Thursday, October 20, 2022

Holy smoke


This week, when my small region of the globe officially took the lead as having THE WORST AIR QUALITY IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, seems like a great time to do a check-in on mental health. 

Holy smoke (pun intended) - I lost it yesterday. I don’t know what came over me exactly, but I found myself suddenly crying, a spontaneous and unexpected onslaught of tears. I felt like I needed to hug someone or talk to someone or be with someone with an intensity I have never experienced. I was equal parts lonely and sad and I just couldn’t deal with being cooped up any longer. 

With such poor air quality outside, I found myself locked indoors, without the option of running off my angst (a guaranteed endorphin boost), or sinking my gloved hands in the earth, my other tried-and-true mood lifter. While I, like the rest of my region, is thirsting for rain to water the earth and put out all the wildfires that are smoking out our beautiful air, I could not handle the weather forecast before me: rain, every day, for as long as my phone was capable of predicting. We need rain. The earth needs a good soak. But endless moisture? Exchanging the darkness of smoke for the darkness of clouds? I lacked the ability at that moment to cope.

It goes without saying that I take the shift from summer to fall a lot harder than most. I love the changing seasons and a clear fall day in the Seattle area is pretty hard to beat, but the dropping temperature brings about a significant shift in how I spend my days. And it gets me every time, and fills me with dread. I go from spending hours outside in the garden to sitting inside and looking out upon the yard in which I toiled, watching it move toward a winter slumber. I transition from making regular bouquets and playing with flowers, to anticipating what the next growing season might bring. Floral requests come to a screeching halt, and its effects are jolting, as sudden as the first frost. Though I am learning to shift my focus toward growing things indoors (pictured above), I miss being outside in the typically-fresh air. 

Midway into the summer, I shared candidly about my struggles with overthinking. And then I almost instantly regretted it, a classic case of vulnerability hangover. If I lost readers, I’ll never know, but what I do know is that many of you so gently reached out to encourage and share your own experiences. This was so powerful. Even though these past few weeks of accumulating smoke are taking a toll on me (hello, sudden eruption of tears yesterday), I actually have been doing relatively well and wanted to share a few celebrations.

I don’t know who might need to read these words this week, but I’ve learned that when I’m feeling something, someone else usually is too. So I wanted to write a little update, in hopes it’s just the snippet of encouragement your ears might need. Since writing that post in July, I have made a whole lot of changes. I started with a new therapist. I changed psychiatrists, in hopes of finding a medication that worked better for me. I started a new medication. I am also changing to a new primary care doctor, as well as seeing an OB GYN who specializes in women’s hormones. I’m doing short, regular runs (minus during this smokiest of weeks, which brings us full circle yet again to that sudden eruption of tears..are we sensing a pattern?) 

While I might not recommend making ALL the changes all at once, I will say that making these moves has been so beneficial for me. I worried about how hard it would be to start with a new therapist and tell my story all over again. This barrier has kept me from making an arguably needed switch for years. In reality, this was almost a nonissue and my new therapist has equipped me with tools and a new angle for addressing my thought life. We have been able to jump in and get to work almost immediately, combating some common unhelpful thinking patterns. The other day I had an intrusive thought pop up and I actually told my husband that I would need to pause life for about five minutes but that I would be mentally present again shortly. While sitting with him at the lunch table, I pulled out my therapy notebook and worked through the problematic thought and was able to reframe it all on my own, before I informed my husband that life could once again proceed. :) A longer term goal perhaps might be that I am able to address these unhelpful thought patterns without pausing life and jotting things down in my notebook, but hey, progress is progress and I’m thrilled. 

Changing to a new psychiatrist has also been so helpful in bringing a fresh perspective. She has asked really great questions that have helped me identify my root challenge. Is it depression? Or OCD/anxiety? It’s kind of like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg, because they are both so interwoven. But determining that intrusive thoughts are my primary challenge (which has led to depression because it’s so dang exhausting to deal with intrusive thoughts all the time), has helped us choose a medication that better treats the symptoms I’m experiencing. She restarted me on the medication that helped me when I was in 8th grade, and, not surprisingly, I’m having positive results once again. 

There’s so much more I could say but in the interest of time, I’ll try and wrap it up here. I would be lying if I said it was easy making the changes I listed above. It took so much mental energy and time to find new providers that both accepted my insurance and who were a good fit for me. It felt like nothing short of a totally unfulfilling way to spend my kids-in-school hours in the short term. But in the long run? That effort is paying off. Movement is movement, and hopefully eventually it will be in the forwards direction.

I also want to say that if you too are looking at the weather forecast and getting that sinking feeling in your gut, I get it 100%. At the recommendation of my doctor, I dusted off my therapy light last night and you’d better believe you’ll be finding me puzzling in front of it in the early hours of the morning as I drink my coffee and tune into my favorite podcasts. It’s a win-win, really: I get to sit still and do something I love for a full 30 minutes. Every day. Doctor’s orders! (I’m pretty sure your doctor would recommend it too). ;)

Lastly, I’ll share this tidbit that my doctor shared with me: sometimes as humans, we just have blue days. When we struggle with things like anxiety or depression, we tend to hyperfocus on categorizing how everything in our lives fits into those diagnoses. But sometimes we might be blue because we haven’t connected with friends in a while. Or because it’s smokey outside. Or because we are spending so much time doing active work in therapy and we just need a little bit of time sharing our feelings. We might need some downtime. Sometimes it could be hormones. Blue days happen. But so do days filled with sunshine.

Until then,


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posted by kelsie