Wellness Plan Toolbox

The first step in writing my wellness plan is determining the helpful steps I already have in my daily life. When I am healthy, what is it I’m doing to make me that way? What are my day-to-day activities that signify health and wellness for me? “What things do I already do to help myself be well, stay well, and live in the way I want to live?” (reference: WRAP Plan app)

This toolbox of activities is critical to my Wellness Plan, as I’ll draw from this list at different stages along my path from wellness to illness and back again. When I feel stressors, or triggers, that might signify a depressive episode is coming, what can I do to alleviate it? Are there any tools in my toolbox that I can pull out and implement to avert an episode?

If I’m further down the path toward depression, and an episode is imminent, which activities can I use to lessen the severity of the episode?

If I’m on my way out of a depression, which tools will I use first to help me post-crisis?

My initial list was 14 wellness tools:

  • time alone with God in Bible reading and prayer (TAWG)
  • taking my meds
  • journaling
  • eating well
  • good sleep hygiene
  • spending time with friends
  • sufficient down-time
  • seeing my therapist regularly
  • keeping my psych doc appointments
  • blogging or writing
  • taking naps
  • reading
  • watching movies
  • Fresh Hope Support Group

But as I thought about steps I can implement in a pre-crisis, I realized I have several more tools, even though I’m not currently using them. Things like savoring a cup of tea, or coloring, or taking a walk in nature. I certainly need to tell my support team that I’m struggling, so they can help me watch for warning signs.

One thing I’ve learned about depression is that it clouds my thinking. I can have this wellness toolbox, but in the midst of a crisis, I’m paralyzed and don’t know how to get out of it. That’s the reason for writing a wellness plan when I’m mentally healthy: so when I’m not thinking straight, I can look back and see what I recommend to myself.

I intend to share my wellness plan with my support folks (husband, sister, therapist, friend) so that they can help me remember to reach into my toolbox when I need to. As soon as I’m done writing the whole thing, I’ll pass it on to my care team.

Wishful thinking.

“Just pray harder.”

“Why don’t you take a walk in the sunshine?”

“Count your blessings!”

“There are so many who are worse off than you.”

And my mantra: “This, too, shall pass.”

All of these are perhaps well-intentioned, but unhelpful pieces of advice for a depressed person.

I can’t think myself out of depression. Though this time I really tried.

Each day, I answer a mood question, “On a scale of 1-9, how’s your mood?” And when I’m in a healthy mental state, my mood runs at 7 or 8. (9 and 10 are reserved for “extremely good” and “exceptional,” which usually happens when my husband and I are on an adventure or my whole family is together.)

Shortly after Christmas, my mood started running at 7 and 6. Then it dropped down to 6 and 5. Then it was solid days of 5.

I felt like I was handling 5. I didn’t see it as concerning. I was still going to my job, my volunteering. I came home and was tired, but that’s not unusual – it’s the middle of winter, so of course my mood is down a bit.

I started having trouble sleeping – waking at 2am or 3am for a couple of hours, night after night. I wrote it off to being in my mid-50s, that time in my life, etc.

I stopped reading my books, including ones I had been excited to devour. I couldn’t concentrate. And some of the Netflix shows we watched didn’t hold my attention for the entire hour. I’d get up and get a snack: “No, don’t pause it; it’s ok; I’ll be right back.”

I told my friends that I was fighting depression. And I thought I was. But in reality, I wasn’t doing anything but letting it take me further down the tunnel.

I thought it would go away. I thought I would bounce back. For six weeks I let it push me deeper and deeper, but I kept denying it. Or at least minimizing it.

The thing about depression is – my brain is broken during an episode. I don’t think clearly. So I couldn’t see that depression wasn’t going to go away by itself. Even though I know better, I somehow thought that I could will myself out of depression.

I told my husband that if my mood dipped to 3, I would see the psych doc for a med adjustment. And my mood dipped to 4, for several days in a row.

At the same time, I caught a bad head cold, so I continued to “write off” my mood – this time because I wasn’t feeling well.

And then, I tanked. My mood hit 3. I left a message for the doc that I needed to see him.

On our way out of church Sunday, my husband encouraged me to not beat myself up for taking so long to see my psych doc. He reminded me that I gave myself parameters, and I abided by those guidelines: mood = 3 means call for a med check.

I admitted that I am beating myself up a bit. I know better! I know depression doesn’t go away by itself. But he’s right – I did what I said I would do.

I met with the psych doc this morning. He doesn’t want me to plummet (too late), so we’re boosting two of my meds. And because I took my fine sweet time getting in to see him, I’m going to be on these adjusted meds for several months. Hopefully, it won’t take that whole time to begin to feel better.

It is true: “This, too, shall pass.” But not without a helpful push from the doctor.

Mid-night waking

It’s 2:27am on Friday morning as I start to write this. This is the third out of four nights I’ve been awake in the wee hours of the morning. And it happened a couple of nights/mornings last week, too.

It’s starting to feel like a pattern.

I wake up some time between 1-2am, and can be awake for 2-3 hours. Last night, I laid in bed for the whole time. Tonight, I tried to sleep for an hour before just getting up and having tea.

I remember having trouble with sleep when I was fighting off depression last time. I seem to fall asleep pretty quickly, but when I wake up in the middle of the night, I can’t get back to sleep. I know I’m not the only one in my family with this pattern, so perhaps it’s partly genetics. Maybe partly age – I hear insomnia is common in menopause. We could form a club and have 3am meetings! What’s on the agenda this morning, girls?!

When I’m lying in bed and trying to sleep, my body falls into the groove of the gel foam bed topper. A couple of times, I’ve gotten up because I can’t get comfortable – the gel won’t adapt quickly enough; I’m too hot (the ceiling fan is on); my back hurts. Or, I’m just awake. This morning, I think a bowl of Cheerios might ease my tummy growls.

I’m not feeling tired right now – I’m awake and alert. I’ve scrolled through my emails, read a devotional, added to my to-do list, and printed a journal. I like blogging in the quiet of the morning hours – this is often when I write.

I have a book to read for next week’s book club – I could start that. Or I could quietly watch Netflix. Or knit. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself in these very early hours of the day!

The cats aren’t sure what to make of me being up, either. Last night, I think they knew I was awake even though I was still in bed, and I could hear them running through the hallway and wrestling in the bedroom. They even pounced on me a couple of times, without waking my husband. This morning, they both blinked at me as I disturbed their quiet. At first, they moved around me slowly, like they weren’t sure that they wanted to be up. But as our early minutes have turned into an hour, they’ve played in the cardboard cat house and grabbed a quick bite of kibble. The kitten is searching for a toy to chase across the floor while the lady is following me from room to room. It seems they’re accepting my mid-night roaming around the house.

I’m starting to feel a little sleepy, so maybe I’ll go back to bed. The problem is that the sheets are now cold. I could just curl up here on the couch under the cozy new throw blanket.

It always surprises my husband when he finds me in the living room in the morning. When his alarm goes off, he gets up very quietly so as not to wake me, not even noticing that I’m not in the bed! Then he comes out for breakfast and flips on the lights, and I’m awake again. Sometimes, I crawl back into bed and other times I stay on the couch and listen to him rustle around the kitchen, making toast or eggs. Sometimes, if I’ve slept well on the couch, I get up and eat breakfast and start my day, too. But not usually. I’m typically still tired from the middle-of-the-night hours of being awake, and sleep calls to me as the rest of the day awakens.

Christmas when Depressed

I’ve read several posts lately, encouraging folks who are struggling with depression in ways to manage this season. I began to think of one of the Christmases when I was depressed, probably the worst one. I’m going to look through my journal from that time, and see what steps I took to manage my emotions then.

I had just recently been released from a short stay in the psych ward (December 6-10). My parents live in NE, my sister in MO, and we were in WI at the time. So my family hadn’t seen me, and only knew how I was doing based on what my husband was sharing with them. But God had known that we would need to be together, so my sister invited us to come to her house for the holidays. Quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine Christmas at our house – I assumed it would be as miserable as I was feeling. I didn’t know how I would manage the drive (I ended up sleeping most of the way in the backseat of the van), but it really appealed to me to be someplace other than my home for the holiday. Besides, my parents would be there, too, and they’d all get to see first-hand how I was doing. I hoped that would bring them some peace.

I distinctly remember taking a lot of naps. Like one in the morning and another one in the afternoon! I needed rest – sleep – not just a break. But I needed respite, too, from the commotion of three families in one house, so I escaped to the bedroom a few times just to get some silence. I had an anti- anxiety pill that I was taking to help alleviate the shaking hands. Shoot, my whole body was shaking as I was adjusting to new medications, so I regularly had to excuse myself and go take my meds.

I remember after a nap, sitting on the couch in my sister’s living room, a room away from the TV. It was quieter there, more peaceful. My mom sat with me on the couch and I shared a little of what I remembered from the hospital. My voice trembled as I told her of the surroundings, the activities, the doctor.

I know we watched TV, but I recall finding it hard to concentrate. Several times, I got up and moved to the kitchen, where I could hear the TV but not see the bright lights from it. I sat at the kitchen table and drank a soda, and tried to focus on the conversation with my sister.

My husband helped shield me a lot, and kept an eye on me and my mood and energy levels. He probably made excuses for me when I had to leave the room. I’m grateful to him for running interference for me.

The trauma of me being in the hospital subsided for my kids a bit as they were distracted by their younger cousins, and reading entertaining books. It was good for them to be away from our home that year.

As always, my sister took care of delicious meals – she is an excellent cook – and my brother-in-law did all the dishes. I don’t remember doing any work of any sort – not that I was capable of it, anyway.

We didn’t stay long – just a couple of days. I know my family would have liked us to stay longer, but I could only manage a few days before I needed to get back to the safety of my own bed.

My journal reveals that by the time we went home, I was only taking one anti-anxiety pill a day. Seems like the family visit was just what I needed.

So my suggestions for how to handle depression this season, from my own personal experience? To the best of your ability, surround yourself with people who love you. But don’t be afraid to take a break from them – give yourself a time-out when you need one. Nap if you have to. Eat well. Rest. Take your meds as prescribed. Don’t be over-stimulated. Don’t overcommit. Give yourself permission to a slower, quieter pace.

It takes time, but it will get better. Even in deep depression, there are moments of lightness. Enjoy those.

And did I mention taking a nap?!

What time is it?

My husband has a predictable morning routine.

The alarm goes off at six. It’s a gentle sound, but it wakes me up briefly. He gets up – no snooze button! – and heads to the kitchen to make breakfast, closing the bedroom door behind him. He often feeds the cats – they join him as he meanders through his morning – and pours himself a glass of bubbly water while his coffee is dripping from the Keurig. He might make eggs and toast, or toast and granola cereal, or peanut butter on toast. “Yeah, toast,” he probably says to himself.

Sometimes, he’ll eat his breakfast at the kitchen counter. He used to eat at the table, but I’ve noticed the bar stool pulled back many mornings lately.

If the house is really cold, he might take his breakfast with him as he heads to the bathroom. There, he likes to sit on the floor with a towel around his shoulders – catching the heat from the vent and funneling it to his upper body. (He’s done this for years!) He’ll read headlines and news articles from his phone until it’s time to hop in the shower. After that, he gets dressed, pours himself a bottle of bubbly water for the road, and comes back into the bedroom to kiss me goodbye. By now, it’s around 7:10am. Then off to work he goes.

On the Monday after daylight savings time, the plan changed slightly.

The alarm went off, and I heard myself groan aloud, “No!” He sat up and silenced the sound, and then remained on the edge of the bed for a moment, like he was trying to clear the sound-sleeping from his head. Then he and the cats left the bedroom, with him quietly closing the door behind him.

For whatever reason, I woke up a little later. The sky was still pitch-black, and I wondered why there wasn’t at least a glint of sun in the clouds. I pulled my phone off the nightstand to check the time, then bolted upright. That can’t be!

I left the bedroom. The kitchen was dark. I walked toward the bathroom, and could see the sliver of light from under the door. But I didn’t hear the shower running, so I knew to look for him on the floor. I opened the door and stepped into the bathroom, and sat on the edge of the jacuzzi tub in front of him.

“Do you know what time it is?” I asked. “Have you looked at your clock?”

He clicked the button to check the time. “Uh, whaat?” He was confused, as I knew he would be.

“It’s 12:53,” I said. Repeat: “It’s only 12:53.”

“Huh?” he asked incrediously. “What the heck?” He kept staring at his phone, then looked up at the round wooden clock on the bathroom wall.

“It’s 12:53,” I said again.

“But my alarm went off!”

“I know. But it’s only just past midnight!”

He followed me back to bed, and we crawled under the covers. And began to giggle, then laugh ’til our sides hurt.

“Why did my alarm go off?” Giggle.

“I have no idea!” I’m laughing hard now.

“But I’ve had my coffee! I’ve eaten my breakfast!”

Laugh again.

“Why did my alarm go off?” He laughs some more. “I was surprised that I’d slept so soundly! I don’t think I’d even moved!”

“You probably didn’t. We’ve only been in bed a couple of hours.” Now I’m crying from the laughter.

As we begin to settle back into bed, one or the other of us chortles, which sends off another round of laughter. But slowly, the giggles subside. And soon I hear his deepening-sleep breathing. I smile and close my eyes.

The alarm goes off at six, and we both wake up and smile.

“Are you having more coffee?” I ask. He says yes, then takes the cats out as he closes the door behind him to let me sleep until 7:10am.