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A Realistic Way to Set Goals for Mental Health

It’s post new year’s, just about that time where most people drop their resolutions or goals. Many folks fail at keeping up with what they set out for themselves because it may be too big, too vague, too strict, or without a plan. Are you on that boat or have you simply not done any goal-setting? Maybe you’re still going strong (go you)!

I don’t set a resolution in January, but throughout the year, I set goals for myself with month-long deadlines. It really depends on where I wish to be with a certain something in a particular timeframe. Makes things clearer and more realistic. For example, if I want to take a course in the summer, I’ll make sure to look up how much it costs and save up the appropriate amount. Very simple example.

Sometimes, things don’t go as planned, but that’s all right. Still, if you think this way of structuring goals is a good idea, here are some examples geared toward managing your mental health that you can handle:

  • Start therapy on March 2, once a month. Cost: $100/month.
  • Write a daily log of my feelings for a year.
  • Save $80 for anxiety management workshop on July 1.

For me, big goals don’t have deadlines. That’s important for me because it reduces stress around meeting that goal at a certain time, and eliminates the possibility of disappointment if it isn’t met. It also gives me the proper time to transform and heal because life is not a race. But also, sometimes it’s just a life-long lifestyle change I want to make. Here are some examples (inspired by my own):

  • Go to Reiki 2x/month and work on myself in between. (Specific but no deadline)
  • Manage stress with exercise. (Lifestyle change)
  • Watch the sunrise every morning before work. (Lifestyle change)
So, I hope this gave you some clear ideas of how you can manage your mental health in an achievable way!

Don’t let the new year be a reason to start something you really want to do; begin anytime!

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Nominated for the Liebster Award!

My friends, I bring great news: Above the Storm has been nominated for the Liebster Award! Wow!

I’m so thankful to Mel from Hey, It’s Mel! for nominating me. She’s a very bright young woman, and her personal blog is fun to read; check it out. I have heard about this award in the past but didn’t think anyone would ever nominate me. Honestly, just being a nominee is an honour!

I’m not big on social media but I knew that I needed at least one handle to promote the site. After a bit of experimenting, Twitter ended up working for me, and I’m happy to have found other writers and mental health advocates there. I hope to grow my connections in the future with some great voices.

Nominee rules:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you, and provide a link to their blog in your post.
  2. Answer the questions provided for you, and come up with 5-10 more questions for your nominations.
  3. Give the award to 5-10 other bloggers who you appreciate.
  4. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know you nominated them for the award.
  5. Link to this blog post https://theglobalaussie.com/liebster-award-2018/ by the Global Aussie in your Liebster Award blog post.
  6. Head back to https://theglobalaussie.com/liebster-award-2018/ and leave a comment with your Liebster Award blog post link.

Mel’s questions for me:

First of all, can you provide 5 interesting facts about yourself?

Five interesting facts, hmm… let’s see: I’ve had my own website or blog since I was about 6. I watch anime sometimes.  I enjoy making visual art but haven’t in a while. I was obsessed with cheese for many years until recently. My hobbies include practicing energy healing and yoga.

What would you say is the biggest challenge about blogging?

Consistency.

How did you decide what your blog was going to be about?

I actually just wanted to share my methods for getting better from depression and anxiety at first. I also wanted to talk about therapy since it helped me so much, and I know that’s not always the case for a lot of people.

How much time do you spend blogging?

That’s hard to say, but lately, I’ve been spending a few hours per week writing, planning, or updating my new layout. I include Twitter time in there as well since I’m on there to promote my message.

How did blogging change your life?

Blogging has always allowed me a private space to vent my heart out. I have improved my writing skills through blogging over the years, and it just makes me so happy to write!

If you had the chance to travel back in time OR to the future, which option would you choose and why?

Tough question! I’d go back in time and talk to my younger self and tell her how special she is. I want to keep the future a surprise!

What do you think is overrated, and what do you think is underrated?

Overrated: Starbucks, Valentine’s Day, Instagram yogis.

Underrated: Introspection, nurses, not caring about being such a productive person in a fast society.

Finally, which fictional character would you most like to meet and why?

I’d love to meet Sailor Moon and Sakura Kinomoto because they were huge inspirations to me as a child.

I nominate:

Random Moments with Ash

Repsychl

Survival is a Talent

Nothing but Authentic

Goddessing From the Heart

Questions you need to answer:

  • Why did you create your blog?
  • What other talents or hobbies do you have?
  • What are your 3 favourite movies?
  • What is the best thing about being you?
  • If you could do anything with your life, regardless of money or life circumstance, it would be…

How Self-Dating Changed My Life

One of my biggest dreams as a child was to fall in deep, true love. Today, while my experiences have refined my perspective on romantic relationships, it’s still a wish of mine. To some, this may seem cheesy but I know that many others feel the same. Our dream is the all-consuming beast Carrie Bradshaw strived for.

It’s actually very scary and intimidating to allow yourself to be completely open with someone. I did reject this childhood dream at some point at the start of my adult life, around age 18: as my teenage experiences with males accumulated, my belief in fairy tale romance faded. Then at some point, I figured there was no “The One” but a select group of potential forever-mates I could choose from. I lost my virginity to someone in the said potential group whom I liked a lot, but in his final blow I told myself, “…he’s not it”. I had a few more of those not-it moments. It being the one. That one. The one whom I can share myself with, wholeheartedly, no holds barred. And so I preceded to believe that perhaps this notion of “The One” actually made sense. I believe that The One is out there for me. Like Charlotte York, I’ve got the unwavering belief that I, too shall live a fairy tale kind of love.

I’ve tried to seek “The One” quite recently, but to no avail. Right now, I’m like a bored judge at an audition, sitting at the table like, “next…” Some don’t have the decency to ask me out on a nice date, but rather to hang out at the Subway down the street or the parking lot. (What!??) Oh, and the dating apps are boring. I can’t meet a serious person on there, and I freak out when I see someone I actually know. So I figured, why wait for someone to court me? I can court myself!

I take myself out on a date sometimes. My favourite activity is exploring natural parks because I love seeing wildlife, breathing fresh air, and taking long walks. I visit art exhibits. I indulge in my brunch obsession sometimes. I love to date myself for the self-discovery it brings. Most of all, I get to be selfish and bond with my favourite girl — me! I am my own best friend.

Taking yourself out on a date is an avant-garde practice. It’s about deepening the relationship you have with yourself — a relationship which none of us can escape from, but can either hinder or nurture. Smiley Poswolsky explains the benefits of self-dating perfectly:

“When you start dating yourself, your mindset shifts. Rather than define your own self-worth based on whether someone else swipes right at your photo or whether someone else wants to go home with you, you determine your own self-worth based on how you’re spending your time. You can commit to personal projects, set aside time for self-reflection and self-care, and discover new career aspirations. Instead of simply going through the motions, you’re in the driver’s seat of your own life.”

One night, I wore some makeup and athleisure to a date on the couch watching Netflix, while eating a delicious bowl of cheese-flavoured popcorn. Actually, that night, I felt bummed and lonely prior to my impromptu date, but I did not want to let the feeling consume me. It came to me that I had to acknowledge my loneliness, but that I am also able to cater to my own needs.

This past couple of years have been a rough ride. I am just now becoming comfortable in my own skin and living in a way that best suits me. In the past, I complained about guys not treating me with complete respect and not seeing how incredible of a catch I am. Meanwhile, I was not treating myself with the utmost respect. Now, I’ve created new boundaries and gained a great amount of self-respect and appreciation. I can be romantic, honest, present, and kind with myself. There always seems to be an issue I have to fix, but that’s part of self-development. All in all, I’ve never loved myself quite like this!

Dear POC: We Get Depressed Too

*I was inspired by a part in the interview I did with Anna from Respychl about mental health. My interview is part of a series on her blog, please check it out!

When I was in the 11th grade, my father told me that during his meeting with the school principals, they suggested I see a counselor. My father refused. He said I didn’t need to speak to anyone about my problems because I am African, and Africans don’t get depressed. Africans don’t get depressed because, despite a post-colonial history of poverty and war, Africans manage to find happiness at the end of the day, my father said.

I was a little upset; it was a new school, and I didn’t know what to make of how I was feeling. I didn’t know much about depression but I did think I had experienced it as a 13-year-old angry little girl, upset over the passing of a loved one and feeling misunderstood her entire childhood. But every day of my 16-year-old life, I woke up feeling meek and totally empty. Sometimes, I’d wake up so angry, barely a word would come out of my mouth the entire day at school. No friends: people weren’t interested and neither was I. There was a false rumor about me going around, too. So, yes, I would have liked to have somebody to trust at school. But I believed my father’s opinion and denied my emotions.

My father is a wonderful man, he just could not relate. My immigrant parents have been through a lot. They left their origin country by boat to the neighboring Angola, where they fled a war and came to Canada. My mother was sick all of my life, and today here I am, scathed but healed. Anyway, I do understand where my father is coming from. Despite economic shifts due to colonialism and government corruption, and ancestral trauma, Africans have never lost the aspect of community in our nations. There is a communal state of mind where people share with one another, help raise each other’s children, among other things. When we are sick or have experienced trauma, friends and family are there for us until we get better. You are never alone. African immigrants have carried this state of mind with them in the communities we’ve found in the west. But they are far from being perfect communities, and it doesn’t mean that Africans don’t get affected by problems. Poverty, trauma and the like… it’s complicated. Plus, we have to factor in other issues that the individual is personally going through, maybe secretly due to cultural taboos. Even if you can stand up on your own two feet again, negative emotions can creep up at any time.

I used to feel ashamed and selfish about being depressed. Here, in Canada, I have so many opportunities and great healthcare. But I no longer feel that way. I’m also in a much better place now after seeking a lot of help. I had to train myself to believe that my experiences and emotions were valid, especially if physical imbalances may contribute to mental illness. Here, in the West, black communities and other POC communities still carry a taboo around mental health issues, but I believe that’s starting to break down slowly. My hope is that more people of color become open to the fact that the state of your overall health depends on how you feel inside just as much as your physical health. Wherever you live in the world, that place comes with its own set of issues which affect everyone. And I don’t even know what you have had to deal with at home. How you feel, you know, it’s completely valid.

I like to adopt the practice of helping someone out until they can get back on their feet, and including others to do the same because a lot of the time, a depressed person will feel alone and like they don’t want to bother anybody. It hasn’t always worked out in my experience, though, for a few reasons: one time the person kept rejecting my hand, while another person was too individualist and just believed they were alone in this no matter what. Despite these two instances, there were more breakthroughs. There are many people who can appreciate and benefit from having people around them. This doesn’t have to be for when your friend or loved one is ill; you could be there for a new mom, a new immigrant, whomever! Try it, and see what happens.

Nutritional Deficiencies & Mood Disorders: Do Supplements Work?

Last year, during my major depressive episode, I figured that depression was such a recurring problem for me that it could not be merely psychological. I was noticing that certain foods would give me stomach aches or have me fall asleep, only to wake up super hungry after my nap! My body was often tired, even after having adopted a regular fitness routine from the age of 18. I thought that maybe my body was lacking nutrients, because, despite my exercising, I still had very poor eating habits and never saw food as my friend, but rather more like an enemy that mostly hindered my fitness goals. One day, I remembered that as a child my father would always tell me to eat fish because it made me smarter, and that would get me excited about eating it every time. So with that in mind, my excitement found me again as I went to work doing intensive research on the effects of food and nutrition on the brain. Countless–maybe some, needless–clinical appointments were booked in an attempt to find deficiencies, diseases or intolerances within my body. I had to know; my resolve was set to attaining full rehabilitation in mental, physical, and spiritual health if I was ever to get back on my feet again.

Scratching the Surface of Nutrition & Mood

The Second Brain

Let’s start with gut health. The gut is considered in science as a second brain in which 100 trillion bacteria and millions of microbial genes contribute to the health of the actual brain. (Kranjac, Psychology Today) This party of organisms is called gut microbiome. When gut health is compromised, not only does it put the body at risk of physical disease, but it also puts you at risk of neuropsychiatric/mood disorders. The gut becomes inflamed when we are chronically stressed and/or regularly eat pro-inflammatory foods (here’s a list), which worsens depression and anxiety. Dr. Emily Deans states in her column Evolutionary Psychiatry for Psychology Today:

Now the immune system works wonders and inflammation saves your life nearly every day from all the pathogens out there like the flu and strep, but chronic levels of inflammatory response also lead to all sorts of chronic disease, for example depressive disorders, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, autoimmune diseases such as ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis…the gut microbiome plays a key role in regulating our immune response. Thus the make-up of our gut microbiome could make the difference as to whether we are sick or well, both mentally and physically. 

There is a lot to take in about the gut, like the fact that about 80-90% of serotonin (an important chemical in the body in charge of balancing your mood) is produced there. The gut microbiome can be improved by switching to more wholesome foods, increasing good bacteria (with the help of a probiotic or pickled food, for example), and lowering stress. This reduces chronic inflammation, which makes us feel better.

Vitamin D(efficiency)

Did you know that a lack of vitamin D can worsen or cause depression? A recent review of 14 studies done at St.Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Canada, found a correlation between depression and low levels of Vitamin D. What’s more, is the case for S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), where many people’s moods worsen during colder months, when the sun is not at it brightest and, by the afternoon, not present at all. The ray that carries vitamin D is the UVB ray,  and without enough of it, vitamin D stores can deplete. (Archer, Psychology Today) You need to go outside to get it, but a vitamin D supplement will also help to restore proper levels. Another study proved that vitamin D supplements successfully improved the moods of three depressed women after 12 weeks.

You Must Love Fat

You may or may not be aware of this by now, but Omega-3 fatty acid improves cognitive performance and decreases inflammation in the gut. Cognitive performance not only includes mood, but also memory and accuracy, among other things. In fact, some symptoms of Omega-3 deficiency include mood swings, tiredness, and poor memory–all very common symptoms of depression as well.

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My Experience so Far

I must admit, I am a little reluctant to share my experience. I don’t want anybody to start restricting their diet as I have for so many years, even after having learned this information. I was working with a holistic nutritionist not long ago to learn how to balance out my meals and to change my rocky relationship with food. Since last year, during my “nutrition craze”, I have tested the above-mentioned research claims on myself. Paying close attention to how I feel after I eat something. Here’s my experience:

I know now why I love summer so darn much, and that’s because it makes me so happy. In the winter, it’s usually painfully hard, no matter how much sleep I get, to get up in the early mornings. I feel bitter and sad like I cannot seize the day. It’s winter right now, and now I use Ddrops (vitamin D supplement), which are helping my mood tremendously in the mornings. I found sugar to be an instant trigger for depression. I get terrible gas, stomach ache, and high levels of anxiety when eating a certain amount of wheat, so I keep it at a minimal. And, incorporating healthy fats into my diet has been the most beneficial thing for me thus far. It has allowed me to experience fewer mood swings over time, and now they happen very rarely. I also used to wake up highly anxious, like in a frenzy, but now that almost never happens. On top of eating foods like olive oil, coconut products, nut butter, and meat, the nutritionist had also recommended I use Genuine Health’s Omega-3+ Joy. They are big pills, and four per day is the recommended serving. To be honest, I’m never keen on taking these pills ’cause they’re so big.

My relationship with food is being reconstructed. I’m going to give myself credit here and say I am halfway there. Disordered eating is an issue that has plagued my life and planted deep roots I was only recently aware of, and am now trying to pluck. It’s my hope that this information will prompt you to ask yourself some questions, and seek professional help from doctors, dietitians, and/or holistic nutritionists.

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Resources
Archer, Dale. “Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 July 2013, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201307/vitamin-d-deficiency-and-depression.
Deans, Emily. “The Gut-Brain Connection, Mental Illness, and Disease.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 6 Apr. 2014, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201404/the-gut-brain-connection-mental-illness-and-disease.
Heyes, J.D., Your depression may be due to vitamin D deficiency https://www.naturalnews.com/039643_depression_vitamin_d_deficiency.html
Kranjac, Dinko. “Mood Disorders and the Disrupted Gut Microbial Milieu.” Psychiatry Advisor, 29 Sept. 2016, http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/depressive-disorder/mood-disorders-and-the-disrupted-gut-microbial-milieu/article/525983/.
McIntosh, James. “Serotonin: Facts, What Does Serotonin Do?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 29 Apr. 2016, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/serotonin-facts-232248.
Zehring, Brad, DO, The Importance of Nutrition  in Psychiatric Treatment, http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/practice-management/the-importance-of-nutrition-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/400073/

A Good Book for People with Low-Functioning Depression

In a low-functioning state, we are severely depressed, and the issue feels like it is much bigger than ourselves. Of course, we need to seek professional help. But as I like to emphasize, the other half of healing is the help we give ourselves. While self-help material mostly targets high-functioning individuals (people who can go about their day despite being depressed), there may be one or more books we encounter that will change our outlook on life even in a low-functioning state. Perhaps Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed is that special book for you.

Brave Enough is a book of quotes from Cheryl Strayed’s previous texts and speeches. Cheryl Strayed is an award-winning essayist with beautiful prose, even as she speaks. I like to listen to Cheryl and her co-host Steve Almond on Dear Sugars, my favorite podcast. In Brave Enough, she talks about choosing a career, shitty life circumstances, friends, family, trust, falling in & out of love, and the necessity to change your life.

The book is a short read with large text, making it easily digestible. In fact, some pages only have one sentence. This is good because reading the book may not feel like a chore. I Personally found that, from the middle to the end of the book, it seemed like a few quotes had the exact same message but were written in a different way. It can be annoying for someone who is high-functioning to read very similar passages over and over again, but a low-functioning person might need a lot more encouragement to change, move, or shake. And so, it helps to have things repeated to you a couple times.

You can do this. You can do this. You can do this.

Are there any books that helped you see things in a different light? I’d love to know!

When You’re too Depressed to Stay in School

I spent five years kind of confused in university. I could easily say they were wasted, but the last five years have witnessed the biggest personal growth of my life thus far.

When this blog first started, I wrote that I was frozen with fear about dropping out of school. I nearly finished the program but I was struggling to get certain credits. And last winter, there I lay, stiff in bed, curled under layers of sheets protecting a body of glass. I wondered, “would I disappoint my father and myself by taking a break from school? Would I be a fool if I decided never to go back?” I was also very embarrassed for taking too long to finish school. These were all mind-traps created by me, inspired by expectations of my environment.

I gave myself an entire summer to think it over. Didn’t take long to decide; I was mostly building up the courage to tell my family I’d be putting my education on pause. When I’d find the strength to get out of bed, I was on the floor in a deep squat, sitting or laying down. Nerves flying through the roof. Frantically mapping out my year in plans A, B, C, and D, until I exhausted my options. It was a very sad time.

Proven Coping Methods

While I was in school, there were ways I tried to cope with the stress. I lessened my courseload from five classes per semester to four. I sought help from therapists at the health & wellness centre. Once, I asked an instructor for more time on a project. I ended up speaking with the centre for disabilities at my school, and they offered to help in various ways: providing a quiet space to do exams, allowing extra time for all tests and assignments, getting tested for learning disabilities if you think you have one (costs $$$ though, but is partially covered by the school’s health insurance), and other things that I can’t remember now. You surely have a centre for students with disabilities at your school. You don’t have to have a recorded disability to ask for help, but they help students who are really struggling. Rules might be different at each school, though. These methods all helped me. What ultimately led to my demise was a matter of not having any more money for my education and my basic needs.

Evaluating the Situation

Maybe you’re slipping through coursework. It’s not due to laziness, but because you’re stressed out or feel lost. Maybe your body is present in class but your mind is not, despite not having any distractions in front of you. Perhaps you’re not even sure that you want to continue with school at all. Well then, it’s okay to give yourself a break. Things need to be thought through thoroughly. But you also need to breathe, and not think at all about your worries every moment of every day. When we’re anxious and depressed we think a lot. Our brains have a hard time shutting off. And that can be hard. But it’s worth a try.

Be Extra Careful

I can’t stress enough the importance of planning out your schedule or your leave with an academic advisor. It may be in your best interest to also speak with a therapist at school about everything that is going on. Weighing out the pros and cons of staying and leaving is also best. Thinking decisions through thoroughly and seeking guidance is crucial.

The best lesson I learned from my break is to never get caught in pressures put on by our environment–family, society, friends, coworkers, etc. We must make decisions to the benefit of ourselves. We might have been put on this earth for a reason, but pleasing others isn’t one of them.

How to Make The Best Out of Therapy

If we attend therapy, how can we help ourselves get the best out of it? Here are some methods:

Listening with an open heart.

Take it in. Take it ALL in! Silencing our thoughts; not thinking about a reply until we’ve (briefly) considered what the therapist has just said.

Thinking about a detailed answer before responding.

For example, if asked, “how long have you felt this way?” it wouldn’t be helpful to reply with a vague answer that beats around the bush, such as, “Well, I’ve been this way for a very long time.” This answer provides a shield, keeping us from opening up to someone. Personally, I feel my chest tightening and my back curling when I’m asked a personal question like this.  But being as specific as possible, like thinking about approximately what age our symptoms started to appear, after which incident or phase, and how frequent our symptoms have been since then. So, a better answer is: “I remember feeling upset very often as a child, probably around 10 years old. I just started distancing myself from friends and family. I remember being bullied by a few kids at school because of my weight.” The professional with whom you’re working can then ask you more questions that will uncover the reason behind your emotions and behaviors.

Recording sessions with permission.

Asking to record an audio version of  sessions on our phone or bringing a notebook. The best counselors/therapists don’t let us leave without session notes that further treatment. We can write them ourselves or ask for a copy of notes and strategies discussed during the appointment.

Suggesting homework if none is given.

This applies to when your therapist/counselor is helping you achieve something, or getting you to do something you used to love doing again. We can ask if they have any suggestions on how to get back into the groove of things. Self-development happens mostly outside of therapy.

Keeping session notes where we can see them.

Single sheets of paper can be hung on the wall of our bedroom, office, a private space, or a closet. We can also keep them in a folder or binder on the desk, or next to bed. The point is for our notes to be easily accessible. We may review them a few times a week, once a day, or whenever we need to.

Maybe it’s not the right fit.

We may explain our issues to a therapist and all they say is something like, “What do you think you can do about that?” or, “You tell me what to do about that.” I’ve even gotten, “So how can I help you?” and that can be frustrating. I mean, we don’t go to therapy to have someone help us think, and we certainly don’t go in knowing exactly how the therapist can help us. But we go to gain someone else’s (positive) perspective on our matters and to gain new ideas on how to deal. So, if we have no idea what we think we can do for ourselves, or how they can help us, we must kindly reply that we don’t know, which is the reason we’re seeking help.

If we don’t feel a connection, or if talk therapy no longer works, then it’s best to seek help from someone who specializes in the exact area we need healing. For example, the help of an eating disorder specialist for disordered eating, an intuitive counselor if we are interested in developing intuition, a pastoral therapist if Christian faith is important to us. Even a life coach! The goal is just to find someone who understands where you’re coming from.