Childhood Depression and Anxiety – Avoid Feeding the Monster

Having grown up with depression and anxiety challenges as a child, I constantly watch my kids for the signs I once showed. Do they like to stay in bed all day? Are their moods reflective of the bipolar disorder that once consumed me? Do their emotions soar to elation only to come crashing back down to utter blackness in an instant (beyond normal hormonal kid madness)? Do they grow so dark that I cannot see their light shining through? Do they become excessively focused on negative scenarios? Do they see themselves as being broken? Are they unusually connected to the pain of others? Do they talk about suicide?

For me, the answers would have been clear to those close to me by the time I was in middle school. In hindsight, I knew that I was struggling beyond the norm before I was even out of elementary school. Was there anything that my parents or anyone else could have done that would have steered me in another direction? The plain truth is this – I really don’t know.

Please note that I am not a trained medical professional nor am I a psychologist of any kind. The only role in therapy I have ever served is as the person on the sofa with sad tales, zombie-chic runny mascara eyes, and a box of someone else’s tissues at the ready. If you are looking for professional medical advice, you won’t find it in anything that I write. Also I should disclose that I can’t teach you how to iron either. Those skills just aren’t in my wheelhouse, and I don’t plan to add them anytime soon.

I am speaking as an individual who survived the blackest nights of being clinically depressed and terribly suicidal. I am speaking as a person who doesn’t just hope that recovery is possible – I know that it is a reality. When I tell people that I no longer have depression, I mean that with absolutely sincerity. I’m not going to lie – I can be a serious bitch, and I am highly explosive at times and heavily in the doldrums at others. But that is not the same as what I experienced decades ago. Not even close.

When I was growing up, we faced some extremely stressful situations. Based on every other family I now know and reality (as I perceive it today), it appears that my genetic pool has never maintained a corner on the stress market. Everyone has stuff. Everyone has stories. Bad yucky sad tales and heart-wrenching experiences. It’s just the way the humanity cookie crumbles.

So when major unfun stuff happens in or to my own family now, I look even closer to see how my children respond. Are they emotionally drowning or are they temporarily set back but heading back toward being okay? Do they disappear for hours and hours to hang out by themselves in their rooms for days? Do they withdraw from actual humans and get lost endlessly in mindless technology time? Does the bulk of their artwork or writing reflect heavy emotional tones? When I see these behavior patterns kick in, I remember my own downward spiral, and I act immediately to try to prevent my children from entering that treacherous ride.

While I recognize without question that there is a true physiological element to depression (thus why I fear that my children could have it), I also believe that we have the ability to circumvent and rewire that part of our makeup. Consequently when I see them displaying a behavior that appears to be “feeding the depression monster” (ramping up the potential for greater negative mental feedback), I immediately try to redirect their actions.

One of the rotten parts about being a kid is that you only have as much freedom as you are given by the adults around you. One of the best parts of being an adult is recognizing how you can use that dynamic to help your children when they need it most.

Here are a few specific examples I have used in the past month:

  • On multiple occasions, we have forced the older kids to turn off their emo sad FM music, leave their rooms, and come hang out for family night. We eat food that they like, we watch goofy movies together or play games, and ultimately, we end up spending hours laughing instead of emotionally stewing solo. Everyone goes to bed feeling like it was a good day because that’s how we closed it out.
  • My son told me that he was writing some very heavy and sad poems at school, and that he wanted to focus on writing this way because the other kids were so impressed by his depth. I’m not looking to raise Edgar Allan Poe II nor do I feel like this is good long-term brain food at all. I said nevermore to that crap and told him that I wanted to see a balance in his writing. I even called his writing teacher on the sly to let her know the importance of her being aware of this dynamic, too. She was glad that I contacted her and said that she had assumed that he was a deep-thinking writer with a heavy style. We agreed that he could still express his emotions while finding more balance via incorporating the positive emotional elements as well. She is encouraging him to find balance in class, and I work iinon this at home.  My son and I now talk about his writing every couple of days. I encourage him no matter what, but I try to focus my highest praise on the positive works. This isn’t about squashing his true feelings. It’s about programming his brain to point toward the half full glass version of thinking versus automatically seeing a smashed cup of darkness weilded by a creepy raven.
  • My kids get frustrated with the behaviors of some of the other children around them.  As fate would have it, it turns out that really small people can be seriously big buttheads (that is the scientific term for heavy duty jerkfaces). Instead of focusing on all the garbage that those other kids do, we try to find something good in them, and if that is a lost cause at that moment, we try to come up with an alternate good thing that happened that day to focus on instead.

The key to this is mental and emotional redirection. As parents,we want our children to know that we hear them and that we see them. We seek for them to feel emotionally validated, and we want them to be able speak to us with openness and honesty.

However as parents, we also need to show them which emotions are beneficial for them on a regular basis. Everyone is allowed to be sad and angry sometimes. We are even permitted to rage and be devastated. But we cannot allow those emotions to be our baseline. We have to help them figure out what emotions should be the outliers and what should constitute healthy daily living. We have to enlighten them on the obvious. It’s truly okay to not be okay sometimes, but ultimately it feels better to feel better.

Personally I find it cathartic to have a good solid cry every now and then. I have a handful of gut-punching songs, TV shows, and movies that are certain to do the trick if needed. Sometimes I’m just want to be a bear, and I don’t want to be cheered up dammit!

But even then, I still try to maintain awareness of how far I can let those emotions run. I only allow myself to take it so far. If this goes on for several days, I take steps to shift how I’m feeling by turning on funny shows and upbeat music. I change the channel when the heavy stuff appears until I can watch it without feeling emotionally inundated. I force myself to get out of the house and do something that doesn’t stink even if it’s something as simple as going to a plant store (Jo❤️🌸4ever).

It’s same story with the kids, but I attempt to expedite the process. I choose to change their sadness channels as quickly as I can. They don’t have the awareness to pull out of the spiral, so I do the best I can to steer them safely away from it instead. I refuse to allow them to feed the sadness or desire for isolation.

Can I guarantee that my children won’t face severe depression? No. Not at all. Do I know for certain that they will never face the darkest moments of feeling suicidal? It terrifies me to recognize that I can’t say yes to that either.

But I have seen that their hours of heaviness can be turned to moments of joy. I am certain that being aware of the warning signs and red flag behaviors might offer us opportunities to intervene in innocuous yet effective ways.

There are times when we can stop them from embracing the negativity. They are moments when we can avoid validating increased unhappiness by focusing on finding something to laugh at or something to do that makes them smile instead. The key is to figure out how to flip the switch the other direction in a way that engages your child.

I pray for blessings for all who struggle with depression and anxiety. Whether you are the one who is experiencing those challenges or you are the one who is trying desperately to send a lifeline to another navigating them, it is so very important to choose joy whenever you possibly can. There are numerous options for treatment, and I strongly recommend that anyone in need should seek available help. Please know that depression does not have to be a lifelong sentence. Stop the downward spiral whenever possible. Feed the best, not the beast.

Love and light to you always – Joanna

Enlighten

AWARD – Tell the Darkness to Get Lost

get lost award

The “Tell the Darkness to Get Lost” award was created to celebrate the rock stars who were kicked in the teeth by life and kept going anyway. It is also for those who inspire me to pick myself back up when I all I want to do is stay down.  It’s my tribute to the bad ass gem of a human I see in you.  You remind me to keep the faith, to keep going, and to never give in to the darkness.  Your light brightens my world and gives me strength to tell the darkness to get lost.  I celebrate you, I thank you, and I adore you.

Rules for accepting the award:

  1.  To me, awards and rules shouldn’t be paired together.  It’s like a great book and a forced book report.  It goes from fun reading to work.  So these are suggestions and ideas.  You do what you feel inspired to do.  If you change it wildly, that’s awesome!  As I said before, you’re a bad ass.  I would love to see what coolness you instill in this, but this whole thing is an optional gig.  You’re a bad ass no matter what.
  2.  Share one thing about you that is funny, interesting, or unique.  Ideally tell something that you haven’t shared before, but again, it’s your call.
  3.  You may display the award or not.  It’s your blog, so I’m not going to dictate website aesthetics.
  4.  You may nominate 5 or more or less other bad asses whom you believe deserve this award.  I don’t know how many I listed below, but I wanted to include countless more.  We all feel inspired by others and sometimes it’s beautiful to tell them how much their words have helped you when you needed it most.
  5.  Tell those people who you have tagged why they matter even if it’s just a word.  Kindness, bravery, resilience, laughter, quirkiness.  Whatever comes to mind.  Just tell them why you thought of them when you decided to share this with them.
  6.  Know how much I genuinely appreciate you.  You matter.  This world is infinitely better because you are in it.

Something about me…  Well, I have recently developed a serious talent for breaking my blog.  In less than a week, I have managed to delete my access, disconnect domains, upgrade downgrade upgrade and sorta downgrade my plan when I should have just stayed where I was, and mess up some of my normally untouchable fonts with “stray code” (uh what is that and how would I have done it?!?).  As a bonus, this is actually the second time I am writing the bottom half of this specific entry because it disappeared.  The last hour is 100% gone from my revisions history.  Even WP support couldn’t find anything.  Apparently I’m a frickin’ magician, too.  Now you see content and then POOF!   It’s gone!

Please note that I struggled greatly with selecting the nominees below because so very many of you bring light into my world.  There just isn’t enough internet to include all of the people I want to award.

Nominations (in no order at all):

https://joyfullyrenewed.wordpress.com/ – Your friendship makes my soul smile.  I could write a book on everything you have taught me.
https://mainepaperpusher.wordpress.com/ – You are like a butterfly with a gentle beautiful kindness that I adore.
https://insidetherainbow.blog/ – You are my sister from another mister.  I laugh and cry with you.
https://wakinguponthewrongsideof50.wordpress.com/ – If you are future me, I couldn’t be happier.  And if not, I’ll just have to stick with being inspired by how fab you are.
https://bookreviewsbyshalini.wordpress.com/ – You are Adele and I am Lady Gaga.  What a pair we are!  I’m so thankful for you sweet girl.
https://misifusa.wordpress.com/ – You make everything shine and fine light in the darkest of places.  You spread incredible kindness and bless us all.
https://knockedoverbyafeather.wordpress.com/ – Girl – you’re just kickin’ ass and taking names.  You are raw and real and fan-effin’-tastic.  Hold on.  Write that damn book.  You have a big important story to tell.  You are amazing.  Stick the #@*& around!  😉
https://watchwaitandwitness.com/ – Your teaching stories give me such joy.  You change the world in the very best way by opening little minds and hearts.  You changed mine, too.
https://thisismytruthnow.com/ – My friend with countless names…  Thank you for always finding a kind word and positive note.  I am perpetually in awe of the extensive writing and reading you do everyday, and I truly appreciate that you make time to include me in the mix.  I am thankful for you Jumper.
http://inspirationpie.com/ – You do serve up that inspiration!  I love your journeys, your wisdom, and your sass.
https://magickmermaid.wordpress.com/ – You are a fairy among us.  I adore the way you create magic all around you.  It’s infectious and marvelous (unlike the flu – also infectious but less fab).
https://foodzesty.com/ – On the one hand, you do not get this award because it’s terribly mean to make all that fantastic food while I sit here eating a hot dog.  On the other hand, I think that you are the cat’s pajamas and I can’t help but appreciate you on every level!  😉
https://collie123.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/r-e-m-everybody-hurts/ – You accept people for who they are.  You find beauty everywhere.  You are a kind soul Andrew.
https://carolrolke.com/blog/ – Hello outcast sister of mine!  I am certain that mom misplaced you in the hospital where we were born.  You are amazing.  I so enjoy your clever wit and your wicked smarts.  Keep ruling the world woman!
https://itrippedoverastone.com/ – Your ability to keep your chin up when life is lobbing some mega softballs your way is truly beautiful.
https://roseelaineblog.wordpress.com/ – Do I even need to mention the birds again?  (Clearly yes since I just did!)  You make the world beautiful on many levels.  Never stop painting.  Never stop shining.  I don’t think you could even if you tried.
https://elbycloud.wordpress.com/ – Your stories make me giggle.  Who wouldn’t feel seismic at reading them?!?!?
https://donnaanddiablo.wordpress.com/ – You don’t write on your blog anymore but you should!  Your comments always lift me up.  Thank you my friend.
https://welcometothenursery.wordpress.com/ – You recognize the importance of laughing at all things parenthood and I love that.  Kids – the original comedians.  I love your posts.  It’s like you live in our house, too.
https://readrantrockandroll.com/ – Mischenko – I told you that I was a mess with WordPress!  Hopefully your name will stick on this version!!!  In response to your latest post, reading your blog makes me happy!  I just love it.  You are a reading machine and you gobble up every book under the sun.  It’s like you’re the Flash but for nerds (cool nerds who read).  😉  So sorry about the revision revision revision!  I do adore you!

Thank you so very much to all of you.  You are precious to me.

Joanna

Depression Is NOT Equivalent to Being Broken

different

Don’t bother calling the Louvre.  I’m keeping this one.

I have read countless articles, blogs, and books written by people struggling with depression, anxiety, autism and OCD.  One of the themes I see over and over again is that people who have been labeled with those disorders often believe that they are chronically different and utterly broken.  I understand that feeling because I have been there before and will dance in and out of it again.

I considered tackling each of the specific disorders I mentioned above on an individual basis, but when I started to write the words, I couldn’t draw clear lines.  The reason for this is two-fold.

First – Personally, I don’t see these diagnoses as being wholly separate.  Imagine a sweater made of 100 threads (yes, it’s an itty bitty sweater).  Depression is one thread, anxiety is another, and so on with autism, OCD, etc.  They weave in and out of each other with such intricacy that you can’t really tell where one begins and the other ends.  They blend together to form one entire sweater (that might fit a skinny mouse).

Second – While I agree that there absolutely are people confronting severe mental illnesses, I don’t believe that the majority of those diagnosed as such have true disorders.  I feel that we are created differently and that it’s most certainly part of our divine spiritual design.  I don’t mean this in some kind of fluffy “we are all God’s children kind of way.”  Yes, I get that part, too, but I literally mean that we aren’t broken, we don’t have disorders, and we are made this way for a reason.  I frequently substitute the term “label” for “disorder” because that is how I see it for most people I know with these diagnoses.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for medications and treatments.  It’s just a different take on the whole mental health shebang in general.

In an earlier post I wrote, (https://momentumofjo.com/2017/07/15/depression-shifting-your-perception/), I talked about the special gifts I believe that many people with depression have.  To take that a step further, I would like to bring in the other labels.  Again I look at these collectively.

People who fall into these categories frequently have a sense of being out of control.  We may struggle with addictions to anesthetize the hurt and fear, or we may turn the other direction and go into a hyper-control mode.  At times, this can manifest in odd places.  Precise placement of objects.  Excessively clean environments.  Fixation on possible and frequently highly unlikely scenarios.  Worry worry and more worry.  It can be exhausting.

The interesting aspect is that many highly successful people deemed by standard society to be “normal” fall into these categories, too.  These individuals have learned how to shift how they use their excess of quirky energy.  They change the perception of fixation to one of focus.  It’s sounds like basic semantics, but in truth, it’s a different approach to life.

I would bet that you already know numerous reasons why your label is supposed to be a negative.  Now it’s time to look deeper and find the reasons why that same label can also be a positive.  I believe that the universe has an innate balance and those reasons can be found if we are willing to really open our eyes.

Here are some of my own examples.  I put my stuff out there because I have permission from the owner (me), I know exactly how I felt before and how I feel now, and I pray that others may see parallels and hopefully benefit.  And the winners are:

  •  Emotional ranges on all extremes – At times this has made for a wild ride for those in the fallout zone, but it has also allowed me to be exceptionally perceptive of the emotions of those around me.  It goes beyond noticing that someone seems a little sad or frustrated.  If you are sensitive, you probably know it, too.  Also for the sensitives – stop trying to take another person’s pain on yourself because that’s not your role.  (That last sentence is a big post for another day.)
  • Obsession with perfect placement and specific random job completion – Well this one is rife with quirkiness, but I am one heck of a decorator.  I have a great eye for visual continuity and flow.  People have a natural tendency to appreciate order and often find it soothing.  As for the job completion element, I can become focused on something really insignificant, but I can also zero in on something huge.  Either way, the task will be completed with precision and excellence.
  • Irrational worry – That falls lower on my “favorite things I do” list but even it has its place.  The key with this behavior is to point the fearful anxious energy to a more productive place.  When I do this, I can come up with clever problem resolution techniques.  I find ways to avoid potential pitfalls and can streamline process fails that I see.
  • Excessive list-making and concern with keeping schedules – This can become a bear, but it’s also an absolute gift when I use it in an effective way.  Rather than list all the things I will need to buy for a trip three months away, I can scratch my list-making itch by coming up with three goals I need to do, three goals I want to do, and three goals I have to do.  Being a compulsive list crosser-off-er (yes yes that’s a word effective right now) means that I will tackle those goals like a champ.  Something will get done one way or the other.
  • Extreme fixation on a specific subject or topic – This can be unnerving for people around someone who does this, but the benefit is that you can also become an expert on the subject with minimal effort.  You already love it, and if it’s a thing, someone else out there probably does, too.
  • The benefit of addiction is not the addiction itself.  It is the part when you realize that you are no longer willing to be chained to it.   The real you is so much better than any anesthetized disguise.  Taking you back is empowering beyond belief even if that happens in baby steps.  It’s not about the distance of the step but rather the fact that you are moving forward.  Find your momentum and own it.

If you want to find the negative side of those personality traits and behavioral patterns, you absolutely can.  However, I have traveled that road and would advise a u-turn if possible.  You can drag yourself down if you want to, but some of your worst of things may actually be your best of things.

Change how you see yourself and what you bring to the table.  Find the divine instead of the disadvantage and the benediction instead of the burden.

The last major point I want to add is this – everyone feels broken sometimes.  Label or no label.  We are all trying to be someone better and find something real.  We seek counsel from each other and from the heavens because we want more from ourselves and from our lives.  It’s just how our souls work.  We are constantly changing.  We are always  learning.  We may be unable to see the magic within us, but we aren’t broken.

As Carl Sagan would say, we are made of star stuff.  Open your eyes to the light you have within you.

Love and light always – Joanna

 

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