning my house, getting all my projects done, starting new ones and feeling almost euphorically confident. Then as the rain and cold set in days later, I became withdrawn, unmotivated and struggled to finish my work or post the blogs I wanted to. I went to my psychiatrist wondering if I was having bizarre several-day-long bipolar episodes. Thankfully, she told me the answer was more likely my mental health responding to the changing weather.

I was so glad to have this clarity about my last few weeks. But with another couple months of potentially temperamental weather before summer, I need to make sure I am prepared to deal with the mental impact on the seasons.

So here’s what I’m doing to stay sane. To start, I’m looking into buying a special seasonal depression light, which helps mimic the effects of the sun on your brain while you’re at your desk. I’ve also found that I need to make sure I get out of bed early and kickstart my day with caffeine on the colder and drearier days. Honestly, if I don’t force myself to get working, I may end up lying in bed for hours doing nothing while it rains. On the sunnier days when I suddenly feel like superwoman, I’m making sure to take time for mindfulness and meditation, to help balance out my suddenly hyperactive brain.

Most importantly, we all need to have a little grace with ourselves during this time when our mental health may be a bit less reliable.

What do you do for seasonal mental health? Let me know in the comments!

Bipolar II: How to Control Hypomania

The first time I experienced hypomania (the kind of “high” that comes with bipolar type II) I honestly thought I’d hit the lottery. All of a sudden I was finishing projects I’d put off for months, organizing everything around me without being prompted to and sleeping less but feeling more alert during the day.

I honestly thought I’d been cured somehow. I’d kicked ADD to the curb!! Woohoo!

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the fun to stop.

I couldn’t turn my brain off. It felt like I was chasing a tennis ball around my brain about 100 times a minute. I was so scattered I didn’t even make sense half of the time. I made spreadsheets to organize everything in my life. And I hate spreadsheets.

Thankfully, my therapist identified my behavior as hypomania and diagnosed me with bipolar II – a really important breakthrough in my mental wellness.

(If you are unfamiliar with bipolar or would like to learn more, I suggest reading “Bipolar Breakthrough” by Ronald R. Fieve.)

So after going through spurts of hypomania a few times, I figured out the signs that I’d missed going in. So last week when I stopped sleeping and started rampantly cleaning, I knew I was headed back down the rabbit hole. While in some ways I know I have to let it run its course, here are three tricks I’m using to try to keep it from growing into buying-wifi-on-a-plane-because-I-cant-handle-being-sedentary-for-more-than-20-minutes (true story.)

  1. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

This has been the most important thing for me in combating hypomania. If I work to get my sleep schedule really regular it noticeably calms down the circus in my brain and gets it out of my system faster. Check out my sleep blog for my full list of tips on how to get to sleep faster and stay asleep.

  1. Take time to breathe.

Since my brain is so scattered I have a hard time calming down in any capacity. So it’s been really important for me to designate time to breathe and not fixate on getting anything done. If meditation is the trick for you – the Headspace app has proven to work well for me. If you have an Apple watch, the breathe function is also a great way to discretely pause your brain whenever you need it.

  1. Time yourself when working

Being so scattered, I can’t help jumping from project to project. So my therapist suggested I set a timer for 20 minutes and make sure I work on the task at hand exclusively for that time. After my timer I can jump around for a little while and then need to set another timer to work on another project.

How do you deal with hypomania? Let me know in the comments!