Tag Archives: mindfulness

Does a Family History of Suicide Mean I Have Bad DNA?

My father and my uncle both committed suicide. Other members of my family have been diagnosed with depression. There are times when I wonder whether I’m simply living on borrowed time.

DNA strand

Photo by Svilen Milev

I do still have dark moments when I feel worthless, exhausted, and broken. Sometimes I feel too afraid to deal with life and wish I could let go of the obligation to go on.

I have a husband, two children young children, and we’ve recently adopted two rescue dogs. It’s as though to compensate for my temptations to prematurely exit my life, I’m gathering reinforcements or reasons for me to stay. It’s harder to justify continuing to fight depression for my own sake than for others’.

I am aware that one or both of my children may one day experience what I experience. I suspect the hormone surges of their teenage years may trigger depression in them although my depression didn’t really manifest itself until I was in college.

Will I let my children believe that suicide is written in their DNA? Hell, no! I will teach them coping skills like mindfulness. I will let them know that they will feel depressed sometimes, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. I will remind them that they are never truly alone. People near and far love them and are frequently thinking of them. I will tell them that they MATTER. They bring gifts to the world that no one else can.

I know that I can’t protect my children from everything, but I can keep them surrounded by people who love and cherish them: their cousins, aunts, and uncles, and close family friends.

If the time comes when counseling and/or medication would be helpful, I will get it for them.

I used to think taking an antidepressant was a copout, a way of ignoring your problems. Then I understood it was something I needed in order to clearly see and resolve problems, and especially to recognize when there isn’t a problem, just intense emotions that need to be expressed then let go.

I’m sad that my father and uncle never got treatment. I’m grateful to the many people who helped me find worth in myself and my life, find courage to be open about who I am, not just as someone with depression, but as the real, genuine person that I am, and find companionship, sharing their own struggles and doubts.

My DNA defines that I am right-handed, but I can still write with my left hand. My DNA made me short, but I can stand on a step stool. My DNA may make me experience depression, but I can use healthy coping skills, use my family and friends as a sounding board for my fears and doubts, and live happily, hopefully long enough to witness my children teaching their children that they are not alone and that they MATTER.

I’m Losing My Mind Along with All of Our Stuff!

Kids' rain boots

Last week, we lost my son Zach’s red sweatshirt, my daughter Kaylee’s rain boots, and her rain coat. I write “we,” but really I mean “me.” I feel it’s my personal responsibility to keep track of all of our stuff. It’s not like I can realistically expect my husband or my kids to do it.

I get really upset when we lose stuff. If it’s a toy, especially if it came from a goody bag, I don’t stress too much about it, but if it’s something of mine, or if it’s something we use all the time, I get really bent out of shape. I actually got pretty depressed about the clothes and boots because I took it to mean that I’m so out of control, so overwhelmed, that I’m losing our basic necessities.

My husband kept trying to comfort me, saying that it was just as possible that it wasn’t my fault. I’m a perfectionist so it was easy for me to consider him wrong and to insist that it is indeed my fault.

I am happy to report that we have recovered all three items. My mother accidentally took Zach’s sweatshirt home last week with her stuff, I found Kaylee’s rain boots inside the basket of the folded-up stroller, and my husband found her rain coat at preschool this morning.

This should probably make me feel better, but it doesn’t. What bothered me most about losing the stuff was that I could not for the life of me remember where I had last seen the items, whether I’d been the last person to fold up the stroller (it would have felt SO much better if I had remembered my husband doing it. It’s easier to forgive him than myself. I’d also have had the chance to rub it in a little if it had been his fault.) I could have sworn I had brought her rain coat home from preschool, but apparently I got distracted.

I feel like that will be my epitaph: “Accidental death due to being distracted.” Our house is full of things lying around that my husband or I started to deal with, then left when we got called away by each other or one of the children.

The perfectionist part of me says, “See? You write about mindfulness, but clearly you’re failing at it. Get your act together.”

The compassionate, inner knowing part of me says, “This is a reminder to practice Acceptance.”

In dialectical behavior therapy, there’s a slide that describes “Four options for painful problems”:

  1. Solve the problem
  2. Change the way you feel about it
  3. Accept it
  4. Stay miserable

Practicing mindfulness could help alleviate being so distracted, but it’s not realistic for me to aim for not ever forgetting anything. It’s just not possible. I can change the way I feel about losing stuff by accepting that it’s okay, that it happens to lots of people, not just me, and it’s not a sign that I’m failing as a parent or a human being. I actually think these things, which are ineffective and really not helpful.

Dr. Marsha Linehan lists three parts to the skill “radical acceptance“:

  • accept that reality is what it is
  • accept that the event or situation causing me pain has a cause
  • accept that life can be worth living with painful events in it

I can easily forgive my mother for accidentally bringing Zach’s sweatshirt home with her. I can practice forgiving myself for being distracted and be grateful for the many things I do remember each day: picking them up from school, feeding them every couple of hours, and telling them how much I love them.

How do you cope with constantly getting distracted?

Changing Behavior Step 1: Mindfulness

A woman touching her face

Photo by Martina

I did 16 months of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) after I’d been hospitalized for depression.  I learned great strategies for dealing with my emotions, creating deeper relationships, and making it a priority to do things that bring my joy.  My life still isn’t perfect of course, but I feel so much more empowered knowing that I have strategies to help me get through challenging situations.

My recent increase in “cutting” or picking at my skin shows me that I need to review my skills and actively practice them.

Official disclaimer: Please be aware that my explanations of DBT skills are based on my limited experience and cannot act as a substitute for DBT group and individual therapy with a trained DBT therapist.

There are four modules in DBT, and the first one is Mindfulness. It makes sense because you can’t practice the other skills until you’ve practiced being fully aware and engaged in the present moment. Today I am focusing on practicing the “What Skills” of Mindfulness. These skills offer ways of “taking stock” of what thoughts and feelings I’m having right now. I can’t make informed choices about how to respond to a situation if I’m reacting impulsively.

Observe
This skill involves actively noticing what you’re experiencing. Pay attention especially to your five senses. What does your body feel like, as it touches the chair you’re sitting on, as your feet touch the ground? How is your breathing, fast, slow, shallow? Is there tension in your body?

Notice if you have thoughts, but don’t use words yet. Let go of actively thinking, and become fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment.

Describe
Describe what you experience in objective terms. When you notice a feeling, think to yourself, “I feel sad/angry/scared.” When you notice a feeling, think it and picture the words, “I’m so tired and frustrated,” “I have too much to do,” etc. Describe the thoughts, sensations, and feelings without reacting to them.

Participate
Act in the present moment, without worrying about the future or regretting anything in the past. Concentrate on what action you’re taking right now. If possible, try to move a little more slowly and carefully than you normally would.

Example:
As I type this, I’m noticing the feel of the keys on my keyboard, the hardness of the chair I’m sitting on, the music playing in the coffee shop, one of my feet touching the floor, the other foot touching the base of a table, and I hear the murmur of other people’s voices.

I notice my breath is shallow and quick, and my pulse is faster than usual. I feel a tightness in my chest that often tells me that I’m feeling afraid. I’m thinking, “Ugh, no one is going to want to read this. It’s boring and super obvious.”

I’m closing my eyes, and slowing my breath, counting to three for a full in-breath, then counting to three for a full out-breath. I’m thinking, “Well, my blog posts don’t all have to be amazing. I just have to write them. As I write more and more, I’ll hopefully get better and better. It’s all in the journey, not the destination.”

While I did this mindfulness exercise, I did not feel any urge to pick at my skin. Noticing this makes me smile.

How do you get yourself to be completely in the moment?

I Confess: I’m Still Cutting Myself

As I wrote last August, I do a form of self-injury, involving squeezing my pores or picking at my skin to the point it bleeds.  I got better at not doing it as often, but last month was a bit stressful, and I started doing it more.

image

My first step in breaking this habit is becoming aware of when I’m doing it.  I mostly do it while I’m driving or when I’m writing.

I’ll be driving, doing one errand after another, and stressing out about getting it all done on time, and I’ll rub my fingertips across the skin on my face and start picking at it.  I’ve taken to sitting with my hand under one leg.  Sometimes I put both hands on the wheel and really become aware of what it feels like to have the skin on my hands in contact with the steering wheel.

When I’m writing, I notice the “itch” in my fingertips, wanting to pick at my skin, and I start to pay attention to my breath, trying to make it as slow and deep as possible.

I’ve started filling out a diary card like I used to while I was doing dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).  It helps bring some awareness about my day, how I was feeling, how I reacted to the feelings, and what coping skills I used to manage my feelings.  You can make your own diary card, just keeping track of what happened during the day, how you felt, and what effective strategies you can use to cope.

I’m choosing at this time to manage this behavior on my own, rather than schedule an appointment with my therapist.  This is a very personal choice, and I think there are plenty of situations where a person can benefit from seeing a professional therapist.  For one thing, I have training in skills that can help me.  I just need to practice them.  Writing about it here is a first step in being accountable for it.

A new thing I’m trying is adopting a new behavior.  When I feel the urge to pick at my skin, I’m pressing my fingers together, a bit like an evil mastermind, and stretching them.  It gives me the feeling of connection and wholeness.

A lot of my anxiety stems from not believing in myself.  I fear that I’m going to screw up, do something stupid, hurt someone’s feelings, or just generally epically fail.  Being mindful of my urge to scrape up my skin is a way to remind myself that, “I’m okay.  Everything is okay.”  Certainly life’s not perfect, and there’s a lot of work to do, but adopting an attitude of helplessness will not help me take care of myself, my family, or my community.

This blog isn’t just about building a community, but it’s also about empowering ourselves.  It’s so easy to focus on what we aren’t doing that we wish we were or regretting things we are doing.  It’s important to remember all the ways we are being authentic and the things we do do well.

What strategies do you use to cope when you feel negative emotions?

To find help for self-injury, eating disorders, and other challenges, check out To Write Love on Her Arms.