Last August, when I was going through a rough spot, I identified that place (between health and recovery) as the “Waiting Place” (from Dr. Seuss, of course). And I listed what kinds of activities are encouraged in that area. Here they are.
Thanks to another anonymous reader who asked me on the “What Makes People Relapse” post: “What are some task-oriented skills that can be used?”
Here are a few things I’m doing right now to keep me occupied in the Waiting Place, techniques that will hopefully push me into a better spot, and not back to a full relapse.
1. Talk to the Doll
One theory of depression suggests that abuse or neglect early in life may contribute to permanent changes in the brain that lead to an overproduction of cotropin-releasing factor (CRF), which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to release hormones that cause depression.
I didn’t suffer from atrocious neglect or abuse in my childhood, but I did feel terribly insecure at times, especially in the years after my dad left and my mom sank into her own depression. When my anxiety surfaces as an adult, I feel like the scared little girl I was 30 years ago, crying in my mom’s arms.
That’s why my guardian angel Ann told me to get a doll, to represent the scared, young Therese, and have the wise, grounded, compassionate adult in me comfort her. In two days, I’m going to visit Ann and together we are going to shop for my doll. I will then put her on my desk with my angel, my St. Therese medal, and my SEF (self-esteem file), and I will try to tell her that everything is going to be okay. For real. Just as my mom says to me when her scared little girl calls her up, needing a reminder that the inner turmoil I feel is just my head playing tricks on me.
2. Read my SEF (self-esteem file)
Speaking of my SEF (self-esteem file), I get that baby out and start reading all the complimentary and loving notes that my Beyond Blue readers have left for me, or post cards from friends, such as the card my literary agent, Claudia, just sent me from France, with a picture of a statue of St. Therese, and the words: “I said a prayer for you in front of St. Therese, that you might find peace in your life. hope you know that your writing touches many people, and I’m so glad to be working with you.” It’s hard to be depressed after reading that.
3. Ditch the Jogger
Many mornings on my run, I am passed by this really fit woman who is running with a triple jogger, loaded with her three kids. She trained for a marathon, which she ran in 3 hours and 15 minutes, running with her three kids in the jogger.
Whenever I see her, my immediate response is to say to myself: “You are such a loser. You can’t even handle your double jogger with the kids. You shouldn’t waist babysitting hours on your run. You could get so much more done if you were stronger, like her.”
Thirty seconds later, the kinder, gentler (and I suspect more intelligent?) part of my brain says, “Yeah, but look at her kids. They’re boring. They are just sitting there, patiently, probably asking, ‘Mommy, how can we help you today?’ And she’s boring too. You’re fine the way you are.”
Whenever I get sucked into that hyper-competitive and overachiever mentality, I have to say to myself, “Stop it. Ditch the jogger already. You don’t have to multitask your life away and be productive sixty seconds of every minute. In fact, you will preserve your sanity and be a better person if you protect your running time as your time alone with God.”
4. Stop Running, Start Walking
Speaking of jogging , I have begun to walk as part of my run. This is a symbolic way of telling myself to slow the hell down and to start enjoying the view more. When I concentrate on my breath as I walk, I allow myself a break from my racing here and there, both physically and mentally. Walking also allows me to do some problem-solving and cognitive-behavioral therapy that is harder to do when I run.
Walking, to me, means dropping my unrealistic expectations, and shooting for only very small goals. In this Waiting Place, I allow myself twice the amount of time to complete a writing deadline than I usually give myself, and I don’t demand as much (I’m talking heart rates) from my work-outs. In general, I try to be kinder to myself, as I would be to a friend healing from a condition.
5. Eat Lunch at a Table
This is also a way of telling myself to slow down. When I get into my ultra-productive mode, I eat lunch as I type away. But my body needs this break to eat, and if I feed my face in front of a computer too many afternoons, I’m going to get frazzled, like I feel right now. More evolved persons can meditate. I have great difficulty meditating. So, until I can sit down on a prayer mat and transcend, I will take at least fifteen minutes to a half hour to eat my lunch.
6. Stay Ignorant
One of the worst things for me to do while I’m in the Waiting Place is to follow headlines. The newspaper is chock full of anxiety triggers for me–like how much energy it takes to recycle a plastic bag (I thought I was doing the right thing!) and how much sex teenagers are having today (hello … David is there in seven years!). If there is something I absolutely need to know, then Eric can tell me. But, until I reach more solid ground, I can’t read about Iraq, Sudan, corrupt politicians, teenage drug use, and global warming. It’s all too overwhelming and depressing.
7. Shake the Piggy Bank
I’m cheap by nature. I like to save. So I absolutely hate to dig into savings. But that’s what you have to do at times to stay alive and to move forward in recovery. Sometimes we have to bid farewell to an early retirement, or retirement at all, in order to reach old age in one piece.
Two years ago, Eric and I cashed out a sizable amount of retirement funds so that we could hire the babysitting help that we needed in order for me to get well. We didn’t have a family member nearby who could step in and play mom for awhile, who could or would support us in the way that we needed.
I only agreed to this only after two psychiatric nurses sat us down for a “family meeting” after three groups of patients had gone home much better, and I sat in the same damn chair crying my eyes out. “Therese is not going to get better as long as she has all of her caretaking responsibilities of young children.” They asked us if there was anyone able to fill in for me for awhile so that I could concentrate on my recovery, and there wasn’t. So we bought the help that we needed. At 12 bucks an hour.
I’m close to the same predicament now. I’m way overextended. I become incredibly anxious when I don’t write a day’s worth of blog posts in the time I have allotted to do that (and my expectations there are unrealistic). And I can’t make it up at night as I had done pre-breakdown because without regular sleep I may as well book a room right now at Johns Hopkins psych unit.
I think it’s time to walk to the piggy bank and see what I have in there, because you know that “rainy day” that you save for? It’s here.
8. Take It One Storm Cloud at a Time
Speaking of rainy days, Reader Wayne e-mailed this sweet sentiment: “I will continue to pray for you, me, and everyone who has a headful of thunderstorms.”
That’s a great description. A headful of thunderstorms. And just as my TV (some new cable service I can’t get to work right) only posts one day’s weather report, I should too only take it one thunderstorm at a time. When I try to plan out the week, or the month, or the year–when I try my best to look into the crystal ball and say that x is going to happen on y–I have just wasted a chunk of time and have just needlessly thrown my brain into hysteria. Because the whole picture is too overwhelming. I have to break it down into manageable bite-sizes that I can tackle one by one. One-fourth of a problem at a time. Only what’s right there in front of me. Or maybe a half of that. The smallest piece possible. Nothing else. Because everything is going to change anyway. Can meteorologists really predict a storm seven days out? They say yes. I say no. In other words, I wouldn’t plan your outdoor wedding on it.
9. Use Your Cushion
I’ve been manic depressive long enough to know that I should have at least one week’s worth of blog posts in the bank for those days that my brain’s fear system (my amygdala) is hosting a keg party and there’s a massive lay off of brain cells in the hippocampus (the part of the brain that plays a role in emotion and is associated with memory and learning).
Again, because I’m cheap, I absolutely hate to dig into that supply, but the days after my recent relapse I was relieved to have a few days worth of posts that I could use, written during my more productive hours.
10. Remember: It’s Just a Gland
“So how are things going?” David’s pediatrician asked me the other day when I showed up for his six-year well visit.
“For him, great!” I said. “For me, not great.”
I only said this because David’s pediatrician and I chatted at length about anxiety one afternoon, since he and his sons have experienced it. We often discuss how best to help David manage it and how to help David’s mother manage it too.
“Just tell yourself that it’s only a gland acting up … the amygdala in your brain . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about Amy, that’s what I call mine, and right now she’s gotten a hold of some girl Viagra.”
He laughed. I’m sure the other mothers were busy reporting that their kids were excelling at lacrosse and soccer and computer science. But he had a good point. If I think of my anxiety as a gland flaring up, it makes me feel less pathetic and responsible.
11. Go Back to the Couch
After a nine-month reprieve, I think it’s time to head back to therapy. I’m not really sure why counseling helps people so much–or why it’s different from venting to supportive friends–but the evidence is undoubtedly there: that psychotherapy is effective in treating depression. So it’s back the couch I go, damn it.
12. Repeat: This Too Shall Pass
I like calling this place of unease, where I am today, the “Waiting Place” because I know Dr. Seuss was not lying when he wrote (in “Oh, the Places You’ll Go“):
That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright place
where Boom Bands are playing.