Managing Mental Health with Professional Help

If you’ve known me for more than 3 minutes, you’ve probably heard me talk about how I think every single person on the planet should go to therapy. Therapy has saved my life, a dozen times over.  I am about 8 or so years into regular therapy. I’ve taken a few breaks here and there when I was moving or just in a particular season that made it harder to regularly attend therapy.

Early in my undergraduate days, it was suggested that I experience what’s called Dysthymia – sort of double depression.  It’s also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder.  Dysthymia is characterized by a consistent and underlying low mood occurring for 2 or more years that is experienced in addition to regular episodes of regular depressive disorder.  That’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo that boils down to this: I’m naturally a more pessimistic person whose regular mood leans toward sadness or discontentment.  When something triggers a depressive episode, I experience that a little more strongly than people who just deal with regular depression because my mood and outlook are already darker.

For me, this means that my mental health is something I have to stay on top of every day. If I let my therapy, medication, or self-care routines slide, my mental health slowly deteriorates and affects every other area of my life. It sounds dramatic than it probably is, but I just wanted to give you a picture of what my experience is so that you understand where I come from when I talk about treatment options. This is something I have experienced and want to help you take the first steps to finding help.

We’ve already discussed self-care routines and how that plays into managing mental health. The two other major game changers for me are regular talk therapy and regular medication. I have tried to manage my mental health both on medication and off it. I ultimately decided that the best option for me is to use medication as one of many tools to help me maintain good mental health.

While I don’t believe medication is the right answer for everyone, I do believe everyone can benefit from talk therapy.  Regardless of your budget, there are many options available. I’m going to highlight some options for those of us who have a bit of a tighter budget.

If you are an on-campus student of an undergraduate or graduate program, even part-time, go talk to your student services office. Most programs offer free counseling for students, as the fee is often built into your student fees. This is how I did my first four years of therapy, and where I made my initial progress – including the discussion of dysthymia and trying medication for the first time.  If you aren’t a student but live near a university, inquire about graduate psychology program. Often they will offer some sort of community counseling for zero or low-cost, provided by grad students who are learning the art of professional counseling. I know the major public university near me offers something similar with counseling offered by grad students but supervised by trained and certified counselors.

One of the first things I always suggest is to check with your insurance provider.  Some providers will cover therapy, some will offer discounts, some won’t cover it. The worst they can say is no, but they might provide a list of counselors they will cover completely or partially. Also, if you have any of that HRA spending money that applies to medications/appointments, etc – this also applies to therapy.

If you’ve checked with your insurance provider and don’t have any options there, my next suggestion is to shop around your area for a therapist who will work with you on a sliding scale payment plan. Don’t be afraid to ask about the fee, and about what wiggle room there is within that fee. The worst they can say is that they have a firm price, and you can move on to the next on your list. I’ve seen several therapists in the last 8 to 10 years and all but two were willing to work on a sliding scale plan. The two who weren’t were employed by private  Christian offices, which typically have higher fees and fewer insurance options.

Two easy ways to find practicing therapist in your area are the 211 phone number and the Psychology Today online therapist finder. The 211 phone line is an assistance line that helps you locate aid organizations in your area and covers everything from housing assistance to physical and mental health resources. Find out more about that resource here.

The therapist finder on the Psychology Today website is a great resource to start your search off. You can enter your zip code and find a list of certified practicing counselors in your area. You can find all the helpful information you need in each listing, including where they practice, a description of their education and services, what insurance they accept, and if they are willing to operate on a sliding scale payment plan. Here’s a link to my counselor’s Psychology Today profile!

If traditional therapy isn’t something your ready for, but you need to talk to someone immediately, check out IMAlive. The online, chat-based network allows you to reach out to a trained and certified crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day. You don’t have to dial a number or talk to anyone in person.  IMAlive originally formed out of a need seen by To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit that helps bring hope and help to those of us who struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, or addiction.  TWLOHA has been responsible for renewing my hope countless times and for encouraging me to reach and get help for my depression all those many years ago.

 

Please know that you are not alone in your struggle. Please know that it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad Christian if you seek help, in any form, but especially medication. I know there are some stigmas surrounding mental health in the Christian community, but I need you to know that God did not intend for you to suffer alone. He specifically called many of his children to become counselors or study medication that would help his people continue to live fulfilling lives.  Personally, I know that I can not fulfill the calling God has placed on my life to further glorify him if I am not taking care of my mental health by using the resources he has given me access to.

Tuesday Tales: Crash the Chatterbox

When lies are not confronted, callings are not fulfilled.” – Steven  Furtick

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I’d never heard of it, but I put it on hold at the suggestion of a friend and I am so glad I did. I am only about 15 pages in, but I have already found so many relevant bits of wisdom.

Furtick’s premise in this book is that we all have a chatterbox, a representation of the lies we believe that keep us from hearing God’s voice.

The book is built around four confessions:

Confession 1:  God says I am – Overpowering the lies of the Enemy in your insecurities

Confession 2God says he will –Overpowering the lies of the enemy in your fears

Confession 3God says He has – Overpowering the lies of the Enemy in your condemnation

Confession 4God says I can – Overpowering the lies of the Enemy in your discouragement

The book has a section dedicated to each of these confessions, with a portion of the section explaining the confession and then a section dedicated to the practical application in our lives.

Normally, I underline and take notes in my books – this is a library book so I can’t do that, but I’m making notes on post-its and I can’t wait to see how many I end up with once I finish!

 

Have you read Crash the Chatterbox? Let me know your thoughts!

Managing Your Mental Health In The New Year (Part Two)

 

So yesterday’s post might not be what you expected when you saw the title, but I want to assure you that setting and maintaining realistic goals for myself is incredibly important when it comes to managing my mental + physical health. I am a goal-oriented person, I need to have something to strive for and build on each day. In the past, I’ve let this sort of take over my life and I frequently set unrealistic goals for myself and then got frustrated when I couldn’t achieve them. For me, this frequently led to a depressive episode, especially in college. When I was an undergraduate student, I was also at the most difficult time with my health, both physical and mental. Setting unrealistic goals, like not being late to class or completing all of my assignments both on time and to the perfect grade, set me up for failure. The Powersheets prep work helped me make sure I was focusing on realistic goals that will help me focus on maintaining my mental + physical health, my faith, my finances, and my relationships with the people I love. I would encourage you to think about setting some realistic goals for the New Year, and remember that good things grow slow! Your goal doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s and it can be a simple as making your bed or drinking a full glass of water as soon as you get up each morning.

One of the goals I set for myself for the New Year was to cultivate my self-care. For me, that means to maintain the practices I put in place last year and to continue to figure out what self-care means to me. Self-care plays a huge role in maintaining my mental health, and other than the new medications I started last year and regular therapy over the years, I would say that maintaining a regular self-care practice has been the most helpful in my journey with depression. My self-care routine may not look anything at all like yours, and that is okay. In fact, that’s the point. While I encourage you to try one of the things on my list if it interests you, your routine should be full of things that refresh you and not everyone functions the same in this area.

For me, the things I’ve found to add to my routine are a mix of boring, free, exciting, and an investment. There are a few things that I decided to work into my monthly budget and while I could be using that money elsewhere, I have decided that it is more than worth it to invest in these practices. One of these investments is a weekly 30-minute massage, and if it is within your means, I highly suggest giving it a try. Before I committed to weekly massages, I would get them every few months and while they were nice, they didn’t do a lot for me long term. Massage works best when practiced regularly. It took about a year for me to find a masseuse who was the perfect fit for me financially, geographically, and comfort level wise. Committing to giving myself 30 minutes each week has done wonders for my mental health and my physical pain levels. In addition to massages, I get regular chiropractic adjustments and this was a game changer for me. It does more for my physical pain than my depression, but when I physically feel better my depression is easier to manage.

I include my regular therapy sessions as a part of my self-care as well. The frequency in which I meet with my therapist changes, depending on where I’m at and what I’m dealing with at the time. Also, budget occasionally influences how often I see her, but I’ve made a commitment in the last few months to decide how many times I want to see her that month and budget that money out so that unless I have a significant emergency, my therapy isn’t affected.  I also include super boring things in the self-care category like taking your meds on time, drinking enough water, working out (for me, this is mostly yoga),  and eating healthy (ish).

For me, self-care also includes regular quiet time with my bible and prayer journal, and regular time set aside for alone time. I am an introvert through and through and I go absolutely insane if I don’t get time to myself on a regular basis. It makes me short tempered and cranky and I hate how I begin to treat my people and myself. When I don’t schedule regular alone time, I get overwhelmed and overbooked which creates cracks in my defenses that depression easily slips into. Three tools I’m using this year to maintain my quiet time and create margin for myself are the Holy Bible YouVersion app, with a plan to read the bible in one year, the Write the Word Journal (created by Lara Casey who also does Powersheets), and the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley.

The Write the Word Journal comes in several versions that all focus on a different topic. The choices are Cultivate Joy (which is the one I’m starting with), Cultivate Faith, Cultivate Gratitude, Cultivate Hope, and Cultivate Renewal. Each new entry gives you a verse to copy out in your own handwriting and then a page to record notes or prayers.

The Simplified Planner was created by Emily Ley, a designer and mama who couldn’t find a planner that suited her needs so she created her own. It’s my dream planner, honestly. If you’ve known me for longer than 6 months, you know that I’m a big fan of planners but can never ever find one I like enough to use more than a few months. I used one of the daily editions last year for a few months and this year I’ve got a weekly that I am so thrilled with, I think I might actually use this one all year!

What I love so much about Emily and the Simplified Planner is that, like Lara Casey and the Powersheets, the focus is on simplifying your days down to what is absolutely most important. Emily is a big proponent of giving yourself margin, or what she calls white space – the spaces in your planner pages that aren’t filled, so that you have time to spend with your family and friends and time to schedule in your self-care.

Both of these women have taught me a lot about living a slow-paced life that allows for focus on the most important, rather than creating a life filled with tasks, events, and meetings.  Towards the end of last year, I sat down and figured out what my non-negotiables were and what I could let go of in my life to give myself more white space. This has allowed me to have more time to myself, more time for my self-care routine, and more time to spend with my people.

 

What about you? Do you know what your self-care toolbox contains? What tools are you using to manage your mental health in 2018? Do you know what your non-negotiables are?

Managing Your Mental Health In The New Year (Part One)

Hi friends!

Please forgive my absence lately, the holidays were a busy time and I tried to soak in all the time with my people. I also spent this time thinking about how I wanted to spend my days in 2018, what I wanted to dedicate my time, money, and energy to.  It’s taken me a long time and a lot of work to get to a healthy normal with my mental and physical health and in this new year, I want to continue to maintain that level, and possibly grow it!

The first thing I did was take this entire week off, for a staycation of sorts. I traditionally spend the days surrounding New Year’s Eve with a group of friends – we rent a cabin together and catch up since we all live in different areas now. It’s always so much fun, but also a little overwhelming for an introvert such as myself. I didn’t want to come home from that trip and be immediately thrown back into work, so I took some time off to refresh and start the new year off in a way I want to continue: slow, intentional, and focused. I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but since I had extra vacation time that I wasn’t likely to use, I thought I’d give it a go!

There are a few tools I used to sort out what I wanted my year to look like and what habits I wanted to build in order to manage my mental and physical health this year. This is a brief overview, but I’d be happy to answer any questions that I didn’t cover here! (Also, I’m not getting paid to talk about any of these things, I just am really excited about them!)

For Christmas I asked for a set of 2018 Powersheets from Lara Casey. You can find them at cultivatewhatmatters.com, though the yearly sets are sold out. She does have 6 month sets still available, and has a very in-depth and easy to follow blog series on how to go through this goal setting process with just a regular notebook! Check out that series at laracasey.com/blog. Here are a few quick snap shots of my Powersheets prep work:

The prep work takes you through so many fantastic activities to help you figure out what you want to focus on for the coming year. The pictures above are of my favorite pages, a review of what worked for you last year and what didn’t. As you can see, some of my good things were regular therapy, yoga practice, new medication, more sleep, talking about the hard things, girls nights, reading more, and QUITTING GRAD SCHOOL. You may be surprised about seeing that on my list of good things for last year, but it was honestly the most healthy decision I could have made for myself. I was overloading myself, stressed out, falling prey to my depression more regularly, and not focusing on my mental or physical health enough because I was trying to do graduate school online while working full time.

Once you get through the Powersheets Prep, you get to set up to 10 goals and flesh out an action plan to help you actually achieve these goals. I chose to set 7 goals, thought the first one is the most important, and the one I feel like will feed each goal as the year goes on, otherwise they are in no particular order.

Here are my goals for 2018:

  • Cultivate my Faith: focus on my spiritual growth
  • Cultivate my Finances: changing my money mindset/working towards financial freedom
  • Cultivate my Writing: flesh out this calling to use my talent for words to help others struggling with similar issues
  • Cultivate my Work: Specifically, my job as a Children’s Librarian
  • Cultivate Self-Care: Re-Creation // Take care of myself so that I can take care of my people
  • Cultivate my Relationships: Specifically with my boyfriend, friends, and siblings
  • Cultivate my Health: Focus on fitness and nutrition

If these seem intimidating or broad, never fear! The action plan pages help you break them down into manageable steps. For example, on my action pages for cultivating my faith I determined the following things to help me achieve the goal: start my mornings with Jesus (I do this with the YouVersion Holy Bible app and a plan to read the Bible in one year), be intentional about church/bible study attendance (I’ll be helping in the nursery this Sunday, but my Women’s Bible Study group starts next Wednesday), and to pray first (I’ve got a prayer journal set up and in addition to focusing more on prayer in general, I’m hoping to create a habit of praying first when I face any challenges, rather than going to social media, friends, etc). Once you finish your goal setting and action pages, each month has a section that includes a tending list. This page can be torn out and taped up somewhere you will see it, or kept in your planner (which is what I’m doing). The tending list lets you pick monthly/weekly/daily goals and has a place to check off when you’ve done them.

My absolute favorite thing about this entire process is the constant encouragement and reminder to get messy, to prioritize progress over perfection, and that it’s okay to grow slow!

That’s a good reminder for all us this year, but especially those who struggle with mental illness: It is okay to grow slow!

I had originally planned to put all of my tools in one post, but I just gushed too much about the first one! Check back tomorrow for part two!

 

What are some of your goals for the new year, mental health related or not? If your not sure, take some time to think about the good things that happened last year and what things were more challenging. I’d love to hear your thoughts!