Monday, December 21, 2009

What I learned in counseling

Today I had my last counseling appointment. What a fantastic series of meeting these were. I had a fantastic doctor and am so glad I did this.

When I first saw Dr. G., who is a very strong Christian, and discussed that I was dealing with depression and anxiety, she really encouraged me to seek help. She told me that as Christians, we often say, "Well, God should take care of that." Or we say, "I should just trust God." This is very true, but a mental issue is no different than a physical issue and arming yourself with extra help should never be a bad thing! Amen to that.

As I have mentioned previously, these appointments weren't really designed to be counseling appointments. They were designed to help me deal with anxiety. To provide me with strategies to combat the anxiety and depression that I was dealing with. Once I started on medication, the depression left within weeks. So did the anxiety. However, while depression many not return when the medication is ceased, anxiety almost always does as it is more in our nature. I therefore wanted to learn how to combat anxiety for the day I choose to not be on the medication. There was some counseling of course, especially after I returned from Mexico, but for the most part, it was strictly learning how to live better.

I know that anxiety is not something I alone deal with. Everyone deals with it to some degree. The degrees just vary. I wanted to share some of the things I learned during my four month session. I hope that you are able to find something beneficial in my words, whether you deal with major or minor bouts of anxiety.

I appreciate those of you who have opened up to me in person, via email, via blog, via phone, etc. and shared your own struggles. I really put off mentioning this on the blog, but I am so glad I did. The whole reason I started this blog was to share my heart so that other people wouldn't feel alone in infertility. They shouldn't feel alone in depression or anxiety either! We are all humans. We are all far from perfect. And we all need God and each other.

So, here are a few bullets that I hope you can glean something from. But these are mostly here for me to return to days, weeks, months, and years from now. To remember what I learned during these months of training. Enjoy! And if these help you, please share in the comments so that other people can benefit from your wisdom and insight as well! Also feel free to ask me expand on any points as well. I'm not doctor by any means, but I'll share whatever I learned.
  • Anxiety is crucial to our survival. You need anxiety to perform well, to combat threats, etc. You can't see anxiety as all bad. It is a good thing too! Athletes will not perform well without some anxiety. As a coach, if a player told me they weren't nervous at all before a big game, I worried. If they were too nervous, I worried. There is a middle ground.
  • All anxious people avoid the thing that makes them anxious. It only becomes an anxiety disorder when that avoidance prevents you from continuing to participate in your valued goals. If I don't want to dive again, that is okay. But if I decided I didn't want to do something big, like fly or something else that I value, that is a problem.
  • Think of a Chinese-finger-trap. The more you pull, the tighter it becomes. That is how anxiety works. The more you fight its existence, the tighter its grip becomes. Think instead of working with anxiety. You will have anxious thoughts. Instead think: what will I do when those thoughts come in? If I tell you not to think of a pink elephant -- you've probably just thought only of that. If you try to tell yourself, "Don't be anxious," that's the very thing you will most likely do. Instead, think of what to do with those anxious thoughts. Find a place for them.
  • How do you find a place for feelings? You accept them. You feel that way. But now that you feel that way, what should you do with those feelings? Stop. Breathe. Think about what you are feeling. Decide if those feelings are genuine or just anxiety rearing its ugly head.
  • Remember that hindsight is 20/20. Who wouldn't do things differently? We all would for any event in our life if we knew exactly how it would end up playing out. But we don't. None of us do.
  • Things that can help with anxiety: prayer!!!, deep abdominal breathing, slowing things down, focusing on making your exhale longer than your inhale, and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR).
  • Folks, if you haven't tried PMR, you really need to give it a chance. I actually found a place you can listen to a guided PMR. This is fantastic for helping you shut your mind down and get to sleep if need be. I used this a ton when I was dealing with infertility issues. It helped me tremendously.
  • Anxious people do three things that makes their anxiety manifest: (1) they overestimate the chances of something bad happening (2) The catastrophize about how bad that something will be (3) and then they underestimate their ability to cope should that catastrophe occur ... think about it in terms of: your spouse is 30 minutes late and hasn't called. Do you overestimate the chances that something bad has happened, or how bad that something is, or fear how you could cope with that bad thing if it did occur?
  • Pain + non-acceptance = suffering
  • Have compassion on yourself! Cut yourself some slack sometimes -- especially if you are a people-pleaser (like me.) Often if you have compassion on yourself, you will get some unintended benefits. Taking a night away from your kids will possibly cause something secondary to occur, like a better relationship with a neighbor or a grandparent.
  • You can't choose what comes IN to your mind but you can choose how you will respond to what comes in.
  • Remember: "One can never be anxious and be in the moment."
  • Factors you can control that help with anxiety include: diet, exercise, not smoking, not doing drugs, avoiding or limiting caffeine, avoiding medicines that can heighten anxiety, etc.
  • When it comes to your children, remember what they say on airplanes. "Put the mask on yourself first and then assist the small child." You can't help someone else if you aren't in good shape yourself.
  • Did you know that the divorce rate is the highest when parents have children ages 0-5 in the house. I didn't know this! The reason is that they are at their most demanding ages. I've realized that my boys are unable to do, well, basically anything, for themselves. We have to do everything for them. We are tired. Our spouse takes a significant backseat. Don't let that happen. Make your spouse a priority. You are the pillars that will define your child's future. Cracks in the foundation of your marriage will effect your children.
  • If you are worried or anxious or guilt-ridden, admit it. Say, "I am feeling worried." Then ask yourself, "Is this worry helping me? Is it necessary? Is it serving me." It can be, but if not, admit the guilt is there but that you just can't dwell on it.
So there you have it. I hope this helps someone out there. It really helped me!


AW said...

Re: Your 2nd to last point. I heard a sermon once where the pastor said everything you mentioned. But one thing that really stuck out to me: The children are just passing through.

Probably not terribly profound, but wording it that way made such a wonderful new perspective to me.

Susie said...

Good job, Wendi! Thanks for sharing! Hope Isaac is feeling better soon and that you guys have a Merry Christmas! :-)

Blessed Blackman Bunch said...

These are GREAT and Most helpful! We have really been teaching our children lately the real importance of our marriage. We have always strived to put one another before our children. As they have gotten older they question why we sit by one another in church, restaraunts, etc. It is nice to hear one another tell them "our marriage comes first, if our relationship is not in good standing we can't be good parents!" God is so kind to show you these things Wendi. Your sharing them is only helpful! I love you :)