As we all know, Michelle Obama literally could do no wrong – she is strong as hell, brilliant, and basically America’s mom. On top of all of that (and in spite of it), she’s relatable as f*ck. From her giving Trump side-eye at his inauguration to starting a podcast in quarantine, America’s favorite first lady is truly one of us.
In the latest episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast, Obama opened up about something that many of us are feeling (at least I am) these days. During a conversation with journalist Michele Norris, Obama talks about how she has found herself “dealing with some form of low-grade depression” over the last few months. “Not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife, and just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting.”
Michelle specifically cited the heightened racial tensions as a factor of her depression, “I have to say, that waking up to the news, waking up to how this administration has or has not responded, waking up to, yet another, story of a Black man or a Black person somehow being dehumanized, or hurt or killed, or, falsely accused of something, it is exhausting. And it, it has led to a weight that I haven’t felt in my life, in, in a while.”
In describing her symptoms, the first lady talked about having difficulty sleeping or waking up in the middle of the night. She said, “you know, I’ve gone through those emotional highs and lows that I think everybody feels, where you just don’t feel yourself.” She said, “there’s been, uh, a week or so where I had to surrender to that, and not be so hard on myself. And say, you know what, you’re just not feeling that treadmill right now.”
All of this is not only normal but increasingly widespread. A recent CDC pulse survey reported that one out of three Americans is experiencing some level of depression or anxiety, up from one out of ten last year. Feeling dread and concern about the state of America and our government is not a new thing either. Last year Michelle Goldberg wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about democracy grief. In it, she discussed how watching the institutions that we trust to protect us fail to do so can impact psychological health.
In difficult times, I like to ask myself: WWMOD (obviously that stands for what would Michelle Obama do). Because she always comes through, Michelle gave us some insight into how she deals with her low-grade depression during the quarantine.
“For Barack and I, we’ve lived outside of the norm of regular life for quite some time,” Michelle said, “what we’ve learned early on in the White House is that in order to stay sane and to feel like the human you once were is that you have to have a schedule and a routine.”
In addition to establishing a routine, the Obama family has been working on puzzles together and having card game tournaments. They’re also spending some time outside and trying to eat dinner together as a family. Stars: they’re just like us.
While I highly recommend listening to the whole podcast episode yourself, finding a sense of positivity boils down to self-awareness and focusing on what brings you to a good place. As Michelle said, “make sure that you all are listening to your spirits and to your bodies through this period. And when you need a moment to recharge, take it and do not feel guilty about needing to take that break.”
Quarantine has done a lot in the way of ruining lives. In addition to death and illness and loss of work and the production of new seasons of our favorite shows being put on hold and canceled weddings, it turns out, coronavirus is taking yet another perk of being human hostage: our sex lives. But don’t just take my word for it: The Knot teamed up with Lasting (a marital app owned by The Knot Worldwide) to pull together a State of Relationships Report. This covers everything from marriage and engagement fulfillment, what people are fighting about, what people are doing to grow their relationships, and so on. There’s a lot to take in from the April 2020 report, but what really stood out to me (and my vagina) were the sex stats. Basically? It seems a global pandemic is one hell of a turn-off.
So, Lasting is like a therapy app for couples. It’s used as a tool for mental health pros and everyday couples to build and sustain healthy relationships. In light of everything going on, they took a look at their onboarding findings as well as the results of an email questionnaire sent out by The Knot. Over a thousand couples’ data was crunched, and it turns out, this is a very weird time for relationships. Who would have guessed? According to the research, only 18% of couples are satisfied with their relationship communication and couples are 35% less likely to discuss conflicting issues in healthy ways than they were before. But wait! It gets worse!
As you can imagine, more and more couples are staying home and seeing each other more often. This means being exposed to things like their partner’s weird work and snacking quirks, as well as just having to see their face ALL THE TIME. Close to half of the population is now spending 20+ more hours with their SO due to social distancing. Turns out, additional time together doesn’t make for happier marriages. In fact, slight conflicts are getting a lot more attention. 29% of married couples have seen their relationships weaken since the start of COVID-19, and 4 out of 10 couples say they’re fighting with their partners now more than ever. Uh-oh.
The most common thing they’re fighting about? You betcha—it’s sex! More specifically: how often they’re having sex.
With additional financial stress, the lack of outside stimulus and excitement, plus a general sense of uncertainty and distress, it makes sense that people might be feeling less horny. Everyday stress causes low libido, so with a literal global pandemic, not feeling up to getting naked and banging checks out. Basically what happens when you’re stressed is your body goes into fight or flight mode. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate increases, and non-essential functions, like sex drive, are diminished. According to Verywell Mind (and like, Biology 1o1), “This response also triggers the release of hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, which in high levels can cause decreased sex drive … your interest in sex.”
Back in 2018, roughly 18% of the population had an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. That was before people weren’t able to leave their homes, visit loved ones, and were in constant fear of spreading or catching a deadly virus. I may not be a scientist, but me thinks these rates have gone up (and according to Harvard, I’m like, so smart. Turns out, mental illness is on a rise).
For folks who already had depression or an anxiety disorder, this time is full of triggers you might not even realize. The odds of not wanting sex, being distracted during sex, and having a lower libido (which is a common trait of anxiety and depression) is frustrating yet painfully understandable.
How To Fix This
Time and time again, it’s been reported that having sex once a week is the key to relationship bliss. In addition to it connecting a couple, orgasming literally has tons of health benefits like relieving stress, boosting your brain, and helping you sleep. Plus, it feels fan-f*cking-tastic. With people literally dying, however, getting naked and rolling around might feel weird, if not completely undesirable.
If your sex life sucks because of coronavirus, don’t beat yourself up. In addition to reaching out to a mental health professional (lots of whom are virtual now and can help in regards to anxiety and depression), here are a few things to consider if you feel the need to spice up your coronavirus sex life.
Utilize apps: In response to all the hellish ish going on in the world, Lasting is giving five free sessions away to couples. You’re already on your phone, so you might as well use it to strengthen your relationship. In addition to Lasting, Love Nudge, Kindu, Pillow, and UnderCovers are all high-rated and easy-to-use apps for working on your sex life and your general bond.
Date nights: Making sure you’re keeping the fun in your connection alive is vital to both not wanting to kill each other and to also having a sex life. Plan a date that doesn’t involve Netflix—whether it’s a themed dinner and drinks, a college throwback with body shots and Ke$ha jams, or just some beers and a puzzle—to help you feel connected. No, it’s not sex, but if you’re not having fun with your clothes on, it makes sense why you’re not with your clothes off.
Masturbate more: According to sex and relationship therapist Megan Fleming, PhD, “Masturbation can actually help keep your sexual pilot light on.” In addition to just making you feel good, it can actually increase your sex drive, This could, in turn, help you get into the mood more often, especially during times of stress. You know, like, when the world feels like it’s ending or something.
Prioritize sex: While it might seem unsexy to schedule sex, according to Psychology Today, it’s actually great for getting out of droughts. It gives each partner time to prepare, removes additional “spontaneous” stress, and allows space for communication and negotiation.
Compromise and communicate: Maybe the thought of getting it in just sounds like a lot right now. Whatever your feelings around the subject, they’re valid. But unless you clue your partner into what’s going on, the frustration (and potentially, the fights) could grow. Tell them what you are and aren’t up to doing during these stressful times and find a compromise that makes you both feel respected, supported, and satisfied. Whether it’s scheduling sex, settling for mutual masturbation, or finding a different solution, the only wrong answer is not talking about it.
Cut yourself some slack: Ultimately, this is an unprecedented time, and there’s no “right” way to feel or react. Instead of shaming yourself for not wanting sex, cut yourself some slack. The more pressure you put on the situation, the less likely you’ll want to actually start bumping uglies. Instead, concentrate on taking care of yourself, connecting with your partner, and just feeling good about getting through the day.
While “Sex in the Time of Coronavirus” might seem like the title to a steamy, forbidden romance novel, in reality, it’s actually a lot less hot than that. Go with the flow, take care of you, and remind your clitoris (and your partner) you love it, no matter how much time has passed.
Images: Shutterstock; Giphy (3)
The other week at work, we had a new guy. Within two minutes of meeting me, he told me that he did not believe in therapy and that people “just needed to be more self-aware.” Ignorant (and completely random!) statement, I thought, and attempted to check out of the conversation. But no, not yet could I zone out, because for the rest of the hour we were forced to spend together, he proceeded to tell me about his tortured childhood and all of the mess that came from it. And what a mess it was. 🙂
Of course, I feel for this guy, but how the hell does he not realize how badly he needs therapy?! The irony was palpable—I mean, it truly felt like an SNL skit—and the interaction made me realize how many misconceptions about therapy must be out there.
I spoke with clinical psychologist Dr. Zoe White to help us understand why myths like “people that need therapy aren’t self-aware” are so, so off. Dr. White works with Alma, which is “a community of therapists, coaches, and wellness professionals empowered with tools for better care.” Essentially, Alma gives therapists a community, and it also gives patients an easier way to find a mental healthcare provider.
Here are the top five myths (or excuses… you know who you are) about therapy, debunked:
1. There Needs To Be Something “Wrong” In Order To See A Therapist
This is probably the biggest misconception about therapy, and also the furthest from the truth. “I often work with people who don’t come in because something is ‘wrong’ with their lives in the current moment,” explains Dr. White. “Therapy is for anyone who wants to do a deep dive into themselves, their personal history, and interpersonal relationships. We’ll explore all of that, aim to achieve greater insight, and then decide whether or not change is something they’re looking for.”
So, therapy is certainly not only for people who is feeling depressed about a certain life event or have a specific fear of flying they’d like to get over, as examples. It’s for anyone who is interested in developing a more mindful approach to life.
2. It’s Not Fair That Whoever I’m Talking About In Therapy Isn’t There To Defend Themself
Headed to therapy in a few minutes and look forward to talking about some of you in great detail.
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) January 28, 2020
AKA you feel bad for constantly sh*t talking the same person when they will inherently have no dog in the fight, given that they aren’t even in the room. Dr. White, however, basically says that this doesn’t matter. “I’m working with the person in the room: their perspective and their experience. It’s all about examining how the dynamics and patterns in his/her life relates to how he or she is experiencing a complex moment with another person in their life.”
In other words, it really doesn’t matter if your needy and annoying friend is ACTUALLY needy and annoying (she is). It’s all about how you experience their neediness (what about it triggers you?) and how to react to it in a mindful (stop rolling your eyes) way.
3. It’s A Sign Of Weakness
“Of course I’m biased, but I look at seeking help as a sign of strength. I go to therapy myself!,” says Dr. White. “Allowing yourself to push through the stigma surrounding therapy and realize that I want, deserve, and need support is certainly no sign of weakness.”
To put this in millennial terms: therapy is just one part of “self-care.” No one called you
basic weak for publicly posting a bath bomb on Instagram, right? Your mind needs just as much help as your skin, and it’s about time we put a stop to this “no days off” mentality (I’m looking at you, annoying NYC male that posts his workouts every morning, but P.S. please text me back) and stop viewing prioritizing our mental health as “weak.”
4. Therapists Are Silent And Judgmental
After all these years, it happened. I made my therapist cry. I can finally stop going
— Alyssa Limperis (@alyssalimp) December 31, 2019
“The perception that therapists are silent doesn’t seem to hold true these days,” explains Dr. White. “That’s a particular style born out of a particular tradition, which of course some people might benefit greatly from.” But a lot of people don’t, and it makes sense to have an aversion to spilling your guts to a silent lady with a resting bitch face staring back at you. And then having to pay for it.
As far as having a fear of being judged, Dr. White says being honest with your therapist about such fears is actually super productive. “For me, it’s a privilege for someone to bring up a fear like that and work with it in the moment. That way we can explore the origins of it—are they feeling defensive, or what are they feeling? We’re able to translate that particular experience into their daily life.”
And, just remember: your therapist sees you as a PATIENT. This isn’t Sunday brunch with your asshole roommate from college. The literal point is to be vulnerable. Worst case? You don’t like your therapist and get a new one.
5. I’ll Feel Even More Crazy Once I Start Seeing A Therapist
Update. I did not nap in therapy. But I felt very seen when she said, "you must be exhausted." Also. She said I should go get the nachos I wanted and didn't get the other night. So I did. Overall, it was a productive session.
— Busy Philipps (@BusyPhilipps) January 16, 2020
This is the only misconception about therapy that holds some truth. Dr. White explains, “In therapy, we’re bringing to light issues that have been compartmentalized and not in your conscious mind. Sometimes the initial phase of talking about these issues can make you feel worse.” Like, yeah, therapy is not going to be sunshine and rainbows only. You have to work through the tough stuff to get to a more positive place.
“Some sessions might be more supportive while others might be more powerful and/or painful. Aspects of therapy can be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Change is rarely linear and it might often be difficult to see progress being made in the moment,” Dr. White says. So trust the process and know that you might have to feel worse before you can feel better.
No, this wasn’t an #ad for Alma or therapy in general (though that would be cool, Dr. Sigmund Freud my Venmo is @sydneykaplan)—I just really want to stop dealing with you un-self-aware betches. So find yourself a therapist, and hop off my jock.
Images: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock; yashar, alyssalimp, busyphilipps / Twitter
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Every year in early November I feel personally attacked by a little thing called Daylight Saving Time. Though it’s said that it was put in place to reduce the use of electricity by extending daylight hours, the effects can feel anything but sunny for late risers like myself who are lucky to see eight hours of actual sunlight. If you tend to feel more sluggish and sadder during this time of the year, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or SAD, a type of depression that usually happens in the fall and/or winter and is more likely to affect women over the age of 20, according to Dr. Jenny Taitz, clinical psychologist and author of How To Be Single And Happy. Dr. Taitz and I discussed some strategies to combat SAD and help you to feel your best, even when the weather and amount of light are literally the worst.
1. Find The Light
It’s not just you—there’s a science behind why you feel so sh*tty during the fall and winter months. According to Dr. Taitz, “Shorter days and reduced daylight can impact the brain and lead to feeling more lethargic, sad, and hopeless.” One of the best ways to target the problem is to seek out natural sunlight whenever possible, even with a short walk around the block. Another effective method is to purchase a light box designed specifically to treat people with SAD. The light emitted from the boxes mimics natural sunlight and produces effects in the brain that aid emotional regulation. Dr. Taitz notes that in many cases your doctor may be able to prescribe a light box that’s covered by insurance, but adds that there is a specific protocol to follow when using a light box, so it’s best to consult with your physician rather than treating yourself.
2. Watch Your Diet
If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself craving sweets and carbs every day more so than usual during this time of the year. This is because people with SAD tend to eat more foods that are rich in carbohydrates. As much as it pains me to type this, it’s a good idea to cut down on the carbs and stick to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables in order to combat depression. Studies have also found a link between SAD and low levels of vitamin D, so another useful strategy is taking vitamin D supplements or eating foods that are rich in vitamin D like eggs, salmon, and wild mushrooms.
3. Resist The Urge To Retreat
Because you aren’t feeling your best, you may feel tempted to stay at home and watch Schitt’s Creek until the next iteration of Daylight Saving Time retreat into yourself. To the extent you’re able, fight this urge and stick to a regular routine of seeing friends and family or doing something else you normally love to do. Dr. Taitz works with patients to create an “antidepressant schedule” consisting of things like plans with friends or a workout class that keeps them active and engaged. We are social creatures and being around other people helps to counteract the isolation and loneliness that SAD breeds.
4. Keep It Moving
Because our energy is lower during this time of year, it can be hard to summon the strength to get out of bed, let alone make it to a barre class. However, exercising not only boosts mood and focuses the mind, it also helps to maintain your circadian rhythm, which, when disrupted, is thought to bring about SAD symptoms. Ideally, if you can work out outside, you’ll not only get the benefits of exercise, you’ll also be exposed to natural light. If that’s not possible, then just stick to any routine that gets you moving.
5. Seek Professional Help
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, doing any of the above may feel downright impossible. If that’s the case, it’s time to seek help from a professional who can diagnose you and help you come up with a treatment plan. Dr. Taitz suggests cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches you to notice your thought patterns: “I always encourage people to see emotional setbacks as opportunities rather than stuck points—rally your courage and problem solve,” she says. Many people suffering from SAD find that certain antidepressants can work wonders on symptoms. A doctor can tell you which medicine may be right for you and how long to take it, as antidepressants may take time to kick in and should generally not be stopped cold turkey.
If you’re feeling less than stellar this time of year, know you’re far from alone. SAD is treatable and you don’t have to spend the next few months in a dark hole. What other coping strategies do you use to combat SAD during the winter months? Let me know in the comments.
Images: Joshua Rawson-Harris / Unsplash; Giphy (5)
I have bipolar II, so I knew, even before I got pregnant, that I would have postpartum depression. It was a foregone conclusion, like your iPhone slowing down as soon as the new one’s announced, or y’know, a depressed person getting postpartum depression. This was not going to be a shock.
When I did get pregnant, it was ON. My therapist and I started to prepare for my inevitable transition from Depression Classic™ to Depression New—Now With 100% More Child™. We trained for it like a depression marathon, only there was zero exercise, but still a whole lot of carbo-loading. We talked about medication, self-care, and building a support system. We talked about how our sessions would work in the first few weeks and maybe there could be a few home visits too. But we never talked about it being anything other than PPD. There were mentions of postpartum psychosis and anxiety, because PPD was the goal—it was the darkness at the end of the tunnel.
Throughout my pregnancy I was reminded to “watch out” for signs of postpartum depression. The problem was, I didn’t know the difference between PPD and regular D. I’ve lived with manic depression for years, one could say I was quite the depression maven, but that would be extremely weird and unhealthy, but I was! I assumed the key distinction between the two would be the amount of crying.
When it came to postnatal mental health, the main focus during my appointments was the “Baby Blues” and how it makes you cry a lot. But what we really should have been talking about is how the term “Baby Blues” is bullsh*t and should be renamed to “The Crying Out All The Moisture In Your Body Oh God Please Make It Stop Reds.” It felt as though most of these materials and classes were aimed at people who didn’t have a mental illness or had never experienced clinical depression, both of which I find deeply disturbing. The point is, as an already severely depressed person, I didn’t know which “signs” to “look out for.” That’s like telling a nineteen-year-old me to look out for red flags in the men I dated. How do you expect me to do that when they’re all one giant red flag?!
I went off my medication for my pregnancy. I regret it now, but at the time I was scared and confused. There were no official guidelines for lithium during pregnancy, and every time I thought I had a handle on what to do, a new study or classification would come out and rip the handle out of my hands. The medication goalposts kept changing, so I decided to wean off under the careful monitoring of my psychiatrist. I fell into a deep depression early on. From there it just kept getting worse, and as my stomach grew so did my feelings of guilt and shame—how could someone LUCKY enough to get pregnant now be DEPRESSED and NOT WANTING TO BE PREGNANT?
I felt confused and ridiculous, but more than that I felt lonely. There’s not a lot of information about pre-natal and during-natal depression. And when it came to discussing PPD, the most I’d received during my entire pregnancy was a one-sheeter and a leaflet. I also took a childbirth prep class where the instructor played a video on postpartum depression, but before doing so, polled the class on whether they wanted to watch it because it may be a “bit of a bummer.” The issue with PPD isn’t the lack of information, it’s the distribution.
I’m lucky to have a therapist who I’ve been with for years, who understands my mental state and manages my medication. And I’m lucky I made it through most of my pregnancy without anything dangerous happening. I spoke to my therapist a week before giving birth—by that time I was experiencing suicidal ideation and we agreed I’d get right back on my meds after birth, maybe even a higher dose. This seemed like a solid plan as it was clear PPD was on its way. But we’d been training for the wrong thing and I was in for a shock.
The first day back from the hospital I cried. I cried more in that day than I’ve ever cried in my life. I cried so hard I gagged. It felt endless, and at some point, I thought “I guess this is my life now. I will go through the rest of my life suffocated by tears and overwhelming grief.” And that was all perfectly normal. Two weeks later, it all went wrong.
I woke up feeling wired, like I’d already had a gallon of caffeine. The baby was crying so I fed and changed her. I put her in her (now massively dangerous and recalled) rocker and watched her from the sofa. I’d only left the apartment once for a short walk with the baby and my husband. I couldn’t bring myself to leave alone. I felt safe inside. Outside was evil. People were outside. I had started to develop agoraphobia but everyone, including myself, put it down to “just being a new mom.” My husband would drive me to a postpartum group every Tuesday and I’d ask him to stay and wait outside because I was vibrating with anxiety. Every moment in that group was torture. The other moms and babies with their talking and crying, I hated it and them. It’s important to note here that this venomous behavior is not my modus operandi. I am normally a kind, funny, generous person and you’re just going to have to take my word for it.
I knew how depression felt, I knew how mania felt, but I couldn’t quite grasp what was happening to me. I felt different but I couldn’t describe it. A couple more weeks passed. I had quit the group and spent all my time indoors. But in a few days my husband would be returning to work and every time I thought about it, I cried. These weren’t hormonal, “normal” tears, these were terrified tears. I knew something wasn’t right, but I’d also convinced myself this was just a “new mom thing” and that everyone had fantasies of murdering or being murdered by someone trying to kill their baby. I was filled with so much anxiety and paranoia it felt like I had electricity for blood. I was deathly afraid of being left alone with my baby for fear of something bad happening to her, and for that something to be me.
I cried and begged for my husband to not go back to work. I told him I couldn’t look after our baby and I was scared of myself. As much as he sympathized and understood he still needed to go back to work because, money. I don’t have any family here and we didn’t have any childcare, so I decided to join another postpartum group; this one was a fifteen-minute walk away. Before my husband went back to work, we decided to do a dry run of the fifteen-minute walk. I still hadn’t left the apartment by myself with the baby and, unbeknownst to me, was deep in the throes of agoraphobia. But once again, I assumed this is how every new mother feels and acts – like they want to rip their skin off and carry out a murder-suicide on every person who walks too close to them. For me, if it wasn’t PPD then it was “just mom things.” The only mental illness I’d been somewhat “educated” on for postpartum was depression, so if I didn’t have depression, then I didn’t have an illness.
We did the dry run and I was ok. Sweaty, but ok. The overwhelming anxiety had me sweating profusely. Once again, you’ll have to take my word for it, but I’m usually not a sweaty person. When the day came, I felt stable but nervous. I asked a friend if she could talk to me on the phone as I walked there because I needed to think of something that wasn’t dying defending my baby’s life or bursting into flames. My friend had a five-year-old daughter and had been to postpartum groups. I panted at her down the phone “did you hate the other babies when they screamed because it would disturb your baby?” She said, “My baby was one of the screaming babies.” I made it to the group, drenched in all the moisture in my body. Everything was going fine, but towards the end I felt it, a madness, surging through my body. I grabbed my baby, who was sleeping in her car seat, put her in the stroller and bolted. I was so panicked I didn’t even buckle her in. I ran, jostling my tiny baby from side-to-side. I prioritized getting home over her safety, and as I ran, I thought (and I don’t say use this word lightly) “I’m fucking crazy.”
Going to doctors didn’t help because they’d see “bipolar II” on my chart, and it was easy to dismiss my erratic behavior as a hypomanic episode. But I knew what those felt like and this wasn’t that. I cried and begged doctors to see me. I was told it would be a month before the next appointment, “I don’t have a month, I don’t even have a day” I cried down the phone. They said there was nothing they could do. I had now been in, what my therapist diagnosed as, a state of high-functioning psychosis for seven months. I finally saw an endocrinologist, a very old, white man who had previously claimed my issue was that I wasn’t taking my meds because I was mentally ill and prone to that behavior. He’d made this assessment before he’d even met me. I didn’t want to meet him in person, but I had to. There was no one else. After several blood tests and neck scans, it turns out I had a relatively rare postpartum thyroid condition that was set off by Hashimoto’s disease which apparently, I also had. And there was no cure. I just had to wait for the psychosis to go away on its own, which is the wildest sh*t I’ve ever heard. Waiting for PSYCHOSIS to go away on its own like it’s a wart, or hopefully the spider that’s currently chilling in the corner of my bedroom.
After feeling literally insane for seven months all while being gaslit by doctors and looking after an infant, I decided to do my own investigation. I borrowed a book from the library called The Thyroid Solution by Ridha Arem, an endocrinologist based in Houston, Texas. In it, Arem talks extensively on how this postpartum thyroid condition affects people’s mental health. There were countless stories of women who, like me, had lost their minds and not been believed. Women whose husbands had left them because they were “crazy” or because their personalities had changed, and they weren’t “the woman I married” (side note: why are men?) These women had no idea what was happening to them, they’d just given birth and now they felt completely out of control. It was heartbreaking, but they only knew about postpartum depression and maybe postpartum anxiety, so in their minds, this was them. And that was me.
At no point during your pregnancy does someone tell you there is a chance of a total personality change; they do but only in terms of like “you’ll be born a mother” to which I give a hearty Logan Roy style “f*ck off!” I’d spent seven months getting gaslit and scrambling for answers. I knew this wasn’t postpartum depression and I knew it wasn’t my mental illness, but I also knew this birth had changed me on a cellular level .
We will always need a wider and more honest conversation about postpartum recovery, both physical and mental. And even though PPD is the most talked about postpartum illness, it’s still not talked about enough. There’s more to postpartum than depression and anxiety, there’s psychosis, OCD, bipolar, PTSD, Hashimoto’s, and a lot more. We need just as much care and attention put into postpartum recovery as we do during pregnancy. The pain doesn’t go away after we’ve given birth—for many of us, it’s only just begun. We need better access to maternal health services, better maternal mental health care, and most urgently, better black maternal health care. We need medical professionals to give us more information and options for postpartum recovery, but most of all, when we tell them we’re unwell, we need them to believe us. Especially black women who are three to four times more likely to die during or after pregnancy than white women.
My child is now thirteen months old, and while I may not be as sweaty or paranoid, I still have agoraphobia and, of course, still have depression and hypomania. I get regular blood tests to monitor my thyroid and haven’t had any flare ups since. Some days I wake up scared that that switch will flip again, and I’ll have to walk around out of my mind for god knows how long. But even if that did happen, at least I have a diagnosis and this time I’ll know that that’s not me and that I won’t be like that forever.
Images: Alex Pasarelu / Unsplash
Seeking out a therapist to help with any number of mental health issues is something every functioning adult should know how to do. But, unfortunately, a lot of us don’t even know where to start when it comes to checking in with a feelings doctor, where to find one, or how and when to make an appointment. And it makes sense. Once you get over the stigma (that shouldn’t exist) of seeing a mental health professional, finding one isn’t exactly easy. And if you’re already feeling intimidated about going to a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, etc., the daunting process of finding the right one for you could turn you off completely. So that’s why I wanted to break the process of how to find a therapist down.
In the words of the coolest president ever, Barack Obama, “Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.” Well said, you BAMF. So whether you just want to talk through some stress at work (because Tracy is driving you up a damn wall) or need to revisit the eating disorder your school bully prompted at age 8, or whatever other reason, here’s how to find a therapist in your area.
What Type Of Therapist Do You Need?
Knowing what you’re actually looking for in a therapist is the first step. According to WebMD:
Psychiatrists: “Doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or psychiatric illnesses. They have medical training and are licensed to prescribe drugs. They are also trained in psychotherapy, or ‘talk’ therapy, which aims to change a person’s behaviors or thought patterns.”
Psychologists: “Doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) experts in psychology. They study the human mind and human behavior and are also trained in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological testing—which can help uncover emotional problems you may not realize you have.”
In other words, psychiatrists have medical training and can prescribe medication. Psychologists can’t prescribe you stuff. You might not need to see a psychiatrist, depending on what you’re going for.
Mental Health Counselor: Intimidated by a psychologist or psychiatrist? There are other options out there. Mental health counselors usually hold at least a master’s degree and can help guide you through a sh*tty job or relationship. (Just make sure the person you’re seeing is licensed and ask about their education.) They’re also required by state law to have at least 3,000 hours of post-master’s experience related to counseling, so it isn’t just, say, someone like me with no formal schooling giving you life advice that may or may not be terrible.
Social Worker: Yeah, so, social workers aren’t just the people who come to take people’s kids away when CPS gets called, as Law & Order: SVU help people copemay have led you to believe. They can also with issues in their lives, including—you guessed it—mental health issues.
There are also addiction counselors, religious counselors, family and marriage counselors, and more. Basically, no matter what type of professional you choose, make sure they have state licensing, postgraduate degree(s), clinical experience, and see if they have any published articles. That way you know they’re legit.
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Take Names And Make Lists
Some insurance may cover a few sessions with a therapist, but many won’t. But, either way, your insurance should have a list of accepted providers that you can look through which should help narrow down your search from just Googling “how to find a therapist in my area”. You can find that list of providers by either going online and logging in (if your insurance company has an online portal, which most should, given that it’s 2019), or by calling them and asking for it. You can also call area universities’ psychology and psychiatry departments and ask around. Ask for referrals from friends and family, if you’re comfortable; don’t forget to put feelers out to area hospitals and clinics, who know a ton of these people. The most important thing, though, is not to try and bargain hunt for a therapist via Craigsist or street flyers. (I don’t know if people actually do that, I’m just saying.) Also, even though it seems tempting, don’t just choose the cheapest person. Treat your mental health like you’d treat the health of any other body part. You wouldn’t go to some back-alley, part-time doctor with an online degree for a broken leg, would you? Probs not. So don’t do that with your therapist, either.
Know What To Expect
Once you’ve narrowed down who you want to see and when you want to see them, it’s helpful to know what exactly to expect during that first meeting. Are you going to have a miraculous breakthrough and never need therapy ever again? Probably not—and that’s fine (and also kind of the point of therapy anyway). Therapists of all kinds may employ different tactics depending on your issues. There are three common types of treatment your therapist may use:
CBT: CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is, according to Real Simple,”the most research-backed treatment for anxiety disorders and depression. It’s based partly on the idea that distorted thinking is a main cause of mental distress.” So basically, if you’re heading to see a therapist because you’re feeling down and generally depressed, a therapist using CBT will ask you about certain situations then identify the negative/sh*tty thoughts you have about yourself. If you’re thinking, “I don’t have a boyfriend because I’m fat/have adult acne” your therapist will pinpoint those thoughts and help you flip them into something like “I don’t have a boyfriend because I’M A STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN WHO ISN’T AFRAID TO INHALE PIZZA.” (I paraphrase; I am not a doctor.) If you’re dealing with anxiety, a therapist using CBT usually uses exposure therapy, i.e. making you do or face the thing you hate/are scared of.
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ACT: According to Real Simple, “If your therapist recommends Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) … you’ll likely learn various mindfulness techniques and exercises. ACT patients are taught to notice and accept challenging thoughts and feelings.” So instead of focusing on the anxiety/pain/substance you’re abusing, a therapist treating you with ACT therapy will have you use mental focus and exercises to accept that you think that way and adjust your actions accordingly.
DBT: DBT aka Dialectical Behavior Therapy is “an in-depth treatment that combines CBT with other approaches and addresses suicidal and self-harm behaviors, borderline personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse problems,” according to Real Simple. This is obviously for more serious cases, but it works to have you focus on your specific problem—say, an eating disorder—then understand how your personal experiences have shaped/influenced you acting that particular way. Obviously, it’s a lot more in-depth and science-y than that, but this is me, your friendly Betches writer, trying to explain it to you, k?
More than likely, your therapist will use one of the above if you’re dealing with depression and/or anxiety. Of course, they’ll also be a sounding board for anything else going on.
After your visit, be sure to ask yourself how you feel. Are your comfortable with your therapist? Do you feel like they’re really listening? Are they asking lots of questions? Are they giving really good or really sh*tty advice? It’s important to know that finding a therapist is a lot like dating or looking for a job—you might not click with the first one you see. And that’s okay! It’s super important to have good chemistry with your therapist and feel like you can trust them. If you don’t like the first person you visit, don’t write off therapy altogether. Go back to the drawing board and find a different one.
No matter who you choose on your therapy journey, recognize that the most important part of this whole thing is you and how you feel. We’re rooting for you, we’re all rooting for you!
Images: Verne Ho / Unsplash; dietstartstomorrow / Instagram
The sun is finally out, which has probably made you forget just how miserable you were during the winter months. Let’s be real, plenty of us dislike the cold and darkness, and that doesn’t mean that you’re suffering from any mental health issues. But for more than 3 million Americans every year who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the winter months can bring about some distressing mental health problems. For those people, the change in seasons can bring about feelings of serious depression, hopelessness, and withdrawal. And it makes sense, since most experts associate SAD with a lack of sunlight and shorter days. But as someone who feels those symptoms when the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, it made me wonder: is summer seasonal depression a thing? I did some research and spoke to experts to find out if there’s any science behind what I am feeling.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let’s start by defining SAD. Experts consider it to be a form of depression, the most distinguishing feature of this disorder is that there is a seasonal pattern to it. But notice it’s just a “seasonal pattern”, not specifying which season. As someone who is bothered by seasonal changes every few months, researching this topic was important to me personally. I started by googling summer depression, and then I spoke to an expert. I contacted Ian Cook, the ex-Director of the UCLA Depression Research and Clinic Program and now Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry. He’s also the Director of the Los Angeles TMS Institute. When I asked him about SAD, he said, “the particular symptoms can vary from person to person, but include the nine hallmark symptom areas that are used to diagnose depression.” He said SAD patients “predictably (more years than not) feel the onset of their symptoms at the same season, which is usually the winter months,” but in theory, the symptoms of depression can arise at any time of the year.
Seasonal affective disorder, baby?? https://t.co/GhboLWlIix
— Nyeleti? (@nyeleti_thabi) April 29, 2019
As our expert pointed out, the majority of SAD cases are reported during winter. However, Psychology Today reports that 10% of all seasonal affective disorder cases manifest during summer. That’s a sizeable percentage, so how come we never hear about it? Well, for one, research shows that we are better equipped to deal with winter depression. Basically, during winter months, we expect our morale to be low. Because of this, we may take precautions and prioritize our mental well-being. But when the winter’s finally over, we may end up taking our mental health for granted in the summer, which can lead to a different sort of seasonal depression.
There could also be something about the summer in particular that may cause people to feel more depressed during that season. While studies have shown that winter depression is triggered by lack of sunlight, depression is not as simple as how much sunlight we receive. Ultimately, there is a more complex mechanism in place. For one, humans are creatures of habit, and seasonal changes can too often throw our schedules out the window. This can factor into summer seasonal depression, because those symptoms include insomnia, lack of appetite, and weight loss, which are all things that can be caused or exacerbated by a routine change.
Whether or not Summer SAD is a concept that’s widely accepted by everyone, it’s important to take note of your mental health and how it changes during different times of the year. We all know that WebMD is not the best place to spend your time when you’re feeling down, but a quick Google search can give you perspective and put all your options in one place. For me, as I was researching this topic, I was surprised to see so many hits. Even though I experienced some of the symptoms of Summer SAD, I never got any help because I felt the symptoms I felt were relatively mild. I also told myself I could live with them because “nothing lasts forever.” In retrospect, I should not have just sat back and lived with it, and if I had known then what I know now, I would have been more motivated to seek out treatment options.
And, in general, if you find that seasonal depression is interfering with your daily life, then you should consider getting help. Like with any mental health issue, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment approach. “We don’t have the kind of clinical trial evidence that would give us solid guidance, so treatment is largely empiric for each individual,” said Cook. However, like most mental disorders, experts have found ways to make daily life better. Cook added, “some Summer SAD patients have reported that trying to spend more of the day in a cool location, away from bright sunlight, may be helpful.”
If there’s one thing you should take from my search, it’s that preconceived notions of what mental illness looks like should not dictate your well-being. If you feel anxious, depressed, alone, just know that there are treatment options, and there are likely other people feeling the same way too.
Misha lives and studies in New York City, and is currently interested in the mystical healing powers in a glass of sangria.
Images: Sam Burriss / Unsplash; nyeleti_thabi / Twitter; Giphy
A few months ago, I came across an article from The Cut about the potential mental health benefits of infrared saunas. Even though I was in Los Angeles at the time, the sun was still setting at 4pm, and my mood levels had definitely been suffering for it. At that point, I’d tried exercising six times a week, meditating, and gratitude journaling to keep my Seasonal Affective Disorder at bay, and frankly, sweating it out in a sauna sounded like a way more appealing option. Once I was back in my beloved NYC, I promptly booked an appointment with HigherDOSE, an infrared sauna spa with locations all over NYC, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It’s also the preferred spot of celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio, Michelle Williams, and Bella Hadid, if you’re into that. Read on to find out the alleged benefits of infrared saunas, and what I thought after my 60-minute session.
What Do Infrared Saunas Do?
Simply put, infrared saunas claim to make you hotter in every way (obviously, pun intended). Not only does an hour of intense sweating knock off some water weight, but infrared heat may actually help boost your metabolism. According to Dr. Frank Lipman, who spoke to The Cut, just half an hour in an infrared sauna could help you burn up to 600 calories. (That’s like, one million squats or an hour on the treadmill. If this is what celebs have secretly been doing instead of working out, I will never feel okay again.)
For those of you less obsessed with losing weight (tell me your secrets), infrared saunas also have major skin benefits. Again per Dr. Lipman, infrared heat boosts circulation, blood flow, and collagen production, giving you an immediate post-sauna glow, as well as long-term benefits from regular use. Lipman, along with HigherDOSE’s co-founders, also hype up the detoxing capabilities of infrared saunas. Co-founder Lauren Berlingeri claims that infrared pulls “heavy metals, environmental pollutants, and radiation” from your system, and the instructional pamphlet inside the sauna room advised that some of your sweat may come out as black from all the toxins being released. (Sidenote: I’m still not sure that I believe “detoxing” is a real thing, but I really want it to be.) Other potential benefits include pain relief (from sore muscles to chronic headaches) and a boosted immune system.
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Currently sweating it out at an infrared sauna place. If you don't know about infrared saunas GET ON BOARD! I love it so much. It's not like a regular sauna where I can only sit there for like 10 mins and then I feel like I'm melting. infrared saunas are great for deep muscle relaxation, detoxing, cardio vascular health and your skin! Michelle told me it helps skin heal faster – I don't know about that but it does feel great! But you know, obviously, I'm no doctor(right @steveagee??)
Finally, the mental health benefits: a 2016 study showed that whole-body hyperthermia (whole body heating, specifically to 101.3º F, for the non-scientists among us), could have antidepressant effects lasting up to six weeks. Claims have been floating around for years that infrared heat can influence serotonin levels or release endorphins, but evidence is tenuous. The 2016 study, however, focuses on the “stress” aspect of sitting in a sauna—the extreme heat—and how these bursts of stress can better train your brain to deal with non-sauna stressors, like anxiety or depression. Again, no one’s claiming that this is rock-solid science, but these studies, along with the fact that everyone seems to feel f*cking amazing after leaving one of these saunas, was enough to make me desperate to try it for myself.
So, What’s An Infrared Sauna Like?
I visited the 11 Howard location of HigherDOSE, and was immediately thrilled by the spa-like room I entered. Each sauna room has a private bathroom (with a nicer shower than the one in my apartment), a Bluetooth speaker system, water, chilled eucalyptus towels, and of course, the sauna itself.
You’re given a chromotherapy menu, which tells you the different light therapy colors available to you, and the benefits of each type of light. It’s pretty intuitive (yellow and orange are more activating, blue is more relaxing), but given that I’m a type-A weirdo, I spent the first half hour cycling through all of them anyway. The first 20 minutes felt like sitting in a colorful, less-hot-than-normal sauna. I was warm, but I didn’t have that slowly-being-cooked feeling I get after about 10 minutes in a regular sauna. At the 20-25 minute mark, things got really satisfying, by which I mean sweat started pouring down my entire body. Again, in regular saunas, I’ll notice a drip here or there, then walk out and be surprised at how sweaty I actually am. In the infrared sauna, there was no doubt that I was coated in sweat, and steadily producing more.
I also have a pretty short tolerance for regular saunas; I’d say 20-30 minutes and I’m begging to leave. With the infrared sauna, I was happy to stay in there a full 50 minutes (I left 10 minutes to shower), and honestly could have stayed a bit longer. Promptly after showering, I noticed a few things. My skin was baby-soft, the dull full-body ache from yesterday’s boxing class was greatly improved, and while I didn’t suddenly feel an all-around calm or “mental high,” my anxiety was noticeably tamed. I know this because my face, which is highly sensitive to many things, including heat, got some crazy red blotches about ten minutes post-sauna. But the last time I’d gotten blotches like this, I locked myself in a bathroom for two hours, crying furiously and sending my dermatologist selfies. This time, I washed my face, said “f*ck it,” and moved on with my day. See? Anxiety calming.
I’m not including a description of my blotchy face to alarm you. Any discoloration was gone within the hour, and I trust that if you have skin like mine, you already know that heat is a trigger. But it was truly remarkable to look in the mirror at something that would have typically ruined my day and be able to let it go. In terms of a mental boost from the infrared sauna, I was expecting something like a runner’s high (which I’ve also never achieved, possibly because I’ve never run long enough to get there). But the mental boost I got instead was actually way more valuable to my life—for the next few hours, at least, I didn’t get derailed by minor sh*t. As far as superpowers go, I’ll take it.
So, the only real major con of infrared saunas? The price tag. HigherDOSE sessions cost $45 and up for solo sessions, or $30 and up if you go with two people. As a one-time expense, it’s not bad, but given that many of the benefits are unlocked by regular use, I wish the experience were slightly more accessible. Given my experience, I’d love to go more often, but until my wellness influencer career really takes off, I’ll likely have to limit it to a once-monthly treat.
Images: Keziban Barry; @higherdose (2), @busyphilipps / Instagram;