Perception

One of the things mental illness can do is cause you to perceive things incorrectly. You might think someone has said something they haven’t actually said, or assign a meaning to someone’s actions that simply isn’t there.

That’s something I deal with a lot. Because of people I’ve dealt with in my past, and the resulting PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety, sometimes my brain filters someone else’s actions or words through a distorted lens. I hear something in their words that they didn’t say and didn’t mean, or I believe their actions are for a reason that has nothing to do with why they’ve actually acted that way.

This makes communication extremely important for me. I am usually aware when my thoughts are getting away from me and when my perception is off. In those moments, I can choose to continue with the incorrect perception, and let my thoughts spiral into darkness, or I can choose to go to the other person and say, “I think I’m perceiving this wrong. Can we clarify what you meant?”

That isn’t always an easy choice to make. Sometimes my belief about what the other person has said or done is so strong that my emotions take over. I might be too angry to try talking to them, or might not be able to get the words together. Sometimes I’m afraid to ask for clarification because I worry that the other person will be angry with me for having an incorrect perception. But under the emotions, I know that the only way to resolve the situation is to speak up.

Misperceptions are going to happen. To be honest, I think it’s part of being human, regardless of whether mental illness is a factor. Learning to recognize when you might be perceiving something incorrectly, and learning to communicate and clarify the situation, might not be easy, but it’s important.

Giving Yourself Time

For over a month now, I’ve been having a tough time getting past my mental roadblocks. Even knowing as many ways as I do to conquer those roadblocks, and even getting advice and suggestions from friends and coaches, I’ve had trouble shaking the blocks.

For a while, I tried forcing my way through. I sat here at my computer writing stories, blog posts, and articles, but my heart wasn’t in them and so neither was my effort. Mostly, they were poorly written, and sometimes I was convinced I wasn’t saying anything anyone would want to read anyway.

When you have depression, as I do, it really gets in the way of anything resembling living. I felt like I was in a deep pit with no way out, and at times I wasn’t sure I wanted to find the way out. That darkness and lack of much of anything eclipsed the part of me that cares and wants to be better.

To some reading this, that probably sounds like a cop-out. A lot of people believe that all you have to do to get past depression is decide you’re going to get past it. To some extent, that might be true. For example, on the days when all I want to do is hide in bed, I still manage to get up, shower, and put on actual clothes that I could wear out of the house. I don’t always make it out of the house, but I could if I chose.

But depression is an illness, and as with all illnesses, overcoming it isn’t only a matter of wanting to. It isn’t just a matter of getting off your butt and going for a walk in the woods or on the beach, at least not for all of us. It’s a lot of effort, and sometimes just making that effort is so exhausting you can’t do anything else.

Because I was struggling so much, and because it was affecting my work, I chose to step back for a while. I stopped worrying about doing blog posts and social media. I didn’t write any articles or do any Facebook Live videos. I needed to go into hibernation mode until my mind and body were ready to come out of it.

As I write this, I’m looking out the window at sunshine and a bright blue sky. And way more snow on the ground than there ought to be when tomorrow’s the first day of spring. This is the second blog post I’ve written today. For the first time in over a month, I’m feeling hopeful and positive, and I want to do things. I’m coming out of the self-imposed hibernation and starting to live and work again.

I’m not going to get down on myself for needing that time to regroup. I think most people, regardless of mental health, have times when they just need to step back and take care of themselves. The past month or so has been one of those times for me. And that’s okay.

Why Meditation Isn’t For Everyone

Meditation is probably one of the most recommended ways to relax and clear one’s mind. There are a number of different techniques and methods, and a number of different reasons for using them.

But meditation doesn’t work for everyone. For me, sometimes it backfires completely. Instead of feeling calm and relaxed, it leaves me feeling angry and anxious. I know other people, most of whom have PTSD or a mental illness, who experience the same reaction.

That doesn’t mean meditation is a bad thing. It definitely is beneficial for some people. Even for me, there are times when it does serve to calm me down and help me focus better. And different forms of meditation might work better for some people than others. For example, some people refer to yoga as “moving meditation,” and yoga is something that might work for those who have difficulty with other forms of meditation.

It’s easy to tell people to meditate on certain questions or problems, or to make daily meditation part of their self-care routine. But sometimes the easy advice isn’t the best. Meditation can be more harmful than beneficial to some people depending on their needs and conditions. If it works for you, that’s great, but please remember not everyone will gain benefit from it.

Medication

I take several medications every day. And I’ve had several people tell me I shouldn’t take them.

I understand that some people are severely overmedicated nowadays, and sometimes medications have side effects that are worse than whatever they’re supposed to treat. For some people, not taking medication would be right move.

But not all alternative treatments work for everyone, and some don’t work at all, just as not all medications work for everyone. In my opinion, unless you’re a medical professional (including holistic medicine, depending on training) of some kind, it isn’t your place to tell someone else they should or shouldn’t be taking a certain medication or following a certain treatment plan. By all means, at least if asked, tell others what works for you, but don’t tell them that *they* have to do something just because it does work for you.

It’s even more unfair to shame someone for taking medication that, for all you know, might be saving their life. I have severe depression, and I take antidepressants. I have tried other means of managing and treating the depression. They did not work, and in one case nearly landed me in the hospital. The medication I take works, and I can honestly say that it helps keep me alive.

Whatever works for you in treating medical conditions is fine, but please don’t take it on yourself to tell someone else they’re wrong about what works for them. That goes for people who are on medications as well; medication might work for you, but that doesn’t mean other people don’t successfully manage or treat their conditions with other methods, and that’s okay too.

Depression and Loneliness

It’s a sad fact that one of the things depression does, at least for some of us who have it, is to convince us that we’re completely alone. That we have no friends, and our families only care about us because they have to, since they’re our families. That happens to me pretty much every time the “depression demons” decide to rear their ugly heads.

The problem is that I don’t really have a social life at the best of times. For a few reasons, I don’t feel that I can invite anyone to my apartment, especially when my husband’s at home. Depression tries to tell me that no one ever invites me to their homes, but that isn’t actually true. The truth is that on occasion, someone does, but then schedules don’t work out or weather or other factors interfere. So even when I’m not depressed, I do sometimes feel lonely. I just deal with it a lot better when depression is leaving me alone.

It’s an even sadder fact that sometimes when depression kicks in, my first instinct is to isolate myself. In other words, have even less contact with other human beings than I do generally. The line of thought goes something like, “Supposedly I have friends, but no one invites me anywhere, so what’s the point of having friends? I should just cut everyone out of my life, and then I’ll be lonely and miserable but at least it’ll be my choice.”

It’s important to note that line of thought comes from the *depression*. It is incorrect thinking and incorrect perception, which I am aware of even at the time I’m thinking it, but that’s what depression does. It warps your view of reality to the worst possible scenarios, and even when you know you’re not perceiving things correctly, depression digs in its claws and tries to keep you from seeing it any other way.

The reality is that I do have a small group of friends. If I were to invite any of them over, they would likely come. If I gave any of them an indication that I’d like to see them for coffee, or that I’d be happy with an invitation to their homes, we would likely get together. If I isolate myself, of course those things aren’t going to happen.

If I isolate myself, depression wins, because I would be lonely and miserable more of the time. And every day when I get out of bed, I renew the decision not to let depression win.

Emotions

Emotions can be tricky things. Sometimes they seem to just sneak up on us, suddenly and without warning, and we go from zero to sixty in a second flat. That happens to me sometimes, especially with emotions like fear and anger. I don’t know they’re on the way, but suddenly they’re there, complete with racing thoughts and a running mouth I can’t seem to stop.

But the thing is, I *can* stop the thoughts and the words. I can stop any actions I might be on the verge of.

What I can’t stop are the emotions themselves. Believe me, I’ve tried. And the harder I try to make that anger or fear go away, the more stubborn they become. It’s like the concept of not thinking about the pink elephant. Now that I’ve brought that up, just try to stop thinking about pink elephants. At all. No thoughts of them. None.

See how difficult that can be?

One of the more useful things I’ve learned about emotions is to stop identifying myself *as* the emotion, and instead identify the emotion as something I have. For example, instead of “I’m angry,” saying “I feel angry” helps to separate me from that emotion, which can help the emotion fade sooner. It also prevents me from condemning myself for feeling it at all, which brings me to the second point.

Many of us are taught that feeling certain emotions is just plain not acceptable. You can’t feel anger. You shouldn’t feel afraid. And so on. So we learn to fight those emotions, or suppress them, or pretend they don’t exist at all.

Instead, I believe we need to learn to accept them, and more importantly, accept ourselves for feeling them. I’m not a bad person because I sometimes feel angry, or jealous, or afraid. I’m a human being, and most human beings experience a huge range of emotions in their lives. And that’s perfectly okay.

Anything you feel is okay. It’s what you do in response to feeling that way that matters. So be kind to yourself when you feel a negative emotion. Accept it. Even thank the emotion for what it’s bringing you, or for trying to protect you. And then move on.