I got diagnosed with chronic migraines in 2009. It didn’t really occur to me that my depression could be worsened because of them until 2018. I was staying at a crisis shelter and my dad came to take me out on a walk. I was talking about my migraines and he just said “well no wonder you’re so depressed! Anyone would be if they were in pain everyday.” 

And I was like …duh, that makes sense. 🤯

I mean I knew the effect of chronic pain on mental health. But I hadn’t learned that information until years of already being used to my pain. So I didn’t apply that knowledge to myself for some reason? I’m not sure why either. I also downplay them a lot; I usually just call them headaches. But they are much more than that. Health Line has a great article on deciphering migraines from headaches, it’s here.

I experience migraines symtoms everyday. Right now, maybe 15-20 days out of a month. Usually it’s more than that (thanks Botox!). I still experience migraine symptoms everyday. Yeah, that’s not a typo. Every. Single. Damned. Day. My migraines always take form in pain in or behind an eye, seeing spots or blurry vision, being irritable, and pain in my temples. I also experience nausea, light sensitivity, smell sensitivity, eye lids swelling and aura. Sometimes I get just aura and no pain. It’s something called a silent migraine. It’s no where near as painful but it still puts me in an awful mood and I get a weird taste in my mouth which is very annoying.

 Here’s a really recent picture of me with a migraine. Minimal eye swelling but this is after my daith piercing. Since getting it, my migraines have been less intense, less frequent and less swollen. Here’s a really recent picture of me with a migraine. Minimal eye swelling but this is after my daith piercing. Since getting it, my migraines have been less intense, less frequent and less swollen.

 

 And here’s a really awesome and super flattering picture of what a migraine usually does to my eyes. It’s painful, it’s blurry. I usually hide it with glasses. My swollen eyes like hot compresses and frozen spoons. And here’s a really awesome and super flattering picture of what a migraine usually does to my eyes. It’s painful, it’s blurry. I usually hide it with glasses. My swollen eyes like hot compresses and frozen spoons.

The most well-known characteristic of migraine with aura is the bright light. For me, it’s like someone is shining a flashlight in my left eye. It also feels like awful brain fuzz. Sometimes, I question my sobriety (I’m like, “did I smoke some pot then get high and forget I smoked?”) It’s just an aura migraine. It can also feel like tingles or numbness in fingers/face or having an unusual sense of smell, taste or cravings. With my aura, I experience sensation that makes my eyes feel large, heavy, swollen and drooping. It always feels like my eyeball is on my cheek. Also, I get a weird taste in my mouth. It tastes like when you’re dehydrated… I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s an awful taste and it drives me crazy and makes me self conscious of my breath. 

This past year, I’ve really tried to notice how everything impacts my mood, including my migraines, and I’ve noticed that I do have a mood shift just before I get a migraine. I get very irritable and cranky, I crave a coffee, I feel destructive. It always comes out of nowhere and I never know why I suddenly feel like this. 

Longest Streak

My longest migraine streak was 42 days, until my longest migraine ever happened in June 2018. I was actively tracking it at this point for my neurologist in hopes of getting coverage for botox. I stopped counting after 65 days. It was probably somewhere around 70. Maybe a little lower, maybe higher? I couldn’t bare to keep counting after that; it just felt pointless. At least it coincided with when I had to prove migraine severity, ugh. 

During this approximate 2 straight months of pain, my vision was blurry, I was getting auras once to twice a week. In fact, it impacted my vision so much that I do need glasses now. I should wear them full time. 

The Worst

My worst migraine started in my sleep (2009). I was crying from pain before I woke up. Then I woke up and experienced my most intense migraine pain still to date. It happened at a time when I was abusing over-the-counter pain killers so my mom had banned them in the house (rightfully). This migraine felt like one of those old school spy movies where they have to get through a room of lasers without getting burnt by them…  except all the lasers were going through my brain. I woke my mom up in the middle of the night crying, so I scared her and she called emergency. It was the worst pain I’ve experienced in my life. 

 Like this, except the box is my brain. Like this, except the box is my brain.

Triggers 

The list of migraine triggers in honestly horrifyingly long. Way too long. And I wanna say I’ve got maybe 80% of them? But some of them include: 

  • Lights. Different lights in a room (warm vs cool), high beams, flashing lights, anything bright really. 

  • Lack of food 

  • Lack of sleep 

  • Certain foods. Anything fermented or aged (cheese, soy sauce), chocolate, spicy foods

  • Red wine, some teas. Anything with tannins. 

  • Stress 

  • Hormonal changes

  • Weather changes and barometric pressure

     

What I’ve tried 

Over almost 11 years of living with chronic migraines, I’ve tried a lot of different preventative methods and treatments for migraines. It’s impossible to remember all of the meds I took spanning 11 years. Though, I do remember  amitriptyline (elavil) was the first preventative med I ever tried. I was on this one for quite some time until I started to feel that it was making me more depressed (which sucks cause it’s an anti-depressant) so I had to come off it. I’ve also tried Topiramate (topamax), propanolol, atenolol, and cymbalta as preventative medications. None worked. The propranolol (blood pressure medication) worked briefly (like 2 weeks) and then my head started feeling like my brain was swelling.

I’ve tried a few of the Triptans – Imitrex and Maxalt being two – triptans have NEVER worked for me. I’m not sure why, but none of these guys ever does it. Plus, they were awful little wafers that dissolved on your tongue and they were absolutely naaaasty. The only thing to get that taste out is to eat so much peanut butter that you almost choke on it. 

Another thing that tasted like utter trash was Cambia. This was a powder that I’d have to dissolve in a small cup of water then chug. It tasted like black liquorice. Gross. It was more effective than the triptans, though only if I caught the migraine right from the start. Sometimes a migraine just hits me already full blown and, at that point, there is nothing left to do but accept defeat. 

Other things that I have tried: 

  • Peppermint and other essential oils. I’m obsessed with essential oils but they work on headaches, not so much migraines. Although, sometimes the peppermint burning sensation still feels nice… so I definitely will continue to use them.

  • Getting an eyeglasses prescription. This was the first thing that was recommended to me when I was 16 years old. So I went to get my eyes checked. Perfect vision but got glasses for reading and computer related activities. (Now I need them more but… more on that later)

  • I have been with my neurologist, the absolute best and HBIC in my Hamilton, for about 7 years. I started receiving Botox treatments for my head in 2018. It honestly was great. Once I got accepted, I was able to do 3 sessions (9 months) and then I really started noticing a decline in the frequency and intensity of my migraines for the first two months after my session. The last month (third) before my next session always still killed. I was getting 15-20 migraines that month. 

  • In 2018, I came across a dentist that specialized in migraine related dentistry procedures. So, of course, I tried it. I underwent a teeth/jaw realignment procedure. This was about a few weeks before my first botox session. And it helped quite a bit. Maybe it was combo of the two.

  • I’ve tried a nerve block needle. Essentially, this is an injection that targets the specific area and tries to shut off the pain receptors. So, since mine was a migraine, I got that awesome needle in the back of my head. It did not help. I continued to have that migraine for several weeks. 

  • I used to have 2 coworkers that swore by Magnesium supplements. I’ve tried it but honestly I didn’t notice a difference. They, however, would take a magnesium supplement if they felt a migraine coming and it’d go away. But they said you needed to build it up in your body or something? I don’t know. I tried it though. 

  • Caffeine. It does the trick for a headache, sure, but not a migraine. Not for me, anyway.

  • Getting a massage. I carry a lot of my stress in my neck and shoulders. Because of that, it pulls on my head and I experience tension migraines. I have tried getting a professional massage. But they warn you sometimes that massages can cause migraines… and in my case, it did. 

What’s working for me right now

  • Daith piercing. Luckily, I work at a tattoo and piercing studio right now and my boss knows the right spot to pierce. She did it one day when I was complaining of a 10 day migraine. She said “give me that ear, girl!” So I did what the boss lady said. And honestly, as soon as the needle went through, I felt such an immense relief of pressure in my head and I was stunned at how well it worked. Of course, it hurt again once the earring became sore during healing but afterwards, it absolutely helps. It has decreased my frequency and intensity of migraines. I got this pierced in October 2019, two weeks before my botox appointment. That appointment got cancelled and my neurologist is still fighting it. But my migraines, without botox, with this piercing, have been manageable. I highly recommend. Read about from Health Line.

  • During an attack, my new prescription for morphine sometimes (about 50%) of the time work.

  • CBD. I haven’t worked out exactly how much (mg) works for me but if I take enough CBD edibles, I’m good. Or even CBD drops in my coffee. 

  • Smoking good old marijuana. 

     

I radically accepted that I would live in pain for the rest of my life a long, long time ago. Accepting it has been a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, mentally. I no longer stress about my migraines. I just expect them and plan for them; I keep my pain killers on me at all times. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect my mental health—it totally does. If I’m bed-ridden because of a migraine attack, I’m a little bit more depressed and sometimes I feel like I just want to end it all. But I’ve learned that pain can’t kill you and I’ve survived every migraine attack I’ve ever experienced. Reminding myself of that has kept me going strong all these years.

What’s your go-to method for dealing with or managing a migraine? Leave your tips in the comments below. Cause I’m willing to try anything.

If you want to skip this part to get straight to Sleep Hygiene, scroll down. I don’t blame you. But if you want to know more about my experience, then keep on reading, friends!

I have a very problematic relationship with sleep. I always have. I have memories of being four years old and watching the clock all. night. long. I didn’t understand why. My parents didn’t understand why. But back more than 20 years ago, from a very Portuguese household… we didn’t really go to the doctor unless it was an emergency. And this was not an emergency. My parents figured that I was acting up or playing too many games and that when I was very tired, I’d eventually sleep. Like a regular person would. But I can’t sleep. It’s one of the most basic human survival instincts and I can’t do it. 

I have some sleep disorders in my family though. My dad also has insomnia and has been known to sleep walk. A maternal aunt has night terrors. So really, I’m thankful I just have insomnia. Perspective.

 I’m not going over causes in this blog, but if you’re curious about why you’re experiencing insomnia,  click here . This is a great quick read for some more information.
I’m not going over causes in this blog, but if you’re curious about why you’re experiencing insomnia, click here . This is a great quick read for some more information.

Until I was about 8 years old, I would try to sleep and fail. Sleeping gave me anxiety (it still does) but it would turn into thoughts of “oh my gosh, someone is going to break in a kidnap me” or “the house is gonna burn down” and then I’d go to my parents bed and toss and turn, keeping them up. For my 8th birthday, I got a tv. One of those tiny 10 inch box tvs from back in the day, it was awesome. Instead of running to my parents room in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, I’d watch some tv. Mostly infomercials, but it kept my brain from having anxiety over sleep. 

Sometimes I’d go days without sleep. I had a bad episode when I was 16. I hadn’t slept in about 6 days, maybe I got a total of 4 hours over those 6 days. I had to go to school though, obviously. So, it’s second period (history) and about 5 mins in, I passed right out. Hit my face off the desk and everything. Bless my teacher, she knew I had issues and she let me sleep but I was so knocked out that I slept through third period. I had gone to the doctors about this but since I was under 18, she didn’t want me on sleeping pills. Which is fair enough, they’re highly addictive. 

When I was 16, I started smoking marijuana. I didn’t get my first high until I was 17 though, when I learned to properly inhale. And let me tell you, I freakin’ slept! I had good sleep for the first time in my life. For about a year and a half, I went to bed early and woke up early and felt rested AF. But then I started university, lost my weed hookup and stopped sleeping again. It affected my performance at uni. So, again, I went to my doctor to ask for help. 

As soon as she asked me what was going on with my sleep, I burst into tears. I couldn’t help it; I felt hopeless and tired and drained. My brain was fuzzy, I couldn’t concentrate. I wanted to fight everyone, especially my profs. I cried and cried. And I finally got a prescription for Zopiclone at 19 years old. 

I’m still on this prescription to this day (I’m 26 now) and I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. It’s worked great for me and then it’s stopped working entirely. I’ve abused them, I’ve given them away. I’ve taken breaks from it and tried other meds (Trazodone, Seroquel, various tranquilizers) but none of them worked for me so I always went back to it. When I first started taking it, it used to make me black out (which is fine for getting to sleep I guess). Obviously, I’ve built up a tolerance to them. They do not affect me like that anymore. They don’t even put me to sleep anymore. I use them to keep me asleep but I smoke weed every night cause that’s what puts me to sleep. I need to be pretty heavily drugged up to get to sleep.

I am ashamed to admit this: if there is ever so much a *threat* that I can’t get my Zopiclone (if my doctor doesn’t fax it or if my pharmacy slacks a bit) I go nuts. Absolutely nuts. I get into a panic and my thoughts turn irrational. During these episodes, I think that someone is restricting them on purpose. Recently, the pharmacy kept fucking it up so it wasn’t filled and couldn’t be. I would yell at them on the phone and in person. On the off chance that my doctor screwed it up, I’d yell at her too. In the events that I wasn’t able to get them, I would drive to a 24hr pharmacy and buy whatever over-the-counter sleeping pills they had (not that they worked), grabbed some NyQuil and NeoCitran just to get some sleep. I hate doing that though, it makes me feel very shameful. Unfortunately, I am very addicted to this sleeping pill and it makes me act in a way that makes me carry a lot of shame, if I’m being honest. (To be fair though, it was happening every month for 5 months!) 


So how do I sleep? Lately, I don’t. But I have a strict sleep hygiene protocol that I used to follow religiously. They were like my ten commandments. I’ve fallen off the habit but I’m hoping this blog post motivates me to get back on track. 

Sleep Hygiene

 Mariah Aro Sharp @mightymooseart
Mariah Aro Sharp @mightymooseart

How do you know if you need to practice better sleep hygiene? Well, honestly, everyone would benefit from healthy sleep hygiene practices! But if you find that you’re having a hard tine sleeping or staying asleep, if you’re waking up feeling unrested or having sleep-related anxiety (“oh man, how am I gonna sleep?”), you should probably follow a few sleep hygiene practices. 

There is no real order of importance when it comes to sleep hygiene; some things will work better for other people, obviously. We’re all so different. But I’m ordering it in importance to me. 

  1. Make sure your room is comfortable.

Ideally, your room should be dark, cool and clean. According to many researchers, a clean and organized room promotes calmness in the mind. I know this to be very true for myself. If my room is messy, I can’t organize thoughts in my mind. Likewise, if I’m getting stressed or depressed, one of my biggest tells is my room is messy. Keeping it clean and organized, keeps the mind from jumping to anxiety and keeps it calm (which is obviously what you want for sleep). 

People will, of course, vary on how much light they want in their room. Again, make sure it’s comfortable for you. If you are afraid of the dark, having complete darkness might trigger anxious feelings. Soft lights are okay. Bright white (blue, cold) lights keep you awake. If you need a light, get a soft, warm (orangey) for some illumination. I have 3 lights in my room. A sun light, a main light and a night time light. At a certain time, my main light turns off and the night lamp gets turned on. Personally, I love the dark. When I buy a digital clock, I make sure it has brightness settings and I set that shit to the lowest possible brightness. I have black out curtains. I love the dark. 

Temperature. I think everyone knows that the science points to having a cool room. Between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit (15-18 degrees Celsius). For most people, this is true. Having a colder room helps your body regulate its temperature during your sleep cycle, keeping you asleep. I call bullshit, lol. At least for me. I like it hot. I find that when I’m cold, I wake up constantly. I like having my heater at 27 degree Celsius (80°F). 

2. Your bed should have limited, designated activities. 

By this, I mean sleep and sex. That’s it. Do not watch tv in bed. Do not do homework in bed. Do not lay in bed awake all day. Unless you’re sick or dealing with some chronic pain, don’t stay in bed. When I lived on my own, I used to rent out a 2 bedroom basement apartment. One room was my bedroom, one was my living room. I spent all day in my living room and only went to my bedroom to sleep. At my mom’s house, I had two bedrooms. One for sleep, one for being awake. I understand that not everyone can have that kind of set up though. Right now, I spend all day in my bedroom. I try to spend my day on my couch and save my bed for sleep and sex. But it’s definitely affecting my sleep. Ugh. 

3. Watch what you eat and drink!

It’s best to eat a good dinner a few hours before bed. When your body is digesting food, it’s being active and awake. That makes it harder to get to sleep. Even if eating a large meal makes you feel sleepy, it ends up disrupting part of your REM cycle and that’s the most important part of sleep. You should also avoid very sugary and rich foods before bed (like chocolate and gummies). The most obvious thing to avoid? Caffeine. Lately, I’ve been doing a very bad job on this. All around. I smoke mj at night and get the munchies and eat in bed while falling asleep. And I’ve been drinking more coffee than I ever have in my life. I used to have a strict rule of one medium coffee a day before 3pm. If I realized at 2:59pm that I hadn’t had a coffee yet, I skipped coffee for the day. I took it very seriously and I’m trying to cut down on my intake currently. 

Alcohol also disrupts sleep. That seems weird to say because being drunk makes it easy to sleep. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never used alcohol medicinally to sleep. But, like a heavy meal, it ends up disrupting your REM cycle. I don’t know about you, but every time I drink I wake up unrested and, like, stupid early. 

4. No Naps. 

I already know this is going to be the least favourite tip. But I live by this. I’ve been under strict doctors order for about 7 years to not nap. Not that I can anyway, since I have to be drugged to sleep every night. Sometimes, a nap is totally needed to kick start a boost of productivity but it should be taken before 3pm. Like caffeine, naps after 3 start to affect your night time sleep. When and if you do nap, it should be 30 mins or less. The best and most restful nap you could get is to power drink a coffee and then nap for 15 minutes (it takes 15 minutes for the caffeine to absorb into your system). That’s assuming you can fall asleep easily. I’ve never successfully had a caffeine nap. If you’re falling asleep uncontrollable, you might have narcolepsy- go see your doctor. 

5. Phones, computers and screen time. 

Phones and computers give off bright white, cool lights. These lights trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime. It’s good practice to put your phone away or get off the computer about an hour before sleep. I do think this is a very important tip and I do follow it but not as well as I used to. Once I say I’m going to sleep, my phone is down for the night. I don’t look at it. But, I also have my phone and computer on nighttime mode all day. My computer and phone are always warm light that way I can sleep (and it helps my chronic migraines).

 A screenshot of my iPhone constantly working the night shift
A screenshot of my iPhone constantly working the night shift

6. Have a bedtime routine. 

If you’re wondering what the f you’re going to do for an hour without your phone before bed, start a routine. This helps your body learn when it’s time to relax and wind down. When I had an active routine, it started with turning off my phone, putting lavender oil in my diffuser, doing a meditation (download the app Headspace, it’s wonderful), smoking some pot and then washing my face, brushing my teeth and maybe reading. 

Boost your routine by doing it at the same time every night. Train your body to try to sleep at the same time every night, if you can. 

7. Stay calm. 

 I love DBT worksheets, obviously. Here’s one that helps with Check the Facts.
I love DBT worksheets, obviously. Here’s one that helps with Check the Facts.

This one maybe shouldn’t be all the way down at number 7 but, shit…. It is what it is. This is the one I struggle with the most and always have. The past couple of months, I have improved but I still have a long way to go. When you’re in bed and you can’t sleep, don’t panic.  Easier said than done (I know, trust me, I know). There’s two skills that help when this happens. Radical Acceptance, which I covered in my depression blog and fact checking. 

Fact checking and radical acceptance used together is a powerful tool. Fact: I’ve gone a day without sleep before and I survived. Fact: I’ve gone several days without sleep and survived. Fact: If I don’t sleep tonight, I’ll survive that too. Accept: right now, I can’t sleep. Stressing about it won’t help you sleep faster, unfortunately. 

8. Don’t stay in bed. 

This kind of ties into the designated bed activities. One of the worst things you could do if you can’t sleep, is to stay in bed trying. Get up, walk around your house or apartment for 20 mins. Watch a short episode of something. Then try again. Do it as often as you need to. Sometimes I get up 3 or 4 times before sleeping. 

9. Go to the doctor. 

Honestly. Sleep is a basic function but it’s important as hell. Don’t be like “oh I’m used to getting no sleep.” It affects everything. Your mental health, physical health, mood, brain functioning, reaction time, processing ability. If you can’t sleep, see your doctor. 


As of today, (Monday January 20, 2020) I have an appointment with my doctor. I hopefully will get a referral to a sleep clinic. I’m very hopeful that the waitlist isn’t too long because right now, I need to get it back on track. But for now, maybe I’ll just read this blog post to remind myself of all the information I know and need to put into practice. 

Do you struggle with sleep issues? Do you practice sleep hygiene? Is there a super dope tip you use that I didn’t touch on? Let me know in the comments!

Depression is probably the most common mental health issue and it seems like everyone’s got it these days to a varying degree. It’s obviously totally normal to feel sad every now and then but if you’re feeling hopeless and unmotivated everyday, chances are you might be struggling with depression. Depression occurs on a spectrum. 

This spectrum is interesting, to say the least. It’s not linear and each one is uniquely debilitating. Everyone has heard of Major Depressive Disorder or Major Depression. This is THE depression diagnosis. To get this diagnosis, you’ve got to have 5/7 symptoms for 2 weeks. This is treated with a combo of therapy and anti-depressants. It’s easy to diagnose, but not easy to treat and definitely not easy to live with. 

Also on the spectrum, there is dysthmia (aka persistent depressive disorder), bipolar depression, seasonal affective depression (SAD), pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), post-partum (PPD) and psychotic depression. 

Yeah, it’s a whole thing. 

I have persistent bipolar depression that gets extra aggravated during winter months. Three disorders come to unite to make one Master of Depression. 

 📷:  @miss_mental0
📷:  @miss_mental0

Depression

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is the book that psychiatrists use to diagnose their patients. This is what the DSM-5 has to say about diagnosing depression:

The individual must be experiencing five or more symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.

  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.

  3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.

  4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).

  5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.

  6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.

  7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.

  8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

To receive a diagnosis of depression, these symptoms must cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms must also not be a result of substance abuse or another medical condition.

People with depression also sometimes experience irritability and physical pain. Because there are so many variables that go into diagnosing depression, you get many, many variations of depression. It manifests differenly in each person. Everything does, really.

Persistent Depression (Dysthmia)

Dysthmia, or persistent depressive disorder, occurs when someone has had depressive symptoms for two years or longer at a time without relief for at least 2 months at a time. It’s a chronic form of depression. I have been depressed for almost 19 years (onset age 8) and the only times I have had a genuine relief from depression, I was manic. So not really relief. And the longest consecutive time I’ve been manic was almost 2 months. *eyeroll emoji*

Persistent depression is a pretty low-grade form of depression, usually pretty mild. It is, however, still debilitating because it’s a more chronic form of depression and comes with all the same symptoms. Suicidal thoughts, lack of motivation, sleep issues. But, generally, it’s manageable. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of people struggle with undiagnosed dysthmia and have just accepted that that’s who they are and leave it at that. It’s understandably easy to do.

Bipolar Depression 

Bipolar depression is classified as a more severe type of depression. The reason for this is because major depression is unipolar mood disorder. One pole. Bipolar is two opposite poles: depression and mania. Mania is the exact opposite of depression. It makes you feel like an invicible god so, in comparison to that extreme high, the extreme low feels extra extra low.

My bipolar depression is both luckily and unluckily stabilized. I’m stabley depressed. My last manic epsidoe was years ago so I don’t really remember how it feels to be that “happy.” But my last severe depressive episode was pretty much all of 2018 and I don’t feel like that anymore. I’m very grateful.

Seasonal Affective Depression (SAD)

SAD is when depressive symptoms and episodes happen while the seasons change or at about the same time each year. Wintertime is the time of gloominess for most sufferers of seasonal depression. However, it’s important to note that some people’s SAD gets triggered by the warmer seasons.

I always notice that my mood starts to decline in the middle of October. Which really sucks because it’s the start of all the fun things. Canadian thanksgiving, Halloween. I try to stay positive through spooky szn because that is MY SHIT. I love halloween. But from then on, it just gets worse and worse until xmas and then stays stagnant. It generally starts to get better in the spring. I hate being cooped up all winter but I’m trying to use my happy daylight lamp and it honestly does make a difference.

 Me, sitting in bed, working on my blog, getting some artificial vitamin D
Me, sitting in bed, working on my blog, getting some artificial vitamin D

Skills

There are some skills I’ve learned in one of my group therapy DBT sessions. And I use them quite a lot. Honestly, it’s been such a great tool in my recovery. I’m gonna share the 4 best skills I learned and use to manage my depression daily.

Distract

Distracting is a good skill to use when your emotions are getting high and you need to be professional at work or out being social or, you know, anywhere else where you’re experiencing distressing emotions. This is a Distress Tolerance skill.

It’s a very appealing skill and easy to fall on as a habit because it feels much better than feeling negative emotions. Distracting is only a temporary solution though. It’s important to never forget that. It will not offer a solution to your problem. I used to use distract “until I don’t care about it anymore” (ie time heals all wounds). Time doesn’t heal shit, let me tell you. Working on shit and putting effort into your healing is what actually heals. So you can distract until it’s repressed but it’s going to come up eventually and it’s going to suck.

Still, it’s a good tool to have when the time is right so I’ve left a DBT worksheet to help stir up new ways to distract, to keep it fresh.

Mindfulness

I really don’t know how to describe mindfulness. It’s the purposeful paying attention to something without getting too overhwlemed. It’s a way of meditation and it truly does work if you practice regularly. I love the app Headspace and everyone should try it out. It’s my go-to for mindfulness. It’s the simplest introduction to mindfulness meditation and has 3 free basics courses (10 sessions each). I play them over and over again tbh. I used to practice mindfulness everyday until it started becoming habit. But then I fell back into bad habits and lost the skill. 2020 is gonna be the year of back to meditating for me.

But if you want another DBT worksheet for mindfulness, I have a great breakdown here. And for a better explanation of mindfulness, check out this blog post, Get Started With Mindfulness.

Accumulating Positives

This skill is an Emotional Regulation skill. It has two versions, long term and short term. For this, I’m only going to look at the short term because we’re looking for a more instant relief.

For this, the focus is to increase positive experiences now. Do at least one thing off this pleasant activities list. Try to do one a day. Add things that you enjoy. For me, my go to is playing Just Dance on my wii (or youtubing videos and dancing along). It’s important to stay mindful while you’re doing the activity and unmindful of the worries like how positive times never last (neither do the bad though).

Radical Acceptance

I’m gonna be real with you, this is the hardest skill to master and, no, I’m not good at it. But that’s why I have to practice. The idea behind it is very simple though: accept things as they are; it is what it is. It’s another Distress Tolerance skill.

There really is no point in stressing over things you cannot control. Easier said than done, I know. That’s not some revelation that’ll make people stop stressing but it’s true. When you have no control over something, the best way to cope with it is to go with the flow; accept that that’s how things are, things aren’t going to plan and adapt.

Radical acceptance is NOT approval, compassion, love or forgiveness.

It is entirely possible to accept something (ex. a traumatic event occuring) without loving it or thinking that “it’s okay.” It’s simply acknowledging that the thing happened and there’s nothing anyone can do to change it.

The thing is, rejecting things doesn’t change them. You can wish and wish, for example, that your friend would stop smoking. You can stress about it and crawl up your friend’s ass about it but that won’t make them stop smoking. If you accept it, it still won’t fix the smnoking problem, sure, BUT you will be less stressed about it. And that’s the goal here.

Radical acceptance is my least favourite skill to practice because I am a recovering perfectionist, but I’ll be honest. It works. It doesn’t work the first couple of times you try it (at least for me) but the first time it did work and I actually noticed a difference… wow. I was mindblown, I don’t even know how else to put it. I’m not just talking out of my ass here. I was the biggest skeptic of all; I thought all this was bullshit. Give it a shot like I did though. You don’t lose anything from trying.

Remember also, also getting sunlight and fresh air is important to help your brain produce happy-feeling hormones.

So while depression is getting more talked about, there’s still lots of people out there silently suffering. These are my go-to skills I (try) to practice to combat my depression. Hopefully they work for you. If they don’t, remember we’re different people. What works for you might not work for me, might not work for your friend. I’m just putting ideas out there. If you have any other skills that you use, comment them below. It might help me or someone else reading this!

Self-care is a term that, by now, everyone has got to be familiar with—it’s all over social media lately. Buy that latte, do that face mask, dye your hair! And while it is (so) important to do all that, self-care is much more than that. This is a Distress Tolerance technique called self-soothing.

Self Care

Self care is a life choice. But in the instance of mental illness and related illnesses, some self care looks like keeping up with all AA meetings, not cancelling doctor appointments, taking meds, getting regular bloodwork done. Self care is eating well balanced meals and going to the gym, or swimming, or running. 

Self care for me looks like having a sleep space that is separate from my living space (sleep hygiene), taking my meds at the same time every day, keep an agenda so I don’t miss doctors/psych/therapy, eating something everyday, setting boundaries with people, taking rests to protect my energy, not talking to certain people. 

Some of these may seem like common sense but it is really difficult to navigate all these overwhelming factors of life and it gets difficult when you add any illness to the mix.

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Self care is important to make sure you are living a healthy fulfilling life. Self soothing deals with emotion. Emotions occur as a wave; you have a baseline (0) and when you experience a wave it increases to a point (7) where it would be healthy to use some skills as a healthy coping mechanism (crisis would occur at a 10). This is where self soothing comes in. I personally find it more helpful when I use self soothing when I recognize I’m at a 5 but, again, that’s personal. More on this wave later. For now,

Self Soothing

What the fuck is self-soothing and why should you do it? Well, let me tell you. Self-soothing is a skill that should be in your mental health toolbox for quick access. Not buried in a binder like what I’ve done, although, I do have a crisis kit and it’s filled with stuff that helps me soothe my stressed ass. Self-soothing is the skill you would use to calm yourself if you’re having distressing emotions (anxiety, fear, sadness, etc) without using medications or your habitual negative coping strategies (we all have them). 

This skill focus on stimulating at least one of the  five senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch) to help relax you. Of course, there are going to be times where you need to take a benzo to calm down or vape on some CBD to get your heart to stop pounding in your chest. The gods know I love my clonazepam and cannabis, but even those take a little while to kick in and these skills can hold you down while you’re waiting for that benzo to act.

First step to self-soothing is a little bit of mindfulness. Notice what you’re feeling and label it. Strictly facts; no judgements. But if you’re like me and you judge habitually, don’t judge your judging. Easier said than done, trust me, I know. But try.

Let’s say, I’m feeling anxious. Now, realistically, could go into my purse and grab a benzo, pop that benzo and distract with tv for 45 minutes until it kicks in. But then if I do that too often, the benzo will stop being effective. Or, you know, addiction and I don’t need that (no one needs that). So the first step is noticing and labelling: 

“I’m feeling anxious. My chest feels like it’s got a weight on it and my heart feels like it’s about to explode. I’m heating up and my skin looks red and rashy.” 

Strictly facts.

Next step is the actual self-compassion. 

“I am anxious and that’s okay. It sucks, but it will pass. I am not a failure for having a panic attack. It has never lasted forever. Lots of people feel anxious, I’m not suffering alone. I’m loved and loving and worthy of good things.” 

If you struggle with this, use the Best Friend Technique! Imagine your bestie or partner is struggling with anxiety, how would you help them? Do those things for yourself. It’s super easy to default to “why am I feeling anxious? There’s nothing to be worried about I’m just being fucking dumb” but those are judgements and (I hope) you’d not ever say that to someone who was struggling! There’s really no benefit in trying to bully yourself into being a better version of yourself; it doesn’t work like that. If it did, I’d be very rich. Instead I’m very depressed because I have a bully in my head.

*This doesn’t have to just be when you’re feeling anxious. It can be when you make a mistake and your instinctual reaction is to call yourself an idiot. “I made a mistake… just like everyone does.”

 @headspace the real MVP to beginner mindfulness @headspace the real MVP to beginner mindfulness

Time to soothe using the senses.

HEARING

This is easy. Blast your favourite tunes! And I mean blast that shit. The fullest volume your ears can handle. But avoid listening to triggering music, you know? Don’t listen to depressing songs if you’re trying to soothe your depression. I, personally, will blast some latin, reggaetone, dancehall or some bad bitch rap music to put myself in a good mood. My partner would probably go for a joyride blasting some old screamo music like Atreyu. It’s all about preference and what works for you.

Alternatively, call someone you love. A friend, a partner, your parents or siblings. Just to hear their voice. Also, download the Mindfulness app and listen to a quick 3-minute meditation. Listen to an audiobook or a podcast about serial killers.

TASTE

Time to eat the tasty thing you made to soothe your nostrils. Or, you know, get into the halloween candy stash, go out and buy a bag of chips (just not every night..) or make your favourite instant noodles. A few months ago, my bestie and I drove an hour out of town just to get gourmet ice cream to soothe our emotions. This one is all about comfort food. 

TOUCH

I love touch. I actually just had a conversation with my partner yesterday about how I think society should normalize platonic cuddling. When I had a big group of friends in university, I cuddled with like all of them. While sleeping or watching tv or movies, it was so soothing after a stressful day at work or when I was just feeling down. I don’t have much platonic cuddling in my life anymore, which makes me sad, but I love hugs. I like hugs from friends, family, even strangers; I can never resist someone with a “Free Hugs” sign. I really like touch. It’s actually my love language. But I know there’s a lot of people that do not like to be touched. 

You don’t have to use this if you don’t want to. But you can still use touch to soothe if you don’t really love touch. You can use a stuffed animal, a real animal, a pillow, a crystal or rock, stress ball, slime, a bath, shower, a fidget spinner. Like I said before, imagination is the real limit here. 

VISION

Your imagination is the limit for this, really. (Mine is very limited). In my personal crisis kit, I have two photos of my cats. They’re quite funny and cute pictures and they make my heart happy to look at. I don’t always have my kit on me but I do usually have my phone. I have an Instagram page where I only upload pictures of my cats and anytime I feel down and need to look at something that makes me happy, I can pull out my phone and scroll through their insta. This also works if you take a lot of pictures on your phone of your animals or loved ones or even places you liked to visit. Have vacation pictures handy or even your favourite hiking trail or your favourite place to hang out.

If you’re able to, you can try to watch a favourite show (I go to Brooklyn 99 or Bob’s Burgers) or favourite movie (for me, Saw is very soothing). You can try to read if thats’s your thing.

SMELL

This is especially good if it’s summertime and you like to garden. This is the perfect opportunity to take in what you’ve helped flourish and take the time to smell the flowers. I, personally, have a brown thumb. So I have to get a little creative with the aromatherapy. I actually use smell to soothe every single day. I light a scented candle, incense or have my oil diffuser on. I love using bergamot and frankincense because those have natural anti-depressant and anti-anxiety benefits. I’ll light a rain-scented incense to uplift my mood and use citrus-y oils for the same purpose. 

What also works, a favourite blanket with a familiar smell or an article of clothes from a loved one. Even making certain foods can trigger positive vibes in your nose holes (if it’s easy to make). Essential oils in the bath.

When you use your senses to soothe, it ‘s a good way to stay grounded and it helps accumulate positive feelings. And, often, when we’re in the middle of experiencing intense emotions it is hard to stay focused and centred. These are simply ways to get out of your head and maybe gain a new perspective. It is important to keep on being self-compassionate while you’re soothing. 

I’ll be the first one to admit that, although it sounds easy as f u c k, it takes an annoying amount of practice. I have this awful voice in my head that tells me “you’re being stupid and this isn’t going to work” whenever I try to soothe. And at first, it got me real down and honestly hindered the soothing. It took me a lot of practice to get to where I am now and I still have a lot of work to do on it. I was a skeptic. I was all “how is smelling a citrus blend gonna cure my sad ass?” and you know what? IT WON’T! It’s just about managing the hard emotions, not curing them. I’m always gonna be depressed and shit but I’ll also just keep on getting better at the self-soothing shit too.

It is so so important to incorporate self care and self soothing in your everyday tasks. It’s much easier than it sounds. And it really should be a priority to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup and all that

Here’s a DBT worksheet for Self-Soothing. It’s got more tips for each sense. If you already practice this, leave some tips in the comments. Follow me on insta. Follow my cats, maybe they can soothe you too. 

My Cats, Bagheera and Bear Baloo 

I have been living with mental illness and other chronic illnesses for almost 3 decades. It’s okay though. I education thankfully gives me some extra insight into my issues. I’m very self-aware.

But I struggle and I struggle h a r d. And I’ve accepted that I will for the rest of my life. One of my hardest obstacles to overcome is perfectionism. I’m not sure which illness or disorder blessed me with this toxic symptom but I live with it and it debilitates me everyday.

Now, perfectionism is pretty often portrayed as a positive trait. It might even be your back-handed answer for the question at every job interview: “what’s your biggest weakness?” I used to use it all the time. Every interview. I thought it implied that when I attempted to start a project, I would put my all into it and do the best that I could. But that’s not really perfectionism; that’s just trying your best. That’s the healthy way to do things. 

Psychology Todaysays this about it:

“Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness… What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. They expect others’ love to be conditional on a flawless performance.”

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It takes a toll on self-worth. In my perfectionist brain, self-worth comes from accomplishments and being accepted. But (for some unknown reason) the perfectionist brain feels there is an extremely high–maybe impossible–standard to meet. This triggers the fear of failure and rejection (for not being “good enough,” duh) and efforts to avoid feeling failure and rejection. I’m sure everyone has experience rejection or fear of it at least once in their life. It can debilitate you. Even if the perceived rejection isn’t even real.

The go to method for avoiding? Procrastinating. Isolating. I know I can’t be the only one. I procrastinate if I have a project I need to finish and I isolate from people when I feel like I’m not worth being around… which is often because my self-esteem is shot.

 

It really takes a toll on the self-esteem. Perfectionistic brain is very judgemental. Now, to be clear, I am a very compassionate and empathetic person towards most people. My ultimate goal is to become a therapist so I can give back and help my community. I don’t believe judging other people serves me a purpose so I try not to. I’m not perfect though, I fuck up sometimes. But for the most part, I’m at least a decent human. Perfectionistic brain is only judgmental towards me. I don’t expect anyone else to be perfect; I only hold myself up to these wildly unrealistic standards.

 

Some days, I can’t clean my room because it won’t be clean enough so what’s the point? Other days I feel like I’m so flawed or ugly I can’t possibly be lovable. I almost gave up on this blog 4x before even thinking of writing anything (there’s that fear of failure!). I unconsciously measure my worth based on how well I’ve done something (if it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough). It’s a constant state of feeling like a complete failure. So duh, I’m depressed. 

 

But I’m working on it. Everyday, I’m working on it. 

 I love Brene, check out her website I love Brene, check out her website

I’m now trying to adjust my thinking from being a perfectionist to a good-enoughist, as Brené says. The skills I use the most (or try to) when struggling with perfectionism are 

 

  • Practicing Nonjudgmentalness

  • Best friend Technique 

Nonjudgmentalness

In my perfectionist brain, my inner critic is always very judgey and mean. It’s never satisfied with anything I do. As I’m writing this, it’s saying “what the fuck who CARES? You have nothing to offer.” Now, logically I know that’s not true but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. If I make a mistake, my instant reaction used to be to belittle myself. I sometimes still do it but I’m working on it, like everything else. But I have some tips to practice nonjudgmentalness that help from my binder full of DBT therapy work that I have done myself. Honestly. 

 

Lets say, for example, I’m having a bad day and I drop a cup and just say “Jeez I’m so useless.” 

  • Start trying to notice the judgmental thought. When you notice it, label it as a judgmental thought. “Okay, bitch you being hella judgey right now”

  • Check the facts. “I dropped a cup by accident. A mistake that everyone has made. I am not useless. I offer friendships and have meaningful relationships, I am performing well at work. Signs point to NOT useless.”

I find that often works for me. It is surprisingly effective most times. Of course, when I’m in a depressive episode it’s very hard to fight with the inner critic. If you struggle with being judgemental and you wanna work through that, I have a worksheet for Practicing Nonjudgementalness. It’s from a DBT workbook, HERERemember though, this is a skill. And like any skill, it has to be practiced.


Best Friend Technique

 

The best friend technique is super easy and offers perspective. Ask yourself “What would I say to a friend if s/he came to me with this problem?” Inner critic is clearly not a friend. Imagine:

 

You have a project to do and your afraid of failure so you do the ONLY thing that makes sense—procrastinate instead of work. Inner voice comes along and says “I’m a failure anyway so who cares if I don’t finish it?” Now imagine your best friend texting you this message. 

 

I don’t know about you but if my bestie texts me that, I am quick to remind her of all her accomplishments and proof she’s not a failure. I would show her compassion and offer empathy and ask if there was anything I could do to make her feel better. I would encourage her to finish. Isn’t that what most people would do? So why is it so hard to do that for yourself? 

 

Honestly, it’s so simple when you think about it but so hard to put into practice. It’s a very difficult one for me too. However, when I do remember to do it, it is so effective for me. So if you haven’t tried it, I recommend giving it ago. Be patient though because it is a skill and needs to be practiced (cannot stress enough).

 

So, I’m burdened by the fact that I’m not perfect and never will be. But it’s fine lol. I know that no one ever in the history of people has ever been perfect. And more importantly, I’m not the only one that struggles with this and that’s kinda comforting. 

Beyonce falls down stairs at every concert. Voldemort accidentally made Harry a horcrux. Serena has lost tennis matches.

Why do I have to be perfect? If you deal or have deal with perfectionism, comment below some tips that I may have missed to share with others! 
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