Courage & Your Creative Dreams

I admit it: I’m a procrastinator. I like to procrastinate so much that I often “forget” to cook! But for me, procrastinating goes beyond the everyday things, like cooking or doing errands. The most serious procrastination happens when I neglect my creative dreams. When I neglect my creative dreams, my mental health goes downhill.

According to Make Your Creative Dreams Real by SARK, a creative dream  “pulls  you, draws you in” and “causes glee.” It’s “something you would do for free.” It’s “something you think about with relish, eagerness, quiet satisfaction, or delight.” And it’s especially important for “procrastinators, perfectionists, busy people, and people who would really rather sleep all day.” People who fit one or all of these categories need their creative dreams, but have a hard time taking action. Lucky for us, SARK has a solution.

Start Your Creative Dream With "Micro-Movements"

We often neglect our creative dreams because we expect to do too much in one sitting. The task seems so huge, so overwhelming, that we don’t start it at all. This is where “micro-movements” come in.

Micro-movements are between 5 seconds and 5 minutes in length. They have a “gentle” date and time that they take place, and they can be rescheduled as many times as needed. For example, if your dream is to write a novel, a micro movement could be to turn on your computer and open a file called “Novel.” One woman in the book scheduled a micro-movement to simply open the door to her shed. 

Sometimes the smallest steps are the hardest to take. The decision to send an email or make a phone call can feel like signing up to run a marathon. I myself suffer from a sort of email phobia. So maybe you break the task down even smaller. Maybe you schedule writing a draft of the email, and sending it another time.

A New Definition of Accomplishment

Our culture tends to define “accomplishment” this way:

Accomplishment = Effort x Length of time

According to this definition, the more effort you put in for the longer amount of time, the bigger your accomplishment will be. And this is true, to some extent. But what if you’re barking up the wrong tree? What if you’re spending lots of time and energy on something that isn’t meaningful to you? In that case, your accomplishment isn’t going to feel that big at all.

I propose alternative definitions of accomplishment:

Accomplishment = Courage x Joy 

OR

Accomplishment = Courage x Necessity

For me, courage, not time, is the most important part of accomplishment. It’s about facing those inner voices that say “this is a waste of time,” or “you’ll never get it right.” Facing those anxious/guilty/sad/angry inner voices is, for me, the hardest battle. It takes immense courage to stand up to them, and to do something anyway.

And then, of course, there’s the joy you derive from the action. I believe joy should be a guiding factor in as many actions as possible.

Of course, not all actions are going to be joyful. I don’t start jumping up and down at the thought of cleaning my toilet. So for responsibilities that are necessary and require courage, we can use micro-movements, or, as I’ve talked about before, the Do It, Damn It technique.

You’ll be amazed how accomplished you feel after completing a micro-movement. Heck, even having one scheduled is progress! If your micro movement inspires you to do more, great! But it’s often these small steps that are the hardest to take, and they need to be taken before you’re able to spend huge chunks of time on your creative dream.

Do you have a creative dream, or many creative dreams? Have you already used micro movements, or is this a new tool for you? Share in the comments…

I’m wishing you a great start to your week!

🌟Jenna


Source: SARK. Make Your Creative Dreams Real. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.

Image Credit: steps-staircase-climbing by Unsplash, CC0 Public Domain

How To Turn A Bad Day Around

Have you ever found yourself in full-blown crisis mode and wondered if there was something you could have done to prevent it? I went through years of panic attacks and deep depressions, feeling powerless to prevent the episodes from occurring. But I have good news for you: there are ways to stop a bad day in its tracks. What I have in mind is a three step process:

  1. Notice your personal Early Warning Signs
  2. Check your basic Self Care
  3. Kick in your Wellness Skills
Step 1: Notice Your Early Warning Signs

Early Warning Signs are part of a method called WRAP. WRAP was developed by Mary Ellen Copeland, a woman living with manic depression who was dissatisfied with the treatment plans available to her. WRAP has now spread all over the world. It involves too many topics to cover in one blog post, so if you’d like to learn more, check out her website here. For now, on to Early Warning Signs!

Imagine a volcano. Before it erupts, there are generally some rumblings and signs that something is off. That’s the goal of Early Warning Signs: to catch yourself when you’re rumbling.

Here’s a list of example Early Warning Signs:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Not answering phone
  • Isolating
  • Irritability
  • Easily frustrated
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Impulsive money spending
  • Headache
  • Tingling in limbs
  • Stomachache
  • Sore muscles
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Bad dreams
  • Racing thoughts
  • Mental “fogginess”
  • Insomnia
  • Oversleeping
  • Weepy

There are many more. My WRAP notebook tells of a woman who’s biggest early warning sign was not looking when she crossed the street! She walked to and from home every day and noticed that, shortly before she become unwell, strangers would pull on her sleeve because she wasn’t looking before crossing. That was her signal that her brain chemistry had shifted, and it was time to kick in some self care skills.

Step 2: Checking Basic Self Care

After you’ve noticed one or more Early Warning Signs, it’s time to check the basics: Food, Meds, Sleep, and Exercise. Have you had enough to eat today? Have you taken your medication? Have you been sleeping well? Have you had some exercise physical activity? Check these first, and do what you can to address them before moving on to the other skills. Willpower running low? Try the Do It, Damn It technique.

Step 3: Kicking in Wellness Skills

I present you with A Great Big List of Wellness Skills, to be used after you’ve checked your basic self care.

Great Big List of Wellness Skills:

  • Journal
  • Creative activity
  • Mindfulness (use 5 senses)
  • Reach out
  • Talk to friend
  • Support group
  • Blog!
  • Call warm or hot line
  • Self advocacy
  • Identify unmet needs
  • Set a limit/boundary
  • Humor
  • Laughing
  • Say (or sing!) affirmations
  • Adult coloring
  • Listen to calming music
  • Sing a song
  • Make a cup of tea
  • Drink some water
  • Sit with feelings
  • Watch a funny video
  • Take a walk
  • Play a game
  • Meditate
  • Guided meditation
  • Care for a plant or animal
  • Take a bath or shower

These skills aren’t meant to be a cure-all. It’s only part of the story. Mental wellness looks different for every single person, and it’s a lifelong process. But I hope you might find some of these ideas helpful. You might even write down exactly what your EWSs look like, and some of the most effective wellness skills for you. I know when I’m down, it’s hard to think clearly, so a written reminder of what my EWSs and wellness skills can make a big difference.

What Early Warning Signs would you add to the list? What Wellness Skills would you add to the list? Have you tried this in the past, and how has it worked for you? Share in the comments…

Wishing you well…🌟

Jenna


Image Credit: dog-labrador-black-and-white-sad by jobertjamis23, CC0 Public Domain

Why My Thoughts Are Like Acorns

First, The Acorn Story

I live in a place with oak trees. Lots of them. And right now, September, is acorn season. It’s practically raining acorns. Let’s just say there will no shortage of oak saplings next year. Anyway, on to the story…

Our house has a tin roof. Tin is ideal because the snow slides right off of it. As it turns out, it is also an excellent conductor of sound. You see, I have two oak trees towering over my tin roof. And about every ten minutes, an acorn goes hurtling into it.

BAM!

The first time I heard it, I was terrified. It honestly sounds like a gunshot. I thought our house was falling apart, or some appliance was about to blow up. It took me days to figure out the darn acorns were the culprit. It’s so loud, it’s like the trees are throwing the acorns instead of dropping them.

Now I know what the noise is, but it doesn’t make it any less startling. Every time it happens, my cat and I both snap to attention. The cat’s ears perk up, and he peeks out the window. My body tenses, and I stop what I’m doing. For one split second, we are both intensely alert.

Why My Brain is Like An Oak Tree

Where am I going with this? Well, it occurred to me that acorns are kind of like thoughts. I am no more in control of my thoughts than I am in control of the acorns. That doesn’t mean I can’t walk outside, pick up an acorn, and throw it. I can take a deliberate action with an acorn if I want to. But in my natural state, my brain is like an oak tree, dropping acorns not because it chooses to, but because of biological programming.

There is a difference between my thoughts and the acorns, however. After each acorn drops, there’s a pause. A space. A breath. More acorns don’t just start jumping down after it like lemmings. Each acorn makes its noise, says what it wants to say, and then the universe moves on. The cat goes back to sleep. I keep typing.

Not so with my thoughts. A thought will plop into my brain, and then I latch onto it and it becomes a thought avalanche.

Unannounced thought: I’m never going to get anything done today.

Me: “Oh no! Really? Do you mean that? That would be terrible! I’d be a failure! As a matter of fact, I already am a failure! Gosh, there really is no point in getting anything done today! I may as well not even start!”

See what just happened? I overreacted to an acorn.

Another unannounced thought: I’m a terrible person.

Me: “Oh, ok! Let me reinforce that thought by listing all the reasons I’m a terrible person! Reason one: that thing that happened in the past I’ve thought about eight hundred times already. Reason two…”

You get the picture: more acorn drama.

In Conclusion: Responding, Not Controlling

There is a misconception wreaking havoc upon our culture right now, and it is this: we are in control of our thinking. Result: those of us with acorn-thoughts cascading into mental breakdowns feel like total failures. But remember, just because you can pick up an acorn and throw it doesn’t mean that you made it fall from the tree. I’m not a neurologist, but I know this much: I don’t control most of my acorns. I do control how I respond to them.

I hear a lot of people say they want their anxiety to “go away.” They want a clean slate. A brain that only thinks nice thoughts, as cheerful as a summer’s day. I have unfortunate news for you: it may never happen. But here’s what can happen:

1. You can change how you respond to your anxious thoughts. To clarify: “response” can be as simple as “awareness” or “observing” your thoughts. 

2. Your positive responses will create ripple effects that decrease the frequency and intensity of anxious thoughts over time.

What do you think? Do you feel in control of your thoughts, or like you’re constantly reacting to them? How do you create space between your thoughts? Share in the comments…

Wishing you a mindful start to your week…🌟

Jenna


Image Credit: acorns-seeds-oak-brown-harvest by klimkin, CC0 Public Domain

An Amazing TED Talk about Depression

I almost waited til next week to post this but simply had to share it now. I just watched “Depression is a disease of civilization,” a TED talk by Stephen Ilardi. Everything in this video resonates with my experience of depression, what has helped me recover, and things that I know I could be doing better. In addition, there’s some serious calls to action for Western society. I’ve provided a link to the video here, please give it a watch!

If you don’t have time to watch the video, I’ve summarized the main points below:

  • In the Western world, the rates of depression are increasing with each passing generation
  • In traditional hunter-gatherer societies such as the Kaluli in Papua New Guinea, depression is almost nonexistent
  • Genetically, we have not evolved much since we were hunter-gatherers
  • Conclusion: despite the Kaluli’s difficult lives, what’s protecting them is their lifestyle
  • Ilardi and researchers have identified six factors that, in addition to treatments like medication and therapy, have been found to reduce or eliminate depression:
  1. Physical Activity (but not “exercise” as we commonly think of it!)
  2. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
  3. Sunlight
  4. Healthy Sleep
  5. Anti-Ruminative Activity (which I just talked about in my post on Monkey Mind)
  6. Social connection

Unfortunately he runs out of time at the end of his video, so for more explanations on these six factors, visit the researchers’ webpage here.

While I believe there’s more to recovery than this, I think this is a wonderful start.

Wishing you well, and have a fun and healthy weekend!

🌟Jenna


Source: TedxTalks. “Depression is a disease of civilization: Stephen Ilardi at TedxEmory.” Online video clip. Youtube. May 23 2013. Web. Sept. 16 2016.


Image credit: pedestrians-rush-hour-blurred-urban by Unsplash, CC0 Public Domain

Taming Your Monkey Mind

Monkey walking across a rope

When I’m anxious, my brain feels like a zoo full of monkeys. Thoughts jump from one conclusion to the other like a lemur leaping from rope to rope. I try to shake them off, but they hang on for dear life, cackling and taunting me all the while. I put my face in my hands and wonder: how do I get rid of them?

Anxiety = Your Monkeys

These thoughts are your monkeys. They’re not the cute kind you see in pictures. They’re terribly trained, troublemaking, downright naughty monkeys. And they know exactly which buttons to push to work you up into a panic, unless you know how to deal with them.

An utterly awesome poet, The Feathered Sleep, first mentioned the monkeys to me. She said it was time for me to find a new home for them. How right she was. But how? The answer arrived in this video I watched on the Huffington Post. I highly recommend you give it a watch. In it, Tibetan Buddhist master Mingyur Rinpoche gives us the answer.

Putting Your Monkeys to Work

“Just giving them a banana doesn’t work,” he says, “You need to give them a job.” 
Most of us try the banana method first. We appease the monkeys with anything we can think of, from cookies to chardonnay. Bananas I’ve tried in the past include oversleeping, eating when I wasn’t hungry, and over-stimulating myself with constant social activity. The latter was particularly amusing for the monkeys, because I’m an introvert and I eventually burned out. Appeasing the monkeys can also lead to destructive habits and addictions. Scratch the banana method—time to put them to work.

Grounding Techniques For Your Monkeys

The job that master Rinpoche gives his monkeys it to be aware of his breath.
“If you don’t forget your breath, anything is okay,” he says. When the thoughts come back, as long as you stay aware of your breath, it’s “no problem.”

Awareness of breath is a great technique. It’s also one that I find really difficult! So I’ve compiled a list of other grounding techniques that you can use as “jobs” for your monkeys:

  • Use your five senses. What do I see now? Smell now? Taste now? Touch now? Hear now?
  • Count something. Your breath, the leaves on a tree, the beads on a necklace. This is why they say to count sheep if you’re having trouble sleeping.
  • Color in your adult coloring book
  • Journal. Write the monkey thoughts down, or write about your immediate surroundings.
  • Sing a song out loud that you know well.
  • Touch something with an interesting or comforting texture, such as a smooth stone.
  • Listen to a guided meditation
  • Get some exercise, even if it’s a simple walk

The trick to monkey jobs is that they not be too complicated. If you’re really worked up and try to do something complicated, the monkeys have raw material to create new anxious thoughts. If their job is really simple, they don’t have a lot to work with. They might ask you for more complicated jobs, but the trick is to bring them back to center before getting back to a complicated task.

What tricks does your Monkey Mind pull on you, and how do you manage it? Share in the comments…

Wishing you well…🌟

Jenna


Image Credit: Berber-monkey by depaulus, CC0 Public Domain

A Really Honest Post About Mental Illness

“Your innermost happening is worth all your love.” Rainer Maria Rilke

What Depression Feels Like

I’ve spent so many hours in emptiness. I almost said darkness, but darkness isn’t quite right. In darkness, there’s the substance of night. There’s the possibility of moonlight, a candle, a lightbulb even. Depression does not have this richness or possibility. It tastes like ashes in your mouth, feels like emptiness, looks like the dingiest of grey concrete. During that time, I felt unworthy of the best life had to offer. I literally manifested grime, dinginess, and dust into my life. I lived in places and worked in jobs where I couldn’t see the light and was surrounded by lifeless objects and sleeping people. The sense that I deserved it all kept me mired in depression for so long.

So I sit here now, living in a better place, looking out of a window with a healing natural view. The morning light graces the trees’ green leaves, which shine all the brighter with last night’s rain. The colors of the leaves and the improbably beauty of the sunlight warm my heart. But I have to remind myself—I deserve this.

I deserve to sit here and behold the sunlight. I deserve not to sit in a dingy office surrounded by people who couldn’t care less how I really feel. I deserve to spend my time dedicated to projects I care about. I deserve to choose how to spend my life. I deserve to live in the light.

The bravest thing I do every day is get out of bed. When I first wake, hurtful thoughts immediately pop into my brain. Another day. I have to do this. How am I going to get through it? It’s too much. I’m too tired. It’s too much work. I’ll never be able to do what I need to get done. Or I’m assaulted by memories of things I’ve done that I’m ashamed of. Jobs I’ve left. People I’ve cried in front of. People that have witnessed my weakness.

Even writing this brings tears to my eyes. I know you can’t see them, but I wonder if they might come through in my writing. It hurts so much to live in a world that doesn’t value my feelings. My desire for peace in my heart, and my soul. The world doesn’t understand that I’m not lazy, I’m not stupid. Teachers who tell me I’m not living up to my intellect, professors who stop emailing me because I’m not doing anything “worthwhile” with my life. People who look at me like I have three heads when I say “I’m in between things” or “I’m writing.” People who expect me to have a career path, a nine to five, a 401(k), a LinkedIn account. The years of struggle, of trying to fit in, trying so hard to squish myself into a small space. How it feels to just sit here and write and feel like my soul finally has room to breathe, to stretch out to the heights of the sky.

I didn’t ask to be like this. It wasn’t a choice. I didn’t decide to feel everything so deeply, to be so empathic I’m almost permeable. I didn’t decide to be so anxious, to be a five year old child who ran to her mother, crying, saying that her brain was telling her to put her hand on the hot stove and let it burn. To be a nine year old child who lay awake at night, terrified of getting cancer. A ten year old child who still lay awake, seeing images of needles going into her eyes. An eleven year old child who wore the same grey sweatshirt with holes in it all winter. A fourteen year old child who couldn’t stop ruminating about a classmate, paranoid that he was after her. A fifteen year old child who compulsively confessed everything to her parents. An eighteen year old child who thought she didn’t deserve to go to a nice college. A nineteen year old child who discovered panic attacks and proceeded to spend the next seven years of her life as a rubber band ball, made of anxious thoughts and strangling feelings.

person sits on shore under umbrella

My Life Now: Living with Depression and Anxiety

I’m a young adult now, and I’ve had a lot of therapy. That’s why I’m able to write and blog and try to help other people who may have felt just as helpless and scared and alone. Who’ve felt like a misfit in a world of smiling, productive people. I’ve read some good books that have helped me, and discovered a beautiful, nondenominational spirituality. I’ve learned that there are people out there who care, even if they’re few and far between. There are people who believe in a kind and compassionate world, where we never rationalize suffering and tell people to buck up and power through. Where we listen to people and believe them when they talk. Where we give everyone the dignity of their own reality and offer them the love and caring they deserve. Where it’s a sign of strength, and not of weakness, to cry.

My commandment is: Love Your Innermost Happening.

Accept it. Admit it. This is who you are. A lot of people aren’t going to understand. They’re still asleep. Leave them be, and find the people who are awake enough to accept you. What’s happening inside you? What are you dreaming? Thinking? Feeling? What are you longing to do? What needs to change, or stay the same?

The second bravest thing I do every day is accept myself for who I am.

What is the bravest thing YOU do every day? Share in the comments…

Wishing you well, and if you’ve made it this far in the post, THANK YOU! 🌟

-Jenna

P.S. The third bravest thing I did today was hit “publish” on this post. I was totally scared to post this. But I want to up the ante with honesty this year, and show what I’ve learned from my experience. Thanks to Daisy in the Willows who told me that having nerves can be a good thing, because it means it’s important to you🙂 Nerves are totally distinct from anxiety (maybe a topic for another day!)

Happy Anniversary!

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-5-16-31-pm

Just wanted to share that I started this mental health blog one year ago today! 🌟💙🙂🎈🎉

It’s been an incredible journey. I started with some weird posts, and some weird names, until The Wishing Well and its message of honesty, humor and heart emerged.

The best part about this blog is meeting you wonderful people. Thank you to EVERYONE who has ever visited my site, even for a moment. I’d like to say a special thank you to a few different folks (in no particular order):

Matt from In Silence We Suffer: Your upbeat and thoughtful perspectives, as well as empathy for others, are so inspiring. Thank you for checking in and asking how I’m doing every now and then, it means a lot. I’m so happy to have you in my blogging world!

Sharon from Curious Queendom: Thank you for challenging me to grow this year. You are the main reason “honesty” is in the tagline, and my writing is better for it. I really enjoyed the process of guest posting with you (even though it took me forever to get you my piece), and I think you’re a dynamite writer.

Carla from The Melodramatic Confessions of Carla Louise: Your courage and fortitude never ceases to amaze me. Thanks for having the courage to challenge stereotypes and problems that most people won’t touch.

Dr. Dinardo from Thriving Under Pressure: I can’t even BEGIN to tell you how much your encouragement has meant to me this year. There aren’t words! You give me hope that there’s a place for my writing in the world, and that the world of mental health is changing for the better.

Chelsie from You, Me & Emetophobia: You are so brave to share your story and to educate people about a form of anxiety most aren’t aware of. I think your content is fantastic and I hope you keep it up. Guest posting with you was a blast!

Miriam E. Miles: You were the one who told me to “ride the river of ideas.” I’m not sure if you remember that, but I do! You’re a born writer, and your sensitivity and clarity is inspiring. The video you posted recently I found very moving. Keep it up!

Together, we can change the world of mental health! And other hopeful message thereof!

Wishing you well…🌟

Jenna