How to deal with Stress using PROBLEM (or PUZZLE) based methods.

Problem based coping involves actually dealing with the challenge that is causing stress. This is a monkey that likes to take things head on.

This determined gritty monkey's method involves:

  • Finding the cause of the predicament

  • taking action to alleviate the problem.

  • Learning new skills to help deal with stress

  • Rearranging your life around these problems. Examples would include: taking the stairs instead of elevators if you are claustraphobic, getting a second job in the face of financial difficulties, or studying harder to prepare for exams.

  • Planning ahead with ways to directly attack the cause of your stress

  • Confrontation

  • Self Control

Problem based coping is generally about taking action and if you utilize the appropriate actions for the cause of your stress this can directly reduce a source of bad stress.

Depression - my story

I remember standing in the kitchen when I was in my twenties looking at knives and thinking:

“I could do it. It wouldn’t hurt nearly as much as the pain inside me. And I know the right way. Should I?”

“But I don’t want to hurt my mom and dad. They’re such nice people and they’d feel so bad.”

And this conversation would continue inside my head. I’d weigh the pros and cons of killing myself then and there “Or perhaps there might be a better method… or another time…”
Obviously, I didn’t do it.

My first therapist.

She was cool. I went to see her for one semester while I was in college. If you were suffering from depression, you could get one semester of counseling FREE. She was very nice and kind. I remember she had a white stripe in the middle of her right eyebrow, it was very becoming. She and I talked mostly about habits and habitual thoughts and of course my history. We got me to the point where I could ask for a hug. That was a big step for me at the point.

Over the years, I’d see a therapist occasionally generally for a few months. You see, I thought that if I could just figure out what was wrong with my thinking and my patterns - I could fix myself. Cuz I knew I didn’t have any kind of mental illness. After all, I never thought I was a bird and wanted to fly out my window or even simply nest on the fire escape. I had friends who were like that. And I’d never completely disconnected, started giving away all my possession and saying goodbye to people; I’d never taken off all my clothes and gone swimming in the middle of a hurricane, and I’d never actually tried to commit suicide or voluntarily put myself in an institution. I was sane. I knew people who’d done all of these things, they had depression, or were just plain crazy, I loved them, they were my friends. I was dull and downright ordinary comparatively. So it was just my thinking that needed correcting.
Marriage & Depression.

Then I got married and while I had my emotional storms I was causing the person I most cared about in the world lots of pain. It really sucked because on top of my not being able to control the depression itself, I felt bad hurting my husband in the process. He tried to be supportive and together we tried to figure out my problem was and fix me.

Around that time, I was holding down a bunch of jobs and I was really STRESSED. I think I fainted at work and I went to my physician and she suggested I take an antidepressant. I didn’t feel depressed. I wasn’t suffering from depression. I was just stressed. But she said take it and I did - and it didn’t help. It only evaporated my sex drive which is always a bad thing. And as I didn’t really believe that I needed drugs, I took them sporadically and then stopped all together one day. I don’t suggest doing this - in fact I’d discourage it. But that’s where I was - let’s just say: “I’ve been down that river of denial and I know it well”.

It's not just a river in Egypt. I was drowning in the depression river called denial. Cuz, I was still of the opinion that there was a class of really fucked up people that needed drugs and I was not one of them. They had depression, not ME. I was a self proclaimed ‘odd duck’, but I wasn't mentally ill!

We all know where this story is going and yes, you guessed it, in 2008, I hit rock bottom. I’d been flirting with rock bottom for about two years but 2008 was the kicker. I thought I’d been about as low as I could possibly go before but this was the bottom of black hole deep down inside the depths of the Abyss.
Rock Bottom

I can’t explain it, but those of you that have been down there know what I’m talking about. Thinking about death is constant. The feeling that no matter how hard you try you’ll never beat this depression. You can’t even remember what joy or even mild happiness looked like. And at the same time, I was running around trying to get things done. I’d cry and sweat and not be able to breathe. My physician had given me anti-anxiety medicine and then upped the dosage when I came back in and said I thought I might be having a nervous breakdown. And later, after I experienced a personal failure, every demon that I’d ever had came out to stomp on me, tell me how worthless I was, push me deeper into depression and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

At this point, my physician gave me an antidepressant and said, find yourself a psychiatrist and a psychologist. I will say briefly the antidepressant I was taking made me feel invincible. I was flying and not touching ground. But then I’d crash. And I continued to think “I’m processing things wrong, if I can just say the right things to myself, or look at things from the right perspective or whatever - I really should have the willpower to overcome this thing. I don’t need drugs.” And there were professionals who backed me up. One said to me ask yourself two questions and the answer to these questions is always the same.

“Where am I?”
“What time is it?”

And from a zen place I agree with that, but when you’re having a panic attack on the subway, weeping uncontrollably and saying over and over to myself

“Where am I?” Here.
“What time is it?”“Now”. I didn’t feel any better.
“Where am I?” “Here.” And here really sucks
“What time is it?”“Now”. I don’t want to be here now. It hurts here now. I can’t live this life.

At that point, I was a highly functioning member of the living dead. I went to work, I did my work. It was a good day when I could keep myself from crying at work. No joy, no glimmer of hope and certainty that I’d never feel any of those things again. As I walked home nearly every street that I crossed I thought, “If I just don’t stop at the curb, I could get hit by that bus - that would be great - then I wouldn’t have to feel this way”. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep (I’ve never been very good at sleeping - even when I’m happy).

All my friends were saying:
“How can we help you”, “Go get some help”, “You have clinical depression.”, “You can talk to me if you need someone to talk to”.

I withdrew

But around this time, I did start looking for tests on the internet. Still not completely sure I couldn’t conquer this thing alone. I took tests. They all said - “Go get help”, so finally I did. And I wasn’t fond of my therapist, she was a lovely woman but very old school of that ‘I will be a blank wall and say “hmm”, “yes”, “what do you think about that?”’ variety. And I thought “I could get just as healthy doing yoga and talking to a wall”. But really, how well had that worked for me before. I started looking for another therapist.

I went to some of my friends who I knew were taking medicine for whatever their particular mental ailment was and said “Does anyone know some good books, or websites or forums” where I might be able to get some help.

And with a few exceptions most of them didn’t have many suggestions. Mind you they were all really supportive and were completely there for me - I just didn’t know how to ask for help. It is interesting that even now, when people talk about mood disorders, depression, bipolar, most of the people I know are still a little shy about telling people what is wrong. Or ashamed. After all, there’s no blood test to proof this is what’s wrong with me so it really could all be “in my head” right?

Ultimately, I was referred to a therapist I adore, and diagnosed is Bipolar II. The mood stabilizer they put me on has been the only thing that has truly helped. Not a cure all by any means. Subtle but helpful. I was able to get off the other medications they were giving me. So I only take the one, Depakote. I’ll be honest. I don’t like the thought that I need to take meds. I’d like to think that I could control this with diet and exercise. But I’m taking the meds anyway.

Now you know why you will find so many resources for healing and helping people with mood disorders here on the site. That’s my story. There are many places on the internet where you can find help.