I haven’t posted in so long with the combination of a newer demanding job, the chaos of a global pandemic and sometimes being stuck in my own head and not able to verbalize it all externally. I was able to write some guest blog posts and a story for The Better Because Project that was published last year relating my mental health journey to the Japanese art of Kintsukuroi.
This morning after an especially challenging start to the year I was inspired to share my struggles, because I know it always helps me to know others are struggling and working to overcome it all as well and that I’m not alone. I wish no one had to face these struggles, but it can help to know that others are sharing in the weight of the burden.
Many of you know me personally or have read my history and intimate relationship with bipolar disorder. Although I have not had a life quaking episode in over 7 years, and have incredible support from my significant other, family and friends, a full tool belt (and arsenal!!) of coping strategies, assist with and attend a DBSA peer support group and other online mental health groups, and a long term therapist that I can call as needed, I still have symptoms that can be challenging to overcome.
The darkest and coldest months of winter often reflect in my mood. After time off at the holidays, with no early morning alarms for the adults or kiddos and no set schedule besides fun activities and another long year of now known coronavirus uncertainty facing us, it was very tough for me to get back into the swing of things. We have a blended family of 6 kids (and a dog!) all in various stages of in person and fully virtual schooling. We had Christmas gifts that the kids wanted front and center to be played with regularly all over the living room – a Barbie camper van with accessories and dolls, art supplies (and many carefully crafted amazing works of art!), a VR headset, and the list goes on… An air fryer that we love but didn’t have a home yet because we couldn’t figure out which counter could be cleared for it to fit! Organizing STUFF is not my forte and it has been everywhere!!
I work in sales as a Regional Manager growing the East Coast business at a “small giant” technology consulting company. We’re small but mighty and growing quickly and strategically! We take on incredibly complex, large scale, innovative projects that solve real life problems for our customers. We even solved coronavirus related challenges with test scheduling, meals for those that are isolated, supporting emergency response apps for free for our customers and now vaccine management and scheduling! I am proud of our company! But It feels like there are a thousand moving parts every day with customers, internal conversations to tackle and overcome the challenges that face us and our customers, SOWs and RFPs, countless Zoom meetings, virtual events and follow up that just aren’t the same as our in person events…
I made a career change almost 2 years ago and it’s been incredibly challenging and rewarding but it can also be overwhelming at times. After 15 years in the same career I can sometimes feel like a fish out of water – or maybe an adult fish that’s just learning to swim while many others have been in the ecosystem for years.
Often in winter, each morning when I wake I face sadness and overwhelm. Nothing in life has changed since the holiday. I had a wonderfully successful year at work. Chris is still beside me supporting me in this happy chaos life we treasure. The kids have their struggles and arguments, but also such fun moments where we’re laughing our heads off, playing games, snuggling and being silly together. Coronavirus has been here affecting us and our external interactions since last March. We all have to remind each other to grab masks at the door and our external activities are limited. The fear and the uncertainty float in the background of our days. But the weight of the depression, anxiety and seasonal affective disorder (aptly acronym’d SAD) has changed my perception of those realities. Everything that felt like a LOT but manageable just a few weeks before now feels daunting, overwhelming and impossible and I feel utterly inadequate to tackle it all every day. Nothing changed. We still have the same struggles and joys on our plate, but how I FEEL each morning is much more daunting.
During these challenging days, I often don’t sleep as well with noises waking me up more easily or anxieties storming in my head breaking through my slumber and not allowing me to quickly and peacefully fall back to sleep. When I wake before my alarm, I swallow, HARD, and work to keep down the heavy oppressive feeling. A combination of winter post nasal drip from my chronic sinus challenges and anxiety can cause nausea in the morning on top of everything else going on in my head!
I focus on my gratitude practice. I snuggle into Chris and know the love that is there. I know I have countless things to be grateful for and I think through each precious item on my list. And logically I’m incredibly grateful but the feeling I felt just a few weeks ago is now flat. I don’t feel the gratitude welling up and making my soul smile. It’s now a logical, coping strategy to survive the day. I practice deep breathing exercises and sometimes pick a mantra to try to focus my mind.
Then the alarm goes off and now I really have to put the work in to get myself moving. This month I started using a SAD therapy light again for 15 minutes every morning. I’ve been walking in our amazing woods or doing yoga every weekday morning. We have a fun 10 week challenge at work to encourage each other and each week they present a healthy focus challenge for movement, food and hydration, or our minds and we share our progress and struggles! The scale is finally moving in the right direction for me!!
When my dark cloud is with me, my chronic pain levels that are in my back, hip and shoulder that are ever present generally flare up and the pain is harder to manage. I stretch, I roll out the countless knots and use myofascial release points. When it’s unbearable Chris helps with the knots in my legs, back and neck, but it puts a burden on him and it’s a lot of work! I’ve tried countless specialists and each has helped to some extent, but the pain is still there, my closest friend that I never wanted to be best buddies with every frigging day!!
I’ve been keeping an eye on emails and my calendar since I’ve woken up. I get a quick shower (on the days that there’s time and no unforeseen issues with the dog or the kids getting up or our well water thorn in our side. Quarantine life right??) I’ve been focusing on making sure I eat something small and nourishing for breakfast vs just grabbing coffee, not eating much throughout the day and eating way too much for dinner and snacks at night. That shift to eating nothing after dinner or a very small select treat has definitely been part of the scale direction change. Moving every day and healthier meals that Chris has been cooking and experimenting with in our new air fryer have all been instrumental!
I tackle the day with calls to prospects and customers, and filled with running from one Zoom meeting to the next with my sales smile pasted on my face while also tackling, emails, proposals and SOWs, negotiations, problem solving, presentations… The days feels longer and more overwhelming, but they’re the same days I faced before the holiday! I work to make sure this depression struggle isn’t painted across my face. The mask is on securely. I can open up to one to two coworkers when I’m having an extra tough day and I’m very grateful for that support. But a depression struggle certainly has no place on an intro sales call!!!
I sneak in quick hugs to Chris and the kids and Tony (our rascally dog) when I have breaks between calls. I can take some trainings or presentations that I’m just listening to out by the fire. Chris handles prepping for buses and Zoom calls and seesaw jobs and questions for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and the countless other questions and needs kiddos have throughout a day. He tackles the dishes and the grocery shopping. He takes on the extra weight when these especially tough days are on us.
We make it through the day! Any other time but winter’s dark short days, we can take a walk in our woods after work. But now, it’s a rare occasion to be able to get out before the darkness settles in unless an end of the day call reschedules. I usually love playing games with the kids or watching silly shows and that love is still there! But the actual feeling now feels more like an obligation. They need me to be their Mom (or their Laura). They still have fun but I have to work to stay in the moment and enjoy the activity.
We tackle the tasks of the evening and Chris and I generally fit in some time to hang out and talk, play some Tetris (the new one is awesome!) or watch a show. The weight isn’t as heavy at night and I have hope that the next morning will be lighter and “normal” but know that it’s generally a few challenging weeks before the light at the end of the tunnel arrived in all it’s glory and I’m pulling out of this darker time.
A big difference between more recent, shorter depressive episodes and the more debilitating depression from my thankfully more distant past, is that I do KNOW that this won’t last forever. I know I have the tools and support I need to get through this time. It still sucks plain and simple. It is still hard to not FEEL the joy in my soul as deeply and not feel the welling up of emotions, and not FEEL my soul smiling from this amazing gift of life we each have as I normally can. But I know I’ll get back there.
My middle sister moved back to the area in August and it’s been an invaluable gift to have her and their family close by. We love spending time with couples date nights and just laughing and the kids adore playing with their cousins. We’ve been scheduling a weekend family walk with them and my parents and that certainly helps take the edge off the sadness. My youngest sister had a baby in October and we were reveling in all his adorableness and so many amazing baby milestones and time with their family, but they drove down to Florida to get their warmth and sunshine in and get away from the cold, dark and extra isolation due to covid this year! We miss them so much but we’re able to talk and do video calls. I was able to visit with my mom yesterday (who also happens to be one of the most amazing social workers, therapists and humans that I know) and talking through the challenges and things I had overcome over the years and some struggles in our own relationship that we had gotten through together was a huge help.
Life no longer stops due to my depression, anxiety and seasonal affective disorder. I try to be transparent that it is HARD though. If you’re struggling with a mental health challenge, with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or extra overwhelm that’s due to this upside down world we’re living in due to this global pandemic, I want you to know that you are not alone in this. Please reach out if you just need someone to listen to your struggles who truly “gets it.”
I really love great motivational quotes that really spark an ah ha moment or fire up some deep inner inspiration. But when I’m feeling down they often feel trite and it feels that they miss how challenging mental health struggles can be. I can use my coping strategies to get through the day, yes. But did all the feelings of overwhelm fall away because I thought positive, practiced gratitude, focused on the small joys, fit in hugs and laughs, walked, practiced yoga and breathed deeply? No. They have their time and their place but just slinging them at someone struggling with depression can definitely fall into the realm of toxic positivity.
This quote is one that has held true and that I hold onto on my toughest days to get me through and I’ll leave you with it and with the hope that you may not feel but that I know is there. If you can hold on, use your coping strategies, ask for support, talk to your therapist or doctor, journal or talk through your challenges to release some of the storm in your head, get some movement and self care in, be self aware of your feelings and validate them and process them vs stuffing them down… It will get better. There will be brighter days that the weight of the world isn’t heavy in your stomach and crushing your chest. You will have a day that you wake up feeling “normal” and able to tackle the day ahead and feeling the gratitude and joy of a new day and what adventures and human connections may await you. I’m sending all my love, compassion, understanding and hope to anyone struggling right now. Keep holding on and surviving so that when things shift you can get back to thriving. Hold on one more day, one day at a time and it will get better. Your unique light and gifts are needed in this world!