Seasonal Mood Swings Or Something More?

Sudden warm weather tends to make me absolutely ecstatic.

But the last few weeks in Nashville have brought some wild weather, from terrible thunderstorms to beautiful 70 degree days, to a dramatic drop to an icy 20 degrees, all within two weeks.

I tend to forget the serious impact that weather changes can have on mood. But this bout of insane weather gave me a big reminder of the reality of seasonal impacts on both depression and hypomania.

When the sun appeared out of nowhere last week I found myself suddenly in an almost manic state — cleaning my house, getting all my projects done, starting new ones and feeling almost euphorically confident. Then as the rain and cold set in days later, I became withdrawn, unmotivated and struggled to finish my work or post the blogs I wanted to. I went to my psychiatrist wondering if I was having bizarre several-day-long bipolar episodes. Thankfully, she told me the answer was more likely my mental health responding to the changing weather.

I was so glad to have this clarity about my last few weeks. But with another couple months of potentially temperamental weather before summer, I need to make sure I am prepared to deal with the mental impact on the seasons.

So here’s what I’m doing to stay sane. To start, I’m looking into buying a special seasonal depression light, which helps mimic the effects of the sun on your brain while you’re at your desk. I’ve also found that I need to make sure I get out of bed early and kickstart my day with caffeine on the colder and drearier days. Honestly, if I don’t force myself to get working, I may end up lying in bed for hours doing nothing while it rains. On the sunnier days when I suddenly feel like superwoman, I’m making sure to take time for mindfulness and meditation, to help balance out my suddenly hyperactive brain.

Most importantly, we all need to have a little grace with ourselves during this time when our mental health may be a bit less reliable.

What do you do for seasonal mental health? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk

I posted last week about embarrassingly forgetting my laptop at home when I went to the Apple store to try and get it fixed, only to find out I had to buy a new one. Long story short, a week later I started getting horrible migraines and eye pain. I even went to see my doctor irrationally worrying I had developed a brain tumor (thanks anxiety). Turns out, the different display on my new laptop was so bad it was seriously straining my eyes. So I’m having to return that one and buy another one. 

With all these tech issues, doing my homework, working on my blog and doing everything else in my life has been much more difficult. So suffice to say, it has been a bit of a stressful week with a lot of reasons to be annoyed and angry. But my advisor noticed a change in me today when I went to talk to her about it.

She told me that I looked surprisingly calm considering that last year, I would have completely freaked out over this mess. And she was completely right. Early 2018 Sara would be having a total prolonged meltdown right now.

But I have grown a lot this year and learned to handle stress so much better than I used to. I don’t know if it was being thrown into a chaotic internship in New York last semester or just finally spending time trying to figure myself out. But a silly saying popping into my head last semester whenever I started to freak out: “Don’t cry over spilled milk, it’s already out of the glass.”

I turned this into a bit of a mantra during my stressful fall semester. When things would get crazy or I would feel like I’d lost control of a situation, I would try to remind myself:

  1. It’s not worth exhausting all your energy worrying about something that is really small in the grand scheme of things (like spilled milk).
  2. And even if something more substantial goes wrong, things are going to happen the way they happen and you can’t get hung up on what you can’t change (it’s already out of the glass).

This is not to say that I’ve overcome all my stress and worry because I certainly haven’t. But I’ve started to learn to try and have a little perspective when things go wrong and try not to freak out about the little things. 

Do you have a mantra that helps you when you’re stressed? Let me know in the comments!

Rediscovering Creativity

When I came to college as a songwriting major, I considered creativity to be one of my biggest and most valuable traits. During that period I wrote almost every day, constantly re-arranged my room and proudly wore bold (and at times cringe-worthy) clothing.

But over the next few years, school began to break that creativity down. My learning differences made classes harder, so I needed to follow the instructions closely to get A’s on my projects. I had to maintain conventional methods of organizing and discussing so that I didn’t stand out in the wrong ways. I needed to tuck away my creativity to read the textbook, regurgitate the information the next day, then forget it. My writing became formulaic; it had to be to fit all the requirements on my papers.

In retrospect, this weakening of my creativity was one of the reasons that I eventually switched out of my songwriting major, which I once loved. Creativity is one of the biggest gifts for those of us with ADD and is part of why I innitially loved writing music so much. But challenging, conventional schooling can damage those of us who think differently into forfeiting that gift.

After I changed majors, I didn’t pick up a guitar for a long time. I focused on journalism, which often let me go into writing with a universal blueprint. But after a year of freelancing, I started to get bored with the formulas.

Today I wrote a song for the first time in a while. I don’t feel any pressure to play my songs for anyone anymore, so it finally felt expressive and cathartic again. The song may be terrible, but I’m learning that with creativity, it’s more about the process than the end result.

At risk of sounding preachy, we were born to create something beautiful. So let go of the rules you’ve been taught and go get started.

Learning Disabilities: When Nobody Notices

What would you do if it suddenly felt like your brain stopped short and your eyes blurred over in the middle of class?

For most people, the video editing class I am in was no problem once they learned the software basics. However, for someone like me with visual processing issues, the class felt nearly impossible. Visually overwhelming material like a complicated computer program just doesn’t seem to register in my brain, no matter how hard I try.

At first, the beginner editing skills were manageable and I got off to a good start in the class. But when I tried to open the tab for more advanced editing and suddenly hundreds of options appeared before me, I completely froze up. It felt like my eyes had disconnected from my brain and I just sat there for a minute unable to readjust. I didn’t know how to fix it or make the new options go away — all I knew was that the program had become too visually overwhelming for me to even interact with it.

But my peers all kept working happily. The new features didn’t affect them in the slightest, so they didn’t notice what a hard time I was having. And why would they? Since they never struggled with the seemingly simple ability to process what’s in front of them, there was no reason they would guess how much I was suddenly floundering.

So I swallowed my pride and I asked for help.

I’ll admit that asking for help can be incredibly tough sometimes. Owning up to needing assistance with an “easy” task can feel embarrassing or demeaning. It can make my differences feel unsettlingly public and occasionally make me feel stupid. But I try to remember that my learning disabilities are part of what make me me and there’s no use in being ashamed of them. Everybody needs help sometimes, you just happen to need it in the classroom and that’s okay.

What do you do when you need help in class? Let me know in the comments!

Are You Addicted To Your Phone?

Lately I’ve noticed that I feel more and more addicted to my phone every day. I deleted the Facebook app a long time ago because it felt like a time suck and that helped me detach from my phone for a while. But now, I’ll find myself scrolling through Instagram for far too long, closing out of it and almost compulsively, unconsciously opening it again a few minutes later without even realizing what I’ve done.

Sometimes ADD can come with an addictive personality, but I think many of us struggle with an uncontrollable fixation on our apps.

But the last time I updated my phone, I found a new screen time function that measured how much time I spent on my phone per day. And the results were frightening.

It reports that in the last seven days, I’ve spent an average of 2 hours and 40 minutes on my phone per day. In the moment, I never really feel like I could have spent that much time texting, scrolling through Instagram or checking the news. But it seriously adds up. And the even scarier figure is that over the past week I have spent a cumulative 18 hours and 42 minutes on my phone. Just writing that horrifies me when I think of all the actually constructive things I could be doing with 18 whole hours.

So I have a few goals for this next week to cut down my phone time and I would love it if you would join me!

  1. Turn my phone off or put it far away from my bed before I go to sleep.
  2. Limit my Instagram use to 20 minutes a day (the screen time functions lets you set limits for each app!)
  3. Limit my time on news apps to 15 minutes a day. It all depresses me anyway.
  4. Try to only open my phone when I have received a message, not just to compulsively swipe around.
  5. Lastly, when I feel the need to scroll through my phone for no reason, I will try to fill that time with better things like going for a walk, writing a song, cooking or journaling.

How do you detach from your phone? Let me know in the comments!

Overcompensating Organization

On the outside I can appear very, very organized. So frighteningly organized that it has become my identifier at times. My Google calendar is color coded to the extreme with everything on my schedule neatly laid out. I have an additional paper planner where I list everything I have to do for the week. I label everything I possibly can. I love to put papers in perfect piles in my office.

But at home, the organization all falls into total chaos (my blog header is a good example). While my planner looks great, I sometimes still have papers secretly crumpled all around the bottom of my backpack. And it took me a long time to realize how much I was organizationally overcompensating at work and at school.

This partially comes from the need to go overboard to keep myself on track, since I can be so distractible and frazzled. But I’ve come to realize it’s also a coping mechanism to hide from those around me how bad my ADD really is. It’s a way to prove to myself and everyone else that I am still smart when I’m feeling self-conscious. But sometimes when we try to overcompensate for our organization, we exhaust ourselves doing things that don’t ultimately make us more organized. Color-coding my planner in great detail is surface level and is more to impress those around me than it is helpful.

Those of us with ADD are bound to struggle more with organization. So I encourage all of you to try to embrace that and focus your energy organizing the things that really matter.

How do you stay organized? Let me know in the comments!