Part of living well with anxiety and depressive disorders is learning to be finely tuned into one’s mood. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it is so easy to get caught up in the “paraphernalia” of mental health: getting one’s meds right; attending medical appointments; participating in therapy. Sometimes all this busy-ness distracts us from the very basic skill of monitoring our mood.
Sometimes I like to visualize my mood as a needle on some sort of meter. When we’re unwell, the needle may be flying all over the place, or may be firmly planted at one end of the spectrum – for me, that’s the bottom end.
When we’re well, the needle’s movement’s aren’t quite so polarized. Well, that’s my experience, anyway 🙂 Of course it goes up and down, but … smoothly. Predictably. Understandably. *ARGH* None of these words are quite expressing what I mean! Even when I’m very depressed, I can predict what might make me feel even worse, and I can understand why it might have plummeted … but hopefully you know what I mean.
So: a very useful skill in living with anxiety or depression is monitoring what the needle’s doing. Call it introspection, mindfulness, or self-awareness; refer to the “observing self”; or use art, music or journalling to ‘reveal yourself to yourself’ – it’s all about getting in touch with what’s going on and, if possible, why.
Surprisingly, in discussions of self-awareness, there is often little mention of things which obscure the needle’s movement from us. When I made the decision to stop drinking alcohol altogether, I remember telling my therapist one reason was because alcohol impacted on my mood so much it made being self-aware a bit like trying to hear a whisper in a storm. Other, perhaps less obvious, things which obscure our mood from us are well-worn stories we tell ourselves (e.g. habitual thinking which leads our mind down a well-worn track instead of focussing on the present moment), focussing on just one aspect of our wellness regime to the neglect of others (e.g. “I took my meds half an hour late today, so any mood fluctuation might be because of that”) or scapegoating (blaming any and all mood fluctuations on one thing, e.g. a past trauma).
Are there other things which prevent you from noticing that your mood needle is quivering? And do you have stories of self-monitoring helping you prevent a mental health episode becoming worse than it had to be? I’d love to hear what you think.