Mental Health – 2023

getting my mental house in order

First things first – I am not a mental health expert, a medical professional, or any other anything that qualifies me to give advice regarding mental health. Everything I say here is in reference to myself. If something I say resonates with you and you want to try it too, that is great and I would love to talk about it in the comments, but this is not me advising anyone to do anything.

Second things second – Mental health issues, like everything lately, seems to make people take a hardline stance on one side or another of some imaginary line. In this case usually over the need to take medication. I often hear/see things like “You don’t need those pills, just [fill in whatever thing you think will magically make someone better].” or “You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to stop taking insulin, why tell people with mental health issues they don’t need medication?” However if someone has diabetes, or high blood pressure, or some other physical ailment, they usually incorporate BOTH lifestyle changes AND medicine, often in the hopes of minimizing the amount of medication they need. Yet I don’t hear that middle-ground camp much when it comes to mental health issues, but that is where I fall.

I was diagnosed with depression my freshman year of college and put on medication. I took one medication or another for several years but also made changes in my life and eventually felt well enough to try living without medication and have been able to be okay (mostly) as long as I maintain those lifestyle changes. There have been a few times since then when my depression/anxiety started drifting away from managed, but each time I was able to get my mental health back under control when I got those lifestyle things back under control as well.

I however find myself once again at a point where my depression/anxiety are no longer well managed and are negatively impacting my quality of life. I’ve been struggling to get myself to do anything other than read books, click through imgur, or play endless games of spider solitaire. Though those things are perfectly fine on their own, doing nothing but them for hours on end, day after day, isn’t exactly the life I would like to be living. It is also clear that I have let many of the lifestyle choices that help me manage my mental health slide right off my plate and into the snow (along with a hoof pick and the padlock we started putting on the horse gate at night) but unlike the hoof pick and padlock I can’t wait around until spring and hope I find them again, I am going to need to be a little more proactive.

Here are the big things I will be reincorporating back into my life this January with the intention of being more diligent about keeping them around. Generally speaking, trying to establish good habits or changes in your life is easier if you do them one-at-a-time, but all of these things were established behaviors not that long ago and I have already started reincorporating them one-per-week starting the week before Christmas.

Now on to the list:

  • Meditate/Mindfulness Practice
    • Nate and I try to meditate together for five minutes every morning and we’ve managed to stay pretty good about that. In addition to that I am also trying to incorporate a mindfulness practice throughout my day. Of everything on this list, this is the one that never really went all the way away, but also the one I don’t think I’m that good at and need the most work with. Hopefully more practice will make this habit better and more effective.
  • Exercise Daily
    • I had been really good about doing 15-30 minutes of strength and cardio exercises every morning for years, but once we brought the horses home my morning routine went right out the window and I have been struggling to get it back. The various injuries to my back, neck, wrists, and hands have not helped the situation either. The week before Christmas I decided to actively reclaim a morning routine which also includes some form of exercise and have stuck with it on the days I’ve been home. This had been a pretty established habit prior to the horses coming home so I’m hopeful it will stick.
  • Light Therapy
    • I have had some version of a light box for a few years and try to sit under it every morning once we’ve passed the autumn equinox and until the spring equinox, but since my morning routine was obliterated when the horses came home I didn’t start it up again like I should have. Now that I am reestablishing a morning routine with my exercises I decided to squeeze fifteen minutes of sitting under my light in to it as well. I started sitting under the light again last week and so far I’ve managed to do it most mornings. It’s also another opportunity to practice mindfulness/meditation, which is good. Though watching Juniper and Leeloo stare at the house wondering what is taking breakfast so long is still making me feel guilty.


  • Cut Out Sugar
    • Sugar is evil (as discussed in this post) and it has got to go. I do however feel it is worth saying again that sugar is not the same as carbohydrates. When I say I need to cut sugar out of my life I am not saying I’m cutting out carbohydrates, which are a necessary part of a healthy diet, I’m cutting out sugars. Read your labels – see how much added sugar is in your food, if it isn’t something you’ve paid attention to before you’ll probably be shocked. Sugar does lots of terrible things to our bodies but in the case of my mental health it makes my depression, anxiety, energy levels, and overall mood so much worse. I know this and have successfully gotten sugar out of my life several different times but it always creeps back in because it is sooooooo tasty and soooooo addictive. SO addictive! I will once again be buckling down and cutting sugar back out of my diet. Here are two more links discussing the relationship between sugar and mood disorders: What to Know About Sugar and Depression and Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression.
  • Getting a Handle on the To-Do List Issues
    • Like many (most?) people I tend to suffer from having too much to do and not enough bandwidth to do it. I have tried any number of practices to gain a sense of control over what feels like an overwhelming life and they each worked to varying degrees, but nothing became a real habit. My current plan is to use the Pomodoro Technique more intentionally (work on a task for 25 min, then take a 5-min break; after 3-4 sets of 25 min work + 5-min breaks take a longer 20-30 min break; rinse and repeat). I have used this method in the past with success so I’m hoping it will work again. One thing I will be experimenting with is if it works better for me to work on a different thing for each 25-min work block, therefore chipping away at several different things each day, or if I should focus on specific things each day. This week I’ll be trying the different item for each 25-min work block, next week we’ll try to focus on just one or two things for the whole day and we’ll see what works better.
  • Get My Physical House in Order
    • This one is somewhat loaded because there are a lot of gender role and societal role issues involved with “keeping house;” who is responsible, who bares the blame when standards aren’t met, who determines those standards, etc. But the reality is, when my house is clean I feel better and there is research to indicate that it isn’t just societal pressure. I have experienced an actual physical reaction when I wake up the next morning and walk into my recently cleaned kitchen – I feel physically lighter and I can feel my mood lift. The problem is I hate cleaning my house! Nate and I had developed a method that was working pretty okay. We both agreed to do 30 minutes of “adulting” each workday and two hours each weekend day and we were doing a decent job of keeping the house and our lives in order. But this summer that all disappeared when every moment of “adulting” time got taken up doing stuff to get ready to bring the horses home and now that they are home we do horse chores every day and those use up more than our allotted 30-min a day plus 2 hours each weekend day which has resulted in us barely keeping up with the things that will not be ignored, like laundry and dishes. But the state of our house is not one I am okay with and I have got to figure out how to get it back to okay.

None of these ideas are new or my own and are all things I have done in the past, so it is a matter of reincorporating them back into my life and not necessarily creating new habits.  The suggestions themselves come from many sources but there were two books that were the biggest influences in helping me develop my own holistic approach to dealing with my mental health.

The Depression Cure by Stephen S Ilardi. This was the first time I had heard anything about managing depression with something other than drugs and/or therapy and it was really eye opening for me.

The Chemistry of Joy by Henry Emmons. This book was recommended to me by my therapist, and it was amazing and I highly recommend it for anyone, even if you don’t have diagnosed depression or anxiety. There is a lot of information in this book, and I feel like it would be worth re-reading. Maybe a to-do for February.

For now I’ll be shaking off the bad habits that have snuck back into my life and taking time to find beauty even when its negative everything degrees outside.



 At least there are no bugs!