livingwithablackdog

sit. stay. good boy.

Arch-Enemies 02/11/2011

Do you have arch-enemies?

I do.  Mine haunts me.  I can never seem to beat it.

There are the odd occasions when I do really well against it and I win.  It feels great.  I could walk on air.

Sometimes they last for a short stretch of time – a few days, a week – two if I’m lucky.  I could fly.

And then

it all comes

crashing

down

in

a

great

big

thud.

OUCH!

And it’s not just me who is affected.

It’s not a small thing with small consequences.

What happens, you ask?

Okay I’ll ‘fess up.

I don’t wake up.  Or if I do – I drop right off back to sleep before I can haul by backside out of bed.

Then I am late for anything that I have on for the day – visits, appointments, ….work.

And we’re talking regularly 30 – 40 mins late during the mid spring and autumn – and every now and then it’s a couple of hours.  It affects other people when that happens – workers, patients … if I don’t get my work done it slows down the process of referrals going through, information getting to people in hospital and their treating teams for planning, people going home.  It means groups can’t run or other people have to cover me.  I nearly lost my last job over it.  Even when well I’m often 10 – 20 mins behind my start time.  I survive because I start before my boss and I always work back – but I can’t keep it up.

And it doesn’t seem to matter what time I ‘m supposed to start – I’ve adjusted starting times.  It’s simply the process of getting out of bed and waking up in the morning.

Once I’m up, my sensory routines are helpful.  I’ve started to experiment with some mindfulness exercises when I get time – which help a lot.  But actually waking up and getting out of bed is jolly hard work.

The other thing that happens to me is that I lose time in the mornings.  I do.  Even when I’ve gotten up on time and have been running on time something happens – I space out in the shower or getting myself a drink and meds and time just vanishes.

I started a new experiment earlier this week that I think holds promise for the latter issue – I’ve started using a mindfulness breathing meditation exercise as soon as I get up that goes for about 10 mins to raise my level of alertness.  If it keeps working at keeping me focused, I’ll be writing about that in a couple of weeks.  But for it to work – I need to get up in time to have time to do it.  It doesn’t need to be earlier – because I’ve worked out that I do everything else more efficiently when I do it.  But I need to get up.

Sleepy-head

At present I use two alarm clocks set 5 mins apart – one to arouse my attention if I am in deep sleep so that by the time the second goes off I won’t sleep through it even if I sleep through the first.  Part of me wonders whether it’s worth investing in a bed vibrating alarm clock – they make them for deaf people.  It might be uncomfortable enough to help me move out of bed more easily.  Has anybody ever used one?

I know the rules – go to bed early and get up and the same time every day.  I’m awfully undisciplined at doing that.

Take your meds at the same time every day.  I tend to get lazy and just take them on the way to bed – which admittedly is probably half of the problem.  There are some very sleepy meds among my cocktail.

Every day is a new day with no mistakes in it – yet.  Thank you, Anne Shirley – but other people remember and I need to work out the best way to deal with their memories and keep myself focused on the present so that I don’t drown in fright.

So here it is.  My arch-enemy.  The alarm clock.  That moment in time that I’m supposed to get up.  To get moving.  To get started with the day.

Please – anybody with your own ghouls – what helps you haul yourself out of bed every morning?

 

… and Again 01/11/2011

This morning I did something awful.

Well I did a lot of good things.  But today I’m not writing about the good things.

Today I made decisions that meant that I did a lot of very useful things.

I just did one awful thing.

The very useful things helped me all day.

The awful thing was left behind this morning.

Perhaps sometime, when I have been at it for longer I will blog about one of the very useful things that I did.

Today I blog about the awful one.

I felt fan-tas-tic after every one of the good things that I did.

I shocked myself with the awful thing.

BUT

I was pleased that I shocked myself.

I don’t think I have ever had it shock me before.

It means that – perhaps the good work that I have been doing is working.

It means the therapy I did has continued to change me with practice.

…. even if I did do something awful.

This morning, not far from the start of the day

I said,

“#*@t Jill, you’re stupid!” in disgust.

And I meant it.

 

Send in the Senses 23/10/2011

An area that is starting to grow in mental health is an intervention called Sensory Modulation.  It is used in a number of different ways and some people use it only in part.  Some people may have come across ‘grounding techniques’ and ‘self-soothing techniques’.  There is a cross-over between Sensory Modulation and distraction as a technique to deal with difficulties.  It is a sub-branch within the world of Mindfulness and involves use of activity and engagement of the senses for therapeutic purposes.  It is a big area for Occupational Therapists, Diversional Therapists and is starting to feature in Nursing literature, particularly for use in hospitals to try to find ways to reduce people’s levels of distress without having to resort to extra medication and seclusion.  Studies are showing promising results.

The Senses

Despite the way that we usually talk about five senses, we have actually have seven senses.  We are used to thinking of our senses in terms of taste, touch, sight, smell and sound.  However there are two more that we very rarely talk about.

The first of these is called proprioception.  Proprioception is communication between your muscles and your brain.  This is how your brain knows what your muscles are doing – when they are stretching, flexing and where your body is in space.  It is proprioception that enables you to match the position of one arm to the position of the other with your eyes shut.

The second is a vestibular sensation.  This is what gives us our sense of balance and the sense that we are moving in space like when we are in a car.  It is also the sensation that gives us the feeling of dizziness and nausea when it is out of kilter.

Some people also differentiate between deep touch and light touch when working with the senses because your body often responds differently to the different types of touch.  Think of the difference between being massaged and being tickled.

What is Sensory Modulation & how does it work?

Sensory Modulation involves using different types of activity or stimuli to calm or alert one or more of the seven senses.  This in turn can feed into the way that a person is feeling or reacting to a situation, a stressor or the environment.  So if feeling anxious and having anxious thoughts churning over through ones head someone might choose to do something that they know will engage the senses in a soothing way for them eg using a rocking chair, listening to music that they like that has a tempo of approx 60 beats per min whilst being mindful of the sensations; or they may choose to ground and/or distract themselves with something that alerts the senses and redirects their attention, perhaps using the tension in their muscles by going for a run or walk, again engaging awareness of the movement of the muscle groups and the engagement of the senses with the environment around.

Essentially, you take control of your senses and use them to serve your advantage.

Mindfulness & the Senses

Some of the ways that you can use your senses with mindfulness include:

Grounding

Grounding techniques are active techniques to help you to orient and focus on the present and to distract or self-soothe when you’re feeling distressed.  When you are feeling ‘out of sync’ they can help emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually.  If you know what you respond to best – you can even be prepared for times of crisis or for prevention if you are feeling triggered.

Some activities that people use to help ground themselves include

  • A hot or cold shower
  • Eating hot balls or sour balls, chilli, lemon – alerting tastes
  • Breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Using a balance ball
  • Cleaning
  • Yard work
  • Wearing weighted item eg back pack, ankle weights
  • Petting dog or cat
  • Warm or cold flannel to the face and neck
  • playing with a stress ball
  • Aromatherapy
  • Moving furniture
  • Holding or chewing ice
  • Jumping rope or doing star jumps
  • Stretching
  • Running or walking
  • Lifting weights
  • Push-ups
  • clenching and unclenching muscles (isometric exercises)
  • playing drums or other musical instruments
  • Pottery
  • Rocking in a rocking chair
  • Dancing
  • Listening to music
  • Waxing
  • Journaling

Other activities that can be used for self-soothing or for orienting and alerting oneself capitalise on the calming and alerting features of the stimuli.  Some examples of these include:

Calming Sensations                                                                               Alerting Sensations

Hot shower/bath                                                                                 Cold or cool shower/bath

Holding/petting a pet                                                                        Holding ice in hand or to face

Warmth of fireplace                                                                            Being in a cool room

Wrapping in a heavy blanket                                                          Wrapping in cool bed sheets

Massage/Deep pressure touch                                                      Light touch

Isometric(the muscles don’t move) exercises/yoga              Aerobic exercise

Leisure walks                                                                                         Power walks

Dusting powder/powder puff over your body                        Rubber band wrist snapping

Slow/rhythmic music                                                                        Fast paced/upbeat music

Calming sounds of nature eg ocean                                             Alerting sounds of nature eg birds

Humming/singing quietly                                                               Humming/singing loudly

Soothing scents (oils/lotions/candles)                                     Strong scents (oils/lotions/candles)

Soft materials/textures                                                                   Rough or prickly materials/fabrics

Rocking in a rocking chair                                                              A bumpy car ride

Swinging on a swing                                                                           Spinning on a swing

Slow rhythmic motions                                                                   Fast and/or jerky movements

soft/low lighting                                                                                 Bright or flashing lights

Decaf herbal teas                                                                                Drinking coffee

Chewing gum                                                                                        Biting into an icy-pole

Chewy or crunchy foods/ lollies                                                  Sour or hot foods/ lollies

What to do with these activities – A bigger picture

The idea then is to consider the primary areas of difficulty that you encounter.  Do you

  • get overwhelmed
  • get voices
  • Get angry
  • Get anxious
  • Depressed
  • Struggle with negative thoughts
  • Feel disconnected
  • feel triggered by something …?

Think about a) things that you can use to alert or distract yourself;

b) things that you can use to do to calm or comfort yourself;

c) things that you can do to help improve the moment; (something you enjoy, a treat, something to make you feel better)

Often you may need to do all three in that order – but not always.  Regulating your reaction, however, may be more than a single step process.

What senses do you respond to most strongly?

Different people are more responsive to different senses.  Some people love touch.  Others squirm.  Some love movement.  Others enjoy scents.  We’re all wired differently.  How do you think you are ‘wired’?  What are your preferred senses for comforting and alerting yourself?

Think about what kind of movement you enjoy (eg exercise, rocking chair, doodling, shopping, cleaning, theme park rides, skating, building, sports activities)

What kind of Touch & Temperature do you like (eg massage, sitting by fire, shower/bath, knitting, sunshine/shade, lotions, playing instruments, art, fiddling with things, doing your hair, heavy blankets/quilts)

What kind of  auditory/listening stimuli you like (eg silence, running water, music, rain, relaxation soundtracks, wind chimes, theatre, a purring cat, people talking)?

What kind of visual stimuli you like to look at (eg scenery, photos, lava lamp, movies, window shopping, reading, fish in a tank, art)?

What kind of scents do you like or respond to (eg scented candles and oils, coffee, perfumes and aftershaves, flowers, fruit, herbal tea, fabric after being hung out to dry, chopped wood, forests)?

Think also about what kind of gustatorytastes and chewing sensations you respond to (eg chewing gum, crunchy food, sour food, sucking a thickshake through a straw, yawning, deep breathing, listerine, blowing bubbles, hot balls, drinking coffee or hot chocolate, fizzy drinks, sucking a lollypop)

Making a Plan

When you have thought about the types of activities that you respond to.  Make a note of half a dozen things that you think would be most helpful when you are distressed.

Why not set aside a place or a kit where you have some if not all of those things ready to go and on hand when and if you need them?

Knowing how your senses work can help you tap into them better for relaxation, recreation and for giving yourself a jolt if you need one.  I have found ideas from studying this stuff that are great for my recreation, rest as well as helping me when I am worked up or struggling to focus.  I hope that it’s useful to you also.

If you are interested in more information, information about making a sensory kit or a questionnaire about your sensory profile, please leave me a message in the comments and I will get something back to you.

(Credit to a lot of the lists goes to a combination of published resources that I have referred to, some of which have no author attached, majority of examples listed resourced from Tina Champaign’s website)

 

Hair Raising Therapy

I had only two posts for this weekend.

I had finished and scheduled them by Thursday.

My parents have come to visit – so I didn’t think I’d have time to blog.

But here’s the thing …

I’m too interested in the things I blog about to leave it alone.

I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my early experiences of Mindfulness.  I hope that some people have found it valuable and that it has helped some to grasp a little more clearly the concepts behind it.

Being present in the moment, self-aware and able to be aware of your environment or choose to filter what you attend to.  Being able to focus your attention, your thoughts and meditate on or observe things.  To be deliberate in all of this.

It is a refreshing experience and helpful for many things from distraction to relaxation, to stress management and through to managing early warning signs and symptoms.  If you’ve not had the chance to learn it, I would highly recommend it.  It is a more concrete skill than it sounds at times.

I have had fun today.  I enjoyed having my 5 and 3/4 year-old niece do my hair for me this morning (one must not leave out the three-quarters!).  When I got home (after driving for a quite a distance and stopping to get out of the car and fill up with petrol) I believe that I pulled 7 elastics and 2 clips out of my not-so-very-long hair (ie it had bunches sticking out in all directions).

I don’t think that she believed that I was really going to leave it all in until I actually left.

Playing hairdressers with one’s niece is a lot like a dare.  She knew I looked silly, and didn’t really think I’d leave her handiwork in – but wanted to see if I would.

What she doesn’t know is the kind of things I did to my own hair for the hell of it when I was in my teens and went out with still in just because I was bored.

My niece is good therapy for me.  When I am with her I forget to be anything but open to what she wants to do (except if it involves running too far or something against the rules).  I lose most of my inhibitions and allow myself to play like a kid again.  She lets me enjoy the moment in her company for just that little while – and while I am with her I feel whole.

She is my favourite anti-depressant.

What’s yours?

 

Mindfulness of the October Factor 22/10/2011

One of the factors that I have spoken of recently that has affected my mental state is the change of season.  I become more vulnerable to symptoms of Depression and need to be careful not to be taken captive by them and dragged back under the control of the black dog as he strains upon the lead.  October this year has been fraught with tension as the dog hauls away at the lead while I wrestle endlessly to bring him to heel and keep him there.  While each time he strains, I have brought him back – it takes a lot out of me and he knows it as he waits impatiently at heel for the next opportunity to pull away.  I have had a tiring month.

How do I know when things are starting to get too much?

One of the things that I have decided to work on is paying closer attention to the cues that my body gives.  It’s very easy not to be aware of these until I have a nasty headache, my shoulders ache, my muscles are all sore, I have a noticeably palpitating heart rate that makes my chest feel hollow and heavy or I feel exhausted.

I commented in my last post in closing about Mindfulness that one of the areas that I need to work on is that of noticing what is happening in the moment.  This is what I am working on at the moment.  To start with – to notice the cues that my body is giving me.  For instance, when is there a change in the level of tension at key points in my body like my neck, shoulders and jaw?  Am I breathing deep, medium or shallow breaths, what kind of rate am I breathing at?  Am I aching anywhere?  What is my heart rate like?

Now I don’t do this as a checklist and step through it or try to determine these things in a specific way.  What I am learning to do is to try to do what is called – in Mindfulness language – a ‘body scan’ at regular intervals.

What does a body scan involve?

Essentially all I do is start out by observing my breathing until I am into the mindset of observe – not control.  I then move my attention to my heart and notice and feel the rhythm of my heart beating inside me and the sensations that arise from that and enjoy that for a little bit.  From there, I start by noticing the feel of the clothes on my skin, the shoes on my feet if I’m wearing any and then move my attention to my muscles.  To scan my muscle I start by placing my attention on my toes of one foot and paying attention to them, noticing any tension or pain or other sensation, acknowledging it and – if it is tension, consciously releasing it from the muscles by either picturing it draining away or stretching and/or wiggling them.  I then do the same for the other foot and move on to the next section of my leg and do the same thing. And doing this throughout I might move through the body in a pattern something like:

  • Toes
  • Feet
  • Lower legs
  • Thighs
  • Butt
  • Abdomen
  • Lower back
  • Upper back
  • Shoulders
  • Chest
  • Upper arms
  • Lower arms and wrists
  • Hands
  • Fingers
  • Head
  • Forehead
  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Cheeks
  • Mouth
  • Jaw
  • Tongue
  • Neck
  • Shoulders

I figure that since the shoulders bunch up so easily, it doesn’t hurt to check them again.  It doesn’t really matter what order you do it in though, nor how big or small the groups you break them up into are to a certain extent.

After scanning and relaxing all of the muscle groups, I then observe my breathing again for a moment or three before drawing my attention back to what is in front of me to do.  It doesn’t take very long, and with practice it should take perhaps a minute – maybe less.  If I try to do it when the little ‘beep’ goes on my watch on the hour (when I hear it), I should get lots of practice and stay well on top of these cues.

The goal is to be able to notice the tension before it becomes problematic and to be able to question whether I am becoming stressed before I get there.  A lot of people who do this regularly swear by it.  I guess it’s a bit like paying attention to when there is tension growing on the dog’s lead when walking a dog.  As it grows, it cues us in to the idea that the dog is growing more likely to want to get away from us.  Thus it is living with my black dog.  I must be wary of tension.

So – here’s to my next excursion into the world of mindfulness.  Noticing physiological changes and discomfort and either accepting them or letting them go without blame for their getting there.

Here’s to the next step into managing my Depression.  Noticing the cues that early warning signs are present so that I can act.  Perhaps October will improve from here on in.

Heel, Dog.  Heel.  I’m onto you.

 

A Mindful Journey 21/10/2011

One of the therapeutic approaches that I use to help manage my Depression that regular readers will have come across previously when reading my blog is Mindfulness.  Among other things it is helpful for dealing with thoughts, coping with stressors and managing physiological symptoms.  It has been used to help people manage symptoms of a range of mental health issues including Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, psychotic illnesses, Personality Disorders and Eating Disorders.

My first experiences were vague explanations by people who I worked with about being present in the moment and awareness.  These are true and make a lot of sense now – but Mindfulness made the most sense to me after my first experiments with it with my Clinical Psychologist when I was, myself, in therapy.  The experience itself made an enormous difference to my understanding and appreciation of the discipline.  For this reason, I thought that I’d share with you some of my experiences with the use of Mindfulness.

The first exercise

My introduction to mindfulness included eating a mandarin.  The exercise involved taking the time to notice all of the sensations that were involved.  The scent of the fruit, the feel of the skin, the firmness of the mandarin before it was peeled, the colour, the weight, the sensation of peeling the mandarin.  I was to notice the texture of the inside outside of the skin and then the feel of the fruit without the skin on, the look of the fruit with its segments and the white stringy bits, the juice.  While eating it I noticed not just the flavour, but the texture in my mouth and the sensation of swallowing.  I paid attention to the sticky juice on my fingers and the sweet smell that it left on my skin before I washed my hands.  The idea was to be fully in the moment and to engage and experience all of the senses.  To be mindfully – deliberately into eating that mandarin.

The breathing exercises

After learning about the need to experience the full extent of whatever I was doing, I did some breathing exercises with my Psychologist.  The idea was not to control the breath, but to observe it – pay attention to the movement of my muscles, the sensation of the air in my body, the sounds of the breath and to concentrate my focus on that.  If I was distracted, I would just think to myself “oh, I’m distracted” – or whatever – and return my attention to the breathing.  It was hard not to start controlling the breathing – but relaxing.  It took focus, but was refreshing and left me alert.

My homework was to practice this and I also had an exercise where I was to start out with the breathing exercises and then imagine the breath that I was inhaling circulating all the way to my toes and paying attention to my toes and then following my breath as I exhaled.  From here attention moved, with my breathing, progressively from the toes to the feet, up the legs, along the other leg and then through my body and my hands, my head and back to just focusing on my lungs.  If you have ever done progressive muscle relaxation, the process is similar – however this was more to do with gradually moving awareness through the body.  Again, the instructions were to allow yourself to just dismiss distraction and go back to the exercise at hand.  I also felt more self-aware and awake after the exercise.  That one lasted about 15 mins.

The Wii game

There is a game on Wii Fit where you have to sit really still.  The graphic on the screen is of a candle and from time to time you get annoying things like a fly or mozzie and footsteps and so forth that come to distract you.  But you need to sit upright and still on the balance board for 2 mins to win the game.

I have found that this is a great exercise for my Mindfulness skills.  I sit in an alert and comfortable posture.  I focus on my breathing and I use my skills that dismiss distractions by acknowledging that they are there and accepting it to deal with the insects and so forth.  I can sit for the whole 2 minutes using my Mindfulness skills!

The fly

A while ago I was staining a piece of furniture.  I needed one hand to hold the tin of wood stain.  I was using an elbow and shoulder to stabilise myself in the most awkward position ever (!!).  The other hand was occupied with cloth working the stain into the grain of the wood.  And there was a fly buzzing in my face throughout.

Now, the same way that you consciously turn all of your senses, you may choose not to do so with some – so I am not focusing upon the fumes.  But again, with the discipline to focus on the here and now and what I want and is important, I can also notice and dismiss what I don’t want.  The fumes.  More particularly in this instance, the fly that just wouldn’t go away.  Rather than let it get me irritated and waste all that energy, the practice allowed me to focus on my work and when the fly was distracting just acknowledge “There’s that fly again.  That buzzing is loud.  I wish it would go away.”  Yes I would blow at it to try to discourage it – but no, I managed to deal with the fly without it driving me mad.  I considered this to be an achievement!

The job interview

I had a job interview at the other end of town.  I had a horrible time getting there.  There was more traffic than I anticipated, I think the tail end of a blockage after there had been a prang.  Plus I had been pushing the clock harder than I had wanted to be to start with.  The end result was that I was late to my job interview.

Bad news.

I was so flustered by the time that I got there that I couldn’t think.  My mind was pumping in circles.  They handed me the interview question for my preparation and all I could do was think,

“How am I going to pull together to do this?”

So I stopped myself.  And before I even looked at the questions I took 2 minutes out of my prep time to do my breathing exercises.  I then gradually brought myself back into awareness of the room around me and focused on the task at hand.  I was alert.  I was focused on the task and I was calm.  I had also put myself into a position that I could acknowledge that the situation was less than ideal and just accept it to focus on what I could do something about.  I could have compassion on myself for finding myself in an embarrassing situation, yet function within it and set myself to do my best in the here and now.  I prepped my questions briefly in what time I had left although I didn’t have time for much depth and then did the interview – again thinking clearly, because I was able to focus on the here and now.

In the end I think the fact that I pulled myself together worked in my favour.  I was offered the job, but turned it down.  Mindfulness got me through the job interview but it would not get me over the travelling time in peak hour traffic any quicker.

The terrible, no good, very bad day

Then there was the day that nothing went right.  Well it seemed like it.  I slept through my alarm.  Right through.  Things went wrong at home after I got up.  The trip in was slow.  I was very, very, very late for work.  Lunch time late.  I missed several appointments and was flustered about what was left of the day.  I had no idea how I was going to finish the day or face anyone.  After freaking out when I finally got to work, I finally stopped and thought, “I know better than this.”

So I paused.  I took a deep breath in and let it out, focused my attention and started observing my breathing.  I then started to pay attention to the feel of the pressure of the chair that I was sitting in and the sounds around me – not listening, just noticing – the clock, various voices, footsteps; I paid attention to the feel of the clothes on my skin and then turned my attention to my muscles and which ones were tense.  I relaxed my shoulders and my jaw and went back to my breathing and did a short version of the breathing exercise where I imagined my breath reaching every part of my body and then just focused on how it felt to breathe for a couple of moments.

After this I allowed myself to think about what I should do next.  I had to accept that I was late and that I’d missed morning appointments and that because of that my afternoon wasn’t going to work as well as I had planned.  But I could now, thinking in the moment accept that just as it was and act in a manner that was compassionate toward myself, rather than sit there blaming myself for things that I might or might not have done.  It was okay that I was a bit frazzled, that was understandable – so I just needed to plan for that too.  From there I was able to return to the moment and begin the rest of my day, planning things out and actually achieved a reasonable amount – something I wouldn’t have done in the state of mind I had been in when I arrived.

The road so far …

It has taken a while to learn some of the basics of Mindfulness and get used to putting them into practice, but the journey has been infinitely worthwhile.  I still have a long way to go.  I’m not good at meditation –  I tend to be more utilitarian in my use of it.  I still need to remind myself to start and could prevent some situations by starting earlier.  However, it helps me to focus and to be able to be where I am, doing what I need to or want to be doing at the moment of time that I’m at.  My next step in the journey is to become better at noticing things about myself in the moment.  I think that this would prevent a lot of difficult situations and to help me to monitor my early warning signs.

 

Watching Wellth 16/10/2011

The journey’s oft’ rough as one travels the road

with one’s mood apt to upset the cart;

And if climbing back on aft’ one spill weren’t enough –

Alas – staying on top is an art!

For most of us who have passed though one episode of depression – or other forms of mental illness and come out the other side, a common concern draws us.  We don’t want to go back there.

Some have a harder battle ahead of them than others.  Some have different forms of depression; different forms of anxiety; different forms of mental illness that are more or less responsive to the things that we do to treat them.  Some are more vigilant than others – often this makes a big difference … and sometimes life’s not fair.  Some do all the ‘wrong’ things and yet never have another episode – but that’s unusual.

What’s usual is hard work with a need to use a range of strategies to stay well.  Things like good sleep, exercise, a nutritious diet, keeping up social support networks and getting out of the house, exposure to sunlight and fresh air, use of medications and talking therapies are just some examples of these.

But how do we know that we’re winning?  What can we do at the times when we’re worried about how our mood is going to try to prevent it from tipping over the edge into something we can’t manage?  How do we know if that new medication is doing anything to change anything at all?

One of the things that is helpful to do at times is to track your mood.  How do you do this?  You use a mood diary.  Ever done it?

The purpose of a mood diary is essentially to get a profile of what pattern your mood is following on a day-to-day basis.  At their most basic level, a mood diary will ask you to rate your mood on a numerical or incremental scale every day while you keep it.  Some will additionally ask you to record other information such as your anxiety levels, your irritability levels, how much sleep you had the night before, significant events and triggers throughout the day and/or the medication that you took.  The good thing about doing some of these other things is that they provide a much fuller picture of what is going on.

If you don’t already know what they are – this process can help you to work out what your early warning signs are as well as your triggers.  If you know your triggers and early warning signs, this can help you to monitor them. For that reason, I recommend choosing a mood diary that records significant events in the day.  I would also recommend one that includes the amount of sleep that you had the night before as this tends to be pretty universal and fairly influential.

Talk to someone close and ask for their help if you have trouble working out if you were irritable or if they noticed anything in particular that seemed to set you off if you are having trouble identifying these kinds of things – but the object of the exercise is to make observations about yourself – so do what you can on your own as well.

However, asking someone close to you whom you trust to help monitor your mood and to help you get to know your warning signs and triggers is a good strategy.  They sometimes see things that you are not in the right place to see or notice when you’re not well because your self-awareness can get a bit skewed.  They also see the ways that you differ from the way that you would normally be – so they can measure you against you and not somebody else.  Yes, it might be their perception – but it will still be your behaviour and actions and the things that you say and the responses and facial expressions that they are used to that are part of you.  Choose someone who you trust and talk with them and let them tell you about what they noticed changing last time and as you have been working through your recovery.

Do I use a mood diary and self monitoring systems all of the time?

Not on a daily basis.  When I am well I keep regular tabs on how I am going by talking about it with a good friend and checking over my early warning signs and triggers list regularly to ensure that my awareness of them is good and that I am alert to high risk periods.  I use what is called a WRAP – a Wellness Recovery Action Plan where I have identified what I am like when well, what my triggers are, what things are hints that I’m not as good as I could be, my early warning signs and so on …. I go through this regularly.  Some people do monitor their mood daily and find that it works well for them.  People with things like rapid cycling Bipolar disorder often find that they need to until it slows down and is brought under control.  At first I needed to chart my mood a lot more than I do now.

When I am in a high risk period I watch things more closely and have recently resolved to keep a mood diary through high risk periods because I still find myself at sea sometimes and feeling like I’m losing my grip.  I am particularly vigilant about my warning signs and triggers as well as their corresponding action plans during periods of high risk.  I have to be.  Recently I let things go at home and let the dishes and the housework pile up around me – a sign that things are getting away from me and didn’t act and it triggered me (it becomes a cycle).  I couldn’t face getting up to look at the house.  I didn’t want to go into the kitchen to prepare a decent meal because it was a mess and I didn’t feel up to cleaning it up – so of course my nutrition level went down, my budget blew out and thus the cycle continued.  In the end it took a cleaning weekend to put me back on track, followed by a week of very early nights and a lot  of discipline.  It’s too easy.  So I have decided that I need to do something to catch myself more quickly before it gets away from me.  Not simply cleaning, just lots of little things.  This time of year I need to be very careful about relapse prevention.  It sounds minor when I talk about dishes – but when it snowballs, I just keep sleeping and if I sleep through work or go in late consistently and am still going around in circles while I’m at work and don’t have energy or concentration to work – I could lose my job.

I’ve attached today some links to some self monitoring resources and different mood diary sites.  I know there’s a lot, but different things suit different people and I think these are important tools.  Most mood diaries have room for the full spectrum of mood disorders – both mania and depression.

Warning signs and triggers are important.  Monitoring your mood is tedious sometimes – but there are times when it is necessary.

General

http://breeze.blackdoginstitute.org.au/keepingwell/

Mood Diaries

http://www.bipolar.com.au/common/pdf/mood-diary.pdf

http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/MoodChartforDepressionandhowtomonitoryourprogress.pdf

http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/DailyRatingScale.pdf
http://www.psychiatry24x7.com/bgdisplay.jhtml?itemname=mooddiary

http://www.moodscope.com/ for those who like online resources

https://www.moodtracker.com/ another online resource

http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/moody-me-mood-diary-tracker/id411567371?mt=8 for those who like apps

Mood Monitoring & Relapse Prevention Programmes

http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/KYB-3-Self%20Monitoring.pdf

http://www.idamaecampbell.org/files/40263519.pdf (WRAP personal workbook)

Early Warning Signs

http://www.health.qld.gov.au/rbwh/docs/early_warming_signs.pdf

http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/20.WellbeingPlanforBipolarDisorder.pdf (can be used for depression too)

Healthy Lifestyle

https://www.mindbodylife.com.au/Downloads/index.cfm

 

 

 

 
%d bloggers like this: