Tag Archives: anxiety

5 Ways I Make Depression Help Me


by Lillian Csernica on June 12, 2018

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I am currently suffering a depressive episode. All the problems in my life are magnified. I can’t sleep. When I do, I have nightmares. I have no energy, but life goes on as usual with all the typical daily chaos. Same stress, different day. I just can’t deal with it.

On the subject of tackling some dull, boring, and otherwise loathsome task, some years ago a therapist suggested that I attempt to do said task on a day when I was already swamped with all the bad juju of depression. As she put it, “Why ruin a good day?” That’s a very good point.

With that in mind, I decided that when depression shows up to ruin my day, I’m going to punish depression by using that day to catch up on every task I really hate to do.

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Housework

Changing the bedding — Doing this makes my lower back ache, my sprained knee hurt, and can often result in pulled muscles and the occasional pinched nerve.

Doing the laundry — A necessary evil, one that requires me to haul baskets of dirty and then clean laundry up and down my stairway. Then comes the tedious chore of folding it all and putting it all away.

Scrubbing floors — Bad for my knees, bad for my back, and really bad for my temper.

Clutter busting — I’m not good at throwing things away. Trash, sure. Actual garbage, no problem. When it comes to anything with a sentimental attachment, that gets harder. I’m told that a key piece of the problem with hoarding is that it’s grounded in loss. I’ve had some drastic losses in my life. Maybe that’s one reason why I’m not good at purging my possessions.

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Writing

Just slam it out. Set the timer, keep the pen moving. This is my No Mercy approach to bypassing the Internal Editor. There are days when depression adds a whole other layer of torment to the usual insecurities of writing. Imagine Imposter Syndrome on steroids.

Get messy. Get wild. Tear it all up and start over. This is more fun. The Frat Party/Rock Star/Road Trip method. Trash that metaphorical hotel room. Write all the forbidden thoughts. Screw structure and pace. Let’s write so hard we blow out some windows!

Go Hide Somewhere So I Don’t Happen to Somebody

Coffeehouse — My local Peet’s has become my current Happy Place. I’m in there two or three times a week. The baristas know me. The regulars know me. I’ve met some fascinating people there. I’m out in public, so the pressures and triggers here at home can’t get to me.

Library — Guaranteed peace and quiet, as long as I’m there before school lets out. I love the smell of books. I love the comfort of knowing all those books were written by people who have dealt with the same struggles I’m experiencing.

My room — Aside from the clutter problem (see above), my room is the place where I can go, shut the door, lock the door, and hide. I have a hook on the outside of my door on which I hang signs alerting the rest of the household to my state of mind. Sleeping. Working. Not Now.

OK. Maybe it’s not hiding so much as taking refuge when I just can’t fake being cheerful anymore.

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If the depression is still gaining the upper hand and I’m good for absolutely nothing productive, then I give it up and resort to palliative care:

Watch Action Movies With Lots of Explosions

Deadpool 1 and 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2

True Lies

The Replacement Killers

XXX (The Vin Diesel movie)

 

If you also experience depression, be it that passing sorrow people call “the blues” or full blown Major Depressive Disorder, then I offer you a high five in solidarity. The Big Black Dog is a voracious monster and wants to eat us alive. We can’t let that happen. Talk to somebody. If you write in a notebook, that somebody can be totally imaginary. Use your words. The more you can get out of your own head, escape those quicksand thoughts, the more you can put the Big Black Dog on a leash.

You are not alone. I’m here. I hear you. I see you. We have to stick together on this.

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Filed under bad movies, chocolate, classics, creativity, Depression, Family, Fiction, frustration, housework, Lillian Csernica, neurodiversity, Self-image, therapy, worry, Writing

The One Writing Skill You Must Have


by Lillian Csernica on December 11, 2017

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Here we are in the holiday season. This time of year will stress out anybody, even those people lucky enough to have a “normal” family life. Writers often come from dysfunctional families. Writers often have mental health issues. Put it all together and the holiday season can be quite a gauntlet to run, between day jobs, holiday preparations, family gatherings, and the desperate struggle for time and space write.

My therapist taught me a skill that I will now pass along to you. This skill is designed to buy you the mental and emotional space you need to survive when you find yourself overwhelmed. Your mileage may vary, but give it a try. Three simple words:

Achieve literary distance.

How does one do this? Here’s my method. I always have my tote bag with me. At the moment it contains four notebooks, two manuscripts, one of those zippered pouches for pens, and a few other odds and ends. I take the tote bag everywhere. When life gets too intense, I pull out a notebook and a pen. If I’m stuck in a line, I spot the most interesting people and jot down quick lists of their notable physical and behavioral traits. If I’m in a waiting room, I might write a scene involving two of the people waiting there also.

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The point here is to derail our anxiety by making our trains of thought switch tracks. Becoming consciously more observant puts us into a more objective state of mind. Sometimes what we really need is to get out of our own heads. By calling on the skills that help us achieve literary distance, we can at least get out of the Anxiety Attic and go hang out in the Creativity Corner.  When we deliberately shift our focus outward, we may very well lower our anxiety levels.

I know this works for me. I get all stressed out about being on time, getting everything done according to my To Do list, or I’m all knotted up mentally because of a conflict with a family member.  When I achieve literary distance, that helps me step back, take that deep breath, connect pen to paper, and re-establish a calmer, more flexible state of mind.

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Make this skill work for you. If you like texting ideas on the Notepad function of your phone, go for it. If you need a blank journal with no lines and a few broken crayons, more power to you. If you just want to sit in a comfy spot and take some mental notes along with a few deep breaths, that’s good too.

Writing is our superpower. We can use it to rescue ourselves.

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Filed under Christmas, creativity, Depression, editing, Family, Fiction, frustration, Lillian Csernica, neurodiversity, Special needs, therapy, Writing

The Comfort Zone: Are You In or Out?


by Lillian Csernica on September 5, 2017

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about how writers need to get out of their comfort zones. Apparently better writing is achieved once we leave our comfort zones and venture out into the wild terrain of ideas that scare the daylights out of us.

I’m not talking about horror per se. There are subjects that we all find distressing. The kind of material that people these days label with trigger warnings. Facts and stories and ideas which will hit us where we live, push on old bruises, maybe bring fresh pain to old scars. Such subjects are intensely painful and could be trauma triggers.

A trauma trigger is an experience that causes someone to recall a previous traumatic memory, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic and can be indirectly or superficially reminiscent of an earlier traumatic incident.

(Relevant tangent: If you’re interested in the debate about trigger warnings, I recommend reading The Trigger Warning Myth.)

While I can appreciate the need to test one’s boundaries and stretch one’s literary muscles, I do have two problems with all of these articles urging writers to get out of their comfort zones.

  1. The people giving this advice have no idea what’s outside my comfort zone. I might have some very good reasons for staying in it.
  2. There’s a crucial piece of information missing. Maybe it’s just the debate team in me, but I don’t see anybody defining the term “comfort zone.” (That’s why I keep linking to the definition every single time I use that phrase.) To me the proper starting point is figuring out precisely where our comfort zones begin and end. Once that’s mapped out, we know where to find terra incognita. We can point to the spot that says “Here there be dragons!”

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Time for painful honesty. For years now people have told me I should write about my experiences with my older son Michael. Bed rest in the hospital. The terror of the day he had to be delivered via emergency C-section. Every day and night of the three and a half months he remained in the hospital, coming close to dying time and time again.

Why don’t I write about that? Simple. I’ve been too busy living it. For most of Michael’s twenty-one years on this planet, my husband and I have considered it a good week if no medical emergency forced us to call 911.

Same with John. Sure, I could write about the day he got out the front door while I was changing Michael’s diaper. I had to dash out after him before he made it to the busy street. I tore my right calf muscle doing so. Then I still had to get up and run after him. I wound up in the ER that night, and came home on crutches. That added a whole new layer of difficulty to being primary caregiver for two special needs children.

What’s outside my comfort zone?

Miscarriage. Babies dying. Whether or not to turn off the life support.

Wondering if I’ll ever know the joys of being a grandmother.

Who will look after my boys once I’m dead.

And a few other matters that I’m not ready to talk about to anybody, even myself.

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Yes, I agree that “growing our comfort zones” is a worthwhile goal. I also think people who dish out such advice should be mindful of the dangers of doing so. These are hard times. Telling people to go rummaging around in the darker corners of their psyches for really juicy writing material is not a smart or a responsible thing to do.

For me, getting my own car again was a big step outside my comfort zone. I didn’t drive for years because of a Gordian knot of anxieties surrounding the subject of driving. Now I have a car. Now I drive all the time. Oh look, here I am writing about it!

For once I don’t mean to sound sarcastic. You decide when and if you want to step outside of your comfort zone. You decide just how far, and how often. It’s good to tell the stories that only you can tell. It’s more important to respect your own pain and your own right to privacy. You’ll know when the time is right.

For some excellent thoughts on why there’s nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone, go see what Darius Foroux has to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Naked Truth


by Lillian Csernica on May 17, 2017

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I recently got a phone call that is one of those phone calls you really don’t want to get.

I’d gone in for a mammogram. Not fun, but an important part of keeping ahead of anything that might show up. Went there, did that, got it over with for another year.

Or so I thought.

Got a phone call from the imaging center telling me the doctor there wanted me to come back in for some additional views on my right side. “What does that mean?” I asked. “Is something wrong?”

Never ask the people at the front desk these questions. They don’t know, and they can’t tell you even if they do know.

So I made a follow-up appointment for today. Was I nervous? Hell yes I was nervous.

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The imaging center front office is very cheerful with all the pink items associated with breast cancer awareness. There were a few nervous-looking women in the waiting room along with some very bored men. I’ve been in a lot of medical waiting rooms over the years, some for myself, some for the boys. Rarely have I experienced an atmosphere of everybody trying so hard to ignore the reasons why we were all there.

My turn came, I suited up in the bright pink gown, and the mammogram tech got those images. She took them to the doctor there, who would decide if further imaging would be required.

During that ten minutes or so, I kept myself occupied by telling myself to calm down, to stop imagining horrible outcomes and scaring myself, to have faith.

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Another tech appeared, this one in charge of ultrasound. Yes, the doctor wanted further images. So I followed that tech into the large closet where they do the ultrasound exams. For once the ultrasound goo was not cold. Thank God for small favors.

The ultrasound exam went on and on  and on. Time has no meaning when you’re lying there in whatever position you’re put in, feeling your muscles start to cramp while being too scared to move or say anything for fear of messing up the exam and having to start all over again.

At last those images were complete. That tech went off to show them to the doctor. I did my best to remove all the goo and stay calm while this new level of anxiety jacked up my adrenaline level.

The doctor’s verdict? The mass they’d wanted a closer look at turned out to be nothing more than a water cyst about the size of a small ball bearing.

Thank you, God. It turned out to be nothing, but it might have been something. Now I know and the doctors know and it’s all good for another year.

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(Knee) Joint Ventures


by Lillian Csernica on February 13, 2017

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Finally scheduled the physical therapy for my sprained knee. Here is yet another excellent example of “Be careful what you wish for.”

Those of you who have had physical therapy will know what happens first, especially with a joint problem. The physical therapist (PT) works the joint to see where the mobility issues are and just how serious your discomfort levels may be. In short, you spend the first fifteen minutes being tortured while your PT gets the lay of the land, so to speak.

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My PT explained and demonstrated the exercises she wanted me to do in order to help heal the ligaments and get the knee cap realigned. No problem there. One exercise involves a rolling pin. That one I really must use in a story somewhere.

Now for the weird part. A nice young man wheeled in a machine on par with a fast food cash register that included an ultrasound gadget and one for infra red light. Ultrasound can break up scar tissue. I had no idea. The infra red light promotes healing. Don’t you just love science?

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For me, they brought out the electrodes. One pair above my knee, one pair just below. This is where my anxiety spiked. I know what those kind of electrodes do, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. As much as the tech assured me this procedure was designed to reduce my pain level, I wasn’t buying it. Sure enough, Step One would be “adjusting the level to suit my needs.”

Translation: Finding out how much I could take before my muscles spasmed and I started swearing.

Ever seen Showdown in Little Tokyo? Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and Tia Carrere. WARNING: Our Heroes do start swearing.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

It got even weirder when my PT wrapped my knee in an ice pack. So first it feels like I’ve got all these little needles jabbing me, then the ice pack helped numb the area. Even so, when the tech tinkered with the voltage I freaked out, laughing like a maniac. It TICKLED. Sounds funny? It wasn’t. I kept doubling up, working my non-existent six-pack, laughing until I thought I’d have an asthma attack.

My PT said to the tech, “I think she’ll be low level.” Gosh, ya think so?

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The tech adjusted the voltage, then set the timer for about ten minutes. My PT told me to yell if I needed anything.  Then the tech offered me this silly piece of comfort:

“Now remember, this machine cannot hurt you.”

Really? Tickle torture, muscle spasms, and making it hard to breathe? All that didn’t count as “hurting” me?

I survived the ten minutes without too much discomfort. To be fair, for the rest of the evening my knee did feel better. My PT said she expects to see improvement in six weeks, so I’ve got six more sessions. I confess I’m hoping I can do without the electrodes VERY soon!

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A Personal Glimpse Inside Autism and ADHD


This weekend Withteeth and I went to a writing conference. I haven’t talked about my writing in a while, but it is still something I’m pursuing. However, conferences are incredibly difficult for me. As such, I wanted to write a bit about the struggles with anxiety and how to deal with it both for people […]

via How to Deal With Anxiety — hessianwithteeth

I’d like to express my gratitude to hessianwithteeth for giving us all these insights into such complex and demanding experiences.

It’s so wonderful that people with visible disabilities are gaining recognition and inclusiveness. Life can be even more difficult for people with conditions that can’t be seen from the outside. My own Major Depressive Disorder has been gaining the upper hand these past two weeks, making this issue all the more immediate and important to me.

Remember. You are not alone!

Lillian

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As Jumpy As A Wired Kangaroo


by Lillian Csernica on July 24, 2016

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I really don’t like it when people sneak up on me. I have enough anxiety issues as it is. My son John once crept up behind me, poked me in the ribs, and said, “Boo!” He suddenly found himself staring at the floor with his arm up behind his back. I didn’t do it with much force, but I did it, leaving both of us surprised. I turned him loose and apologized, but I made it clear to John not only is it not polite to sneak up on people, it can be very dangerous.

This also explains why I almost never braid my hair. Every time I’ve ever done so, somebody will come up behind me and yank on my braid like it’s some sort of bell pull. My instincts say I’ve snagged my hair on something, which tends to kick off my fight or flight response due to that time way back when I was four years old and my long hair got caught in a floor fan.  Nothing got cut off, but it took a long time to untangle and it hurt a LOT. What is the deal with this braid-pulling? It’s up there with people being compelled to pat a pregnant woman’s stomach. I don’t care if you “just really had to do it.” Hands off!

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On a recent trip to the local Dollar Tree, I was standing there trying to remember one of the items I’d come to buy. Suddenly, right behind me, a man cleared his throat quite loudly. I shot up into the air as if I’d been stabbed with a hat pin. I jerked around and almost tripped over him. What on earth was he doing that close to me? He made some attempt at courtesy that still didn’t explain why he was standing well within my personal space. I got away from him, and nothing else came of it, so I didn’t feel a need to tell the manager. I remember his face. If I see him again, he will not have another opportunity to sneak up on me.

Tonight I was out buying groceries for the week. Put everything on the moving belt, pushed my cart forward a half step at a time as the line progressed. Out of nowhere there’s a guy leaning over my left shoulder.  Turns out he was a cashier trying to decide which check stand to close next. So what? He could have taken three steps around me and get a better look at the situation! At the very least, a polite “Excuse me” was called for. What is wrong with some people that they just treat others like objects to be ignored or pushed aside?

I’m jumpy to begin with. I will freely admit that.

However, I’ve been given reason to develop a high-strung temperament due to sudden shocks of a physical and auditory nature. That tends to make one prone to being jumpy.

This is a bit of a psychological Moebius strip. Where does one part end and the other begin?

These are tough times. Caution and courtesy should be our watch words. There are a lot of people suffering from PTSD because there’s a hell of a lot of trauma happening, both visible and invisible.

How do your experiences compare? Do you see this kind of disregard for personal space? Let me hear what’s happening to you.

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How NOT to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions


By Lillian Csernica on December 31, 2014

 

 

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day.  Here in the U.S., we have a tradition of making New Year’s resolutions.  I am not fond of this tradition. Last January I explained why.  I think my reasons are worth repeating.  For the benefit of regular readers and those folks I’m happy to count among my new followers, here is a repeat of that blog post:

The tradition of making a New Year’s resolution seems quite virtuous, but the endless jokes about people breaking their resolutions almost immediately shows the tradition is more honored in the breach than in the observance. Why is that so? I believe the New Year’s resolution has become an ugly epilogue to the happy glitter of the holiday season. The process of making and keeping the New Year’s Resolution is the Puritanical demand for the paying of the check, the return to sobriety, responsibility, and practicality. We’ve had our fun, now we have to go back to the dreary grind of everyday living. That we have to do so in the middle of winter sets us up for a psychological climate that is hostile and antithetical to the way human nature tends to cope with a cold, dark, dismal environment.

I know from my own experience that the physical and mental effort involved in taking down the Christmas tree and putting away all the various lights, ornaments, gift wrapping supplies, etc. can leave me and other people in no state of mind to take on some new effort. People need a break. The pressure to create and abide by the almighty New Year’s Resolution starts the New Year off with a guilt trip, which nobody enjoys taking.

Nothing much happens between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. That post-holiday lull creates a psychological environment where one has to work uphill to battle the natural emotional letdown. That makes it twice as hard to maintain enthusiasm and motivation for a new goal, especially a goal centered on self-improvement which also carries a certain element of guilt.

January is a cold, dark, depressing month. It also rains a lot. Hard to stay motivated when all we really want to do is keep warm, stay in bed, and eat comfort food. People who have a normal, healthy outlook on life can find the prospect of upholding their New Year’s Resolution daunting. Those of us with SADD or other mood disorders may find life even harder to struggle through.

For many people, all their financial outlay during the holidays catches up with them, creating a situation of stress, tightening the belt, and potential anxiety. Resolutions regarding one’s spending habits, sticking to a budget, creating a savings plan, etc. might be not just appropriate but necessary. Such resolutions are also at risk for crumbling in the face of the physical and emotional climate.

One of the key principles of Positive Deviance says, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” With that principle in mind, I believe that making New Year’s Resolutions is a process that’s doomed to fail because it hinges on the state of being resolved to do something. That means it’s all centered in the mind, in thought, in the resolution itself, as opposed to being grounded in physical actions that produce immediate tangible results. Instead of dwelling on the idea that I’m going to write one thousand words every day and triggering all the excuses, avoidance behaviors, and other genuine commitments to get in the way, I can just go to my desk at the appointed time, sit down and write. This is where free writing with a pen and notebook comes in very handy. It’s a lot less intimidating than composing at a keyboard and therefore much easier to just start doing.

By simply taking action, I break through the resistance that builds up around the mental component, the resolution itself. There will be the inevitable struggles with competing commitments and outside interruptions, but I know I can get up and walk to my desk. I know I can sit down and pick up my pen. I know I can move my hand across the page. I know I can write for a given amount of time or a given amount of words. I can take those physical actions, and I can do them every day.

A long time ago, I read something in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg that has remained a shining jewel of truth in all conditions of my life. That jewel is a statement made by Ms. Goldberg’s master of Zen Buddhism. He said, “When in doubt, take positive action for the good.” Feeling dejected by the weather and the post-holiday blues? Write those thank-you notes for the gifts you received. Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to make yourself and other people feel better. Showing appreciation is a vital part of healthy relationships. Letting the other person know that you see the effort he or she has made and you value that effort can make all the difference.

The New Year is a time for optimism, for a new outlook and a fresh start. Instead of some huge resolution that weighs like a millstone around our figurative necks, why don’t we just take it one day at a time, doing our best to “take positive action for the good”? There are opportunities everywhere, from the desperate needs of disaster victims to the neighbor who could really use some small act of kindness. By doing so, we can turn the purpose of the New Year’s Resolution, that of self-improvement, into a much broader approach where we do what we can to improve life for everyone around us.

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