neon-sign-speech-bubble-shape

Therapy Code Words

Unfortunately for me and my therapist, my ability to write words does not always translate well to being able to speak them. I need time to think through an entire thought before I speak it, and I struggle sometimes to get the words out when the topic is something challenging. And not just for sensitive topics like self-harm or suicide, but even for topics like life goals.

In fact, the word “goals” makes my stomach twist. I feel so much internal pressure when it comes to my ambitions that any discussion of the topic overwhelms me. It’s as if I know that once I start really acting to reach my goals, I’ll have to go all out because I don’t know how to not do something 100%. And that’s overwhelming. And unrealistic. So I try to avoid talking about it or thinking about it beyond my daily sense of guilt for not “doing more.”

It goes without saying that I don’t like this. Goals are important, and they should be exciting, not something you dread. Yes, they often take hard work to reach, but I think the balance of work to reward should be worth it. I don’t want to put in work just to alleviate an unhealthy internal pressure; I’d rather work for something because I want the excitement and fun and pride of achieving the thing. Depression makes this hard. Excitement and fun and pride are not feelings that depression wants around. So, I find myself terrified of adding more to my plate and pursuing my goals, and terrified that I’ll do nothing and fall even more behind my self-imposed schedule. Trapped in between the two, “goals” is a scary word.

Here’s where the code word comes in. Instead of “goals,” my therapist and I talk about “clams.”

It’s groundbreaking, I know.

There’s no significance to clams, it was just the first word my therapist thought of, but it stuck. Much like the Potato Scale of Depression is useful in its humor, “clams” are somehow easier to talk about because of the silliness. It takes away the gravity of having a discussion about goals and replaces it with a lighthearted conversation about a bivalve often eaten with a lemon-butter sauce.

And this is how I want my goals to be. Not so scary. Not so enormous. Just little steps to bigger results, like shucking one clam at a time to make a chowder.

Photo: Andy Castille – @kikini

envelope labeled 2020 with golden streamers and small potted plant

My Mental Health Resolutions

In December, I gave myself four goals to test before the new year rolled around. I wanted to give myself a chance to work on some (mainly) mental health resolutions without the pressure of an entire year ahead. It wasn’t wildly successful, but it wasn’t a flop, either.

These were my goals:

  1. Keep running, be able to go five miles somewhat comfortably: Done!
  2. Reestablish skincare routine: Sort of done! Currently on track, but it wasn’t a straight line.
  3. Start volunteering: Sort of done! I’m signed up to start in January.
  4. Begin relearning German: Not at all done! Yeah, nope. Didn’t even start.

Even though I didn’t check all the boxes, it felt pretty good to have a list of actionable goals. My overarching goal with all of them (except maybe relearning German) was to improve or support my mental health. In that, I think I succeeded! It was motivating to remember that I only had one month to make progress on my goals, which helped me not get complacent and stuck in bed with depression. As with any vague intention like “improve my mental health,” setting out some well-defined steps is vital. I needed to know where to start and how to do it.

2019 was really, really hard. I plummeted even further into the pit of depression than ever before and ended up hospitalized. I continued on my quest to find medications that work for me, and most of the time, I felt entirely discouraged and worthless. But, I kept going. I kept myself alive, and that was a huge accomplishment. Now, with the assistance of moderately helpful medications and much more helpful IV ketamine infusions, I feel like I’m inching my way out of my blanket burrito of sadness. To continue that progress, I’m aiming to carry on my mental health resolutions from December into the new year.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year’s Eve and a wonderful year ahead.

woman running shoes running up concrete staircase

December Resolutions: Mid-Month Update

Last month, I decided I’d get a head start on my New Year’s resolutions by treating December as a sort of trial run. I set myself four goals:

  1. Start volunteering
  2. Run regularly
  3. Re-establish skincare routine
  4. Begin relearning German

We’re roughly halfway through December, so I thought I would check in with my progress. Currently, I give myself a 2.5/4. I have been running almost every day, persisting despite the weather. I think I’ve surpassed my goal of establishing enough endurance to (somewhat comfortably) go five miles, so maybe I should aim higher for the end of the month.

I’m diligently maintaining my skincare regimen with topical steroids, a giant light, and a lot of sarcastic jokes about how great I look in UV-protective goggles. I’m not seeing much benefit yet, but it’s not an instant fix.

My efforts to begin volunteering have been temporarily halted; it turns out the organization I was interested in has recently moved (still nearby) and stopped their volunteer orientations until mid-January. I am signed up for the first orientation in January, though, so I think that counts for at least half credit.

That brings us to number four: begin relearning German. I have not started this yet, and I’m trying to decide if I want to push forward with it and see where it takes me by the end of the month, or replace it with a different goal.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty satisfied with my December resolutions.