Life with the Volume Up

Mental health has always been a strong part of this blog. As of late, though, I’ve been struggling to write much of anything at all. My own emotional health has been suffering. Part of this is some life changes I’ve been going through, that I don’t really wish to address here. Part of this is also hormonal, due to stress. And part of it is just that I am a deeply emotional person.

Relatively recently I’ve realized that I’m what’s called a Highly Sensitive Person. It manifest itself in me as feeling everything, and I mean everything, more deeply than the average person. I used to tell people I wasn’t much of a crier, because I believed it to be true. But the past 5 years have really been revealing to me just how many tears I’ve shed over the course of my life.

I have very strong memories of being a small child and my adoptive mom telling me that my tears weren’t real: that they were crocodile tears, that I was faking it. When I got my heart broken by my very first love in high school, I was an absolute mess for at least a month. I remember binge watching movies (before Netflix was even a thing) just to keep myself distracted.

I’ve felt hurt from every person that’s left my life, regardless of the reason. Hell, our downstairs neighbors moved away a little more than 6 months ago, and even though we weren’t more than passing acquaintances I always ask myself if I could have been a better neighbor. Abandonment is my biggest fear: the silent threat that people I care about will leave me is what keeps me up at night.

I crave intimacy from all people. I have always been willing to give myself to others emotionally, wanting to share who I am in hopes of learning, in return, who they are. For me, beauty is in the totality of someone, not just their parts. I believe that the more you know someone, the easier it is to love them, because you can see how they wind their way through the world. The sad part for me is how not everyone feels comfortable sharing those parts of themselves.  I both understand and lament this fact.

I won’t ever stop laying myself bare for others, even if it’s not returned. Even if it makes me sad that someone doesn’t want to connect, even if it means I will mourn for the closeness I’m not destined to have. Because someday someone will look at me and SEE me, and allow me to see them right back, and it will make all of it worth it.

You see, there isn’t anything wrong with me. I just live my life with the volume turned up.

I’m incredibly lucky to have a few friends who can see I need help in the way I type. My friend Sharon can tell with a text message if I need girl time, and my friend Chris can tell by my typing tone if I’m feeling down. There are even a few friends who just send me tiny emoticons, or cute animal videos, or goofy Snapchat filtered pics just to make me smile (I love those people). The thing is, I’ve been feeling down a lot lately. More than I’ve been feeling good. And when I feel this way, my brain lies its full head off to me. I feel unworthy of friendship, of love, and the urge to apologize for *feeling* is an overwhelming compulsion.

More than one person in the last month has told me I’m a good person and each time it has sent me to tears. I want to feel worthy of such praise. My heart says to believe it but my brain sows the seeds of doubt. I do, however, believe it when people say I’m kind, even though I occasionally feel like a total douchenozzle.

The point? The point is I love so much more than I hate, and that while I sometimes feel broken or fragile, the truth is I’m strong. I keep going back out there with my heart open, because this is who I am, world. This is who I am.

Coping with Oncoming Seasonal Affective Disorder

Every year I feel it coming, sometimes as early as the end of August. (I can actually feel it right now, sinking into my bones, making it hard to even write this blog.) Late August was cool in the Philadelphia area this year: mid-70s and breezy. I began to feel the pull of darkness on those days where I couldn’t abide bare legs while walking outside. Jackets accompanied me everywhere and I noticed the sun setting earlier and earlier. (As a food blogger you treasure natural daylight for photography.)

Winters are really hard for me. I thrive on warmth and long summer sunshine-filled days. I love to be outside, so when it’s cold and snowy and I have to stay inside it drives me to a bit of a depression. I’m not remotely alone in this: it’s estimated between 10 and 20% of Americans report noticing a lowering of mood or an increase in sadness during the shorter days of the year.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in usual activities
  • withdrawal from social activities
  • inability to concentrate
  • extreme fatigue and lack of energy
  • a “leaden” sensation in the limbs
  • increased need for sleep
  • craving for carbohydrates, and weight gain.

Symptoms of summer SAD include:

  • weight loss
  • agitation and restlessness
  • trouble sleeping
  • decreased appetite

Women are four times more common to experience SAD than men, the theory being that women are more likely to ruminate and dwell on things that make them sad. (I know I’m a serious ruminator so this is definitely an issue.) Also, SAD is much more common in people who live farther away from the equator (which may be why we Northerners love going to the Caribbean in the winter). When people are excited for Halloween and sipping their Pumpkin Spiced Lattes or posting on Facebook about how many days until Christmas you’re stowing your tank tops and shorts in deep storage and looking longingly at your bathing suit.

So what do we do about it? How do we deal with the inevitable onslaught of sadness that accompanies the long winter?

Coping with SAD

Get outside in the morning, even if it’s overcast. Even if it doesn’t seem sunny, the rays of the sun will reach your body. If you really can’t get outside, or if the sun isn’t up yet when you get out of bed, try light therapy.

Workout. (This is generally good advice anyway.) I mean, take it from Elle:

Maintain your routine. Meet up with your friends like you normally would, even during bad weather. Don’t just stay inside and isolate yourself, this will only make things worse.

Cut back on sugar. If you treat your stress and anxiety with sweets, try to eat something more balanced, like an apple and some cheese, which includes, fat, protein and fiber. It will be nourishing and keep you full longer without the sugar crash.

Find fun things to do that are winter-only. Skiing? Snowboarding? Snow shoeing? Building snow men? Or if you don’t like to actually be outside in the cold, take a class in the winter. Do something that makes winter special for you.

Book a trip somewhere sunny. I can’t really afford that, so I’ll just turn on my Happy Light, crank up the heat and pretend I’m on a beach in Tahiti. *sigh* But seriously, going somewhere warmer and sunnier can be good for your health.

Keep a journal. Write about your feelings in a journal. Putting thoughts and feelings down on paper is a great way to get them out of your system and (hopefully) out of your mind, at least for a short while.

Have a good cry. There’s nothing wrong with tears. Sometimes a good, cleansing cry is exactly what you need to reset your emotions and start fresh.

And if it gets too bad to deal with? See a doctor. You may have more than just seasonal depression.

Do you suffer from seasonal depression? What coping skills work for you?


Refilling My Cup

Hello, my name is Andrea, and I love to blog.

The things is, lately that’s been REALLY hard. You see, I’m emotionally in a really weird place right now. A difficult place. I’m in counseling, and I’m dealing with many difficult things. There are times I find myself exhausted, knowing I should write something here but barely able to get dinner on the table and veg out for the evening. It’s not always physical exhaustion, but emotional. I’m having a hard time, and that’s okay.

I’m spending most of my spare time right now consuming media as opposed to creating it, and that’s okay too. Sometimes we all need a reset.

The Emptiest of Cups

Last night I realized how empty my cup actually is right now. I have spent the last few weeks feeling ill on and off. Nothing serious: a headache and mild stomachache, then later allergies. Yesterday I had allergies so bad the post nasal drip caused indigestion and a sore throat. I also was suffering from a pretty bad bout of bursitis in my right shoulder that made many mundane tasks quite painful. (Seriously, try taking off a bra when you can’t put your arm behind your back without wincing.)

When I got home from work I put on my pajamas and made myself a (too big) bowl of maple brown sugar Cream of Wheat. It felt so good and warm on my throat and I turned on some Jim Gaffigan stand up on Netflix and I settled in to try to nap. What I should have done was turn off my phone and nap. I needed that time of restoration. But I didn’t. When a friend you haven’t spoken to much in a long time wants to chat, you gladly chat!

But later when a good friend was upset I found I simply was incapable of helping. Why?

My cup was empty. It was so empty it was dry and dusty at the bottom.

How did I get so empty?

I haven’t been making enough time for myself. To refill my cup. How can we help fill others’ cups if ours is empty? Do you remember what they tell you when you get the safety talk on an airplane? In case of oxygen depressurization put on YOUR OWN oxygen mask before helping others. Why is that so hard for me to remember?

I’m making it a point in the future to be better about not letting my cup get so darned empty!

Things I Plan to Do to Refill My Cup

Unplug sometimes. I don’t ever intend to shut off Facebook. But it’s okay sometimes to turn off chat in order to restore focus. I’m doing that today, in fact. It’s odd sometimes, without the constant exchange of day to day information, but I don’t *need* to be constantly communicating with someone just for the sake of not being alone. And sometimes that distraction makes it difficult to be as creative as I’d like.

Enjoy the silence. The TV is on so often in my apartment that sometimes I forget what silence is like. When I cook I often listen to podcasts to entertain me (and drown out the noises of my downstairs neighbors) but early in the morning, sipping my coffee, silence is so wonderful and restorative.

Take a relaxing shower. I’m often guilty of treating showers as something that’s only good for getting clean, but warm water cascading gently down the neck and back can have a truly meditative quality at times. And the best part of a relaxing shower is slowly drying off in the warm air without having to get dressed right away. I need more of that in my life, stat!

Sit in nature. I spend a lot of time outside walking or running, but I never make time to just SIT in nature and enjoy its many pleasures. I need to listen to the birds, hear the rustling of the leaves in the trees, watch the squirrels frolic bouncily through the woods, and photograph the flowers and beauty I see every day in mere passing.

How do you refill your cup? Let me know in the comments!