The Dentist – a lesson in depression management

My mouth is a disaster.  A disaster created by lack of maintenance which is a byproduct of depression.

When the stillness of depression overtook me I didn’t go to the dentist.   My teeth are not great – very prone to cavities and so they need regular attention.  But I didn’t go.  Until a painful tooth pushed me there and I had to have the tooth pulled because I didn’t have the money for the root canal.

That was the first of 3 teeth I had pulled in that fashion over 6 years.  Those were the only time I went to the dentist.  All of them were visits to the Urgent Dental Care.

But the painful teeth wasn’t the worst.  The worst was a cavity in my front tooth that was visible as a divot on the side of it.  It made me feel shame.  It made me feel like I couldn’t go on interviews because people would think badly of me for having a hole in my tooth.  It made me ashamed to see old friends and family.  It was a huge mental monster in head.

The last tooth I got pulled was earlier this year.  The dentist was very kind.  He suggested we tackle my mouth one tooth at at time.  He didn’t suggest a regime of dental cleanings or plan a giant trip tick of my mouth problems.  He just said – when you have some money saved just walk in.

And that’s when I realized that this was how I could make it work.  The Urgent Dentist is obviously more expensive than most dentistry, but not exorbitantly so.  (at least this practice.)  But they offer something that is invaluable to me.  They work 7 days a week, 5 of them until 10pm.   They encourage walk ins.

Convenient hours is a huge plus and when it’s tied to walk in it works with my brain dysfunction.  It takes a whole lot of self talk and consideration and aborted attempts to get me to the dentist.   And when the moment gels – I can just go.  No need for an appointment – just go.

An appointment would create a whole new layer of problems.  I would miss appointments if my brain moved into stillness at the moment the appointment came up.  That would make me a persona non-grata with a dentist.  And I would create a larger thing out of potentially missed appointments than they might in reality be so I would just make that into a reason not to set up appointments.

Yesterday, a Sunday afternoon, I walked into the dentist and got my front tooth fixed.  It felt like a triumph.  It’s been a source of shame for years and now it’s fixed.  In an  hour.

It’s not the dentistry tradition I grew up with.  And so it never occurred to me that I could do my dentistry by just walking in, but I can.  So, now for the next few years, I will be saving money and when I have enough, doing next tooth.  By walking into the office when my brain will allow it.   I am not rich.  But the extra money is more than worth this benefit to me.  I wonder how many other people would benefit from it.



Doing the Things that Work

The human brain is a lot like Alice’s Wonderland.  There are lots of things that are weird and wonderful about how it works.

Many experiments show how easily our brain can be tricked.  This week on podcast Invisibilia, they featured a story about how putting on a doctor’s coat makes people perform significantly better on attention tests.  They ran the test in a variety of manners to see if it was fabric or the weight of it on your shoulders by changing up what they told people it was or the color and they found – it was the IDEA of wearing a Doctor’s coat that made people feel more focused and attentive to detail.  The same coat described as a painters coat ruined the effect.

That is kind of creepy.  That we don’t decide to be attentive, but our brains are suddenly and without direction, acting in that way because of the ideas that are associated with a coat. Our brains are changed by things outside of our intentional thought.  More than that – they are more changed by things outside of our thoughts than inside of our thoughts.  Because the control group in the above experiment were intentionally trying to do well on the test and failing.

How many things are affecting our brains in ways we don’t know.  How can we know about what is affecting our brain?  It’s apparently invisible.  And since there are lots of experiments that show that we do things and then make up the reason for it later, it’s possible we really don’t know.

This is also very liberating.  It’s like being handed the key to maze. Just find ways to trick yourself into being a certain way.  Wear the right clothes or create the right environment or whatever.  The key is to find the things that will make your brain act in a way that benefits you.  No matter the reason.

I live in a housing program that was designed to keep mentally ill people from being homeless.  I got this housing because I was homeless 3.5 yrs ago due to nonfunctional depression. This housing is a safety net for me.  Because for 3 years I’ve been terrified that I will fall backwards back into the hole of nonfunctional depression and I will lose my job.  But I knew that even if that happened, they wouldn’t evict me, they would just adjust my small subsidy to something that would keep me inside instead of outside.

I recently got a large raise at work and this put me over the income threshold of the housing and so I must move.  My initial reaction was a bit of panic.  But then a friend on tumblr talked me down and reminded me of doing things in small steps.  So I forced myself to open a spreadsheet and I put down all the steps and calculated how much it would cost and figured out a plan.  And the anxiety, which was on the edge of panic attack subsided.   I think it wasn’t the thoughts that changed.  It was action.  The idea of doing something in an organized and controlled manner made my brain change track into a new way of being. I wasn’t helpless and afraid now.

I’m still fully aware of all things that made my brain start toward panic on reading that notice.  But I’m no longer afraid.  I’m just on a plan toward a new home.  Hopefully one I will love.

I’m going to try to trick my brain more.  I know that my own thoughts don’t change my mental landscape that much.  But it seems that certain actions and apparently environment and even clothes will.   So.  New Plan.  Whatever Works.


Today I didn’t commit suicide

There have been really terrible places and times in my life where that was a statement that ran through my head.  Times when it was a choice and I was aware of it as a decision.

When that statement was running in my mind, I recognized that my choice should have been an achievement, but mostly I was just aware of it as a fact.  I survived.  I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it.

There have been times recently when I think about suicide without actually intending it in any way. I think about how I would do it, what it would feel like. I’ve been told that is called suicide ideation.

That is a bizarre place to be.  When I step back and look at what I am doing, I realize – why am I thinking about this horrifying thing?  Something is really wrong in my brain.  And then I remember.  Depression.  Depression is wrong with my brain.

Depression is the most slippery of all the enemies I will ever have.  I have put a personality on my brain disfunction.  To recognize the disfunction as something OTHER than me.  Because that is what is so hard for me.  My brain seems to think and do all kinds of messed up things.  My brain – Me

But it’s not me.

It’s the bastard – Depression.

When I can step back and see that it’s this Other thing, I can watch the way my brain acts that feels foreign to who I am, then I can get a grip on the fact that it’s not me.  Its not who I am.  Depression is something outside of me, making my brain act weird.

The hard part is that the brain is the part of my body that holds Me.  So when it acts weird, it feels like I’m weird.  But then I’m letting the Depression define me.  When I don’t move, it’s easy to decide I’m lazy.  But that isn’t a characteristic of who I am.  It’s a characteristic of the Depression.  When I’m in charge – I move.

My point is – Depression is not who I am.  It will swirl around in my head, sweeping my thoughts in weird directions, so that I spend time planning a suicide I really have no current intention or interest in carrying out.  That is just one of the obvious things.  There are so very many weird things it makes me think and do.  But those things are not me.  They do not define me.  They define Depression.

And it just takes a small step back to watch it, to recognize it as an outsider in my brain – a fucking bastard whom I can imagine shutting into a closet.  I wish that imagining that would make it go away, but it’s not that simple.  What is helpful though is remembering to step back.  To realize – it’s not me.  It’s Depression.


Breaking patterns.

I just watched this rather lovely video on how the ancient chinese philosophers considered rituals a way to break the mindless habits/patterns that we have burned into our life.

I have recently become very aware of how the breaking of patterns shifts my mental energy. I unexpectedly had to change my desk at work. Moving the desk meant all of my mindless work patterns had to change. And that meant that I was constantly being brought into the current moment to act on a tiny thing because my normal thoughtless reach and grab habit was not working. The thing I was reaching for was somewhere else.

On the one hand it’s annoying, but I found that I was also more… energetic, more aware of my space and my co-workers. It made the job less rote because the pattern of small actions was drastically changed. I think this idea of having a break in patterns is important to keeping me focused and positively engaged in my life, rather than wandering and reacting.

Do things up differently.  Be in a different space.  Use different utensils.  Eat different things.  It makes me more mindful.  And since the days of sunshine in my life are limited, I need to find ways to be more aware of them.  More deeply engaged in them, rather than drifting aimlessly and thoughtlessly through them.

The problem with the “do it differently” thing is that habits, ingrained deeply in my life,  are the thing that drag me through the dark abyss.  When I’m in abyss, the stillness of my life is profound.  I don’t do things no matter how much I think about doing it.  So I make habits that will push me through once I take the first step.  And most days I can manage a first step.  Some days I can’t but most days…

And so I need to make sure that while I break up patterns, that I don’t break the good patterns, those habits that keep me tethered to living a reasonable life. Because there be dragons beyond some these patterns.

Francisco Garces – La Furia Helada



Smiling like its normal

Yesterday SmirkPretty posted an amazing essay on 100 Blessings.  Take a moment and read it.  It’s worth your time.  Seriously worth your time.

I decided to try it.  Just look for a blessing, a small thing to be grateful for, a small thing that made me smile, a small thing of worth.  100 of those things in one day.  I called them blessings, although I’m a non believer, because I think we all recognize that a blessing is a good thing in life, a thing worthy of gratefulness.

I really can’t tell you how ridiculous an undertaking this is for me.  There have been times in my life, just as recent as last week, where I can’t find a glimmer of hope or light or good in the world because my brain has painted all the world into a deep void of darkness.  On those days finding even one or two things to be grateful or happy about is an olympic level effort.

And then on a whim, inspired by a gorgeous blog post, I just decided to do 100 of them.  In one day.

I took the approach that anything in my life or that touched my life, that was good, was a blessing worth counting.  I got 20 done in less than 2 minutes.  After that the hardest part was remembering.  My brain is not in the habit of looking for the sparkles of light in the darkness that inhabits my life.  I’m busy feeling my way in the dark.

But when I remembered, I could just look up and find 5 in under a minute.  Look up right now and you can too.  For example in front of me is a book shelf of my absolute favorite books in the world.  Curled up next to me is a fluffy ball of pestering love, covering me is a quilt made by my grandma,  under me is a comfortable bed, surrounding me is a safe apartment… Later it was the smell of cut grass, the newly planted flowers at work, the laughter of friends, the job, the purple pen, the kindness of my boss, the hard work of a co-worker, the generosity of a co-worker, the safety of the water I was drinking…

As the day progressed my day became lighter.  I definitely forgot about it for hours at a time.  And I lost track of what number I was on several times.  I have no idea if I accomplished 100.  I do know I accomplished a personal moment of revelation.  I became both lighter in heart and more aware of my surroundings by merely noting to myself the blessing.  It made me far more mindful.

The real question is – can this be done everyday?  Can I count 100 blessings every day?  The idea doesn’t seem overwhelming.  The idea makes me smile.  Perhaps it feels doable because I’m not at the bottom of the Abyss this week.  But I will take it because it feels like a celebration rather than an existence.


Some people have service animals for coping with their mental illness

Animals that will make you hold their paw if you are anxious, or will stop you for self abuse, etc.

I have an Enabler animal.

Lily loves it when I am home and in bed because then she can cuddle with me. So she actively puts herself on me, refusing to move when I want to and makes it harder for me to get out of bed.

She trained herself, so that part was saving me money, I guess.

I’ve had a bad week and decided to take off Thursday and Friday so that at least when the implosion of my Depression happened I wasn’t calling off work.  Lily approves.  I’m not sure if I do.

It’s almost like I’m supporting the depression when I plan for the implosion, but I also know intellectually that the implosion was coming, whether I asked for the days off or not.  The only difference was whether I proactively handled it better for my job.

And this does at least keep the depression from using an unexcused absence as fuel for a bonfire of self hate.

And also Lily enjoys it.  And frankly, it’s all about Lily.  She knows it, I know it and we are all better off if everyone agrees on the state of things.

Learn by Harpiya

-LEARN-by Harpiya

Weekend Triumphs

imageI ended the week on a high note.  My brain has decided to climb over the rim of the Abyss of my depression and see the world.  Sunlight and Energy and Optimism.

I cannot even begin to tell you how magnificent that is.  I know it won’t last, but while I’m here I’m glorying in it.

Friday I looked up 3 recipes and put together a grocery list for them and then after work I went to the grocery store and shopped like grown up for the ingredients.   Most of you are wondering why that sentence is something wondrous to me.  Well, I hate to shop, I buy the same things everytime shop, and those things are always cheap frozen meals and sandwich fixings and cat food.  So this was a triumph of mental energy for me.

Yesterday a UTI that had been hovering annoyingly in the background for 2 days decided to get serious.  So I went to the Little Clinic and got tested and meds.  Like a grown up.  Again, you are thinking – uh, that seems like a normal thing to do, Sara.  YES.  It is.  It’s a totally normal thing which last week I would not have done.  I would have abused ibuprofen and tried to drink more water and hoped/pretended that it would just go away before I died of a kidney infection.  Seriously.  So.  I’m loud and proud about my normal action to get antibiotics.

Then I came home and cooked and cleaned.  Like that was just a thing I do.  I know!  Its so weird and wonderful.

Today I want to buy shoes.  This, of course, sounds like a wonderful fun thing to do.  But for me its a THING.  First of all, I want to buy some expensive shoes from Mephisto because I’m a fat middle aged woman who needs good shoes.

So I had to wait for my tax refund to get them.  I got that on Thursday.  But then I spent my shoe money on my UTI.  This is annoying.  Now if I buy the shoes I am going to be using the money I had earmarked for car repair/maintenance.  That seems like a frivolous way to spend potentially necessary money for car stuff.

So now I’m debating.  I need new shoes in any case.  I think my ankle pain is because my current shoes have worn soles and so they are putting pressure on the joint in an odd way.   Also I’m fat.  I keep saying that because the scale yesterday was VERY RUDE to me.  I may need to start facing my eating habits.  But that’s off the subject.

The point, which I keep wandering away from, is should I buy the expensive shoes or just go to DSW and find something from the clearance rack?

I should probably go to DSW.  Sometimes you can find a great quality shoe for stupid cheap on clearance.  But that NEVER happens when you are actually looking for it.  It only happens when you are killing time while your friend is buying shoes or just shopping to be social with your sister or something.  Intention is never part of good deals.

Anyway, I’m in a good enough place that going to DSW is an actual possible thing I could do.  So that is in favor of that plan.

What do you guys think?  Go to the locally owned shoe store and get a good pair of shoes or just go to DSW or just stay home and cook?

Next up on It’s A Thought…. Women Warriors.  A metaphor with challenges.

How I get things done with depression/anxiety.

I am in that temper that if I were under water I would scarcely kick to come to the top.

~John Keats

That is what depression is for me at its worst.  Its apathy of the greatest and most destructive sort and when its manageable its a fight to gain enough traction to move.

When its manageable, I have to set up systems or I won’t win.  These are methods, tricks, processes I use to get myself to do the simple everyday tasks that you do without much thought.

The best systems are habits.  For example, my morning routine includes things that are habit.  I clean the kitty litter every morning before I leave for work.  I take out the trash when I leave the apartment.  They just happen without much thought.  And once the habit is there, it has to be a very bad day indeed to stop the habit.

But some things are just not tasks you can turn into a habit.  For example, I’m not going to vacuum my house daily.

So I set up a list of tasks that I will do.  The items on the list are not huge.  It does not say for example:  Clean the Bathroom.   It says clean the sink.  Clean the toilet.  Sweep the floor.  Mop the floor.  Clean the tub.

Then I set up a timer.  The timer is set for 45 minutes or an hour.  When it goes off I do a task for 5 minutes or until its done, whichever is first.  Then I reset the timer.  If I don’t finish the task, it has to be finished when the timer goes off next.

When I do that all day, I get a clean apartment, clean clothing, etc.

The thing is that nothing on the list is overwhelming.  And nothing on the list takes more than 5 minutes in normal circumstances.

Another thing I do is time how long it takes me to do onerous tasks.  Cleaning kitty litter used to be a bugaboo of mine.  I used to put huge blocks in my mind around it.  So one day I timed how long it took.  45 seconds.  It stopped being onerous when I realized it took less than a minute of my life.  Sometimes my brain creates disproportional views of things – and taking a simple step like timing it creates an objective ruler to break into my misconception.

I want to create more habits.  Routines that get done daily.  However starting and sustaining a routine for long enough to become a habit is hard.  My attempts have been failures so far.

Depression is not a static thing.  It changes daily and even hourly.  Its on a continuum.  Sometimes I just don’t move.  Stillness.  I can’t even get out of bed to go to work.  I’m nonfunctional.  There is no hope at all to exercise willpower.  Its not even in my list of options.

Sometimes I’m functional.  And if I pull out the mental whip and beat myself with it I can get some basic things done like going to work.  Its a weird terribly unhealthy way to get myself to move.

Sometimes I functional and hopeful.  And in those days I work with systems and goals..

Today I’m functional and hopeful.  Today is a good day.

Good Morning from Lily & I

lily computerI had lots of exciting plans for this weekend…

OK.  Exciting might possibly be hyperbole. I had plans.  To organize and clean and cook.

And now the lifesucking weekend is here and I can already feel it is going to be a battle.

I may be the only person in the world who does not like weekends.  Or to be more precise – days off.

I need days off.  But when they arrive I stop moving.  And all productive things happen only if all the stars align, if I implement a process of timers and lists and and my brain isn’t using the ONE RING* to ruin my life.

My life is a strange dichotomy.  At work, I’m very productive.  I do things both required and not required.  But when I leave work, it all falls apart.  I want so much to transfer the way I am at work to the rest of my life.  But I have yet to figure out the way to do that.

To be clear – depression/anxiety doesn’t disappear at work.  I still struggle with focus and make ridiculous mistakes because of it.  I have elaborate quality check processes because of this.

I still isolate at work.  I keep my back to the room, and don’t socialize much when I’m at work.  People will talk to me and I will respond with my back to them.  I’m not acting like a normal person there.

But I do get things done.  And I mostly don’t get stuff done at home.  I sit in bed all day, playing on the internet or reading.

Anyway, I’m going to begin the battle to make things happen today.  First the list.

*ONE RING: Used to “rule them all” or to ruin my life with Anxiety/Depression.


Today the Sun Shines

The Ick is has gone into remission.  The Stillness is not in sight.

I have already vacuumed and broken said vacuum.  But instead of making that into an epic tragedy in three parts I have decided that it will be a problem for tomorrow and today I will finish the list of tasks.

Today will be another day of timer productivity.  I will be a busy happy beaver.