Thursday, May 11, 2017

Growing through it...

In this journaling adventure I have  come to learn a few things about myself.  As I delve into this journey of self discovery I am realizing more and more that I am guilty of hiding my true self. 

I wear a mask, albeit a figurative one, and I wear it every day.   It makes me appear to be strong and capable, cheerful and outgoing.  This mask continues to smile in spite of what is going on with the person behind it.  I use it to hide my vulnerable self, the one that sometimes cannot get out from under the sadness.  This mask allows me to control what people see. It gives me courage to go out into the world and face the public.


My mask has been worn many times, and it used to fit me like a glove.  Lately, though, it has begun to feel cumbersome and I struggle to hold it in place.  I am becoming increasingly more exhausted each time I have to readjust it.  So much so, that I no longer wish to wear it.

I'd love to remove it and hang it up in the closet with the cloak of grief I described in my last post.  I don't want to put it on, yet I don't wish to burden people with my real feelings. This is the thing I've learned about depression.  It creates a sense of loneliness because I cannot show my vulnerabilities. In turn, this makes me feel trapped.  I have a sense that I can never truly express how I'm feeling for fear of bringing other people down.  I also fear that people won't understand.  They won't see my sadness as something that I just can't "snap out of."  These feelings breed anxiety.  I start to worry what people will think of me.  I over analyze so many of my insecurities.

I have terrible social anxiety.  I would much rather stay home, with my husband and children, where I know it is safe.  Here I do not have to keep up pretenses.  I trust my family and allow them to see my vulnerabilities.  In social settings however, I am worried that people will see the broken person who hides behind her perfected smile.  Because of this it has become safer, and easier, to stay at home.  Leaving the sanctuary of our home often frightens me.  I am increasingly terrified of being judged or pitied.  I am scared of being "seen."


I've read enough to know that avoidance is not a healthy coping mechanism, but I still prefer to be alone.  I am never lonely when I am by myself.  Just the opposite in fact. I find that this is when I am most comfortable.  

What I hope to find in this journey is a balance.  I want the option of  wearing the mask when I most need to, but I also want to be able to remove it when I am with those that understand and make me feel safe. Finding this balance is a constant struggle, mainly because I do not know how to ask for help. I only wish to be a giver not a taker.  I do not feel worthy of accepting help. 


Perhaps the most important thing I have learned so far is that I am a work in progress and that I am trying to grow through what I am going through.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Reading, Writing and Baking...

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Not the dark and twisty psychological thrillers that are my usual cup of tea, but books that I hope will help me regain my focus and help me to once again find my footing. I've also been trying to rediscover the joy I have previously found in baking.

I recently read an article I found online that discusses the benefits of baking.   In it the author, Gabriele Fantelli, talks about how mental health and culinary experts alike give credit to the idea that baking could be very helpful in relieving the symptoms of anxiety and depression.  It is noted that baking combines the physical and projection aspects of the traditional occupational therapies. Not only does baking help to relieve symptoms, but it also produces something that we get to indulge in. Baked goods are notorious for generating smiles, especially when our creations are shared with others.  The end result is not only a tasty treat, it also fosters positive feelings and happiness.
This comes as no surprise to me. I've been an emotional baker for years.  It's the reason I began this blog in fact. It was therapy for me when I lost my job in 2011. I loved to bake and write and this blog allowed me to combine those two passions.  In light of all that has happened this past year, I've lost my direction and my baking and writing has gone by the wayside.  

My husband, who has remained by my side through these trying times and has shown me so much love and support, even bought me a state of the art Kitchen Aid mixer in an attempt to renew my desire to bake. 

 It's beautiful and I love it, but I will admit that it sat dormant for longer it should have. My therapist encouraged me to use it. She also encouraged me to write. Journaling she called it ( I looked it up, it's a thing). So I did, and here I am, back in the kitchen and at the keyboard.

I decided to return to the book that started it all six years ago, The Happy Baker; a dater's guide to emotional baking by Erin Bolger.  While I'm not in the dating pool (and thankfully haven't been for decades!) I am emotional so this book fits the bill.  



This is the author's go to cookie so I thought it was an appropriate recipe to get me back in the saddle.  If the fact that there were no cookies left to photograph is any indication, I'd say they were pretty good.  As for me? I'm getting there.
You Will Need:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

3/4 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup quick cooking oats
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup shredded coconut


Directions:
  • preheat oven to 375'
  • in a large bowl, combine both sugars and butter and beat until smooth and fluffy
  • add peanut butter, vanilla and egg; mix well
  • stir in flour, oatmeal, baking soda and salt being careful not to over mix
  • fold in chocolate chips and coconut
  • using a cookie scoop, or two spoons, drop onto a parchment lined cookie sheet ensuring that they are at least two inches apart
  • press down lightly with your fingers or a fork dipped in sugar
  • bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the edges are golden brown
  • allow cookies to cool on sheets for two minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely

If you'd like to read the full article that discusses the benefits of baking and mental health click the following link:


http://www.mentalhealthy.co.uk/depression/depression/the-benefits-of-baking-therapy.html

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

We can't go over it, we can't go under it...

 
Once again, here I sit, trying to write what I feel.  It is not easy.  Nor is it something I wish to do.  It is, however, something that I must do.  

I am a known introvert.  When the going gets tough, I  hibernate.  That is my defense mechanism.  Being that I am an avid book lover, I also read (thankfully this pairs well with hibernation).  Lately I've been turning to self help books.  This is the way that I try to make sense of it all without having to openly admit that I am struggling. 

Currently I am reading Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg. This book offers great insight into building resilience and moving forward after life's setbacks. The premise of the book is that even after the most devastating events, it is possible to grow by finding deeper meaning and gaining greater appreciation in our lives. The title is meant to imply that we are all living some form of Option B. 

Feeling the way that I do, it's hard to go out into the world and have to answer the same question over and over.  "How are you?" ~ "Fine" I lie.  


Last night while reading Option B,  the words of psychologist David Caruso resonated with me.  He observes, “culture demands that the answer to the question ‘How are you?’ is not just ‘Good.’ … We need to be ‘Awesome.’ ” Caruso adds, “There’s this relentless drive to mask the expression of our true underlying feelings.” Admitting that you’re having a rough time is “almost inappropriate.” 

I could not agree more.  Often times I notice that people who ask me how I am are moving on to something else before I even have a chance to answer the question.  It's almost a given that we are to answer with a rote fine, good, or even awesome.  

As I move through my struggles with grief and depression, I am learning more and more who it is that I can be honest with. I know who will accept "fine" and move on and I know who will call my bluff.  

I am also beginning to understand that grief is chronic.  It never truly goes away. It is not something that you get over.  Rather, it is more about remission and relapse from which there is no cure.  What that means is, you cannot simply wait for it to pass, for it to be over.  You instead have to move through it, like a swimmer caught in an undertow.  

This is not saying that joy will never be found again.  It does come, often surprising me when it does.  But it is in those times that my grief sneaks up on me and drags me down again. Guilt plays a major role in that.  Happy moments are sometimes the worst because that is when the ache is the strongest.

I have come to think of my grief and depression as if it were a heavy cloak.  It is something that I wear for awhile and then suddenly I realize that it is heavy and I am exhausted from the weight of it.  At these times I work very hard to take it off and hang it in my closet. This does not mean that I am able to let go of it, but it does mean that I am desperate to free myself from it, close the door on it for a bit.  

I hope that this cloak is something that I will someday outgrow.  Perhaps I will then be able to stop wearing it and leave it in my closet, only coming back to visit it every once in a while. It will then be something I will no longer carry with me.  Not in the sense that it is a burden.  I will always carry it in my heart, but I cannot carry it on my back forever.