Starting to Notice an Improvement

I’m just loving this late February sunshine. The mornings are still freezing and the days are hitting a high of right around 50, but the sun is so warm and bright. The sun is rising and setting much later than in December, so the hours of daylight are appreciably longer. Again, I think this is an example where my negative attitude has previously determined my perception of winter being dreadful and seemingly endless. I think my bitterness in all other winters programmed the unfortunate miserable resolve I always had. I was so dead-set on hating winter and seeing all of the cons of the season that I missed some of good parts (like I loved Christmas this year) and the lifting of the cons that don’t actually last the whole duration of the season (but I was too grumpy to notice that). The sunshine is the best example of this. I’ve long held the belief that winter drags on and on for months and there’s never sun—especially a warm one—nor enough daylight. While it’s true that the hours of daylight are less than in the summer and the sun’s radiant rays are less direct and warm, it’s only really November-January that are decisively less bright and light. By February, the sun is rising earlier and setting later and the sunny days are surprisingly warm even when air temperatures are cold. One of my favorite feelings any time of year is the splash of natural sunshine over my face (I take care of my skin to not get burned by excessive UV rays).

This year, I’ve been open-minded and aggressively committed to staying positive so much that I’ve been gifted with the good parts of winter that I’ve forever overlooked and missed. I’m not in a great mood every day or necessarily the whole day when I am, but even the harsh critic in me can’t help but admit I’ve been doing one heck of a good job. On top of the normal winter seasonal affective disorder and depression I contend with year round, I’ve also been bombarded with extra challenges and stresses like the brutal ankle pain and resultant activity limitations, the contaminations and inflammations, Comet’s injury and the absence of her company on walks, exacerbated PTSD/insomnia from triggering therapy, financial strain, etc. Despite these additional problems, I’ve managed to keep my mood unusually upbeat and agreeable. Not only does Ben likely appreciate this improvement of previous years’ inevitable constant grouchiness, but I get to enjoy the positive ramifications personally as well. It’s not fun to be cranky and miserable; not only does this bad mood act like a toxic pollutant in relationships, but it acts like an infection for the individual as well. I hate when I’m depressed or irritable, but until very recently, I unfortunately never felt that I had any ownership or power in affecting this. While true depression still feels largely out of my control (such that just slapping on a smile and trying to act cheerful would genuinely eliminate it), it’s possible to alleviate some of its burdensome severity. More possible, however, is the real potential to reverse more transient grouchiness and sour moods, which naturally are ever so common in a depressed person. This latter category is where I’ve made my biggest gains this winter.

As scheduled, I did my first self-directed therapy session at 10am Monday. I kept it to 30 minutes, which goes very quickly, but I still was happy with what I accomplished. For the majority of my time, I used a free workbook that I found online from an Australian psychotherapy practice. They’ve generously made quite a few workbooks available for free on their website, which I happened upon in my pre-on-my-own therapy decision research. The one I’ve started with is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach to anxiety reduction. I plan to work through the depression one also available afterwards, but it seems to be that anxiety is an easier place to start. My depression truly feels like it’s largely rooted in a chemical imbalance, as many cases of depression are, rather than just a situational or affect issue. It’s been a constant issue, without reprieve, on a clinically-diagnosable level since I was just ten years old. Research has found a strong genetic component to depression as well and without oversharing personal struggles of my family members without permission, it’s clear to me that I’m not unique in my battle with chronic depression in my family. Additionally, I believe my dietary restrictions exacerbate my neurological chemical imbalances. I’ve read fairly conclusive reviews linking deficiencies in certain nutrients to depression. Unfortunately, without medications, it’s unlikely that any behavioral changes will be sufficient or even effective at all in correcting true chemical imbalances. I do think some aspects of mood and perception are somewhat modifiable with hard work (for example, my really low self-esteem, which plays into feelings of worthiness), but again, these seem like more complex and resistant-to-change factors than those that play into anxiety.

Although it’s true that I’m anxious and highly sensitive by nature (both physically and emotionally), and have been my whole life, even longer than the significant chunk of time I’ve been depressed, I feel more powerful in my ability to effectuate a reduction in the severity and frequency of anxious spells and the number of things and types of benign situations that currently trigger me. It feels much more possible to change the way I’m thinking, and thus reacting, to stressful or what I perceive to be worrisome stimuli. By using my logical mind, instead of my more primal animal mind, I can often see the unreasonableness of my overwhelming anxiety after the fact. By finding ways to give the stage to the logical mind and silence my primal fears (which kick in like reflexes), I believe I can overcome some of the particularly unfounded bouts of anxiety. That’s not to say it’ll be easy (because I’ve tried before), but I’m hoping that by really focusing on this work and taking a step-by-step approach to identifying triggers and roots of anxiety in flawed thinking patterns, I can at least make improvements. The CBT guide seems like a great place to start on this self-directed journey to combat my excessive anxiety. While I don’t think I’m likely able to “fix” or cure my PTSD, I have such pervasive underlying generalized anxiety that I feel I can positively modify. Doing so, I think, will hopefully limit the degree to which I feel out of control in terms of my anxious feelings and reactivity. It’s in my personality that I’m most comfortable when I feel in control (whether of my moods, how I feel physically or emotionally, or the circumstances of a given situation), so it’s appealing to me to imagine a reality where I feel more in command of what triggers the terrible discomfort of bad anxiety. I know I have a long road to hoe, yet I feel confident that these workbooks will help me establish a strong foundation from which to start attacking this goal.

After focusing on the workbook readings and activities for most of the 30 minutes, I downloaded an app I discovered that’s designed to help reduce anxiety. I explored some of the features and then tried out two stress-reduction exercises. Although I wasn’t testing them during a bout of acute anxiety, one felt so potentially effective that I did click into it yesterday after an upsetting PTSD flashback. I think I like it!

It’s Wednesday morning so I’ll be devoting another 30 minutes to a therapy session. I hope it feels as productive as Monday’s. I’ve got my game face on and my eagerness is palpable, so it should be good. There’s an undeniable excitement attached to sitting in the driver’s seat in your pursuit to feel psychologically better.

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