Turning Fifty

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Today is my birthday and I turned fifty years old. Yes, as I have told my loved ones and friends, I turned a half century old today. Lol! I am an antique, covered in flaked gold (like older dishes and vases). I have long worried how I would react to this number. Would I break down? Feel old and get depressed? The answer is no, I haven’t. Instead, I am happy and it feels more like I have reached a milestone in my life, than a dead end.

In previous posts, I have mentioned my struggle with major depression and anxiety. I lost all of my thirties due to this dreadful mental illness. I missed out on having a child of my own and so many other things that those in their thirties embark upon…it is like I was non-existent for that decade of my life.

My forties was a time of recovery and moving forward. I worked through many life pangs, trauma, and heartache (including a very painful divorce) during this decade. I mourned the loss of my thirties and what that meant (no biological children, lack of career, etc.). I mended a lot of things to, including returning to school to get my Master’s degree in social work, having a social life again, and obtaining and keeping a part-time job.

Today, I am celebrating all the milestones that I have crossed and goals that I have accomplished in just the past decade. I am extremely grateful for mental stability. I am thankful to have such a loving, caring, husband, his family and my family, and close friends who support me in my endeavors and accepts me in my limitations. It is a wonderful feeling (for the first time in my life), to feel unconditionally loved and accepted…not just by others in my life but by myself. Yes, I feel that I have started to finally care about who I have become and what I have accomplished.

I recall all those years of my life that I wasted on literally hating and criticizing myself for everything that I did or felt I was doing wrong. I constantly felt out of place, unloved, and as a nobody. I covered my insecurities, self-loathing, and pain through humor. I am not sure where I’d be without my sense of humor. But, today, I embrace myself in all my glory and flaws and take pride in the journey I have taken to become who I am.

Today, as I turn fifty, I look forward to what the next year holds for me. I am hoping that I will transition from part-time work to full-time employment in the profession I am passionate about…mental health. I went on a job interview yesterday and I feel that it went well for they sent me out for a drug test and criminal background check. I also have a job interview on Wednesday.

I am moving forward and beyond the struggle of my mental illness and all the things that have held me back in my earlier years. Today, I am celebrating me, those who love me unconditionally, my journey, my future, and what I can contribute to society while I am here.

I may have turned fifty today but fifty is just a number. My life is definitely not over yet.

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Surviving the Holidays

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Well, it’s that time of year…the holidays are approaching which means spending time with family. Being a mental health professional and coming from a family of dysfunction, my heart and thoughts often go out to those from families with dysfunction, drama, and trauma. Unlike the old movies, for many, the holidays are a time of dread, frustration, sadness, and tears. If this is you, I hope that the following blog will help make your holidays more tolerable this year.

One of the most helpful things that I have learned is realizing that I have no control over people, places, or things. The only person that I have control over is myself and how I react to things. Examine what you do have control over during the holidays (http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/home-for-the-holdays-stress-tips?page=3). For me, I make a plan for when I am going to spend time with my family. First, I alleviate as much stress as possible ahead of time. I practice deep breathing and think of ways I can de-stress if needed. For example, making an excuse to get out and go somewhere, like the grocery store. I take this opportunity to take a drive and distract myself. I have a friend that I text and she provides support and humor.

Before the gathering, identify what triggers you. What are some coping skills you can practice to reduce anger, hurt, and other strong emotions (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-zen/201411/holiday-stress-dealing-family-drama-and-dysfunction).

I’m not sure where I would be without humor. Laughter is an excellent stress buster (https://bewell.stanford.edu/surviving-the-family-holiday).

Create and set clear boundaries. An article on Oprah.com, suggests setting a time limit for how long you can tolerate spending time with various family members. You could have a friend call you at a certain time to provide you with an easy exit when you have reached your limit. Another suggestion is to have a car (your own or a rental, if needed) so you aren’t dependent on a family member for transportation, in case you need to get away and take a break (http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/Dealing-with-a-Dysfunctional-Family-During-the-Holidays).

I hope this blog is helpful. Feel free to share your own ways of coping with the holidays. Have a safe Thanksgiving!

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Being Grateful…

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I express my thankfulness everyday for what I have in my life. It is not something that I only do once a year, such as for Thanksgiving. It is one of the tools in my toolbox of coping skills. I have found, that when I was most depressed and discouraged, finding at least three things I was thankful for, was somewhat encouraging for me. When we are busy, stressed, depressed, or distracted, it is easy to forget the positives (the simple things) that we have. As a therapeutic assignment, my therapist has requested that I blog about what I am grateful for. I will first blog about practicing gratitude and its benefits, then I will finish with my own expression of gratefulness.

The practicing of expressing gratitude makes us happier (http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/). According to an article on Happify.com, it has been found that indivduals who express gratitude on a regular basis sleep better, have better immune systems, and experience more positive emotions (http://www.happify.com/hd/the-science-behind-gratitude/). The article also points out several ways to journal about what you are grateful for. Another online article on how to express gratitude regularly is http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-start-a-gratitude-practice-to-change-your-life/.

When I was my  most depressed, my illness overshadowed what I did have in my life. I found that journaling (sometimes just a simple list of one or two things daily) about what I was grateful for was like a small light shining through the darkness of my mind. Sometimes, it made me smile to think of what I did have. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about invalidating your sadness by saying you should be happy for what you have. All I am saying is that when I was able to think of just a few things that I was thankful for, it did cause a small uplift in my negative mood. I needed something positive to focus on and what I was grateful for helped me find some positive in my life, even if it was as simple as eating my favorite candy that day and thinking about how good it tasted.

So, what am I thankful for? I am thankful for waking up and having another day of life to enjoy my husband, family and loved ones. I am grateful for stability in my mental health, something that I never thought would happen to me. I am happy that I am able to work and make some money for my family, even if it is only part-time at the moment. I am so thankful for my husband, who loves me unconditionally, despite my flaws, and my little fur baby, Dixie, who is a bright light in my life.

On a simple note, I am thankful for coffee each morning. I am thankful for my dearest friends, who I love like my own sisters.

There are so many things I am thankful for. What are you thankful for? Do you practice gratefulness regularly? If so, share some of the ways you do this.